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Archive for October, 2015

A Review of Mr. Hockey

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 27, 2015

Mr. Hockey: My StoryMr. Hockey: My Story by Gordie Howe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really good autobiography of one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Perhaps the best. He played in an era that preceded me, so I never got to see him play, but I’ve seen video and I’ve obviously read about him and he was pretty impressive. I knew he played a long time, until he was quite old, but I learned a whole lot more about him in this book.

Gordie Howe was a Saskatoon boy who grew up loving and playing hockey. And he was good. This was in the era when the NHL just had six teams, an era that lasted for a long time, so jobs were scarce at the NHL level. Still, he dreamed of playing in the NHL. Like many hockey players, he wasn’t the best student. He wanted to be out on the ice all the time. He was so good that the New York Rangers offered him a contract when he was just 15! And he turned them down. He was very shy and the thought of moving to New York, where he wouldn’t know anyone, turned him off. The next year, at 16, Detroit offered him a contract. He asked if he’d know anyone in camp. Apparently a number of Saskatoon boys would be going to their training camp and that sealed the deal for him. He quit high school (one of his biggest regrets, he writes) and became a professional hockey player. He spent two years, but only the second playing, in the minors and was finally brought up to Detroit around 1948. His original contract was for something like $2500. Back then, there was no player’s union and players weren’t allowed to discuss their contracts with each other. The owners said they made no money and couldn’t afford to pay the players much and the players believed them. It was a crock of shit. For years, Howe made next to nothing, even when Detroit told him he’d be the highest paid Red Wing and one of the highest paid players in the league. In the late 60s, when he found out a scrub was making substantially more than him, as well as many other teammates, he felt really betrayed. And demanded a big raise. Which he immediately got. And then he realized he could have demanded four times that much and gotten it.

Howe became a scoring machine. He won six Art Ross trophies for NHL scoring leaders and six Hart awards for NHL MVP. He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups. And this is the thing that really impressed me — he was in the top five in NHL scoring for 20 consecutive years!!! That’s completely unheard of. Sidney Crosby has been in the top five in consecutive years, I believe, twice. Other players, once, twice, four times. How? Twenty consecutive seasons. That’s unreal. Of course, there are a lot of people who think Howe was a dirty player and he addresses his hard nosed style of play in the book and admits to it, but largely writes that he became violent largely in retaliation. In any event, he became the NHL’s all time scoring leader and also accumulated 2,000 career penalty minutes. His scoring title lasted until Wayne Gretzy came along and took it.

One thing I didn’t know was Howe played long enough — and longer — to play on the same team with two of his grown sons! How incredible is that? They played together for years. And although I knew this, it’s incredible to think that he played in five decades — the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties, when he was in his fifties. Isn’t that astonishing?

He writes a lot about his wife, whom he dearly loved. She became his business manager and was quite good at looking out for him. Unfortunately, she died in 2009 and he’s been alone and missing her since. He’s now in his late 80s and, as his children write in the final chapter, is getting dementia, which is very unfortunate. At least he retained enough of his memory to write this book. What a great player. He played professional hockey for 32 years. That’s got to be some kind of record that will never be broken. Is this the best autobiography I’ve ever read? No. But it’s a quick and interesting read and well worth the time. Recommended.

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A Review of Foundation and Empire

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 26, 2015

Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2)Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m sorry if I sound like a sci fi traitor, but this book sucks. And this series sucks. I have no idea how it won a one time Hugo for best sci fi/fantasy trilogy of all time, beating Lord of the Rings, but the idiots who gave it to Asimov were complete morons. First of all, this book is unbelievably stupid. It’s divided into two parts. In the first, a young general of the fading Galactic Empire comes to invade Foundation. With 10 warships, only eight of which work. And it turns into a 10 year war. Somehow. I have no idea how Asimov figures that. In David Weber’s space battles, hundreds of ships are destroyed in seconds in his books and that’s how I picture things to be. You don’t go “invade” a world with eight ships, nor would it take 10 years. That’s just stupid. And when Foundation defeats him, they somehow have defeated the Galactic Empire too, even though it encompasses thousands of planets and Foundation has invaded none of them, so that makes literally no sense. The second half of the book is about a mutant called “the Mule,” which is an utterly stupid name, who is anti-Foundation and who has arisen from nowhere to take over a planet without firing a shot, whom no one has really seen, who there are only rumors about, who all of a sudden is taking over all sorts of planets, and who attacks Foundation for some reason. It’s mind numbingly stupid. The second thing that makes giving this book part of the best trilogy of all time stupid is, like the other Foundation books, the writing is utterly atrocious. Asimov can’t write. It’s like he got three degrees in science and decided he could write novels, so he did, but he actually can’t. Compare that to me. I have three degrees in English and writing. What if I decided I wanted to go dabble in science? I would have no validity to do so, but isn’t that the same thing Asimov is doing? I like his robot books, to a certain degree, but frankly, the more I read of him, the more horrified I am at his total lack of writing skills. For instance, the man has never heard of transitions. Never. One minute a character is talking to someone, telling him he’ll go to another planet to talk to someone else, and the next sentence he’s talking to that other person, but you don’t know that because there’s been no transition letting you know that. There’s been no goodbyes said, no space travel, no landings, no travels on a new planet, no setting up meetings with a new person, nothing. Just the next sentence, the character is talking to the new person and it just magically happens. Terrible writing. Then try this on. This is a one sentence paragraph opening chapter 16. It’s unreal.

“When the twenty-seven independent Trading worlds, united only by their distrust of the mother planet of the Foundation, concert an assembly among themselves, and each is big with a pride grown of its smallness, hardened by its own insularity, and embittered by eternal danger — there are preliminary negotiations to be overcome of a pettiness sufficiently staggering to heartsicken the most persevering.”

What the HELL is that about? What does that even mean? It’s just gibberish! It’s trash! And that’s how Asimov writes. He writes like crap. Who taught him how to write? Did he ever take any writing classes, let alone creative writing classes, in college? And his dialogues are typically wooden and unbelievable as well. Just atrocious. Bad, bad, bad. He mixes 1950s casual colloquialisms with formalities and pseudo-technical gibberish to make it even worse. It hasn’t aged well, that’s for sure.

When I read the first Foundation novel a little while ago, I was disappointed, but I thought it was somewhat original, so even though I thought it was a three star book, I gave it a four star review. This one isn’t sliding by. I didn’t even finish it, I was so disgusted. And I have the next one, the next two actually. Somehow I doubt I’ll read them now. I can only think they’ll be massive disappointments to me. For the life of me, I have no idea how many people can give this book a five star rating. Clearly they have few standards as far as quality of writing goes. Call me a snob, but I think there are many, many more sci fi writers out there with infinitely better writing skills — and ideas — than Asimov. I just started a huge book of his early stories which has a very high rating on Goodreads. I hope I’ll like it and I actually think I might. But this book? Not recommended at all.

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A Review of Hell’s Foundations Quiver

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 22, 2015

Hell's Foundations Quiver (Safehold, #8)Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Hell’s Foundations Quiver (Safehold #8) was a fantastic book. But David Weber, the author, is a first class ASSHOLE and I’m getting really sick of this addictive fucking series he’s written. This is the fourth straight book with the war in Siddermark and with where the book ended, it’s clear to me that there will need to be between two and four more books before this war is concluded, if then. And that’s too goddamn much. Damn it, the first war was over in one book, the first. The second war, between Charis and Corisonde, was over in one book. Why the fuck can’t this fucking war be over in one fucking book??? Why the hell does it have to stretch over four fucking books, and now apparently many more? WTF? Weber is obviously a greedy fuck who has discovered that if you write 1,000 page books in such incredible detail from so many perspectives, you can draw a war out six or eight or 10 books and suckers like you and me will pay countless millions for them. Cause it’s admittedly an awesome story. In fact, it’s the best story I’ve ever read. That’s why I keep coming back to it, even with all the stupid names I resent so much and even with all of the phrases Weber has his characters repeat on virtually every other page until you want to bash your head into the wall. Countless reviewers have commented on how slow the plot is. Well, he’s slowed it down even more. Even though this book is probably the best Siddermark book in the series, and even though it’s full of action and battles, nothing really happens. There’s no progression. No resolution. Just a military stalement for yet another year, basically. So why write the fucking book at all? Because Weber wants to make bank, that’s why? Greedy prick! I’d love to tell that SOB off. He’s the most amazing writer, even with his bad, annoying habits, and can create the most amazing worlds, but damn, he manipulates his readers with his unbelievably slowed down and unresolved plots. Yes, it was good to see the vicars, the Group of Four, freaking out. Yes, it was good to see Charis and Siddermark settling some debts, militarily. Yes, it was damn good to see Merlin slaughter some bastard Army of God fanatics again. And, yes, like the ending of the last book, the ending of this book was pretty good, with Merlin appearing out of the blue before Earl Thirsk of Dohlar. Presumably in an attempt to save his life. And since this book began with where the previous book left off, it’s safe to assume the next one will too. (And the first chapter of this book was excellent!) But, dammit, do I have to wade through umpteen more battles I’ll never remember with newer weapons that barely progress technologically with lots of politics and religion and realistically nothing at all happening? Cause if I do, I’ll never read another fucking Weber novel again. I already hate his guts for doing all this shit to us. I already resent him for his obvious manipulations of his readers. Does he really have to string it out so damn long? And not only that, but when the war in Siddermark is finally over sometime in, oh, book 12 or so, will we FINALLY get to see Charis invade the Temple Lands and attack Zion and finally pay back the Group of Four like we all have been dying to see for the last eight books? When the hell is that going to happen? Or is Weber going to string that war out for five or eight books too? Cause if he does, I’ll be dead before this series is done and frankly, he’s no younger than me, so he might want to consider finishing the fucking series before he dies himself. Asshole. And what about getting humanity back to space? When the hell is that going to happen? In book 35? I mean, really? WTF? Weber started an excellent series and then got carried away and now he’s dug everyone a hole they’ll never get out of. What a cruel bastard. Honestly, if you read this book on its own merits, it’s a five star book. It’s really good. But you can’t do that. Because it’s part of the series and because it’s a big part of the war in Siddermark sub-series, which Weber has yet to come close to completing and I’m so damn pissed about that, I’m inclined to give the book one star. Because that’s what Weber deserves. So I’m compromising and giving it three undeserved stars. I guess if you’re reading the series and haven’t already given up, you’ll have to read this, so it’s recommended, but otherwise, give up now while you still can. Cause this series isn’t going to be over for the next 20 fucking years.

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A Review of Kingpin

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 22, 2015

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime UndergroundKingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kingpin is a fascinating and utterly frightening account of one hacker/carder who essentially took on the world and took over the billion dollar carding empire — until the FBI finally got him. Max “Vision” Butler was a giant self taught computer genius from Idaho who settled in San Francisco and met another guy named Chris and found they had some things in common, like making money and hacking. Max had already been in prison for hacking and had a vendetta against authority and society even while at the same time viewing himself as a “white hacker,” hacking for society’s good. He was a walking dichotomy. They set up a carding scheme with Max as the hacker/carder, hacking at first into restaurant point of sales machines and getting credit card data from them, and later into a zillion “secure” computers and servers of banks and companies (and individuals too) around the world. He gave the card data to Chris who built a card making factory in Orange County and soon he was making millions, while paying Max next to nothing. But Max enjoyed the challenge of hacking and carding. And he was the best, or at least one of the very best. There was a Ukrainian who could have challenged him for that title, apparently. Going by the name of “Iceman,” Max destroyed all of the English speaking carding boards on the web one night and transferred all of their members to his new board, Carders Market. There, people exchanged ads and sales of stolen credit card numbers, by the millions at times, and other card and ID making odds and ends. Until one FBI agent infiltrated a competing board that Max had taken down. It was brought back and this agent was made an admin there. He was getting tons of info, but he was after Iceman. Trouble was Iceman found him first and tried to out him. The irony was, this FBI agent was so good that as soon as he was outed, he made some major online changes and defended himself successfully and pointed people in other directions. Another irony is that so many carders and admins were actually FBI informants. The story of how Max was ultimately caught and brought to justice was pretty exciting, like an action novel and again, the irony was it occurred immediately after he decided to quit carding and go legit and he had deleted his account from the board and was saying his goodbyes, even as the FBI came storming through his door.

This book is especially good because it’s well written and written with authority, as the author, Kevin Poulsen is a well known former “dark hat” hacker from before Iceman’s time, and is now a Wired editor. He writes quite well and while explaining technical things like Sequel hack attacks in Internet Explorer, it never feels like he’s talking down to you. Indeed, he even shows some lines of code at various places in the book so you get a feel of what some of the hacks looked like. I’ve got to say, though, that I’m damn glad I use a Mac. Virtually all of the hacking/carding is done to and with Windows machines and can’t be done on Macs. And since 95% of all computers and servers are running Windows commercially, it’s scary as hell, but at least I don’t have to worry about anything here at home. I hope. Still, the scary thing to learn was that online transactions are actually much more secure than live credit card transactions and that restaurants are the absolute worst. Followed by retail stores and gas stations, etc. The primary reason it’s so bad in America, and trust me, we’re not told just how bad it is, is because our credit cards still use those magnetic strips, which are completely hackable. The rest of the world has gone to unhackable chips and while some banks in America are making that transition — I have two credit cards with chips — most places won’t because of the expense. They’d rather pay for stolen money and credit than to upgrade their systems. How screwed up is that? People’s lives are totally ruined. Their social security numbers are stolen and sold, their driver’s licenses are stolen and sold, their credit and debit cards and PINS are stolen and sold and the banks and companies don’t want to make changes cause it’s easier and cheaper to reimburse people. Great. Makes me want to never use a credit card again. And of course, that’s impossible. Oh, never use a credit card via public wi fi. Never.

So I wasn’t sure if this was actually a five star book or not, but I can’t think of any reason not to give it five stars, so I am. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Childhood’s End

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 15, 2015

Childhood's EndChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Childhood’s End is simply one of the most brilliant, excellent, and exciting science fiction novels I have ever read. To think that it was published in 1953, years before so much of this technology had even been thought of, is miraculous.

One day numerous huge space ships appear and hover over all of Earth’s major cities. Aliens have “invaded” the earth. They are called “Overlords” and people are now at their mercy. However, they’ve come to do good! They solve Earth’s political, criminal, religious, military, and nuclear war problems and introduce a life of leisure and prosperity to all of humanity. Yet they won’t show themselves and this drives people nuts. The head of the UN is the only human allowed to talk to the Overlord Supervisor and he does so once a week. Finally, he begs him to show himself to humanity and is told that the Overlords will … in 50 years.

Fifty years later, when mankind has grown lazy and incompetent, the Overlords descend from their ships and show themselves and what humans see is shocking. Yet they get used to seeing them among them.

Meanwhile, one man, Jan, decides to stow away on an Overlord ship to go their home planet. He estimates it will take 80 earth years, but because of light speed, only two month his time, or four months going both ways, as he’s sure he’ll be sent back once he’s found there. And he succeeds. And is stunned at what he finds. The Overlords’ planet and cities are unlike anything he could ever have imagined and he yearns for Earth.

Meanwhile, a couple named Greg and Jean have two young children where they live on an island commune. Their oldest boy is saved from a tsunami by an Overlord and starts having odd dreams. His parents become worried. Greg eventually meets with Karellen, the Overlord Supervisor, and what he is told chills him. Mankind is changing. The Overlords are here to supervise that. What happens to facilitate that is truly original and the ultimate fate of humanity is rather sad, in my opinion. When Jan gets home from the Overlord’s planet, he is stunned at the changes on Earth. And a lot is explained to him, and to us. The final pages are chilling and simply unreal. I’ve never read anything like them before. Clarke can really write some original stuff.

To me, this is easily a five star book. In fact, I’m under the impression that this won a Hugo at some point. If so, it was much deserved. The book “only” has a 4.07 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, so there are obviously some people who don’t agree with my assertion, but that’s still a pretty good rating. Do I recommend it? Hell yeah, I do! This is easily one of the best books I have ever read. And frankly it helps that it’s only about 200 pages. You can read it in a day or two. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of At All Costs

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 13, 2015

At All Costs (Honor Harrington, #11)At All Costs by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another five star Honor Harrington book. It seems all I ever give those books are five stars. But I think they’re that good. This book has a 4.15 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, so a lot of people obviously like it, but most of the reviews I read were one and two star reviews simply bitching about it. And I don’t understand that. Why are they even reading this series if they don’t like the characters, the kingdoms and systems, the politics — which are essential to the plot — the battles, etc? I think these people giving these books one stars are idiots and need to be reading something else, something besides military sci fi, obviously.

I think this book is a turning point in the series, even though the series is drawing to a close. Honor gets pregnant and via tubing, gives birth to a baby boy. Everyone’s happy. However, maybe not everyone. See, the people on her planet of Grayson wouldn’t understand a single, unmarried woman giving birth to a bastard child, so someone must think about a solution. She, of course, has been seeing Earl White Haven, and by extension, his crippled wife, Emily, who also gets pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. The grand solution? Honor marries them. Both of them. I know, it’s crazy and no one protests at all, but she does it and I guess it satisfies people. However, I would have liked it if Weber had written some people’s reactions into the book.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic documents going back and forth between Manticore and Haven have been sabotaged, so both make plans to restart the war, and many have misgivings about it. Honor is selected to lead Manticore’s fleet and they strike first and draw blood. However, Haven has developed a huge fleet and attacks a planet and does even more damage. Haven’s president wants to end the war and sends a peace proposal to Queen Elizabeth who grudgingly agrees to meet with her in a neutral location. However, three separate assassination attacks take place leading to some gruesome Manticorian deaths, all of which point to Haven, so Manticore gears up to restart the war once more. Haven knows they’re not responsible, but they also know Manticore assumes they are, so they plan to put together the biggest, strongest fleet ever assembled and attack Manticore’s home system and end the war with Manticore’s surrender. And so develops the biggest, baddest, coolest space battle you’ll ever read about. Hundreds of superdreadnaughts and thousands of LACs fly and die. Millions of people die. And who wins? Well, you have to read the book, of course! It’s a pretty awesome and big section of the book, though. Weber really knows how to write battle scenes. It’s his greatest strength.

From events that occur in this book, it looks like Manticore is about to gain a new enemy for future books. That’s pretty bad for a kingdom suddenly without much of a fleet, since their fleet has been shot to hell. But I’ll take that bridge when I come to it in the next book. I’m anxious to see Honor get back to Grayson to settle things with the opposition steadholders. Very anxious to see that. If you’re reading this series, this book is strongly recommended. If you’re not reading this series, don’t start with this book — you won’t know half of what’s going on. Awesome book.

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