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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.

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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


Fencing Tournament Report – Thrust Fall Div IA/Div II Regional Open Circuit Event (December 2018)

I have been writing race reports for triathlons, but never thought to write up a summary of any of my fencing competitions. I think that is partly because my experience at a tournament is more of a personal story involving my specific opponents and how I felt on that given day. That story will be different for each person in the event, and so it seems somehow less important to report on that.

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Venue for the Thrust ROC.

In comparison, triathlon is also an individual sport, but everyone in the race follows the same path. A race report still relates an individual’s experience on a given day, but I believe there is more value in hearing about how each athlete handled the course and other challenges of that day.

In thinking about this though, there are some aspects of a fencing tournament that can certainly be helpful to know about if you’re considering which events to enter for your season. So while I will write a brief section of my personal fencing in the event, my fencing tournament reports will focus on aspects such as location, venue, and how the tournament was run. So here is my first tournament report–I hope it is helpful!

Description of the Event

The Regional Open Circuit (ROC) events have been a relatively recent addition to the U.S. fencing world. As the sport has grown, it has been more important to have local events of higher levels, as well as to create a structure for qualification for national events that have become more popular and crowded. The ROC tournaments are offered throughout the country and are designated either Division IA or II.

Fencers who finish high enough in these events will qualify for Summer Nationals in either Div. IA or II, accordingly. Regional points can also be earned. If a tournament has been designated as a ROC, there is a greater chance for it to attract a large number of rated fencers, making it a tougher event with greater ratings awarded to the top finishers.

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Ready to fence.

In general, fencers have ratings of A through E, or U (unrated) in each weapon. A Div. IA ROC event is open to fencers of any rating, while a Div. II ROC is restricted to those with a C, D, E, or U rating. The Thrust ROC offered both Div. IA and Div. II events.

For more general information on fencing tournaments, ratings, and formats, you can look at my article here. It is a bit old, but I think the information still applies to a lot of today’s events.

Registration

The registration for ROC events was done through the USFA’s online system this year. I heard that a lot of people did not like this, but I haven’t have much trouble finding events and registering.

I received an informational email a few days prior to the event that contained important information. While askfred.net was not used for registration this year, the event was still listed there, which made it easy to find the necessary information.

I fenced both the Division IA and Division II Women’s Sabre events.

Location and Venue

The tournament was held at Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY. I chose to compete in this event because it was about an hour away from where I live, so it was relatively convenient to get to. The location was only a short distance off major highways and I had no trouble finding it. The parking lot was right outside the venue and was a gravel lot with plenty of room. That being said, my events were pretty early in the morning. I’m not sure if others had trouble finding places to park or not.

The venue was a large fieldhouse and offered plenty of space for the fencing strips, with room for warming up and bag storage as well. Bathrooms and water fountains were just down the hall. The flooring was a rubberized surface. It was a little slippery off the strips for warm-up purposes, but I also had no trouble finding an open strip for some practice footwork. For some reason, fencers all congregated under the bleachers.

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Fencers under the bleachers.

The fieldhouse did have concessions and I had a cup of coffee on both days. The food looked like what you’d expect – breakfasts of muffins, pastries, fruit, or breakfast sandwiches, and lunches of hot dogs and pizza. I saw Gatorade and soda as well.

Check-In

The event offered automatic check-in where you swipe your membership card. This worked fine. Weapons check went quickly, but I did see a line at other times for the larger events.

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Weapons check line on Sunday.

I was lucky that all my equipment passed. My All-Star lamé has really held up well, but I fear that its lifespan is almost over. My glove has needed replacement since the summer. I’m out of blades also and just haven’t had time to get more. I do have three intact weapons (you have to have a minimum of two), so I was okay for the day.

At the end of my Saturday event, I stopped by the Blue Gauntlet table and purchased a new sabre glove from PBT. This is the one I got here. I didn’t use it on Sunday because I need to break it in first. That will be something I work on this week.

Like most tournaments lately, the event used Fencing Time for real-time scoring. The page for this event can be found here.

Not everyone who had registered showed up. We had 7 of the 9 for Division IA and 16 of the 19 for Division II.

Format and Fencing

For the Division IA event, the organizers decided to have us fence two rounds of pools instead of one because we had so few people in the event. My main goal in competing in this event was to get a lot of fencing in before the NAC next weekend, so I like that we did the extra round of pools. More fencing meant more practice in a tournament format!

After that, we went into a standard direct elimination tableau. The gold medal bout was fenced on the finals strip. This wasn’t an elevated strip but was set up in a roped off area in front of the bleachers with some nice banners.

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Div IA WS Gold Medal bout – Palmer, K. (left – gold) vs. Sathyanath, K. (right – silver).

For the Division II event, the 16 fencers were divided into two pools of 8, so again the bout committee was allowing us a lot of fencing. On both days, the pools were double-stripped so that everything ran faster. That meant that we didn’t get much of a break between bouts, but I didn’t mind this.

I thought that the officials for the event were consistent and overall very good. I only had a few calls that I questioned, and sometimes I do that because I’m curious about what they’re seeing me do (because I couldn’t feel what happened) rather than because I actually thought they were wrong.

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Awards for Div. II WS – left to right: Garibian, E. (gold), Koo, S. (silver), Turnof, K. (bronze), Lettieri, S. (bronze), Sathyanath, K (5th). Places 6 – 8 not present.

My Fencing

My goal in fencing this event was to practice fencing people that I didn’t know in a tournament environment. For that purpose, I think I was successful.

My fencing on the first day, in Division IA was okay, but not great in the first round of pools. In the second round of pools, I did better, with a record of 4-2. I was moving better, making some nice actions, and kept to my strategic plan. I lost my first DE bout, but this was Div. IA so that was okay.

On the second day, Division was tougher for me. I was sore from the previous day and tired from lack of sleep. I never felt like I was moving well and I had trouble making actions when I was on the retreat. My record was pretty good at 5-2, but I didn’t feel like I fenced as well. I lost my first DE bout again when my legs stopped listening to me. I would have plan, but then my body just didn’t execute it quite right. I was standing up too much on the retreat and not reacting in time.

Overall I liked this event. I’d go back next year if the dates worked with my schedule. Did you fence in this event? Have you fenced in other ROC’s this year? Let me know in the comments!

See my other fencing articles and reports here.

How to Write Book Reviews

Since I haven’t finished either of the two books that I’m currently reading, I thought I’d step back and put together my thoughts on how to go about writing book reviews.

The first part of this is deciding which books to review. I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, so that is what I feel most comfortable reviewing. I do read in other genres and review some of those books, but in many cases, I’m not the right audience for those types of stories. My reviews may be less helpful to potential readers than a review by someone who actively reads in the genre. So generally pick a genre that you like and are familiar with.

Finding Books for Review

Once you decide more generally what to review, you also need to have books to read. I purchase a lot of them myself, but as you get more experience doing reviews, you may be able to sign up for a site like Net Galley, or get on lists from publishers where you will be sent advance copies. I’ve picked up bags of books at conventions – mostly World Fantasy Con or New York Comic-Con. Sometimes a few minutes spent chatting with a vendor will result in books for you! I also receive email offers for books to review, as well as having friends who will ask me to review their books. I’m never out of books to read!

Books

All that being said, if you accept a book for review, you should really try to read it and review it. Net Galley tracks your percentage of books reviewed and shows it directly on your profile. This also relates to whether you choose to write negative reviews. Different book review sites will generally have a policy about this. If you’re reviewing on your own blog or web site, then you need to decide this for yourself. If you aren’t going to write negative reviews, then it’s okay not to post your comments on a book that you didn’t like.

A Bit on Negative Reviews

I will write negative reviews, but when I do, it’s important for me to explain why I didn’t like the book. It shouldn’t be an attack on the author, but a professional and well thought out critique. Instead of:

This author’s ideas about space travel are stupid and I thought the plot was boring.

A different way of writing this could be:

The explanation of the faster-than-light travel was unbelievable to me, and the plot lacked tension because I never believed that the characters cared about their goal.

An example from a review that I published:

The plot never went anywhere either, and this may be a personal tic of mine. I prefer a plot-driven story, or at least a character-driven one in which the plot has some motion. I kept waiting for the antagonist or some conflict to appear. There were some interesting revelations near the end of the book, but their impact was minimal to me because I had stopped caring by that point.

What to Include

I don’t think that there is only one way to write a book review. I’m just going to explain my process here. You can write longer or shorter reviews that I do. You can go into greater detail about the plot or delve into symbolism and themes. Here is what I try to include:

  • Set the scene: I list the title, author, and any relevant associations, such as whether this book is part of a series, has been made into a television series or movie, or my history with the author’s other books. If I listened to the book as an audiobook, I usually make note of that because I find that the experience can be a bit different.
  • Picture of the cover: I put a picture of the book cover somewhere near the top.
  • Plot summary: I give the basics as far as genre, main character, and the conflict. Try to avoid spoilers. For a later book in a series, this can be tough, so give a warning if this is the case. The length of my plot summary will vary based on the size of the book and the number of point-of-view characters.
  • Likes/dislikes: At the end of my review, I’ll put some of my personal thoughts about the book. What was my favorite aspect? What was I most excited about? Was there an aspect of the setting or the magic that I found particularly unique? You can compare the book you’re reviewing to other books in the same genre.

That’s about it! In general, think about why you’re writing a review. For myself, I’m trying to write something that will help prospective readers decide if this book is something they’d like.

Have you thought about writing book reviews? Do you run an active book blog? Tell me what and where you review in the comments!

My Top 10 Triathlon Accessories for 2018

It’s December and that means that it’s time to look back at 2018 and think about the high and low points of the season. Without any major races on my schedule until June, it’s time to start a new training plan and to focus on what worked last year, as well as what did not. I realize that I found a few pieces of equipment and clothing that I was really glad to have on hand this past year with all the time that I put in training for Ironman Lake Placid.

Here are my top ten triathlon accessories from my 2018 season:

10. Cycling Glasses

Image may contain: Clare Deming, smiling, outdoor

Now we have matching glasses.

These glasses were a gift from my husband as we started doing more evening outdoor rides. I had regular cycling glasses from XX2i Optics that had served me well, but were pretty dark. My new pair of Oakley glasses has photochromic lenses that change from a darker tint to less tint as the daylight fades. I don’t know exactly which style I have since this was a gift.

9. Coeur Trishorts

I was looking to buy another pair of trishorts for the Rev 3 Quassy Half triathlon. While I’m not a fan of many of the color combinations in the Coeur lines, I did like these blue ones.

The chamois is seamless and soft and fleecy. The fit was as I expected and I didn’t experience any unexpected discomfort during the race. I’d definitely buy another pair if I can find a style that I like.

8. Cycling Vest

I decided before the same Quassy Half event that I also needed to find a vest for cycling in cooler weather because I am always cold.

This one from Garneau was on sale and fit my needs. It has two large pockets in back which turned out to be a perfect size to stow my jacket (see #6). The vest is very lightweight but does help to cut the wind. The fit is a bit slim.

7. Mizuno Running Shoes

I may have bought these Mizuno Wave Inspire 12 shoes at the end of 2017, but most of my use of them has occurred in 2018. The replaced my previous pair of Mizunos and have held up well. I didn’t have any major foot pain or problems while increasing my distance in preparation for Ironman Lake Placid. I’m a bit sad that they have so many miles on them now because I’ll have to replace them soon.

6. Pearl Izumi Running Jacket

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Pearl Izumi jacket.

This was another item that I think I picked up at the end of 2017, but I got more compliments on it than anything else! It saved my race in the rain and wind of Lake Placid, and I wore it for the entire bike course. I’m not overly fond of pink in my clothing, but the combination of fluorescent pink and yellow was certainly eye-catching. It is officially a running jacket, but it works on the bike just fine. It doesn’t have the standard pockets on the back, but one large one instead.

5. Swim Goggles

A few weeks before Ironman Lake Placid, I decided that I needed new swim goggles. The ones that I had been using in my training were starting to fog up more quickly, despite using Cat Crap defogger. I looked at polarized versus standard goggles and ended up buying three different styles and brands.

After all that, the pair that I used for Lake Placid (and still use in the pool) is the Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 series, which is what I had before all my shopping. The new pair that I used in my race was untinted because the day was overcast. They fit me better than the other goggles and as long as they’re not that old, they don’t fog up much.

4. Cycling gloves

My right hand goes numb while cycling on regular bars. I finally found a pair of gloves (Giro Strada Massa Gel) that seems to alleviate this to some extent. The numbness still occurs, but it takes longer to start up and it isn’t as bad.

I’ve gone back and bought several pairs of these gloves since discovering them. They’re available in several colors and have small pockets on the backs of two fingers to allow you to remove them easily when they’re sweaty. One problem that I did have with them – if they get wet on a ride, they smell really bad when they dry. I’ve had to wash them a few times.

3. Gu Campfire S’mores Flavor

I found this flavor of Gu while trying to figure out a nutrition strategy for Ironman Lake Placid. These really taste like s’mores. I usually eat Gu on long runs – I find them too messy for cycling. I learned that after 45 minutes of running, my energy levels would start to dip. Around 5 minutes after I ate one of these, I’d feel better. This flavor does not contain caffeine.

2. Stroopwaffle

These are very similar to the Honey Stinger waffles that I had been eating, but with less crumby edges. I discovered this tasty snack on a flight when it was served during the food/snack service. Later, my husband found that we could order these by the case. I’ll typically eat one about an hour before cycling, running, or fencing, after fencing practice, or if I need a quick sugar boost.

1. Walk-On Alarm Clock

So this isn’t specifically a triathlon accessory, but it is one of my favorite items that I’ve found this year. I don’t like mornings and I have trouble getting out of bed and getting my day started. This alarm clock sits in the next room and looks like a small rug or scale. When it goes off, I have to get out of bed, stumble into another room, and then stand on the alarm clock for about 10 seconds before it stops.

If you have trouble getting up for your early morning triathlon workouts, it might help! It certainly helped me to get my day started so that I could make better use of my time to fit in those long training sessions.

That’s it for this year’s finds! Have you used any of these? Do you have any favorites pieces of clothing, fuel, or other accessories that have benefited your triathlon training this year? Let me know in the comments.

Book Review – Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is Book 2 in the All Souls Trilogy and is one of the books that I recently picked up at New York Comic-Con about 2 months ago. I had read the first book, A Discovery of Witches, back in the beginning of 2015, but with the recent release of the television show based on this series, I wanted to get back to the books.

First of all, I read the opening pages and realized that I had no memory of how the first book ended. I found some plot summaries online and was quickly up to speed. With the way that this book begins, it’s going to be impossible to avoid spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the first book, read on at your own risk.

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is set in Elizabethan England (and other parts of Europe). At the end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop and her new husband and vampire Matthew Clairmont must flee the modern world. Diana needs time to find a teacher who can help unlock her powers of witchcraft, and their relationship is forbidden by powerful creatures who are trying to hunt them down.

One thing that Diana does know is that she is a Timespinner–a witch who can travel through time. She takes herself and Matthew into the past in an attempt to avoid their enemies, find herself a teacher, and to search for the mysterious alchemical book that started it all: Ashmole 782.

Once they arrive, Diana and Matthew meet with his friends from that time. This turns out to be a blend of historical figures and a few imagined characters. While they attempt to blend in at first, it is quickly apparent that they must divulge their secrets to this group. While it is safe for Matthew’s friends to know that version of the vampire is from the future, he must go on playing his established roles in Elizabethan society.

Diana’s relationship with Matthew meets several challenges as she learns about the secrets he has been hiding. In fact, much of this book’s secondary plot revolves around the growing relationship between the witch and the vampire. She must also deal with trying to figure out Elizabethan dress, manners, and etiquette. Danger also follows Diana, with historical witch trials taking place in nearby Scotland and a constant suspicion of anyone new or unusual.

The story takes them to other parts of Europe, and the details from this time period felt very accurate to me. That only makes sense, because the author is a historian who studies and teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California. This book was a lot of fun to read, and has several sections that deal with different aspects of the story. The overarching plot to find a teacher for Diana and search for Ashmole 782 is often in the background, but I don’t think that the book suffered for this, as the other events were entertaining on their own.

I’m hoping to get to book 3 in another couple of weeks and then watch the television show. Have you seen any of that yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Find my other book reviews here


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