Sunday, September 30, 2018

Read for fun: The Sword and the Mind

I picked this book up some time ago out of curiosity. It is about techniques and philosophy from the Shinkage school of swordsmanship. This book itself was translated by Hiroaki Sato; the original was
written by Yagyu Munenori in the 17th century.

It has three basic categories:
1. Historical context and introduction written by Hiroaki Sato (along with translation footnotes).
2. A list of techniques with instructions and illustrations created by the historical swordsmen.
3. Philosophy, school principles, mental techniques anecdotes to illustrate a point etc. also created by the historical swordsmen.

It's interesting stuff.

I enjoyed reading the historical context because I like reading about history, and having such context for the latter two categories is indeed helpful for understanding them.

The list of techniques and their illustrations are, obviously, most useful for those who will learn and practice them. Even then, this is not something that can teach swordsmanship on its own. Indeed, Yagyu Munenori frequently mentions how difficult it is just to describe the techniques, and also writes that something will "be transmitted verbally" because a teacher is necessary. Even then, the techniques themselves are only the first stage. Once the student has achieved the proper mindset through training with them, he no longer has any use for them.

The meat of the matter, from my perspective at least, is the third category, the philosophy behind the techniques that was crafted by the men in their historical context.

A summary would be misleading and insufficient but, in a nutshell, it advocates an empty mind. This does not one that is lacking anything but rather one that is not cluttered. A mind that is free to move around and indeed, does move around. This is the Zen influence, which both the author and the translator make note of.
It is frequently stated how important it is that a mind not "tarry" or become fixated on any given thing, including a desire not to be fixated. Interestingly, Yagyu Munenori states that Confucians are stuck at the beginner level because of their fixation on "kei", which Hiroaki Sato translates as "respect" or "reverence".

I enjoyed reading this and I found it useful but it is too far outside my usual grading rubric for a proper grade

Trickster Eric Novels gives " The Sword & the Mind: The Classic Japanese Treatise on Swordsmanship and Tactics" a +

Click here for my previous book review (a request): The Tribute
 

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Answering review request: The Tribute

Matthew Ward asked me to read his story "The Tribute". This is the fourth story that I've reviewed for him (Shadow of the Raven, Light of the Radiant, A Matter of Belief). I rated all of them highly and so I was excited to read this one, and even then it surpassed my expectations.

PLOT

The conflict is simple: a Fae Lord is causing trouble in a village and the village's leader sends his daughter to appease him.

The opening for this story is so awesome, it has its own blog post (click here for that one). Here, I will simply say that it is effective for setting the tone of this story: spooky and atmospheric. Even the oatmeal in the following scene is effective for the warm-family-life thing.

It is very much a classic Hero's Journey, and I think that's why I like it so much. The Call to Adventure, Trials and Tribulations, The Abyss and the Return; all elements are presented in a professional manner. It is classic. Perhaps fairy-tale-ish is a better term.

I like the way it is structured. Something that looks like a coincidence is actually something set up in advance. Something that might be a literal deus ex machina, it actually foreshadowed at numerous points. There are staggered revelations up until the end.

It has a satisfying climax and the close of the story is....well, I don't want to say exactly but other than fitting. It is a perfect, in my opinion, thematic ending for a story hinging on Fair Folk and fairy tale gods.

CHARACTERS

I like Mira. She is a plucky girl with a sense of duty and responsibility. She is also a Daddy's Girl that is brave on her own. She has flaws that can be expected of a teenager, such as over-confidence or not thinking something all the way through.

Jaldor Jarn sounds like an archetypal knight errant or paladin. He is, but he has a deeper and more nuanced personality than For Great Justice. He also has really thick skin given that Mira is suspicious of him even as he rescues her. It's like, if Mira is Little Red Riding Hood, then he is the woodcutter who gracefully acknowledges that someone like himself could be just as dangerous as the wolf.

Jack or Jerrack, the Lord of Fellhallow, is the villain of this story. He is also one of the Great Powers and his domain is life in general and forests in particular. He is arrogant and sinister; a spooky villain for a spooky forest. He is also petty, which, in a strange way, warps back around into a form of kindness.

POLISH

It looks good.

This story definitely stands on its own, separate from the books in this 'verse while relating to them. However, readers will complete Light of the Radiant before this one will discover an extra treat.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Tribute" an A+, which means that Matthew Ward is the second author to be added to my Hall of Fame.


Click here for my next book review (for fun): The Sword and the Mind

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): The Medieval Siege

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Read for Fun: The Medieval Siege

This is a textbook I kept from a college class because I thought it would be useful reference material. I didn't read a tenth of it at the time because there was enough time for it. Anyway, I finished it the other day.

This book traces a path in siege warfare in Europe and western Asia (the Middle East etc.) from the end of the Roman Period through the Reformation (around the end of the 1400s). It deals with tactics, equipment, and the social/political/religious stuff involved with sieges themselves.

I like the beginning and ending of this book; no that is not a backhanded compliment.

The first several chapters have great information pertaining to siege warfare. It talks about sieges in detail, and also generally. That is, the course of a typical siege. It compares between Roman, post-Roman and "barbarian" methods and equipment. There is a lot of information in particular about the Viking period. The background of sieges is explored: logistics, maintenance of fortifications, internal affairs and external relations etc.
There is a lot of stuff that I find useful and what I would expect to find in a book that deals exclusively with sieges.

The middle chapters are more about general history. To grossly oversimplify, it is a list of names and places and results. I imagine I could find similar information in any book about the crusading period or the Hundred Years War,  or even in an online thing like Wikipedia. The density of siege details is lower. They're still useful, but between the chapters before and the chapters later, they feel superfluous.

The later chapters reverse this trend. They are a chapter about siege equipment and a chapter about siege conduct and customs. It is compact stuff about throwing machines, mining, and "dirty tricks", that is followed by even more informative siege conduct, surrender terms, and the evolution in what was done and what was acceptable, as seen by chroniclers over time.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Medieval Siege" by Jim Bradbury a B+

Click here for my next book review (for review): The Tribute

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Dungeons and Dragons e3.5 Dungeon Master's Manual

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Tribute has a FANTASTIC opening


"The Tribute" is a fantasy short story by Matthew Ward, and it has a FANTASTIC opening.

Right from the start it sets its mood. The opening of a story is difficult, because there is nothing to work from. By invoking the witching hour in an organic manner, the mood is set for supernatural creepiness.

It is a couple pages long, but several thing are accomplished without bumping into each other. The protagonist, her personality, her natural clairvoyance, her history of not being All of The other Reindeer, are smoothly established. Initial world building is set up to prepare for the coming adventure. All of this wraps around the immediate event and comes together in a spooky atmosphere.

It is quick, compact and powerful.

It is impressive.

As soon as I read it, as an author, I marveled at it. I wrote the above paragraphs immediately because I wanted to gush about it later.  It is only by trying (and failing) to write something this good that can truly appreciate just how good it is.
This book takes place in the same universe as other novels by Matthew Ward. I've reviewed three of them: Light of the Radiant,  Shadow of the Raven, and A Matter of Belief

For the full review of this book, Click here

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).