Open Thread: Search Me

Happy Halloween!

Picture of Scully the Cat Ghost (tm) created by Djinn for my personal use, please do not reuse without permisson.
Picture of Scully the Cat Ghost ™ created by Djinn for my personal use, please do not reuse without permisson.

People come to this blog, and others like it, through many means.  Some subscribe through an RSS service or bookmark the site and check every so often to see if it’s updated.  (Hi, Mom!)  Others follow announcement links that I or others place on various social media sites.

And others come here through search engines, primarily Google.    Now here’s the thing about Google Search.  Normally, when someone reaches a website through a search engine, the website owner can see the search terms used to find the site and adjust their postings accordingly.  (For example, if I find that people reach my blog while searching “cute kittens”, I will tend to include more posts about books involving cute kittens.)  It doesn’t reveal any identifying information about the person who viewed the site, like their name, IP address, or credit card number.

However, “to protect the user’s privacy” Google has decided to block websites from seeing the search terms used to find them…unless they are advertisers who have paid for AdSense.  So, if you use Google Search, I can’t see what terms you used to find me, but someone who paid money can.  Plus whatever other information they paid Google to collect on you.

So, my request to you is:  If you used Google Search to find a posting on my or any other blog, and the posting doesn’t already have a comment, please comment to let the blogger know the search term you used.  (Within reason, it’s okay not to tell someone you reached their G-Rated Disney Princess blog while searching for hardcore pornography.)

Your thoughts, comments, and how did you find this post?

Book Review: The Sky Devil

Book Review: The Sky Devil by L. Ron Hubbard

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  Also, because of severe shipping delays, Galaxy Press also sent the audio version.

The Sky Devil

This is another in the series of L. Ron Hubbard pulp stories reprints from Galaxy Press, a novella and two short stores.  As always, the physical quality of the book is top-notch.

The title story, “The Sky Devil”, starts with aviator Vic Kennedy fleeing retribution for his part in the failed 1935 Greek revolution.  He’s been denied asylum by both the British and French, and finds himself flying over the Sahara desert with a nearly-empty gas tank.  Suddenly, he sees a city, and upon landing finds himself embroiled in local politics.

It’s an exciting story, and features some creative use of those last few gallons of gasoline.  Hubbard loved his airplane stories, and it really shows.  There’s a love interest, but it’s kind of a lopsided victory.   I mean, you have your choice of a handsome, strapping warrior with the power of flight, or a malformed degenerate whose only claim on you is extortion of your father.  Who you going to pick?

The author is quick to point out that the locals are “white” Muslims, and it just so happens that Vic knows Arabic from…somewhere never fully discussed.

“”Buckley Plays a hunch” is set in the Southwest Pacific.  Buckley is a sailor who’s been looking for a lost scientific expedition, and has now found them.  It’s clear that they have all gone mad on this isolated island, but Buckley gets the feeling there’s more going on than meets the eye.  It isn’t quite as creepy a story as it really should be; Buckley’s just a little too calm and collected to sell it.

“Medals for Mahoney” is likewise set in the Southwest Pacific.  Mahoney is the latest clerk for a trading company.  Kamling Island has a problem with short-lived clerks and natives raiding the storehouse.  Mahoney is trying to defend the warehouse from the latest raid, but he may just possibly have the situation backwards.  A good twist in this one, and a nice bit of comedy at the end.

There’s a helpful glossary, a preview of another volume “Black Towers to Danger”, and the standard introduction and Hubbard Bio that’s in all the Galaxy Press editions.  As I have noted before, the shortness of the book and the mandatory repeated material lower the value for money if you have more than one of these volumes.  I would recommend this from the library or used bookstore, though.

The audio edition is quite splendid; it’s fully voice-acted, with sound effects.  The touted actor is Yasmine Hanani as Dunya, the love interest in “The Sky Devil”, and she has a strong cast backing her.  The actor playing Vic Kennedy came off a little bland, but that may be because everyone else was having fun with the Arabic accents.  The potted biography is in the included leaflet, which is heavily illustrated.  This has better value for money ratio, but a book is easier to pick up and read.

For other books in the series, see the “Related Posts” below this post.

Book Review: The Stone Lions

The Stone Lions by Gwen Dandridge

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

The Stone Lions

Ara is the daughter of the Sultan of Granada in the early  15th Century.  She has lived all her life in the Alhambra, the Red Palace.  Frustrated by her cloistered existence,  Ara sneaks out of the walls to see the arrival of her distant relative, the Sufi mathemagician Tahirah.  Before she can re-enter the palace, Ara witnesses a strange scene involving the Wazir, Abd al-Rahmid.

She has little time to think about this, as she is caught by her tutor Suleiman, a learned eunuch, and returned to the women’s quarters.  Suleiman worries that Ara could have fallen into the hands of evil Christians.  Turns out that Christians are the least of the dangers afoot, as the magic that protects the Alhambra from disaster and summons its faithful stone lions is under attack from within.

Suleiman soon falls victim to dark magic,  and it is up to Ara and her graceful cousin Layla to learn the seven symmetries from Tahirah  to restore the Alhambra’s defenses.

This is a children’s edutainment book, supported through the National Science Foundation.    The science part is teaching the concept of band symmetry, one of the mathematical foundations of geometry.  In addition, there’s some history and cultural information that could be helpful to a young reader.  The back has glossaries, maps and a summary of the symmetry lessons taught in the story.

The story itself is pretty good, if perhaps a little heavy-handed at points; the Wazir is a little too obviously evil to have kept it a secret so long.  Ara doesn’t have much of a character arc, her job is to learn the symmetries so she can spot the problems.  Layla has a bit more growth, learning that math can be easier to learn than she thought.  The real character development is for Suleiman, who must learn wisdom from his curse and the changes it brings.

This book is primarily aimed at children about 10-12 (Ara is ten in the back cover text, but twelve in the story) but  should be engaging for readers up to junior high level, especially girls interested in geometry.  Parents may wish to bone up on Spanish history of the period and Muslim culture of the time so they can discuss the book with their kids.

Open Thread: Coming Attractions

School has started again, and it is kicking my butt.  So reading for reviews is going to be slowing down for the next couple of weeks.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

However, I thought  you might like to see some of what’s coming up in the next month or so.  Here’s books I’ve received from authors and publishers on the premise I would read and review them–not necessarily in the order they will appear.

  • The Stone Lions by Gwen Dandridge.  A children’s fantasy novel set in Moorish Andalusia, which doubles as a text on symmetry.
  • Torsten by Joshua Kalin.  Historical fiction about three friends who sail with Christopher Columbus.
  • USA Noir edited by Johnny Temple.   An anthology of noir short stories, a “best of” collection.
  • Narrative Structure In Comics: Making Sense of Fragments by Barbara Postema.  A scholarly work about how comics work.
  • The Sky Devil by L. Ron Hubbard.  Three pulp stories of manly adventure.  Due to some difficulty with the shipment, Galaxy Press kindly also sent along the audio version, so I’ll be reviewing that as well.
  • The Thirty-Ninth Man by Dale Swanson.  Back to historical fiction, this time about the 1862 Dakota Uprising.

Plus anything else I come across I have time to post about.  If all else fails, I’ll be digging through my old journals for reviews I did before I had a blog.

Anything on this list you’re looking forward to?  Are you a publisher or author who would like to send books for me to review?  Let me know in the comments!

Comic Book Review: Earth 2, Vol. 2: The Tower of Fate

Comic Book Review: Earth 2, Vol. 2: The Tower of Fate by James Robinson & Nicola Scott

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Earth 2, Volume 2

Some background first, for our younger readers.  Back in the 1940s, National Comics (which would become DC) decided to promote some of their lesser-known characters by putting them in a group, the Justice Society of America.    These characters would have a meeting, split up into separate stories, then band together at the end to face a common menace.  This was the first full-fledged superhero team.  Eventually, as page counts lessened, the team started working together through the entire story.  And when the superhero fad faded, the comic book they were in switched to Western tales.

Superheroes came back in a big way after the Comics Code was created, and DC created new versions of many of their Golden Age characters.   Then a writer got the bright idea of teaming up the then current Flash, Barry Allen, with his Golden Age counterpart, Jay Garrick.   He came up with the notion that  the earlier stories had happened on an alternate Earth, Earth-2.  This allowed the Justice Society and all the other Golden Age characters to be used as having aged semi-realistically from the 1940s to the 1960s.   Various series featured the Earth-2 characters having their own adventures.  Plus, many other alternate Earths were made up to feature different characters.

In the 1980s, DC’s Powers that Were decided they wanted to “modernize” some of their characters, and streamline the DC Multiverse into one semi-consistent DC Universe, as some writers found the multiple Earths idea “too confusing.”  So Crisis on Infinite Earths happened, and now there was just one Earth, with many of the Golden Age characters having fought crime in the 1940s, and others having their history changed to match the new timeline.

And that worked for a while.   It took some doing for the Justice Society to find its feet, with several attempts at sidelining them, and drastic roster changes.  But they endured, and finally got a popular, relatively long lasting series.  However, going into the Twenty-First Century, it was getting increasingly difficult to justify people in their eighties and nineties still actively fighting crime without invoking immortality.  You could fudge ages on some characters, but the Justice Society was specifically tied to World War Two.

This, and other issues including the desire to “modernize” characters again, caused the Powers that Be at DC to reboot their line once again in the Flashpoint event.   Now superheroes as such had mostly started their careers “five years ago” and were young and “relevant” again.   Most of the Golden Age characters had vanished entirely in the New 52, but others hadn’t.    Eventually, this was explained with the publication of the new Earth 2 series.

DC has gone back to multiple Earths, and is using this series to depict a timeline where the Golden Age characters are reimagined for a new generation.  This Earth was invaded by the forces of Darkseid, and drove them off at the cost of the death, disappearance or disgrace of all their existing heroes.  Some years later, new “wonders” are appearing or being revealed as new threats emerge.  This volume covers issues 7-12, and a couple of specials that fill in details.

Modern decompressed storytelling means that you don’t get your team together in the first issue and go from there.  Indeed, by the sixth issue, some of our heroes had met and briefly worked together to stop a menace, but immediately split up again.  The primary storyline in these issues is Flash helping the new Doctor Fate find the resolve to become that character.  The primary villain they face is Wotan, who is given a new origin story (including an explanation for the green skin which explains why Wotan hates Doctor Fate’s mentor Nabu so much.)

Meanwhile, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl investigate the death of GL’s fiance, as it turns out the baddies might not have been after GL after all.  This doesn’t really get far before Green Lantern is called in to help with Wotan.  Elsewhere, Darkseid’s lieutenant Steppenwolf and his pawn Fury (supposed Wonder Woman’s daughter) take over a country.  Minor characters have their own subplots.

Good stuff:   With this reboot, DC has the freedom to make the cast more diverse from the start, and they’ve done so.  After some rough patches in the early issues, most of the heroes are now acting heroic, particularly Flash.  The art is decent, and the war against Darkseid’s forces stands in for World War Two nicely.

Not so good:  Did we really need to kill the Amazons again?  Seriously, we worry about you, DC.  Also, there’s a lot of grimness and gritting teeth.  I’d like to see a little more fun and people enjoying their powers and abilities.  The current DC hatred of marriage also is felt here, killing off spouses and potential spouses to free up the characters for other romantic subplots (or in the case of the gay guy, avoiding that yucky actually having him date thing.)

I can see where DC is coming from, but as an old fogy myself, I miss having heroes who have been around for decades and learned wisdom the hard way.

Book Review: Rot Riot and Rebellion: Mr. Jefferson’s Struggle to Save the University that Changed America

Book Review: Rot Riot and Rebellion: Mr. Jefferson’s Struggle to Save the University that Changed America by Rex Bowman & Carlos Santos

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Rot Riot and Rebellion

If I told you about a school where the students constantly engaged in partying, drunkenness and extramarital sex;  where the students scorned to study and disrespected the teachers, a campus rife with violence that boiled over into riots that resulted at least once in murder, what school would you think I was talking about?   If you guessed the University of Virginia from 1825 to 1846, you would be correct.

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville was the first secular college in the young United States.  All previous schools of higher learning had been sponsored by one denomination or another, and had mandatory religious services.   Thomas Jefferson had a vision for a school that people of all religions and none could attend.  He also had some innovative ideas about the power structure such an university might have.  This got him a lot of opposition, so it was only in his eighties that the school was finally built.

Sadly, the first few classes of students failed to live up to Mr. Jefferson’s expectations; at one point he broke into tears in public, which brought about a short-lived attempt to do better by the pupils.  They were a rowdy bunch who gambled and drank and abused slaves; and were so jealous of their honor that any real or imagined slight erupted into violence.  One student tried to blow up a professor with an improvised bomb–twice!  And quite a few of them were prominent in the Confederate Army; sadly, none are mentioned as joining the Union.

There are many colorful stories of the early days, including the short college career of Edgar Allan Poe.  Since this is a University of Virginia publication, it comes with proper end notes, bibliography and index.  There are some black and white pictures in the middle, mostly portraits as very few of the important people involved lived to the age of photography.

This is a very enjoyable book that I would recommend to Virginians (especially alumni of the college), fans of Thomas Jefferson, and college students who are tired of being told how much worse their generation is compared to those of bygone days.

Anime Review: Mushibugyo

Anime Review: Mushibugyo

It has been about a century since Japan was invaded by giant mushi (“insect” or “bug”, it’s a loose category) that rampage about, eating people and destroying buildings.  In Edo, the capital, the shogunate government has established the office of the Mushibugyo (“Insect Magistrate”) to protect the city and its people.  A new member has been requested for the field team, a fearsome samurai swordsman, Tsukishima.   But he’s unable to travel at the moment, having lost a leg.  So the team gets his son Jinbei Tsukishima instead.  Can the young and rash samurai help the Mushibugyo office prevail against ever more deadly bugs?

Mushibugyo

Mushibugyo is a 26 episode anime series, based on a shounen manga by Hiroshi Fukuda.  I watched it on the Crundhyroll website, where it is still available as of this writing.

The good:  This is a series that has lots of giant insects for our brave (mostly) heroes to fight in over the top battles.  The characters are mostly enjoyable, and the power of friendship and never giving up wins the day.

Not as good:  This series is very shounen.  The hero’s a bit of an idiot, most of the other characters are kind of cliche as well, and there is seldom any real feeling of danger in the battles.  Sure, lots of unnamed extras die horribly, but no one we actually care about.  As well, the fanservice gets kind of obnoxious–do we really need to see/hear about the tsundere kunoichi’s  (mood-swinging female ninja) loincloth quite so often?  The clip show episode features all the female characters at the public bath, plus an extra one-shot character for more fanservice.

There’s also several characters who are prominent in the opening titles but get only cameos in the show itself; presumably they got more development in the manga.  Likewise, some of the backstory for some characters (the Insect Hunters, most notably) seems to have been cut for time.

Still, if this is the sort of thing you like, you should like it very much.  If you want a grittier look at humanity fighting giant monters, with a lot more plausible character fatalities, see Attack on Titan instead.

Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943

Book Review: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943 by Bruce Gamble

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Fortress Rabaul

This is the second of three books about the Southwest Pacific campaign during World War Two.  The first book covered the fate of Lark Force, an Australian army unit stationed on New Britain when the Japanese invaded.  The first few chapters of this book recap much the same events, but from the perspective of the air battles.

Rabaul was a small town on New Britain (north of Australia) which had an excellent harbor, but with pretty much constant volcanic activity keeping the local population from getting too comfortable.    Its position made it the best place for the Japanese to build airfields and harbor ships to dominate the Southwest Pacific and prepare for their invasion of Australia.

This is a book dense with information, with detailed reports on many of the air battles in the area.   There are a few black and white photos, but extensive endnotes.  There is a bibliography, and an index which has separate categories for ships, planes and military units

The repeated air battle reports get a bit tedious, enlivened once in a while with a particularly poignant moment.   It was somewhat startling to see just how ill-prepared Australia was for the air war, and how little the initial American forces were able to do.  So many airmen dead, so many vanished, their fate unknown.

The volume ends with the mission that shot down Admiral Yamamoto in 1943, and the definitive turnaround in the course of the war.  The rest will be told in the final book.

This book will be best appreciated by military history buffs, World War Two buffs, wargamers, and those whose relatives fought in the long campaign.

ETA:  Here’s a Japanese propaganda song of the era, with footage of Japanese planes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaEa5O3B-KI

Do you like videos with book reviews?  If so, comment.

 

 

Book Review: Tom Swift and His Motor-boat

Book Review: Tom Swift and His Motor-boat by Victor Appleton

When I was a lad, lo these many years ago, one of the things that delighted me was running across  old boys’ adventure books, from when my grandfather was young.  The world they described was so strange and far away, even then.  So when I run across one these days, I have a look for old time’s sake.

Tom Swift and his Motor-boat

This is the second book in the original Tom Swift series.  Tom was the son of a gifted but not yet prosperous inventor, and a skilled engineer/mechanic/inventor in his own right.  Early in the series, the books revolved around the latest real-life technology, edging into techno-thriller territory as Tom’s inventions became more advanced.  They were written by a publishing syndicate under the house name of Victor Appleton, and the straight-up science fiction series of Tom Swift, Jr. books were assigned to Victor Appleton, Jr.

In the first Tom Swift book, he had lucked into a motorcycle and had a series of adventures on it, including tracking down a stolen motorboat.   Said boat was pretty banged up by the end, and in the beginning of this book, the owner sells it to Tom at a very reasonable price.  Tom repairs and upgrades the boat, and soon is having adventures on and around the local (very large) lake.  There’s a subplot with the Happy Harry gang that also appeared in the previous volume.  For some reason they seem bent on staying in the area and harassing the Swifts.

This volume illustrates how much the technology of gasoline motors has advanced in the intervening century–Tom and the other motorboat pilots must frequently tinker with the engines mid-race to get the best performance or prevent breakdowns.  It’s made very clear that merely purchasing a faster engine won’t let you win if you don’t know how to use it properly.

The last quarter of the book sets up the airship that will be the focus of the next volume, with the final fate of the Happy Harry gang.

The character of Eradicate (a black handyman) may come off as offensively stereotyped, and Tom shows some mild sexism when it comes to girls and motors. (The romantic interest gets better at it, but only because of his tutoring.) And towards the end, one character suddenly reveals he has more political power than he’d let on, with no foreshadowing.

But these are minor quibbles, and I think this book would be fine to share with a son, grandson or nephew with the usual discussions of what has changed in the last century and why.

Open Thread: Linkspam 10/2/13

Time for the monthly recommendation of other blogs!  I went to the Bloggers’ group meeting at Joule again.  This time the topic was timesaving tips, such as having a calendar to remind you when it’s time to post.  One cool tip for bloggers with families is having a special article of clothing that you wear when you are blogging so people know not to bother you.  “When Daddy is wearing his Chicago Cubs hat, that means he’s busy writing about sports, so don’t interrupt him unless you’re bleeding or the house is on fire.”

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

Here are some of the attendees and their blogs that you might want to check out.:

Wyzguys Tech Talk: http://www.bobwyzguy.com/ Computer repair, network maintenance and related issues.  The latest post is about Windows 8 training classes in the Twin Cities area.

Tech Nick Tips: http://technickconsulting.com/technicktips/  Web marketing and social media.  The latest post is about misconceptions of business-related social media.

Pianist for Parties: http://pianistforparties.com/blog/ The author writes about her experiences playing piano for various gatherings.  Tomorrow 10/3/13, is Day of German Unity, and she’ll be playing for a celebration of that, so watch this space.

Retirement Education Plus:  http://www.retirementeducationplus.com/retirement-blog/ Information for those planning for retirement or about to retire.  The most recent post was reminding people that if you are already on Medicare, you don’t need to sign up for the ACA separately.

My Cuddle Corner: http://shannonfabrics.com/blog/  The official blog for Shannon Fabrics, which specializes in plush fabrics.  The lastest entry has a picture of cute children in cheetah costumes.  Seriously, these kids are adorable.

Euphoria Gems: http://www.euphoriagems.com/ does not have a blog yet, but is planning to start one.  Their gimmick is something called “interchangeable gems.”

The Light in the Middle of the Tunnel: http://thelightinthemiddleofthetunnel.com/blog-2/  A blog for family caregivers, particularly in dealing with Parkinson’s Disease.  The latest post is the personal testimony of someone diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

AccessAbility: http://www.aabsi.com/ provides business services for those companies who want to hire people with disabilities or other challenges.  Their newsletter is not directly accessible, you’ll have to subscribe.

WeCo Website Accessibility Blog: http://theweco.com/weco-blog/  WeCo tests the accessibility of websites to make sure that they can be used by people with disabilities or other challenges.  The most recent blog post is a profile of one of their testers.  WeCo has, by the way, a very organized blogging plan–if you like reliable posting schedules, these folks do a good job.

Please consider visiting one or more of these blogs–they’d love to have your views, and if you have some pertinent comments, those would be greatly appreciated.

Also consider commenting here with a link to your blog and what it’s about!

SKJAM!

 

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