Trip Report: Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown (Four Stars)


Trip Report: Patrick Henry’s home Scotchtown

Four Stars

In the middle of rural Hanover County, Virginia, Scotchtown plantation was the home of American patriot and orator Patrick Henry during the years he fanned the flames of independence and human rights. Started after 1717, the huge (for its day), single-story frame structure reached its current size in ~1760. Henry bought it in 1771 for £600.26study

He lived there when he gave his “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” speech in Richmond, served on the Continental Congress, championed independence and human rights, and was selected the first elected governor of Virginia. Whereupon he sold it for £5000. (Whatever the exchange rate, quite a profit.)

The house is in excellent condition, furnished with some original Henry and other eighteenth century furnishings. Museum and gift shop on site. Reasonable admission fee.

Self-guided tour of grounds via smart phone recordings.

To see it “come to life,” visit October 1 and 2, 2016 when 200 re-enactors will descend on the property.

(Little signage directs you to the plantation, but don’t let that deter you from visiting.)

Book Review: Blackguards, J. M. Martin, Editor (Three Stars)

Book Review: Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries and Rogues, by J. M. Martin (Editor)

Three Stars

“Stories have power. And shared stories grow with the telling.”

Skip the introduction. Seriously.

“Being distrustful keeps me alive.”

A self-referential collection of twenty-seven short stories promoting the various authors’ greater corpus of works: a literary infomercial. That admitted, this is a better-than-average anthology of stories about nearly famous (in their reality) lowlifes, many of whom aren’t so black as grey. A few only slightly tarnished. A bit of humor here and there leavens the batch.

“There isn’t much in life that counts for less than fair and should.”

One author complains that most fantasies are Medieval Europe. That’s not my experience, but Continue reading

The Quake of 2011

August 23, 2016 was the fifth anniversary of the 2011 Mineral, VA earthquake, a magnitude 5.8 quake centered about twenty miles from here. The Washington Post claimed that it was felt by “more people than any other quake in U. S. history,” as many as on third of the US population. But no one died and few were injured.

USGS ShakeMap


Do we remember where we were when it shook about 2 PM? Oh, yes. No structural or property damage, but we still have cracks in the plaster from it.

Book Review: Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers (Four Stars)

Book Review: Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers

Four Stars

“Living in space was anything but quiet. Silence belonged to the vacuum outside. Silence was death.”

Enjoyable hard science fiction. As a change of pace from space operas, humans are (mostly) pacifists. Explores personhood and relationships. Some plot points are a little obvious, but don’t crush the fun quotient.

“Humans … have something dangerous in us. We almost destroyed ourselves because of it.”

Good ensemble cast–each flawed, each (eventually) contributing to the mix–good conclusion, tried very hard to be PC. Revealed the greater galaxy as necessary for the plot. Data dumps well disguised.

“Stop trying not to be scared. Scared means we want to live.”

A little weak on the physics–“on the edge of gravity’s embrace” is poetic, but a poor description of the vicinity of the event horizon of a black hole. Close enough for verisimilitude.

“…very stupid, well-intended people who thought it would be a great idea to redefine Humanity.”

May have borrowed a plot point or two from Robert Heinlein. Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal good stuff.

“None of us may ever have the intellectual capacity to understand how life truly works.”

Movie Review: Ben Hur, directed by Timur Bekmanbetov (Five Stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Ben Hur, directed by Timur Bekmanbetov

Five Stars

Wow! If anything better than the classic 1959 version. Grittier and more authentic. Fuller character development. Clearer story of revenge and redemption.

I haven’t read Lew Wallace’s novel, upon which all the movies are based, but this is certainly different from the 1959 film. Better, in my opinion. Not watered down nor candy-coated. Not a gore-fest or action story, though the chariot race was dramatically staged and filmed.

The portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth will be controversial, of course.

Technical: first movie in a long time to get Roman uniforms and equipment correct, including, especially the armor. The most glaring discrepancy was the stirrups, but modern actors can’t ride horses without them.

Some viewers may question the lifestyle of Judah Ben-Hur’s family. Many Hellenized Jews lived that way, including many of the Sadducee (priestly) faction.

Go. Enjoy.

Book Review: George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger (Three Stars)

Book Review: George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

Three Stars

“Slow but credible intelligence was better than fast but muddled–or no intelligence at all.”

A good (true) story, well told. A wealth of quotes from primary sources. Dumbed down for today’s readers, but you expect that from a reporter. The title hyperbole is typical. Several minor factual errors undercut credibility of things hard to verify.

“Washington, whom generations of schoolchildren would later know as a man who ‘could not tell a lie’ couldn’t help but be pleased” he’d misled Clinton.

At least as good as Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies. Read either book in preference to expecting history from Continue reading

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (Three Stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets by Illumination Entertainment

Three Stars

It had some cute parts but, unlike Despicable Me and the minion movies, much was inappropriate for children … and many adults. They’re best at slapstick and visuals.

Their computer graphics was Pixar quality.

They made enough money off this flick to plan a sequel for release in two years.

Book Review: The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin (3.5 Stars)

Book Review: The Killing Moon (Moon Blood #1) by N. K. Jemisin

3.5  Stars

“The shadowlands are not elsewhere. We create them. They are within us.”

A pleasant fantasy set in an ancient Egypt-analog civilization. Good plot, good characters, good writing. Respectful treatment of the religion and magic of the culture she created. The reader can tell she took them seriously. Loved her take on the astronomy of her world. Painfully slow start. (I quit once, less than a hundred pages in.)

“If these are all the memories I get for eternity, I want to take as many of them with me as I can.”

The author is a professional psychologist so it seems odd that she should lean heavily on the discredited theories of Sigmund Freud for her dream world, but hey this is fiction. She does it well.

“Those who live in the shadow of a volcano would be fools not to watch closely, when it starts to smoke.”

Many science fiction and fantasy writers have ripped off the obvious aspects of Egypt for the sake of an instant credibility, but Jemisin made the effort to make her world unique and still Egyptian. Good job.

“Corruption is a disease of the soul, not the actions … though the latter are often symptomatic of the former.”

Book Review: City by Clifford D. Simak (Four Stars)

Book Review: City by Clifford D. Simak

Fours Stars

“Until it can be proved that Man did, in fact, exist, argument that the discovered fragments originated with Man can have but little point.”

The first short stories which became City were written in 1943. The collection was first published in 1952. Simak’s future history positing a world populated by dogs and robots was cutting edge social commentary as well as science fiction. (The transistor hadn’t been invented, and atomic power was till magic: albeit black magic)

“Since we are machines, we must be scientific. We can’t dream. Facts are all we have.”

Unlike much science fiction of that time, Simak’s stories aged well. Despite the advances in technology, his robots and communications devices aren’t jarringly wrong. His posited domed bases on the surface of Continue reading

Book Review: The Defendant by G. K. Chesterton (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Defendant by G. K. Chesterton

Four Stars

“Every great literature has always been allegorical … of the whole universe.”

This collection of essays was first published in 1901. If you forget that, the wonder of Chesterton’s wisdom and timeliness will diminished. This book collected his iconoclastic essays on various topics, some surprisingly relevant over a century later. Rather than bore you with my opinion of his opinion, I’ll share some pithy quotes. (Though most make better sense in context of their essay.)

“There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.”

“It is always the secure who are humble.”

“There is no problem in finding good in what humanity rejects: the difficulty is to find it Continue reading