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Archive for September, 2015

A Review of Perihelion

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 29, 2015

Perihelion (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #6)Perihelion by William F. Wu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the conclusion to the six book Robot City series and I, for one, found it fairly satisfying. Robot City hasn’t been the best written series I’ve ever read. Perhaps part of the reason is that most of the books were written by different authors, which is an unusual way to go about writing a series. It’s lacked in some ways. The last two books, in particular, I thought were quite bad. But the idea behind the series was original and I appreciated that, and so I continued reading. And I’m glad I did.

In this book, Derec, Ariel, Mandelbrot, and Wolruf find themselves back in Robot City after their horrible time on Earth and they’re searching for the insane Dr. Avery, who has infected Derec with a disease in which “chemfets” have infected his system and, as a result, a miniature Robot City is literally growing inside him and it is killing him. He is weak and needs to sleep all the time and he is in a lot of pain. Meanwhile, Ariel has been cured of the Amnemonic plague and is slowing regaining her memory. That’s good, because she really carries Derec in this book.

When they descend the pyramid they landed on with the Key of Perihelion, Derec and Ariel are immediately accosted by a Hunter robot who attempts to take them captive. In fact, they don’t see too many robots at all. Robot City has changed since they were last there and they come to realize Dr. Avery has reprogrammed the robots somehow for some unknown reason. He’s taken their personalities and creativity away from them and has installed a new “migration” program for all humanoid robots to follow, leaving just a few robots to keep the city running.

The four of them escape the Hunter robot, but more Hunters appear, so they flee. They eventually escape to a warehouse where they hide out. Meanwhile, their old former cyborg friend, Jeff, from a previous book, returns to the planet with a big spaceship, since he owes them a favor, presumably to get them off planet and help save their lives. He knows they’ll be glad to see him. He lands in the middle of the city and is immediately accosted by Hunter robots. He’s stunned. He, too, can see Robot City has changed. Mandelbrot had been able to determine a ship was landing with a human in it, so he takes a truck to the ship in an effort to save him. He does and brings him back to the warehouse. They all swap information and it turns out Jeff had met Dr. Avery through his professor father a few years back. Also, Ariel’s mother had been a big contributor to Dr. Avery’s funds when it came to building Robot City. Derec is too weak to really join in. They decide they have to find Dr. Avery quickly to get him to save Derec’s life, but where to look? They do a scan and find crop fields in the hills outside the city. They decide that must be where Avery is hiding out, so they decide to head there. They decide Mandelbrot and Wolruf should take off separately to act as decoys so the humans can take off in the spaceship and somehow get to the crops to look for Avery.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, but there’s a lot of action and a lot of tension and they do eventually find Avery and all of the mysteries are finally explained. And there are some real shocking surprises at the end of the book. Frankly, I enjoyed the hell out of the final few pages. This isn’t a five star book, but I think it’s a fairly four star effort. I’m glad I ended up giving this series a chance. For some quick, lightweight sci fi — recommended.

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A Review of The Eternity Brigade

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 28, 2015

The Eternity BrigadeThe Eternity Brigade by Stephen Goldin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Eternity Brigade is innovative, thought provoking, action packed, and horribly disturbing. Written in 1980, it follows the military career of an army man named Hawkeye and his friends, Green and Symington. After Vietnam, America gets involved in a big war in Africa that is apparently pretty brutal. The military, and I assume politicians, come up with a plan to cut costs while maintaining military preparedness: cryogenics. Roughly 100 “volunteers” are given a bonus and three weeks leave if they agree to be frozen cryogenically only to be unthawed at some point in the future to fight a future war when the time comes. Hawk and the other two decide to do it, with some reservations, and are frozen. Moments later, they’re awoken and get out of their “coffins.” They’re shocked to discover it’s been nearly 12 years! They’ve been unfrozen to help lead a new, untrained army against Chinese rebels and the Russians, while aiding the Chinese government, which they think is pretty odd. They win, go back to their base and are discharged and sent home. Before they were frozen, they had come up with the idea that if they pooled their money they’d be collecting while paid while frozen, they’d have enough to be rich and go into business together. To their surprise, money has been devalued and they’re only worth about 40% of what they thought they’d be worth. They go to New York City and try to find work, but there’s none to be had. People have changed, food has changed, they can’t go to college on the GI bill because most colleges have shut down and the few remaining have incredibly high standards. They become disenchanted and decided to reenlist. More soldiers are doing it now, many more. This time they’re frozen for 14 years. They don’t age however. They fight another war. They leave the army again, only to find that the politicians have seized all of their assets while they were frozen and have taken their pay away from them. They’re dead broke. So they reenlist. When they get back to base, they’re given a new briefing about a new technology. It involves something other than cryogenics. Now, pictures can be taken of them, instantly putting their atoms into computers, storing them for as long as necessary, easier to transport, and able to put them back together again when it’s time to fight again. They see taped demonstrations of this and even though they have misgivings, they decide to do it. After all, they have nothing to go home to in the real world. Instantly they’re awakened, ready to fight another war. This one is with Russia. On the moon. And Hawk sees Green die. He’s devastated. Until he finds out the next time around that Green and Symington, who also died, are both there, ready to fight. Now that they’re computerized, they can always be brought back to life. They can never truly die. They’re immortal, always ready to fight wars for whoever commands it. Countries change, alliances change, aliens appear, more worlds are discovered, wars are fought everywhere for hundreds of years and they all live and die a million times over. They’re trapped, slaves of the system. They can never get away, never get their freedom. Until they land on one planet that’s special. And something “wrong” happens to Green. Something that’s never happened before. And all of a sudden, Hawk realizes there actually is a way out, a way to freedom, a way to end this nightmare existence of hell he’s been living. And so he takes it. And it’s pretty freaking awesome. But in the process of what transpires in this book, as Green brings up, what has happened to their souls? They no longer exist as humans. They’re only a microchip. Do they even have souls anymore, if they ever did? Does God exist and if so, does he even care? This book takes a hard look at a number of things and the answer(s) it provides isn’t always pretty and it portends some awful possibilities for our future. But there are ways out. There always are. This isn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s quite good and it stretches one’s mind. There’s gratuitous sex, but that’s probably more the result of the ’70s sexual revolution during which it was written than anything. The violence isn’t overly extreme. It’s a short book, so it’s a quick read. But it’s a sobering book, so be prepared. Nonetheless, recommended.

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A Review of Once A Hero

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 27, 2015

Once a Hero (The Serrano Legacy, #4)Once a Hero by Elizabeth Moon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Call me completely dumb, but I read a full 300 pages of this novel before giving up because it had gotten so progressively STUPID. God, it was a stupid and boring novel. This was my first Elizabeth Moon novel and I had always heard pretty good things about her, but this was not a good introduction to her work for me. When I bought this, I didn’t know that this was the fourth book in a large series. It would have helped to read the preceding book and from what I could tell, the preceding book would have been a lot better.

In the preceding book, protagonist Lieutenant Esmay Suiza had survived a mutiny on a warship where her captain had turned traitor along with several other ship captains and there was a battle on the ship leaving her senior officer. She took the ship back to the ongoing warship battle and won, beating all odds. In this book, she’s court marshaled for mutiny and is exonerated. She goes to her home planet on leave, has a horrible time, can’t wait to get back to Fleet, and upon arriving, instead of being assigned to another warship, she discovers she’s assigned to a monstrously huge repair spaceship. It has 18 levels and is the size of an orbital space station. It has 25,000 personnel, a captain who hates her, and multiple admirals. She’s assigned to Hull and Architecture, a department she has no experience in, and yes, that’s about the most exciting department on this ship. And so begins an entire book of descriptions of inventory racks, getting lost on various levels, eating in mess halls, taking tubes to various levels, other departments, such as Scan, Tactical, blah, blah, blah. Oh my God, is it boring. She has to go get inventory number GS5077658SL or crap like that and find plan FR564972, etc. How many pages of that shit can you read? Fortunately some action finally occurs. Except that it’s beyond stupid. They find out about a damaged warship in another sector that they want to repair, so they “jump” without escort to get it, find dead and wounded people on it, transfer all of the bloody but strangely unwounded (after all) people to the sick bay, and start working on the ship, which will apparently take months to repair. Two warships that were with the damaged one leave them to go back to their previous destination, leaving the repair ship alone. Understand that their enemies lack good technology and would like nothing more than to capture this type of ship so they could use it for themselves. And so the 25 wounded crew members of the ship they just got are an enemy commando team. And a couple of hours after they’ve been in sick bay, the authorities on the repair ship, get them up, give them clothes and IDs and assign them to various departments to work because they desperately need their help. They desperately need the help of 25 people who don’t know anything about their ship when they already have 25,000 people? Yeah, that’s logical. How freaking stupid is that? When Esmay’s assigned person comes, she gets a bad feeling about him, shares it with her boss, and immediately concludes that it’s an enemy commando team that attacked the ship they took in, killed its personnel, put on their uniforms, are acting as Fleet personnel, and are now spread all over the repair ship ready to take it over. She just knew it. She knew the plan. Somehow. It’s amazing. It’s beyond comprehension that she would be able to come to that conclusion just by interacting with one person from that ship. It literally makes no sense whatsoever. It’s stupid as hell. Of course, it turns out that she’s right, but it’s virtually impossible for anyone to come to that conclusion based on just her instinct. And then the enemy commando team of 25 people steal a few dull dinner knives from the mess hall while eating, get together, and laughingly plan to take over the ship, killing as many people as possible with these “weapons” even though they face 25,000 people. Meanwhile, the captain and admirals have been alerted to everything by Esmay and are planning on taking over the oncoming enemy warships when they arrive, even though they have no weapons. Then they’re going to blow up their own ship and people to keep it out of the hands of the enemy. I read a little bit further. The bad guys take a hostage, Esmay’s love interest. They kill a few people. But I just stopped because the book had gotten so fucking stupid, I just couldn’t continue. I can’t believe how boring and how dumb this book and this premise is. I’ve just finished reading the first 10 Honor Harrington books, which I’ve compared this book to because of the theoretically strong female protagonists, but David Weber can write a believable, compelling story and Honor rocks. Moon is a weak writer who chooses boring things to write about and writes unrealistic scenes and scenarios and makes her books unbelievable as a result. If she had just made some adjustments, changed some things, it could have been better, maybe much better, I’m not sure. But she didn’t and as a result, the book sucks. I’m not going to give any more books in this series a chance. There may be some good ones, but I’m not risking it. Not recommended.

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A Review of Like A Mighty Army

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 25, 2015

Like a Mighty ArmyLike a Mighty Army by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boy, I really don’t know how I feel about this book or about this series anymore. On one hand, I love the series. It’s an awesome, epic story told by a fantastic writer. On the other, like so many other people, I’m getting so damn bitter about the author and his stupid manipulations of us, the readers he obviously holds in disdain, so he can sell a zillion more books. His books move at glacial paces, almost nothing of note ever happens, no progress ever gets made, we’re never much more further along in the story line than in the previous book(s). My God, at this rate, I’m easily going to die before the series ends!!! How in the world Weber expects to move from steam engines and breech loading rifles to plasma weapons and space ships to fight aliens in outer space in a few more books is beyond comprehension. It’s literally impossible at his pace. His books go at about one year per book. This was his seventh book. We’ve come seven years. We’ve gone from cannon balls to artillery shells. Wow. Impressive. Not. At the same time, the story is so amazing and so compelling, that you just want to know how everything is going to work out, what’s going to happen to Charis, to the Church, to Merlin, to the main characters. What’s going to happen??? I want to know, dammit!

This book is no different from the last book. We’re still fighting land battles in Siddarmark. However, at least, tides have turned from the last book and in this book Charisian forces are kicking the hell out of Church forces and their allies all over the Republic and it’s sweet justice to see. Additionally, there are two or three big plot twists, which should and probably will prove interesting in future books — all 45 of them, I’m sure — and the very end of the book is pretty cool and makes me want to read the next book immediately. And it isn’t due to be published until next month. Oh well.

The same problems exist in this book, only more so. The naming conventions are still a nightmare. Changing all the vowels to consonants is insane, but Weber does it, so you have names like Wyllyys and crap like that. And that’s an easy one. He likes to throw as many “y,” “z” and “r” letters into names as possible as replacements for “i” and “e,” etc., and it is enough to make you want to kill the man. Then again, if you’ve made it this far in the series, I guess you’re used to it. I’m still irritated at all of the titles though. Everyone is a baron, earl, prince, upper priest, vicar, bishop, duke, princess, etc, and adding that to the names is enough to drive anyone nuts. Then there are Weber’s pet phrases that he uses repeatedly. Everyone “snorts.” I’ve never seen so many people snort in my entire life. It’s fucking insane. Everyone, including the women and girls, “bare their teeth.” Um, excuse me? This is my pet peeve, I admit, cause I’ve mentioned this in reviews of previous books in this series, but WEBER, no one bares their fucking TEETH!!! Dogs bare their teeth. Wolves bare their teeth. HUMANS DO NOT BARE THEIR DAMN TEETH!!! And he has to have every character in the book do it at least three times on probably every other page through all 900+ pages throughout the book. I want to kill Weber for this alone. It’s brutal. To make matters worse, everyone — all of the bad guys and all of the good guys — do the following: when they are talking with people and, no matter how serious the topic, like they’re about to die in battle, they are for some reason possibly amused, their lips possibly “twitch.” Twitching lips. Oh my God! I must have read about twitching lips some 150 times in this book. Seriously, sometimes I wish Weber would have a fatal heart attack so I wouldn’t have to read this shit anymore cause as long as he writes these Safehold books, I’m going to read them, cursing his name the entire time. But as much as I resent him, I love these books so much. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Go through the online reviews. Most reviewers feel like me. Most hate Weber for his naming conventions, for his plodding pace, for his making this into a 40 book series, for his overused phrases, but everyone says they have to keep reading because it’s such an amazing story and they have to find out what happens and it’s true. It is. And I do. I just wish I could sometime this century. I’m hoping the war in Siddarmark will end sometime in the next two or three books. That will mean it will only have taken five books to get through this damn war. Then we can move on to the Temple Lands and attack Zion and the Group of Four and unseat the Church. Sweet justice, then. Because of how this book ended, I’m anxious to begin the next one, as I said.

This book was good. There was plenty of action. A lot of battle action. A lot of tactics. Far too much about supply lines though. Far too much about gunpowder and the speed of bullets. Skip that crap, Weber, and cut down on the book’s size for our sake, please. Just get to the action. Weber can do a battle like no other. He’s a master. He just gets bogged down in the tactical details from all sides and it’s agonizing at times. Also, one of the faults of this book is that there are so many minor characters and so many chapters and sections opening with minor characters that you have no idea who they are or what army they’re with or who they fight for or anything until you’ve read a little while and it’s annoying. Speaking of characters, again, there are far too many. At the back of the book, there are at least 80 pages of characters listed in an index, which is insane. I have no idea how Weber keeps track of them. I certainly can’t. I’ve said this before, and so have many other people, but he seriously needs several editors, because he obviously has none. This is a five star book with three star problems, thus earning it four stars. Similar to several other Safehold books. I wish Weber would learn from his mistakes and/or listen to his readers. I guess he’s too arrogant for that since he’s obviously making tens of millions of dollars from us. If you’re reading the series, the book is obviously recommended. If you’re not, don’t read it; begin with the first book. You won’t understand it if you don’t.

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New Ray’s Road Review

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 23, 2015

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the Fall 2015 issue of Ray’s Road Review. It has plenty of new fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photography. Feel free to check it out at http://raysroadreview.com.

Since I’m the poetry editor, I may as well plug the poets. They are Ruth Z. Deming, Ernest Williamson, R.T. Castleberry, Ross Knapp, Michael H. Brownstein, and Lowell Jaeger. There’s also a book review. It’s a pretty good group of poets representing wide styles of poetry with a variety of subjects. If you enjoy contemporary poetry, check it out.

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A Review of Robot City: Refuge

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 23, 2015

Refuge (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #5)Refuge by Rob Chilson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t understand this book, or rather the importance of this book to the series. I don’t think it adds very much to the series and instead think it detracts and distracts. I think it’s poorly written (did you know you can collect water in space for fuel for your space ship?) and the science is spurious and the concept is bad and I have no idea what the series editors were thinking when they thought about this fifth book in the six book series.

So far, Derec and Ariel have been trapped on and in Robot City for the first four books and have been desperate to escape, especially since Ariel’s mysterious fatal illness finally seems to be getting worse and also because Derec wants to find the source of his amnesia. At the end of the last book, they’ve escaped the evil Dr. Avery with Wolruf and Mandelbrot in Dr. Avery’s space ship and are heading out. In this book, they use a Key to Perihelion to transport them to somewhere, anywhere, and to their horror, they wind up on earth. Earth is a spacer’s nightmare. It’s beyond overcrowded. It’s so overpopulated that its entire population is larger than all 50 colonized planets combined! And this is one of the stupid things about the book. When I read that, I thought, holy cow — there must be like 100 billion people on the planet to beat out 50 other planets in some distant future. Everyone lives underground and travels underground and the cities are all underground. How many people are there? Bear in mind that this book was written in 1988. There were probably about five billion people on the planet at the time of publication. So, to my shock, Derec and Ariel were horrified to learn that earth had EIGHT BILLION people living on it!!! Oh my God! Eight billion! More than 50 planets! Um, really? How freaking stupid is that? We already nearly have that many now, just a few decades after publication of this book. Are you telling me this sci fi writer couldn’t look into the future and see serious over population? What a massive moron!

Anyway, Derec and Ariel are on earth and they’re overwhelmed at all the people. I mean, they are surrounded by thousands of people. Thousands. Oh my God. The horror. I can’t imagine. Poor spacers. Apartments are tiny and don’t include bathrooms or kitchens, so they have to share communal bathrooms and go to giant cafeterias. Additionally, earthmen hate robots, so even though Dr. Avery has one in his apartment who helps them, they can’t take it out with them or it would be torn apart.

They find they’re in St. Louis. They travel around, feeling claustrophobic. They get identified as spacers and some people try to attack them. They want to get out to the surface and driving trucks is one of the only ways to do so, so they take a course, but have to withdraw after their fake IDs are identified. Meanwhile Ariel’s getting much worse. The only real redeeming aspect of the book is that she is hospitalized and the medical staff is able to diagnose and cure her of her plague she had gotten on Aurora. Her memories are erased, but they are able to slowly replace many of them, with Derec’s help, but it takes time. Meanwhile, he’s doing very poorly himself and seems to be getting sick. He keeps dreaming of Robot City. He dreams it’s inside him. And then he realizes, somehow, that it is. That it’s growing inside of him and that Dr. Avery did something to him that needs to be fixed only by returning to Robot City in an effort to save his life. Finally, he and Ariel are able to fly to New York City, underground (I want to know how they got the Arch of St. Louis magically underground???), and take a space ship off planet. Soon they are attacked by the same alien from the first book who had captured them, but Wolruf and Mandelbrot show up and the four of them fight him off and destroy his ship. The last paragraph of the book has Mandelbrot using the Key to take all four back to Robot City.

All that said, there’s virtually nothing about Robot City in this book at all. We never see it. It’s not often mentioned. We rarely see robots. We spend virtually all of our time on earth with Derec and Ariel and while it’s minimally interesting, I actually got pretty bored quite soon. I thought it was filler. I thought, aside from finding Ariel’s cure, which could have taken place anywhere, including Robot City, this book really had little to nothing to offer and I don’t even know why it was written. I thought, as in previous books, the dialogue was stilted, the plot line was shaky, the logic was faulty, the science was pretty sad, and the entire representation of earth was beyond unrealistic. Just a poor, poor book. Since I have the last book, I’m going to read it. I think this is a somewhat poor series, not well written, but on the whole, I’ve enjoyed it to a certain degree, in part because it’s fairly original and I appreciate that. It’s also got a lot of mystery about it and I’m hoping all becomes clear in this next book. I can’t recommend this book at all and even if you’re reading this series, I would just skip it, because other than Ariel’s cure, there’s not much else here to make it worthwhile. Looking forward to the final book though….

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