#63: The Road-Cormac McCarthy

The Road
The Road -Cormac McCarthy

The Road is New-Moon midnight stroll dark… It’s dark roast coffee with no cream dark…. It’s vanta-black dark!

That’s just a friendly PSA for those of you who don’t like dark things. This book though… So good!

Set in an indeterminite dystopian future where the world lays in ash and waste with no foreseeable source of even food production in sight. The story follows the journey of a father and son as they head towards the coast and whatever hope that may offer.

The trials they encounter and navigate along the way are gut-wrenching. They both feel like real people who react to things and each other in realistic fashion. The dynamic between the two feels so real with the father often speaking harshly to the boy when he doesn’t react quickly enough in dangerous situations and then comforting him lovingly afterwards.

i really can’t put into words how much i like The Road. It’s hard to read, i had read it a few years back and re-read it for Book Club of One. Even on a re-read it was still as jarring as it was the first time through.

Book Club of One score: A+. Well written, solid characters with complex interactions. Dark and bitter. If you have a hankering for a story WITHOUT a happy ending, you certainly can’t go wrong with this masterpiece.

#84: The Crystal Cave -Mary Stewart

The Crystal Cave
The Crystal Cave -Mary Stewart

 

The Crystal Cave follows the development of Merlin from the Arthurian mythos before he was THE MERLIN we all have ingrained into our imaginations. It follows his growth from a child into a young man.

The story has some twists and turns along the way, with Merlin fleeing multiple times for his life, establishing himself a few times by the cleverness of his mind and wraps up with him manipulating Uthur into treachery that will ultimately lead to the birth of Arthur, an event that Merlin has foreseen.

The book was well written and the characters compelling. It’s interesting how Stewart weaves fantasy with history in this book.

Book Club of One score: B-. It’s a solid book, actually one of my most enjoyable “Arthur books” (The Once and Future King being my all-time favorite of the genre). i found out that it’s part of a series, a series that i could one day see myself returning to. i think overall i enjoyed Stewart’s writing more than the content of the book. Her writing has a nice tempo and is nuanced and interesting to me. If you love Arthurian stuff and want some “prequel” action this could be your best bet!

#74: Old Man’s War -John Scalazi

Old Man's War
Old Man’s War -John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is a seriously fun ride from start to finish.

It’s got some graphic violence, some thoughtful dialogue, heartfelt moments, irreverent moments, cool sci-fi tech, and low-fi likable characters.

The book follow the adventures of John Perry a 75 year old starting his career in the Colonial Defense Force as an infantryman. While set in the future humans haven’t achieved any extended longevity, so a 75 year old military recruit has the potential for some real entertainment value. What has the potential for even MORE entertainment value? A whole army of 75 year old military recruits! Ships and ships full of them!

Spoiler: they all get new, heavily modified and augmented, bodies. Scalazi does an interesting job digging into the what-ifs of 75 year old minds in super-human 20-something year old bodies. Perry’s brief moment with his old body (while in his new body) had me a lil’ misty!

While keeping a brisk pace that makes this book what i consider an “easy-read” Scalazi touches on themes like: Consciousness and identity, and the morality of war… you know the light fluffy stuff.

 

Book Club of One grade: A. Fun & Fast but with some meat on the bones here and there. Old Man’s War would make a great read to pack for a trip! If you want a the literary equivalent to a sci-fi Die Hard pick this book up! i liked Old Man’s War so much that when i found out it was a series i got genuinely excited! i fully plan to dip back into this world!

Disenchantment: Netflix

Screen-Shot-2018-05-23-at-4.50.31-PM-920x584.png

i’m a HUGE Futurama fan (but the Simpsons get a pretty solid “Meh” from me) so i was pretty excited when i found out that Netflix was releasing Disenchantment.

i rolled into the series with pretty high expectations, it looked like Futurama, it smelled like Futurama, but science and aliens were swapped for magic and magical creatures! It seemed like a real win for me!

So, the first several episodes felt pretty weak to me, and i was filled with disenchantment myself… but i pressed on. It’s only 10 episodes long. The characters were unlikeable-lovable, like so many of the Futurama gang. Plus episodes are only 24 minutes long so they make great fillers.

Here i was, plodding along… disillusioned… a little disappointed…  and then…. EPISODE 9!

In my opinion the first 8 episodes are all just set-up for episodes 9 & 10! They felt disjointed and random but suddenly… it all came together, like making whip cream or mayonnaise from scratch. You don’t see it coming, one second its just liquid and then BAM its there! i have pressed on to the final two episodes of season one and in those two episodes i went from “let’s just finish it so we can say we gave it a shot” to “How long until season two?”

i know it’s gotten mixed reviews from critics and fans, but this fan is now on board!

#78: The Dispossessed – Ursula Le Guinn

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is an engaging and intellectually stimulating trip into a Sci-Fi universe that’s well thought out and very interesting. The two main locations in the book are Urras a planet inhabited by humans who’s society very much so mirrors the society/societies found on Earth, and Anarres the moon of Urras. Anarres is a sort of Utopian society that is oft described as an anarchist utopia but to me it much more resembles an off-shoot of communism. There’s no money, everyone is provided housing and an allotment of food. There is an overarching body that gives people work assignments; these can be ignored but rarely are as there is some social pressure to accept them. Anarres is a society where everyone owns everything and nothing at the same time. Urras is a capitalist system that most of us are well acquainted with.

Shevek is the protagonist of the story, a physicist who’s theories hold the key to faster-than-light space travel. He’s committed to dispersing his theories to all societies simultaneously so none can use them to take advantage of other civilizations. He’s complex, imperfect, does some shady things, and some heroic things.

i like how Le Guinn uses the story to ask some questions that 40ish years after publication are still powerful: She looks at sexism in society; she questions both capitalism and (what i call) semi-communism; she probes at the basic nature of humans individually, collectively, and governmentally; and she leaves us thinking about how innovation is sometimes used as an aggressive tool politically.

 

Overall i’d give The Dispossessed a Book Club of One grade of C+: The concepts are great, the writing is solid, but for some reason i had to force myself to stay engaged with the book. It’s an intangible thing for me that i can’t put my finger on.  Pick it up if you’re looking for a Sci-Fi read with some heft to the story that could leave you thinking about bigger things.

More bike than i needed… but the bike i wanted!

2019 Stumpjumper Comp Carbon
2019 Stumpjumper Comp Carbon

i picked up the 2019 Specialized Stumpjumer Comp Carbon 29er a few months back and have put 200 miles or so on it at the time i type this, so here are my thoughts:

It’s my first full-carbon mountain bike: She’s Carbon fiber from head tube to rear dropouts! Plus for 2019 Specialized only makes one carbon Stumpjumper frame. That means my Comp Carbon Stumpy has the same frame as the S-works stumpy… which is pretty amazing!

Back to full-squish: i’ve spent the last year riding a hard-tail mountain bike. My old bike was also a “sport” bike. A sport bike that i rode in non-sport conditions from time-to time. So getting by bum over a VERY capable full suspension bike has been amazing!

29er: Since one of my jobs is at a bike-shop i have access to demo bikes from time to time. Riding a decent spread of bikes has lead me to the conclusion that for me 29ers are faster, and more fun. i have nothing against 27.5″ bikes, they’re just not my preferred cup-of-tea right now.

 

Here’s what i love about my 2019 Stumpjumper: 

  1. it’s forgiving: Stray off-line, land a little crossed-up, get distracted & sloppy? Stumpy don’t care. Stumpy eats trail for breakfast. Stumpy eats trail however you throw it at the trail. Stumpy woke up hungry for trail… Stumpy ALWAYS hungry!
  2. Big Squish! i know, it’s considered a “trail bike” it’s not like i’m shredding downhill on an enduro bike but for me 150mm up front and 140mm in the back is a LOT of travel! i’ve grown accustomed to 120mm up front and chain stay flex and creaky knees in the back. Rocky and rooty trails that i had started to avoid are now a pleasure to ride.
  3. All that carbon fiber: My first carbon road bike made me a believer in carbon fiber bikes. rough choppy roads became buttery smooth, yet the bike felt like a rocket when i put the hammer down. Carbon fiber frames are engineered to be flexy where flexy is good and still where stiff is good. You just don’t get that sort of control from any other material currently.
  4. S.W.A.T.: i really like the S.W.A.T. box on the bike. on shorter rides i’m notorious for taking nothing but a water bottle out there with me (tools, tubes, etc are in a camelbak that i typically only wear on longer rides). The S.W.A.T. box means that i have a place to stuff all that stuff without an unsightly bike-scrotum dangling from my saddle. The Multi-tool integrated onto the bottom of the bottle cage is equally nice!
  5. Stability: My stumpy has proven to be maybe the most stable platform i’ve ever ridden (definitely the most stable platform i’ve ever ridden REGULARLY). Even when the trail gets loosey-goosey and the tires start sliding around  the bike stays under me and goes where i point it. It actually makes those previously terrifying sections of trail super fun.
  6. Position on the bike: It was a HUGE adjustment for me. i lean towards XC style bikes and the stumpy is a trail bike through and through. The Stumpy has me riding in a more upright and neutral position. I’m accustomed to getting my weight waaaaaay back on technical sections but on the Stumpy i find that i can just ride those sections and the bike loves it and eats it up. The more neutral position also means that at the end of a bigger ride when i’m beat my body doesn’t feel as generally beat-up as it used to.

 

Things i don’t love so much:

  1. Climbing: i know, it’s not built to be a climber. i’m fully aware of that. But i enjoy the long slow suffering most days. If i don’t want to die on a bike at least once on a ride then it’s an “easy ride”. Don’t get me wrong: for a 150/140 travel bike it climbs pretty well. The rear shock stiffens up but doesn’t lock all the way out (which i wish it did). The fork will lock out but only on fire-roads or the rare hard-top connector do i ever lock the fork out. There’s some magic to the geometry that keeps the fork from feeling too bobby on climbs for me.
  2. S.W.A.T. rattle: i LOVE the S.W.A.T. box… (see above). Love it! but no matter how i adjust the contents or how firm i pack stuff in there; stuff rattles when the trail gets gnarly. Given the nature of the S.W.A.T. box i don’t see how there’s anyway around this. Its a hollow part of the down-tube you can stick stuff in. Then you ride the bike, with the down tube stuffed with stuff, down rough stuff and stuff shakes around. This is a SUPER minor thing, but i mention it.

 

Conclusion: Yeah the Stumpjumper is really too much bike for me. I’m not out there shredding like those crazy kids! My ride style is much more XC-Fun. But i wanted a bike for once that leaned more to the Fun side, so i got one. The more i ride this bike the more i like it, and i liked it a lot on the first ride! My dislikes are really silly things, one is evident from the style of bike the other is price you pay for that convenience. My likes are all solid reasons to buy and ride the bike! Would i recommend the 2019 Stumpjumper? Hands down! With zero reservations! Loving this big ole squishy bike!

 

Now watch this ridiculous promo-video Specialized produced: Watch it and love it! Stumpjumper 2019 Promo

 

Gummy Conversion!

38471369_424936694682091_5332265515039588352_n

We were a scant 640 miles from home and pointed homeward! We’d just spent a month in CA for work, after driving there, and were nearly done with our boomerang trip. We could feel home in our bones, and the 17 year old Jeep Cherokee that we’d limped across the country could feel an oil change coming in it’s engine block.

“Was that a gummy bear factory?” i asked as we sped East on Route 30 deep in the heart of Indiana.

“It was,” my wife and P.I.C.* replied.

“Oh man, i wish we had time to stop…”

“Let’s make time, when will we be here again?” she convincingly argued.

5ae0f9ee2d9f6.image

So we stopped. We swung into the Albanese Gummi Bear factory. A company that boldly boasts on their logo “World’s Best”. i was excited to see a where delicious, translucent, tasty bears were made, and doubtful to the bold claims of this company. “World’s Best”. Bold Claim.

Gummy candy is a weakness of mine. Ever since as a child visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Pennsylvania and being introduced to the red wonder of Swedish Fish i’ve held not just opinions but convictions about gummies!

As we entered the doors of the Albanese factory i was decidedly a Team Haribo Gummy Bear sort of fella. When we left a short time later i was Team Albanese where bears are concerned. A superior product in general and the sampling (and subsequent purchase) of literally the best gummy anything i’ve ever tasted won me over.

What is the best gummy anything that i have ever chewed, chomped, and masticated upon? (my mouth waters even thinking of this master-work of the confectioners of Indiana) They huddled together in a clear acrylic bin, like the rest of the bears here. Their orange flesh intermingled with a less transparent milky white flesh. This ultimate bear, The greatest gummi bear to ever wiggle and jiggle on God’s green earth. Gummius Ursus Rex. The pinnacle of corn syrup and gelatin. The Creamsicle Gummi Bear!

orange-cream-bearsicle-gummi-bears_1

i sampled it with dozens of other offerings and to this day it is a flavor i chase but will likely never experience again. Much like that amazing circuit of the U.S.of A. a trip that even if repeated can never be replicated, this Gummi will likely never be equaled. i’m left only with sweet memories and a child-like longing. Honestly i’m glad to carry both!

When life gives you the chance to swing into the proverbial Gummi Bear factory, make that U-turn. Drive a little later that night. Dance with Type-2 diabetes that day. It was an unplanned diversion in a trip filled with life-changing wonders (Yosemite, Yellowstone, The Badlands, House on the Rock, on and on), while the gummi bear factory may not be life changing it was life-enhancing.

In your life may you find your Creamsicle Gummi Bear!

 

*P.I.C.: Partner In Crime

** Gummi is the Albanese spelling of Gummy, i tried to respect their mid-west preference whenever referring to their product.

Race Day (first one in a loooong time)

37966922_2035776826441011_1172152963704029184_n

It has been YEARS since i actually participated in a real race. So i decided to break the streak and sign up for one.

12 miles of pretty familiar trails in the Blue Ridge mountains. Since i work part-time (on my day off every week) at a local bike shop (Blackwater Bike Shop, in Lynchburg VA- an amazing bike shop that was my go-to shop long before i started fumbling with wrenches there) i felt it was appropriate to zip-tie a number on a bike, throw a jersey on, represent the shop on the local trail system, and ride my way to glory!

Ok, so not ride my way to glory! Here’s a summary: i didn’t ride in a way i am particularly proud of… but i didn’t ride myself into embarrassment either! i left myself room for improvement, and may have developed an itch… an itch for competition. There’s a spark kindled inside me that wants to get better, to get faster, to be more technically sound, to get faster, to build more endurance, to get faster… ok, i really want to get faster. Mountain biking is fun! Cycling in general is fun for me, and the faster i can do it the more fun it gets.

The race gave me an honest assessment of where i stand as a rider. Hopefully my next race will give me another glimpse into the single-track-mirror and i’ll find that i’ve improved. Maybe i’ll let you know… (unless i do really poorly, then we shall never speak of it!)

FYI: i rode the race on a Demo Bike from the shop. Specialized Epic: the more i ride the bike the more i like The Brain. The shop is currently rolling over the demo fleet so if you’re interested in an Aluminum Epic: look up the shop and reach out to us, it’s definitely for sale!

#75 The Diamond Age -Neal Stephenson

The Diamond Age
The Diamond Age -Neal Stephenson

Let me kick off with this: Neal Stephenson is in serious danger of becoming one of my top Sci-fi authors ever. Granting this is only the second book by Stephenson that i’ve read. The first being Anathem. If i get nothing else out of reading NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi and Fantasy books of all time i’ll at least have been introduced to this talented writer. The Diamond Age is so UNLIKE Anathem (which i loved you can find my Book Club of One review here: Anathem Review) and still just as masterfully done that i tip my virtual hat to the author.

The Diamond Age is set in the indeterminate future. Nano technology is ubiquitous in the sci-fi universe that Stephenson has painted but it’s not the Nano-tech that steals the show. The show stealer is a special book of sorts, a smart book: “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”. The Primer is a smart book that employs virtual actors to provide a sort of “Edutainment” to the reader of the book. A stolen copy of the primer winds up in the hands of an impoverished little girl and has a major effect on her life, an effect that is attempted to be replicated by others in the story but not to the same effect.

The Diamond Age begins by painting a picture of the value of education to affect and change a person’s life and guide their development. It ends with the revelation that education is not enough, that relationship, love and nurture are the real keys to creating a positive effect in the developing life. In a world where we leave the development of our children to their teachers and educators and we leave their entertainment to whatever screen is most accessible to us and them: The Diamond Age is timely message to any who are parents or mentors to young minds.

Book Club of One grade: A. Solid read! Stephenson has used the Sci-Fi genre to make a powerful point with this one.

#80 Wicked -Gregory Maguire

Wicked
Wicked -Gregory Maguire

i rolled up to the Wicked party about 20 years late. To be honest it was a book i had judged by its cover for all those years. i would see it in a friends library, or on a bookstore shelf and something about the cover design just sort of repelled me. i can’t explain why (and if the graphic designer of that cover is ever one of the 5 people who actually reads this please don’t take this as a stab at your skillful work) but it just didn’t reach out to me.

i was also very much aware of the salacious nature of the book. Which should have been a draw for my depraved mind, but something about turning Baum’s magic fantasy world into something so gritty just felt wrong to me.

Wicked also falls into that vein of “Fan Fiction”: a writer delving into someone else’s universe instead of creating their own. A vein of writing i struggle to engage with.

 

On all of the above reticences let me just say… i was wrong. i was wrong to not pick this book up in the mid 90’s when the Wicked craze started. i was wrong to feel like the gritty nature was off-putting to the Oz universe. i was wrong to let my revulsion of fan-fic keep me from thumbing through these pages.

Wicked is an absolute blast to read! Elphaba may very well be one of my most favorite literary characters. She’s complex and relatable. She’s likable but far from perfect. She’s not a hero, or a villain, nor would i call her an anti-hero. Her character development arc is (in my opinion, which is what ALL of this is) one of the best i’ve ever seen.

Wicked is gritty, and complex, and violent, and sexual… and it is beautifully so! Maguire also manages to do all those things without writing a book that feels pretentious!

Book Club of One grade: A+. Wicked is one of the best books i’ve read this year. i will most likely explore more of Maguire’s Oz series as well. If, like me, you missed the bandwagon years ago, jump on board with me. i’ll save you a seat