Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for November 2019

In Remembrance of Trouble

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Folks, years ago I wrote a blog called “Losing the Family Pet,” about my Mom’s Cocker spaniel, Blackie. That was hard.

This is even harder.

My favorite dog in the whole wide world, Trouble, died a few nights ago. He died at home, similar to the way Blackie died; the only difference was, Trouble went to sleep and just didn’t wake up. (The eyes did open at the end, though. Bigger than they had in weeks. I know this because I had to carry him out again. But more on that anon.)

Mom and I adopted Trouble in 2006 from the Humane Society. He was a Shih Tzu mix with black and white coloring. He looked Shih Tzu in the face, had the big brown puppy dog eyes they’re known for, but his back legs were much shorter than the front. He was smart, loyal, kind-hearted, loved his food, loved to play, loved to “romp” with his “girlfriend” (a pillow; Trouble had been neutered, as standard in Wisconsin, but his mind still felt he was potent, and that was that), and was the best dog I’d ever been around.

Yes, he was a typical dog. He loved walks. He occasionally escaped the back yard before Mom moved to an apartment, and that always worried me. But he came back — once with the help of a neighbor, as we had a major snowstorm that day and we were almost completely snowed in. And he’d look at me, and my mother, with puzzlement: “Hey, I always come back. So what’s the big deal?”

Mind, he never did escape again after that blizzard incident. He had learned his lesson. When the neighborhood kids unlocked the gate (as they weren’t supposed to do, but often did), Mom’s other dog Brat would escape. But not Trouble.

Nope. He stayed right in the backyard, and when I’d go check and find him, he’d give me a look that said, “Hey, I’m a good boy!”

And he was.

Trouble had the softest fur. But we kept it short, because it was easier for everyone. And I do mean everyone, because when Trouble was younger, he loved to play in the mud. We’d have to give him baths — sometimes more than one a day — to get him clean. And of course he hated the baths, but Mom and I hated the muddy feet and the muddy everything more than that, so into the bath he went.

When we adopted Trouble, they said they thought he was two. Our now-retired vet told us that Trouble could’ve been anywhere between a year to three years. So we went with two. And we adopted him at the very beginning of 2006, to the best of my knowledge…meaning he nearly made it to sixteen.

Of course, we got used to saying he was sixteen at least six months ago. As we honestly didn’t know, it was as good as age as any. And by then, Trouble had really slowed down. Like Blackie before him, Trouble lost his hearing first. Then, unlike Blackie, Trouble lost his vision. He also had severe osteoarthritis, made worse by the aforementioned short back legs; his back was spiny, toward the end.

But he never complained. Never whined. Never moaned. Never did anything, except come up to be petted. Or at least to sit by our feet (or in my case, on my feet, as he seemed to like that for some reason!), so we’d know he cared.

Trouble ate well up until a day before he died. He continued to drink water. He was able to eliminate, though it was harder for him some days than others. He slept a lot the last six months. And he’d gotten to the point that when I took him out for a walk, he’d do his business, then sit right down.

Mind, he still loved to sniff things. (He was a dog. That’s what they do.)

He also enjoyed being around “his people,” and loved us with every breath in his big-hearted body.

I once asked Trouble on a Valentine’s Day, “Hey, Trouble, will you be my boyfriend?”

He didn’t know what I was saying. I’m sure of that. But he perked up, and he must’ve heard something in my voice, because he came right over to me and put his head on my lap. (This is when he could still partially get up on my lap on his own. He’d stand on his back legs and put the forelegs and head on my lap; I’d pull him up from there.) And he stayed by my side that night, and many other nights; he knew when I didn’t feel well, and he knew when I was lonely, and he knew when I needed his attention.

Then, he’d play tug-of-war with me. Or he’d let me pet him. Or I’d give him a treat. Or  he’d just look at me with his big brown eyes and say wordlessly, “I know how you feel. It’s OK. I’m here.”

Trouble was my favorite dog. And it’s been hard to write this, because I picture him in so many ways. It’s hard to remember how much he loved life, in a way, because I’m the one who had to carry him out again and take him to the crematory. (This time, Mom was not up to it. And who can blame her?)

But he did love life. He was a wonderful canine companion. He adored us.

And we adored him.

I will miss Trouble terribly. And already am.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 23, 2019 at 3:24 pm

Book Review: “The Night of Blind Ambition”

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As I said in my previous review, I never know how long Amazon will take to put up a new book review. And it’s too important these reviews don’t get lost. I don’t want Mr. Wardlaw to suffer the same fate I have, of being way too little-known, putting out books that are damned good but no one reads.

So I’ve done my best here to let people know Mr. Wardlaw’s books exist. And I do hope that’ll make some sense.

Now, onto my review of Mr. Wardlaw’s second book, THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION, cut and pasted from my Amazon review:

As I said in my review of A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER, it astonishes me to find a work of such superior quality as THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION, Malcolm J. Wardlaw’s second book in his “Sovreigns of the Collapse” series.

Indeed, this is the story of Lawrence, the younger brother of Donald’s (from the first book in the series). Lawrence is a former military officer who did unspeakable things, but that’s not what got him exiled to the “Night and Fog” (slave labor camps, roughly). Nope, ’cause in Wardlaw’s dystopia, unspeakable things are just part of the game for competent military officers. Instead, what got Lawrence exiled was noticing a scheme of graft and corruption, wanting no part of it, reporting it…and instead being tagged with the crime himself and exiled, because the higher-ups in Lawrence’s chain of command didn’t want to deal with Lawrence’s allegations (probably profiting from the graft themselves).

Worse even than the Night and Fog is when Lawrence is sent to something called “The Value System.” This is an all-male penal colony that does things so disgusting, I hesitate to say. (Let’s put it this way: the man who came up with this system, Prentice Nightminster, is a piece of work and a half.) They are forced to labor for long hours, almost as if they lived in a Siberian gulag. But now and again they get days off, can listen to music, think about their plight, and remember their real names and their real lives.

Most of them get dead drunk during these times. And who can blame them?

Anyway, Lawrence is made of stern stuff. He was indeed competent, as a military officer, and he learned how to survive, strike, and evade. He has a gift of knowing when, exactly, to fight, but also when, exactly, to bide his time.

And when Prentice Nightminster, also known as The Captain (and yes, that’s how Nightminster wants it styled), gives Lawrence an opportunity to get out of the Value System penal colony, Lawrence realizes it’s a poisoned chalice and escapes. (The friend he escapes with was a very learned man, high up in one of the enclaves of high society before his fall. That this learned man helped Lawrence realize this is important; that Lawrence again seizes the gift of knowing when to escape, on a night of raucous merriment for the slaves at the penal colony, is highlighted.)

It’s hard to know when to stop giving a plot summary, especially when much of this book concerns Lawrence’s escape. (We know he does escape from the first book, mind you, so me telling you that is not exactly a spoiler.) So I will stop there, except to say that Lawrence’s exploits are harrowing. And his realizations of who he used to be, coupled with who he now is, are well worth the price of admission.

Honestly, you need to read this book, as well as A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER. This is a very thorough society Mr. Wardlaw is depicting (that is, when he’s not skewering it to a fare-thee-well), and the full immersion within it is total.

All I knew was, after I finished A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER, I had to read this book, THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION. And I’m glad I read both.

Five stars, highly recommended to all SF fans, but most particularly those who enjoy military SF and escape stories.

Barb Caffrey

P.S. Write faster, Mr. Wardlaw! I can’t wait to see what happens to Donald, Lawrence, and Sarah-Kelly next.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 9, 2019 at 1:39 am

Book Review: “A Bloody Arrogant Power”

with 23 comments

This is cut and pasted from my recent book review at Amazon. I don’t know how long it’ll take them to get this book review up, and a few times I’ve had it completely go astray in their system.

That would be a shame, in this case. Which is why I’m going ahead and posting it here, at my private blog, in the hopes it will not get swallowed up.

Short version of the following: You need to read A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER by Malcolm J. Wardlaw. It’s just ninety-nine cents as an e-book. And it’s a worthy read, one that’s hard to put down…and even harder to understand, once it’s over, how a book this good has been thus far overlooked.

Then again, as my own history as a writer has shown, sometimes good work does not get noticed (immediately, anyway; I refuse to believe otherwise). One can hope Mr. Wardlaw’s conception will escape the fate of my own two books in the Elfyverse.

Now, here’s to the cut-and-paste:

I had never heard of Malcolm J. Wardlaw before picking up his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER. As an author myself (and as a little-known one at that), I am sympathetic to other authors struggling to break through the noise of independent publishing to get their vision out.

And what a vision: A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER is astonishingly thorough, and shows what the world could be a century or so hence after the current society collapses. Wardlaw’s dystopian vision is completely realized, down to the lexicon (“drains” are roads, or at least public thoroughfares, which “surplus” — people who don’t make enough money to protect themselves from being turfed out on a moment’s notice — are “discharged”); the people all feel real, with some being quite venal, some being quite opportunistic, some being idealists, some being realists…and the worst of all blending those four things into something abhorrent. (Prentice Nightminster, I’m looking squarely at you.)

A book as good as this should not be languishing in obscurity.

In fact, I read this book in three hours. And I came over here, to Amazon, to make absolutely sure it finally got someone rating it and commenting on it, all the while wondering what in the Hell has caused people to overlook A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER in the first place.

Honestly, if you enjoy SF, dystopian SF, future visions of a harrowing nature, or just plain good writing, you need to read this. Donald, the protagonist, is well-realized, and goes from company man to revolutionary without missing a beat. (Trust me: If you had an ounce of sense if you lived in this world, you’d do the same thing.) His love-interest, Sarah-Kelly, is also well-realized; she’s a smart, educated woman with a vision of a better society, and refuses to live in the world she finds herself in. (Good for her, I say.) And finally, Donald’s younger brother Lawrence, an ex-military officer with a conscience, emerges just at the end to give a glimpse of what the next book in the series is likely to be…he’s brash, but well-intentioned, and he’s lived through some harrowing stuff.

Very solid work, all the way around.

In fact, if this book had been picked up by a major publisher, I think it would’ve won several awards. It is that well-realized, that well-considered, and that thoroughly satisfying of a read.

I do not say these things lightly.

In short, if I could give this book more than five stars, I would. But since I can’t, this book is given five-stars and a highly recommended tag.

I hope more people read this book. And I hope Mr. Wardlaw finds his audience, because he — and his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER — deserves it.

Barb Caffrey

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 8, 2019 at 1:18 am