Deep One

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Don't lay hose in a ditch.


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Deep One
zadok_allen


The Arrival is a unique graphic novel that tells a story of immigration with no text; it's only images. The artwork is a little fanciful and what I found most surprising was the amount of emotion the author was able to create without any dialogue - an impressive accomplishment. I'd decided early that I was going to read the book slowly, to carefully take in all the details of the images since it was a purchase and not a library loan. That was a good decision, I think, because there are several facets of the story that could be missed if they're skimmed over. The themes of the book and the manner in which they are presented makes it a novel that is relevant to both children and adults.

The Golem and the Jinni takes two elements of middle eastern folklore (the Jewish clay golem and the Arabic jinni) and sets them in gaslight NYC. It's primarily, I think, an immigration story, but it has elements of urban fantasy, romance, coming-of-age, and historical fiction (due to the amount of research Wecker did on the era) as well. I was hoping for a bit more of an urban fantasy tale. At the risk of sounding like a complete pig, I'd primarily recommend this novel to my female friends. Although there are elements of fantasy and suspense, I thought the novel was primarily a story of two very different, "young" (emotionally) people displaced into a foreign land and finding each other. It's natural, intended, and perhaps unavoidable, since the author is Jewish and her husband is Arabic. Although not the kind of thing I would normally choose to read, it was really very beautifully written with vibrant characters and an expertly detailed setting. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this, her first novel, was her masterpiece.
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just finished
Deep One
zadok_allen


Lost Everything is told in a post-apocalyptic setting where climate change, peak oil, and war have converged to collapse society and change the natural landscape of North America. The plot is fairly conventional for PAW novels - two men cross a dangerous landscape in search of family - in this case, a son who was separated from them by the war. The book suffered from several weaknesses. One was the setting - it had only been about a 100 years since the collapse, but flora and fauna from South America (monkeys, jungle plants) had already moved up and taken over North America. There was no explanation for a shift that rapid. Vehicles were still operating and running on gasoline even though there was no modern manufacturing or oil refining left. There was an evident gender-role swap; all of the powerful characters in the novel (military leaders, ship captains, sniper-scouts, mercenaries) were female, but there was no explanation for the shift. The other weakness was the writing style. Slattery makes frequent changes in perspective, speaker, and timeline but doesn't provide enough context clues for the readers to know where they are and who they were with. I soon stopped caring. I'd recommend people to avoid this book - it's the first I've put up on Paperbackswap.com in a while.

I've been keen to get started on The Abominable ever since reading The Terror and ranking it among my favorites of 2013. The technical quality of the writing and the degree to which the subject matter (mountain climbing before the first Everest summit) has been researched both seem beyond reproach. They were two details that impressed me quite a bit in The Terror. The problem I had with the novel is that it's a historical horror-fiction tale and the horror part doesn't start until two-thirds of the way into the 700-page book. It was a bit too much foreplay for me. I grew bored with the skilled but interminable descriptions of mountain climbing and crampons and oxygen apparatus. It was difficult to maintain interest, even in sections where I had some working knowledge of the ropes and knots they were using. To compound my frustration, when the action really got started in the last third of the novel spoilers if you already know you won"t be reading this oneCollapse ) Ah well, not a badly written book, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you really enjoyed The Terror and have a keen interest in mountain climbing.
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just finished
Deep One
zadok_allen
b47r

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is another gem from Mary Roach - this and Stiff would be the two that I would recommend to anyone remotely interested in reading her work. It's really the author at her best - witty, inquisitive, humble, and absolutely overflowing with interesting facts, like the vaginoclitoral distance that makes it more difficult for tall women to achieve orgasm during PIV sex, the birth of compensatory erogenous zones following spinal cord injuries, and the sympathy-inspiring history of penile implants. A fascinating book from cover to cover.

47 Ronin is a graphic-novel adaptation of the famous 18th century Japanese folklore tale. I picked it up right after reading Usagi Yojimbo because they're both drawn by Stan Sakai. I kind of wish he had used animals for the characters in this book as well to make it seem more like a fable, but I suppose he may have wanted to keep it as traditional as possible. It works well as a beginner's guide to the 47 Ronin story - lacks some of the detail of the other translations available, but gives the reader everything needed to understand the story from beginning to end. Stories like this and Shōgun are certainly enough to make one wonder how Japan made it into the 20th century at all, with all of their men committing seppuku if they so much as broke wind in the Emperor's palace...
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Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC) training
firetruck
zadok_allen
TIC

The improvised blinders are so that the only thing he can see is the view finder of the camera. It helps a person get accustomed to the limitations of the camera, especially changes in depth perception. We have all found that the TIC is pretty useless as a means of "seeing" in an otherwise zero-visibility environment - it's too disorienting and it's easier to just feel your way around and construct a mental image of your surroundings. The TIC promotes tunnel vision.

What it excels at, though, is finding hidden heat sources, areas of fire extension, and locating victims. We've used it several times to locate people in the woods at night, and to determine the number of occupants in a car that had ejected its passengers during an accident. If you get to the vehicle quickly, you can scan the seats and see where people had been sitting.

They've already started marketing TICs that clip on to the brim of a helmet - I expect these to be integrated into SCBA masks (similar to our air level HUD) before the end of my career.
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just finished
Deep One
zadok_allen
ttmuy

The Thin Man is another whodunnit by the guy who wrote The Maltese Falcon, the latter of which was a bit more action-packed than this novel. The Thin Man focuses on clever, colorful characters, witty banter and a fast paced investigation to keep the reader interested. That would not normally be enough to keep my somewhat embarrassingly bloodthirsty brain engaged, but it did in this case; it kept me up past my bedtime on a few occasions. There is, however, a Scooby-Doo reveal at the end that I wasn't crazy about, and I was a little skeptical about the amount of drinking that was going on. Is it possible that people really drank like that in the 30s - at every hour, working or not? I consider myself a pro but there's no way I could have kept up. I think I'm gonna step away from Hammett for a bit - at least until I'm ready for another detective novel, but if anyone has any must-read suggestions for crime noir, I'll happily take them.

I read my first Usagi Yojimbo comic about 25 years ago. I liked it but didn't pick it up because I was collecting Savage Sword of Conan at the time, which had more violence and boobies. This book is a 600 page (!) collection that's available for only $20 on Amazon, so I grabbed it. I'd say without hesitation that the coolest thing about this comic is how much history and folklore Stan Sakai is able to sneak into the stories, without it just being that kind of comic - it's still got ninjas and a ronin rabbit. But the regular doses of history are what I enjoy the most, and also the fact that many of the stories are basically parables* on honor, duty, sacrifice, love, trust, and so on. These characteristics, along with the fact that the violence is not very graphic and there is not a pin-up on every page make the Usagi Yojimbo story quite different from most of the popular modern comics. A couple other things worth pointing out are that this collection is not chronologically issues 1-30. It appears that they gathered up a number of stories that were inter-related and spliced them together to give them a more organic narrative. I assumed they basically deleted some stand-alone issues that were less popular. Also, it's black and white. I'd love to have a collection that was inked in, but it looks like the only way to get that is to get on ebay and start buying back issues - not something I'm willing to invest in right now. I might look into picking up some select issues - maybe the Noodles story or any that feature TMNT cameos. Or maybe this one once I figure out which issue it is, because zombies:

UsagiYojimbo

*Is "fables" the correct term because they're animals? But they're animals who are playing human characters, so.../shrug.
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just finished
Deep One
zadok_allen
agtc

Abaddon's Gate is the third novel in The Expanse series - I skipped the review of the second book (Caliban's War) but I didn't have much to say about it that I won't say here. It is worth mentioning that the second book ended on a pretty cool cliffhanger that didn't leave me angry about cliffhangers the way they normally do. At any rate, I've really been loving the series. I'd say it's the best sci-fi I've read since Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy. It's also starting to worry me if the SyFy Channel's upcoming adaptation of The Expanse is going to be able to do it justice. Definitely looking forward to it nevertheless - the characters are super rich, mysterious and likable, and the crew of The Rocinante, with their dangerous proficiency and witty dialogue create an atmosphere that's undeniably reminiscent of Firefly. The fourth book is out already but I'm waiting until it's printed in paperback in May. If you're interested, click on that SyFy link for the trailer. I'm glad they got Thomas Jane but he's far too pretty for the way I imagined Detective Miller, and I guess they didn't want to use his trademark porkpie hat since it's already owned by Walter White.

The Chrysalids was written by the same guy who wrote The Day of the Triffids, another great PAW novel. The setting for this one is Canada, several hundred years after a nuclear war that glassed all of the major population centers. The settled areas in Canada are safe, but on their outskirts is The Fringe, which is characterized by dramatic mutations to the plants and wildlife. It's the home of humans who have been cast out of the civilized zones for bearing mutations; extra arms, scales, webbed hands, etc. The central characters of the novel are some kids who have a powerful mutation that does not manifest itself in their appearance. They do what they can to hide their mutation but live in fear of the day they may be discovered. If The Day of the Triffids was a cautionary tale about tampering with genetics and the environment, The Chrysalids is a cautionary tale about nuclear war - but more importantly, it's a metaphor about the folly of discrimination, whether it be based on race, gender identification, religion, or any other superficial reason. It's a timeless book and I think it'd be a great one to see taught in high schools.
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just finished
Deep One
zadok_allen
wainte

Wolf and Iron is a popular post-apocalyptic adventure tale that is sort of an amalgamation of Jeremiah Johnson and Call of the Wild. The protagonist, a man named JeeBee, befriends a partially-tamed wolf (as much as they can be domesticated) early in the book. Although Jeebee is quite capable himself, the wolf helps him survive both directly and indirectly throughout the story. Dickson did a lot of research on wolf pack behavior and interaction with humans, which pays off in the novel. For the most part the book does a fine job of staying rooted in plausibility; it's primarily about the dangers of traveling and competing for resources with animals and other survivors in the PAW. The one notable exception is the second group of protagonists who travel around in a Conestoga wagon spoilersCollapse ). It's so wild and incongruous with the rest of the setting that it's jarring.  If he'd put the same item in a Mad Max-styled PAW I would have accepted and enjoyed the idea, but Wolf and Iron takes place in a more sober, realistic setting where that wagon just does not belong.  I'm pretty sure Dickson had the idea a long time ago and decided he had to squeeze it into a book somewhere because it was just too rockin' to waste.  Unfortunately, I don't think Wolf and Iron was the book for it; it made it difficult for me to take the rest of the story seriously.  Still, it's a fine adventure read that's not otherwise overpowered by testosterone and heroics.

Nothing to Envy is a history of North Korea from the '60s to 2010, told from the perspective of a handful of North Korean defectors.  It's a very similar style to John Hersey's Hiroshima, which makes perfect sense since he was Barbara Demick's mentor. It's an excellent formula to use for this type of book, since the historical events get rooted with personal experiences - I think it makes for an interesting and fast paced read. I always enjoy discovering what I didn't know from these kinds of books. Aside from underestimating the scope of North Korea's famine, I was also surprised to learn how bad things were in the '90s - a time when I was finishing up high school and going to college. Demick explains one of the most common questions Westerner's have about the preposterous claims made by the propaganda machines: how could the citizens believe the lies? The answer is that it was a matter of survival. Domestic spying and snitching was so prevalent amongst civilians that even appearing to doubt the words of the State could warrant a death sentence. The doubt, however, was an essential part of the survivors' stories - it led them to commit crimes to survive (like buying food) and eventually led them to illegally cross the border. That then led to another fascinating element of the book - the North Koreans' reactions upon realizing that Kim Jong-il was not an omnipotent ruler but instead just a liar and a despot, and that their country was not a world leader, but instead a backwards, stunted hermit society. Demick also describes the difficulty North Korean's have assimilating with Chinese and South Korean culture, and the survivors' guilt - a natural product of the fact that surviving the famine had less to do with resources and wit, and more to do with being willing to eat while others starved around them. Nothing to Envy was a National Book Award finalist and I can easily see it making a lot of college reading lists, so pick it up if you want a good book on this particular chapter in history. I read a good chunk of it while my co-workers were watching The Interview in the day room, so there's also that option for this timely subject. :-)
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Deep One
zadok_allen
IMG_0645[1]

To Green Angel Tower is the thousand-page conclusion to Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy. It's #25 on Wikipedia's list of longest novels ever written but I don't imagine that any of the readers who have stuck with the series for this long will complain about the length. The primary characters Simon and Miriamele really begin to change and fill out in the final novel, and some of the secondary adventures they have before confronting the Big Bad were quite enjoyable - I think the ghant rescue mission may have been one of my favorites. Again I have to point out that the writing lacks the darkness or edginess that I've come to like in George R. R. Martin's books, but it's still a solid fantasy series with a very satisfying ending and a much more forgiving survival rate for the core characters.

Who Goes There is, of course, the novella on which The Thing is based, but unless you're absolutely crazy about the movie (and I am) then I would not bother reading it. My biggest problem with the novella was that Macready's character looked and talked like a Greek god. He was a superman, with Sherlock Holme's omniscience and infallibility. I found him flat and unlikable, a near antithesis of Kurt Russel's character in the movie. The psychological tension of suspicion was well represented in the novella, but Campbell didn't convey how the characters feared being trapped inside with the monster just as much as they feared being driven outside by the monster. The arctic cold was a passive but lethal threat in the movie, but it didn't make much of an appearance in the book. Luckily, though, Campbell didn't mind the screenwriters taking liberties with his story, so we've always got Kurt Russel's awesome hair and big hat and John Carpenter's bizarro alien to enjoy.
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lessons learned
re-animator
zadok_allen
furnace2

This was a failure on my part; I had neglected to familiarize myself with the details on how my gas furnace operates. Pictured above is the electric ignitor. I had assumed it ran on a pilot light. The electric ignitors are basically a heating element, and carry the advantage of not having to stay lit 24/7. They only come on when signaled by the thermostat, lighting the burners when needed and shutting everything down when not needed. The disadvantage is that they only last for about 4 years, and will fail sooner if they get dirt or oil on them, similar to a halogen lamp. Definitely something for which one would want to keep a few spares, if that's the type of furnace you have.

furnace3
Here's a close up of the burned out area.

I discovered the problem on a Saturday morning after coming home from work, so most of the local HVAC suppliers were closed. I called around to a few contractors, but they wouldn't sell parts without sending out a technician, which would incur an "emergency" fee since it was during the weekend. I found a supplier that was open on Saturday - they didn't have the part in stock but they could order it for me for $77. I found it on Amazon for $22, so I ordered two and paid an extra $10 for 2-day shipping.

So I spent five days without central heat (the "2-day shipping" doesn't start until the first business day), with the temperatures inside getting down to 50 degrees. Nothing dangerous, but enough to be uncomfortable. I had a little $20 space heater that made a big difference in my home's small rooms. I'm more prepared for air conditioner failures since that's more of a problem down here in my part of Virginia. Of course, since I've gone through the trouble of squirreling away a generator, a bunch of stabilized gas and a window AC unit, I'll almost certainly never have a use for any of it.

furnace
I HAVE FIRE!!! (and now a spare ignitor stashed next to the furnace as well...)

just finished
Deep One
zadok_allen
lwtnc

Leviathan Wakes certainly deserves all the praise it receives from sci-fi critics. I see it frequently described as a space opera, which it is, but it's also at least 1/3 crime noir, and a fair portion of it is horror as well, along the lines of Dead Space (the only video game for which I had to drink to play, because it made my nerves so bad) or The Thing. All of the main characters are complex and believable, Detective Miller of the crime noir portion of the novel being my favorite. Miller is an aging detective who becomes obsessed with a missing woman case, eventually finding himself dragged into the larger events in the novel. As the story progresses he finds himself willing to take greater risks and make larger sacrifices in order to find her, to include putting both his safety and his mental health at risk. He has a tragic, haunted part in the novel that I really enjoyed. Caliban's War is next in the trilogy. It's another 600-pager but Leviathan Wakes never lost my attention so I'm hoping the sequel will be the same. Go pick it up, sci-fi fans.

The Naked Communist was written by an ex-FBI agent at the height of the Cold War and is a treatise on the dangers and failures of Communism. The middle of the book deals with the history of Communism from the murders of the Romanovs to The Bay of Pigs. I found it to be immensely interesting despite the brief amount of time he was able to dedicate to each major communist-related incident during that 40 year time span - the amount and breadth of Communist espionage that occurred openly and secretly in America was especially shocking.

The rest of the book I had problems with. For starters, the book is absolutely rife with grammatical errors. Missing words, incorrect words (tail instead of fail), punctuation, numerical errors (the year 2939 instead of 1939) - all stuff that would have been missed by spell check but should not have been missed by any high school newsletter editor. There was a huge number of these errors; I'd say one every two or three pages. It makes the reader wonder if the fact checking was as sloppy as the editing. The beginning chapters deal with the motivations and beliefs of Marx, Engels and Stalin, and go on quite a bit about Communist philosophy (especially "there is no God; Man is God"), theories on Nature and the origin of life (Communist short answer: it was random and that's all you need to know). Not real bracing stuff. The end of the book addresses the future threats of Communism and what we can do about it (Skousen short answer: be a good Christian), and also includes a relatively famous 45-point list of Communist goals, many of which have since been reached. Skousen seems pre-occupied with the fact that Communism is an atheistic organization and concludes that adhering to western Christian values is integral to protecting against the Red threat, even going as far as to suggest that western atheists and agnostics are human petri dishes for the Communist agenda. It was a narrow, myopic defense strategy in my opinion, particularly since it seems to me that just a history of the atrocities, tactics, and failures of Communism ought to be enough to teach western nations why a defense is necessary. Maybe I need to look for *that* book.
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