Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Always Another Adventure

There are worse things than being stranded 400 miles from home with a wheel bearing about to go out, and only one pill left of a critical medication. Many of them, especially when one is "stranded" at the home of an elderly parent with siblings and adult nieces underfoot. But being the grouch that I am, I tend to complain anyway.

On the other hand, we had venison last night and pork tenderloin today. The more I think about it, the more appealing the thought of selling the car becomes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Realism Versus Believability

I wish I could recall who it was, and if someone who reads this knows the answer, please tell me and I will gladly give credit. But a while back someone mentioned the issue of making a world seem real to a reader when so many people have unrealistic ideas about things. It's a subject well worth spending time on, in my opinion. Hollywood and tv are prime culprits in promoting this state of affairs, but they are not solely to blame.

The article I read used caves as an example. Someone who is a spelunker might be thrown out of a story when they encounter an unrealistic description of a cave, as for example describing a volcanic type of interior when the hero is actually going into a limestone cavern. Things like that.

But we have been conditioned to think of certain things in certain ways, and sometimes when you put them realistically, it throws people out of the story worse than if you just went along with the erroneous assumptions that the mainstream clings to. Swords for example.

Nothing on earth is any farther from realistic than the depiction of swordplay as it is presented in movies, on tv, and on stage. It bears very nearly no resemblance at all to actually using a sword. All you have to do is watch an Olympic fencing match, which itself is as fake as a three dollar bill in terms of actual combat, to see that dramatic representations of swordplay are a joke. Scenes where two men are banging huge two-handed longswords against each other like they were fencing foils? One man standing off three attackers, out in an open field with no cover anywhere around? Right.

Even one man holding off a group on a narrow stairway is iffy, if one of the group has a crossbow and a clear shot at his leg. But you can put a scene like that in a story and a lot of people will swallow it without bothering to think it through, because they are so used to seeing things like that.

So you have to meet people's expectations. I got a review recently where someone thought the dialogue in my fantasy book sounded too modern, and it grated on their ear. The setting is  not Earth, it is another human world, in a kingdom with a technological level approximately equal to that of late Middle Ages/early Renaissance Europe. Not exactly, but close.

The people don't speak English, but rather than do what some writers have done and try to invent an entirely new language, I simply offered their speech in modern colloquial American. The reader was subconsciously expecting, in that setting, to hear archaic speech patterns.  Even though it wasn't Earth and they weren't speaking English, reading the dialogue with words like 'guy' instead of 'fellow' or 'sirrah' annoyed them.

It isn't a matter of right or wrong. It's a matter of effective story telling and audience appeal. The small details like that make a difference to people. And it's not the job of the reader to adapt to the writer's story. It's the story teller's job to reach out and snatch the reader so tightly that they can't escape.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Here's A New Review

A blogger named Jefferson Smith wrote a review of "Athame". He has a somewhat different approach to evaluating books. As I understand it, he reads them during his exercise routine, and gives them up to forty minutes to hold his attention. Each book is allowed three misses, or three WTF moments as he puts it, before he quits with it.

A somewhat interesting approach, I thought. So I submitted my work. The review is HERE.

My book made it to 34:40, which is actually better than most. Considering that it was my maiden effort at a commercial novel, I am not complaining. He finished the review with a complimentary note:
Note: Despite the WTFs, I really enjoyed this. The forest folk live in a very well thought out world, and their existence felt like a believable balance, pitting their lore and hedge magics against the roaming predators of the night. The characters are well drawn and have some charm. And there’s an underlying thread of unrevealed secrets that kept me wanting to learn more.
It could have been a lot worse. Some of what he cited was subjective, but that's a big part of any review. One point in particular, the dwarven sword and how Peteros gets it, was entirely understandable, since the significance doesn't become clear until the second book. Overall I have to say it seemed like a fair and objective assessment to me. I'm glad I sent it to him.

People Need To Calm Down About Amazon

They really do. I'm getting old, and I've seen this before. Trust this doddering old fossil. Amazon is not going to take over the world, run every publishing company out of business, and end up chaining us poor hapless authors to the walls of its dungeon so we can write 23 hours a day under the whips of our overlords. Not gonna happen.

Today I saw someone growling about how a person absolutely HAD TO join up with Amazon's new book sharing service (In which they are imitating Scribd, Oyster, and a bunch of others that are already operating and have been for some time.) The person was of the opinion that if they didn't join Kindle Select and sign up, they would be left behind in the dust. So they decided to go with another sales option than Amazon.

Permit me to reiterate this:
1) They think that Amazon is on the verge of establishing an inescapable monopoly, that there is no hope of anyone escaping Amazon's grip, and that not joining Amazon's new program will destroy their chance for success.
2) Their response to this is to avoid joining Amazon's new program. Instead, they are going to sell their book using one of Amazon's competitors.

Inconsistency?

Chill, people. This kind of economic shift and rearranging goes on all the time in a free market. Always has, always will. It's not worth worrying over. If Amazon gets out of hand, it's not a problem. New competitors to Amazon are springing up already.

IBM once ruled the computer world with an iron fist. I remember those days. Until Microsoft came along. And Apple. For a time those two behemoths stomped anyone who dared to stick their head up. Then some college kid designed his own operating system. Then some upstart company took a flavor of that operating system, called it Android, and slapped it on some cheap hardware. Now Microsoft is going door to door with a tin cup, begging people not to throw it out in the street and let its children starve.

This kind of constant innovation and shifting of power is a good thing, not a bad one. Seize the day. Or the evening, whichever time zone you happen to be located in. More change means more options. More options means more opportunity for the mavericks like us indie publishers. This is a good thing.

No, I am not in kindle select and have no plans to join. I might do it someday, I might not. I was in the Smashwords version of the loaner program, and had no luck with it. Maybe Amazon's arrangement will work better. But I will wait and see. Meanwhile, I have two books underway, and a third one pending. I am too busy to worry about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New Chapters Added

I have posted a draft of the first fifty pages of my new novel, "Recompense" in sample format for public browsing. Click the link at the top of the page to read the new material if you are interested. These chapters are subject to editing and revision, but they give some idea of the book's direction to date.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Come On, This Is Ridiculous

I have been reading some online debates, and some articles on entertainment sites lately that have had my head shaking like a metronome. It's silly to my way of thinking, but then again, it goes far to illustrate one of my pet peeves. The almost blatant lack of creativity in 'mainstream' entertainment. I am talking about the recent modifications to Thor and Captain America.

Now, first of all, I think it is just sad that Hollywood has been reduced to cannibalizing fifty year old comic books in order to come up with stories for movies. Tapped out doesn't begin to describe the state of their creative desolation. But ok. The movies with Thor and Captain America made money by the heaping truckloads, so plainly they were onto something.

Naturally, there was a feedback effect and the popular movies did good things for sales of the comics. Just as it should. Then it gets weird.

Some people have been pitching fits over the fact that comic book heroes are overwhelmingly either white males who are built like weight lifters, or nearly naked young white females who are built like porn stars. They object, and I admit quite reasonably, that there is no reason that the comics shouldn't have more female and minority superheroes.

A perfectly reasonable and acceptable idea. I think about anyone could get behind that one. But to do it, did the comic companies put their heads together and come up with a black superhero, or a new female superhero of color? Oh, hell no. That would require imagination. They made Thor, the ancient Viking god of thunder, a woman. Then they made Captain American black.

No reason Captain American couldn't be black, except that He's Not Black. There have been countless black men who have served this country with distinction, and who would provide archetypes if they wanted to invent a new black hero with a military background. But why bother, when you can just grab a pen and scribble over the graphic you already drew?

By the same reasoning, there would be no reason that, for example, Blade couldn't be lily white. He could do just as good a job as a sword wielding vampire hunter if he was pink as a bunny ear. Except that Blade Is Not White.

And Thor is just silly. They already have a goddess hero, or demi-goddess anyway, named Wonder Woman. If they wanted another female war goddess, what's wrong with picking Athene? Or a Viking Valkyrie? Or tapping into the the mythology of China, or India, or Japan, or maybe some of the vast cultural wealth of the Amerindians? But Noooooo. It was so much simpler and lazier to take an existing character, with an established back story, and an established fan base, and turn them inside out.

Maybe they were afraid that if they tried to actually used their brains to create something original, they might come to an unsettling recognition of the quality that they have been puking out.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Poetry Is Nothing To Write Home About

I'm re-thinking the idea of putting excerpts from the ballad that predicts Agrahain's return at the beginning of each part in the concluding book of my fantasy trilogy. It's supposed to foreshadow the events of each section. But I'm second guessing. I'm just not that good a poet. For instance, the beginning of Part Three has:

Bone for bone and skin for skin,
Deathless hunger never born,
Flesh for flesh to cleanse the sin, 
Heart's blood from a mother torn.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Review of The Shaman's Curse

Once again, I say and maintain that this is not a review blog. It just happens that I read and reviewed two books within a short time. This one is by an indie author whose books I really enjoy, named +Meredith Mansfield . She writes slightly off-beat fantasy books with a strong romance element to them, and seems to prefer writing a series over stand alone books. I understand that, because I do too. My Amazon/Smashwords review is below:

Disclaimer. I requested a review copy of this book because I had enjoyed the author's previous work.

The protagonist in this story is a young man who belongs to a plains dwelling, nomadic people. At first glance they seem a bit primitive, but as the book progresses we realize that they are actually at about the same level of technological sophistication as the city-dwellers that they trade with. The story line unfolds smoothly, at a steady, even pace, and held my interest through the entire book without any real shocks. There was a lot of foreshadowing along the way, and it was done quite skillfully. Overall, you can see the storm front building up, and the next book should bring the lightning. I look forward to reading it. Highly recommended.
As a matter of principle, I suggest reading all her books. They are worth the money.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Amazon Tags

A minor aggravation. Amazon, in its infinite wisdom, has tagged my latest book under "Space Fleet" and "Military". While it is true that there is a fair bit of fighting, and some of it is of a military nature, none of it is in space. The whole point of the book is that they use portals to punch a hole through space-time rather than ride a ship.

*sigh*

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review - Scenes From A Life

This is not a review blog. I will say that up front. But sometimes I get a review copy from someone, or I pick one up for whatever reason, and I always try to leave a review as a courtesy. In this case, I was given a review copy free of charge with no expectations in advance. After I left a few comments on Amazon, I decided that it deserved a little more.

The book was Scenes From A Life, written by +Richard Abbot, a British academic with a strong background in the ancient  Middle East. Which is highly appropriate, since the protagonist of the book is a scribe in New Kingdom Egypt. This was around the end of the Bronze Age for that part of the world. The story describes the protagonist's journey of self-discovery, both physical and emotional, as he investigates his own origins and comes to terms with his place in the world.

It is written in a literary style. What I mean is that the primary focus of the book is what goes on inside the protagonist, rather than events in the outside world. Things do happen around him, they certainly do, but they serve mostly to trigger periods of introspection and/or personal revelation in the main character. The only time anyone's pulse accelerates is when he has a nightmare. Except for one small fight, where they fort up behind a locked door and poke anything that sticks through the hole. And one bout of serious partying after his crew finishes a major project.

But that's the whole point. That's what the book is about. The character's life. Who he is, how he became the man he is, and what he eventually wound up being. Hence the title.

Ordinarily, this is not my kind of book. I write, and generally prefer to read, speculative fiction. That means science-fiction, science-fantasy, epic fantasy, some horror, slightly weird stories with fantastic elements, etc. The common point among most of the books I like is an action oriented plot, preferably one with serious conflict in it.

In other words, escapist literature. I tend more toward Conan than Kafka. I have read all kinds, of course. I am not an illiterate barbarian. But, to give an example, if I were writing the story "Metamorphosis" it would be about three paragraphs long. The guy would wake up as a cockroach, his family would scream, and his sister would split his carapace with the nearest baseball bat. And keep hitting until he was paste. Finis.

I do read historical fiction, however. Usually stories about Mongol attacks, the American frontier, and the destruction of the Roman Empire. You get the drift. Richard Abbot's book is a bit more peaceful than my usual fare. Oddly, I found myself getting caught up in it. It's a rather vivid travelogue of life in ancient Egypt. It was kind of like "Life On The Nile" instead of the Mississippi.

We learn about the little villages that dotted the banks of the river. We learn about the politics and geography of the regional alliances that the New Kingdom Pharohs made with their neighbors, and the military mechanisms that they used to hold their empire together. We learn what people had for supper. We learn about their slavery, and concubinage, and the dangers of childbirth. We learn about the techniques of tomb painting, and how to add salt to the oil in a lamp so soot wouldn't stain the ceiling. We learn about navigation on the Nile, and how not to get eaten by crocodiles. We learn about temple orphanages, and the religious significance of the seasonal floods, and how to play ancient Egyptian board games.

What we don't learn is much about the inner hearts of anybody but the protagonist. His love interest is described as pretty, and we know he thinks she's hot. Her actions when he meets her indicate that she is honorable, stubborn, and smart. All desirable qualities for sure. She also just happens to come from the area that will turn out to be his origin place. Surprise! But she's as passive as a rug. I always got the impression that women in Egypt during that time held a fair amount of real power. She never acts, only reacts. Her purpose for existing is to provide the protagonist with a sounding board, and to keep him warm.

The main reason I got unhappy about her, and the reason I am going on about this, is something that the SOB did late in the book. By all right and reason she should have kicked him in the nuts for it. Instead, she mildly forgave him and took him back with a grateful smile. Right. Maybe it's just my American indoctrination. Try that kind of thing here and now and see what happens. I just couldn't identify, and it threw me out of disbelief suspension like a bucket of icewater.

The other characters were a lot better, from my point of view. The protagonist's best buddy is a fascinating character, and one that I really would have liked to have seen more developed. His wife was a walk-on, but she seemed to have a lot of potential too. Several others were decent. Some of the protagonist's clients, both past and present, were well drawn.

But there were too many walk-on characters who appear, speak their lines, and disappear forever. They serve no real purpose. They certainly do nothing to advance the plot, and any character development they provide could have been offered a lot more compactly. Although one set of walk-ons, specifically the family that the protagonist was apprenticed to, do offer us a serious look at his quality as a person. It wasn't a pleasant sight. I didn't like the guy nearly as much after that.

The one thing that was done well with the characters, in my opinion, was dialogue. It flowed well and naturally. In fact, all of the character interactions were completely believable. More believable, in some cases, than the characters themselves.

Bottom line, the book is a quasi-biographical trip back to ancient Egypt to document the life of a scribe who decorated tombs for a living, and finally ended up getting married and moving back to his birth homeland. He's not a bad guy. He's not a real good guy either. Just a regular guy trying to get by. The strength of the book is the setting. When I finished it, I honestly felt as if I had stepped back in time three thousand years. Not too many books can do that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Not Writer's Block. Something Else

I've got a problem with my writing that I don't usually have to deal with. Uncertainty about which way to take a narrative.

I'm not blocked, I know exactly which way the story is flowing. I know what's going to happen. I know who is going to do what, in general terms, and I have a pretty clear idea about what's going to happen, when, and to whom. My issue is the narrative itself.

For one thing, the dialogue is not flowing well. This is annoying as a toothache. My characters are old friends by this point. I know who they are, and so do they. I know what they are likely to say and do. I think the issue is that several of my main characters, especially the hero and heroine, have hit one of the major conflict points and they are, as one would expect, conflicted. The characters are confused and uncertain and, in a rather bizarre sort of psychosomatic feedback effect, their confusion is having an effect on me as well.

Different possible time lines for the characters are running through my head. The same outcome, but different paths to get there, and different scars being picked up along the way. (This is only in my head, there are no alternate time lines in my story. Just in my confused mind.)The characters are the same, the plot is the same, even most of the scenes are the same. But the details are fluid. It's like Jell-O that won't jell.

Any experienced fiction writer who reads this knows exactly what I am talking about. Most of them could no doubt do a better job of describing it. I think I may jump to another point in the book and let this part rest a while. I'm just spinning my wheels here right now.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kid Flew Off This Morning

We drove up to Detroit and sent him on his way to visit his sister in Seattle. The great untamed northwest, where liberals roam in their natural habitat unencumbered, pot stands dot the countryside, and all is damp with the world. Sometimes the craving for a decent cup of coffee becomes unendurable.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

Literally. Yesterday, I was pleased to see another review on Amazon for my book, "Wrath". A favorable one, too.

Four hours later, it was gone. along with two more. No explanation. No warning. From what I have been able to gather, no chance of ever getting them back. No particular reason for it. Neither of them were violating any rules that I know of.

*sigh*

Oh well. Easy come, easy go. Reviews are so easy to get, after all.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Another Post On G+ Provoked Me

I am going to stop spending as much time on there. It is seriously interfering with my writing.

The post is by + Wilf Nelson and can be found HERE

It links to an podcast HERE

The following is my reply:
The pen is mightier than the sword? Bull. Tyrants have been killing bards, burning books, banning books and songs, exiling artists, etc. for thousands of years. It didn't save them, because someone else just came up with equivalent art/poetry/music/stories. Art reflects culture. It does not define it. We are the product of our people and our time, and we are the public voices of our people and our time. Those who find our voices upsetting are not rightfully blaming us, they are seeking a scapegoat for the times that they find upsetting. The times that we are forcing them to acknowledge and confront. 
Got that off my chest. Going back to work.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Realistic Fantasy World Building

I was reading another debate on g+ recently. It was like so many others. Some parts of it were quite insightful. Other parts were, to put it bluntly, a touch lacking in common sense. I see this a lot in fiction writing, and it has provoked me to unleash a sputtering trickle or two from the decayed plumbing in my fountain of wisdom.

Before I go any further, I don't claim authority over anyone or anything. But I have done a fair bit of world building, and gotten positive feedback on it from people all over the world. To start with, I am *not* talking about the kind of fantasy where nobody expects realism. Fairytales, tongue-in-cheek parodies, wildly improbable worlds where anything can happen - these are immune to any expectations of adherence to real world standards.

By realistic fantasy I mean epic fantasy, or similar stories, that are supposed to be set in a world where normal humans live reasonably normal human lives, with a few minor variations. Like magic. Or undead. Or shapeshifters. Or the fact that they might be a dragon's next meal. Those piddling details should not take away from the realism of the world building process itself.

I am going to talk about fantasy worlds that follow a pre-industrial pattern, or at most, a 17th-18th century European/American pattern, since these seem to be the ones I come across most often. Granted, these are the kinds I look for most often. Such is life. I could reel off a few titles but I am not going to. I don't want to provoke anyone, and I am not a literary critic anyway. I'm just a writer. 

One last time. This is my personal opinion about my personal preferences. If you don't happen to like realistic fantasy worlds, good for you. Enjoy. 

If I had to pick one single thing, I think the main point that aggravates me most of all, and which I see over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, is that fact that everyone in a fantasy world is rich. I mean filthy, stinking, rich.

Take food for instance. The poorest peasant, heck, even the poorest beggar never really goes hungry. Even if they do, it's because of social injustice. Some meany of a noble is hoarding it from them. There is almost never a case where the food simply isn't there.

In reality, famine was a dismal fact of life many times in most places. Even up into the twentieth century. Remember the Dust Bowl? Remember the droughts in Africa? But fantasy books almost never address the consequences of a bad crop year. The political, social, military, and purely physical disaster caused by crop failures could produce endless material for major plot points. Like in my second book, "Wrath", where the lack of food stockpiles is threatening the kingdom's ability to resist invasion. Even in a good year, there wasn't anything like modern surplus. And there was no such thing as freezers. You smoked, you pickled, you salted, you stuck it in a cool cellar, and you prayed to make it until next summer.

How many writers use material like this? I see food being used as a political tool (Mean old nobles/dictators/evil mages!) but there is always food somewhere to be had. Maybe someone has and I just haven't read it. If so, I would welcome someone pointing it out to me, because I would enjoy reading a book like that. I suspect it's because very few fantasy authors have ever lived or worked on a farm, and therefore have minimal understanding of just how close to famine we all really are, even today.

Then there is the issue of clothing. Everyone has all the clothing they need. Even under primitive conditions. Everyone has shoes. Everyone. In Depression era Appalachia, my family members went barefoot from Spring to Fall. They weren't trying to get close to nature. They were too poor to buy shoes. Almost never do you see peasants that poor in a fantasy book.

Some movies and television programs show barefoot peasants, but from what I have seen, it seems to be a case where they are depicted as either oppressed (Mean old nobles!), or ignorant and shiftless. The idea that the leather to cobble up some shoes is not available, even if they had the tools, which they don't, never seems to be presented. The average peasant in ancient times lived under conditions that would provoke humanitarian outrage today. Where would they get the leather? Kill their plow ox maybe?

And many people didn't have intact clothing in the old days, either. In most fantasy books, nobody is cold because they are wearing rags. Everyone is the epitome of sartorial excellence, except cases where the plot specifically calls for them to look dirty or something. In which case, everyone notices it because gods forbid someone look dirty as a typical thing.

Which brings up washing. Under primitive conditions, you make your own soap. Just like my parents did during the Great Depression. You go kill a hog. Then you butcher it and you peel out the lard. You reserve a *small* portion of the lard for soap, because most of it is food and you don't waste food. Then you take the soap ration and you render it. Then you pour the hot grease through lye made by leaching wood ashes. Then you cook it until it stiffens. Then you let if cool. Then you cut it up. Then you wash with it. Rarely. Because that stuff is harsh. It will quite literally eat holes in your clothing. It will peel hair off your scalp. Literally.

Nobody ever has fleas in a fantasy book. Or lice. Or skin fungus. Or any other disease that comes from filth. Shall we talk about toothbrushes? How many ever mention the lowly toothbrush? Granted, if your scene is set in a palace, and if you are implying a certain minimum level of sophistication, then you can safely assume they have toothbrushes. But what about the Great Unwashed? (There's a reason for that nickname.)

Not a toothbrush to be detected in any direction as far as the nose can smell. Yet everyone has a lovely smile and all their teeth. If the hero happens to be a commoner, and he grabs his new bride for a passionate kiss, do either of them ever recoil, gagging, and ask, "By all that is decent, what kind of carrion have you been eating?"

Back to the mechanics of washing. You don't turn a tap. You pick up a bucket and go to the well. If you are lucky enough to have a good well. Otherwise, you walk a tenth of a mile to a spring. You carry the water back to the fire. You pour it in a pot. If you are living in a world post 17th century, you might have a stove. That is, if you are in a developed country. Otherwise, you hang it on a hook over an open fireplace. Then you go back for more water. You walk back to the fire. You fill another pot. You walk back for more water. You fill a rinse basin perhaps. You go cut and split some more wood. By the time you are done, the water is hot.

You take the hot water. You use it to wash the dishes. Then you go to bed, because it is past sundown and you have to get up before first light to hitch up the ox. There's another thing. Every farmer owns his own horse. Not an ox. Not a milk cow that does double duty on the plow. Not even a spavined donkey. He owns a horse.

Nope. If you are a farmer under the kind of fantasy world conditions I am talking about, you don't own a horse. Only nobles own horses. If you are exceedingly well-to-do you *might* be able to get hold of a mule, you lucky dog you.

Does anyone realize just how expensive horses really were in the old days? Even in nineteenth century America, which was not a poor place by most standards of the time, most people had to struggle to buy a horse. They just weren't cost effective, either. The work you could get out of one, compared to the expense of feeding and housing one, made them luxury items. Like a pack of expensive and well-trained hunting dogs, a horse was a status symbol.

Earlier I mentioned heating water in a pot. Which brings up metal crafting. Anyone recall the profession of Tinker? Tinkers used to travel around from village to village mending people's old tin pots and other metal items. They were not blacksmiths. A blacksmith was an iron worker. Tinkers did piecework on small things. They were the shade tree mechanics of the day. Why was there a market for this job, and why did it endure for generations? Because worked metal, such as a tin pot, was unholy expensive, that's why.

In some cases, you could pay a workman in goods or services. If someone helped you with your roof, you could help plow his field. Or if he lived in town, you could pay him with a bushel of grain. But metal workers often had to be paid in money. Why? Because they had to buy supplies. You can't make a pot or a horseshoe out of straw. Iron and tin cost an arm, and a leg, and the pound of flesh nearest your gonads. So if you got something made out of metal, you hung onto it and maintained it. One hunting knife, or one straight razor, or one beer mug, might go through five or six generations of a single family. It wasn't for sentimental reasons, or not entirely. It was expensive.

Weapons? Don't get me started on swords. You don't need to get me started, I already did. OK. In feudal Japan a sword destined for a Samurai took months to make. Even in places where they were just hammering out iron bars and grinding points on them, you are talking about weeks of work. Because you did not buy the bar stock already made. You bought the ore, then you smelted it yourself, in many cases.

Even if you were lucky enough to find processed metal for sale from another smith, it was obscenely expensive. Which would add to the final cost of the sword, either way. Then you stuck it in a fire. Then you pumped the bellows. Then you pulled it out and you hammered it five or six times. Then you stuck it back in the fire and pumped the bellows. Then you pulled it out and you hammered it five or six more times. You stood there and did that every single day for weeks, even if you were making a relatively simple sword. For one of the fancy kind, like a knight used, double or triple the time involved. Believe me. My grandfather used to do that kind of work. (Not swords. Grandpaw made horseshoes and suchlike. But it's the same principle.)

You think the average peasant, or even the average merchant, is going to be able to afford something that took a skilled craftsman the better part of a month to make? Yeah, right. Not even talking about a nobleman's sword. I mean a simple foot soldier's blade? Not gonna happen. Which is why, in the days when it was customary for fighters to provide their own weapons, they brought farm implements. Or clubs. Maybe a spiked club if they were lucky and ambitious. Or wood cutting axes. Or quarterstaves. It's hard to beat a good quarterstaff. Even falchions (A thick machete with a point and an attitude.) were reserved for the well-to-do yeomanry and up.

Most things were not made from metal. Doors had wooden hinges and wooden bars instead of locks. Houses and ships were built using pegs instead of nails, whenever possible. Stone and bone, as well as ceramic, were used whenever they could be. Things like buttons for instance. Metal buttons were a high status item, even in colonial America. Most buttons in those days were made from bone, or turtle shell, or wood. If they were too expensive for the average person in the 18th century, in a fairly well-off area, imagine how much more expensive they would have been in the Middle Ages?

I'm going to quit here. I'm not done, but my hands are tired. Arthritis is not my friend. Next time I may rant about the unrealistic portrayal of women fighters under primitive conditions. Yes, they fought. Rarely. No, they did not stand up and trade broadsword blows with a man twice their size and three times their strength. Let's not get stupid. But that's for another day.



Friday, July 4, 2014

I Just Added Another Short Story To My Site

The story is a Science Fiction/Urban Horror piece called "Chimera". Feel free to read or download. I wrote this one a few years ago, and it is not very polished. An extended version was later self-published under a different title. I decided to post this version as much out of nostalgia as any other reason. It also provides a look at how my style and writing ability has changed (if it has) over the last few years.

If anyone is interested, just click the title below.



Other short stories can be found by selecting the Short Stories tab at the top of the page. I will continue adding stories as links as I go along.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Windows Has Struck Again

Again I ask, why do I do this to myself? For the past couple of years I have been doing almost all of my writing on a perfectly serviceable little laptop that was given to me by my daughter and son-in-law. I have it loaded with Debian Linux (stable) and using LibreOffice. I have never had any significant problems with it. Never. None.

But that wasn't good enough for me. Oh, no. Not me. I had to look for greener pastures. See, the thing is I need a copy of MS Word, since several publishing platforms require it in order to produce ebooks. More to the point, I need MS Word to do the page layout for Createspace. Which means that I have to keep a second system with MS Windows on hand.

As it happens, the second system (the one running MS Windows) is faster and more powerful than my Linux computer. Surprise, surprise. Anyone who has tried both of them knows quite well that you need at least 50-75% more RAM and raw CPU horsepower in a MS Windows system in order to get the same results that a Linux box will give you.

Well, fool that I am, it came to me that since I am maintaining two systems anyway, and since the MS Windows system has 4 gig of RAM compared to the Linux system's 1 gig, and since MS Windows system has cores that operate 50% faster than the Linux box, maybe I should consider just moving all my work over to the powerhouse and be done with it? After all, it has been more than a year since I really gave Win 7 a fair try. Maybe they have improved things by now. It can't hurt to check it out, right?

AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

I am currently in the process of typing this on my Linux box, which is still crunching right along without a sign of any problem. Meanwhile, the diagnostic programs are telling me that my MS Windows registry has become corrupted, and online research informs me that I am going to need to activate the hidden admin account, open regedit, and hunt down some elusive lines of code to fix it by hand. Which will take no telling how long.

Rather than try it, I decided to restore from a previous point. You all know what I am talking about. There is an option on the fix-it menu that says you can restore your system to a previously saved point. I have six such points, usually dating back to various times when I downloaded updates from Microsoft itself. I breathed a sigh of relief and picked the latest one.

Unable to complete. Some file or other was corrupted, Or didn't work. Or something. So I picked the next newest. Then the next. Then the next. I tried all six of the so-called restore points that MS Windows was supposed to be so carefully hoarding back for me in case of just such am emergency. None of them worked.

I am about to boot into safe mode and open the command line. Just like I used to do in DOS 3.1. Tell me somebody, how is this an improvement over what we had in my little 8086?

Meanwhile, my Debian Linux machine is humming to itself while it skims merrily across the internet, slicing through background noise and deftly extracting useful and relevant information for me. All of which merely confirms my decades-long conviction that I hate MS Windows. I hated version 3, I hated 95, I hated 98, I gagged at WinME, I groaned at Win 2000, I smacked my forehead over WinXP, I recoiled at Vista, and now I have Win 7 to deal with. There is no chance that Win 8 will ever desecrate any system where I put finger to keyboard.

But that still doesn't help me recover my files. But I have an ace in the hole. If worst comes to worst, I can always yank the hard drive and plug it into a USB port on my Linux box, which will read past MS security like it was cheese and let me scoop up my files effortlessly. So the only harm done is to my nerves, and the time I have lost. At my age, the time is worth more than money.