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Archive for August, 2015

A Review of Odyssey

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 30, 2015

Odyssey (The Academy, #5)Odyssey by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think McDevitt’s lost this series. I think he lost it when he moved the great character, Hutch, from space ship pilot to administrator. The books since then have been bland. She’s been bland. It’s been a huge disappointment. I miss her fire, her leadership, everything about her missions.

In the opening of Odyssey, an Academy ship jumps out of hyperspace with a blown engine thinking they’re a zillion miles from earth. Ships are sent to search for them. Turns out they’re in our own solar system. Been there the whole time. Terrible embarrassment for the Academy and Hutch. People are calling for defunding the Academy, maybe even shutting it down, and it’s fighting for its very existence. Turns out the ship in question is an old, obsolete model that Hutch feels needs to be retired from the fleet, against her boss’s wishes. She does so. And faces criticisms. The weird thing about this opening sequence, though, is we see no more of this ship, this crew, this line of ships, nothing. McDevitt drops it on us and then forgets about it.

Meanwhile Hutch meets a senator from Georgia who wants to yank the Academy’s funding — and his 15 year old daughter, who wants to become an Academy pilot when she grows up. She talks Hutch into letting her go out on a mission and she gets to. Additionally, we encounter cranky editor Gregory MacAllister again and the beautiful spaceship pilot Valentina Kouros on a TV show where they debate the space program. MacAllister, who respects and likes Hutch, still wants to shut everything down while Valentina wants to keep going to the stars. They like and dislike each other after that experience. MacAllister also encounters a North Carolina man who grew up in a religious fundie school that taught hellfire and damnation and was traumatized. He saw his old priest in a store and attacked him in front of witnesses and was arrested and charged with assault. Mac takes his side and hires a good lawyer to represent him. The book then spends an inordinate amount of time on this trial through the remainder of its pages and I can’t figure out why. It adds nothing to the plot. It has nothing to do with anything. It’s like McDevitt threw it in there just to show his disdain for religion. I have disdain for most religion myself, but it’s a stupid gimmick from an author who should know better.

There have been sightings of “moonriders,” UFOs, around the galaxy and people are curious about them. Hutch commissions a mission to go put out monitors where they’ve been spotted recently and Val will be the pilot. Going along with her will be Amy, the senator’s daughter, Eric, the Academy PR chief, and Mac, of all people. It’ll be a month long trip.

I know this might all sound like a lot, but it’s not. Most of the first 200 pages are taken up with politics and funding and fighting and UFO sightings and it’s honestly pretty damn boring. I was going to give it a two star review at that point, but thank God, McDevitt upped the ante after the first couple hundred pages and the book improved.

Mac and Val grow close on the trip. Could it be a romance? And if so, could it be remotely believable? Amy is precocious to the point of being annoying as hell. Eric sulks about his lack of importance. They set out their monitors. And they see moonriders. They see one land on a small asteroid, change its bearings, and send it toward a planet. Everyone on earth freaks out. Hutch has a plan, though, to defeat them, and they do. So far, so good. Meanwhile, Orion Tours, which relies on Academy bases for its tours throughout the system, is building a large hotel near a planet. Two moonriders show up there and all of a sudden, a planet sized asteroid is sent lunging toward the hotel. People freak out. However, there’s enough time to evacuate the hotel, which is under construction, so all is not lost. But now, after talking about shutting the space program down, people and politicians on earth are talking about creating a navy with actual weapons (there are no weapons on earth in the future).

Valentina continues to take them around to place monitors while Hutch faces a lot of heat at home. They go to a floating museum, where Val leaves the other three to go help rescue the people at the hotel. One night Amy is awake and hears footsteps. She goes to the ship’s bridge and sees a large version of Hutch, who tells her he wants her to get him the Origins Blueprints and to evacuate Origins. It’s a moonrider. She freaks out. She tells the two men and they don’t believe her. They think she dreamed it. She’s furious. She tells Val when she gets back and she’s more receptive, but doesn’t know what to think. They get in touch with Hutch, who actually nearly takes Amy seriously, but doesn’t know whether to believe her or not. Still, she takes action. Origins is a huge outer space project being built that is a super collider that will build black holes that can show us how the Big Bang created the universe. Hutch sends everyone she can find with ships to Origins to assist with evacuation. Val and Eric head over there themselves. The others had been dropped off at home a day earlier when their original trip was over.

Meanwhile, there’s a big plot twist. Big. Unexpected. And Hutch is furious. Val and Eric make it to Origins, where they’ve been warned they might be in danger. They don’t really believe it, especially after being told the circumstances. However, two moonriders appear in the sky several kilometers away and sit there waiting. Unfortunately, most of the ships coming to save the employees won’t make it in time, so it’s possible the moonriders blow the hell out of Origins. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out. And Valentina does something totally unexpected at the very end. Another big plot twist.

The book ends with the religious man who assaulted the priest being found guilty. Why was this even in the book again? What did it have to do with anything? People all around are possibly facing criminal charges. Hutch resigns from the Academy. And that’s it. Book Five was the weakest of the five Academy books I’ve read. Nothing huge takes place, like in the other books. Hutch is a disappointment. Mac, as the main protagonist, is okay, but he’s not her. I hope the last and sixth book will be much better, but I doubt it will. The only way it could be would be if Hutch would get out in the stars again piloting a ship. I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Guess I’ll have to read it to find out. This book, although part of a series, can probably be read as a stand alone book. The first half is worth two stars, the second is worth four. Overall, three stars. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Robot City: Cyborg

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 29, 2015

Cyborg (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #3)Cyborg by William F. Wu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This third book of the Robot City series wasn’t nearly as good as the first two. In fact, I was pretty disappointed with it. The writer just didn’t seem to have it together. Maybe he’s a new author. I don’t know. The language was stilted and forced. Transitions were left out. It was just bad.

In this book, Derec and Katherine are still trying to locate the lost key so they can leave the planet and get to another planet somewhere. However, the robots of Robot City have hidden it in a well guarded location and it’s virtually impossible to get to.

Speaking of Katherine, Derec learns her real name is Ariel and she’s a rich daughter of a famous woman from the planet of Aurora. She apparently has an unnamed terminal disease that, although not contagious, has gotten her banned from her home planet and she has been searching the galaxy for a cure. Since Derec, who is very angry in this book for some unknown reason, and Ariel fight a lot, this new knowledge softens his stance some and he feels sorry for her and starts to take it easy on her.

One day, when going through the city’s computer, they discover there are three other humans in Robot City. They get excited, thinking these people might have a ship that could get them off world, so they are determined to find them. Meanwhile, a teenager heading to college crash lands in Robot City and nearly dies. The robot medical team doesn’t know enough about human physiology to repair his human body, so they create a new robot body and transplant his brain into it, making him a cyborg. Weird how they can do that, but they can’t fix his human body, huh? Naturally, he’s freaked out, so against their advice, he takes off into the city alone and wanders around. He talks out loud to himself, which is really annoying to read, and he determines that he is the strongest individual on the planet, since he has a robot body, but is still a human and robots have to apply the Three Laws to him. He decides to take over the planet and rule it. Why? No idea. He decides to enlist the two other humans he has found, Derec and Ariel, to help him, so he goes to see them. And gets in a fight with them. Literally. A physical altercation. It’s bizarre. He’s a very tempestuous individual. He later asks Ariel to have her brain transplanted into a robot body and join him in ruling the world and she actually considers it, thinking this could save her from her disease. How incredibly stupid is that? Jeff, the cyborg, is crazy, so Derec and Ariel give the robots instructions to find him and bring him to them. He is eventually caught and is put under the knife by the medical staff. They ask Derec to get naked and let them scan him. Now they know about male human physiology. Yeah. So, they transplant Jeff’s brain back into his old body and fix him up. All it took for them to do that was to scan Derec’s naked body. Okay. Whatever. Bad book, as I said. Meanwhile, two of Derec and Ariel’s old friends from the first book show up in a one person lander. They decide to send Jeff off to college in it and they would stay in Robot City and continue to search for cures for Ariel’s unnamed disease.

It looked to me like the target audience for this book was middle school males. At least it was short, a one day read. And I still like the series and will continue to read on. If you’re reading the series, you’ll want to read this just to know what is happening. However, it’s not much of a stand alone novel, so I’d suggest with starting with the first book and going from there. If you’re reading the series, I cautiously recommend it. If not, I don’t.

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A Review of How Firm a Foundation

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 28, 2015

How Firm a FoundationHow Firm a Foundation by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Thank God. How Firm a Foundation is so much better than its predecessor, A Mighty Fortress. A huge improvement. This was a great book to read. It’s the fifth book in the Safehold series and Chiris is still fighting for its life against the evil Church of God Awakening. After the Church’s complete naval battle destruction at the hands of the Charisian Navy, the Group of Four realize they have to resort to other methods. Or at least Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn does. He’s an evil bastard, that one. He starts sending suicide bombers into Charis with horrible consequences. Thousands of people die. Merlin catches one before he can detonate, however, and they interrogate him and find out the Church’s strategy. Meanwhile, Clyntahn decides to assassinate Prince Daivyn, the child prince of Corisande, Charis’s defeated enemy that is now part of the Charisian Empire. Earl Coris, his protector, and his sister are in grave danger. They apply for asylum in Charis, are granted it, and Merlin is sent to get them out of their trap and bring them 180 miles to the river where members of the Charisian Navy and Marines will be waiting to get them out.

One of the really nasty things in the book is the torture and murders of the Charisian seamen captured in the naval battle in the last book by Earl Thirsk. He’s instructed to give them up to the Inquisition, which he’s appalled at as he knows what will happen to them, but he has no choice. What happens is gruesome. As a result, Charis announces that anyone found representing or fighting for the Inquisition will be executed on the spot. Personally, I thought they should have executed some of the 60,000 Church prisoners they had in retaliation, but Cayleb said he wasn’t interested in vengeance.

More cool weapons are introduced in the book, leading to a great naval battle (all of Weber’s naval battles are great), where Charis demolishes its opposition entirely. It’s pretty sweet to see. Also, more people, including Charis’s Inquisitor, are let in on the truth of Safehold and Merlin.

Empress Sharleyan survives an assassination attempt in Corisande, thanks to Merlin. It’s truly frightening, especially as she’s now a mother to the heir of the throne.

Clyntahn also finally goes after Siddarmark, getting his Inquisitor priests to lead massive uprisings against Charisian expatriates and the government, leading to tens of thousands of deaths and mass destabilization throughout the country. Just what Clyntahn has wanted for so long. He’s so evil. I hope that Siddarmark will join Charis in the next book as a mainland empire to go after the Temple Lands and attack the Church on their home territory. I think they will.

The positives of this book are that it reads a whole lot faster than the previous book, even the previous two books. The previous book was SO plodding, it just got boring at times. The only boring part of this book is the beginning, when you start with 40 pages of a storm at sea with a ship trying to survive it. It does nothing to advance the plot and I’m willing to bet all of the nautical terms are lost on most of the readers, including me. It’s frankly stupid. Additionally, it seems like there are fewer characters to keep track of and that’s refreshing. The last book had nearly 500 characters and that’s about 250 too many. The name spellings are still ridiculous and stupid, but I’m used to them by now, I guess, so I’m going with it. There’s a ton more action in this book than in the previous couple of books, especially the last one. That’s refreshing. The land rescue at the end of the book is especially a nice touch. Of course, this isn’t a stand alone book. You have to begin with the first one and read the series in order to know what’s happening. But it’s worth it. This series is so addictive, even with the many problems one encounters in it. My main problem is it moves at such a slow pace, overall, that I worry if it’ll ever finish before either I die or Weber dies, in which case I’ll never find out what the hell happens! Still, strongly recommended as part of the Safehold series.

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More Ace

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 27, 2015

Well, Ace had his first birthday on Tuesday and it was pretty good. I went to PetSmart and found several brands of chicken flavored pate cat food (that’s all Henry and Ace will eat — they’re so spoiled) and got three for each. I got some treats. And I got some fun toys, including a catnip ball. I wanted to get birthday party hats to put on their heads, but not only didn’t the store have any, but they didn’t even have ANY hats for any pets!!! Last year we went there for Halloween and there were lots of pet hats. I thought they just carried them. I was wrong and very disappointed.

Ace, Henry and I hung out until Gretchen got home. Then it was time to feed them. We chose some new food for each and Gretchen put a birthday candle into Ace’s pate and lit it. I held him close to it as we sang Happy Birthday, which Gretchen video’d. I think the fire actually scared Ace, so then we felt bad, but after we gave them their food, we discovered that I’d gotten good brands because they really dug in and went for it. They can be very picky, so that was good.

After dinner, we broke open the treats and I kind of held my breath. I’ve never had good luck with cat treats. None of my cats have ever cared for them, especially Henry. I can’t remember the name of this brand, but both cats seemed to really like it and they munched out. It made me quite happy.

Then we opened some toys. The catnip ball was a big hit with both, although Ace, the alpha cat, ended up with it for the majority of the evening. He really liked playing with it. And when it ended up underneath our living room sofa, we tried to clean out everything underneath it and discovered a ton of toys under there, so he pretty much OD’d on cat toys. Henry liked it too, but he’s not as into it as Ace. All in all, a pretty successful first birthday. Henry’s tenth birthday will be coming up at Halloween. Boy, that’s hard to believe! I still remember getting him when he was a teeny little kitten. He was so tiny. He’s sure not anymore. Heh. Here are some more recent pictures of Ace.

Ace asleep on Gretchen

Ace asleep on Gretchen











Ace looking cute

Ace looking cute











Ace asleep in Gretchen's arms

Ace asleep in Gretchen’s arms











Ace on his birthday

Ace on his birthday












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A Review of A Mighty Fortress

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 25, 2015

A Mighty FortressA Mighty Fortress by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh.My.God. I can’t believe I finally finished this near-1200 page monster of a book! It was brutal at times. I usually try to write complete or thorough reviews after reading a book, but I’m afraid I won’t for this one. Just too damn long, too damn much. So, a short review for a long book.

This is the fourth book in Weber’s Safehold series. It’s not a standalone book. You need to start with the first one and read them in order to know what’s going on and who’s who. In this book, the Empire of Charis is still defending itself from the Church of God Awaiting, which intends to destroy Charis. Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan are splitting their time between Charis and Chisholm, although they spend most of this book in Chisholm. They also have their first child, a girl, so they have produced an heir to the throne.

The Church’s Group of Four (vicars), led by Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn, who is a raging insane maniac, decides to build a navy to attack Charis, so they pay the various mainland kingdoms to start building ships and armaments, as well as training seamen, for the attack. When they do attack, they will vastly outnumber Charis’s fleet and it could be brutal.

Speaking of the Charisian navy, it’s always been the best in the world, but the Dohlarians now have a navy of their own and they go out looking for Charisian galleons. And they kick the Charisians’ asses. Of course, it was a 38-4 ship advantage, so look at it however you want to, but it was the first time Charis has ever lost a naval battle and the mystique is tarnished.

Meanwhile, the conquered princedom of Corisonde is producing rebels. One rebel priest and his goons torture and murder a popular priest and Merlin, who we don’t see much of in this book, gives the authorities his location so that they can arrest he and his cronies and execute them. Of course, this infuriates the Group of Four. Additionally, there’s an uprising in the making in the northern section of the country, but it’s put down too.

The book drags in many places. It has slow plotting. It plods. It gets boring at times, for instance, when Coris has to go to Zion in the winter. That section could have been pared down by about 20 pages at least. There’s not much action. Until you get to the very end. The Church finally has its navy and is joined by Harchong’s puny navy, sailing to meet the Dohlar navy. Of course, because of Merlin and his technology, the Charisians know about this and they send most of their fleet to guard Chisholm, which they think is the intended destination. They also worry about the navies joining, because when that happens, there will be over 300 ships against Charis’s 97. Not good odds. High Admiral Bryahn Lock Island takes 25 Charisian galleons, some with new weapons, to attack the Church’s navy. It will be 25 Charisian ships against 130 Church ships. Terrible odds. The only thing he thinks he can do is to attack at night in a storm with driving rain, when the Church won’t be expecting an attack. And he does. And he obliterates the first 14 Church ships before sailing into the teeth of the Church navy, taking heavy fire and casualties. But he gets his ships in the midst of the Church’s navy and the galleons with the new weapons fire and a Church ship literally explodes! Everything they hit is blown to hell. It’s not much of a fight. Most Church ships surrender. Only nine get away. Ninety three are taken by Charis, which itself has only eight ships left. And they have 60,000 Church prisoners now. It’s a huge Charisian victory. Again. And that’s where the book ends. And I had to know what happened after that, so I immediately started reading the next one. Which is where I am now.

Still, problems exist with the book. The names are still freaking ridiculous! First, there are too many in this book to keep track of. There’s an index of them in the back of the book and I think there are close to 500 characters named in this book. That’s freaking cruel. There’s no way we can keep track of them all. Also, they all have titles! They’re Baron this, Earl that, Prince this, Vicar that, Duke this, Bishop that. It’s too much. And to make matters even worse, Weber writes the names in old English spelled phonetically so that the names are virtually unpronounceable and appear to look stupid as hell and interrupt the flow of the sentence or paragraph since you have to stop and try to figure out who or what this person is. It’s damned ridiculous! It’s insulting. It’s stupid. I’m used to it now, since I’ve read four of these, but I still hate it.

Additionally, Weber likes to use certain words and phrases over and over again, beating them into your head until you want to rip your eyes out. People are constantly “baring their teeth.” As I wrote in my review for the last book, Weber — no one bares their damn teeth, moron!!! Dogs bare their teeth. Wolves bare their teeth. People don’t bare their teeth. And certainly not multiple people on the same damn page. It ticks me off. He also likes to write that people “snort.” Constantly. It’s cute the first three dozen times he writes it, but after seeing it 100 times, you want to kill any character who freaking snorts. What are they — horses?

The book also moves at a glacial pace. I think it covers about 11 months, give or take. At this rate, publishing one book a year, maybe the series will be finished by the time I die??? It’s driving me insane. As everyone says, he needs an editor. Maybe three. Cause apparently he has none. They need to speed him up and cut down on the word count.

Weber is a talented writer. I have to be honest though, these books drive me crazy. The whole time I read them, I ask myself why I’m putting myself through this torture. But like many others, I’m addicted. It’s a good story and well told. Just slow as hell and from too many points of view. I want to know what happens next and what happens ultimately. I just don’t want to have to read 25 1000 page books to do it. This is a five star book in terms of quality that deserves three stars because of all of its faults and problems, so I’m giving it four stars. Cautiously recommended for those reading the series.

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Ace’s Birthday

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 24, 2015

Today is our kitten, Ace’s, first birthday. It’s really hard to believe. He’s grown so much. Yet he still behaves like a kitten and still kind of looks like a kitten, especially compared to our older, bigger cat Henry.

Henry has always been “my” cat. He’s always been loyal to me. He likes/loves Gretchen, but after Toby died in February 2014, she really wanted her own pet. At first, she wanted a dog, which I wasn’t in favor of, because at heart she’s a dog person. So last summer and fall, we looked for a dog. We ultimately thought we had found one and she talked me into agreeing to adopt it. A week later, we went to the shelter to get it, only to find it had already been adopted. Gretchen was very disappointed. Finally, last November, on the day after Thanksgiving, the local shelter was having a day where they were giving away free adoptions. Gretchen wanted to go look. Apparently, so did the whole county. Parking was at a premium and the place was packed. We decided to look at cats first. We thought it’d be easier to get another cat, a companion for Henry, and they’re easier to care for. And then Gretchen saw. Ace was a scrawny little kitten in a room with a lot of brothers and sisters. He was a little tabby, just like Toby had been. And she claims she knew. She found an employee and asked to see him, so we were given a private room and were given “Twinkles” to play with. Twinkles is oh so not a little boy cat’s name. He was cute and very affectionate. He was fixed. He had had his shots. I wasn’t completely sold, but Gretchen was, so we filled out the paperwork and stood in line for what seemed like hours before we got him and took him home.

Gretchen wanted a new name. We talked about several possibilities, but she came up with “Ace,” which I thought was the most stupid name I had heard. But that’s what she wanted, so that’s what she got. And I couldn’t remember the cat’s name. I’ve been calling him Toby ever since, because he reminds me of Toby when he was a kitten. We let him out in Henry’s presence and while Henry wasn’t thrilled to have another cat around, they each survived the encounter and soon Gretchen was cuddling with Ace. We took him to our vet, got him some kitten food, which Henry tried to eat, and took lots of pictures. Gretchen wanted to bond with Ace, wanted to make him “her” cat, so she forbade me from bonding with him, much to my amusement. As some of you know, I’m on disability, so I’m home during the day while Gretchen works. Ace we now know is a co-dependent cat and while he was getting a lot of affection from Gretchen while she was home, he’d jump up on my lap during the afternoons and I’d have to kick him off. Very sad. He liked to jump up on our chests and lie right under our chins. It was both very odd and very cute.

Ace was three pounds when we got him. And much to our surprise, we found out he was four months old! His birthday was apparently August 24, 2014. So today is his first birthday. Ace turned into a frisky cat. Very energetic. At first, we worried that Henry, who was fairly alpha with Toby, would beat him up. Boy, we were wrong about that. Within days, our three pound kitten was attacking our 15 pound eight year old Henry, terrorizing him and chasing him around the house, causing him to hiss constantly. Henry didn’t know what to do. Ace was always jumping him no matter where he went. He stalked him. He jumped on his back. He attacked his feet. He bit him, clawed him, went after him. I had had kittens before, most recently Toby, so I knew what to expect, but Gretchen had never had a kitten, so this was all a new experience for her.

I knew Ace would start tearing our furniture up pretty soon. I didn’t count on the drapes too. And he did. Toby ripped the hell out of a nice leather chair I had. He destroyed most of my furniture when he was a kitten. Before I got him de-clawed. I’ve gotten every cat I’ve ever had de-clawed. I know it’s a little controversial now, but all of my cats are indoor cats and I value my furniture and stuff too much, as well as my skin, to allow my cats to retain their front claws. Besides, from all I know about it, when they have it done before six months, it’s not too painful, they recover very quickly, and they don’t really remember it as they age. And they don’t really miss their claws. I couldn’t wait to get Ace de-clawed. But Gretchen was kind of nervous about the topic. She had never had to go through this before. It wasn’t until we got some new furniture that was pretty expensive that he started to sink his claws into, as well as all of the older furniture he was ripping up, that she agreed it needed to be done. So I made an appointment. And then we canceled it. Felt too guilty. Yet two weeks later, we made another. He was just so bad. He was six months old, and the window of opportunity was slipping away. So I took him to the vet. Gretchen was terrified. He was away from us for about four days and Gretchen was in agony the whole time. But I knew he’d be okay. Been there, done that. When he got home, it took about a day before he was back to normal. We had bought him a three story cat condo so he could sit and look out the window and within a day, he was jumping up and down from it. So, good decision and one we’ve never regretted. And Henry’s grateful too.

Christmas was an interesting experience. Everything was new for Ace and it was so cute to see him exploring the tree and the ornaments and the presents. Of course, he tried to demolish everything, so we had to get a big baby gate and put it around the tree, which made it look stupid, but it worked, so everything worked out well.

Ace had to go back to the vet several times for shots. He grew to not like going to the vet. Heh. By this time, he and Gretchen had really bonded and on weekends, he stuck to her like glue. He likes to lie on her all weekend long, on her chest, and she can’t get anything done. She both likes it and it irritates her. I like to remind her this is exactly what she wanted. LOL! And by now, it’s okay for him to get up on me, but he doesn’t usually do it. Normally, in the late afternoons, he’ll come hang out with me for awhile, which is nice, but when Gretchen gets home, he jumps up and goes to the door to wait to see her come in. It’s cute.

Ace used to eat everything. He ate, not only meat, but vegetables too. He loved beans, broccoli, mashed cauliflower, which he still loves, and other things like cheese. He’s gotten more picky recently, which we can’t figure out, but he still likes to sit with us at the table for dinner. Dad never liked that when our pets did this and he’d be rolling over in his grave if he could see this, cause Henry gets up on a chair with us too, but it’s okay. They’re part of the family.

Ace is doing better with Henry lately. He doesn’t attack him as much. Of course, we’ve tried to minimize that. And Henry isn’t hissing as much. In fact, they often sleep on the same bed during the day, which is cute. Ace has really become part of the family. Our only concern is that he’s such a social cat, such a people person, so co-dependent, that we worry that we can’t really go anywhere for any stretch of time. We don’t feel comfortable boarding him. We had a cat sitter come over for a half hour a day when we were on vacation when it was just Henry by himself, but I really don’t think that would work with Ace. Gretchen really misses her family in Maryland and is hoping to get back up there for Thanksgiving and we’ve been talking about options. Obviously, I’d like to join her for travel and to see her family too, but we don’t think Ace could handle it, so I’m probably going to stay home with the cats and take care of them while Gretchen goes by herself. Can you believe it? Isn’t that crazy? Still, it seems like the best and only viable option and unless and until we can break Ace of this co-dependence, I don’t see anyway around it.

I’m going to post some pictures in honor of Ace’s birthday, but they’re old. I have more recent ones, but I can’t post them because I have a new phone and I’ve emailed them to myself at every email address I have and none of them have shown up, for two days. I don’t know what’s wrong with my phone — it appears to be emailing them with no problem — but something’s obviously off. So, here are some older pictures. Ace is now almost 10 pounds. He’s really grown. He’s still cute though. Happy Birthday, Ace!

Ace, 12/24/14

Ace, 12/24/14










Henry and Ace, 3/7/15

Henry and Ace, 3/7/15











Ace, back from the vet, March 2015

Ace, back from the vet, March 2015











Ace 3/21/15

Ace 3/21/15











Ace 3/23/15

Ace 3/23/15












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Health Frustrations

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 23, 2015

I’ve written about my health here before at times. I have health problems. In fact, I’m on disability for Trigeminal Neuralgia and several lumbar issues. The pain can be debilitating. Most pain medications don’t help. I’ve had to have a number of surgical procedures to help, but they’re limited in scope. I also have severe insomnia, which doesn’t help. I average about three hours of sleep a night. I used to try to take naps after lunch every day, for about an hour, so that helped, but I can’t do that anymore for some reason, so that’s gone. Well, this week I’ve gotten up between midnight and 1:30 AM six of the last seven nights, including midnight tonight. I’m so tired and so frustrated and I don’t know what to do. And I’m not asking for advice. I’ve already tried every sleep aid known. I have a sleep doctor. I currently take three sleeping pills to help. They get me to sleep. They just don’t keep me asleep.

Additionally, for well over a year now, I’ve been having nonstop head pain, different from the TN-type head pain I’ve experienced since 2010. It’s been more like extreme regular headaches. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that. And they don’t respond to anything except Percocet. I’ve been to a number of doctors about it. My pain management specialist is at a loss. She put me on two new medications in January, which I believe has helped with my TN-type pain, but not with this new pain. I went to a neurosurgeon, who didn’t really do anything. He’s ready to perform major surgery if and when I need it, but he doesn’t think I do at the moment and he’s probably right. And then last month, after pondering this for months, I went to a new neurologist. He seemed pretty good and pretty thorough and he diagnosed me with a cluster headache, which he said is also quite painful. I hadn’t known that. Apparently I have the symptoms. He put me on a couple of new medications, but I had reactions to one of them, so he took me off of it and put me on something else. I’m not, however, sure that he fully understands my situation because he seems to be treating this like a standard TN-type head pain, or in this case, cluster head pain, when in point of fact, they’re standard bilateral headaches that are extremely severe. I don’t know what to do.

To make matters worse, I’ve been experiencing ungodly back pain for about three months now. It starts about lunchtime and worsens throughout the afternoon into the evening. I usually take over the counter pain medications, which don’t do anything. Then I take a Meloxicam, which doesn’t do anything. Like my head pain, the only pain medication my back pain responds to is Percocet, and even then, not always and not fully. It’s very frustrating. And I don’t know what to do about it. I have no idea what’s causing it and I can’t tell if it’s skeletal or muscular. I went and had a massage a couple of weeks ago. It helped for a couple of days. I have an orthopedist, and I’ve thought about making an appointment, but I honestly don’t know what they could tell me. I don’t know that I’ve done anything new to my back and if they take x-rays or do another MRI and it shows nothing conclusive, I’m going to feel like a moron. All I know is it hurts to sit, walk, and stand. And it’s freaking horrible. Most days, it’s about an 8 or 9 out of 10. I haven’t even mentioned it to my primary care physician because I’m sure he can’t do anything about it. He would just tell me to make an appointment with my orthopedist. *sigh* So most days, I can’t do shit. I can’t go for walks. I can’t even go for rides with my wife half the time. It’s tough just to go to church and sit in the pews. I read a lot and it hurts to sit and read. I feel like a lump and it bugs the heck out of me, but I don’t know what to do.

I do have some good health news though. I’ve been overweight for far too long now. It’s largely the result of being on certain meds for years that have contributed to heavy weight gain. Well, back in 2011, my doctor put me on what I thought at the time was a low carb diet. I was wrong. I lost weight until January 2012. Then I started gaining weight and I couldn’t figure out why. By January of this year, I was a hippo. In February, my wife put me on a seriously low carb diet, which she had been on for a few months herself. It actually wasn’t that hard and it’s been good for me. So I’ve been averaging about 6 carbs per meal every day since then, whereas before I averaged about 36 carbs per meal. And I have now lost about 45 pounds, perhaps closer to 50. That’s not as impressive as some people I read about, but it still feels good. I’ve had to put five holes in my belt and buy some new pants that are three sizes smaller than my former size. I still have a long way to go, to be honest. I have a couple of target weights. I’m three pounds away from my first one. But I’m a very long ways away from my ultimate goal and I don’t know if I’ll ever reach it. But I can try, right? So this has been good and I’m grateful to Gretchen for encouraging and inspiring me to do this. She’s lost a lot of weight herself and has reached her first goal herself. Yay!

I guess that’s it for today. Cheers!

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A Review of Technogenesis

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 20, 2015

TechnogenesisTechnogenesis by Syne Mitchell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book has to be easily one of the cheesiest books I’ve read in a very long time. In fact, I didn’t even finish it. I made it to page 216 and gave up in disgust. It’s just so damn stupid. I don’t know how much experience the author has with cyberpunk, but she could use a few lessons.

In the future, virtually everyone in the world is connected to the Net. 24/7. And that’s all they want out of life. There are a few cranks who are disconnected, but no one pays them any attention. Jaz is a “natural,” a type of psionic who can break into networks, data, and even minds, working for an info company in Seattle. Everyone wears face rigs — all day long. One day, hers breaks. She takes it for repair, but because hers is custom made, it needs to be shipped off, so she’s left with pretty much nothing. And she didn’t realize how horrible it would be to be without the Net. She can’t pay for a bus ticket. She can’t get in her apartment building. People in rigs are staring at her. She feels different. She goes to the library and uses a public connection and starts doing some research. When she finds some relevant articles, they start disappearing before her eyes. What’s going on? More importantly, she feels something in the Net, an entity, and it soon appears before her, a self conscious, constantly growing entity reliant on ten billion networked humans for survival, and it calls itself Gestalt. It scares the hell out of her.

She calls some work friends and talks them into a disconnected hiking/camping trip weekend. She’s going to tell them she has some suspicions. For instance, no networked person has committed suicide in years. She noticed that people are more complacent. She steps in front of people to try to get a rise out of them, but they just walk off. She meets her friends and they hike to a spot out in the boondocks. She shares her suspicions and is met with a variety of reactions, and they aren’t all very supportive. However, soon some snowmobiles show up with what appear to be rangers and they say an avalanche warning is in effect and they have to evacuate. They’re not given a chance to collect their belongings and Jaz winds up with one of the rangers. The others move ahead while Jaz’s slows down. He stops, pulls out a mortar and blows up their camp, before dragging her back on the snowmobile. She’s being kidnapped.

I can’t remember, but she must have been knocked out, because when she comes to, she’s in a prison cell. A military man comes to see her. He informs her he’s a colonel with the NSA. She tells him the NSA is a research organization and he tells her he’s with their enforcement division. She’s in their prison. She has one choice. Go to Pasadena to infiltrate a break out organization that’s offline, for what purpose we’re never told, or be killed.

OK. The NSA doesn’t have an army. They don’t have prisons. They don’t have assassins. And they sure as hell don’t have witches in dungeons, which is something Jaz encounters in her ONE day of training. The two NSA agents sent previously have both disappeared, presumed dead, so she’s given one day of training. And a partner. A hacker who’s in an NSA prison. If they succeed, he gets pardoned.

I’m going to stop. They get to Pasadena, get mind read, immediately invited to join the breakaway organization and they have their own network with their own version of Gestalt. So what’s the big damn difference? I couldn’t take it anymore. What a stupid damn book! I can’t believe I read over 200 pages of it. What a waste of time. Jaz is thinking of deserting the NSA and joining this organization for real. Personally, I hope she gets blown away. She’s a damn idiot. If you like cyberpunk, this is the LAST book I would recommend.

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A Review of Robot City: Suspicion

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 20, 2015

Suspicion (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #2)Suspicion by Mike McQuay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sequel to Robot City: Odyssey didn’t let me down. We have Derec and Kate still in Robot City, unable to leave, guests of the robots, against their wills. Why are they guests? Well, in my review of the previous book, I said there was a cliff hanger. Here it is. One other human has been on the planet and he has wound up murdered. Since robots can’t murder humans, Derec and Kate are the suspects, even though they weren’t even on the planet when it occurred.

While Kate is obsessed with solving the murder and exonerating themselves, Derec is obsessed with the city itself. See, it’s growing. Constantly. And it rains every night. Hard. He discovers an underground reservoir where the water is about to overflow and destroy the city, but if the city would just stop growing, things would be okay. But he also discovers where the city is growing. Near the reservoir, in underground mines, a zillion robots are helping to build a living organism that evolves and grows — the city, all under the watchful eyes of the robot supervisors. He confronts them and they say it can’t be stopped. He’s frustrated.

Meanwhile, Kate finds the murder site. It’s an enclosed building that needs to have a hole cut into it for her to enter. In it, she finds the naked body of the man called David, strangely, Derec’s given name. When she turns the body over, she freaks out because she sees Derec. She passes out and the robots rush to get Derec to come assist her.

Derec keeps thinking about the city and the robots. He finds the very first robot and quizzes him. It saw a human walking away from him as his first waking sight. Derec is convinced the pyramid at the center of the city plays a key role and enters it, only to be told that the top of it is off limits. He goes in anyway. He goes up some stairs and finds an office. Of a human. Who is obviously not there. And he finds a computer. With files for defense of the city, which he reads. He tries to modify them, but is unable to do so.

Later, he and Kate go to the building housing the dead man. They enter and find the body gone. Derec gets suspicious. The computer had said something about an alien presence in its defensive information. The body had had a cut on its foot. The building was enclosed and had no air. He cut himself and let his blood hit the ground. Immediately, the building closed up around them, enclosing them in it. The blood is the alien presence. Derec now knows what killed David. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Still, the rains come. Derec rushes to the mines to find the supervisors to see if they’ll let him reprogram the core to include hemoglobin in its defenses, as well as to dig further for more space. One of them helps him. They find the core, he programs it, the core accepts it, the city is saved.

Good book. But lots of unanswered questions. Robot City has no communication equipment. It can’t let anyone know Derec and Kate are on their planet, nor can it summon a ship for them. Who is the human overseer and probable creator of the city? Where is he hiding? What happened to their key that brought them there that they hid in the pyramid? Who was David? I guess I’ll be looking for those answers and more in Book Three. It’s a short book and readable in one day. Not too heavy, not too sci fi, except for the robots. But fun, nonetheless. Recommended, assuming you’ve read the first one.

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A Review of The Final Evolution

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 19, 2015

The Final EvolutionThe Final Evolution by Jeff Somers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Avery Cates is a bad ass. A major bad ass. And he knows it. And so does half the world. What’s left of it, anyway. It’s a futuristic dystopia Jeff Somers gives us in this five book series and it’s incredibly depressing, with death and destruction waiting just around the corner for practically everyone. Some go sooner than others though.

Cates is a Gunner. He’s a hired gun, a mercenary. He sells his services to the highest bidder and he’s one of the very best in the world. He has survived so much in this series and is still alive. It’s truly amazing. In this book, we see Cates and his apprentice and friend, Remy, in a South American country, ready to take out a small time dictator. They take care of his guards and kill him ruthlessly. When they go to collect their pay, the idiot who hired them claims to be broke and offers them jobs with him. Cates pulls his gun and is about to blow him away when an Angel appears. Angels are psionics with tremendous powers who go around passing judgment on people and killing them. One has come for him. And so it begins.

The book follows the two, with a beautiful female companion, up to Mexico City, where they encounter an old enemy of Avery’s. He’s been waiting to kill him for years. When he meets him, the man is in a hospital and shows him the stumps of where his hands have been cut off. Then he tells him that he’s bait for Cates. Avery starts to understand. Avery’s biggest nemesis and the greatest Gunner of them all, Canny Orel, is stalking Cates all the while while Cates has been after him. He has a score to settle. But Cates sort of blanks out and wakes up to find the guy in the hospital bed shot dead and Remy having done it. What the hell? He wanted to do it. Before this happened, Cates heard that Canny might be in Croatia, so that’s where he heads next, with Remy in tow. Remy acts strangely the whole trip and when they are on board a boat, where the three of them are stowaways, the crew finds them and sells them to some unknown party. Cates is ticked. Turns out it’s a group of Techies, people who are trying to preserve technology in a world where technological advances no longer exist, where manufacturing no longer exists.

First things first. Cates is knocked out. When he regains consciousness, his female friend has beaten it out of there and Remy is in a cage. Grisha, the leader of the Techies, explains that Remy is dead, Cates had killed him in the hospital, and this Remy is a powerful psionic who has been controlling Cates ever since. The psionic is killed and Cates can’t believe that Remy is gone.

Grisha tells him that the system cops left over from when there was a system are now avatars, dead people who have been uploaded into metal chassis’ and who are heavily armed. But while they have the capacity to keep order, they are about to run out of time in three weeks unless he can get the override codes. And he needs Avery to do it. See, Canny has the codes. And needs to be captured alive. But he’s the most powerful psionic avatar on earth and is holed up in a castle in Croatia, where he will be able to defend himself against nearly any attack. Cates agrees to do it, provided he gets Canny back when Grisha’s done with him. So he can kill him.

They take a Techie team and head to Germany, where they pick up some avatar system cops who will help out on the raid. Cates will lead a small team through a drainage pipe tunnel while the cops storm the castle. Well, shit happens. A lot of shit. People die. They come across zombies Canny is controlling, who are attempting to shoot them. Canny’s being is injected, partially, into a doll-like girl in the tunnel, whom Cates and the others capture. But they’re ultimately driven away.

They head to Spain. Cates is convinced Canny will come for them. He wants the head of the girl Cates took with them. It contains too much of his information and personality for him to be comfortable letting them have it. There are about twenty armed Techies and Avery. Then about ten psionics join them for the purpose of helping to defeat Canny. They set up trip wires, security, alarms, everything, and prepare.

Canny comes at night. They can tell by gunfire and the sound of someone yelling as they die. More people die. Canny’s getting closer. The thing about psionics is they have to see you to throw you up in the air or “push” you inside your head or anything like that. So Avery’s told Grisha and some others to always be on the move and don’t let yourselves be seen. One of their psionics spots Canny and throws him up into the air and a good ten Techies rush together to go shoot at him while he is aloft. But they don’t. He’s stopping them. Avery grabs one of the rifles and starts shooting, but Canny causes a buried hovercraft to come up out of the ground and land on the group, minus Avery, killing them all. Avery takes off down into the cellars. It’s an old prison that he had actually been in, with Canny, some years ago. And Canny appears before him. And they get it on. Canny tosses him around like a rag doll. Cates gets a few shots off. They do nothing. Canny pushes Avery’s mind and it’s horrible, but he’s able to withstand it ultimately because his brain was screwed up by the system several years before and is impenetrable. Canny flies through the air. Canny lands on Cates. He’s hurting everywhere. Avery gets him to go down an elevator shaft, where he drops some grenades and it does some good. Canny returns on fire and everything on top of his chassis is burned off. But then he bull rushes Cates and knocks into him hard. Cates knows he’s going to die. Somehow though, he’s able to get on top and pull his gun. He sticks it in an eye socket and pulls the trigger repeatedly. Tough luck Grisha. Not getting him alive. Cates wins in the end. Final scene: Cates walking a deserted street in Toledo, going into a deserted bar and getting some alcohol. Great ending to a great book and a great series. However, there is an appendix, which is really an epilogue, and it’s completely perplexing. It’s purportedly a diary of someone, a woman, somewhere in Croatia, probably back at the beginning of the troubles. People around her are disappearing. People around her are turning into zombies. And that’s it. What does it have to do with the book or the series? Perhaps I’m just stupid, but I didn’t get it and don’t know why it was included. Nonetheless, if you like uber violent dystopian cyberpunk, this is definitely the series for you. Strongly recommended.

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