Various DIY Tools and their uses…

Amusing.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

My thanks to the Vermont Varmint for

sending this extremely accurate info:

License to use obtained- Copyright Copyright : Sanja Bojanovic on 123RF Stock Photo

SKILLSAW: A portable cutting tool used to make boards too short.

BELT SANDER: An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-up jobs into major refinishing jobs.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses from fingers in about the time it takes you to say, ‘Oh shoot’. Will easily wind a tee shirt off your back.

DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, denting the freshly-painted project which you had carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to…

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It’s Personal Every Time

I have been using Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited to listen to audiobooks recently.  Now, you can search for e-books that are both KU eligible and have an audio version available, but if there is a way to search for books where the audio version is included in KU, I haven’t been able to figure it out.  That means that I do a fair amount of hunting through the lists, clicking on titles to see if they are labeled “Read And Listen For Free” or if they want me to shell out for the audio version. (Most are of the latter variety.)

However, I have found a fair number that I can listen to as part of Kindle Unlimited.  Or that I can start listening to, anyway.  Because of how I am finding books I am taking chances on a lot of books that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.  Some of them were fun, exciting finds, and I intend to do a post on the “diamonds in the rough” that I have stumbled upon.

Some of them… not so much.  I don’t like writing negative reviews, so I won’t be mentioning titles in this blog, but I have noticed many of the same issues cropping up time and again, and I want to talk about one of them today.

I call it the “This Time It’s Personal” bit.  It works like this:

A main character is faced with a professional issue–a lawyer has a client charged with a crime, a structural engineer has a building to survey, a soldier has an objective to overtake. Then the author hits you with the kicker reveal–the main character has a personal connection to the job.  The client is the lawyer’s ex-wife’s twin sister.  The building is where the engineer’s parents were murdered. The soldier lost his best friend in an earlier assault on the objective.

The interesting thing is that it didn’t really click for me what exactly was bugging me about that particular trope until I started listening to Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities and met Jarvis Lorry.  In his own words:

“And you will see how truly I spoke of myself just now, in saying I had no feelings, and that all the relations I hold with my fellow-creatures are mere business relations, when you reflect that I have never seen you since. No; you have been the ward of Tellson’s House since, and I have been busy with the other business of Tellson’s House since. Feelings! I have no time for them, no chance of them. I pass my whole life, miss, in turning an immense pecuniary Mangle.”

Now, Jarvis Lorry does have a history with Lucie Manette, the young woman to whom he makes the above speech.  But it is a professional history. He is dedicated to her because he is dedicated to Tellson’s Bank.  Dickens didn’t invent some other connection because he didn’t need any other connection. Mr. Lorry’s professional dedication was the strongest possible motivation for that character.

And that got me thinking about Philip Marlowe, one of my literary heroes. When Marlowe went to the wall for a client it wasn’t because the client was Marlowe’s sister’s boyfriend’s cousin, it was because the client was a client (and sometimes not even that.  Marlowe frequently puts his life on the line for innocent bystanders.)

The problem that I have with “This Time It’s Personal” is the implication that professional dedication isn’t enough of a motivation for a protagonist.

“Ordinarily I wouldn’t care about a teenager getting gunned down in cold blood on my watch, but since the kid is related to an old friend, I guess I’ll go ahead and investigate the case.”

And I think that’s a relatively new trend.  I don’t see “But this case threatens to reveal the detective’s own shadowy past…” type descriptions on older mysteries. There was a mystery, and a detective whose job it is to solve mysteries, and that was all you needed.

Science Fiction Disasters weren’t about a scientist having to save the town because his estranged daughter lived there, he saved the town because thousands of innocent people lived there.

Which is not to say that loyalty to a friend or a family member is a bad motivation for a protagonist. It’s just that loyalty to an employer or client and commitment to upholding the standards of a profession are also perfectly valid motivations for a protagonist, and what I see in much of modern fiction is the assumption that those things are not enough without some kind of personal connection.

In fact, in many works of modern fiction I see protagonists who are willing to betray employers and violate professional standards for personal reasons and the authors present that as being a positive trait. It’s as if the concept of a workingman’s honor–“If I take your silver I owe you my loyalty”–isn’t considered a virtue in modern fiction.

Something to think about.

 

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A Few References

Just for the heck of it, here are some of the Easter eggs I stuck into The Book Of Lost Doors.  These are just a few I can come up with off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many I’ve forgotten I put in.

Catskinner’s Book: Godiva has a book called Benway’s Guide to Endocrinology. Dr. Benway is a character from William Burroughs’ The Soft Machine.
The Nova Crew, The Blue Metal Boys and the Minraudim are all from Burroughs Nova Express.
Macrobes and Eldila are both names for non-corporeal creatures from C S Lewis’ Out Of The Silent Planet.
Corbett Russwin is taken from Corbin-Russwin, a company that manufactures locks and commercial door hardware.

Cannibal Hearts: Exquisite’s real name, Charles S Harwood, is taken from a character in Donald Westlake’s Dancing Aztecs.
Bellona Staffing is taken from the name of the city in Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren. (I used Samuel as the name of the Pale Surgeon as an homage to Delany.)
Isodore Construction is taken from the last name of the main character of Philip Dick’s Confessions Of A Crap Artist.

The Worms Of Heaven: The title is a quote from Charles Fort’s The Book Of The Damned.
The name of the company in the first scene in the book is taken from Maitland Systems Engineering, the company that Tak Loufer worked for in Dhalgren.
The exclamation “Where will the little green man be next?” that one of the captive gamblers uses is from the name of the newspaper contest in Philip Dick’s Time Out Of Joint.
The line, “He wears no mask” that the legless woman (who shows up as the crab hybrid in Gingerbread Wolves) greets James with in The Orchid’s maze is a quote from Robert Chambers’ The King In Yellow.

Gingerbread Wolves: Samuel the Pale Surgeon’s last name, West, is from H P Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Reanimator.”
Village Green is the name of the subdivision that I lived in as a child, in Springfield, MO.
The city of Zenith was taken from Sinclair Lewis, not Stephen King. (I think King also took it from Lewis.)
The Children Of Horus who fly alongside Agony’s invasion are the invention of my eldest child, Melody.

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Earplay

A couple of years ago I discovered audiobooks.  I first started listening to my own books, actually.  When I put Catskinner’s Book on ACX to try to find a narrator I was fortunate enough to interest Brandon McKernan.  As part of the process of publishing on Audible, I listened to the book, and I realized that a good reader (and Brandon is very good) can really make a story come alive.

I also suffer from migraines. I frequently have visual distortion as a symptom–everything gets a kind of a rainbow halo, which sounds a lot prettier than it is.  I can function during my migraines, but reading is no fun.  Once I realized that I can enjoy fiction without using my eyes, well, the rest is history.

So when I heard about Earplay I was very interested.  I heard about it through Eddy Webb, an old gaming contact of mine.  Eddy is the classic twenty year long overnight success story. When I knew him he was working a full-time day job to pay the bills and freelancing for spare change on the side.  He has slowly and painfully developed a reputation for providing a quality product, on time, to spec, and without drama. Now he’s (as he puts it) CEO, President, and Janitor of Pugsteady, which produces the Pugmire gaming and fiction world.

He’s also part of the Earplay Team. So what is an “Earplay”? The short description is that it’s an audio version of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Another way to put it is an interactive radio drama–it’s a radio play that pauses at significant moments for listener input. You speak to choose an option and the story takes the turn you specified.

If you have a late generation Kindle or other Amazon device that has Alexa enabled you can check it out easily by just turning on the Earplay Skill. At the moment, all that is out for Kindle are demos, but they do have a game called Codename: Cygnus that is available on Google Play. They also have a Soundcloud page  with samples from the Cygnus game.

It seems to me (I don’t quite grasp all of the technical language) that they are working on developing a publishing platform for other writers and actors to create Earplay-compatible stories. If that’s the case, I can imagine it as an exciting platform–a whole new artform, really.

In any event, I will be keeping a close eye on the developments as they arise. Should be fun.

 

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A Walk To The Edge Of The World

O, spirit, I can feel you watching me.

The voice that speaks from the sky–the Nar Attor–said that one would be sent to watch over me.

I am Thangorr, of the Grey Mountain People.  Have you heard of us? No? I’m not surprised, there are few of us, and we seldom travel past the Iron Hills where the Dark Folk of the caverns live.

This, though, this is kind of a special occasion.  Come, I will explain on the way.

I am pleased that you are here.  I am alone in a strange world and any company–even that of a spirit strange to me–is welcome. The spirits of my people, the Queen of Eagles, the Brothers of the White Wind, they do not leave the mountains. Perhaps that is why you have been sent to me.

There–see that blue line in the distance behind us?  Those are the Iron Hills.  Behind them, lost in the mists at the edge of the world, are the Grey Mountains. Even the Nar Attor, who seems to know all things, will not say if I may ever return there.  I fear I may die without seeing my home again.

But let us look ahead.  The chasm here before us, that is the Royal River.  It is said that as it flows it grows wider until it reaches the sea, in far Dolan, and that it is a gentle river in those parts, well-travelled by the flatboats of traders.

Alas, we must cross it here, where it is still wild. And then…

See how the ground on the opposite bank is dry and cracked?  Nothing grows there–it is the beginning of the Oddun wastes.  Strange things are said to live in that place, unnatural beasts.  I know of no one who has ventured there and returned.

Beyond that are the Fire Hills. And past the Fire Hills…

There.  See how the far horizon grows dark?  There are the lands of the Necromancer.  It is said that his power causes the clouds to always block out the sun, so that dark creatures walk abroad both day and night. In the heart of that land is the Necromancer’s Citadel. Inside that grim tower waits a task that I must do.

What?  You were not told? I will explain, but first, I must save my breath for climbing.  Don’t build the fire before you raise the ax, as my father used to say. Before anything else I must find my way across the river.

Come.  Watch me, and should I fall, take my tale to the other spirits.

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Or The Man Who Makes Potions In The Travelling Show

I gave up on yet another audiobook today, and this one I really regretted.  I liked the writing style and it was well narrated. However, I realized the central thesis, although a common one, was something that I can no longer believe.

The idea behind the setting was that some human beings (about 1%) were born with special talents and the normal humans hated and feared the specials and drafted special laws against them.

Like I say, it’s a common trope, practically a sub-genre of SF in itself, but I’ve never cared for it and today I realized that I just wasn’t buying it any more.

I don’t buy it because extraordinary individuals exist now, and they aren’t regarded with fear and hatred and they aren’t discriminated against. On the contrary, they are celebrated. Top athletes, extremely talented musicians, scientific geniuses–they are our superstars.

I am a very intelligent person, myself.  I have a near-perfect memory for verse–I never set out to memorize anything, I just love poetry and the words stick in my mind.

I also have an abnormally clear grasp of mechanics.  My joking explanation is that machines fear and obey me. To me the relationships between moving parts is obvious.  I can nearly always “just see” how something is supposed to work and why it isn’t doing what it was designed to do.

Far from being resented for my talents, I’m admired for them.  People at work like having me around, and I get called in a lot to “take a look” at things, even things for which I have no formal training.

I feel the same way about people who have talents that I do not.  I’ve known prodigies personally.  I used to live two doors down from a musical prodigy–he could hear a song once and play it back flawlessly, on virtually any instrument he picked up. I know, because I saw him do it.  And he was entirely self-taught–he never had a music lesson in his life.  Someone gave him a guitar and that was it.  I love music, but I could never manage to play it–the relationship between doing something with my hands and the sound that is produced is opaque to me–so I thought that this guy was amazing. I could listen to him play for hours.

I enjoy being around people that I admire. I appreciate working with people who are better than I am, people who I can seek out for help when I get stuck. And I think that most of the people that I have known feel the same way.

So why is there this prevalent theme in SF/F that the “normals” would inevitably turn against people with extraordinary talents?

Well… I used to think that people resented me for my intellectual gifts. No one really appreciated just how smart I was.  People expected me to do ordinary, menial work instead of just showering me with praise and money because I was so gosh-darn clever. They were jealous of my great brain, I thought. They felt inadequate in my presence and took their feelings out on me.

I honestly believed that for a long time.  Then, eventually, I grew up and realized that people didn’t hate me for being a genius, they hated me for being an asshole. And I couldn’t really blame them.

And that’s the same feeling I get from “super people persecuted by the normals” trope in fiction.  Yes, it is true that certain groups of people have been (and still are, in much of the world) persecuted.  But it isn’t because they are seen as being better or more powerful than everyone else.  It’s because they are seen as weak and bad.  The Soviets didn’t send people to die in Siberia because they had great talents–the people with great talents were lauded and paraded in front of the world.

I see Bryan Singer’s mutants and A E van Vogt’s slan (among many others) as being a kind of collective Mary Sue.  The noble and selfless Specials are persecuted by the Normals who fear what they don’t understand and envy what they cannot do.  And then, of course, some cosmic catastrophe threatens which only the Specials can avert, and so they risk everything to save the Normals that hate them.

“I’ll show you–I’ll just go and die because you don’t appreciate me–and then you’ll be sorry!  You’ll see that I was really super secret extra special the whole time.  You’ll see that I was always the bestest and you didn’t buy my books because you were jealous.  And stupid–you were too stupid to understand my genius.  And so you called me names and never let me sit with the cool kids.  But I’ll show you.  And then you’ll be sorry.”

Nope.  Not buying that any more.

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Murder The Tour Guide

“My name is Flint. Flint Norton.  I’m currently clinging to the side of building, five stories above a street that is teeming with undead, all clawing at the bricks and driven by mindless hunger to follow me.  Moving slowly, I shrug out of my backpack and reach inside to the brick of explosive and the detonator that I built using spare parts and diagram from an old book. I’m wondering if the damned thing will work when the the wind starts to kick up. Looks like a storm is rolling in–”

“And if you’ll look to the left you’ll see the headquarters of Evil McNasty Corporation.  Founded by Cecil McNasty in 1941, it houses the world’s largest collection of totally illegal and mechanically impractical biological testing gizmos.  The McNasty Corporation, as it was called originally, developed many of the human/aphid hybrid monsters deployed in some of our nations more inexplicable secret wars.  Now–”

“Hey!  Lady! Who the heck are you?”

“I’m the tour guide.  I’m here to explain the situation to the audience.”

“I think I was doing a pretty good job of that.  You know, the clinging to the building with explosives and surrounded by zombies thing I was doing before you interrupted me?”

“Now, I’m sure that our audience would like to hear whether or not you fall and get eaten, but first, let’s take a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with the history of the McNasty Corporation.  The merger with EvilTech occurred in 1967, and resulted in advances in both the unnecessarily grotesque medical procedure and stomping on kittens divisions.”

“Do you mind?  I’d like to get these charges set before it starts raining.  This is a new leather jacket and I don’t want it water stained.”

“I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be brief. I’d like to direct your attention to the extensive gardens surrounding the main plant building.  Containing a large selection of rare and endangered plant life, these gardens showcase Evil McNasty’s total disregard for the ecological balance of the Earth.”

“You know, screw this.  I’m just going to go ahead and blow the building.”

Sound familiar?  You start a story that has an engaging character and a nice solid hook, and then the tour guide shows up and derails the plot for a few thousand words of exposition. It can happen in any genre, Fantasy, Science Fiction, even “real world” genres like Mystery.  And I can understand the temptation–as a writer I spend a lot of time and effort on background and world building.  It’s natural to want to show that off.

But it’s like inviting guests over for a dinner party and then herding them down to the basement so you can show them the joists and the sub-flooring. And yes, I understand that little niggling voice that tells you that the reader really needs to know these things to understand the context of the story.

But we really don’t.  All we really need to know is that Flint has to set his explosives and then zip-line across the street to where his partner Butch is waiting with a homemade flamethrower to cover their retreat. You got zombies. You got survivors who want to stay that way. The rest is details, and you don’t interrupt the action for details.

Murder the tour guide.

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