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Archive for June, 2016

A Review of Washington’s Dirigible

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 29, 2016

Washington's Dirigible (Timeline Wars #2)Washington’s Dirigible by John Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Odd book. Sequel to Patton’s Spaceship, which I just recently reviewed and gave four stars to. I thought it was a pretty solid book and looked forward to this one. This one wasn’t bad, necessarily, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first one, not nearly as much. I’ve given it some thought and I haven’t been able to quite pin it down. Is it me? Is it the book, the author? What? Well, I don’t think it’s me, so I’m blaming the book. I feel like it simply wasn’t as good as the first. The first was original, innovative, fresh. With this one, we know what to expect, but there weren’t too many new innovations. Only one real significant change, and it is significant, but at the same time, fairly predictable given the circumstances. And this issue makes up the crux of the book, more so than anything else.

In this book, Mark Strang is now a fully trained ATN agent who is battling the Closers, trying to prevent critical points in historical timelines from being changed. Here, he finds himself in colonial America, but things are different. Britain and America have remained friendly. George Washington is the Duke of Kentucky. The king is on friendly terms with the colonies, or was at least.

But Mark finds that what the ATN was worried about is true. Their local agent is dead and the Closers have been making headway. In fact, the Closer agent in this timeline is named … Mark Strang, and yes, it is he, himself! He first discovers this soon upon arrival as he is walking around and people are greeting him by name as though they know him. He finds this odd. Soon he sees … himself. It gets weirder from there on out.

Mark gets in some legal trouble in Boston but then heads to England. He has to find out how this world’s timeline has changed in order to correct it so history can be returned to normalcy for this world. A lot happens in England. There’s a lot of action and he can’t escape the Closer Strang. Ultimately, they meet upon a dirigible, not unlike what occurs in the first book, to a certain degree. This time, though, there’s a vicious battle and it’s to the death.

This book is fairly good. It’s good enough to keep your attention and it has just enough action to keep you interested. I continue to think it’s not as action packed or as interesting as the first book. And there’s virtually no mention of Porter, the daughter Mark adopts at the end of the first book whom the ATN predicts is going to play such a critical role in the future of several worlds. Why isn’t she here? Nonetheless, and possibly because of things like that, this book doesn’t necessarily need to be read after the first one. It would help, but it could also be read as a stand-alone book. This book is a decent example of steampunk, back when that was still a fairly new genre, so nice touch, John Barnes. Ultimately, though, this book wasn’t nearly as satisfying for me as its predecessor, the four star Patton’s Spaceship. Thus, even though it’s possible to argue this book also deserves four stars, I’m not sure I should give it four stars. 3.5 is more accurate. I’m not sure if I should round down to three or up to four. I’ll tell you what. If it were an author I didn’t know or respect, I would round down, but since I’ve read a number of John Barnes books, nearly all of which I really liked and thought were well done, I’m going to round up to four stars. So, grudgingly, four stars. Cautiously recommended.

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World takes to social media to mourn Pat Summitt’s death, celebrate her legacy

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 29, 2016

Across sports and across generations, luminaries including Martina Navratilova, Mia Hamm and Robin Roberts took to social media to pay tribute to Pat Summitt.

Source: World takes to social media to mourn Pat Summitt’s death, celebrate her legacy

 

Yesterday was a very sad day, not only in the sports world, but in the state of Tennessee, in women’s athletics, and for me personally. I believe Pat was one of the most prominent Tennesseans to have ever lived and her death at such a young age is a devastating loss, but it’s wonderful to see how loved and respected she is/was too. These tributes by people from all walks, including Billie Jean King, Dick Vitale, Russell Wilson, and more, are both moving and telling of her impact on people. I hope you read this article and get a good idea of how much she was appreciated for being the most winning basketball coach of any gender in history, the winner of eight national championships, a coach for whom every woman who played for her graduated with a degree (which is an amazing statistic) and additionally every one who played for her played in a Final Four (equally amazing over 38 years). RIP Pat.

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My Fifth WordPress Anniversary

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 26, 2016

WordPress was kind enough to notify me a few days ago, on the 20th, that it was my my fifth anniversary with them, blogging away the whole time. It’s hard to believe. I had come over from Xanga, a blogging site I had been on since 2004 and one I loved desperately. It’s just that friends were leaving that site in droves — I didn’t know why, no one told me — and I felt like the site was going to hell, so while I didn’t delete my Xanga account, I started searching for a new blogging home. I had friends on this place, Blogger, and TypePad, but it was WordPress that really stood out for me, and besides, this online literary journal I had recently become poetry editor for had an account here, so I decided to open my new site here. I did and never looked back. My first posts were unusual and designed to introduce myself to new people, let people get to know me. I didn’t start writing book reviews until about three years ago or so. I wrote about writing, creative writing, sports, health, politics, publishing, published some memes, some lists of favorite books, songs, bands, etc., had quite a few posts which weren’t easy to categorize, etc. But then I started to find my niche with my book reviews, which, much to my surprise, became my blog posts with the most hits by far, as well as the most likes, and even the most comments, when I got any, which is rare. Since then, most of my posts have been book reviews — I published hundreds — interspersed with some sports posts, the occasional political or spiritual/religious post, an occasional creative writing post, some health posts, and a few others that are hard to categorize. But it’s the book reviews that people read. I’ve tried to figure that out but I guess it’s as simple as that’s what people want to read. That simple, right?

Well, anyway, in honor of my fifth anniversary on WordPress, I’m going to provide a link to my blog post from five years ago today: 20 Questions. I hope some of you find it interesting and enlightening. Actually, now that I think of it, I’m just going to post the whole blog post here. It’s short and probably easier than having to click on the link and go to another page. Remember, this is from June 26, 2011. Here it is:

 

20 Questions

Delete my answers and substitute your own. Enjoy!

I’ve come to realize that… I have taken far too many things for granted in my life, even when I thought I was not doing that. It’s a tragedy & I’m trying to remedy that.
Reconciliation is… ideal, but not always realistic. This is exactly the opposite of how I have felt my entire life, but I have wasted way too much time over the years trying to reconcile (or even simply remain on the same friendly terms…) with various people for various reasons and I can count on one hand quite easily the number of times it was worth the effort. Move on.
I talk… more than ever, if you can believe that. I have a lot to say. I spent the last 7+ years living with someone who really didn’t like to hear me talk much, but who preferred watching TV. Like 24/7. For years. Yeah, good times. I’ve got a lot to say and a lot stored up, so sorry….
I love… one special individual more than anyone I ever have at any time in my life, to a shockingly higher degree than I ever knew was even possible. Yeah, I admit it. I also dearly love my parents, my kitties, and several of my good friends who have stood by me over the years. My list of friends I “love” has diminished greatly over the past two years. Pity.
My best friend/s… are fewer than I thought in number, but are critically important to me and people I feel confident I’ll remain loyal to forever and who will be there for me forever. I’m blessed in this regard.
Love… is a newly important word to me, as most of my life it was largely an abstract concept, outside of my loving family. In my middle years, I have been blessed to discover what I now believe “love” is and is meant to be, and I had no freakin’ idea this was a possibility.
Marriage is… hit and miss. Usually a mistake. Usually entered into too soon and without sufficient forethought. A business partnership. Yeah, I’m jaded.
Somewhere, someone is thinking… “I wonder what that whining, bitchy drama queen Scott is going on about now.” Seriously. You think I’m joking….
I’ll always… remember times, places and the special people who have gone out of their way to save my ass in the biggest and worst of situations. Foremost among these are my parents and my best friend, Marcy. Emily, Jim & Eunice, Arnold & Sarah, and Ami have been there for me too. Many thanks.
I truly relax… nowhere. I stopped being able to relax years ago and now I no longer know how to, which is pathetic, and I even feel tremendous guilt if I even make an attempt to relax! Therapy is clearly in order.
My cell phone… is my life. I store everything in my iPhone. I’m not kidding. If that ever disappears, I’m more screwed than if my wallet disappears.
When I wake up in the morning… I now thank God for allowing me to see the sun rise once more, to be able to draw a breath, to have friends and family (and kitties) who love me. I no longer take these things for granted.
Before I go to bed… I talk to my special loved one for as long as possible in order to end each day on a positive, loving and blessed note.
Right now I am thinking… that I have a lot more to be grateful for than I – or most other people – would typically realize, looking at circumstances.
Babies… make me break out in hives. I’m horribly allergic to them. Always have been, always will be. I find them quite distressing.
I am committed to… doing everything possible to survive. And to love and live more strongly and sincerely than I ever have in my life before now.
I miss… my cat Rocky, who died in August 2007. I also miss seeing and hanging with my best friends back out west, including Marcy, Celeste, Marc, Emily and Rachel.
Tomorrow… is a hope and a goal, but not a guarantee.
I really want to be… healthy enough to live long enough to have a quasi-“normal” life and a happy one, to whatever degree that is possible.
I hate… people who don’t understand and who don’t even try to make a serious damn effort to understand.

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A Review of For Those Who Fell

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 26, 2016

For Those Who Fell (Legion, #6)For Those Who Fell by William C. Dietz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I actually read 300 pages of this book, quite an investment in time, before giving up in disgust. The story itself wasn’t that bad. Humanity in a war against evil bugs, losing even, trying to get allies, both of them, playing political games, trying to gain technological edges. Human Confederacy troops are sent to an occupied planet where the Ramanthians are rumored to have some advanced technology the humans covets. The mission is to destroy the enemy and grab the technology. Murphy hits from the very beginning. Everything goes wrong.

But that’s not my complaint. Back on the base, there was a gunnery sergeant named Kuga-Ka who’s been a bully and a bastard who has everyone scared of him and who actually tortures his men. And he has his captain addicted to life threatening drugs, so he has him in his pocket. Meanwhile, the good guy of the novel, First Lieutenant Santana is brought in to lead his platoon in their company and let’s just say, the two don’t get along. Santana sees early what’s going on and confronts the man and threatens him with severe disciplinary action if things don’t change. To make matters worse, though, the Confederacy fights with warbots, cyborgs that are huge, seven foot fighting machines made from dead warriors and recorded personalities/souls/digitized recordings/etc with individualized “brain boxes” containing that “former” person’s personality in it, to be linked only and solely with its individualized cyborg body. And for reasons I either don’t recall or never really made totally clear to me, Kuga-Ka HATES one of these cyborgs with a passion, a female, and determines to steal her brain box. Why? What exactly does he plan on doing with it? Throwing it away? That might make some sense. But, no, he hangs on to it while traveling to other worlds through jungles and deserts, for months. He carries this brain box while wounded, hacking his way through jungles with a machete for what? Why does he hate this cyborg this much? For another thing, why does he hate ANYONE so much? Because he goes on a murdering spree, with some cronies of his. They’re captured, or at least he is, but upon getting to the next planet, he’s helped to escape and they’re off. A tracking team is sent after them, but they’re ambushed, tortured, and slaughtered, so that everyone can see them hanging there dead with their entrails hanging out of them. Nice. This asshole, while just a gunny, seems to know a little bit about everything. It’s amazing how much he knows. He knows about airships, about all sorts of weaponry, about close quarters combat, about sniping, about cybernetics, although he admits he’s no cybernetics tech, about negotiating with aliens, about tactics and strategy. My God, he’s the smartest man the military has ever produced! Too bad he’s the biggest psycho too, because for the life of me – and this is why I gave up – he has utterly NO motive whatsoever for being a hate filled nutjob on a murdering spree who hates Santana, who he’s known a couple of days, so much he wants to butcher him, and who hates this one cyborg, out of dozens – why her? Why any? –so much, that he turns traitor and gives himself in to the bugs and offers to help them track down his human ex-colleagues for the purpose of slaughtering them. And he wants to be paid and paid well for this. Nice.

OK, is this remotely believable? Isn’t this carrying things a bit too far, Dietz? I can understand resentments. I can understand people having issues. I can understand being pissed off. I can’t understand people being so psychotic that they go on two world killing sprees, torture, main, ambush, slaughter, turn themselves into the enemy and offer to help them kill your former colleagues, ALL FOR NO MOTIVE WHATSOEVER!!! Usually when people act this way, there’s some type of motive. A spouse or lover has been unfairly killed, or child or parent. Someone has lost their career. They’ve lost their life’s savings. Something HUGE has happened to someone to turn them into a killing monster and traitor. I don’t recall that happening to Kuga-Ka in this novel at all. He’s just a generic bastard to begin with. Someone who needs the shit beaten out of him from day one to begin with, but not someone who you would expect would go insane or who you would even think is intelligent enough to pull all of this stuff off. It just doesn’t make sense. Dietz takes a mediocre character from a minor situation and turns him into a super villain with super powers and it’s irritating and not believable. It’s just damned annoying after awhile. In fact, Kuga-Ka is so relentless in his hatred and murderous desires that it becomes almost comical and nearly ruins the dramatic elements of an otherwise decent military sci fi novel. If Dietz had dialed down this character A LOT, this book might have been fairly enjoyable. As it was, I got too pissed off after 300 pages to finish it and, as I said, I gave up. I don’t care enough to find out what happens. I just want the gunny to die a horrible death and I don’t care enough about the other characters to read on and see what happens to everyone in the meantime.

I’ve read other books by this writer and in fact, have two more waiting in my stacks to be read. They tend to be hit or miss. This was somewhat of a miss with hit potential. I would give this three stars, but I’m downgrading it to two stars because of the Kuga-Ka character and the overkill associated with him. It really brought down my enjoyment of the novel. Nonetheless, cautiously, cautiously recommended for military sci fi fans.

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A Review of Patton’s Spaceship

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2016

Patton's Spaceship (Timeline Wars #1)Patton’s Spaceship by John Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like most John Barnes novels. Patton’s Spaceship is no exception. It’s got an interesting premise that has endless possibilities and I can definitely see the potential for sequels, of which there is at least one that I know of. I know because I have it and have read it.

In this book, Pittsburgh art historian Mark Strang’s mainly happy life ends on a holiday weekend when a terrorist group called Blade of the Most Merciful attacks his family. His father is an academic expert on terrorism. They kill his pregnant wife, his brother, and permanently maim his sister. He and his father escape with minor injuries. Strang’s life is changed forever.

Strange discovers a new passion: a combination of revenge and protection of innocents. He founds a bodyguard company, hires some good muscle, apparently is well trained for an art historian, and carries a big 1911 .45.

One of the first times we run into him in this book is when he and his crew are trying to protect a young girl (maybe 10, 12) named Porter, and her mother, from her psycho father. Why her father is so psycho is not totally clear to me. But it gets pretty hairy there for a bit. He helps her escape though. Porter, we are told, is to play a major role in the future. At times, I felt like I was reading/watching The Terminator. But I never quite discovered what was so important about her. Odd.

After some time, he meets another professor in his office named Harry Skena. Skena is a front man for a group representing the ATN, a group fighting to keep “The Closers,” “aliens” from controlling different universe timelines. The Blade terrorist group was a front for the Closers, who want to conquer our timeline. Eager to strike back at those responsible for the Blade’s terrorism, Mark agrees to help the ATN after thinking through how surreal everything seems, yet how it’s all making sense after thinking it through.

Before he knows it, he and Skena are in another timeline, or rather he is, because Skena’s dead, and he’s trapped there with no way back! In this timeline, he quickly learned that it’s the 1960s and that Hitler and the Axis won World War II and dominate the globe, and he better learn how to act in a world gone mad quickly or he’ll wind up dead.

There is a free zone though, in southeast Asia, of all places. Barnes does a good job of describing a conquered America and the last defenders of the Allies when Strang arrives in the US. In the free zone, he later enjoys having Strange meet his heroes such as General Patton and help them make an effort to fight the Axis. And what Strang brings to his new colleagues is knowledge. Future knowledge of future technology. Like flight. Rockets. Perhaps bombs? Many things. He doesn’t view himself as overly technical or knowledgeable, but just getting ideas across to the Allied scientists does a world of good, so he’s a huge help.

Some of the chapters have quite a bit of action and there’s plenty of excitement to be had. Of course, there’s a big, climactic ending. I won’t go into what or how things happen or end, but you can use your imagination. It’s fairly satisfying. I’d say, very satisfying, actually. After reading this book, I looked forward to the sequel. While I don’t view this as a five star book, I view this as a solid four-star book, certainly worth reading by anyone who enjoys alternative histories and time travel. Recommended.

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A Review of Wasteland of Flint

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2016

Wasteland of FlintWasteland of Flint by Thomas Harlan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! I thought it was excellent, especially for the first book in a trilogy. It is unique, has a nice historical fiction element to it, has elements to it that border on military sci fi, hard science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the surreal. I thought Harlan tied it together pretty well.

In this book, the Aztecs won North American dominance, if not over most of the world many years ago. Now, however, most of the world is ruled by Méxica from the capital of Tenochtitlan, aided by the Japanese, who supply their military. Their only real economic and military human competion is from the Swede-Russian alliance.

Millions of years ago, the First Sun People dominated the galaxy with their technology, living and moving from planet to planet. Some of their leftover technology is rarely but occasionally found on various planets and it’s worth a fortune.

In the book, xenoarcheologist Dr. Gretchen Anderssen has been employed by an unnamed company to go to Ephesus III to find a previous expedition and to obtain as many valuable archeological items that she can, to make the trip (s) worthwhile. At the same time, Imperial cruiser, the Henry R. Cornuelle, is sent to the same location captained by Captain Hadeishi Mitsuharu of the Imperial Méxica Navy. He is carrying a secretive Imperial “judge” with unlimited powers, whose name is Huitzilozoctic, or Green Hummingbird. The name not only means “judge,” but it also means “sorcerer.” It sometimes seems like his power cannot be matched.

Anderssen and her team go to down to the planet’s surface to find important relics they believe to be First Sun relics. These could be dangerous and certainly are powerful. Green Hummingbird views these as hugely dangerous and declares the planet and the space around it off limits to any and every one. Mitsuharu is sent after a gigantic freighter that is now is a huge asteroid field to fire upon it, if necessary, board it, and issue Hummingbird’s commands. Meanwhile, Hummingbird makes his way to the planet. Anderssen is obsessed with finding these objects, to the point of ignoring her crew and going all over the planet tracing the final steps of a scientist who had been impacted by these artifacts and gone insane and disappeared. Hummingbird watches, but follows from a distance. Eventually, he intrudes upon her and they end up traveling together in increasingly dangerous places and situations. Hummingbird believes it’s necessary to bring balance to the planet and the things on the planet to ward off First Sun evil. Gretchen doesn’t understand him, but he tries to teach her. As they go into caves and are attacked by spirits and are followed by relentless shadows, and possible aliens, she starts to wonder and he then tells her she can’t see the real world, she doesn’t know. Her science is no good, which ticks her off. A battle between mysticism and rationalism results. While judges aren’t psychics, they exist to protect the species at ANY cost, including the extermination of entire worlds, and they have reached the absolute best of human perceptual training, among other things. They can’t always necessarily foretell the future, but it seems they see strains of future possibilities. They can bring balance to dark forces, right evil things, manipulate people and things to do their bidding, as long as it meets their final goals.

Hummingbird, at some point, asks Anderssen if she would like to see, actually SEE, to learn, to be exposed to things she’s never dreamt of, and in a moment of either weakness, bravery, or power seeking, she agrees, and as time is of the essence and he can’t take the time to properly train her, he gives her an intense drug that virtually destroys her existence. She lies in a coma-like trance for hours, going through dreams, fantasies, pain, experiences, etc., and wakes many hours later, and she SEES. It’s like living in another dimension. She can see every fiber on every blade of grass in 3D, color illuminated. She can see Hummingbird as he really is, birds, trees, ants, like she’s never seen them before, and she understands things like she’s never been able to understand them before. She understands the universe as inherently hostile and now knows the judges’ need to protect humanity. She’s cautiously excited and repelled at the same time. However, the evil aliens are after them and they must continue to their flight to the planet’s base camp to await extraction.

While waiting, she is given another drug, which goes even further. There, however, for the third, I believe, time, she sees a First Sun alien who appears before her in her own image, talking to her while she tries to escape. Hummingbird has never been with her when she has encountered this alien.

I won’t say what happens at the end, but it wasn’t entirely what I expected and I’ve read that some people are a little disappointed by it. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. It was just unexpected. It’s an exciting, action packed, intense, horror-tinged, mind fuck with more to come in future books. If Book Two is as good as this first one is, I’ll be very happy. Five stars. Definitely recommended.

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