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Freedom's Choice (1997) by Anne McCaffrey is about 295 pages too long. Every single word is utterly forgettable. Every conversation is dull. The tome reeks of pointlessness basted in apathy. How a writer of McCaffrey's statue could forget to use plot, pacing, and other basic literary conventions is beyond me. Emotionally, the book is a straight line, never deviating from its steady state. You never doubt anything because the books essentially goes nowhere. Yes, stuff happens, but you don't care. This book progresses in the same way that wandering far enough in any direction feels like you've progressed. She phoned this thing in.

How did this even get published?

Any reasonable writer could have told this tale in one quarter of the words, and had a greater impact on the reader. The work is no better than a novella tossed into a puffed rice maker, only bigger because it contained more air.

If you don't mind drinking on the beach as you turn off your brain, you'll find this an entertaining book. Any drunk can follow the lacadasical plot, and the story repeatedly tells you information, so you don't have to worry about forgetting anything.

I'm not even going to stand here and justify myself. That would be more than this book deserves. 

What galls me most is that it isn't a one star book. I'd have far more fun with a truly bad book. No, this is a two-star turkey perfect for the days when you're on heavy meds. 

Girl Cars

Jun. 26th, 2017 11:40 am
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Just for fun, I looked up "girl cars" on the internet, looking for those cars that MEN should not drive. What a hoot! I laughed my ass off. One site literally called them "gay cars." Surprisingly, my Hyundai Sonata did not land on that list. However, other cars that I lust after were on the list, including the Honda Civic, Mini-Cooper, and the VW Beetle. By far, most of the vehicles listed were family cars, because shit's gotta get hauled, and so do people. One site called all mini-vans girl cars. I almost fell off my seat laughing at that one. One may as well categorize the entire SUV market as gay.

Does that mean that women don't have specific car preferences? No. They do have their own preferences.

Does this mean that manufacturers are gender blind? Of course they aren't. They know what they're doing. There are general gender preferences. But in the end, a car is a car, and you buy what works for you.
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Being swim meet season, we had a home swim meet. DesignGirl, who had a fantastic week last week, did slightly less well this week, but still way better than time trials.

We had Aggie over for an extended play date after far too long a gap.

This week, DesignGirl will go to the local maker space for a camp on making videos. She's been wanting to make YouTube videos, so getting a class will help her along. Lords know, I can't, because I know almost nothing of video editing.

This week's bread is white with golden raisins instead of dark raisins. The bread turned out pretty well.

I continue playing too much Ticket To Ride on my Kindle.

I continue liking my new Hyundai. On the highway, it's not quite as stable and even as the Ford had been. In that respect, the Ford's lack of responsiveness worked in its favor. That is more than offset by the everyday, about town handling and significantly better mileage. I can now fit in most parking spaces again, easily. 

We're getting to the end of blueberry season, round 1. Certainly by the end of the week, we'll have picked everything. The rabbit's eye won't be ready until the end of July. Meanwhile, the cherry tomatoes are just hitting ripe. At the back fence, the honeysuckle keeps growing like mad, so I need to figure how to trace down the roots.
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Freedom's Landing (1995) by Anne McCaffey is an SF beach read. Give yourself a large supply of numerous munchies and enough alcohol to make anything entertaining, and you too will be entertained. Skip the alcohol, and you'll have to face the unavoidable fact that this book has almost no plot, the characters are mostly forgettable, it centers around a romance with zero spark, and the science part tops out at "solar power." Aside from that, it's a well written beach read, with a perky heroine, quippy dialog, and copious fluff. Subtract sobriety, and there's real fun to be had here.

Unwilling colonists here have been dumped on an alien planet for being uppity humans. Survive or die is the name of the game, but because the book is fluffy, the dying part isn't that bad (it only happens to nameless characters) while the survival part isn't that hard.

If the plot had actually gone somewhere, rather than saunter around, this book would have satisfied me better. As it stands, this book feels like it has a beginning, a middle, and then more middle. What there is of an end feels rather tacked on. I don't mind multi-part books, but even those feel like they're building or heading towards something. This book didn't feel like it was building or heading towards anything.

This work exists in McCaffrey's well run future, where internal fighting and politics rarely happen. Either everyone's in line or there's a crisis, and in this book, everyone gets in line. The humans go through almost no politicking, with is rather too neat for me, but that's why alcohol helps.

I'm really not sure who this book is written for as the SF market is not known for its love of fluffy, lightly written, colonization romances. I can't say that I've ever seen this combination of traits before, and except for its sequels, I doubt that I'll see more again, but if I do, you can sure that beer will be involved, or maybe a double mojito. 

Dream

Jun. 20th, 2017 08:36 am
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Last night, I dreamed that I got my hair cut, and I was left with white hair with pink highlights. I thought it was cool, but I also knew that I'd look like a fag for it. As I could already see my brown roots, I thought that clipping my hair off would solve the whole problem.  
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I just saw an article about the explosion of AI (artificial intelligence). Investors are sinking billions into the technology.

Where have I heard that before?

While I see profits in AI, I also see the usual technology trend of over-applying the technology to every problem. Right now, AI is whiz-bang and revolutionary because it's whiz-band and revolutionary. It cant go wrong. You money back if not completely satisfied. Throw money at this problem NOW.

I fully expect to see the usual crop of business grow with the anticipation of selling themselves, a few big successes, many good successes, and full on massacres of poorly thought out ideas. Like every technology, it will have its strong points and its inherent limitations.

The end utility of AI will depend on how much it gets out of the way, so that consumers don't notice it, or the rewards that it generates, so that professionals and experts can improve on their final products. That is, the AIs must either work cheaper than people, improve quality, or shorten development. Naturally, business will be most interested in replacing people, but the real benefit will be in improving quality and shortening development. AIs are capable of being hyper-vigilant, which humans are bad at. An AIs can micro-manage processes in a more timely manner than a human. 

Amazon bought Whole Foods over the weekend. Most folks assumed that they'd replace the cashiers, but I don't think that's the goal. Humans deal with humans better than any AI, so if you want a happy food customer, you need people who understand the consumer's environment to help make the consumer happy. Where AI comes in is in logistics, moving food in the most efficient way possible through warehouses. Amazon has an amazing technology in that area, a technology which should be an excellent match to Whole Foods dedication to fresh food. That's a great example of AI because Amazon understands what it wants.

If you don't know what you want, an AI won't work. The more often your goals change, the worse an AI works. When everything is a mess, and priorities are changing by the minute, AIs won't work well as they can't be retrained often enough or fast enough to keep up with changing demands. So an AI fighter jet might be undefeatable by a human pilot, but outside that mission, its flexibiliy diminishes rapidly. In contrast, a human can be retasked, which in many environment is a more valuable trait.

Weekend

Jun. 19th, 2017 08:28 am
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This weekend ended school and began swim team season. DesignGirl swam in freestyle, backstroke, and breast, dropping significant time in every stroke since last week's time trials. Freestyle improved by almost seven second which is huge in swimming. Our team went on to decimate the opposition, winning by a 100 point spread.

On Friday, the my women folk baked me a cake. Two, actually. I had asked for a Portal cake, a cake like the one at the end of Portal. They delivered. Not only that, they produced a second cake, a companion cube, made of fondant. Once again, my family cake decorators hit it out of the park.

For Father's day, we went to Nick's for breakfast. We didn't get there early enough, so we had to wait about for a table, but the diner food was diner food, and that's what I wanted.

Meanwhile, my Crohn's disease decided to flare up, making my digestion rather a more interesting subject that it deserves to be. Tender is the main word here. I wound up laying down at random intervals, amusing myself with the tablet version of Ticket To Ride. 
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The Blue Sword (1982) by Robin McKinley is the first of her two Damar novels. In this fantasy-romance, a young woman is swept away by a desert king, but only to train her for war.

Robin McKinley seems to have two modes for me: she's either engaging or long winded. This books falls onto long-winded, as she could easily have told this tale in half the number of words. While nicely written, as is usual for Robin, for me the story falls into the dull and tedious category, with an extra layer of pointless thrown in just to be sure. Most of what happens is a long justification for why a woman can be in war and fight her enemies. However, if you remember that this is the 1980s, when few people making women heroes, justification seemed needed. (It wasn't needed. Other authors simply blew past the justification part and went straight into the adventure part.)

For an adventure novel, it's pacing is quite relaxed, walking our hero through all sorts of things for most of the book.

I found the concept of kelar interesting, a way of interacting with magic that is one part revelation and one part manifestation. Kelar shows you what you need to know, but also provides what you need to accomplish the deed. It is magic, but never quite controlled magic, so its appearance in the story changes the story's direction. I enjoy inexact magic systems.

If this book set out to do anything, I think that it missed most of what it aimed for. It's not enough of a romance to satisfy a romance reader, not enough of a fantasy to satisfy a fantasy reader, and not enough of an adventure novel to satisfy and adventure reader. While Robin handles both romance and fantasy far more deftly, her handling of adventure seems deficient.

I can't pronounce this a bad book, because it does hold together, it's just not my slice of bacon.
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Here's my division rankings for self-published writers.
 
Gross sales per year:



U - No sales over one year.
T - $10
S - $25
R - $50
Q - $100
P - $250
O - $500
N - $1,000



M - $2,500



L - $5,000




K - $10,000
J - $25,000
I - $50,000
H - $100,000
G - $250,000




F - $500,000













E - $1,000,000
D - $2,500,000
C - $5,000,000
B - $10,000,000
A - $25,000,000+ (James Patterson)

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I bought another waffle iron. I've been so good, but the temptation finally grabbed me. $6 for a Cuisnart Classic Round iron, used. (I don't have the exact model/serial number in front of me.) I haven't tested it yet, but I do look forward to it. While I was at the second hand place, I saw a big Belgian style that also tempted me. I want to go back to see if the plates flip and if it turns into a griddle or something like that.

For those who don't know, I am fully convinced that one day I'll become a hoarder of waffle irons. 

In many ways, I'm late to this waffle iron collecting. When I should have been buying was during high school and just after college. Back then, getting those wonderful stainless steel type irons from the 50's was easy peasy. Now you don't see them around any more. Fortunately, my wife found a nice one somewhere along the line and we still use it. It makes waffles of a useful size and shape.
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The Well of Shiuan (1978) by C.J. Cherryh continues the tale of Morgaine and Vanye. Morgaine is an otherworldly sort, dedicated to the destruction of gates, and Vanye is the sword and sorcery minion who's out point of view character for most of the story.

This was her second publication, and here she addressed many issues that haunted her first work. In this book, she creates a much better feel for location and place, she better articulates goals, implications, and moral conflicts, and she generally keeps the through line of the narrative far clearer. In the sort of tale where moral ambiguity usually doesn't exist, this tale hinges on those ambiguities. However, even with all the improvements, there are still places where the tale feels muddled and ill directed.

Also gone is the stiff dialog of her former work. The dialog in this novel, while still not fully naturalist, has greatly loosened up, The characters no longer feel like they're always reading from cue cards.

Interestingly, Cherryh begins the story from a third character's view, that of Jhirun, a young woman that lives in the marshlands. I found her the most present and engaging of all the characters, and I wished that we had spent far more time with her point of view. She gives us the world and the complexities in a way that no other character does, with a vulnerability that no other character has. Because she's so unspecial, her actions have consequences where a hero's never would. To me, that made her a more interesting character than any other in the book.

Parts of the book still felt forced, while other parts seemed aimless. Cherryh still has a ways to go before she hits her stylistic best, but with this tale, I begin to see those traits that would make her later books so interesting.


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What is your best defensive weapon?

I am assuming a low level of violence as found in American suburbia. In other situations, the thinking my differer, but the same principals will still hold.

Your best weapon is your brain. Thinking about where you are and what you are doing, your situation awareness, will provide you the biggest return. Minimizing or avoiding unnecessary danger is a tried and true tactic. While this cannot and does not work for every situation, it works better than any other solution because it's the most reliable solution and the one that provides you with the most predictable outcome.

Your second best defensive weapon is "no handgun." That sounds weird, but once you think about it, it makes sense. Most people don't carry guns most of the time. Why? Because the risk or burden that a handgun introduces is greater than the risks faced by the potential carrier. Guns aren't neutral objects. People react to them. They can make a situation worse just as easily as make a situation better. A weapon means that more people around you feel on guard and are more likely to interpret you as potentially hostile when there's no call for being armed. The presence of a gun increases the perceived risk to everyone who isn't the gun owner. This isn't new behavior. Even back in the middle ages, towns and cities required that men stow their weapons with their innkeeper while in town. Limiting carrying is a long used practice in keeping the peace.

Your third best defensive weapon is de-escalation. You've heard about that lately, I'm sure, as many police departments are using this technique. When the possibility of violence appears, you are usually better off defusing tensions and reducing the chance of violence with words. Keeping a situation from turning violent gets nobody thrown in jail, ruins no lives, leaves no widows or orphans, and generally makes life better for everyone. If the technique fails, you are usually no worse off than you were before.

Numbers are another good defensive weapon. Most people recognize this. You don't have to be tough as nails to appear too much to handle, you just have to be numerous enough that anyone threatening thinks twice before messing with you. In war torn areas, people hire guards to escort them about, but most of the work of the guards is just being their, making you more numerous, making any threat against you far more uncertain.

At the bottom of defenses is guns. They might seem like the top from gun ads and macho talkers, but guns add as much complication as they resolve. A gun seems like a safety net, and with a safety net, you tend to depend on it for saving you from your mistakes. That's the sort of thinking that gets you into trouble. A gun isn't a safety net, and it won't save you from your own trouble. A gun is an option of last resort, not first.

Consider for the moment a person who's bought a gun, practiced with it, and feels confident. When a situation arises where the gun would be useful, it's likely to come out, and once weapons come out, the predictability of a situation flies out the window. You don't want unpredictability. This is why I emphasized everything above as better options. If you only practice with a gun, then a gun becomes your only bad solution, even in situations where other solutions would work better. Instead, you should practice all of the above, so that you have a variety of skills can be best deployed to resolve a situation.

A second issue with a gun is assuming that you'll have the initiative, that you'll be in a situation where you have control. That's not a given. Bad guys may not be smart, but they're smart enough to know that they need control. They want to strike when you're not ready. No gun can defend you against that, but the defenses outline above give you a far better chance at avoiding them, talking them down. and knowing your priorities. 

A gun is only the best tool if you have no other tools.

Are there situations where this breaks down? Of course there is. In those cases, you'll know exactly why you need a gun, but hopefully you'll also know the limits of that gun. The gun isn't a forcefield or a suit of battle armor. Once people start shooting, the gun won't stop bullets. And once a gun gets fired, there will be legal headaches. 

You see these principals used in home defense. Most homes are defended with locking doors, barking dogs, alarm systems, and in some circumstances, retreat. In self-defense terms, each of these is a controlled response to a circumstance. Once a weapon comes out, a situation becomes far more unpredictable, and as most people aren't trained in the complexities of home defense, their better options is usually non-confrontational.
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Alphadia 2 (2013) is an old school RPG for the Android operating system. By the aspect ration, I must assume that the game was ported from a platform with a squarer screen. The game is a direct sequel to Alphadia, featuring the same world and several characters from the last game, such as Enah, the android. Most of the game mechanics remain identical, including rings and infusing.

The overall play difficulty of this sequel was noticeably more challenging than the first installment. While I could cruise through most fights on auto, the fights themselves ground down my party. At times, I found myself constantly healing party members after every fight. The fights could also be grinding while exploring, with encounters erupting as frequent intervals. Scout Orbs are available to avoid fights, but they don't last long.

While the primary artwork was pixels and sprites, each character had a high res portrait for conversations that looked clean.

For the most part, I didn't care about the characters or the plot, not that you need much plot for dungeon delving. Where the story hewed to "go there," I was happy enough. I wasn't ever in doubt about where to go. When the story skewed towards the actual plot, I didn't care, with tiresome conversation following tiresome conversation.

This game had a mission mode which I found annoying. While most missions were straight forward, and therefore fun, some missions that required finding certain items dragged on and on because those items didn't drop. By the end of the game, I still hadn't found enough of one drop type, even with farming, to complete the first set of basic missions. While the missions did offer a mission store which used mission currency, I found it cheaper and easier to just purchase the items from a vendor. This made 95% of all store items useless to me. One early mission didn't work right when the receiving clerk refused to accept my items. Since that part of the game was bugged, I didn't go any further. Later on, I found out that you were supposed to give those items to somebody else, which is completely stupid because you are supposed to give all mission items to the receiving clerk. 

I found the ending tougher than expected. I'm used to hard endings, but this one seemed harder than it ought to be. I think it's an example of, "you must win by playing a certain way" style of ending, where I played the game wrong, so I lost repeatedly. If I had really liked the game, I would have thrown myself at the ending, but as I don't care, I don't find myself well motivated. I may try the ending again, but I won't work hard at it.

On the whole, I'd give this game a medium review. It's entertaining enough, but there's really nothing here to fall in love with.
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What do I think are the most important weapons for survival? What would I prep?

1. Friends

Survival is a team sport. Although there have always been men who've survived on their own, most humans have lived in extended families, clans, tribes, and countries. Survival meant having enough territory to support your own particular band, and territory means everybody. There is no better weapon available than your neighbors. No only do they bring greater force, they bring greater knowledge. Nobody knows everything, so the bigger your practical knowledge and skill base, the better your chances of survival.

Even better, working to make a safer, more cooperative, more just, more fair nation, one where everyone gets a fair shake, is the surest way to create a more stable town, city, state, and country. Not having a total social collapse beats having a total social collapse. So if you fear for the state of the world, get involved in making the world better. 

Talking to friends is good, too. A CB radio will allow you to talk locally with ease. Make sure that you have everything in place so that you can coordinate better than the bad guys.

On the other hand, if you have resentful neighbors, they might stop defending you. They may even send trouble your way, if they don't target you themselves. Sure, you can defend your house, but they're the ones who get to roam free. And if you go hunting, they can safely harass you by scaring off game or attacking your home while you're not there. Even a token use of force will make you go on the defensive while they get the advantage of roaming free.

And groups makes friends with other groups. Your mutual trade networks mean mutual interest. Allying with others makes you stronger and less vulnerable to hostility. 

2. Skills

You don't learn skills overnight, and in a survival situation, you're going to need skills right now. If you think that you can pick up gardening in a week, you'd be wrong. Those skills of pre-industrial rural life take significant investments in time, equipment, and practice. They aren't macho or showy, but they work.

Think about old time farmers. How many of them were shown holding guns, and how many of them were shown holding tools? Guiding horses? Working? Those old pictures showed you the real tools of survival because those people valued those tools more than guns or weapons. (Yes, hunting counts a skill. I figure that you've got that one covered.)

And for those skills you don't have, your friends might have them, greatly expanding your skill base.

3. Knowledge

Not everyone gets to know everything. This is what a library of knowledge provides. You may think that you know everything, but you and I know, once you're into something, you hit new questions. In a world without the internet, there has to be a way to find answers. That's where books come in. The more useful your library, the more likely it is that you'll find the answer that you need. And if you have friends, you have access to their knowledge and their libraries. Friends are awesome.

4. Trade

Humans trade. That's what we do. That's what communities allow. Using your skills to create new items, ones that are worth trading for, creates a sustainable situation for yourself. While stockpiling some rare goods is wise, its wiser to produce new goods that others need.Trade gets you what you need, so being able to trade indefinitely can get you what you need indefinitely. While gold is theoretically useful, like a hundred dollar bill, getting change might prove problematic. In a survival situation, if nobody needs your gold, then nobody will take it. Gold is only useful once everyone's needs are met. This is why rural societies valued livestock so much, because not only did they produce food and materials, they were walking wealth.

5. Compromise

In a true survival situation, you won't get everything that you want. You will need to compromise. You may need to accept someone else as a local leader, a trade situation that is unfavorable, or even extortion. Keep your goals in mind rather than your ego. As a lone survivalist, you can do whatever you want, but if you have a family, you'll be making decisions for everyone, so your risk calculations will be different. What works in the movies isn't what works in real life. If you aren't willing to compromise, you'll soon find yourself without allies.

Learn to negotiate. Learn to negotiate anything. 

6. Weapons


Weapons come fare down the list because they aren't as important as they seem, but when they're important, they're terribly important.



Guns are useful tools. So are crossbows, bows, spears, slings, and big sticks. Although guns may seem like the best tools in a long term survival situation, they are rather limited in their flexibility and become increasingly irreplaceable. Thus, you need to understand your guns as tools, and decide which tools are the best for the job ahead of you. And often, guns won't be the best solution. You want to find sustainable solutions, ones that don't require the use of irreplaceable bullets, be it raising chickens, trapping squirrels, or herding sheep.

Guns should be used as tools of last resort.

Your best bet is a gun is one that fires the most common ammunition with the widest options, such as .308 or .30-.30. A gun that can be fired by anyone, includes women, will make itself welcome. Using a common caliber will also make trading with ammo far easier. Your guns should be the simplest, most rugged design possible, because gunsmiths and machining will be hard to come by. You should think about how fancy you want to get. A high end gun may seem like the best bet, but if you have a tempting gun, others may be tempted by it. Having a rifle that fits into the crowd might be more advantageous. On the other hand, an all weather gun that will work for years counts just as much. 

Having neighbors with guns is even better than the best gun. You might have an awesome weapon set, but you can easily be outfoxed by just a few people with mediocre weapons. Remember, survival is a team sport. The better your team, the better you odds of survival. A mediocre team with enough people will outperform you. 

With the collapse of civilization will come the disbursement of military weapons. Those who want to take over will grab those. You may have an awesome weapon set, but how good is your house against a mortar? An artillery gun? An APC? A tank? If there's no government left, you want you and your own friends to have the best toys, not them. And if the outsiders have the best toys, do you plan to fight until the end? Or will you compromise for the benefit of your loved ones? There's no easy answer here. The only thing guaranteed is that somebody will try to take over, and sooner or later, you'll be their next target. Odds are, the confrontation won't end with a firefight, it'll end with a negotiation.
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Yesterday morning, I spotted the cat stalking a box turtle of some sort. It was wandering through the side yard and the cat was stalking it at a close, but not too close distance. As the cat hadn't pounced, I assume that it already knew that hunting turtles was impossible. It wasn't getting through that shell. The turtle would take a few steps and stop, and so would the cat. Eventually the cat just watched as the turtle galumphed across the side yard, towards the fence. 
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The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) by Norton Juster is a charming morality play written as a boy’s improbable adventure. While often silly, descending into lexigraphic literalism with aplomb, the story engages that childish delight in bending, folding, and mutilating possibility, while at the same time using absurdism to show the natural limits of those possibilities. Written in a light and breezy style, the story rolls along at a steady pace, ready to engage minds with short attentions and big imaginations.
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The idea of a woman as trophy continues to engage me, and I have a few thoughts.
 
What is a trophy? A trophy is an object commemorating a success or victory. In terms of a story, it’s the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, that little extra that adds to the euphoric feeling, an acknowledgement by others. Without the trophy, the victory would still be a victory.
 
What is a MacGuffin? A MacGuffin is a [Person/Place/Thing/Idea] that a story revolves around. Essentially, while a MacGuffin usually does nothing on its own, it’s the catalyst for everything that happens. Without a MacGuffin, the story makes no sense.
 
So when we look at a story where a woman appears to be a trophy, we need to ask, “Is she a trophy or a MacGuffin?” Where one is extra and extraneous, the other is the very gravitation center of a story.
 
When a man goes out, defeats the bad guy, and then the woman throws herself at the man, that woman is acting as a trophy. She’s the little extra acknowledging the victory. She is acting as a trophy. If you remove her from the story, the story still ends as expected.
 
When a woman is kidnapped and a man rescues her, the woman is acting as a MacGuffin. I you remove the woman from the story, the conflict in the story becomes meaningless. The woman here is acting as a MacGuffin, as the catalyst to a story.
 
The thing about a MacGuffin is that the MacGuffin doesn’t need to be a woman. The man could be rescuing his dog or his reputation. What matters is that the protagonist has something at stake, some unhappy result for failing. In contrast, a trophy woman needs to be a woman or a trophy. A trophy woman can’t be substituted with just anything, she can only be substituted with something that feels like a trophy. If a protagonist succeeds and gets a brick, that wouldn’t feel like a trophy, making the brick feel rather random in the story. On the other hand, you can make anything into a MacGuffin as long as you develop the context.
 
In the trope filled “man rescues woman” scenario, the woman is acting as a MacGuffin. She is acting as the catalyst to the story even when not present. Her affection, kisses, or love may act as a trophy at the end, but that doesn’t nullify her as a MacGuffin.
 
I think that there is a substantial difference between getting a woman and getting a woman’s affections. In almost all cases, getting a woman means getting her affections, not merely possessing her person. The villain possesses her person, that’s why he’s a villain. The whole point of a rescue is to remove a woman from a place where her affections are forced.
 
So, to reiterate, trophies are given for victories, even if they are affections, but MacGuffins are the gravitational center of stories. 
 
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The Gate of Ivrel (1976) by C.J. Cherryh reads like something old and something new. The stiff writing style, formalized language, and dense narrative reminds me of mid-20th century fantasy and SF that was rapidly falling from fashion in the 70's. Written in the sword and sorcery style of the day, the tale primarily revolves around humans, and just how bad humans are to each other before any magic gets into the mix. We have all the prerequisite oaths, oath breaking, tribal codes, and exaggerated systems of masculine honor.

Stunning in this work is the introduction of a woman as the bad-ass of the series. Like the best of all action-hero women, she never compromises nor apologizes for her behavior. She's a woman on a mission that leaves thousands dead, but that doesn't mean that she likes it. With this 70's action hero goes a truly terrible sword, one in the tradition of Stormbringer, one that gives any honest reader pause.

Despite the surface narrative of two tough sword swingers, the story carries and undercurrent of imperfection and weakness, where the lead characters of Morgaine and Vanye show themselves humans underneath their layers of toxic-masculinity. If anything, the book works against the very notion of sword and sorcery, where the toughest and baddest win. Underneath all her layers, Morgaine is a woman on a mission that's too big to go forward, but impossible to go back. Vanye is a man who's lost his male honor, but which also gives him the freedom to roam free of the hyper-masculine narrative so tied to the genre. He's tough, not because of his hardened outside, but because of his well developed inside. When he becomes Morgaine's follower, he seconds himself to the woman without hesitation nor qualms, or is he so tough that he stands unbreakable before the world.

The book appears to be among her earliest works and it shows. The story has deep flaws. My biggest issue was with place. All the places of this tale blurred, one into another, until I didn't know where we were coming from or going to. There are places where characters seemed in the wilderness, yet other characters come out of the woodwork like they're in Times Square on a Saturday afternoon, a little too like the sudden twists and turns of a cheap movie. And like a cheap movie, the scenes between often prove dull and tedious, providing a little information, but mostly wasting your time.

Despite the appearance of being well developed characters, both Morgaine and Vanye often come across rather flat and dull, just going about their way while continuously stumbling into danger. Wandering about also describes the basic plot. We do learn what we need to know, but somehow the elements never come together into a cohesive whole, even at the end. All the plot lines feel like spaghetti.

While I did enjoy some bits, I mostly have mixed feelings about the book. As a novel, its not really strong enough to stand out on its own merits, its innovations mostly smothered by its mediocrities.
dmilewski: (Default)
You don't want kidney stones.

This time passing kidney stones, I could tell that they were moving, so I opted to stay home rather than visit a hospital. At the hospital, the main things that they can do is to give you medical grade painkillers and hold your hand. From experience, I know that the medical grade painkillers don't work against kidney stones, and they don't hold your hand. Quite the opposite, they put you into these stupid back-opening gowns and put you into a room visible from the work area, and as you toss and turn with the stone, you stick you bare butt out at everyone. To make matters more challenging, they put IVs into you to keep you hydrated, which prevent you from tossing and turning. In short, they make an already horrible experience worse. 

At home, I could toss and turn as needed, changing to whatever position was least awful, add clothing to stay warmer, find some measure of comfort in my comfortable places, and when the pain finally subsided, fell asleep on the bathroom floor. That might not be sexy, but I didn't have to pay for it. 

Hard Night

Jun. 8th, 2017 03:46 pm
dmilewski: (Default)
Last night was hard. I passed three kidney stones between 1am and 4am. Sucks does not begin to describe the experience. As a result, I took the day off, napped, and generally let my inside knit themselves back together.
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