Tai-Pan by James Clavell

“I’m saying that some men are saints. Some are happy being meek and humble and unambitious. Some men are born content to be second-best.”


I finished James Cavell’s Tai-Pan today and it immediately skyrocketed to the top of my favorites. A masterpiece of action, history, intrigue, adventure, and romance. Most of all it had an epic ending that blew me away, unlike more recent writers that seem to choke at the finish line.

Tai-Pan is an epic historical novel about the opium trader Dirk Struan, who is loosely based on William Jardine, and  the founding of Hong Kong in 1841. It follows Dirk as he maneuvers, rival traders, corrupt Chianese authorities, close minded British politicians, and pirates, in order to solidify the dominance of his trading company, Noble House, and ensure the success of Hong Kong as a lasting colony.

A massive novel filled with violence, pirates, romance, incest, and political intrigue that would teach Littlefinger a lesson or two. Nestled into the main plot are several interesting side plots including one of the best tragic romances I have read and a very well done father-son plotline. All of the plot threads subtly come together and are fantastically wrapped up during the epic finale.

Most of all the main character, Dirk Struan, stands out as one of the most badass characters I have ever read. He is the ultimate model of a great leader. Tough but fair, able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the people around him allowing him to put each man to proper use. Dirk is a model hero who has the foresight to understand that Hong Kong is a vital port and must be protected. He also embraces the best of Chianese culture and mixes it with his own striving for a future where British and Chianese live together benefiting each other.

I have a feeling it will be a long time until Tai-Pan gets dethroned as my favorite book. It had everything I want in a great story and everything I aspire to include in my own writing. Read it. Read it now.


An Example of Political Poison

Last week I posted my little mini-screed about authors being blatantly open and antagonistic on political lines. I despise it. I despise it from conservatives and I despise it from liberals. It ruins the SFF community, a community that should be about escaping from everyday ugliness and fun.

Today I came across an excellent example of why I hate current politics injected into the writing world. About a year ago I came across a really sweet short story in Asimov’s or Analog Magazine. It was about an AI in prison for murder. I thought the story was a standout in that issue so I looked up the writer. Auston Habershaw. I found his blog, followed him, and enjoyed reading his other work and his weekly blog posts.

I didn’t care if he was  liberal, conservative, monarchist, or flat earth believer. I just enjoyed his stuff. So when I went through my WordPress reader page today I read his latest post as it came up.

That’s when I found out that he considers me an idiot. Dab smack in the middle of his “funny” post was this beautiful insult “Maybe this is the kind of person who turns on Fox News, thinks it’s all true, and votes for Trump. Maybe – just maybe – the tiny demographic who craves or needs or enjoys hosted movies on television are the reason why life is awful and everything is terrible and we’re all going to die of global climate change.”

The truth is, he has the right to say whatever he wants. He has the right to say it’s comedy or sarcasm. But you know what, it still sucks. It’s a partisan attack. A shitty one, with all the recent leaks showing all media being in the DNC’s pocket.

It sucks because it takes somebody like me; very bi-partisan multi-issue voter with nuanced beliefs across the spectrum, and made me feel like I have to defend myself. Am I an idiot for wanting to vote Trump? Is my mother a moron for wanting to vote Hillary? I came for sci-fi fun and now I am on the defensive.

So yeah, it totally sucks. I can’t ever read his novels again or follow his posts because I will always feel partisan from now on. I don’t know if one is an idiot for voting for Trump, but I am absolutely sure that one is an idiot if they give their money and support to people who think they are idiots based on exercising their democratic rights.

(My political viewpoints are not an issue here btw, I live in Japan, I will not be voting.)

Japan, I dig you.


The last few days have been rather busy. Several months ago my wife put out an invitation to all of our friends to be a host if they wanted to check out Japan. Her old high school friend decided to take her up on it and flew out here with her long time friend for some fun and adventure in the far East.

I was long overdue for some vacation time so I took two weeks off from work. A win-win situation. The first week is fully devoted to being a host and tour guide and next week will be my mini stay-cation dedicated to reading and writing.

Our guests have been great. We spent the last few days exploring Kamakura, drinking in the Honch, and hitting all the local Japanese malls. Tonight they decided to take it easy and recharge for our upcoming adventures in Tokyo and Yokohama. While they relaxed downstairs watching bad horror movies on Netflix, I retired to my office with some Whiskey Highballs and caught up on blogs and short stories.

Of course by 9pm I ran out of Highballs but still had plenty of posts to read. I decided to take a quick trip to the local neighborhood convenience store, Lawsons, for an alcohol supply refresher.

Here I am, two tall cans of booze buzzed, standing in line holding more booze. I started to feel self-conscious. I’m being the stereotypical drunken foreigner. It’s freeking Thursday! Making matters worse behind me in line are two 40 something Japanese, man and woman, dressed in crisp business attire.

I quickly paid for my illicit booze and decided to indulge my smoking vice outside the store. All I could think about was how they must be judging me. Wobbly drunk American degenerate. My built in puritan sensibilities kicked into high gear.

After several minutes they walked out of the store and came up to the smoking area. Both of them proceeded to light cigarettes and crack open freshly bought cans of Whiskey Highballs. We nodded good evening to each other and I smiled to myself re-affirmed in my ever increasing love for Japan.

Unfortunately coming home, my good mood was somewhat dampened by reading that the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan over Murakami. Downright nonsense. Murakami is hands down one of the most fantastic writers I have ever read. Dylan is an overrated mumble-mouthed hippie burnout that I never found inspiring or interesting. Japan, you got robbed and my belief that awards are mostly nonsense got another solid affirmation.


The Poison of Politics in SF&F

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
Groucho Marx


Us Americans are currently on the last leg of one of the most contentious and polarising elections in our nation’s history. It has polarised our society and re-arranged political loyalties across the whole spectrum of affiliation. Even our pass times and escapist entertainment isn’t unscathed. Writers and celebrities are constantly weighing in on politics and the culture war. Should Science Fiction and Fantasy be political? Should writers openly wear their political affiliation on their sleeves?

My answer.

Yes and No. Most, if not all,  intelligent fiction has at least a minuscule political element at its core. We are after all social and political beings. What I find unappealing and quite unpleasant is when writers and creators voice their own personal opinions and write polemical pieces thinly disguised as fiction.

I hope nobody misunderstands me. I love politics. I love discourse. Nothing is better than sitting with friends and discussing opinions and world views over beer, coffee, and cigarettes. My favorite pastime is clashing wits with my wife over beers, debating everything from immigration to corporate tax.

I would like to believe that my political and philosophical views are nuanced and complex. So nothing makes me cringe more than seeing one of the writers I read and admire shoot off a disparaging tweet or blog post about the currently opposing political tribe. Nothing makes me sourer than realizing that people I find intellectually stimulating fall into the idiotic us vs them mentality. No, all liberals voting for Clinton aren’t nanny state race hustlers or brainwashed self-hating sheltered college kids. Trump supporters aren’t all undereducated slack-jawed inbred southern racists clutching their guns and bibles.

Most of all I read SF&F for fun and relaxation, not a socio-political lesson. Authors blabbing, throwing political insults and raising pitchforks are the online equivalent of that crude person talking about rated R stuff at grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner. Somewhat entertaining but overall offputting.

Exploring politics, philosophy, and social ideas in fiction is wonderful. I love space opera and fantasy that is heavy on political concepts. My favorite parts of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire are the political and social maneuvers of Littlefinger. I love the corporate libertarian themes of private enterprise vs government found in Hamilton’s novels.

What I find obnoxious and unreadable is when an author shoves their personal public political affiliation in my face. Guess what. There is nothing interesting or original about a conservative writing fiction where the protagonist is a perfect self-sufficient do-gooder, held back by the obviously socialistic meddling, gun grabbing, U.N style government. Nothing is more predictable and boring than liberal writers shoving another perfect feminist empowered grrrr PW RR lesbian fighting the evil white male capitalist corporation or the religious conservatives. Boring! We all watched Ferngully and Avatar. Do something new!

I believe that writers should embrace a gentlemanly(womanly) view on public politics. Discuss your politics in private, let your work speak for itself. I want to read novels that make me think. Make me question the viewpoints of the heroes. Make me understand the outlook of the antagonist. That, in my opinion, is almost impossible if the author shoves their personal viewpoints in my face through Twitter and Facebook.

In closing. My opinion is that writers should keep their personal politics private. Pushing current political viewpoints undermines their fiction, alienates readers from opposing sides, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I personally strive to write fiction that not only entertains but also makes one evaluate their political and philosophical beliefs. I want to explore truly diverse viewpoints. In order to accomplish that goal, I will keep my personal politics private.

Lets focus on the fiction.


Cirsova: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine #3


During one of my recent adventures through the blogosphere, I came across Cirsova and Cirsova Magazine. Reading the mission statement and description intrigued me so I picked up the latest issue. I put my current read on pause and read the excellent stories found in issue number 3.

Wow! Finally, some fantasy short stories that capture my imagination. Finally, short stories filled with action and adventure!

Before I give a more thorough review I want to make it clear that I really enjoy the short story. I own numerous collections and compilations of everyone from Hemingway to Gaiman. I even have active digital subscriptions to Analog and Asimov’s.

Yet, I often find myself being bored with a lot of modern SFF shorts. The last issue of Asimov if DNF’ed 90% of the stories. There seems to be a recent trend in the short story world away from action, adventure, and heroism. The focus seems to be on the literary, the urban, the fairytale magical, or magical realism in the vein of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

A good example of this is the Hugo Award winner The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere by John Chu. A well-written story that I find excruciatingly boring and barely Fantasy. It seems that so many SFF writers come out of literary circles and workshops that Fantasy has become as monotonous as your stuffy slice of life short story in the New Yorker.

So how do I like my fantasy? Adventurous, mysterious, massive, and wild. I want to read stories that take me back to when I first cracked open my AD&D players guide and ran my friends through skeleton filled dungeons and protected villages from goblin raids. I want to be transported to worlds where Barbarians pit their swords and strength against evil serpent worshiping wizards. I crave stories filled with adventure and mystery. Fabulous ancient ruins filled with unspeakable horrors, vicious creatures, and evil wizards.

Cirsova Magazine is attempting to provide exactly what I am looking for. A pulp revival magazine focused on action and adventure, and issue #3 succeeds while leaving enough room for improvement that will keep me looking forward to the next issue.


The issue has several exciting adventures. A heavy focus on the Age of Sail mixed with magic in two stories, space piracy, futuristic space mercs, and sword and sorcery reminiscent of Conan. My favorite of the bunch was Clock’s Watch, an urban fantasy Lovecraftian possession story that begged to be turned into a full novel.

Cirsova is an indie publication so they need all the help and word of mouth. So if you love pulp adventure Fantasy and Sci-Fi hop over to Amazon and pick up the digital copy. It’s easily worth the price of a medium coffee at Starbucks.


Because I linked to a Tor.com short story I didn’t like I will link to one that I loved. Give this one a read for The Hell of It.


Shots fired!



The first thing I noticed when I woke up on Saturday was the blinking light on my phone.  A message! I rolled over, picked it up, and went straight to my Gmail app.

Dear Alexandru,

Thank you for the opportunity to read “The Birthday Party.” Unfortunately, your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.

I am now officially an aspiring wannabe writer.

Of course, I was a bit bummed that my dream of having the first story submitted being hailed as a masterpiece is now a bittersweet memory.

I spent the rest of the weekend on the couch watching True Detective and drinking canned Highballs. This week I’m editing my next story for submission and also re-sending the last one.

One of the pieces will go to Writers of the Future. I enjoy the anthology every year and the type of stories favored tend to align with my taste  a lot more than most SFF magazines.


The Challenge so far:

  1. The Birthday Party – SciFi 3,000 words – hanging out
  2. ?????
  3. ?????
  4. ?????
  5. ?????
  6. ?????
  7. ?????


Accepted: 0 Rejected: 1 Total Submissions: 1

Now it Begins


Last year, August 16th, 2015 to be precise, I made the following post The Magnificent Seven Challenge. The idea was simple. Write seven short stories, submit them, and track the whole process.

I failed miserably. My writing output has been hovering between zero and nothing. Depressing situation. Quite miserable. Demotivating. Deplorable. Dastardly. Unexcusable!

But things are different now! Yes. I decided that I can no longer afford to stall. I buckled down, took a deep breath, and put thought to paper. I finished, edited, and submitted my first(I’m not counting my WotF submission) short story.

Tomorrow I will start on the next piece and eagerly await my first rejection.

The Challenge so far:

  1. The Birthday Party – SciFi 3,000 words – submitted
  2. ?????
  3. ?????
  4. ?????
  5. ?????
  6. ?????
  7. ?????


Accepted: 0 Rejected: 0 Total Submissions: 1


Climbing Mt. Fuji


A picture of Fuji I took last winter. There isn’t any snow during climbing season.

Last weekend, after a bit over half a year of living in Japan, the wife and I accomplished one of our long term goals, climbing Mt. Fuji. It was a unique once in a lifetime experience that left me with mixed feelings. Climbing Mt. Fuji managed to be a rewarding challenge and a bit of a letdown at the same time.

Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). It’s an active volcano that last erupted in the 18th century. It’s a free-standing mountain, not part of any range. Considered a holy place it has been the destination of pilgrimages for hundreds of years.

Our trip started at 2pm on Saturday when we met up with our tour group, TokyoSnowClub, in Tokyo. Judy and I got there a bit early so we wandered around and decided to eat a disappointingly greasy burger at Tokyo Hooters. When the rest of the group arrived we hopped on the tour bus for the 3-hour drive to the base of Mt. Fuji.


Ramen at 5th station

The 5th station Yoshida Trail camp where we hung out for several hours to acclimate is basically a tourist trap. It’s several alpine resort type buildings filled with overpriced gift shops and mediocre restaurants. We bought ourselves a climbing stick, changed into warmer clothes, ate some ramen, and did a quick bit of yoga.

Around 7pm with the sun set and the rain at a constant drizzle, we began our long ascent. We climbed in a single line of what seemed like hundreds. Looking up or down the mountain all one could see in the dark was a zig-zagging line of headlamps. We climbed for hours and the rain and cold worsened the higher we got. Every two hours or so we took quick 1o minute breaks at one of the many way stations on the trail.


Before we started hiking. The miserable weather just started.

It quickly became obvious that while we prepared ourselves physically we did not prepare ourselves materially. The clothing we brought was woefully inadequate for the downpour and the freezing cold. Two-thirds of the way up both of us were completely soaked, out of spare clothes, and showing early signs of hypothermia. Every break we took was excruciatingly cold.

Making matters worse was the fact that something I ate earlier did not sit well and that unpleasant indigestion mixed with a dash of altitude sickness led to numerous bathroom visits at every way station. Growing up at sea level I do not do well with quick ascents so by the last leg of the climb I was having a nice case of nausea, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and an overall case of misery.

Our climb to the summit took about 8 hours. 8 miserable hours of constant freezing rain, altitude sickness, nausea, headaches, soaked clothes, and chills. A constant march over steep switchbacks and sharp volcanic rocks. After 8 horrible hours, we reached the top. The highest point in Japan.

Waiting for the sunrise on top of Mt. Fuji was not a fun experience. By the time we reached the top we were soaked and out of spare clothes. Our jackets were under-matched for the 32f degrees. We huddled together shivering and sharing our last hand warmer. When the sun finally started to rise we silently cheered, enjoyed the view, and quickly began the long descent.


Above the clouds.

Seeing the sunrise from on top of Mt. Fuji was a beautiful experience. I will always remember and be thankful for the opportunity to see a sunrise from the top of “The Land of the Rising Sun.” I’m glad I got to share the experience with my wife. She kicked my ass in motivation and kept me going the whole time.


The first of the rising sun.

Our climb was a challenge, we underestimated the weather, the altitude, and the quality of our gear. While the climb itself was technically easy the rain and cold really sapped our strength. By the time we reached the top we were soaked, frozen, and tired from being up for 24 hours.

The disappointing aspect of Mt. Fuji is its popularity. Fuji is one giant volcanic tourist trap. My favorite aspect of hiking is the quite nature. I love long trails through empty canyons where the only sounds heard are your breath and wildlife. Mt. Fuji is not a spiritual experience in nature. It’s an overly commercialized amusement park. The climb is less of a hike and more of a long line at Disneyland with the peak being the destination. Every hour or so there are little way stations selling 7 dollar Top Ramen and 5 dollar water bottles. You are constantly at arm’s length with hundreds of other climbers who are talking, smoking, taking pictures, and eating. I have to admit that I was a bit let down. In my mind, Fuji was a serene holy mountain filled with monks and ancient temples. The reality was a bit jarring. It was a long trail filled with loud tourists.


Some post climb curry. Overpriced and underwhelming but it looked cool and we were starving.

All in all the experience was well worth the effort and sore muscles. We will always have some great memories from our climb. The sunrise was beautiful and being above the clouds was an ethereal experience. Both of us agreed that given the chance we would do it again. Now we have to make our way to Peru for Machu Picchu and Tanzania for Kilimanjaro.



The Builders by Daniel Polansky


After about a year or so of hearing Daniel Polansky brought up whenever dark gritty fantasy was discussed I finally got around to reading some of his stuff. I picked up his Hugo-nominated novella, The Builders as a quick read between larger novels.

The Builders is an anthropomorphic grimdark western. A band of violent, gun-slinging, talking animals  goes on a suicidal revenge quest. It uses the standard plot of 7 Samurai and The Magnificent Seven; a leader, here a one-eyed scarred mouse named The Captain, gathers his band of violent comrades for a bloody showdown.

The Builders succeeds in fun and execution but falters in the end. The early scenes where each animal is introduced are pure fun. Bonsoir the French Stoat is the standout reminding me of Val Kilmers Doc Holiday. Unfortunately, it seems Polansky really enjoyed the idea of a violent western with anthropomorphic animals but was over it by the time finale which felt crowded and rushed.

Overall The Builders was a quick fun read well worth the time. It left me with a positive impression of Polansky’s writing; enough for me to push his other novels towards the top of my to-read list. I personally would have enjoyed these characters in a longer novel format.

I also enjoy the idea of the novella format itself. The length is ideal for a quick read over coffee and the 2.99 price point  for a polished product seems fair to me. I hope the trend of novellas being released on Amazon continues.

So if you enjoy anthropomorphic animals, gritty westerns, and a snarky written voice pick up The Builders and enjoy.

A week of Typhoons, Fun Runs, and finally Fuji.

This week started off exciting. A Typhoon was scheduled to make landfall on Monday. Everyone panicked, trains stopped running, work was canceled, and I brought all my outdoor stuff inside. I was excited. My first typhoon in Japan.


Honestly I didn’t even know what a typhoon was so I had to look it up on Wikipedia. It’s a synonym for Hurricane.  Hurricane is a Caribbean name for a cyclone while typhoon is the North Eastern Pacific name.

So I battened down the hatches and prepared for our first typhoon. Best of all it coincided with my wives birthday so getting to stay home from work was a good bonus. We eagerly waited for the storm. Anxious that it would blow away our windows or knock out power.

Finally around 3 pm the storm, called Mindulle, made landfall in the Tokyo area. A little bit of rain, a little bit of wind, and done. We were fortunate to have it downgrade and be nowhere as bad as the meteorologists predicted.

Massive storms are terrifying and destructive, I am glad we didn’t experience anything like past Hurricanes. Yet, a part of me was disappointed. I wanted wind, water, lightning, and thunder. Something to spark the imagination. Instead we got a bit of a drizzle.

Fun Run

The next day the weather went back to normal, exceptionally hot and humid. We celebrated our end of week with a night time Fun 5k run. Glow sticks, weird stuff, people with wigs, and that color powder that burns my face when it mixes with sweat. The wife and I had a great time. I always forget how much I enjoy running. Starting next week I’m going to dig up my GPS tracker and start running again.

But the highlight of the week is tomorrow. We will be climbing Mt. Fuji. We packed our daypacks, prepped the camelbacks, and readied the chafe cream. Fuji will be climbed!