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Archive for March, 2014

A Review of Alternities

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 30, 2014

AlternitiesAlternities by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Boy, there wasn’t a single character in this book that was likeable. Not one. The protagonist, Rayne Wallace, a “Runner” who goes between alternate versions of America, is an absolute asshole to his wife, who in turn is a total bitch to him. Wonderful marriage. In one of the worlds he visits, he happens upon an alternate old crush named Shan. We’re supposed to applaud their falling in love as he can start a new life, possibly, and finally be happy. Never mind that he’s cheating on his wife and leaving his little girl in the dust. Shan seems somewhat likeable — until she turns him in to the government because of a strange gift he brings her from his world, thus ensuring his capture and interrogation, leading to the climax of the book.

There’s also President Robinson, who’s a psychotic intent upon starting a nuclear war with Russia, which in this world (the “Home” alternity) is a big bully to pussycat America and which has its nuclear subs appearing in our ports. Robinson’s out to change that and nukes one of their subs, which is only a precursor to what he intends to do. And he intends to use these alternate Earths as escape vehicles for he and his government cronies so that they can continue to dominate worlds while their America is obliterated by Russian nukes. Real nutjob.

Then there’s Senator Endicott, who discovered the “gates” to these alternative Americas, although we’re never told how. He has women from these alternaties brought over for him to serve as sex slaves whom he ultimately murders. And he murders others in his quest for power. Real nice character. He tortures these women first, by the way.

Tackett and O’Neil are also characters and perhaps we can identify with them a bit because they’re opposed to Robinson’s plans, but O’Neil’s a whiner and Tackett is in the dark, which is surprising because he heads the intelligence unit that utilizes these gates to steal things from alternate Americas and bring them back to improve the “Home” America’s chances of evening the playing field with the Russians.

Then there’s the mysterious maze that lies between the alternate gates with its own demon that destroys people it encounters. That’s never really satisfactorily explained, although the author tries to late in the book, to my dissatisfaction.

I wanted to give this book four stars because I like alternate world stories — Philip K Dick has it down. But the characters in this book have no redeeming qualities and I hated just about everyone I encountered and everything they stood for in this book, and for that reason alone, I can’t recommend it.

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Depression

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 28, 2014

I think I’ve been in a deep depression since Toby’s death last month. And I think his death magnifies my father’s death last year. I should be feeling good, living in a nice, new house in a nice, quiet, safe neighborhood, but all I can think about is how Toby isn’t here and doesn’t get to see it and live in it and how Dad can’t experience it — he was a great handyman — and how he can’t help out around the house. It’s really disappointing and I’ve been struggling. My wife has commented on it. I don’t know how to snap out of it. Of course it’s not been helped by the poor, grey weather. That’s really been getting to me too. Years ago I was diagnosed with SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder — but I’ve never been treated for it. Basically it’s getting deeply depressed due to extended poor weather, most common during the winter. I finally caved in and bought one of those lights for it. You’re supposed to be exposed to it for about an hour each morning, but I haven’t found or made that kind of time for it, so I don’t know that it’s doing any good. I’m spending about 20 minutes a day in front of it. I need to make a better effort. Meanwhile, I’ve been listless and I don’t care about a lot of the things I normally care about. Gretchen misses Toby and my dad too, but she only got to experience being with Toby for two and a half years. He spent his entire six years with me. I watched him grow from a demon imp kitten who I wanted to kill to a loveable, dependable companion cat whose company I really enjoyed. I/we really miss him. He had become Gretchen’s cat, so to speak, over the past few years. When she came home from work, he would jump up and go to greet her, just like a dog. I’m also having to deal with my mother, who I think has unresolved issues regarding Dad’s death and who is lonely and doesn’t know how to deal with many things, such as financial things. I’m having to help her a lot, but she calls me a lot and comes over and sometimes it’s a little overwhelming. She just bought a condo up in Knoxville and will be moving back up there in a little over a month, so that’s going to change the dynamics, but it will also be weird and I’m going to worry about her living alone at her age up there without me able to come over to help her with short notice. Additionally, my job situation hasn’t changed and our cash is starting to run low due to all we’ve paid out to contractors for new home repair issues — electricians, plumbers, appliance repairmen, handymen, etc. I’ve also had car issues and have had to pay some big bills for that, and I need a new oil pan gasket which, the dealer says, costs $1,700 alone just for the stupid part, never mind the labor costs. I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’ve got a lot going on. Things are starting to ease up now, which is good, but all I can feel is blah. I’ve had moments of happiness — time spent with my wife, time spent reading or going to the gun range for some target practice — but generally I just feel bad. And I don’t know how to fix it.

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Tennessee ends Mercer’s NCAA run with romp

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 24, 2014

Mercer Bears vs. Tennessee Volunteers – NCAA Tournament Game – Recap – March 23, 2014 – ESPN.

UT put on a completely dominating performance to make it to the Sweet 16 for the first time in several years. Go Vols!

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The Lived In Look

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 21, 2014

Well, we’ve been living in our new house for exactly one month today and things are coming together. We’ve got just about all of the boxes unpacked, which is good, and most things have been put away. We still haven’t hung any pictures yet, though, but that’s the norm for me. It takes me awhile to hang pictures, mostly cause I hate putting holes in nice walls. So we have them stacked and lying about the house. I guess we’ll have to do it sometime.

We started out by meeting the neighbors across the street, who seem nice, and the neighbors on one side, who are nice, but we haven’t met anyone else yet. Gretchen has exchanged waves with the neighbor on the other side of us, but they haven’t come to greet us, so that’s that. I guess we’ll have to go introduce ourselves to them. Where I came from growing up, when someone moved into the neighborhood, you went and introduced yourself. I don’t like it when people don’t do that. In our last neighborhood, no one ever came by. I guess times have changed.

We’re really, really enjoying how quiet it is here and how peaceful it is. It’s also very private, particularly out back. That’s nice. We have a deck and a patio and when weather permits, we try to use both. The weather hasn’t been that great here though, although yesterday was nice. It’s also safe here, which has been important to us. People actually leave their garages open during the day! I would never do that! Everything’d get stolen from it in areas I’ve lived before. It’s a very nice change.

We’re almost done with contractors! I’ve got one here right now working on the screen door to the deck. Some more work needs to be done on the deck, and the floors squeak a bit too much, so we’d like to have that looked into, but otherwise most things have been taken care of. And let me tell you — it’s cost a pretty penny! Contractors aren’t cheap.

I’m going to post some requested photos of the place as it currently is (even messed up a little bit). It’s the “lived in” look. I hope you enjoy.

Our entryway

Our entryway

The entry leading into the living room

The entry leading into the living room

Living room. We're going to get more chairs.

Living room. We’re going to get more chairs.

Looking into the dining room

Looking into the dining room

Kitchen

Kitchen

Master bedroom

Master bedroom

Guest bedroom

Guest bedroom

Hall bathroom

Hall bathroom

The library

The library

Another view of the library

Another view of the library

Yet another view of the library

Yet another view of the library

The den

The den

Another view of the den

Another view of the den

Another den shot

Another den shot

Office

Office

Another view of the office

Another view of the office

Garage

Garage

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A Review of The Man Who Never Missed

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2014

The Man Who Never Missed (Matador, #1)The Man Who Never Missed by Steve Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a hard time rating this book because it started strongly, but after a few introductory chapters, it falls into a giant flashback that takes up about 80% of the book, much of it anticipated by the first chapters. Nonetheless, the book moves along and is engaging and then the end comes — and it’s not what I expected. Or rather, it was what I expected, but I was shocked Perry used this ending. If I tell what happens, I’ll give away the story, so I won’t do that, but I was somewhat disappointed with the ending, and that brings my ranking down from five to four stars.

Emile Khadaji is a military deserter who split during a gigantic massacre of unarmed rebels. The Confed is the government responsible for this, and he ultimately decides the Confed must go down. In the meantime, he finds a mentor who schools him in quasi-Eastern fighting monk methods and mentalities, goes to another planet to become a bartender — while meeting a hot exotic chick and having hot, graphic sex — and then goes to another planet to educate himself. This takes place over a period of years, so there’s some potential for boredom in this phase of the book. Finally, he comes to the place where he decides he must make a move against the Confed, but needs funds to start his actions, so he becomes a smuggler in order to become rich (if only it were so easy) so he can fund his own personal war. He winds up on a planet with a special non-lethal weapon which he masters over the course of a year of training, and starts taking out soldiers. By the thousands. All the while, the Confed thinks they have a guerrilla army they’re fighting — but it’s just Khadaji.

As I said, I’m not going to give away the ending, but I did think there were alternatives available to Khadaji and I didn’t understand why he did what he ended up doing. It simply seemed senseless to me. This book is apparently the first one in a trilogy, so I would be interested in reading the others, but cautiously so. Mildly recommended.

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New Issue of RRR Out!

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2014

Spring is finally here and that means the Spring 2014 issue of Ray’s Road Review has been published. Check it out at raysroadreview.com. Read and submit. We especially need nonfiction.

Among the poets published, we have Doug Draime, D.A. Spruzen, Erren Kelly, Thomas Piekarski, David Cravens, and the always great Lyn Lifshin. Feel free to leave comments on their pages.

___________________________________

EDIT: I have no idea why the links for RRR aren’t working on my site, but I apologize. Just google Ray’s Road Review and it should find it. I have the site up on another browser right now! Weird.

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Crosby scores 2 as Penguins bounce back

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 19, 2014

Dallas Stars vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – Recap – March 18, 2014 – ESPN.

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A Review of The Simulacra

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 16, 2014

The SimulacraThe Simulacra by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Simulacra is the funniest Philip K Dick book I’ve read to date. There were some hilarious moments, very funny scenes. That said, it was often hard to follow and somewhat convoluted. I think one major thing that contributes to this is there are so many characters to keep track of. I think I read somewhere that there are over 60 characters in this book, and I believe it. There really is no primary protagonist. The story is told from the point of view of quite a few characters. Among them are First Lady Nicole Thibodeaux, who has somehow remained ageless for her entire 73 years in office (why no one questions this is beyond me), Richard Kongrosian, a psychokinetic pianist on the edge of complete psychotic collapse, who worries about his his “phobic body odor,” as well as his turning invisible. We don’t really know whether he has an odor or not or whether he turns invisible or not. It’s never made clear. Dr. Egon Superb is the USEA’s (United States of Europe and America — basically the US with Germany now dominating) last practicing psychotherapist, as the practice has been outlawed due to the power of the drug cartels which are pushing their psychotropic medications as the real answer to mental illness. Vince and Chic Strikerock are brothers who are employed at rival simulacrum companies who become caught up in a love triangle with Vince’s ex-wife and in corporate espionage as well. Nat Flieger is a record company exec who travels to atom bomb-ravaged northern California, which has a group of people called “chuppers” who are basically Neanderthals. He wants to record Kongrosian, only to find out he’s at a psychiatric hospital in San Francisco. Bertold Goltz is a neo-Nazi street agitator who is also a time traveler, using the von Lessinger principle in order to accomplish this. There are two fellows who play classical music with jugs, who get to perform at the White House. There’s more, much more.

One of the zany plots is for Nicole, whose presidential husbands of four years are all simulacrums, to try and bring back Nazi Hermann Goering from the past, yet we’re never told why. We’re simply told he has to agree to their plans (world domination?), but the answer is never really given and this piece of the plot is kind of just dropped when Goering is shot to death by the National Police (NP). There are Loony Luke car dealerships which disappear and move around at will, selling jalopies that make one way trips to Mars. There are aliens and talking advertisements the size of bugs that everyone hates. There’s a device where people make confessions, although the confessing people are treated as though they’re being given lie detectors, making for uncomfortable scenes. There are also characters who kind of disappear from the plot, such as Edgar Stone, a conapt resident, and Israeli prime minister Emil Stark. Why are they dropped? What happens to them?

Nicole is treated as the mother of the country, as well as the conceptual mistress, because she’s totally hot and everyone loves her to death. Her secret? She’s an actress. The original one’s been dead for some time. She’s really a pretty well developed character, unlike a number of the others, and it’s a pleasure to watch her and Kongrosian in action.

Like many Dick novels, this one ends abruptly, but unlike many of his novels, I thought it wasn’t tied up very nicely. I thought it was too open ended and could have been written for a sequel. I would give the ending 3.5 stars; actually the entire book 3.5 stars. This definitely isn’t his best work, which is surprising since it was published in 1964, his best writing phase in my opinion. If you’re new to Dick, I wouldn’t start with this book, but for Dick fans, it’s a must read. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of KOP

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 11, 2014

KOP (Juno Mozambe Mystery #1)KOP by Warren Hammond

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seldom have I enjoyed a novel so much as I enjoyed this one. It’s a gritty, noir mystery wrapped up in a sci fi package and it doesn’t disappoint. I feel drained from reading it and I don’t think I can write anything worthy enough to do it justice, so I’ll just highlight some things for those reading this review.

Juno Mozambe is a bad man. Yet he’s a cop. A dirty cop. Very dirty. Former enforcer for the Chief of Koba’s Office of Police (aka KOP) on Lagarto, a world that once exported a type of wine that got taken off world and was produced elsewhere for cheaper, thus leaving Lagarto a giant slum, for all intents and purposes. When we meet Juno, he’s working as a bag man for the boss, taking bribes, hiding a shaking hand and thinking of retirement. He’s been on the force for 25 years. Things seem grim.

Things get much more grim when a brutal murder occurs with potential political ramifications, in which he’s pulled in to act as investigating officer, with a new partner — a younger, attractive, rich woman who plays by the book. What follows is a brilliant novel of hard boiled twists and turns, mysterious characters and motives, a lot of violence, some of which can be hard to stomach, and it’s a page turner til you get to the end. The characters are well written, and feel real and believable the entire way through the book. There’s not a lot of technology here, though, so I guess the setting on a distant world makes this sci fi — the plot could take place anywhere, any time — but when you finally realize toward the end of the book what’s actually going on, you could care less — you’ve been sucked in.

Everyone in this book is dirty. Juno is a kind of anti-hero, but one you can identify with. His new partner starts playing by his rules soon enough, and you sympathize with her as she struggles with what she wants to do versus what she must do to solve this case. Juno reverts to his enforcer role, beating confessions out of thugs and criminals, but does this make him just as bad? That’s never really answered, even though the book throws that out there.

Juno, and the boss he’s so devoted to, his former partner Paul Chang, took over KOP 25 years ago by making a deal with the largest crime syndicate, effectively splitting up the city between them. The new mayor wants to clean house, but he’s as big a crook as everyone else.

I kept waiting for the pacing to slow down, as many books have slow middle sections, but this one never did. It kept pushing the envelope. Furious pace. I strongly, strongly recommend this book to all sci fi and mystery fans. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Sidney Crosby lifts Penguins past Caps

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 11, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals – Recap – March 10, 2014 – ESPN.

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