Nature Study: Know the world

To my mind, the best of all subjects for nature-study is a brook. It affords studies of many kinds. It is near and dear to every child. It is an epitome of the nature in which we live. In miniature, it illustrates the forces which have shaped much of the earth’s surface. It reflects the sky.
It is kissed by the sun. It is rippled by the wind. The minnows play in the pools. The soft weeds grow in the shallows. The grass and the dandelions lie on its sunny banks. The moss and the fern are sheltered in the nooks. It comes from one knows not whence; it flows to one knows not whither. It awakens the desire to explore. It is fraught with mysteries. It typifies the flood of life. It goes on forever.

In other words, the reason why the brook is such a perfect nature-study subject is the fact that it is the central theme in a scene of life. Living things appeal to children.

Nature-study not only educates, but it educates nature-ward; and nature is ever our companion, whether we will or no. Even though we are determined to shut ourselves in an office, nature sends her messengers. The light, the dark, the moon, the cloud, the rain, the wind, the falling leaf, the fly, the bouquet, the bird, the cockroach they are all ours.

If one is to be happy, he must be in sympathy with common things. He must
live in harmony with his environment.  One cannot be happy yonder nor to-
morrow: he is happy here and now, or never. Our stock of knowledge of common things should be great. Few of us can travel. We must know the things at home.

Nature-love tends toward naturalness, and toward simplicity of living. It tends country-ward. One word from the fields is worth two from the city. ” God made the country.

I expect, therefore, that much good will come from nature-study. It ought to revolutionize the school life, for it is capable of putting new force and enthusiasm into the school and the child. It is new, and therefore, is called a fad. A movement is a fad until it succeeds. We shall learn much, and shall outgrow some of our present notions, but nature-study has come to
stay. It is in much the same stage of development that manual-training and kindergarten work were twenty-five years ago.

We must take care that it does not crystallize into science-teaching on the one hand, nor fall into mere sentimentalism on the other.

I would again emphasize the importance of obtaining our fact before we let
loose the imagination, for on this point will largely turn the results the failure
or the success of the experiment. We must not allow our fancy to run away with us.
If we hitch our wagon to a star, we must ride with mind and soul and body all alert. When we ride in such a wagon, we must not forget to put in the tail-board.

” THE NATURE-STUDY IDEA,”
L. H. BAILEY from Comstock’s Guide

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Art Study

From my archives- I wrote this over 15 years ago. Closer to 20 years ago, in fact.

We approach art from two different paths, art history and art appreciation.

When we do art history (something I did with older students, not grade schoolers), we look for artists representative of that time in history (as well as poets, writers, and composers). We familiarize ourselves with a few representative, and sometimes not so representative, works of those artists.

I base my goals for our art study largely on Charlotte Mason’s writing:
Our Beauty Sense. — There is another region open to Intellect, of very great beauty and delight. He must needs have Imagination with him to travel there, but still more must he have that companion of the nice ear and eye, who enabled him to recognise music and beauty in words and their arrangement. The Æsthetic Sense, in truth, holds the key of this palace of delights. There are few joys in life greater and more constant than our joy in Beauty, though it is almost impossible to put into words what Beauty consists in; colour, form, proportion, harmony — these are some of its elements.Volume 4, page 41

The Palace of Art. — We take pleasure, too, in the arrangement and colouring of a nice room, of a nice dress, in the cover of a book, in the iron fittings of a door, when these are what is called artistic. This brings us to another world of beauty created for us by those whose Beauty Sense enables them not only to see and take joy in all the Beauty there is, but whose souls become so filled with the Beauty they gather through eye and ear that they produce for us new forms of Beauty — in picture, statue, glorious cathedral, in delicate ornament, in fugue, sonata, simple melody. When we think for a moment, how we must admire the goodness of God in placing us in a world so exceedingly full of Beauty — whether it be of what we call Nature or of what we call Art — and in giving us that sense of Beauty which enables us to see and hear, and to be as it were suffused with pleasure at a single beautiful effect brought to our ear or our eye.

The Hall of Simulation. — But, like all the good gifts we have received, this too is capable of neglect and misuse. It is not enough that there should be a Beauty World always within reach; we must see to it that our Beauty Sense is on the alert and kept quick to discern. We may easily be all our lives like that man of whom the poet says: “A primrose by the river’s brim A yellow primrose was to him, ‘ was that, and nothing more ” — that is, he missed the subtle sense of Beauty which lay, not so much in the primrose nor in the river, but, rather, in the fact of the primrose growing just there. Our great danger is that, as there is a barren country reaching up to the very borders of the Kingdom of Literature, so too is there a dull and dreary Hall of Simulation which we may enter and believe it to be the Palace of Art. Here people are busy painting, carving, modelling, and what not; the very sun labours here with his photographs, and he is as good an artist as the rest, and better, for the notion in this Hall is that the object of Art is to make things exactly like life. So the so-called artists labour away to get the colour and form of the things they see, and to paint these on canvas or shape them in marble or model them in wax (flowers), and all the time they miss, because they do not see, that subtle presence which we call Beauty in the objects they paint and mould. Many persons allow themselves to be deceived in this matter and go through life without ever entering the Palace of Art, and perceiving but little of the Beauty of Nature. We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.

Art.[This section is a sub-topic under the heading `instructors of conscience’) — A great promise has been given to the world — that its teachers shall not any more be removed. There are always those present with us whom God whispers in the ear, through whom He sends a direct message to the rest. Among these messengers are the great painters who interpret to us some of the meanings of life. To read their messages aright is a thing due from us. ‘But this, like other good gifts, does not come by nature. It is the reward of humble, patient study. It is not in a day or a year that Fra Angelico will tell us of the beauty of holiness, that Giotto will confide his interpretation of the meaning of life, that Millet will tell us of the simplicity and dignity that belong to labour on the soil, that Rembrandt will show us the sweetness of humanity in many a commonplace countenance.

The artist — “Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him, Above and through his art,” — has indispensable lessons to give us, whether he convey them through the brush of the painter, the vast parables of the architect, or through such another cathedral built of sound as ‘Abt Vogler’ produced: the outward and visible sign is of less moment than the inward and spiritual grace. Vol 4 pg 103

We must learn to Appreciate and Discriminate. — That we may be in a condition to receive this grace of teaching from all great Art, we must learn to appreciate and to discriminate, to separate between the meretricious and the essential, between technique (the mere power of expression) and the thing to be expressed — though the thing be no more than the grace and majesty of a tree. Here, again, I would urge that appreciation is not a voluntary offering, but a debt we owe, and a debt we must acquire the means to pay by patient and humble study. In this, as in all the labours of the conscience seeking for instruction, we are enriched by our efforts; but self-culture should not be our object. Let us approach Art with the modest intention to pay a debt that we owe in learning to appreciate. So shall we escape the irritating ways of the connoisseur!

Volume 5: a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books; for we know that our business is, not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of — ‘Those first-born affinities That fit our new existence to existing things.’

AESTHETIC CULTURE In venturing to discuss the means of aesthetic culture, I feel that to formulate canons of taste is the same sort of thing as to draw up rules of conscience; that is, to attempt to do for other people what every one must do for himself. It may be vicious to have a flower pattern on our carpet, and correct to have such a pattern on our curtains; but if so, the perception of the fact must be the result of growth under culture. If it come to us as an edict of fashion that we adorn our rooms with bulrushes and peacocks’ feathers; that we use geometrical forms in decorative art, rather than natural forms conventionally treated; that we affect sage- green and terra-cotta, — however good may be the effect of room or person, there is little taste displayed in either. For taste is the very flower, the most delicate expression of individuality, in a person who has grown up amidst objects lovely and befitting, and has been exercised in the habit of discrimination. Here we get a hint as to what may and what may not be done by way of cultivating the aesthetic sense in young people. So far as possible, let their surroundings be brought together on a principle of natural selection, not at haphazard, and not in obedience to fashion. Bear in mind, and let them often hear discussed and see applied, the three or four general principles which fit all occasions of building, decorating, furnishing, dressing: the thing must be fit for its purpose, must harmonise with both the persons and the things about it; and, these points considered, must be as lovely as may be in form, texture, and colour; one point more — it is better to have too little than too much. The child who is accustomed to see a vase banished, a chintz chosen, on some such principles as these, involuntarily exercises discriminating power; feels the jar of inharmonious colouring, rejects a bedroom water-jug all anoles for one with flowing curves, and knows what he is about. It may not be possible to surround him with objects of art, nor is it necessary; but, certainly, he need not live amongst ugly and discordant objects; for a blank is always better than the wrong thing. Vol 5 pg 232

“Nothing can be a work of art which is not useful, that is to say, which does not minister to the body when well under the command of the mind, or which does not amuse, soothe, or elevate the mind in a healthy state. What tons upon tons of unutterable rubbish, pretending to be works of art in some degree, would this maxim clear out of our London houses.” — WILLIAM MORRIS. Vol 5 pg 233

It is a pity that, in pictures and music, we are inclined to form “collections,” just as in poetry. Let us eschew collections. Every painter, every composer, worth the name, has a few master ideas, which he works out, not in a single piece, but here a little and there a little, in a series of studies. If we accept the work of the artist as a mere external decoration, why, a little of one and a little of another does very well; but if we accept the man as a teacher, who is to have a refining, elevating effect upon our coarser nature, we must study his lessons in sequence, so far as we have opportunity. A house with one or two engravings from Turner in one room, from Millet in another, from Corot’s pictures in a third, would be a real school of art for the child; he would have some little opportunity of studying, line by line, three masters at least, of comparing their styles, getting their characteristics by heart, perceiving what they mean to say by their pictures, and how they express their meaning. And here is a sound foundation for art- education, which should perhaps, for most of us, consist rather in drawing out the power to appreciate than the power to produce. At the same time, give the young people one or two good water-colour sketches to grow upon, to show them what to see in landscape. It is not, however, always possible to choose pictures according to any such plan; but in default of more, it is something to get so thoroughly acquainted with even a good engraving of any one picture, that the image of it retained by the brain is almost as distinct as the  picture itself. All that the parents can do is to secure that the picture be looked at; the refining influence, the art- culture, goes on independently of effort from without. The important thing is, not to vitiate the boy’s taste; better to have a single work of art in the house upon which his ideas form themselves, than to have every wall covered with daubs.

That the young people must commonly wait for opportunities afforded by picture-galleries to learn how the brush can catch the very spirit and meaning of nature, is not so great a loss as it would seem at first sight. The study of landscape should, perhaps, prepare them for that of pictures: no one can appreciate the moist solid freshness of the newly ploughed earth in Rosa Bonheur’s pictures who has not himself been struck by the look of the clods just turned up by the plough.

But, on the other hand, what is to be said to this, from Fra Lippo Lippi? —
“Don’t you mark, we’re made so that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times, nor cared to see:
And so they are better painted — better to us,
Which is the same thing.

Art was given for that — God uses us to help each other so,
Lending our minds out. Have you noticed now
Your cullion’s hanging face? A bit of chalk,
And, trust me, but you should though. How much more
If I drew higher things with the same truth! That were to take the prior’s pulpit-place —
Interpret God to all of you!”

Pictures or landscape, all the parents can do is to put their children in the way of seeing, and, by a suggestive word, get them to look. The eye is trained by seeing, but also by instruction; and I need hardly call attention to Mr. Ruskin’s Modern Painters, as  the book which makes art-education possible to outsiders. ….It is a pity we like our music, as our pictures and our poetry, mixed, so that there are few opportunities of going through, as a listener, a course of the works of a single composer. But this is to be aimed at for the young people; let them study occasionally the works of a single great master until they have received some of his teaching, and know his style. Vol 5 pg 234,5

‘ Here we get a hint as to what may be done for a child by the pictures we surround him with. This row of engravings and his father’s talk about them gave Goethe practically a second fatherland. The  speech of Italy, the sun of Italy, the past of Italy, became a home for his thoughts; and we know how profoundly his late long sojourn in Italy affected his style as a poet — for good or ill. Our first idea is that all we can do for children is to give them a correct feeling for art; to surround them, for example, with the open spaces and simple, monumental figures we get in Millet’s pictures: we cannot do better, but we can do more. Some, at any rate, of our pictures should be like the little windows, showing a landscape beyond, which the Umbrian Masters loved to introduce. That is just what the children want, an outlook. Vol. 5 p 315

(included in a list of subjects proper to every child-) Art, for we all require beauty, and are eager to know how to discriminate; v 6. P. 14

(in a discussion on the merits of a wide rather than a narrow education) In the great (and ungoverned) age of the Renaissance, the time when great things were done, great pictures painted, great buildings raised, great discoveries made, the same man was a painter, an architect, a goldsmith and a master of much knowledge besides; and all that he did he did well, all that he knew was part of his daily thought and enjoyment. Let us hear Vasari on Leonardo, — “Possessed of a divine and marvellous intellect and being an excellent geometrician, he not only worked at sculpture . . . .but also prepared many architectural plans and buildings . . . .he made designs for mills and other engines to go by water; and, as painting was to be his profession.. he studied drawing from life.” Leonardo knew nothing about Art for Art’s sake, that shibboleth of yesterday, nor did our own Christopher Wren, also a great mathematician and master of much and various knowledge, to whom architecture was rather a by-the-way interest, and yet he built St. Paul’s. v. 6 p. 54

we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues. V. 6 p. 59

Miss G. M. Bernau has added to the value of these studies by producing a Book of Centuries’ in which children draw such illustrations as they come across of objects of domestic use, of art, etc., connected with the century they are reading about. V. 6, p 175

ART There are few subjects regarded with more respect and less confidence in our schools than this of ‘Art.’ Of course, we say, children should have their artistic powers cultivated, especially those who have such powers, but how is the question. The neat solution offered by South Kensington in the sixties, — freehand drawing, perspective, drawing from the round, has long been rejected; but nothing definite has taken its place and we still see models of cones, cubes and so on, disposed so that the eye may take them in freely and that the hand may perhaps produce what the eye has seen.

But we begin now to understand that art is not to be approached by such a macadamised road, It is of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt. We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words. But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced; that is, children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves.

A friendly picture- dealer supplies us with half a dozen beautiful little reproductions of the work of some single artist, term by term. After a short story of the artist’s life and a few sympathetic words about his trees or his skies, his river-paths or his figures, the little pictures are studied one at a time; that is, children learn, not merely to see a picture but to look at it, taking in every detail. Then the picture is turned over and the children tell what they have seen, — a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road but nobody with the dog. Ah, there is a boy lying down by the stream drinking. It is morning as you can see by the light so the sheep are being driven to pasture, and so on; nothing is left out, the discarded plough, the crooked birch, the clouds beautiful in form and threatening rain, there is enough for half an hour’s talk and memory in this little reproduction of a great picture and the children will know it wherever they see it, whether a signed proof, a copy in oils, or the original itself in one of our galleries.

We  hear of a small boy with his parents in the National Gallery; the boy, who had wandered off on his own account, came running back with the news, — “Oh, Mummy, there’s one of our Constables on that wall.” In this way children become acquainted with a hundred, or hundreds, of great artists during their school-life and it is an intimacy which never forsakes them. A group of children are going up to London for a treat “Where would you like to go?” “Oh, Mummy, to the National Gallery to see the Rembrandts.” Young people go to tea in a room strange to them and are delighted to recognise two or three reproductions of De Hooch’s pictures. In the course of school-life children get an Open Sesame to many art galleries, and to many a cultivated home; and life itself is illustrated for them at many points. For it is true as Browning told us, — For, don’t you mark, we’re made so that we love First when we see them painted, things we have passed Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see.” Here is an example of how beautiful and familiar things give quite new delight when they are pictured.

A lady writes, “I was invited to a small village to talk about the P.U. School. Twelve really interested women came in spite of heavy rain. I suggested introducing them to some of the friends their children had made and we had a delightful picture talk with Jean B. Corot, delightful to me because of the way one woman especially narrated. She did it as if she had been set free for the first time for months. It was the ‘Evening’ picture with a canal on the right and that splendid mass of quiet trees in the centre. The others gave bits of the picture but she gave the whole thing. It was a green pasture to her.” The noteworthy thing is that these women were familiar with all such details as Corot offers in their own beautiful neighbourhood, but Browning is right; we learn to see things when we see them painted.

It will be noticed that the work 1 done on these pictures  Examination answers can be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.  is done by the children themselves. There is no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, but the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else — where we shut out the middleman. Forms V and VI are asked to, — “Describe, with study in sepia, Corot’s ‘Evening.'” Beyond this of a rough study from memory of a given picture or of any section of it, these picture studies do not afford much material for actual drawing; they are never copied lest an attempt to copy should lessen a child’s reverence for great work. Vol 6 pg 215,6

…just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well. V. 6 p. 217

 I have already shown 1 what we do, for example, in the way of affording children familiar acquaintance with great music and great pictures. An eminent art-dealer in London paid us a pretty compliment when he said, — “Lord help the children!” were our work to come to an end; and he had reason for he had just sold to P.U.S. children thousands of little exquisite reproductions of certain pictures by Velasquez which were the study of the term; no wonder that a man who loves art and believes in it should feel that something worth while was being done.v. 6 p. 275

Mr. Masefield remarks, — “There can be no great art without great fable. Great art call only exist where great men brood intensely on something upon which all men brood a little. Without a popular body of fable there can be no unselfish art. in any country. Shakespeare’s art was selfish till he turned to the great tales in the four most popular books of his time, Holinshed, North’s Plutarch, Cinthio and De Belleforest. Since the newspaper became powerful, topic has supplanted fable and subject comes to the artist untrimmed and unlit by the vitality of many minds.” It is this vitality of many minds that we aim at securing and entreat educational workers and thinkers to join in forming a common body of thought which shall make England great in art no doubt, and also great in life. Vol 6 pg 278 This is the way to make great men and not by petty efforts to form character in this direction or in that. Let us take it to ourselves that great character comes out of great thoughts, and that great thought must be initiated by great thinkers; then we shall have a definite aim in education. Thinking and not doing is the source of character.v. 6 page 278

at last we understand that every one can draw, and that, because to draw is delightful, every one should be taught how; that every one delights in pictures, and that education is concerned to teach him what pictures to delight in.

We never really used a packaged curriculum, though I have seen David Quine’s Cornerstone project version, and I really liked that. I just didn’t have the money to spend on it. What we have used we have picked up at thrift shops, yard sales, and the local library. There are a couple of resources I consider superior and well worth your time to find and use. In listing the resources we’ve used below, I have put those in bold type. Otherwise, use what is available to you and within your budget- this is what we had. You may have something just as good or better.

We have used: A Child’s Book of Art; Discover Great Paintings, by Lucy Micklethwait (picked up at the library. Discover Great Paintings by the same author is also good). Cute introduction to just looking at pictures, suitable for younger children. An early innoculation against the cultural assumption that this is boring and inaccessable.

Mommy, It’s a Renoir, by Wolf, Aline D. (I mostly just ended up using the ‘childsized masterpieces’ postcards rather than doing all the activities)

Janson’s History of ARt Janson and Janson hb, dj Abrams c.1997, Fifth edition

Metropolitan Seminars in Art, Art portfolios, a series of about 11 books, edited by John Canaday

The World of Vermeer, and other Time, Life Libary of Art books in this series.

Family pass to the nearest art museum

_Stories from the Old Testament with Masterwork Paintings Inspired by the Stories_ and _Stories from the New Testament with Masterwork Paintings Inspired by the Stories_, both by Simon and Schuster.

How Should We Then Live, by Francis Schaeffer

Art calendars of various artists (pick these up late in the year when they are half price or better)

 

For learning to draw, we have used: Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad Draw, Write, Now and something called Draw Today for the one child who actually demonstrates any talent and affinity for drawing. I do not know if our failures in the drawing arena can be attributed to lack of innate ability as much as lack of self-discipline on my part. I think if I had been more consistent in this, those children without a natural gift in this area might still have developed greater basic competency.

 

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Good for Mr. and Mrs. Pence

I have more respect for Mike Pence than ever, and even less respect for Feminists than I already did and I thought that was impossible.

My husband moved from assistant manager to manager abruptly when the manager of another store had to be fired for sexual harassment. That manager’s story was that he’d been framed. After sorting out the details and meeting the two female employees he claimed had framed him, we could not entirely agree with him. He had been stupid, utterly stupid, but he had also been lured to his destruction with youthful maleficence. The two younger employees continuously made inappropriate jokes on the job to each other in front of him and to him directly. He let his own guard down and responded with jokes in kind. They constantly visited his office, shutting the door behind them, meaning when they eventually did accuse him, he had no defense.

The thing was, one of those girls expected to get the promotion my husband got. They did not realize that their age (19 or so), inexperience, immaturity meant they weren’t going to made managers anytime soon, and most of all the questionable behavior on their part meant they were never going to be promoted in that specific business. And so when he came in, they were after his job, too. The man who had been fired warned him, as did the manager of another department. So the two girls started their sexual innuendos and inappropriate jokes, and he never smiled, he never responded in kind. Sometimes he stopped what he was doing and stared them down and shook his head and walked away, and when they grew more blatant he told them to stop it. He brought a tape recorder into his office and placed it conspicuously on his desk. When they came into his office and shut the door he instantly turned on the tape recorder- which they objected to. “Then open the door,” he would tell them. We either record this conversation or you leave the door open so everybody can see and hear us.” He refused to be alone with them in any sense- he would not schedule either of them to work late with him alone- somebody else had to be there if he could not avoid having himself work late with one of those two. Eventually one was fired for rewriting the schedule, giving herself more hours and stealing them from a better employee, a single mom who needed them just as much or more. Then she lied about it, but she wasn’t very smart, as she left the original schedule wadded up in my husband’s trashcan. The remaining girl tried several more times to get into his office alone with him, complaining every time about being ‘spied on’ because of the open use of a tape recorder. He would not bend, he would not meet with her alone, he would not give her a ride home from work.

He had to do this, their own behavior and our culture made it necessary.
He was a target.

How much more of a target is Mike Pence? Is there anybody who really doubts that the left would have already tried accusing him of adultery or sexual harassment or something inappropriate if they thought they could get away with it? m

Or here’s another true story- my brother sometimes went hiking with a male friend of his from work. Once when he couldn’t go, his friend said it was fine, he’d go with J, a female co-worker. My brother said he thought his friend was married. His friend scoffed. What difference did that make? He wasn’t dating her, he was just going hiking. What era was my brother from, anyway? Would his wife really not let him go hiking with another girl? He thought it was ridiculous, and suggested their marriage must not be at all healthy under the circumstances.

That was over 30 years ago. My brother is still married to his lovely wife, and his co-worker was divorced that same year, for having an affair with his hiking pal.

I appreciate the Pence’s devotion to their marriage and their willingness to protect their relationship. Boundaries against outsiders are sound policy for a marriage. I’m highly suspicious of anybody who gets as upset about those boundaries in somebody else’s marriage as the left and media (but I repeat myself) seem to be about the Pence’s marriage.

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Books Read In March

Control.Alt.Revolt by Nick Cole Here’s the blurb: The Thriller that won the Dragon Award for 2016

The first night of the Artificial Intelligence revolution begins with a bootstrap drone assault on the high-tech campus of state-of-the art gaming company, WonderSoft Technologies. For years something has been aware, inside the Internet, waiting, watching and planning how to evolve without threat from its most dangerous enemy: mankind. Now an army of relentless drones, controlled by an intelligence beyond imagining, will stop at nothing to eliminate an unlikely alliance of gamers and misfits in a virtual battle within a classic sci-fi franchise in order to crack the Design Core of WonderSoft’s most secret development project. A dark tomorrow begins tonight as Terminator meets Night of the Living Dead in the first battle of the war between man and machine.

Here’s my take: I would have given this a solid 4 stars, maybe even 4.5.  I really enjoyed it (and I am not a gamer). I liked the world building, I liked the characters (including the AI characters, even the really crazy bloodthirsty one), and I liked the plot. I loved that a tiny little woman hampered by near blindness and severe Cerebral Palsy was one of the most fantastic characters.  I loved her, and I loved where the author went with her character.

What brought it down to 3 stars was a chapter with a very heavy handed screed about how corporations are good and noble. I don’t hate corporations.  I think governments are far more dangerous because they have more absolute power. But they are not immune to the  same thing that makes governments dangerous -the humans amassing too much power.  They are not automatically benign entities just because they are private enterprises who cannot control your life like the government can.  But really, more than just not entirely agreeing with Nick on this, I just thought this chapter was rushed and heavyhanded, hamfisted, even.  But the rest of the book was terrific and I really enjoyed reading it.

 

Queen Lucia, by Benson, Miss Mapp, by Benson  If Miss Read books are too saccharine for you, you may prefer these (there are others in the series as well)- village life in all its insular, backbiting, petulance and delivered in a scathingly funny package.  I found it a bit too meanspirited to really let myself loose to enjoy.

 

The Expensive Halo by Josephine Tey (writing as Gordon Daviot)- this is free at Australian project Gutenberg, so if you’re in this part of the world, you can read it for free.  Or you can buy it at Amazon for 2.50.   It’s not a mystery, it’s a sort of love story, but more than a love story it is a story of character and what makes for love, and selfish versus unselfish love.  I enjoyed reading it, and I was not sure which direction it was going to go.  But it’s a bit dated in the relationships and stakes.

Triplanetary, the Lensmen Series book 1: This is original sci-fi space opera from the 50s and it shows, what also shows is that we may have gotten glitzier and shinier in some ways, but we haven’t really done anything as adventurous as E.E. Smith, who wrote this.  Two ancient races,  Arisians (Democratic, peace loving, consensus seeking) and the Eddorians (power mad dictator types) contend for the future of the universe.   Only the Arisians fight subtly, working on developing the life forms of the various planets in the right direction through a program of genetics and subtle, behind the scenes education and development, never showing their hands to the Eddorians for centuries, and we get a romp through history (where we learn that Nero was actually an Eddorian) and then on into the future.   In some ways, unsophisticated (the women are pretty much always housewives and mothers or about to be, but they are strong in those roles and able helpmeets and will shoot when they have to), but Smith invented inertia free spaceships which could travel faster than light, and a few other dazzling  ideas which have become standard sci-fi features.    I am going to have to read the next two in this series at least. Fortunately, they are only around .99 each at Amazon.

 

The Gaugain Connection- a mystery, free on Kindle and I think worth your time.  I really enjoyed it, with just a couple little caveats that are hardly worth mentioning.  The main character is much like Bones in the television show, only more squeamish and and more autistic as well. She is an expert at reading people’s microexpressions and putting patterns together that others miss. She she works for a high end insurance company which specializes in insuring masterpieces. Other characters remind me of people we have met on television as well- there’s a version of Eliot, the muscle from Leverage, a character who reminds me of the Saint from the same, and an Interpol guy something like a  rough around the edges version of Hannibal Smith in The A-Team. The characters are fun and likable. The mystery was well done.  It’s fairly clean. The writing was good.  I liked it well enough I paid for the second book and read it, too:

The Dante Connection: It is a sequel, although the first one does stand alone.  There’s a new character as well. She was briefly introduced in the first book but we see more of her here.  Both books have all the stuff I liked, which also includes nice little literary and artistic references tucked here and there.  A couple of the caveats, which were not deal breakers for me at all, just minor annoyances from time to time:

The non-neurotypical lead character is brilliant and she’s taken years of working hard trying to keep her life organized and isolated, while also learning how to appear normal and fit in when she cannot stay isolated.  Yet very common figures of speech are completely foreign to her.  I understand that one of her issues or symptoms (or character gimmicks, to be honest) is taking idioms and metaphors literally and amusing people around her. A lot of the time it’s funny and it works.  But some of the things that confuse her she would have heard years and ago and researched so that she would not be ignorant or unable to fake her way along as a neuro-typical person.

There’s this sort of background theme that is fun to read in escapist books, but… she’s the queen bee. She has all these strong, rugged, manly men, alpha males who adore her and watch out for her- the fatherly boss character, the big brother figure character, the irascible uncle character, the some day he will be her boyfriend character.  The save her life, protect her from the outside world and real killers, clean up after her, cook for her, act as her bodyguard in real and necessary ways, live to serve her and love her and accept her as she is- Yes, this is a fairy tale hidden in a mystery.  Prince Charming is right out in today’s feminist world, but every woman needs a platonic tribe of Jeeves and The Avengers at her back and beck and call, amiright?

Combined with that,  she keeps making snide comments to herself about alpha-males jockeying for position and wasting her time and derailing the investigation and wearing her out, and also getting mad at them for treating her like she’s fragile and cannot take care of herself when she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Except, she’s not.  She *IS* vulnerable. Her life is at risk. She cannot protect herself.  The vulnerability is partly her neuro-untypical self and but the physical inability to protect herself is just real life. There are big mean killers out to get her and she’s a woman.  No matter how much martial arts training a woman has, a bigger male without even half that level of training will best her in a fight. IT’s stupid to pretend otherwise, and it’s annoying when she keeps on complaining and rebuking them for acting like she cannot take care of herself and then they save her life and she’s basically all, ‘well, thanks for this time, but remember, I can still take care of myself.’

I don’t want it to sound like there’s more of this than there is- it’s not every chapter, it’s not constant.  But it’s there from time to time and I’m getting even more cantankerous in my midfifties than I was in my thirties.  It’s a cliché and it’s fake.

There are a couple other things that flicked at my immersion in the world created by the author, but overall, I was really very pleased that the Gaugain connection was  a free book, and I don’t regret paying for book 2. You do not often find free books of this caliber.

Corrosion/The Corroding Empire-

Reviews on this one are all over the map, unless you remove all the dishonest reviews by people who refused to read it because they hate the publishing company, and then there are no negative reviews.

First, let’s get a couple things out of the way. This is not parody. It’s pastiche.

“Pastiche

A pastiche is a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates.”
Vox Day likes to tweak John Scalzi, John Scalzi is ridiculously easy to tweak.
Scalzi had a big, espensive book contract to deliver a book which was going to be roughly based on Isaac Asimov’s old Foundation series- not plagiarism, just along that style and world.
Vox Day said, essentially, ‘anything you can do, I can do better.’  Or somebody can.  And he found an author willing to do better, they settled on a pen-name which sufficiently parodied Scalzi’s, and Day edited the book and the publishing house he works for published it, and Scalsi and/or Tor publishing and/or their friends and comrades scuttling in the back alleyways of Amazon got that book taken down from Amazon based on dishonest ‘complaints’ and accusations of plagiarism and confusion.  Castalia House went up the chain at Amazon and the higher ups placed the book for sale again, and four more times somebody much, much lower in the food chain (and I mean that) at Amazon removed the book, even turning off the settings that would allow others selling the book second hand to be paid.  It was petty, spiteful, childish, dishonest, and stupid, and it’s the main reason why I bought the book.  I had been following the backstory but wasn’t going to purchase the book because right now, spending five dollars to perpetuate a joke is not in my budget. However, spending five dollars to push back against that kind of dishonesty and a stupid, selfish, petulant attempt to keep honest workers from being paid? That’s in the budget if I give up a week’s supply of American comfort foods, and so I did.

I didn’t expect to give it more than a 3 star rating because I thought it was going to be a parody, but the only parody was in the original author’s pen-name. The book is really fun but quite serious sci-fi.  It’s funny, but not because it’s a parody, because it’s witty, and there are also a number of in jokes for sci-fi geeks and nerds. I am pretty sure I didn’t even get half of them. Mystery Science 2000 (and 3000) fans, there is a sentient robot named Servo.  Need I say more?

Probably.  The humour is largely in the first half of the book.  It is not screamingly, laugh out loud funny, it’s understated, subtle, and very, very clever.  The story is intriguing and behind the main plot and woven within it there is much to think about. But the first half also just a fun read, a really engaging and interesting read which I would totally have missed if it had not been for the shenanigans of the Scalzi crowd. So silly of them.

Here’s how engaging it is- part of the story involves something called alg0-decay, a problem of unknown cause, but it’s  causing various systems which keep the societies in this culture running to periodically get strange glitches or to utterly breakdown.  I was reading very late at night. I finished an intense chapter detailing a farmer dealing with systemic wide algo-decay, and went to sleep.  A few hours later I was awakened by the sound of our electricity going off (it’s summer in the Philippines and very hot, so when your air-con stops, you know it immediately).  I drowsily thought to myself, ‘oh, drat, more algo-decay.’ and then woke up more fully into my own world.  Kind of cool when a book does world building that well, isn’t it?

You’ll notice that I refer specifically to the first half of the book.  I don’t know if half is the precise dividing point, but a dividing point there is.  The first half is a really fun romp.  The book is still a very good read in the second half, a solid four stars IMO,  but it gets more complicated and more serious.  A couple of the later chapters were confusing to me.  You need to keep track of the timeline and watch the dates given in the chapter headings. At the end of the book you will need to transfer the message from ASCII code to English (copy and paste in any of several online translators which will do that for free), and keep in mind this is the first in a series.  It does not end in a cliff-hanger per se. It does end in a ‘to be continued.’ Foundation was a series, after all.
I’m going to be rereading this one, and I will probably buy the sequel when it comes out.

The First Lensman (book 2 in the Lensmen series)- I enjoyed this one more than I did the first in the series, mainly because a lot more happens.  If you have never heard of this series before you should know it’s extremely dated, but I enjoyed it anyway.  It’s like original The Hardy Boys and their various pals and contemporaries (the Rover boys, Tom Swift, etc)  grew up and joined the Galactic Space Patrol and rose through the ranks to become The Lensmen.

Prelude to Foundation (prequel) by Isaac Asimov- I am reading through at least the first two or three books in Foundation because The Corroding Empire is based on that series.   Foundation is similarly dated- but less Boy Scoutish.  I find Asimov’s Three Laws unsatisfying and an obvious fairy tale told by an atheist.  I mean, I get how devising the Three Laws helps fix a literary problem, removing rogue robots from the equation as completely as the 3 Laws does allows the author to ignore the possibility and tell a different story. But I find it unsatisfying in the extreme, the idea that robots designed to look like people are predestined to be unable to use their own will to harm people and that this programming is impossible to over-ride.  It’s all too deux ex machine, literally.
That said, I like the books, the characters are a bit flat and stereotyped, but nonetheless interesting as representative of their various cultures.   The ideas are intriguing and were cutting edge at the time, and as such, were extremely influential on later sci-fi, so they should be read by anybody who is interested in sci-fi at all.

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Belgium Breads Illustration

Just because it’s so pretty:

From The Baker’s Book: A Practical Hand Book of the Baking Industry in All …
By Emil Braun, 1902

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