Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

Christos anesti!

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Books: Terms of Enlistment

"Terms of Enlistment" is a military science-fiction novel by Marko Kloos, aka The Munchkin Wrangler. In the book, a young man named Andrew Grayson escapes from the overcrowded slums of Earth the only way he knows: by enlisting in the armed forces of the North American Commonwealth, to fight battles on this planet and beyond.

The reader follows Grayson's military career, from basic training to pitched battles in urban war zones. Obviously, there's a lot of "Starship Troopers" in the novel (Grayson has a girlfriend who joins the Navy and becomes a dropship pilot). However, unlike Heinlein, Kloos doesn't insert much rhetoric into the piece, which keeps things moving at a brisk pace. This includes the centerpiece of the book, a "Black Hawk Down"-esque rescue mission that presents a tense (and pretty convincing) portrait of near-future infantry warfare.

On the downside, I found that the protagonist and his love interest were a bit unrealistic - skilled, courageous, respectful. I can't remember Grayson ever screwing up, failing, or arguing with his girlfriend, and I thought some of the other characters (like the butt-kicking, authority-bucking Sergeant Fallon) were more interesting. Still, this is only the first book in the series, and there's plenty of time for those kinds of wrinkles to get introduced.

The sequel, "Lines of Departure," drops in May, and a third book and companion novel are planned.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Miscellany: The Shillelagh

This St. Patrick's Day, I looked up the history of a quintessentially Irish weapon - the shillelagh. It's a straight knotty stick traditionally made from Irish blackthorn; in most incarnations, the thorns are stipped off, the bark is left on, and the root of the blackthorn is sanded down into a smooth round knob that can be used to rest your hand on...or to hit people with.

The term "shillelagh" is itself is a corruption of two Gaelic words, sail (mallet) and éille (strap). While accounts vary, this probably came from the fact that most shillelaghs have a wrist strap for use as a walking stick...and as a way to facilitate striking:

Irish stickfighting isn't as common as other European stickfighting methods (think canne de combat), but thankfully, there are still folks out there teaching and practicing this martial art:

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Guns: Howard Leight Impact Sport review

If you've ever tried to teach someone to shoot a firearm, you know that there's a hurdle you have to overcome before you even start: hearing protection. Yup, the same stuff that protects a novice's ears can also make it darn near impossible for a beginner to understand your spoken instructions.

Aside from yelling at each other, sign language, or writing notes, the only way I've found to make sense to a shooting student is electronic ear protection. My muff of choice? The Howard Leight Impact Sport:

The Impact Sport is a simple fold-up design that uses a single battery compartment and twin microphones to amplify sound, with a cutoff for gunshot-level noises. It works great; after equipping both yourself and your student with plugs, donning the Impact Sport, and turning up the sound, you can hear each other talk and still be protected from even the loudest gunshots (for a time, that is - no earpro can completely immunize you from an active indoor rifle range).

Even if you're not talking to anyone, the Impact Sport makes it easier to listen to range commands and gives you a better awareness of your surroundings while shooting. At $50, it won't break the bank, either. The Impact Sport therefore gets the Shangrila Towers stamp of approval.

Tech: Conclave

One of the realities of the rat race is that you seldom have the time to engage in an eight-hour, Mountain Dew-chugging, Cheetos-eating session of D&D. Heck, between working a job and spending time with the family, it can be a challenge just to simultaneously log onto a computer to play an MMO with your old school chums.

Conclave is a turn-based, co-op tactical RPG that aims to bring back some of that old dice-rolling magic. Everything is asynchronous (sort of like a play-by-email game or correspondence chess). In other words, you can accept quests, choose storylines, and battle enemies without having to be logged on as the same time as the other members of your party. Plus, the game runs in a broswer window, so it works on almost any smartphone or tablet out there. In sum, Conclave is literally the closest thing to a mobile 4th edition D&D game as you're likely to find.

There are drawbacks to the universal, scaled-down approach - the game's combat maps feel cramped and limited, and character creation and progression is just too simple to hold the interest of a roleplaying diehard like me. Still,  I did have plenty of fun with Conclave, and it's hard to knock something that's (a) in beta and (b) free to play. If it sounds interesting, head on over and check it out.

Movies: King of Thorn

In "King of Thorn," a sci-fi anime movie based on the manga of the same name, the world is in the grips of a strange plague called Medusa. In the hope of finding a cure, a drug company offers to put some of the afflicted patients in suspended animation inside a giant castle. When the patients wake up, however, the world they knew is gone...

My friends and I liked this movie. Admittedly, it's a hot mess of clichés: one part claustrophobic survivor story (think "Cube"), one part sci-fi conspiracy thriller, and one part fairy tale ("Sleeping Beauty," of course). There's also a lot of red herrings thrown at the viewer in an attempt to disguise what's going to happen next: in the space of a minute, a character explains that the suspended animation chambers can control your dreams, can clone your DNA, and are able to support themselves for decades without outside power - good luck figuring out whether the next hour and forty minutes are real or not.

What "King of Thorn" lacks in originality, though, it makes up for with competently drawn characters. The initial group of survivors are a motley crew, with clashing personalities and different goals. It's a shame the movie eventually splits them up, but before that happens, "King of Thorn" offers some Grade A escapist fantasy.

Rating: 8/10