C. G. McGinn


Ramblings about Books and Writing

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

A few weeks back, my editor posted a link to a blog looking for writers. It was a paying gig, which involved writing about reading. What discouraged me was that they specifically stated that they WERE NOT looking for book reviews. I guess that's what I do. I don't know. I think I give you enough to make a decision whether or not you should try out a book. I don't like getting in depth on the plot or development--sticking more to what struck me as unique. At first glance I guess this could be misinterpreted as a review.

Needless to say, I didn't apply for the job. Maybe I'm selling myself short. Who knows.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is what happens when you give Alexandre Dumas tickets to a Steampunk convention, then lock him in a room and tell him he won't be let out until he writes a book about it. This is a steampunk, swashbuckling tale in the sky, with healthy doses of palace intrigue, magic, magical technology, and more twists in the plot than...something, something...M. Night Shyamalan.



Steampunk as a genre seems hard to get out into the mainstream. Masques and Mirrors certainly isn't pure steampunk, but there's enough of it in there to get one's cogs off...whatever that means. In fiction, I think it's best used when describing a certain aspect of the technology. When it's used too much--encompassing the plot, the dress of the characters, the way they talk, it breaks the story and turns into, well, a steampunk conversion. I guess the same could be said about any quirk of world-building, but right now, steampunk seems to be the lightning rod for such criticism. If there's a pun in there, it was only partially intended.

Blackwing: Raven's Mark by Ed McDonald

Blackwing is the first book in the Raven's Mark series by author, Ed McDonald. The book is artfully vulgar. What I mean by that is that McDonald's dialog is very good, and his characters--mostly mercenaries with a penchant for hard living and heavy drinking--speak as you'd expect them to. But there's an art form to their cursing. Watch a season of Deadwood and you'll know what I mean.

Part of what made Blackwing such an entertaining read was actor, Colin Mace, who lent his voice to the audio book. A grizzled 'merc' is one thing, but an English grizzled 'merc' is an angry, drunkard ride without breaks. It's like whenever Neil Gaiman reads something, if, in this case, Neil were on a three day bender and wielding a gnarled wooden cricket mallet.

The story itself is unique, different from other dark fantasy tales. Set in a post apocalyptic landscape brought on by a magical war, against an enemy of angry demi-gods, life is harsh, brutish and short for most.

The events in this first book are so earth shattering, that I wonder how the rest of the series will hold up over time. But for now, Blackwing is a very good debut in a series with a lot of promise.

Sea of Rust by Robert Cargill

The premise for Sea of Rust is the backstory/explanation that Morpheus gives Neo when he first asks about the Matrix. The long and short being: We went to war with AI of our own creation, they were faster, better, smarter than us, and royally kicks our sorry fleshy asses into near-extinction. Where Sea of Rust differs from The Matrix is that Sea of Rust goes all the way--the machines not only win the war, but they literally kill every single man, woman and child on the earth, leaving robot-kind in charge of the planet.

Let that sink in for a minute. Only we arrogant humans would assume that we'd be needed to power the machines--living a simulated life in a virtual world, hooked up as a giant battery. 

Sea of Rust is probably a great deal closer to a real life AI vs Humans scenario then anything currently out there in both books and movies.

And there are no punches being pulled here. There are moments in this book that were very hard to take. Movies will show scenes of able-bodied men being killed by antagonist or protagonist, and the audience will watch and accept this without disgust or resentment. We've grown so used to the James Bond henchman, that these faceless masses might as well be machines.

But have a robot kill a child, or a baby?

Sea of Rust pulls no punches.

In the midst of these rather squeamish scenes--necessary scenes in order to tell an effective story--I greatly enjoyed this book. The main character was truly a product created by man. Her calculating and cold outlook on life was the soul of a machine, and yet she experienced something of a moral conflict within herself as humans often do.

This is a story about AI where the robots do not feel boxy and soulless. This is AI with heart.



I Can't Make this Up by Kevin Hart

If there was ever a book best listened to, rather than read, it would be I Can't Make this Up: Life Lessons by comedian, Kevin Hart. Read by Kevin Hart, nay--performed by Kevin Hart.


Thirteen-plus hours of stand-up with an honesty that Hart is known for. Well worth the price of admission, which in my case was one Audible credit.

I read this book over the summer after suffering a streak of bad books that aren't even worth mentioning here. So it was great to read something both lite and funny, from a man with so much optimism in the midst of what would appear to be a very difficult upbringing. This book can't help but feel good by proxy.


A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove is not a book I'd normally be drawn to read. But I have two jobs in two different-enough geographical location--and when co-workers from both jobs start telling me that I have to read this book, then I listen. I shrug out of my set-in-stone ways, and I read the book.

A Man Called Ove is about a man set in his ways. He's pushing 60, he lives alone, and he's had just about enough of this crazy world and all it's do-nothing millennials, new-fangled technology and a disposable society that's forgotten how to fix something as simple as a bike. He's a man from a simpler time trying to find  his place in this strange new world.

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the reader. It reminded me of the movie, Up, only much more adult, and real--and lacking a talking dog and chubby Asian kid.

Resident Evil bundle on Steam.

Yes, it's happening.

Wait a minute. Hold on.

It's Happening.gif

It's actually the Capcom Publisher weekend on Steam. So there's more than just Resident Evil games. However, Resident Evil is the reason to play Capcom games. Everything else is just sorta, meh...Except for Bionic Commando.

I've been playing Resident Evil games off and on since 1998 when the first iteration of the game came out. Throughout high school and college I religiously followed the series--playing the hell out of RE1 and RE2. I played RE3 maybe once, along with Code Veronica.

Resident Evil 4 revitalized the series for me. It was funny, creepy and had somewhat of an open-world feel for a game that really wasn't open-world at all. I played through most or Resident Evil 5, but never finished it and I don't even know what happens in Resident Evil 6. RE 7 looks awful. I hear it's very scary. It probably is. But it doesn't look like a Resident Evil game to me. I guess like Ove, I'm a man set in my way. I like my Resident Evil games a certain way. Once you go changing it on me, I think it's strange and weird, and should get the hell off my lawn.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon was a book I first read in sixth or seventh grade.

That was back in the 90's. I looked something like this:

No, more like this:


The book takes place in the in a pre-Rudy Giuliani New York City. Though it's aged well.

Flowers for Algernon is the story about Charlie Gordon, an intellectually disabled adult with an IQ below 70. He's chosen to be part of a surgical experiment that turns him into a genius. The book is written in the first person in a series of Progress Reports, beginning before the experiment. His pre-surgery reports are spelled phonetically and without punctuation. Sentences are short and simple. Post-surgery the reader literally sees Charlie learn how to spell, use punctuation both improperly--then correctly, and his thoughts and experiences become more and more complex.

This time around I listened to the audio version. I was curious to see, or rather, hear the difference. The reader did a great job, changing his voice from childlike to something more adult as Charlie's intelligence increased. However I did feel that a certain depth to the story was lost by not physically seeing his progression in spelling and sentence structure. I recommend that people read the book first, then listen to the audio version.

Flowers for Algernon, Brave New World, and 1984 are part of the holy trinity of classic science fiction that have had a lasting influence on me. I can remember very clearly where I was when I was reading these books. Flowers for Algernon--English class in 6th or 7th grade. 1984--Summertime, sometime before 9th Grade, on my screened-in porch. Brave New World--Freshmen English--I sat in the back of the classroom like all the 'cool kids'.

I've since re-read Brave New World and Flowers for Algernon and have discovered things that I'd either forgotten or missed the first time around, during those heady and awkward years that don't contrast as sharply as I'd care to admit to this thing called adulthood.

I'll probably read 1984 soon and finish up the trifecta. 

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

Jim Jones was a socialist.

I never knew that. Until reading The Road to Jonestown, I thought he was a cult leader of the religious variety. He was that as well, but what made Jones different from how he'd been portrayed--at least to me--was that his beliefs came more from secular social justice than religious ideology. In a way this made him far more dangerous as he promoted very good things that both religious and secular progressives could get behind.

Desegregation is a good thing. Pressuring the landlord to fix the pipes for their black tenants is a good thing. Feeding people through church charity events, creating scholarship programs for those who would otherwise never go to college, and fostering positive change in poor communities are all good things.



Jones's ego and paranoia--caused by drug abuse--were his undoing, and unfortunately he took with him 909 men, women, and children--mostly children.

It would be easy to dismiss this as an inherent problem with socialism. But the real problem is extremism. Again, the social programs Jones was trying to promote were all good things. But ultimately we saw him, and many of those who believed in him dying, and murdering for an extremist ideology. Socialism to the extreme--impoverished communal living, hero-worship of a very flawed individual, and paranoid ideas of a corrupt government black-bagging and spying on the masses.

Extremism in all forms--religious fanaticism, terrorism, political activism in the form of violent protests ultimately lead down the same path, and certainly did not die was Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn is a fascinating read. It's scary, insightful and thought provoking,  standing as a warning in a time where polarizing ideologies seem to rule the day.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell is part of an ongoing mega novel by the author that was first brought to my attention with Cloud Atlas.

You may have seen or heard about Cloud Atlas from the movie version staring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Agent Smith, and directed by the Wachowski's. I've not seen the movie yet--though I plan to soon. I have read the book and it was not an easy read. I might have to read it again. It was very hard to follow.

Cloud Atlas deals with reincarnation and the traveling of a soul through time and people. The concept is easy enough to understand though I had a hard time seeing this in practice. Maybe after I watch the film and scour Wikipedia I'll be ready to take on the book again.

But this is about the Bone Clocks, which is a much easier read. The story is broken into six parts. Part One introduces us to the story's protagonist, Holly Sykes. The story advances from Sykes to different character perspectives who are loosely connected to her, each jumping forward in time, beginning in 1984 with Sykes, then to 1991, 2004, 2015, 2025, and finally ending in 2043 with a now 70 year old Holly Sykes.

The number of years covered in the the overall story is impressive and with each jump the reader is met with an entirely different set of rules as the culture and society has changed so dramatically. The POV characters are also vastly different from one another, making each new section a true story in and of itself.

The Bone Clocks is not part of a series, however, many, if not all of Mitchell's works are interconnected. I found the Bone Clocks the most accessible, so it may be a good starting point.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is the story about a traveling theater group in the years following the collapse of the civilized world.

The story follows the lives of several characters who are connected in some way or another to one man, a famous Hollywood actor -- Arthur Leander.

This is a story that makes you think long after you've finished reading it. It's been said that the ability to do this makes for a good story and I would have to agree. I got into a lengthy discussion with the librarian who recommended this book to me, over who was the protagonist of the story. There were either many, or one. We couldn't quite decide. All of the main characters have Arthur Leander in common. It could be argued that Leander is the protagonist. However the other characters are the ones doing most of the actions in the story. Any one of them could also be considered a protagonist in their own rite.

It's a tricky story, but somehow it works. It works on a lot of different levels. It still has me thinking, weeks later while I write this entry. This was actually a very difficult entry to write because I could go at it from several different angles and had trouble deciding how to spin it. I chose to go with the character puzzle.

I will also say that the world created in Station Eleven is one of the most believable ones to come out of the post-apocalyptic genre. In a world completely void of a supernatural element -- be it Metro 2033's Librarians and Dark Ones, or the virals of The Passage -- humanity is seen to survive however they can, making due with the shelters left from a fallen civilization, building settlements, and returning to a hunter-gathers society. And coming out from the ashes of popular culture and a keen background in the creative arts, of course we would see a traveling theater, committed to maintaining the Bard's great works.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi is a story of a large segment of the world's population succumbing to a paralysis invoking flu, leaving their minds completely intact. Technology moves in and gives these people robotic bodies in order for them to continue contributing to society. In the midst of all this a great detective story unfolds involving two FBI agents, one of them, a flu suffer--equipped in their robot body--the other, flesh and blood. The story is told in the first-person from the POV of the robotic-human FBI agent.

Lock In blurs the lines of gender. I would normally roll my eyes at this as a form of pandering to what it currently a hot-button issue in society. But the subtly in which Scalzi does this is very good. The reader is never given any hints if the protagonist is male or female. The plot doesn't hinge on their sexuality and it's never brought up. The fact that this character is piloting what I imagine to be a very androgynous--albeit humanoid vehicle--sets the stage for a neutral being for both male and female characters to interact with. Does it border on the fringes of a Progressive Utopian fantasy? Maybe. But it isn't preachy or heavy-handed. 

The audio book was recorded by both a male and female readers, adding an interactive element to your reading experience. In my opinion, it's a no-brainer as to which version is the superior read. Amber Bensen is the female reader and she does a sensational job.

I did not, nor will I ever, read the male version of Lock In, as Wil Wheaton is the reader, and he has lost all credibility as a reader of so much as the Dictionary after what he did to Masters of Doom. Unforgivable, bordering on shameful.

Lock In reminded me of the novels by J.D. Robb...just without the sex. One might argue that this would be a setback. I guess it all depends on what your cup o' tea happens to be. The world of Lock In is much more believable then Robb's fantastical sci-fi universe. Scalzi's human piloted androids are not super-human, and there is no robot/human uprising. The story stays within the boundaries of a detective-style who-done-it, in the not so distant sci-fi future. 


You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!

While cleaning the house for my son's First Birthday, I watched two comedies--A Mighty Wind and Dr. Strangelove. Two very different comedies.

The early Mock-umentaries by Christopher Guest are brilliant. For Your Consideration was too dark for me, though I completely understood why it was this way and the message Guest was trying to get across. But Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, and Best in Show are all amazing films--A Mighty Wind being my personal favorite. I'm one of those fans of folk music who knows nothing about folk songs or folk singers for that matter. However I do enjoy Matt Berry, both his folk music and his comedies.

Dr. Strangelove is dark. It's also very funny. The humor is subtle and I appreciate it more now as an adult, than when I first watched the film--on VHS, as a teenager. It's hard to find comedy that is subtle in the minefield of today's raunchy cinema experience. My fear is that this is a sub-genre lost to antiquity.

Like reading The Looming Tower reminded me of where I was on September 11, 2001, watching Strangelove gave me pause. The threat of nuclear war never really went away, did it?

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky was the surprise hit of these cold and dark winter months. Sometimes I pick out books without knowing a damn thing about them or their author. This was how I discovered The Rook by Dan O'Malley--a book that will remain in the Number One spot on my short-list for a very long time.

Metro 2033 is a hit because of the world Glukhovsky creates. He took a very simple concept--the Moscow Metro, and turned it into an almost alien environment. I had no idea how large the Moscow subway system was. When I first started reading the book, I thought to myself, how can a story this long take place in the confined space of a subway system? There can't possibly be enough setting here. Like you, I was ignorant of just how hUge the Moscow Metro is. Here's a picture:



It's pretty big...I guess.

I want to go to Moscow just to ride the subway. I was talking to a friend who grew up there and she told me that they do indeed have tours. I might start hosting a tour of the MBTA Green Line, from Riverside to Fenway. Good times

I don't want to go into detail, but there were a lot of great mysteries and lore in Metro 2033. Glukhovsky gave out just enough backstory to give a sense of what caused everyone to flee into the metro, lest they become victims of nuclear attack. And characters express superstitions that turn out to be grounded in more truth than irrational fear. It's not just a story of hopeless survival. There is far more at play here. And he doesn't give it all away, leaving room for the reader to draw their own conclusions.

It was also adapted into a video game, which happened to go on sale this week, which I happened to pick up. I haven't had a chance to start playing in yet, but the graphics are very awesome and the main menu captured the feel I got from the book. It also helped that Glukhovsky had a hand in it's development. Once I've put a few hours into the game, I'll give it a review.

The book has two sequels that I'll probably read before summer, but not before I finish Lock In by John Scalzi and possible one or two lighter reads.

On This Day

The FaceBag has this feature called On This Day. I started clicking on it not that long ago to discover what I'd been up to in years past, according to FaceBag lore. On this day, 8 years ago, you commented on someone's FaceBag and they gave it a Like!

I actually find the feature helpful. I've learned that if I go back 8 years and see what I was posting, I really was quite the asshole back then. I'd like to think that I'm less of one now, but who knows. If I am progressing to a state of, tolerable, to both myself and my peers, then I am truly sorry for anyone who had to deal with me pre-FaceBag, in college.

Or maybe the FaceBag made me this way, as all forms of social media--including this blog--are but methods of continually stroking ones already inflated ego.

On This Day 4 years ago, I posted my first blog entry here and gave the world the Spinach and Artichoke dip recipe that I use to this very day. In fact, just the other day I made the dip for a work event on Saint Patrick's Day and it went over very well.

Looking at the numbers, I don't have a very big following. I never have. I'm OK with that. Aside from talking about what other people have written, I don't really have a lot to offer. Maybe one day that will change. Until then, I'll keep writing--both here and in fiction--knowing that I'm at least not the same asshole I was 8 years ago.

The Avalanches

Back in the day I was a DJ for the college radio station. We would get these CDs that had over a dozen or so popular songs ranging from hip-hop to alt, country and everything in between. It was a poor-DJs Top 40 and we'd get a new CD every month I think. 

There was always several obscure titles with every monthly installment--one of which was a tune called Frontier Psychiatry by the group, The Avalanches. 

How does one describe The Avalanches? They're an Australian Electronic band. They've only released two albums, one of which came out back in July.

Since I Left You is a heavily sampled work. It's a mixture of ambient and hip-hop beats. Each song blends into the next, and the entire album shares a continuous theme. For me, the album is a trip to Hawaii, back in an iconic version of the 1950's.

If I made a Listening List in the same vein as this site's Reading List, Since I Left You would be on the Top 5. I don't think I'm going to make a Listening List though. As you can see, I don't have a whole lot of depth when it comes to describing music, even albums I like. 

Wildflower is good, albeit, very different. The band is much smaller now and the theme is something I haven't found yet. I've only listened to the album a couple times from start to finish. There's a lot more hip-hop on this album. I like the beats, but it's a different kind of album. Where I'd recommend Since I Left You, I'd only suggest Wildflower if you really liked what you heard on the first album.

Avalanche songs have a way of growing on you, so maybe I just need time to adjust to the new style in their second album. Hell, I've had sine the early 2000's to listen to their first album. Perhaps in 17 years I'll feel the same way about Wildflower that I do Since I Left You.


The Man in the High Castle

My cousin Scott wrote three very excellent posts on his blog about the Top 30 TV Shows of the Decade. You should go check it out, then come back and keep reading. Don't worry, I'll wait.  

Oh, you're back. 

I was talking with him about shows that I like, and The Man in the High Castle came up. He was about 3 episodes into season 1 at the time, and I was about 5. I told him it was slow to start but he should stick with it. For me the show was beginning to pick up. I had no idea just how awesome it was going to get in the remaining few episodes of the season.

The show is like that unsuspecting old-person, who's sitting across from you, playing cards, when suddenly he stands up and punches you in the face. Strangely, you don't seem to mind the sudden fist-a-cuffs.

I don't often recommend a television show--at least not here, but The Man in the High Castle should be watched and hopefully enjoyed. It's very different from the book, although the character of Frank Frink is just as useless as his literary counterpart--if not more so. Frink was sort of the defacto main character of the novel and his story fell short. His scenes in the show might be the reason the first few episodes run so slow. Once the focus turned to Juliana, things begin to pick up. Her character is also better developed in the show. She's no longer merely a set-piece, but plays a very strong role in the plot.

I don't dislike the book, but in this instance the show is a lot better than the original source material. I have similar feelings on the Lord of the Rings.

I'm looking forward to Season 2, and hope that it keeps up the momentum. It's a very good show and has the potential to go in many different directions, or dimensions.


Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

In my experience you either learned about Norse Mythology by some independent means, or through comic books and pop culture. School had the Greek and Egyptian gods covered but I learned more about the Norse gods from the Marvel movies and Final Fantasy 2...which is really Final Fantasy 4...or something.

Before Odin was the All-Father for me, he was an optional boss that--when bested--would be a summon-able ally. He had one attack. One attack that would completely murdered your entire party in one hit. If you couldn't bring his hitpoints down to zero in time you were dead. Odin was the first in a long line of badass 8-bit bosses.

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology was my education into the myths of the Germanic and Viking people. Going into this book I knew it was going to be good. This was not Gaiman's first trip into mythological worlds. It's sorta his wheelhouse--between The Sandman, American Gods and others that I've just not read yet. And the audio version is read by him, which was delightful. I'm going to stereotype the British now, but hearing a Brit read anything instantly whisks me away to some sort of magical Harry Potter world, even when the book being read isn't Harry Potter.

Norse Mythology is going right onto my Reading List along with a few other Neil Garmin must-reads. If you've never read anything by him--either because you're from the past, or you're too hipster douchebag for anyone successful--then I suggest you get with the times, man, or change your ways and pick up this book.