Book Reviews: Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, An Anthology

First, I should say, I have had the very great pleasure of meeting and talking with a few of the authors in this anthology in real live person.  Some of them are very dear friends.   I have also been reading the Joe Ledger series since the first book came out (and there’s a story behind how I got introduced to the series that will be its own post later on) and the idea of an anthology in the canon with the characters I love so much made me ecstatic.

Unstoppable cover (taken from Indiebound.org)

Now, if you have no idea who Joe Ledger is and you like weird thrillers with extremely plausible science (the type of ”no wait, that’s a real thing that is plausible and could happen…oh crap”)  then hie thee to a library or to your favorite bookseller.   They start off with a bang and just get better and better from there.   I’ve heard them  described as “comic books in novel form” and there’s some truth to that.   Jonathan Maberry is amazing at what he does and how he structures his books and it’s the best kind of thing to pick up one of these books and go for a ride down a fantastic, all too plausible rabbit hole.  He’s written an introduction to Joe and his world in the beginning of the anthology in case you want to pick up the anthology first for a taste of what the Ledger books are all about.

The anthology itself spans over the entire timeline of the canon novels and even includes a couple of crossovers with other book series, a thing that has added a few new books to the list of to be acquired.     These stories made me laugh, cheer, and in a couple places, cry (Three Times, by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks). All of the short stories in this anthology are amazing, but I wanted to focus on two of the stories that stayed with me the most.   The first being Mira Grant’s  Red Dirt, which is a short that takes place after the events of the second book in the series, The Dragon Factory, and if you know Mira’s writing…it’s flawless in how the prose grabs you and sucks you into the story she’s weaving.  You don’t read this short, you experience it.   Her sense of place is magnificent.   You can feel the despair and the heartache and the way that red dirt sticks to everything it touches.   It’s gloriously executed and a perfect coda to the second book.  It also made me sniffle for the remembering of certain events.

The second is actually my favorite out of all of them and it’s written by Keith DeCandidoGanbatte, features a member of Joe’s team, Lydia Ruiz who is one of the first members of an all-female SEAL fire team.   She is easily one of the most badass characters in the series and this story gives us a snippet into how she got to be a member of Echo Team.   Lydia is a hell of a martial artist and Keith’s own expertise in that field shows in this story.    It also touches on a sensitive topic around one of the people in Lydia’s life and while the situation is an all too real one, the outcome was one that I appreciated the hell out of as much as I simultaneously wished that situations like that would really end that way in actual life.    Just like with Mira’s story, you don’t read this one so much as you experience it.   You feel the wind in your hair, that smell you only get when driving on the overseas highway.  It’s easy to get into Lydia’s head, to see what she sees.   Ganbatte deepens your understanding of Lydia Ruiz as a character and a person.

So all in all, this anthology was exactly I wanted and hoped for.  Some of my favorite authors writing in one of my favorite series.   Definitely a book worth picking up if you haven’t already.  Get it here from your favorite indie bookstore!

An Update: Let The Water Flow

New Year,  new goals, fresh start to everything…it’s supposed to be an energizing part of the year right?    Sadly, I’ve spent whatever time I haven’t been at work or feeding the cats/myself pretty much sleeping or driving.    The reason for that goes back to Christmas really.    The holidays were great, my little brother flew in from Brasil just as The Lovely Housemate flew out to spend sometime with her family.    Christmas was really lovely and spread out over the weekend since we did Christmas with Housemate first and then normal Christmas Eve and Christmas with the parents, brother, and his Wonderful Girlfriend.

After Christmas was when it got interesting.   My day job is a payroll/garnishment specialist and while my job is amazing and I honestly love what I do…to work in payroll during the holidays is never a cake walk.  There are three months out of the year where it kind of sucks to be a payroll specialist, for the pure and simple fact that everything is super crazy and super high stress due to a couple of factors beyond anyone’s actual control (December, January, and April, in case you were wondering).    So with it being Year-End and having a couple of people out, the last week of December was more brutal than most.    Add to that, the fact that the temperatures in Tennessee started dipping down into the single digits and it was pretty hard just making it through for someone who doesn’t have pressure/weather-sensitive chronic pain.

And then it got interesting.   My parents’ are moving because the renovation of their upstairs is starting this next week AND they had to deal with an unexpected massive water leak as well as their furnace being broken.   My father was also gone for a week to visit his family and help his sister out for a short while.   So it was Mom, my brother, the Wonderful Girlfriend, and I working to get as much as we could moved downstairs or packed up and shoved to the upstairs balcony so that when Dad got back, there wasn’t that much left to do.   Got the vast majority of stuff moved downstairs/packed up and Mom got the leak handled.

However since the furnace still hadn’t been fixed yet ( the parts were wrong several times in a row), they had space heaters and the wood burning stove going constantly so that they didn’t have any of their pipes freeze in our almost subzero temperatures.   Which means that one person needs to be in the house at all times to make sure that the fire doesn’t die down too much and that the four-five space heaters don’t spontaneously spark and start fires.

So that meant instead of us hosting New Years Gaming, we packed everything up and put on a couple of extra layers and went up there for gaming fun.   Not a big deal, though I did make the Lovely Housemate drive (since I’d made four-five round trips up and back in addition to four trips to the airport and a full week’s worth of driving for work – I was a little tired).   Then came Tuesday and the realization that one of the three times we’d lost power on Tuesday had shorted out the power strip that the heat tape and heat lamp were plugged into for our water softening system and the pipes were frozen.

This is the first time since we’d owned our house that it had a) been THIS cold and b) we’d had any serious plumbing issues other than some flooding in a few places.

So begins the week of literally trying everything we can think of to thaw the pipes including calling the plumbers twice and yet all they could tell us was that we’d have to stick it out and wait until the ground warmed up.  We were doing all the right things, the pipes were just frozen.

We hit up the store for jugs of purified water for hair washing and bottled water for drinking for both us and the cats and made do as best we could.   It’s been an adventure.

Yesterday (Saturday)  we gathered up laundry piles and shower gear and headed up to the parents’ place to shower and do laundry since their water was still nice and hot and they’re always happy to have kids drop in.   Hung out, watched some movies and shows in between actual showers and laundry being done.

Today, their furnace got fixed and then we got some water flowing back into the house.  So progress right?

Until the pipe burst.  Luckily, it’s a small pipe attached to the water softener and not one of the ones in the ground and the plumber has been called again and we’re on the list of stops he’ll make.  We haven’t been the only ones dealing with frozen or burst pipes in the last week or so.   So that’s been one of the things eating up all the spare time in between work, food, and transit times.

Hopefully, your New Years have started much less eventfully than mine has. Anyways, normal blogging should get back on track this week, providing the stars and my energy levels comply.    I’m currently in the middle of reading some of the Christmas books I got this year as well as a reread of Kushiel’s Dart because weirdly, that’s one of my comfort books.

I have several More Joy posts that will be appearing and some articles about various research type things I’ve been doing.

New Patreon Post Up!

The December Patreon story is up!  It’s a fun little portal fantasyish story set during Solstice.  If you’d like to check it out,  1$ gets you access to all the short stories.   The link is below.

https://www.patreon.com/DJGray

In other news, Happy New Year everyone!    There will be a more in depth 2017 recap post later but for now I leave you all with this picture of Laurens!Cat.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

So in the wake of some truly terrible things going on in both the world and the country I live in, I am going to talk about some things that bring me joy.

Tonight I am going to talk about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and why I love it so much. I’ve always loved Douglas Adams a lot ever since I picked up the Hitchhiker’s five book trilogy. However, it’s hard to translate that brilliance and that weirdness to screen.

This TV show is exactly what I would expect from Douglas Adams and it’s glorious. It’s absolutely glorious. The cast is amazing and diverse. It’s inclusive and it will make you feel the most wonderful joy and the fiercest anger (look I still have feelings about the cliffhanger ending of the first season that involved me Twitter yelling at the writer/producers who promptly liked all of those angry tweets and tweeted back appropriate gifs).   The most badass people are women.  One of them, the queen of kickassery is a woman of color, played by the unstoppable Jade Eshete.    In season two, we get disabled characters who become superheroes in their own right WITHOUT magically curing them of their disabilities.  I literally could not tell you another show that did something like that.  I cannot even put into words how much that meant to me.

Amanda with Wapti Wanasi

It captures the wonder and mystery and sheer undiluted or disguised glee that I can only compare to the feelings I had when I first discovered fandom online in the beginnings of the Harry Potter heyday.   Before the wank started or the shipping wars got serious, there was just this sheer awesome feedback loop of so many excited nerds all nerding out about the same thing.  All of that collected joy and excitement overflowing everywhere as the fandom kept growing.

That’s Dirk Gently.   That’s the show in a nutshell.  That’s the collected fandom in a nutshell.   We’re all wonderful hilarious nerds gathered together (because everything is connected) to love on this show.  The showrunners, cast, crew also know that and are more than willing to engage with the fans in increasingly fun and hilarious ways.

Dirk Gently s2 partial cast picture. Feat: Rowdy 3 (five members), a holistic detective and his assistant, a good prince and his sworn sword, and the evil power mad queen.

Update: Patreon Shenanigans

So in an update to this post, I am deliriously happy to report that Patreon has acknowledged that they done screwed up and that they are not actually rolling out the updates to their fee structure that they had announced.   So I am thrilled they are being not evil in this particular way.  However,  they have burned a lot of trust and I will be continuing to watch and research other alternatives in case something like this goes down again.

You can read their apology post here.

So currently on Patreon is the story of why my mother has a Russian Motherhood Medal and then the December short story will be posted soon.

Any Patreon alternatives you want to drop in the comments, I’d be appreciative.

In Response to the recent Patreon News

After being notified of the changes that Patreon is making to their fee structures and seeing the responses from all of my fellow creators about this  –   I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

I’ll be pulling stuff off my Patreon probably before the end of the month, to spare my patrons those fees unless they change their tune before it’s effective.  I will, however, leave it up until I make the switch to another site.  I am still researching options,  my dear friend and fellow creator, Kitty Chandler has a breakdown of different options other than Patreon here.

There’s been a lot of buzz about this lately.  From the way this was handled to the way they are responding or not responding to the criticisms.  My opinion on it is that it is absolutely crap timing, that I will be emailing all of my patrons personally to explain a little more about my rationale, where I’ll be heading and where they can find me.    It sucks.   It sucks and it’s not fair to my patrons and I hate being pinned between a rock and a hard place.

There will be a longer post later when I have a moment to really stop and compose my thoughts further and when I’m not be-bopping between places like a mad thing because December and because real life is crazy busy this month, even without bringing the holiday into it.

Wednesday Reads (On Thursday)

Because I like to be a rebel and Wednesday was  full of preparations for this early Thursday morning and also troubleshooting cable issues ( apparently all the channels decided to change and that disrupted a lot of things).

So what am I reading, what have I currently read, and what’s still upcoming from the To Read Pile?

Well, glad you asked.

What I’m Reading:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – which has been recommended to me by many places and people and I am happy to report that they were all correct. This book is fascinating for many reasons. It will draw you in with the dialogue and ease of reading and keep you by the narration of the life and viewpoint of a very well known man in one of British history’s most well known periods. The prose is captivating and Hilary Mantel weaves the historical details into a narrative that is easily understood. I haven’t yet seen the PBS Masterpiece Special they’ve based on this, but if they’re true to the book, then it will be fantastic I’m sure.

Fading Suns: RPG book – because this will factor into Christmas gifts and I am making sure that I am familiar with the system and requirements so that modules can be built.   I’m dipping more into GMing which will be fun.

What I’ve Finished:

The second Mitch Rapp book, (chronologically) Kill Shot by Vince Flynn was a hell of a sequel to American Assassin. Mitch gets himself into and out of trouble with a little bit of help from Irene and Thomas and we see Stan Hurley and our good old friend Victor again. It was overall a fairly satisfying read and I’ll be fascinated to see if this is the next Flynn novel to get movie treatment.  I have a lot more feelings about this book, but they are all massively spoileriffic so if you’ve read it,  poke me in the comments and we can flail over it together.

Church Refugees by Ashleigh Hope and Josh Packard

This was an interesting book that I was reading, partly for research and partly for personal reasons.  It’s amazing and also painful.   It talks about the Dones, people who are followers of a certain religious path that are for one reason or another, done with the Church as the institution we are familiar with, but not done with their faith. It takes a sociological look at this phenomenon  and though both contributors are themselves believers in this religion, they try and minimize their internal bias to only focus on the data gathered.  Their academic and scientific standards have been top notch and I want to throw this book at every pastor and missionary I know.   Because I believe it will be that helpful, because I think it will be able to express things in a way that will make sense and be better able to communicate why precisely there are a lot of people leaving the church in order to serve God more.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie’s amazing novel about a murder on a train and the detective who has to solve the mystery while the train is stuck in the snow. One of the more interesting character novels, as it provides a great insight into Hercule Poirot’s mindset and personal set of ethics.

What’s Next:

Old Man’s War – my first Scalzi novel! I’m excited to read this.

The King in Yellow – Robert Chambers – this one is for research purposes, but I am so curious about it.  I’ve heard so much about it here and there.

What are you reading?   Share in the comments!

Thankfulness

Thanksgiving is a time in my family to stop and reflect on what we’re grateful for, as a person and as a family. This year has been harder than the last ten or so before it, but it’s also the first time in a while that I really stopped to reflect on what I’m grateful for. Really truly grateful for, not just the glib answers that immediately come to mind when someone puts me on the spot. So since I am always better with written words rather than spoken ones, I wrote them down here to share.

I am grateful to be alive. Because despite everything, I am alive and my roommate/ best friend is alive, and my family is alive and that right there is a huge blessing. We’re alive, despite the government doing it’s absolute damndest to work to kill us. I am grateful for every single person writing and faxing and calling their Senators and Representatives and encouraging them to put country over party and not sign legislation that would kill me or the people I love.

I am grateful that my chronic pain disease is managable enough that I can keep fighting for people whose disease don’t permit them to do much except keep breathing and keep existing. I am grateful that I have a job that allows me to take the time I need when I need it. I am greatful to have coworkers who genuinely care about my wellbeing both on and off the job. I am thankful that they provide benefits and that they also pay me a living wage. That they don’t hate me when I make mistakes and that they always encourage me to learn more and shine brighter because they actually care about their employees as people, not just numbers on a payroll.

I am so greatful for the support and love from the people I have met at conventions and shows that honestly love and care about me and aren’t afraid to use their platforms to make the world a better place. For the creative community that never fails to surprise and humble me with their outpourings of support and love and presence. For their bravery in continuing to produce amazing work despite the climate we all live in. Where it would be so easy to just give up and walk away because it’s harder now than it has been before and this kind of hypervigilance and the ceaseless crises from one moment to the next is wearing physically, emotionally, and mentally.

For all my fellow autistic and disabled people who are so so tired of forever justifying our existence and our right to be heard and be alive. Thank you so much for everything you are and everything you’ve done and continue to do.

For all of the people who’ve been there for me when the depression and the anxiety have taken hold and I start to doubt again, thank you. You make this life worth living and I’m not saying that lightly. Thank you for being the light in the darkness when it was needed.

Over the past year, I have really come to understand why it is that God encourages us to have community with each other, because it’s impossible to do this alone. So for every single person reading this, thank you for being my community. Thank you for letting me share in your lives and help when and where I can, thank you for everything. You make my life better by being in it.

Chicago vs MLA

I wrote this many years ago, while I was in college.   I happened upon it again as I was searching for something else in my files and thought it would make a few of you smile.   So here is a short satire piece on a subject near and dear to my heart.                                                              

Chicago vs. MLA

My friends, I am here today to speak on a matter of the gravest importance. This matter has divided our disciplines for a number of years, caused an untold amount of grief for millions worldwide.  How to properly cite your sources in an academic essay, research paper, or a thesis; do we italicize the titles or do we underline them.  Where do the quotation marks go?  We are one world and in this world we need to be united.  United against ignorance, united against the death of all we hold dear, united against revisionist acts, and united against the death of culture.    But such unity cannot ever be achieved while we in academia are split into so many different factions on the basis of this one crucial detail, so small, so vital to the works that we do.  

How to cite your sources is an issue that has been fought and battled over for centuries.  We are all professionals here; we are all well versed not only in our chosen fields of study but often in other disciplines as well.  We can agree on other things.  What makes for a topic sentence is one example.   What makes for a good paragraph and what makes for a poor one is another.   But on this issue no one can see clearly, no one can compromise, and compromise is severely needed for both major parties in this struggle.  Academia cannot stand up proudly, united against the world, if indeed we have such divisions under our own roof.  President Lincoln stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”   In this he speaks very clearly, Academia cannot hope to influence the world around us and work to bring change without being united in spirit and in truth.

 “To footnote or not to footnote” is a question that millions of students over the years have asked themselves.  Some professors prefer in-text citations or endnotes.  This is a matter of personal preference and as such we are not advocating that everyone adopt footnotes as the universal standard[1].  However, in the formatting of these footnotes and other citations, we do have cause for some alarm.   MLA, a format used and beloved by all English majors and professors is one of the most widely used styles.  This is the style that they pound into our heads all throughout high school and through all of the college English courses.   The problem with MLA is that not only is it complicated to learn and remember; it is also an inflexible style.   It was created for in-text citations and in-text citations alone.  

The Chicago style, preferred by historians and several of the other humanities, unlike MLA, is quite the opposite.  It has the flexibility to encompass in-text citations and footnotes and endnotes.   It is relatively simple to memorize and use.  It is, by far, one of the better choices, yet it is often laid by the wayside, untaught, and unacknowledged in the public and private schools.   This is a serious matter which needs to be addressed, ladies and gentlemen.   Only being taught one method of style can be a serious handicap for a young college freshman in their first semester. Citing sources goes hand in hand with writing papers and essays. When you write papers in college and you will write papers, that is an absolute basic fact of life, along with death and taxes. You will die, you will pay taxes, and you will write papers in college. Citing sources is a very integral part of that process, having more than one style often tends to confuse and befuddle students.  Some students entering college, it is sad to say, don’t even know what a footnote is, much less how to correctly format one.   Think of the children, the children who write, who want to contribute, but suffer under the burden of not knowing how to correctly format a simple footnote because of the problems inherent with having more than one style.

A prominent military journalist and English major torn between Chicago and MLA, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity due to fears of Oxford Comma Hit Squads, suggests that standardization is called for. “All citations are sacred, you know. If we allow this so-called “choice” in citations, what we’re really doing is killing words,” he said. “By killing words, aren’t we really killing the authors’ souls?”   A bit drastic, we feel, but we sympathize with his sentiments.  We agree wholeheartedly that standardization is just what we need to solve this issue.  A melding of the two camps, healing the breach between the two major disciplines involved in this dispute. 

To that end we suggest a committee be commissioned to explore the possibilities of paving a way so that a new style can be developed, a style that can encompass everything that citations should be, need to be in a way that would satisfy all the disciplines.  Because if this does not reach a peaceful compromise, I fear that the continuing battles back and forth could lead to something even greater and far uglier than the current struggles.    I fear an all out war between the disciplines could arise if middle ground cannot be found.   So many papers have already been sacrificed to the continuing strife between the departments.  Let us act now and save the future papers from this horrible struggle.   

In all seriousness, standardizing the style guides completely across the board (barring technical or scientific papers as the exception) so that there is only one style that students need to learn throughout all of high school and college would be an excellent move on the college’s front, especially for those lucky few double majoring in two separate disciplines.  It would make formatting papers more efficient and easier to do and also easier to grade.  There are more benefits than downfalls to standardizing the style with which we format our papers and citations.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for your time.

 

 

 

 

[1] As useful and pleasant as we find them to be, we understand that not everyone shares our love for the footnote.