The Coronavirus Diaries | Week 13

As I write this post on June 11, Florida has reported more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases and 350 deaths this month alone. It’s staggering. It’s tragic. It’s terrifying.

It’s hard to know if cases are going up because we reopened so early and so chaotically, or if it’s because more widespread testing is available, including at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Maybe both factors are at play. But it can’t be stressed enough that this pandemic is not over. I see less and less people following proper social distancing guidelines and wearing masks when in public. A friend told me that her five-year-old was invited to a friend’s pool party. (!!!) Not to mention, the Republican National Convention is going to be held in Florida (biggest eyeroll ever) and you know Trump is going to want that center filled to the brim.

I’ve been hemming and hawing lately about getting a pedicure and a massage. Both are silly things to worry about when we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and racial justice movement, I know, but man, do I miss both of them. My feet are a wreck and my body feels stiff without the release of massage. I wanted to wait to see if case numbers increased after we reopened our stores and restaurants and salons, and now that I see the staggering numbers for June, I’m glad I waited. (I don’t regret getting my hair done because I felt like my salon took the right steps to protect their employees and guests. My next appointment isn’t until mid-July and I’ll reassess when the date is closer.)

The company I work for sent out a survey about our work-from-home program. As of right now, there is a target date of July 6th to start bringing people back into the office on a voluntary basis. I am really not interested in going back to the office, both because of the pandemic and because I enjoy working from home so very much. I really hope I can transition to a full-time remote worker. I’d love that. I’d be also open to coming into the office one day a week, but nothing more than that. But if I do transition to remote work, I really want to get a regular desktop computer with two monitors. Working off my laptop is fine, but not a long-term solution.

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Speaking of computers, I’m still waiting for my replacement keyboard to come in. Argh! It was supposed to be shipped to the repair shop within 3-5 days, and now it’s been 10 days! Thankfully, I bought a wireless keyboard when this whole mishap happened, hoping I could hook it up to my laptop and use it. It didn’t work the first time I tried it, but I randomly decided to give it another go and IT WORKED. So now I can use my laptop (and have access to my work VPN!) and I am GLORIOUSLY HAPPY. Working on a tiny, outdated Chromebook was miserable. And I feel less crazed about getting my keyboard fixed. Yay!

In super exciting news, my library system is now allowing us to place holds again! I think they have been doing curbside pickup for a few weeks now (maybe for stuff that was placed on hold before the pandemic hit?), but now we actually have the ability to place holds and pick them up. Once my holds are ready, I’ll call the library to select a time slot to come by and pick them up (curbside, of course). I put five books on hold once I heard the news! I’m just excited to get back to my “normal” way of reading and to not have to rely on my Kindle so much. This pandemic has shown me that I prefer a good ratio of print books and e-books. 50/50 at least, but more like 70/30. My ratio during the pandemic has been 30% print and 70% e-book and whew, I am ready for that to change!

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I went to the beach last week, which is out of the norm for me even when not in a pandemic. Last Friday was a hard day (my dad’s birthday) so my mom took the afternoon off to spend time with me, which was so lovely. We decided to venture to the beach for a few hours and it worked out perfectly. It was overcast so the beach was not crowded at all and everyone was pretty far apart from one another. There were a few large groups, but nothing over 10 people. (It also made me realize: We should always sit at least 6 feet apart from people at the beach! Like, it’s crazy to me to not do that, pandemic or not. Get out of my bubble!)

I’m still so weirded out by this new reality of mask-wearing, even though I am 100% pro-mask. It’s just so strange, you know? To be searching Etsy for masks and to get in my mom’s car to see three masks hanging off her gear shift and to drive down the road to see someone wearing a mask while waiting for the bus. They’ve become so normal, yet they still feel so abnormal. I feel kindred spirits with people who choose to wear their masks, and eye-roll-y at those who don’t. (And yes, I understand that wearing a mask isn’t possible for everyone and that there are real safety concerns for Black people wearing masks.) But I think most people just can’t be bothered, and that’s really unfortunate.

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That’s where things stand with me and the state of coronavirus in Florida right now. It’s not looking good, but I’ll keep updating my notebook with new numbers and crossing my fingers we start to see improvements soon.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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