# Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Spell For ChameleonEveryone in Xanth has a magical power. Everyone except Bink.

Some of Xanth's citizens are accomplished wizards, while others can do simple tricks like make a spot appear on a wall. But, Xanthian law states that if you reach the age of 25 without showing evidence of some magical ability, you are forced to leave to the non-magical land of Mundane.

Bink is 25 and is banished to Mundane.

In Mundane, he meets the evil wizard Trent, who was banished decades before for trying to usurp the throne of Xanth. He then meets Fanchon, an intelligent ugly woman, who fled Xanth for reasons of her own. The three travel together, encounter adventures, overcome dangerous magical creatures and plants, collaborate, and fight. Bink wrestles with moral questions, such as: What does it mean to be an Evil Wizard; and is it ok to be attracted to females of another species if she has big breasts; and do I prefer dumb pretty women or smart ugly women or something in between or a variety?

A Spell for Chameleon was so popular that author Piers Anthony decided to convert his planned trilogy into an ongoing series that now extends

Anthony creates an imaginative world, filled with wonders and dangers and his characters are relatable, even if he spends a bit too much time explaining their motivations, rather than letting the reader discover these themselves.

Anthony also brings a lot of puns and other wordplay into his narrative, which can be entertaining.

The book is a fable with a couple morals - everyone is special and worthwhile in their own way, even if it is not obvious to others; and evil is defined by those in power, rather than by absolute laws. The messages are a bit heavy-handed, but they mostly work.

However, I found parts of the story to be troubling.

Anthony comes across as sexist, giving undue attention to the physical appearance of females. Also, Bink participates in a rape trial and the conclusions (the judge's remarks and Bink's opinions) made me more than a little uncomfortable.

A Spell for Chameleon reads like a children's book, but there is too much sex for it to be appropriate to children. Still, it had enough creativity to hold my attention.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018 7:16:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, April 30, 2018
Monday, April 30, 2018 3:13:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, April 28, 2018

WrinkleInTimeIt is a strange experience to read a book twice with a gap of nearly 50 years between.

I think I was in fourth grade when I first read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. This week, I read it again.

I enjoyed this book as a boy, but I didn't remember many of its details. I didn't recall the book's ending, but I recalled the characters and a few scenes here and there. This re-read was like visiting an old friend. I would read a passage and remember its effect on 9-year-old me. I believe this was the first time I heard the idea of more than 3 dimensions in the Universe and that one could consider time as a fourth dimension.

"A Wrinkle in Time" is the story of the Murray family. Mom and Dad are brilliant scientists and their four children are all brilliant, but some have quirks. Meg is an outsider, who struggles to fit in at school. And Charles Wallace is a 5-year-old with the mind of an adult, even though the rest of the town believes him to be mentally handicapped because he seldom speaks in public.

Meg and Charles - along with their new friend Calvin - set out to find their father, who has been missing since he set out on a secret government mission years ago. They are assisted by 3 mysterious ancient women. Their journey takes them across time, space, and dimensions, where they encounter other sentient races and an evil force determined to conquer the universe.

It is an adventure and a morality play, involving a galactic struggle of Good versus Evil. It's a delightful story with a good characters and imaginative worlds.

The ending is a bit rushed, but the journey is very rewarding.

It was a rewarding adventure for me to read this book twice with a gap of almost 5 decades between. I look forward to reading it again in another 50 years.

Saturday, April 28, 2018 3:03:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, April 23, 2018
Monday, April 23, 2018 9:21:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, April 21, 2018

GardensOfTheMoonGardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson is the first book in his 10-volume "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series. It takes place on the continent of Genabackis, where the Malazan empire holds power through force and where men and gods and magicians and dragons and various sentient races exist together - often in violent battle with one another. This first book follows many characters and plotlines, taking the reader through the battle for the continent.

I'm unsure exactly why Gardens of the Moon failed to hold my attention. It's a decent story and some of the characters are quite good (especially Anomander Rake, the giant ancient warrior wizard king). I liked when two storylines would finally converge as their characters crossed paths. And Erikson does a decent job of building an imaginative world filled with its own rules and politics and even a fortress that floats in the sky.

But I found the plethora of characters to be confusing. I found the non-linear storytelling confusing. I found the constant death and resurrection of characters and the multiple names of characters to be confusing.

I frequently found my mind wandering away from the story. More than a few times, I had to re-read a chapter to understand it. And I would often completely forget a character shortly after he disappeared from a story, so that I was confused by his appearance in a later chapter.

Complexity is fine if I am committed to reading (or re-reading) an entire series. But I was unfamiliar with this series before I picked up Volume One and Erikson did nothing to draw me in and encourage me to complete the journey.

I know that many people love this book and I wonder if it is more enjoyable in the context of the entire 10-volume series.

I don't think I will find out.

Saturday, April 21, 2018 9:08:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, April 20, 2018

The last few years, I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness.

By far, the biggest things that keep me awake at night are the pain of wrongs inflicted on me and regret for the wrongs I've done to others. I have consciously tried to address both.

Requesting Forgiveness

A few years ago, I made a list of people to whom I felt I owed an apology. These are people I treated thoughtlessly; or I made a joke at their expense or at the expense of someone close to them.

Years had passed (in some cases decades) since I committed these transgressions. But I sought out every person on this list and I apologized to his or her face. One by one, I pulled them aside and told them exactly what I did wrong and I offered my apology. I made no excuses and I waited for them to accept my apology. Some told me it was unnecessary; some told me how much I had hurt them. I think all were surprised that I did it. But every one of them remembered the events I addressed and every one of them accepted my apology.

I completed this list about a year ago and I have slept better since then.

Here are my rules for effective apology.

Be specific. Rather than saying "I'm sorry for anything wrong I may have done", say something like "I was very insensitive to your feelings and I am sorry for that."

Be sincere. Don't apologize unless you mean it. People sense insincerity and will react accordingly.

Accept responsibility. Don't say "I'm sorry if you're mad." Say "I'm sorry for what I did" or "I'm sorry for hurting you"

Don't make excuses. There may be reasons why you behaved the way you did, but an apology is not a time to explain or justify your behavior. If they ask why you did what you did, then go ahead and answer. But generally, this is a separate issue from your wrongdoing and should not affect your apology. Qualifying an apology dilutes its sincerity.

Ask if they accept your apology. It doesn't work unless it is both offered and accepted. It might take them time to accept it; but at least you have started the process. I was lucky that all my apologies were accepted, but I was prepared for the possibility they might need time to think about it or might reject it completely. That is their choice.

Forgiving Others

During this same period, I listed the people who had wronged me; and, one at a time, I consciously and deliberately forgave them. I did not approach them in person; this was a personal thing for me. None of these people ever offered me a sincere apology or even acknowledged their wrongdoing. I suspect nearly all of them have forgotten what they did. Most of them probably did not even know the pain they caused. Some may be embarrassed by their actions and are hopeful that I have forgotten. But it was important for me to offer forgiveness. I was only harming myself by hanging onto my anger.

I don’t have to offer forgiveness to everyone. There are some bad people in the world and those people I try to exclude from my life and move on. The ones I target are good people who happened to do something unkind to me. Those are the ones that stay in my mind.

I have found both giving and receiving forgiveness to be liberating. A weight was lifted from me - almost in a physical sense - when I began and advanced this journey.

Lessons Learned

This process has taught me a few things.

Most emotional pain is not caused via deliberate malice; most is caused by thoughtlessness and self-absorption. Most of us are completely unaware of the damage we cause others through an unkind word or action. What seems trivial to us can leave scars in others.

Apologies are not easy - especially sincere ones; But, if done right, they help both the giver and the receiver.

Forgiveness is even harder than apologizing. At least, it is for me. Especially forgiving those who never ask for it. I'm not done forgiving. There are some people I want to forgive that I have not yet been able to, which troubles me. I'm working on this.

And finally, the hardest person I've found to forgive is myself. I've lost a lot of sleep over the years dwelling on regrets. But the process I've described here has helped.

Friday, April 20, 2018 2:09:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, April 17, 2018

CrystalCaveThe Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart tells the story of Merlin, the legendary wizard and advisor to the legendary King Arthur.

Unlike most books on this topic, this is the story of young Merlin - the bastard son of a Welsh princess, who discovers he has visions that predict the future or reveal events happening far away.

The Merlin of The Crystal Cave is more human than the one we encounter in most Arthurian stories. Here, Merlin has no powers other than his vision, a keen mind, and a solid education. But he uses these powers to become advisor to kings and to influence the coming of Arthur.

This book is a coming of age story in which young Merlin meets his first mentor, discovers his birth father, and searches for his place in the world. It is set against the backdrop of fifth century England, after the departure of the Romans and before the unification of Britain under a single king. As such, it is also an adventure story. And Stewart tells the adventure well, expertly building the character of Merlin and those he encounters.

Mary Stewart originally won fame as a writer of romance novels; but this departure from her familiar genre was a great success. The Crystal Cave offers a fresh take on an old story. I enjoyed it enough that I plan to read the sequels in this series.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 10:59:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, April 16, 2018
Monday, April 16, 2018 11:03:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

AWBThe Average White Band are anything but average.

45 years ago, a group friends in Dundee, Scotland got together to play funky music, then moved to America to launch a recording career.

Saturday night at the Promontory in Hyde Park, two of those original Scottish band members - Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre - joined with 5 newer band members to prove they still have the magic that launched an international career decades ago.

AWB-83 I attended the second of their two sets, where they played a few ballads mixed in with their signature funk. Vocalist Brent Carter, formerly of Tower of Power, showed impressive range for the band and tenor saxophonist Fred Vigdor led the 2-person horn section. They were helped along by alto saxophonist Cliff Lyons, drummer Rocky Bryant, and keyboardist Rob Aries. But it was Gorrie who led the way with excellent bass playing, backing vocals, and a charming persona for the audience.

They played many of their hits, such as "Cut the Cake", "Work to Do", and "Oh Maceo". The room was full and the level of energy rose as as the show went on. The band returned to the stage for a single encore - their only US #1 single "Pick Up the Pieces".

By the end of the evening, most of the audience was on their feet, including yours truly. It was a show I wish could have continued for longer into the night. Despite their name, Average White Band was exceptional. I find myself playing AWB and other funk bands as I write this on Sunday evening.

More photos

Monday, April 16, 2018 1:41:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, April 9, 2018
Monday, April 9, 2018 9:35:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)