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London Under (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 23 April 2017 14:39

nyone who's played a game within the last 40 years probably knows about D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). In its most basic form, players take the role of magic users and warriors and travel into the dungeon of a castle long swept away, to fight all the monsters who horde treasure therein.

Economically, it makes no sense. Biologically, it makes no sense. Rationally, it's a joke. But it's still fun.

But while a dungeon chock full of monsters who understand economic principles (and, seemingly, doorknobs) seems unlikely, equally unlikely are the places that exist beneath London. The remnants of old streets from Roman times. Ancient vaults, crypts, and cells. Passageways chiseled for purposes unknown. Even rivers, redirected beneath the streets to ease their passage (and stench).

And now the London Underground. And bomb shelters and redoubts from World War Two. And all those telecommunication lines, water lines, gas lines.

Wow.

As a game designer, I think this would be a better game than silly old D&D. Rumors of cavemen from prehistoric times, of tribes driven under by the great fire, of cockroaches the size of your arm and rats the size of small ponies. Imagine the encounter tables!

So, yes, Peter Achroyd's fine book Under London was a delight to read. I picked it up in a used bookshop in Easton Pa while haunting about, killing time. Read a good chunk of it waiting for the bike shop to open. It works logically through its materials, briefly discussing London and its history (and belowground geography). Then we read about the first raw sewers and underground cells. The rising of the ground (through the gradual collection of dirt and filth) lifts the city, making first floors into cellars. Rivers are vaulted over. Then there is a good deal of information about bringing water in (as the population expands) and (well after the fact) taking it back out again. For me, I was quite interested in the section on the tube, including the stations build, abandoned, and in some cases, forgotten. A very fun book!

So, if you are standing around in bike shorts on a cold April day inside a tiny little bookshop, look this one up. Only don't try this in Easton - I already got that one!

>>>IF YOU LIKE YOUR HISTORY ABOVEGROUND, CHECK OUT MY HISTORIC NOVELS HERE!<<<

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 April 2017 14:58
 
We are Pirates (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 16 April 2017 18:03

e are Pirates is a weird little book, and comes to us from Daniel Handler, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. And if you think this is another YA book, perfect for that "gateway" panacea drug you parents are always searching for your children to become readers... no. Not this one. Grownups only, here. Trust me.

So Gwen Needle is the young, frustratedly confused daughter of Phil Needle, mid-life-crisis guy who is currently involved in television productions (and if there is any place where reality is shaped to meet popular demands, it is here). Gwen has just enacted her right-of-passage-into-troubled-teenhood - shoplifting, of course. Caught and released into the toxic atmosphere of her parent's sick and failing relationship, she is "punished" by being sent to an old folks’ home to provide company and companionship for some of the older failing bulbs. And one Magoo, Errol, catches her attention. In his room he's got pirate books by the shelfload. And these she reads. And suddenly the idea of becoming a pirate (even in San Francisco Bay, on a boat used for lame pirate shows) becomes an out for her. She can find her freedom from her classes, from the boy who rejected him, and, of course, from her parents.

And assembling a small band of pirates (or, in the historical sense, misfits) she beings her short yet colorful journey.

And my word of warning - if you think this is a YA book where everyone waves cutlasses that don't bite, that people end up poorer but wiser, that people bungle to a laugh track and everything is just innocent hijinks, think again. There is blood on the deck, lots of blood. Pirates aren’t Disneytronics - they are murderous thugs, and released from the constraints that her father flails against, Gwen goes fully into it. Yes, the book is funny, but it is graphic, too. So don’t buy this book and have your children read it for you - grow a pair and read it for yourself.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It was a good book, and I kept at it, even when the decks were red*.

>>>MY BOOKS ARN'T REALLY YA BOOKS, EITHER. SO MAYBE YOU NEED TO CHECK THEM OUT TOO. DOWN THIS LINK TO OUR LITTLE GIFT SHOP!

* with Pizza.

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 April 2017 18:28
 
Bicycle Diaries (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 09 April 2017 00:00

o if I tell you Bicycle Diaries was written by David Byrne, you're going to snap your fingers and say "Byrne, Byrne! Where have I heard that name before?"

Talking Heads. Okay, now remember? He was involved in that group.

So since the eighties, Byrne has been interested in traveling the world (as part of his work, and also part of his spirit). And over much of these travels, he brings a folding bike with him so he can explore and expand through these new cultures.

The book isn't a clear diary - it doesn’t follow his life day-by-day. Rather, it studies each city mostly from its ability to be a city, to move its people while not surrendering (as it is all too easy for cities to do) to the poisonous allure of the automobile. And while you might be thinking, Oh, that's just Robert - then you haven’t really looked at the world as Byrne has (and I have). You don't see the neighborhoods slashed wide open by eight lanes of elevated roaring mayhem. You haven't really noticed neighborhoods that wither and die as cities become rumbling fume-traps and whites flight to their spacious sprawl. Yes, for all the good it's given us in terms of freedom and flexibility, the car has robbed us of lives and communities. So think about that next time you yell at a cyclist to get on the sidewalk.

Byrne dosn't just logjam about cars for his entire book. He also looks at cultures, how they've changed in the last thirty years, their people and customs and such. Overall, it's very interesting reading. And for many of my tour-bus travels, it makes we wish I'd had a bike too, and wandered about cities and towns and lonely roads, looking for adventure amid the exotic backgrounds.

There is also a great deal about music here, many memories of small smoky clubs and dissections of musical cultures, sub-cultures, and even sub-sub-cultures. I hadn't given it much thought but when you consider it, every district in some city might have several bands playing whatever venue they can find, trying to get their music out. And these bands are trying to find their own sound, be it a mix of regional and international flair. So if you think all Latino music is Latino music, you'll find out otherwise here.

So overall, a very good book, one full of travel and insight, long enough to be worth it but not overly so. I'll give it a check-it-out rating, especially for musicians and cyclists in my readership.

>>>AND WHILE YOU ARE AT IT, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS HERE. EASY TO BUY, CHEAP TO PAY FOR, THE PERFECT BOOK FOR A LAZY OUTSIDE DAY!<<<

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 April 2017 08:39
 
Space Boy (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 02 April 2017 00:00

've gone into comics in the past here. So now I'm putting you onto something really good, something that will make you happy and sad and yank those old heart strings around, a webcomic titled Space Boy, online and free for viewing.

So, Space Boy isn't really centered around a boy so much as it is a young girl named Amy in the 3300's-and-something. She lived in a deep space mining colony, her dad was scapegoated for an industrial accident, and her family has been "fired" (i.e. removed from service and sent back to Earth). Now, Amy has lived on this colony all her life - it's a thirty year frozen-trip each way. So, first item of interest - when she does get back to Earth, her best friend-gal back on-station is now 45. And Amy cannot bring herself to call her (she does once, and there is her friend! Wow! Wait, that's not her friend. It's her friend's daughter. Click!)

Thus we follow Amy as she fits into a dirt-side culture with her 30-year lag, looking over her shoulder as she discovers rain and snow (very sweet) and baby chickens (very, very cute). And while trying to find her place in her new high school, she notices Oliver, the quiet boy who drifts in and out of class when he wishes, and only really shows up for art lessons.

I'm going to tell you this - I really loved Space Boy (it is still ongoing - hasn't completed its run yet). The story is interesting and the artwork takes full advantage of its medium. The panels are stacked vertically and to read, you scroll with your mouse wheel. Here Stephen McCraine, the artist/writer behind this effort, really takes advantage of his form. As you scroll down, a white background slowly fades to blue, and suddenly you are looking at a sky, and houses, a perfect fade-in. He does this in many unique ways - in one shot, he stands his art sideways and gives you a wide panoramic of a parade marching past.

One interesting thing of note - while his artwork is Disney-sharp, he puts his own style into it. Women tend to have legs that come down, not to feet, but to sharp little points. Trust me, it actually works - it just causes a blink or two to get used to.

But, as said, the tale is moving and sad and thrilling and funny. You'll not find this sort of storytelling often, and I strongly recommend it. As promised, the link is below - click on it to get the splash page then hit the green button to the right to begin. Navigation is simple. If you can work a book, you can work this too. But check it out. Just read the first chapter and see if, dammit, you aren’t hooked.

>>>SPACE BOY<<<

>>>AND IF SPACE BOYS ARE NOT YOUR THING, CHECK OUT SOME OF MY NOVELS. IN FIRE AND BRONZE, WE HAVE PHOENICIAN GIRL, THE FULL STORY OF PRINCESS ELISHA AND HER STRUGGLES FOR THE THRONE OF TYRE!<<<

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 March 2017 13:24
 
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