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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Top ten books I liked from literature class

Okay, here goes: Junior high and High school in the late 60's early 70's. Woodstock generation. I was a jock, not a hippie, but my teachers were.
  1. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, read Lord of the Rings on my own summer after 8th grade.
  2. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. Read the rest of the series on my own, went on to read Screwtape Letters, Surprised by Joy and others of his.
  3.  The Pit and the Pendulum, The Purloined Letter and other Edgar Allan Poe short stories.
  4.  My Shadow Ran Fast by Bill Sands. Autobiography of an abused boy who became a convict and his rehabilitation.
  5.  Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. 
  6.  Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  7. The Passover Plot by Hugh J. Shoenfield, this was in sociology class. The class had very lively discussions.
  8. Hiroshima by John Hersey
  9.  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  10. 1984 by George Orwell, read Brave New World and Animal Farm by Huxley on my own. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Top Ten Books I'd like in my library

  1.  Issac Asimov's histories. They were library use only and have been long discarded before the electronic age.
  2.  No Rusty Swords, Letters from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Had them at seminary and foolishly let them go.
  3. Norton Anthologies. College literature books in American and World. I kept the Modern Poetry one. It came in handy when I was wooing my wife way back in the day.
My eyesight has been so poor that I've stopped reading hard copy books. Kindle lets me set the size of the font and puts less strain on them. I've had one eye's cataract removed and will get the other one done in a few weeks. I can tell the difference already and may go back to reading regular books. The biggest problem is room for new books. I have a one side of my garage full of books and the books cases in my house are overflowing.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Empire of Avarice

I've started re-reading Tony Roberts Kastania Chronicles. I've been waiting so long for the next book in the series I'm afraid I'll have forgotten most of the story when it does come out. I've been singing this series of books praises for years, but when I started re-reading the first one I'd forgotten just how good it really is!

The Kastanian Empire is in decline. Most of the territory it once covered is lost and the five provinces it still controls are disarray. Astiros Koros, was the general of the Imperial army putting down a rebellion in Bragal province. Just as he was about to win the emperor calls back the troops and negotiates a peace. He claimed the war was costing too much money and lives.
Astiros bribes the captain of the palace guards to give him entry into the palace and assassinates the emperor and empress. He makes himself emperor.
His family joins him in Kastan at the palace. His wife Isbel, 20 year-old daughter Amne, five year-old son Argan, and infant son Istan. His oldest son, Jorquil, is in command of the Imperial Guard awaiting orders to invade another province in revolt.
Upon seizing power he discovers the imperial treasury is empty. He convenes the imperial council made up of the high priest, members of the five largest noble families, merchants guild and the imperial treasurer.
Astiros informs them that he intends to march back and finish the job in Bragal in six months. In order to do that he needs money. 
He starts by telling the high priest that all the temples will be taxed. When the high priest starts threatening Astiros with destruction from the gods, the new emperor slaps him down. He reminds the priest that after every defeat the priest blamed their lack of faith instead of their lack of numbers and supplies. That the treasury was empty because the temples take money, but never give it back. He tells the priest he is no longer welcome in Kastan and is to leave immediately.
When one of the nobles tells Astiros he can't legally do that, he turns on the man and asks him, "Who makes the law?"
Astiros then tells the nobility that their tax exempt status is at an end. They will start paying taxes or have all their possessions confiscated. Turning on the merchants he tells them their taxes will be increased. 
The imperial treasurer is then ordered to reduce the palace staff as there's no money to pay people who have no work. The staff had never been reduced from the days when the empire was powerful.

Think of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the fall of Rome, or just about any empire. Astiros has described the major causes of their decline and fall. The church is tax exempt, but collects tithes making it rich which it spends on temples and vestments, but nothing to help the poor. The nobility are leaches soaking the masses with their monopolies, but paying no taxes. The merchants paying little in taxes saying if they are taxed they'll have to raise prices. The poor are the only one who pay taxes and when the poor are staving and have no money everyone wonders whey there's no money in the treasury. When there's not money the military is neglected, infrastructure deteriorates, crime increases and the empire is conquered.

Naturally after this meeting the high priest is vowing revenge, the nobles meet to hire a hit man from the guild of thieves and squabble among themselves which family will take over the empire.
What makes this story compelling is the number of balls being juggled at the same time. 
  • Jorquil is with the army and given the task of retaking a rebellious province. 
  • Astiros recruits and trains a new army to go back to Bragal.
  •  Amne is sent as an ambassador to the country Mazag, south of Bragal to negotiate a treaty. 
  • Isbel is to stay in the palace and run the empire while her husband is off fighting. 
  • The two children are growing up. Argan is a precocious five-year-old and Ishtan does nothing but cry when he doesn't get his way.
The added worry is that Kastania is surrounded by enemies. Nomadic tribes to the west defeated the empire ten years earlier causing the accelerated crumbling of the empire. Countries to the east that once were part of the empire now want to conquer them. The imperial navy has only four ships to protect their shores.  

While Astiros marches to Bragal he is joined by mountain tribes he's bribed with what little money he has and Bragalese loyalists. He's forced to fight an army raised by Duras, one of the noble families. He easily defeats them and marched into Bragal.

Amne travels with three diplomats and a hunter/guide to travel through Bragal incongnito. It's the first time the young woman has faced any type of hardship and she develops feeling for her guide. This enrages the diplomats as he is far beneath her and trouble ensues.

In Kastan, Isbel finds a loyal captain of the palace guard who fights off all attempts to cause riots and revolt within the capital. In the palace itself Argan is poisoned on his birthday, he survives, but it places that much more stress on Isbel as she doesn't know who to trust in her own home.

The Bragalese is where a little magic come to the story. The women of Bragal are witches. They have magical healing power. Having sex with one is like taking a drug. The man is addicted to her and enslaved by her. Usually when an army wins a battle the victors rape and enslave the women, but with a Bragal witch; she rapes the victor. Most of the men die. Astiros orders the army to kill all women and children after the battle for this reason.
With the loyal Bragal he warns his men not to have sex with a Bragal woman even if she initiates it. If they do the father will kill them.
They have a funny idea of marriage. The father will kill any man who sleeps with his daughter before marriage. The husband is enslaved by the wife. After marriage she can sleep with any married man she wants and the man can sleep with any married woman he wants. This results in a large population.
In a subsequent book Jorquil sleeps with a Bragalese servant and marries her creating havoc for the empire.

Hope this is enough to whet your appetite for the books. They are even better the second time because there is so much going on things get lost in the shuffle.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Another Wednesday Challenge

Hmmm... What do you read when you're not feeling well?

Since I started using a C-pap machine I haven't had a single cold or flu in three years. I have had some problems that put me in bed for a spell. Fell and broke my hand, fell and wrenched my back, just had cataract surgery one more to go. Two basil cell melanoma's removed.
I get my dog Sammi and she lies down next to me and sleeps. I have to bother her a few times when she starts moving her legs like she's running. Then I grab my Kindle fire and read or listen. No matter how many times I read or listen to these books I am entertained and enlightened.

If my eyes are bothering me I can't read for any length of time. I have 22 of Barry Sadler's: Casca audio books on my phone and Kindle. I listen to them in chronological order, not by published order. I've heard them so many times if I fall asleep, when I wake up I know where I am and don't have to backtrack.

 Michael Scott-Earl has a number of books in his Tamer: King of Dinosaurs series.  He's in a subset of fantasy called "harem novels." They're silly and having been married for over 40 years I know you'll never get five or ten women living together with one man and everything is hunky dory. It's escapism. Sex is mentioned, but nothing as detailed as women's romance books. In this series a guy is beemed off of earth to a distant planet by unknown aliens where dinosaurs rule. Others are periodically beemed onto the planet from other parts of the universe making for a wide variety of other life forms. Victor has the ability if he comes in contact with a dinosaur to mind meld and tame it. He then has a pet brontosaurus, or triceratops. He avoid male aliens as they usually try to kill him, and instead rescues female aliens and they begin to build a compound that is rampage proof from larger dinosaurs and hostile bands of aliens.

Alert: Right now Michael Scott-Earl has been banned by Amazon. You can get his books as audio, but cannot buy his hardcopy or e-books. He's in a legal dispute that is supposed to be resolved in a few weeks.

Tony Roberts: The Kastania Series.
Roberts has written 35 Casca books and that's what he's most known for, but starting with Empire of Avarice set in the empire of Kastania there is a series of books that becomes multi-generational. The empire is beset by hostile neighbors. One family decides to take control of the empire as the other noble families are only draining the empire's resources to enrich themselves. There are fantasy elements, but this more about fighting to preserve and empire and keeping political power.
Another series of his is about a half dark elf and human raised as an outcast with humans until her mother dies and she is forced to leave and discover her elven side. This is quest story and fantastic fantasy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tuesday top ten

Today's top ten is tropes. 
The tropes that bug me:
  •  In mystery or horror movies: splitting up when everyone in the audience or the reader knows that's the surest way to become the next victim.
  •  A group trapped in a cave or elevator or closet, etc. Someone has to be claustrophobic and freaks out.
  • In legal thrillers someone finds a body and stupidly picks up the knife or gun.
  • In legal thrillers someone is knocked out and found with the body. Dumb detectives automatically assume the person with a concussion did it.
  • Having the villain explain everything before he or she thinks they're killing Bond or Bourne or hero.
  •  The ticking clock. Ethan Hunt has to run a mile in four minutes to save his wife. Do they really expect the audience to think someone can run through the crowded streets of Shanghai that quickly and arrive like they just took an easy stroll? Can Anyone believe Tom Cruise can run a four minute mile?
  • The countdown: God this is really bugging. "Ten minutes and counting. Nine minutes and counting" ad nauseum.
  •  Technology before its time. Countless movies and TV shows have gunpowder waaaaaay toooooo soooooon. 
  •  The white savior. Tom Cruise telling the Samurai battle tactics. He was captured by their superior tactics at the beginning of the movie. He is the one who changes the Emperor's mind. Pure crap. Richard Harris in A Man called Horse training Native Americans to shoot arrows in volleys. Don't get me started on Avatar.
  •  An ancient artifact that can destroy the world. Lost Ark or magic wand or gold monkey. If the artifact had that much power why is it lost or hidden? Why didn't whoever had it in the first place use it? I can buy treasure, but doomsday devises unless it has a natural cause like a virus or bacteria don't grab me.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Bloggers needed

Lydia has a post today regretting the lack of response posts. She gets tons more comments than I do, but response posts from the old blogger days were different. She explains well so check out her explanation.

I used to have a blogger friend in Oklahoma. He was an assistant principle at a middle school. Every week he'd give a small blurb about his other blogger friends telling what they'd written and leave a link. It was nice to be mentioned. The only blogger friend I have left is Berthold that will provide links when he mentions a fellow blogger or writes a review of their books. He mentioned me in his last post as he responded to my post on The Fifth Element
 I had two blogger friends here in Albuquerque and there were two others in Colorado. We called ourselves the Old Curmudgeons. Once the guys in Colorado drove down here and met with Russ, Woody and me. We had a great time drinking beer and bashing Bush and Cheney. (That really says how long ago it was.)

At the time I was writing Human Sacrifices. I would post each chapter as I finished it on a different blog. I picked up a few readers that would give encouragement and offer advise. It was a back ackwards way of doing things and the beginning of the story was down the list of posts. My sister was working the night shift at a hospital in Dallas and when she had free time would read my story, she got a number of the other nurses there reading and she'd let me know what they thought. I wrote the story to strengthen my female characters and this was invaluable advise.

This was also when my sister was battling ovarian cancer. My blogger friends were invaluable in giving thoughts and prayers through this bitter and sad time.

Russ still has his blog and we're friends on fb, but since he remarried has little time for social media. Woody and I still communicate on fb. I've lost touch with all my other blogger friends and am so grateful for Berthold for opening up a new avenue for blogging with Lydia and other writers as we share ideas,  reviews and out thoughts.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Work on hold

For six years I could sit and write in an office and even get paid. Then I broke my hand, hurt my back, lost my business. While I was healing I did some editing on books already in print, but not much on my works in progress. I'm recovering right now from cataract surgery with another one to go. I've been doing a lot of reading, blogging and posting on fb. Maybe I need to get back to some writing again. Here's what I was working on:

Stephanus -- The sequel to Optimus: Praetorian Guard. I have Optimus's eldest son as a freedman in the palace with Domitian, his other son Sextus on the German frontier. Optimus is exiled to Patmos where the Apostle John is exiled.
I've done a good job with the palace intrigue setting up Stephanus to assasinate Domitian. Sextus fighting in Moesia and Dacia leading to the Praetorians turning against Domitian after he negotiates a weak treaty with Dacia.
I've bogged down with Optimus as he acting as a scribe to the aged John while he writes his Gospel, three epistles and Revelaton. In twelve years since the novel Optimus I've researched Revelation putting the apocalypse in context with the first century Christians. 
My problem is trying to make the writing of John interesting and not dry or boring. Spacing out between Rome and Germania helps some, but it's been a long process. I think I've got a reasonable explaination of Revelation for the time period, now its butt in seat time.

Matthew Fontaine Maury: My wife's maiden name is Maury. Her father has a family tree book and it is full of articles on Matthew Fontaine Maury.
MFM is known as the pathfinder of the seas. I had never heard of him, but he is the father of oceanography, meteorology and the inventor of naval mine warfare.
There have been two naval vessels named the USS Maury, both were research vessels mapping the floor of the oceans.
I found a biography and read it. His life is absolutely fascinating, but there are a number of biographies, one by his daughter. I thought I would try my hand at fictional history. Historical fiction is like Optimus. Not a real person, but he carries the story in the time and setting with historical people around him. Fictional history is where every character in the book is historical and everything in the story actually happened.

Here are a few of the facts about MFM:

  • His grandfather was the Rev. James Maury. James Maury was the tutor to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Both of whom were living with him when MFM's father was born and were witnesses. My wife's ancestor was the second son of James while MFM's was the youngest son.
  • As a midshipman in the Navy MFM was onboard the ship that took the Marquis de Lafayette back to France after his tour of America twenty years after the revolutionary war. The ship went on to be the first US warship to circumnavigate the globe.
  • He injured his leg in a stage coach accident and was unable to return to active sea duty.
  • He was assigned to take over the newly built Naval Observatory in Washington DC. (Now the residence of the Vice President.)
  • He organized all the captains logs naval and merchant aquired over the previous years. With two assistants he compiled and tracked the flow of the oceans. This revealed and he charted the Gulf Stream. Creating new charts and distributing them in 1848 to all sea captains this cut the time for sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific by six months just in time for the gold rush in 1849.
  • He oversaw the first sounding across the Atlantic and laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable to England. The first telegraph message was addressed to him congratulating him for the accomplishment.
  • He took part in the first meeting of scientists to chart and graph weather.
  • He wrote the Naval Academy textbook on oceanography used until 1927.
  • He sided with the confederacy in the Civil War, which is why history is a little silent on him.
  • He developed the first naval torpedo as it was called at the time. They were used to mine the rivers and ports of the South keeping the Union from taking Richmond by ship. The famous saying of Admiral Farragut when taking Mobile bay was, "Damn the torpedoes full steam ahead.
  • He's buried between James Madison and James Monroe.
There are many more things that he accomplished. It's a daunting task to try and fictionalize his life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday challenge

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge

Today's challenge is books we read in school that we didn't like.
Having taught English the number one reason students don't like a book is that they have to read it.
1. The Biological Basis for Human Freedom by Theodosius Dobzhenski  -- My sophomore English teacher made us read this to blend with our biology class. I re-read it after graduating college. It was way too difficult at that age.
2. Don Quixote by Cervantes -- Had to translate it in Spanish class and then read it for World Literature. Bombed both tests and it kept me from getting an A in WL. Grrr.
3. A Separate Peace by John Knowles -- I could suffer no more than ten pages. 
4. Silas Marner by George Elliot -- I read after college and grew to like it.
5. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens -- I was in 9th grade and was out with strep throat when the teacher showed the movie. When I got back I had to read it and take a different test. That would ruin any book.
6. Pilgrims Progress by Paul Bunyan -- My mother made me read it as punishment when I was suspended from school (8th grade) my one and only time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday

Today's top ten is literary characters I want to be besties with.

1. Mike Hammer: This is a guy you can have a drink with talk sports, women, and politics. Just be sure to have your back to a wall facing the door and be ready to duck for cover if need be.
I the Jury by Mickey Spillane 

2. Rhett Butler: This is a guy who knows what he wants and how to get it. Riding his coat tails could get me rich.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

3. Aslan: He may be a lion, but he's willing to lay down his life for others.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

4. Blood: The telepathic dog. It would be cool to have an intelligent conversation with a faithful friend. Even if in a post apocalyptical world.
A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison 

5. F'Lar: Oh how I would love to talk about having a telepathic link with a dragon, flying between to get from place to place and fighting thread, and how to become a dragon rider like him.
Dragon Flight by Anne McCaffery. 

6. Killishandra Ree: To have a conversation with someone who has perfect pitch and can sing for crystal that is the key to all communication in the universe. Maybe be with her while she's doing it and is sexually turned on.
The Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffery

7. Pappy Zack: Oh the tales he could tell about discovering Little Fuzzies and the fight to keep them from being treated as slaves by unscrupulous mining companies.
Little Fuzzie by H.B. Piper

8. Faerowyn: What a joy it would be to travel with a half dark elf trying to find her father and claim her royalty in an enchanted world.
Dark Blade by Tony Roberts.

9.Sextus Casca Longinus: To have a drink in a bar and listen to just one of his adventures ranging from the time of Tiberias in Ancient Rome to the present day. What a trip.
Casca The Eternal Mercenary by Barry Sadler

10. Hillary Ashton Pellham-Martin: To meet and know someone who could fit into the world of Hindu and English. Married a princess and live to tell the tale of fighting in Kabul against the Afghans. What a conversation that would be.
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kay

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Wednesday Challenge

Today's challenge is top ten books I've never reviewed.

Little Fuzzy by H. Bean Piper
  A series of books dealing with a sentient species called Fuzzies, great books, prototype for Tribbles.

The Trouble with Tribbles --David Gerrold
    Interesting telling of how Gerrold sold the screen play to Star Trek for Trouble with Tribbles. It includes the screenplay.

Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein
     Learn how to Grok religion

An Innocent Man -- John Grisham
     A factual account of how an innocent man spent years on death row and how he was exhonerated.

Ultimate Punishment -- Scott Turow
     Arguments for both sides on the issue of Death Penalty. Sophistry at its best. Recommend listening to the audio with Turow reading it. He doesn't give his oppinion until the last sentence.

The entire First Man in Rome series by Colleen McCullagh
     From the rise of Marcus Crassus in the First Man in Rome through the fall of Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra. Historical, political, social, military understanding of ancient Rome.

The Discourses -- Niccolo Machiavelli
     Everyone focuses on The Prince, but The Discourses are one of the documents that influenced the U.S. Constitution.

No Rust Swords -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
 A compilation of sermons by a great mind killed by Hilter.

Worthy is the Lamb -- Ray Summers
     Amillennial interpretation on end times. No rapture, no mellinnial reign. First half of book explains appocolyptic literature the send half is an interpretation of Revelation.

Sun Tzu -- The Art of War
     Ancient Chinese philospher who in 13 short chapters still influences military, business and romantic thought.

Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus -- John Gray
     This was a game changer in my marriage. When I taught sociology and pschology in high school it was a textbook.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Fifth Element

Ever had a really bad week? I mean a week where by Friday night you're dragging and wanting to do nothing but curl up in bed, watch a movie that will take you into an escape world that will make you forget all your problems?

My wife and I found such a movie. For years whenever we've decided both of us have had a meatgrinder week and need to escape and forget; all either one of has had to say was, "Big Badda Boom."
We pop some popcorn, snuggle under the covers and watch The Fifth Element.
There's just something about the universe this movie displays. It has technology galore with flying cars crisscrossed in layers from the ground to the stratosphere. Aliens helping an ancient evil intent on destroying all life. A super rich guy, superbly played by Gary Oldman. An ex-military guy (Bruce Willis) turned cab driver; divorced, living in a dump and out of nowhere a woman drops through the roof of his cab. All he can understand of her gibberish is, "Boom, big badda boom."
The woman is Leeloo (Milla Jovavich), she's the fifth element sent to Earth to stop the ultimate evil. It gets crazy from there.
Chris Tucker plays a DJ named Ruby Rodd, and when he's broadcasting is non stop jabber. I wanted to stuff his mouth with a dirty sock by the end of the movie the first time I saw it. Now he's the funniest part of the movie.
There's one scene where a Diva is singing she's about ten feet tall and blue with tentacles for hair, but has the most amazing voice and in one spot she runs the scale from deep bass to high soprano effortlessly. Amazing.
This did the trick for us for many long years before we retired. Now we're not under the weekly stress of having to put up with nit-wit administrators and passive aggressive students for me and for her a weekly deadline to put out a paper when she was the assistant editor--the movie is now something we enjoy about once a year just of the hell of it.