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Archive for March, 2016

A Review of Total Penguins

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 30, 2016

Total Penguins: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the Pittsburgh PenguinsTotal Penguins: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the Pittsburgh Penguins by Rick Buker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is without doubt the most comprehensive, well researched, exhaustive, thorough resource on any subject I have every encountered in my life, in this case, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s most impressive. Admittedly, it’s for a niche market. It won’t appeal to that many people and I doubt it’s sold well. But if you’re a Penguins fan, like I am, it’s completely invaluable. I can’t imagine a more important book to add to your library and your knowledge of the team and its history.

The book is a literally hugely proportioned 720 page hardback with stories and a synopsis of each season, beginning with the first expansion season of 1967 through the book’s publication date of 2010. Fascinating stuff. I particularly appreciated learning about the early teams because even though my dad and I went to Penguins games at the Igloo in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, I was so young, I really don’t remember the players and didn’t start to pay attention to them until the early 1980s, by which time the team had been in existence for 15 years. So I missed out on a lot of the team’s early history and players. And with each team’s synopsis, there’s a team roster listing each player’s stats, including games played, goals, assists, points, for goalies, goals against average, etc.

The next section of the book is huge! It’s about 120 pages of player profiles for EVERY player who has ever worn a Penguins uniform, even if it was just for one game. That’s stunning research. That’s simply amazing. It’s got their stats and everything, just like on old time baseball cards you used to collect when you were a kid. It’s freaking awesome! There are simply hundreds of them! I really enjoyed this section, although it took a long time to get through. It was fascinating to see all of the players we’ve had over the years.

The next section was on the coaches and general managers. A little less exciting, yes, but still, we’ve had some good ones over the years and it was exciting to read about Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks (of US Olympic fame), Scotty Bowman (the all time winningest coach in NHL history), Craig Patrick, and other big names who worked for the Pens. And, yes, it was even interesting to read about all of the owners the Pens have had over the years, although it was depressing to see how many loser, broke owners we had until Mario Lemieux bought the team in the late 1990s and ultimately saved the team from bankruptcy, keeping the team in Pittsburgh, where it belonged.

The next section is on the Penguins Hall of Famers. Very fascinating. As of this book’s publication, 17 former Penguins had been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s safe to assume former Pen Jaromir Jagr will make it at some point in the near future and it’s also a safe bet that Sidney Crosby will likely make it down the road too. There are a couple of other current Pens who have the potential to make it if they keep playing to their level of competition. The articles on these players are really well written and quite fascinating and give you an inside look at some special players. Of course, some of the players here are, naturally, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen, and Bryan Trottier (who played most of his career with the Islanders, truthfully). The next section is interesting, too, though, because it’s the Penguins Hall of Fame, I guess, for those who don’t make the NHL Hall of Fame. These are for those who make a significant career contribution to the club who the league didn’t think merited a lifetime achievement award of the big one. I didn’t know all of these players and it was interesting to read about them. Some include Syl Apps, one of Pittsburgh’s first stars in the early ’70s, Les Blinkley, our first goalie, Anthony Cagglano, our longtime locker room assistant, Jean Pronovost, another early ’70s star, Vincent Lascheid, our organist of 33 years, and Ulf Samuelsson, our “enforcer” on our great early Stanley Cup teams. Very cool.

The next section is a 90 page section called The Stanley Cup Playoffs. It has a synopsis of every playoff series and most games from every year in the Penguins’ existence. It’s beyond in depth! I mean, this goes above and beyond research, above and beyond dedication. This book was only $29. I think this book is easily worth $100. The author spent 17 years — SEVENTEEN YEARS! — putting this together! That’s half a lifetime for some people. That’s the ultimate in dedication. Surely that should be worth more than $29. Anyway, it was fascinating to read about all of our playoff games we’ve had and to relive some of those moments of glory and agony. It started with St. Louis, moved to Philly, then to the Islanders, then I believe the Caps and Rangers became our playoff nemesis’s for a very long time (still are). In our Stanley Cup wins in the early ’90s, we beat Minnesota and Chicago. In this past decade, we’ve had to go at it with the Caps again, the Rangers again, Detroit several times, playing them twice for the Stanley Cup, winning in 2009. Pretty interesting stuff.

The next section is called The Greatest Games and it is the best and worst games as picked by the author and also the games with the best fights, which I really enjoyed since I miss the old days of fighting in the NHL and am often annoyed that fighting in the NHL has largely been curtailed. I found it amazing to note that one year, back in the early ’90s, 11 Pens players had over 100 penalty minutes on the year. This year, our leader has 65. No one will end up with 100 or anywhere close to it. In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for enforcers to wrack up 300-400 penalty minutes a year. Now, if a player gets even 150 in a year, he’s considered a mega-tough guy, maybe even dirty. What a joke! I’ve read what Gordie Howe and some of the older former hockey players have said about today’s game and while they admit today’s players are very talented, they think they’re babied and coddled and they’re scared to mix it up and the league has gotten scared to let their players get hurt, even though in the old days, players were charged with, get this, MURDER on ice (not that I’m encouraging that, but you get the picture), so that today’s players, while more talented than yesterday’s players, would probably get the shit beaten out of them thoroughly by yesterday’s players, literally. Who cares what the final score is? The oldies would probably still win. Good point, Gordie.

There is also a section on the arenas, which is somewhat interesting, but far less so than the other sections. There’s only so much you can do with that. There also another section on all acquisitions, sales, trades, and drafts, which is mind blowing, considering how many people you’re talking about over such a long period of time. It’s amazing how much research went into this book. There’s an additional section on other Pittsburgh hockey teams and I had no idea about this. There have been many, including an NHL team called the Pittsburgh Pirates back around 1925. But there were Pittsburgh hockey teams back in the late 1800s, believe it or not. Quite possibly the first semi-professional hockey teams in America with the first real hockey rinks. Teams came from all over North America (including Canada) to play the Pittsburgh teams. There was a minor league club called the Pittsburgh Hornets that played there from from 1936-1967 that went 770-705-174 and won three Calder Cups, including in their last year in existence. Apparently the fans there loved that team.

The last section is a very long 150+ page section on statistics, awards, and honors. It has about any statistic you could possibly think of, no matter how obscure. It’s unreal. The awards and honors are what you would expect, of course, but include minor ones as well, ones you’ve never heard of. But the stats just blow you away. The all time All-Star team Selections. The All-Star Game Selections. Individual and team playoff records. All-time playoff goaltending leaders. Shootout wins and losses. By game, date, winning goal, winning goalie, final score and more! Single game records in just about anything. It goes on and on. You could keep learning for months. It’s stunning.

So, this is an amazing book. My only complaint, and this is no fault of the author, is that since it was published in 2010, it’s a bit dated. It only has Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang, etc., stats through 2010. It’s 2016. I’d like to see where these players rank now in career standings! Back then Crosby was in the list of top ten scorers. Malkin was not. I know now Crosby is probably in the top five and Malkin is in the top ten easily. I also know that Fleury has surpassed Tom Barasso, my former favorite goalie, as the team’s all time winningest and winningest playoff goalie and I’d like to see that reflected in that stats. But until the publisher decides to come out with a new edition, that won’t happen. And frankly, I don’t see how the publisher could have made any money on this project. I’m sure they lost money. The book simply would have been too costly to make with too little revenue generated to recoup their expenses. So I don’t anticipate another edition any time soon, if ever, which disappoints me. So, that disclaimer said, this remains the greatest resource I have ever seen for anything. Obviously, it’s the greatest resource for anything related to the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course. Obviously, it’s a great hockey resource. There are tons of pictures and numerous stories of other teams, players, and coaches and their interactions with Penguins teams over the years, so even if you’re not the biggest Pens fan in the world, you still *might* find this interesting. Perhaps. But frankly, it’s for a niche market. To me, it was a gift from heaven. To me, this is just about the biggest five star book I can think of. To me, if you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, there is no other book you should read before this one and I can’t recommend this book more strongly.

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A Review of The Road to Hell

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 26, 2016

The Road to Hell (Multiverse, #3)The Road to Hell by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what an awesome book! It was so worth the wait. The Road to Hell is the third book in the Multiverse series, a series that began in 2006 by David Weber and Linda Evans. The next book was published in 2008, I believe, and stopped. Word got out that Weber’s collaborator’s health was poor, so the series was put on hold indefinitely. People lost hope for a new entry in the series, which would have been a disappointment because the first two books were so compelling. And now, as of March 1st of this year, Weber and a new collaborator, Joelle Presby, have finally put out the third book. Geez, it’s good. Just what I needed after how badly things had gone for the good guys in the first two books.

The war between magically-gifted Arcana, the “bad” guys, and psionically talented Sharona, the “good” guys, continues to rage. The dragon-borne Arcanan assault across five universes has been halted at Fort Salby by an extremely desperate defense, but at a horrible cost. Prince Janaki, heir to the Sharonian Empire, went knowingly to his death in defense of the empire. It was critical to stop the Arcanans because they were torturing and executing their Sharonian prisoners, especially the “Voices,” or telepath communicators used by the military and civilian commands to communicate from universe to universe. For weeks, no one had known there even WAS an invasion because no one had heard anything from any Voices. They were all dead. Fort Salby stopped that. And I, and probably all of the other readers, wanted vengeance. Demanded it. And we started getting it in this book. ‘Bout damn time too! While the defenders held the pass at Fort Salby, the newly mechanized Sharonian advanced strike force, went through other universes traveling thousands of miles over the course of three months to take back all but one of the universes and their forts, all without alerting the Arcanan army. Sweet.

We also see the sacrifice, it seems, of Janaki’s younger sister, Princess Andrin, now heir of Sharona, to be wed to a Uromathian prince in order to establish the new Sharonian Empire. But no one wants that except for the Uromathian emperor and his sons. Wait until you find out how Andrin and her advisers solve this puzzle!

Another major part of the story line in this book is the trial of the “good” Arcanan, Jasak, a court martial, where he is defended by his new fiancé and his two Sharonian prisoners he has taken in as family members. I was worried about this court martial for three straight books. It’s finally here.

Of course, since it’s part of an ongoing series (I hope it’s ongoing again), the authors had to stop at a critical point where I had to know what happens next, just so I’ll buy the next book that comes out, damn them, but I can’t wait until the next one and it’ll be a long time. I’ll probably reread the series a couple of times before it arrives on the shelves.

I loved this book. It had mystery, intrigue, sci fi/fantasy elements, character development, action, passion, tactics, etc. In short, just what you want out of a book. Very recommended, particularly if you’re reading the series. Five stars.

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A Review of Courageous

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 26, 2016

Courageous (The Lost Fleet, #3)Courageous by Jack Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Courageous, Jack Campbell’s third book in his Lost Fleet series, is decent, but not great. It’s more of the same with a few new wrinkles thrown in to make it interesting enough for you to buy the next one in the series and keep reading. It’s an effective strategy.

In Courageous, the Alliance fleet is still wandering from star system to system, trying to get home by some path the Syndics won’t know or predict. It might seem like a hopeless situation, but the legendary Captain “Black Jack Geary,” who’s been revived out of cyrosleep after his last mission of 100 years ago, is just the hero they need. He has proven himself so unbelievably capable so far that some of his commanders want to help him become Alliance dictator when they get home, while others just want to get rid of him. Geary simply feels like a lonely old man and wants to retire and be left in peace once he returns to the Alliance.

One of the new wrinkles is this: aliens. Or the possibility of aliens. Geary is coming to realize that an unknown alien race may be manipulating both the Alliance and the Syndics through the hypernet gates. And the Syndics may know of this race and may even be in on it! Geary and his intelligence officers are puzzled by some data intercepts they receive. The big Syndicate fleet did not intend to arrive in the system where the Alliance fleet was. They had expected to come out of the hypernet gate in a different system. But somehow, the gate had malfunctioned. But everyone knows the hypernet gates never malfunction. Did some aliens change their course? And why would this alien intelligence move the Syndicate fleet? If they wanted to eliminate Geary’s fleet, how could they possibly monitor things in one system and then shift the Syndicates? Were they capable of instant communications across who knows how many light years? What to do? What’s up?

Campbell is known for his military sci fi and space opera. Not for character development. I’d say that Geary is pretty well developed in this series. As much as Campbell can do. Another character Campbell tries to work with is Captain Desjani, Geary’s beautiful, young fleet commander, who obviously has feelings for him (and he for her), but neither of them will let such emotions get in the way of their duties and professionalism. That said, Geary’s lover, Victoria Rione, a politician, is a mystery. I assume he’s written her to be intentionally mysterious and confusing, but by now, she’s turned into such a game-playing bitch, that any sympathetic feelings I had for her character I once had are long gone. It’s impossible to get to know her, her motivations, her integrity, her honesty, anything at all. Nothing is as it seems with her. I hate her so much. After listening to her bitch and moan page after page, I’m ready for a change and I think the one I want might be coming in a future book in the series, which is good enough to keep me reading in this series.

That said, I have no idea why this is a six book series. The first book is obviously essential, as the last one will be, I assume. The middle four books seem to be filler, just chases and fleet battles in different Syndic systems that all run together, book after book. It gets boring after awhile. Sure, you learn some new things along the way, some of them critical, but you have to search to find them. Otherwise, you’re just skimming. Campbell is obviously well liked by many fans. I’ve come to enjoy some of his books. But as far as military sci fi goes, he’s no David Weber. Not even close. Of course, no one is, so I’ll say Campbell is no Chris Bunch either. Better comparison. Bunch’s Last Legion and Star Risk series’ are similar space operas, in some ways, but have substantially better character development, snappier dialogue, more believable military action, etc. There are other military sci fi writers out there who are also better than Campbell. Nonetheless, this is entertaining. A decent book from a decent series. Not great, perhaps not even good, but not bad. Above average. Three stars. Cautiously recommended as a series.

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Last Issue of RRR

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2016

It’s the first day of spring and that means the Spring 2016 issue of Ray’s Road Review has been published. Please feel free to drop by and read some fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Additionally, we’re going on indefinite hiatus, which makes us a bit sad. My severely poor health makes it no longer possible for me to hold down my poetry editor duties and Gretchen and Chris are going to pursue their own things for the time being. At some point in the future, we hope to come back and start back up, but that’s probably a ways down the road. I feel proud to have been a part of something that has become such an excellent literary journal and I’d like to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity and Gretchen for being a big part of it.

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A Review of Crusade

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2016

Crusade (Starfire, #2)Crusade by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crusade, written in 1992, years before the Honor and Safehold series’, is David Weber doing what Weber does best. There are tons of excellent space battles which, after all, is his very best skill and talent. There are religious zealots, in this case, human-related aliens, led by bishop and archbishop generals who, as in the Safehold series, are sadistic, genocidal nutjobs. Why Weber decided at some point in his life that bishops and religious leaders would make good and believable generals is beyond me, but after reflection, I guess they don’t because after their initial victories and genocides, they usually seem to get their asses kicked by the “good” guys, so let that be a lesson to you, bad religious guys!

Also, there are “bad” politicians in the book, getting in the way of the military, not letting it do its job, trying to draw it down, get their own glory, fight their own stupid personal battles, generally be idiots, until the patriotic military dude wins the day and lets the military make its own tactical battle decisions, etc., and then and only then does the military start to win. Obviously, religious nuts and politicians are evil.

Oh yes, the Orions are the “good” aliens. The Thebans, the “bad” aliens/former Terrans, escaped the original Terran/Orion war a century or so ago through a wormhole no one has ever come out of and apparently thinks the Orions are still evil and humankind is still at war with them, thus when the Thebes appear out of said wormhole 100 years later, they fire on an Orion ship and the war begins. Of course, they are there to return mankind to Holy Terra’s original state, or what they think it should be according to their “holy” works as written by some freak a long time ago. Since the Terrans are now allied with the Orions, they are now polluted by the Satan Orions and must be eliminated, so off to the concentration camps with them and let’s execute as many as possible. Of course, there are resistance groups, and since they’re “good” Terrans, they’re smart and they outsmart the Thebes and, as is often the case with Weber, one of the high ranking Thebans, in this case the leading admiral, begins to have doubts about their mission and even their origin, as well as their treatment of the prisoners, so he defects to the Terran side, and with his help, the Terrans carry the battle to Thebes and all is well with the universe. Yay rah. No seriously, good book. Great battles, as always with Weber. I am reading a Jack Campbell series (The Lost Fleet) right now and while it’s okay, and while the space battles have great cover blurbs (of course), they can’t even compare at all with Weber. No one can. He’s simply the best. Of course, he has annoying habits that just get worse with each book he publishes: the number of characters, their stupid names and titles, the infodumps, etc. But he can do a battle like no other.

This book is part of an old series. I know this because I’ve read another Terran/Orion book. I don’t know the name of the series though and it’s not listed anywhere in the book where I can find it. I’d be interested in reading more, even though it’s old and not as good as his later series’, simply because these books are very action packed and tension filled and good indicators of his books to come. He even uses names we’ll see in future series’, like Manticore, Saint-Just, etc. I’d love to give this book five stars and I’m tempted to. I’m not sure I shouldn’t. But I’ve read too many five star books by Weber and I’m not sure this is on par with those numerous five star books. This is close, but not quite as good. Or is it? It’s a tough call. You know what? It was a really good book with a lot of drama, a lot of great action, a lot of tension, a lot of suspense, some really great battles. I see no reason not to give it five stars, so I guess I will after all. I can’t justify not giving it five stars. So five it is and recommended. And yes, the book stands on its own. Read it.

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A Review of Fearless

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 19, 2016

Fearless (The Lost Fleet, #2)Fearless by Jack Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fearless is the second book in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series about Captain Jack Geary who has been revived and recovered from 100 years of cyrosleep just in time to try to save the Alliance fleet from total annihilation by the evil Syndics. The first book in the series, Dauntless, was pretty good, but I gave it only three stars because the weaponry used was so insanely stupid, mainly “grapeshot” and “hell lance spears,” both of which sound unbelievably stupid when compared to similar military sci fi space battle weaponry and also when simply considering simple space battle physics. Nonetheless, many soldiers in the Alliance fleet think “Black Jack Geary” is a hero returned from the dead to save them and the Alliance. To many of these, Geary can do no wrong, and they’re willing to follow him virtually anywhere as he tries to find a way home to the Alliance. Other fleet officers, however, resent Geary’s attempts to instill discipline in a military that has become undisciplined over a century of war. These idiots are causing too much trouble and when they find someone new to follow, Geary faces a mutiny. There’s another sub-plot that’s interesting. Mysterious and often hostile Senator Victoria Rione finally warms up to Geary, to a limited degree, and they become lovers, at least part time, and on her terms. Where this will lead, no one knows. But it’s Geary’s first romantic relationship in over 100 years and as we find out, it’s her first relationship since her much loved husband was thought killed by the Syndics and, as is found out, was captured and now lost in the system. Which really screws her up.

The fleet finds some Alliance prisoners and frees them, one of whom is a famous captain who immediately tries to relieve Geary of command. Geary has to verbally slap him around to put him in his place. This guy is so narcissistic, he thinks he IS the Alliance AND the only person who can possibly save the Alliance. Jerk. Captain Falco is way too over the top and two dimensional, as is many of Campbell’s characters (characters aren’t his strong point), and he ultimately leads a mutiny of 40 ships away from the fleet, fleeing away toward a different system. Geary is incensed, but there’s nothing he can do. He’s convinced they’ll be decimated.

My thoughts about the first book remain for this book. Geary is a great character. His flagship captain, Captain Desjani shows signs of growth and is a wonderful character. Rione remains mysterious and I can’t figure out whether I’m supposed to like her or be annoyed as hell with her. Perhaps both. Most of the ships’ captains are either over the top annoying or forgettable. The tactics are decent, but the weaponry remains unbelievably stupid. I can’t get over how, what, 30th century or later ships use 17th Earth century pirate ship ball bearings for close encounter ship fighting. And the ships, close enough for that type of engagement, don’t get close enough to brush each other and blow each other up. Unthinkable. Beyond stupid. I know I compare most military sci fi writers to David Weber, but he IS the standard and his ships are usually, what, millions of kilometers apart from each other when they engage. The very notion that they could even be close enough to touch each other, let alone doing so without blowing each other to hell, is beyond laughable.

It’s an intriguing story though. It’s good enough for me to keep reading the series. I want to see Geary, a good character, win over the officers and get the fleet home. I want to see how he gets his undermanned, injured fleet home from deep in enemy space while being pursued by a bigger enemy fleet. But meanwhile, I’ve got to put up with these annoyances. Oh well. So, I want to give this book four stars. And I’m tempted to. Yet, because of the weaponry alone, I want to give this book three stars, again, like the first book. So, what should I do? Well, Geary has to overcome this mutiny and win a big battle minus 40 ships, all the while having to deal with a confusing new romantic relationship and the rumors around the fleet surrounding that and the insubordination of various officers. I guess I can try to overlook the stupidity of the author over the weapons due to the decency of the rest of the book. So, a grudging four stars. Somewhat recommended, but only if reading the series. I’m continuing reading. Not too bad, if you can get past the unrealistic crap and concentrate on the story.

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