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Archive for February, 2016

A Review of The Game

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 29, 2016

The GameThe Game by Ken Dryden
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Boy, I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’m sure I’ll take some criticism for saying this, but I just don’t understand why Ken Dryden’s The Game is considered by most to be the best hockey book ever written and by Sports Illustrated to be one of the greatest sports books ever written. Hell, I hardly read anything about sports in it! Geez, it’s about Dryden’s family, law school, desire and efforts to pass his bar exams, his disillusionment and boredom with hockey and intense desire to retire after a measly eight seasons when truly great players like Jaromir Jagr play through age 44 and beyond, or the great Gordie Howe until age 52. Dryden is so uninspiring a player and so uninspiring and dull a person that I have no idea how he accomplished the few, puny things he accomplished in his pathetically few years in the league. Most of my favorite players have played 10, 12, 15, 18 years in the league. Eight years? And he’s considered one of the best ever? By whom? What the hell did he do that was so damn great??? I know he helped Montreal win five Stanley Cups in eight years. While impressive, that’s a team accomplishment and by his own admission, he was surrounded by all stars, superstars even, so I don’t know how much he contributed. He did win at least three Vezina Trophies for best goalie, which says something, but even then, he levels criticisms at himself in this book that make you wonder how the hell he won the damn things. He apparently split time with another goalie. He got lit up repeatedly by opposing players. Was he really a money player? Hard to tell from this book. I don’t know. I do know that he didn’t seem to have much of a passion for the game, something he basically admits from the beginning. Hardly cared at all for it. Oh sure, like every Canadian kid, he said he liked to play every day growing up, but unlike every other Canadian kid, he didn’t even grow up playing ICE hockey! He played TENNIS BALL hockey in his back yard! Excuse me, but WTF? Seriously? And this guy didn’t go into the juniors. Instead, he went to an American college, which was highly unusual at the time. Why? I don’t know why. And this is the reason. I didn’t even make it a full 100 pages into the book before I became so disgusted with this wimp of a man, this pathetic excuse for an athlete and a human being that I gave up on this autobiography and am left wondering why this has a 4.09 rating on Goodreads and why I have read all of these five star reviews. Who are these reviewers? Why are they so impressed with this book? I don’t get it. I mean, who plays eight years when they are allegedly at the top of their game and part of a dynasty. He writes that he could see the wheels coming off the Montreal dynasty his last year, so basically he bailed on the team rather than sail through rough waters. Like a real champ. What a winner. Would definitely want him in my foxhole. Like hell, I would! This book was boring, there are hardly anything at all about his games or specific games or anything very sports-specific (although there was insightful analysis of his old coach, Scotty Bowman, that was actually good), it was depressing, it was cold, it felt dead, and I hated it with a passion, perhaps as much as I’ve hated any bio I’ve ever read. I can’t tell you how putrid I think this book is and how unimpressed I am with Ken Dryden the man. Dryden, the player, was a few years before my time, so I can’t say anything about him in that respect. If you want to be impressed with a book’s good reputation, I suppose you could invest in this, but I sure wouldn’t waste my time. Most definitely not recommended under any circumstances!

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A Review of The End of Eternity

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 26, 2016

The End of EternityThe End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m just going to say it: aside from a few select novels and stories, Asimov annoys the hell out of me and is, I think, one of science fiction’s most overrated authors ever. There! Start stoning me now. I’m prepared. I know I have blasphemed. I have read a hell of a lot of Asimov, including all of the Foundation novels and all of the Robot novels, including the extra Robot-inspired books, as well as other books, and I’m always astonished – and always mentioning in my reviews – at what a below average writer I think Asimov was, particularly as a young writer. He barely knew grammatical rules, such as how to use transitions. He knew practically nothing about character development, little about plot development, and wrote the absolute worst dialogue of any type of literature of any author I have ever read anywhere, and I have read tens of thousands of books over the course of my life! The WORST dialogue ever! I’m not joking. The most wooden, stilted, unconvincing, academic, formal, boring, inauthentic excuse for dialogue I’ve ever seen in any novel form anywhere. I have three college degrees and have 13 years of university study. I’ve published 15 books of my own. My own poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism have appeared in magazines, newspapers, zines, peer reviewed journals, online magazines and journals, and elsewhere in hundreds and hundreds of sources in dozens of countries in numerous languages and one of my books was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. I have taught literature and writing at three universities and colleges. I feel like I have some credentials. I feel confident when I say that I feel that there are literally dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of science fiction writers who are better writers and perhaps even scientifically superior to Asimov. His legacy is vastly inflated. But that’s my opinion, and as has been pointed out regularly in my negative reviews of his books, my opinion is worth shit regarding his books.

All that said, I’m going to skip the main synopsis of this book, other than to say it’s about time travel and is fairly innovative, especially for such an early time travel book, having been published in 1955. Pretty original, and I appreciated that. What I want to point out instead is something that I’ve pointed out for some previous books and something that several other reviewers have pointed out for this book, although to my total shock, not very many people at all. Asimov, the total misogynistic pig, is in top form in creating one female character in this book whose primary purpose is to be the sexual crush and ultimate seducer (because, after all, she IS a female, and that’s what they do to good men, right?) of our brave and good protagonist, Andrew Harlan, the Eternal. The beautiful, non-Eternal, Noys Lambent, a secretary or assistant of some sort, because after all, that’s what women do, aside from the scientist in I, Robot, creates a conflict with Andrew because women aren’t supposed to be part of the good old boy’s club in Eternity, his world, meaning he’s never gotten laid, I guess, so when she makes herself available on her world to him, he goes for it, initially feeling a little guilty, then goes for it with gusto and is drawn into her sinful female web, allowing Eternity to possibly be destroyed. Nice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Asimov write entire novels with either no female characters or just one or two minor background characters who comb their hair in their bedrooms (Foundation, anyone?). Sometimes there’s a more major female character, but they’re either helpless and dependent on a strong male lead (robot novels) or are seductresses (robot novels). To Asimov, women are evil and/or dangerous. Yet somehow he was married. Was he merely a product of his times, was he secretly gay, or was he a stereotypical engineering/science nerd who was an academic social misfit, scared to death of females, yet strangely married to one? Or none of the above? Why did he hate women so much? Yet why in his later books, like the Prelude to Foundation books, did he write in strong female characters? Did he actually grow with the times? Did his attitudes actually change? Maybe they did. Maybe there was hope. Maybe he was a 1940s/50s-era misogynistic product of his time who didn’t know any better than the Nuclear Era Virgin/Whore Syndrome and who wrote that into his novels. If so, fairly pathetic and that goes to show what a weak writer he truly was, backing up my original claim. But then, he wouldn’t have been the only one, so fair’s fair, I suppose.

In any event, I’m one of the very few to level this accusation against him regarding this or any book. The critics seem evenly split between genders, while the five star fans also seem evenly split between genders. In other words, just as many women love this book as men and apparently most women have no problems with him writing his only female character into the book as a stereotypical seductress whore intent upon making a male protagonist trip up and destroy Eternity. Apparently, women readers have no problems with this. While I find that astonishing, again, I am in the vast minority. I want to give this book a low rating, but at the same time, it was highly original, so that deserves a higher rating, so in fairness, I’m going to compromise and give it three stars. I think that’s a fair rating, given my criticisms versus its originality. Recommended for early sci fi time travel originality. Not recommended for fine quality literature.

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A Review of Better To Beg Forgiveness

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 23, 2016

Better to Beg ForgivenessBetter to Beg Forgiveness by Michael Z. Williamson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Better To Beg Forgiveness is a mess because the author is a loser. Not only a bad writer with suspect military credentials, but a hate-filled agenda where everyone is to be mistrusted, from the UN to the military chain of command to the regular army to the police to civilians in general and so on. In fact, this book is something like Somalia in space. The featureless bad guys are called “skinnies.” I thought I was watching Black Hawk Down. Hey, this book was published in 2007. Somalia was long over by then. Which begs the next question. Why does the author use the phrase “property stealing communists” to describe some people? That’s even more out of date. Um, right wing much, Williamson? Watch a lot of Fox News? Are you sure your name isn’t John Ringo?

The only “science fiction” aspect to this book is the action takes place on another planet and the mercenaries have to travel through space to get there. How they accomplish that really isn’t described. Of course not. It’s only sci fi. Is it a spaceship? A flying saucer? A rocket? How the hell do they get there, Williamson? Otherwise, they ride in Volvos, shoot H&K guns and AKs, use regular explosive devices, etc. Where’s the “science fiction” in that scenario? What exactly is sci fi about this book? Frankly, this book is a fraud and it’s utter bullshit! To make matters worse, the author is so caught up in detail and in proving that ex-military contractors are “obviously” superior to military, regular army, police, etc., that he spends what seems like about 15 pages having his team execute a ballet-like dance of epic proportions in guarding their principle as he walks from his building to his vehicle, while they move in carefully choreographed steps, two at a time, each moving up to replace the next. It’s fucking beautiful, man. I bet he could fill a 900-page book with just these descriptions. Shit. What a pile of horseshit.

I got about 100 pages into this book and found that I just couldn’t get into it, obviously, no matter how much I tried. I like mercenary books. I love sci fi. I like huge odds. I hate stupidity and boredom and this book has plenty of that. I also hate feeling like I’m being manipulated by some right wing, Fox loving asshat with a political agenda for no good reason, ie, not to advance the story line. Don’t misunderstand. Sure, I’m a liberal, but I’m a gun loving liberal and that’s not an oxymoron. My wife and I are Democratic voters who own lots of guns and like to go to the range, etc. We just don’t like Fox News and the ilk who preach its gospel. So sure, I could have given this book more of a chance, but why? One hundred pages is more than enough to sell me on a book. If you haven’t done it by then, that’s all you get – I’m moving on to something better. If I want good military sci fi, I’ll read David Weber or Chris Bunch. As for me, Michael Z. Williamson will be permanently avoided from here on out. Lousy writer.

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A Review of Brother Number One

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 18, 2016

Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol PotBrother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot by David P. Chandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first “review” I read when I came across reviews for Brother Number One was one by “Annie,” which stated, “More objective, non-sensational and honest than than ‘Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare’.” Funny, having finished both books now, I couldn’t agree with that statement less. I’ll get to the Nightmare book in another review (I think it’s an excellent book), but Brother Number One is for this one. It’s an interesting book. Since this is the “political biography of Pol Pot,” a mysterious man who I have wanted to know something of for quite some time, I thought this book would help me. And in a way, it did. But only in a way. For this book was published in 1992, five years before Pol’s death in 1997. It’s therefore an incomplete work. Moreover, and more importantly by far, the author claims that the subject is so very mysterious and so little is known about him and he has hidden himself in shrouds of mystery, at times for many years at a time, that it’s impossible to know anything of his whereabouts for years at a time. So that gives the author free reign to speculate as much as he wants, and boy, does he do that. First, he includes everything he possibly can about Pol’s, or Saloth Sar – as he was known most of his life – upbringing, including his childhood in a country village, to his upbringing with a brother and other relatives in the king’s palace, essentially, to his French education, first in Cambodia, then later as an elite student, in Paris where he became a communist, most likely around 1951. We learn of his return to Cambodia in the mid-50s, his rise in the Indochinese Communist Party, his helping to form the Cambodian Communist Party in 1960, his dealings with the Vietnamese, whom he needed yet always resented, his dealings with the Chinese, his resentment toward the French, toward the Cambodian monarchy, toward the US, his paranoia, his marriage, etc. But whole years are eliminated in this book. His whereabouts are claimed to be unknown. But that doesn’t stop the author, who begins numerous sentences with things such as, “It would be interesting to suppose,” or “One might assume,” or “It might be possible to guess,” etc, et al. If I had a dollar for every time the author speculates about Pol’s thoughts, feelings, or motives, I would be a wealthy man. Because that is all the author can do. He can only guess. There is very little recorded documentation at all, anywhere. The Vietnamese have some. The Chinese have some. Pol conducted some interviews in the late 1970s. Other than that, little accounts for the 1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s.

The author relies on numerous interviews for this book, but I’m assuming, as he often does, as Pol was still alive while the book was being written, that so many interviewees were aware of that fact and were scared to death of him, that few of them were willing to share many details of him or say many negative things about him. For instance, many of his secondary and college classmates were interviewed. He was known as a mediocre student, at best, but seemed to be liked by most. He had a pleasant smile, a decent laugh, and people differ on his effect on people and groups. Some say he had no influence on the Parisian communist groups, while others say he played a leading role. As a teacher in the 1950s, even though he never came close to completing his degree, he was known as a wise and good teacher, patient, well spoken, thoughtful, etc. The image doesn’t jibe with the genocidal maniac of the 1970s.

In fact, it’s hard to reconcile any image of him, pre-1970 or so, until 1975 really, when he started coming out of the woodworks and into the public eye. When he became public circa 1976, it was a shocker. No one knew who he was. He was alleged to have been a rubber plantation worked named “Pol Pot,” but when former colleagues saw him on TV making speeches, they knew at once he was Saloth Sar, the former teacher, childhood friend of the king and themselves, and they were shocked. How could this kind, good man be their new revolutionary prime minister, responsible for the deaths of a half a million people in the civil war which had just ended in 1975, and unbeknownst to anyone, about to become responsible for the deaths of one and a half million people in a probable genocide of epic proportions over the next three years? That’s over one fifth of the country’s population. Yes, Mao and Stalin killed many more people, but there were many, many more people to kill from. They didn’t kill one fifth of their country’s population. So, this was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

And the sweeping changes. Doing away with money. I mean, what the hell??? Emptying the cities? Seriously? Driving everyone out into the countryside, no matter where you were from or where your relatives were. Who cared if you lived or died? No one. Least of all the 12 and 13-year old Khmer Rouge soldiers. Illiterate peasant boys who couldn’t even read passports that were expected to be presented at all times. It was insane. Doing away with virtually all exports except for rice, and then if/when the rice crop fell through, what the hell happens to your country then? And the “base” people versus the “new” people. If you weren’t fighting with the revolutionaries when they “liberated” Cambodia in 1975, you were a “new” person, meaning you weren’t one of them, meaning you were an enemy combatant. Even if you were a peasant refugee who had merely fled to the city to escape the countryside fighting and had no irons in the fire one way or the other. You were the enemy.

S-21. It was the torture/interrogation center. Every communist regime has one, right? Hell, every regime of any sort has one. We have Guantanamo. The French had theirs too. S-21 was a former school. Over 20,000 people were processed through there in the three plus years it existed. Unless my facts have gotten jumbled up, and they may have, only about a half dozen people survived. All were tortured extensively, confessions of up to thousands of pages extracted, and all were killed, most brutally. The confessions typically said the person was a CIA agent, a KGB agent, and a Vietnamese agent. That the likelihood of one Cambodian person being all three, let alone any of these, was absurd as hell appeared to not have sunk in to Pol Pot and his colleagues. It made perfect sense to them that the Russians, their Vietnamese protégés, and the US, whom the Khmer Rouge believed they had defeated militarily in 1975 and who they thought had it out for them and was willing to work with its adversaries, would all be working together. Insanity sees reason everywhere.

This book is only 250 pages long, less than half as long as Nightmare is. It’s not nearly as detailed or in depth. It’s not nearly as well researched nor as well written. It relies far too extensively on speculation; at least 70% of the book is nothing but speculation. But as an introduction to Pol Pot, it’s an interesting book. I would suggest that, if it’s read, it’s read with this information in mind and then one would immediately read something more recent, ideally written after Pol’s death, such as Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, which as I said, I think is an excellent book and which I hope to review soon. It relies on speculation almost not at all. One of the things that struck me most about Pol, the man, was that in one of these books, and I can’t remember which, sorry, he was asked if he knew how many people his administration was responsible for killing after he had been deposed. His answer was somewhere between several hundred and several thousand and that was because he had been kept out of the loop, or it would have been fewer than that. Stunning, really. Interesting to know if he really believed that or not. Somehow I doubt it. But there does seem to be evidence that he was actually kept out of the loop on a lot of the executions and that many of the “zones” were self sufficient and didn’t really report much back to headquarters and communications were so bad that it could take weeks or more to communicate by messenger, so by that time, things would have happened with or without permission. So things happened. How much was due to Pol? I guess we’ll never know. Of course, since Pol set the tone, ultimately it was all his responsibility. Everything and everyone was ultimately under his control. Anyone who displeased him was purged. He had complete control. Virtually all of his old communist colleagues from Paris and the old days in early communist Cambodia were purged to ensure his power. So, if he thought anyone were abusing their authority by acting genocidal without his permission, he could have done something about it. And he didn’t. So, obviously, the buck stopped with him.

So, I could go on and on, obviously. But I won’t. I’ve got to save some stuff to say for my next Pol Pot book. I learned a lot about a bizarre, incredibly secretive, insane man, responsible for the deaths of millions of people. It was surreal to read about, because this occurred during my lifetime and I remember a great deal of this, although of course not personally, obviously. The book itself is interesting, but for reasons already mentioned, not very good. Even though the author probably tried hard, he didn’t try hard enough. It’s probably a two star book at best, but I believe I’m going to give it three stars for effort because it’s one of the early Pol Pot books and it did make an impact of Pol Pot research, so that’s worth something. Still, it can’t be relied upon on its own. It’s not that trustworthy. It’s got to be supplemented by something more current in its research, so keep that in mind. I’m really not sure that I can recommend it. I can suggest reading it if interested in the subject matter, but only if you intend to read more than one source on the subject. If you intend to read only one book on Pol Pot, don’t let this be that source. It’s not reliable enough.

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A Review of Chris Bunch’s The Gangster Conspiracy

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 17, 2016

Chris Bunch's The Gangster Conspiracy: A Star Risk, Ltd., NovelChris Bunch’s The Gangster Conspiracy: A Star Risk, Ltd., Novel by Steve Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chris Bunch’s Star Risk, Ltd mercenary team is back and all I can say is, Thank God! After Bunch died in 2005 after publishing his fourth and presumably final Star Risk novel, it was a tough pill to swallow, apparently for a lot of people, so esteemed sci fi vet Steve Perry and his son Dal stepped up to the plate to write a fifth in the series in Bunch’s style and they did a damn good job, in my opinion. I think they did Bunch proud. I’m not sure I would say this is the best Star Risk book, of course, but this fits in well with the series and certainly doesn’t do a disservice to the name at all.

The book centers around the mercenary team dragging itself back together after being demolished by a huge competitor in the preceding book and wondering how they’re going to get jobs and pay the bills, just when someone walks through the door offering them a job! He’s someone named the Reverend Josiah Williams from the Artegal System, with several planets in it, and he’s representing the system’s workers, who are being screwed by the system and want to go on strike, but are being strong armed by the government into not going on strike by other mercenary outfits and strong arm tactics, and Williams and his people are desperate. And willing to pay. And he dangles a one million dollar check in front of the Star Risk team. Who eagerly accept the job. Hey, they’ve got bills. And they are immediately, right then and there, attacked in their own new, secret headquarters and are forced to defend themselves with lethal consequences for their attackers. Things are serious.

Soon, they’re on their way to the Artegal System. There are four planets and five of them in Star Risk. They figure out an attack plan and begin their “assault.” The weak link is an underboss named Makko. They begin with some of his nightclubs and his alcohol supply, as well as some of his men, most of whom go poof. Makko gets worried. His boss doesn’t like things like this happening. When things like this happen without resolutions, people go poof. Since his right hand man has died, somehow, he appoints a new man who has figured out some things. He has figured out Williams is probably behind things and he killed him, stupidly. Makko’s boss, Susa, isn’t very happy about that. He wanted to know who was behind what was going on in the system, because other mysterious things are happening too. Makko has to make amends.

Meanwhile, now that Williams is dead, Star Risk ponders ending the contract since the person behind it no longer lives. However, someone else steps in – Williams’ son, Joe. I think this is one of the weak links of the book. They have been estranged for decades. Joe is a billionaire through a casino business and has had nothing to do with Williams. They can’t stand each other and haven’t spoken in decades. But he’s heard of his father’s death and wants it avenged and is willing to pay any price to see it through. So, he spends tens of millions of dollars, including over five million to Star Risk and over five million to buy a dilapidated casino and much more to fix it up in order to establish a “legitimate” business front in order to help find those responsible for his father’s death. But would someone who didn’t even care about his father’s existence for 30 years really spend $10-20 million to avenge his death? It seems highly unlikely to me. But then, what do I know of such motivations? I guess it’s possible. At least, in the fictional world of Steve Perry, it’s possible.

Joe dies in a shootout with Makko’s new right hand man and his henchmen and Makko is beside himself. He knows Susa will kill him. Meanwhile, the Star Risk personnel are mega-pissed. It’s now personal. Two of their clients are dead, one of whom had become a friend. It’s bad for business. They’re going to get both Makko and Susa. But how? Both are closely guarded with over 100 armed guards. Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?

I won’t spill the details. You’ll need to read the book yourselves. Even though this is the fifth book in the series, unlike other series’, this can be read as a standalone book. You don’t need to have read the previous four books to enjoy and understand this book, so if you’re interested, find this book and read it. It’s a pretty good and an enjoyable read with lots of good action. I’m not convinced it’s a five star book, even though I’d like to give it five stars. I can’t just give out five stars to every book I like just because I like them. Five star books truly have to stand out. This book is very good, but I’m not sure it truly stands out. That said, I think it’s a very solid four star book at minimum. Steve Perry and his son would make Chris Bunch proud, I’m sure, and they sure made me happy in writing another Star Risk book. I just wish they had continued to carry on the tradition and had written a few more. Twas not to be, I guess. Oh well. Good, fun book. Quick read, enjoyable. Good action. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of The Stars, Like Dust

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 16, 2016

The Stars, Like Dust (Galactic Empire, #1)The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve been saying for a long time that I don’t understand why Asimov deserves his gigantic reputation. If one dares make such a comment publicly, they are practically beaten to a pulp by his legions of fans. Don’t get me wrong – he had some good ideas and wrote some decent books that I’ve enjoyed, but he was never a GOOD writer. When he was young, he didn’t even know what basic grammatical things like “transitions” were, he barely knew about writing character development, and while he obviously worked on this his whole career, I think one of his real weaknesses was his complete inability to write realistic dialogue. His dialogue always came off to me as stilted and wooden, as though the protagonist were an overly aggressive frustrated male (usually) Ivy League engineer or scientist who had no social skills and who, frankly, wasn’t very scientifically advanced. Honestly, in Foundation, set over 20,000 years in the future, the main character at some point goes to the capital home planet/city of the Galactic Empire on a spaceship, having made some “jumps” to get there from Foundation, and immediately opens a paper newspaper. Seriously? Asimov couldn’t imagine a laptop, iPad, smartphone, nothing? Most sci fi writers at least have decent imaginations regarding the future.

Suffice all that to say, I was less than impressed with The Stars, Like Dust. Granted, it WAS apparently his second novel, published in 1951, so you have to cut him some slack for that, and I do, and it did have its moments, but on the whole, it’s pulp sci fi and fairly lame at that. It often reads as though it’s a cross between a Buck Rogers and Star Trek episode. It’s that cheesy.

This story is about one Biron Farrill, who at the book’s beginning, is studying at a university on Earth, when thanks to a colleague named Jonti, he is made aware of a radiation bomb that has been planted in his room. This same person then tells him of his father’s execution by the Tyranni, allegedly for taking part in a rebellion. His father held the highest position on Widemos, as the Rancher. Jonti then convinces Biron to travel to this planet, Rhodia, where his father was killed. Sounds like a good idea at the moment. Apparently, Biron is easily convinced. So, this is where he hears rumors about a rebellion against the Tyranni and it becomes his goal to find the rebel planet. With the aid of the daughter of Rhodia’s ruler and his brother. Her name is Artemisia and, naturally, she’s a hottie, because few women in Asimov’s works would be otherwise. And of course, the two rich kids just might go on to save the day, after naturally falling in love, right? Perfect cheesy sci fi love story. With the CHEESIEST ending to any type of novel I have ever read in my entire life! I have read that Asimov was forced by the publisher to put it in there, and if so, then it wasn’t his fault, but whoever was at fault, it’s bad, bad, bad, and it’s a terrible play at stupid 1950s American patriotism and it makes the book even worse. This book has so much melodrama in it, it’s not funny, and to end it like that, my God!

This book is possibly one of Asimov’s worst. None of the characters are likable, except perhaps the tyrant, if that’s feasible. The character development is nonexistent. The dialogue is putrid. The plot twists and turns too much with a few too many betrayals. The science, per usual with Asimov, is suspect. It’s not his worst effort at prose, nor is it anywhere close to his best. At best this is a three star effort, which I’m knocking down to two stars because of the horrible ending. Not seriously recommended.

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CT Myleogram and Emergency Procedure

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 13, 2016

I’ve had a rough time of it lately, especially the past few days. A couple of weeks ago, I somehow injured my back. It locked up and I had incredible back pain to go along with my very severe head pain. I went to my orthopedist, had a lot of x-rays taken, was told I hadn’t fractured my back (good), but that my degenerative disk disease had gotten a lot worse. That my bottom disk had effectively disintegrated and it was largely just bone on bone now and that was why I was hearing all of the clicking and grating sounds when I moved, and why I felt my spine shifting when I moved. The disk above it wasn’t much better and together, they couldn’t have been “much worse.” My doctor decided to send me to have a procedure at a surgery center called a “CT Myleogram,” which I had never heard of before and which didn’t sound like a big deal. After all, I had had a number of CT scans, so no biggie, right?

Well, when I got home and did some research, I found out what these procedures were, to a certain degree, and they were a little more involved than that. They were basically like reverse spinal taps, where instead of inserting a needle into your spine and removing spinal fluid, they’re inserting a needle into your spine and injecting contrasting fluid into it so that they can take moving x-rays and CT scans so they can detect nerve damage and other types of damage regular x-rays can’t see. No anesthesia, of course. And I had just had a spinal tap last month. So, yay. This was last Monday. They called me Tuesday and scheduled me for Wednesday, a few days ago.

My wife took me in and dropped me off. She’s had to take me to so many procedures lately and has had to wait that it’s just gotten old and she’s worried about losing her job, so she just wants to drop me off and pick me up when she’s allowed and I was supposed to wait in Recovery for 2-4 hours after the procedure before she could pick me up. I had the procedure and it wasn’t that bad. It didn’t last as long as a normal spinal tap, although with the x-rays and CT scan, the entire process made it last much longer, of course. And I only had to wait after for a couple of hours or so. They warned me several times about something called a “spinal headache” and said it could be very severe. I basically laughed it off because with my Trigeminal Neuralgia, tension headaches, severe migraines, and cluster headaches, how could it possibly be that severe? Even if I got it, which I didn’t think I would. Because you basically got it from leaking spinal fluid from a puncture that wasn’t healing and it wouldn’t be healing because you stood too much and didn’t lie down enough and I planned to lie down. But I didn’t. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I sat at the dining room table to eat a late lunch when I got home. I sat at my computer to check email, etc, after that. I laid down for a bit, but then I stood for awhile to do dishes. I laid down some more. Oh, I felt pretty good, by the way. I felt fine. I sat again to have dinner. But by then, I was starting to get, yes, a headache. I assumed, however, it was my usual TN acting up and didn’t really think anything of it. I took my usual medications, but by late afternoon, I had an increasingly severe headache that was starting to get very, very bad. I went to bed with a bad headache and got virtually no sleep. By Thursday morning, it was brutal. I got no sleep, like I said. My right eye socket felt dead. The right side of my head was on fire. The back of my head felt like it had been hit by a machine gun. My forehead hurt, so did my cheek and jaw. My ear lobe felt numb, so did my teeth and tongue. My temple was killing me! I wanted to die. And my back was hurting from my procedure. This was probably the worst pain of my life. On a 1-10 scale, this was easily a 15. Throughout the day, I took 6 Tx, 8 Ex, 2 Nx, 14 Ax, a Px, and 2 Mx. I started feeling better during mid-afternoon but started getting worse again before dinner. My pain level got down to maybe a 10/10, but that didn’t last long. And this got worse! I didn’t know what to do! My pain level reached a 17 out 10, if that’s even possible! Ungodly! Worst ever. Finally around 9 pm Thursday, I called the surgery center and got patched through to a live doctor. She said I had two options. One, I could go to the ER, but Gretchen had taken a sleeping pill and was going to bed and I couldn’t drive. Two, I could stay up and take lots of anti-inflammatories and drink lots of caffeine and go back to the surgery center in the morning to get an emergency “blood patch” procedure, where they drain a lot of blood from your arm and then inject it through one of two needles inserted into your spine, like a reverse spinal tap, similar to what I had two days previously. That’s two reverse spinal taps in three days. That’s harsh. And that’s what I did. I stayed up all night drinking coffee and Coke Zero and taking what pain pills I could and when Gretchen got up, this doctor called me and told me they were expecting me at the surgery center, so Gretchen took me there. When I went into the operating room, they had five people in there: the doctor to handle the two needles, the technician to operate the x-ray machine, which I got to watch live, the person to handle my blood and its needle/IV, and two people to massage me, one my arms above my head, one my legs, I guess in an effort to comfort me because of my pain and discomfort level. It was almost funny, as I’ve never had that happen to me before, but it was oddly comforting. This procedure lasted about an hour and hurt like a fucking bitch! Holy shit, it hurt! The doctor dug those needles into my spine hard over and over again repeatedly, gouging the shit out of my spine. Finally it was over. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t even wince once. They asked me how I felt immediately after but I didn’t know. I said I needed some time to evaluate. After awhile I realized my head pain had largely disappeared, including my eye socket pain, and I told them that and they were pleased. I was a little shocked. I guess I did have a spinal headache but I never knew they could be so damn bad. It was just about the worst head pain I’ve ever felt. Now I’ve got a 0 out of 10 head pain since 11:30 am yesterday and that’s awesome. I wonder how long this will last? Unfortunately my back hurts pretty badly from all the trauma it’s had to endure over the past few days. Hurts a lot. Hopefully that will improve fairly quickly. I’m glad they insisted I come in Friday morning rather than going through the weekend. That would have been a disaster. Getting the disgusting, painful blood patch was one of the best things I ever did.

So, that’s where I’ve been the past few days. Sorry I’ve been out of touch. I’ve truly not been feeling well. I have four books stacked up to write reviews for, but I really haven’t felt like it. I don’t know when I’ll get to those. I hope everyone has a nice Valentine’s Day. Ours will be low key, unfortunately. Frankly, I’m just glad to be okay.

 

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A Review of Willie Stargell: A Life in Baseball

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 5, 2016

Willie Stargell: A Life in BaseballWillie Stargell: A Life in Baseball by Frank Garland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve got to be honest. When I was a kid, Willie Stargell was my favorite baseball player. Actually, he has been my whole life. But see, he was my favorite player to see in person! I lived in the Pittsburgh area back in the 1970s and went to as many Pirates games as possible, so I got to see “Pops” play a lot and got to see the magical “We Are Family” 1979 World Series year and remember those wonderful Stargell stars everyone loved and the home runs, god, the home runs! Willie Stargell “only” hit 475 career home runs – because he played half of his career in gigantic Forbes Field, which I’ll get to in a moment, but which is estimated to have robbed him of some 150 career home runs, which is staggering by anyone’s standards – but the thing I think Stargell is best known for is his towering strength, how damn FAR he could hit his balls! Hitting balls out of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Hitting balls out of Dodger Stadium multiple times. Hitting balls out of Philly’s Veteran’s Stadium. Hitting the upper deck and roof of gigantic Forbes Field numerous times. Hitting the ball out of the ballpark at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field replacement, Three Rivers Stadium. There’s an entire chapter in this book dedicated just to this! 506 feet at Dodger Stadium. 458 feet into the upper deck at Three Rivers. May 20, 1978: 515 feet, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. 475 feet onto right grandstand roof at Forbes Field, 1967. He also had the longest home run at Houston’s Astrodome: 490 feet on May 28, 1966.

Of course, Stargell was more than just amazing home run power. He was also a great hitter, finishing a 20-year career with a very good lifetime average of .282. Perhaps far more importantly, he was a great natural leader, from a very young age. He led quietly and he led by example. When he came up in the majors, Clemente was his leader, took him under his wing, became his friend and example. After Clemente’s premature death, Stargell assumed his role in the clubhouse and never relinquished it and remained the effective team captain for the rest of his career, which prepared him for his post-playing days of working with his ex-manager, Chuck Tanner, in the Braves system to coach and evaluate young ball players in Atlanta for a number of years before ultimately winding back in Pittsburgh for the last couple years of his life before he died a very, very premature death at age 61, I believe. This book was also enlightening in that it showed how a young man from northern California, brought up in an integrated area in the 1950s, is thrust into the deep south and southwest, and is made to play in the minors during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and is made to suffer humilities and indignities and taunts and things that would have been hard to imagine 15 years ago, as I write this in 2016, if we hadn’t have seen the true colors of the Republican Tea Party as the racists in them come out to show their hatred of Obama and black and Hispanic people everywhere, which makes it stunning to see how far we have NOT come since then. Simply stunning. And very sad. Whatever the case, Stargell survived without anything of an outward complaint, made the big club as an outfielder, had a serious arm rivaling Clemente allegedly, but was ultimately moved to first base, started hitting serious home runs, made some all star teams, helped win the World Series in 1971, when Clemente was the MVP, won the World Series again in 1979 when he was the Series and league MVP and retired in 1982. Stunningly, he never even made half a million dollars a year in his career and indeed, never made much money at all until the final few years of his career. How someone so talented and how someone who became the 17th player to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballet could go so damned unpaid, essentially, is beyond me, but I guess that’s what owners do, so there you have it. He had advertising deals and other things to supplement his income. He also had a sickle cell foundation because his sister had the disease.

While this book certainly sings Stargell’s praises, it’s not all fun and games. It also discusses his three marriages (but how he got along with all three wives, during and after all marriages) and five children through four women (and how they all got along together as in one big, happy family, amazingly). It discusses allegations two former colleagues made against him in the 1980s that he gave them drugs, which tarnished his reputation. Needless to say, this was looked into thoroughly, as was the case with everyone named in the investigation. Stargell’s name was personally cleared by the baseball commissioner. He had done nothing wrong.

The first thing Stagell did upon retirement was agree to perform in a symphony performance made just for him by a Pulitzer winning composer in which he would perform spoken word content set to symphonic music about Martin Luther King, Jr., one of his heroes. He was excited, but very nervous. So were the composers and musicians. However, he tackled it with his usual professionalism and did quite well. Their first performance was, I believe, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. He acquitted himself well. Indeed, as they traveled the country performing, he did better and better so that he became quite a star in a brand new field. This chapter was quite interesting and I confess I knew nothing about this part of his life.

Stargell’s last few years are painful to read about. His last few years were spent on dialysis. Yet he was still working, first for the Braves, then for the Pirates. Then his overall health started failing and he started losing weight and feeling quite a bit of pain. During his last year, he became unrecognizable to former teammates who encounter him in airports and other places. He tried to avoid people, as he didn’t wish to be seen in this condition. On April 9, 2001, in honor of the opening of the Pirates’ new ballpark, PNC Park, and only the third such new statue, a new large bronze statue of Willie Stargell was unveiled publicly outside the entrance to the park. Unfortunately, Willie couldn’t be there. More unfortunately, he couldn’t be there because he had just died during the night. He’d never get to see the new park or the amazing new statue for which he felt so amazingly honored. People were stunned. He was too young. He was Pittsburgh. He was the Pirates. He was “Family.” He was one of the most beloved Pittsburgh athletes of all time. And now he was gone. Just like that. While his service was in North Carolina, where he had most recently lived with his third wife, a large service was held at a church downtown near where Willie lived and worked for decades. He loved working with the people of the city, of the inner city, with the young people. He loved teaching, giving people hope. And now he was gone. Utter tragedy.

475 career home runs. When he retired, that was a lot. Since then, a lot of hitters have passed him by. But frankly, most of those players have been from the steroid era and are suspect, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa. So do they even count? Unfortunately, they’re in the books and records ahead of him and nothing can be done about that and that boils my blood. Even more unfortunately, he played half of his career at gigantic Forbes field. I said I would address that. Let me. PNC Park has these basic dimensions – 320 feet to the left and right field walls, 399 feet to center field. Going off my memory, Forbes Field was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and a gigantic 462 feet to center! No wonder Clemente drove in a ton of runs but was a doubles hitter and not a big home run hitter. No wonder the most home runs Stargell ever hit in a season was 48. So, if the estimate that Forbes Field robbed him of 150 home runs is accurate at all, he could have finished with 625 home runs, which would have placed him pretty high up the career list by anyone’s standards. It’s a real pity that couldn’t have occurred.

For some reason, this book only has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads, yet every review I’ve read – all four and five star reviews – have nothing to say about how to improve the book. Frankly, I don’t know if this is the BEST sports biography I have ever read, but offhand, I can’t think of a better one and I’ve read a ton of them. This is a very good book. It’s well researched, it’s detailed, comprehensive, well written, has good pictures, is edited well. It’s a good book. A very good book. I can think of no reason not to give it five stars. I can think of no way to improve this book as a sports biography or as a biography of Willie Stargell. So, how can this not be a five star book then? I think Frank Garland did an excellent job and I’m really glad I bought and read this book. I learned a lot about my childhood hero and I’m glad that he remains a hero of mine and always will be. Good old number 8. One night, I was at Three Rivers in the upper deck and Willie hit the ball and he hit it straight up and it went up a mile. He hit it out of the stadium. I’ve never in my life seen a ball hit so far straight up. It went way past my head and kept on going, up, up, up past the top of the stadium before finally starting to fall straight back down. It took forever. It was a foul ball. He was out. The first baseman caught it. But it was one of the most impressive non-hits I had ever seen. What strength! I’ll never forget that. And of course, I got to see a few of his awesome home runs too. I’ll never forget the feeling that I was honored to see those. Willie Stargell graced us with his presence. He graced Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Oakland with everything in his life. He had a lot to give and he always gave a lot. As long as people remember him, he will be missed. In my biased opinion, Willie Stargell will always be the best, most feared home run hitter of all time. Five star book. Definitely recommended.

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Switching Domains

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 4, 2016

I’m considering switching blog domains because I’m sick to death of all of the disgusting ads WordPress has been littering my blog pages with. I know why they are doing it and it’s working. They want me to upgrade from free to a paying premium account and that’s exactly what I’m probably going to do. I don’t intend to leave WordPress. I used to be on Xanga for a decade or more, but that’s a thing of the past. I have a book review blog on Blogger, but I’m unimpressed with that blogging site, so I have no interest in migrating there. Don’t care at all for Tumbler. Don’t like Typepad either. I’ve looked at a couple of others over the past several months, but WordPress seems like the only viable option for me and since I’ve been blogging here since June 2011, it would be a hassle to leave. So I’ll most likely upgrade to premium. Which means I’ll have a new domain name, one without “wordpress.com” in it. I assume it will be something like “hankrules2011.com,” unless for some strange reason that one is already taken, but I can’t imagine it is. Anyway, if for some reason you attempt to locate this site and cannot and if this site does not redirect you automatically to the new site in the next day or so, hopefully you will have read this and will be on the lookout for it. Just a heads up to save us all from those damn awful ads. Cheers!

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A Review of Crown of Slaves

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 4, 2016

Crown of Slaves (Honorverse: Wages of Sin, #1)Crown of Slaves by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Crown of Slaves is the first book in a new Honor Harrington sub-series called Wages of Sin focusing on Mesa-Manpower and the newly liberated ex-slaver planet of Torch. As I have figured out, these several sub-series’ are really required reading if one wants to get additional necessary pieces of information to fill in the gaps in the Honor series when it comes to things such as Torch, the Zilwickis, Haven super spy Victor Cachat, the whole Mesa-Manpower mystery/disaster in action, etc. This is a truly necessary series. This is a pretty good book and I’m already halfway through the second one.

Due to the complete incompetence of Manticore’s Queen Elizabeth’s current government, the tenuous alliance between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and its ally Erewhon is on the verge of dissolution, so the queen sends her niece, Ruth Winton, a spy-wannabe in training, as an “unofficial” representative to a state funeral to try to patch things up. And that’s where the story starts. The mission begins with Ruth, led by Manticore’s super spy, Anton Zilwicki, and his teenage daughter, Berry, off to Erewhon. It turns into quite the espionage incident, as Manticore, Solarian League, Havenite, Erewhon, Masadan fanatics, and Mesan groups all meet and engage in some way in this book, at times quite violently, while Berry and Ruth survive an assassination attempt with the help of Havenite Cachat, aided by Solarian marine lieutenant Thandi Palane, a most larger-than-life character. The two of them develop a relationship that is sweet and readers will quickly come to like the two characters, even if Victor is a cold-blooded killer.

Before the blood can dry, Victor leads a group of people on a mission to the planet, Congo, Manpower’s slave planet, to liberate the slaves and the planet. He and they do and for some bizarre reason, 17-year-old Berry, with a phenomenal personality who has really taken to the ex-slaves, is elected queen of the inhabitants of the newly renamed planet of Torch, with Ruth her intelligence director and Thandi, with the help of her “Amazon” warriors (who are a fun group of women in this book) installed as her military leader, and Audubon Ballroom terrorist leader Jeremy X installed as Minister of War. Of course, her father Anton will stay and help out with intelligence for an indefinite period of time, as will Victor. Both are intent upon penetrating Mesa-Manpower. And both are concerned about Mesa-Manpower’s attempts to get to Berry and others on Torch, with good reason, as we shall see.

This isn’t necessarily the best Honorverse book I’ve read, but I’d be hard pressed to name another that’s better. Of course, none of them really measure up to one of the better Honor books, but that’s to be expected. Still, it’s a good sub-series and I’m enjoying the second book more than the first. I’d love to give this book five stars, but I don’t think it’s a five star book. Still, it’s a solid four star book and easily recommended.

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