Review: Storyhack Issue 0

Short and Sweet: All 9 stories in this, the first issue of what is to be a new fun literary action and adventure magazine are at least pretty good, several are quite good, 2 or 3 are still rattling around in my brain – in a good way. This mag is available on Kindle for $0.99! I read it this weekend on a school camping trip while trying to avoid mosquitoes and too much sun. Perfect summer lakeside read.

With one exception, I will keep this review spoiler-free.

A Tiger in the Garden by the wonderfully-named Alexandru Constantin is a slight but entertaining story, perfect for a distracting vacation read. Valens, the sixth Marquess of Lahnsted, has fallen on hard times that have done nothing to curb his expensive tastes. While in Angkasa, a jungle trading port, he’s been indulging in the native ‘delicacies’ on credit – and the locals would like to settle up. Schemes, adventures, dark jungle magic and daring-do ensue.

The Monster Without by Julie Frost is a much darker story of a private eye who happens to be a werewolf. Eldritch creatures live among us – some are good guys, some not so much. The story hinges on a failed case where Ben didn’t get there in time to save a girl from starring in a snuff film – yes, that dark. But the bulk of the drama is internal – can Ben, who has seen horrors and suffers PTSD from his time in the army,  control his inner wolf enough to solve the crime without killing everyone involved in a rage?

I like this story for giving Ben a loving domestic life – a strong woman of a wife who supports and comforts him, a mother in law who runs the agency he works for, real sympathetic characters who worry about this guy. This touch of normalcy helps give real zing to the horror aspects of the story.

Hal Turk and the Lost City of the Maya by David Boop is a pure Indiana Jones style romp set in 1890: a bounty hunter and his loyal guide/sidekick track a very bad man deep into the jungle – where they find a lot more trouble than they’d anticipated. Very fun read.

King of Spades by David J. West is something I’d never run across before: Biblical Epic Horror. No, really: King David is living the good life after winning wars and slaughtering his tens of thousands, when the antagonist of his greatest victory comes back – and refuses to stay dead. Pretty good yarn.

Desert Hunt by Jon Mollison takes us back to all too real horror of the real world, where Karl, a vigilante, has dedicated his life to busting up child sex slavery rings. There’s a epic showdown in the desert when Karl decides he must save this one girl… Dark, but good.

The Chronicle of the Dark Nimbus by Keith West is a sword and sorcery story about Rodrik and his liege lord Prince Balthar. A vision predicts some disaster awaits the wizard Gaspar, and it is to befall him this night, unless Bathar and Rodrik can stop it. Magic, betrayal, a witch and battles in a tower keep.

Menagerie by Steve DuBois is set right after the Civil War, and involves a most unlikely set of heroes: a crusty Irish soldier, a London professor, a mulatto ex-slave genius, a Muslim giantess and Lady Basingstoke, a teenage noblewoman to whom all are loyal and who drives the adventure. Seems a Confederate officer who is not accepting the outcome of the war is deep in the Everglades plotting revenge – and enslaving any black he comes across. Lady Basingstoke & Co will have none of it.

[SPOILERS AHEAD!] Daughter of Heaven by Shannon Connor Winward is the one story which, for me, was not pure fun. It falls into the same trap as Clarke’s Childhood’s End, which trap unfortunately has snared the miseducated today as it has for the last century: that those with superior knowledge must sometimes cause or allow the deaths of millions so that Progress can be made. It is the Trolley Car Problem on a global or, in the case of this story, cosmic scale: that the enlightened see the inevitable with utter certainty, and therefore may need to condemn the innocent to death with, perhaps, a mitigating tear in their eyes. Such a view is a lie, and a pernicious one: no one in this world will EVER have anything close to that level of certainty about ANY human action, and thus it is with a bracing humility that we must and – important part! – always do act on principle. The principle might be that it is always wrong to kill an innocent man or allow one to die if by my actions I could save him, or it might be that my take on the universe makes it my high and lonely destiny to decide who lives and who dies – but it is NEVER, as in NEVER, an act from a pure foreknowledge – such certainty is a lie, and in any case is unavailable to human beings.

In this story, Cater, the first-person narrator, a dealer in antiquities, finds an inexplicable object on earth, and takes it to Mars to show to Zahirah, an expert he knows there, and for whom he has the hots. She takes the object, mates it to a similar object she wears in a chain upon her neck, and announces that this union marks the completion of a cosmic cycle of life and death, that this world will now pass away, and a new world will be born. And that she and he are to be the new Adam and Eve as it were. Zahirah is a priestess of the Handmaidens of Heaven destined to mother a new world – and Carter has been chosen as the father.

All hell breaks lose. Earthquakes destroy the martian city Arabia Terra as black demons descend and devour the inhabitants. Carter and Zahirah must flee to Tikhonravov Crater, and she will not pause to help anyone or even speak to them.

Just in case we missed it, and mistook Zahirah’s haste as merely a passive response, she murders an innocent guard at the airlock when he, just doing his job, begins to question them. As Trotsky said, the individual is nothing. She makes Carter hold a gun on the other guard, a woman, until a black demon devours her in utter terror. Then, Zahirah uses her magic juju to drive the demons away, and they make their escape.

And, sure enough, after the slaughter of billions across the galaxy, breathable air is restored to Mars, rains of biblical proportions refill the oceans and lakes, and Carter and Zahirah get down to repopulating the planet. Turns out 47 other people survived back in the city, and they join our new gods in remaking the world. Why, if any were allowed to survive, many were not, is neither explained nor even noted.

So: here is a story that must resonate well with Antifa, whose leaders recently mentioned the tens of millions murdered under Stalin and Mao as the template that must be followed in America – only once the evil, evil Other is destroyed will the magical flying unicorns of Marxism fart out the rainbows of the Worker’s Paradise.

Daughter of Heaven is a well written story, nicely paced, evocative – and, since it lays the emotional groundwork for the slaughter of millions as the unavoidable prelude to a new heaven and earth, I hate it. [SPOILERS OFF]

Dead Last by Jay Barnson is another romp, this time with zombies and way-cool mind powers. Nice set-up for a dramatic ending, so that you don’t see it coming yet it seems inevitable and satisfying when it happens.

Conclusion: for $.99, you’re not going to get much better entertainment value. Buy this magazine, and take it camping or to the beach.

Flotsam, Update, Etc.

A. Politics has rarely been this bracing. I’m hardly able to form opinions about much of the current kerfluffles – too much smoke to see what, if anything, is on fire. My only advice: ignore polls. If the flawed reasoning and potential for manipulation don’t convince you that polls are worthless, the last election should.

B. Home ‘improvement’. Yesterday, my 13 year old son and I mixed and poured 26 60 lbs and 8 80 lbs bags of ready mix concrete, to the following result:

A sub slab, to be covered in brick, creating a gentle slope up to the porch, continuing the brick walk at the bottom of the pic completed last summer. Still need to pull the forms and fill in some spots – all the curves and elevation changes made this tricky. 

So, let’s see: I lifted each bag at least twice (loading at Home Depot; dumping into the mixer; most also unloaded and stacked) so that’s minimum of 2.2 tons lifted, manhandled and poured. And the pedestal mixer I rented started acting up about 2 batches in, and totally failed over the last 2-3 batches, meaning MORE manhandling and manual mixing.

I’m 59 years old. At one time, I was a strapping young man who could do this sort of thing before breakfast, play hoops all afternoon, and do it again the next day. Now? Oh, I’m a little sore. Tylenol is a good thing.

Anyway, I am now prepared to while away a good number of long summer evenings on my hands and knees setting bricks. On the plus side, it will be very pretty. On the down side, living through it long enough to enjoy it is not a given. That’s probably just my arms, knees and back talkin’.

C. Then there’s the brick oven I started last summer. Really need to finish it. But had to set it aside because the hole where the path to the front door used to be was a hazard. On the plus side, at least it’s mostly to the standing up phase, needing only to bend over when mixing mortar or lifting bricks.

But all is not bad. The fruit trees got planted and are mostly doing well, the back lawn seems to be taking, and a number of small projects are getting done. So, yea, assuming I’m close to as healthy in 7 years when I can retire, home should be fun!

D. Next will read & review Belloc’s Europe and the Faith, which arrived two days ago. Commenter David Smith asked if Lafferty’s Fall or Rome should be read before or after the Belloc, and I sheepishly had to admit I hadn’t read it. It’s short! Should get through it pretty fast. 

E. The family is heading out to a school camping trip Friday at Del Valle reservoir near Livermore, CA. The trip would be fun, except for the packing up, setting up, sleeping on the ground, packing back up again, and cleaning and putting things away.  There’s been plenty of rain, so the reservoir should be full and the streams flowing – very pretty.

Blogging will be light.

F. Finally, our Chesterton Society reading group will be finishing up In Defense of Sanity next month, and moving on to The Everlasting Man starting in July. I cannot recommend either book too much. The more Chesterton one reads, the more dazzled with his brilliance one becomes.

Calla Lilies

On the north side of our house is a little concreted in area where we keep our trashcans (or, more accurately, this being California and all, our recycling bin, our yard waste bin and our landfill bin). There are a couple small areas up against the house, no more than a couple square feet each, where the soil is exposed. Why those little areas were not paved I have no idea.

We’ve lived here for over 20 years. In an exhibition of hope triumphing over reason, one of previous owners planted calla lilies in those areas. Somehow, they are still there. To recap: no sun, no care, poor clay soil. The only way they ever get watered is by rain or maybe when I wash off the patio in the back and the water accidentally makes into the beds. Note that I don’t wash off the the patio often, pretty much never when we’re having a ‘drought’, so called. So, for the past 5 years, those flowers have gotten by on only a tiny amount of water at highly irregular intervals. Yet, they will not die.

As you may have heard, it has rained a freaking lot (technical term, that) this year out here in California. It’s raining now. We’ve received well over a foot more rain than is typical, almost 200% of average.

The calla lilies liked it:



Mrs Yardsale of the Mind cut a bunch for Easter and put them on the table, where I snapped these pictures. Over the spring so far, there have been maybe a couple dozen beautiful flowers, totally unearned and unexpected.

Sometimes, life is like that.

Happy Easter! All week!

Short Education History in Bullet Form – Part II

When we last left our intrepid topic, the influence of Fichte and von Humboldt had overtaken Prussian schooling. The state assumed all responsibility for the education of children, and proceeded to educate them to be good Prussians after the imaginings of their betters. This worked so well that Prussian industry was soon the envy of the world.

Germans gradually stopped trying to kill each other once they were conquered by, and thus gained a common enemy in, Napoleon. In fits and starts, the Prussians gradually united the very disparate German-speaking (and sort-of German speaking – Frisians?) peoples into one nation, permitting Prussian military aggression to start enough wars that people eventually forgot that France had long been Europe’s traditional troublemaker. A couple world wars will do that.

But I digress.

  • Horace Mann became secretary of to the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837 at the age of 31. In 1843, he toured Europe on his honeymoon (1), which doubled as an official tour of Prussian schooling. He came back a total Prussian school fanatic, and his 7th Annual Report, in which he pushed for Prussian schooling for everybody, was a hugh hit with all right-thinking people, and was published around the country.
  • Somehow, the Prussian Model was not seen by Mann to contradict what he said earlier elsewhere: (1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.

(Thus we see the outline of how the assumptions and goals of Fichte are expressed by American education reformers: the public is ‘ignorant’; the government is ‘an interested public’; embracing ‘children from a variety of backgrounds’ mean making school compulsory; ‘non-sectarian’ means anti-Catholic (we’ll get to this in greater detail later); a ‘free society’, which in Mann’s day meant some flavor of libertarianism, is flexible enough to include anarchists and objectivists, and effectively means ‘however our betters at Harvard see the world at the moment’; and ‘well-trained professionals’ are Fichte’s schoolmasters, as explained in the previous post.(2) )

  • Wikipedia puts it thus:

Mann also suggested that by having schools it would help those students who did not have appropriate discipline in the home.

  • Hmmm – parents don’t get to determine ‘proper discipline’? The state does? Note that Mann’s plans were repeatedly voted down – until the Irish started arriving in Massachusetts in large numbers in the 1850’s as a result of the Potato Famine. These Catholic subhumans could not be counted on to instill proper discipline in their dirty Papist children, the reasoning went. Once that connection was made, the good citizens of Massachusetts made compulsory Prussian schooling the law. Irish kids could attend school or work in a factory, but could not wander about or even stay home with mom. That would be truancy.

Building a person’s character was just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Instilling values such as obedience to authority, promptness in attendance, and organizing the time according to bell ringing helped students prepare for future employment.

  • Obedience to authority – Fichte, anyone? An inquiring mind might wonder what kind of jobs require the ‘skill’ of responding to bells? Mann’s job? A farmer’s job? A shopkeeper or craftsman’s job? Hmmm – what is Mann proposing we train our kids to do?

Mann faced some resistance from parents who did not want to give up the moral education to teachers and bureaucrats.


  • Ya think? Just as it never seems to have occurred to Fichte that the state could ever be wrong or have anything but the purest motives, Mann assumes, not only with no evidence, but in the face of mountains of contrary evidence, that his teachers and bureaucrats will be more moral than parents. Only a backward thinking, unpatriotic rube would think otherwise. Some things never change.

Mann gathered about him many followers and fellow enthusiasts, who gradually became more clear and blunt about what they were trying to achieve through the schools. We’ll get to some of those next. Also, over time, early 19th century American right thinking changed from some sort Unitarian optimism to more purely statist Hegelianism, then, by the early 20th century, into Marxism proper, where it sits today. We’ll cover that later.

  1. He and his new wife went doubles with Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe, another couple who could fix the world if only we gave them the power to do so!
  2. If you’re thinking: oh, come on! That’s silly! Why can’t he mean what he says he means? Stay tuned.

GKC: Viva la Difference!

Some just so terribly non-PC stuff from the master, G.K. Chesterton, addressing the then-current (1930s) panacea of coeducational schooling in an essay titled Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron:

The school will never make boys and girls ordinary comrades.  The home  does not make them that.  The sexes can work together in a school-room just as they can breakfast together in a breakfast-room; but neither makes any difference to the fact that the boys go off to a boyish companionship which the girls would think disgusting, while the girls go off to a girl companionship which the boys would think literally insane.  Co-educate as much as you like, there will always be a wall between the sexes until love or lust breaks it down.  Your co-educative playground for pupils in their teens will not be a place of sexless camaraderie.  It will be a place where boys go about in fives sulkily growling at the girls, and where the girls go about in twos turning up their noses at the boys.

Now if you accept this state of things and are content with it as the result of your co-education, I am with you; I accept it as one of the mystical first facts of Nature.  I accept it somewhat in the spirit of Carlyle when somebody told him that Harriet Martineau had “accepted the Universe”, and he said, “By God, she’d better.” But if you have any idea that co-education would do more than parade the sexes in front of each other twice a day, if you think it would destroy their deep ignorance of each other or start them on a basis of rational understanding, then I say first that this will never happen, and second that I (for one) should be horribly annoyed if it did.




Book Review: Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (Books of Unexpected Enlightenment Book 1) by [Lamplighter, L. Jagi]To sum up: Fun read. Buy this book, read it, then give it to a young woman, for example your daughter,  in the 13 to mid-20ish range. Lovable characters, fun adventures, suitably scary villains, wild speculations about how things are not as they seem, and coming of age issues dealt with frankly yet appropriately.

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is the first book in what is intended to be a fairly extensive Unexpected Enlightenment series. Following the current practice of listing the ingredients in the stew, let’s go surreal: In a Harry Potter style universe, Narnia meets the Matrix.  No, really. The wizarding school aspect is clear on page 1, while the everything is not what it seems, in both the existence of other  worlds (Narnia) and the everything you know is a lie (Matrix) is only glimpsed and hinted at in this first volume.

As in the Potter-verse, wizards use spells to shield their activities and very existence from the mundane. In such a world, what keeps wizards from blinding each other? What keeps the most powerful from keeping the true nature of the world (or worlds, as the case may be) from those they seek to control? If so, how would a victim of such deceit become aware of it and make their way free of it? (1)  Very grown-up issues, but not told in a way too overwhelming for younger readers.

Rachel Griffin is the youngest daughter of a large, ancient and noble wizarding family. She starts life with all the advantages: loving family, wealth, connections, looks (although she’s only occasionally aware of how cute she is in a barely pubescent 13-year old girl way). Plus, she’s sharp, has a photographic memory, and is a kind and polite (civilized!) young woman. So – the anti-Harry Potter in origin. The rags to riches role is given to a couple of her friends. (2)

She’s also precocious, starting Roanoke Academy a year early. Lamplighter is first of all spinning an adventure yarn, but is also exploring how the world looks to a well-bred, well-loved young woman entering the boyfriend/girlfriend arena, what goes on both good and bad, what sort of temptations a girl her age goes through, and how good and bad choices are made. Of this, the real drama in most young girls lives is made, and what they see around them is largely horror and ruin portrayed as ‘normal’. As a father of daughters, it is heartening to see such issues treated appropriately in an engaging piece of fictions. Girls can grow into women without caving to a out of control, narcissistic world.

Don’t get the impression that the story and action suffer from too much girly digression – not so. The author does a great job of simply acknowledging what Rachel is going through and following her thought process as she ponders her relationships – one of which is the attentions of a very attractive (and very well-behaved) older boy.

But that’s getting ahead.  The adventures and mysteries start on page 1, when Rachel awakens from her first night at Roanoke Academy, and never stop. She awakens to overhear two animals – a tiny lion familiar and a huge red-eyed raven – talking about something that makes no sense to her. She then takes a broom flight around the grounds – she’s an elite flyer – and sees the statue of an angel, something she has no word to name and has never seen before in her life. She runs afoul of some crass girls, give a famous boy a ride on her broom, spots an impostor pretending to be a wizarding police officer, and helps save a girl’s life. All this before breakfast.  Action hardly lets up. And this first book only covers the first week or two of Rachel’s first year!

Rachel, tiny, young,  precocious, shy and and inexperienced, wants to make friends. She has poor luck at first, then finds Siggy, an over-the-top, dragon-owning orphan boy, and Nastasia, a prim princess, as her besties, and a circle of other remarkable friends. They are all trying, in addition to learning to be witches and wizards, to make the treacherous journey from children to adults.

In this first book, mysteries are introduced and deepened – a little – but not resolved. There are two more books out already, and many more on the way, so this is to be expected.

As a man pushing 60, I’m hardly the target audience for the Rachel books, except in the sense where good fiction should work anyway (Narnia and Have Space Suit, Will Travel are among my favorite books – because they’re great, regardless of what age the target audience was). And I never made it past about book 3 in Harry Potter – not my cup of tea. Yet, these stories work for me.

I’ve read the next two installments as well, The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel and Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, and found them also good and engaging, and plan to read the additional volumes as they come out. Will review as time permits. 

  1. Aside: have wondered if anyone ever asked Alinsky, who taught that believing one ought to tell the truth was a stupid bourgeois bias, that one needs to do and say whatever is required to move the revolution forward, when he was going to stop lying to them? One would have to concluded that Saul was telling his audience only whatever he thought would advance the ball, with no regard for the truth. You know? Using them as he was training them to use others. Similar issue.
  2. Now I’m really getting out there: Given the way he was raised, Harry Potter would have been much more likely to turn out as a craven weedler or even  a sociopath – a Tom Riddle – than a decent little boy – ya know? Rowlings is playing somewhat with the rough life/different outcome thing, of course, but really – 11 years of the Dursleys is not going to produce a bitter little boy? More bitter, I mean. But I digress. Rachel represents the issues facing a kid raised with love facing a world sorely lacking in love, which makes these very different stories.

Weather Update

Well, this looks scary:

I personally will be avoiding wind prone

The thing is, as often mentioned here, we Californians keep our snow up on the mountains, where it can be admired from the much warmer afar. My little piece of ‘afar’ is 54F and sunny at the moment. So, except for truckers and people who absolutely have to cross the mountains, this warning means little. I’m assuming people who live in the mountains are set up to deal with this – hot coco, Netflix, backup generator, that sort of thing.

But there will be some people who try, Donner-party style, to cross anyway, so we will see pictures of overturned trucks in blizzard conditions, etc. You’ve been warned.

Meanwhile, down here in afar, we’ve been averaging about an inch of rain per day for the last week. We get some sun today, a little more rain tonight into tomorrow, then a whole 4-5 days of 60F and sunshine before it may start raining again. One or two more decent storms over the next 3 months will put us over season average rainfall almost everywhere. Anything over that is gravy (well, not literally – that would be gross).  Similar for the mountains – 2-3 more good-sized storms should push the snowpack up to season average.

Since we are/were in a drought because of Climate Change, I await with eager ears to hear how we are now not in a drought due to Climate Change.

NASA satellite image of CA snowpack today.
Snow up in the mountains where it belongs. As you can see, we also keep some in adjoining states, and go visit it there as well, if we must.