Anxious for Nothing— brief review and commentary

A friend told me how much she is enjoying her study of Max Lucado’s book, Anxious for Nothing, so I bought the Kindle version. Quite frankly, her comments were so positive that I did not want to wait to pick up the physical book. I’ve read several of Lucado’s Christian living texts, and they have all been easy to read and helpful, and this book fits that mold.

The title says quite a lot. Modern people have too much information coming at them, much of it negative, so being anxious is almost a modern plague. This plays out in all sorts of ways: addiction, suicide, failed relationships, etc. Lucado discusses the whys, and then gives some very good solutions to our problem thinking. One of my favorite passages says this: “There is a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror. Your future matters more than your past.”From my own experience, over thinking the past— the coulda, woulda, shoulda— is very damaging. When I counsel students, who almost always want me to allow them to “make up work” or “try again” I tell them to do better going forward. I even use the windshield analogy. But I like Lucado’s take on it.

Okay, his writing lacks sophistication; but not substance. Anxious for Nothing can be a quick read, but there is sufficient food for thought for study, too.

Classic YA fiction by Elizabeth George Speare

I was watching the grandkids play and perusing a shelf of older books. A title, Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, caught my eye. Before long, I was reading and glancing over at the kids from time to time. When I taught middle grades (long, long ago) I used Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of my class novels. I’m not sure that all of the students liked it, but I did. Calico Captive, like “Witch” is an historical novel, with a young adult protagonist.

Nowadays, many novelists write for younger audiences, and the readership is quite broad for such novels. Everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to The Hunger Games (Book 1) to The Princess Diaries  are squarely aimed at YA, but caught on with adults and movie audiences, too. Speare’s novels are very well written and could have a varied audience of entertained readers. Instead of re-cycling old television shows, maybe some film makers will decide to put Elizabeth George Speare’s tales into production. This novel would make a great movie!

Calico Captive tells the story of a young woman, Miriam Willard, living on the frontier in the 1700s; first captured by Indians, then held more or less as a prisoner of war by the French, during what historians now call the French-Indian War. According to my research, this is Speare’s debut novel, and it is based on a real life story. Miriam and her fellow captives are portrayed in a manner that held my interest. Okay, it is not quite a page turner, as it strives for some historical accuracy meaning that this all takes a while to resolve, but this story also helped me learn about a period of history that I don’t know well at all.

Readers who love history and are looking for a well written novel with adventure and a hint of romance will really enjoy this story. Speare’s later, better known works, are good reads also, but I have genuinely enjoyed this window into another time.

Netflix? Hulu? Amazon? Come on, let’s get these stories into production!

Found Girl— review and commentary

For me, the works of Pauline Baird Jones are hit and miss. My favorite of her stories is the first one I read (The Key, also known as Project Enterprise, Book 1). I’ve read several other of her novels, and her style is generally a blend of snappy dialogue, kick-butt heroines, romantic suspense, and sufficient action to keep the reader entertained.

My most recent read is billed as Book 6 in the Project Enterprise series. The main character is Arian Teraz, a young woman whose place in the universe is destined to be an arranged marriage a tilling some farmland on a rather primitive planet. Right before she must marry, a mysterious ship lands in front of her and invites her to take a chance on another life. As the ship leaves her home planet, they are attacked, and somehow she steers the ship through a wormhole. On the other side of that is a pilot named Cooper. This is where fans of Project Enterprise novels will see how this story fits into the series.

Found Girl contains the snappy dialogue, action, and Jones’ trademark blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. I read the Amazon Kindle version, which is $4.99 at this writing.

Rebel Princess by Blair Bancroft

The title of this yarn isn’t particularly original, as it makes me think of Princess Leia, but the story doesn’t lean on Star Wars very much. As the book opens, with a war game going on, rather like Star Trek— The Wrath of Khan, I was wondering if the author was going to borrow heavily from that story, but not really. Actually, Bancroft uses lots of science fiction and fantasy elements, but this is theme and variation, then more variation. As a writer, a reader, and an occasional viewer of science fiction, I see this story as fairly original, and since there truly is “no new thing under the sun” that’s a complement.

Oh, there are some aspects of the story that I don’t like. Most of the “alien” characters have an odd apostrophe in their names. I’ve come to view that artifice as trite, as so many science fiction and fantasy writers employ it. There are times when the narrative drags a bit, and the author tends to use too many sentence fragments. Especially. At times of high emotion. Oh wow. Get it? And, at least half of the main players have two names, because some are masquerading as someone else, which can get a bit confusing. Indeed, the author has a list of terms on her website, just to explain some of what’s going on in the story. Mostly, I didn’t need that, but it was nice to take a look at them all to see if I had guessed correctly.

Still, this story has lots to like, including a heroine (Kass Kiolani) who is brave but not at all prone to throwing caution to the winds. Since she was brought up as a royal heir, she thinks everything through. The hero (Tal Rigel) is mostly heroic and a lot less cautious than Kass, but vulnerable enough to be likable. Minor characters tend to be stereotypical, but there is some character building, especially the main character’s brother, who has some interesting “gifts.” The world building is better than some novels in the romantic science fiction genre, perhaps because this is the first in a series of novels set in this universe.

As of this writing, Rebel Princess is also dirt cheap, at 99 cents or free for Amazon Prime members.

Solo— a Star Wars Story

Solo posterOur son is a big time Star Wars fan, and he initially said he planned to skip this movie. Based on the box office stats, apparently a lot of folks felt the same way. However, a friend apparently convinced him to go see it, and he came back raving about how much better it is than Star Wars Episode VIII. Last evening, hubby and I went with him to our very small local theatre to see Solo- A Star Wars Story before it closes up and leaves for cable and the Red Box.

I did like it rather a lot. The cast is really great, from a decent likeness of the main character by Alden Ehrenreich to a fabulous supporting cast with veteran actors including Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany, as well as modern favorites such as West World star Thandie Newton and Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke. The look and feel of the film, although a bit dark, is up to Disney and Star Wars standards, too. While I thought there was too much action (if such a thing is possible in a summertime blockbuster film) all of it was top notch.

For real fans of the series, there are some pluses and minuses of course. The film does a good job of filling in the small and big pieces of the original trilogy, especially those that occurred in the original film, Star Wars: A New Hope. Example: Han Solo proudly tells Obi Wan Kenobi that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessell run in 12 parsecs. How? When? And why was that important? Solo fills in all those blanks. How did Han and Chewy meet? Again, this film supplies some answers. Overall, the script writers (father and son Kasdan and Kasdan) performed a minor miracle in getting so much into two action packed hours.

Although I’ve read that it was a marketing problem, or a saturation problem—no one knows for sure why Star Wars fans have not embraced Solo. That’s too bad, because it is in many ways very similar to the much better received Rogue One: A Star Wars Story— it fills in blanks in the original film, gives us new characters to love and hate, and is a visual spectacle with a very good musical score.

Beat the summer heat and go see Solo—A Star Wars Story soon. Very soon, because it will be moving to video in a few short weeks.

A party in the car?

Hubby likes to watch YouTube videos of all sorts. One of his favorite YouTubers is a mechanic named Scotty. More than once, we have purchased items based on Scotty’s recommendation. However, I was really kinda surprised when we watched a video about this product and it ended up in our Amazon shopping cart. Ours arrived recently, and the reviewers are right. This is a very inexpensive way to have a party in your car!

Seriously, for readers who want a cool led light system which reacts with music, and with a remote control, check this out!

 

Some Science Behind My Science Fiction

Having just read an article in Popular Science online about what a”Generation Ship” might look like, I was gratified to see that some of the core concepts in my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, are firmly rooted in science.

The article speculates about what challenges the multi-generation inhabitants of a colonizing venture (based on an extrapolation of current space technology) might face. Topics addressed include propulsion, medical issues, livestock, and robot workers.

In Trinity on Tylos, the alien captain of the Archeonite III has a big problem: his colony of survivors died out, but he has the ability to grow little Archeons from stored genetic material. He just needs some baby mamas, and my characters Venice Dylenski and Alathea Duke end up with the task. In the Popular Science article, We Could Move to Another Planet with a Spaceship Like This, the author mentions that “speculators say it’ll take 20,000 souls to start a healthy population on a new world. One space-­saving tip: Bring frozen embryos and people to diversify the gene pool upon arrival.” That’s right out of my novel, where Azareel and his android medical team design the embryos that Venice and Alathea gestate.

As in the Popular Science article, robots are probably going to be the grunt workers of the future. In my novel, the Archeons use robots (as they take the form of their makers, I call them androids) as workers. A limited but technologically proficient population would no doubt employ robotic workers, freeing the populace to supervise or take on  tasks that require a more creative mind.

Trinity on Tylos is a complex story, because it goes beyond being just a space opera and delves into human relationships, made more complicated by the limited number of people with whom the characters interact. Also, it is a story of surviving on a somewhat hostile planet, solving such issues as having enough water to irrigate crops. The Popular Science article mentions farming as one of the most necessary activities once the generation ship reaches a new planetary home. Indeed, when I wrote Trinity on Tylos, I remembered the words of William Bradford, a leader of the pilgrims who settled Massachusetts, who wrote “what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, fall [sic] of wild beasts and wild men—and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not.” Survival is not easy, and the Popular Science article, although very positive in outlook, does not ignore the difficulties that might face the future generations of humans whose journey began with some adventuresome ancestors.

Technological progress and science fiction often go hand in hand, because what writers dream up, engineers can (sometimes) make happen. However, the reverse is also true— when creating a science fiction story, there must be some science blended in with the fiction. Trinity on Tylos is science based fiction, and it is available for your Kindle reader or Kindle enabled device; just click on the cover art.

 

Kind of Amazing

I just bought a rechargeable Bluetooth speaker so I could more easily play music by the pool or on the porch. I have one, that is wired, in my “playroom” but it is rather large in size. This thing is small, but has lots more functionality than the older big guy that plugs into a wall outlet, such as being useful as a hands free calling device. I can see this being useful at a campsite, too. If you have an interest in portable sound, take a look:

Humor

The history of writing funny stuff stretches back into the earliest times. Humor comes in certain time honored forms: slapstick, exaggeration (a/k/a hyperbole), sarcasm, irony, and puns. Most any humorous work relies on one or more of these techniques. Until recent times, that is. Now, vulgarity seems to have overtaken all of these.

Hubby and I have been watching an HBO show called Veep (via Amazon Prime video) and, while there are a couple of decent running gags, I have not been laughing much. After subjecting ourselves to four episodes, neither of us is sure if we want to continue. I’m not so easily offended, but this show doesn’t strike me as funny, and it is clearly supposed to be a comedy. The actors seem to be working very hard at maintaining a frantic pace, which may indeed be how things are in the White House, but there is no slapstick, little irony, few plays on words, and less sarcasm than one might expect in a political drama.

Oh, I do like the bit with the staffer who has an imaginary dog. That’s funny and a bit ironic. Also amusing is the main character (Selina Meyer) hoping that the president will actually need her (thus far he hasn’t.) The character (Tony?) who doesn’t even bother whispering a brief description of everyone the VP meets and does not actually know is a bit of exaggeration and his remarks sometimes make me smile. And, the pace seems so fast that perhaps the intent is hyperbole, but it is more intense than humorous.

So, what’s left? Lots and lots of cussing, and at least fifty percent of it is a verb/expletive that might be labeled as “for unusual carnal knowledge.” Not funny. It just isn’t. I guess the writers are lazy or haven’t ever seen anything funny.

It’s sad really. A re-run of I Love Lucy can still make me laugh, but Veep doesn’t.

Printing in the digital age

For ages, I have used a couple of older HP printers. Back when computers were a “new” thing, hubby loved (and I do mean loved) his dot matrix printer. I finally convinced him that we needed a printer that would keep up with our ever growing computer power, and we bought our first HP ink jet. New found love….

Many printers down the road, we were making do with our oldies but goodies until the cartridges got crazy expensive. After doing quite a bit of research, I took a leap of faith into a newer Epson “Eco Tank” printer with wireless. Of course, after having to be tethered to a USB cord, we are loving the convenience of wifi printing. But, in the long run, I hope to love the ink tank more. The Epson ET 3750 has the “workforce” label attached, primarily due to an upgraded print head and a document feeder. I hope we like those features, but I am replacing a color laser that we used for volume printing and an ink jet all in one that I used for pictures, scanning, and single copies. The cost per page is supposed to rival the laser, and as this model has auto duplexing, it should cut down a bit on paper use as well. The warranty is 2 years with product registration, and I hope it lasts longer than that, of course.

Set up was longer than the 20-30 minutes that some reviewers reported, but not bad. Filling the ink tank, charging the print head, and completing the ink fill was a chore that took longer than anything. Print quality is pretty good with text and only so so for pictures. (I usually use Walmart or some other photo finisher for pics that I put in frames, however.) The speed is better than our old ink jet and rivals our older laser.

If you don’t print often, then a printer like this will be a waste of money, but I was spending $20 per ink jet cartridge (for a total of $80) for the old ink jet, plus about $85 per toner cartridge (for a total of $340) for the laser. As the Epson ET 3750 is supposed to replace both printers, this looks to be a good deal. Wireless is just a perk!