hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for July, 2015

A Review of The Boys of Winter

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 30, 2015

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey TeamThe Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was both an enjoyable book to read while being simultaneously frustrating as well. It was enjoyable because it gave the story of the miracle on ice, the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team’s triumph over the big, bad USSR team which always won gold medals and which had just crushed the US 10-3 10 days before the game. You also get to read about the coaches and players and that’s cool. However, it’s frustrating because of the way the author chose to construct the book. I realize I’m in the minority here, as many reviewers have expressed admiration for this style, but it annoyed the hell out of me. He starts with the game. People are skating, the puck is being passed. Several minutes into it, a particular US player gets the puck and then you immediately are torn from the game and given a lengthy story on the player, beginning with his birth, his upbringing playing hockey, his pee wee days, his middle school days, his high school playing, his college playing and stats, his status on the Olympic team, who he married, how many kids he had, what career he had after the Olympics were over, and everything up to the present, which is 2005, when the book was published. These breaks last probably 10 pages or more and break up the continuity of the game endlessly. It happens all the time. It’s so damned annoying. Just as you’re about to get into a rush to the goal by the US, the author breaks away for one of these long profiles and you forget about the game. Or not. But by the time you return to the game, you’re so ticked, you no longer care. I have no idea why he chose to do it this way. If I had been writing it, I would have had profiles of all the players in one location, either in the front, the middle, or at the end, and then the game in its entirety.

So the Russians score first, of course. A lot of attention is given to goalie Jim Craig in this book, but deservedly so, because in my opinion, he single handedly won the game for the Americans. He stopped dozens of shots. He had an amazing night. We tied the game. They scored again. We tied it again. Then in the third period, another tie — 3-3. With 10 minutes left in the game, US captain Mike Eruzione, a household name back then, came down the ice and got one past Russia’s world class goalie to put the US up 4-3 and all the US had to do was hang on. And they did. Game over, America wins, stuns the world. And this was a semi-final. We still had to win the gold medal, which we did against Finland a couple of days later. Our coach, Herb Brooks, was a royal jerk to his guys, but he motivated them to win. The Soviets were stunned, but many drank congratulatory cocktails to the Americans later that night, which was classy of them.

It’s kind of funny how the day after I finished reading this book, I read how Jim Craig is putting all of his Olympic stuff up for auction for about $6 million. Weird how things work out. Brooks died in a car crash a few years ago. The team was at the funeral. It was good to catch up on guys whose names I had forgotten and to relive an event I watched on TV so long ago. It has a special memory for me. Aside from my criticism, this is a good book and the author is a good writer, so it’s recommended.

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A Review of Omega

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 29, 2015

Omega (The Academy, #4)Omega by Jack McDevitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was somewhat disappointed in this book, especially when compared to its predecessor in the series, Chindi, which was an amazing book. The series features an Academy pilot, Hutch, who everyone loves. She constantly saves the day through smarts and bravery. In this book, however, she’s no longer a pilot. She’s now an administrator for the Academy and when we do see her, she’s taking flak from everybody for not being able to grant inane wishes or she’s sending messages off to her star ship pilots. That’s all we get from her. Major disappointment.

In this book, we get more of the Omega clouds, monstrously huge clouds floating through space, decimating virtually every city on all worlds they encounter. One is headed for earth in about 1,0000 years. Meanwhile, they find another that’s turning and heading for an earth-like planet in about nine months. The problem is, this planet is inhabited by a pre-industrial, but still advanced civilization. Aliens. They look vaguely similar to us, in a cartoon like way, and have amazing architecture, libraries, restaurants, theaters, temples, etc. There are 11 cities on this planet, all fairly near each other. And they have no idea what’s about to happen to them.

There’s an Academy ship out there and the four people aboard are instructed to go down to the planet and interact with the aliens, who are being called Goompahs, a term I learned to utterly hate by the end of the book. The team wears clothing that make them invisible and they go into the cities, but Dig, one of the book’s heroes, starts a stampede that kills the leader of the team, so something goes wrong right away.

Another ship is on the way with supplies, including dozens of things to be placed around the cities to eavesdrop on them so we can learn their language. Because the only way to save them is to either divert the Omega or to convince the Goompahs to leave their cities and head for the high ground. Unfortunately, the Goompahs are scared to death of humans, having seen Dig, and think he’s a demon. So convincing them to leave their cities seems out. A ship is sent with scientists and linguists. The linguists get daily reports from the planet with recordings of conversation and start learning Goompah and become quite conversant in it. They’re going to dress up as Goompahs and tell them in their own language to leave when the cloud arrives. Another ship is sent with a huge kite (which struck me as really stupid) and some video devices, to divert the cloud. The leader of this ship is a major asshole. It’s a nine month flight, so they’ll just barely be beating the cloud there.

The ship with the linguists loses its engines after six months and is stranded. Another ship comes by with room for one passenger, and the asshole gets on, determined to divert the cloud. Meanwhile, Dig has heard an alien woman speak who makes wild claims about seeing things all over the world which may or may not exist. He decides to appear before her and tell her about the cloud, which is now visible to the Goompahs, and tell her to head to the hills and to tell everyone. She freaks, but doesn’t run away and he gives her the message.

Dig has a thing for his pilot, Kellie, and one of the other ship’s captains marries them. Rather than a celebration, the asshole insists that Kellie take him right then and there to the cloud to try and divert it. Nice. The cloud sucks them in and Kellie escapes, while asshole blows the ship up in the cloud. I was glad to see him die.

Do the humans divert the cloud? Or do they convince the Goompahs to leave their cities and go to higher ground? If so, how? And what happens to the planet? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Aside from some of the problems that I’ve already mentioned, this book is too long and simply DRAGS. Oh my God, I thought it would never end. I wanted everyone to die by the end of the book. I couldn’t say that about the previous books in this series. McDevitt is a good writer, normally, and I have the last two books in this series. I’m hoping for a return to form. Recommended if you’re reading the series. Otherwise, not recommended.

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Animal Reincarnation | SouthernHon

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 28, 2015

Animal Reincarnation | SouthernHon.

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A Review of Grant Fuhr

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 26, 2015

Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey LegendGrant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend by Grant Fuhr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good sports biography. Not the best I’ve read, but pretty good.

Grant Fuhr is a legend. One of the best goalies to ever play the game of hockey and a Hall of Famer. And the first black goalie to ever play and the first elite black player and I believe the first black Hall of Famer. He played most of his career for the Edmonton Oilers, before moving on to five other teams toward the end of his 17 year career. He set a number of records along the way and won five Stanley Cups. With Edmonton’s emphasis on offense, with Wayne Gretzy, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and others, he was usually the only line of defense for the Oilers, but teams rarely beat him. He was athletically gifted and could move very quickly. Had great reflexes. His personal stats will never be among the best, because when he played it was an offensive league, not the defensive league it is now. There were over eight goals scored per game, as opposed to the six per game scored now. Things have tightened up. But if he played now, I’m certain his stats would be among the best.

Fuhr was adopted by white parents in Alberta, Canada as a baby. Later, they adopted his sister. When he was five, they told him he was adopted. He didn’t care. They were his parents. He loved them. He went to school and played hockey and baseball. All of the kids in the neighborhood did. It was a small town outside of Edmonton. He decided at a young age he wanted to play goalie in the NHL. His parents did everything to support his dreams. He didn’t really notice color and no one else in the community seemed to either. There were two other black children in the school and some Native Americans. But everyone played and everyone was equal. Except Grant wasn’t. He was exceptional. He started playing in local leagues, often for two at a time. And as a result, his grades suffered. He would skip class to go out on the ice to play hockey. At 17, a scout saw him and told his boss at a minor league Victoria team to sign him, that he was going to be great. So he did and Grant dropped out of school to go pro. And he set the world on fire! He was amazing. He owned the league. He learned to play golf in the off season and that became a lifelong passion. The next season, he came back and had an even better year. The NHL draft came up, this was 1981 I believe, and Grant knew he was going to get drafted, but by whom? He thought it would be by Toronto or the Rangers. Surprisingly, the Edmonton Oilers took him with the eighth pick, even though they already had a star goalie in Andy Moog.

Grant came to his first camp, with his $45,000 contract in hand, thinking he’d play a little and be sent back to the minors, so he was shocked when the team kept him on the roster. And then he got to play in the fourth game of the season and did fairly well. And he kept playing. He split time with Moog, but at one point he had something like a 13 game no-loss streak going. He ended the year with a good record and good stats and as a finalist for the Venzina trophy, given to the best goalie in the league. (He only won that award once.) His second year, for whatever reason, was rockier. People began to question if drafting him was a wise decision. He began to have doubts about himself. But his third year, he came back and dominated. And for the rest of the decade, he owned the NHL. He helped the team to five Stanley Cups and people attributed much of his success to his laid back nature. He felt no fear. He was confident. He enjoyed the competition. But he suffered some injuries, mostly to his shoulder. But in one playoff game in the late ’80s, a goon dived on his leg, tearing his ACL and other tendons, requiring extensive surgery and his coach was livid.

At this point, I’ve got to be honest. There had been rumors for some time that some of the Oilers were using drugs. Fuhr had always denied he did. How could he perform at such a high level if he did? But it came out that he had used coke, at a minimum, for a number of years and his reputation took a major hit. The NHL decided to make an example out of him and suspended him for a full season, even though he had quit using drugs two years prior to this point. He took his punishment quietly and with many apologies to everyone.

In the late ’80s, when Gretzy got traded to the LA Kings, everyone in the world was in shock. How could that happen? Fuhr, by that time, was making more realistic money, but Edmonton didn’t have the money to pay their superstars, so he saw the writing on the wall. He got traded. It was a huge shock to the system. And so began his short term journeys. Finally, around 2000, he retired when his knees could no longer take it. And the Hall of Fame beckoned in 2003. A fitting end to a great career.

Normally this would be a five star book. But there’s one thing that really bugged me about this book. It’s the set up of the book. It’s allegedly by Grant, with Bruce Dowbiggin, but Dowbiggin is obviously the real writer and interviews Grant at various intervals for short quotes about various things. So Grant didn’t write this. Also, the book is supposed to be a bio. But when I got it, I was surprised to see it is divided by chapter into 10 prominent games and those were to be discussed. I wasn’t really thrilled with that, but I went with it. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that each chapter spent about one paragraph on the chapter’s game and the rest of the chapter building a standard bio, beginning with Grant’s birth and moving chronologically forward chapter by chapter. It’s kind of false advertising. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad to have the standard bio instead of just 10 games. But why divide the book into 10 chapters of 10 games if you’re just going to write a standard bio? It’s stupid. Aside from those complaints, it’s a good book and if you’re a hockey fan, you’ll want to read it. Recommended.

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Submission Guidelines

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 26, 2015

Why don’t so many people read or adhere to magazine submission guidelines? This is the eternal mystery for me. As a magazine poetry editor, I have published a set of submission guidelines that I expect people to follow when submitting. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. When you’re a writer submitting to a magazine, presumably you’re putting yourself and your work out there as a professional to be taken seriously, not as a schmuck. You don’t submit whatever you want however you want. Every publication has guidelines. One of the first things you learn when writing and beginning publishing is to read and follow guidelines. It’s just common sense. One of the easiest ways to make sure your work doesn’t get read is to not go by the guidelines. One of the easiest ways to make sure your work does get read is to follow the guidelines. Simple.

Editors set up guidelines to streamline things and make their jobs a little easier. They get deluged with submissions. Sometimes it’s simply overwhelming. If everyone submitting can stick to the same format, it really helps. But if people are submitting all sorts of ways, it can really throw you off. It also helps to level the playing field. If everyone follows the same guidelines, presumably there won’t be anyone getting preferential treatment. That’s not always the case, but it helps.

My guidelines are a little strict, but certainly not as bad as many magazines I’ve submitted to over the years. More lenient than many even. And my response time is better than average. One of the things that has mystified me, however, is how many poetry submissions our nonfiction editor gets. I mean, what the hell? Why? Our fiction editor never gets any. I, as the poetry editor, get a ton. But our nonfiction editor gets quite a few and forwards them to me. And you know what? They ALWAYS suck! Always. They’re horrible. It’s like sixth grade poetry. And they obviously haven’t read the guidelines, which state to email the poetry submissions to the poetry editor, giving my email address. So, they’re not to be taken seriously, since they don’t take their own submission seriously. And I’ve taken to trashing them. I used to read over them and consider them. And respond. But at the beginning of the year, I grew tired of the idiocy and posted a post on the website telling people this practice will no longer be tolerated and any poetry submission sent to the wrong editor will simply be deleted unread. And still they come in. Dolts! What the hell are they thinking? Who emails poetry submissions to nonfiction editors? I would never think of doing that. That’s just damned stupid. In fact, when I was heavily submitting, I tried hard to find out the name of the poetry editor and mailed my submission to him or her by name. The pros who send me submissions read over our masthead on the website and often do that to me. You can tell who the pros are by their submissions. There’s a reason why they have the good credits. They write better poems and they follow submission guidelines. Simple.

If any of my readers can shed some light on why anyone would submit their poetry submissions to the nonfiction editor, I’d love to hear it. Thanks.

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A Review of Flag In Exile

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 24, 2015

Flag in Exile (Honor Harrington, #5)Flag in Exile by David Weber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another good Honor Harrington book, the fifth of the series. In it, she’s lost her commission in the Manticoran navy due to her duel with arch-enemy Pavel Young, in which she legally killed him, and is now on half pay. She has retreated to the planet of Grayson, where she has been made a Homesteader, something akin to a governor of her own state. She’s been awarded their highest honor for saving their planet from an invasion a few years ago and is much loved and respected by many. But not all. See, Grayson is backwards. It’s a patriarchal, religious zealotry-based world where women are respected, but they are expected to stay home, barefoot and pregnant. And the church, while not the official ruling body, controls much of what goes on. So Honor has a lot to learn and the people of Grayson have a lot to learn about her. Fortunately, the leader of the planet has been offworld and has seen what there is to offer and is determined to bring about reforms to his planet, in terms of technology and women’s roles.

When we see Honor, she is trying to recover from her lover’s murder in the previous book. And she’s having to endure demonstrations at the entrance to her capital, people who have been bused in from other homesteads with signs calling her a harlot, etc. Her people don’t like it, as they like and respect her, but little can be done about it. Meanwhile, the navy has been refitting some superdreadnaughts captured from a battle with Haven, given to them by Manticore, which will beef up their fleet significantly. However, they lack experienced captains and officers. So, the commanding admiral asks permission to ask Honor to take over and join the navy. She thinks it over and agrees. She’s surprised to find that they’ve made her an admiral and have given her her own squadron of superdreadnaughts and support craft.

Before she goes up to her new ship, there’s a community party, which is interrupted by an outsider priest, who screams maddening insults at her, even as the leading religious figure is there with her. This man goes too far, however, and the crowd beats him up, only to be saved at Honor’s command by her guards. The church strips this man of his office and his homesteader, and religious fanatic if I’ve ever seen one, is livid. He arrests the new priest sent to his community and reinstalls the disgraced priest who has been barred. The world’s leader is ticked, but he feels there is little he can do.

Honor has invested in a venture called Sky Domes to build domes over the cities to protect them from the harsh environment. The evil homesteader has gotten some of his men into the work crew and sabotages the project, causing a dome to collapse, killing 32 children and over 70 adults. All of a sudden, all of Grayson is against her and he is elated. However, her engineers know it couldn’t have happened by accident and they pour over video and details and discover the sabotage, finding the perpetrator and alerting Honor and the president. Honor is on her ship with the religious leader and her lead engineer. The president calls a secret, closed meeting of the “Keys,” the Steaders. They don’t know what it’s about, but it can’t be good because that never happens. On their way from her ship to the ground, two assassins get onto her airfield and fire a surface to air missile, blowing up her craft and killing a number of people. She survives. One of the assassins comes looking for her and points his gun at her head. Just as he pulls the trigger, someone leaps in front of Honor, saving her and dying for her in the process. It is the world’s religious leader. When the assassin sees this, he is dumbstruck and gives himself up because he knows he is now going to Hell. He signs a detailed confession and the president calls a new secret meeting of the Keys and announces he is charging a member of the body with treason and murder and the crowd gasps. Honor walks into the chamber and the president charges the religious nut. Just as he is about to be hauled away, this guy invokes a little used rule that allows him to challenge his accuser or his accuser’s champion to a duel by sword. He’s a grand champion. He knows he will kill Honor. Honor slices the shit out of him. It was awesome to see him die.

So she returns to her ship to rest and relax. She’s been up and going for something like 36 hours. She has four broken ribs. She has cuts and bruises. After one hour of sleep, however, she is woken. There’s an emergency. Radar shows an incoming fleet of about 160 star ships. They’re being invaded by Haven. All she has is her six superdreadnaughts, several battleships, and some cruisers. How will she survive? Does she survive? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The reason why this is a good book in the series is because we get to see Honor displaying all sorts of emotions, for once. Normally, she’s something like a robot. Here’s she’s fragile, scared, elated, excited, angry, sad, etc, and it fills her character out more so than in previous books. I like that. Now I’m eager to read the next book in the series. If you haven’t read any Honor Harrington books, I suggest you start with the first one, although this probably stands on its own. Nonetheless, recommended.

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