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Race Report – Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon 2019 (Florham Park)

Lifetime Fitness is a chain of high-end gyms that runs an indoor triathlon series at many of its locations in the winter. I had never participated in this event before, but signed up this year for the Florham Park, New Jersey race.

As the date (1/20/19) neared, a snowstorm loomed, threatening a closure of the gym. I had planned to work all night on 1/19 and then drive straight to the race after work. Watching the weather, the rain-snow line appeared to have shifted, and it turned out that the area received very little snow. What snow we did have had mostly melted by morning with rising temperatures and rain.

Check-In and Packet Pick Up

Leading up to race day, I didn’t have a lot of information from the race organizers. I knew what time to arrive (30 minutes prior to my swim wave). The rest of my knowledge was gleaned from online chats about the event.

Race bib and swim cap.

The roads weren’t bad at all that morning and I arrived very early for the event. I checked in at the front desk and was directed toward the locker rooms. Before I reached those, I found the event table at the end of the hallway on the left. This was a bit like a packet pick-up. I received my bib, a swim cap, and a mug. The organizers seemed to assume that I knew where I was going and what I was doing (I didn’t). I had to ask questions, but at least I was already familiar with triathlons in general.

Event Format and Equipment

With this being an indoor triathlon, the swim would be in the pool, the bike was on spin bikes, and the run was on a treadmill. Rather than holding to set distances, each discipline would be raced for a set time. The distance that each athlete traveled in that time period was recorded.

  • Swim = 10 minutes
  • Bike = 30 minutes
  • Run = 20 minutes

I stowed my bag in a locker and used a second one for my equipment that I would need for the race. This approach was suggested by another woman who was getting ready for her own race. I had decided to wear a swimsuit for the pool and then would change into a tri kit before the bike segment. Some people wore tri kits for the whole thing.

Everyone had 10 minutes for transition between the swim and bike, and 5 minutes for transition between the bike and run. You could go back to your locker during this time, so there was no need to drag a bag to the pool. However, the transition between the bike and run was shorter, so I saw most participants bring their running shoes up to the cycling area.

I didn’t bring anything special for the swim, just my normal goggles. I used the swim cap provided and also had a bottle of water at the edge of the pool. One small detail – Lifetime Fitness provides towel service. I had brought my own towel, but it turns out that I probably didn’t need to.

Someone had suggested that I check out the spin bikes and figure out how to adjust the seat prior to the race start. Since I had some extra time, I did do this and I think it was a good idea. I had never ridden a spin bike before. It did take me a few minutes to figure out how to set it up. Toe cages were available on some bikes, while others just had pedals to clip in.

My bike set up.

The treadmills for the run were across the room from the bikes. For both the bike and run, I had my water bottle, phone, and headphones. I had intended to wear my cycling gloves, but forgot them.

The Swim

I arrived on the pool deck 10 minutes before my start time, as recommended. I had decided to treat the swim as a practice because I hadn’t done any swimming all week and my shoulder had been sore before that. I planned to focus on my form and keep a steady pace.

The water was warm enough (although I would always prefer it to be warmer). I didn’t jump in until a few seconds before the start because I need to get moving to warm up. Nothing untoward happened. I had my own lane and I swam some laps.

SWIM = 18 lengths

The Bike

I took a few minutes to catch my breath when the whistle blew to stop the swim. Knowing that I only had 10 minutes, I clambered out of the water, grabbed my towel and went back to my locker to change.

I felt fine as I arrived in the cycling area. I had thought this would be in a spin studio of some sort, but the bikes were just grouped on one side of the main exercise floor. I picked out a bike with toe cages and adjusted the seat and handlebars.

Data displayed on the bike.

While I waited for transition to be over, I spun lightly and drank water. One of the volunteers instructed us on how to start the clock on the bikes. Soon enough, the 30 minutes began.

I pedaled easy for the first 3 minutes, trying to get a sense of the spin bike. The display contained a power reading and I watched that as I increased the difficulty using a knob rather than gears. After 3 minutes I settled in to a steady pace which I was able to maintain for the duration.

A couple downsides of the cycling arrangement became clear as my time ticked down. First – there were no fans, so my hands became sweaty and slick. I realized that I had forgotten my cycling gloves. The volunteers did bring us hand towels though, so I was able to wipe down the handlebars periodically.

The other problem was that the bike seat was not terribly comfortable. I was happy that my ride was only 30 minutes.

BIKE = 9.0 miles

The Run

Getting ready to run.

When time was up for the bike, the transition to the run was very simple. I had worn my running shoes on the bike, so I had nothing to change in terms of equipment. I refilled my water bottle and made my way to the treadmill.

I walked until it was time to begin. The volunteer made sure that I knew which buttons to push and then we started a short time after that.

I ran easy for the first few minutes and then gradually increased my pace. I felt fine so I increased my pace for the last 3 minutes also.

RUN = 1.96 miles

The display on the treadmill. The distance rolled over to 1.97 miles as the belt slowed.

Finishing Up

There wasn’t much fanfare when it was over. A volunteer came by with a medal and a high-five. I walked down the stairs to the event table and ate an orange slice. They also had chocolate milk.

I was able to find my results in an email later that day. You are scored based on how far you went in each discipline relative to everyone else. For example, if I swam 18 lengths of the pool and five people swam further than me, out of maybe 30 participants, then I would be ranked #6 in the swim.

From there, the #1 person gets points equal to the number of participants, decreasing by one down the list:

  • #1 = 30 points
  • #2 = 29 points
  • #3 = 28 points
  • #4 = 27 points
  • #5 = 26 points
  • #6 = 27 points
  • and so on …

The points for each discipline were added for a total score. I ended up with the following score, and it looks like that put me in 4th place in the women’s Masters division. The full results can be found here.

SWIM = 41 points

BIKE = 32 points

RUN = 37 points

TOTAL = 110 points

I had a nice time, despite a bit of confusion going in. I’d consider signing up for this next year. With a little bit more direction or guidance, it would be a great event for someone new to triathlon.

I’m not sure I got the right medal.

Did you race the same event or one in a different city? Let me know in the comments below!

See all my race reports here.

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Book Review – The Book of Life

The Book of Life is the third book in the All Souls trilogy by author and historian Deborah Harkness. This final volume completes the story begun in A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, which I have also reviewed.

This series is set in our modern world, but with a subculture of witches, daemons, and vampires who are secretly struggling to survive as their powers wane and they are plagued by blood rage and madness.

Having finished this book, I’m pleased to say that I’m doing well with finishing up series that I’ve started, and this is going to be one of my main reading goals for 2019. So look out for plenty of book 2’s, 3’s, etc. here.

As this book begins, Diana and Matthew have just returned from Elizabethan England through Diana’s witch abilities as a timewalker. What they had envisioned as a happy reunion with their friends and family in our current time quickly turns tragic when they discover that Emily has died under suspicious circumstances, likely murdered.

All of the problems they had escaped by traveling to the past have returned with their arrival back at Sept Tours. Diana still needs to obtain Ashmole 782, the book which supposedly holds the secrets to the origin of all types of creatures. The Congregation has grown more suspicious of the de Clermont’s affairs, and Diana’s magic is stronger but still a bit beyond her understanding.

In addition, Diana is pregnant with twins, with no idea what her children will be like or how to keep them safe. Matthew’s son, Benjamin, reemerges from obscurity and is driven by blood rage and revenge, threatening both Diana and the babies.

The story takes Diana and Matthew to America first and then back to various parts of Europe. There is renewed focus on Matthew’s research on creature genetics, and additional characters appear to help solve their problems.

I thought that the plot of this final book meandered more than the earlier ones, and for the first half, this lack of focus weakened the tension. It seemed like the characters should have been in greater danger, but they didn’t face any immediate threats until later in the book.

My favorite aspect of this book was how Diana’s magic evolved and grew in response to her actions and changes. I enjoyed seeing her learn to use her strength and to use both her wits and her power to overcome challenges.

The end of the novel finally brought all the story elements together and was satisfying. While all of the main points are wrapped up, it still allows for the possibility of future books in the series. I would have liked more explanation of a few elements, but it’s possible that I read too fast and missed some of the details.

The author has recently released a new book, Time’s Convert. This novel is separate from the All Souls series, but has some overlap. It appears to detail Marcus’ backstory and delves further into his relationship with Phoebe. I’d like to read this novel also, but will not get to it just yet.

Have you read the All Souls trilogy? Let me know in the comments below!

See all my book reviews here.

Race Report – NJ Trail Series (Watchung 10K)

I signed up for this event on a whim. I had never run on trails before, but I thought it sounded fun, and it was also close to home.

Some time later, I remembered that I have always thought trail running sounded like a bad idea. I mean, I like hiking. But the thought of running on those same trails where I would probably roll one of my already busted ankles just sounded awful risky.

This was my ankle several years ago.

Oh well, I’d already signed up. I decided that I’d walk any tricky parts of the trail. The event featured a no frills approach – no medals, no t-shirts (just minimal aid stations and a timing chip). The fee of $30 (for all distances) was used as a donation to Jersey Battered Women’s Service.

The New Jersey Trail series appears to host several informal train runs throughout the year. The Watchung event is an annual ultrarunning race, with distances of 10K, half marathon, marathon, and 50K offered.

I had never run a 10K before this event, although I’ve run a few 5K’s, a 10-miler, a couple of half marathons, and the run portions of sprint, half, and full distance triathlons. The distance of this run didn’t bother me, although it was more than I’d been doing in my recent training (max 3-4 miles lately).

The course for each loop in Watchung Reservation.

The week of the race was a wet one, and rain was also in the forecast for race morning. I had to think about how to handle that. I’ve run in the rain before, but never on trails where I could expect a lot of mud. The temperature was forecast to be in the 40’s – cold enough for me to layer up, but not too uncomfortable once I got moving.

I ended up wearing an old pair of running shoes and bringing a change of shoes and socks for my ride home. I also packed a towel and dry shirts. I didn’t bring any headphones because I decided against listening to music. It just didn’t seem right for a run through the woods.

When I arrived to check in, I was running late. I walked from my car to the start area as the race began. That was fine by me. I was only here for the run, not to work on a PR or anything. I took my time getting my timing chip and then stowing my jacket back in my car.

The beginning of the course took my around the parking area and then on paved trails to start with. The rain began with a light drizzle, but was barely noticeable. Soon enough, the path took me down a steep and narrow trail and into the woods.

The route for the race was well-marked, with orange surveyor’s tape and paint. It would have been hard to get lost. After only a minute on the trail, I encountered the mud. It would have been impossible to avoid it for the whole race, although I did try to stick to the drier patches where possible.

My shoes quickly plunged into the muck and filled with chilly water. Despite being one of those people who is always cold, my feet warmed up and never went numb during the race. The beginning of the course was muddier than the later sections, although it did rain more heavily around miles 3 to 4. I was warm enough to take my gloves off for a while, but put them on again later.

I started to laugh at the mud as I went and realized that I was actually having fun. Running in the woods was a nice break from the monotony of laps around the nearby park or the same familiar routes near my house. Because of my late start, I didn’t see too many other runners, but I was not completely alone out there either. Several people were hiking the trail, despite the weather.

One aid station was located near mile 4 and I stopped for some cookies and water. The trail beyond that point was a lot wider and flatter, with one uphill section at the end. Around mile 5, I was lapped by someone doing multiple loops of the course. He reminded me of an elf because he appeared to be literally bounding through the woods with hardly any effort.

I completed the run in 1:36:25 which made me happy, as I was hoping for something under 2 hours. I was able to run more of the distance than I had thought I could, and the rain and mud hadn’t been as much of a hindrance as I had feared.

The second aid station was at the finish, and I had a few more snacks before heading back to my car. I would definitely consider a future trail run (ideally without the mud and rain)!

Do you do any trail running? Do you have any tips for someone new to trails? Were you out there in Watchung with me? Let me know in the comments below.

See all of my race reports here.

Book Review – The Evolutionary Void

The Evolutionary Void is the third book in the Void series by Peter F. Hamilton, concluding the science fiction epic. I listened to the audio version of this book, read by John Lee.

This final volume in the Void series is a brilliant conclusion in which Hamilton somehow manages to wrap up all of the plot threads in a way that is satisfying, true to the characters, and answers all the questions that I had about the Void.

The story is told in two parts, like the previous volumes, with most of the scenes taking place in the Commonwealth, and suitably less of the novel taken up by Edeard’s story, as it concludes by making final connections to the rest of the series.

After Edeard learns to manipulate the Void fabric and roll back the events of his life, he decides that he needs to make all of the world’s problems right. His journey through different lifetimes shows us glimpses of how each decision turns out. Toward the end of the book, we finally get to see Inigo’s final dream.

Araminta has been revealed as the Second Dreamer and has fled Viotia on the Silfen paths as this book begins. She debates her options while continuing to stay one step ahead of Living Dream. She is one of my favorite characters in the book, with her creative problem solving in the face of overwhelming odds.

The nebulous conflict between the factions in ANA ramps up, with the Accelerator Faction taking a larger role. Gore Burnelli becomes a more prominent character in the aftermath of a devastating move by the Accelerators, and the nature of the Deterrence Fleet is also revealed.

Aaron, the mysterious operative with no memory of his past, and with a mission that only reveals itself in parts, is falling apart. Nightmares threaten his ability to function and push him into an even more violent and unpredictable state.

All the characters and plot elements are finally brought together as Living Dream launches its pilgrimage, Justine Burnelli nears Querencia, Gore Burnelli schemes, the factions reveal their agents and goals, and others attempt to stop the Void’s expansion.

Like in the previous Void books, the author blends science fiction with elements of fantasy in Edeard’s story and the existence of the elf-like Silfen. Even more subtle aspects of the world-building echo the fantasy genre, with the Knights Guardian resembling paladins in that they follow an ethos as they carry out their quest. Characters from the long-ago past also continue to appear in this last volume, so reading Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained before the Void series is helpful.

One of the biggest themes in this series is how the human race could evolve into another state, or a post-physical existence. While some think that the Void could offer this, others believe that it is up to each race to reach this potential on their own. Some species in Hamilton’s world have already done so, and humanity seems to be halfway there, with the ability to store one’s consciousness in ANA to later resume physical life in a cloned body, or to rejuvenate one’s body for a life that can last over a thousand years.

This is actually one of my favorite themes in science fiction and is not original to this book. However, the Void series does take a closer look at how humanity may go about reaching this post-physical ascension, whether it’s through technology of our own, that borrowed from alien cultures, or through a more metaphysical method in using the psychic powers granted by the Void.

One small quibble that I had with this book was that I think it delved into these metaphysical descriptions a bit too much toward the end, as well as some theoretical physics that read more like technobabble to me. For someone with more of a background in physics, the ideas may have been more interesting.

The ending of the series wraps up essentially all of the questions that I had, and is a fitting conclusion for the characters. I’m a bit sad that this series is over, but I fully intend to track down the author’s other books in the future.

Have you read the Void series? What about Peter F. Hamilton’s other books? Let me know in the comments below!

Find my other book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – The Achiko Sabre Cup New Years Day 2019

This tournament was hosted by the Tim Morehouse Fencing Club at its newer facility in Port Chester, New York. I had decided to compete in this event because it was part of the Tri-State Veteran Sabre Cup for this season. I was also able to arrange my work schedule in a way that allowed me to fence on the holiday, and was only an hour’s drive from home.

Registration and Events

The Achiko Sabre Cup featured a variety of events (all sabre, go figure): Y12, Y14, D and under, Unrated, Open, and Vet Combined, with all but the youth events split for men and women. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for more than the Veteran event.

Registration was run through askfred.net and you can see the results of all the events here.

Location

The Tim Morehouse Fencing Club has expanded and this location is one of the newer sites. It was easy to reach, and I didn’t hit any traffic because of the New Year’s holiday. There appeared to be a lot associated with the club, but it was roped off as full. I was able to easily find a spot to park along the road behind the club, and had a relatively short walk to the entrance.

The club itself was clean and bright. Check-in and the bout committee were directly to the left, with an area for bags and warmup on the right, and the tournament held in the larger space on the left.

One downside of this event was that I only found two bathrooms in the club. An additional closet was marked as a changing room, but there was a wait for the bathroom at times.

We weren’t required to have our equipment checked for this tournament and no vendors were on hand.

Format and Tournament

I fenced in the Vet Combined Women’s Sabre event, and unfortunately there was not a very large showing of local fencers, with only five people competing. We fenced a single pool, followed by direct elimination bouts.

We had a single referee for our event, and I didn’t disagree with the calls. I felt stiff at the beginning of the pool bouts as I hadn’t fenced at all since the Cincinnati NAC. But in the end, I fenced well enough, ending up 4-0 in the pool, then taking first place overall after two DE bouts.

Overall Experience

Despite the small field, it was an enjoyable event. I was able to chat with friends, watch some of the men’s event, and get some fencing in on a day where I wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity.

Downsides of this tournament were that there were limited strips free for warming up (at least at the time that I was there). Lack of equipment check could arguably introduce some safety issues or put the fairness of the event into question (I don’t feel like it did on this day, but in theory, it could).

I’d definitely go back to this club for another tournament. The most important aspects for an event for me are proximity, day and time (to arrange around my non-traditional work schedule), and solid and consistent referees.

Did you fence at this event? How did your event go? Let me know in the comments below.

Book Review – The Exodus Towers

Reposting this older review for The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough as I haven’t quite finished the last of the Void series yet.

The second book of a trilogy is critical, challenging the reader to recall the events and characters from the earlier volume well enough to be invested in the ongoing story, while also being tasked with maintaining that interest through subplots and twists that may yet have no clear path to resolution. In The Dire Earth Cycle, new author Jason M. Hough succeeds in this feat with the second installment, The Exodus Towers.

In a bit of an experiment, publisher Del Rey released all three books in the series in a short time span. In a publishing world in which several years may pass between volumes, this approach made it easier to take a chance on a new series and author. After reading the first volume, The Darwin Elevator, I was able to have the next book in my hands while my excitement and memories of the first one were fresh. For some readers, this may not be a concern, but I found that this has contributed to my enjoyment of the series.

While the first book was set in Darwin, Australia, around the space elevator sent by the mysterious alien Builders, The Exodus Towers jumps between that locale and the site of a new space elevator in Belem, Brazil. In Hough’s future world, most of mankind has perished in a plague, and those that survived the initial illness have either taken shelter in the elevators’ protective Auras, or have turned into zombie-like subhumans.

Scientist Tania Sharma is in an urgent race to decipher the Builders’ plan from her perch in the orbital habitats above Belem. She has determined the timing between alien events, and watches the skies, worried about what will come next. On the ground, Skyler Luiken is one of a handful of people immune to the plague and free to travel outside the elevator’s protection. Unfortunately, what he discovers near their newly formed colony endangers all of them while providing even more mysteries.

The antagonist from the first book, Russell Blackfield, has established himself as ruler over the Darwin elevator. In many ways, he fails badly in this role, but after his over-the-top antics in the first book, this made him a more believable character.

The plot that Hough has woven starts off with the same energy as the first volume. With added subplots and characters in the new locale, it did slow down through the middle. But in a similar fashion to The Darwin Elevator, my initial assumptions about where the story would go were smashed as new complications took everyone by surprise.

By having the characters discover the time frame of the Builders’ events, this also gave the novel an incredible sense of urgency. While the arrival of the space elevators was a boon, the other alien “gifts” that have arrived have certainly been more sinister. For myself, the mystery of the next Builder event and a heart-wrenching cliff-hanger ending has me both anticipating and dreading the story’s resolution in the final volume.







Find my other book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – Cincinnati NAC (December 2018)

I had hoped to write this up earlier, but have been delayed by illness and holidays. This event was about 2 weeks ago and is one of several North American Cups (NAC) held every year by the US Fencing Association.

Description of the Event

What is a NAC? This is basically a series of national-level events that is run by US Fencing, with one held about once a month (October, November, December, January, March, April) during the main part of the fencing season. Each event encompasses different levels and age groups for the competition. The specific NACs for this season can be found here.

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Facing down the strip.

The location for these events rotates through different cities across the U.S. (and at least once in Canada that I remember). Ohio seems to be a favorite state this year, with events in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. The December NAC this year was open for Division I, Division II, Vet Open, Vet Age, and Senior Team events.

I went to fence in both the Vet Open and Vet Age Group events, although technically I could have also fenced in Division I and II. Division I is for fencers who are rated as A, B, or C, and those who finish high enough earn points which count toward a national ranking. Division II is for fencers who are rated C and below.

Registration

The NAC registrations are done through the USFA’s site. The deadline for entry for a NAC is more than a month ahead of the event. The site also lists who is registered, so you can agonize about your competitors for weeks ahead of time.

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A general view of the venue.

I have a C rating and am usually comfortable in Division II, but my event for Div II was on the first day of competition and the Vet events were more important for me this year so I decided to sit out Div II and stay fresh for the other events. I have fenced dozens of Division I events in the past, but decided against the extra expense of this entry for what would probably be five 5-touch bouts.

Each NAC event features an Athlete Packet which gives all the details for the venue, tournament format, and other rules.

Location and Venue

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View of the ice rink from the Westin.

Airfare for this event ended up being fairly inexpensive, so I booked a flight. My travel was uneventful and I made it to Cincinnati in the evening on Friday. The airport for the Cincinnati area is actually in northern Kentucky. I booked a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel and back.

A NAC is typically held in a convention center, where there is plenty of room for dozens of fencing strips, a finals strip, vendors, and the bout committee. The December NAC was held at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. As far as I could tell, it was a pretty standard convention center. I didn’t see that any other events shared the venue with us that weekend.

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Bruschetta with honey and goat cheese.

Cincinnati offered several large hotels within walking distance to the venue. I stayed with friends at the Westin and we scored a suite after some confusion and phone calls.

I was pleasantly surprised by downtown Cincinnati. We found plenty of places to eat (although most require reservations to get in), and there was a cute downtown square with a Christmas tree and small ice rink.

Check-In and Ticketing

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Downtown Cincinnati

US Fencing has instituted a new ticketing system for attendance at national events for this season. This was my first chance to see how it worked. Anyone with a valid USFA membership just has to show their membership card. Others pay a small fee of $5 per day or $15 for the whole event.

The typical check-in booth was located outside the event hall. I swiped my membership card when I arrived, and a staff member gave me one of those stick on wrist bands. She didn’t even put it on my wrist and just handed it to me. I ended up wearing it on my wrist, but could easily have handed it off to someone else and then gone back for another one.

I did see the person at the door ask to see the wrist bands so the ticketing was at least enforced. We were also told that we could put the band on a bag. But again, what’s to stop someone from obtaining one band, placing it on a throwaway bag, and then proceeding to hand that off to anyone who wants to enter later on that weekend?

Format and Fencing

The format for the veteran events is a round of pools followed by reseeding into a direct elimination (DE) tableau. No one is eliminated until you lose a DE bout. There is no fence-off for third place. Top 8 make the podium and receive medals. Points are awarded as well and these contribute to a fencer’s national ranking.

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The raised finals strip.

Pools are fenced to 5 touches and DE bouts are fenced to 10 (15 for non-veteran events). Video replay is allowed at a certain point in the event. I believe in my events it started in the semi-finals. The gold medal bout is fenced on the raised finals strip.

My events took place on Saturday (Vet Open WS) and Sunday (Vet 40 WS). I also purchased new blades since I had broken my last one in practice shortly before this event.

My Fencing

I started out pretty jittery in the first few bouts of the Vet Open event. I decided to do an experiment by drinking coffee and eating a bigger breakfast than I usually would have. My stomach felt uncomfortably full during my warm-up, and I’m not sure if the jitters were from the coffee or just nerves.

After the first three bouts in my pool, I settled down and began to fence better. I ended up with a 4-2 record and an indicator of +9. That ended up putting me 12th of 41 for the DE round. I fenced progressively better as the day went on and soon found myself in the gold medal bout. I ended up losing a close match to a friend and took 2nd place.

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Vet Open WS Podium (photo by Kate Sierra)

About an hour after the Vet Open concluded, I started to feel progressively more congested and soon decided that I was coming down with a cold. I stayed at the venue to watch the MS event, had a nice dinner with another club’s fencers and coaches, and then went to sleep.

Day 2 of my fencing found me well-rested but definitely sick. I didn’t feel too bad if I moved slowly, so I worked on some writing in my hotel room before the afternoon Vet 40 event. I stuck with the same nutrition plan – good breakfast plus coffee.

My warm-up was very minimal because I felt like I had a very tiny amount of energy to use for the day. The Vet 40 event was significant smaller than the Vet Open, with only eleven fencers. I tried to fence without moving much, because whenever I exerted myself, my heart rate skyrocketed and I was winded in just seconds.

Given my illness, I didn’t do half badly, ending up with a 3-2 record and an indicator of +6. That put me into 4th place going into the DE round. I managed to put myself into the semi-finals where I lost to a strong fencer 10-7, ultimately finishing in 3rd place. The day ended with a trip to a brewery for a burger and beer, and then bed.

Results for the entire NAC can be found here.

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One silver, one bronze!

I’m happy with my fencing on this trip, although I wish I hadn’t been sick for the second day. Now I’m taking a short break and then it’s back to practice. Coming up – several smaller events in January and February and then another NAC in April!

Did you fence this December in Cincinnati? How was your event? Would you return to another NAC in Cincinnati? Do you travel nationally for fencing or just locally? Let me know in the comments!

See my other fencing articles and event reports here.

Book Review – Thin Air

Thin Air is the latest release from Richard Morgan, author of the Takeshi Kovacs books which were recently adapted for television as the Netflix series Altered Carbon. This new novel is set on a dystopian future Mars, filled with corporate corruption, organized crime, and a dissatisfied and sometimes violent population. Morgan wrote an earlier stand-alone novel set in this same world – Thirteen.

I received a copy of Thin Air through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Thin Air

The story in Thin Air follows ex-corporate enforcer Hakan Veil as he awakens from his annual genetically mandated hibernation cycle. His life is simple at the outset as he takes jobs with a variety of not-so-legal organizations to pay for his existence on Mars, hoping someday to be able to return to Earth and the job he was born for. Veil had worked as an overrider, essentially a security officer who would stay in cryosleep on board a ship unless there was a problem. After a disastrous mission, Veil lost his career and has been marooned on Mars.

When he awakens, Veil is running hot–a state in which all of his functions are amplified, but with poor impulse control and a tendency to leap at any chance for violence and sex. He initially takes his revenge on a local establishment for what they had done to a client of his prior to his hibernation. Veil is arrested by the Bradbury PD, but while he awaits release, Earth oversight launches an investigation into widespread corruption on Mars.

Veil is released early by the police to help keep an eye on one of the investigators, Madison Madekwe. Mars runs a lottery in which the winner gets a free trip back to Earth, but one of the most recent winners vanished before claiming his prize. Veil is charged with keeping Ms. Madekwe safe while she looks into the disappearance of the lottery winner.

Before Veil can discover much about his charge, an unknown party attempts to assassinate him at the same time that Ms. Madekwe is abducted. From there, the plot becomes more convoluted. Veil pulls in favors and meets with old friends to try to discover Ms. Madekwe’s location, solve the mystery of the missing lottery winner, and hopefully earn himself a trip back to Earth.

This book was an exciting read, but I found myself wanting a little more explanation of the technology and this semi-terraformed Mars. I had trouble orienting myself to some aspects of this world. For example, I never really figured out how much Mars had been terraformed and why or how certain parts were inhabitable when it sounded like other places were not.

I think that the ending of the story could possibly be seen as a deus ex machina, but I didn’t mind it. Veil has a large enough part in the concluding events for it to be satisfying. However, this is also not a story about a moral victory, and the outcome of the book is more neutral in that sense.

If you liked the Takeshi Kovacs books, you’ll probably like Thin Air. The high level of violence, language, and sex is similar to Morgan’s other work. He writes a similar character with Hakan Veil, and the plot is full of twists, betrayal, and action. So while this is not my favorite book by the author, I did enjoy it for those aspects.

Have you read any of Richard Morgan’s books? Did you watch Altered Carbon on Netflix? Let me know in the comments.

Find my other book reviews here.


Book Review – The Darwin Elevator

I’ve been sick this week, so while I just finished reading the latest book by Richard K. Morgan (Thin Air) yesterday, I haven’t had time to write up my thoughts. I’m going to be posting some older book reviews that are no longer on their original sites. The first one is for The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough.

I met Jason several years ago at the World Fantasy Convention, and he had just acquired an agent at that time. When his Dire Earth Cycle was published by Del Rey in 2013, it was unique in that all three books were completed, being released in close succession. Readers could enjoy the entire series without a long wait between books.

Darwin Elevator

I’m not sure where this review originally appeared, but here it is:

In the debut novel by Jason M. Hough, humanity has fallen on hard times after the mysterious arrival of an alien space elevator in Darwin, Australia. While first heralded as a promising technology, the elevator’s appearance is followed by a plague that turns the majority of those affected into feral sub-humans, if it doesn’t kill them outright. Only the protective Aura encircling the elevator can prevent the disease from infecting and transforming the population. The underlying cause of the disease is unknown, but a few rare souls are immune to its effects. By the time the novel opens, nearly all of humanity has either died from the plague, been converted to a sub-human, or found refuge in the disease-free ring of land and space encompassed by the elevator’s Aura.

Skyler Luiken is one of those fortunate immunes, and since he can travel outside the Aura without a sealed suit, he makes his living as a scavenger of earth’s former civilizations, recovering items requested by those restricted to Darwin. His small team runs into trouble when the elevator loses power at the same time that Skyler’s ship crosses the Aura on their return from a routine mission. His ship is subjected to a search and his crew draws the suspicion of Russell Blackfield, prefect of Nightcliff, a fortress built to guard the base of the alien elevator.

Humans also live on a series of orbital habitats, tethered along the elevator. They grow food for all mankind, while Nightcliff fortress oversees the exchange of this food for air and water from below. One of the Orbitals, scientist Dr. Tania Sharma, has developed a theory that the alien Builders are set to return in the very near future. Together with Neil Platz, the entrepreneur who built many of the human additions along the elevator, Tania launches a secret investigation into the aliens’ imminent return.

Tania’s research leads her to recruit Skyler to retrieve data from abandoned astronomical facilities. In the course of his missions, Skyler draws more scrutiny down upon himself and his crew from the overbearing Russell Blackfield. Tension builds as repeated malfunctions in the elevator and political wrangling both threaten the fragile economy of Darwin. At the same time, the sub-humans are becoming more aggressive and dangerous to those outside the Aura, or even on its periphery.

The world that Hough has built in this book was very easy to visualize, and the plot kept me guessing with abundant tension and action that never became exhausting. After a few unforeseen surprises in the plot, I was truly enjoying myself. The vivid characters presented a realistic mix of cultural backgrounds, with both male and female personalities shining in their roles. For me, Russell Blackfield’s actions became a bit over-the-top as the novel progressed, but it did not detract from the rest of the story.

The Darwin Elevator shows marvelous skill for a new author and was one of the best books that I’ve read all year. It is the first volume in The Dire Earth Cycle, but fortunately you don’t have to wait for the next book – the remaining two volumes have already been released. I have the second book, The Exodus Towers, in my hands already.

It looks like Hough has written two sequels to the trilogy as well. I’ll have to pick those up soon. I also reviewed Zero World, a stand-alone novel here. Have you read any of this books? Let me know in the comments!

Find my other book reviews here.


Book Review – The Temporal Void

The Temporal Void is the second book in the Void series by Peter F. Hamilton, continuing the science fiction epic. I listened to the audio version of this book, read by John Lee.

Temporal Void

I enjoyed this book more than the first volume (The Dreaming Void) in the series. I think this was because I had already struggled to regain my familiarity with the world of the Commonwealth in the first book, and now felt more comfortable with the details and characters by this second installment. You can read my review of The Dreaming Void here.

The plot in this book picks up right after the events at the end of the first. I think that reactions to this book will depend upon how much you like Edeard and his story, as his life and its challenges feature as the central plot of this volume. His adventures as a constable in Makathran take on more serious stakes as new enemies and conspiracies emerge. It is also clear that Inigo’s dreams that inspired the cult-like Living Dream movement in the Commonwealth are the episodes of Edeard’s tale, watched and relived by the its citizens.

Throughout book one, I wondered about how Edeard’s plot would fit in with the rest of Hamilton’s characters and ideas. When I discovered that these were what had inspired Living Dream, I still couldn’t figure it out. I enjoyed Edeard’s tale, but at its heart, it was nothing more than a coming-of-age story. I didn’t believe that it would lead a semi-religious group to mount a feat as great as the pilgrimage into the Void, especially in the face of the risks to themselves and the rest of the universe. By the end of this book, I understood why Living Dream was enamored with Edeard, and through him, the Void. I appreciate the ideas that the author is using, but I don’t want to go into this more because of spoilers.

The rest of The Temporal Void consists of two other main plots: 1) that of the factions who are making secret moves to hinder the pilgrimage or exploit its distractions for their own gains, and 2) the story of Araminta, a young entrepreneur who has recently discovered herself to be the second dreamer, a person prophesied to lead the pilgrimage into the Void.

I found myself less interested in the different factions, and more excited by Araminta’s story. She manages to stay one step ahead of Living Dream and the faction agents who want to use her for their own ends, using her ingenuity to avoid capture. I’m not sure what she will end up doing in the end, but I find her to be a well-drawn character who persists in trying to live her own life in spite of her situation.

Overall, this was a great book and I’ve already started the final volume. I enjoy this narrator as well, and always appreciate it when the same person narrates one author’s books.

Have you read anything by Peter F. Hamilton? Which are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

Find my other book reviews here


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