Friday, March 2, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: CassaFire, Alex Cavanaugh


Author: Alex Cavanaugh
 February 15, 2012
Format: Print and ebook
Length:  235 pages
Publisher:  Dancing Lemur Press LLC
Rating: Four Stars

From the Amazon best-selling author - CassaStar was just the beginning…

The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities. 

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…


If you like Star Trek and Battlestar Gallactica, you’re really going to enjoy this one!

CassaFire, for me, was reminiscent of the best things about Star Trek. Exploration of new worlds and cultures and the adventures that the characters went on to solve the mystery they were faced with.

In Cassafire, reclusive war hero, Byron, has kept his promise to his beloved mentor and friend by being part of the ship’s company on an exploration ship, The Rennather. The ship’s compliment has been dispatched to the planet Tgren to discover the identity and source of the newly found alien ruins. I loved the way the author introduced this and developed a real world. There's an immediate sense of excitement and mystery.  

The Tgrens have achieved air flight but not yet reached beyond the planet and are suspicious of the Cassan’s mental abilities, technology, and motives. There are some good secondary characters, both on the planet and with the ship's compliment. They are well developed and move the story forward in a realistic manner and with them the author puts me on the spot. The Rennather science team must unlock the secret of the writing in the alien ruins and discover whether it is a weapon or perhaps the key to when and how the Tgrens arrived on the planet. 

Byron also has another assignment and one he’s not particularly thrilled with. Access the immerging mental powers of the Tgrens. To do this Byron also has to interact with the pilots and the author skillfully captures the pilot mentality and their arrogance. He’s soon paired up with the planet’s ace pilot, Athee, who shows extraordinary mental powers.  She also happens to be gorgeous and sexy which makes it difficult for Byron to maintain his solitary mindset. The race to find the answers of the mystery becomes a matter of life and death and there’s no way Byron can remain detached. 

CassaFire has a good sense of humor skillfully weaved in the story. I found myself laughing and chuckling. This story is well told and has a rich sense of suspense, danger, and an element of romance. Mr. Cavanaugh creates some wonderful three-dimensional main characters that readers can’t help but be invested in emotionally. I love Mevine, Byron's friend. and Athee is spirited and full of adventure as is the whole story. I loved the sense of mounting danger Alex Cavanaugh was able to induce throughout the story to the end. A very satisfying ending.

There were a few minor distractions for me in this story. Mostly centering on a few phrases used which pulled me from being a part of what was happening and placed me back as an observer. Part of it may have been because Byron was a bit emotionally distant from those around him but Byron came to know and care about these people and so descriptions such as ‘the young man’ or ‘the lad’ when referring to his friend Mevine, one on one, were unnecessary and a bit distracting. Same with Athee being referred to as the young woman when their relationship was now close and he shouldn’t have been thinking of her dispassionately but personally. This wasn’t a big problem, just a minor thing I observed here and there, and just enough to pull me a bit from the scene because it didn’t fit the situation.

Overall, this is a fun and entertaining adventure, which kept me turning the pages to see what happens next and I didn’t want it to end. 

I'll be buying the next book from this author. I’m truly looking forward to the next adventure. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Native American Dog Breeder Of The Past

We had a humdinger series of thunderstorms blow through last night. I do mean blow. We were off line.

The Sacred Dog 

I breed Euro Great Danes—Harlequins. I also sell them. Money received depends upon the quality of the dog in so far as bloodlines and conformation. In my case, I’m not a larger breeder. I usually keep two breeding dams and a good male. I also have access to several Euro studs from another kennel. The whole process of choosing the right stud for my dams is fascinating to me. It’s also a process of breeding a better Dane, which involves looking first at the past—analyzing pedigrees and bloodlines—to create a future.

Why do I mention this? In the process of some reading (I’m on a historical/anthropology non-fiction kick right now), I came across a breeding program of sorts, utilized by a Native American breeder who lived in the 1800’s. She bred work dogs for the tribe. Bird Woman said, “We had but one breed of dog in the village in old times, but the colors varied greatly…” 

Before the Spaniards brought their horses and war dogs to North America (its thought that the original indigenous horse died out in North America), dogs were highly prized work animals. They were used as beasts of burden—they pulled sleds, travois, hauled wood (a good dog could bring in nearly 100lbs of wood).

Indian traders traveled great distances and used a pack of dogs to haul their goods. Some traders had anywhere between 5 to 20 dogs. They also were used in hunting and war. So breeding up strong dogs was important and different tribes had different looking dogs. There was considerable amount of trading between tribes for dogs. Good practice because it kept the dogs from being inbred because of the infusion of other bloodlines. By the way, there were no purebred dogs but there was a marked similarity in dogs in certain regions.

Buffalo Bird Woman, was born in 1840, a daughter of the Chief of the Hidatsa tribe (once part of the Crow) and was considered an extraordinary dog breeder and trainer. You can read more about her in THE HORSE AND DOG IN HIDATSA CULTURE by Gilbert I. Wilson.

Hidatsa dogs were strong, well trained and personable and were a variety of colors, black, white, blue, yellow or tan spotted, black and white spotting, white with black spots, or red or gray spots on a white background. Their voices were not the normal European dog bark, but a howl like that of the wolf. “The mournful howl of a dog, mounted on the top of one of the lodges, breaks the almost deathlike stillness.  The notes are instantly caught up by others, and directly every cur in the village is taking his part with commendable energy.  Commencing soft and low, the noise grows louder and deeper until it finally dies away in a prolonged wail; modulated by distance, the sound is not unmusical.”

What fascinated me was how Bird Woman approached breeding and choosing strong dogs for training:
“Dogs are bred at any time during the year, but wolves only in the winter. As soon as we learned that a bitch was gravid (pregnant) we were careful not to harness her and make her pull a travois.  We were also careful not to kick a gravid female in the abdomen.   Some bitches were very surly and cross when gravid, others were always gentle whether gravid or not. There was usually born from 7 to 10 pups.

A kennel was built for the pregnant bitch.  A pit 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 11/2 to 2ft. deep was dug.  The pit was dug deep enough so that the small pups could not climb out.  In rain or cold weather the door was covered with an old skin or buffalo hide.
As we wanted only big dogs and all the pups from a bitch’s first litter never grew large, we always killed them, sparing not one. From the second litter we kept 3 to 4 of the pups, with larger heads, wide faces and big legs, for we knew they would be big, strong dogs. The rest we killed…

Strong pup big legs and head.
In order that the mother might stay in good condition, we never saved more than 3 to 4 pups out of any litter. Out of the 3 to 4 pups saved, we would choose one bitch for future breeding and the rest males for work.

After the pups were 10 days old and ate the food we gave them…we smoked them. We burned some of the large kind of sage on some coals and we held the puppy with its head in the sage smoke, until white saliva like soapsuds dribbled from its mouth.  If the pup fell over while he was held a few inches from the ground and dropped, I knew he wouldn’t grow up to be strong.  But if he hold his place and did not fall over I would say, “ Hey! Hey! This dog will carry my tent!”

Smoking the puppies was good for them.  It gave them a good appetite so that they would eat anything and everything, with no worms in their intestines. Male dogs were castrated at one year to keep them gentle and keep them fat.

Dogs ate meat and were fed a boiled corn mush.  The meat that spoiled was fed to the dogs.  If an animal killed during a hunt was lean and poor in flesh, it was given to the dogs.”

The women owned the dogs but the men in the family got to name them. Hidatsa dogs were work animals and trained to carry/pull substantial weight and because of that they were not required to work until they reached 2 years old. This gave them time for their bones and muscle to develop. The dogs were good tempered and well trained.

Yes, some tribes, like the Sioux, ate dog meat. The Hidatsa did not. Why? In the words of Bird Woman, “Hidatsa dogs were considered to be sacred and weren’t eaten because the flesh was not good [because] the dogs fed on carrion and human excrement.”

Native American Indian Dogs today 

Monday, February 27, 2012

MONDAY MUSINGS: Looking At The Past

Sorry this posted late, a glitch in the auto-publish feature. It was supposed to post at Midnight and I have been gone all day and just realized it hadn't.

A cup of tea and beauty to think by...

This past weekend I fed my love of history, archaeology, and people. I did quite a bit of comparisons between the peoples of the 1300-1500’s in the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Amazing stuff. Attitudes toward each other and who was superior was astonishing in similarities. The Middle Eastern people looked at the Europeans and savages and uneducated in comparison with their advancements in hygiene and medical practices.

I’m also amused by Europeans view of the Americas as a vast wilderness largely uninhabited and what inhabitants they did encounter were considered savage barbarians. Heathens. Little more evolved than animals compared to the great advancements the Europeans felt they had.

Casqui Parkin Site (artist depiction)

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. North America was far from empty and it’s people far from savages. To give some context in population, England in the 1400’s was about 2 ½ million and topped over 3 million in the 1500’s. The population of Europe was more than 70 million during that time period.  Substantial numbers in what was seen as the ‘civilized world’. Now, let’s look at North America during the same time period—between 2 million and 18 million. Not exactly uninhabited and that’s just North America. If you add South America, the numbers jump to about 100 million.

Artist depiction of Moundville at it's peak about 800 years ago, and built on high terraces and mounds to keep them safe from flooding.

The idea of uneducated savages also comes into question when you look at the homes, cities, written languages, and military power (consider that the Native American armies in southeastern US was able to defeat the military might of Spain’s warriors under De Soto). 

Palenque Ruins
When you look at the political structures, and the religious and medical practices, the people of the Americas were anything but uneducated. Political systems were in place under kings, chieftains and sub-rulers, a body of those who set rules—in some clans/tribes were nations with the equivalent of parliament/congress. These people had their religious temples, educational centers, and their palaces; huge cites that would rival many cities in Europe. They performed surgeries unknown in most of Europe but the Middle East would have understood and applauded. At a time when waste products were being tossed out of the windows in London or Paris to the streets below, when bathing and cleanliness was almost unheard of (another reason Middle East look down on European society) people in the Americas had waste systems, bathing was the norm, drinking water was kept separate and clean. There were sophisticated food storage systems. To give you an idea of how urbane food storage was, in De Soto’s time, he raided an Apalachee town and carried away enough food to feed over 600 men and their horses for over 6 months.

Education was also in place, knowledge of mathematics, knowledge of the stars and their movements were commonplace in parts of the Americas.

I’m not discounting less highly developed tribes, warrior societies, or city-states in either place, but this idea that those native to the Americas were savages, that this continent was empty or up for grabs because of it, is laughable. 

Picture credits: Wikipedia, The Daily Kos, and Moundville Archaeological Museum