Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: The Burned Bridges Protocol, by Abigail Borders

Good evening, fellow castaways. It's not every day I get to discover a new author for whom I'm excited to see their next work, but here she is, Ms. Abigail Borders.

First off, I do need to let you know I've been acquainted with Abigail for better than a year, and we swap critiques on a pretty regular basis. That said, Abigail Borders' first published work The Burned Bridges Protocol was not one I'd seen other than a cursory glance and beta read of the first chapter. And I'm glad it was that way, so I could appreciate the final product without having already seen any of the previous rewrites or versions.

Click the image for the buy page.
 Seven hundred years ago, disaster forced humanity to abandon Earth. Life on the colony ship New Edinburgh is all sixteen-year-old Lilliane, the best programmer in her year at the Institute, has ever known. 

A week ago, Lilliane woke up in a life-pod. Its destination? Earth itself. Because it's time to rebuild. It's up to Lilliane and the four other survivors of the New Edinburgh to reclaim humanity's ancestral home.

Today, the life pod arrived at Lady Diana--the lunar holding station that was once the luxury holiday destination for Earth's super-rich. It's supposed to be a good place. A safe place.

Not anymore.

Today, Lady Di is a battlefield. Because while Lilliane and her friends thought they they were the only humans left, somebody else got to Lady Di first.

And he will stop at nothing to keep Lilliane from ever getting to Earth.

Enjoy it I did. First off, it's an easy read. And by easy, I mean the words flow so easily through my brain that it's not work to read. I finished this in just a few hours. It's a short work, too at just over 200 pages, and the print is a bit larger than many other recent works I've read. It's marketed as a novella, which is  just shy of a full novel-length work.

Which leads into my one minor criticism of the book: It could be longer. One or two scenes, in my opinion, could have been filled out just a fuzzy more. But don't let that stop you from diving in head-first and devouring it.

I promise no plot-spoilers, but it's not easy. I want to tell you all how it starts with a "What the..." and ends with an "Oh, wow," and fills the pages between with more than one "I did NOT see that one coming!"

I can guarantee your mouth will drop open when you get to the reason for the title of the book. It takes a lot to surprise me like that, but she did it. I think what I like the most is Abigail's sense of humor, a twisted, tongue-in-cheek kind of style that reminds me of a fluffy pink bunny riding a werewolf's shoulder and pointing at Elmer Fudd while screaming "There he is: Get him!"

I should have expected this from Abigail, but with an imagination as lively as hers, it's hard to know what to expect at any given time. And in this case, that's a very good thing.

Five thumbs up.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tried and True: You Are A Weapon

"Tried and true." Has anyone ever thought about the origin of that phrase? We all know what it means. It means the person in question has proven themselves to be loyal, truthful, and trustworthy.

But it has another connotation as well, and it comes from the very origin of the phrase. It comes from many sources, among which are listed as in woodworking. "Trying" a board was to work it to a straight edge which was found to be "true" when it was perfectly straight and ready to be joined. "Trying" is also used in the practice of smithy. At least, I heard my father use it (He was a machinist) in the context of testing a metal for purity by heating a sample in fire, watching for a change in the color of the metal as it melts as well as a color change in the flame around it. A metal was "tried and true" if it was pure and could be made into a straight blade. But that second definition is, I will freely admit, apocryphal at best. You can choose whether to accept it or not. But I'm going with it for the purposes of this post, and you can determine in your own mind after I've made my point whether it's suitable.

So whether you're working with wood or metal, "tried and true" has similar context: A working, a chipping away of what doesn't fit, a shaving off of substance, a burning out. A highly uncomfortable situation, worked at the hands of a master craftsman, to make something suitable for use. If you are willing to see yourself as a piece of wood or a piece of metal, see yourself in the hands of a master carpenter or a master smith. One who wants to work you into a "tried and true" condition.

Some of the finest swords ever made were found in Viking tombs or found buried at ancient battlefields where Viking warriors, among the best fighters in history, made their mark. The best of these had one thing in common: they bore an inlaid maker's mark on their blade: "+Ulfberh+t." The mysterious Ulfbehrt who made these was never identified in person, but his legacy was the mark left on the world by fearless warriors who carried these highly-sought blades into battle. They were lighter than their contemporaries, and were very flexible as well as strong. When they met strong side forces, they flexed and sprang back rather than bending or breaking. This led many to believe they had magical properties. But they were just better made than anything else in their day.

You can check out this video if you want, but I'm going to save you an hour and explain it my own way.

First off, the blacksmith had to start with the right iron. Metal used in Ulfbehrts was found to have a higher carbon content and be more pure than most other metals used in weaponry of the day. This is because the iron was smelted at a much higher temperature than other weapons. So the craftsman started with superior stock. This high-quality iron most likely came from somewhere in central Asia or the middle east, via one of the Viking trade routes. The point here is that the material is sought specifically. The steel that came from these far places was called crucible steel.

This steel was harder to work than most other types, because if the smith wasn't careful, the metal would crack and the whole slug would be worthless. It had to be heated in the forge and hammered out on an anvil over a period of hours, just to get it formed into a basic shape. We're talking about eight to twelve hours per blade.

Then the tip was formed. The Ulfbehrt was given a longer, more tapered tip, which gave it more penetrating power through mail armor. That meant more hammering, another three to four hours' work.

Then the master put his name on the work. Using a cold chisel, he carved out his trademark into the side of the blade, and then filled it by hammering iron wire into the grooves. It was then heated again to set the letters in place. After this, the fuller is hammered into the blade. This is a groove that runs the length of the blade. This lightens the blade and strengthens it, the way that an "I" beam is stronger and lighter than a straight steel beam in buildings.

The next step is to harden the blade. It's heated again until it glows a consistent orange color, and then it's plunged into a pool of oil to quench it, or quickly cool it. It actually affects the steel on an atomic level, making it even stronger. This is a critical point in the process, and the blade will either harden into a spring-steel masterpiece, or crack into a useless hunk of metal.

Then comes the polishing. It gets tempered first in another heat treatment, and then polished for several more hours. It's burnished to a bright gleam, and then the craftsman washes it with a mild acid to bring out the letters of the inlay and to seal the surface.

Then it's applied to a stone for sharpening, and fitted with a handle. The end result is a high-quality weapon for use in any battle.

Now, are you ready for my point?

You are that metal, sought after and precious to the Craftsman who forges you. You go through the ordeals of life like a crucible, the heating, the melting, the bonding and the additives in that closed, sealed place in the fire.

Then you are broken from the crucible, and the crucible itself is destroyed in making you free. But you're not done yet. All the ordeals in your life have brought you to this point, where you're ready for use. The Master puts His name in you, and the process isn't comfortable. You wonder when it's going to be over, because the fire, the heat, the stoning, turns minutes into hours, turns days into years.

But you're here now. You're here to war for others, not against flesh and blood, but war emotionally, spiritually. You have wondered why you had to go through it. But when you are there for someone else, and you can be strong for them, you know. So don't despise the trials of life. Don't hate the furnace. It's doing its job to shape you into a weapon against despair, against hatred, against the darkness in someone else's life

I know what I'm talking about. I have lost ten people, mostly family, through cancer. One brother is dead from a drug overdose. Two of my family right now struggle with life-threatening situations, and another is awaiting test results that could tell them whether they have the same type of cancer that killed my younger sister five years ago.

But I'm good. Because I know my craftsman. I trust Him to forge me, to polish and hone me into a tool, a weapon against darkness.

So I write this to encourage you, who are going through your own mill, your own crucible experience. I want you to know, you got this. Because somewhere, someone down the line, someone else is going to need your strength, your sharpness, your flexibility.

You're good. Now go get'em.