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Archive for June, 2014

A Review of To Sail Beyond the Sunset

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 30, 2014

To Sail Beyond the SunsetTo Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

On March 7, 2014 I reviewed Robert A. Heinlein’s “I Will Fear No Evil” and gave it one star. It was a sex-obsessed orgy with little “science fiction” to offer. Realizing it was published in 1970 during the Sexual Revolution, I thought maybe it was a one off. I was wrong. I started “To Sail Beyond the Sunset” yesterday and the initial premise seemed good — a woman wakes up in bed with her cat and an unknown dead man, and she doesn’t know who she is or where she is. Sounds good, right? Wrong. The next umpteen chapters are flashbacks to nineteenth century Missouri where Maureen, the main character, learns about sex as a pre-pubescent from her father and proceeds to whore herself out to every possible boy and man available. And to make matters worse, the dialogue is simply unbelievable. Witness the exchange between 12 year old Maureen and her pervert father. She says, “…this is why your anatomy book doesn’t show the clitoris. Mrs. Grundy wouldn’t like it because she doesn’t have one.” Um, okay…. Then “Father, there is something here that doesn’t make sense. Why is ‘vagina’ a good word while ‘cunt’ is a bad word? Riddle me that.” Seriously, how many 12 year old girls talk about clits and cunts with their father??? And he’s egging her on to lose her virginity too! Which she finally does when she’s 14, and damn proud of it too. The book reads like a cross between the Penthouse version of Caligula and de Sade’s “Juliette,” but not as good. There’s adultery, swappings, orgies, incest, etc., all over the place. I’m no prude, but Heinlein was a serious perv and he wrote this book in his eighties! Finally, the thing that kills it for me is there’s little science fiction. Oh, there’s time travel and alternate universes, but those hardly matter to the plot of Maureen getting laid as often as possible. It’s a very disappointing book to read and since this is my sixth Heinlein book I’ve attempted, it’s also going to be my last. He was a seriously overrated, perverted sicko writer with little to offer. Definitely not recommended.

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A Review of The Vastalimi Gambit

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 26, 2014

The Vastalimi GambitThe Vastalimi Gambit by Steve Perry

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book started out promisingly, but devolved into a muddled mess with a very disappointing ending.

I generally like Steve Perry books and I had read the first book in this series, which I thought was okay (just okay), so I thought I would give this sequel a chance. And he let me down. Oh well.

The book is about two members of the Cutter’s Force Initiative, a team of mercenaries — Kay and Wink. Wink is a human doctor and a merc. Kay is an alien Vastalimi, all of whom are stronger and faster than humans. It’s almost impossible to beat them in combat. Kay has been serving with Cutter when she gets a message from her brother telling her of a plague that has broken out on her home planet of Vast and asking her to return, as she’s an excellent Healer. Kay goes and brings Wink with her. However, it’s dangerous. The Vastalimi don’t like humans and they don’t like Kay either. Indeed, she’s challenged to a battle to the death, which she wins. We meet her brother, a doctor, and her sister, a member of the police. On Vast, the police are all powerful. They are judge, jury, and executioner and can kill you on the spot if they deem it warranted.

Meanwhile, Cutter and his crew are fighting a minor merc war on a backwater planet. This part of the book just seems like filler to me. It really adds nothing. So back to Kay and Wink. Wink determines it’s poison that’s killing off the Vastilimi and he and Kay start asking questions. Then they get kidnapped. They’re not heard from for several days, so Cutter and the others leave their planet and go to Vast to search for them. However, they’ve escaped and are out interviewing potential suspects. And on and on. It gets really boring, the interviews. It seems like filler too. Perry must have had a minimum words requirement to fulfill because this book could have been edited down.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

The end is beyond anticlimactic. It’s deeply disappointing. The culprit behind the murderous plague is Kay’s sister. She thinks the police are going downhill, that they’re not getting the quality of the recruits they once got. So she concocts this plan to kill off various criminals, as well as innocents — including members of her own family — to throw people off the trail, just so the police would look good in solving the crime and so they could recruit better once again. Yeah. It’s utterly stupid. And to make it worse, Perry can’t write a book without gratuitous sex scenes, so Wink and Kay end up in the sack together, with Wink thinking about a threesome. And that’s it. The ending sucks!!! I can’t believe I read this. For part of the book, I was engaged. There were some exciting moments. But the slow parts drag it down and the ending kills it. Too bad. Not recommended.

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Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins named NHL MVP for 2nd time – ESPN

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2014

Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins named NHL MVP for 2nd time – ESPN.

Yay Sid! Yay Pens! Stanley Cup next year, baby!!!

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A Review of Soul Music

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2014

Soul Music (Discworld, #16)Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good book, but I don’t think it’s Pratchett’s best Discworld novel at all. Still, puns abound. In this one, Imp the Bard goes to Ankh-Morpork to see his fortune in music as a harp player. He meets some other musicians, a dwarf who plays a horn and a troll who bangs on rocks, and they form a band. However, Imp’s harp is destroyed and they look for a replacement in a magical shop and come out with a magical guitar, unbeknownst to them. And the guitar takes on a life of its own. They get their first gig and the crowd goes wild as Imp — now Buddy — goes out of control on the guitar and the band puts on an amazing performance. Word gets out and they’re soon joined by the Unseen University’s Librarian on keyboards. The place is packed, wizards are in the front row, a riot ensues with women throwing their undergarments on stage and wizards (and others) dancing on tables. An unsavory type approaches them and convinces them to let him become their manager, because he already sees them as a cash cow and will pay them a pittance of what they actually earn. He then sends them on a tour around to various countries and people in the cities go wild.

Meanwhile, while all of this is happening, like in Mort (a book I enjoyed very much), Death wants to take a vacation. And it’s up to his granddaughter, Mort’s daughter, Susan to save the day as Death’s replacement. But she does a lousy job. However, the scenes starring Death (my favorite Discworld character) are hilarious. He tries to join the foreign legion and they bury him in sand up to his neck, I guess to toughen him up, and when they check on him to see how much he’s suffering, he asks if he can stay there one more day. And when he goes to the bar, he gets hammered, falls down flat on his back and is rolled by the customers. That said, I had a hard time tying these events in with the rock band. Susan has a “thing” for Buddy and as he is meant to die, tries to intervene, but something else does first. Buddy’s still alive. And we come to find out it’s the music that does that. The music wants him alive. And then it gets really confusing toward the end when Buddy and the band face a life and death situation and Susan and Death both get involved and something happens to music, but I’m not sure what. Oh well.

There are some very funny moments in the book. If you’re up on your music trivia, you’ll enjoy the inside jokes. Like Buddy’s band, the Beatles played early on at The Cavern. One very popular song is “Pathway to Paradise!” And on it goes. One of the wizards — the Dean — goes all rock and roll rebel on the university, and punks out his hair and gets leather robes with “Born to Rune” stitched on them. It’s all pretty funny. Still, while I enjoyed the book, I felt like the overlap with Death and Susan and with Buddy and the band wasn’t handled as well as it could have been and I found the ending lacking. That’s why I’m giving it four stars instead of Pratchett’s usual five. Still, recommended.

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New Issue of Ray’s Road Review!

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2014

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the Summer 2014 edition of Ray’s Road Review. We have some excellent fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photography. Please read and enjoy. (However, please don’t submit any poetry right now, because I’m swamped with submissions.)

The poets we feature in this issue are Charlie O’Hay, Scott Laudati, Jona McNerney, Len Krisak, and R.T. Castleberry. The Fall issue is full and we’re reading for the Winter 2015 issue now. The submissions keep coming in. I hope you like this issue.

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Review of Monstrous Regiment

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 19, 2014

Monstrous RegimentMonstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is really good, but I had to think about it a minute to come to that decision. See, it’s just not as laugh-out-loud funny as other Discworld novels. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good and it also doesn’t mean there’s not humor, cause there is.

This book is about Polly Perks, of Borogravia, a country constantly at war with other countries – this time it’s with Zlobenia. Ankh-Morpork is aiding Zlobenia and Borogravia is losing, but they don’t know it or at least they refuse to admit it. The country worships a crazy god named Nuggan who issues weekly Abominations (babies, the color blue, etc) that the people either try to dutifully follow or discretely ignore. There’s also a grand matriarch — The Dutchess — although no one has seen her alive in years. But people pray to her.

Polly’s bother joined the army a year ago and she doesn’t know what’s become of him, so she cuts her hair, puts trousers on, and goes off to join the army herself to find her brother. Since everyone’s already fighting, there aren’t many eligible young men left to join the army, so it’s little surprise then that joining her are a troll, a vampire, an “Igor,” two very “special” friends who are inseparable, someone who turns out to be a pregnant girl, and a religious zealot. Leading them is Lieutenant Blouse, a desk jockey, and Sergeant Jackrum, my favorite character in the book.

As the “regiment” goes off to war, they come across some Zlobenians and capture them, one of whom is their prince disguised as a captain. This gains them unwanted fame and ensures that everyone is soon out looking for them. And they just want to get to the front lines. There are lots of humorous scenes as this takes place and Polly soon discovers secrets everyone else is hiding. In the end, though, this book takes a satirical look at the idiocy of war, as well as the idiocy of some organized religions. Pratchett doesn’t hold back. Naturally, Polly and her cohorts save the day and save the country, but while doing so at the end of the book, there are some pretty big surprises, which I guess I should have seen coming, but didn’t. My only complaint about the book, without trying to give away too many secrets, is Pratchett has someone say if women ruled, there wouldn’t be any wars. But that’s not the case here. So it’s not true. Pity. I guess he overlooked that. Still, this is a very satisfying novel to read and I heartily recommend it.

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A Review of The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 19, 2014

The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973 by Shelby L. Stanton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could have been an interesting book if the author hadn’t gotten so bogged down in minute details. It’s about the American military in Vietnam, circa 65-73, and it’s pretty comprehensive, at least through 1969. One of its faults, though, is that it spends an inordinate amount of time going over each year of the 1960s and then lumps all of the 1970s into one final chapter. It’s like the author gave up, just like the military did. Another fault I found was that the author made the US military out to be virtually unbeatable and told countless stories of us giving the VC and NVA beatdowns in the jungle, which didn’t actually happen all that often. He’s really gung ho about the US military and it’s just not authentic. He does go into detail on Tet ’68 and the US did win the battles of Tet, but we lost the war then and there — the war of public opinion — and from that moment on, we tried everything possible to extract ourselves from Vietnam and turn the war over to the South Vietnamese, who were worthless as fighters. Granted, I didn’t necessarily want to read an entire book of battlefield failures, but it should have been more balanced and it wasn’t. Another — major — bone I have to pick with the author is that he went on and on about the specific US, VC, and NVA units engaged in battle, to the point where it was simply mind numbing. Witness:

“Kontum was also struck early on January 30 and the 24th NVA Regiment, the 304th VC Battalion and the 406th Sapper Battalion crashed into the MACV compound, post office, airfield, and 24th ARVN Special Tactical Zone headquarters…. The initial assault was met by two Montagnard scout companies, which were rapidly brushed aside, and the 2d Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment, which fell back…. At noon the Americans rustled up the ground crews of the aerial 7th Squadron, 17th Calvary, fused them with the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry, and gave them tanks from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor….”

Oh my freakin’ God!!! And on and on he drones. It’s a real snoozer. If the author had just said some soldiers and Marines were fighting the enemy, he could have shortened the book and made it a lot more readable. Only mega-history geeks will like this because it’s mind numbingly boring.

The author also kind of goes elitist on us. He attributes our loss to the draft, specifically to drafting poor men from racially diverse backgrounds, many of whom were allegedly on drugs. “By 1969 the US soldier in Vietnam usually represented the poorer and less educated segments of American society. He was often being led by middle-class officers and inexperienced sergeants, creating a wide gap between attitudes, abilities, and motivation.” Poor, inexperienced men on one year rotations just wanted to get home alive and stopped fighting, per the author. I really think Stanton thinks we could have beaten the NVA if we had kept fighting an offensive war without one year rotations. I don’t believe that, but I think he does.

I did enjoy reading about the various battles, but Stanton had this annoying habit of slimming them down to five sentence paragraphs, which obviously left a lot out, and then incredibly just jumping right into another conflict with no real transition visible. It’s bizarre!

I am giving this book three stars because I’m interested in the subject matter, but it’s a poorly written book that will bore the hell out of most people. As such, it really deserves a two star rating and I certainly can’t recommend it at all.

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Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll dies at 82 – ESPN

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 14, 2014

Legendary Piitsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll dies at 82 – ESPN.

NOOOOOO!!! One of the greatest coaches who ever lived. This is so sad. RIP, Coach Noll.

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A Review of Divine Invasions

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 6, 2014

Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. DickDivine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an excellent biography of Philip K Dick to read. It was thoroughly researched and well written. It started from his birth to his upbringing to the beginning of his writing career, through the career, his relationships with his five different wives and with his three children, his bizarre experiences, and his death in 1982. It was a very comprehensive book. And it was fascinating. I never knew — and still don’t know how or why — that Dick was SO very obsessed with his twin sister, who died at one month. He spent his entire life searching for an adult alternative to her and made up fantasies about her being a protective lesbian. The book also chronicles his love/hate relationship with his mother, and how that impacted his views on women. Additionally, it was interesting to find out just how passionate he was. I mean he fell in love at the drop of a hat! He was in love with the idea of being in love. Her tormented himself by falling in love with girls half his age, begging them to move in with him and marry him, only to be repeatedly spurned, except on several occasions. Apparently his obsession with authority (his mother) carried over the the FBI and CIA. He just knew they were watching him, and indeed they were. It was fascinating to read about the break in at his house with his big safe being blown up and his calling the police to report he did it. He was indeed paranoid, which anyone reading his novels could figure out. He was also quite insane, while also a genius. Of course, everyone interviewed for this book by the author tried to claim he was sane, lucid, normal, but the evidence shows otherwise. He was batshit crazy. The drugs didn’t help, for one thing. His near-religious experience of 2-3-74 was bizarre to read about too. And it’s amazing how it impacted him and his writing for the rest of his life. I mean, he actually thought God was speaking to him and revealing himself to him through an AI satellite. Crazy! It was sad to read about how badly he wanted to become an accepted mainstream writer and how he failed so badly at it during his lifetime. But his sci fi was visionary, just fantastic! There’s never been another writer like him. One thing I liked about this book was that at the end, it went over all of his books, gave a synopsis, some commentary, and a subjective rating. It was interesting to see how I rated specific books as opposed to the author. I didn’t agree with all of his ratings, but I liked reading them. If you’re a PKD fan, this book is a must. Get it, read it, be amazed. If you just like interesting biographies, this is also a book for you. I strongly, strongly recommend this book. It’s that excellent.

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Pittsburgh Penguins fire coach Dan Bylsma, hire GM Jim Rutherford – ESPN

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 6, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins fire coach Dan Bylsma, hire GM Jim Rutherford – ESPN.

Knew it was coming. Now let’s unload some unproductive players!

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