Book Review: Praxis by Justin Knight

I’ve always enjoyed the “ordinary people get stuck in a horrific situation and have to survive” trope in stories. Whether it’s a disaster movie, a survival horror video game, or much of Stephen King’s ouevre, there’s something about ordinary people overcoming extraordinary circumstances that’s both entertaining and provides wonderful food for thought:

  • How would I react? What would I do?
  • What skills do I have that would be useful in a situation like this?
  • Would people work together, or turn against each other?
  • Would I have what it takes to make it?

Tales of superhumans with otherworldy abilities are always fun and have their place in my heart. But I equally enjoy seeing if the pre-school teacher or the accountant can survive the monsters that suddenly appeared in their town, or can evade the hostile army that’s invaded their nation.

And then, on the other hand, I also love classic 80s/90s action movies.

Along comes Justin Knight with his novel  Praxis. Described as “blue-collar sci-fi,” Praxis details the experience of warehouse workers from Vancouver, Canada whose company gets the contract to man the recently constructed titular space station.

Justin Knight (artist’s rendition)

Praxis focuses on Mickey Hemmings and his crew as they travel to the Praxis station with their families for a year-long stint. The station orbits Neptune at the farthest reaches of the solar system, and is meant to be a waypoint for intergalactic travel. Unfortunately, a group of hostile alien pirates fleeing justice decide to use the station to make their last stand, and the Earthlings get caught in the crossfire.

First, I love this concept: A varied cast of warehouse workers have to survive an alien invasion on a remote space station millions of miles from Earth. Though I have some plot-related questions that I didn’t see addressed–Why are there no security officers? Why doesn’t anyone have guns?–they didn’t detract from the white-knuckled action . . .

. . . when the action finally arrives.

You see, Praxis is a slow-burner. I have no problem with slow-burners, but I did notice that, according to my Kindle app, the action did not begin until 69 percent of the way through the book.

Now, Knight does something clever with all of this: He really sets the reader up to grow fond of these characters. And the competing narratives (the human’s travels to Praxis and settling in interspersed with our alien pirates being pursued by an alien police force) builds the anticipation.

And when these disparate threads collide, they make a big boom. Continue reading “Book Review: Praxis by Justin Knight”

A Budding Gamer

Knowing my fondness for retro games, this past Christmas my sister and her husband–total gamers, the both of them–got me a Super Nintendo Classic Edition.

For those who aren’t aware, the Super Nintendo Classic Edition is a cool little device that Nintendo released in 2017 that’s similar to their NES Classic: it’s a hand-held version of their classic early 90s Super Nintendo console pre-loaded with 20 classic games, designed to work on modern TVs, and guaranteed to tickle your nostalgia gland and separate you from your hard-earned money!

So while we were visiting my parents over Christmas, I fired it up and gave a few old games a spin. And my pleasure centers were absolutely engaged. Super Mario WorldSuper MetroidF-ZeroDonkey Kong CountrySuper Castlevania . . . aw yeah, total classics. And of course, one of my all-time favorites that I haven’t played in easily twenty yearsMega Man X. I loved that game, and was immediately engaged.

And of course, so was my son.

I mean, Mega Man X, like every single game in the Mega Man franchise, has bright and colorful graphics, fantastic music, exciting gameplay, and robots that fight each other, steal each others weapons, and blow stuff up. In this edition, the main character, X, has to fight animal-based robot masters in order to beat their big boss Sigma. It is, in short, tailor-made for a five-year-old.

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But the presents a bit of a parental conundrum for me. I grew up with Nintendo, getting a set for Christmas in 1987, when I was not much older than my son. I also played Atari with my maternal grandmother, who is always up on technology, and classic Sierra adventure games with my paternal grandfather on his then state-of-the-art Leading Edge computer (with two external disk drives!). So video games were always a thing with me.

I’ve written fondly about retro games before. The music in those old games was often fantastic and inspiring. And speaking of inspiring, the plots and mechanics of many old video games really stoked my imagination, and continue to be an unlikely source of inspiration. And I know for a fact that I am not alone in this.

But I also reflect on all the hours I spent playing video games as a kid, especially as the console generations marched on and got better and better and more realistic, and the games got longer. I always liked role-playing games, you know, those dorky games where you fight monsters and level up and so on. They always had really fun tactical combat, customization of characters, and a lot of options to just go and explore stuff.

They were fun. They were engrossing. And they often took sixty hours to finish.

And as the games got better and better, they got longer and longer.  Continue reading “A Budding Gamer”

Fear and Adventure: Why Encouraging Risky Behavior Will Save Us All

Fearlessness

Safety is killing us. It is stifling. Nobody wants to take risks. Nobody wants to make the calls that have consequences should they not work out.

My observations and personal experience lead me to believe that, unless people have near mathematical certainty of a positive outcome, nobody wants to make a decision.

But why? And why does this matter?

It matters because life is risky. Being an entrepreneur is risky. Approaching that cute girl over there is risky. Moving to a different city is risky. And so is standing up and physically defending your loved ones and other innocents from harm.

Riskiness and rugged individualism are baked into the American way, but somewhere along the line this started to get viewed as a liability rather than an asset. I believe the common buzzword is “toxic.”

How we got this way is less of an important question–helicopter parents, “wear a helmet,” and all of that. More important is making sure that the next generation isn’t like us.

The wife and I took our soon-to-be four-year-old to a fun local kid’s amusement park the other day. He is very tall for his age, and much to his delight, is now able to go on many of the rides hitherto unavailable to him.

The kid didn’t stop.

Edaville, Carver Massachusetts.JPG

Roller-coasters, the big Ferris wheel, rides that shake, spin, tumble, and drop. He loved them all, laughing hysterically and throwing his hands in the air with each loop and plunge. If he’s had any fear of free-fall or heights, he hid it well.

It was great! There’s nothing like watching a little kid enjoy themselves. But it also made me think of a few things relating to my own life:

  • I never went on roller-coasters when I was a little kid.
  • To this day, I really don’t like roller-coasters and still kind of fear heights.
  • Much of my adult life has involved overcoming my aversion to risk-taking.

Are these things connected? Does a willingness to take physical risks translate into other kinds of risk-taking later in life, risk-taking in love, in business, and in thought?

I mean, I have a boy. Boys are crazy, right? They all have this impulse to make mischief, take things apart, and in general raise hell.

But there’s more to it than that.

These impulses, whether in boys or girls, are inborn but can also be squelched. 

They can be squelched by excessive safety.

They get squelched at our own peril. A society that’s afraid to take risks is a society that’s afraid to be great. Continue reading “Fear and Adventure: Why Encouraging Risky Behavior Will Save Us All”