Biblios

biblioslayoutBiblios is a light card-drafting game for 2 to 4 players that plays in about 30 minutes. The idea is that you and each of the other players are competing to build the best collection of books.

You start with a board and 5 dice — each die represents the victory point value of having a superior collection of books within a specific category. At the end of the game, if you have, for example, the most books in the brown category, you’ll get the number of points indicated on the brown die. And that number can go up or down, as I’ll explain later.

The game is split up into a “Gift” phase, and an “Auction” phase. In the gift phase, you start by removing certain specific cards depending on the number of players. Then you shuffle the remaining cards and remove a specific number of random cards, so no one will have advanced knowledge of what is and is not left in the deck. Then each player, in turn, will draw, one at a time, a number of cards equal to the total number of players + 1.

With each card, you’ll decide to do one of three things. You can either keep the card for yourself, put the card face up in the middle of the table, or discard it to the auction deck. You can only keep one card for yourself, and you can only place one card into the auction deck. Once you decide what you are doing with that one card, you’ll draw another and repeat the process until you’ve kept 1, given one to auction, and put a number in the middle equal to the number of other players. Then, starting to your left, each player will choose one of the face-up cards to add to his own hand.

There are gold cards representing from 1 to 3 gold — they aren’t worth points, but you’ll be able to use them during the auction phase to purchase cards from the auction deck. There are also a variety of collectable cards in 1 of 5 colors, representing the books, tomes, etc. And they will have specific values on them. And then there are church cards which allow you to manipulate the values of the different categories. They will either be +1 or -1, and they may allow you to change the values of one die or two dice.

The church cards are never added into your hand. When you get one, whether its through keeping it or taking it during the gift phase, or buying it during the auction phase, you immediately increase or decrease the values on one or two dice (as indicated) by 1. That means that you generally want to give those cards to the other players when it’s too early to guess who will be strong in any given color. The later you are in the game, though, when they are revealed, the more valuable they may be.

Once you’ve gone through the entire deck, you  shuffle the auction cards, and then in turn order, the first player turns up the first card, and players take turns bidding on the cards or passing.  If they do not want to bid. If everyone passes, and there is no highest bidder, the card is discarded, and you repeat this with the next player. Note that for gold cards, you are bidding the number of cards that you will discard to take that gold card. For every other card, you are bidding the value of the gold cards you will spend to take that card (and you cannot make change, so you may have to overpay).  Once all cards have gone to bid, you count up your total value in each category, determine who has the highest value. Total up the score, and see who is the winner. Ties in a category are broken by assigning the points to the tied player who has the card closest to the beginning of the alphabet.

This is a very clever, and quick-playing game. It’s easy to learn, easy to teach, and easy enough to get a handle on. You know you want to increase the values of categories that you  think you have the best chances of winning, you know you want to decrease the values in categories that you are sure you will lose.But there are also decisions to be made that may not be easy — do you bid on an item that you

But there are also decisions to be made that may not be easy — do you bid on a card that you don’t want to increase the amount that other players will need to pay to get them? Do you save your money waiting for that really valuable card to come out that you know you know is there? Are you satisfied that you will likely have a majority in a category, or do you continue to bid on cards in that category in order better cement or guarantee that majority? Do you keep an ‘ok’ card, or do you get rid of it to get a chance to obtain something better?

I really enjoyed playing the game, as did the person who I taught. As soon as we finished the first game, he immediately asked to play a second. There certainly is a degree of randomness to the game — at times you’ll be forced to give a really good card to your opponent, and vice versa. Some games you may end up with very little gold, or you may end up with too much gold and not enough good cards. But the whole drafting and auction mechanisms are fun. As soon as we finished our first game, my friend asked me if we could play again. And then when we finished that game, he wanted to play yet again (and that’s in spite of the fact that I shut him out in those first two games). That, in my mind, is the sign of a good filler game — even if you lose, you still had so much fun that you just want to try again.

So my verdict on Biblios is that it’s a really good game — check it out if you want something light and easy.

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Richard Feynman

Feynman_2553738bA couple of weeks ago, I started giving some talks — I’m not going to go into any detail about where or why. The talks are basically very brief anecdotes of things in science that I find fascinating. I don’t know all of the subjects I talk about that well, so I do research first, but they are usually things that I’m aware of at least on a superficial level. They aren’t meant to go into any great detail, which is good for me since I’m trying to learn stuff also, as I do them. Anyway, I thought I’d share the one I’m planning on giving next week. Instead of talking about something from science, I’m going to talk about a person who I actually met way back when I was in college. Although some of this can be found in his autobiography, all three of the Los Alamos anecdotes were told to us at a dinner party at Page House at Caltech back around 1980 (give or take), where Mr. Feynman was our guest. The rest, I simply got from his Wikipedia page.

“Instead of my usual science anecdote, I decided instead to talk about an actual scientist, someone who I met back when I was in College, and who was considered to be one of the most brilliant Physicists alive, at least until his death from Cancer back in 1988. But instead of focusing on his scientific achievements, many of which are completely beyond me, and I could never really explain them to you. Instead, I’m going to focus on him as a person.

Richard Feynman was born May 11, 1918, in Queens, NY. His IQ was nothing extraordinary, but at age 15, he taught himself Trigonometry, Advanced Algebra, Infinite Series, Analytic Geometry, and both differential and integral calculus. He applied to Columbia for college but was refused because of a quota they had of Jewish Students. Instead, he attended MIT, where he studied Physics. Before he even graduated, he had already published two papers in Physics journals, and his paper on Cosmic Rays was even quoted by one of the great physicists of the day, Werner Heisenberg. All this before he got his degree.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, was recruited to Los Alamos to work on Uranium enrichment for what would become the Manhattan Project. I got to meet Feynman years later when he was a dinner guest at my student house at Caltech (where he was teaching at the time).

Richard-Feynman-KF012575-Corbis-1725x810_26895One of the many stories he told us was about how bad the security was at Los Alamos. The whole base was surrounded by a fence with barbed wire. Unfortunately, there was a big, gaping hole in the fence that virtually everyone, except for the MPs knew about. Being a practical joker, he decided to illustrate the vulnerability by playing a joke on them. He would sign out to leave the base, sneak back in through the hole in the fence, and then immediately sign out again. He repeated this until the MPs figured out that something was wrong, and only then did he explain the problem.

feynman-letter-to-wifeAnother story he told was with regards to the safes that all of the higher ups had in their offices to store classified documents. One thing he noticed was that nearly everyone when they received a safe, would leave the combination at the default setting, which would usually be 0-0-0.  Also, one other vulnerability he found was that people would always leave their safes open while they were in the office. What most people did not know was that Feynman’s father had been a locksmith so he had picked up a whole lot about locks of all kinds while he was growing up. One thing he could easily do is to look at the open safe and be able to tell immediately what the combination was.  So, of course, instead of telling people about the vulnerability, he played another little joke on them – leaving notes in the sealed safes with the message, “Guess Who?”.

Newcomers to Los Alamos would quite often, late at night, hear the pounding of bongo drums coming from the desert. Such people would always ask about that, and the response would usually be “Oh that’s just crazy Feynman”.

large_pwADoLVt7sO79V9HtTUKLNSPTEtIf you want to hear more stories about Feynman, you can read the first half of his Autobiography, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character), it’s sequel What do you Care What Other People Think, or see the film “Infinity”, in which he and his wife were played by Matthew Broderick and Patricia Arquette – it tells about his experiences at Los Alamos, and about the relationship with his wife, who was dying of Tuberculosis while he was working there. Or, if you want, I can tell you more stories next time.”

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

20130205-135717Book 16 in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series tells the story of what happens when Rock and Roll music and culture leaks into the Discworld dimension and causes all sorts of mayhem. The novel is similar in concept to his 10th novel, Moving Pictures, which involved Hollywood movie culture.

Imp Y Celyn, a young Harpist from Llamedos comes to Ankh-Morpork seeking his fortune as a musician. Unable to pay the Musician’s guild dues, he meets up with a dwarven hornblower named Glod and a troll percussionist named Lias, to form an unlicensed band. When his harp is destroyed, he finds an unusual guitar at a rather odd music shop. They then decide to create “The Band with Rocks in”. Imp takes on the stage name Buddy (who everyone says ‘looks a bit elvish’ (ie. a combination of Elvis and Buddy Holly), and Lias takes on the name “Cliff”. At one point, Cliff actually says “We’re on a mission from Glod”, an obvious allusion to “The Blues Brothers”. This is Pratchett at his punniest. Later, the recruit Unseen University’s Librarian (an Orangutan — don’t you ever call him an ape) as a keyboard player, but he doesn’t last long. And soon, all over the Ringworld, people become obsessed with music and with “The Band with Rocks In”.

Meanwhile, Death has become obsessed and disturbed by the fact that his memory is perfect, and he decides that he wants to learn how to forget. He leaves his job behind to seek the means to forgetfulness. His Granddaughter Susan is recruited as a temporary replacement. Like her father before her, Mort, she’s not so much a stickler for rules and soon becomes obsessed with Buddy (Imp) and keeping him alive. You see, the Musicians guild wants him dead for playing without paying guild dues.

This is a hilarious book, but the kindle edition is marred by extremely poor editing. Footnotes (which Pratchett uses to great effect) sometimes point to the wrong text, which are the most annoying errors, but there are a lot of others as well. If you aren’t reading a kindle edition, this should not be an issue. But it was for me. But regardless, I do highly recommend this book. I don’t consider it Pratchett’s best, but it is pretty darn funny.

The Legend of Tarzan

tarzan

Tarzan is a character that I like to think of as an early 20th century comic book/pulp superhero. In the books (of which I read one and a half before I lost interest), his ‘superpower’ does not stem from being bitten by a radioactive ape, but from his noble birth. His nobility is what makes him superior to, not only the apes and other jungle creatures, but also the African natives.  It’s very much a product of its time and place. And most of the dramatic treatments of the stories, while somewhat modernized or Americanized, have treated him as a kind of comic book character, before the days when comic book characters were ever treated seriously. The stories and movies were fun, but never to be taken seriously. Of course, “Greystoke:The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” made a small attempt to change that, but only with limited success.

greystoke4

And now we have “The Legend of Tarzan”, which stars Alexander Skarsgård, as John Clayton, The Lord of Greystoke, aka “Tarzan”, Margot Robbie as Jayne, Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams, an American who fought in the Civil War, and a few wars after that, and Christoph Waltz, as Leon Rum, the villain of the story.

The story opens in a time after John Clayton has returned from his adventures in the Jungle. He’s a kind of celebrity, and so its obvious that a recent invitation he’s received from the Belgian government, to come and tour the Belgian Congo is a bit of a publicity stunt. Belgium is losing money in the Congo, and there are some nasty rumors about the treatment of the native peoples there, and they want to use him to put The Congo in a better light. He meets with British government officials (who are also fellow nobles) who encourage him to take the offer. An american named George Washington Williams also encourages him to accept the offer, but for entirely different reasons. His goal is to travel with Tarzan and gather evidence that Belgium is enslaving the native population.

The actual Tarzan origin story is told briefly in a few flashbacks for those who may not be familiar with his story, or who want a brief refresher on it. That’s not the focus of this movie.  It is to tell a typical Tarzan mindless adventure story. There’s no pretense, like in “Greystoke”, to be anything other than that. We learn of Tarzan’s connections to people and animals, and that he has history there, friends AND enemies. Pretty early in the film, Leon Rum tries unsuccessfully to capture Tarzan in order to sell him to one of those enemies — but he does get Jayne instead, and he intends to use her as bait to lure Tarzan into a trap.

Sure, that’s a little bit of a spoiler, but most of that can be divined simply by watching the trailers. The rest of the story is mostly action, with typical scenes of Rum menacing Jayne so that we know just how ‘evil’ he is, and of Tarzan and Williams dealing with all of the dangers of the jungle, up until the final big encounter with Rum. It’s all fun, but certainly not a deep ,or anything that can be called a quality film. But it is fun. It’s a good mindless summer popcorn movie. If you go to the theater expecting anything more than that, you will be sorely disappointed. But for good, mindless fun, you could do a lot worse. So I definitely recommend it.

 

The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

Charles Stross’s “Laundry” series appeals to me partly because it depicts computer and math nerds (both of which I kind of was, at least at one time) as ‘wizards’ — I mean, literally, workers of arcane magic. One of the major premises of the series is that magic is a logical consequence of advanced mathematics. For example, if you conceive of certain specific mathematical constructs or algorithms in your mind, that it makes your brain attractive to a very specific kind of brain-eating creature from other dimensions (in fact, Charles Stross has vampires in his most recent books that came into being because a team of math quants working for an investment bank came up with such an algorithm, and thus became infected with what they’ve dubbed “V-Parasites”. His vampires are not quite like the traditional vampires of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, or of the more modern take of “True Blood”, but they are still recognizable as vampires. People who are skilled with math and/or computers can, if they are not knowledgeable about the ‘true’ nature of how things work, can accidentally unleash all sorts of creatures, or attract the attention of ancient horrors from other dimensions.

Another premise of his “Laundry” series is that there are various secret organizations in the world that know about this stuff, and who recruit people to defend their government or their nation or the world against all of the arcane dangers, many of which are connected to magic and the occult, and ‘hideous things from other dimensions’. The Laundry is the British version of such an organization. But what they most fear, and what they are almost certain is coming, is the end of the world. They don’t believe that they can stop it, but they sure as hell will try to delay it for as long as possible. And they have code names for all of the various improbably or close to impossible situations that they fear that can lead to the end of the world. It’s mentioned in just about all of the Laundry books — the end of the world is coming, it’s inevitable, and it’s probably closer than you might think.

Oh yeah, and the Laundry books can be very funny at times. The end of the world may be coming, but you can still have a laugh along the way.

Previous books in the series primarily focused on Bob Howard, and we watched his rise from a minor math and computer geek to head of The Laundry, starting in The Atrocity ArchivesThe Rhesus Chart introduced vampires into this world, including the character of Alex Schwartz, a quant who accidentally got infected with the V-Parasites. The latest novel, The Nightmare Stacks now focuses on Alex and how he is coping with his recruitment and training as a low-level Laundry employee, a ‘PHANG’ (the slang/acronym for a vampire), and a young man who feels isolated by both his top secret job and the secrets he has to keep from family and almost everyone else, and the stress of trying to actually have a social life without passing on his infection to others. He’s a young man who is dealing with all of the same problems that most young men do — meeting women, dealing with his parents, with the added difficulty of his total social awkwardness, plus the threat of accidentally committing treason by revealing state secrets, such as what he does for a living.

Alex runs into a young woman named Cassie on the street, a drama student who invites him to a show and after-party — they are performing “Dracula”. Being the socially awkward young man that he is, he doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that this young woman seems inexplicably friendly with him in spite of all of his awkwardness and geekiness. Meanwhile he has to deal with being temporarily relocated to Leeds, which is inconveniently far too close to where his parents live, so all of the excuses he’s been making so that he doesn’t have to deal with meeting the family with all of the secrets he has (such as his thirst for blood, his career change from over-paid bank investment analyst to an underpaid civil servant.  Oh, and yes, his lack of a girlfriend.

I can’t say too much more about this novel without giving stuff away. I know I am not doing a great job here telling you just how much I loved this book.  It certainly starts out slow, and it’s very hard to tell what direction the story will turn. But by the end, it is filled with action and surprises, and danger, and, yes, humor. There’s not as much humor in it as previous books, but it’s still a very cool book.

One thing I really like about this series is that every book seems to be so completely different from another. I have to admit that I was disappointed when Bob Howard, the character who was the focus of for the first several books, was shifted back, and his wife became the focus in The Annihilation Score. Well, the focus has changed again, and Alex is, to a certain extent, dealing with some of the same issues as Bob did in the early novels. So, in that respect, it’s similar to them. But as I said, each novel has a different style and structure to it. We’ve had a spy story, we’ve had a vampire story, we’ve had superheroes. Now this novel is more of  (and I guess this is a bit of a spoiler) is a story about an invasion from (as one character puts it) ‘Middle Earth’. And I did start to feel for Alex and for his various problems, and I really did get into the story, and it builds up to a rip-roaring climax. I really enjoyed this book.

If you want to really get into the series (And I heartily recommend that) I would start with The Atrocity Archives, and then keep on going. I have no idea how he will finish the series, because as I said, it’s all supposed to be leading up to the end of the world, and we get closer and closer to it, with things spiraling more and more out of control with each novel. Hell, I’m simply curious how the  world will deal with the repercussions of everything that happened in THIS novel. This is a series that will hook you and keep you coming back to see what happens next.

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Book 15 in Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series, focuses once again on the Night Watch of the twin-city of Ankh-Morpork. In Book 8 of the series, Guards! Guards! Captain Vimes met Lady Ramkin, an eccentric noble woman who raises swamp dragons. Well a lot has happened, and the couple is due to be married shortly, and is slated for retirement from the guards. But something evil is afoot as a device has been stolen from the Assassins’ Guild, and people start showing up dead, with holes in them made by a metal projectile. And the Night Watch starts sticking their noses in places that the various guilds of Ankh-Morpork would prefer remain hidden.

Corporal Carrot, the human who was adopted by dwarves has to take charge of the guild and the old guards, Nobbs and Colon are now joined by new recruits Cuddy (a dwarf), Detritus (a Troll), and Angua (a woman with a secret).  The trail of bodies leads them to the Assassins guild, the Beggars Guild, and the Fools Guild. Also returning is Gaspode, the talking dog from Moving Pictures.

Men at Arms is a really good addition to the series. If you’ve enjoyed the books up until now, of course you will read it — it’s very funny, written with all of the humor and skill that the late Mr. Pratchett displayed in his previous novels. But there is also an undercurrent of seriousness here, and all of the gun violence that has been in the news in recent years gives the novel a bit of extra weight. This is not really a political novel, at least not at its core. But there certainly is a gentle political commentary here, as the Discworld experiences its first incidents of ‘gonne’ violence.

The book is good, and if you are reading the series, you shouldn’t skip it. If you want to read it and haven’t read any of the previous books, I would suggest reading Guards! Guards! first. You really don’t have to, but it will make more sense if you do. And if you want to find out about Gaspode, of course you may also want to read Moving Pictures.  But for the best experience, I’d read everything in order — while they aren’t all equally good, there really isn’t a bad book in the bunch.

The Shallows

“The Shallows” is a tense thriller about a med student named Nancy (Blake Lively), who, while surfing by a remote beach while on a vacation in Mexico is terrorized by a Great White shark. She spends a great deal of time trapped on some rocks, and she knows, as high tide approaches, that her haven from the shark will soon become submerged.

There’s really not a lot to say about the film — the story is pretty simple, and is about matching her wits and endurance against that of the shark. Sure, there’s other things that happen. We meet Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), who drives her to the beach and she practices her rusty spanish talking to him during the trip. We also meet two fellow surfers, who share the camaraderie for the sport. We meet her kid sister and her dad, who talk to her on the phone before she goes into the water. And we also learn about her late mother, who told her about this particular beach, and how much she loved it. It’s a very simple film, but it works. We share Nancy’s joy and then her terror and her fight for survival.

The film was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.  I checked his references, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his other films. But this one is certainly one that is worth seeing. I want to comment on a specific incident towards the end of the film, but I’m afraid that that would be too much of a spoiler.  Let’s just say that I have no idea how plausible a couple of things that happen in the film are, but the film still works.

Central Intelligence

“Central Intelligence” starts with a flashback to high school. Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner. He is the popular scholar-athlete, who everyone loves. I can’t even recall all of the sports he excels in.  And he’s also dating (and in love with) the most beautiful girl in his class, Maggie, played by Danielle Nicolet. The film opens at a pep rally, led by Calvin and the principal of the school.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with some incredible CG that you can see in the trailer, plays his opposite, Bob Weirdicht, the overweight, socially-inept kid. During that pep rally, a group of bullies drags him out of the shower, naked into the middle of the gymnasium. Just about everyone, with the exception of Calvin, the Principal, and Maggie, erupt in laughter. Calvin takes pity on him, and gives him his letterman jacket to cover himself up while he walks back into the locker room in shame.

Cut to several years later. Calvin is now an accountant, unhappy with his job, being overlooked for promotion. He’s married his High School Sweetheart, but their marriage may have hit a slight bump. And his high school reunion is coming up and he feels embarrassed about showing up, not having met the promise of his ‘Most Likely to Succeed” designation there. Enter once again, Bob (who’s changed his name to Bob Stone), who contacts him out of nowhere. Bob is still plagued by the bullying incident, but he has never forgotten Calvin’s kindness to him on that day. But it turns out that Bob may have ulterior motives, that goes beyond the need to reconnect with the only person who treated him well back then. It turns out that Bob has joined the CIA.

Just about everything I said above, you can see in the trailers. What the trailers don’t tell you is that there is a real story here, where you, as an audience member are never really sure about just what CIA agent Bob Stone is up to. Well technically, you can figure it out if you know enough about the genre. But the movie tries to impart that illusion, so that you understand that Calvin is never really sure of what Bob is up to. For a lot of the film, Calvin isn’t exactly sure if he can trust Bob, if Bob is on the side of the angels, or if Bob is just crazy or if he’s a traitor. And Bob gives Calvin a lot of mixed signals. And that kind of works in the film. But…

From a believability standpoint, Bob is not a believable character. A lot of what he does is just strange, even after you find out what is what. You can chalk that up to Bob just being a weird character in a comedy, and that’s really the only reason why he is the way he is — to serve the comedy. Which is fine. And I don’t want to stress the unbelievability of a lot of things too much, because Central Intelligence is funny.

I haven’t seen a lot of Kevin Hart films, honestly. I’ve certainly seen Dwayne Johnson, and he’s usually quite good (and I’m not saying this because he made the transition from Professional Wrestling into Acting.  I’m not judging him on a curve. — he’s actually become a decent actor, and he is quite charming in this, even while he’s being… odd. And Kevin Hart is pretty funny here. I’ve never been a huge fan of his — his stand-up is ok. But he’s pretty good here.

Besides what I’ve already mentioned, the film is funny, and if you want to have a laugh at the movies, I think you can’t go wrong with this film. Certainly, not all of the jokes hit. There’s a certain degree of discomfort that comes from having bullying as a theme and a subplot in a comedy — and maybe that’s partly because I was bullied relentlessly by one specific kid in Jr. High. Don’t expect that to be handled in the same way that a more serious film might deal with it. But as I said, it IS a comedy, and it certainly succeeds at that.

So I definitely recommend this film.

On Death

Last night, I found out that someone I knew and considered a friend, but haven’t seen in about 10 years or so, died of cancer. His name was Joe.

When I was living in Jacksonville, Florida, working as a programmer, I was very unhappy. Note that I had not been diagnosed yet with Depression. But I was bored with my job, which I had been doing for 10 years or so, with only a few changes here and there. I loved the apartment I was living in, but didn’t have any real friends there. Plus I really didn’t like a lot of things about Jacksonville (though they throw a really cool Blues festival  right next to the Beach every year, and if you are ever in the neighborhood, I recommend it).

Anyway, I got a phone call one day from a headhunter, saying that, essentially, they had a job opportunity in Columbus, Ohio, that fit my qualifications perfectly.. I said I was interested (I couldn’t wait to get out of Jacksonville, really). Joe was one of the people who talked to me on the phone. As it turned out, they didn’t want me for that particular job, but told me that they did want to hire me for a different position, but I’d have to wait a couple of months. Sure enough, 2 months passed, and they contacted me again, they flew me up to Columbus, and then hired me

Joe was a great boss, and this was the type of job that comes around once in a lifetime, if you are lucky. So I’m forever grateful for Joe hiring me.  He had a strange sense of humor, but he joked around all the time. Everyone under his watch was very casual with one another.  We all became friends, and respected one another. Joe and I didn’t agree on everything, but we had a mutual respect for one another, so our disagreements were never serious. He was a smart guy, a guy that everyone respected. So after he moved on to another job, and he contacted me to tell me that he wanted to hire me again, I had to say yes.  I felt really flattered that he wanted to hire me a second time. That job didn’t work out quite as well, partly because I wasn’t really doing any programming, and what I was working on was thoroughly frustrating and irritating and I hated it. And also partly because, through no fault of Joe’s, my life was starting to fall apart. My Dad’s deteriorating health (due to Alzheimer’s and Cancer), plus a series of unrelated events that left me feeling isolated and unhappy.

Even though I hadn’t seen Joe for 10 years, I feel bad for his family — his wife who lost a husband, and his kids who lost a father. And I feel bad for everyone else who knew him, who considered him a friend, for their loss as well.

Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

I discovered Hugh Howey, much as, probably, most people have, through his landmark Silo science fiction series (WoolShift, and Dust). So I’ve been following him to see what else of possible interest he may come out with. The only other book I read of his so far was his 5 part series Sand, which I also enjoyed.  But if you haven’t read Wool, you really ought to. It’s terrific.

Beacon 23 is a stand-alone novel that, like many of his novels, was originally published in 5 separate parts through Amazon, and then as a complete novel. It tells the story of “Digger”, a veteran who got a bit messed up both physically, and psychologically, in the ongoing war against aliens known as “The Ryph”.  He has PTSD. After the incident, in which he was viewed as a hero, he had his choice of positions, but what he chose was to be a beacon operator, on his own, somewhere out in space. Beacons function kind of like lighthouses in space, telling spaceships of hazards, like debris and asteroid belts and so on.

What actually happened to him is something that he won’t share with most people.  In fact, most of his interactions involve communicating with ships, and with NASA. He doesn’t expect to have to have to deal directly, in person with people all that much, and he likes it that way. The problem is that although he’s no longer a soldier, it seems like the war may be coming to him.

I could strongly relate to the main character of this novel — I am currently being treated for depression and an anxiety disorder and although I don’t have PTSD, and I was never a soldier, I’ve had a couple of traumas in my life. And there were just some parts of the story that rang very true to me. The novel is fairly short and well written. Overall, it was really good.  The only issue I have here, which prevents me from being more enthusiastic about the novel than I am is that the ending does not ring true. I don’t want to enter spoiler territory, so I will say that IF anything like the situation that Howey describes in the book, I don’t think that the epilog would have been what it was. (Is that vague enough?)  As I said, I don’t want to spoil it, because the book IS very worth reading.