Dust Jacket Covers for Book Collectors

Book collecting is another hobby of mine. Over the years, I have seemed books that are printed on acid-free paper, with archival quality inks. This helps the paper to retain its color (not turn yellow) and the ink from not fading.

The other challenge is that the hardcovers books often come with dust jacket covers. Often while shelving these dust jacket covers get damaged, or frayed as you pull the books in and out of the shelves. The edges where the dust jacket turns are most susceptible to the kinks that can damage the look of the book. If exposed to a library with windows, the spines can show signs of fading (that also means that these are printed with non-archival quality inks).

As a collector of books, I like to protect the dust jackets of my hardcover books. When someone visits our home, they always comment that it must be a lot of work to do so. So I made a quick tutorial on how I take care of these books using mylar covers. To avoid spine fading, you can also check to see if there are any UV protective covers (but that is a whole another cost point you have to consider).

Take a look at the tutorial video below.

Also, check the links below for the supplies and books featured in the video. Your purchases helps this channel. I hope you find it useful.

Brodart Just-a-Fold III Archival Book Jacket Covers
Bone folder featured in the video is “8 Inch Real Bone Folder VENCINK”
Featured Books: The Hobbit & The Lord Of The Rings Boxed Set
Music by Michael Kobrin on Pixabay

JPS Nagi
May 16, 2021

The Mortuary

I was never exposed to Dungeons & Dragons while growing up in India. During my later years, as I came to know about it, I have always been fascinated by the game that plays in the theatre of your mind. My friends at work set up an introductory D&D session for me. Another friend suggested a new campaign “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist” which I am having too much fun playing. My character in the campaign is Neldor, an Elf Druid. The story presented here, “The Mortuary”, is not the beginning but somewhere in the middle of the campaign, where our heroes have brought a Cleric, Loren,  with them who knows how to speak with the recently deceased. This is the version of the story, and how it played in my mind and the dialogs are how I imagined them.


The Mortuary

The torso of the gnome corpse stood upright taking in a deep breath, as Loren Allspark finished her incantation. “You have 5 questions. Make them simple”, she said while turning around to face the group. The group had already determined from the appearance that the gnome was Drakhaal, the spy who was hired to tail Renéer, by his father.

The eeriness of the blank dead eyes of the gnome and charred skin was making everyone uncomfortable. Blue nodded to Tig’rod indicating to go ahead and ask the questions the group had decided. Tig’rod took a step forward while everyone stayed back. Loren was the only one who seemed comfortable. She gave Tig’rod an encouraging smile.

Hello Drakhaal, my name is Tig’rod. I wanted to know how did you die?”, Tig’rod asked in a shivering voice.

Drakhaal’s blank eyes seemed to look in Tig’rod’s direction, and in a hollow breathy voice, he replies. “I was … coming to deliver … the stone to folks … at the Thunder Ale Tavern. Then I saw an orange glow, there was fire, heat and then I guess … I guess … I died”.

Ersi, Roh’gar, and Neldor were looking at Drakhaal with wide eyes. They knew about the spell. The spell granted the semblance of life and intelligence to a corpse of your choice within the range of the spell, allowing it to answer the questions you pose. The corpse must still have a mouth and can’t be undead. The spell was only effective on the corpses that had died in the last ten days. Until the spell ends, you can ask the corpse up to five questions. The corpse knows only what it knew in life. The answers are usually brief, cryptic, sometimes repetitive. Seeing the spell in action was unsettling for everyone.

Loren nodded at Tig’rod indicating that he should continue.

Where did you get the stone, Drakhaal?”, Tig’rod asked his next question.

I … I stole the stone … from the lair …”, he took another breath, “the layer of the beholder … Xanathar … in the sewers”, Drakhaal continued in his breathy voice.

Neldor’s eyes widened to know that the Xanathar, the head of the Xanathatr’s guild is a beholder. He had not even considered that. Beholders found mostly in the Underdark, are large, orb-shaped beings with ten eyestalks and one central eye, each contains powerful magic. They are powerful and intelligent creatures and are among the greatest threats to the world. Neldor’s elf ears started twitching. Roh’gar put his scaly Dragonborn hand on his shoulder. Neldor looks at Roh’gar who tilts his head towards the gnome. Tig’rod was getting ready with his next question, and his hand was slowly moving towards his whiskey flask around his hip. Blue slaps his hand and indicates him to ask the next question they had decided.

Do you know who killed you, Drakhaal?”, Tig’rod voice was quivering now.

Drakhaal’s eyes never blinked and in his breathy voice, he started talking again. “No, I do not. I … I saw the fire and then … then I died”.

Loren rolled her eyes, as if Tig’rod had wasted one of the questions. With everyone so quiet, she was the only one who seemed to think, this was not uncanny. Tig’rod continued, “Can you tell us if Xanathar or Zantarum were involved in your death?

I think … Xanathar must have me tailed … when he realized … realized the stone was stolen. I heard”, Drakhaal took another breath, “I heard … Xanathar blamed … Zantarum for the robbery. But … but … Zantarum came to know … that it was me… so they started tailing me too … black cloaks … three folks in black cloaks … were from Zantarum… I saw their tattoos. And then … and then … I died”.

Loren winked at Tig’rod, glad that this question got some answers. “The last question”, she said to Tig’rod.

You had two pouches, we found only one. Did the other pouch with the stone in it; where is it?

Yes … yes … the stone of Golorr” Drakhaal seemed to be running out of time and started to struggle to answer. “Just before I died … one of the black cloaks … took the pouch … and then … and … then … I … died”. With these words, the air seemed to leave Drakhaal’s body, his eyelids shut, and the animated torso lost any sign of life and slammed against the table.

Everyone was looking at the dead gnome. Loren voice startled everyone, “This spell doesn’t return the creature’s soul to its body, only its animating spirit. The corpse can’t learn new information, doesn’t comprehend anything that has happened since it died, and can’t speculate about future events. So ask the questions accordingly. And yes, remember, the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer if you are hostile to it or it recognizes you as an enemy”.

Tig’rod face contorted as if he was about to throw up. He took a flask from his hip and took a big sip of his whiskey. That seemed to calm him a bit. Loren notices everyone still looking at the burnt corpse. “He is dead now. Who do we want to talk to next?

I can’t, you do it this time. Blue?”, Tig’rod looked at Blue.

A beholder? Xanathar is a beholder?”, Neldor was muttering.

Yes. And let’s not discuss this here. Remember where we are. We need to finish what we came here for”, Roh’gar said in his groveling voice. And a small whiff of smoke escaped his nostrils. Neldor composed himself, nodded and looked at Blue.

Looks like the stone is with the Zantarum. Two out of the three black-cloaked figured are here dead. The third one must have escaped with the stone”, Blue said, thinking out loud.

We need to find out where was the stone to be taken by Zantarums”, Roh’gar made a point. “We must talk to the dead Zantarum guys”.

Would they know if we are from Zantarum”, Ersi asks Loren.

Well, they will know, but they may or may not tell the truth. Keep the questions simple”, she replied, checking the back of her hand, looking bored.

Okay Blue, it’s time to disguise yourself in the illusion spell. The black cloak and with the tattoo of Zantarum – the flying snakes”, Roh’gar said. “We need to find out where they would have taken the stone”. 

Blue’s eyes sparkle, and he looks at Loren and nods to her to do her spell. Loren starts her incantation under her breath, while Blue starts his illusion spell. As Loren’s spell ends, the Zantarum corpse gets animated, takes a deep breath and turns its head towards the group. Only the white of the eyes is visible, which makes Tig’rod to take another sip from his flask. This time even Ersi takes a step away from the animated corpse.

I am from Zantarum. We sent three of you to get the stone for us. We haven’t heard from any of you. Where was the stone to be taken?”, Blue asks while making sure the tattoo of the flying snakes is visible as his illusion to the corpse.

The stone, eh”, this guy’s voice is screechy, like small stones grinding against the metal sheet. “The stone was supposed to be taken back to Gralhund Villa, right after we get it.”

Did you hire the Nimblewright automaton to help you obtain the stone?”, Blue asks his second question.

Nimblewright? No, I do not know about any automaton”, everyone flinched at his voice.

None of you made it to the Gralhund Villa with the delivery. Not sure how many people are supposed to be at the Villa. Do you know?

There should be ten or maybe fifteen people there. We were following orders to take the stone and deliver it there”.

Did you know the gnome Drakhaal and what was the stone?

No, we were just following orders. We were asked to take the artifact and deliver it to the Villa”.

Who gave you the orders?”, Blue shoots his last question.

We were following Urstul Floxin, he was with us when we were tailing the gnome”. And with that, the corpse lost the air and his torso slammed on the metal table, making a loud clang! sound.

Well, that was informative” Blue exclaims.

Yes, very interesting”, Ersi said and seemed to be glad that the interrogation was quick.

Yeah, it looks like the stone was …” Tigrod said, while raising the flask towards his mouth. Before he could say anything else, Roh’gar jumped in, “Let us not discuss the matters here. We are here for information. Let’s get it and get out”. This time there was a small spark along with the smoke that escaped his nostrils. Everybody got quiet.

Blue nodded to Loren, who smiled, winked at Blue and started her incantation. The third corpse torso stood up, took a deep breath inside turned it’s head slowly towards the group. The upper right side of his face was burned where the red veins were showing. The mouth and jaw were still intact.

I am from Zantarum. How did you all die? Did the gnome kill you?

No. We cornered the gnome, and then, there was fire and I died”, the Zantarum man had a deep throaty voice.

I am here to find out the whereabouts of the stone you were supposed to deliver to the Gralhund Villa. Where is it?”, Blue asked continuing his illusion.

We were with Urstul. He pickpocketed the pouch from the gnome. Then there was a fire and I died.

Blue pretended to be annoyed, “That’s why I am here, man. Urstul did not show up at the Villa. If he escaped, where would he go, if not the Villa?

Urstul and we were supposed to take the stone and go straight to the Villa. We died, but I saw him escape the fire with the pouch. If he is not at the Gralhund Villa, he must have gone to the safehouse twenty-three B”.

Blue looked back at the group, and several heads nodded, edging him to continue.

Did you know what was in the pouch and what was it for?” Loren raised her four fingers at Blue indicating that this would be the fourth question.

It was a stone of some sort. It was supposed to make us rich beyond our wildest imagination. That’s all I know”, the corpse was slowing down and his voice was fading. Tig’rod was already looking away from the corpse.

What did the stone look like?” Blue asked his last question.

It was dark stone … greyish … the size of my palm. And there were …” the voice started to fade, “blue lines were going across it.”

As the torso of the last corpse fell on the table, Blue ended his illusion. Before anyone could say anything, Roh’gar jumped in “Time to go, everyone”. Tig’rod walked in front of everyone, taking another swig from his flask.

The group walked out of the mortuary, through the corridors of the old constabulary station. As they walked past the reception desk, they thanked the older constable whom Renéer had contacted for access to the corpses.

As the group stepped in the daylight, everyone felt like they have come back to the land of the living. Tig’rod handed Loren the twenty-five gold Dragons for her services and donation to her temple. Loren thanked him, “Thank you for your donation. If you ever need any more help, you know where to find me”. With that, she left. Everyone in the group exchanged looks, and with the new knowledge about the Xanathar, Zantarum, and the stone of Golorr, the group starts walking towards the ThunderAle Tavern.


JPS Nagi
April 20, 2020

Prologue

I was never exposed to Dungeons & Dragons while growing up in India. During my later years, as I came to know about it, I have always been fascinated by the game that plays in your mind. After a few discussions during lunch and expressing my curiosity, one of my friends at work decided to set up an introductory D&D session for me. He even created my playable character for me after talking to me and we met after work.
That was last September and I loved it. At present, I am playing in two campaigns. I tend to take very detailed notes and so I decided to write one of the incidents that happened a month back in one of my campaigns. Although it is not the beginning, I am calling it “Prologue” (that may change later).

I do not claim that the story is mine, but it is how it played in my mind. The dialogs are how I heard them and the scenery is how I saw it. It is my retelling of how it went down. I hope my interest stays and I bring more stories like this.

I give you … Prologue …


Prologue

Grommish looks at everyone and speaks in his guttural voice, “I am going to approach the house. You guys should hang back. I do not want to scare the parents”.

Everyone nods except Yolanda, who seems to be annoyed. She grimaces at the suggestion and looks at Grommish, “I will come with you. Last time we talked to them, I was there”.

Fine. But no threats this time. And I will do the talking”. Grommish stares at Yolanda with his piercing orc eyes. “Are we in agreement, Yolanda?

She shrugs and gives a slight nod. Grommish starts walking towards the house and Yolanda follows him.

The rest of their company hangs back from the farmer’s home. The golden glow of the dusk sky gives a strange shade to the already harvested fields. It is a small and humble home made of raw clay bricks that give the house its shade. There are small colored decorations on the house in a darker hue along with some handprints around the outer wall. An old door made from oak wood adorns the house. The roof seems to need a new thatch and a small lantern is hanging on the side of the front of the door. A small paddy field extends around the house on the right and transforms into a vegetable garden behind it.

Carna feels a strange eeriness in the air, now that they were closer to the town.

The town is aptly named Hopeless Fancy. The air is evil. I feel the hope is being drained out of me”, Carna says looking at the rest of them. Everyone seems to agree. Kalyn nods but keeps looking around, scouting the area.

Would you give it a rest, my dear man. This is a poor farmer’s home”, Carna says.

Hey, I can’t help it. This is what I do best” replies Kalyn with a smirk on his face.

Everyone turns their head towards the house, as they hear Grommish knock on the door in a friendly manner. A middle-aged woman opens the door. She is wearing simple lighter colored clothes which have seen some seasons. They can’t hear what they are talking from this distance, but it seems that the orc and the halfling are known to the woman. She seems friendly to them.

Let’s get closer, I can’t hear a thing from here”, Verok suggests. Everyone starts to move a bit closer to the house. The woman looks at the motion beyond Grommish, her eyes widen as they settle on the Dragonborn.

Grommish notices her gaze. “It’s fine Ms. Clairidge, they are my friends. They are with me”, they hear Grommish telling the woman, as they get closer. “That is Verok, and yes he is a Drgonborn”.

The woman looks back at Grommish and sadness seems to creep back in her eyes.

As I was saying Ms. Clairidge, Yolanda and I are still investigating the disappearance of your son. We caught Mad-Eye the hermit but it seems it was a false lead”. Krowley notices that Yolanda looks bored of all this talk and her hand slides along with her bow. The woman dabs her eye with the edge of her shawl and nods.

Ms. Clairidge, I have a favor to ask. I know it is painful for you to recall, but I do wish if you could tell us one more time how did your son disappear”, Grommish requests in the friendliest way possible.

Well, as I told you before”, her voice quivers, “after the day’s work, my husband and my son came back in the house for supper. They both looked tired from tilling the fields and getting ready for the next harvest season. The supper was a quiet affair, and after supper, my son went to bed. And the next morning, he was gone. Gone like the others”.

Are there any other ways to get out of your house, besides this door?”. The woman shakes her head.

Any windows in your son’s room where he could use to get out?”. She again shakes her head.

And the door creaks! How did your son get out of the house without you or your husband knowing, Ms. Clairidge”. Everyone is looking at the woman waiting for her response. Even Yolanda was looking from Grommish to the woman.

Ms. Clairidge’s voice gets agitates a little bit, “What are you trying to say? Our son was kidnapped … kidnapped by that hermit, Mad-Eye … or whatever his name is. My poor son, I wonder where he is, and if he is still …”. She could not finish the sentence and started sobbing.

Grommish looks at her patiently. After a few moments, she composes herself “As I said, he was taken, just like the other children”.

Ms. Clairidge, who are you afraid of?”. The woman’s face jerks up and she looks at Grommish. “Because you and I both know what you are telling us is not true. I caught up with Mad-Eye and he has not taken your son or any other child. Yes, I know, he was around your home when your son was kidnapped. He told me that he saw two figures walking away from your home that evening. It was a little darker so he did not see who it was. But he said one figure matched the height of your son”, Grommish’s tone was serious now. “Who are you afraid of, Ms. Clairidge? I implore you to please tell me what exactly happened. We need to know, so we can save your son, and other children who have been taken”.

And this time, please tell us the truth”.

The woman’s eyes tear up and she starts sobbing. Grommish looks at Yolanda who still seemed indifferent and restless. He looks back at the woman who stops crying, takes a deep sigh and in quivering voice tells what happened.

As I said, my husband and our son came back from the day’s work. After supper, my son went to his room. My husband and I were talking about how much we will be able to save from this harvest when we heard a knock on our door. My husband, David, was the one who answered the door. I was trying to see who was at the door, but my husband was blocking my view. All I could see was someone who was wearing a dark robe. Then my husband called my son. I stood up and walked up to the door. As our son came out of his room, my husband asked him to accompany the man. I tried stepping forward and asking him who is at the door, and why was he asking our son to go with him. But my husband blocked my path with his arm and closed the door behind our son. He stopped me from opening the door behind my son and told me later that it was the Dark Druid who threatened the life of our son. He also said that the druid told him that our son’s life will be spared if he comes with us. That’s all I know”.

Clairidge then drops on her knees, buries her face in her hands and started crying, “My son. Gone. Gone like the others. My poor son”.

Grommish kneels next to her and puts his hand on the woman’s shoulders.

Don’t worry Ms. Clairidge, we will find your son. I am sorry that you had to relive this again. I do not think it was the Dark Druid who took your son. Dark Druids do not exist anymore, for a few thousand years now”. Ms. Clairidge looks up inquisitively at Grommish.

You do not think it was the Dark Druid who took my son?”, she asks Grommish.

No, I do not think so. I think someone is posing as a Dark Druid and I need to find out why. We will try our best to find your son and other children who have been taken. Thank you for telling us the truth. Now we know exactly what happened and can do the right investigation”.

“If it is alright with you, we would like to speak to your husband, David, and ask him if he can give us any clue to who could be the person who was posing as the Dark Druid”, Grommish says standing up.

The woman stops crying and nods. She stands up and points towards the field in the southwest direction beyond where the rest of the party is standing. “David is still working in the fields”.

Everyone turns to look behind at a solitary figure working on the other side of the field. He seemed to be trying to stay oblivious to them all, slowly moving away. As he notices everyone looking in his direction, he stands up.

Hello there”, Carna calls. David drops the sickle and the scythe from his hands and starts running away from the house. Ms. Clairidge eyes widen in surprise and then she sees everyone running behind David.


JPS Nagi
March 15, 2020

Marvel Civil War II (2016-2017)

Marvel launched the second Civil War within Marvel Universe last year. The lines were drawn and the sides chosen. And the fight began with Captain Marvel and Iron Man on opposite sides this time. I went through the comics in the main series and all the in between fillers. So here is the list for Marvel’s Civil War II.

Civil War II is a 2016–2017 Marvel Comics crossover storyline built around originally seven, extended to eight and now a nine part series (if you consider The Oath 001) limited series. It ran through almost all other titles published by Marvel. The tagline for the series is, “Choose your Side “

And as usual, here is just a list.
Click here to get a printable check list and reading order.

DC’s Convergence (2015)

DC-ConvergenceAnother comic book event that happened in 2015 was DC Comics’ Convergence.

Convergence spins out of the final issues of the weekly series, Earth 2: World’s End and The New 52: Futures End. The story involves Brainiac collecting cities and inhabitants from various timelines that have ended, trapping them in domes on a planet outside of time and space and opening them up to see what happens.

The comics ran for 8 weeks and we got them all. We had to create a good reading order so that we can follow the story along beyond the main event. Some websites provide reading order, with lot of details about plotlines, ratings and how well does it fit in the timeline. I just want a list.

So I decided to create one myself. I spent many hours making this list, and decided this may be useful for others who are in the same boat as us.

I addition to the reading order, I also wanted to know,
– Main Event.
– On going comic book series along with the number (for example, Green Arrow # 002).

Click here to get a printable check list and reading order.

Marvel’s Secret Wars (2015)

MarvelSecretWars[1]Earlier this year, I got to relive my childhood through my daughter. She got interested in comics.

In 2015, Marvel decided to end their comic book world through Secret Wars. Just like past Secret Wars, the 2015 Marvel’s Secret Wars is also a huge event. During this event, many series will be brought to the end and the genesis of new Marvel Comic Book Universe will take place as a result of that.

We have been getting comics on a weekly basis, but we found that it is a bit difficult to follow without a good reading order. There are websites that do provide reading order, with lot of details about plotlines, ratings and how well does it fit in the timeline. Sometimes … you just want a list. So I decided to make one for ourselves. I spent many hours making this list, and decided this may be useful for others who are in the same boat as us.

I addition to the reading order, I also wanted to know,
– Event within the Secret Wars (for example Main, Last Days, Battle World or Warzones).
– On going comic book series along with the number (for example, The Punisher # 019).

So I created a way to organize name of each entry in the list.Naming

Then I created color coding, so that it is easy for me to quickly pick up the event; this will be particularly useful if I wish to read only the Main Event, or say only the Battleworld.

Click here to get a printable check list and reading order.
This list includes releases up to September 19, 2015. Come back for updated list every week.

Oubliette – A Mind Prison

Few years back, I decided to take some writing workshops, to learn and collaborate on how to write. The classes I joined were called prompt writing workshops, where we would be given few prompts, and some time to write a piece that would use those prompts. I really had fun in these workshops. As I was going through my bookshelf, I found the notebook where I wrote all these pieces. So here they are, some of the stories that came about from my mind. You may find these stories to be incomplete, but these are some of the starting points of many long stories that are in my mind. The prompts that were given are in bold. 

Here is the first piece, Oubliette – A Mind Prison.

Apocalypse has not been reached yet, but we were surely moving towards it. The fall of the major democracies around the world had caused a domino effect, innocent revolutions at first, but soon they were at a scale, that the republics that remained were not able to face without being eradicated. 

In 2047, the republics had shrunk pretty much to the European sub-continent or the North Americas. Europa was in a unique position. The high Hindu Kush on the east had created difficult for the revolutionaries to cross over without the fuel. The three wars fought on the mountain terrain had weakened the Asian revolutionaries. The environmental changes had made Saharan region to be the toughest desert on earth. The cold and dry Hindu Kush on the east, hot and unforgiving Sahara in the south and Atlantic on the other sides, had secured few more years of survival for Europa.

Then there were the few who still believed in the idea that a single human mind can change the course of history fought long and hard. In between the fights, they looked towards the stars in a hope of finding a better peaceful world. Among them was Pierre Mogambo – 2078 Nobel Laureate, and the world foremost authority in neuro-science and quantum physicist. 

Mogambo, as he preferred to be called, joined Cern in 2047, at a young age of 21. His papers on the quantum physics had caused a stir in the scientific community. His work advanced the creation of miniaturized quantum computers, which would fit the palm of one’s hand. Over time, the size became small enough that the most powerful self-learning computer could be powered by the light, heat or batteries if one prefers. The tiny quantum machines were perfected overtime to become artificially intelligent, and Mogambo collaborated with the neuroscientists to create world’s first computer that could emulate the complexity and intelligence of a human brain.

Around the same time, the resources around the world were depleting at an alarming rate and the jihadist revolutionaries started to look at the two republic land masses. The psychologists were trying to understand what was causing this phenomenon that changed the collective human conscience from saving the world to pretty much destroying it. And for that, Mogambo’s artificial brain was used to emulate the behavior patterns.

As scientists worked with the artificial brain, scientists started to see how the human brain is capable of forming new neuropaths. Understanding neuropaths and structures also helped Mogambo to understand how can one create ways to prevent the new neuropaths from being created, and that is what led to his Nobel prize winning invention – oubliette, a mind prison.

~~~ 1 ~~~

World was uniform. People were quiet, peaceful, and happy. Even in this perfectly manicured public park, Charles found them bound, not free.

Charles de Lint was a free soul. Dressed in one of his old time tweed three-piece suits, he always stood out of the crowd. He had a collection of those tweed three-piece suits in his apartment. The colors, he thought, I love the colors. Where are the colors? Maybe that’s why … and then he lost the train of his thought.

The peace was reached in 2084, but Charles didn’t know much about it. The times he could sleep is when the dreams would come, and went away as soon as they came leaving a sense of void inside him. Charles de Lint was a free soul.

“Charlie boy, nice suit,” came the voice from behind. Charlie had heard that voice before. The vibration seemed to be familiar to his ears.

Charlie turned, and saw a stout man walking towards him. He was wearing the simple, functional overalls, like everyone else. They were brown in color, and the front was flat, without any buttons or zippers. They were all along the side.

At least it is not the white that I see everywhere. Bill … Bob … No, No … His pupils dilated … Benito … and then his pupils contracted as if the sun had shone on them. Caretaker.

“How are you on this fine day, Magician”, Benito was still walking towards him. His eyes never left Charles, as if the gaze had frozen Charles in space and time.

That is what I was called, The Magician. And just like that, he lost his train of thought.

“I am well, Caretaker. It sure is a fine day. Is spring here already?”

“O yeah, spring started last week. Got to get those pastel three-pieces out, Charlie boy. And call me Ben.”

“All right … Ben. I was … I was just headed over to the Museum of Saturn. I heard they brought the fragment from the asteroid which is heaviest matter known to us.”

“Yeah, I heard it too”, Benito was standing next to Charles, looking at him curiously.

“Something I said?” Charles asked, Caretaker.

“No, no, no, no. Charlie boy”, Benito gave a hearty laugh, but it never reached his eyes. “You need to get those pastels out. It is spring”. He said, waving his hand at the blue skies, and then at the lush green grass. “Well, I should head out. I have an appointment. Good running into you. Glad you are doing OK”.

“Yeah.” Yeah.

Benito took the glasses out of his pocket, placed it one his face and plugged the earplugs. Charles heard faintest vibrations of sound. Benito gave an informal salute, his lips curled in a smile and turned to walk towards the park gate. Charles thought he heard him say … Nah …

~~~ 2 ~~~

I can see it in your eyes, Negotiator”, Charles was saying, “In all of your eyes”.

Hundreds of tubes faced towards him. There was nothing around them, just dark. The tubes were protruding out of the big globe, suspended in the air, like a pin-cushion. Wait … What?

Each tube had an eye at its end, glowing different shades of red, and they were all facing him now. For a microsecond, Charles caught a movement on the edge of his left eye – one of the antenna tubes quivered. And then the thoughts left him.

When he woke up, he was in his studio apartment. How long have I been asleep? He got out of his bed and walked towards the corner kitchenette. Did I dream? Again?

Ben said pastels. He poured a glass of orange juice. He took the first sip. Pastels, I should wear pastels. It is spring.

In few seconds, he had crossed his room and standing in front of his closet, full of three-piece suits. He took out the nice light gray three-piece suit. I wonder, if they will find me … interesting. After all this is gray.

He gently placed the suit on the bed, and headed into the shower.

“Good Morning Charles, on this fine day of spring. It is April, 29th, 2114. What would you like me to put on”, said female voice.

“Put on The Beatles. Hard Day’s night.”

“Going old school? Here are The Beatles”.

And Charles relaxed to sounds almost 150 years old.

 

Jatinder PS Nagi
Copyright March 29, 2014

“It’s fictional. You’re real”

Redshirts by John Scalzi is one of those stories which are difficult to review, without spoiling, but I’m going to try.

The story takes place in post-television 25th century future on an elite DubU ship – Intrepid. It is under the command of captain Abernathy, whose crew include science officer Q’eeng, first office Keerensky, medical office Hartnell and chief engineer West among others. Intrepid is on a peaceful mission to boldly go where no man has gone before. Sounds familiar? Well it should. During its explorations the crew encounters some hostile situations on different worlds, and quiet often there are away teams formed to deal with them.

The novel opens with some new crew members assigned to intrepid. They develop a sort of friendship while waiting for the shuttle in the bay that would take them to the ship. On reaching ship, they are take on their assigned tasks in different departments. They continue to meet when they are off duty, and found out that Intrepid has highest casualties for new crew members among any Dub U’s ships during these away missions, statistically. As they dig more and more, they find that there is some sort of space time continuum mix up where realities from different times seem to have intertwined.

I should stop now, because I think I have already said too much.

John has great ability to define his characters well and then develop them throughout his stories. This novel is no different. The new crew members Dahl (who is the protagonist), Duvall, Hester, Henson have characters that one easily understand when they interact while waiting in the shuttle bay. They do not always agree with each other. They also form a part of some of the away missions, and suffer losses. They start to observe a pattern, which the officers of the ship seem to be oblivious to. Over the course of events, their friendship, beliefs and trust for each other is tested. You start to identify with the characters, and can’t help but want them to control their own fate instead of letting the mixed up timelines decide what happens.

Redshirts does not disappoint at any place. It is a must read if you grew up with TV shows like the original Star Trek, or Dr. Who. The book is a nod to these and other cheesy space adventures of yesteryears. There are dozens of moments and in-jokes built around the worlds that are familiar and hilarious. It is darkly funny at times; even when things go wrong, John puts a smile on your face with interactions of his characters. The story moves at a fast pace, and is extremely well edited. There is nothing that does not add to the story or character development and you are drawn in. If you want to read a fun science fiction story during summer try this one.

If you like listening to books, get the audiobook. It is read by Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher from Star Trek – The Next Generation). Wil is very impressive voice actor, and he brings this book alive with his narration. He has collaborated with the author before in Fuzzy Nation and few others.

Both the book and the audiobook are highly recommended. I give this book 5 stars; hey, anything that can keep me up all night deserves 5 stars.

Jatinder PS Nagi
July 4, 2012

Every Light Cast a Shadow…

A good vs. evil story with an elaborate magic system, set on the background of intriguing political & religious landscape with enough twists and turns to keep you occupied. What else could a fantasy fan want?

Brent Weeks brings the first book of his Lightbringer trilogy “into the light” – The Black PrismHe brought it a while back, I just read it.

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor at Chromeria, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals. It’s been 16 years since the Prism Wars and Gavin Guile who single handedly turned the tide of the war has kept peace with his diplomacy and wits over the seven satrapies.

Things change when the Tyrean head, Garadul, decide to break free from Chromeria, and declare himself the king. In order to make an example and show his power, he burns down the whole city of Rekton within Tyrea (his own kingdom). A 15 year old kid, Kip, is the sole witness to burning of Rekton, who loses all his friends and his mother (who was the only family he knew). Circumstances bring Gavin to Rekton and he meets Kip, whom he saves from Garadul. He also uncovers Garadul’s plot to become the king. And things start rolling from there.

The story works at more ways than one. First there is the elaborate magic system. Personally it took me a while to get the feel for it, but once you understand the magic, it is easy. The magic system is based on the light. Light as energy has seven colors. Each color has a characteristic and particular behavior, and of course light of that color is needed in order to use it. The magicians, called drafters, are known as red, green, blue drafter based on what color they can use in drafting. In the nutshell, it is materializing the light (energy) into physical objects (matter). The Prism (of course) can draft all seven colors (and few others beyond the visible spectrum). If you are intrigued, Check out Brent Weeks site (link below) for candle example he gives.

Another level this story works is the political and religious landscape. Before the Prism Wars, there were many gods (called pagan gods in the book), and the war changed everything. Now there is only one – Orholam. The White and the Prism are the religious heads of the land. Further, they, along with representatives from seven satrapies form the political setup of the land. The great city of Chromeria, is where this seat of power resides. Gavin Guile is considered as the best Prism Chromeria. Garadul on the other hand wants to get out of what he feels as the Chromerian-oppression.

This story has lot of twists and turns and not just here and there. The book reads very smooth considering the complexity of the plot. It flows so well that the reader does not realize how complex the story has gotten. My stomach was twisting as Weeks kept throwing luxen after luxen right till the very end. Last hundred pages had me biting my nails and I was shouting “Come on, don’t throw that in there now, the book is ending”.

The book ends satisfactorily and also keeps few (may be many) threads untied; but satisfactory ending all the same. It is a trilogy (as we know now), so many of the threads had to be left untied.

Now, on Brent’s writing. It has matured from the Night Angel trilogy. His style has improved vastly (for my taste) and is very engaging. He uses simpler language, unlike many high fantasy stories will use (there are pros and cons for both); but it works in this novel.

If you are planning to buy the book, then I would recommend the paperback, as it has couple of introductory chapters from the next book in the series The Blinding Knife. I have both hardcover and paperback versions.
It is also the right time to read this, as you may not have to wait too long for the sequel (it is scheduled for later this year).

For audiobook fans, the book has two options – single narrator version read by Cristofer Jean and audio drama from Graphic Audio. I have Cristofer Jean’s version which is well read from Audible.com. The Graphic Audio version is now available as a complete set (I want to get that box set). Both are great depending upon your taste.

In conclusion, this quick page turner is a must read. As always beg, borrow, or buy this book.

Click Here to visit Brent Weeks website.
Do not forget to sign up on the forums, you can interact with the author there.

Click Here to visit Graphic Audio site for The Black Prism.

Click Here to visit Audible.com page for The Black Prism.

Jatinder PS Nagi
January 6, 2012

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson…

This review is rather late, but the vast reading list I had during later half of 2011 and the release of Battlefield 3 game caused this delay. I was able to finish The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson during my vacations.

Absolutely amazing.

The Alloy of Law takes place 3 centuries after The Well of Ascension in the Mistborn universe. World has changed and Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history or religion. Mistborns (Allomancers who can burn all metals) are now found in legends and stories. Mostly, the world now has Mistings (Allomancers who can burn only one metal) or Feruchemists (who can use the metal to safe keep few traits); and few rare individuals who are both (Twinborns). The line of the allomancy is getting thin in bloodlines.

The cities are on the verge of modernization, railways are coming, horse carts will soon be things of the past. There are beaurocratic governments and few nobles have bigger hand in the government. Things have started to slip; nobel houses are competitive (similar to Lord Ruler’s times, as in Mistborn) and corruption has been creeping in.

The lands beyond the cities are called Roughs. The Roughs is where crime and criminals escape the law (and the cities). Few nobles give up the competitive life of the city, and become lawmen of the Roughs to bring these criminals to justice to create a better safer world.

One such is Lord Waxilliam Ladrian (or Wax), a twinborn of reputed nobel house. The predictability of the Roughs makes him feel safe there. His righteousness and honesty has brought many criminals to justice and that makes him a legend in the cities. An unexpected accidental death of his whole family forces him to retire as a lawman, and return to the city to take the reins of his house, which is undergoing financial troubles. In order to get his house of financial trouble, he starts to consider a mutually beneficial matrimonial alliance with another house.

But the past somehow catches up to him. The curtain is lifted from some criminal activities that are dramatically mysterious and circumstances brings him closer to one of the crimes. The lawman inside him prevails, and in order to solve the mystery of these crimes, he takes alliance with an old ally from the Roughs, Wayne, an allomancer, and a new one, Lady Marasi, a cousin of Wax’s to be betrothed. As they investigate the crime, Wax comes face to face with another lawmen from the Rough, Miles, whom he has worked in the past and who has gone rogue. Needless to say, the soup gets thicker.

Couple of familiar characters from the Mistborn universe makes their tiny appearances towards the end. I won’t tell you who they are, but keep a look out for them. It is almost nostalgic (I felt like going back to Mistborn series one more time).

Once again Sanderson weaves a story which is worth reading. In the traditional Sanderson-esque style, the details are aplenty and as the story progresses, readers get pulled in. The story reads like a fantasy and mystery set in steampunk era. There is allomancy and then there are guns, cranes, steam engines.

The Alloy of Law stands among my top 5 books of 2011, and from the author who is among my all time top 5 writers. The book does fall short – in words. The length of the book is not typical of Sanderson’ books; in fact it is almost a third of his standard books. This was something he wrote to get his mind “cleared” before going back to The Wheel of Time.

The story provides a satisfactory ending, a story set in post-The Well of Ascension, and a great introduction to the upcoming steampunk trilogy set in Mistborn universe. It does leave few strands untied.

If you are a fan of audiobooks, the book is read by Michael Kramer, who has read previous Mistborn series and the Wheel of time series. Michael does a great job and it feels natural continuation from original series. Personally, I like to listen to the book at 1.5 to 2 times the speed, because I find them a bit slower (Apple devices allow you to do that).

If you have not read Sanderson before, and are scared to pick one of his thick books, this is a great book to explore this author (be sure to read the appendix in the back to understand how the magic works in this universe).

In conclusion, I would say this is a great story, and a great book that now finds it sitting next to the other Sanderson books on my bookshelf. A must read, listen, or both for fans of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Steampunk, and Mystery genres.

Click here to visit Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law portal.

Click here to visit Brandon Sanderson’s site.

Please comment, share, and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.

Jatinder PS Nagi
December 26, 2011.