hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for July, 2014

A Review of Clans of the Alphane Moon

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 30, 2014

Clans of the Alphane MoonClans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had some good ideas, but PKD asks the reader to make too many leaps of logic to be able to give this book a decent score.

CIA agent Chuck Rittersdorf splits from his psychiatrist wife, Mary, who’s a marriage counselor. She prompts this and she’s really portrayed as an evil bitch, so I have no idea why he was so intent to get back together with her later in the book. Meanwhile, Chuck picks up a writing gig with famous TV comedian Bunny Hentman, and starts taking uppers to hold both jobs down at the same time. These drugs are supplied by an alien slime mold who has telepathic powers and apparently wants to help Chuck as he orients himself to a new lifestyle in a downgraded conapt (apartment). He even sets Chuck up with a love interest, of sorts.

Well, Mary is hired by the feds to go to Alpha III M2, a moon of some type, to start therapy on groups of former psychiatric patients who were abandoned many years ago by Terra (Earth) during their war with Alphane, now over. These former patients have set up clans on the moon, made up of various psychiatric types — ie, Deps (depressives), Mans (manics), Paras (paranoid schizophrenics), etc. However, the CIA is interested in this venture, so they create a simulcra to go to the moon with Mary and others on this mission, and Chuck will be controlling it from Terra. So he decides to kill his ex-wife through this android-type being.

Crazy, yes? Well, that’s standard PKD fare. It starts getting out of control when Benny, his new employer, has a brainstorming session with the writers — and Chuck — during which time they decide to write a new act about a CIA agent who is going to kill his ex-wife through a simulcra on another planet. Just like Chuck has planned. Bizarre coincidence, or is it?

The CIA finds out about Chuck’s drugs and fires him. As soon as he’s fired, so does Benny, presumably because he no longer has Chuck as a CIA insider to work with. However, the CIA goes after Benny for his doings with Alphanes, and he escapes on his own rocket. Chuck finds himself on the moon, where Mary is. Coincidence? Easily done? Yes. Here’s one area that was really too hard to buy — the Para leader is given an ultimatum by Mary (with all of the clan leaders) to return to their former lives or face military action by Terra within four hours. So of all of the alternatives they come up with, the ONLY one is for him to *obviously* go to Mary’s spaceship and seduce her and talk her out of it. Huh? Excuse me? WTF??? What kind of warped idea is that? But that’s the obvious choice, and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t go and seduce her on her ship. But she turns out to be more than he bargained for and turns into a sexual beast who nearly kills him in her passion. Only Dick can write this stuff. When he wakes up from his sex-induced coma, she’s gone and Terra is on the attack.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but it’s surprisingly upbeat. Maybe that’s because Dick was probably struggling with all of these issues in his own life — his marriage woes, job and finance woes, his worries of mental illness — so he wrote a good ending so he could expect one in his own life. That’s my two cents, anyway. It’s not a bad book, but it just leaps to conclusions that no rational person would draw too many times and I just can’t eagerly recommend it. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably like it. If you’re new to the author, I wouldn’t start with this one.

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It’s Been a Year

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 30, 2014

My father died one year ago today. He died unexpectedly, mowing my grass. He collapsed and died, just like that. It was a huge shock. And it’s been difficult to get over. I can still see him rolling around on the ground, can still sense the futility I felt as I tried to aid him. I still remember his funeral several days later back home in Knoxville. A lot of people came to that. My wife says it feels like it just happened yesterday for her, but it actually feels a lot longer to me. Like it’s been two or three years. So much has happened between now and then. Our former house was broken into and robbed. Our beloved cat Toby died. We looked for a new house, moved into in, and put ours on the market. Mom decided to move back to Knoxville, so we put her house on the market and helped her find a new condo. It’s been very time consuming. And I’ve gone back and forth between Chattanooga and Knoxville probably 60 times over the past year, virtually all to help Mom out. It’s been draining. So it’s been a year, but if feels like several lifetimes ago to me. I wish Dad could have been around to help out with our moves. I wish he was still there for Mom’s sake — she really misses him. Of course, we’d like him around for our sakes too. Sad. Tragic. Mom got some flowers today and put them at Dad’s grave. I wish we could have gone up to see that. I sometimes still talk to him. I enjoy thinking of him up in Heaven, if there is such a place. I hope he’d be pleased with how we’re all coping without him, how we’ve moved on. I hope he would approve. I really miss him. RIP Dad.

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A Review of The Faithful Spy

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 25, 2014

The Faithful Spy (John Wells, #1)The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Faithful Spy was a very exciting book to read. I like spy/thriller novels, although I actually don’t read that many of them, and this was among the best I have read.

John Wells is a CIA agent who has successfully penetrated al Qaeda. He’s been with them for years, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, he hasn’t been in touch with his CIA bosses for years and they don’t even know if he’s still alive or if he’s still on their side. See, Wells has converted to Islam and learns to deplore America’s superficiality and arrogance. That said, he makes contact with Special Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11, which he didn’t foresee, and shortly after, he’s plucked from his Pakistani village by al Qaeda leaders to go back home to America for a hugely important mission, one they don’t fill him in on. Meanwhile, the head of al Qaeda’s nuclear “program” is captured in Iraq and, through torture, fills the US in on potential plots in the US and on John Wells.

Wells comes home and goes to the CIA, where he is given a hostile greeting by the director. However, his handler, Jennifer Exley, still believes in him. He’s put in a virtual prison, but escapes because he wants to stop al Qaeda from whatever it is they’re plotting. What follows is an exciting series of challenges, chases, biological warfare, and confrontations, ultimately with Omar Khandri, John’s al Qaeda handler.

When I read reviews of this book, I was shocked to see how many people viewed it as more of the same. They deplored the love story in the book and thought the middle part of it was boring. I couldn’t view it more differently. I thought the love story was great and really enjoyed the ending. I also thought some of the “boring” parts allowed the characters to be flushed out pretty fully, so I had no problem with that. Just because Wells has to wait to be contacted by his handler doesn’t mean it’s boring, sorry. I thought the terrorism scenarios painted by Berenson were horrifyingly realistic and well thought out. I think he did a great job with this book, and even though it shares some similarities with Frederick Forsythe’s The Afghan, it’s a really good book that stands on its own. Strongly recommended.

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A Short Review of Headcrash

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 22, 2014

HeadcrashHeadcrash by Bruce Bethke

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m so pissed off I read this book. It took a real stretch of imagination to buy into the virtual reality world the author creates, but then you reach the ending and it’s so insanely stupid, you wonder what the hell you just did and why. I’m never going to get those hours of my life back!

Jack Burroughs is a sysadmin for a large multinational corporation who loses his day job because of a vindictive new boss. However, in his off hours — which he now has a lot of — he resides in cyberspace, in a virtual reality world. He likes to hang out in a virtual bar called Heaven, where he has created a cool version of himself, unlike his mega-nerd reality. He hangs out there with his best friend. Strangely, a hot woman calling herself Amber comes along offering him a million dollars to commit cyberpiracy and steal some files from his former employer, or so he thinks. He takes her up on it, with the support of his buddy, and is shipped some cutting edge virtual reality gear, which includes gloves, footwear, a bra, and yes, an anal dildo. That took some doing on the author’s part. Still, he jacks up, goes in, gets the info, delivers it and is told it was only a test. Now he has to do the hard part — the real job. Well, you would think thievery from a large corporation with strong defenses would be hard, but now he has to go up against — get this — an author. Yep, a big, bad writer. Who works with the Department of Defense on his insipid novels, so he allegedly has all of the cutting edge cyber defenses. That was really hard to believe. Nonetheless, he and his virtual reality buddies storm the place and he gets waxed, waking up — I think — in what’s supposed to be a semi-real courtroom, staffed by a teddy bear judge, a prosecuting doll, and a bird, among others. There he’s sentenced to exile on a deserted island, where he apparently goes, only to wind up a beach boy in Hawaii. And that’s the end. How freakin’ STUPID is that??? It’s like the author wrote himself into a corner with his craziness and decided to go balls to the wall with total insanity to end the book because he couldn’t think of anything better. This was a stupid book and I can’t believe I wasted parts of two otherwise good days on it. Certainly not recommended. Not even good cyberpunk. Oh, and the author claims to have invented the word “cyberpunk,” just as an FYI. Whatever.

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A Review of The Truth

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 21, 2014

The Truth (Discworld, #25)The Truth by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a marvelous Discworld novel, one that I enjoyed immensely. William De Worde, son a a “Lord” (wealth), leaves his family’s fortunes to strike out on his own. He starts a newsletter that goes, mostly, to foreign dignitaries, but at some point happens upon a “real” story and some dwarves with a printing press and his newsletter grows into a daily newspaper — the Ankh-Morpork Times. Soon, he has hired a writer, Sacharissa, and a vampire as a photographer who turns to dust whenever the flash goes off. He needs a drop of blood in his ashes to resurrect himself. (However, he’s a reformed vampire and has sworn off human blood to be accepted in society, instead going for songs and hot chocolate.)

Some local higher ups hire two thugs — Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip — to kidnap the city’s Patrician, Lord Vetinari, and frame him for theft and assault. Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip are crazy and violent and soon William is hot on the trail of this mystery, at times crossing the city Watch and Commander Vimes, at times aiding them too. I didn’t really care for Vimes’ portrayal in this novel, however. He’s portrayed as a very angry man, and I’ve really enjoyed his character in other Discworld books, so it threw me off. Someone to be avoided, whereas in other books, he was valiant. Whatever.

The short of it is William uncovers the plot, credits the Watch, Vetinari is freed, and the Times grows and expands to other cities and countries.

I enjoyed seeing what went in the paper. I enjoyed the wordplay. (“The truth will make you fret” as a typo…) I enjoyed seeing a competing paper, the Inquirer, a tabloid full of trash, print absolute hogwash and was mortified to see the people drawn more to it than the Times, a parody of our own world. I don’t know if this is my favorite Discworld novel, but it’s up there. It’s a really good story with a great ending and several layers to an alternating serious and hilarious plot. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Maskerade

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 18, 2014

Maskerade (Discworld, #18)Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maskerade is a delightful book telling a wonderful tale of intrigue, humor, and female empowerment. Once again, the witches of Lancre are back and I think this is my favorite witch book. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg feel it must take three witches to make a coven, and since Magrat has left the coven to become royalty, they think Agnes Nitt might be a suitable replacement. The problem is, Agnes and her alter ego, Perdita X. Dream, have gone to Ankh-Morpork and joined the opera. Agnes is a young girl with a rather sturdy build (okay, fat) and she’s not viewed as star material. Instead, her beautiful, skinny, completely untalented roommate Christine gets the leads. Agnes sings in the chorus, but she sings the lead while Christine mouths it and thinks she’s performing beautifully. However, I’m jumping ahead. Agnes has a beautiful voice and she can even harmonize with herself. She doesn’t want to be a witch; she wants to sing. But the opera has a secret — there’s a ghost haunting the opera and when she happens along, people start dying. This ghost appears as the one in the Phantom of the Opera, which this book spoofs. Soon, everyone is terrified of the ghost and wonders just who or what it is.

Meanwhile, Granny and Nanny go to Ankh-Morpork to fetch Agnes and take her back to Lancre where they’ll entice her to join the coven. Their journey is hilarious. I think Nanny is especially funny in this book. When they reach the city, they stay at a house of ill repute, based on one of Nanny’s son’s recommendations. Additionally, Nanny has written a book — a cookbook. An obscene cookbook. And she’s not made any money off of it. So Granny takes her to the publisher and uses their magical skills to induce the publisher to pay her a lot of money. They were given free opera tickets by a fellow traveler who’s in it, so they go and hear about the ghost. They decide they’re going to get to the bottom of things and go spend thousands to get Granny gussied up as a grand dame. They then go to Mr. Bucket, the owner, and “donate” $2,000 to get Box Eight, which is always left free and empty for the ghost. Soon, the ghost appears and a chase ensues with Granny and Nanny cornering the right individual. I had guessed who the ghost was before it was revealed, but there were still delightful plot twists and turns in figuring out who the ghost was. In the end, the two witches save the day and Agnes goes home to join their coven.

Pratchett doesn’t take on the BIG themes he does in other Discworld books (like war and racism), but he does poke fun at opera and theater and I really enjoyed that. In fact, here is a translation of some typical opera-speak from its original foreign language:

This damn door sticks
This damn door sticks
It sticks no matter what the hell I do
It’s marked “Pull” and indeed I am pulling
Perhaps it should be marked “Push”?

Okay, how funny is that? This book is a great Discworld novel and I think just about anybody would enjoy it. Highly recommended.

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