C.S. Daley's Blog
October 2, 2015
I have cried a few times in my 21-year career as a teacher in front of my students. For those of you who don’t know me personally, this is not insignificant. I do not like to show my pain to the world. I sometimes have a hard time showing it to my closest friends. I can remember the first time I was reading the book Freak the Mighty to my class. My class had a very emotional reaction to a part of the book that caused me to tear up with them. I often tell this story to my students to remind them that words have power.
I cried with a student once as she finally admitted to me that the horror story her friends told me about her home life were true. It to this day the single worst case of abuse I have had the unfortunate displeasure to be made aware of. I cried when I called the authorities. I cried when I filled out the paperwork. I cried when I talked to my principal. It still shakes me up thinking about it.
I cried when Columbine happened. For days any student who wanted to talk with me about it would bring tears to my eyes. As a teacher it hit so close to home. All those young lives lost. All the horror that no person should ever have to go through. Students begging for their lives. It was too much. It is still too much.
And now there is another one. I am not surprised. How can you be surprised about something that happens so frequently. I have lost the capacity for surprise. I have not lost the capacity to absorb the horror of it. The horror never leaves me. Over the next few days and weeks all of the arguments will spring back into public. People will point fingers and make accusations. Others will demand their rights and talk of the inability to change anything. We have heard it all before ad nauseam.
I am writing today because I think that sometimes we lose sight of what this has become. How this infection has seeped into our culture and way of life. As a teacher my perspective of all these shootings is slightly different than many people. Sadly, this is because I sometimes now think of myself as being on the front line.
Let me give you an example. A few years ago my school had an officer involved shooting across the street. The officers killed a suspect who was holding several people hostage. At the time of the shooting our school was only informed that a shooting had occurred across the street. Nothing about the suspect being apprehended or if the incident was ongoing. We locked the school down. The incident happened before school and there were kids everywhere. At that time I was on my prep period so I stayed out and helped the administrators get all students into buildings.
It was at this moment that I had the single scariest moment of my career. I watched as someone hopped a fence across a field facing the apartments where the shooting happened. The person began walking towards our campus. I wish I could describe adequately the fear I felt at that exact moment. I swear to you I could taste it. I began to move rapidly towards the person shouting for them to stop moving, which thankfully they did. We had a conversation where he explained he was the food delivery driver and had left something at his last stop and had gone back to get it. I recognized him at this point and the uniform he was wearing. I explained what was going on and why he had almost given me a heart attack.
The whole thing was spooky but as a school we had done what we needed to do. We got all of our students to safety. We practice it for a reason. Every year we practice it I have a student ask me what am I going to do if there is a shooting and the shooter gets into our class. Every year I answer the same thing. I am probably going to get shot because my job is to keep you safe. My job is to get you back to your parents unharmed. I will do anything to make sure that happens.
Here is the sobering truth. The single biggest fear I have as a teacher is an intruder on campus. Anytime I see someone who doesn’t belong I worry. Anytime I see a car parked in a strange place. Anytime a backfire sounds like a gun. This is not an every so often fear. I worry about my students’ safety every day. I hate after school because there is absolutely no way to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t. This isn’t just my fear. My students worry about it all the time. They ask me how we can possibly keep them safe. It breaks my heart that the best answer I can give them is make it as hard as possible to reach you and hope the police get here in time.
Fixing this problem has no easy answers. Too many people are entrenched in their positions. It being difficult should not stop us from attempting it. I don’t accept my students telling me something is difficult and I certainly don’t accept my country saying it. When has something being difficult ever stopped us from going after it. I don’t really care where you come down on this in your politics. It is time to have an intelligent and thoughtful discussion. It is time to start making the difficult decisions as citizens of this country. It is unacceptable to me that my students and I live in a state of fear. It is unacceptable to me that my country seems to be stuck in quicksand leaving us unable to keep our children safe at school, at the movies, at the mall. It should be unacceptable to everyone, no matter how difficult the choices which will have to be made.
July 22, 2015
I have decided to start reviewing tabletop board games. I have been running an after school board game club for almost three years. This last week I ran my first successful all day tabletop day at our local community center and had a great turnout. Over the last few years I have slowly turned away from video games and embraced tabletop games. I have been purchasing far too many of them (this is a lie. You can never have too many) and it is time for me to really start running all of them through the paces. I am also going to my first GenCon next week and plan on reporting out on all the cool and new interesting things I find. With that in mind I am going to put out a short list of my ten favorite tabletop games so far. I will update the list as new games crack it (I am looking at you Robinson Crusoe).
1) King of Tokyo
I play this game more than any game I own. Simple mechanics, easy rules, and very quick. This is the go to game whenever we need to fill in some time.
I love playing this game on the ridiculous level. Had a game once where an eminent victory on the next turn became a crushing defeat and had everyone asking, “What the hell just happened?”
3) Ticket to Ride
This was the game that hooked my wife into tabletop games. It will always have a place in my heart.
4) Lords of Waterdeep
My first worker placement game and still my favorite.
This game has always been one of my favorites. The storyteller in me goes crazy in it. Next year I will be introducing Gloom into my classroom curriculum for writing.
6) Cosmic Encounters
A fairly easy game to teach with an amazing amount of variety. Not to mention backstabbing your alliances.
No one was more amazed than me that a game based on a TV series turned out to be great. Traveling around the galaxy setting the Reavers loose on your opponents.
8) Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
I admit my love of Discworld helps keep the game in the top ten. Having said that, it is one of the most played games in my board game club. The mechanics are easy to understand and the cards are beautiful and hilarious.
9) Alien Frontiers
A dice rolling game with an amazing amount of strategy. I just started playing this one so it bumped Galaxy Truckers out of my top ten.
10) Sentinels of the Multiverse
A very deep superheroes card game. I have played this game a lot and still haven’t exhausted all the combinations (mind you I own all the expansions).
July 1, 2015
Summer is here and I needed some time to reset my brain. I have been in a bad place for a long time now. I know a lot of the frustration I feel is because my knee is not healing as fast as my brain wants it to. I miss running. I miss crossing the finish line in races. I miss the feel of accomplishment every time I do something I thought I had no chance of accomplishing. It doesn’t help that I am having a hard time controlling my weight while not running. Throw in a very tough end of the school year. I was zapped. Brain fried. Depression achievement unlocked.
Sheri and I decided to have a relaxed summer. Not as much travelling. In part this is because we are going to London for Star Wars Celebration next summer and we needed to start saving. Mostly, I just needed to relax and read books. Lots of books. Reading has always been my go to anti-depressant (or it was until I took up running).
All told I read 22 books last month. Combined with my first week of really consistent exercise (4 out of the last 5 days I have been able to go an hour on the eliptical or treadmill) and I am feeling like my brain has clicked back into the right place. I actually cracked a few smiles while exercising this week.
When I was younger reading took me away from everything. Allowed me to escape into worlds better than my own. They taught me how to be a better me. Reading is my jam. It always has been. It was a great June and I am ready to get back to writing. Get back to running. Start training for the New York Marathon. You know, being me. Tune in this weekend for my mid-year best of reading list. There are some gems on it.
June 9, 2015
It isn’t always easy reviewing a fifth novel in a series. By now most people who are reading this series don’t need to be convinced to keep reading it. They need only one thing. The confirmation that the series is still great and heading in the right direction. I can assure you that all things are wonderful in The Expanse universe. Well not for the characters but for us, the spoiled readers.
It is hard to maintain the momentum in long series. It is particularly hard to maintain it in long books in long series. I have given up on quite a few series that I was in love with early on but eventually wore me out with the feeling that I had been there before. This has not been a problem with The Expanse series. The first three books were brilliant and then at the end of the third book (Abaddon’s Gate) Corey knocks us out with a twist that opens up hundreds of possibilities for new stories. So far the authors have not disappointed with those possibilities.
Nemesis Games is wonderful for a new reason though. While Holden has always been front and center in the series, this book dives into the other crew members’ histories and gives some meaning and nuance to their story that wasn’t there before. What I love the most about The Expanse series is how big the universe is but how intimate the story can be. How each book builds upon the last one and leaves you wanting more. How the plots are giant space operas filled with giant moments but you come back for your familiar friends.
As in every book before this one the plot is huge and full of future ramifications by the end of the book we have added some old characters to our crew and the story is barreling off in a direction that I did not see coming. James S.A. Corey seems to be writing these books in sets of three. This would make Nemesis Games the second book of the second arc. It spins the story into a new direction and leaves me waiting expectantly for the next book. Luckily, for all of us fans Corey has consistently put out a book a year. Of course, this still means I have to wait a year. I have said it before. The Expanse is the best thing going in science fiction right now. If you are not reading this series, you should be.
June 8, 2015
It is really hard to do something completely fresh and original in fantasy for me these days. I have been reading fantasy for a long time. I read a lot of books. So when something jumps out at me as different I tend to take notice. Three Parts Dead is different. While on its surface it is an Urban Fantasy set in a world that looks a little like ours. Underneath it is a mash up of many different genres. By many different genres I am not frakking around. There is a bang up legal procedure that culminates in one of the most interesting court room dramas I have ever read.
I am not even sure I know how to describe this book. The main story revolves around the murder of a god and a young lawyer’s search for justice. There are gargoyles and vampires and magic (called the craft). The story is gritty and reads like a great mystery novel. The world building is fantastic and the characters pop off the page. I was a little sad to find out that this is a series that will not center around any one character, although I am hopeful that we will see a few of our favorites from book to book.
The writing is smooth and moves at a brisk pace. I like how Gladstone gives us a little bit of the world. Lets our assumptions take hold and then blows it up and goes somewhere surprising. The book had me constantly wondering where it was going next. It is a pretty rare book that does this to me. I don’t think I have read a more enjoyable book this last year. When I finished it was everything I could do to delay gratification and not jump into the next book. Three Parts Dead will keep you reading and smiling. You will love the world and how Gladstone peels it back a little at a time. I love that the book ends. Fantasy has become dominated by massive series. It was refreshing to get to the end of the novel and have a conclusion. Gladstone lets his writing and his world draw you into the series. Go buy this book right now and prepare to be entertained.
June 3, 2015
The Water Knife is an interesting book. In part because many of the horrific events that occur because of the mega drought in the story don’t seem that far fetched. This book is rooted firmly in the pit of reality. The reality that humanity can prove that it sucks in so many vastly different ways that nothing surprises you. This is not a joyous book. There is no sudden uplifting of humanity. Nobody surprised me. I had little doubt believing that politicians would find a way to make a bad situation worse. No real heroes and lots of shades of grey. Don’t read this book if you are feeling depressed. I guarantee it will make it worse.
With that out of the way. Let me add the good news. It is a good book. Well written and thought out. A relentless plot that is constantly kicking you in the face. When you are done reading it you will feel a little drained and then immediately want everyone who is ignoring California’s current drought to read it.
I had a few parts of the book that I thought were a little unnecessary to the story. Honestly, the sex scenes felt a little out of place. They kind of zapped me out of a book I was really interested in. I have nothing against sex in books. It just didn’t do it for me in this story. Mileage will vary on that problem though. It certainly isn’t enough to stop you from reading it.
The book’s plot feels dangerously close to our currently reality. Water becomes scarce on the west coast of the United States and Mexico and suddenly it is every state for themselves and the most powerful people are those who can manipulate the water rights to their advantage. One of the best parts of the story is witnessing the monstrosity that California becomes. The book follows a few characters. They are all interesting and all extremely flawed. I like flawed characters though. There is a constant struggle of people trying to rise above the disaster around them. The book is so grounded in reality that watching them get squashed by the machine can be a little depressing. This is good science fiction and I hope it stays science fiction and not a startling accurate prediction of our future.
June 1, 2015
I am swinging into full summer reading mode now. Action packed adventure stories are my friends. The Darwin Elevator has been sitting on my Kindle for some time now. I have so many books to read that it isn’t surprising that gems by authors I don’t know take me awhile to get to. Let me tell you people. This one was a gem. It hits the ground running and never takes its foot off the gas pedal. It has everything a good summer read should have. Lots of action. Great characters to root for. Bad guys you want to see get theirs and an intriguing mystery wrapped around a great science fiction novel.
The first of three books in the Dire Earth series. The book is easy on the eyes. It is a fast and fun read. I loved this story in particular. An alien civilization does a fly by and drops a space elevator into the middle of Darwin, Australia and then disappears. Mankind begins to reverse engineer the technology and before you know it we are building space stations connected to the elevator. The only problem is the elevator didn’t just bring technology. It brings an infection that turns anyone outside of the aura of the space elevator into a raving lunatic. Soon earth is a vast wasteland and the lone survivors are in Darwin and the space stations. Of course, there is also the looming mystery of where the hell did the aliens who dropped the elevator go and are they ever coming back.
Did I say I loved this book. I know I am getting a little redundant but really you should go read this. It reads like a cross between a space opera and a western. It has some of my favorite new characters in fiction. People you can really root for. The plot is great but Hough saves up some really nice twists. You think you know where it is going and the wham, left turn. Definitely a series I won’t be waiting long to read the next book. Mr. Hough is a now on my must read list. He should be on yours also.
May 29, 2015
I like the sub-genre of grimdark fantasy. Right now I don’t think anyone is doing a better job of it than Joe Abercrombie. I had heard a lot of early positive things about A Crown for Cold Silver. I was looking forward to getting my hands on it and seeing how it compares. The good news is the book is quite enjoyable and introduces some really interesting twists to the genre. The bad news is that it starts a little slow and the author made some stylistic choices that were a little rough for me.
The story starts many years after Cobalt Zosia and her five villains have conquered the Crimson Empire only to be overthrown themselves. Cobalt Zosia is believed dead and the five villains have scattered around the empire to lick their wounds. The only problem is someone claiming to be Zosia is stirring up the shit again. The five villains begin the long trek to find this new Zosia and see who the hell she is and what the fuck she is up to.
I liked the basic plot. It wasn’t anything particularity new to the genre but it did have some nice twists. One of the best parts of the book is how Alex Marshall plays with gender. That alone was almost worth reading the book. I was also a huge fan of the devils and loved that people ate bugs as their drug of choice. The story starts slow, but about 100 pages in Marshall starts applying gentle pressure to the accelerator and the book begins to build to a giant battle where nothing turns out the way you think it might.
The world building is great in the novel. It was definitely a playground I want to return to. Despite its length, I felt there were a lot of little mysteries left lying around. I can’t wait to see where they go in the next book. Marshall can also write a fight scene but remember this is grimdark so heads will be flying and curse words will be spewed. One of the most surprising aspects of the book for me was how funny it was. There were plenty of laugh out loud moments nestled in between all that blood.
There were a few things that worked against the story but they were not book killers for me. The world building and introduction of the characters in the beginning of the book was a tiny bit slow. I think some of the characters could have been introduced later or some of the world could have been left a mystery. There were some interesting style choices in the writing also. Some of the language felt like it was plucked right out of the real world. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it felt a little awkward. It’s hard to describe. It just seemed to pop off the page and make me think about it. It was distracting but it didn’t happen often. I also felt a few of the characters were a little been there done that. Marshall was clearly trying to bring something new to the table, which I believe he succeeded at many times. So whenever I ran into a character that felt fantasy 101 I was a little put off.
The small things did not stop me from enjoying it though. I will gladly pick up the second book (especially since this one basically left off with a giant cliff hanger). While not as good as Abercrombie or Scott Lynch it was worth the read. Block out some time and dig into this monster. Bring some safety goggles though, it gets a little messy.
This book was a review copy provided by Orbit Books.
May 25, 2015
He was a garbageman. He was happily married. He would never be rich but his life was everything he had hoped it would be. Then the dirty bomb hit Times Square and his world exploded with it. Burning down everything he had. Killing everything he believed in. Now he is Spademan and he kills people for a living. Still taking out other people’s garbage.
Shovel Ready is a post apocalyptic New York. The world has gone to hell and the rich have fled to a virtual reality universe where they can ignore the horrors around them. New York has become a ghost town and Spademan wonders if it can get any worse. The answer is of course, yes. Hired to kill a young woman he is forced to finally face what he has become. He decides he doesn’t like what he has become.
In a story that moves at lightning speed you will find yourself sucked into the world of Spademan. I loved the writing in this book. Adam Sternbergh creates some wonderful characters and an interesting world. He combines it with an interesting writing style that makes the book thoroughly enjoyable. Sternbergh’s world is dark but the journey is well worth the ride.
May 22, 2015
Anyone who knows me, knows how important Robert B. Parker was to my reading life. The Spenser novels made me a mystery reader. More importantly, they showed me what kind of mysteries I liked. I liked characters. I liked people that were flawed. I liked stories that showed real people, having real problems. I met Robert B. Parker a few times in my life. He signed a few hardbacks for me (which I still have). I didn’t get to talk for very long because the line was huge but I was humbled to be able to talk to him even if for just a moment. His death left a giant whole in the world of writers.
I was beyond skeptical when they announced that several writers would be picking up Mr. Parker’s big characters. While I liked some of his other series (his westerns in particular). I wasn’t a giant fan like I was of the Spenser novels. If I was being honest though, I hadn’t really enjoyed a Spenser novel completely in years. It wasn’t that they were terrible. They had just lost a lot of the shine. I read them all but when he passed away I was ready to shut the door and move on.
Then they announced that Ace Atkins would be writing the Spenser novels and I was intrigued. I had read him before and found him a very good writer. Before the first book came out I was hearing some rumblings that it was quite good. I reluctantly picked it up and read it. I was flabbergasted. It was incredibly good. Better than many of Mr. Parker’s last entries into the series. I felt like I was cheating on one of my favorite authors but I knew the truth. There was no use denying that Atkins had returned a sense of style and flare to Spenser. I was hooked.
The latest entry continues the trend. Kickback is a fairly straight forward story. A group of individuals are doing bad things. In this case, it is jailing teens in a money making scheme. A distraught mom comes to Spenser for help and he then doggedly pursues the bad guys until he annoys them so much they try to kill him. Spenser has always been very good at the annoying thing.
Atkins gives us everything we want. A very tight and action packed story. Great characters and great dialogue abound. Like all Spenser novels the story reads incredibly fast (I finished it on one sitting). It is deceptively good. The story just sneaks up on you and makes you care. Atkins has added a few new touches that Mr. Parker never really tried and they work well in here. When I finished the book I felt like I had consumed a great meal and washed it down with a beer. It was completely satisfying. I don’t know how Atkins has managed to capture the essence of what Spenser is and how Mr. Parker wrote him but he has. If you are looking for a great summer read to gobble up at the beach or the cabin or anywhere. Pick this book up (and any of the other Atkin’s Spenser novels). I eagerly await the next entry. Atkins is a magician and I am a willing astounded audience member.