Hile Troy! The Illearth War

Stephen R. Donaldson The Illearth War fantasy book cover.

Hile Troy! Just kidding. Hile Troy, the character introduced in Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Illearth War is one of my favorite fantasy fiction characters. Sure, the name helps, but it’s his story arc that fascinates me.

Hile Troy, like Covenant, is summoned to the Land through the same magic that started the story. But his arrival was a mistake. Atiaran, (the woman that led Covenant to Revelstone in Lord Foul’s Bane) in an act of despair, attempted to call Covenant to the Land. Whether to get revenge for the rape of her daughter, or to save the Land is unclear because she is consumed by the power of the summoning.

The Lords of Revelstone, being Lords, do not share these facts with Hile Troy, a blind man. Like Covenant, Troy was damaged before his arrival to the Land. He was born blind. When hurtloam, the magic healing mud of the Land, cures Troy of his blindness, he follows a different path than Covenant. He chooses to save the Land from Lord Foul.

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Violence, Fear, Hate, and the Modern Student

The Modern Martial Art Student is not a fighter

Modern martial art students separate their martial art training from the rest of their life. Compartmentalizing it as an activity that they share with people they barely know. They go to work, watch television, attend events and family outings without integrating or considering their martial art practice. It is just another activity on a full schedule.

This was not the way for students in the past. Martial art training was one aspect of an individual’s education. Reading, writing, studying the classics of philosophy, history, and medicine were all taught with the martial forms.

Those times were different. Institutions resembling modern police were rare and were often worse than the criminals. Hospitals were rarer still; the notion of an ambulance coming to carry you to a doctor after an injury wasn’t even a dream.

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The Real Story

The Real Story Science Fiction Book Cover

The first time I finished The Real Story I was tired from a stressful day at work. I had curled myself against a stack of pillows with my dog sleeping in the crook behind my legs. The plan was to read a couple of chapters, then turn in early. The thirteenth chapter spoiled my plans.

Nick bowed gracefully but didn’t move. “On the contrary, Captain Thermo-pile.” Except for his scars, his expression was bland. “I’m in no hurry at all. Please”–he gestured expansively–“after you.”

His gaze and his bow and his gesture were all aimed at Morn.

“There-mop-a-lee,” Angus retorted. “Ther-mop-a-lee. Get it right Succorso.”

The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson

Suddenly, the story had changed, again. From those nine sentences, I realized that the real story was yet to be told. I plunged into finishing the book like it was the deep-end of a pool. I finished that night, itching for the next book in the series.

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The Crisis of Lord Foul’s Bane

Lord Foul's Bane book review

I come to this review in a crisis. While chasing my dream of writing science fiction, I forgot my age. Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant lit my desire to write. I found Lord Foul’s Bane in the school library, a paperback fantasy on a shelf full of dusty, hard-covered tombs. Lord Foul’s Bane entered my world at another crisis point, high school. The story of a man rejected by his world was the life of every thin high school nerd in the early 1980s

I devoured The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Donaldson’s writing was a revelation. He ignored that tired advice of the simple word is better. Lord Foul’s Bane forced me to read with a dictionary nearby. I loved it. With every beat of a sentence, I thought to myself; I want to write like this.

I tried, but divorce and households emptied of joy marred my transition from childhood to independence. A journey made more difficult by parents that were unable or unwilling to help. American culture is fertile ground for such stories. My story spans thirty years before I sat down to finish my fist science fiction novel.

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Children (Spiders) of Time

Children of Time is about the spiders.

Spiders and ants and human beings, Oh My! Adrian Tchaikovsky massive work of science fiction won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Novel. An award it deserved. This book is an important work for science fiction fans missing the fanciful, yet probable, speculation Arthur C. Clarke made famous. Children of Time both accepts the hard science of space travel and challenges your understanding of intelligence and awareness.

Reviews of Children of Time put it in the hard SF genre. I am not a fan of hard SF. I find it boring. The endless speculation of characters turns into pages of exposition to support the fanciful ideas of the author. Clouded story arcs vanish beneath the weight.

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First Person and The Good Girl

The Good Girl book cover and template

Here is another book I would have skimmed over or missed because the story is told with first person narration. Lucky for me, Audible was giving it away as part of their Twentieth Anniversary Celebration.

By lucky, I mean lucky-ish. By the end of the fourth or fifth chapter I knew how the story would end. It might have gone differently, I might have been kept in suspense, but once again a good author hoisted her story on its petard with the first person narrative style.

I know, I bitch about this all the time. I promise, when I write a review about The Handmaid’s Tale, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I will praise their expert use of the first person, until then we have tropes, cliché’s, and The Good Girl.

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My First Martial Art Training Rant

Martial Art Rant Over on wood

I was digging through old notes, making a list of things to do, when I found an early rant about my martial art practice. With mass shootings a monthly occurrence, and Russian troll farms influencing American thought, it is time to revisit my steadfast belief in non-violence and skepticism.

Oral Training from the Nineteenth Century

Before the twentieth century, internal martial art masters taught their students orally. Most students, and probably most masters, could not read or write. Learning was through repetition of the forms and memorized stanzas. Students who practiced hard and served the master well passed the art to the next generation.

At the start of the twentieth century, some masters published books about Taijiquan, Bagu Zhang, and Xingyiquan. Publishing this knowledge was expensive, so only a few tried. Those that succeeded grew their schools, and their lineage survives to this day.

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Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

The story of The Trans-Antarctic Expedition

See my Covid-19 update of this post. Endurance and The Coronavirus.

Do you know the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition? It is an epic tale that challenges biblical fables. So much so, that the crew of the Endurance survives is the least amazing fact of the story.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage is an example of storytelling at its finest. It could have been just another retelling of Shackleton’s ill-fated Trans-Antarctic Expedition, instead it becomes a story about the crew of the Endurance, and how they managed as a team on the ice of the world’s most isolated continent. Alfred Lansing’s writing is simple and unadorned. He recounts the tale of the ill-fated expedition using the diary entries of the ship’s crew.

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Twenty Years of Climate Change

Do you know what scares me? The comments attached to this video on YouTube. There was a time I would dismiss such things as trolls, attention seekers, and link builders, but then Trump happened. The comments run the full gamut, from not understanding the impact of climate change on famine and poverty, to denying the moon landing, to flat Earthers.

Personal Study of Yang Tai Chi

Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Book Cover

After discovering Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s original, yellow Taijiquan book, practicing Taijiquan became everything to me. I moved outside, eating, drinking, and practicing under a Pin Oak tree. At heart, however, I am a skeptic, and seeing Taijiquan through the works of a single author did not satisfy my need to study more broadly. I later learned that the most ardent practitioners of Taijiquan suffer through the same phase.

My early passion with Taijiquan coincided with the earliest days of the Internet. There was little material online. The big box bookstores had a few titles, but for more detailed instruction, you had to search the pages of Tai Chi magazine or other martial art magazines for VHS videos.

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Time Enough for Love: Heinlein’s Work

Time Enough For Love by Heinlein

I have started this task of reviewing every book I have read since childhood. It is a ridiculous notion. I can’t remember every book I have read. Just now, I thought of one; a bear, and I am pretty sure an otter, has an adventure or two (no, it’s not what you’re thinking). I think it was a series. I loved the books, but they were paperback, and I trashed them in a fit of organization. Still, I am an author now. The Fundamentals is moving to publication, and as for sharing my love of the written word I have been mum.

Reviewing my list, I decided that grouping the historical works by author would save time. Another problem with dredging up memories of old books is the desire to read them again before putting a finger on the keyboard. No problem, I have decided to cheat. I will piece together recollections from what others have said and make up the rest.

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On Writing Well

William Zinser's On Writing Well.

This book has become mantras I recite as I edit my work. I first turned to it when I worked for Cargill. After ten years in retail, I was rusty with the basics of a good paragraph. When you are heads down on a project, struggling with how to say it, the advice in this book grounds you to what is important: pulling weeds.

“Just because they’re writing fluently doesn’t mean they’re writing well.”

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

To revive my neglected blog and market of The Fundamentals, I found that my online presence was missing a recording of the books I have read in my lifetime.

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Choosing Other Exercise over Taijiquan

Choosing other exercise is encouraged with your tai chi practice.

In the Earth Dragon Canon Method of mindfulness martial arts practice, I shared how my early focus on taijiquan benefited me on multiple levels. I also shared how my related success led to pain from sitting with a computer for hours on end. My focus on taijiquan helped to create my success, and that success leads to the latter pain. That same pain leads to my intense study of baguazhang and exploration of isometric exercise to improve my posture.

The lesson I learned is that taijiquan alone is not a replacement for other physical movement. Despite the decades of teachers promoting taijiquan as a superior form of physical exercise, it is not. The general effects of taijiquan are the same as taking a brief walk, and that is only if you practice a long traditional form and include supplemental exercises with your practice.

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Teacher, No Teacher, Teacher

Buddhist Shrine is representation of teacher, no teacher, teacher.

My process of learning Taijiquan is not unique. I know this because one of my earliest inspirations in Taijiquan study, Jou, Tsung Hwa, said so. Jou was not talking directly to or about me, but he shared his journey with Taijiquan in his books, and those stories spoke to me and my journey.

The title of this post paraphrases the Zen Koan: “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”

Learning a new art or skill is like this. First you see the mountain, and think others have climbed the mountain, and you would like to follow them. You start climbing the mountain. The trail goes up and down, back and forth. You are not sure if you are on the right trail, or even the right mountain. You think back to when you decided to climb the mountain, how beautiful it was in the distance, but now, when you look around, you cannot see the mountain because you are too close to it. Finally, you reach the peak of the mountain and, looking back, you can see all its peaks and valleys behind you.

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The Gun Lobby and Rotary Phones

A Rotary Phone

When I say the NRA, what do you think? The National Rifle Association, but what does that mean? What do they do?

I am aware of the NRA’s long history, but the NRA of today is not the NRA your grandfather, or father joined fifty years ago. Today’s NRA is the lobbying arm for weapon manufacturers. That is all. They are not a great American organization defending your rights till their hands are cold and dead. They are a lobbyist for a trillion-dollar industry that represents everything wrong with our government.

Through the NRA, gun manufactures managed to tie their product to an amendment of the United States Constitution drafted to maintain a well-regulated militia. By focusing like a laser on the latter clause of that amendment, they managed to create a group of customers that put even Apple fan-boys to shame.

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Evolution and Salt

Troy in the Underground Salt Museum

My wife and I visited the Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson (aka the Permian Sea). I mention this because evolution, and the need to deny it, is in the news again.

One of the Republican up-and-comers, Marco Rubio  was asked how old the earth is. He answered that he didn’t know, and that it might have been created in seven days.

The scary fact is that he is not alone. According to the NPR article, forty-six percent, or nearly half, of Americans have a nonscientific belief about the creation of our Universe. My question is why? Why does your God deny you salvation because you accept some proven facts? But wait, it gets worse.

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What is Martial Art?

Scorpion Martial Arts

Martial art practice is more than the study of physical movement. It’s an exploration of the body through the mind and the mind through movement of the body. Martial art practice can expose humanity’s worst instincts, or reveal an inner nature that desires harmony.

The greatest martial artist of the twentieth century promoted the martial arts to a world searching for reason in the torrents of blood spilled around the globe. From the worst of those conflicts, masters arose that sought to restore balance and civility.

Man has distorted the world’s religions for personal or national gain, leveraged religion for nationalistic fervor, and used religion to legitimize the murder of millions. The martial arts’ story is the same. Martial practice can become an instrument of violence, or it can be a tool for enlightenment.

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