I picked up Shibumi by Trevanian, pen name of the late Rodney William Whitaker, because it appears on screen in John Wick 2, and I was curious. I felt I found some inspirations from the book, but the two are very different.

For the first tenth of this book, I was increasingly righteously pissed off at how shitty it was: poorly written with massive continuity errors; and misogynistic, sexist, racist, prejudiced, semi-literate MRA wet-dream drek. I almost threw this book across the room into the trash. I tried to excuse it because the book was published in 1978, but that didn’t excuse narrative that seemed more a backward drop into the 40s or 50s. But then I realized something. I was reading satire. This isn’t an early James Bond novel. This is Our Man Flint. Partly. It turns into an oblique philosophical treatise, for the most part. At least, once I got over the expectation, the rest started to come into focus.

In fact, this is not at all a spy thriller as it seems to be billed in the promotional copy. There’s damned little spying, and what action around spying there is in this is drawn lightly on paper thin pages. This is a character study in contrasts, a kind of episodic explanation by what seems to be the author’s notion of an ideal man in conflict with a less than ideal world. There’s also a fair amount of resentment and vitriol about the world that seems very much like the author taking the opportunity to vent hardened personal feelings about life experiences not directly biographically detailed here.

In the front matter, the author writes with dry humor that “[a]ll other characters and organizations in this book lack any basis in reality—although some of them do not realize that.” And, there’s an early moment where the author reveals he’s completely self-aware of the tone: “He was out of patience with this fool, who was more a broad ethnic joke than a human being.” The thing is almost all of the characters in the first tenth are broad jokes. These remembered two hints allowed me to re-appraise the first tenth of the book, and I came to terms with most of my early criticism, even that the novel was poorly written. The most egregious continuity error was eventually explained, though not all were resolved.

This is the last book in the saga of Nicholai Hel by the original author, and my first read of any book by Trevanian. An earlier book in the series, The Eiger Sanction, was made into a movie, which I really don’t remember, though I’m sure I’d seen it; and besides, apparently, the author felt it was crap anyway. Trevanian makes several comments about Hollywood in the text and about the movie in footnotes which demonstrate the bad feelings he had for the experience of being adapted to the silver screen.

Nicholai Hel is without a doubt an ubermensch mary-sue, not, frankly, too unlike John Wick, to be honest, and, perhaps, an attempt by the author to paint his own idealized self-portrait. Like Hel’s companion Beñat Le Cagot is a fictional persona adopted by the fictional character. It’s really all onion peelings though when one realizes that the author Whitaker published “translations” of “Le Cagot” stories. Perhaps the foolish characters weren’t the only broad strokes to be found, eh?

“From that moment, Nicholai’s primary goal in life was to become a man of shibumi; a personality of overwhelming calm. It was a vocation open to him while, for reasons of breeding, education, and temperament, most vocations were closed. In pursuit of shibumi he could excel invisibly, without attracting the attention and vengeance of the tyrannical masses.”

And, of course, the way to “excel invisibly, without attracting the attention and vengeance of the tyrannical masses” is to become an infamous international assassin. What. What? Yeah, okay. Turns out it’s just the day job that paid for the semi-retirement-that-can’t-last. Turns out you can’t actually take the mary-sue out of the Great Game without blowback. Oops. Who knew?

In fact, I find Nicolai and Han reminding me a lot, in a general way, of the characters Colin Campbell and Gwendolyn Novak in Robert Heinlein’s later The Cat Who Walk Through Walls.

The thing is, even in contrast to the buffoonery of the antagonists, Hel is still a white German (even his mother’s family history in Russia is excused by her being pure unmiscegenated Habsburg) ubermensch of lofty breeding. There’s a definitely a strong case played out of eugenic superiority here, even if canonically Nazi notions are dismissed, by way of making Hel’s actually Nazi German father a kind of simple idiot sperm-donor. Ultimately this is not so much a contrast the the broad jokes, but rather an attempt to retell those jokes in a serious way. That attempt to seriously detail Hel’s mary-sue eugenic superiority, especially as a white person in Asia excellent at culturally specific tasks, mundane and mystic, became for me strikingly uncomfortable to read in a “white saviour” way.

As the framing story proceeds, almost as an afterthought, or as just enough excuse to tell the rest, the meat of the first half of the book is all biographical flashbacks offering insights into the life and character of Nicholai Hel. The story is travelling through time, catching up to the framing story eventually. Its an interesting mechanism, and lends to the dreamy lofty philosophical stance the is the primary payload delivered by the sneaky conceit of the framing story.

So, not at all a spy thriller. This is a kind of narrative manifesto about what the author feels a superior man is and does and thinks, especially in parallax.

I want to note that while I criticized the writing, the truth is more complex. There is a simplicity to the language which should make this novel very approachable for anyone, there is a technical depth of knowledge within that informs that approachability, and there is occasionally surprisingly erudite language. I ended up at the end feeling oddly ambivalent about the writing.

Many things about this book are both strong and weak. It’s good but not great. It’s interesting but also frustrating. I’m glad I read it, enjoyed a lot of it along with a large number of passages I found myself considering as highlight-worthy, but I have a hard time recommending it fully. Maybe if I’d read some of the earlier novels first, I’d have been less put off by the first tenth, but I feel I’d still be uncomfortable with some things I’ve mentioned that are essential throughout. I just can’t completely divorce the philosophical intrigue from the philosophical flaws. It’s a journey, though. So, take it for what it is in whole, if you’re interested.

After finishing Shibumi, I am less than interested beyond idle curiosity to check out the previous installments in Hel’s saga, and, that’s okay: I’ve no doubt I’d just find this installment the most interesting of the bunch anyway. I find I’m far more interested in the author Whitaker as a person. I’m likely to pick up his autobiographical The Crazyladies of Pearl Street, and am definitely curious about his forthcoming magnum opus, posthumously finished by his eldest daughter, Street of Four Winds.

I made 113 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Shibumi

Starship Grifters

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese is the first book in the Rex Nihilo Adventures series, but the 3rd volume I’ve read in this universe.

The first volume I read was the short The Chicolini Incident, featuring Rex Nihilo and Sasha, which I understand is included in the third book in the series, a prequel, Book 0, Out of the Soylent Planet. I enjoyed it enough to read this next book in the series.

The second was The Yanthus Prime Job, a damned fine novella featuring the character Pepper Melange, without Rex Nihilo or Sasha. Pepper Melange makes several appearances along the way in Starship Grifters. There’s also Aye, Robot, Book 2 of Rex Nihilo, which includes the Pepper Melange novella.

In spite of the name of the series, I wouldn’t actually say Rex Nihilo is the main character. The story is told from the viewpoint of Sasha, Rex’s robot sidekick. Rex Nihilo is basically an awful person who is more an antagonistic Murphy’s Law force of nature which beleaguers the life of the well-intentioned robot Sasha. This relationship is not at all unlike Zapp Brannigan and Kif Kroker from Futurama. Rex Nihilo also reminded me, for several reasons, of Harry Harrison’s Bill the Galactic Hero.

I’m kinda pissed that by the very end of the novel I had been tricked into being sympathetic to Rex, because he’s really a total shit, but it was a good twist. I’ve had more than enough of people like him. I’m really just over it, even for humour factor. But, when taken as an antagonist within the story, Rex is certainly easy to hate.

But other than Rex’s constantly creeping ick factor while falling trippingly into success after success in spite of himself, usually being saved by other characters trying to survive the situations Rex creates, the story is amusing, and in places laugh-out-loud funny. There’s a lot of scifi in-jokes, especially at the expense of Star Wars. I guessed some twists way early, but others were well and truly surprising.

I read this synced to the audiobook, and both are well done. The one criticism I have for the audiobook is that the portrayal of Rex’s voice never quite seemed right to me. Maybe it’s an expectation from Zap Brannigan being obliviously boisterous, but for the audiobook Rex has a kind of gravelly voice that sounds like a smarmy Mark Twain to me, and doesn’t quite match the character in the story, or the image on the cover for that matter, to me.

I’m slightly ambivalent about reading more in the series, though it’s good enough. And, I’ve already got the next two books, so I’ll probably get around to them eventually. I find I’d be much more interested in Pepper Melange and Sasha teaming up, but realistically they’d be unstoppable; and Rex is a walking talking crisis creation device, so … Yeah, I just don’t really want to read about Rex anymore, but I might anyway for the rest of it.

I made 29 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Starship Grifters

Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, &al, is something I’ve wanted to read for a long time and finally got a round tuit.

This was originally an 8 issue series, now available as a collected graphic novel. Apparently there’s been others created in the 1602 universe, but this is the core story. This is an alternate universe story about the main Marvel superheroes out of time, for some reason, which is eventually revealed. On the main, the cool part is the period drama and how the heroes have turned out in another time, and an extended thought experiment about this alternate reality in which essential natures and essential stories still play out.

I think for me the real feature that drew me to this story was that it featured Doctor Strange, and moreover in the era of John Dee, but it turns out there’s a lot more I enjoyed. Lots of little things that tickled my interests, like Daredevil talking about mystery and audere, Fury and Peter Parker talking about secrets, powers and mysteries, & c.

I think I was really hoping that Doctor Strange would use Dee’s obsidian mirror, but if it was there, even in the background, I missed it. But there’s plenty I found interesting. Two moments that come to mind are the villainization of libertarian, individual as the myopic measure of right Doom opposed to the excellence in a collective of the various others coming together, and an almost Zen parable about tools and weapons that resolves into an oblique takedown of filthy lucre.

On the other hand, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the Fantastic Four could be seen as the four classical elements. I still don’t enjoy FF much, but it’s a dimension to them I’d not thought about before, that’s kinda obvious now that I’ve read it.

The art is in that almost over-perfect style that is hand-drawn but finished on a computer, which tweaks that peculiar Alex Ross-like trigger of glossy detail while still being minimal. The writing is good, though not stunning, to be honest. The primary novelty is in the time-twist and what-if-ism, which does deliver a solid series. Overall, worth reading and a fun adventure that kept me interested and thinking beyond just what the story presented.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Marvel 1602

Write an article, review, or story for Odd Order

Interested in writing for Odd Order? Now you can!

I am announcing an open and rolling call for you to pitch ideas for submissions to Rigaroga’s Odd Order.

I recently created an online form which you can use to pitch your idea for a submission. Once you’ve got an idea that you feel is right for Odd Order’s audience, you’re ready to start. You should pitch your idea for a submission!

What happens next, you ask? What’s the process of moving from making a pitch, developing a submission, compensating you, and, finally, publishing your work for the public audience of the library to read? Well, I’m so excited you asked! Let me tell you!

The Pitch

When a pitch comes in, what I plan on doing is posting it to a private forum for my Patrons. I’ll do that to give them a chance to let me know what they think, and if they’re interested in reading the proposed submission. I’ll take their feedback into consideration on whether to accept or reject the pitch, and move forward with the idea as a submission.

If the pitch idea is not accepted, I’ll suggest whether or not to revise the submission for another try.

If the pitch is accepted, then I’ll ask the author to submit the article, review or story for further consideration.

The Submission

When a submission comes in, what I plan on doing is posting it to a private forum for my Patrons. I’ll do that to give them a chance to let me know what they think about the various merits of the submission. I’ll take their feedback into consideration on whether to accept or reject the pitch, and move forward with compensation for the author and then posting the submission to Rigaroga’s Odd Order blog.

If the submission is not accepted, I’ll suggest whether or not to revise the submission for another try.

If the submission is accepted, I’ll move forward with paying the author. Once I’ve successfully compensated the author for their work, I will then post the the article, review or story for the public to read on the blog.


For submissions that are accepted for publication, I happily offer thanks. I’m also delighted to send a gratis download code for any one of the released anthology albums.

For work accepted to the blog, I currently offer an honorarium of $15/article. If you’re pitching a review, I offer and honorarium of $5/review or I am happy to see about getting a reviewer’s copy sent to you as your compensation instead.

Finally, if there’s something else you’ve got in mind, or an idea I’ve not mentioned, let me know!


If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, do get in touch. Also, if the process seems daunting or there’s some aspect of it that creates difficulty for you in some way, let me know so we can find a way forward that works better for you. Finally, if you’re thinking of something that doesn’t seem to fit what I’ve described here, get in touch and let me know what you’re thinking so we can figure out whether and how we can consider your cool out-of-the-box idea. Go ahead and use the form and fill out as much as you can and I’ll get back to you.

I look forward to hearing from you, so pitch your idea today! (Besides, you read this far, right? You might as well follow through with a pitch too!)