Posts tagged Prof. Jenn

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Book Review: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula

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What a fun romp of a book! I read this in one sitting, because it moves so very very fast. This book reads like a tight, procedural detective TV show.
What I liked:
-Holmes’ characterization
-the friendship between Holmes and Watson
-so very very action packed!
-a wonderful array of tropes from Sherlockiana that we Sherlock nerds know, want and love.
-references to Doyle. Quotes even.
What I did not like so much:
-I don’t know about the combination between Sherlock Holmes and supernatural forces. I mean,
Estleman did a good job as far as it goes–I will say he keeps Holmes totally in character
throughout, and does seem to have done his research.
-references to Doyle. Quotes even. It’s in the so close to a quote thing that I find it a touch
grating. The dialogue after the boat chase scene is nearly verbatim from The Empty House.
Why this irked me when the references of Moffatt, Gatiss, and Adams made me squee, I’m
not sure. Actually, I need to re-read it and get back to you on that.
Bottom line: highly recommended.
~Prof. Jenn

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Comics Review: Serenity–Leaves on the Wind

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Comics Review: Serenity–Leaves on the Wind #1-2 by: Zack Whedon, various

Review by: Prof. Jenn

 

…and if the title of the new comic series set just a little while after the events of Serenity doesn’t make you cry, go back and watch the whole series of Firefly, then the movie. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Tragically, it won’t take long…

Also: SPOILERS if you’re not a Browncoat, so be warned.

 

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The first two issues of Dark Horse’s new series Serenity–Leaves on the Wind takes up just a little while after Serenity the movie left off: River is still odd but much stabler in her new role as pilot, Zoe is about to have her baby (and is haunted by the ghost of her beloved husband), and everyone’s favorite Firefly-class ship and its denizens is in hiding. The ‘verse is reeling from the exposure of what the Alliance had done to Miranda, and rumors (and rebellions) abound. Some of the spunkier rebels will do anything to lasso Mal and co. into joining their cause, including conscripting Jayne (who’s not still on the ship but doing who knows what when we encounter him again, though apparently money still talks when it comes to Jayne) to run Mal to ground.

The storyline is engaging of course–I mean, who hasn’t been wanting to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT in the ‘verse–and the dialogue is written masterfully, with that same unique cadence heard in the television series. The art is what I would call “posh-comic” style: a semi-realistic look with muted colors amid the dark outlines. Overall as a sweeping statement, I would say the series is very high quality, and is shaping up to be an excellent mollifier to all of us still wanting to live in “the black.” One teensy little nitpicky thing I can mention is that sometimes the characters don’t look, well, like them. It’s a tricky balancing act, the comic based on a TV show, as I’ve been saying about the Doctor Who comics: there’s a fine line between doing actor-portraits and just portraying the character himself. In this series so far, it works most of the time, but every once in a while when we look at Mal or Simon especially we get yoinked out of our suspension of disbelief. This is a minor point, however, in light of the exciting tension and warmth of character continuing in this series. I cannot wait till #3!

Side Note: such a cute moment when Zoe reveals what her newborn daughter’s name is. That scene could have been right out of the TV show, if it had continued (/sniff).

Bottom Line: This series is highly recommended, though I would not start on it till after you’ve enjoyed Firefly in its entirety, including the movie Serenity. You’ll get spoilers and just won’t understand what’s going on unless you do.

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Comics Review: Doctor Who Skyjacks and more

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Comics Review: Doctor Who: Skyjacks Vol. 3 by various

Review by: Prof. Jenn

This is a fun TARDIS-dimension-loop story which are enjoyable because of how timey-wimey theydownload get. This is an 11th Doctor/Clara story, and we get more about the Time War, information and fun images re: the various rooms in the TARDIS, and get to hobnob with some valiant WWII soldiery. There are various references to the previous Hypothetical Gentleman storyline, but not so much they’ll get in your way if you’ve missed it.

There’s an extra, unrelated story attached to this volume called “In-Fez-Station”, which is an 11th Doctor/Amy & Rory tale which involves the Slitheen, and mind-controlling fezes. Yes, you heard me, the fezes are evil. Or at least tools for such. Really bouncy and light-hearted fun after the epic, timey-wimey feel of the longer Skyjacks story.

Bottom Line: recommended, especially for fans of the 11th Doctor.

 

Bonus Review: Dead Man’s Hand #3 by various

Now I haven’t had the pleasure of catching the first two in the Dead Man’s Hand story, so admittedly I was a tetch lost re: who’s who and what’s happening. What I can say is that this is a fun romp in the Wild West with a meta twist, referencing Westerns all over the place. It does get a tad long-winded, as all the Doctors explain his philosophy to Sondrah. But oo, look: the War Doctor actually makes an appearance!

Bottom Line: definitely only if you’ve been following the story till now. But I do recommend it.

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Comics review: Doctor Who Prisoners of Time

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Comics Review: Doctor Who Prisoners of Time #9-12 by various

Review by: Prof. Jenn

The Prisoners of Time storyline that continues with the recent Doctors and concludes pre-Capaldi with a twelfth issue is a fitting and compelling cap to the story up till now. What has been highly entertaining about the whole series is the dedication of one “episode” each per Doctor, with a thrilling, classic episode-like throughline for the whole thing. In general, the stories are varied enough yet coherent to the throughline that it reads like an actual series you’d find on TV. The art is also varied as per each artist, yet maintains a high quality we’ve come to expect from the Who comics and again makes us almost think we’re watching favorite episodes on TV.

#9 is of course starring the 9th Doctor (and Rose). It’s a fun megalomanaiacal villain who captures Rose both as a selfish romantic interest, and to trap the Doctor. (Incidentally, is it me or are you sick of Rose as a romantic interest?) The art is very Lichtenstein, very cinematic.

#10 stars the 10th doctor and Martha, and is a charming story set in 1950s Hollywood, where Martha is recruited as an actress. Lovely cute moments, including one where Martha declares: “I’m acquainted with Shakespeare.” Ha! Of course, it’s an alien invasion of Earth. Because you can’t have too many of those.

#11 centers around the 11th Doctor’s climactic attempts to stop Adam’s machinations through time. At this point, Adam has captured all of the Doctor’s companions and it’s finally time to put a stop to it. Wonderfully dramatic moment when the villain pontificates (as Doctor Who villains are wont to do) on why he hates the Doctor so, and poof! Who’s he in league with? The Master! Thanks SEP130396-03to the artists for making him the Delgado Master, too.

#12 is the conclusion to the whole story, which I won’t spoil, other than in #11 the Doctor was posed with a moral conundrum and in this concluding issue must solve it. What I will say, though, is that this is the Three/Five Doctors episode all Whovians fantasize about, that could never happen on television: all 11 Doctors and *all* companions facing the evil Master in an over-the-top, dramatic showdown. All of them, that is, as we knew them on TV. In comics, apparently, one can time-travel just a little better than on TV.

Bottom Line: I recommend this whole storyline, but especially had fun with the conclusion.

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Two Comics reviews: Rat Queens & Sherman & Peabody

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Comic Review: Peabody and Sherman #1

Review by: Prof. Jenn

How delighted was I to learn of the origin story behind dynamic time-traveling duo, smart-dog MR-PEABODY-AND-SHERMAN-1Peabody and his boy Sherman. These two have long been a favorite of mine in the Rocky & Bullwinkle pantheon, and this comic delivers in style, both the witty, snappy writing and the bold, colorful art design.

In issue #1, we learn of genius canine Peabody’s early life and his reasons behind (and early struggles with) acquiring and taming a pet boy. Of course  as any genius knows, the best way to keep a little boy occupied so he doesn’t mess up the house is to build a time machine, natch. This first issue is just as rollicking and quick-witted as its cartoon origin, and I’m happy these characters live on in comic form.

Bottom line: highly recommended.

Comic Review: Rat Queens #2

Review by: Prof. Jenn

You know? I *like* these ladies. I like em a lot. They are a terrific balance of chummy buddy-comedy fun, bitchy good humor, sexiness, and straight out action adventure. The pseudo-D&D setting is splendid and well drawn, and as we travel and fight (and drink) with these ladies, the more interesting, round, and complex they get as characters. Moreover, the story is unfolding sort of like a good adventure video game (like old school Thief or Assassin’s Creed) in that, the more we survive with them, the more information is revealed as to who may be behind the trouble we  been getting into.

As you’ve heard me say before, the art of Rat Queens is superb. I especially like the costuming. :) Dark outlines, rich color, and dynamic, diverse character appearance all adds up to an adventuring group I’ll be happy to keep following.

Bottom line: yep, still good. Better and better.

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Comics Review: Doctor Who Classics vol. 9

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Comics Review: Dr. Who Classics Vol. 9 [by various and sundry]

Review by: Prof. Jenn

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The ninth collection of Classic Who comics are all centered on the 7th Doctor, which is a lot of fun, as he’s not one that often gets his own spotlight in fandom or on TV these days. Many of the selections are light, comedic, and sometimes downright silly, and all read like a good classic episode, which is really what you want out of a volume like this. In general, the art is bold and colorful, the characters well drawn–it’s a matter of finding the balance between representing a fictional character and having a good dose of the actor’s likeness who played him. Some of the time this illustrated Doctor doesn’t look much at all like Sylvester McCoy, but the overall light-hearted ness of the collection makes this not such a big deal. In general, I’d recommend this collection for any classic Who fan. Here are some notes on the individual stories within vol. 9:

“Time and Tide”

This one is a very Star Trek TNG style plot: do you interfere with the clues aliens to save them, or do you leave them to their fate? It’s a sweet little tale with a lovely ending, and it’s the kind of story I’m glad is illustrated instead of on live tv, as the aliens are allowed to look really weird without the jarring effect of a dude in a rubber suit (or CGI).

“Follow that TARDIS”

A futuristic world in which there are stereotypical ’40s gangsters and Sinatra is president? Yes, please. This is such a slapstick-silly romp: what happens when two hilariously inept gangsters hijack the Doctor and his TARDIS to chase a monk through time? And one of them has a hand-held nuke? Hijinks, that’s what.

“Invaders From Gantac”

The poor Doctor just can’t seem to find Maruthea. Poor guy. This one centers around an alternate 1992 dystopia, wherein aliens have invaded London. But the aliens have got the wrong planet, and it’s up to the Doctor to convince them of this. We have an endearing hobo character in Leapy, and  his function does end up being quite important, but I’m just not sure about his effectiveness as a character. He seems more of a punch line.

“Nemesis of the Daleks”

I’ve already reviewed one of the issues in this story, and my opinion of the whole rains the same, after it’s resolution, etc. so. Yeah.

“Stairway to Heaven”

Hm. This one falls short. It’s too much a redone “Carnival of Monsters” but without the suspense.

“Hunger from the Ends of Time”

The art in this one is much sketchier in the outlines than the rest, and it’s very pleasing to the eye. Also, you gotta love a giant library/giant bookworm plot! I mean, this is no Vashta Nerada, but it’s still an exciting one-off monster tale of huge proportions. “Sainted geeks preserve us” is something I will say from now on.

“Train Flight”

Yay Sarah Jane! Oo and we have a terror-on-a-train story, with squicky bug-like aliens! So very fun!

Bottom Line: this is a fun, rollicking collection. Definitely recommended.

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Book Review: The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes

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Book Review: The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes by George Mann

Review by: Prof. Jenn

 

Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes have been gallivanting around Mann’s alternative Victorian London for several novels now, and this collection of short stories is an excellent addition to their adventures. The stories are a good variety of POV and all are exciting, creative,download (1) steampunk adventure mysteries that shouldn’t be missed.

A couple of particularly interesting points: there is one story in this collection which is entirely epistolary, which ups that story’s suspense level multifold. There are several Chirstmas-y themed tales in here as well, which somehow adds more to the Victorian feel (as Mann himself says in the Story Notes). One thing to note: I have not read any Newbury and Hobbes books before reading this collection, and, though the stories and characters do stand alone just fine, as I read I got the feeling I wasn’t in on some of the more nuanced relationship evolutions, and got the feeling that someone who was familiar with the characters might have some OMG moments of origin story that was lost on me. I still thoroughly enjoyed myself, however, and these stories made me eager to explore the rest of the Newbury and Hobbes books.

Bottom Line: This collection is highly recommended, especially for those who already know and love our intrepid steampunk duo.

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Book Review/Interview: A Taste of Blood Wine

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Book Review / Interview: A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

Review / Interview by Prof. Jenn

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There are so very many vampires running around in pop culture these days. Between True Blood and the Vampire Diaries, and the continued popularity of Twilight (and does anybody still read Anne Rice?) we are inundated with the sexy undead these days. So why would Titan Press want to republish a vampire book, into the midst of the maelstrom? What does A Taste of Blood Wine have that makes it a worthwhile reading endeavor?

One word: character. This is not a romantic and mystical Dracula knockoff falling in love with an ingenue with no personality. This is a realistically-drawn female nerd who still has a healthy dose of fear for the main vampire character even after she sleeps with him. The vampire himself is downloadscience-minded (I mean, doesn’t it totally make sense that an immortal undead bloodsucker would try and use science to figure out how the heck this is happening to him?) and not at all whiny and apologetic about being what he is. He’s no brooding Edward or whining Louis, but a real person, still grieving for his family in completely realistic ways, and yes okay he happens to be beautiful, but isn’t it wonderful that he falls for the nerd, not her social butterfly sister?

The setting, too, is something unusual–we don’t get typical Victorian or contemporary society, but England in the 1920s. What a compelling scene, to see our friendly neighborhood vampire strolling across the WWI battlefield, finishing off some wounded for his existential crisis lunch. The Crystal Ring, which connects vampires to their geography in this universe, is also a compelling concept, as is the use and flouting of traditional vampire tropes.

The vampires of Blood Wine can exist in sunlight, though they don’t sparkle. They cannot be killed but fire or stakes in the heart, but can be crippled and rendered useless by extreme cold (and indeed killed by some forms of extreme cold, as we see. No spoilers here!). It’s fascinating to see how the various vampires have dealt with their “condition” in a realistic way: from Karl’s pragmatism in the face of grief, to Kristian’s insane self-worship and cult following, to Ilona’s pure rage, and then of course our hero Charlotte’s love-fueled choice, it’s all compelling.

Bottom Line: A Taste of Blood Wine is a great read. Highly recommended.

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Now, please to enjoy the below interview with author Freda Warrington.

5 Questions: Freda Warrington

Interview by Prof. Jenn

1)      With all the vampire craziness happening these days (between the popular TV shows and Twilight), what made you desire to add your own take to the lore?

Actually my Blood Wine series was originally written and published in the early 1990s, long before the explosion of Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and other more recent vampire fiction! In fact I began the first, A Taste of Blood Wine, way back in the 1980s as escapism from a difficult period of my life. So my influences were old school: the Hammer Horror films with a brooding Christopher Lee, the original Dracula novel, and Carmilla (by JS LeFanu) along with a selection of classic stories and the first couple of Anne Rice novels. Why did I want to add my own take to the genre?

             Well, I’d long been fascinated by the vampire as a lonely, mysterious, dangerous yet intelligent and strangely attractive figure… However, I was frustrated that he or she was always a monster to be hunted down and staked. Ms Rice brought new life to the lore by showing vampires as thinking, feeling beings with their own story to tell. Part of their tragedy was that any kind of relationship with humans – other than predator and prey – became impossible. But I wondered, what would it be like if you could break through that barrier, despite the difficulties, and come to know this mysterious stranger as an equal?

             So I did what I always do when I can’t find the story I want to read. I wrote it myself!

             Obviously, human-vampire relationships and romances are commonplace now, but when I first started A Taste of Blood Wine, it was something quite fresh and unusual. My shy heroine Charlotte meets the devastatingly gorgeous, enigmatic Karl. At first he terrifies her, then gradually he begins to fascinate her…

             The three books – A Taste of Blood Wine, A Dance in Blood Velvet, and The Dark Blood of Poppies – were first published in the UK by Pan Macmillan. They went out of print for a number of years, despite many plaintive emails from readers who wanted them and couldn’t find them. In fact I was just on the point of reissuing the series myself, when Titan Books stepped in and republished them in gorgeous new covers. I’m also writing a brand new fourth one, The Dark Arts of Blood. If you look at my website, www.fredawarrington.com, you’ll find all the details.

2)      The early ‘20s is an unusual time period to experience as a vampire novel setting. What made you choose this era?

When I wrote the earliest version of A Taste of Blood Wine I actually set it in the 18th century! Later, when I came to rewrite it, I found that time period too Georgette Heyer-ish. I wanted something more modern – so my characters could zoom around in cars if need be! – but not too modern. I settled on the 1920s as a period that had not been overused, a decade with a perfect blend of old and new. You’ve got the Edwardian world morphing into the modern world, scientific advances being made, women starting to achieve emancipation. It’s a period of glamour, but also of horror, because the shadow of the First World War still hangs over everything. The social changes of the ‘20s mirror the internal journey that Charlotte makes as she develops from being a shy, suppressed individual into becoming her true self.

3)      What lies in store for us in the sequels to A Taste of Blood Wine?

Ooh, without giving too much away… For a start, I couldn’t drag out the “will-she, won’t-she” tension of whether Charlotte will become a vampire over three or four books. In fact it never occurred to me to do so, because I wrote the first book as a one-off. So A Dance in Blood Velvet begins to explore the complications and difficulties of actually being a vampire. Not least the pain of leaving her family behind – every choice my characters make carries a price, and I’d also like to point out that these are vampires who are NOT AFRAID TO BE VAMPIRES! No abstinence or living on animal blood for them!

             So just to give a flavour – an old flame of Karl’s intrudes unexpectedly into their new life, in such a wretched state that Karl can’t abandon her. Feeling insecure and rejected, Charlotte becomes fascinated and then disastrously obsessed by a prima ballerina, Violette Lenoir. However, Violette has secrets of her own, not least a mystical connection with the dark goddess Lilith. There’s also a pair of rival occultists in the mix – very much in keeping with trends of the 1920s! – who really stir things up for Karl and Charlotte.

             As for book three, The Dark Blood of Poppies, that will be issued in May 2014 in the UK and October 2014 in the USA. You can see the cover on my website, it’s stunning – all blood-red and “Black Swan” style gothic gorgeousness! Anyway – it continues the story of Karl, Charlotte and Violette, and also introduces a different flavour of vampire-human romance in the form of the bitter, twisted vampire Sebastian, and the warm, passionate, but equally-screwed-up-in-a-different-way American beauty Robyn. If you want power struggles, tragic romance, painful voyages of self-discovery, sex, death and general mayhem, look no further!

             I don’t want to say too much about the new one, The Dark Arts of Blood, as it’s still a work in progress, but I’ll try… Just as Karl and Charlotte think they’ve reached a state of equilibrium, a new menace arises that may be connected to a guilty secret in Karl’s past. Meanwhile, Violette tries to hold her ballet company together when her principal male dancer, the splendid, egotistical and irreplaceable Emil, goes off the rails in spectacular fashion and disappears… This one is set in 1927 and has silent films, the rise of fascism (but not where you might expect it) and yet more fraught relationships, murder, madness and mystery. In fact I think this one will turn out to be more of a mystery story than the first three… wait and see!

4)      It’s a brilliant stroke to have our main vampire protagonist exploring the science behind his condition—trying to find a solution or an explanation. Do you have a scientific explanation set in your head for your universe, or are you discovering along with Karl?

You could say I’m discovering along with Karl and Charlotte! I have an explanation that’s more metaphysical than scientific, although it could turn out to be scientific on a quantum level. See my answer to the next question…

5)      Discuss the fascinating concept of the Crystal Ring a little more for our readers.

The Crystal Ring is a parallel dimension of reality that my vampires can enter. This enables them to vanish, to escape danger, and to travel rapidly to distant places (so they’re not arousing suspicion by feeding in the same area all the time). More than that, it’s deeply entwined with whatever strange force makes my vampires, vampires. I can’t exactly remember where my idea for the Crystal Ring came from but I think it was partly inspired by the paintings of John Martin, and just from looking at the sky – you know when clouds form amazing shapes that resemble mountains you could actually walk on? Oh – and also a documentary about certain sea creatures (sharks or rays, I think) being able to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to navigate. I thought, what if my vampires could do that?

   The Crystal Ring, also known as Raqia, is an unearthly place like a stunningly beautiful sky-scape, but semi-liquid, so they can more or less float or fly through it. Basically it occupies the same space as the sky. It’s not somewhere the vampires actually live. In fact it can be dangerous, because if they stay too long they become torpid and unable to escape back to Earth. The very highest level, called the “Weisskalt”, is so icy cold that a vampire could be frozen there forever – a fact that plays a big part in the plot, naturally.

             The nature of this mysterious realm defies science, so Karl struggles to find an answer. Each character has his or her own theory. For example, the megalomaniac Kristian in the first book, a religious zealot who believes vampires to be “instruments of God”, insists that the Crystal Ring is the actual mind of God. Others, with more of a guilty conscience, might think it’s a layer of Hell. Charlotte comes up with a more plausible theory – as rational as something so weird can be – but I’m afraid you’ll have to read the books to find out!

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Book Review: The Ninja Mind

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This review/interview has appeared on Bonzuko (aka Daily Cross-Swords)

I recently was given the honor of reviewing former colleague Kevin Casey’s new book The Ninja Mind. Enjoy the review below and the interview with Mr. Casey following.   ~Prof. Jenn

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Book Review: The Ninja Mind by Kevin Casey

Martial arts centered books tend to slant in one of two directions: either the spiritual side of things (which makes many of them read like self-help books), or the physical side (which turns them into a how-to manual for instructional use). Casey manages to combine both sides in The Ninja Mind, along with a generous throughline of personal narrative. It’s difficult to define this book therefore: it’s part instruction, as he describes various exercises one can try on one’s own; part memoir, as he recounts memories of his earliest forays into the exploration of the kuji studies in his martial art; part ode to his instructor, which to be honest turns into a bit of a Stephen K. Hayes worship-fest; and part storytelling, with the ninjamindaddition of the Hanzo tale at the end of the book.

This makes for an interesting mix, for sure, and each chapter is in bite-sized chunks, so anyone who is interested in the work can digest and manage each bit thoroughly before moving on to the next. It’s also a good move on Casey’s part to focus so much on his personal journey, as especially since he’s writing about a mental, spiritual practice (not mere physical technique), it perforce can’t really be explained other than on the individual level. His personal narration puts us there with him as he describes various fears, obstacles, and the overcoming of such.

The main problem with The Ninja Mind is the near-fawning over (albeit excellent martial arts teacher) Stephen K. Hayes. It of course makes sense that one would admire one’s teacher and, in the style of memoir, describe one’s impressions of him/experiences in learning, etc. But it goes just that much too far into putting Hayes on the demigod-guru-worship-pedestal, which tends to be off-putting in the midst of such sincere recounting of personal growth.

Bottom Line: If you can get past the teacher-worship and enjoy the personal narrative, The Ninja Mind is a detailed foray into one practitioner’s journey through the depth of martial arts spirituality in practice.

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MinInterview: Kevin Casey

1) what made you choose To-Shin Do in the first place? What makes you stay with it as an art?

Unlike many of my friends that had followed ninja legends since youth, I seemed to stumble across this lineage as a series of random events. However, within just a couple of months, as a brand-new white belt in 1998, I realized that there were some larger forces at work that brought me to To-Shin Do. I had been looking for a very authentic and embodied spiritual path since early childhood. By the end of college, I had explored many different spiritual traditions and found them all to be either institutionally fossilized or irresponsibly unhinged. In frustration, I gave up on being part of a community of seekers and became determined to forge my own path to inner and outer spiritual truth. Just at that moment, I found To-Shin Do, and I was amazed to see that it already embodied so much of what I was trying to define for myself.

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Kevin and Jenn, To Shin Do graduation, 2009.

Now I’ve moved past the validation stage of trying to determine whether the lineage is legitimate and I am worthy. I’ve had a chance to get oriented within the landscape of To-Shin Do and the massive backstory of the ninja tradition. With that framework in place, I can really explore and develop myself as an artist and a seeker. The advanced stages of ninja training are a conversation between teachers and students, helping the students evoke their own potential in the most authentic way. My teachers provide the support, experiences and wisdom to help me realize the inner vision that was a whisper in my heart from my earliest memories.

2) why did you include the Hattori Hanzo anecdote at the end of the book?

The fiction piece at the end of the story seems to polarize readers – they either immediately resonate with it, or find it strange and out of place.

I see three major ways of relating to spiritual reality. One way I call the mythical way, where we gather stories that give the emotion and energy of the spiritual lessons. The stories are usually fantastical, over-the-top, and bring the lessons vividly to life. They are usually understood not to be literally true or historical. The Hanzo fiction is an example of this.

The second way I call the rational way. This is where we study and explain spiritual experience. This is exemplified by psychological and social analysis of how spiritual experiences work and what benefits they give us. It’s very detailed and intellectual.

The third way I call the mystical way. The mystical way is an integration and transcendence of the mythical way and the rational way. It brings the observational precision and intelligence of the rational way, but it infuses our literal, living histories with spiritual significance and emotion like the mythical way. We are the heroes of our stories. This is ultimately what I would like to offer to my readers.

The difficulty is, the mystical way is hard to transmit.  Some will need a lot of explanation and data because they are rationally inclined. Others will need a lot of stories and emotion because they are mythically inclined. The Hanzo fiction is there to address that latter group.

I’ll teasingly half-share one more secret… the fiction is not entirely fiction. Fiction can be a place to record stories that are so outrageous that no one would believe they were true.

3) will there be more books addressing the other 8 kuji?

Indeed there will be. I have outlines developed for each of the other eight Kuji books, with lists of stories and examples from my life and others’. As my personal journey continues, I acquire more stories to fill in. An-Shu Hayes and I are having exciting discussions about Kuji book 2, and I have a first draft developed. I hope to submit something to my publisher next spring.

At this point, I feel I have something significant, clear and implementable to share about the first four Kuji powers (Strength, Energy, Dragon-Riding, and Healing). For Kuji five and six (Danger Sensing and Telepathy), I have great and clear stories, but not yet an organized platform for others to try it out.  For Kuji seven and beyond, I have amazing stories, but I need a great deal more research to understand them. Luckily, each book takes almost two years, so expect the Ninja Mind of Invisibility around 2029. I should have a little more information by then.

4) have you ever studied other martial arts? Spiritual arts? If so, how do they compare/contrast with To Shin Do? 

I have never been a committed long-term student of any other martial or spiritual systems.  I have done workshop

Kevin and Jenn in To Shin Do seminar, 2008.

Kevin and Jenn in To Shin Do seminar, 2008.

training in boxing, fencing, judo, karate, tae kwon do, muay thai, kyudo, and kung fu. I’ve stopped in at Zen centers, Shambhala training, Catholic monasteries, shamanic drumming circles, Wiccan study groups and Jewish temples. I’ve also spent a bit of time here and there with my “cousins” in other branches of the ninja tradition and in Japanese Tendai and Tibetan Buddhist lineages, without formally being a student in those organizations.

I enjoyed all of those explorations, and I found I was never tempted to leave my home in To-Shin Do. There were attributes I admired in other approaches, and because To-Shin Do is intentionally a living framework that evolves with the individual and the culture, I could incorporate those attributes into how I train and how I teach.

To-Shin Do, and its root art of ninjutsu, emphasizes adaptability. This seems to be in contrast to most tradition-oriented systems. Yes, of course, we want to leverage the wisdom and past experiences of our lineage, so in that sense there is a tradition of passed-down methods, but the real heart of the ninja tradition is an unrelenting focus on what works and a commitment to discovering that in changing conditions. As such, we study principles and concepts from history, and then seek to manifest those ideals in the most tangible, meaningful and effective way.

The result of that, when done well, is a profound sanity and capability. To-Shin Do is not immune to the organizational neuroses of every human endeavor, but our values eventually navigate us out of it, or navigate the neurotic out of To-Shin Do.

5) to the extent that you feel comfortable, express how your recent life upheavals have informed your practice as it is laid out in your book. 

This year was brutal. It was without a doubt the toughest year of my life so far, and I won’t be surprised if it stands as the toughest year of this lifetime.  I’ll tell some of my stories in Book 2.

These experiences forced me to look in the mirror long and hard. Are these practices real? Do they hold up under major crisis?

Although the practices are magical, they do not magically solve your problems. Although they increase confidence, focus, and personal power, they do not remove all suffering from life. In truth, you mostly still have to solve all your problems in fairly ordinary ways.

The difference is, with these practices, you’ll actually get around to it. A lot of the solutions in our life are obvious but difficult. Consider improving fitness, getting a better job, improving finances, or developing better relationships with loved ones. These are critical and life-impacting, and you can Google all kinds of valid advice for free. We struggle not to understand but to implement.

Sometimes we internalize that failure to implement as evidence of character flaw. We get depressed and seek escape. The truth is, though, the failure to implement is a failure of spirit, and spirit has to be developed and maintained through spiritual practice. However gnarly and unfair life can be – and I’ve recently been put in touch with a pretty intense level of it – the only solution is to pick yourself up one more time and do what is needed. You can’t do that just through hollow internal cheerleading. You need a real cultivated perspective of personal power through a set of exercises and practices.

At my worst moments this year, giving up and dying felt like a real option. My spiritual practice reminded me of why I might get up one more time. I made a real choice to survive, and that alone is empowering. I don’t have to be here, enduring this travesty. I am choosing to be here, because there is something greater that’s worth fighting for.

The fact that the ninja tradition acknowledges this dynamic – as opposed to engaging in the fantasy of an untouchable invulnerable super-being who never suffers – gives mere mortals like ourselves a real shot at heroism. When we struggle, endure, adapt, outlast and overcome, we are ninja.

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Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares

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sherlock-holmes-the-stuff-of-nightmares-review

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares by James Lovegrove

Review by: Prof. Jenn

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Now obviously any Sherlock Holmes pastiche isn’t going to be Doyle. However, if one is going to set one’s pastiche in Victorian London, it needs to at least read like historical fiction. Especially if one is (rightfully so) writing said pastiche from Dr. Watson’s POV. It needs to sound like Victorian Watson’s narration. Stuff of Nightmares almost does this well, but the slip-ups are numerous enough to make it read in general as anachronistic. Here’s the low-down, according to me:

What I liked:

  • background into Watson’s feelings about his wife, the invention of her miscarriages, his feelings about Holmes and the violent events he sees. He’s not simpering, but has honest reactions as a doctor and a human
  • I always enjoy the premise of taking one of the many stories Doyle’s Watson was never going to put into print, and create it based on Sherlockian research. This isn’t your typical Sherlock-vs-whatever-1800s-villain-sounds-fun but original, actually well fleshed out, and action-packed
  • an engaging, shudder-inducing villain in the lines of George Burnwell or Baron Gruner from Doyle
  • feminism, but done correctly for the time period

What I didn’t like:

  • Holmes’ character is inconsistent, unrealistic
  • a long backstory narration almost as interminable as The Great Alkali Plain
  • many narrative anachronisms in the form of contemporary word choice/diction
  • steampunk Transformers?! Really, Mr. Lovegrove?! Seriously??

Bottom Line: it’s mildly entertaining but not among the best of the Sherlockian pastiches. You can find a better.

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