A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for May, 2014

A Short Review of Guards! Guards!

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 31, 2014

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Discworld novel is simply brilliant. Full of typical Pratchett puns, jokes, and satire, it’s about Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch, led by Captain Vimes and his crew of Nobbs, Colon, and 6″6″ (adopted) dwarf, Carrot. A shadowy organization successfully attempts to magically call up a dragon to take over the kingdom and the Watch is forced to battle it. But how do you battle a monster dragon? Well, with the help of Sybil Ramkin, a large woman from an old, rich family who raises and breeds small swamp dragons, Vimes learns about what makes dragons go. Sybil is my favorite character in the book. She’s larger than life and captures Vimes’ heart beautifully by the end of the book. She even gives Vimes a swamp dragon of his own, Errol, who is instrumental in defeating the big, bad dragon. It’s also hilarious to see Carrot arresting everyone possible, unlike the rest of the Watch, including the dragon. I also enjoyed watching Patrician Vetinari, the sometimes tyrannical, sometimes benevolent ruler of Ankh-Morpork as he’s deposed by the dragon and rests in a dungeon, biding his time until he uses his key to release himself from his prison and regain his throne. The Librarian, an orangutang, was also a great addition to the book. I was disappointed, however, in not getting to experience the wizards from Unseen University and not much of my favorite Discworld character, Death. I just love Death, especially after reading Reaper Man. Pratchett’s really at his best in this book, brilliantly telling a fascinating tale while also giving us a history/civics lesson and a lesson on human nature. I strongly recommend this book!

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Our Little Church | SouthernHon

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 28, 2014

Our Little Church | SouthernHon.

My wife wrote this about our little church and the dilemma we face….


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Posted by Scott Holstad on May 26, 2014

We saw two baby deer on the side of the road near our house last night. Gretchen got some good pictures of one of them. Actually, a hunter friend of mine said they’re only babies if they have spots. These are yearling. Whatever. They were very cute, very pretty and they weren’t scared at all. We were glad to see them.



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A Review of Our Friends From Frolix 8

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 16, 2014

Our Friends from Frolix 8Our Friends from Frolix 8 by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our Friends From Frolix 8 is a pretty good story, although far from perfect. Surprisingly, it’s a fairly linear sci fi story from Dick, without his alternate worlds and universes he wrote so much about. And this was published in 1970, while Dick was pretty much at his height of alternate worlds.

The plot is about Nick Appleton, a tire “regroover,” who lives in a futuristic world (about 200 years from now) governed by large headed New Men (with large IQs) and Unusuals, who possess telepathic abilities. The rest of the seven billion humans are Old Men or Under Men, who are fighting a silent revolution to one day overthrow the system.

Nick takes his son for a mandatory civil service exam, which he thinks his son will pass and which will lead him to a better life than Nick has. However, the exam is rigged and his son fails, disillusioning Nick.

Nick finds himself at work conversing with his boss about things. Big things are happening. A revolutionary leader who has been jailed, but who has written numerous illegal pamphlets and booklets is about to be executed. The primary revolutionary, Thors Provino, took off in a space ship 10 years ago, but is apparently headed back to Earth with help, presumably from an alien or aliens. Like I said, big stuff. Nick’s boss talks him into sharing an illegal beer with him and discusses the illegal literature, before taking Nick to a dealer of this literature. There Nick meets a 16 year old girl named Charley, the dealer’s girlfriend, and he is smitten. I know, I know — Dick and his adolescent girls. He had problems, what can I say?

The dealer goes crazy and attacks Charley, and Nick and Charley take off for safety. And he takes her home to his wife and son. Crazy, right? Well, his wife is generally okay with things until she finds an illegal pamphlet in Charley’s coat and insists she leaves. To her consternation, Nick leaves with her. They take shelter at a big printing place, where the illegal pamphlets are printed. Meanwhile, Council Chairman Willis Gram, the world dictator who lies around in his pajamas all day, is panicking about the thought of Thors returning with an alien to take over. He orders the prison camps to be opened and everyone released as a good will gesture, but at the same time, orders an attack against the printing plant. There, Nick and Charley are captured. Gram falls for Charley (how does she have this hold over men?) and releases Nick, but Charley escapes Gram’s clutches and takes off. Gram realizes she’s probably going to go back to Nick, so he puts out a warrant for Nick which they find out about at the dealer’s apartment when the cops (pissers) show up. The dealer, Denny, is killed and Charley and Nick take off.

What’s happening with Thors? Well, he IS returning with an alien, from Frolix 8. He’s lived millions of years and is a 90 ton gelatinous slime blob. He encompasses the ship, protecting it from missiles the army is sending up against the space ship. He feeds on things and grows. They announce they’re landing in Times Square and Gram ships a huge laser up from Baltimore to incinerate Thors upon landing. They land eight hours early, but the laser is ready and they fire, only to find the alien devouring the beam and growing larger.

At some point, Charley and Nick find themselves in Central Park, where they make love and Nick recites a Yeats poem. Gotta get the statutory rape in there, don’tcha Phil? They take off in their squib, followed closely by two pissers and Charley crashes and dies violently. That seemed unnecessary, but I guess that’s the only way Dick knew to close things. The alien starts telepathically lobotomizing the New Men, rendering them useless and Nick confronts Gram, where things basically end. The last few pages are pretty interesting, but I won’t go into more detail here — I’ve already shared enough.

In this book, there are drug bars, where people can legally get high and in this book, too, everyone is a walking pharmacist. It’s bizarre to think that your average person would know so much about drugs. Dick also brings Biblical themes into play, as well as race, divorce, and futuristic gadgets, all themes and things he wrote so much about. This isn’t one of his better known works, and there are some textual inconsistencies (with dates especially) and the dialogue is often somewhat clunky, but it’s a fun story and it’s pretty action packed, so I suspect many Dick fans will like this book, as will many other readers. I can’t give it five stars because it’s not his best, but it’s a solid four star effort and as such, it’s recommended.

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Penguins Blew It!

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 14, 2014

So my Pittsburgh Penguins cemented their monumental meltdown last night by losing to the New York Rangers 2-1, thereby losing the series 4-3. A week ago, they were up 3-1 and poised to go on to the conference finals once again, but they just lost it and scored only three goals in their final three games. New York really outplayed them and out energized them the whole way and it’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing to see this happen — again. The Pens had a marvelous regular season and finished with a great record, like they have every year since at least 2008 when they went to the Stanley Cup, winning it in 2009. However, since then, they’ve blown it in the playoffs, losing to lower seeded teams each of the past four years. This was also the second time in four years they’ve blown a 3-1 series lead. That’s totally inexcusable. The last two years, a primary culprit for playoff losses was our once sterling goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. But he had two shutouts in this series and had a decent playoffs, I think. The person I’m most pissed at is captain Sidney Crosby, widely considered to be the best player in the world and who will likely win the MVP of the league award. He’s always superb in the regular season, but got shut out by Boston in last year’s playoffs and scored only one goal in 13 playoff games this year. That indicates to me that he’s not a money player, that he can’t be counted on to be a clutch player at crunch time and that’s bitterly disappointing. The other former MVP on the team, Evgeni Malkin, had a decent playoffs with, I think, five goals, but he really wasn’t overly effective either when he needed to be. They both let the team down. Everyone says the coach is going to be fired. Here’s what I think needs to be done. The team has shown it’s got plenty of All Stars and lots of talent, but underachieves in the  playoffs every year. So tear the damn team apart and start over! Fire the coach and bring in someone who can get these guys to play their best when it counts. Here’s the big one — trade Crosby! That’s right, I said it. Do the unthinkable and give away the face of the franchise. Trade him for a top line goalie who will win us games like Boston’s Tuka Rask or the Ranger’s goalie, Lundquist. Trade him to the LA Kings for Jonathan Quick, who was America’s Olympics top goalie and he may be the best in the league. I’m sure the Kings would love to have a player like Crosby — who wouldn’t? He scores 100 points every year. Trade him and get Quick, a scoring center, and a number one draft pick. Then trade Fleury for another top line scorer and a good defenseman, maybe one who has a temper and is big enough to beat people up. Our top penalty man was Tanner Glass this year and he only had 83 penalty minutes. That’s embarrassing. Back in the 1970s, people got like 300 penalty minutes. That’s when men were men. Also, trade James Neal. He’s a former 40 goals scorer, an All Star, but he’s been worthless in the playoffs and just gets stupid penalties that hurt the team. He’s overrated. Trade him even up for another high scoring forward who can score in the playoffs when it counts. I’d also think about unloading Kris Letang. I know the Pens signed him to a five year, $56 million contract last year when he was a finalist for the Norris trophy, but his game really slipped this year and I think he lost us some games. Besides, we have at least four defensemen who are better than him defensively, which is what we need. There were many times during the playoffs when our defense wasn’t good enough. Bring in more high quality defenders, please. But I think the top priority has to be a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie. Get him, get proven playoff scorers, and take us back to the Cup. Please, Pens, do something. You’re going nowhere fast.

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A Review of Hogfather

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 11, 2014

Hogfather (Discworld, #20)Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Call me stupid, but this was one of the more confusing books I’ve ever read — and I really like Pratchett. His humor is definitely on show in this book, which is good, but I never got what was happening in the book’s plot.

It goes like this: ethereal beings called the Auditors want to do away with the Hogfather, Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. Apparently they hate life and hate humans and they think this will do something to humanity. So they hire Assassins to take him out. But that doesn’t really happen. He disappears from the scene, so apparently he’s been kidnapped somehow, but by whom, we’re never told. Meanwhile, Teatime, the Assassin, hires a bunch of thugs and a student wizard to help him out. They find themselves in a castle (?) tower (?) trying to unlock numerous locks on a door. To get at what, I never found out. Meanwhile, they’ve taken over the Tooth Fairy’s collection of teeth because that somehow means something to the plot, but what that is I never found out.

So the Hogfather has disappeared. Well, Death steps in to act on his behalf on their version of Christmas eve and he dresses up in a red suit and fake beard and takes a sleigh driven by four hogs around to all the houses, delivering presents to good children. He even takes time out to stop in a department store and act as the Hogfather there for children who get up on his lap and ask for things. It’s actually a pretty humorous scene.

Additionally, the Death of the Rats and a raven play a role in this novel, mostly as intermediaries between Death and his granddaughter Susan, who’s a governess now and is trying to forget about her heritage. Yet she’s the one who saves the day. She dispatches monsters for the children she serves and ends up going with the rat and raven to Death’s place, for what, I’m not sure. But she locates the Tooth Fairy (What does the Tooth Fairy have to do with the Hogfather???) and engages in a climactic scene with the Assassin and his henchmen, dispatching them with ease.

Now, you can’t have a Discworld novel without funny wizards mucking things up and this is no different. And as they gather for a holiday feast, Teatime comes flying down from above and they think he’s a corpse, but he regains consciousness and leaves. It’s really weird. Where did he come from?

Susan ultimately saves the Hogfather from a pack of dogs, which are really the Auditors, who are chasing him while he’s in hog form. After she saves him, with Death’s help, he reverts to his usual form and goes off on his sleigh and everything is once again right with the world. OK then.

Death was my favorite character in the novel. I first encountered him in Reaper Man and I’ve loved him ever since. He so tries to understand humans and his insights are hilarious. However, Death wasn’t enough to save this book for me. I have no idea what happened in the book or how it happened and that frustrated the hell out of me. I’d normally recommend Terry Pratchett to anyone, but not this novel, not today.

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