Sketch of me

April 16, 2021

I’ve always heard that sketching yourself was supposed to be hard. To be honest, I didn’t find this any more or less hard than sketching anything else. I was confused until I showed it to my mom and she asked me if I used a mirror to sketch from.

A mirror? To sketch? Why in the world would anyone do that? Why not just take a picture and use that?

Perhaps it’s a right of passage, and until you’ve sketched yourself from a mirror, you cannot call yourself an artist? I dunno. Luckily, I don’t actually care if I’m called an artist. I just enjoy sketching.

This one is different from the others in that I’ve done no blending. This was, in part, due to a request from my wife. Sarah wanted me to do something a little less photo-realistic 1, something a little more sketch-like, I suppose. I opted for charcoal.

  1. Not that my prior stuff even approached ‘photo-realistic’. 

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Poetic Physics

April 15, 2021

And thus no force, however great, can pull a cord, however fine, into a horizontal line that shall be absolutely straight.

I have no idea who the original author was, but it was recited in a Writing Excuses Podcast I was listening to, where one of the hosts recited it from an old physics book that’s no longer in print. It was written with no indication that it was supposed to be a poem and surrounded by completely mundane, boring physics text. It was just this one line that, somehow, managed to be written in a beautiful couplet.

And thus no force
however great
can pull a cord
however fine
into a horizontal line
that shall be absolutely straight

Instrument of Omens

April 14, 2021

Somewhere in the preface to the first book, David mentions that his source of inspiration revolves around greats like Tolkien and Jordan. I usually roll my eyes when I read something like this, not because Tolkien and Jordan didn’t write great books, but that naming them as inspiration is so often done it’s become something of a trope at this point. They practically defined entire genres of fiction. Of course you took inspiration from these source, who hasn’t?

But it did get me thinking. The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time are both massive works, and in this way they are something like the Bible: two different people can take very different, if not diametrically opposed, interpretations of it. It is no surprise that many books inspired by these greats can so often look nothing like each other.

So what does David Ashura think makes those works great? How did he weave those elements into his books?

More importantly, what can I learn from this?

Note: Spoilers, maybe? I’m gonna discuss some plot elements I do not really consider spoilers, but some might. There will be serious spoilers for TLOTR and WOT, though. Reader beware.

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Irrational Rationality

March 23, 2021

Why do some people believe clearly false ideas?

It’s a question I’ve been turning over in my mind for… ah, no reason, really, just random thoughts, definitely not anything political. And since these random-but-clearly-not-political musings are bouncing around my head, I figured I could examine a couple non-politically charged ideas:

  • QAnon? Nope, staying far away from that.
  • Holocaust deniers? Hmm… no, if only because it turns my stomach.
  • Chem trails? Meh… so last decade.
  • Illuminati? So last century?
  • Bill Gates seeding the world with metal snow? A little to far into the crazy.
  • Flat Earthers? Ah, so I kind of feel like that one’s cheating.

Actually, let’s go with that: flat earthers. There are a not insignificant number of people that believe the earth is flat, truly. On the face of it, this is a remarkably obvious and to many, a stupid belief. There’s an astonishing amount of ‘proof’ that we live on a very large sphere called a planet. Not only are there clues to this on the ground, but if we just look up at the sky, we can see pretty much everything else out there also is a sphere. Then there’s all the videos and images from the international space station, satellites, the shuttle, etc, and it becomes pretty hard to believe that we’re living on anything but a spherical planet.

It might seem the only way to not believe the earth is a sphere is to dig a deep hole and bury yourself deeply within it. Yet I guarantee they’ve seen it all.

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Spinning Silver

March 22, 2021

Okay, so having read “A Deadly Education”, I decided to finally go back and read “Spinning Silver”, a book I kept seeing recommended but never read because I just knew it was a stupid retelling of a story I already knew 1.

And I hate stupid retelling of stories I already know. I really do.

Except this was not that. Novik more takes the bones of the original story and rearranges them into something almost entirely different. Perhaps it would be better to say she took the original as a kind of inspiration, but there’s no doubt it is her own creation.

And here’s the thing: this was a great story. Really. I loved the story. It kept me reading as a story should.

But, oh my god did it do it in such a painfully laborious way.

  1. I really don’t. I looked into and realized my entire understanding of Rumpelstiltskin comes from the TV show “Once Upon a Time”. Yes, I am ashamed. I should rectify this some day. 

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A Deadly Education

March 15, 2021

This was a delightful book, and the problem with delightful books is they’re hard to critique. Instead of making mental notes, I find myself enjoying the story. As a reader, this is great; it’s exactly what I want out of a book. As a writer looking to learn from other people’s writing, this is kind of the worst type of book to read. I’m left with ‘wow, that was a good book’ and not with lessons I can apply to my own craft.

First, of course, is why I bought the book in the first place. Naomi Novik isn’t an author I’ve read before, though I’ve been aware of her for a while now. She’s shown up in recommendation engines, but always the premise of her books hasn’t been strong enough for me to purchase them. The one I see most frequently, Spinning Silver, is a retelling of Rumplestiltskin. It’s highly recommended with lots of good reviews and I just haven’t wanted to read a retelling of an old story, so I didn’t. A Deadly Education, though, was something new, and this time when I came across the recommendation, I picked it up.

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Shadow and Bone

March 9, 2021

This book— oops sorry, these books are well written.

Actually, let’s start there first: in my head, they’re a single book. This is, perhaps, an artifact of buying an entire trilogy packaged into a single Kindle Edition racking up a page count equivalent to many epic installments. So while I speak of this work as a single piece, it might help to realize my view is a little skewed. Were there cliffhangers? I’m not sure. If there were, I didn’t really notice as I simply turned the page.

I picked up the book after watching a Netflix trailer for a cool looking new fantasy series with the same title. A few minutes later, I’d downloaded the trilogy 1. My general assumption is a series must be at least somewhat good if people are willing to throw millions into turning it into a TV/Movie series.

And it was. Good, that is. I’m sure a lot of people really liked it and I can see why Netflix took it up. It just… wasn’t great. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  1. This is common for me. I came across Game of Thrones the same way. 

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An Illusion of Distance

February 16, 2021

One doesn’t exist.

Does that sound strange, or is it obvious? On the one hand 1, the word ‘one’ means nothing without a reference. For it to have meaning, you must specify. One person? One table? One pencil? One… yeah, you get the idea. So one alone, is meaningless.

On the other hand, there are innumerable examples of one. There is only one me, one of my wife, one of each of my children. There is an infinite supply of examples that we can point to and say: that is only one.

But what is one? What does it mean?

  1. Badum bum. 

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Deceitful Logic

February 13, 2021

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m becoming convinced that logic cannot prove anything. Or, perhaps, I should say it cannot prove anything material.

if A equals B, and B equals C, then A must equal C.

Categorically, this is true. The problem with this statement (and all logical derivatives) comes not from its definition, but from its application.

Specifically: we can’t apply it.

What is A? What is B? What is C? How do we “prove” they are equal?

The moment you attempt to apply this to the physical world, it breaks down. To prove A is equal to B, we must be capable of fully defining A and B.

We can’t.

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A Magician's Guide to Defensive Baking

February 12, 2021

So I picked this one up off a Kindle recommendation. It was fantasy, it looked entertaining, it had a ton of good reviews, and it was on sale for a dollar. It wasn’t even an impulse buy— my impulse to purchase it arrived after I’d pressed the button. It was also going to be a quick read, so I didn’t feel like I needed to finish any of my other books before starting this one, a nice interlude before I return to whatever ongoing epic fantasy I’m currently consuming.

A Magician’s Guide to Defensive Baking (henceforth referred to as Defensive Baking for the sake of sanity) is a Story, capital S. In the fantasy/sci-fi world, writers will often try to bring a strong sense of realism to their worlds. They are, after all, already assuming an unrealistic premise of magic and/or technology that might as well be magic. But there’s also a segment of authors that lean in to the unrealistic, practically turning their story into it’s own metaphor.

Defensive Baking is one of those books. It leans in toward the ridiculous, humorous, and the fantastical. It reads more like a fairy tale and a delightful one at that. It was a thoroughly enjoyable book, easy to read, and inviting to pick up. Kind of like a warm chocolate cookie, I found myself enjoying the simple process of reading a good simple story.

Defensive Baking is also a children’s book.

It’s telling that I did not realize this until after I’d finished the book.

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Conan (Sketch)

February 10, 2021

I almost called this one “I hate plaid.” I chose the reference photo because of his smile, which is very ‘him.’ I didn’t even think about the shirt. Nolan’s shirt was basically a black blob, so it was easy, but I’d done Fiona’s shirt before and that one had a bit of detail.

Plaid? Eh. Just a few lines.

Right.

Well, the rest came out pretty well, I think.

Let’s pick it apart.

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The Honorable Judge Aaron Hayman

February 9, 2021

So, I’m having a rather entertaining debate with a friend on Facebook who thinks the election was stolen. We are currently arguing over what constitutes evidence. I’m mostly sharing this cause I had a lot of fun writing it and believe it’s entertaining. It also just happens to reflect my stance on things.

Also, I spent almost two hours on this and I didn’t want it to get lost deep in a Facebook comment thread.

Names have been redacted to protect the innocent. Except mine, but then, I can hardly be called innocent.

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They Laughed

February 7, 2021

They laughed at Columbus and they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

Carl Sagan

Categorical Illusion

February 2, 2021

There is no reason whatever to believe that there is a disembodied reason or that the world comes neatly carved up into categories or that the categories of our mind are the categories of the world.

Philosophy in the Flesh
George Lakoff

Heaven's River

February 1, 2021

Okay. Sci-fi, clearly, if the book cover didn’t clue you in. Heaven’s River is the fourth book of a series written by Dennis E Taylor. Given I haven’t written any reviews of his previous series, this’ll be a bit of an overall review of the series that’ll dive into a more detailed review of the later book.

Note: [MILD SPOILERS!]

I can’t really talk about the series without giving away mild spoilers for the first book. To be fair, I think the very title of the first book is about the level of spoilers I’ll reveal 1. But still, they are plot points, and it’s almost impossible to talk about the series without them. If you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, I suggest you just go ahead and pick up the first book.

Clearly, I like the books; I’ve read the whole series to date. If you like Sci-fi and ships, and some weird premises, this a good book to read.

I usual, I spent time trying to figure out why I like this series. As an aspiring writer, I want to be able to identify the core elements that draw me in and, I hope, will draw others in in my own writing. So as I read this latest installment, I paid close attention to what areas I found myself engaged in. What I discovered is something I’m tempted to call it’s own kind of sub-genre:

The Engineer’s Dilemma.

  1. “We are Bob” can only have so many explanations, and this is not a book on psychosis. 

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Just Wars

January 30, 2021

That’s the thing with Just Wars - they never end and never will because Justice is a weak god with too many names… no matter what language it spoke, it’s followers could not understand it.

Reaper’s Gale
Steven Erikson

Tyranny

January 29, 2021

Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even specially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities.

The Closing of the American Mind
Allan Bloom

Certain Doubt

January 29, 2021

I’m pretty sure I’m broken.

I had a ~conversation~ debate with my boss; he literally owns the business of which I am an employee. He has very specific political beliefs 1 and he wants to debate them. He’s not just trying to get you to agree; no, he actually appreciates a difference in opinion.

Yeah, I know. Crazy. We get along great.

Yet it was during one of our weekly conversations that I realized I am truly broken.

  1. No, I will not discuss the details. They’re not the point. 

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The Perfect Point of Light

January 28, 2021

Think about the people closest to you. There won’t be a soul among them with whom you’ve never disagreed. You know she’s slightly wrong about that, and he’s got that wrong, and don’t get her started on that. The further you travel from those you admire, the more wrong people become until the only conclusion you’re left with is that entire tranches of the human population are stupid, evil or insane. Which leaves you, the single living human who’s right about everything – the perfect point of light, clarity and genius who burns with godlike luminescence at the centre of the universe.

The Science of Storytelling
Will Storr

Unwaning Woe

January 28, 2021

But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.

Moby-Dick or, The Whale
Herman Melville