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Archive for April, 2016

A Review of Relentless

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 29, 2016

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

First off, I’ve got to ask, what’s with these stupid series’ book covers? This is a six book series about Captain Black Jack Geary who is the commander of the Alliance Fleet – Navy – who never leaves his flagship, yet each book features a young man in full battle armor, presumably Marine battle armor, carrying a futuristic weapon in both hands, perhaps something like a pulse rifle or some such thing. Why? It has nothing to do with the books or series? Why would Geary be in battle armor or carrying a rifle of any type? He has no reason to carry any weapon, or to be in battle armor – ever. It’s simply publisher marketing department BS. Why the publisher let the marketing department run with this is beyond me, but it’s a flagrant example of marketing not knowing a damn thing about the product their company is selling and a good reason of why so many company divisions hate their marketing departments so much.

Anyway, this is the fifth book in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series and in it, Geary is STILL trying to get the Alliance fleet through Syndic space back to Alliance space while evading Syndic fleets if at all possible. Frankly, while well written, it’s gotten a little old and it seems to me that books two through five could have been condensed quite a bit.

In this book, Geary is in a system where they find some Alliance POWs, whom they attempt to liberate, while they find out they’re being hunted by a massive reserve Syndic flotilla, which had been on the other side of the system, presumably to guard Syndic space against alien invasion, a closely guarded secret. And Geary is still facing treasonous elements within his own fleet, in this case, people willing to kill and blow up his own ships in an effort to stop him. It seems insane and it is, but he’s got to find it and stop it and them now.

Meanwhile, Geary is still dealing with the two female leads in this series, which is both interesting and at times, incredibly annoying. His flagship captain and his Alliance co-president are at each other’s throats constantly and the sniping gets old fast. Real fast. Of course, he made the mistake of taking the Co-President as a lover early on in this series, which fortunately didn’t last long, but the sexual and romantic tension between Geary and his captain, Desjani, is huge and you can’t help but root for them to one day get over their professional objections and wind up together. Perhaps in the final book….

As always, there’s a lot of action, but I still have problems with the weapons in this book and series. To think that space warships use weapons like GRAPESHOT and electric lances for close quarters combat, which would be physically impossible without blowing each other to hell by hitting each other while passing each other at incredible speeds, is an incredibly ridiculous notion. Ball bearings. In outer space. Holy shit. Seriously? Missiles? Lasers? Grazers? Plasma? Anything? Something futuristic? Not something from 18th century pirates? Please? It’s beyond stupid to think that grapeshot would be used in the, what, 25th, 30th, 35th century for space battles. That said, the tactics are always fun to read about.

This book brings a sense of near closure to the series, without going into too much detail. There’s a lot left, a lot of mystery and intrigue. If and when the fleet makes it back to Alliance space, there’s the question of how Geary will be received by the government. Will fleet elements attempt a government takeover and try to make him dictator? What about the aliens? What about Geary and Tanya? There’s a lot to cover in the final book. It’s something to look forward to. I’ve actually already read it, so I know how everything ends, but I’m not going to spoil it in this review. I still have to review the final book itself. Suffice it to say that even though there’s some redundancy in this book, it’s pretty good and worth the read – if you’re reading the series. If not, it’s not a standalone book. Start with the first one and go forward from there. Four stars. Recommended.

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A Review of Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 20, 2016

Pol Pot: Anatomy of a NightmarePol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare by Philip Short
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book very engaging. While it is not a “true” biography of Pol Pot, in that this isn’t what the entire book is about, the book is instead a study on twentieth century Cambodia, its politics, culture, international manipulations, military struggles, and yet, to a certain degree, one Saloth Sar, aka Pol Pot.

I have read a number of biographies of Pol Pot now, as well as studies on 1970s Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge and just what happened between 1975 and early 1979, and I am currently reading a book on S-21, Pol Pot’s infamous “interrogation” center (ie, torture and extermination center) located at the former school, Tuol Sleng. It’s difficult reading. Suffice it to say, I have never read anything more unbelievable in my entire life! That these atrocities could be committed by multiple leaders for generations and that the entire culture of Cambodia would permit this to occur without complaint, to accept genocide as a way of life/death is incomprehensible to me. To try and understand how Pol Pot and his fellow former school teacher colleagues could be so utterly ruthless and so completely naïve, stupid, paranoid, and utterly inept is almost beyond belief. To think that after fighting a five year civil war against a US-backed ruthless Cambodian government, on the first day of their victory in 1975, the Khmer Rouge emptied all cities, towns, and villages within 24-48 hours, completely, totally, is surreal. To think they would ban money, markets, education, religion, personal names, families, even laughter, upon pain of “disappearing” one night and being shot is so insane, it almost makes one crazy trying to understand it at all. Imagine living in New York City or Los Angeles and being told after a largely welcome revolutionary victory that you have 24-48 hours to leave all you have, walk out of the city, and go to the countryside to begin working as agricultural workers (they weren’t even told this much), or you will be shot by ten year old children wearing black pajamas carrying AK-47s. Try to picture that. Try to picture NYC and LA totally empty in two days. Except for the dead bodies. Try to picture the anarchy on the roads and kids in black pajamas with big guns herding you along to God knows where with no food or drink, people falling down dead due to malnutrition, hunger, disease, etc. Not knowing where their family is, where their spouses or kids are. Seeing everyone wearing eyeglasses taken away and shot because all such people “must” be intellectuals, who are naturally anti-revolutionary, and therefore must pay the ultimate price. Picture that. Picture 14,00-20,000 people going through S-21 in three years with only seven to 12 surviving to tell their tale, only possibly a dozen alive out of all of those people. This is Cambodia for three plus years in the 1970s. And this was the government that the US government backed, solely because they were anti-Vietnamese. And after the Vietnamese invaded and threw Pol Pot out in 1979, and he escaped to Thailand, he stayed and rebuilt his army and fought in northwest Cambodia with US aid until the late 1990s when he died a natural death, even though the entire world knew of his fucking genocide! Our own government has Cambodian blood on its hands and it’s fucking disgusting!

Yes, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao killed more people than Pol Pot did. But Pol Pot killed a much higher percentage of his people than any of those men did, his own people, and most likely, more than any man in history ever has. He was responsible for the deaths of over one and a half million people, up to one fourth of Cambodia’s population! Think about that. One fourth of your country is wiped out by one man and his insane, secretive regime. In three years. And for what? No one knows. There’s no good reason. To create some sort of completely imaginary neo-Marxist society that bears no resemblance to Marxism at all. The Khmer Rouge were the most inept Marxists in world history, barely able to understand basic concepts like class consciousness, or even what the proletariat is. It was not these concepts that brought them to power, nor even served as the mechanism behind Tuol Sleng.

The fact is that the Khmer Rouge was a total nightmare, but one brought about by many entities. The stupefying US bombardment of Cambodia is probably the most probable reason for the Khmer Rouge’s vicious and fast rise to power. The US, France, Vietnam, the USSR, and China — all of these countries brought about the rise of the Khmer Rouge, and especially in the case of China and America, catered to the exiled Pol Pot throughout the eighties and the nineties, even after the full horror of his genocide was made obvious. The next time someone talks to you about Reagan, America’s hero, make sure they know that under his watch, we kept this group of mass murderers armed for years. Simply because we and the Khmer Rouge shared one longtime enemy: Vietnam. Unreal.

And where does Pol Pot figure in his own biography? As an average, unambitious student, not good enough to get into the best schools, yet an early French and then Indochinese Communist, good enough to rise in the ranks. Good enough to take control of the Cambodian party in 1960, although the party remained hidden and unknown. And no one knew who he was, except for the few at the top with him. He remained a secret, an enigma, even after the Khmer Rouge attained power, not coming out into the public eye until close to a year and a half later. He gave interviews to two western journalists during his lifetime, both American, both during his time in power. They didn’t learn much, but they learned to fear him and his regime. And yet, even though he was “Brother Number One,” by the time of his death in 1997, his body was thrown onto a rubbish heap with a pile of tires and burned. No one ever got their vengeance. No one. Once, late in his life, he was asked if he knew how many deaths he was responsible for. He said a hundred or so. He said it would have been fewer, but some “mistakes” had been made. He had no grasp on reality. I don’t think he ever did. I think he was completely mad his entire life. His wife went mad. Maybe his madness drove her over the edge. No one will ever know, but that’s my theory, for what it’s worth.

Today, Cambodia is still struggling to recover. It still has problems. It’s still an uneducated, agrarian society. It needs help. Who will help the Cambodians? It would be nice if some of the countries that used that country so willingly and brutally during the twentieth century stepped up to the plate. It would be good if Cambodia could survive and one day thrive. They say it is beautiful there, or at least once was. It would be nice to work to regain some of that.

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Letter to People Who Think Chronic Pain Isn’t That Bad | The Mighty

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 20, 2016

A letter to people who don’t understand chronic pain and think it’s “not that bad.”

Source: Letter to People Who Think Chronic Pain Isn’t That Bad | The Mighty

 

This is a really good article. Not the best I’ve ever read, but really good. It does a good job at trying to explain the problem people with severe chronic pain have in trying to live with. My wife found it and shared it with me and I then shared it with a number of Trigeminal Neuralgia support boards I’m a member of online and the response was overwhelming. Many dozens of people “liked” this article, many dozens of people shared this article, and there were a number of comments too. Some of those commenting said they thought this article might help their friends or family understand where they were coming from. Maybe. Maybe not. Still, if you read this and understand anything from it, take anything away at all, it will be much appreciated. I have several major chronic pain-producing illnesses, disorders, and problems in general, surrounding my face, head, and back. The worst is Trigeminal Neuralgia. I have TN Type 2. Only about 5,000 people in America have it, so it’s very rare and as a result, is not well understood or easily treatable. That makes it difficult for me to adequately describe my situation to anyone, let alone my doctors. Sometimes the doctors I meet have never even heard of TN Type 2. That’s when it becomes discouraging. But whatever the case, I thought this article was at least a 7-8 out of 10 and worthy of sharing and posting myself. I hope you’ll read it and if so, I hope you’ll get something out of it. Cheers!

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A Review of Bolo!

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 15, 2016

Bolo! (Bolo, #14)Bolo! by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bolo! isn’t necessarily a bad book. It’s just that it’s not that great either, at least not by David Weber’s standards. Apparently, one Keith Laumer created the Bolo decades ago. It’s an uber-tank, one with so many uber-weapons on it, everyone in the universe knows of it and is terrified of it. Just one alone can defend an entire planet. One can level an entire city while shooting down warships attacking the planet. It’s farfetched, but intriguing as a premise. And apparently, many authors have written stories and books with Bolos as their theme. This Weber book is a compilation of some short stories he wrote, mostly during the 1990s, collected here in one volume. It could be decent, but it’s not exactly what I expect from Weber, so I didn’t finish it.

The first story is about an old Bolo, about 80 years old, left unattended on this backwater planet, sent a new Naval commander. But the late former commander had made some “adjustments” to this Bolo and it has become essentially sentient. Its name is Nike and it thinks about its old and new commanders and analyzes everything at all times, searching for threats. The new commander, Merritt, realizes pretty quickly what he has on his hands and he doesn’t inform his chain of command because he doesn’t want his new toy taken from him. But he begins to develop an unusual and somewhat unrealistic affection for Nike, and this is what began to turn me off to the story. He starts treating Nike like a woman, like a girlfriend/mistress/lover and refers to her (it has a female voice, as it was programmed to have one by its late female commander) as “darling” and “love.” It’s a little too icky for me to like or buy.

An evil corporation wants to run the population off this planet because it’s just become a newly important junction in a trade route, so it hires a mercenary team, does some research and surveillance, discovers the Bolo and buys the mercenaries new tactical equipment, including two “generic” Bolos of their own. Then they invade. You can guess the rest of the story. The human and machine lovers ride off to their deaths into the sunset, defending the planet with their blood and … motor oil? It’s very touching. Yep. A bit overly dramatic, I’d call it. Way too dramatic. So damn dramatic, I decided not to read any more stories, as I figured I’d read just about enough on the Bolos that I could, why endure more?

Weber can write a great series. He has several and I have all of the books. He also usually writes great battle scenes. But his standalone books usually lack something. Such is the case with this one. It doesn’t have the usual Weber touch. It’s just too corny. Two stars or three? Three stars because the Bolos really are cool weapons. However, not recommended.

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A Review of Out of the Silent Planet

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 14, 2016

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve liked and disliked several of C.S. Lewis’s works over the years and if I remember correctly, I read his space trilogy as a young boy, but remember nothing of it. So my wife picked up Out of the Silent Planet at a used bookstore for me just for the heck of it and it was an interesting read. Talk about old school sci fi, this was OLD school! Published in 1938, I believe, I had a hard time reminding myself that there was no realistic way Lewis could have known anything about spaceflight or Mars, the main locations in the novel, so it’s unbelievably dated, but it’s not really his fault.

In this book, Dr. Elwin Ransom, a Cambridge philology professor, is kidnapped by two greedy snobs who have a spaceship and have traveled to outer space before. Ransom is taken to a planet called Malacandra by the alien species that live there, though we later learn it is actually Mars. As Mars, it is not red and deserted and dusty. It is bright and sunny, with oceans and streams, plenty of vegetation, jungles, mountains that get increasingly colder the higher you climb, dangerous animals, and several sentient alien species. He is completely enchanted by the beautiful scenery, escapes his captors, meets these aliens who are nothing like humans in appearance or action (for the most part), learns about the origin of these species on Malacandra and Earth (the silent planet) and, ultimately, reflects on the broken nature of humanity. The climactic scene leads him to the final show down which proves to be a meeting with the angelic “god” of the planet where Ransom’s linguistic abilities allow him to act as translator for the two other humans who see Malacandra as simply a stepping stone in humanity’s ongoing greatness and evolution into the stars. We see Ransom struggling with the challenge of expressing some of the more bizarre elements of his kidnappers’ philosophies in a way that will make sense to the Malacandrians. It never really does and ultimately, it doesn’t to Ransom either.

The book is short and, generally, entertaining, if a bit lightweight. It drags at times, quite a bit actually, but the dialogue can be quite good at times and the philosophies discussed are intriguing. I was worried that Lewis, a devout Christian, would go all “religious” on me, but he didn’t proselytize, for which I was grateful. I suppose, however, if one wanted religious symbolism, one could find it. Lewis was himself an academic and not a scientist at that. The thought that he could write “serious” science fiction in the 1930s is rather humorous. Nonetheless, this is a valiant effort and worth a read, especially as it’s so short. Three stars.

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A Review of The Reality Dysfunction 1

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 13, 2016

The Reality Dysfunction 1: Emergence (Night's Dawn 1)The Reality Dysfunction 1: Emergence by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’ve read, or attempted to, my share of stupid books over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a book this damn stupid in my entire life! I’m astounded, because The Reality Dysfunction has a great 4.24 rating on Goodreads, one of the highest ratings I’ve ever seen. Yet, it’s unbelievably stupid. I don’t see how anyone could possibly read past the first three chapters and not laugh their asses off at the sheer idiocy of the author. Cause that’s how far I got before giving up. And I’m not going to read the sequel, which has a higher rating than this! Unreal.

The first chapter isn’t that bad with a chase and destroy scene between three presumably white “good” starships and five black “bad” starships. Nothing to write home about, in fact a little boring, but an okay start. Actually, too much sci fi jingo, like the author’s trying to impress his audience with his sci fi tech knowledge. It’s weak.

The second chapter is about a planet. An alien planet somewhere … out there. It formed out of a nova or dwarf or something and then with the right light and elements, became life bearing and after billions of years, algae evolved. And then you get a whole damn chapter on evolution on this planet, which frankly mirrors Earth’s pretty closely. Why the hell is this there? Why couldn’t this have been a two paragraph aside somewhere? Why does this boring shit merit its own chapter? Who cares about how this evolution occurs? Allegedly, according to reviewers, for this author, it occurs pretty much the same way on every planet, so what’s the big deal?

The third chapter is the bozo chapter. A ship is bringing its 108-year-old female captain and her husband back to Saturn to die. Apparently, she’s outlived it and he, cause I guess it’s a HE, tells her It’s Time. Cause they talk telepathically. Cause they have some sort of emotional love link. Cause she tells him that of her three husbands and two lovers, she loves her ship more than anyone ever. She tries to talk it out of dying, but he insists he must. They talk about her 10 children/zygotes she has finally produced after 108 years, one of them with her current husband’s sperm. As she goes by each zygote, the ship names each one. It’s agonizing to read each paragraph as it oh so romantically goes on and on about how great each one will be. Then the moment comes when they must separate. It’s horrible. She can’t take it. Her husband, who apparently can also talk to her telepathically, leads her away from the ship to a terminal, since it has magically docked without our being told, and this is a terminal for captains to mourn and see their ships die and console each other and basically hold funeral services. I’m not fucking kidding.

It gets worse. Free of the humans, the ship goes off and calls to his fellows and similar ships answer his call in droves and come to it while he goes flying off. One links to him, I guess physically, even though they’re going at about nine gees and they don’t collide and blow each other up, which is a miracle, and through their link, they have a ship orgasm. Yep. Not kidding. Then it’s time to birth the babies. I didn’t see this coming. One by one, ten ships come up to this flying ship and take a baby … ship and look after it, telling it where it is and herding it into the safety of Saturn’s rings, where they’ll be growing for the next 18 years when they’ll finally be adult ships and will have captains of their own. So this female human captain who had 10 babies, one of whom was from her husband’s own sperm, gave birth to 10 spaceships. Excuse me, but what the motherfuck is that??? And then, to top it off, a “bad” black ship invades and connects with the soon-to-die ship and they produce a baby ship which the original ship predicts will be the greatest of them all. Then this dying ship goes flying every which way and pretty much blows itself up, oh so romantically while everyone sheds a tear, yet is happy for it. To end the chapter, the black clad stranger/pilot walks into the mourning terminal and no one wants anything to do with him, so the captain goes to him and starts talking to him and starts joking about how she’s got some granddaughters she needs to marry off. To him. Oh.My.God. The most stupid chapter ever written in the history of the universe. Reading it was both priceless and sheer torture. I’ve never read anything like it and hope to never do so again.

Apparently, other characters appear and other worlds come into play and apparently there are a ton of Satanists, although why, possibly billions of years in the future, there would be Satanists, is beyond me. This author has written quite a few sci fi novels, but what I don’t know what his personal background is. Most of the sci fi writers I read are actual scientists or come from a military background, or both. I get the idea this guy is neither. He probably owns a comic book store. Maybe he’s a middle school dropout. Whatever the case, this book is rubbish, the author is a ninny, and I’m glad I bought this used cause I could never forgive myself if I had paid full price for this piece of shit. Grudgingly one star, because I can’t give zero stars. Most definitely not recommended at all.

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A Review of Speaker for the Dead

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 9, 2016

Speaker for the Dead (The Ender Quintet, #3)Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Speaker for the Dead, the sequel to Ender’s Game, both of which won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best Science Fiction novel in back to back years for Orson Scott Card, the first time that achievement has ever happened, is a masterpiece of literature. Notice I said literature, not science fiction. That’s because I believe this to be a serious work of literature and not just science fiction. It crosses standard sci fi boundaries early and often and keeps the reader engaged in numerous areas they may or may not be comfortable with. This book explores not only standard hard sci fi fare, but religion, mysticism, politics, biodiversity, ecology, genetics, space travel, anthropology, xenophobia, technology, what makes a species sentient, can an advanced AI be sentient, cultural elitism, our reasons and means of studying other species, the ideals of upholding or abandoning our ethical principles, political rebellion, the knowledge we have of those around us, what we believe about them, the truth behind those beliefs, and much, much more. It’s a heavily philosophical novel, as well as at times, a psychological novel, and it is so much more than just a standard science fiction novel. For those of you who read and enjoyed Ender’s Game and expected more of the same, you’ll undoubtedly be disappointed. I read several reviews by people expressing this viewpoint. But as this has a 4.0+ rating on Goodreads, most people appreciate its broad scope, what it attempts to do and what it succeeds at doing, and I think this book stretches the mind and soul in ways not normally stretched by most any book you’ll ever encounter.

It’s been 3,000 years since Ender Wiggin was tricked into committing xenocide by destroying the “buggers” as commander of Earth’s fleet. Unknown to the world, he became Speaker for the Dead, which is a sort of humanist priest who learns about those who have died and speaks the truth of their lives, good and bad, their hopes, fears, intentions, virtues, and vices, and he traveled the known worlds with his sister, Valentine, writing several key works in which he brought the beauty of the buggers to life as well as his brother Peter, the Hegemon, to the forefront of civilization. Sprint forward 3,000 years and “Andrew” Wiggin is a Speaker for the Dead living on a Scandinavian planet with his sister Valentine. They have survived all of these years through the miracle of space travel and how it slows the system and aging down markedly, so that while he destroyed the buggers at age 12, he is now the equivalent of age 36. However, now all this time later, Ender’s name means the Xenocide and he is reviled throughout the universe.

We’re introduced to a planet called Lusitania some 40 years away, but two weeks by space travel, where he has been called to speak the death of a beloved xenologer. In this, he gets excited because he has been carrying the bugger Hive Queen with him this whole time, looking for a suitable place to allow her to create a new world for herself and her race. They think this may be the place. He’s also excited because this world is a world where humans have encountered their second alien race, the stupidly named “piggies.” Unfortunately, it’s the piggies who have killed this xenologer. The woman who called him to speak the man’s death is like his daughter and Ender is taken with her.

When he gets to Lusitania 40 years later their time, he discovers the Catholic-dominated culture they’re led by their Bishop has been instructed to avoid talking to him because he is Satanic. The young woman who called for him no longer wants him. She was married to a man who beat her, has six children and the family is excessively dysfunctional, and the original xenologer’s son and the woman’s friend and colleague was also killed in a similar manner by the piggies. Two of her children have also called for a speaker and a power struggle ensues. Wiggin stays to do his speaking, against all odds. He also meets the piggies and many mysteries are answered while more are brought up.

There’s a lot that goes on in this book. Two of the young scientists disobey the law to teach the piggies some things to make them more self sufficient. They know that if they get caught, if could mean the end of the colony. And they are caught and Starways Congress sentences them to transport to the nearest planet decades away for trial and a probable prison sentence. Even if they get off, they’ll likely never see their families again, as they’ll probably be dead by the time they return home. Meanwhile, Andrew proves to be a healing presence in Novinha’s family and life (the woman who originally called him and no longer wants him there), even against her will. She’s now a bitter, unhappy woman. She’s frankly an unpleasant character. But Ender sees something in her. Progress is made.

Another character who is really cool is Jane, some form of advanced AI, which is really an understatement, with near-godlike powers. She lives in the wires of the universal networks and has been there for thousands of years. She knows all, or nearly all, and is Ender’s best friend. Something major happens, though, and another character is introduced to Jane and things change. Jane goes on to play an increasingly significant role in the rest of the Ender books in the series, so if you’re reading the whole series, pay attention.

The overall premise of the book, then, is excellent – mankind’s dark history with the buggers, their potential for redemption with the piggies, the mysterious evil Descolada virus, the precautions taken to protect xenobiology, etc. But it’s the characters who are the stars. They make the book what it is, truly excellent. Ender, who is the epitome of humanity in his genius, wisdom, tenacity, and ruthlessness, is the killer seeking redemption, and the last Hive Queen, of course Jane, the insecure sentient AI, Ender’s brilliant sister, Valentine, bitter Novinho, the brilliant but angry xenobiologist who Ender is determined to make accept his love, and her dysfunctional family, and then there are the piggies themselves, an alien race who rank up there with some of the better alien species we’ve seen in science fiction. And don’t forget the buggers, who make their fearsome appearance at the very end of the novel. The characters carry this novel.

Perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the novel is Ender’s speaking the death of Marcão, Novinha’s late husband. It’s a brilliant scene and a bit of a show stopper. You know some of the things that are coming, but even then, you’re still surprised by some of it. And the reactions of the crowd are priceless. It’s truly an emotional scene and epitomizes Wiggin’s role in the world as he lives it these days.

Speaker for the Dead isn’t a perfect book. But it’s damn close. I was so impressed with it that I immediately moved it into my list of top five books of all time. Not sci fi books. All works of literature. I think it’s that good. It covers just about anything you want it to cover. It’s all encompassing. It’s heavy on the philosophy and I like that. It makes you think. It’s so much more than the average sci fi book where you see a space/warship or alien, shoot, and go bang. This is a thinking man’s sci fi, and again, I’d argue it’s literature or literary fiction, not merely sci fi. It’s the second book in a four book series. I’ve already finished the series, so I know what I think of the next two books. I think this is the best of the bunch. It’s most definitely possible to read this as a standalone book, if you want to do that. A strong five stars. Most strongly recommended book possible!

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A Review of The Alien Years

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 8, 2016

The Alien YearsThe Alien Years by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have mixed feelings about this author and hence this book. This author is well known and I’ve been meaning to read him for quite awhile and he came strongly recommended to me by a new friend. I saw this book in a bookstore this past weekend and picked it up. I started reading it a day or so ago, but didn’t get very far before I gave up in frustration. But I didn’t give up for the usual reasons. It’s not that the writing was that bad or it was that boring. It’s about huge, squid-like aliens who invade Earth, including ones that invade L.A., setting off a series of monster forest fires that are so bad, they could incinerate the entire SoCal area and pretty much leave nothing left. It sounds a little overly dramatic, but I can live with that.

No, the thing that stopped me 40 pages in is that I got seriously pissed off at Silverberg. See, he went to great lengths to trash L.A. repeatedly at every opportunity imaginable. It’s ugly, grim, disgusting, dirty, sinful, trashy, full of stupid and bizarre people, etc, etc., and he goes on and on about it and he won’t shut the fuck up about it! I don’t know if I’ve seen that much hatred for L.A. in a long time. It pisses me off because while I’ve moved 28 times and have lived in the US and Canada and seven states and while I have lived in four cities for 10+ years each, Los Angeles is one of those cities and it’s my favorite city I have ever lived in and I consider it my home, or at least my spiritual home though I no longer live there. I know it’s not the greatest city in the world and like every city, it has its problems, but it also has some awesome things that virtually no other city has to offer. Where else can you go water skiing and snow skiing on the same day? Talk about a great, year round temperate climate! I could go on and on for paragraphs, but I’m not L.A.’s tourist board, so I won’t. But I’m going to show my own snobbery. The only people I’ve ever seen this kind of disdain for L.A. have been New Yorkers and people from San Francisco and sure enough, when I looked up Silverberg’s bio, he was born and brought up in New York City, so he’s part of NYC’s elite, believing obviously that NYC is the greatest city to ever grace the earth, as so many of them do, and that L.A. is full of superficial airheads who know nothing and are worthless. And, surprise! He then moved to San Francisco, which is full of people who look down on L.A. because they are culturally and artistically superior to L.A. and SoCal’s “Little Mexico.” I can’t tell you how many times while living there I saw articles and editorials arguing that NoCal should vote to secede from SoCal and form its own state and leave SoCal to the invading Mexicans. Racist snobs. So, it comes as no surprise to me that Silverberg thinks poorly of L.A., although I still don’t know where his outright hatred of it comes from. But it’s disgusting and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to stop reading before my blood pressure went through the roof. Who knows? Maybe it’s a good book. I doubt it, because its rating on Goodreads is only a 3.45, so obviously most people consider it mediocre, even though its cover trumpets the notion that it’s his “epic masterpiece.” I’ll still read these two books recommended to me by my new friend, but I have to say, this was a disappointment and I’m not impressed and if this is typical of his work, I won’t have much good to say about him. Two stars, because outside of the L.A. bashing, it had potential. But definitely not recommended.

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A Review of Time Scout

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 6, 2016

Time Scout (Time Scout, #1)Time Scout by Robert Asprin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Unbelievably stupid and not remotely believable. Sometime in the future, time travel is possible, both “uptime” and downtime.” To do this, time scouts are needed to scout unknown areas and guides are needed to show tourists scouted areas such as historical Rome, Victorian England, shogun Japan, etc. The most famous time scout of all time is the stupidly named Kit Carson, who is retired.

One day, some total massive hottie, the like of whom has never been seen in the universe shows up on the space station in a massive rush looking for Kit. She is secretly 16, but “looks 18,” so it’s okay that every male who sees her, regardless of age or marital status stares and drools. All men think with their penises in this book. Even Kit, who’s old, when he sees her, is struck dumb with amazement. Then she announces she’s his granddaughter and wants him to train her to be a time scout! No more incestuous thoughts, I guess. Still, everyone else wants to pork her.

Kit tries to talk her out of it and enlists the aid of every time scout around and the top weapons specialists and researchers around. She thinks it sounds romantic and knows nothing about it. Well – get this – first of all, you have to be a scholar. You pretty much have to have a PhD. Many have PhDs in History or Anthropology or other Humanities discipline. Margo, the girl, doesn’t study. Hates school. Then, since you’re visiting who knows how many foreign countries, you have to be fluent in many, many languages. Kit is fluent in 20. Margo barely knows one. Then, you pretty much have to be a special forces veteran. A PhD. Yep. You have to know how to fight anyone anywhere and how to beat the hell out of anyone and kill them if need be. You also need to know your weapons. You need to know how to use, fire, and clean hundreds of guns. Margo has never picked one up. You need to know blades. Margo has never picked one up. You need to know at least three to five martial arts, black belt level, probably more. Margo took a few classes of one in high school. And one of the time scouts who’s helping to train her who seems to be about 40 develops some type of romantic relationship with her even though they have absolutely nothing in common and even though it’s statutory rape. Apparently, the author, Robert Asprin (Linda Evans is a collaborator, but I’m not convinced she did that much, because I have some respect for her), really wants to fuck a 16-year-old girl. Really badly.

And yet, I’m willing to bet, Margo triumphs over all and becomes a successful time scout, the first female one, no less, and everyone is happy. I say I’m willing to bet because I didn’t finish this joke of a disaster. It’s too stupid to waste my time on. There are too many other good books to read. This was honestly one of the dumber books I’ve picked up in a long time and rest assured I will never read another book by this author, who must be a total dumb ass. One star. Definitely not recommended.

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A Review of Valiant

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 6, 2016

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

In Valiant, Jack Campbell’s fourth book in his The Lost Fleet series, Captain “Black Jack” Geary is back, leading the remaining Alliance fleet through Syndic territory in an effort to get home to Alliance territory. They’re worried about their fuel cells, food stores, and the materials they need to create weapons. They’re obviously also worried about the Syndic fleet(s) following them, trying to trap them and eliminate them wherever they go. So far, they’ve beaten the odds and whipped the Syndics and they’ve discovered that the Syndics are afraid of Geary. The Syndic CEOs and crews are inexperienced and this weakness allows Geary to exploit this weakness in battle and concentrate on, yes, more pressing needs. In this book, they’ll also witness a Syndic hypernet gate collapse, see the horrifying damage it can do, and try to get the truth out to the Syndic worlds, letting everyone know the Alliance is not responsible for this atrocity. Finally, they’re getting closer to finding out the truth behind their suspicions that some form of aliens on the other side of Syndicate space might be influencing the war and trying to exterminate humanity.

One of the previously mentioned more pressing needs is fleet treasonous behavior on the part of fleet captains. Geary’s always had adversaries and has actually had to arrest a few, but things are getting nasty. Worms are found in several ship’s operating systems that would have resulted in Geary’s ship and a couple of others jumping into jump space and never emerging again, lost forever, while the rest of the fleet remains helpless. Who are these evil rivals who are willing to kill him and their colleagues in the fleet? Why are they willing to go to such traitorous lengths? Geary needs to find out and find out fast!

Another pressing need, although less so, is the two women in his life, Co-President Victoria Rione and Captain Tanya Desjani, his fleet commander. Rione has been his on again, off again lover, now permanently off. I’ve never liked her. She’s a politician who does nothing but play mind fuck games. She’s a total bitch and treats him like crap. I hate her guts and so does everyone in the fleet. And she hates and treats Desjani, Geary’s biggest supporter, like crap and with great disdain. Desjani used to follow Geary around like a devoted puppy dog, willing to do anything he commanded. She still follows his orders, but in this book, Campbell finally develops her character to a much larger degree and we get to know a lot more about her and find out there’s a lot more to her than just blind devotion to the Alliance and to Geary. It’s refreshing. Tanya Desjani is given more development in this book. We’re finally shown some other, nicer components of her personality. When we first met her, her two main personality traits seemed to be utter blind devotion to Geary and an unusual battle lust. Now she is actually a potential love interest for Geary and no one could be better for him. It’s also refreshing to see a “nice” woman who cares for and respects Geary treat him with dignity and respect and honor, as well as offering an objective opinion on tactics and other things, unlike Rione and it’s just sad that the two women simply end up getting catty with each other. It gets damned annoying. I just want Desjani to punch her out! It creates a real headache for Geary.

My series complaints about the fleet weaponry remains and stands. They have virtually no missiles, so they rely on “grapeshot” and “hell lances,” both of which are for close quarters combat, which of course is not remotely possible at the speeds Campbell (or anyone) writes about taking place in space. There would simply be collisions and warships would blow up. It’s that simple. Besides, it’s simply stupid to think that 17th century Earth-based pirate’s grapeshot using actual ball bearings would be used thousands of years in the future in outer space. It’s truly the most ridiculous space “weapon” I’ve ever heard of in my life. Grapeshot tears ships apart. Sure it does. Since you’re 100 yards away from each other traveling at the speed of light and not colliding, I guess that can happen, right? Shit. Hell lances are little better. Close quarters combat. There’s another close quarters weapon, but I forget the name now, but essentially it’s 17th century naval battles in space, when ships got alongside each other and fired at point blank range and men boarded each other’s ships. It’s utterly the most stupid thing I could possibly imagine. Most sci fi writers use weapons such as, yes, missiles, but also lasers, grazers, plasma weapons, anti-missile defenses, and much more. Not here. Oh, and when 120 warships attack 120 other warships and fire at each other, maybe, maybe five get hit. Two get destroyed and three get seriously damaged. And that’s considered successful. Compare that to the greatest military sci fi writer of our time, David Weber. He has hundreds, at times, thousands of ships, each with impeller wedges powering the ships which are hundreds of kilometers wide, so that the battle lines are thousands, maybe millions of kilometers wide and millions of kilometers apart and the two fleets fire at each other at maybe 1.5 million kilometers apart. For close quarters laser action, perhaps they close to some 700,000 or 500,000 kilometers. I could be off, but you get the picture. And hundreds of ships blow up at one time, not five. It’s ridiculous to think that 120 ships firing at one time can only blow up a couple of ships. That’s the definition of ineptitude. Is it any wonder why this war has been going on for over 100 years? Their weapons are hideously bad. Can’t R&D do something decent? So, that’s my major complaint with this book and this series. And it’s a major complaint and it always knocks at least one star off the overall rating because I think it’s such a serious drawback.

All that said, I think this is a pretty good book in a decent series. This isn’t the best military sci fi series I’ve ever read, not by a long shot. But it’s holding my interest. I want to know what happens to Geary when he gets the fleet home to the Alliance. Will the politicians welcome him or view him as a threat? What will be done about the aliens? Can the war be stopped? Will he and Desjani finally end up together? I want to know, shortcomings be damned! So, four stars and if you’re reading the series, recommended.

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