Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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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

A Brief Bloglet

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Last week I finished up another edit, and had intended to come back here and write another blog. But the best laid plans sometimes do not come to fruition, and thus, the blog is now.

I’m dealing with an unusual situation here, health-wise. I don’t really understand fibromyalgia at all. It does seem to have elements of chronic fatigue to it, which means I’ll have to come up with strategies, and fast, to continue my life on my terms.

In addition, I’ve dealt with an unpleasant infection/abscess. (Or infected abscess? Is that a contradiction in terms?)

More difficulty, less energy. That’s where I’ve been at.

Now, am I completely unable to do anything? No. But I did just spend two days down at home, doing nothing other than sleeping. (Trust me, that is the most boring thing in the world to do. But some days, that’s all that’s possible.)

I have hopes that the rest of the week will be better. I have an appointment with a new doc later today, and we’ll see if he has any ideas. And I’ll talk with my friends, and my family, and see if there’s anything I can do to make things any better.

I get tired of the feeling that all I can do today is “not collapse.” I want more out of my life than that.

But for now, as I continue to struggle, that’s where I am.

Let’s hope I’ll be able to write soon. (I can still edit, thank God/dess.)

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 23, 2019 at 5:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Fatigue Fog and Frustration

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Folks, I liked the above title because it works with or without punctuation. (Yes, I’m weird like that. Goes with the territory, I guess.) With punctuation, it would be, “Fatigue, fog, and frustration,” but even without, it sums up my mood quite nicely.

Yes, I continue to battle. I have finished up a few more edits. I am going to play the next concert with the Racine Concert Band (next Tuesday at Park High School), too. And I’m still at least thinking about the plots and stories I want to write, even if I’m too tired/sick to write them at the moment.

So, what in the world is going on this time? My best guess (and the doctor’s, too) is fibromyalgia. That’s a much-misunderstood disorder that has to do with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and sleep problems. Everything else has been ruled out (save my migraines, which are being treated elsewhere, and of course my asthma, under maintenance care as per usual). So only fibromyalgia remains a viable diagnosis.

What it means for me is that I must rest more. I have to continue to get gentle exercise, eat well, and do my best to get more than six hours of decent sleep a night. I’ll also be evaluated by a sleep specialist soon, and hopefully by a fibro doctor as well, depending on whether my insurance wants to pay for it.

I’m fortunate that my editing has not been affected by this issue. But my writing definitely has been. And while I can do a little bit of writing, here and there, I still have to ration my strength for what needs to be done rather than what I want to do.

Though in an ideal world, I’d figure out how to do both things. (And I do hope to live in that ideal world someday, of course!)

I will keep doing everything I can to get healthier. That’s all I can promise right now. That, and read widely, and comment as I’m able, and write a few blogs here and there…and hopefully work again on fiction sometime in this lifetime.

That’s what I need to do. And that’s what I’m somehow going to do, once I get to feeling a little better.

Do I enjoy writing updates like this? Hell no, I don’t. But as I haven’t written anything here at my personal blog for a bit, I figured I owed one…even if it’s not what I wanted to say, or probably what you wanted to hear, either.

So, that’s why I started this off with the title of “Fatigue Fog and Frustration.” I am fatigued. I sometimes feel in a fog. And I certainly do feel frustrated by it all…but I’m going to persevere and do my level best.

Because that’s all I can do.

And I’d rather be honest, and admit my shortcomings, than try to “fake it ’til I make it.” As the latter does no good…and the former, at least, may tell someone else battling with much the same thing that they’re not alone.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 9, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

OUT NOW – Favour The Bold (The Empire’s Corps XVI)

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I edited this, and I know it’s excellent. Try it!

The Chrishanger

An all-new story of The Empire’s Corps!

Earth has fallen.The Core Worlds have collapsed into chaos.War is breaking out everywhere as planetary governments declare independence, entire sectors slip out of contact and warlords battle for power.The remnants of the once-great Empire are tearing themselves apart.

In the shadows, the Terran Marine Corps works to save what little they can to preserve civilisation and build a better tomorrow.But powerful factions are competing with them, determined to establish their own order.If they cannot be stopped, if the marines cannot hold the line, the galaxy will fall into a new dark age.And there may only be one chance to nip their scheme in the bud.

Does fortune favour the bold?  The marines are about to find out.

Download aFREE SAMPLE, read theAfterword, then purchase from the below links:

Amazon US.Amazon UK.Amazon Canada.Amazon Austrilia.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

September 28, 2019 at 12:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

That Irreplaceable Someone…

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As it’s Sunday, I wanted to talk about something vaguely inspirational. Enjoy!

We are told, as we grow up, that we need to be that irreplaceable person. Be the best. Be the brightest. Be the only one who can do everything that’s required.

What we aren’t told is that not everyone can be the best. Or the brightest. Or be the only one that can do everything, either.

However, what we’re told isn’t wrong, exactly. Because we can only be ourselves. And if we are our best self — well, then, that is something no one else on the face of this Earth can be.

And that is, indeed, attainable.

I write this as I’m about to play a concert this evening with the Racine Concert Band. Tonight, I’m playing alto saxophone. Next week, I’ll be playing clarinet. (And, possibly also, alto saxophone.) And when I play a part on one instrument, someone else has to cover the part I’d usually play. And while they can and will cover the part, they can’t and won’t do it the same way I can.

(This sounds obvious, but hear me out, OK?)

The other person will get things right I won’t. The other person will miss things I would’ve gotten right. Or, maybe, we’d both play it note-perfect all night long, but have different nuances to add — or not — to the equation.

But what’s important is, that other person is playing the part the best way he can. Doing his best, making his best effort, trying his hardest, all that.

While of course I’m doing the same wherever I am, as nothing less will do.

Tonight in the band concert, we’re playing a piece called “Jubilation Overture” by Robert Ward. This is one of our conductor Mark Eichner’s favorite pieces (it should be, too; it’s really a fun piece), and so that means I’ve played it before. The last time I played it, in fact, I played the solo clarinet part — which means tonight on alto, I have to remember other people are playing that, and I have to concentrate on my own part instead, thank you. (Otherwise, my fingering and embouchure will be off, to say the least.)

And, this week, my section leader and stand-partner, Vivian, is off on vacation. While I’m covering her parts for her, I can’t do anything the same way she would — just as she can’t do anything the same way I would.

But do I miss her playing? You bet I do. And do I miss her being there, steady as a rock, on nights I quite frankly don’t feel well? Absolutely.

She is irreplaceable, you see. (And yes, so am I. But that’s not the point.)

We as human beings need to concentrate on what we can. Not worry so much about what other people can do. Just what we can do. And do it to the level best of our abilities, and keep doing it, as long as we possibly can.

That’s what our parents and teachers and others meant, when they told us to be our best selves. And it’s something we can continue to work on, all the days of our lives.

The Transformative Power of Music

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Folks, this is the first in a three-part series. All will start with “The Transformative Power of…”, so you have been warned if this isn’t your thing. (Though why it wouldn’t be, I haven’t any idea whatsoever.)

Music can transform your life, if you let it.

What do I mean by this? (I can practically hear a few of you thinking, “Barb, you have gone off your rocker with this one. What gives?”) It’s simple: music can actually heal you. Or at least improve your mood while giving shape to your feelings, which is nearly as good.

Who hasn’t felt better after singing in the shower? Who hasn’t felt better after singing along to their favorite songs in the car?

For me, playing music takes that feeling and amps it up to eleven. (H/t if you got the Spinal Tap reference, there.) And being able to play music in a group, whether it’s a concert band, a jazz band, a small group, or just by myself, is one of the best feelings there is when it’s going right.

But as this post is titled “the transformative power of music,” I suppose I should get down to brass tacks.

After my husband Michael died in 2004, I didn’t want to do anything. My grief was so profound, it took me at least five years to process, and another few after that to realize I still had a life to live — and what was I going to do about it? All that time, my health worsened, my hands especially, and when I decided I wanted to play my instruments again (sax, clarinet, and oboe), I was barely able to do it due to my hands aching so much.

And it wasn’t just trying to play my instruments that made me frustrated. I was to the point with my hands that driving in the car was painful. I could only use one hand a few minutes at a time, and then switch off to the other. It was just that bad.

Fortunately, I went through a few rounds of occupational therapy, which helped a great deal. The pain lessened, I gained range of motion again, and I learned how to properly stretch the areas. And ever since, when my hands have started approaching that state again, I’ve asked for — and received — another date with the occupational therapist, and gone through more therapy as required.

Mind, I’d have never gone through with any of that if I hadn’t wanted to play my instruments again. But I did. And that allowed me to make a positive decision in the depths of my grief to do something positive, meaningful, and healthy.

Anyway, in September of 2011, I asked to play in the UW-Parkside Community Band again. (I’d been a member before I left the area for graduate school, back in the day.) One of my professors from Parkside, Mark Eichner, was still conducting it, and he told me when rehearsals were for the December concert. So I rejoined it in late October, played the next concert, and voila! I was a performing musician again.

(For the record, my first concert back was on alto sax, and I played a lengthy solo on a piece called “Roma.”)

Soon after, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band in 2012, again on alto sax. (I’d been a member of this in high school and again in college, and only stopped when I moved away to attend graduate school in Nebraska.) Ever since, I’ve played many concerts with them. Most have been on alto, but a few have been on clarinet.

And last week, on Saturday, I played clarinet — first chair, de facto concert master/mistress — with the UW-Parkside 50th anniversary alumni band. That was an exceptionally challenging concert, as we had only one rehearsal beforehand and the parts were very tough. But I was there early, practiced my parts, and was as prepared as I could be.

It paid off. The concert went well. And I had a few folks come up to me afterward, praising what I did (nice, when you can get it), along with asking why I wear a neckstrap to play the clarinet as few clarinetists do. (It helps keep the weight off my hands, and allows me to play for a longer period of time with a whole lot less pain.)

Why am I going into all this detail? Mostly to explain what playing music has done for me. It has given me my confidence back. It has reminded me I can still do something, something positive, something very few other people can do.  It has rewarded my perseverance and search for excellence…it has allowed me to give the gift of music to others in performance, also.

All in all, music has transformed my life.

You don’t have to be a musician to allow music to transform yours, though. Just listen to whatever you want. If you are hurting, let the pain out. If you are healing, allow yourself to feel safe and comforted. And if you just want to hear music for the sake of music, good for you: that’s the best listening experience of all.

What do you think of this blog? Tell me about it in the comments!

Change and Pointlessness

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I’ve been thinking, for the last week or two, about change. Specifically, change for the sake of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Or, to put it another way, change to be more “technologically current.”

(I wish you could see the eye roll I just gave to that.)

Look, I get it. Technology, in the main, is a good thing. The internet has revolutionized life and communication, and has for the most part made it better. But that was a change to make something better. Not a change for the sake of change alone.

“So, if you’re not talking about the internet, Barb, what are you talking about?” you ask me in exasperation.

Mostly, I’m talking about the “upgrades” at Pogo.com. I have been a member for quite a number of years now. (Well over ten.) And because of the phase-out of some staples of gaming technology, including the impending retirement of Java and lessening of Flash, many games I’ve enjoyed playing over the years are being retired right along with them. These games include Crazy Cakes, Dice City Roller, Pogo Addiction Solitaire, Pinochle (yes, they aren’t “upgrading” it to HTML5 anytime soon, it appears)…and to say I’m not happy is the understatement of the year.

Now, the fun of most of these games was never in the graphics. They were instead in the strategy. How were you going to be able to serve the most customers and make the most money with the ingredients you had on hand (Crazy Cakes)? How were you going to be able to make the most points with the rolls you received, and did you want to do the Auction rooms (which would slow you down, but perhaps give you more time to get more points to win extra dice) in Dice City Roller? (And if you haven’t played Pinochle, it’s much like most card games; you need to learn your basic strategy, but once you get that, it’s a lot of fun.)

Still, Pogo.com has apparently figured out that graphics and high-tech things are the way of the future. Even games like Tri-Peaks Solitaire, which did get an upgrade to HTML5, got better graphics even though the game-play didn’t change. (Unfortunately, they also changed the music behind it. They did better with Aces Up!, where they kept the music after the conversion to HTML5.) And since none of these games needed those things, they’re on their way out.

I like better graphics as much as the next person. But I like strategy games far more than I like the best of graphics. And these games had that (still have it, until June of 2019, anyway) in spades…but that’s not good enough, not in a world where change for the sake of change is needed.

Or when the original Final Fantasy game couldn’t stand on its own, and we’re up to what, now, in the numbering? (How many more so-called final fantasies are out there to be mined, huh?)

I know life is like this. Nothing lasts forever. The original Star Trek lasted three years on TV. Star Trek: The Next Generation lasted seven. (I can list all the other Star Treks, but you get the point.) The recent reboot, One Day at a Time starring mostly Latino/Latina characters and featuring Rita Moreno, lasted three. (If you haven’t seen that show lately, find it on Netflix now. Even though it’s been cancelled, it’s still available and it is hilarious.)

And yes, you have to take your enjoyment where you find it, because you know it won’t last. It never does.

That said, I find the current “upgrades” at Pogo.com to be unnecessary. I am definitely going to be playing my favorite games until the bitter end, and do my best to enjoy them even as I know that “all good things” inevitably find their conclusion.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. (And I obviously don’t.)

What say you to change for the sake of change? Did this blog make any sense? What would you like to add? Comments? Brickbats? Sobriquets? The floor is open…

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 12, 2019 at 4:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized