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Free RPG Day October 16, 2021

Posted by jkahane in celebration, health hut, holiday, pandemic, rpg hut, Uncategorized.
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Today is Free RPG Day.

While today’s Free RPG Day is somewhat different than those in the past, due to the coronavirus pandemic, don’t forget to go down to your local rpg or hobby shoppe and see if they’re giving away the various Free RPG Day quick-start rules and adventures for any of your favourite games.

And don’t forget to pass the word on Free RPG Day to folks. This is the perfect opportunity to get some of those non-gamer friends and loved ones involved with the hobby, and to introduce them to some great rpg systems out there. With all the on-line gaming that’s going on out there, this is even easier than it’s ever been before, though if you prefer face-to-face gaming and are able and willing to do so (well, all the gamers concerned), today is what it’s all about.

And a Happy Free RPG Day to all! 🙂

Getting Ready for Friday Night Gaming October 15, 2021

Posted by jkahane in dragonquest rpg, food hut, friday gaming group, health hut, ottawa, personal, rpg hut, weather.
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It’s been another relatively warm day for October, the temperature hitting 21oC here today, with a bit of rain and a somewhat muggy feel to it. Been quite uncomfortable.

In good news, the side effects from my flu shot have abated, though they’ve left me somewhat tired and a bit worn out. That said, still having shoulder pain and there’s pain in the area where I had the flu shot. Just another day in the health life of JohnK, folks. 🙂

Anyway, I’ll be gaming with the Friday night gaming group this evening; the players should be arriving within the next hour or so. Looking forward to it. Given the state of COVID-19 currently, we’ll be taking the appropriate health precautions tonight as the group decides on when they get here, as per usual. Everyone wants to game, but knows we have to play safe in this time of the continuing pandemic.

Tonight, I’ll be continuing on with the Friday night group’s second adventure for the current DragonQuest RPG campaign, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the players and their characters deal with scenario material that I’ve got planned for them.

In the meantime, I need to go upstairs and make some supper.

Have a good evening, folks. 🙂

The NHL Hockey Season Is On! October 14, 2021

Posted by jkahane in nhl hockey, ottawa senators, personal, sports hut.
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Well, the 2021-2022 National Hockey League (NHL) season started a couple of days ago, but tonight the Ottawa Senators begin their season with a game here in Ottawa against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The news broke this morning that Brady Tkachuk has finally signed a deal, 7 years worth an average of $8.21M or some such, but he won’t be in the line-up for at least 10 days to two weeks, given that he missed all of training camp. So he’s not going to be a factor early on. The Senators also announced that four players – Thomas Chabot, Nick Paul, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Brown – will wear the “A” on their sweaters, with Tkachuk getting an “A” as well when he gets on the ice. (I don’t think he deserves a letter on his jersey, but I’m not the one who makes these decisions.) The team says they’ll name a Captain later on in the season, but we’ll see how that shakes out.

So what to expect from the Senators this season? I don’t know for sure, but I’m of the opinion that they won’t make the playoffs this season, though they’ll come pretty close. Sure, they could surprise everyone (and I really hope they do!), but the team hasn’t really made enough changes to make a real difference, given they’re playing in such a strong Division. They added Michael Del Zotto and Nick Holden to bolster the defense, also reducing Chabot’s ice time which will hopefully make him better, and that will help some, but haven’t really added any scoring depth up front, though Zach Sanford (acquired from STL) will help a little. Still, with the injuries the team is dealing with (notably the loss of centres Clark Bishop and Colin White), the Sens don’t have anything to write home about down the middle, and the forwards they’ve got don’t have any 30 to 40 goal scorers on it. The team’s power play is anaemic, which showed in the pre-season games and most of last season, and that problem hasn’t been addressed. The Senators need to add another centre, preferably a veteran with a bit of scoring ability and face-off ability, as well as another winger with some power play credentials. Until they do so, this team isn’t going to challenge for a Stanley Cup yet.

One area where the Senators are going to have to be better is in goal. Matt Murray had a terrible season after coming over from Pittsburgh, but there were extenuating circumstances to that, and he showed some of what he’s capable of towards the end of the season, but the Sens will have to have solid goaltending out of the gate this year. Anton Forsberg, his back-up, wasn’t very good in the pre-season, but it’s only the games now that count. Because this Senators team is going to be low scoring, both Murray and Forsberg (and whoever else plays goal during the course of the season) are going to have to stand on their heads each night to give the Senators a chance to win.

Anyway, the new NHL season starts for the Senators tonight at home against the Maple Leafs, and I can’t wait to see how things shape up.

Go Sens, Go! 🙂

Had My Flu Shot October 13, 2021

Posted by jkahane in diabetes, health hut, life, pandemic, personal.
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Well, I went to the pharmacy this afternoon and had my flu shot for the season/year.

The flu shot is something that I get every year and have done so for at least the last ten years that I can recall. Given that I’m 66 years old these days, have diabetes, and am considered immuno-compromised, I need to protect myself against the flu every year, and the flu shot is the way to do it. And given that COVID-19 is still in a pandemic form, I don’t want to take the chance of getting sick in any way, shape, or form this year. My doctor’s office won’t be getting the flu vaccine until some time in November, likely the middle of the month, and he told me yesterday to get the flu shot as soon as I could. Since I am now considered a senior (well, I have been since I turned 65 years old), I got the high potency shot which is considered the recommended dose for seniors.

Of course, naturally I’m one of the folks who gets a reaction to the flu shot every year. I tend to get a bit of a sore throat, a runny/stuffed up nose, headache, fatigue/tiredness, and a mild fever. It’s been around 7 hours since I had my shot, and guess what? I’ve started running a mild fever, am feeling fatigued, and have a bit of a sore throat now. Hopefully, this is the worst I’ll feel during the next couple of days.

Anyway, I think I’ll be taking it easy over the next few days, and treat the symptoms of the flu vaccine shot appropriately.

Anyway, time for bed.

Happy Thanksgiving Day! October 11, 2021

Posted by jkahane in canada, holiday, music hut.
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Happy Thanksgiving Day, Canada!

It’s a somewhat warm day (for October) outside at the moment here for Thanksgiving Day in the Ottawa valley. Warmer than what’s usual for this time of year. I want to wish all my Canadian friends a very good day, and one that is filled with all sorts of reasons for being thankful. To honour this day, I thought I would just share a bit of Canadian music from Nova Scotia musician Melanie Doane…

To all my Canadian friends and peeps, here’s wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

Sunday Gaming Session Cancelled October 10, 2021

Posted by jkahane in dragonquest rpg, holiday, personal, rpg hut, sunday gaming group.
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Today is Sunday.

I was supposed to game this afternoon with the Sunday players today.

That isn’t going to happen. This weekend being the Thanksgiving Day weekend in Canada, both of my players have family commitments that need to be attended to. So there will be no gaming this afternoon with the Sunday group.

I’m kind of sad about this as I was looking forward to starting the second adventure for the DragonQuest RPG campaign with the Sunday players today. And some gaming today would have been nice, given the gloominess of the weather and all.

Oh, well.

Friday Night Gaming Session Postponed October 8, 2021

Posted by jkahane in dragonquest rpg, friday gaming group, holiday, personal, rpg hut.
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Today is Friday.

I was supposed to game with the Friday night players this evening.

That isn’t going to happen. This weekend being the Thanksgiving Day weekend in Canada, two of my five players have family commitments that need to be attended to. So there will be no gaming this evening with the Friday group.

I’m kind of sad about this as I was looking forward to continuing on with the Friday night DragonQuest RPG campaign this evening. That said, the game session has not been cancelled, per sĂ©, but merely postponed to next Friday night. So there is that to look forward to. 🙂

Sunday Gaming Session Cancelled October 3, 2021

Posted by jkahane in dragonquest rpg, health hut, ottawa, personal, rpg hut, sunday gaming group, weather.
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Today is Sunday.

I was supposed to game face-to-face with the Sunday players today.

That isn’t going to happen. One of the two players, SteveR, has just gone through a five-day period of radiation therapy for cancer after having had surgery on his broken arm, and is too fatigued from the radiation therapy, and decided to take today off ad rest and recuperate somewhat. Not that I can blame him. To be honest, I can’t say I’m sorry we’re not going to game today, as the cool, gloomy, damp weather is making my still injured left shoulder and my right hand/wrist hurt a good deal today. So, no gaming today.

I’m kind of sad about this as I was looking forward to starting the second adventure for the DragonQuest RPG campaign with the Sunday players today. And gaming face-to-face again would have been nice.

Oh, well.

Books Read in September, 2021 October 2, 2021

Posted by jkahane in book hut, month total, reading hut, review.
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A new month. Thus, as is my standard usage of my blog space at or near the beginning of the month, I present the listing of my September, 2021 reads.


Books Read in September, 2021

Fading Suns: Universe Book by Bill Bridges, Jacqueline Bryk, et. al. (RPG)

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (r)

The Secrets of Star Whales by Rebecca Thorne

A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock

August, 2021 Locus

July/August, 2021 Reader’s Digest

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

Thraxas by Martin Scott (r)

Wine Dark Deep: Book One by R. Peter Keith

The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina by Caroline Lawrence


And that was my reading for September, 2021. This was another pretty good month of reading for me, especially given my still limited use of my hands and all. While my reading time was somewhat impacted by this (and I was still having bad headaches, as well), the quantity and quality of the books I read was pretty decent. Once more, this was a month of reading for the joy of it, rather than reading out of boredom or having nothing better to do. Regardless, my bookcases are still stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ). The books I enjoyed the most were:

Fading Suns: Universe Book by Bill Bridges, Jacqueline Bryk, et. al. (RPG)
Universe Book. A Far-Future Passion Play. It is the sixth millennium. Humanity spread across the stars and built a republic of advanced technology and universal emancipation – and then squandered it, fought over it, and lost it. As the light of the stars began to slowly fade, a New Dark Age descended upon the Known Worlds. Then, from the ashes of war and ruin, Emperor Alexius rose to power and ushered in a new era of hope. He calls now for brave knights, wise priests, and resourceful guilders to bring his peace to all the worlds, known and unknown. The Universe Book presents the setting for Fading Suns: its history, society, and astro-geography. Herein you will encounter nobles, priests, guilders, aliens, psychics, cyborgs, and more. The Fading Suns Roleplaying Game first came out in 1996, and this science fantasy passion play in space has gone through several editions and different publishers over the decades. Now, the Fourth Edition of the game comes to roleplaying gamers from the folks at Ulisses Spiele, with the core game system divided into three books – the Character Book, the Gamemaster Book, and this volume, the Universe Book. This volume literally presents an overview of the universe of the Fading Suns Roleplaying Game, and is a beautiful book of 120 pages, full of gorgeous artwork, some stellar fiction that provides more insight and the “flavour” of the game setting, as well as detailing what the Gamemaster needs to know to run this game when it comes to the game universe. After a lovely, long excerpt from Alustro’s Journal (a long time presence in the various incarnations of the game, that details the life and journeys of one Alustro, a traveller in the Known Worlds, the book provides an Introduction chapter that introduces the game to the reader, describes what the three Core books are, and explains what roleplaying is and what is needed to play the game. The book’s contents than begin in earnest. First up is a decent-sized chapter some 20 odd pages, that discusses the History of the universe and the major events that have shaped the Known Worlds as it exists at the present time. The timeline for the game has been advanced, which makes sense given that it’s been a while since the game was last published, and offers a good look at the history of the Known Worlds. This is followed up by the second chapter on Society. This chapter takes up the majority of the book, and covers the major players in the universe of Fading Suns – the Nobles, the Priesthood, and the Merchant League. Each section offers generalities about the overall Faction, followed up by a detailed look at the specific Houses (Nobles), Sects (Priests) and Guilds (Merchants), and then some material on the Minor groups within each faction as well. The reader then gets a section on the Other Estates, including the Emperor and the Imperial set-up, the Vuldrok barbarians and the Kurgan Caliphate (also barbarians, to some degree, but more complex), and finally a section devoted to the three main alien species (the Ur-Obun, the Ur-Ukar, and the Vorox). This chapter clocks in at just over 60 pages, and gives the reader (usually the Gamemaster) a solid overview of the social structure and cultures of the Known Worlds. The third chapter, The Known Worlds, gives the reader just that – an overview of the Known Worlds, with half-column descriptions of the 47 primary worlds in the Known Worlds, including two worlds in Vuldrok space as well. This chapter also includes a two-page Jumpweb of the Known Worlds, that shows the various jumproutes available for the various worlds in Known Space, lovingly rendered by Steffen Brand. The material presented for each system/world is clean, presenting some of the oddities of each world (where such occurs) and offers a good primer on these worlds for the Gamemaster to base some plots and provide a few game ideas. The chapter ends with a two-page section on the Jumpgates, as well as the Jumpkeys, but there is definitely more information on this subject that will likely be shared in the Charioteers (they control the jumpkey technology and interstellar travel) material in a later book. This book is, overall, pretty good reading and offers an excellent introduction and basis to the history, cultures and societies of the Known Worlds, as well as an introductory source to the astro-geography of the Known Worlds. The book has a stitched binding, is a solid hardcover with glossy paper and the papyrus-like background doesn’t detract from the writing itself. The artwork scattered throughout the book is stunning in appearance and offers a solid look at the “feel” of the Known Worlds universe. This book is definitely a product for the Fading Suns game, but because there are no game statistics and mechanics in the book, could be used for other science fiction roleplaying games, but would require a good deal of work. That said, the price is somewhat excessive at roughly $35 U.S. for a 120-page book, and I’m not sure that someone who isn’t a fan of the game universe or who wants to run/play Fading Suns would want to buy this book. Still, a lovely book and an excellent read.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (r)
The first book in The Invisible Library series. Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently… Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission: to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own. Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake. This is my first re-read book of the month, and this review is from when I read the book originally. (Whenever I read it originally, back in either 2015 or 2016.) The first book in the author’s Invisible Library series, this book is… Okay, I enjoy books. A lot. If you’re reading this review, you probably like books, too. You also probably realize that there isn’t nearly enough time to read all the amazing books that are out there, so we readers have learned to pick and prioritize what books we spend our precious free time indulging, knowing there will always be another series or author we will never actually get to as our To Read Queue (TRQ) grows exponentially. Reality can be so aggravating like that. However, Irene, the heroine of this story, doesn’t have to worry about that. She’s a member of the eponymous Invisible Library. A library that exists outside of space and time, where the residents never age and have access to alternative dimensions where books unique to that world exist. Imagine reading a Hemingway from a world where he never killed himself or a Shakespeare play in a world where England never broke from Catholic church. Not to mention a whole slew of “lesser” authors that didn’t exist in our world. The sheer possibilities boggle the mind. Of course, Irene doesn’t live a life of leisure, whiling away eternity reading books. She is a Librarian, an agent of the Library who travels to alternative worlds to procure particular, special editions of books for the Library. But these aren’t mundane alternative worlds where history took a slightly different path. These worlds have monsters, mad scientists, airships, and dangerous Fae. Across these worlds the powers of Chaos (the Fae) and Order (Dragons) vie in a conflict the Library does what it can to stay neutral in. Needless to say, Irene’s current run-of-the-mill assignment goes pear-shaped in a spectacular fashion, and various shenanigans ensure at a rapid pace. There is so much to love in this first book, as this book has a great mix of world building, character chemistry, and story. Insofar as the world building, author Genevieve Cogman has created a universe that is fascinating. First, the Library is refreshingly frustrating; most technologies don’t work in it. It is huge and Librarians have no control over where they end up when they return from missions. So Librarians can end up in an isolated wing of the immense complex and have to tough it out for 8 hours to get back to the main area. There’s no easily accessible transit system, so walking is the order of the day. It is perfectly imperfect. Furthermore, the structure of the Library organization is also interesting. The reader isn’t given a lot of insight into the origins or the formal structure of the Library but one gets a good enough view from Irene’s perspective to get a sense that the Senior Librarians have their own agendas and priorities they pursue, even if it may come into conflict with other Senior Librarians. The author leaves a lot of space to expand this area in subsequent books, but offers enough of a view to help the plot move along. And there’s enough of a sense of mystery about the Library’s origins that is rich ground for subsequent books to explore. The world that Irene and Kai (the other main character, whom I’ll say little about here) find themselves in is also pretty neat. It serves both as a neat setting and as a basis to discuss the physics and qualities of other worlds. This particular one is Chaos-infested, meaning it is increasingly twisting towards adhering to literary conventions, defying what we would consider the laws of physics. This tends to be very bad for the humans of the world, as it becomes more dominated by Fae. The characters and their chemistry works well in this book. Irene is great, being a combination of a professional, frustrated by the many barriers the universe has thrown at her, and haunted by some past failures. She’s by no means perfect, but does the best given the circumstances she finds herself in. The relationship between her and Kai works as well. She remains professional and mission focused, but still takes the time to teach Kai and get to know him as a person. Their relationship unfolded organically, and they maintained a healthy level of respect for each other throughout. All the relationships in the book are actually handled quite well, and not only add to the plot, but none of them seemed out of place. And then there’s the story… It is, to say the least, rather gripping. I really liked the notion of the Librarians’ missions, going off to acquire rare books from fantastical worlds, so getting to see one of those missions unfold (and pretty much immediately go pear-shaped) was enjoyable and fun reading. The theme of Order versus Chaos is prevalent throughout the novel, and seems to be a major conflict for what I think has potential to be a long series, but the secret history of the Library itself will also likely be a theme of the series as well. I’m really looking forward to getting into the second book of the series, and I highly recommend this book to everyone.

The Secrets of Star Whales by Rebecca Thorne
On the small space station Azura, Maxion Belmont is constantly torn between his two passions – engineering and music. Both are hobbies handed down from his father, which is bittersweet since his death two years ago. While his hydrodriver is great for repairing starship parts, his father’s old string instrument tugs at the latent grief Max hides from his mom and classmates with each chord he strums. When a foreign starship appears on the horizon, Azura welcomes their first tourist in years. Enter Mr. Hames, starship captain and space-brained traveller. But there’s something weird about the stranger-turned-substitute teacher. He has no idea how to teach and thinks enlisting a group of twelve-year-olds to become his starship “crew” is totally normal. Or maybe it’s the fact he keeps raving about the existence of alien creatures in the vacuum of space: star whales. As Max and the rest of Mr. Hames’s class/crew uncover the mysteries of the star whales, they discover they aren’t the only ones looking for the elusive creatures – and not every whaler has good intentions. Confronted with questions about his own father’s history with the star whales, Max must decide how far he’ll go to understand not only his father, but also the boy he’s become since his death… even at the expense of the star whales themselves. The Secrets of Star Whales is Rebecca Thorne’s first published novel, and is a heartwarming, middle grade science fiction novel that is almost a combination of School of Rock meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in so many ways. While the book is pretty light, not surprising given its targeted audience, and is about friendship, creativity, and love, it’s primarily a book about trauma and loss, animal rights, and dealing with grief – all through the eyes of children. Actually, that’s not completely true; the adults present in the story get to explore some of these issues as well, and that balance is what makes the book work so well. The story definitely has that “nothing exciting ever happens here” trope and vibe going from the beginning of the book. The conflict consists primarily of the inner workings of pre-teens trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be. Needless to say, it’s no different than a lot of other tales, but this just happens to take place on a space station in the middle of a mining colony on the seeming edge of nowhere. When the true conflict of the story begins (and that mining endeavour or lack thereof at the moment plays a role in this, albeit one that isn’t obvious to the reader to begin with), the story becomes a completely different entity, one with significantly higher stakes that those one might expect. The main protagonist of the book is Maxion (“Max”) Belmont, a 12-year-old who lives on Azura Station in the Fifth Star System, whose mechanically minded father died several years earlier in an accident and whose only real legacy to Max is a hydrodriver (a tool) and a decivox (a musical instrument). Both Max and his mother are still grieving the loss of her husband and his father, but neither have truly grieved and come to terms with his loss, and this gives Max a load full of emotional and mental baggage that gives the story some weight to it. Max and his classmates/friends are each unique in both feel, design, and function in the story, and the reader can easily relate to one of these characters. The kids operate in a socially democratic society of their own, but there’s not a lot of conflict going on among them, as even the bullies aren’t really that bad. The most unlikeable character of the bunch is actually Max (but that may just be the adult reader in me), but there are reasons for this and when the whole story unfolds one’s attitude towards Max does change. When it comes to the adults, the new arrival on the station near the beginning of the story, Milo Hames, and Max’s mother, Camille, get the most time and the former does the heavy lifting in the story. In a book for young adult or older readers, Max’s mother Camille would have gotten fleshed out much more, as she’s a great character in so many ways. The other background characters aren’t developed all that much, but they do provide a sense of Azura Station being one that is lived on. As for the Star Whales of the title? They are, in essence, what the story revolves around – though the reader doesn’t know this at the beginning, despite the title of the book. The sense of wonder that Max and his friends have about the region of space surrounding Azura Station gives the book something of a faerie tale feel to it, and the eventual appearance of the Star Whales reinforces this, though the story is so far removed from the classic faerie tales that one might not see this to start. As for the secrets of the title, well, let’s just say that all the main characters in this story have secrets, some more subtle and some more innocent than others, but the story brings all the major secrets out into the open by its end, and reaches a solid conclusion that still leaves room for a sequel or two. Overall, The Secrets of Star Whales is a fun, engaging book that offers a deeper, more serious story than might be expected, and is highly engaging. I highly recommend this book.

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
The second book in The Invisible Library series. Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai – a dragon of royal descent – is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble. Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the cross fire, Irene will have to team up with a local Fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival – and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war. But navigating the tumultuous landscape of Fae politics will take more than Irene’s book smarts and fast talking – to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear. The second book in the series by Genevieve Cogman, The Masked City is one of those rare books where the sequel actually outshines its predecessor. By necessity, The Invisible Library spent a lot of time world building. In contrast, this second volume focuses more on the action. However, this time around, instead of retrieving a lost book, Librarian spy Irene has to retrieve a lost dragon (and try to prevent war, Fae enchantment, and other such inconsequential things) who happens to be her apprentice as well. That said, this story is well and truly a cloak and dagger adventure, with…masks. Hunting for a dragon in a Chaos-infested, Fae controlled Venice was interesting in and of itself, but throw in the perpetual Carnival with everyone well and truly masked, and well… this story did not disappoint. Despite the large number of intricate “talking parts” of the story, this book is fast paced, and plays with lots of tropes along the way, notably the master spy, the great detective, the enemy operative…and faerie tales. Not to mention dragons – unconventional dragons, but dragons nonetheless. Which makes for an interesting upheaval in terms of one trope: Here, rather than the dragon having to rescue the damsel in distress (Irene), the trope is reversed, and Irene (the damsel, though hardly one who can’t handle herself in various situations!) has to rescue the dragon (Kai, her apprentice). That makes for a great story – and that’s what this novel is really all about: stories and storytelling. One of the antagonists of the tale puts this far better than I ever could.

“…People want stories. You should know that more than anybody. They want their lives to have meaning. They want to be part of something greater than themselves. Even you, Miss Winters, want to be a heroic Librarian – don’t you? And if you’re going to say that people need to have the freedom to be unhappy, something that’s forced on them whether they like it or not, I would question your motivation.” She paused for a single deadly second. “Most people don’t want a brave new world. They want the story that they know.”

It’s an interesting approach to things, truly it is, and yet the author does exactly what she sets out to do here, and turns the story on its head, giving the reader a story that is both one that they know, yet one that has some lovely turns and twists to it. This story is very much a tale of Irene’s evolution and an exploration of her personality, Kai really appearing only in the early part of the book, the latter part of the book, with a couple of chapters about his imprisonment in the middle portion. But Irene is a fascinating character, and her devotion to the Library becomes clearer and clearer as the novel proceeds, though she herself has doubts. The chaotic world around her amplifies these doubts from time to time as the story progresses, but Irene is pretty much resolute throughout, though several of the Fae play mind games with her. While the reader learns a good deal about both the Fae and Dragon cultures of this universe the author has created, this story is actually about the Humans of the chaotic world of the alternate Venice, though they are shown through Irene’s viewpoint (and she is no typical human herself!). The detective Vale, the friend of Irene’s and Kai’s from the Victorian world, plays an interesting role in the story as well, but it is the various Fae characters (and to a lesser extent, the Dragon ones) that Irene encounters during the course of her rescue attempt that are brought too life and act as both a foil to Irene but a solid lesson about the nature of stories and the characters within them. The world building that author Cogman does in The Masked City is simply superb. While the alternate Victorian world is fleshed out a bit more, building on what was presented in the first book in the series, it is the chaos-infested alternate Venice that really shines here, and the reader tends to get somewhat swept up in it all. Lovely stuff. And that’s where my only gripe with the book lies. If I was annoyed by anything in this book, it was the Library – or rather, the lack thereof. One of the strengths of the first book was that the novel spent a good deal of time in the Library itself, and the reader got to learn about some of the marvels and mysteries of that seemingly eternal place. In this second book, the author focuses more on the alternate Victorian world that Librarian-in-Residence Irene is spending her days in now, as well as the chaotic, albeit fascinating world of the alternate Venice. While I enjoyed the world building that author Cogman does in this book, both worlds pale in terms of my interest when compared to the Library itself. This book is a truly superb novel, a sequel that improves in many ways on its predecessor, and I can’t wait to read the third book in the series. I highly recommend this book.

Thraxas by Martin Scott (r)
The first book in the Thraxas series. Welcome to the magical city of Turai. You might not like it here, however. For in Turai, the only people more corrupt than the politicians are the royal family, and murder and mayhem and ruthless criminal brotherhoods reign. With the civic guards incapable of keeping order, it’s left to men like Thraxas to do what they can. The city needs men of steel, men of virtue and honesty and clean living. Unfortunately, Thraxas is none of the above. Running his business from lodgings above an inn in one of the seedier parts of town, Thraxas makes a living as a private investigator. Which means that he makes enough to pay the rent from time to time and enjoy the occasional glass of beer. When he is employed by the third in line to the throne, however, Thraxas believes that his luck is about to change. And indeed it does. A few hours later, he’s in a cell, accused of murder. Ooops. This first book in the series is one that, if the reader approaches it with low expectations, will give them an awful lot to love about the story. Thraxas is, to put it bluntly, an overweight, under-magicked, street fighter-cum-detective for hire who finds himself caught between several different clients in a world that is reminiscent in some ways to one’s typical Dungeons & Dragons game as it’s starting to go to seed. The basic premise is simple and easy to describe: Mickey Spillane meets Fritz Leiber. However, author Martin Scott (which is a pseudonym) understands what he’s trying to do here. The author knows when to milk the concept with details, such as about how the rise of the drug dwa changes the social dynamic of the city, and he understands just as well when it’s time for an assassin to shoot a crossbow bolt for no reason that the reader can yet understand. That said, the book reminds me a lot of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett more than D&D, as the author takes a trope-filled world and bends it slightly. Thraxas himself is a good case in point. He is a private investigator in the city of Turai, a typical fantasy city with all the trappings: criminal guilds, magicians, even a dragon in the zoo. He is an overweight man, but well aware of it. He is also a surprising man, still fearsome in a fight and a competent private investigator. Thraxas’s major failings are being a bad gambler and a mediocre sorcerer, as he can only memorize one major spell at a time (something Pratchett played with early in Discworld and abandoned). However, he never becomes a bumbling idiot played for amusement. His best friend and sometimes bodyguard is a pretty, bikini chainmail wearing girl with orc, elven, and human blood named Makri. Naturally, she wears the bikini chainmail because the bar at which she works has a barbarian theme; she wouldn’t be caught dead in it in an actual fight (in which she would prefer full body leather armour). One would expect her to be a possible love interest for our hero, Thraxas, but no, she is much more interested in her studies at the university and involvement in a guild for women’s advancement. Thraxas‘s plot is a fairly interesting mystery tale, with Thraxas taking on multiple cases in order to gain enough money to pay off a gambling debt. Along the way, he runs into rogue magicians, top assassins, a princess, and lots of dope dealers. He pieces together the puzzle, has some adventures, fights a nasty dragon, and runs into an old adversary who is a lot tougher than he remembers. There’s nothing new in the story, as the author sticks with all the fantasy basics, but… That doesn’t affect the book negatively at all, and to be honest, actually keeps the story moving quickly with solid writing that doesn’t impede the reader one bit. In many ways, it’s a fun, light read, but has serious moments and sequences in it that the reader may recognize from elsewhere. Just a fun, enjoyable read.

Wine Dark Deep: Book One by R. Peter Keith
The first book in the Wine Dark Deep series. When the solar system’s key asteroid mine is seized by revolutionaries, it puts the secret mission of the spaceship Ulysses in jeopardy. Without a refueling launch from the asteroid, the survival of the ship and its crew is uncertain. The safest course for the Ulysses? Abandon the mission and limp home. But Cal Scott, captain of the Ulysses, is an astronaut of the old school and failure is not an option. He has a plan: head straight for the asteroid belt and get their fuel – one way or another. This first book in the eponymous series is actually a novella, clocking in at 140 pages, and takes its title from a quote from the epic The Odyssey by Homer. The novel is a hard science fiction novel, with a good deal of science and techno-speak (not surprising given the author’s occupation and background) during the course of the narrative that feel like infodumps, and while they distract from the story somewhat at times, make no mistake about it: Wine Dark Deep: Book One is an intriguing, action-filled story that has a good deal to recommend it. The story revolves around Captain Calvin Scott and his crew aboard the Ulysses, on the scientific exploration voyage of a lifetime. In the middle of the voyage, they need to refuel their spacecraft and Ceres is their only hope if they don’t want to return Earth. However, the people on Ceres have other plans, and their acts of rebellion simply convey that they don’t want to help Earth anymore and actually want their independence from Earth. In the middle of such political conflicts and conspiracies, Cal can’t risk his mission being in vain, and puts himself among the rebels which leads to the story taking some truly exciting and thrilling twists and turns. The book takes place primarily on two fronts. First, there is the sequences set on the Ulysses itself, and the author does a marvellous job of portraying the ship, how it operates, and the basic nature of its personnel. The second environment, which is more dominant in the second half of the story, is the asteroid of Ceres and the mining station there, which offers a different view of the situation and tends to be the focus once Cal Scott arrives there. The dichotomy of the two environments is very clearly shown, the (star)ship representing the science side of things and the station and mining facility representing the political and social unrest side of the story. Both aspects of the story are well handled over the short length of the book, but the real problem with the tale is that author Keith fails in one main area: the characters. There are a good number of characters in the story, ranging from the crew of the Ulysses to some of the more important personnel on Ceres Station and at the mining facility (with some minor characters also found at the latter), and while the reader learns something of many of these characters, there isn’t enough personality (beyond a few stereotypes) to really peak the reader’s interest in most of them. While Calvin Scott and Helen Donovan are the most fleshed out, which makes sense given that he’s the protagonist and she’s the main “villain” (if the story has one), the rest of the characters come across as one-dimensional and relatively uniform. Since the book is merely a novella, and the first book of three, I have to hope that the characters will be more fleshed out personality-wise in the second and third books, though I’m not sure the readers will be seeing the personnel of Ceres Station and the mining base again. The book makes up for this almost with the action sequences, though as mentioned earlier there’s a great deal of science and technology infodumps about various elements throughout the book. Two of my favourite action sequences are definitely the chase with the rovers and Cal’s absolutely insane plan of escaping Ceres back to the Ulysses. If this book has a failing for me, it’s the editing and to some extent the writing of the novel. While author Keith’s writing isn’t all that bad, some of the “chapters” in the book are merely a few lines long, but for the most part the writing feels like that of a scientist who has turned to fiction writing. This would have been helped by a good editor on the book, but there are signs that the editor of the book was a bit lax. There are run-on sentences. There are sequences where it’s not clear which character is talking. Worst of all, the latter quarter of the book is full of different scenes, albeit short ones, that are not separated by spacing. However, despite that the pacing of the novel is pretty good (except for the first 25 to 30 pages or so) and there’s plenty of action that makes up for all the scientific and technical exposition. That said, some readers may find the book overly descriptive with characters that lack any real personality (with two exceptions), but this novella will definitely appeal to those readers who are into hard science fiction, space and exploration. While I recommend this book and can’t wait to get into the second volume (since it ends on a sort of cliffhanger), this book is one that I suspect readers will either really like or really dislike.

The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina by Caroline Lawrence
The sixth book in the middle grade/young adult Roman Mysteries series. December, A.D. 79. It is the month of the Saturnalia, a festival when people do as they please, and anything can happen. Flavia is suspicious of the new woman in her father’s life, Cartilia Poplica. She’s certain that Cartilia has an ulterior motive, but to find out the truth, Flavia must perform twelve tasks – like the Greek hero Hercules. So begins a thrilling journey, but what will Flavia learn at the end of her quest? In this sixth book in the Roman Mysteries series, the focus is certainly on Flavia Gemina, as the book’s title implies, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Flavia is the person who brought the other three main protagonists (Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus) together in the first book of the series, and it is only fitting that one of the novels is devoted to her life and some of the things going on in it. (I’ll come back to Flavia in a bit.) Flavia and her friends have to contend with unrequited love, escaped animals, and a storyline that is loosely based on the twelve tasks of Hercules, but there are times when I thought that author Lawrence had a lot of disparate ideas that she wanted to use in the story but couldn’t quite piece together properly. As noted, the plot itself has a lot of different stuff going on in it, but some of it gets lost in the details. As an only child with a doting father who gives her the freedom to solve mysteries whenever they crop up, Flavia is conscious and grateful for her charmed life. But changes are on the horizon. Captain Marcus Flavius Geminus suddenly feels that his daughter is dangerously independent and informs her that she’s not to leave the house without his permission. It’s time that she starts thinking about the prospect of marriage, despite the fact that Flavia believes herself in love with a much older friend of the family. The final blow comes when her father brings home a beautiful young widow. Cartilia Poplica is clearly interested in Marcus, and Flavia is certain that this potential step-mother is the one responsible for the new restrictions on her carefree lifestyle. Flavia is determined to prove that Cartilia is bewitching her father, and after a strange dream in which she is told by the legendary Hercules that she must complete his twelve tasks, the investigation begins. Using Hercules’s tasks as a guide, the clues that it provides leads the friends on a treasure hunt that is so remarkably specific that coincidence borders on the supernatural. But desire and intrigue is in the air for more than just Flavia’s father, as the young detectives uncover the infatuations and love affairs of other lovesick characters, including their tutor, their tutor’s friend, Jonathan’s betrothed sister, Flavia’s uncle, Cartilia’s sister, and Nubia herself. Even Lupus fosters a little crush on a fierce warrior-girl, and what the book lacks in clear plot, it tries to make up for in the fact that the youngsters are growing up fast. However, there are several other plots going on here as well, and these are short-changed somewhat, though they do figure in to the outcome of the main storyline. Flavia in particular gets some long-anticipated character development as she makes her first steps toward womanhood and all that it requires of her. As portrayed thus far in the books, Flavia is a bossy, smart, opinionated little miss (remember, she’s 10 years old!) and in this one, not only does she jump to conclusions right from the start, but she is probably at her most bossy, with a mixture of taking charge and being slightly overbearing towards the other three main characters being a strong focus in this story. And to be honest, Flavia unfortunately comes across as a bit shrewish. The other three protagonists fare somewhat better, with both Lupus and Nubia getting some good “screen time” and Jonathan being much more mature than he has been in previous books (with good reasons, after what occurred to him in the aftermath of Pompeii). I was saddened and disappointed by the death of a significant character at the end of the story. While there’s nothing wrong with a children’s story that involves the stark reality of death, to make it happen after an entire book’s worth of character development and literally being squeezed into the final four pages of the book with little foreshadowing made it feel like a slap in the face. It’s as if author Lawrence simply lost interest, and didn’t want to deal with the ramifications of this character’s inclusion in future books. This is a shame, as the character in question could have enriched certain aspects of the protagonists’ lives. What continues to make these novels above average is the lore that the author provides about ancient Rome (Lawrence studied archaeology and ancient languages at Cambridge). While I knew that the term “poculum” means “cup”, I wasn’t aware that a little girl might have a poculum for breakfast consisting of hot milk poured into spiced wine, with barley and cheese sprinkled on top. That’s not the kind of thing you pick up from Cicero, Ovid, or Virgil. As mentioned, the title of the book and much of the plot is based on the legendary twelve tasks of Hercules, and author Lawrence provides the reader with a lovely lesson on Greek mythology here by expounding somewhat on these mythical tales. While Flavia and her friends don’t literally re-create these twelve tasks, as Flavia had a dream in which Hercules came to her in connection with her father’s new love interest, the manner in which they go about Hercules’s labours in the story provides them with more and more information about Cartilia. Throw in the research (notably on Roman festivals, here the Saturnalia, and lifestyle) in combination with the author’s rich, clear prose, and the story takes on a lovely tone though at times seems to go rather haywire. For all the flaws of this book and its story, this is an excellent book in the series, and entertaining for the most part. By itself, The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina is a bittersweet look at first love and seems to be the start of several important plotlines that I think (and hope!) will be explored and developed further in later books. It’s a worthy read, and I highly recommend it.

Overall, I managed to read 7 novels, 1 RPG and RPG product, 2 magazines, 0 comics, and 0 graphic novels in September. This brings the year total in 2021 to a set of numbers that look like this: 56 books, 14 RPGs and RPG products, 16 magazines, 37 comics, and 0 graphic novels.

Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. 🙂

Happy Birthday, Ciarán McMenamin October 1, 2021

Posted by jkahane in birthday, tv hut.
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There’s a birthday in the Primeval tv series family today.

Happy Birthday to Ciarán McMenamin today!

Ciarán is the talented actor who played Matt Anderson in Series 4 and 5 of the Primeval tv series. Ciarán, who turns 45 years of age today, has a pretty decent set of credits in both television and film (see the link above).

It took me a few episodes of watching Primeval UK Series 4 to come to like the character of Matt, who had all manner of secrets (but don’t most of the characters in the series?), and the last moment of Series 5 made me desperately want to see more of Matt (both of him). Sorry that the series is gone, to be honest, as I’d really come to like his character.

So here’s wishing Ciarán McMenamin a terrific birthday today!