hankrules2011

Just trying to make it, a day at a time…

CT Myleogram and Emergency Procedure

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 13, 2016

I’ve had a rough time of it lately, especially the past few days. A couple of weeks ago, I somehow injured my back. It locked up and I had incredible back pain to go along with my very severe head pain. I went to my orthopedist, had a lot of x-rays taken, was told I hadn’t fractured my back (good), but that my degenerative disk disease had gotten a lot worse. That my bottom disk had effectively disintegrated and it was largely just bone on bone now and that was why I was hearing all of the clicking and grating sounds when I moved, and why I felt my spine shifting when I moved. The disk above it wasn’t much better and together, they couldn’t have been “much worse.” My doctor decided to send me to have a procedure at a surgery center called a “CT Myleogram,” which I had never heard of before and which didn’t sound like a big deal. After all, I had had a number of CT scans, so no biggie, right?

Well, when I got home and did some research, I found out what these procedures were, to a certain degree, and they were a little more involved than that. They were basically like reverse spinal taps, where instead of inserting a needle into your spine and removing spinal fluid, they’re inserting a needle into your spine and injecting contrasting fluid into it so that they can take moving x-rays and CT scans so they can detect nerve damage and other types of damage regular x-rays can’t see. No anesthesia, of course. And I had just had a spinal tap last month. So, yay. This was last Monday. They called me Tuesday and scheduled me for Wednesday, a few days ago.

My wife took me in and dropped me off. She’s had to take me to so many procedures lately and has had to wait that it’s just gotten old and she’s worried about losing her job, so she just wants to drop me off and pick me up when she’s allowed and I was supposed to wait in Recovery for 2-4 hours after the procedure before she could pick me up. I had the procedure and it wasn’t that bad. It didn’t last as long as a normal spinal tap, although with the x-rays and CT scan, the entire process made it last much longer, of course. And I only had to wait after for a couple of hours or so. They warned me several times about something called a “spinal headache” and said it could be very severe. I basically laughed it off because with my Trigeminal Neuralgia, tension headaches, severe migraines, and cluster headaches, how could it possibly be that severe? Even if I got it, which I didn’t think I would. Because you basically got it from leaking spinal fluid from a puncture that wasn’t healing and it wouldn’t be healing because you stood too much and didn’t lie down enough and I planned to lie down. But I didn’t. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I sat at the dining room table to eat a late lunch when I got home. I sat at my computer to check email, etc, after that. I laid down for a bit, but then I stood for awhile to do dishes. I laid down some more. Oh, I felt pretty good, by the way. I felt fine. I sat again to have dinner. But by then, I was starting to get, yes, a headache. I assumed, however, it was my usual TN acting up and didn’t really think anything of it. I took my usual medications, but by late afternoon, I had an increasingly severe headache that was starting to get very, very bad. I went to bed with a bad headache and got virtually no sleep. By Thursday morning, it was brutal. I got no sleep, like I said. My right eye socket felt dead. The right side of my head was on fire. The back of my head felt like it had been hit by a machine gun. My forehead hurt, so did my cheek and jaw. My ear lobe felt numb, so did my teeth and tongue. My temple was killing me! I wanted to die. And my back was hurting from my procedure. This was probably the worst pain of my life. On a 1-10 scale, this was easily a 15. Throughout the day, I took 6 Tx, 8 Ex, 2 Nx, 14 Ax, a Px, and 2 Mx. I started feeling better during mid-afternoon but started getting worse again before dinner. My pain level got down to maybe a 10/10, but that didn’t last long. And this got worse! I didn’t know what to do! My pain level reached a 17 out 10, if that’s even possible! Ungodly! Worst ever. Finally around 9 pm Thursday, I called the surgery center and got patched through to a live doctor. She said I had two options. One, I could go to the ER, but Gretchen had taken a sleeping pill and was going to bed and I couldn’t drive. Two, I could stay up and take lots of anti-inflammatories and drink lots of caffeine and go back to the surgery center in the morning to get an emergency “blood patch” procedure, where they drain a lot of blood from your arm and then inject it through one of two needles inserted into your spine, like a reverse spinal tap, similar to what I had two days previously. That’s two reverse spinal taps in three days. That’s harsh. And that’s what I did. I stayed up all night drinking coffee and Coke Zero and taking what pain pills I could and when Gretchen got up, this doctor called me and told me they were expecting me at the surgery center, so Gretchen took me there. When I went into the operating room, they had five people in there: the doctor to handle the two needles, the technician to operate the x-ray machine, which I got to watch live, the person to handle my blood and its needle/IV, and two people to massage me, one my arms above my head, one my legs, I guess in an effort to comfort me because of my pain and discomfort level. It was almost funny, as I’ve never had that happen to me before, but it was oddly comforting. This procedure lasted about an hour and hurt like a fucking bitch! Holy shit, it hurt! The doctor dug those needles into my spine hard over and over again repeatedly, gouging the shit out of my spine. Finally it was over. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t even wince once. They asked me how I felt immediately after but I didn’t know. I said I needed some time to evaluate. After awhile I realized my head pain had largely disappeared, including my eye socket pain, and I told them that and they were pleased. I was a little shocked. I guess I did have a spinal headache but I never knew they could be so damn bad. It was just about the worst head pain I’ve ever felt. Now I’ve got a 0 out of 10 head pain since 11:30 am yesterday and that’s awesome. I wonder how long this will last? Unfortunately my back hurts pretty badly from all the trauma it’s had to endure over the past few days. Hurts a lot. Hopefully that will improve fairly quickly. I’m glad they insisted I come in Friday morning rather than going through the weekend. That would have been a disaster. Getting the disgusting, painful blood patch was one of the best things I ever did.

So, that’s where I’ve been the past few days. Sorry I’ve been out of touch. I’ve truly not been feeling well. I have four books stacked up to write reviews for, but I really haven’t felt like it. I don’t know when I’ll get to those. I hope everyone has a nice Valentine’s Day. Ours will be low key, unfortunately. Frankly, I’m just glad to be okay.

 

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A Review of Willie Stargell: A Life in Baseball

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 5, 2016

Willie Stargell: A Life in BaseballWillie Stargell: A Life in Baseball by Frank Garland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve got to be honest. When I was a kid, Willie Stargell was my favorite baseball player. Actually, he has been my whole life. But see, he was my favorite player to see in person! I lived in the Pittsburgh area back in the 1970s and went to as many Pirates games as possible, so I got to see “Pops” play a lot and got to see the magical “We Are Family” 1979 World Series year and remember those wonderful Stargell stars everyone loved and the home runs, god, the home runs! Willie Stargell “only” hit 475 career home runs – because he played half of his career in gigantic Forbes Field, which I’ll get to in a moment, but which is estimated to have robbed him of some 150 career home runs, which is staggering by anyone’s standards – but the thing I think Stargell is best known for is his towering strength, how damn FAR he could hit his balls! Hitting balls out of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Hitting balls out of Dodger Stadium multiple times. Hitting balls out of Philly’s Veteran’s Stadium. Hitting the upper deck and roof of gigantic Forbes Field numerous times. Hitting the ball out of the ballpark at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field replacement, Three Rivers Stadium. There’s an entire chapter in this book dedicated just to this! 506 feet at Dodger Stadium. 458 feet into the upper deck at Three Rivers. May 20, 1978: 515 feet, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. 475 feet onto right grandstand roof at Forbes Field, 1967. He also had the longest home run at Houston’s Astrodome: 490 feet on May 28, 1966.

Of course, Stargell was more than just amazing home run power. He was also a great hitter, finishing a 20-year career with a very good lifetime average of .282. Perhaps far more importantly, he was a great natural leader, from a very young age. He led quietly and he led by example. When he came up in the majors, Clemente was his leader, took him under his wing, became his friend and example. After Clemente’s premature death, Stargell assumed his role in the clubhouse and never relinquished it and remained the effective team captain for the rest of his career, which prepared him for his post-playing days of working with his ex-manager, Chuck Tanner, in the Braves system to coach and evaluate young ball players in Atlanta for a number of years before ultimately winding back in Pittsburgh for the last couple years of his life before he died a very, very premature death at age 61, I believe. This book was also enlightening in that it showed how a young man from northern California, brought up in an integrated area in the 1950s, is thrust into the deep south and southwest, and is made to play in the minors during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and is made to suffer humilities and indignities and taunts and things that would have been hard to imagine 15 years ago, as I write this in 2016, if we hadn’t have seen the true colors of the Republican Tea Party as the racists in them come out to show their hatred of Obama and black and Hispanic people everywhere, which makes it stunning to see how far we have NOT come since then. Simply stunning. And very sad. Whatever the case, Stargell survived without anything of an outward complaint, made the big club as an outfielder, had a serious arm rivaling Clemente allegedly, but was ultimately moved to first base, started hitting serious home runs, made some all star teams, helped win the World Series in 1971, when Clemente was the MVP, won the World Series again in 1979 when he was the Series and league MVP and retired in 1982. Stunningly, he never even made half a million dollars a year in his career and indeed, never made much money at all until the final few years of his career. How someone so talented and how someone who became the 17th player to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballet could go so damned unpaid, essentially, is beyond me, but I guess that’s what owners do, so there you have it. He had advertising deals and other things to supplement his income. He also had a sickle cell foundation because his sister had the disease.

While this book certainly sings Stargell’s praises, it’s not all fun and games. It also discusses his three marriages (but how he got along with all three wives, during and after all marriages) and five children through four women (and how they all got along together as in one big, happy family, amazingly). It discusses allegations two former colleagues made against him in the 1980s that he gave them drugs, which tarnished his reputation. Needless to say, this was looked into thoroughly, as was the case with everyone named in the investigation. Stargell’s name was personally cleared by the baseball commissioner. He had done nothing wrong.

The first thing Stagell did upon retirement was agree to perform in a symphony performance made just for him by a Pulitzer winning composer in which he would perform spoken word content set to symphonic music about Martin Luther King, Jr., one of his heroes. He was excited, but very nervous. So were the composers and musicians. However, he tackled it with his usual professionalism and did quite well. Their first performance was, I believe, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. He acquitted himself well. Indeed, as they traveled the country performing, he did better and better so that he became quite a star in a brand new field. This chapter was quite interesting and I confess I knew nothing about this part of his life.

Stargell’s last few years are painful to read about. His last few years were spent on dialysis. Yet he was still working, first for the Braves, then for the Pirates. Then his overall health started failing and he started losing weight and feeling quite a bit of pain. During his last year, he became unrecognizable to former teammates who encounter him in airports and other places. He tried to avoid people, as he didn’t wish to be seen in this condition. On April 9, 2001, in honor of the opening of the Pirates’ new ballpark, PNC Park, and only the third such new statue, a new large bronze statue of Willie Stargell was unveiled publicly outside the entrance to the park. Unfortunately, Willie couldn’t be there. More unfortunately, he couldn’t be there because he had just died during the night. He’d never get to see the new park or the amazing new statue for which he felt so amazingly honored. People were stunned. He was too young. He was Pittsburgh. He was the Pirates. He was “Family.” He was one of the most beloved Pittsburgh athletes of all time. And now he was gone. Just like that. While his service was in North Carolina, where he had most recently lived with his third wife, a large service was held at a church downtown near where Willie lived and worked for decades. He loved working with the people of the city, of the inner city, with the young people. He loved teaching, giving people hope. And now he was gone. Utter tragedy.

475 career home runs. When he retired, that was a lot. Since then, a lot of hitters have passed him by. But frankly, most of those players have been from the steroid era and are suspect, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa. So do they even count? Unfortunately, they’re in the books and records ahead of him and nothing can be done about that and that boils my blood. Even more unfortunately, he played half of his career at gigantic Forbes field. I said I would address that. Let me. PNC Park has these basic dimensions – 320 feet to the left and right field walls, 399 feet to center field. Going off my memory, Forbes Field was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and a gigantic 462 feet to center! No wonder Clemente drove in a ton of runs but was a doubles hitter and not a big home run hitter. No wonder the most home runs Stargell ever hit in a season was 48. So, if the estimate that Forbes Field robbed him of 150 home runs is accurate at all, he could have finished with 625 home runs, which would have placed him pretty high up the career list by anyone’s standards. It’s a real pity that couldn’t have occurred.

For some reason, this book only has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads, yet every review I’ve read – all four and five star reviews – have nothing to say about how to improve the book. Frankly, I don’t know if this is the BEST sports biography I have ever read, but offhand, I can’t think of a better one and I’ve read a ton of them. This is a very good book. It’s well researched, it’s detailed, comprehensive, well written, has good pictures, is edited well. It’s a good book. A very good book. I can think of no reason not to give it five stars. I can think of no way to improve this book as a sports biography or as a biography of Willie Stargell. So, how can this not be a five star book then? I think Frank Garland did an excellent job and I’m really glad I bought and read this book. I learned a lot about my childhood hero and I’m glad that he remains a hero of mine and always will be. Good old number 8. One night, I was at Three Rivers in the upper deck and Willie hit the ball and he hit it straight up and it went up a mile. He hit it out of the stadium. I’ve never in my life seen a ball hit so far straight up. It went way past my head and kept on going, up, up, up past the top of the stadium before finally starting to fall straight back down. It took forever. It was a foul ball. He was out. The first baseman caught it. But it was one of the most impressive non-hits I had ever seen. What strength! I’ll never forget that. And of course, I got to see a few of his awesome home runs too. I’ll never forget the feeling that I was honored to see those. Willie Stargell graced us with his presence. He graced Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Oakland with everything in his life. He had a lot to give and he always gave a lot. As long as people remember him, he will be missed. In my biased opinion, Willie Stargell will always be the best, most feared home run hitter of all time. Five star book. Definitely recommended.

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Switching Domains

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 4, 2016

I’m considering switching blog domains because I’m sick to death of all of the disgusting ads WordPress has been littering my blog pages with. I know why they are doing it and it’s working. They want me to upgrade from free to a paying premium account and that’s exactly what I’m probably going to do. I don’t intend to leave WordPress. I used to be on Xanga for a decade or more, but that’s a thing of the past. I have a book review blog on Blogger, but I’m unimpressed with that blogging site, so I have no interest in migrating there. Don’t care at all for Tumbler. Don’t like Typepad either. I’ve looked at a couple of others over the past several months, but WordPress seems like the only viable option for me and since I’ve been blogging here since June 2011, it would be a hassle to leave. So I’ll most likely upgrade to premium. Which means I’ll have a new domain name, one without “wordpress.com” in it. I assume it will be something like “hankrules2011.com,” unless for some strange reason that one is already taken, but I can’t imagine it is. Anyway, if for some reason you attempt to locate this site and cannot and if this site does not redirect you automatically to the new site in the next day or so, hopefully you will have read this and will be on the lookout for it. Just a heads up to save us all from those damn awful ads. Cheers!

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A Review of Crown of Slaves

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 4, 2016

Crown of Slaves (Honorverse: Wages of Sin, #1)Crown of Slaves by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Crown of Slaves is the first book in a new Honor Harrington sub-series called Wages of Sin focusing on Mesa-Manpower and the newly liberated ex-slaver planet of Torch. As I have figured out, these several sub-series’ are really required reading if one wants to get additional necessary pieces of information to fill in the gaps in the Honor series when it comes to things such as Torch, the Zilwickis, Haven super spy Victor Cachat, the whole Mesa-Manpower mystery/disaster in action, etc. This is a truly necessary series. This is a pretty good book and I’m already halfway through the second one.

Due to the complete incompetence of Manticore’s Queen Elizabeth’s current government, the tenuous alliance between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and its ally Erewhon is on the verge of dissolution, so the queen sends her niece, Ruth Winton, a spy-wannabe in training, as an “unofficial” representative to a state funeral to try to patch things up. And that’s where the story starts. The mission begins with Ruth, led by Manticore’s super spy, Anton Zilwicki, and his teenage daughter, Berry, off to Erewhon. It turns into quite the espionage incident, as Manticore, Solarian League, Havenite, Erewhon, Masadan fanatics, and Mesan groups all meet and engage in some way in this book, at times quite violently, while Berry and Ruth survive an assassination attempt with the help of Havenite Cachat, aided by Solarian marine lieutenant Thandi Palane, a most larger-than-life character. The two of them develop a relationship that is sweet and readers will quickly come to like the two characters, even if Victor is a cold-blooded killer.

Before the blood can dry, Victor leads a group of people on a mission to the planet, Congo, Manpower’s slave planet, to liberate the slaves and the planet. He and they do and for some bizarre reason, 17-year-old Berry, with a phenomenal personality who has really taken to the ex-slaves, is elected queen of the inhabitants of the newly renamed planet of Torch, with Ruth her intelligence director and Thandi, with the help of her “Amazon” warriors (who are a fun group of women in this book) installed as her military leader, and Audubon Ballroom terrorist leader Jeremy X installed as Minister of War. Of course, her father Anton will stay and help out with intelligence for an indefinite period of time, as will Victor. Both are intent upon penetrating Mesa-Manpower. And both are concerned about Mesa-Manpower’s attempts to get to Berry and others on Torch, with good reason, as we shall see.

This isn’t necessarily the best Honorverse book I’ve read, but I’d be hard pressed to name another that’s better. Of course, none of them really measure up to one of the better Honor books, but that’s to be expected. Still, it’s a good sub-series and I’m enjoying the second book more than the first. I’d love to give this book five stars, but I don’t think it’s a five star book. Still, it’s a solid four star book and easily recommended.

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On Making of a Murderer

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 1, 2016

One place we will never, ever visit — the most evil, vile, vindictive, disgusting community/county in America, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. We spent the weekend binge watching the 10 part documentary series, Making A Murderer on Netflix and it was stunning, depressing, and horrifying. Like watching the most terrifying train wreck one could possibly imagine. One Steven Avery’s life was ruined, and that of his 16-year-old nephew (Brendan Dassey) and family, by Manitowoc’s law enforcement, DA, judges, juries, the FBI, the state of Wisconsin, etc, et al, and these two men are serving life in prison and 43 years in prison respectively for a murder, rape, and other crimes they most certainly didn’t commit and for which they most certainly were framed by the police. It was simply stunning how deep the corruption and conspiracy reached, how much circumstantial evidence and actual evidence the defense lawyers presented, how on Day One of Avery’s jury deliberations, seven people voted not guilty, three voted guilty, the rest were undecided, then one had to step down for a medical emergency, then after an alternate juror was found, bam, guilty! The nephew, with a 69 IQ, dumb as a rock and with the cops and his own lawyers telling him what to say in confessions he was forced to write, had no clue what he was doing or saying. These people were dull idiots, but they were not rapists and killers just cause they were simple rednecks. We felt really sorry for them and their families, who were harassed constantly by the police and the county. They were arrested in 2005, convicted in 2007, appealed, were turned down, appealed to the state supreme court, were turned down, lost their lawyers, are totally screwed, and as of this month, Obama has told Avery he can’t help him because Avery’s case is a state case and Obama just has federal jurisdiction in pardons, sorry, and I can’t help but think that the president of the US, if he really wanted to, could do *something* somehow, but this guy and his nephew and his family are outcasts and are totally and completely fucked unlike any people I have ever seen or heard of in my life. This, after Avery spent 18 years in prison for a rape he was proven not to have committed, and was released from prison in 2003. This alleged murder in 2005 occurred three weeks after three sheriff’s deputies were deposed in his $36 million civil lawsuit against the county, DA, and sheriff. Coincidence? I think not. We think not. We think he and his nephew are 100% innocent and we’ve never seen anyone set up so obviously and so blatantly and this is scary as hell. The evidence was obviously planted several visits after the original visit to his place, and in the case of a “damning” bullet fragment, four months after people had searched his garage numerous times. All of this damning evidence found after numerous searches was found after these two same cops accessed these locations and in fact they themselves “found” some of it which it seems they most obviously planted at the time they “found” it. Stunning. In fact, I got up at 11:30 tonight after spending an hour trying to go to sleep and being unable to do so because I was obsessing about this documentary and this poor family, this family of dullards and inbreds their own original defense lawyers called evil who needed to be wiped out as they worked for the prosecution. Fucking unreal. I’ve never seen a documentary like this and I used to like Wisconsin, until Scott Walker, but even then, I still thought the people in the state were still somewhat decent. Now I know better. That is one fucked up state with some serious fucked up people and I know there are a number of fucked up states out there, notably Texas and Kansas, my own Tennessee, etc, but now I seriously fucking HATE Wisconsin and having been there several times before, I never want to go back there again and certainly never want to go near that fucking evil county or town for fear of being locked up for life if I breathe the wrong way, those bastards. If you want a wake up call to true injustice, watch this documentary. It’s engaging, enthralling, frightening as hell, and a real eye opener.

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A Review of A Fire Upon The Deep

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 31, 2016

A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1)A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Fire Upon The Deep has got to be the most ambitious book I have ever read. Especially so for a book a little over 600 pages long. It’s monster space opera unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, with concepts so “out there,” so advanced and complex that they are mind blowing, consciousness expanding, perhaps even life changing. Yet, this isn’t close to being a perfect book. It has some very serious flaws.

This book was published in 1992 and won the Hugo Award, perhaps deservedly, perhaps not. As I said, very ambitious. In it, there are “Zones of Thought” (The High Beyond, The Transcend, The Middle Beyond, The Low Beyond, The Slow Zone, etc.) in which the galaxy is separated into distinct “zones,” each of which is identified by its relative location to the galactic core and its ability to support various forms of advanced technology and faster-than-light travel. Somewhere in the universe is the Slow Zone, where it’s impossible to create sentient AI computers, and it’s impossible for FTL travel to work. That’s where Earth is located. Outside of that is the Beyond, where all types of alien races with FTL-travel exist and are trading and blabbering on about all sorts of crap via the Net, etc. The Beyond is broken loosely into the Low, Middle, and High Beyond, where gradually more and more advanced technology functions. If one tries to fly a High Beyond spaceship down into the Low Beyond, its more advanced functions will slowly and gradually shut down. Further out is the Transcend, where entities who have ‘transcended’ into god-like Powers dwell. They must remain in the Transcend (for the most part) to function. It’s much more complex that how I’m describing and frankly, at first, it’s a bit of a mind fuck and it took me a long, long time to get used to, but eventually I began to adjust. It’s just a very advanced notion and somewhere a cross between advanced super hard science and complete and total fantasy.

In the book, a group of cutting edge scientists investigating a five billion year-old data archive on a newly discovered planet that is actually quite ancient accidentally unleashes “the Blight,” a malignant super-intelligence/super-virus that ultra-quickly learns how to infiltrate and take control of computer systems and even living species and complete civilizations. These scientists desperately send a couple of spaceships away at the very end of their existence before their destruction at the hands of this Blight, with some of their people and some type of information that may stop the Blight from controlling and destroying potentially all galactic civilization. The last of those two surviving ships lands and is stranded on a planet with a warlike, medieval-level society of intelligent dog-like aliens called Tines. Two of the young human children who survive are taken by opposing forces of Tines, which eventually in time leads to a major conflict. One of these Tines, in control of a nine-year-old boy, gets into contact with a human scientist, convinces her the boy’s in deep trouble, going to be under attack by other Tines, is being helped by this Tine and friends and needs her help and technology, which she strives to provide. Meanwhile, she and others start racing the Blight and its minions through the galaxy to get to the Tines’ planet to rescue the boy and find out if the stranded ship really holds the key to stopping the Blight.

While the children, Johanna and Jefri Olsndot, are struggling to deal with the Tines, the superhuman intelligence/virus awakened at the scientists’ research lab, which has come to be known as the “Blight” or the “Straumli Perversion,” (based on the location and group of people who created it) begins to spread, destroying entire worlds, enslaving populations and civilizations, and killing several other “Powers” (super intelligences that abide in the top Zone that are hard to conceptualize throughout the entire book) in the process. Ravna Bergsndot, the female scientist in touch with Jefri, along with Pham Nuwen, a man from the Slow Zone who was recreated from ancient human parts and inhabited by a Power, and two Skroderiders, intelligent plants that ride on mechanical “skrodes” that support memory and mobility for their riders, take on the task of rescuing Jefri (who they believe is the only surviving human – they don’t know of his sister’s existence; neither does he) and recovering the suspected “countermeasure” to the Blight in Jefri’s ship at the Tines’ world at the bottom of the Beyond.

The book is one third hard science that is SO complex and so difficult and so far “out there” that it simply boggles the mind. The author, after all, is a mathematician and computer scientist, so it makes sense. It’s beyond complex and it made me feel quite stupid. At times, I wanted to give up because the concepts were so hard for me to even grasp that much of it felt like nonsensical babble. This is without doubt, as I already wrote, the most ambitious book I’ve ever read.

However, while it’s one third nearly beyond comprehension, it’s also one third quite a compelling story. If Vinge is capable of making his story remotely believable to the reader, it’s very engaging. An all encompassing super intelligence/virus that destroys entire worlds and is taking over the galaxy racing after a single spaceship crewed by two intelligent plants and two humans, traveling to a medieval planet of warring dogs who have captured two human children and who have in their control the sole potential weapon against this super intelligence in the galaxy in the children’s surviving ship. It’s tension filled. It has action. It has a certain degree of technology, now pathetically outdated, which I’ll get to and which is shocking. It has some form of “science.” The Tines Vinge creates as his primary alien race are quite interesting, very detailed, and described in depth with excellent character development. They are one of the better alien races and societies I have encountered in my sci fi readings over the years. Somewhat.

That said, the final third of my analysis of the book is that it’s total rubbish. My wife, who is an avid reader, scoffs at sci fi due to its “unbelievability.” I have tried to explain to her and differentiate for her sci fi “believability” versus believability before, but it’s a difficult concept to convey. For me, if the science in the book strikes me as potentially realistic and the characters act realistically – even if they are aliens – and the military action, strategy, and tactics – if military sci fi – is sound, then it’s believable sci fi. David Weber and Chris Bunch are two examples of believable military sci fi authors. Jack McDevitt is another example of another good example of a “believable” sci fi writer. Meanwhile, one of my favorite “unbelievable” sci fi writers is Philip K. Dick, who writes so over the top it’s ridiculous, but in my opinion, that’s okay because he knows it and makes no pretense about it. He’s not trying to fool anyone into believing his work is “hard” sci fi and therefore actually realistic and therefore to be taken seriously. So, it’s fine to read and enjoy him because you can take his books with a grain of salt for what they are and that’s that. Vinge, however, takes his work seriously, or at least attempts to make the reader believe so, and tries to write his Blight as believably as possible, all the while while it’s an intangible concept. How, exactly, does it literally destroy entire worlds? We only find out after it has mysteriously done so when it has sent hundreds or even thousands of ships it mysteriously now controls to Ravna’s planet to destroy it, in part because it’s a large “Net” (Internet, millions of years in the future – I’ll get to this) gateway that thousands of civilizations use for constant communication, most recently about the Blight, and it wants to do away with it. More difficult are the Tines. As advanced medieval dogs, they are hive mind-like packs of four to eight dogs who amazingly can do just about anything a single human can do, but even trying to get me to buy that is stretching things pretty far. For instance, how can dogs build stone castles complete with huge thick walls, dungeons, torture chambers, tunnels, etc., as well as entire cities? How can dogs literally get stone blocks big enough to construct castles and their walls into place and do it? How can dogs build and fire crossbows, literally? Vinge tries to describe how one dog holds it in his mouth (That straight? That steady? Honestly?) while another “loads” it with an arrow or bolt and another draws the string back and another shoots it, etc., but even with that attempt at describing their doing so, it doesn’t make it very believable for me. Field hospitals? How do dogs put up tents? Well, maybe their field hospitals don’t have tents. But the rest of the army have tents as living quarters, so literally, how do dogs put up tents? Boats, ships. How do dogs sail ships in the ocean? I’d like to see it. Seriously. I don’t think it can be done, no matter how big the damn pack is or how well it works together. They don’t have fucking opposable thumbs! Damn it Vinge, paws can’t do this shit and you can’t make me believe they can! What about Johanna’s laptop? They figure out the basic password and start using it. Literally. How can paws press keys? Wouldn’t a paw be too big to manipulate a small keyboard key? Literally? It’s not fucking believable! It’s simply not believable and that’s my biggest problem with this book. What about the Skroderiders? Even with the help of their magical skrodes, how exactly do fucking plants fly a spaceship? I know Vinge writes about their fronds, but are we REALLY supposed to buy the notion that plant fronds can fly a spaceship, especially better than their human counterparts? It’s fucking stupid as hell and it’s not remotely believable, therefore this book is utter rubbish.

One other major “issue” I take with Vinge and this book is the so-called technology this is based on. This book was published in 1992, largely pre-Web, but supposedly millions or even billions of years in the future when there are untold zillions of inhabited planets with thousands of species and civilizations. Yet, millions of years in the future, everyone – all of the species – are on the Galactic “Net,” short for Internet I assume, and I assume translated technologically by his “software” so we can all read the messages he relays for us. Because that’s what it is. Everyone, millions of years in the future, uses Newsgroups and posts thousands of messages to tons of Newsgroups an hour. It’s Usenet news, an Internet feature I used to really love back in the 1980s and ‘90s and part of the Internet that comprised its major function (besides email) until the Web came along in the early 1990s. By the mid to late ‘90s, Usenet was largely ignored, and by the 2000s, most people using the Internet had never heard of Usenet news or newsgroups. It’s beyond obsolete now. Indeed, back in the ‘90s, when I got a new ISP, which I did frequently, one of my key questions in signing up was about the existence of their news server, which was important to me. Over the past decade, however, as more and more ISPs are actually cable companies and other types of broadband companies, whenever I have asked a company representative about their news server, I get silence on the other end of the phone before they stumble around, claiming they don’t know anything about what I’m talking about and they don’t have any such thing. And it’s true. These companies no longer have news servers and I don’t even know how to access Usenet newsgroups anymore, although I suppose if I seriously wanted to, I could research it and figure out a way. My point, however, is that the author wants us to seriously believe that he had the scientific and technological foresight to predict that millions or billions of years in the future, thousands of species would be using Usenet newsgroups to post tens of thousands of messages, which he so diligently copies as authentically as he can in this book, when he can’t even predict the fact that about one year after his book’s publication – one year! – the World Wide Web would render Usenet obsolete and 15 years later, Usenet would be a thing of the past and would be largely unknown to most of humanity. Yet millions are years in the future, it’s still so fucking cutting edge, it’s the technological medium of choice for communicating between people/aliens on various worlds/ships throughout the galaxy. He seriously wants us to believe that over millions of years, no civilization or species has come up with a better or at least different method of technology or technological communication than Usenet? Are you fucking kidding me? When the Web, just one year later, obliterates Usenet on its founding planet alone? Oh yeah, and Net access is so insanely expensive that most can’t afford it! Most people/entities can’t afford to watch an important 400 second encrypted video because it’s so expensive. Seriously? Millions of years in the future, bytes are so hard to come by, that it costs more than a spaceship you’re flying in costs to access the Net and check Usenet news messages? OMFG. So, how stupid is Vinge then, really? Is he the most insanely stupid sci fi writer who has ever existed? To make such a bold prediction of future technology when short term facts wipe his book out in one year? He’s a FUCKING IDIOT and I have no idea how the hell this book won a Hugo! This book, while inventive and complex, doesn’t even deserve two stars for this fact alone! It’s fucking technologically obsolete, not only as I write this in 2016, but in 1993, and certainly millions of years from now. Can’t anyone see that? Holy shit!

So, final thoughts. Big book, not in length, but in ambition and thought. It’s an interesting story, at times well told, at times complete and utter bullshit. It’s inventive and complex. I felt like I was either on or needed LSD to survive it at times. I’ve never read anything like it. And while, at times, I largely enjoyed it, I was so put off by the Usenet news obsolete technology DISASTER Vinge wrote and by the total unbelievability of the book that I’ve got to mark this down from, at best, a four star book to perhaps a two star book. It deserves more in one way, but its mistakes and errors deserve one star, to be perfectly honest, so I’m compromising. Even though I normally wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone and certainly not to anyone not well versed in sci fi literature, if you are a sci fi vet and want a unique experience, I would probably try this book out. It’s that unusual. But on the whole, I just can’t recommend it because it has too many problems. Therefore, not recommended.

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My Emancipation From American Christianity | john pavlovitz

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 30, 2016

Source: My Emancipation From American Christianity | john pavlovitz

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A Review of Bill, The Galactic Hero

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 28, 2016

Bill, the Galactic Hero (Bill, #1)Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Starship Troopers/Catch-22 anti-military, anti-war satire is one of the most depressing, bleakest books I have ever read in my life. When I started reading it, I thought, how amusing. How over the top. How funny. Poor Bill. Poor hick. Drugged and forced to enlist as an imperial trooper. Forced to fight in a stupid war he knows nothing about, doing nothing, eating crap, doing useless crap, training for nothing, when in action accidentally saving his ship from obliteration, becoming a hero, getting a hollow medal, getting robbed, going AWOL accidentally, on the run, finding help, becoming an informer, everyone is, how fun, off to prison, on trial to be shot to death, off to prison camp, is there any point, is there any future, is there any hope, oh holy shit, there’s not, holy fucking shit, he’s a fucking monster, damn!!!

I know this book was published in 1965 when the Vietnam “conflict” was becoming an actual war, following on the heels of the failed Korean War and when men were being drafted, perhaps not too unlike in this book, as Harrison sees it. And perhaps it’s all too similar, per Harrison’s viewpoint. I won’t dispute that. And as Eager Beager, the Chigger spy says, we can’t be civilized if all we like to do is fight wars. True dat. But crap, to have Bill end up like he does is fucking cruel to him and the reader. It’s brutal. I guess that’s carrying things through to the logical viciously satirical conclusion though. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. At some point in the book, I found I enjoyed the humor a great deal less than I once did and therefore enjoyed the book a great deal less than I once did. It became more of an effort to read. It became a chore I had to get through. It became a tasteless task and I didn’t like that. Some people rave about this book. I guess I can see why some people might. These are the same people who like Catch-22, etc. I won’t deny the genius of Catch-22, but I can’t put this on the same level as that book for some reason. I just don’t think it matches up, but then it’s been so long since I’ve read that book, I really can’t remember. Perhaps I now have to reread it.

This book isn’t bad, per se. It’s certainly unique. There are funny moments, especially early on, like when all of the recruits have to stand and wait hours in the ship’s fuse room, ready to lift and replace 90 pound fuses in case of action, only to feel virtually nothing before being informed they’ve been in action and have destroyed the enemy with atomic torpedoes and they’re getting medals. They get medals for everything. It’s sad that Bill ultimately realizes that suicide is really the only way out. Sad because it seems to be the solution realized by so many of our current military servicemen and women, as well as our vets. It’s truly tragic. I wonder how much foresight Harrison truly had. He’s so over the top in skewering the military and makes the leaders out to be such blithering idiots, but how far from the truth is he? And the grunts just follow the orders upon pain of death. Yeah, it’s funny, but like I said, at some point, the humor wears thin and then it just becomes painful. During Bill’s trial, when the court just wants him shot regardless of evidence. When he’s sent to the prison camp, the second one, where no one escapes and everyone dies. And he does what he has to do. It’s fucking gruesome and damned depressing. I’m sorry, but that’s not funny. So, as much as I’ve enjoyed some of Harrison’s books and as interesting and unique and at times, funny, as I think this book is, I don’t think I can’t recommend it. Sorry to all the fans out there. Not recommended.

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A Review of The Excalibur Alternative

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 25, 2016

The Excalibur Alternative (Earth Legions, #3)The Excalibur Alternative by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly, I initially had a hard time getting into this book. It was a struggle. But it was Weber and he’s usually quite good, so I kept slogging on and am I ever glad I did. By the time I was halfway through, I knew it was pretty good. By the time I was 75% of the way through, I was convinced it was damn brilliant. By the time I finished late last night, I was convinced I had just finished one of the best military sci fi novels I had ever read and I’m deeply disappointed there is apparently no sequel. I actually feel honored to have read such a masterpiece! This was a true work of art. Weber can tell a story like no other and while he can get bogged down in infodumps and can drive readers nutty with irritating habits, such as using stupid names and titles and reusing the same words over and over again (people “nod” and “shrug” and “bare their teeth” and “pinch the bridge of their nose” in most of his novels), it’s less frequent in this book than in most of his other books, for which I was grateful.

The synopsis of this book lies in a small fleet of 14th Century English knights and their army on their way to fight in France, fighting for their lives in a bad storm and losing the battle. With half the fleet having been lost and the remaining ships about to go down, an alien spacecraft from the Galactic Federation rescues Sir George Wincaster and his army of knights and longbowmen from certain death at sea and forces the Englishmen to act as slave/mercenaries to fight intergalactic battles against other “primitive” species throughout the universe on various planets where advanced weapons are banned. Sir George is a master tactician and is told by his “Commander” that he and his people will die if they lose a battle, so they have an incentive to win – every time – and they do. Over and over again. And they and their families go into “stasis” sleep during flights between planets, thus living hundreds of years while aging merely several years at a time, all the while hating their “demon-jester” Commander who kills their fellows as “object lessons” and has other alien species as guards and a godlike colleague named “Computer” who can monitor the humans’ conversations and converse with them virtually anywhere, but ensures that they must watch what they say at all times.

Apparently, there are 22 “civilized” races or I guess civilizations in the Federation overseeing hundreds of barbaric protectorics or other types of planets, all of which are subject to complete annihilation at the hands of the Federation with no qualms whatsoever, as the inhabitants of these planets, as barbaric uncivilized nonentities, are fortunate to even be allowed to live at the pleasure of the Federation. Earth, however presents a problem because it has and can develop technologically faster than most other civilizations and represents a long term potential threat.

Sir George and his people desperately want their freedom, desperately want to kill their ruthless and thoughtless and brutal Commander and to their surprise, some 350 years into their adventures, one of the alien species acting as guards on the gigantic ship they are on present a tiny possible way to do this, but they have to act quickly and decisively and if they fail, they all die. Additionally, Earth will almost certainly die and they will have to join this “dragon-man” species in finding a new planet to colonize and create a new human colony for the race to begin over again. It’s a very tense moment in the book.

I won’t describe what happens next, but it’s climactic, to a certain degree. But there’s more. Jump ahead hundreds of years. To Earth, which has been in contact with the Federation for over 100 years and which has been using antiquated Federation technology to build its own Navy as quickly as possible, knowing they can never match the Federation’s military capability. Fast forward to a Federation ultimatum put to Earth’s government which they are willing to meet, only to be told, off the record, by the local Federation fleet admiral that nothing they do will be acceptable, that they are to be exterminated. The human admiral is devastated, knowing the human race is literally about to be wiped out forever and ever, within hours. Can anything possibly save humanity? Can anyone or anything stand against the Federation?

It’s a quick, climactic ending to the book after a long, drawn out build up to this point, and that’s a little disappointing, but the duel ending, while short and sweet, does not at all disappoint and it’s pretty damn awesome. Could the Federation actually be in trouble and not even know it? Pretty awesome if that’s true. A lot of stuff is explained at the end of the book, classic Weber infodump which I actually didn’t mind for once, but what it amounted to was hope for the future and a personal hope and desire for a damn sequel, which I’m not getting. So that blows. But suffice it to say that the ending, again, while rushed, was eminently satisfying and partially mind blowing. No, completely mind blowing. I loved it! This isn’t Weber’s best book at all, but quite good, very good. But as a stand alone, especially, it’s quite excellent and very enjoyable and, for me, it’s a strong five star book and well worth the read. Definitely recommended!

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A Review of I Am Malala

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 24, 2016

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished I Am Malala a few weeks ago and have put off writing a review for it for quite awhile because I was so overwhelmed by it. It had so much information, was so well written, was so emotional. Malala herself was so impressive, had so much incredible courage, as did her father, both of whom are lucky to be alive, is such a wonderful ambassador of Islam, is such an incredible ambassador of women’s/girl’s rights’ to education the world over, particularly in Pakistan. And she wrote this book at age 15, right before she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s frankly a most stunningly impressive person, a person destined for a lifetime of greatness, someone who has already accomplished more in her short years than most people do in their entire lives. This book was an amazing read. It was all encompassing. It was stunning. It was revealing. It was damning and indicting. It was amazing. And I’m again stunned that both she and her father remain alive. Her whole family is very lucky. I wanted to write a comprehensive plot synopsis and review, but I found one on Goodreads that does as good a job as any I myself could write, so I’m going to post it here myself, giving full credit to the author, one “Jean,” written December 30, 2015, and say it’s a darn good synopsis and the only disagreement I have with the author is she only gives the book four stars. For me, it’s easily a five star book. Easily. I would give it six stars if I could. Hell, ten. Twenty. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read and I think one of the most important contemporary biographies one could hope to read. This is a book I’ve already purchased and given to others and my wife is giving a copy to her mother this week. Hopefully, she too will pass it on to another when she is done with it. Malala is a most impressive person, one of the most impressive people I’ve ever encountered. We saw her interviewed on a show a couple of years ago and that’s how we first came across her. We were impressed with her then and only now finally read her book. It’s a shame we waited so long. I hope she continues to make a global impact on young womens’ education rights and anything else she can influence. I wish her continued luck and success. And I hope to read another book by her in the future. It can only be excellent if it continues in this tradition she has established here. I can’t recommend this book more strongly. Most highly recommended. Five stars easily.

 

 

 

Dec 30, 2015 Jean rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jean by: Angela M
Shelves: non-fiction, auto-and-biography, religion-and-beliefs

A few days prior to her 18th birthday, Malala Yousafzai has returned to Oslo, to attend the Oslo Education Summit, insisting that all children worldwide have a right to education. Her defiant slogan claims, “Books not Bullets!”

Malala claims, “I measure the world in hope, not doubt” and “Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism”. Last year in Oslo, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with another child rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi. They were honoured “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. At 17, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive this award; Malala Yousafzai is indeed a determined and remarkable person. In this book, I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, she tells her incredible story.

The book is an absorbing read, an amalgam of Malala’s own memoir, plus a history of the troubled country of Pakistan. Most readers will have lived through some – if not all – of the times described, unlike the author, startlingly only 15 herself when she wrote it. To many of us this is not “history” but merely remembrance of current events happening elsewhere in the world during our lifetimes. Could she have a proper grasp of such complex issues of current affairs?

Malala is fluent in Pashto, English, and Urdu. She is articulate, brave, compassionate, informed, driven – and very focused. Growing up at the heart of an area targeted by the Taliban, she had a unique experience living under a developing regime of terror. When Osama Bin Laden was eventually discovered in hiding, it was, to everyone’s shock, just a few miles away from where Malala herself lived. Along with the guidance and influence Malala’s activist father has had on her, perhaps she was destined to become the person she is.

The book starts with a prologue, briefly describing the day when she was shot, from Malala’s point of view. The name “Malala” means “grief-stricken”. Malala was named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan. It was an unusual name, which many thought to be unlucky or inappropriate.

Reading her account, it is clear that her father knew from the start that there would be something different about this child. Malala was allowed to stay up at night and listen to all his political conversations with his friends, long after her two brothers had been sent to bed. She was encouraged to read and think; to have a mind of her own.

The Yousafzai family were part of a large Pashtun tribe in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Her family consisted of her father Ziauddin and her mother and two younger brothers. They were very poor, but part of a strong community in Mingora. There were comparatively few modern amenities such as running water and electricity; waste disposal and disease were a big problem, but the valley itself was lush and beautiful, and Malala thought her home was wonderful.

This first part of Malala’s story is entitled “Before the Taliban”. Malala describes her grandparents and parents’ history, how events had shaped each generation in her family. There was her father, an outspoken poet and education activist, who overcame his chronic shyness to learn public speaking to impress his own father. There was her more traditional, uneducated mother, who too began school at the age of six – but stopped before the term was over. Malala includes many family anecdotes, explaining the varying cultural mores as she does so, and interspersing the account with the troubled political history.

The section has 8 chapters, and is over a third of the book. It takes the reader carefully though all the difficulties Pakistan has faced since its creation on 14th August 1947. Malala relates the views of her people, who regretted the loss of Swat’s identity when it joined Pakistan. Additionally, the creation of a “home for Muslims” within Pakistan’s boundaries was established too hastily, inevitably resulting in other faiths such as Hindus fleeing across the border to India. Economic chaos ensued, and peace has never yet come about.

Since then, Pakistan has suffered under various regimes. There have been three Indo-Pakistan wars, several military coups, and numerous unsuccessful attempts at a military coup. The regime has lurched between military rule and democracy, between dictatorships and brief periods when a Prime Minister such as Benazir Bhutto was in power. She served two terms, but was eventually killed, clearly assassinated, although Malala carefully chronicles the muddled events. Pakistan has had varying degrees of both political and police corruption and is in constant turmoil.

It is remarkable that any normal life can survive such conditions, but the life Malala describes is a happy one. Her father’s greatest love apart from his family was the Khushal Public School which he established. The values of education ring clear and true throughout, having been instilled in Malala from a very early age. She also begins to develop her own opinions, drawing from her experience.

One shocking episode helped to crystallise her views. Malala came across some scavenger children, who lived inside a huge mountain of rubbish. They had matted filthy hair, were dirty, diseased and covered with sores and lice. Picking out cans, bottle tops, glass and paper from the rotting pile of rubbish, they would sell them to a garbage shop for a few rupees, barely enough to live on. Malala begged her father to take a couple of these starving children into his school without pay, and inwardly vowed that she would work as hard as she could towards a time when every one of those children would have an education by right. In the meantime she wrote a letter to God, and sent it down the Swat river.

Towards the end of this first section, it is apparent that the Taliban’s influence had begun to be felt in the Swat valley. Across the border in Afghanistan, the Taliban had enforced a very strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. In horror folk learned of the massacres, the brutality towards women, the denial of food to ordinary people, the burning of homes, crops and land.

Malala explains that the majority of the Taliban were made up of Afghan Pashtun tribesmen, simple ignorant people who had always been looked down on by many educated people, including those poor themselves, such as Malala’s family. Recruits were resentful of any who had advantages, such as good jobs, and easily influenced by a fundamentalist idea of Islam. Seeing an opportunity to seize power, with weapons in their hands, they took it. There were many variations of interpretation of Islam present in Pakistan, not to mention other religions, but Malala’s people could see others fleeing for their very lives as the regime continued. They were equally suspicious of the US, thinking that they inflamed the situation, causing innocent casualties.

The local “Mufti”, a religious leader, was making decisions for the whole community. He was very critical of Malala’s father’s school; the girls should not be seen, they must be segregated. They should not learn certain inappropriate subjects. He made increasingly outrageous statements, such as that Ziauddin was running a “harem” in his school. Purdah was insisted upon for younger girls, and more strictly. The Mufti was determined to enforce his own brand of Islam; individual interpretation was quashed.

The section ends in 2005, when a massive earthquake in Pakistan killed over 70,000 people. Fundamentalists seized on this as a sort of punishment, a seal of approval on all their edicts.

The second part is entitled, “The Valley of Death. Malala is now 10 years old, and she describes the arrival of the Taliban in her village. A self-proclaimed Taliban leader named Maulan Fazlullah had risen to power, through a popular local radio station in Swat, appealing mostly to the ignorant and uneducated. In his radio broadcasts he offered instruction on how to obey the Quran. He soon had many followers – including Malala’s own mother. His demands became more strident and fanatical, calling for an end to televisions, DVDs, and other modern technology. The public humiliations began of anyone who didn’t obey his interpretation of the law, including women who did any work outside the home.

The 7 chapters in this section are primarily about the suppression of the people of Swat, and the growth of Taliban influences. Some of the episodes referred to – the beatings, the beheadings – are harrowing, despite this being seen through the eyes of a young girl. Malala’s education continues, but the reader is wondering for how long this can continue. Many girls have been taken away from the school and sometimes Malala is the only girl in her class. Very competitive, she has two close friends, equally clever.

As time passes it becomes increasingly difficult for Malala to study. Military tanks are in evidence everywhere. On one occasion, travelling in a relative’s car, the driver panicked, asking her to hide a CD of music in her clothes. Malala often began to feel afraid when on the streets, imagining that every man she met was a member of the Taliban. She and her friends stopped wearing their school uniforms and hid their books as they travelled to and from school. The beatings and beheadings continued. A nearby school was bombed during a prayer service in honour of a fallen police officer.

When Malala is 11, she is approached by the BBC who feel that a child’s viewpoint would be very significant. She is asked to write an anonymous blog about her life, and chooses the pseudonym “Gul Makai”. People she knows, including some of the girls at school discover it but she wisely keeps it secret. The Taliban’s powers are increasing. They have instructed families to send them the names of marriageable women, so that marriages can be arranged for them. They have announced a date in 2009, by which all girls’ schools must be closed, yet Malala keeps hoping that something will prevent this. She becomes bolder and more confident, being taken in 2008 by her father to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. She has written a clear and passionate speech, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

Inevitably though, the final day of school arrives. Malala cannot believe it; her books are her proudest possessions. She is followed around by a camera crew from the New York Times, making a documentary. Her life seems empty without school, and increasingly the family are living in fear of their very lives. Malala compares their existence to a family of which she has just read, in “Anne Frank’s Diary”. Deciding they will have to leave their home, Malala’s family, like many others, flee to relatives. Others flee to friends, even though this means that in some homes the males have to leave. The Pashtun tradition of hospitality conflicts with the belief that an unmarried female should not reside in the same home as a male who is not her relative, but they respect both principles. Malala goes to school again with a cousin. She is now 12 years old, although everybody is living in too much turmoil to mark her birthday in the way they always had.

The third part is entitled, “Three Bullets, Three Girls”. We know what this section is going to be about, but now we also feel we know the girl herself; her history, and how her individual experience slots into the mess and bloodshed that is Pakistan’s inheritance.

It is three months later, and Malala’s family return home to find much of their village destroyed during the battles. The Taliban has gone, the Pakistani Prime Minister promises, but many people don’t believe it. Some return and eventually school resumes, but many stay away. During these 5 chapters, Malala’s beliefs become more fully formed. She wonders what it would be like to leave school at 13 to be married, just as one of her classmates has.

The climate of opinion changes. There are still tanks on every street corner, machine guns posted on rooftops, checkpoints all along a route, but now people blame the US. Why were they still there, 3 years later? There was even outrage at the American raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The details were unclear. Why had the US conducted the raid on their own, without telling the Pakistanis or seeking help from them? Conspiracy theories abound. Had the Americans perhaps even actually killed bin Laden years earlier?

Clearly the Taliban are still present, carrying out atrocities very close to their home. On Malala’s 14th birthday, when she is officially considered to be an adult, the family learn that one of Ziauddin’s outspoken friends has been attacked. Malala agrees to follow her mother’s advice, and even though the school is so close, she takes a rickshaw to school, and the bus home.

The section ends with the shooting which made world headlines. On 9th October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala through the head, neck, and shoulder as she rode home from school on the bus after taking an exam. Although Malala can remember very little about it, being preoccupied with her own thoughts, the masked gunman apparently shouted, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all”. Her identity became obvious, at which point he shot at her. Two of her friends, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were also wounded, but survived.

Part four is entitled, “Between Life and Death”. It contains just 2 chapters, about a time of which Malala can remember very little. Immediately following the attack, she was rushed to Swat Central Hospital. There she remained unconscious, in a critical condition. The political machinations behind the scenes continued. The chapters give clinical details, and credit one doctor, “Dr Fiona”, for preventing Malala’s death when staff neglected to follow specialist procedures necessary for the brain and body to recover. She insisted that Malala be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK for intensive rehabilitation. Her parents were not able to travel to see their daughter, due to protocol. What comes across to the reader is the ignorance apparent at every level, but also a sense that it is possible for individuals to overcome this, even when the odds seem stacked against them.

The final, fifth part “A Second Life” also consists of 2 chapters. Malala now tells of her recovery more from her personal experience. By 17th October, she had come out of her coma and begun to repond. She was terribly worried about the cost of her treatment, thinking that her father would have to sell his land. She still had not been able to see her father. Eventually everything progressed to the point where the Pakistani government paid for her treatment, she was able to be visited by her family, and best of all, she had no lasting brain damage, only nerve damage.

On 3 January 2013, Malala was discharged from the hospital to continue rehabilitation at her family’s temporary home. On 2nd February she had a five-hour operation to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing. Since March 2013, she has been a pupil at the all-girls’ Edgbaston High School in Birmingham. Although happy there, she evidently misses her old life, and would love to go home some day. She realises that her new classmates regard her as a children’s rights activisit, but sometimes longs to just be the normal simple Pashtun girl of old, in Minora …

The co-author of this book is Christina Lamb, a British journalist who is currently Foreign Correspondent for the Sunday Times. Her credentials for helping to write this particular book are impeccable. She first interviewed Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in London in 1987. She then continued her work as foreign correspondent in Pakistan, journeying through Kashmir and along the frontiers of neighbouring Afghanistan. She has interviewed the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Always working in war-torn countries, she was even once deported back home. Commenting on the worsening devastation and destruction by the president Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front since she started reporting from Zimbabwe in 1994, she maintains that this has been her most harrowing experience.

In 2006, Lamb was reporting from Southern Afghanistan, meeting with town elders. The team were then supposedly directed to a safe route out, but soon after they had left, the British were attacked by Taliban fighters. Anyone who experienced running through irrigation trenches, with Kalashnikov rifles and mortar firing from all directions, for two and a half hours, is well qualified to co-author this book. Immediately after this book she wrote another about her many years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She is critical of many missed opportunities by the US, to help resolve the long war, blaming the poor relationship US has with Pakistan for many of the continuing problems of terrorism.

Interestingly it is possible to see the seeds of that book within this one. Often the voice of Malala seems critical of the US, and their inability to be effective, even a mistrust of American troops. But whose is the underlying voice? It is impossible to really know.

Other parts of the book suggest the hand of an experienced foreign affairs correspondent. The indepth knowledge of both contemporary issues and the country’s history and political situation, as well as of the many different tribes, languages and customs within each region, is so very extensive. The issues are complex and quite difficult for the general reader, only aware of the basic schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims, to assimilate.

The roots of the split are ancient, originating in a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims such as Malala’s family follow the orthodox and traditionalist branch of Islam, which takes as its precedent the actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Shia Muslims are followers of Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, whom they claim as Muhammad’s successor, believing that only God has the prerogative to appoint the successor to his prophet. But there are massively complex distinctions between all the different factions within both Sunni and Shia. Could the complicated issues explored all be Malala’s work?

However Malala is an erudite speaker and writer. I have no doubt that the views, anecdotes, and probably the structure of the book are hers, and that the passion with which she explains her views is hers alone. It is well balanced, her own experience set within the ongoing political situation. But perhaps there is slightly too much input from history to make the memoir flow easily. Malala is a courageous, intelligent, indefatigable person. I would have loved to say this book merits 5 stars. It very nearly does, and I have a sneaky feeling that if she is ever inspired by events in her life to write a book again, it probably will.

The subtitle of the book is, “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.” Malala insists that surviving being shot in the head is not what she wants people to focus on, but the issues of children’s rights, women’s education and world peace. Surely that is what we should take away from reading this book.

“Our people have become misguided. They think their greatest concern is defending Islam and are being led astray by those like the Taliban who deliberately misinterpret the Quran … We have so many people in our country who are illiterate. And many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani.”

 

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