Monday, January 7, 2019

Books of 2018: Quarter 4

And, bringing the final count to 14, the last books of 2018.

The Persauder by Lee Child

     "'No,' I said. "Not really. I don't really care about the little guy. I just hate the big guy. I hate big smug people who think they can get away with things.'
     'You produce the right results for the wrong reasons, then.'
     I nodded. 'But I try to do the right thing. I think the reasons don't really matter. Whatever, I like to see the right thing done.'"

"Theoretically he should have been unconscious. Or in a coma. It was probably thirty years since I ever had to hit a guy more than four times. But he showed no pain. No concern. He wasn't unconscious. He wasn't in a coma. He was dancing around and smiling again. He was relaxed. Moving easy. Huge. Impregnable. There was no way to hurt him."

Jack Reacher goes undercover to finish a job he thought laid to rest years ago. Wandering around the city streets one night, Reacher spots a dead man walking in the crowd. Using his old military connections, Reacher attempts to investigate further on his own. Instead, he gets drawn into an off-the-books DEA undercover operation. Now, with time running out, Reacher will need to out maneuver a New England mansion filled with enemies, find a missing DEA agent, covertly collect evidence of the illegal operation, and put a dead man back into the ground.

I mean, I've read a bunch of these books already, so I'm not going to do a lot of work explaining it to you. If you like mystery and action, or those Tom Cruise movies, or dislike all the fantasy books I've recommended, then this is something for you. I think the biggest change in this particular book is watching Reacher outwit opponents. Reacher tends to be a character that lives in the moment and solves his problems there and then. As Reacher embeds himself with the criminals from the first chapter and will need to stay undercover through the story until his mission is complete, he'll need to think on his feet to outwit his opponents and convince them he is an asset while still gathering the information he needs.

I know that I've been reading a lot of these Jack Reacher books lately and, if you're dedicated to using these reviews to find new books (you shouldn't), you're probably getting sick of hearing about them. I honestly did have another two or three books that I was going to read first, but then I was going on this trip and I wanted a book I could travel with: something small enough to put into my bag and I could easily pick up and put down, just to read whenever I've got some free time sitting on the plane or at the airport or just waiting around in general. The other ones were taller or thicker or might be something I didn't want to put down, not really something I would feel comfortable carrying around. So I went out of my way to buy the next Jack Reacher book about a week prior to my trip knowing that Child's stories tend to fit this criteria perfectly.

No Middle Name by Lee Child

"He had been in the military all his life, first an officer's kid, then an officer himself, raised on bases all over the world, and then he had fallen out into civilian life and couldn't really settle down to the kind of existence normal people seemed to have. So he wandered the land, seeing the things he had never had time to see before, going here, going there, staying a night or two, and then moving on. No bags, no schedule, no plan. Travel light, travel far."

"But Reacher wasn't about to wait for it. He had learned to fight a long time ago, in hot dusty outposts in the Pacific, and cold, damp alleys in Europe, and hardscrabble towns in the South, against resentful local youth and tribal military kids, and then his techniques had been broken down and built back up by the army, and he had learned the golden rule: Get your retaliation in first."

"Smart as a whip, probably, but any human given instructions is at a disadvantage. Your target is a big guy, very tall, gray suit. And however smart you are, however quick, that lethal one, two, three question-and-answer drumbeat occupies precious mental milliseconds, at least big guy check, very tall check, gray suit check, like that, and the problem comes when the big guy in the gray suit occupies those same previous milliseconds by walking straight toward you and breaking your skull with his elbow."

If you get a big enough following, it seems, you'll eventually be asked to contribute a story to a collection someone somewhere is putting together (Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, etc). Which is where I assume this collection of Jack Reacher short stories came from, 11 previously published short stories put together into one book, as well as one brand new novella. Like with most collections of short stories, there are going to be good ones, sometimes a bad one, and most of the time a lot of "meh" ones. Most of the stories in this collection were just "meh" but there were three that I really liked: "Too Much Time" finds Reacher arrested for a crime he didn't commit and he must use his own detective skills to find the real criminal and outwit the local agents; In "Second Son," a 13 year-old Jack Reacher recently moves to Okinawa with his family when his dad is restationed, getting into trouble with the military boys already living there, and, of course, working his way out of said trouble; and "Small Wars" is a short story from Reacher's time in the Military Police, investigating the murder of an up-and-coming lieutenant colonel.

The best part of this collection, assuming it's all canon, is seeing Reacher in different phases of his life. In the books I've read so far, the stories all feature Jack Reacher, the drifter. In this collection, we're introduced to a teenage Reacher, a couple stories featuring Reacher as a military police officer, and, of course, Reacher the drifter. We also get to see Reacher interact with non-bad-guy types: just going around and doing the right thing amongst ordinary civilians, standing-up to the military he was once a part of, and talking it out with the defeated and downtrodden.

While on vacation, I realized I was reading The Persauder too quickly and might need to invest in another book soon (I didn't realize how much time I would spend waiting around in places; and, because I'd been traveling alone for a week, just needing something to do while eating alone ... I should've spent more time on my phone). Anyway, so one day I did a search for English bookstores and found one in Itaewon that I could even search their website to find what they had in stock. They didn't have the next book in the series, but they did have this collection of Jack Reacher short stories that I didn't know existed. Also, if you're not reading these books, that's typically how Reacher introduces himself, or is introduced: "First name, Jack. Last name, Reacher. No middle name."

Tarnished City by Vic James

"The truth was, everyone in Britain wore a collar they couldn't see. Millions of people, unquestioningly obeying the Equals. Slaving for ten years in appalling conditions. Subject to rulers they couldn't choose or criticize. Confined to a country they couldn't leave until their days were done. And accepting it all as normal."

Set in an alternate England where those with magic, known as "The Skill", rose up and took over the country back in the Victorian era, the story follows the present day lives of the unSkilled Hadley family as they attempted to peacefully serve their 10 years of slavedays, and the Skilled Jardine family, once more at the head of the Equal regime. The second book of James' Dark Gifts trilogy, it's going to be hard to talk about the book without giving away spoilers so here's a warning: SPOILERS

[Hopefully that was enough blank space] After the depressing, hope-crushing conclusion of the first book, "Gilded Cage", the Hadley family is split apart once more, while the Jardine family appears unknowingly divided amongst themselves. As in the first book, James uses multiple points of view to tell the story, the chapters representing a switch in the character telling the story. Maybe I've just gotten really bad at it, but I can't think of a major, overarching plot other than the characters striving to create a better country. For the most part the story is about several characters and how their lives and goals intersect. Luke Hadley, the Hadley's middle child, is sentenced to Condemnation for assassinating the Equal Chancellor. He'll need to find a way out of a prison surrounded by criminals before he can get back to helping better the lives of those like him caught up in serving their slavedays. Abigail Hadley, the Hadley's oldest child, is on the run and looking for allies to help her free her brother, eventually getting caught up in the revolution to overthrow the Equals. Gavar, the Jardine's oldest son, finds himself with more political power than he ever wanted while his main focus is on providing a better life for his illegitimate, and unSkilled, daughter. Bouda Matravers-Jardine, Gaver's newly arranged wife, likewise is given a high-ranking role in the political world as she seeks an even higher role of Chancellor but begins to see the ugliness behind their world and how it could be better for everyone. Silyeon, the Jardine's youngest son, further manipulates behind the scenes, seeking out knowledge of the Skill and what it might truly be capable of.

As in the first book, James splices in a greater political worldview after the rise of the Skill. Gilded Cage gave background on the past and how the introduction of the Skill led to the overthrow of monarchies, revolutions by the unSkilled, and even the schism of the United States of America. Tarnished City gives more information on how the Skill shapes present day politics and governments. Three world powers are ruled by the unSkilled with their technological and military might. Three other major world powers are ruled by the Skilled in almost the same way as in England where the Skilled put on displays of their power to keep the population in control.

One thing I forgot to do before reading this book was re-read the previous book. As I complain practically everytime, I'm really bad at remembering names and now, with several months between reading the first book and then this one, I managed to forget a lot of the important side characters who now play a larger role in the story. I do like though, that James doesn't ease the reader back into the story with a recap of the characters. "Oh, do you remember this person? S/he is blah, blah, blah who did blah blah blah," some writers might say, but not James. The story just carries on as you should already know who everyone is. Eventually, I managed to put all the pieces back together and figure out who everyone was again ... after several chapters.

And finally, with something I've never done here, speculation for the final book. So, Bright Ruin, the third and final book is already out, but I don't want to buy it in hardcover. And with the way this story is going, I'm really not sure how it will all end. Most stories, no matter how helpless things look, there's always this little bit that reminds you that the heroes will prevail. The heroes always have at least one more trick up their sleeve, or a forgotten hero returns to the battle, or an enemy begins to show a weakness. But with the Equal government in control of society and their already physical superiority to the unSkilled, this might be one of those stories that ends with the revolution failing and society remaining unchanged. After all, do the protagonists always have to win?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Grand Adventure

I still suck at planning, which is weird and a little sad to say since at one point in my life I had imagined making a living from plotting.

In just about a week, I'll embark on what I referred to in my head as The Grand Adventure. When I first thought of this crazy scheme, I planned an entire tour across Asia: Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. Unfortunately, I can't swing that much money or vacation time, or I could but it would really cut down on the time and money spent in each country, or just splurge it all and extend it way past the amount of vacation time available. Plus, I'm not sure how my brain and body will react to not working for that many days in a row as I've basically hit a rhythm of working everyday. So, what The Grand Adventure transformed into is a week in Japan and one week one and a half weeks in South Korea, which seems like enough time to explore both places, if I knew what I was doing.

First off, the number one reason for this trip is for a reunion weekend with some of my dormmates from Plume IS from back when I studied abroad at Keio University

I really feel like I should have a better picture with everyone, but I can't find it

I've seen just about a dozen of them over the past 10 years (either here or abroad) but it's going to be really cool for a lot of us to be in the same place at the same time. I'm assuming from the silent Facebook stalking I've been doing over the years, everyone has something interesting going on with their lives and it'll be fun catching up and hearing all about it. Plus, you know, NOMIHOUDAI! (that is sadly the extent of my Japanese, besides "Toire wa doko desu ka?" and "Tabako wo sutte moo ii desu ka?") Luckily, for the most part, I'll be surrounded by friends whose Japanese is much, much better than mine, and who are also much, much better at planning than I am. I'm sure they've planned enough to the point that all I need to do is show-up and mooch off of their hard work. Thanks again. I guess in the one or two days after everyone leaves and I'm still in Tokyo I'll wander around ... I don't know, I haven't thought up that part yet ... I'll probably just catch pokemon I guess.

And then it's off to Korea ... where I'll ... umm ... I'll be in Korea. Really, the only thing I originally planned on doing in Korea was visiting my cousin who teaches English over there. And then, after setting up the trip, I remembered to ask her if it was okay that I didn't know any Korean. None at all. I managed to get by in Japan with very, very limited skills and some really good friends. Only after I got excited by this idea and booked my flight did I tell myself, "Hey moron, what the hell are you thinking?! You don't know any words, or even letters, and no one is going to be there to hold your hand through this. Are you insane?" Well, she reassured me that I should be okay without knowing anything, though I'm still not sure if it's because most people might speak English, or if she thinks that I survived Japan on some top-notch charade skills. She also dumped on me a load of places to check out in Seoul that I really should get around to looking over just so I can create some semblance of an itinerary, or at least look up activities to do.

If you've been following my newest obsession/addiction, then you may have guessed that I did look if any of my favorite Kpop groups were going to have a concert while I was there. I also checked if Scandal would have anything, but I'm pretty sure all the concerts were after I left Japan. Anyways, at first there weren't any so my cousin set me up with a tour website that'll let you into one of those live music programs on Korean TV that fill up my Youtube feed where you can watch the groups perform their songs. My biggest hope is that Dreamcatcher is still performing their latest song, though I doubt it since they released it about a month ago already. My silver medal hope is that Twice actually does release their new song while I'm there since it might mean that they'll perform that night as well. After getting my tickets to that, my cousin let me know that if I could extend my trip a bit, we could go to the Blackpink concert. I had to turn it down at first: I was already taking the longest vacation I've ever been on; I would need to reschedule 2 different flights and re-book my hostel stay; I would need to clear the extension with work where we are already short-staffed, etc. Then, when the second set of tickets went on sale and after a long, long mental debate, a couple nights of "gentle" encouragement from my friends ("Alan, what are you doing, just go to the concert!", "Quit your job and go to the concert", etc), and suppressing my travel anxiety long enough to make a rational decision it finally clicked, "Alan, this is Blackpink and it's probably going to be your only chance to go!" So, I re-booked everything I dreaded doing, informed work that I was going to be gone another couple days, and asked my cousin to make sure I don't charge the stage. "Alan, you can't reach the stage from our section on the 2nd floor." "I'll find a way." And so, thanks to the generosity of others, I now have one concert ticket, one music show pass, and a folded-up piece of paper with a bunch of words that I assume are places written haphazardly. It's looking like the start of a great trip.

I know I say this every trip, but this time was definitely worse. I really do suck at planning. Procrastination hit hard this trip as I left basically everything to the last minute. As I write this I've still yet to start packing, I still need to look up things to do in both Japan and Korea, and there are probably a bunch of things I'm going to discover I still need to buy. Also, my plane takes off ... tomorrow ... or right now depending whenever I finish writing this. I feel like the biggest reason is that things just tend to work out for me, that even with my poor planning skills (and even worse grasp on reality) nothing truly terrible has yet to befall me. I know that's a horrible way to think about it, but it's kinda true. I managed to survive hiking Mt. Fuji with just a hoodie and 2 t-shirts when I should've packed warmer. When our Spring Break Seattle to San Francisco trip was cut short, we were first in line and managed to get 2 rooms in a hotel and our flights rebooked to come back home. When I lost my passport within an hour of landing in Australia, someone turned it over to the ticket counter and I got it back as quickly as I lost it. When I got lost wandering around New York and Seattle, I randomly stumbled across the right train station, or got on the right bus, to get me where I needed to go. It's almost as if I'm waiting on something really, really bad to happen to me before I change my ways. [*last minute note: apparently the music program tv show audience I was supposed to go to got cancelled earlier this week, so I guess it was lucky I gave in to peer pressure and agreed to go to the Blackpink concert. So like I said, things tend to work out, so far.]

And finally, (you can skip this part if you want, there's nothing about my trip after this) the worst part of this whole thing has been that my anxiety coping mechanism - writing - seems to have been severed from me as I've forgotten how to write. For example, this entire post took me about two weeks to write. Yeah, TWO WEEKS to write about something I've been excited about for a couple months now. That should not happen. Typically, the words should just flow out and I would finish this in a day or two, and just taken extra time to find pictures and videos to link. I discovered this new disability earlier this month and still can't quite get over it. With all the time I've spent on this, I haven't given writing stories a try again, but the last time I did I was trashing everything after a couple sentences, if I could even get it started. It's frustrating and annoying and then I realize I'm wasting time writing anyways since there's other, more important, things to do right now, and then I get annoyed and frustrated all over again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Books of 2018: Quarter 3

King's Justice by Stephen R. Donaldson

I just happened to come across this book while walking the shelves at Barnes and Nobles one day and just figured I'd pick it up since I haven't read Stephen R. Donaldson since high school. I enjoyed the first 6 of the Thomas Covenant series, never got around to the last 4 books. Anyways, this caught my eye since I assumed he stopped writing a while ago. This turned out to be 2 novellas and though it only totaled about 300 pages, it still felt long. It's 300 pages, I'm sure I should've been able to fly through that, which I might've, but it felt like it took a lot longer to read. I'm not sure if that was the style of the Thomas Covenant series, or if it's just because the pacing didn't move as fast as the other books I was reading at the time. A lot of time is spent in the characters' heads compared to other books I've been reading recently which were more action/movement oriented.
King's Justice: Black is the stranger riding into town to investigate a murder in a normally peaceful town, and to deliver the King's Justice. There he finds the murder is not as it seems, but luckily Black is no ordinary investigator. With him comes the King's Justice, something for which no one can prepare. A bit more philosophical but definitely in line with what I remember from the Thomas Covenant series, the climax of the story focuses on the balance of competing forces: Light vs Dark, Good vs Evil, and even the forces of nature themselves.
The Auger's Gambit: Mayhew Gordian, the Queen's Hieronomer, discovers doom comes for their island nation in the readings of sacrificial blood and entrails. Every reading he makes shows the same outcome no matter the choices he or his queen make. Knowing that enslavement or civil war await, he must learn all the secrets that make his people special to save everyone. The thing that I liked the most about this story is that the main character was a Hiernomer, a character typically depicted as a bad guy in stories due to the bloody work they do. It was a interesting change, as Mayhew's work is bloody and is given some imagery in the story.

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

"Ian bent his hands at such severe angles, it looked like they would snap. He spoke a phrase that scorched the back of his throat, that spattered blood across his lips and sent a dragon of flame rising into the air."

"'Magic, at its heart, starts with sacrifice. You have to give up something to get something, and because magic is big, with all that it allows you access to, what you give up has to be big. It has to be meaningful.'"

In New York City, the heads of the magical Houses are notified that The Turning has begun. The tournament to decide a new head of the magical community usually occurs just once a generation, however this one has begun earlier than expected, and in less than half the time. Some magical houses recruit contenders to fight on their behalf, others nominate one of their own, all of them looking to show their magical skill. What no one prepares for is newcomer Sydney, an unknown to their society but someone who is determined to change magic forever. 

I'm not sure where the influence came from, but the story definitely has a post-Harry Potter feel to it. Prior to the Harry Potter series, magic in other stories was easy: wave a wand and say some funny words and magic would solve your problems. In this story, magic is done with hand motions, no wands. The words are not just random nonsense phrases or butchered Latin. Instead when the characters speak, Howard never gives the said word (which can sometimes derail the flow of the reading) but describes the sound of the word typically in terms of what the spell is capable of doing. As I said, this helps to keep the flow of the reading because if you're like me, you could spend several minutes trying to figure out what you think is the correct pronunciation of the word, and if you're like 12 year old me, you'll waste more time trying to cast them hoping that it actually works. And, unlike Harry Potter magic that just always seems readily available to cast, magic in this book has a price to pay: pain.

Though I usually have some issues with it, remembering all of the characters wasn't as big an issue as it was with other books. I think what really helped was that the main cast was introduced in separate sections in the first chapter, establishing who each character was and their importance to the story.

Calypso by David Sedaris

Regarding his sister's suicide by asphyxiation : "I've always like to think that before killing myself I'd take the time to really mess with people... When you're in the state that my sister was in, and that most people are in when they take their own lives, you're not thinking of anything beyond your own pain. Thus the plastic bag - the maximizer, as it were - the thing a person reaches for after their first attempt at an overdose fails and they wake up sick a day later thinking, I can't even kill myself right."

Regarding doing good deeds: "You're not supposed to talk about your good deeds, I know. It effectively negates them and in the process makes people hate you. If there's a disaster, for instance, and someone tells me he donated five thousand dollars to the relief effort - this while I gave a lesser amount, or nothing at all - I don't think, Goodness, how bighearted you are, but, rather, Fuck you for making me look selfish."

I bought this book without any foreknowledge besides reading good reviews and that Sedaris has a dark sense of humor. Also, at the time, I was writing that 3-part (which turned into 4 unfinished parts) Eulogy series and I was having some trouble (still having trouble) getting it all down. So I was looking for something that could help me out. Plus, it was on sale (20% off I think).

Like most of his books (I'm assuming as I haven't read any of his other books) Calypso is a seemingly random collection of stories about his life. I honestly don't know if their was a common theme through all of them, maybe because I wasn't really looking that hard. I was just entertained by EVERY SINGLE STORY. Some of the stories are inherently funny, like when he talks about his Fitbit obsession, the entire chapter about his height, or learning about insults used in other cultures; but some of them get deep and dark, such as when he talks about his sister's suicide, his relationship with his father, growing up with an alcoholic mother, coming out to his family and friends. In all of these stories though, he always finds something about the situation to poke fun at or make a joke just as things might start to get really, really serious, providing a balance between the dark and the light. It was amazing to read and I'm definitely going to look for more of his books.

I understand that most people don't like reading, but if you've ever wanted to read something and you've been reading these reviews to look for something, this is the book you should read. I've been loaning movies to a co-worker of mine, and one of the rules she gave me was no Sci-Fi or Fantasy, which knocks out about 3/4 of my movie collection. So, I understand that a lot of the books I read fall into this category too, but ... I forgot the point I was trying to make. Oh, if you've been skimming these posts looking for a book that wasn't another fantasy book, this is the one you should get. I think that's where I was going with this, anyways.

note: it was really hard to find short quotes that I could use as the stories he tells are so connected and well put together that to just isolate a sentence here or there without its proper context would just be baffling and you'd have no idea what I'm talking about.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

"It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men."

"Flicked wrists, arms cracked like whips, and throwing stars take flight, possessed of their own fierce rotation, bound on twisted parabolas. No mother gave her child so much direction, or set them spinning along their course through the world with such care."

Nona Gray is rescued from the hangman's noose to be trained as a sister at the Convent of Sweet Mercy. The church, however doesn't just teach young girls to become nuns faithful to the Ancestor, but trained killers as well. The story follows young Nona as she goes through the first two classes at the convent (Red, during which the girls are trained in combat; and Grey, where they are trained in poisons), as well as discovers secrets about herself and the world. The first book in what I assume will be another trilogy, this book covers the first part of Nona's training, establishes the setting, as well as reveals intriguing aspects of their society that will probably play a bigger role in the later books. (note: Gray Sister is out but I'm waiting for the paperback version).

My favorite part of Lawrence's writing is the way he writes fight scenes, and, like his other books, this one doesn't disappoint. If you don't believe me, try it: watch an action movie then try to describe it in full detail with every single motion, and watch your audience's eyes glaze over. To talk about a fight scene solely on the character's actions is boring. Lawrence though manages it through pacing and word choice, making it feel real and exciting and even intimate as if you were involved in some way. It's something I've yet to learn to replicate in my own writing.

One of the hardest parts of this book was keeping track of the huge cast of characters. As I've said before with other books and, sadly, in real life as well, I'm terrible with names and it gets worse when I'm introduced to a bunch of characters. Though I think I remembered all of the trainees, I know for a fact that even by the end of the book, I couldn't remember who were all the Sisters.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bank Heist: A Sovereignty Story

At 3:47pm, exactly on time, we began the mission, first shattering the front windows of the bank. Through the door strode a costumed man in a yellow and green suit with green leather-like wings, myself following right behind. "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a robbery!" Thunder Dragon announced as he let loose a bolt of lightning that tore a hole through the lone bank security guard. "Everyone move over to the other wall and put your foreheads against it. You better be kissing that wall!" Without hesitation, everyone in the bank ran to the other side of the building, leaving just Thunder Dragon and I striding through the bank lobby, as well as the tellers still behind the counter. Two of them, as planned, easy enough to for both of us to watch along with the hostages.

Well, not all of the customers ran. One or two others in the room made a move to stop him, some lowly D-rank Supers who had been standing in line to cash their paycheck or pay off some loan. Luckily, we already predicted there might be a couple of Supers hiding amongst the crowd. The Mystic, our own A-rank psychic supervillain, blending in with the other hostages, covertly slowed their movements. If I needed to guess, some sort of illusion making them think they were moving faster than they actually were. I moved toward them, focusing my copy abilities to mimic Thunder Dragons's powers so that I could send a tazer through them both and knock them unconscious.

Instead, Thunder Dragon stepped between me and the other two men. In the next second, Thunder Dragon electrocuted both of them, killing them before their lifeless bodies could hit the cold linoleum floor. Then he laughed.

I glared as he walked over to the teller stand. "You didn't have to do that," I said. It wasn't that I opposed killing, I was a supervillain after all and it was part of the job we were getting paid to do. I just hated that he took so much pleasure in it. Our bosses at The Sovereignty understood too that supervillains needed to kill, that way we could maintain a sense of fear in the general population. The Sovereignty, a group of powerful corporate leaders just wanted to keep the world the way that it was without the Supers, especially those in The League, trying to go about changing that. Best to keep them fighting other supervillains than toppling dictatorial governments or oppressive regimes or corporations that didn't give full refunds, especially those which hold value to their business interests. After all, who knows what kinds of changes a single man with the power to control the weather, or a woman who could bring down the moon would make to the world.

"Hey," Thunder Dragon said, shoving one of the tellers hard into the wall, "fill up the bag. No funny business." He tossed the duffel bags over the counter.

I jumped over the counter and began filling my own bag. One of the tellers looked to me and I created a cluster of sparks in my hand, lightning forming around my arm. Terrified, he started shoveling money into the bag, hands shaking. Unlike his, I had fast hands, fast enough to finish clearing my register long before him and to move onto the next, unoccupied register. Fast enough to ensure that only two tellers would be the only two working today by slipping a laxative in a coffee cup or puncturing tires on a street-parked car. Fast enough to pocket several stacks of bills into my own pockets.

"We're done," I said, grabbing the full bags and jumping back over the counter. When I'd gotten next to Thunder Dragon I emptied my pockets onto the floor and whispered, "You brought this on yourself." I backed away, lightning formed in one hand. "What the fuck is this! Did you really think you could steal from us!" I paused, turning slightly to make sure some of the braver hostages turned their heads toward us. I could hear some of them whisper as they pointed and got others to turn as well.

"What the hell are you talking about!" Thunder Dragon shouted back at me, empty hands in the air. Then he saw the money on the floor and the lightning in my hand. "Hey, no, wait." Before he finished, I put a bolt through his chest, making sure he couldn't reveal my own deception. The murmuring from the previously silent crowd was practically deafening as they watched one supervillain kill his own teammate for stealing from them. That would definitely keep them afraid of us.

Then came a loud Boom! and plaster rained down upon me. "I guess there's no honor amongst thieves," said Captain Shield, his blue cape fluttering as he hovered down, stopping inches above the floor.

"Oh no, it's Captain Shield," I said, trying to convey as much worry in my voice as possible, but finding that hard to do as well. This was part of the plan too, after all.

In an instant, his superspeed put him right behind me, one of my arms retched behind my back. "Surrender evil-doer, you are under arrest."

"I surrender! Oh God, please don't hurt me!" I said, again loud enough for everyone in the bank to turn and watch the show I was about to put on. With my copying ability, I channeled The Mystic's psychic abilities and reached into Captain Shields mind to find what angered him the most. Then I prepared for the beating.

It came quicker than I expected. Suddenly, everything went white as I felt the weight of a sledgehammer hit me from behind, sending me flying into the far wall of the bank. Then I was flying again, lifted airborne to the roof before crashing into the desks below. I'd managed to tap into some of Captain Shields super-strength as he pummeled me across the bank interior for what felt like an eternity. Though stronger than usual, I could still feel the damage already done, and the blows he continued to rain down, though not lethal, were going to hurt and bruise.

Then came a voice from across the room. "Captain Shield, what are you doing?" she said, bringing the crowds' focus onto the Super thrashing a man who had already surrendered. "What are you doing?" she repeated, her voice on the verge of crying. A psychic wave of sadness and disappointment ebbed through the bank and I felt myself dropped onto the floor. I had to smile, just slightly, as The Mystic worked her powers onto the crowd.

"No, no, I'm not sure what came over me," Captain Shield stuttered. He backed away several paces as the crowd continued to stare. Then he took off through the roof, leaving them silent and agape. I lay still on the floor, bruised, battered, beaten. Inside, I laughed as the mission couldn't have gone any better. A couple nights in jail and then I would be out on bail. A supervillain crime requiring a superhero response would keep the Heroes too busy to change other parts of the world. Thunder Dragon, that psychopath, had been taken care of. I'd maintained that sense of fear of supervillains in the general population. Doubt had been sown within the people for putting too much trust in their own heroes. Mission accomplished.

So, it's been awhile since I've written a story for, well, various reasons. Anyway, the other night I was looking to get back into writing so I started scouring Reddit Writing Prompts just to start diving into something, and what do I find right there on the front page but the prompt: "Superpowers exist, but the world is still controlled by money. Business moguls, oil sheikhs, etc. employ the world's supers." And sure, I found a couple of other interesting prompts to write stories on, but this one immediately stuck out as it reminded me of the superhero story I keep finding myself coming back to, "The Sovereignty." Though I never got too far with that story, there were several stories that I wanted to tell within that universe. This one is close to one of those stories: the main character goes on a heist job with another supervillain, during which they would be confronted by a superhero, and the main character would kill the other villain he is supposed to be working with. Obviously, there are some differences too, such as the main character being so confident in his plan (in the original, he is new to supervillainy) and the hero he would confront would be more of an asshole. Well, either way, here's another story, maybe I'll actually return to The Sovereignty, hopefully it won't be months again until I start writing stories again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Books of 2018: Quarter 2

Umm... books?

Without Fail by Lee Child

Scene: Reacher is talking with the father of a dead Secret Service agent and explaining that he means to kill the ones who killed the agent. Reacher asks if the man is comfortable with Reacher getting revenge.
"Do you have a child?" he asked.
"No," Reacher said. "I don't."
"Neither do I," the old man said. "Not anymore. So I'm comfortable with it."

Another Jack Reacher novel. In this story, Reacher is recruited by a Secret Service agent to kill the Vice President. It all starts as an exercise until the threat proves real and Reacher must now help to keep the politician safe and figure out who is the would-be assassin. So, this makes the 6th Jack Reacher novel I've read and the second or third that I've written a review (I'm too lazy to go through old posts to count). Plus there's been 2 Tom Cruise movies already. If you don't know about these stories yet, well I really don't feel like going into a lot of detail anymore. There's really nothing that I could write that would be any different than what I've said about the other ones. Basically, it's all pretty formulaic: Reacher will drift into town, trouble will present itself, and Reacher, being the biggest and baddest guy in the room (in the books, he's supposed to be an ex-military cop/investigator standing at over 6ft tall and built like a wall) will solve the problem typically with all the bad guys dead, and then drift away down the road. And that's the main appeal of it all, which I think makes the books great. It's got that old spaghetti-western feel to it, like Pale Rider or ... movies like Pale Rider. So, if you like those types of stories, well, these are definitely for you. Some back story is required as the book does allude to characters from the first novel, but I think you could probably read this one as a stand-alone without any other prior information. Child does a good job of filling in some blanks if you're jumping into the Reacher stories for the first time.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

"'For the true magician there is no very clear line between what lies inside the mind and what lies outside it. If you desire something, it will become substance. If you despise it, you will see it destroyed. A master magician is not much different from a child or a madman in that respect.'"

"'Can a man who can cast a spell ever really grow up?'"

Quentin Coldwater is a genius high school senior. He should be happy, he believes he should be happy, but he isn't. Not having outgrown his love for a particular series of children's books depicting the adventures of the Chatwin children in the fantastical realm of Fillory, he is ecstatic when he is invited to a secret magic college. At Brakebills, though, he'll learn that magic is nothing like he thought, and, eventually, that Fillory itself is a much darker place than depicted in the stories. If you've been watching the TV show, this book covers Quentin's magical schooling, post-graduation life, and their first trip into Fillory. Set in today's society (rather than in another realm or in entirely separate society), Grossman is able to make full use of other fantastical literature that has come before, characters making references to Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, and, of course, the Harry Potter series. One of the issues I think readers might have with the book is that, since it's told from Quentin's point-of-view (he's the main character after all), he does come off as sometimes whiny which might get on people's nerves. He's basically how he is depicted on The Magicians TV show on Syfy. So, whiny or, as other friends who watch the show have called him, "he's a bitch." I thought it was alright, as that's his character, he knows that what he has should make him happy, but there's something missing, or that he's always expecting it all to be swept away from him in an instant and he's just waiting for that moment he loses it all. But, I do agree, if the main character is an issue, it might be hard to get through the book.

I'm not sure how I picked this book up, but I'm guessing I was wandering around Barnes and Nobles one day and this just randomly stood out. After reading the back cover, I probably did think it was going to be like another Harry Potter copycat, which wouldn't be too bad. I was completely wrong. First off, just think of the differences between your teenage self, and your college self and you're beginning to understand the nature of this story. And though I've read and reread each book in this series, I've probably read this one about 4 or 5 times already. I really liked how magic was hard, that it was something to learn and practice, that it went into more detail than just saying a few words and flicking a wand, that it even depended upon things like phases of the moon and the weather. It kinda grounded it all into a more realistic fantasy (if that makes any sense).

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

'"There are things that a man must do, that a god may not. He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something.'
'What's that? What does he become?'
'A hero, Quentin.'"

"Julia squatted down on her haunches on the sidewalk, like a toddler, and put her head in her hands and laughed and cried at the same time. She felt like she was going to pass out or throw up or go insane. She had tried to walk away from the disaster, to run away from it, she really, truly had. She'd broken her staff and drowned her book and sworn off magic forever. She'd moved on and left no forwarding address. But it hadn't been enough. Magic had come looking for her."

As new Kings and Queens of Fillory, Quentin Coldwater and the gang set out on a quest to gather 7 magical keys for a purpose unknown, but entirely necessary to their very survival. Set roughly two years after the events of The Magicians, Quentin has settled into his life as king of Fillory and this has had a positive effect on his personality. He is more upbeat, hopefully, and that tone carries into his narration as they search for the keys, as well as a way back to Fillory when they are accidentally sent back to Earth. This time, Quentin knows what he has to do, which is be a hero, but this quest will teach him what a hero truly is. His newfound positive personality provides an excellent foil to the other half of the book, which is Julia's own magical journey to becoming a magician as well as Queen of Fillory after failing the Brakebills entrance exam in The Magicians. If you watched the TV show, trust me, it is so much more depressing and manic in the book. Unlike the other characters, Julia doesn't get the safe schooling route through Brakebills, but instead finds her own way through the underground magic scene, full of frauds and scarce information and magical entities preying on unsuspecting magicians. She's alone in the world chasing an entitlement that was unjustly denied to her. It's a completely different trek than the first book gave Quentin, and it's an interesting glimpse into what the magical world would probably look like in regular society: tucked away for only the truly determined to find, and the truly devout to obtain.

In an interview, Grossman mentioned that the character he felt most sorry for in the Harry Potter books was Dudley because he is so, so close to magic but knows that it will never be his. He asked J.K. Rowling if she felt the same way and her response was, "Oh, grow up." Although I can't agree with him on the Dudley comment, I do see how he extended that to Julia's character. Though the quest for the keys was a great adventure, I couldn't help but feel more drawn to Julia's journey to become the magician we find her to be at the end of The Magicians. We only get a glimpse of her as Quentin's unrequited love interest in The Magicians but in The Magician King, we get to learn about Julia in her own words.

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

'"I still have no idea what magic is for. Maybe you just have to decide for yourself. But you definitely have to decide. It's not for sitting on my ass, which I know because I've tried that"'

Kicked out of Fillory and back on Earth, Quentin Coldwater looks for a place to call his own. With nowhere else to go though, he finds himself crawling back to Brakebills. However, demons from his past come looking for him and once again, he finds himself on a quest to set things right. Back in Fillory, Eliot and Janet embark on their own quest to again save a crumbling Fillory. Their quests align and the group is once again whole on again on an epic journey. They'll travel through familiar places and eventually return again to Fillory, all the while revisiting old characters and meeting new ones as well. Since the story is clearly separated by the events on Earth and Fillory, Grossman provides several other characters to use as Point-of-View narrators. On Earth, an older, almost 30 year old Quentin now provides a sense of maturity and knowledge to the situation, while a newcomer, Plum, a recently expelled Brakebills student, provides the sense of wonder and asks the questions the reader wants answered. In Fillory, Eliot and Janet provide their own sense of wit and cutting side commentary to the situations they find themselves in. If you're watching the TV show, Eliot and Margo are exactly how they are in the books, so you know what I mean.

Just from the way The Magician King ended, I bought it at Barnes and Nobles the week the book was released. In hardcover. HARDCOVER. I can't even remember the last book I bought in hardcover. Actually, it might've been the last Harry Potter book, but even that one, I waited a couple weeks thinking that maybe I could survive until the paperback version came out. But for this book, I wanted it, needed it immediately, and it did not disappoint. The first part of the book gives an interesting glimpse into the illicit magical scene. Quentin, needing to get his hands on some money fast, signs onto a job with other magicians to steal a briefcase from a couple of other magicians. Like a heist scenario, all the members have a part to play and it's an interesting glimpse into what the magical society might refer to as "illegal" (we never actually meet any magical law enforcement agency, so technically it's never revealed what behavior/action is "actually" illegal). I also enjoyed that, being the last book in the series, all of the main characters we've been with from the beginning (Quentin, Julia, Eliot, Janet, Josh, even Penny) all get some sort of resolution made on their characters, whether finally healing from a past wound or growing into the person s/he was meant to become.

Also, as you might've noticed, I think I'm now going to start putting a quote or two from the book, something that I hope will either give a bit more information or that just sets the tone or is just a quote I really, really liked, in the hopes that it will give you a more intimate description, because, let's be honest, I really do suck at describing things. Hopefully it will get you to read the book, maybe just a book, get you to start reading again, and then drive you to reading my crap when you've got free time, or bored at work, or whenever. And yes, if you've figured it out, I do try to post/share new stories during the working day because that's when I'm typically bored and I assume everyone else is bored too.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Emberwilde Comes: The Cascade Badge part 2

"Wait" said Misty as Emberwilde turned his back to her, his flaming tail swinging, "I've got one more Pokemon." She pulled another pokeball from behind her back, this one colored blue and white, polished to a shine. "That is, if you want a real challenge."

Emberwilde turned back to the gym leader. Curious, I stood up to get a better view of the arena which was basically just a giant pool with several floating platforms, Emberwilde on the center-most one. Misty's other pokemon floated lifeless in the water, knocked out by Emberwilde in a five against one fight. Just fighting five Pokemon at the same time, even for a Lord of the Inferno Clan should still be tiring. I bet the average trainer didn't need to fight this many opponents to prove their strength. But what Pokemon was she holding back that could take on Emberwilde one on one when her other pokemon combined couldn't?

Before I could say anything in protest, the match started. Misty's defeated pokemon disappeared from the pool. Emberwilde readied himself, letting loose a roar that shook the building and sent a tremor through the water. "I choose you," said Misty as the pokeball flew from her hand, "Golduck!" Relieved, I let out the breath I didn't realize I'd been holding. Another Water Pokemon. Sure, it might have a little psychic abilities but nothing Emberwilde couldn't handle with pure brute strength. No pokemon out here in Kanto should even come close to the psychic attacks the Tartarus Isles pokemon train to defend against.

The red light solidified and the Golduck emerged. My body stiffened as I gasped, fear petrifying my body. The Golduck was a head taller than most, its skin a slightly darker shade of blue. It was the upper half of its body and the left half of its face that startled me though. Black lines of ash tattooed the upper-half of its torso and the left-side of its face. A marking of the Inferno Clan. "Char!" I shouted in warning, but it was already too late. Emberwilde was squared up and ready to fight.

"Golduck, use Water Gun!" Misty said, pointing at the Charizard, as if her pokemon needed any direction on who to attack. Instead, the water pokemon unleashed a beam of psychic energy, the red jewel on its forehead lighting up bright. A bright beam connected the two pokemon and Emberwilde roared in pain. The sight sent a shiver of fear through my spine, not only the sight of Emberwilde injured, but to see a typically invisible psychic attack in the Kanto region was unnatural.

"What are you doing, Golduck? I said use Water Gun!" Misty repeated. The Golduck's psychic attack continued. The beam intensified and the residual psychic energy radiating from the attack pierced into my skull like an ice pick. I clenched my teeth to try to fight it. I tried my best to stay focused by analyzing the situation. For a pokemon to openly defy its trainer, especially if they are a gym leader, it had to mean that the pokemon itself was too high a level, too powerful for the trainer to control. Powerful pokemon too strong for a gym leader to control with black tattoos covering its body. Yeah, it was definitely one of ours.

Emberwilde took the assault full-force, dropping to a knee and folding his wings over instinctively as if it would protect him. It was useless though, as if any physical defense could protect him from a psychic attack, especially from a pokemon of his own clan. How it got to Kanto was still a mystery, but one that we needed to solve later. Right now, we needed to win the match. I looked to the Golduck to find a weakness. The Golduck itself focused only on Emberwilde, its eyes never blinking as it continued the attack. Eyesight, or more importantly, Line of Sight.

In English, I shouted to Emberwilde, "Emberwilde, the water! Torch the water!" Emberwilde didn't move, continuing to cower to the psychic attack. I shouted again, "Flamethrower, now! Hit the pool!" Still nothing. Emberwilde dropped to both knees. It might be over. "Get up you stupid lizard and do what I say!" I didn't realize I spoke those words until they'd left my mouth. Bordering on blasphemous, not only to insult a Lord of the Inferno Clan, but the Champion I was chosen to bear across this land. Back home, I'd heard rumors that you could be eaten for saying such things.

My brazen words must've reached Emberwilde's ears. Either emboldened by my own courage, or enraged by my insults, he unfurled his wings and let loose a roar that rattled the arena and startled the Golduck for a second. With just enough time to lift himself into the air, he burst upward toward the ceiling and let loose a torrent of fire into the pool. In an instant, all the water in the pool emptied, filling the air with a thick steam. Several loud Booms! echoed throughout the stadium as the floating platforms hit the bottom of the pool. I stumbled and spent a second or two regaining my balance as the floor shook. I had no idea the platforms were that heavy. I could barely see my hand in front of my face through the fog, but more importantly, it should be impossible for the Golduck to establish line of sight with Emberwilde. Part of me hoped that its legs might break upon dropping 15 feet into an empty pool, but I knew we wouldn't be that lucky. The Golduck would search with its psychic powers. Without line of sight, it couldn't use its direct psychic beams or risk giving away its position. It would need to search with low-level psychic waves, sending out invisible psychic pulses like radar into the arena, waves of psychic energy to find their target. Though weakened, I knew Emberwilde could still win this fight with brute force. He still needed to see his enemy and I feared that the Golduck might find him before the steam cleared.

Soon enough, I felt a wave of psychic energy pass over me. Assuming the Golduck was at the bottom of the pool and Emberwilde was in the air, it was only natural that the psychic waves should find me first. I guess what I did next would be considered cheating if anyone else really understood what I was doing. I began to chant in my head an old battle prayer no one used anymore except as a training tool to teach us humans the language of the Chars. As mentally loud as I could manage, I shouted the words, dangling them like a lure. It worked! As I chanted, I felt the slightest of touches brush against my brain, an invisible hand gently passing over my mind. The psychic sensation made a couple passes, each a gentle brush as it locked onto its target. Then the Golduck struck. As if someone shoved my head in a vice and clamped it down in less than a second. Pressure began to build, but I continued the chant, holding its attention as tears started filling my eyes and streaming down my face. After all, as far as it knew, the only thing in this arena that could think like a Charizard was a Charizard. Technically now I could call for a disqualification as pokemon aren't allowed to attack trainers, but then Emberwilde would waste his time fighting another fight over again. No, I would hold its attention until Emberwilde could strike.

The psychic attack squeezed, pressure building on all sides of my mind as I dropped to all fours. Then came the fire, a burning sensation that worked its way through the inside of my skull. I ground my own fists into the sides of my head, a useless attempt to drive out the psychic fire. Blood dripped from my nose onto the tile floor. Every second of burning pain felt like an eternity, every moment ticked by slower and slower as I waited for Emberwilde to attack. Finally, unable to resist, I let out a scream, a high-pitched small child cry, a very human sound.

Realizing its mistake, the Golduck immediately released its attack. However, as were were taught in class, nothing hits that hard without letting the receiver of the blow know which direction the attack came from. It's true with punches, elemental blasts, and even psychic attacks. And, when you know the direction your enemy hit you from, then you can hit them back. After all, how can you sink your fangs or claws into an enemy if you don't know where his throat is? The Inferno Clan after all doesn't emphasize a lot of defense. If you want that lesson, go talk to a Blastoise. So as the pain eased, I reached out toward the direction it retreated. No way, I thought, as I realized I pointed directly in front of me, right were Misty released it. My only guess was that without water to submerge itself, it didn't feel comfortable it could escape in case Emberwilde caught it at close-range. "Emberwilde," I shouted, "it's in the same spot. Burn it away!"

In the next instant, hurricane winds gusted through the arena, blowing away the fog revealing the Golduck exactly where I predicted and Emberwilde still in the air, wings flapping. Showoff, I thought to myself as Emberwilde paused for a second, a fanged smile forming on its face while the Golduck's face turned to one of dread. Then the Charizard let loose and bathed the entire platform in fire.

Satisfied the match was over, Emberwilde swooped down and landed next to the defeated Golduck. "Char!" he roared, eyes shifting between Misty and the defeated Golduck as fire formed in his mouth as he spoke, "Char charizard chari!" He looked over to me and I made my way to the other side of the arena. By the time I'd reached the other side of the ring, Misty moved slowly back to the wall, the Golduck's pokeball still in her hand.

"Sorry, we've got some questions first," I said as I snatched the pokeball from her hand.

Putting up a brave front, Misty stepped forward, hands shaking. "What the hell do you think you're doing? I'll make sure the Kanto Pokemon League hears about this!" she said.

"Shut up, or I'll have Emberwilde eat you," I said as I moved toward the unconscious pokemon, "We're not from Kanto. The rules are different in Tartarus and we want some answers." I nodded to Emberwilde and he picked up the Golduck and shook him, roaring for answers. The Golduck just flopped in Emberwilde's claws, unconscious.

I headed over to the other side of the arena and filled a bucket of water. "Maybe this will help," I said when I returned. Emberwilde nodded and put the Golduck down, hard. I dumped the entire bucket onto the pokemon. It didn't move. Emberwilde must've really knocked it out. In the water though, black tendrils of ink swirled off the Golduck's skin and into a pool on the floor. I bent down and touched the ink.

"It's fake," I said, showing Emberwilde my blackened fingers, "not one of ours." Satisfied, Emberwilde nodded and pushed passed me, scratching my face with a single claw. Before I could say anything in protest, I remembered the "stupid lizard" comment. Instead I just lowered my head in silence and Emberwilde returned himself back to his pokeball. He understood that it wasn't our clan that sent another pokemon after him and that was all that mattered. I, however, was curious as it meant someone was brave enough to break the rules to actively work against a Clan Champion and its Bearer. I looked over the Golduck. The tattoos covered part of its face, chest and arms. Looking at those spots, I picked out small pockmarks, scared over as if something was violently torn out.

I put the Golduck back into its pokeball. Turning to Misty, her back against the wall but still holding that look of defiance in her eyes. "You got this in a trade. Tell me who gave it to you."

She glared at me for a couple of seconds, I guess deciding just how much information to give me, especially with Emberwilde returned to his pokeball and no longer threatening her in her own gym. "Some kid, about your age," she said, "same tactic as you, challenging all of my pokemon at once with just that Golduck. Then she offered to trade it to me for a Goldeen, just any random Goldeen I happened to have. Of course I was going to make the trade, seeing how strong that Golduck was."

I nodded, positive she wasn't lying. The point of course, wasn't to trade for a Goldeen, but to put that Golduck in our path. However, no subject of the Tartarus Isles was supposed to leave the island without consent from the leader of its clan. "I'm going to take this pokemon with me, back home," I said.

Misty nodded. "Fine with me. Honestly, that one gave me the creeps. Like it knew more than a pokemon should. I swear, at times it felt like it was trying its psychic attacks on myself." She then pulled something from her pocket. "Catch," she said as she tossed a shimmering blue pin toward me. The Cascade Badge. In all the excitement, I'd almost forgotten about the badge. I pinned it to the inside of my jacket as I turned to leave.

"Also," she said when I got to the door, "could we also forget about this Golduck thing? As an unwritten rule, more of a matter of pride really, Gym Leaders are only supposed to battle with Pokemon we've caught and raised ourselves."

I just shrugged my shoulders and walked through the door. "I don't care," I called back, my voice echoing in the almost empty gym, "Your pokemon, someone else's pokemon. The results will be the same. Emberwilde wins." Then I left the gym.

Welcome back to the longest running thing I've got here (currently at 5 episodes? though some do need rewrites). So, first off, no, you didn't miss a part. I was working on the next part, the arrival into Kanto (Pallet Town in near the ocean, right?) but then I got bored so I just skipped ahead to this fun idea. Actually, I seem to have a problem working linearly especially on something like this where I have so much I want to do, so I'm actually working on a bunch of different ... chapters? yeah, let's call them chapters at once. I have bits and pieces of different chapters being written at the same time because, when I'm writing one section, I'll have an idea I want to use later on pop-up and then all of a sudden I'm writing that part. Meeting Prof. Oak, Viridian forest, Brock rewrite, Team Rocket battle, etc. On a side note, I've been thinking about putting in some sort of picture to use, just so when I post this it'll have a picture associated with it, just in case you couldn't tell what it was from "Emberwilde Comes" but mostly to feed my ever-growing narcissism . The main issue is I can't draw and don't have the motivation to learn to draw, so that option is out. Also, I missed the Charmander Community Day for a chance at the Black Charizard so use as a picture. I meant to consult one of those artists booths at Kawaii Kon for some commissioned work. And I guess I should've gone to the NEET convention the other week. Oh well, I think there's still Comic-con or something coming up later this year, so I guess I'll try then.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Funeral Suit's Goodbye (Eulogy part 2 of 3)

Last week, I said goodbye to Funeral Suit. Several months ago, I started the engine and a hazy cloud spewed from the A/C vents for a couple seconds. Later that day, I found out that the A/C was no longer as cold as before. In fact, it felt like it was blowing air hotter than it was outside, which I believed should have been scientifically impossible. Turns out the A/C had just died, a crack in something or other as the mechanic explained (I don't really remember, I started to tune him out after he said it would cost $2000 to fix). Plus, the car had been making a weird, unexplained grinding noise for ... probably over a year. I tried to have it diagnosed, but no one could figure out a cause, so I just accepted and ignored it. So, after a month of procrastinating, and tolerating my increasingly hotter car baked by the afternoon sun, I began looking for a replacement car. After another month or so of actually searching, I finally said goodbye to Funeral Suit, traded-in for another car for surprisingly more than I thought anyone would pay. And now that I've said goodbye, how about some stories:

First off, Funeral Suit? I did choose the name after the band Funeral Suits (I think I'd been listening to "Colour Fade" a lot at the time). Plus, it also fit the car well: it's black; it covers my body; and, at the rate I'd been drinking and driving at the time, I legitimately believed I would die in it (along with whatever unfortunate souls that happened to be on the road).

As my co-workers told me within the first couple days of me getting the car, black isn't a good color. Unlike the way I choose clothes, black doesn't hide dirt but instead makes it stand out even more. And unfortunately, I didn't have the time to wash my car as much as I wanted. Eventually and reluctantly, I gave up and began taking it to the car wash instead of washing it by hand. On a positive note, I got to relive my childhood wonder of the car wash: your locked car rolling, not under your own power, through a darkened tunnel as water and foam cover your car, blinding you to the outside world, kraken tentacles slapping at the hull of your ship, banging to let them in, searching for any weak spot to exploit, and just when you see the light at the end, hope and escape close enough to touch, hurricane winds threaten to push you right back into the fray. Then the shame of sitting comfortably while some guy goes around the outside, giving your car a once over. Sometimes I feel like I should be getting out to help, after all, that used to be my job for several years.

One time, when driving on my way to work in the morning, a guy in the lane next to mine put on his blinker to cut into my lane. It felt like it was too early to be a dick, so I took my foot off the gas pedal and let the car slow on it's own to let him into the lane. I also needed to give my brake pedal a slight tap to slow down enough. Apparently, this pissed-off the guy behind me and he honks his horn to let me know just how mad he is about this slowing-down slightly situation. At the same time, the other guy had not only finished cutting into the lane, but also heard the horn honk. I guess thinking that I honked at him, instead of a wave or shaka, the guy decides to flip me off instead.

Funeral Suit also helped me to haul rock to fix our backyard/under the house. Candy, in an attempt to avoid the rain, decided to start squeezing herself over this short wall to get underneath the house. To give herself more room under there though, she started digging up the dirt, which also started exposing the stilts holding the house off the ground. So, I headed to Home Depot and started loading up a flatbed cart with bags of gravel as well as those large, smooth river stones. Well, 10 bags through the checkout line later, I'm pushing the cart through the parking lot and the worry finally hits. I'm driving a sedan, can it handle this much of a load? Well, doing some quick math (5 people at 200lbs is 1000lbs which is greater than the weight of 10 bags of rocks) I figure I should be okay. But then again, that weight is meant to be spread throughout the car, not all stuffed into the trunk and, at the time, I'd yet to determine just how many adult bodies I could fit into the trunk. So I put the first bag in the trunk and the car dropped. Then another bag and it dropped further. Finally, with all the bags inside, it looked like the car was barely an inch above the wheels. Deciding to tempt it, I started up the car, moving slowly at first, no problems, then a little faster, no problems, I slowed as I thought I heard a scraping noise going over the speed bumps, then just started going and I managed to haul it all home without incident though driving slow enough that I watched everyone cut around me the whole drive.

Living up to it's name, I did have a couple of memorable, intoxicated drives home (though not as many as you would expect). And by that I mean that I don't remember really driving home, just getting into the car and then being at home, with a very brief section in the middle that I spent arguing with myself about driving home. It was kind of like those "Don't Drink and Drive" commercials you know, the one with the guy arguing with himself in the mirror... except in reverse. I was the one saying that I was fine to drive home, and my haggard-looking reflection in the rearview mirror was the one telling me to stop. "We're going to jail," I vaguely remember him saying before I started the engine. I probably just laughed and drove away. Then I got home and everything worked out, though I did remember to check the front of my car for blood. It's the responsible thing to do.