Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

Roughly a decade ago I read Ender's Game not by choice, but rather was required reading for my school. Of course, the English teacher I had ignored Ender's Game entirely and chose to focus exclusively on Fahrenheit 451. Of course, both are good books and have excellent points to make, but I remember liking Ender's Game a lot better. Probably because I didn't get as many of the subtle nuances in Fahrenheit 451. The important point of this diatribe is that there is currently an Ender's Game movie due to be released November 1st so I decided to take this as a prime opportunity to go back and re-read Ender's Game and maybe look at the rest of the Ender series at the same time. 

For those of you not already familiar with the story, it follows the education of Ender Wiggin, a child believed to be humanity's last hope in the impending Third War between the humans and the buggers. Ender is taken to Battle School and put through extensive military training and subjected by his instructors to extreme adversity. Throughout the novel the human leaders have strike a delicate balance because if Ender isn't ready for the invasion, humanity will probably be completely wiped out, but if they put too much strain on Ender they may wreck their best chance at survival. It's a very tightly-paced novel and I found myself flying through it. Definitely worth a read before the movie comes out in November. 

To Scott's credit, what I think he can really write well is children, especially dialog between children. As I mentioned in my review of The Lost Gate, for whatever reason Scott is really able to nail down the attitudes and mannerisms of adolescents and put that into word form. Some people would argue that the kids in Ender's Game don't talk like kids normally do, but I counter that it's exactly how kids talk when there are no adults around. As much of a stereotype as it is at this point, you really only need to go onto X-box live to hear thirteen year olds shout racial slurs at each other, and in a way I feel like that's almost exactly the sort of people who would get picked for Battle School. 

As a book, Ender's Game has meant a lot of things to a lot of people, although I only really know this from the introduction. As I'm not a trained literary critic I very seldom go beyond the surface text into all the hidden nuances and shades of meaning. Either that or I'm just thick, take your pick. For me, Ender's Game has always been a really good sci-fi pulp adventure that relies on a lot of familiar, if perhaps a little well-worn tropes. The bug war, which we seem almost destined to have, massive space battles, and a world government formed from the threat of extraterrestrial attack. However, and for reasons I can't really divulge without spoiling the book, Ender's Game still has its own unique charm that makes it stand out from the regular sci-fi pulp. 

I would definitely recommend you all check this book out before going to see the movie. I'm hoping the movie will do the book a great deal of justice, but as always I am wary. 

- Kalpar  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kalpar Lecture: The American Narrative

Hey look! A new video! And Kalpar talks about history and what he likes to call the American Narrative. We probably just made that name up.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Railroad and the City: A Technological and Urbanistic History of Cincinnati, by Carl W. Condit

So, I've decided to go into the realm of the really esoteric this week and talk about a book that I read
because of my ongoing interpretation of Cincinnati railroad history at a museum whose name must be shrouded in the cloak of ambiguity. To be perfectly honest I expect that exactly none of my readers will ever in their lives have any desire to pick up this book. It is, as you can probably imagine, an incredibly technical and detailed history regarding the history of railroads, as well as other means of transportation, within Cincinnati. Condit succeeds in that he provides a very narrow and detailed exploration of a subject which there was no previous coverage and forty years later there still is very little additional coverage. Essential for Cincinnati railfans and rail researchers, but that's pretty much the only audience.

To be completely fair as a reviewer, this book gets a lot of bonuses because it's the only book in its particular field and remains, to my knowledge, the only general reference text on Cincinnati railroads. Condit carefully tracks the ascendancy of rail transportation, especially after the Civil War, and the continued growth and development within Cincinnati. Condit even goes through the growth and development of the Little Miami, Cincinnati, Hamilton, & Dayton, and the still operating Cincinnati, New Orleans, & Texas Pacific Railroads, as well as numerous other local lines that eventually merged with some of the largest railroads in the United States. Condit also does a good job about explaining the growth of streetcars as well as electric interurban transit and how with traditional steam railroads they together created a three-tiered system of passenger transit across various distances, eventually leading to the abandonment by steam railroads of local accommodation trains and the transfer, almost exclusively, to long-distance Pullman sleeper trains.

In conjunction with the growth and gradual changes in rail service, Condit takes us through the growth of terminal facilities in Cincinnati and the gradual shortcomings of such facilities as traffic grew and became increasingly more complex. Despite repeated attempts to create a central terminal for all railroads serving Cincinnati it wasn't until the late 1920's that a plan was agreed upon and construction of a terminal facility was begun, which opened as Cincinnati Union Terminal in 1933. Perhaps what I found most interesting was the fact that none of the five stations that served Cincinnati before CUT all had hand-thrown switches which were considered outdated by the 1900's. I also found it rather hilarious that the Fourth Street Station was just a house the C&O Railroad had bought and laid some tracks outside of.

Probably the thing that most stands out about this text, though, is its bitter vehemence at the decline of rail transportation in all its forms and the destruction of much rail infrastructure because of this decline. The last few paragraphs of this book are very vocal against the growing reliance upon automotive transportation and the growing system of interstate highways being constructed across the United States. Granted, I can quite understand the author's frustrations as he was writing in the 1970's and for a while demolition of Cincinnati's historic art deco Union Terminal was seriously considered. Fortunately for the people of Cincinnati a new purpose was eventually foun for the Union Terminal and it continues to remain an important part of Cincinnati's cultural heritage. Or something. I don't know, I like trains.

- Kalpar

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Klapperpedia Entry: The Free Barony of Klapperia

Author's Note: Okay, straight up, sorry I don't have a book review for you guys to read this week, I know you're absolutely crushed about that. I just needed a break from the regular review schedule and decided to just have fun this week. To provide more context, Klapperia is a fictional micronation and has been a running in-joke among my friends for probably far too long. Anyway, I decided to make a formal "Klapperpedia" entry on this great nation. I hope you enjoy. - Kalpar

The Free Barony of Klapperia

The Free Barony of Klapperia, often simply referred to as Klapperia, is an absolute monarchy that encompasses approximately 314 square feet, making it one of the smallest micronations in the world. It is also the only fully mobile nation in the world, centered around the location of its head of state, the Baron von Kalpar. Klapperia remains unrecognized by any nation or micronation on earth and the current administration has no future plans in attempting to gain recognition, content to hide within the legal framework of the United States, utilizing the current baron's dual citizenship.

Klapperia tends to be a fairly stable nation, with a highly educated workforce that contracts with various American institutions to enrich both American and Klapperian culture and education in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Public opinion strongly supports this arrangement and it is the hope of most Klapperian citizens that this partnership with the United States will continue well into the future. The Klapperian government is also currently undertaking many long-term economic projects that it hope will improve the standard of living for Klapperian citizens with both tangible and intangible benefits.

Despite its small size and relative insignificance, Klapperia has a rich culture and remains a center of intellectualism. Many people have consulted Klapperian scholars for assistance in the past, and for the most part they have been eager to provide assistance to their neighbors. Due to its small size, foreign relations tend to take a person-by-person basis in Klapperia, and while Klapperia appreciates and aids many American citizens, there are significant portions of America's population with which Klapperia has a very strained relationship. Foreign relations remain an area needing significant improvement and the central government has made various attempts to improve its diplomatic corps with varying success.


The Free Barony of Klapperia was founded sometime in 2008 or 2009, but as there are no real records it's hard to pin it down beyond a couple of years. This was followed by an explosion of immigration, the creation of a government, and a flowering of art and culture. As the years went by the tidal wave of immigration dried up to a trickle and the growth of civilization stagnated. Although nowhere near as vibrant as the halcyon days following its founding, Klapperia continues to slowly grow and spread its culture.


Klapperia is probably the smallest nation in existence, encompassing a mere 314 square feet, encompassing a circle with a ten foot radius centered upon the Baron von Kalpar. It is also the only fully mobile nation and continually shifts depending upon the baron's current location. Klapperian legal experts have debated if Klapperia extends a full fifty miles above the baron to international airspace, if it extends only to the top of the baron's head, or meets somewhere in between. The official statement from the Klapperian government has been that it doesn't really matter anyway as there is literally no means to enforce its territory rights without provoking a major diplomatic incident with the host nation.


Population - It is hard to pin down an exact number of Klapperian citizens. Some state that Klapperia really only has one citizen, its baron, since the the baron is quite literally the state. The official policy of the baron is that anyone who is granted Klapperian citizenship and remains a Klapperian citizen at heart, remains a Klapperian citizen regardless of where they're located. This places the population at approximately twenty, give or take a few. The majority of its population is college-educated and of Eurasian descent, often joining the professional class of its host nation.

Language - In its early days Klapperia developed its own limited language, a series of hand gestures used to convey thoughts and ideas. The lexicon of Klapperian Sign Language remained fairly small and consisted mostly of vulgar words that couldn't be said in polite situations. KSL was also incredibly context-based with hand signals having multiple interpretations dependent upon the situation. Klapperian also would frequently combine signals together to convey far more complex ideas, resulting in a flurry of gestures for rather short sentences. Due to its multiple drawbacks KSL was largely abandoned but remains in limited usage.

Religion - Officially, Klapperia practices freedom of religion although it has multiple sponsored state religions. The Cult of Joris is perhaps the most mysterious and very little about it is known beyond its favortism of dugongs and prohibitions against the use of stone as a building material. The Imperial Cult of Saints venerates Morgan Freeman as the chief deity, as well as his many saints including: Gordon Freeman, Isaac Asimov, Rorschach, Mr. Rogers, Benjamin Franklin, Zoidberg, Jean-Luc Picard, Bill Nye, and Kevin Bacon. Other mainstream religions such as the worship of the Immortal God-Emperor, Norse Paganism, and Roman Catholicism are also practiced to varying degrees.

Government and Politics

Technically, the Free Barony of Klapperia is an absolute monarchy with all power invested within its head of state, the Baron von Kalpar. In reality Klapperia operates more as a lose feudal network in which the Baron von Kalpar is simply one of many major political players who helps determine government policy through consensus. Among its major leaders, aside from the Baron von Kalpar, are the Prince-Bishop Carvan, a prominent theologian and military leader, the powerful wizard T'im B'rgh!ld !, whose wisdom and courage has saved Klapperia many times against its more dangerous foes, Knight-Commander Korgia Natch whose valiant military efforts are often overshadowed, and the great Brenhotep a man some suppose may be a ghost who nonetheless possesses great technical skills. Generally this impressive collection of personages is able to reach a consensus, but there have been many instances where the baron has acted unilaterally due to bickering among his colleagues.


In theory every citizen of Klapperia is expected to defend the homeland in a crisis, however due to a lack of any such national emergencies Klapperia has no military. In a pinch a band of maybe five to ten poorly equipped and even more poorly trained soldiers could be drawn up, but for the most part Klapperia is content to hide behind the grossly inflated military budget of its host nation. Several wargame exercises, including deep space combat, have been undertaken to test the leadership of the nominal military leader, Knight-Commander Natch, however the results of such wargames have not been promising and the government is considering a reorganization of its military leadership as a result.


In addition to its sign language and state religions, Klapperia maintains a vibrant culture celebrating the nerd heritage of many of its citizens. Nerd rituals such as video games and the consumption of sci-fi or fantasy fiction are an almost daily observance and much work has been done to introduce foreigners to the delights of nerd culture. Major holidays are observed throughout the year and often have complicated rituals involved. The global tradition of Christmas is observed in December, however Klapperian ceremonies often include ritual gift-giving to ensure that the sun will continue to rise. International Nerd Day and the baron's birthday are observed on May 25th and celebrations often include cake and a seasonal cookout. Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated on November 5th by a significant minority of the population and includes watching V for Vendetta and occasionally dressing up as the character V.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ravenor Omnibus, by Dan Abnett

Once again I have decided to explore more of what is apparently called "The Daniverse" within the much larger Warhammer 40,000 universe with the Ravenor omnibus, which contains the novels Ravenor, Ravenor Returned, and Ravenor Rogue. Much like the Eisenhorn trilogy this book follows the adventures of Gideon Ravenor, and Imperial Inquisitor and psyker, as he roots out the enemies of the Imperium from within. (And if you didn't know already, Ravenor is Eisenhorn's apprentice who has graduated to become an Inquisitor in his own right.) While these books were enjoyable, as pretty much anything penned by Dan Abnett is, I had more difficulty with these than I did with Eisenhorn and I feel like they're not as well put together as the Eisenhorn novels. Definitely still worth a read, especially since the next omnibus is apparently Ravenor vs. Eisenhorn and I definitely plan on reading that in the future. Yes, it's good, but it's not my favorite thing to come from Dan's desk.

What I liked about this series of novels, and this is what I liked about the Eisenhorn books too, was that you got to see the Imperium operating from the inside. Most 40k novels occur when there's, you know, fighting going on, and normal life has been disrupted on whatever ball of dirt's being attacked. In the Inquisition novels they're not facing down an army of orks or a Tau battlegroup; instead, they're taking on Chaos cults and xenos sympathizers who threaten to weaken the Imperium from within. So you get to see how the Imperium works and what daily life for most people is like. Granted, life is still pretty bad when you're not getting eaten by Tyranids or something, but it's a change of pace.

Unlike the Eisenhorn books, though, I feel like these books require an understanding of some of the ins and outs of the 40k universe before reading. Eisenhorn did a great job of introducing people to concepts such as daemons, blanks, and rogue traders but in Ravenor you're expected to already know what those are without a lot of explanation. So if you're new to the 40k universe and looking to get yourself oriented, I'd recommend at least waiting on these books until you've gotten your feet wet. If you're an experienced vet, though, I think you'd enjoy these novels.

I think the main problem with this is that, according to Dan's introduction, these books were not initially meant to be a trilogy. Yes, they tie together as a trilogy in the end, but Abnett had originally envisioned the Ravenor series much like Gaunt's Ghosts: a series of ongoing adventures following our characters across space. The second two books definitely feel much more connected plot-wise to each other than they do to the first book, especially with the major plot of the birth of the deamon Slyte who threatens to destroy an entire sub-sector and seriously weaken the Imperium. It definitely works, but I feel like the first book kind of stands on its own. Much like how A New Hope kind of stands on its own from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Still connected, but the last two more connected than the first two.

The other thing I noticed was a tendency for the books to have a fairly slow investigative pace and then everything sort of suddenly come together at the last minute in a huge showdown. I think Abnett was trying to capture sort of the essence of police fiction in that regard, where there's a lot of time spent investigating the case and slowly putting all the pieces together, followed by a sudden burst of action at the end where the case gets busted wide open. It's certainly a legitimate literary approach but I get the feeling that it isn't Abnett's strong suit. Definitely a thumbs-up for trying something new and if the next omnibus is like this I hope that his skill develops and he gets better.

Despite the issues I had with this book, I think it was at least enjoyable. If you're an old hand at the 40k universe you'd definitely want to give this book a go, especially if you like a lot of Dan Abnett's other stuff. As with the Eisenhorn novels, it was a refreshing change to look at planets that weren't being completely destroyed by invading armies and see how the Imperium works on the inside. I don't think this is a book for newbies, though, and you should probably know about a number of things before jumping into this series.

- Kalpar