What is this Explorer Thing?

More than any other genre, I read Science Fiction. I’ve read so much science fiction and fantasy that it irritates me to go backwards in my reading timeline and populate my profile in sites like Goodreads because it takes so long.

Last year I read two Not Science Fiction books that utterly changed my concept of the world. One was Babylon by I. Finkel, and the other was Beloved by Toni Morrison. Sci-Fi and Fantasy still rock my world, but in ever more seemingly familiar ways. I’m really comfortable with the ideas of time travel, or living space ships and so forth. Not so comfortable with real ideas of really real history and cultures. *wince* I realized that maybe I’ve read too much SF/F and started wondering if perhaps I should expand my reading horizons a bit.

So I came up with the goofy system of  The DarkCargo Explorer Challenge last year. We found ourselves reading –and enjoying! *gasp*!– other books that it never would have occurred to us to read. We had a lot of fun.

In the meantime, Darkcargo acquired two new authors. Amongst four authors and the Ye Olde Book Club, Darkcargo had so much to say on a daily basis that I moved this self-challenge to its own site, here.

I tried to come up with strange ways to make myself seek out books in other genres and even (OMYGOD!) Non-Fiction! Here are the Explorer parameters I’ve set for myself. I’ve managed to sneak in The Lies of Locke Lamora as part of the Explorer Challenge. Heh!

In clicking through and reading other book blogs via the Lies of Locke Lamora Read-A-Long, I’ve found lots of other reading challenges. Some of them pique my interest and I’ve linked to them, below. Reading through these inspired me to re-introduce the Explorer Challenge.

Each page, above, is dedicated to one of the ten doofy categories I invented. If you are so inclined, I’d appreciate any participation or book suggestions/recommendations in the comments.

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Lies of Locke Lamora Read-A-Long Part 1

Hi All-

I’m listening to The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch via audio for the LoLL RAL coordinated by Little Red Reviewer and MyAwful Reviews. I’ve got audio, so forgive any missed-spellings.

LittleRedReviewer has posed the first batch of questions:

1. If this is your first time reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, what do you think of it so far?  If this is a re-read for you, how does the book stand up to rereading?

It’s interesting and engaging. I’d be reading this without the encouragement of the RAL. I like Lynch’s sense of irony and humor, such as (something like) Only the things that Jean eats are poisonous, or Dona Salvarra’s comment upon seeing the wolf-shark spectacle:  “Taken in so fast by such a simple trick”; or the fact that Adult Locke is wearing the same outfit in the Don Salvarra Game posing as Lucas Whitewhatever as the Valdani man from whom he stole the white iron coin that got him in so much trouble referred to in Question 4 below.

2. At last count, I found three time lines:  Locke as as a 20-something adult, Locke meeting Father Chains for the first time, and Locke as a younger child in Shades Hill. How are you doing with the Flashback within a flashback style of introducing characters and the world?

It’s fun, but more than that, it’s well-executed. I’m able to follow what’s going on with no problem. I’m listening to the audio, and the reader is FAB, FAB, FAB! All the voices are distinct from one another, and that goes for “very young Locke”, “young Locke” and “early adult Locke”. As far as story-building goes, this flashback within a flashback method keeps me interested and curious how all these story-lines meld into eachother later in the book.

3. Speaking of the world, what do you think of Camorr and Lynch’s world building?

I love the emberglass, the river-city, and the barges. I love the Salvarra’s barge, with the orchard. I appreciate the economic disparity of the city, and the unique “Italic-mimic” words, like “garrista”

4. Father Chains and the death offering. . .  quite the code of honor for thieves, isn’t it? What kind of person do you think Chains is going to mold Locke into?

Boy talk about physical manifestation of Karma. pt2– dunno, something unique and very very special, single-purpose, obviously. Why is he called Chains?

5. It’s been a while since I read this, and I’d forgotten how much of the beginning of the book is pure set up, for the characters, the plot, and the world. Generally speaking, do you prefer  set up and world building done this way, or do you prefer to be thrown into the deep end with what’s happening?

Usually I prefer more world-building at the beginning. I get frustrated if the “jump off the deep end” goes on for too long.

6. If you’ve already started attempting to pick the pockets of your family members (or even thought about it!) raise your hand.

Here’s what I have to say about that:


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Locke Slow-A-Long Update

hi Guys!

The Lies of Locke Lamora is well underway, and the fast readers are tearing it up. We’ll see some of the first of the formal discussions start to surface this weekend.

I am listening to it on audio, and let me tell you, it’s TOTALLY FAB-TABULOUS on audio. Here’s the audible link.

The first review there at the audible site reflects my thoughts thus far on the reader. “Spot-on”!

Audible-ized chapters are always a little off because of the way they break up the book, but I’m at “Chapter 8” of part 1, 3 hrs and 9 min remaining. I’m probably going to rewind (*!* that’s such an archaic word) and re-listen to chapters 4 to 8.

The story has just acquired a depth to characterization when young Locke is made to realize that his actions can result in fatal consequences.

A surprise for us! Scott Lynch has offered a Saturday postings of Why He Wrote The Book. You can see this on his livejournal thingbob, here.

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Lies of Locke Lamora Slow-A-Long


Are you ready to read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch this March?

nrlymrtl is going to handle the read-a-long for Darkcargo (our Mothership Blog).

I’m offering at Darkcargo Explorer a “Slow-A-Long” for those of us who don’t read quite as quickly as it seems everyone else does.

Got kids? A full-time-plus job? Don’t have interest in blogging? Just a plain and simple slow reader? Still want to read The Lies of Locke Lamora with the other book nerds this spring and be part of the Nerd Herd?

The idea of the Read-A-Long is that several book bloggers and reviewers will be reading The Lies of Locke Lamora in March book-club-style, adhering to a schedule that finishes the book in late March. They will be trading discussion questions via email, which they will then answer and discuss by posting on their own blogs.

The blogs doing this are Little Red Reviewer, MyAwfulReviews, @ohthatashley with SFSignal, nrlymrtl at Darkcargo, and us!

I know there are lots of readers out there who would like to read this but not feel obligated to keep up with the reading speed or answer questions.

If you comment below that you’d like to participate with the Slow-A-Long, I’ll be sending out emails to DCE’s read-a-long group that contain hyperlinks to the discussion pages on the other blogs who are also participating. You can read these when you have time.

Also, I’ll open a page on DCE for your chatty comments as we read this book together. Sound good?

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KonTiki via Indiana Jones

When we left Heyerdahl, he was gathering funds and resources for his sea voyage, and I was impressed that there were still parts of the world that were not covered by GPS or a reality TV show or Facebook.

He’s making his way now through Peru and Ecuador to acquire some balsa wood logs for the raft. This chapter is really interesting to read, as it documents a time and a place that have disappeared within living memory, swallowed up by globalization.

He’s arrived at the wrong time of the year to collect balsa wood. It’s the rainy season, and between the floods and the bandits, the balsa wood collecting trip just ain’t happening.

He decides to approach the problem from above, going to the Andes and from there down into the jungle, rather than up into the jungle from the sea.

Well, again, it’s still a small world in which somebody knows somebody else. He’s advised to go to Quevedo, Ecuador and find a man named Don Federico.

This little leg of his journey is the stuff of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft legend.

A plane to Quito, no prob.

They are proffered “shrunken heads” the same day that they are warned off the jungle with stories of head hunters.

They find a US Army consul with a spare dude and a jeep.

Trucking along across the mountains, they pass two-hut villages, people coming and going with their worldly possessions lashed to a donkey.

Here we turned off along a mule track which undulated and twisted westward over hill and valley into the Andes. We came into a world we had never dreamed of. It was the mountain Indians’ own world–east of the sun and west of the moon–outside time and space. On the whole drive we saw not a carriage or a wheel. The traffic consisted of barelegged goatherds in gaily colored ponchos, driving forward disorderly herds of stiff-legged, dignified llama, and now and then whole families of Indians coming along the road. The husband usually rode ahead on a mule, while his little wife trotted behind with her entire collection of hats on her head and the youngest child in a bag on her back. All the time she ambled along, she spun wool with her fingers. Donkeys and mules jogged behind at leisure, loaded with boughs and rushes and pottery.

Precarious mule tracks take them down the Andes, with sheer 12,000 ft drops into the fog.

And finally, there is Quevedo ahead, just past the broad, muddy river…with no bridge. Fortunately, there are some folks who live on this side of the river, and having nothing to do except stretch jaguar skins out to dry, happily raft Heyerdahl, his companions, and the jeep across the river.

Quevedo is: “Two rows of tarred wooden houses with motionless vultures on the palm roofs formed a kind of street, and this was the whole place.”

They meet up with Don Frederico further down the river, and on his plantation find the wood they need, along with poisonous snakes, scorpions, and stinging ants so big Heyerdahl is unable to crush them with his foot.


I like looking up “where” I am reading on Google Earth. Thus far, I have been charmed with the quaint idea of Heyerdahl’s paper maps and the task to update via pencil and hand surveying the nautical charts for the Navy.

Quevedo is now a huge town of over 100,000 people, and yet, this is its satellite imagery (click on it if you want to see it bigger):

(what you’re seeing is pretty much nothing: an empty spot in sattelite imaging.)

I guess there are still places in the world where the maps need updating.

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KonTiki, Son of the Sun

KonTiki, by Thor Heyerdahl has always been in my family’s library.

This is the story of the guy who sailed on a raft from Peru to the Pacific Islands in order to prove that it can be done–on a raft, I mean.

I’ve never read it, but have intended to; talk about being on the TBR for a long time, no? The photos are familiar to me, having, as a child, looked at these images of bearded dudes in their underpants on a raft, catching fish.

Now, thirty years (or so) later, I’m reading it. (This one is for the Travel category, as the Ibn Battuta book turned out to be more of a history treatise than a travel journal.)


Not only is the book a record of a sea voyage, of an anthropological experiment, but serves as a snapshot of a time and cultures lost to the recent past.

Heyerdahl was (I’m guessing) about 30 when he undertook this voyage. He was a zoologist studying in the Polynesian Islands when WWII took him back home to Norway, there to serve as a radio operator. While studying critters, it occurred to him that the cultures of the islands he visited were awfully similar, and, to his eye, the stone art, likewise, was awfully similar to that of the Incas.

How did these peoples get out to these remote islands without, you know, dying before they got there?  A sunken continent? A washed away land bridge? Aliens? Heyerdahl took Occam’s Razor without really stating that’s what he was doing; these people must have very simply floated there from South America. The Islands are all zoologically and geologically distinct from one another, and the tribesmen (at that time) could recite their ancestry to the equivalent of 500 C.E. He has made friends with these wrinkled old tribesmen, has been inspired and fired up by their legends and tales of KonTiki, the son of the sun, who brought people to these islands and then left again on his journey further east.

We gazed at the driving clouds and the heaving moonlit sea, and we listened to an old man who squatted half-naked before us and stared down into the dying glow from a little smoldering fire.

“Tiki,” the old man said quietly, “he was both god and chief. It was Tiki who brought my ancestors to these islands where we live now. Before that we lived in a big country beyond the sea.”

So, that sets us up for why he was doing this.

Next, we read about how he went about collecting the chutzpah and money and resources to take this voyage. This is immediately after WWII, ok?

He is in NYC, a very different NYC than I visited last year. His NYC is quaint and familiar. He knows people who know people. He can walk safely from one part of the city to another. He bunks up in a sailors’ hostel because it’s cheap and clean and they make good Norwegian food, and he notes being able to see the stars from his rented window. The Army and the Navy both want to give him survival gear to test in the field. He is given brand-new equipment from the British Embassy in exchange for updating their (paper) maps of the areas he will travel.

He telegrams his war buds in Norway and invite them to come along. They telegram back: “COMING.”

Heyerdahl is a member of a club of a type that I thought was only the fruit of so much daydreaming by accountants stuck in  stuffy offices. His description of The Explorer’s Club is as fantastical and far-off as his descriptions of a past and gone NYC.

On West Seventy-Second Street, near Central Park, is one of the most exclusive clubs in New York. There is nothing more than a brightly polished little brass plate with “Explorer’s Club” on it to tell passers-by that there is anything out of the ordinary inside the doors. But, once inside, one might have made a parachute jump into a strange world, thousands of miles from New York’s lines of motorcars flanked by skyscrapers. When the door to New York is shut behind one, one is swallowed up in an atmosphere of lion-hunting, mountaineering, and polar life. Trophies of hippopotamus and deer, big-game rifles, tusks, war drums and spears, Indian carpets, idols and model ships, flags, photographs and maps, surround the members of the club when they assemble for a dinner or to hear lectures from distant countries.

Interesting to read about this now, not so many years later, in a world which is so populated and documented and interconnected that there is not much left, really, to explore.

Next: he goes to Peru to build his raft.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora Read-A-Long

I started the Darkcargo Explorer as a way to challenge myself and Darkcargo’s readers to expand our reading horizons. I often find myself stuck in science fiction and fantasy, since that’s what I like to read more than anything else, but that mono-genre reading comes at the expense of reading other really great stuff like some of the classics or a fantastic mystery– or even, *GASP*, non-fiction!

However, when invited to join these other great book bloggers in a Read-A-Long for a very well-liked Fantasy that’s been on my TBR for too long, well, heck! I’ll jump back into Fantasy with both feet, and give myself “Explorer” credit by putting this one in the category of “An Author Younger than You Are”. Heh! How’s that for rationalization?

Would you like to join us?

We’re going to read The Lies of Locke Lamora and the following Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch in anticipation of Book #3 in the series being published sometime in the fall (hopefully).

The Lies of Locke Lamora in my Kindle Library

How does this work?

Go get yourself a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora from your bookstore or library of choice, and report back here on March 1 to begin reading.

These blogs (below) will all be trading questions and discussions as we read along in the series. You can sign up for email notifications of these updates by commenting below, or by subscribing by email to any of these blogs.

LittleRedReviewer– http://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com/

MyAwfulReviews– http://myawfulreviews.blogspot.com/

nrlymrtl– http://Darkcargo.com

othatashley- guest blogging at SFSignal– http://www.sfsignal.com/

Will I like this book?

I dunno. I haven’t read it either. I have read the first bit of it though, and I like the author’s writing style. Know, though, that it is violent, is set in a pseudo-Victorian-London world in which bad things happen to small children, and there’s a lot of cussin’. So, if this is not for you, then this is not the RAL for you, ok?

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The Adventures of Ibn Battuta

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century, by Ross E. Dunn, published by University of California Press.


I picked this book for the travel book category. I’m a couple of chapters into it, and it reads much more like a history book.

Ibn Battuta wasa 14th C Muslim traveler who recorded his 29 years’ worth of travel, concluding in 1355 CE. The book is called a rihla, which is a style of Arabic literature very popular in the 12th to 14th  centuries. It is what we would call “Travel Writing” today, describing places and peoples, monuments and nature, adventure and wonders encountered on a person’s travel.

Battuta’s Rihla was unknown outside the Arabic world until the mid 19th century.

Everyone’s heard of Marco Polo. Polo died the year before Batutta started his journeys. Polo was exploring lands and landscapes that were totally alien to him and his culture. Battuta, however, was traveling within Dar al’Islam–the Islamic World, which, at the time of Batutta’s travels, extended from southern Spain to Western China, India, Mongolia, Eastern Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa, rendering Europe to a little barbaric hinterland to the northwest. (I’m using these modern geographical names for reference. “Spain” didn’t really exist yet, neither did “China” or “India”. They were physical geographic regions populated by different kingdoms, religions and peoples.)

So, he was traveling within culturally familiar territory, but boy was he traveling. His journey covers over 44 modern countries. The dude got around.

I think the point that Dunn is going to make in this book is that Dar al’Islam was nearly as interconnected as is the modern world. I grew up with this historical sense that if it wasn’t Europe, there wasn’t much there, as exemplified by Polo’s singular experience with meeting these strange peoples far away. Dunn tells me in his intro that Dar al’Islam in the 14th century was very cosmopolitan, that everyone knew everyone else (more or less) in the sense that China knew that Africa existed, how it appeared on a map, what kinds of people were there and what they were willing to trade for silks–there was none of this “New World” nonsense. Dunn takes my US-education-based historical map of the world and turns it inside out.

The meat of the book each takes and discusses a city that Battuta traveled in or through. Dunn actually traveled, himself, to many of these places. It is not a verbatim account of Battuta’s travel journals but rather a historical account of what that particular place was like at that time. It’s really interestingly in depth about Islam, both “was” and “is”.

So, this book is not a travel book, per se, but a book about a travel book. I’m going to bump it over into my History Book Published by a University Press category–it is really dense and will take all year to read, probably. I’ll choose another for the travel category.

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International Radio Feeds

Feel like tuning in to Somewhere Else?
Here are a few selections to get you started:
Hindi Radio

Radio PlayOne Oriental Hits

Greek Chroma Smooth Hits

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Here and not There

Why are you here and not at Darkcargo for the Explorer Challenge?

Darkcargo is getting a little much for even me to navigate through, and I wanted to have a place to be able to really discuss these books we’re reading (here), but also still have a corner of the web for photos of our cats and 3 am epiphanies (Darkcargo).

You’ll still find plenty of cross-posting, though so don’t worry, I’m not abandoning Darkcargo.

My vision for how this works:

Each of the pages above and to the right (they’re the same) clarify the limitations for each type of selection. Please comment there, list, discuss, post links, update reading status, write me a treatise, etc.

If you would like to be an author on this blog in order to post reviews to THIS  blog of your own Explorer reading choices, please just let me know.

Signing up via email (to the right) will update you on my posted book reviews and discussions here.

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