A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Semiosis by Sue Burke


As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it.  And it didn't disappoint.  I loved the premise—both the tiny colony trying to survive on a strange planet and the idea of this planet having intelligent flora. 

I really enjoyed the story being told over multiple generations by different characters, and how, until closer to the end, each chapter was almost like a short story.  I loved watching the culture developing and changing, while still mostly holding true to their peaceful aim.  It was a bit of light in a dark world. 

Because of the changing points of view, I did occasionally feel a bit distant from the characters and sometimes mixed up minor actors, but I wouldn't have had it told any other way.

The fascinating premise was somehow both the book's strongest point and the thing that made me unable to give it 5 stars.  I didn't have a hard time believing an intelligent plant.  I did have a bit of a hard time swallowing the plant being so quick-thinking and quick to adapt, since plants are a life form that live in what we would think of as slow motion.  I also couldn't quite believe its facility with human language, and I thought the plant sounded too human—though also quite plant-like in some ways.  I loved the way it changed, but things like the "humor root" just felt too easy.  Still, such a unique viewpoint and premise.  And who knows:  maybe this is how an intelligent plant would really be.   Maybe I'm thinking too much like an animal. 

Semiosis is a very, very interesting book, and I absolutely loved the imaginative plants and animals and the sentience of so many things.

I strongly recommend it to people who love nature and its amazing variations, both real and imagined.

This is a definite 4.5 stars.  Almost 5 stars.

After I wrote my review, I read some by other people.  One reviewer talked about how it was very enjoyable because it didn't have a standard story arc.  

I hadn't thought about it in exactly those words, but that's probably why I enjoyed the first several chapters more than the last few.  As I said above, they were more like interconnected short stories in the same universe, and I loved the ride.  I never knew what to expect from the next chapter, and they focused on different aspects of life on Pax.  I liked how there weren't a lot of clear-cut bad guys.  I never knew which characters would be important in the future--or even which ones would survive.  It was very unpredictable.  Then, when it started getting more "let's defeat the bad guys in a big action-packed climax" it lost some of its unique beauty.  

Then, of course, I read another review that said they didn't like the book all that much because, basically, it didn't have a standard story arc.

You can't please all of the people all of the time.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Cruising Alaska on a Budget only 99 cents!

Upper Dewey Lake, from Sksgway
I'm having a sale on Cruising Alaska on a Budget; a Cruise and Port Guide.  For today and tomorrow, it's only 99 cents!  Even if you miss the sale, you'll still get a discount for the next few days until it returns to its normal price.

If you want to discover Alaska without breaking the bank, that 99 cents will pay for itself many, many times over.  The book includes tips on finding good cruise prices, how to anticipate or avoid hidden costs, information on public transportation, and many ideas of great things to do in port for little or no money.

I highly recommend an Alaska cruise, especially if you like wildlife and nature.  If you dedicate some time to watching the water, you're almost guaranteed to see marine life from the deck of the ship.  If you want to see a glacier, Alaska's the place to do it.  If you're a hiker, there are so many nice nature strolls and rigorous hikes within easy reach of where your ship stops. 

It's a paradise of green and blue and white.

So start planning!

Buy Cruising Alaska on a Budget on Amazon--99 cents!
       

Sunday, July 22, 2018

"To the Guacanos at the Syracuse Zoo," by Chen Chen


I'm not a big fan of poetry:  pointless line breaks (why not write it as a paragraph or at least break lines at logical pauses?), lack of punctuation (you hate it 'cause it's useful?), fragments of thought that often don't make any sense (okay, so sometimes the putting of them together in your own head to make your own meaning makes it stronger, but sometimes...it's just fragmented and rough draftish). 

Reading poetry often feels like a chore to me. 

However, I just read a book of poetry for a summer reading challenge.  It was When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Futher Possibilities, by Chen Chen.  I actually quite enjoyed it.  My favorite poem was "To the Guacanos at the Syracuse Zoo," and you can read it at this website:

http://www.twelfthhousejournal.com/chen-chen.html

Friday, July 13, 2018

My short story on Pseudopod!

PseudoPod

For those of you who aren't familiar with EscapePod, Pseudopod, PodCastle, and Cast of Wonders, they're part of a family of well-respected literary podcasts that were among the first and now longest-running shows of their kind.  Escape Pod does science fiction, PodCastle does fantasy, Cast of Wonders is aimed at the young adult who like speculative fiction, and my story appears in Pseudopod, the horror podcast. 

Now, I don't write a lot of horror, and this story, "A Learned Man," is not a gruesome slash-em-up.  The host of the episode, Alasdair Stuart, calls my story "Horror of the rarest, subtlest vintage.  Expertly, chillingly done."

"A Learned Man" appeared a while back at Electric Spec, but now it has new life (and voice) with Pseudopod.  The reader, Wilson Fowlie, does and excellent job making it come to life.

Listen (or read) for free here:  Episode 602 of Pseudopod:  A Learned Man

If you like to encourage the arts, please leave a comment in the forum or share on social media.  Thanks!


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Five Stars for A Perfect Universe by Scott O'Connor


Amazing.  I read this because it was on a list of books for a reading challenge.  I'd never heard of the author, but from the first few pages I was hooked.  The stories just blew me away.  I'm not even sure why they were so good, but the writing pulled me in and didn't let go.  The emotions were powerful, the characters compelling, the subject matter unusual.  Many of them took some strange small thing and made it central in such a beautiful way that I just kept thinking, "I wish I'd written this."  The settings and microcultures were real.  Everything…just a masterpiece. 

None of the stories wrapped us as much as I like.  They all left me hanging, hungering for more, wanting these characters to find more peace, more definite solutions, more answers.  Yet despite my preference for conclusions that are…well…conclusive…I loved these.  There was always just enough…just a bit of hope or a bit of closure.  Yet they kept me thinking about them afterward. 

I enjoyed the common thread that wove through most of the stories—a movie that was important in different ways to different people.  However, it did seem strange that this common thread was missing in only a couple of stories.  However, maybe I just missed it because I wasn't watching for it in the beginning.  I'll have to read the whole collection again.  And for the first time in a long while, I look forward to re-reading a book.

Five stars, no question--and I do not give five stars lightly.  In fact, I just looked back and for the last 50 novels or short story collections I've read, this is only the second one I've given 5 stars.

I will absolutely read more by Scott O'Connor

Warning:  a bit more profanity than I like, but not excessive.  And it's not exactly a light and happy read. 

Check it out from your local library or buy on Amazon:  A Perfect Universe; Ten Stories

Sunday, July 8, 2018

My Short Story in Ember; a Journal of Luminous Things

My short story, "The Curse," about a woman haunted by a decision she made years ago, is out in <i>Ember; a Journal of Luminous Things</i>.

The cover art is beautiful, and there's more artwork throughout, so I'm excited to get my contributor's copies and see how it all looks in print.   

If you're interested, use this link to get a 35% discount:   https://go.egjpress.org/e31-brasher  There's a fancy limited-time edition and a trade paperback. 





Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Heard Museum, Phoenix


I went to the Heard Museum in Phoenix for the first time a few days ago (I know, I know...I should have explored this well-respected museum much sooner). 

I was a bit surprised by its focus.  I was expecting more ethnographic, historical, and archaeological displays, and not quite so much art, but I enjoyed the mix.  And, if you look at the website, it clearly states "Heard Museum; Advancing American Indian Art."

Temporary Exhibits

The museum has a lot of temporary exhibits, so you can go multiple times and always see something new.  My favorite of the temporary exhibits was "Symmetry in Stone:  The Jewelry of Richard I. Chavez."  He's an amazing jewelry maker, often cutting coral, turquoise, jade, and other stones into small pieces that he then fits together like perfect mosaics.  Beautiful stuff.

Permanent Exhibits

The most interesting permanent exhibit to me (and the most heart-breaking) was "Remembering our Indian School Days:  The Boarding School Experience."   I also enjoyed the "Home" display with information, pottery, baskets, katsina (AKA kachina) dolls, clothing, jewelry, etc. from the different Arizona tribes, along with cultural information about each one.  I just wished they'd had better maps that showed where each lived at different times in history.

Some of the sculptures scattered around and in the courtyards were really cool.

My Favorite Exhibit

My absolute favorite part (I'm such a kid), was "It's Your Turn; a Home Studio."  It's a hand-on, interactive exhibit about the daily home art of various tribes.  You can build a hogan with giant legos, put together puzzles, and make crafts!!!  Totally cool.  And it gave me lots of inspiration for activities I can do with my kids at the library.     

If you go...

Remember that they're one of the museums that participates in the Culture Pass program, where you can get two FREE tickets by checking out a Culture Pass at your local Phoenix-area library!  They also have discounts for seniors,children, AAA members,  FREE entry to Native Americans, FREE entry to active-duty military and their families during summer, and FREE first Fridays in the evening.  They also participate in Bank of America's "Museums on Us" program.  These special free and discounted entries may not apply during special events. 

Various daily tours are free.

We spent about 5 hours there.  You can leave in the middle and have a picnic on their pretty grounds or go to a nearby restaurant and come back.  Alternately, you can spend a LOT of money on sandwiches and such at their cafe.

The bookshop and museum store are open to the public without paying admission.

The library (for reading and studying there but not, I believe, for checking out books) is open Monday-Friday. 

They also have programs such as hoop dances (I LOVE hoop dances), lectures, and other special events, sometimes for additional fees. 


For more information and pictures:

https://heard.org/


Friday, June 29, 2018

Last Day on Mars (the book), by Kevin Emerson

NOTE:  this review is for the book by Kevin Emerson, not the unrelated movie with the same title

I enjoyed this book a lot. The setting and conflict are awesome. The technology's cool. The pacing for the last 2/3 is really good. Things keep going from bad to worse in a very edge-of-your-seat way. The voice in the prelude is fantastic.

I did think the tiny bit of "romance" is completely unnecessary and felt forced, like it was added after some editor said, "Hey, Kevin, you need romance. Every book needs romance." But every book doesn't. This would have been stronger without.

I personally don't like science fiction with time travel / time manipulation. I know, I know: any sufficiently developed technology looks like magic. But...I just don't like even the appearance of magic in my sci fi. However, it's very popular lately to add time travel / non-linear time / time manipulation in your sci fi, so if you don't mind it you'll love this book.

Even if you hate the time travel element, you'll still enjoy the book. It's well written and exciting and a great off-Earth adventure. It does end on cliff-hanger, so be prepared to read the next book (or wait for it to come out, as I must now) 

I certainly plan on reading more by Kevin Emerson.

More accurate rating: 4.5

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How to Win Games and Beat People by Tom Whipple


This is a really interesting book, with information about--and quotes from the experts in--each discipline.  Some of this is rather tongue-in-cheek, especially about things like apple bobbing and stone skipping.  

I love the "how it ends" section for each game—most quite funny.  Good humor, but also physics, math, strategy, logic, and lots on strange tidbits.  Great book if you like games as much as I do. 

Oh, and thanks to this, I spent entirely too much time alternately laughing at and being amazed by 20Q.net, the AI internet program that can play twenty questions with you.  Go look it up. 

A very strong 4.5 stars.   


And just in case you can't read the subtitle, here's the whole thing:  "How to Win Game and Beat People; Demolish your family and friends at over 30 classic games with advice from an international array of experts."

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Old Dominion Park in Globe, Arizona

Cool old mining equipment at Old Dominion Park in Globe.  It's at the site of an old mine and you can see old ruins and read a lot of really interesting information about the history of the place and the industry.  There are also picnic tables, short hiking trails, a cool playground, and a frisbee golf course.



Friday, June 8, 2018

Saguaro Flowers and Ironwood Blossoms

Between Phoenix and Superior, Arizona, on May 13, all the little saguaros had flowery hats, and even the ironwood was blooming pale purple.  Lovely day.

Can you believe that each saguaro flower blooms for only one night (and into the next day) and then closes up?  It's tragically beautiful.  Here you can see the ones yet to bloom, the ones that opened the night before, and the ones who have already done their duty. 



The ironwood tree isn't showy, but it's beautiful.  It's the first year I remember seeing so many ironwood blossoms (or maybe I just didn't know what they were before).  However, they only bloom when conditions are right, so maybe this WAS the best year I've seen. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

South Mountain Night Hike, late April

Sunset light on an almost-blooming saguaro,
South Mountain Park, Phoenix, April 28:



The lights of Phoenix:



We did the Mormon Trail-Fat Man's Pass-Hidden Valley loop from the Mormon Trailhead.  It was a great short jaunt and a peaceful evening.  But...we couldn't find a single scorpion with black light.  It was kinda creepy.  (Now that I read that back, it seems weird to be creeped out by NOT finding scorpions, but there it is.  Where were they all?  A scorpion convention?  See...THAT is creepy.)



Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Brittlebush Side by Side

Arizona desert plant life is amazing.  For many species, much of its life cycle (leafing out, dropping leaves, flowering, etc) is dependent more on recent rain than on the season or even the temperature.  For example, ocotillo are famous for producing a whole lot of leaves nearly overnight and then dropping them whenever conditions change.  On a single hike you can see ocotillo in all different states of leafiness or nakedness.

Brittlebush (aka brittlebrush) is another one that can look dead in dry spells and then, when temperature and water conditions are right, will suddenly send up shoots and burst into a riot of yellow flowers.  It's more dependent on season than ocotillo, but individual plants vary so widely as to when (or if) they bloom that you can mistake them for different species entirely.

Here's a drastic example.  These two brittlebush plants were next to each other, maybe a foot or two separating their edges.  But one must have had access to better water runoff or something.  Look at the difference:




Pictures taken April 14, 2018 at Peoria Westwing Mountain Preserve

 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Cruising Alaska on a Budget is the #1 Bestseller today in Cruise Travel

Look what happened today on Amazon:

My book reached the #1 Bestseller spot in Cruise Travel!

If you want to learn how to sail the beautiful waters of Alaska on a budget, pick up your copy here:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XPYP75F

It's only $4.99, and will save you much more than that.

If you want to be added to the mailing list about Alaska news, interesting stories, and cruise deals, use the "join my reader list" form to the right (scroll down). 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Peoria West Wing Mountain in Palo Verde Season

I hit this hike on the perfect day for palo verde.  Big yellow puffballs dotted the subdivisions below.  So very pretty.  This was April 15, 2018

Here's a close-up:


A lot of the creosote was also in bloom (creosote blooms more according to rain than season):


A few of the staghorn or buckhorn cholla were putting on a show:


And then there were the chuckwallas.  I saw three on that hike, literally doubling my lifetime sightings.  The first picture is a tiny one:


And here is a bigger one hiding in a crevice (as they're wont to do):  


And this lovely hummingbird.  What a great day.



To access Peoria West Wing Mountain Preserve, park at Westwing Park (27100 Westwing Pkwy, Peoria, AZ  85383) and then walk across Westwing Parkway and follow the trail markers.  
 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Toadstools, Southern Utah

If you ever played Super Mario World, back me up here: 
Does this first picture not remind you of Chocolate Island?


And then...well...mushrooms!  I almost expected to see some cartoon turtles and a brightly clad plumber jumping around on top of them.    


This is the Toadstools in Southern Utah.  

The trailhead is on the north side of highway 89 between Kanab and Page.  It's a relatively easy 1.5-mile loop (though there are a few slightly sketchy places where you'll want to watch your footing).  First you get to walk past a lot of these melting sandcastle/elephant foot mesas, striped with deep brown-red and white.  Then you get to the cute mushroom hoodoos. 

It's as alien a landscape as any of the other alien landscapes you'll see in this part of the the country.
 (See links below for Antelope Canyon and Wire Pass/Buckskin Gulch)   

Please stay on the trail to preserve this fascinating place for others.  







See my post on:

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch--A Great Slot Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon
Horseshoe Bend

Monday, April 23, 2018

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

Here are a few photos from my lovely trip to the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden on April 17. 

Prickly Pear flowers:


Hummingbird:



Butterflies at the special spring exhibit:




Early sahuaro blossoms:


Palo Verde in bloom:


The "yellow snow" of fallen palo verde blossoms:


Beautiful desert spiny lizard:


The Desert Botanical Garden is a great place, especially in spring (mid March through April).  If you go, plan to spend a few hours.  Don't go when it's hot.  And save money by checking out a culture pass at your local library.  It'll give you two free entries, worth almost $50.   

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Petroglyphs, Petrified Forest National Park

Awesome petroglyphs, some of the clearest and closest I've seen, 
at Puerco Pueblo in the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park





There are others here, like at Newspaper Rock, but I found these the most interesting.  
At Puerco Pueblo you can also see the amazing summer solstice marker.
Plus, of course, there are ruins and lots of great information

Park website:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch--A Great Slot Canyon

Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the WORLD...but I had never even heard of it until I started researching hikes near Page, Arizona.

The Gulch is in Utah, just north of the Utah/Arizona border, between Kanab and Page, and there are various routes you can take.  One classic is a two-day backpack trip from White House trailhead down Paria Canyon and up Buckskin Gulch to the Wire Pass trailhead or the Buckskin Gulch trailhead.  Intrepid and experienced and well prepared backpackers can follow the gulch all the way to Lee's Ferry.  I took the easy day hike from Wire Pass trailhead down to Buckskin Gulch and then just explored as much of the gulch as a wanted before returning to the trailhead.

DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY OF THESE HIKES DURING MONSOON SEASON OR IN ANY OTHER PERIOD OF REGIONAL RAIN.  A serious flash flood would mean certain death in many stretches of the gulch.   The BLM's Paria Contact Station will have current trail and weather conditions.

I started at Wire Pass trailhead, a bumpy 8.3 miles south of highway 89 on House Rock Road.  You have to pay a day-permit fee here (currently $6 per person, envelopes provided at the fee station, interagency passes not valid).  There's a pit toilet and some informational signage. 

Cross the road and follow the wash left.  After about a mile, it narrows to a wonderful little slot canyon, where you can almost always touch both sides of the wavy smooth red rock walls. 


At one point rock jams create a 5-8 foot drop.  People had set up a rather sketchy-looking "ladder" out of a big old tree branch and some stacked rocks.  Hikers braver than I went down first and helped me down.  It wasn't a big deal with help.  However, the configurations changes after floods, and if you're alone or scared or have mobility problems, you can backtrack out of the slots.  Once it opens up, look for cairns to your left (headed out of the slots) and follow them up the hill to bypass this drop.  However, the bypass trail is no walk in the park, especially the descent on the other side.

About 1.7 miles from the trailhead, you reach the confluence with Buckskin Gulch.  There's a massive stone cliff and alcove with petroglyphs at the base (though I suspect some of these petroglyphs are rather recent.  Shame, vandals! 


I headed downstream (right) in Buckskin Gulch, but was soon blocked by a pool of water.  The ranger at the Paria Contact Station had warned that some of the pools were currently waist or chest deep (the beginning of April, with good rain a couple of weeks previous).  I hung around, wondering if anyone would try going through.  The four guys who'd helped me at the rock jam arrived and decided to try it.  I put on my river shoes and went with them.  The water was icy but not even to our knees, so we forged ahead.  One pool after another blocked our way. 

The canyon walls soared high, straight above us, yet sometimes I could touch both sides, and it was rarely more than about ten feet wide.  Amazing place. 

The pools started getting deeper, our feet were getting pretty cold, and a group hiking the opposite way told us that it just keeps going this way.  My new friends decided to turn around, but right then a Utah family arrived (mom, dad, young adult daughter, teenage son).  I wasn't quite ready to turn back, so they kindly accepted me as part of their group.  We went on, past an invisible bird squawking at us from on high, through pools that were up to mid thigh, some with mud sticky enough to almost steal our shoes.  The family was looking for a sunny lunch spot, but the canyon walls blocked out the sun.  Finally, our toes so numb we couldn't feel where we were stepping very well, we turned back. 

All told, we crossed about 14 major pools and a few little ones.  I've heard that water can be neck high here sometimes, and you have to swim, but that by summer it's mostly dried out.  This section goes for miles, but we probably only explored about a mile and a half of it.   

If you look hard here, you can see me in one of the iced-chocolate-milk pools. 

Once back at the Wire Pass junction, I headed upstream along Buckskin Gulch.  If the lower narrows are too wet for you, try these.  Though not as narrow or deep or long, they're still awesome, with fewer and shallower pools. 

Going upstream, once you get out of the narrows, keep following the wash.  You'll soon get up close and personal with some magnificent sandstone mountains, buttes, dunes, and fin rock, much of it striped red and white, a bit like a less-showy cousin of the famous Wave (which is just south of here).  It feels like you're on another planet.

The ranger called this area Edmaier's Secret, but it's hard to know exactly where it starts and ends.  I think this is just the edge of it.  If you explore any part, be VERY careful where you step.  You don't want to break any of the delicate sandstone fins and ridges.  Preserve it for all the future hikers.

         

It was an amazing trip.  I'd go back in a heartbeat.