Poker postseason recap, summer 2019

August 11, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 11, 2019

The six-month-long World Tavern Poker season will conclude this evening. Thus far I’ve collected one prize — or make that two prizes, a plaque-and-medallion two-in-one combination — thanks to my taking the season points championship at the venue where I serve as tournament director on Sunday nights. It’s only my second-ever season-points title.

On Wednesday, July 31, I finished second in a tavern championship, one of two sorts of postseason tournaments that World Tavern hosts.

There were two key hands at the final table. In one, Janet, the player to my right, pushed all in for, say, a quartet of 5,000 chips at a time when I had around eight such chips in hand. I had king-10 unsuited in the small blind. Did I want to risk a major chunk of my stack on a pair of hole cards that were, at best, moderately strong? I discarded my hand.

Janet ended up winning the main pot with KQ, which would have beaten my KT, while D—, sitting immediately to my left, collected a modest side pot with a hand that was inferior to mine. I later kicked myself because, without knowing it, I’d passed up an opportunity to eliminate D—.

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Some good walks: A list, with pictures (and a pair of videos to boot!)

August 10, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 10, 2019

Recently I’ve been very active on the walking front. A quick recap: 

Tuesday, July 30: I hiked 3.44 miles in 1:26:25 (25:09 per mile) at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, which is located a little southwest of Hillsborough, N.C. This was my second-ever visit to the park; I went around five years ago as a volunteer on some kind of work party. As I recall, we stayed around the fishing ponds near the park entrance and never approached any of the forested areas. My pace was extremely slow because I’m not used to sustained inclines of any sort. I also paused at the highest point I reached to take this short video:

• Thursday, Aug. 1: I hiked 4.1 miles in 1:05:28 (15:59 pace) on the American Tobacco Trail from a little north of mile 8, where Durham’s Streets of Southpoint shopping mall is located, to probably around the 9.75 mile marker, a little past Crooked Creek. I’ve hiked the ATT before, but always on stretches further to the south, in Chatham and Wake counties. 

• Saturday, Aug. 3: I hiked 3.2 miles in 52:18 (16:22 pace) on the section of Bolin Creek Trail between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. I’ve traveled this trail before, both on foot and on bicycle, but it was my first journey along this track in probably at least five years. 

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Cheeps and Chirps for Aug. 8, 2019: Not-quite-as-political edition

August 8, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 8, 2019

More of my microblogging

• Miscellany

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Cheeps and Chirps for Aug. 8, 2019: Political edition

August 8, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 8, 2019

I guess it’s time for another dive into my stream of consciousness.

• Politics ’n’ stuff

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Iain Banks considers the morality of force in his third Culture novel, ‘Use of Weapons’

August 3, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 3, 2019

Iain Banks’s 1990 novel, Use of Weapons, is the third entry in his Culture series, which revolves around an immensely advanced human civilization that dominates the galaxy in the far future. Superficially, the subject matter here has more in common with the series’ initial volume, Consider Phlebas, which followed the exploits of Horza, a mercenary fighting on behalf of the Culture’s enemies.

The protagonist this time around is one Cheradenine Zakalwe. Like Horza, the main character of Use of Weapons is a mercenary born into a society outside the Culture. However, Zakalwe generally fights on behalf of the Culture, even if he doesn‘t always understand or agree with its aims.

The book’s core has an interesting structure. Chapters numbered 1 through 14 relate what I think of as the main narrative, detailing Zakalwe’s most recent exploits; they alternate with chapters, counting down from XIII through I, which chronicle earlier parts of Zakalwe’s life. This is sandwiched between several short items: at the front, a song and a prologue; at the end, an epilogue, a poem and a separate epilogue that I initially skipped because I mistook it to be an excerpt from a separate Banks novel. (This last section’s title, “States of War: Prologue,” was not helpful.)

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Short takes: China Miéville’s ‘The Last Days of New Paris’ and Ursula Le Guin’s ‘Nine Lives’

July 31, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 31, 2019

I generally try to review each book that I read. Here are two recent ones that fell through the cracks.

The Last Days of New Paris is a 2016 (spins wheel) novella by China Miéville, a London author with a penchant for exotic subjects. The bulk of the narrative is set in 1950 Paris — but this is neither a year nor a city that you or I would recognize.

24-year-old Thibaut, the cynical main character, inhabits a quarantined city divided among Nazis, Resistance fighters, armed Surrealist irregulars and paranormal phenomena. The latter category includes literal devils as well as “manifs,” which are animated works of literature and art that have somehow become tangible.

Amid this chaotic metropolis, Thibault encounters Sam, an American photographer. She claims to be researching a book about the devastated French capital and the weirdness that infests it. Thibaut suspects that his new friend is concealing something, not least because the Germans are hell-bent on killing her.

This is all quite fantastic. Unfortunately, it was challenging to figure out just what was going on in any given scene, let alone in the overall narrative, and I never got invested in either Thibaut or Sam.

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How long is long enough? A very short inquiry into the lengths of works of literature

July 30, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 30, 2019

Author’s note: This post briefly refers to concepts of a sexual nature; it also includes a hyperlink to a rather dry 25-page law journal article related to this. Consequently, the post may not be appropriate for all readers. MEM

How does one distinguish among the short story, the novelette, the novella and the novel? In contemplating this question, I was tempted to paraphrase Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart’s famously nebulous 1964 definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.

However!

The open-source educational website Owlcation features a helpful short article that categorically divides these narratives by word count. According to Syed Hunbbel Meer, a Pakistani writer who’s contributed more than 100 articles to the site, a short story ranges from 3,500 to 7,500 words; a novelette, from 7,501 to 17,000 words; a novella, from 17,001 to 40,000 words; and a novel is any piece of fiction that exceeds a novella in length.

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At once frustrating and fascinating, Cixin Liu’s ‘The Three-Body Problem’ explores an outlandish plot against science

July 29, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 29, 2019

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu’s fascinating but uneven science-fiction novel, opens in 1967 as internecine battles rage across Beijing. The scene becomes even direr as the author, a Chinese native and former power plant engineer, focuses on an intellectual clash at Tsignhua University, where a physics professor refuses to renounce his scientific approach when called upon to do so before an audience of frenzied revolutionary diehards. China is in the grips of the Cultural Revolution, a period that saw spouses, siblings and friends turn against each other in the name of ideological purity.

By the end of the chapter, which is titled “The Madness Years,” a young physicist named Ye Wenjie has seen a beloved relative killed, partly at the instigation of other family members, and discovered the corpse of a revered mentor. An emotionally devastated Ye is exiled to a remote mountain range in Northeast China, but despite her disinterest in bucking authority, troubles flock to her like moths to a flame.

Salvation of sorts arrives in the book’s third chapter, which sees Ye’s services coopted by administrators at a secret alpine communications facility known as Red Coast Base. When she enters the installation, Ye expects to remain there for the remainder of her life. In fact, the disgraced physicist encounters multiple situations that will shape not just the rest of her existence, but potentially those of her nation, species and planet.

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Mid-2019 D.C.–area poker anecdotes, conclusion

July 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 28, 2019

My D.C.–area poker tour concluded with a visit to a popular area venue. Things did not go as hoped.

I don’t think I won a hand during the hour or so that I played in the early game. This set the stage for a pretty unenjoyable remainder of the day.

After getting knocked out, I wandered over to the front of the room and asked the server for a burger and fries. Since she was responsible for covering more than one room, and since I wanted to sit and eat outside, I asked her a question after placing my order: “Can you find me outside?” She pulled a face, as if parsing my request, and then nodded.

With that taken care of, I went outside to unwind. I sat down and looked at my phone; I paced around and looked at my phone; I shook my head in sorrow and anger. Woe is me!

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Mid-2019 D.C.–area poker anecdotes, part 2

July 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 26, 2019

A few days after my experiences at A Place, I played poker at another large establishment, this one a combined diner, dive bar and pool hall. But the nature of this spot, which I’ll call B Place — if I need call it anything at all — is actually irrelevant to my tale, which entirely revolves around poker.

I arrived a bit late for the early game, but soon after I sat down, I started catching cards. I made a full house and extracted a bunch of chips from a non-believer. Pretty soon, I was chip leader at my table.

The good run continued as the first two tables broke up and I moved to each of the others in turn. When we got to a final table of maybe nine players, I was sitting pretty.

But not for long!

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Mid-2019 D.C.–area poker anecdotes, part 1

July 24, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 24, 2019

Author’s note: The following post contains brief, not particularly specific references to illegal activities. Consequently, it may not be appropriate for all readers. MEM

Hey, remember when I went dog-sitting in the greater D.C. area the second week of July? Well, I’ve got some poker and poker-adjacent posts from that period.

Let’s start with an establishment I’ll call A Place, which was a rather clubby spot. One of the tables the players used was a purpose-built card table. Rather handily, it had built-in cup-holders. Alas, the table was… not in tip-top shape. At one point, as I raised my cup of soda to sip some delicious chilled carbonated sugar water, I actually pulled up the cup-holder along with my drink. Sadly, this detracted a bit from the ambience.

When I went to lift my cup of soda, I inadvertently lifted the cup-holder out of its slot.

When I went to lift my cup of soda, I inadvertently lifted the cup-holder out of its slot.

During my session at this very same place, I strolled away from the card-playing area, either to order something — perhaps my now-legendary Soda, Dominator of Cup-Holders?! — or to pay my bill. My eyes located a relatively unpopulated spot at the busy but expansive bar and I headed there. When I arrived, I pulled out my wallet.

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A family of frustrated science-lovers is caught up in a bizarre disaster in Erika Swyler’s ‘Light from Other Stars’

July 23, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 23, 2019

At the opening of Light from Other Stars, Erika Swyler’s 2019 new novel, the main character awakens to birdsong. But this seemingly commonplace occurrence is anything but; not only is Nedda Papas listening a recording of a species that’s been extinct since 1987, she is part of a four-person crew taking a one-way voyage aboard the starship Chawla to establish a colony on a far-flung planet. The mission is critical; without the colony, humanity will be unable to escape a homeworld that’s increasingly being devastated by climate change.

The book’s main action is staged in a very different setting: The (evidently fictitious) town of Easter some 32 years in the past. This community nestled on Florida’s space coast seems like a hamlet typical for its time and location, but the events Swyler chronicles are anything but.

That’s because on the morning of Jan. 28, 1987, a shockwave from the nearby Challenger explosion jostles a highly advanced but all-too-fragile experimental device that Nedda’s father has built in a lab at the local college. As Theo explains to his daughter, the prototype is designed to produce some incredible effects:

“Let’s say I have a bowl of marbles, half red, half white. Red on one side of the bowl, white on the other. Now, you come along and shake up the bowl. Do those marbles stay divided or do they get mixed up?” 

“They mix.” 

“Right. Entropy is you, shaking up the bowl, that progression of things. Entropy is how things move from order to disorder. It’s also one way of thinking about and measuring time.” 

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A rudderless prodigy enters a bizarre tournament in a distant, barbaric space empire in Iain Banks’s ‘The Player of Games’

July 17, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 17, 2019

Iain Banks’s 1987’s novel Consider Phlebas chronicled a shape-shifting secret agent undertaking a dangerous secret mission on behalf of the Idirans, a species of giant three-legged lizards locked in a bloody galactic struggle with a foe called the Culture. The following year, the British author published the second entry in what became the 11-volume Culture series, a book called The Player of Games.

The two narratives are wildly different. Horza, the protagonist of Consider Phlebas, is a grim mercenary who passionately believes that his Idiran patrons deserve to defeat the Culture. Gurgeh, the main character in the sequel, is a highly refined game-player. As accomplished as he is jaded, Gurgeh evidently wanders ambivalently from one academic posting to another. Throughout his arc, Horza is at war with at least half the galaxy and prepared to knife most of the other half in the back at a moment’s notice. By contrast, at the start of his story, Gurgeh is practically master of all he surveys; like a mountaineer who’s scaled every noteworthy peak, he can no longer find anything to excite him.

As Jewish grandmothers might say, we should all have such problems. Seven centuries after Gurgeh’s civilization won the Idiran war, the Culture evidently sprawls across a major chunk of the galaxy. Thanks to genetic engineering (“genofixing”), its human inhabitants are capable of internally manufacturing and self-dosing on their own mood- and mind-altering substances. Sex changes are not just easily implemented but almost de rigueur (“normally people bore one [child] and fathered one”).

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Plodding pacing and a wooden narrator make reading Jack McDevitt’s ‘Octavia Gone’ feel too much like a chore

July 14, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 14, 2019

Octavia Gone, a recently released Jack McDevitt novel, is the eighth novel in the author’s Alex Benedict series. I’ve previously read Polaris and Seeker, respectively the second and third books in this science fiction sequence, and I thought that the new entry has a lot in common with those volumes — for better and for worse.

Genius treasure hunter and antique merchant Alex Benedict and his sidekick, starship pilot Chase Kolpath, once again find themselves investigating a disappearance in deep space. The subject of their probe this time is Octavia, a distant research station orbiting a wormhole.

The outpost is paired with a cannon that peppers the phenomenon with pods in an attempt to locate the opposite end of the wormhole. After Octavia drops out of contact, a starship that’s dispatched to investigate finds the cannon. However, there’s no sign of the station itself, the quartet of people it carries or the short-range shuttle they used to transit between station and cannon.

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Misadventure in dog-sitting, 2019 edition

July 13, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 13, 2019

I’ve spent the last nine or so days dog-sitting in (depending on your point of view) the greater, middling or lesser Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. This prompted one rather comical episode.

On our Tuesday afternoon walk, more than a day after the area was subjected to dramatic flash flooding, I— wriggled out of her harness and lay in a damp spillway on the side of the road. Five or 10 minutes later, she wriggled out of her harness again and plunked her entire body down in a muddy patch next to a sidewalk. The previous evening, mind you, I’d tightened her harness because it seemed a bit loose.

The incident with the mud patch prompted me to scold I—, because I knew this would likely make me late for the 6:30 p.m. poker game I’d been hoping to attend. Little did I know!

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Richard K. Morgan puts his aggressive antihero through physical, emotional and mental wringers in ‘Woken Furies,’ the culmination of his Takeshi Kovacs trilogy

July 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 12, 2019

At the start of Richard K. Morgan’s 2003 debut novel, Altered Carbon, his narrator’s consciousness was revived in someone else’s body — a “sleeve” — in Bay City, a sprawling metropolis straddling the San Francisco Bay. It was Takeshi Kovacs’s first visit to Earth, a journey arranged by an ultrawealthy Methuselah who had memories of watching the first interstellar colony ships journeying to the stars.

Morgan envisions a future in which memories can be transferred from an original body to a robot to a clone to an entirely different body nearly at will. Although physical travel across interstellar distances consumes a few decades, human minds and other information can be shuttled from one star to another almost instantaneously thanks to “needlecasts.”

The sequel to Altered Carbon, 2003’s Broken Angels, was set a few decades later on Sanction IV, a colony world ravaged by a vicious insurrection. The plot saw Kovacs defect from a mercenary organization to pursue an amazing discovery — a portal to an abandoned alien starship.

Woken Furies, the 2005 capstone to the Kovacs trilogy, returns the character to his home planet, Harlan’s World. However, the reunion is not exactly a happy one; as the first chapter gets under way, Kovacs is wounded by a priest shooting blindly through a door. The protagonist, a sort of free-agent gunsel with a conscience, isn’t above pursuing a sadistic vendetta, although Morgan conceals the exact nature and scope of what’s going on for a few hundred pages.

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Numerous flaws detract from Elizabeth Moon’s ambitious 2019 galactic odyssey ‘Ancestral Night’

June 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 28, 2019

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction credits Connecticut-born author Elizabeth Bear with 46 titles; her first book, Hammered, the initial entry in a trilogy, appeared in 2003. Her latest work, published this year, is Ancestral Night; despite her prolificacy, it was the first novel of hers that I read. (I have read at least one of her stories, a military science fiction tale in Moon’s Vatta’s War universe from the largely excellent Infinite Stars anthology, which struck me as being mediocre.)

Ancestral Night is narrated by Haimey Dz, engineer aboard the two-person salvage tug. Her vehicle is called Singer, the handle favored by its artificial intelligence; in fact, the “shipmind” is usually as difficult to distinguish from the vessel carrying it as a person’s mind is from her body. As the story opens, Singer, Dz and their pilot, Connla Kurusz, are approaching an anomaly well outside the usual galactic travel lanes.

The trio expect to find a wrecked spacecraft but actually locate something far more complicated. When Dz boards the abandoned alien-built vessel, she finds that it generates artificial gravity, a capability that the multiracial galactic government called the Synarche lacks. Dz also makes two other discoveries: The ship was involved in, to put it mildly, unsavory drug trade, and that its complement was evidently murdered by a human.

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Joe Zieja’s 2016 debut ‘Mechanical Failure’ pits a grade-A slacker against a dysfunctional military

June 22, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 22, 2019

The 2016 science fiction comedy Mechanical Failure was the debut novel by Joe Zieja, an Air Force Academy graduate who’s worked as a voiceover artist and composer for commercials and video games. The book, which is set centuries in the future, follows R. Wilson Rogers, a retired sergeant of the Meridan Patrol Fleet in a distant corner of the universe. (“The Fortuna Stultus galaxy had been humanity’s home for a thousand years or so — ever since they’d accidentally collapsed the Milky Way,” Zieja explains in an aside.)

As Mechanical Failure begins, Rogers is a smuggler and con artist trying to play two different criminal factions against each other. Rogers is a bon vivant and slacker, but he’s close to getting away with his scam (passing off baking flour as medical supplies) when a patrol ship stumbles upon the small flotilla of mercenary ships where the phony sale is occurring. Upon being arrested, Rogers is allowed to choose between serving up to five years a prison or a three-year re-enlistment.

He opts for the latter, and ends up returning to his old assignment: A berth aboard “the aptly-if-uncreatively named [Meridan Patrol Ship] Flagship.” Flagship is, of course, the flagship vessel of the 331st Anti-Thelicosan Buffer Group, which has helped maintain the Two Hundred Years’ (and Counting) Peace for, well… you know.

However, Rogers finds that a lot has changed in his former unit. The 331st is on a war footing, the Flagship is awash in robots, and personnel assignments have been shuffled seemingly at random. Worst of all, Rogers finds himself the recipient of an unwanted and unexpected promotion. As the newly minted Ensign Rogers laments, he’d “never wanted responsibility or accountability, people calling him ‘sir’ and saluting him, people asking him to fill out paperwork.”

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Alex White’s thrilling ‘A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe’ assembles a band of misfits for a perilous treasure hunt

June 20, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 20, 2019

Alex White, an Alabama resident who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they, has published at least five novels, the first of which appeared in 2011. (Goodreads also credits White with a 2005 novel.)

2018 was an extremely prolific year for White. In April, they published Alien: The Cold Forge, licensed from the 20th Century Fox science-fiction film franchise that was recently acquired by the Disney empire. Two months later, White followed up with an original book, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe. In December, White published A Bad Deal for the Whole Universe, a sequel to A Big Ship in what is billed as the Scavengers series. (A third entry in the series, The Worst of All Possible Worlds, is due out in a year.)

I checked a digital copy of A Big Ship out of my local library based on a half-read description. I was attracted by the prospect of a ragtag band seeking out a powerful lost warship that some dismiss as fictitious.

Once I began reading A Big Ship, I was a bit taken aback to discover that it was a science-fiction/fantasy genre crossover. Although the story is set in a future where humans have colonized many different star systems and journey in faster-than-light spaceships, most of the characters use magic. I also was a bit put off by the characters, who are something of a motley lot.

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A marine legend turns terrifyingly real for the scientists and sailors of Mira Grant’s ‘Into the Drowning Deep’

June 18, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 18, 2019

Author’s note: This book review, and particularly the novel excerpt featured herein, concerns a horror story and may not be appropriate for younger or sensitive readers. MEM

The California-born author Seanan McGuire has published, by my count, more than 40 different books, a handful of essays and dozens of short stories — all this before her 42nd birthday. In a somewhat catty assessment, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction sniffs that “[t]he fluent copiousness of McGuire’s talent helps explain the rapid increase of interest in her work; but may also explain its occasional repetitiveness.”

Some 10 of McGuire’s novels appear under the nom de plume Mira Grant, which she adopted for reasons unclear to me. The most recent Grant book is 2017’s Into the Drowning Deep, an entertaining trifle about a research vessel that makes… well, not exactly first contact… with carnivorous human/fish hybrids that normally dwell in the deeps of the Pacific Ocean.

Grant assembles her voyagers aboard the Melusine, a spacious new research vessel that sets sail for the Mariana Trench in August 2022. The ship and expedition have been commissioned by Imagine Entertainment, a media empire with the approximate success and scope of Disney — although its aesthetics are more aligned with those of infamous C-movie studios like Cannon Films and the Asylum.

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Aliette de Bodard’s ‘The Citadel of Weeping Pearls’ is an unimpressive extension of her Xuya science-fiction sequence

June 15, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 15, 2019

Some months ago, I read a short novel called On a Red Station, Drifting, set in a future galactic empire guided by the values of ancient Vietnamese culture. Aliette de Bodard’s tale evoked a very different vision of human expansion than the American- and European-centered versions with which I grew up. De Bodard is an American-born software engineer who shares French and Vietnamese heritage who has spent most of her life in France, and I was fascinated and enchanted by her creation.

Regrettably, I was far less absorbed by de Bodard’s 2017 follow-up, The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, which is set a few decades after Red Station. The empire is still embroiled in conflict, but the irresolute young emperor has been replaced a number of years ago by a much firmer queen. In a bid to counter a new threat, Empress Mi Hiep has launched a project to find the titular citadel.

The citadel is not a building but a fleet commanded by the monarch’s estranged daughter, Bright Princess Ngoc Minh. The highly advanced ships disappeared three decades ago, but now Mi Hiep believes she needs the citadel’s innovative engines, defenses and weapons to repel a surprisingly swift invasion fleet dispatched by a rival kingdom.

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An amnesiac Londoner with supernatural powers is charged with sniffing out a mole in Daniel O’Malley’s ‘The Rook’

June 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 12, 2019

The Rook, a 2012 novel by an American-educated Australian, launched what to date has been a two-part series called the Chequy Files. Daniel O’Malley’s first book belongs to a genre I think of as urban fantasy fiction, which the 1997 Encyclopedia of Fantasy defines in part as “the subgenre of stories set in an alternate version of our modern world where humans (often with special Talents) and supernatural beings — most typically Vampires, Werewolves, assorted other Shapeshifters and very humanlike Elves or Fairies — interact via adventure, melodrama, intrigue and Sex.”

Now I enjoyed the Harry Potter series about as much as anyone else my age. In my early teens, I was something of a fantasy aficionado, dabbling in The Lord of the Rings and successors such as Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern volumes, Terry Brooks’s Shannara series and Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. But my interest in the genre died off sometime by the middle or end of the 1990s. Other than J.K. Rowlings’s mega-best-selling Potter series, I hadn’t read a new work of fantasy in something like two decades — until last month.

The Rook has a very clever premise and is mostly well-written, but it emphatically did not rekindle my interest in fantasy. The book begins with a woman standing in the rain in a London park with no knowledge of who she is or why she’s surrounded by bodies of people wearing latex gloves. This mostly blank slate is inhabiting the body of Myfanwy Thomas, an high-ranking official in “the Court” of a quasigovernmental secret British institution called the Checquy Group. (Her given name rhymes with Tiffany; the organization’s sounds like Sheck-Eh.)

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Pennsylvania pokerpalooza 2019: Part lucky 13!

June 9, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 9, 2019

Upon reaching my car, the first order of business was driving out the main entrance of the casino property, turning right onto Pennsylvania Route 315, driving about 700 feet and depositing my winnings in the nearest automatic teller. Having done that, I grabbed the receipt and restarted my car and made my way back onto southbound 315.

From the bank, it’s only about a mile until the interchange with Pennsylvania 309. Unfortunately, it was coming up on 4:30 by this time, meaning that I had to wait nearly five minutes before I could make the left turn onto the state road.

Route 309 extends only a half-mile to the east it terminates at Interstate 81. You can go straight past the highway, but the road you continue on becomes Pennsylvania 115. Right around the moment I got onto the highway, my phone informed me that I was getting an incoming call. The area code was 570, which I correctly thought was local. I pulled over to the side of the highway just before the exit lane for the interstate.

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Pennsylvania pokerpalooza 2019: Part 12

June 8, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 8, 2019

Remember when I busted out of the national Tournament of Champions finals? Yeah, me too. Well, long story… er, long… after that happened, I circuited the main casino floor and got a quick meal at Johnny Rockets.

A choice among three options lay before me. I could leave the casino and drive to Virginia in plenty of time to have dinner with my hosts and friends; I could play in one of the last two non-invitational tournaments remaining on the event schedule and depart after that; or I could sit down in the poker room and play at a cash table for a while.

Well, I didn’t just want to leave. I typically visit a casino exactly once a year, and I still felt a competitive urge.

However, the penultimate tournament was slated to begin at 3:30, and the last at 6 p.m.; the entry fees were $65 and $50, respectively. Since it was just approaching noon, I’d need to kill more than three hours. And unless I busted early, which of course I didn’t want to do, I wouldn’t be able to reach my friends in Northern Virginia until well after dinnertime. Worst of all, I suppose, was the possibility that, as on the previous evening, I could play for four hours and not come away with any money.

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Pennsylvania pokerpalooza 2019: Part 11

June 7, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 7, 2019

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this series of posts, the last five springs running I’ve attended a national World Tavern Poker event at a particular casino in Pennsylvania. That venue is Mohegan Sun Pocono in the hills above Wilkes-Barre.

(This facility, I ought to note, is distinct in location, if not name, from the top search result for Mohegan Sun.)

(I also ought to note, being the pedant that I am, that the precise location for Mohegan Sun Pocono is the township of Plains.)

The facility incorporates a racetrack, a casino and a hotel. The racetrack betting floor and the gaming areas of the casino are, as is typical for such venues, barred to those under the age of 18 or 21, depending on the exact location. The racetrack has its own building, which can be reached without stepping outside by way of an enclosed sky bridge.

The casino and hotel are set side by side. Excluding what I think of as the racetrack annex, which houses the poker room and a bunch of slot machines, the casino’s main public area is set on a single floor. You can walk directly from the casino to a corridor that leads directly to the hotel’s reception area. Continue past the hotel for another few dozen strides and you’ll find yourself in the lobby of a set of meeting areas, which include a spacious ballroom.

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