hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for June, 2015

A Review of The Short Victorious War

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 27, 2015

The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3)The Short Victorious War by David Weber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Honor Harrington! She’s a great character in a great series. And it’s nice to have a strong female protagonist in a sci fi novel, which hasn’t always been the case in this genre.

In this book, “Dame” Honor is given the honor of being given the top ship in the Royal Manticoran navy — the Nike. She’s sent out to Hancock to be the flag ship for a junior admiral who turns out to be a great guy and a great supporter of hers. However, when she gets there, her ship has suffered damage on the way and has to be docked to be fixed, which will take many weeks.

Meanwhile, the always broke Republic of Haven is plotting to attack Manticore and take their spoils, counting on their superiority in numbers over Manticore’s smaller, but more technologically advanced armed forces. One of the things I liked about this book is we get a glimpse at the inner workings of Haven’s politicians and military planners. We’re kept abreast of things as they happen. Another interesting facet to the book is that there is a revolution taking place in Haven, and we get to see the beginnings of it.

Another thing I liked about this book is the character development we see in Honor, as opposed to other books. She grows and changes and adapts and becomes nearly human in this book and I appreciated that. In this book, she develops a love interest, which came out of the blue — for me and for her — but she’s happy with it and that’s good. However, she’s so unused to being feminine that she needs help in putting cosmetics on and the scene in which she asks her exec for help is pretty funny.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Honor Harrington book without a huge space battle. The senior admiral has taken the bulk of the ships in the system to another place, gambling that’s where the Haven ships will appear. He’s wrong. Imagine the horror Honor and her colleagues feel when over 100 Haven ships, including 35 mega-ships, appear out of nowhere and start toward them and they only have some five or six to defend themselves with. Reinforcements are on the way, however, so if they can just hold them off for a few hours, the space station there might be saved, as well as Honor and her mates. Through Honor’s ingenuity, they release hundreds of missiles at the Haven fleet and score some direct hits, destroying some ships in the process. The Haven commander is ticked! They go after Honor and score some hits of their own. Some of Honor’s colleagues are blown up and Honor’s ship is hit, but not too badly. Then, tah dah, reinforcements! And the Haven fleet takes off. And the main Manticore fleet that had been lying in wait goes to Haven’s space station and destroys it and the rest of Haven’s fleet. It’s over. Honor has saved the day. My only complaint is we don’t get to see the battle at Haven’s space station with their fleet being decimated. Oh well. That would have made the book a lot bigger, I guess.

I do have one complaint with this book and with this series. It’s sci fi. They have hyperspace, hyper drives. They can travel light years in a very short period of time. They can have video communications with each other within systems. But not out of the systems. They actually have to rely on courier boats to send messages to each other, like “We’ve been attacked,” or something to that effect, and it can take 11 days or 17 days, etc. It seems utterly stupid to me. You’re telling me that three or four thousand years from now with huge space ships and laser beams and hyperspace travel, you have to send messages by boats??? WTF??? That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard! I don’t know what Weber was thinking when he came up with that system, but I’m not impressed. However, that complaint aside, it’s still a fun read and a great series and I’m already looking forward to the next one. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Theories of Flight

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2015

Theories of Flight (Samuil Petrovitch, #2)Theories of Flight by Simon Morden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in a three book series and I loved the first book so much, I had to get the next two. However, this one wasn’t quite as good as the first one, in my opinion. Still, it was pretty good and I enjoyed it.

Dr Samuil Petrovich is a scientist who has just discovered how to make anti-gravity. He works and lives in the Metrozone, which used to be London before Armageddon changed the world some 20 odd years ago. Before that, he lived in Russia. We’re never told just how he came to the Metrozone from Russia, nor how he survived Armgeddon.

In the first book, he meets a great woman named Maddie who’s an Amazonian nun with a huge gun who helps him defeat the New Machine Jihad. This book picks up four months later. And they’re married. The romantic in me had hoped to see the two of them together and I’m thrilled that they’re married. Unfortunately, the book starts out with his discovery of anti-gravity, only to have him receive a call that Maddy’s been shot — she’s in the army now. His face is all over TV, but he can’t stop to enjoy the fame — he’s got to get to the hospital. He does and she’s generally OK and actually goes back to the front lines quite soon after. Meanwhile, Sonja contacts him, as does Chaim, the old cop he barely got along with from the first book. He tells Sam that the CIA is after the technology behind the New Machine Jihad and has sent agents to the Metrozone. Unfortunately, he’s killed shortly thereafter. Then, the gist of the story starts. The Outties, the people who were barred from entering London during Armageddon and have lived in the outskirts in radiation ever since, are attacking with a force of some 200,000 people and the Metrozone army has to fight them off, and they don’t have enough forces. Sam takes his rat, his tablet I guess, and takes off across town in search of Maddie, but finds he’s on the wrong side of town and is surrounded by Outties and all of the bridges are wired to explode. Not good. He has a VR companion named Michael who he has running data crunches for him and he takes over command of the army with his help, using the US government’s own computers for computing power, as well as Wall Street’s. And then the book gets repetitive. See Sam run. Run Sam run. Watch Sam run. Sam runs. A lot. He’s shot at too, and does his share of killing people, but mostly he runs. Along the way, he gathers up a 14 year old wonder girl named Lucy as a companion, Sonja’s ninja bodyguard is killed, Valentina, a Russian mobster’s hit woman who’s helping him out, is along for the ride, and they all search for Maddie. Fruitlessly. By the end of the book, you’re banging your head against the wall, wishing the two would just get reunited to stop the damn running. However, along the way, Sam is able to keep up with his VR, command the military, stop the attack, attack the CIA agents, rescue Maddie and Lucy, who had been captured, and the end is grand. Except you don’t get to see Sam and Maddy together. She rides up on a motorcycle after he’s had a meeting with some city leaders and talks to him for a minute and then rides off. And that’s it! Very unsatisfying. I hope the third book will have more of her because she was such a great presence in the first book and I really missed her in this one. Still, it was a fun read, even with all of my complaints, and certainly recommended for any cyberpunk/sci fi fan.

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A Review of Who I Am

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2015

Who I AmWho I Am by Pete Townshend

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, this book was a gigantic disappointment! I got it after seeing The Who on their 50th Anniversary Tour stopover in Atlanta. Pete was funny, engaging, a great musician and all around great guy. I’ve always admired him. I thought this would be a great book. Boy, was I wrong.

Now Keith Richards’ autobiography is the standard by which all rock autobiographies are written. It’s excellent. I thought this one could mirror that at least. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s a series of loosely collected, somewhat chronologically arranged anecdotes, some of which begin and end with one paragraph and others of which run on for pages. Pete talks about his spiritual adviser, Meher Baba — although he never met him — without giving us any idea as to why he felt so strongly about him. Pete name drops constantly, without giving us much detail on who these people are to the importance of the text. Maybe a brief explanation, but that’s it. A sentence. What the scoop on the band? Won’t get it here. I know almost nothing more about The Who now than when I started the book. I know Roger had a temper and liked to start fights when he was younger. OK. I know Keith and John were party animals. But you never really get a sense for who these men are. What their relationships are like. How they worked together. It’s very frustrating. As for Pete, he marries Karen and has two daughters. He goes on tour and tries to remain loyal, but when he gets drunk, does the groupie thing. And then feels somewhat guilty. But not very. And he constantly falls in love. Or is it lust? Pete becomes a raging alcoholic and then a raging cokehead, but eventually cleans up on the coke. He relapses on the alcohol. After 25 years of marriage to Karen, they split up and he takes a new, young lover. What were the reasons for the split up? Not really mentioned. He just said the marriage was suffering. He doesn’t really get at the meat of things in this book. It’s like when 11 people are killed in a stampede at a Cincinnati concert in 1979 — you’d think that’d be time for reflection, but they just leave town and go to the next concert. Here’s something that really irritated the shit out of me — he claimed to be broke all the damn time, but in the very next paragraph was buying a new mansion and a new yacht and a new sailboat and a new car and a new studio and all sorts of expensive equipment to go into it. I don’t know how many houses he had at one point, but it was A LOT! But he was broke. Um, yeah. Sure, Pete. He graciously decided to go on tour with the group after he had decided to shut the band down because he didn’t want the other band members to have to live in smaller houses. Classy. Here’s another thing I didn’t like — he spent half the damn book talking about albums that were utter shit while ignoring classics like Who’s Next! Who cares about some of the ones he focuses on? Iron Man? Really? An album from a book from Ted Hughes? Really? And he went on and on about Tommy. We had to learn about the 8th stage production of the show on some tiny stage in some podunk town in some small state in mid-America, like it mattered at all. When he could have been writing about more important things. Like his relationship to his bandmates. Or to Karen. Or to his daughters. Or his songs. Or something. I’m so sick of hearing about Tommy I want to puke. And then there’s the pedophilia thing, something I had forgotten. He sets it up beautifully. He starts implying early on that he starts “remembering” possible sexual abuse by his grandmother and a male friend of hers when he was a child. He relives this in therapy. He never goes into detail. It’s just implied. Then, he mentions that he meets a Russian who wants to start a Russian orphanage who he’s going to help out financially and he goes online to a search engine and types in something like Russian orphanage little boys or something like that and is all of a sudden confronted with kiddie porn. He’s horrified. He’s outraged. He wants to write an expose on kiddie porn on the Internet, so he goes about researching it. Sound stupid yet? He goes to a site and enters his credit card number to show that banks are working with kiddie porn sites, without bothering to think that now it’s HIS credit card number the feds have on file. And sure enough, he’s arrested and all ELEVEN of his computer are confiscated. And he pleads no contest. Sign of guilt? Who knows? Pedophile? Who knows? Disappointing, that’s for sure. He spends a lot of time setting this topic up and then almost no time at all once it arrives and is addressed. I wonder why. Two last things. This typifies the book to me. At the end of the book, he is writing about various things, wrapping up, and he writes about being a heroin addict. Um, what the hell??? Where did that come from? When was that ever addressed in the book? Never mentioned. Damned bizarre. The second thing — when Keith dies, he writes that Roger called him and said that Keith had did it. And that’s it. That’s all he says about Keith’s death. So I don’t know if Keith committed suicide, if he OD’d, if he died of natural causes, how this affected the band, how this affected Pete, how this affected the fans, nothing. All I know is that Pete immediately got a new drummer and got the band back out on tour which strikes me as pretty shitty. When John dies, there’s more, but not much. Pete just doesn’t put much into human relationships in this book. And it’s sad. It’s like he’s an immature, self absorbed, egomaniacal-yet-frail person who wrote a bad book which was badly edited and now here it is and it’s bitterly disappointing. I wanted to give it four stars or better, but I just can’t and I can’t recommend it either. Too bad.

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A Review of The Last Man Out of Saigon

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2015

The Last Man Out Of Saigon: A NovelThe Last Man Out Of Saigon: A Novel by Chris Mullin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting novel to read. You see, it’s deeply anti-American and pro-Vietnamese and I think it would have helped to know these facts before delving into it, as it’s about a CIA agent inserted into South Vietnam three days before the fall of Saigon. You would think it would be a CIA thriller. It’s not. If you’re a die hard American “patriot,” you’ll probably be offended by the book. If, however, you can disassociate yourself from the politics and just enjoy the book for what it is, it’s not a bad book.

A CIA agent, MacShane, who’s never been to Vietnam and who’s worked in Bolivia and Brazil, as well as possibly Chile, doing some underhanded stuff there for the CIA, is sent to Vietnam as it’s about to fall to the NVA, for the purpose of spying on the Vietnamese and possibly destabilizing their new government, as well as establishing contacts and building resistance. It sounds unlikely, but if you can get past that, then you’re into the book. He arrives, Saigon falls, he stays, pretending to be a journalist. But his cover is blown and he is captured. And you immediately think, oh no, because everyone’s heard of the North Vietnamese atrocities. But he’s treated well. He’s surprised. He’s interrogated, yes, but it’s not bad and he’s not tortured and he’s given decent food and cigarettes and is allowed to exercise and wander the grounds. After awhile, he’s transported to Hanoi, where he’s taken to the Hanoi Hilton, although it’s not referred to as such in this book. Again, he’s treated well. It’s been decided that he’s going to be “re-educated,” so a professor comes to interact with him every day and they converse about all sorts of things. And he starts questioning his country’s action and intents. Everywhere he sees bomb damage, but happy people going about their business. Everyone he meets has lost relatives in the war and are possibly scarred, but they all treat him well.

After a couple of months of this, he’s told he’s going to be taken out into the countryside to work in a labor camp. He panics. He decides to escape. Security is lax, so he does and escapes to the Red Cross in a hotel, who are assholes to him. Still, he spends the night with them, determined to go to the British Embassy the next morning for aid. And he does, but it’s closed. And he’s recaptured. And the military is pissed! He’s embarrassed them. After all of their good will. He’s taken to a tougher jail, but after about 10 days is taken a couple hours out of the city to a village where he will live and labor in the fields with the peasants. He knows virtually no Vietnamese and they know no English. Fortunately, there’s a school teacher in the next village who knows some English, so she becomes his interpreter and teacher. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s lovely. Turns out her entire family, as well as her fiance, were all killed by the US. Bombs fell everywhere. It’s made pretty clear in this book that the Vietnamese aren’t the ones committing torture, the US/CIA is. The Vietnamese aren’t the ones bombing villages, the US is. The US government commits murder, yet the Vietnamese people love the American people, with whom they have no argument. Sounds like a type of utopia, doesn’t it? MacShane begins to really enjoy farming with these people, who accept them as one of their own, and he falls in love with Ha, the school teacher, who falls in love with him. She knows the US will come get him some time, but he wants to stay there and marry her and be a farmer. She won’t hear of it. So his former boss, the asshole who betrayed him to the NVA, comes to Vietnam to rescue him and MacShane confronts him with his evidence. The official tries to cover up, but off they go into the sunset, back to America, leaving MacShane’s heart back in Vietnam forever.

Ah, romance. Seriously, a little iffy there. I did some Googling of the author. Turns out he’s a British left wing Labour Party politician who’s written several books, at least one of which has been turned into a movie. He’s so left wing, he scares his left wing colleagues. And his wife is Vietnamese. So I guess it should come as little surprise that he’s rabidly anti-American and pro-Vietnamese in this book. My “patriotic” inclination is to not like that, but since I’m feeling royally unpatriotic these days with all of these crazed Republican assholes running around like nutjobs claiming to be patriotic, maybe I’ll side with him. After all, I think we shouldn’t have been in Vietnam to begin with. It was a civil war and one we had no business intruding in. And as many atrocities as the North Vietnamese committed, and yes there were many, I’m sure the US committed their own as well. So, would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. Perhaps. But with the caveat that you go in with the foreknowledge that you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you do that, it’s an interesting book. Although, frankly, it’s not much of a thriller. Very little action. Not much at all. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m even giving it three stars. I guess because it was pretty original. Otherwise, two. Very, very cautiously recommended then.

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A Review of Deepsix

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2015

Deepsix (The Academy, #2)Deepsix by Jack McDevitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book in The Academy series and I loved it. Hutch, the space ship pilot from the first novel, is back, a number of years later, still piloting ships around for the Academy.

A back plot. An earth-like planet is found and a group of scientists found to explore it, but they’re nearly all killed by bird-like creatures. One scientist named Nightingale remained alive. Fast forward twenty years. In the same system, this same earth-like planet is about to collide with a huge planet floating through space destroying everything in its path and the smaller planet is going to explode. Naturally, the Academy had sent a team of scientists up to view this once in a lifetime phenomena and then the unthinkable occurs — evidence of civilization turns up. A tower is found buried in ice. A scan is completed and entire cities are found buried beneath the ice. It’s important to find out what civilizations lived there, what happened to them, what they were like, etc., before the planet explodes. Unfortunately, the scientific ship doesn’t have a lander, so there’s no way they can make it to the planet’s surface. However, Hutch is in a ship nearby with a few other people, including Nightingale, and they’re ordered to the planet’s surface to explore and gather as much evidence as possible in their lander. So they do. In the meantime, another ship has appeared, carrying gawkers, including one insufferable Gregory MacAllister, a writer, editor, and all around snob, who agrees to a young writer’s request to go to the surface to conduct an interview. So they join Hutch, who is none to happy to have them.

Hutch finds some really good stuff. But the big planet is approaching and wreaking havoc with the weather. There’s an earthquake, and MacAllister’s lander falls down a new crack in the ice, wrecking. He and the female reporter take off in Hutch’s, only to crash land a short distance later. She dies, as does one of Hutch’s crew. That’s two landers. They need another one to get off the planet. An emergency signal is sent out and yet another ship is contacted by the Academy with instructions to go to their aid with their lander. However, they are sabotaged by a bigwig on board, who releases the lander so they won’t have to go, and so he can go to his precious dig on another planet which is oh so much more important than people’s lives.

What the hell are they going to do? Nightingale suggests their only chance may be to hike the 200 kilometers across difficult terrain with alien animals that want to eat them to find the old lander his old crew abandoned with the hope that it would still work. So they go off. And are attacked. And lose another crew member. And during this journey, MacAllister learns to become human, which is refreshing. And Hutch displays her exceptional leadership qualities. Meanwhile, the ship’s captains are meeting with scientists to see if anything else can be done. Seems like there’s one more long shot and it’s got to work, because the old lander won’t have enough power to get out of orbit. An alien object has appeared. It’s many kilometers long and has a net at the end of it with an asteroid caught in it. They decide to cut it up and weld it into a scoop, so Hutch can literally fly into it and be scooped up in this object. So volunteers from the ships learn to weld and go out into outer space and do the job, all the while with time running down. The two worlds are about to collide.

Hutch and one of the girls make it to the lander and it still works, so they take off. They need some technical stuff left back at the tower scavenged from their old landers, so they take off for it. However, Marcel, their ship commander informs them that the tower is about to be completely submerged in water due to the planet’s ongoing issues. They make it back and sure enough, it’s submerged and they’re screwed, so they head back to recover MacAllister and Nightingale. Then they head for a high area. They’re told of the scoop plan and they hope, oh, they hope. But it seems to unlikely. They’ll have seconds to do it before the scoop leaves the rendezvous area. To top matters off, the Academy has found another area on top of a mountain that they want explored — with the worlds about to collide — while waiting for the scoop to be completed, so the lander heads off to the mountain and they encounter a flat surface on top of the mountain and evidence of civilization. It appears that two life forms were on the planet — hawks and crickets. It appears that the hawks appeared out of nowhere to save the crickets with their own scoop thousands of years ago. What happened to them? No one will ever know. Some stuff happens. The action is breath taking. Finally it’s time, so they head off to meet the scoop. Only to have the net on the scoop tear when a meteor field rips through it. Man, will nothing work? Are they saved? I’m not going to say because I don’t want to give away the ending. I want you to read it for yourself. But I thought this book packed a lot more action into it than its predecessor and I was glad for that because I got occasionally bored with the first one. I saw character development here, character depth, science at work, alien culture, space ships — hey, it’s good sci fi! I’ve already got all of the other books in the series and I’m already looking forward to reading the third one. Definitely recommended.

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New RRR Out!

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 21, 2015

Since it’s the first day of summer, I’d like to announce the publication of the Summer 2015 issue of Ray’s Road Review. Please read and enjoy.

Since I’m the poetry editor, I’d like to highlight the poets. They include Susan C. Waters, Bill Abbott, Ivan Jenson, Grant Mason, Mitchell Grabois, Michelle Askin, and Erren Kelly. Additionally, there are two books reviews for books by Frederick Pollack and Dimitris Lyacos. I hope you like it all.

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