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A Review of Outriders

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 12, 2016

Outriders (Outriders, #1)Outriders by Jay Posey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh. While Outriders had some interesting concepts, it really didn’t do much for me and actually left me bored at times. I had a hard time trying to finish it. It’s military sci fi that’s more military fiction that also tries to be spy fiction. Maybe the author was confused.

It starts out with a pretty cool scene though. Captain Lincoln Suh dies on the very first sentence of the very first page of the very first chapter. And he’s later brought back to a form of existence similar to living. Ah, modern science! Actually, it’s obviously set at some point in the future. After all, it’s “sci fi.” I read someone venture that it’s possibly the year 2100, or somewhere around there. The reason for this assumption is one of the characters states that her great grandparents were growing up in the time of the moon landing. But, now humanity has spread itself to the moon, Mars, and some of the other moons throughout the solar system.

Anyway, back to Suh. He’s brought back to this existence, as I mentioned, but why? He’s been brought back to become a member of super secret Special Forces unit in the military. He works his ass off in this secret training program, only to find out he doesn’t make the cut, and he’s shocked. But he is immediately brought into the fold of another group, the real group he was actually destined for: the Outriders, a Tier One Special Missions unit of the U.S. Army. It’s a five person unit that he’ll be leading. Two members of the team are women, one of whom is black and who grew up rich and privileged and joined the military against her parent’s wishes. I know it’s become incredibly popular for sci fi authors to include women in all military sci fi book military units, including special forces units, because future women are warriors you don’t want to fuck with, but I’ve occasionally read some things I’ve really had a hard time buying, at the risk of sounding like a complete sexist pig. For instance, I just finished a military sci fi book in which this 5’4″ petite female Marine carried a 140 pound railgun as her carry weapon. Seriously? I don’t know many men who could do that. A lot of people generally consider men to possibly be slightly stronger than women as a gender, whether you buy that or not, so to believe that a petite woman could do that is really stretching things in my opinion. It’s the height of PC.

I guess, aside from spaceships and space colonies, one of the things that makes this “sci fi” is the attention paid to the power armor. It’s pretty cool. But you know, other than that, it didn’t seem all that “sci fi” to me. It seemed more straight military to me. With a little spy/thriller thrown in. Tom Clancy in the future, maybe?

I guess one of the interesting aspects to the book is somewhat philosophical in nature. When Outriders are “killed” (again), if there’s enough of their body parts left, they can be put back together and brought back to existence. If not, they have had personal backups made of them, so they can simply be replaced. Makes people like Suh wonder about one’s soul. Is there one? What happens to it? What happens to the copies when they die (again)? Etc.

All that said, I found Suh to be a real annoying prick. I felt like he thought too highly of himself and his abilities. I thought his sense of leadership was overrated. I just didn’t like him. He was a narcissist. And I never got a real good feel for his team. I guess I thought the character development wasn’t the best I’ve seen. And the bad guys never felt all that bad to me. I just didn’t feel too invested in this book. In other words, I just never really got into it. The most interesting thing about it was the beginning. Everything after that was downhill. I looked over the reviews I saw online. I encountered a number of four star reviews, maybe a couple of five star reviews, and quite a few two and three star reviews, similar to my own. Obviously, this isn’t the best military sci fi book ever written. I think Jay Posey is talented. I just think he perhaps mixed some genres in this book, made an unlikable protagonist, and wrote a bland book. I haven’t read anything else by him, but there’s enough here to make me give another one of his books a chance though. Perhaps. But three stars. Not recommended.

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A Review of To Honor You Call Us

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 29, 2016

To Honor You Call UsTo Honor You Call Us by H. Paul Honsinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed a great deal of To Honor You Call Us, yet there was quite a bit about it I did not enjoy.

Captain Max Robichaux has been given command of the USS Cumberland, a bad luck destroyer with a problem crew, and tasked with going to the outer reaches of the galaxy to harass and fight humanity’s enemy, the Krag, aliens intent upon humanity’s genocide. Max’s only friend is the ship’s doctor, a brilliant, but woefully naïve man who helps Max gradually whip the crew into shape. There are instances of shadowing Krag ships, and of being shadowed, but there’s no real action until the end of the book when there is a climactic battle that Max predictably wins. And that’s one of the problems of the book – its predictability. Naturally, the protagonist has a tortured past, suffering from PTSD, and has a drinking problem, so he’s not perfect, even though virtually all of his solutions to the problems the ship encounters along the way are perfect. He’s a damn naval genius. Of course. And of course he whips the problem crew into shape. And of course there’s a drug problem among the crew and of course the doctor rehabilitates virtually everyone so that quite soon they’re all happy and productive naval personnel again. And of course Max thwarts a Krag battle plan aimed at another alien species, whom Max saves and of course, now they’re our allies. Of course. I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t work. I’m just saying you could pretty much guess what was coming down the pike and you really didn’t need to keep reading to know what would happen.

One of the things that really got to me in this book, and wait until you read the next book in the series – I just did – is the speeches and explanations. My God, it’s unreal! As I said, there’s not much in the way of action until the end of the book, so there are just events, speeches, a crew mutiny, more speeches, the drug problems I mentioned, continued speeches, some introspection, crazy speeches, and – holy crap – even more speeches! And perhaps by speeches, I mean explaining. Because that’s probably what it really is. The characters are forever explaining things to each other – and the reader – so everyone will know what’s going on. But it goes on and on, for pages. Max explains the secrets of the universe to the doctor and his crew and the doctor explains every scientific fact known to mankind to Max and the crew. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but that’s what it feels like. Page after page of explanations. I’ve never seen a book like this before. The author obviously thinks his readers are morons, or he wouldn’t spend so much time explaining the plot and tactical strategy and so on to “the crew” (and us). Sometimes it’s nice to NOT know everything that’s going on in a book, believe it or not. Sometimes I like to be surprised. This was just overkill.

Oh, and the female subplot. Apparently, the Krag released a virus of some sort that killed off about 70% of humanity’s female population, so apparently they’re kept at home, safe and sound. As a result, there are no female characters, which is a virtual first for me in a sci fi novel, with the near exception of Asimov’s first Foundation novel, a book that had one minor female character toward the end of the book. Since all male crews are in space for many months to possibly years at a time, you would think homosexuality would be prevalent, but that’s never mentioned in this book, which I thought was odd. The author passed up a chance to make a statement one way or the other on this topic.

Another issue: boarding parties. With swords. Like pirates. Seriously?

Finally, the author had the annoying habit of dropping pop cultural references to late twentieth century technology, fiction and sci fi, such as Star Trek, but since this is the twenty fourth century, how realistic is it to think that not only would he know all of this stuff, but that when he mentions these references aloud, his crew gets them? I think the author screwed this one up.

All this aside, the book isn’t bad. Robichaux, while both flawed and too perfect of a commander, is a likable character. And the final battle scene is pretty cool. And the budding friendly relationship between the captain and the doctor is enjoyable to see develop. Still, none of this can save the book from its problems, most especially the damned nonstop explaining and speeches. It would have been a four star book without those. With those problems, I’m knocking it down to three stars, although I’m still cautiously recommending it. It’s the first in a series. I’ve already read the second, but I’ll leave my opinion on that for the review I’ll write on that one.

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A Review of Rainbows End

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 17, 2016

Rainbows EndRainbows End by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I admittedly haven’t read much Vernor Vinge, but I know some of his books have won several Hugo Awards, including this one. But whenever I read him, I just don’t enjoy his books. Admittedly, Vinge is an idea guy. He comes up with big ideas, world building stuff that can fascinate and allow the reader to explore new concepts and realms of being. But not in this book. In this book, the setting is just a few years in our future here on Earth and it’s not a big concept world he creates. It’s a little too plausible. A former “great” and famous poet from our current era (now) pretty much dies of Alzheimer’s and is revived by his family roughly 10-15 years in the future. He has no clue what is and has happened. He discovers the world has changed and everyone uses wearable computers and are jacked into a worldwide network (Internet) and there is no demand for any type of former skills the elderly had. Indeed, the only careers I can recall people having in this book are kids and old people going to vocational tech high schools and normally aged adults joining the military. There’s not much else. There are people who are about to be former librarians, because all of the books in the world’s libraries are being destroyed because they’re all being digitized. So, Robert Gu, the protagonist, is sent back to this votech high school to learn some skills that will translate into a real world job, one where information is the only source of monetary income and where data exchange is the only thing that most of that future’s young people care about.

One of the early things we learn about in the book is there is some secret plot to create a subliminal virus in a tv medium so it can take over the world and it is being brought about and handled by one person, one of the “good” guys, or so people are led to believe. There’s also a super powerful AI named “Rabbit,” who we never learn much about, but who plays a major role in the book. Speaking of never learning much about, that applies to most of the characters besides Gu, and we don’t necessarily learn enough about him to care enough about what happens to him in this book. He turns from former world class poet into a data junkie with the help of a loser teenager who is always looking for a type of big score and they make an odd pair. And they collaborate on high school projects, but we never really see how. In fact, we’re never really shown how much of this futuristic, yet oh so possibly real, tech is literally used. However, back to what I was saying. Gu’s family is sick of him living with them, so they urge him to learn enough at high school to enable him to get a job (seriously? what type? doing what? he’s taking shop!), so he can move out. Great family. Completely dysfunctional. We never learn very much about any of the characters. They’re flat, they’re not very important, most of the interesting ones don’t even make enough appearances to allow us to get to know them. Characterization is a problem, then, in this book. So, too, the plot. I tried getting into it, but it just didn’t resonate with me. This super secret horrible plot to take over the world, this international crisis, is being constructed at UC San Diego and yet, I didn’t ever really get the idea that it was seriously that big of a deal. A subliminal virus? Oh wow, what a freaking nightmare! Worse than a nuclear bomb, clearly. Dear God, what will we do if it is released into the world? Oh man, who gives a shit? I just don’t care. And that’s a major point. In the end, what does the reader truly care about this book? Because to me, it was just not very interesting. I couldn’t relate to the characters, I thought the plot was damn stupid, I thought the technology, while moderately interesting, was close enough to today’s reality so that it didn’t really stretch my imagination enough to actually call it sci fi. It’s simply current reality, sped up by a decade. Big deal. And seniors who were successful CEOs, professors, career big shots returning to a vocational high school to learn new skills so that they can get a job in this futuristic society? That simply strikes me as stupid.

On the whole, Vinge, the idea guy who’s usually full of major universe shattering ideas, does almost nothing in this book to merit placing it up against his other works and I’m shocked this won the Hugo. I’d love to know what books were his competition that year, because it must have been a lean year for sci fi books. This book could have used some help with the dialogue, with character development, with plot development, with technology development, and perhaps a few others things. As far as I’m concerned, this book was a disappointment to me and I’m giving it two stars (although it probably deserves one) and stating that I simply can’t recommend it.

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A Review of Dreadnought

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 12, 2016

Dreadnought (Lost Colonies Trilogy, #2)Dreadnought by B.V. Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Dreadnought, B.V. Larson’s second book in the Lost Colonies Trilogy, the Battle Cruiser “Defiant” has been retrofitted with the best of both Earth and Beta technology. Its acknowledged mission is to re-open channels to the old Colonies. On board is Captain William Sparhawk’s great aunt, Ambassador Lady Granthome who, of course, is constantly meddling in his affairs. Indeed, she has a sweet little document he knows nothing about until they are underway giving her complete control of the mission, with the exception of military necessities, after which point Sparhawk is to surrender control of the ship to her once again. It’s enough to drive a man to drink!

Seriously, I enjoyed the first book in this series so much, I gave it a decent review and ordered the next two editions. But I wasn’t totally sold on everything in the first book and one of the strengths of the first books turns into one of its greatest weaknesses here, a character named Zye. Zye is a huge Beta, a clone-type, human-derivative former colonist found on board the Defiant, the ship Sparhawk and his crew have captured from human space, as it drifted along, mostly deserted in the first volume of the series. Zye feels tremendous loyalty to the captain, which is great, considering he has no ability to sense danger or to feel for traps of any sort. Indeed, he invites them. She’s also huge and strong as an ox, so nobody messes with her. But we learn fairly soon that she’s also attracted to William, even though she dwarfs him, and even though he tries to dissuade her. She’s not easy to dissuade.

In the first book, it was kind of cute. Look, she’s his bodyguard. Oh, good, he needs one. Oh, she’s saved his life again. Damn glad she was there, even if she was sneaking into his rooms again uninvited for the 25th straight time.

This time it’s worse. Much worse. Zye is everywhere and she has a serious attitude problem. She still follows William everywhere he goes at all times. I know he really needs a bodyguard, but couldn’t he hire a real one? Also, she’s always, always following him, walking into his quarters, his bedroom, for God’s sake! WTF? And she seduces him – successfully!!! WTF was he thinking? Some seven foot tall, monster breasted Amazon isn’t going to be noticed coming into and out of your bedroom, captain? Well, she does, he falls for it, he realizes that he LIKES it, and then next thing you know, the whole fucking ship knows, because she has told everyone because he is her property. That’s a great way to run a ship. And she starts challenging him on the bridge. It gets worse, but enough.

Meanwhile, they keep encountering former colonies, almost all of whom are doing very poorly or just plain attack them outright. They also have to deal with this Stroj pirate the whole time who leads them through system after system until it seems they’ve been trapped. The battles are great the whole time and ultimately Sparhawk uses this beautiful little tactical ploy to capture the Stroj and escape the system.

It’s imperative to return to Earth to warn them of what they’ve found outside of the system, of what awaits them, of the need to build up a viable navy. But most important for me is, it’s crucial I don’t read the third and last book so I can have Zye drive me insane with fury as she commits more and more slutty atrocities. For instance, when William tells her he thinks it best that they not continue anything serious, as he is the captain and she is a crew member, she simply says something to the effect that she has a date with another crew member for sex that night anyway. And she’s been sleeping around and getting dating tips from the other female crew members while on the trip. Uh, okay. She wasn’t quite such a whore in the first book. This personality change took me by surprise. I thought she was dedicated to William. To find that in her mind, William’s interchangeable with any other male crew member, as long as they have working penises, was not what I expected from her. I somehow expected more from her. But maybe I misread her and maybe I misread Larson in how he created her. My bad.

I liked this book okay. Not as much as the first one, which I gave four stars to. Not quite as much action, I don’t think. Could have used a bit more. And Zye’s annoying presence and overwhelming dominance were so overpowering that they nearly ruined an otherwise decent book for me. That alone would have knocked the book down to two stars for me. I’m going to compromise and jump it up one star for a three star overall rating. If I can bring myself to open the final book, which I have right beside me, and if I don’t want to kill Zye on sight, I might read it. That book would be the deciding book on whether or not this is a successful series in my eyes. Does the author want to write a decent military sci fi series or does he want to write about a giant, semi-alien horny Amazon who dominates the pages of the books he writes to the exclusion of almost everything else? It’s his choice. As a standalone, not recommended. As part of the series, cautiously recommended.

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A Review of A New Earth

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 1, 2016

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's PurposeA New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth is an interesting New Age spiritual enlightenment book marrying eastern and western religious traditions and beliefs and focusing on a couple of core areas: the ego and pain. Tolle spends the first half of the book discussing the ego as it relates to humanity, to identity, to its many different “faces,” and then ends this discussion with a section titled “Incontrovertible Proof of Immortality,” which I hope is in jest, because it’s anything but that to me. The book then transitions into discussing pain, as in emotions and the ego up front, followed by pain and the body and later, breaking free of the “pain-body.” Later chapters discuss finding out who you really are, falling below and rising above thought, inner body awareness, and the book culminates in an awakening of an inner purpose.

All in all, not too bad. But also, not much new here either. We’ve seen some of this stuff before. And really, not my usual cup of tea, I’m the first to admit. I’ve read western theology, philosophy from most eras (the existentialists remain my favorite), and some eastern spirituality, and I’ve gotten the least out of the latter thus far in my life. I’ve had the most trouble with the first, but I understand it the most because I was raised in that tradition. That doesn’t mean I easily accept it; I don’t. It just means I understand it. I also understand many philosophers throughout history, or should I say western philosophers, to be candid. I haven’t always understood the eastern mystics. Now, Tolle is not a mystic, nor would he claim to be. Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, he’s Michael Singer-lite. Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul, which was published in 2007 and which has profoundly influenced many people around the world, seems to me to be a similar work, with a similar message, but a deeper one, a little more thoughtful. In my review of that work of about a year ago, I wrote that

“Singer has some interesting concepts. He wants people to stop suffering, to be free, to find their consciousness, to become self aware, to attain true enlightenment. In that regard, it’s largely an Eastern religious book, although Singer tries to “Westernize” it by mentioning Jesus (and other spiritual leaders) throughout the book. He begins with the voice in your head that is always talking to you, your own, always second-guessing you, offering you advice, often wrong, etc. He writes that if the person behind this voice were on the sofa beside you, you would kick him out in a heartbeat, thinking him crazy. Not a bad point.”

So how is that similar? Simple. Tolle is constantly name-dropping spiritual leaders from different faiths, most especially Jesus. Tolle wants us to be free of our pain, to overcome our ego’s boundaries, meet the pain-body, and break free. Regarding the voice on the sofa, that’s merely the ego. Simple. Tolle is Singer-lite. But while Tolle’s book is an easy read, see what I wrote about Singer’s:

“The book, while small and apparently easy to understand for many, seems fairly heavy to me. Perhaps that’s because I’m stupid, although I’ve read an awful lot of philosophy over the years, but there’s an awful lot of advice here, some of it quite good when you can follow it. And if I were to follow it, I’d have to read this book some five or six times to just be able to even try to follow all of the advice he gives. I can’t do it with one reading. I tried out some of the things in the early chapters and it’s quite difficult.”

In fairness to Tolle, his book was published first, in 2005. So perhaps it’s fair to speculate that it was Singer who read Tolle and took his work, adapted it, and made it deeper, stronger, more informed. Who knows? But in any event, the two books are suspiciously alike, Singer’s deeper and more difficult to digest and understand. It seems to me that if you read one of them, you certainly don’t need to read both. There’s a great deal of redundancy. I would choose Singer. Is this a bad book? No. Is it groundbreaking? No. Is it the best of its type? Absolutely not. Is it worth reading? Perhaps. Maybe. If you enjoy such books, then I guess I would recommend it. It couldn’t hurt to read it and you might learn some interesting things that would benefit you. And by all means, I’m obviously no expert on the subject. If this is your field or your area of interest, research the book and read other reviews. You might find that you’ll really like the book, even though it didn’t do much for me. Three stars. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Coercion

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 26, 2016

CoercionCoercion by Tim Tigner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coercion is a very good spy/thriller set in 1990 during the Gorbachev/Perestroika Russian years. “Knyaz” is a super secret organization within the KGB that wants to gain control by ridding the country of Gorbachev and giving Russia its own version of Perestroika. With Vasily Karpov, a KGB General, as its primary leader (and his son, Victor, as another), Knyaz gains control over those who can help them attain their goal. They infiltrate American industry to gain advantages over it and surpass it in international economic competition. After all, this is where the new wars are being fought.

And this is where the Knyaz secret weapon comes in – the Peitho Pill. When injected into someone’s body (typically, the buttocks), the Peitho Pill is harmless by itself, but it can be remotely triggered, causing it to release its poison and instantly kill the target. People can live for years with this time-bomb implanted, leaving their loved ones living under total control of Knyaz. They know that if they do not do as they are told, their loved one will die. Corporate sabotage and industrial espionage are the standard for the relatives of those implanted with the Peitho Pill. It’s all about complete control and it’s disconcerting for everyone. It’s truly one of the more original and evil weapons I’ve come across in all of my years of reading thriller novels.

Alex and Frank Ferris are brothers, actually twins. Alex, the book’s protagonist, is a former US intelligence “agent” (aka spook) and Green Beret. Frank is a genius-level scientist who is working on a specific airplane engine that keeps being sabotaged. When Frank apparently commits suicide, Alex starts investigating his brother’s death. It doesn’t seem quite “right,” somehow. His investigations take him on a trip around the world to Siberia where he becomes very quickly acquainted with the Peitho Pill and Knyaz. Also, while in the US, we meet Karpov’s son, Victor, a man we quickly learn to love to hate. Turns out Alex has known Victor for a long while, but under an assumed American name. Victor is definitely not what and who he appears to be. But then, few are in this novel.

Most of the action takes place in Siberia and, let me tell you, the action is hot, even though the weather might be cold! Alex may have BEEN a Green Beret, but he apparently hasn’t lost his skills and his Knyaz “friends” have badly underestimated him. Alex will come face to face with Karpov, but Alex has an ace up his sleeve, and it’s a big one.

Some complaints though. First of all, I found the book slightly confusing at first and a little hard to get into. It took me awhile to just get into the book. However, after I basically forced myself to read through the first several chapters, it picked up and at that point, I couldn’t put the book down. It was that good. It was fast paced, was full of intrigue and tension, and had a lot of action. Another complaint, however, is that Alex seems to benefit from a lot of, well, good luck, excluding his torture scene by Karpov. He’s saved in the plane, he kills the Knyaz assassin pretty handily, he meets the one woman in town who is connected to Frank’s death and is also connected to Karpov, whom Alex ultimately is looking for. He gets into the right places pretty easily. Things seem to come to him so easily. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re an ex-spook, I don’t know. It just seemed really convenient and just a little contrived. However, the story was so good, I was willing to overlook all of these perceived flaws.

Coercion is a very good spy/thriller. I enjoyed it very much. What’s keeping it from being a five star book? Well, I guess it’s the aforementioned too many coincidences that tend to distract from rather than enhance the story. Also, the beginning of the novel could have been improved upon. Better editing, suggesting a fresher rewrite of the first few chapters, perhaps? Alex is a really good character. I kept thinking Jason Bourne. Not Bond, Bourne. I liked him. I’d like to read more books with him, but at the same time, I’m not sure making a series featuring him is a great idea. Too many authors are creating series’ these days featuring great characters and are having to make up impossible scenarios that don’t seem remotely realistic. I don’t want to see that happen to this character (not that this seemed realistic). All in all, four strong stars and definitely recommended.

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A Review of Earth Alone

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 23, 2016

Earth Alone (Earthrise Book 1)Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Earth Alone had its moments, mostly toward the end, but it seems that many of the recent, new military sci fi novels I’ve been reading lately all seem to be written by authors who feel compelled to prove their military authenticity by being able to write the longest, most detailed, most stereotypical boot camp scenes of all time, and this book is at the top of the list of those types of these books. Essentially, this book is one big boot camp book with a little action thrown in over the last third of the book to justify calling it “military sci fi” so fans might actually like it. Otherwise it’s a waste of time, space, and effort. It just seems to me that after awhile, all boot camps start sounding exactly the same. You’ve got your bad ass drill sergeants, who all have to let their recruits know that they will be known as “God” while they are there, which becomes so damn original. The drill instructors can run 30 km runs one way and 30 km back without sweating while the recruits are dropping to the ground. Again stereotypes. You’ve got the wiseass recruits who refuse to follow the rules and either A) get in trouble themselves, or B) more likely, convince the “good” recruits to stupidly get involved with them for one night and get them in trouble with the authorities. Stereotype. The fighting, brawling, rules breaking. Brilliant. You’ve got the big, dumb, scared man-child scenario. The tough-as-nails, bad ass-but-hot female recruit who will kill you if you look at her twice. Quite often, but not always, the protagonist, the recruit is an intellectual, in our case, one who wants to be a military librarian. Hah! Little does he know. It’s all well and good. Maybe I would be less jaded and more accepting if it weren’t for the fact that about five other military sci fi books I’m reading at about the same time all involve having boot camp scenarios, all with similar stereotypical scenes. I just wonder if these authors just share the same boot camp software with each other and recycle it because none of it is original. It got old a long time ago. Sci fi authors, and military literature authors, have been doing this to death for decades. Since it’s well established that boot camp is hard, difficult, a bonding experience, blah, blah, can’t we just skip over it in a few paragraphs and assume we already know all of this and move on to the real story instead of devoting 60%+ of the book, some 250 pages, to boot camp, which isn’t the damn story, or at least shouldn’t be? I didn’t buy the book to read about boot camp. I bought it to read about the Human Defense Force and battling aliens. I knew basic training was part of it, but I didn’t know it was the bulk of the novel. If I had known that, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. The action, when gotten to, wasn’t that bad. Even boot camp action wasn’t horrible. It’s just it was … boot camp. Again. Over and over. Not badly written. Just written at all. That’s the crime here.

The writing isn’t bad. Four stars for that. The plot is. Two stars for that. Overall? Three stars. Sorry, but I can’t recommend it. Since this is apparently the first in a series, maybe the sequel will be an improvement and I’m willing to give it a try. I’m also willing to bet with fucking boot camp out of the way, the next book has got to be better. So, I’m expecting better from the next book. Nonetheless, for this current book, three stars and not recommended.

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A Review of Man on the Run

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 3, 2016

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970sMan on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man on the Run is an interesting biography of Paul McCartney and his family during the 1970s, as well as his band, Wings (one of my favorite bands of that decade). It is a long, thorough look at the good, bad, and ugly and pulls no punches, even while it clearly sympathizes with McCartney.
The book begins with the messy breakup of the Beatles, centering around the very public feud between Paul and John, which was part of the impetus for Paul’s decision to legally file to dissolve the Beatles. However, the legal ramifications showed that there were financial problems for the group and led to even more, thus sending Paul into a spiral of depression that led to he and his wife, Linda, to move to a farm in Scotland, out of the spotlight. During this period, he also lost a great deal of his confidence he had had in his abilities as a musician, as well as his own identity. Thankfully, Linda helped him through this crisis. Without her devoted love, who knows what would have happened to Paul?

The McCartney family became hippies and lived the hippy lifestyle, but Paul missed being in a band and missed touring, something he had tried to talk the Beatles into doing again and which they had refused to do. So he decided to start his own band – Wings. I didn’t know this, but there were actually three incarnations of Wings, three different bands over the years, all with Paul and Linda in them. And they were all comprised largely of studio musicians, mostly unknown. In my opinion, it’s frankly amazing Wings achieved the success and prominence they did with such an unassuming group of musicians. They obviously did this only with Paul’s leadership and drive.

However, first Paul put out a couple of solo albums, although one was credited to both he and his wife. They were all largely critical failures. The first Wings group met, practiced, and put out Wild Life in 1971. I don’t actually recall how it initially did, but ultimately it reached number 11 in the UK and number 10 in the US. Indeed, Paul’s first “hit” was a political song called “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” a song that was banned by the BBC. A 1972 non-hit was actually “Mary Had a Little Lamb, literally, which left both his band and the critics confused. Not Paul’s best decision. In 1973, Red Rose Speedway was released. It ultimately hit number 5 in the UK and number 1 in the US. In late 1973, the band got its first big break with Band on the Run, which immediately hit number 1 in both the UK and the US (the previous two albums achieved high chart status over time, not immediately). Band on the Run turned Wings into instant stars. 1973-4 hits include “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It, “ “My Love,” a major song that hit number one in the US, “Helen Wheels,” “Junior’s Farm,” “Band on the Run,” a huge hit that got to number three in the UK and number one in the US, and “Live and Let Die,” a theme song to a new James Bond movie and one that hit number two in the US.

And on it continued. After starting its career playing impromptu college student union tours for something like 50 pounds, Wings were now doing international stadium tours. And Paul could finally gloat over John, who had been taunting Paul publicly for years, basically calling him a giant failure while John, of course, was a musical genius. Not anymore. While John turned out the occasional hit, Paul McCartney and Wings were international stars selling out stadiums with superstar hit albums, something John couldn’t say. Paul could, temporarily, put his demons behind him.

However, there was a problem. Pot. He and Linda loved their pot. They smoked a lot of it. And they got it shipped to whatever country they were visiting on their tours. And in one country, Finland?, they were caught and it made international headlines. Of course, it was hugely embarrassing, but the couple actually embraced the moment and came out in favor of pot use and said they were in favor of legalizing it. Later in his career, Paul would be arrested in Japan for possession and it could have been a very serious situation. You should read the book to find out what happened.

Meanwhile, there were band personnel changes. Paul was a cheapskate and while he raked in millions, he paid his band members practically nothing at all. Finally, these session musicians would get fed up and state that they could make more doing session work back in New York or London, so they’d leave. Paul never really got the hint. It’s a shame. Still, he continued to put out good albums and tour with his new musicians.

In 1975, Venus and Mars was released and would ultimately hit number one in both the UK and US. 1975 hits included “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” and “Listen to What the Man Said, “ which would hit number one in the US. In 1976, Wings released two albums: Wings at the Speed of Sound and a live album, Wings over America. Both hit number two in America. They contained “Silly Love Songs,” which hit number two in the UK and number one in the US and “Let ‘Em In,” which hit number two in the UK and number three in the US. In 1977, “Mull of Kintyre” was released, instantly a huge hit in the UK, remaining at number one longer than any other song in British history until that time, I believe. However, in America, it didn’t fare so well, just getting to number 33.

It was at this time that Wings peaked. Already there was a third group of musicians and maybe it was chemistry, maybe Paul was burned out from the nonstop, frantic pace of the decade, I don’t know, but the following two albums weren’t nearly as good as the preceding albums by most accounts. In 1978, London Town was released. It didn’t do as well. Only Paul, Linda, and the lead guitarist were on the album cover because those were the only people in the band. It actually happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time, because I was a youngish kid when it came out and it was one of the first albums I had and my best friend and I listened to it over and over while building model planes. I love that album, but most critics do not. It’s not considered one of the better Wings albums, but it did hit number four in the UK and number two in the US. There were three singles released from this album, but the only one that really charted high was “With a Little Luck,” one of my all time favorite songs, which hit number five in the UK and number one in the US. Wings’ last gasp in the studio came in 1979 with Back to the Egg. It hit number eight in the UK and number three in the US. Its’ biggest single was “Getting Closer,” which made it to number 60 in the UK and number 20 in the US. And aside from some more solo work over the years, Paul was done and Wings were definitely done as a group. It was the end of an era. A highly successful era, a great decade of music, one of my favorite groups, as I said. And while the rest of the Beatles went on to do solo work and while John achieved some success, clearly Paul McCartney ended up the most successful Beatle of them all, post-Beatles. The best musician, the one who taught John and George how to play, ended up teaching Linda and helping his studio musicians put out a series of commercially successful albums and successful world tours, something the other Beatles rarely, if ever, achieved.

John sniped at Paul throughout most of their post-Beatles lives and Paul, on occasion, sniped back. Paul never really understood where John’s hostility came from, his utter hatred. Paul tried to make peace a number of times. There were a few times John seemed to accept the olive branch, only to blindside Paul later with public attacks that hurt Paul deeply. Fortunately, some time before John’s premature death, they buried the hatchet and reconnected, so that’s a very good thing and even though the author implies John was the major one to start things between the two, he treats all of the Beatles with reasonable respect and points out Paul’s faults when necessary.

The author stresses certain things that are important to Paul, such as family. He brought his family on the road with him, kids included. This sometimes made his band members uncomfortable, as it limited their abilities to lead the stereotypical 1970s rock and roll lifestyle (i.e., groupies), and it led to tension, but Paul was dedicated to his wife and kids and that’s generally a good thing. He was the only Beatle to have a 100% successful marriage/relationship. That’s impressive. He was also committed to financial honesty, at least in his dealings with the Beatles and in management’s dealings with the band. He figured out quite quickly that the manager the other three had hired had been screwing the band out of millions while paying the band crap, so he sued – and won – and was vindicated in doing so. The only difficulty with his financial honesty was in his dealings with his band because he stuck with his commitment to pay his band members their agreed upon wages, but when they struck it rich with their new number one hits and their world tours, he wouldn’t share the riches and it was truly rather greedy of him, unfortunately. A McCartney wart.

This hardback I read isn’t long, just over 250 pages. However, it’s packed with so much information and trivia, it takes longer to get through than your average 250 page book. Still, it’s informative and exciting and exactly what I’ve been looking for. I know a lot about the Beatles. I know a lot about John during the 1970s. What I didn’t know was what happened to Paul during the 1970s and the story of Wings and I didn’t know a book like this existed. So I’m elated to have discovered it and read it. I learned a ton of new information, some good, some bad, but all fascinating, and it answers a lot of questions I had about these people, that band, and that decade. For anyone who’s a fan of McCartney and Wings, this is a must read for you. Even if you’re just a Beatles fan or a 1970s music buff, this will be a good read for you. Four stars and definitely recommended.

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A Review of Starship Eternal

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 30, 2016

Starship Eternal (War Eternal, #1)Starship Eternal by M.R. Forbes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had never heard of the author of this series until Amazon recommended him to me. I’m really glad it did. I enjoyed the hell out of this first of a five book series. I thought it was well-told, engrossing, action packed, well plotted, and left me wanting more. I’m hooked.

The book begins with Captain Mitchell “Ares” Williams, the Space Marine war hero pilot who fired the “Shot Heard Around the Universe” in the Battle for Liberty, a battle that saved the planet and possibly saved the Alliance itself. It was amazing and it’s made for great PR. The problem is, it’s a fraud. His lover and wing mate did it in a suicide attack on a huge dreadnaught. He’s the only survivor, so he’s the lucky flunky the brass has decided “took the shot” and who they’re parading around the Alliance worlds to give speeches, autographs, and amp up recruitment, which is exactly what is happening. Oh, and he’s getting laid a lot too. A lot.

But then comes an assassination attempt. His military handler gets killed in the action and he kills some of the assassins while attempting to get them all. While he’s hailed, again, as a brave and miraculous survivor, the truth is civilians died, and it’s his fault because they were late getting to an event because he was in a bar feeling sorry for himself and his handler was there trying to talk him into going. If he had gone, no one would have died. New handler. Major Christine Arapo. Serious, won’t take shit from him. But he’s wounded in the attack. His implant’s been scrambled and needs to be fixed. After it is, he starts hearing voices and is freaked out. He hears voices telling him to “find Goliath.”

At that point, we find ourselves 400 years back on Earth where an alien ship has crash-landed and a young girl named Kathy has seen all of this on TV while they all discuss and debate about what to do with what they call “XENO-1.” From it, they develop their own alien technology built starship years later with Kathy piloting it. It takes off for hyperspace, disappears and is never seen again. Everyone wonders whatever happened to it. It was named Goliath.

Mitchell continues going along with the sad ruse until he is lured into a bad sexual liaison with the Prime Minister’s wife. Accused of rape and exposed as a fraud, he has only one option—run—but where? He is helped, first, by Christine, then by his past self (it’s complicated). He makes it out into space and joins up with a crew of spec ops called the Riggers who are a complicated mess. All of them are on the fringe, all have been court martialed, many would have been executed by now, some are guilty of murder – or worse – but they have skills that the Alliance needs, so they’re on this seemingly innocuous freighter going around the galaxy running opps with minimal opposition, as no one expects anything from this ship or this crew. And Mitch joins them, becoming the captain’s lover and XO. Millie is a good and feared captain, a murderer, but her heart belongs to the Alliance. So when things start happening that make no sense…

Mitch keeps hearing voices about Goliath. He keeps thinking of Christine, even though he’s now with Millie. And Mitch heads back to Liberty to look for Christine, only to find it’s become overrun with alien invaders. A gigantic alien entity has implanted itself in the planet in the middle of his old city and has taken over everyone with implants (meaning the military), as he’s quickly discovered. He’s had his implant ripped out by now. He barely makes it out of there and gets back to rendezvous with the Riggers. They have new mission orders. I forgot something. If they disobey mission orders, there is a kill switch. Their ship can/will get blown up. They have to obey commands. Mitch tells Millie what has happened, what has happened to the Alliance, to Alliance implants, how important it is to get rid of them asap, and of finding Goliath and of going back to Liberty to find Christine and rescuing her, as she could be key in helping to find Goliath and helping to save the Alliance from these invaders. But all of this means disobeying direct orders. Millie ponders it. Her crew is definitely opposed. She decides to go with Mitch and tells her crew to head to Liberty. It’s a tension filled book. Naturally, I had to get the sequel. And then that book’s sequel. Etc., etc.

Starship Eternal has some time travel elements to it, but they’re mostly hinted it. Probably more in future books. It’s military sci fi, high tech, but also with a definite space opera feel to it. Which is a nice mix. There are a number of typos, especially toward the end of the book, which incline me to lower my rating from five stars to four stars, which is unfortunate, because this is a really excellent book, but the author needs to invest in a good copy editor. It’s his own fault if he produces substandard work. It’s his responsibility. I realize there’s “officially” a publisher listed, but I’m 99%+ confident this is self published, like so many of the recent spate of decent sci fi titles out there. Many of them are quite good, but most of them could use some good copy editors. Nonetheless, a very solid four star book and certainly recommended. And I’m already reading the second book in the series and enjoying it very much. Good series. I wish I had known about this author a while ago. Thanks, Amazon, for recommending him to me!

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A Review of Doomsday Book

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 18, 2016

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1)Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’ve never heard of Connie Willis, the author the Doomsday Book, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best science fiction book of the year in 1992. Apparently, she’s quite successful, having won six Nebula awards (more than any other science fiction writer) and six Hugo awards, yet again, I’ve never heard of her, nor have I ever seen any of her books. I happened upon this book in a used bookstore, selling for a nickel, and I think that pretty much says it all. I don’t know how the hell she has won all these awards for books I’ve never heard of, and I’ve been reading science fiction since the early 1970s and know most of the prominent authors – just about all of them, in fact – but I’m almost willing to say she’s faking this bio, that her publisher is faking this bio, that there’s no way in hell she’s won all of these awards, because no one I know as EVER HEARD OF HER and you NEVER SEE ANY OF HER BOOKS IN A FUCKING BOOKSTORE!!!

So, this book. It’s about time travel. Specifically about a young history student at some made up college in England (I guess it’s a college, although the student must be a dwarf, because she’s only a meter and a half tall), who gets a tutor from another college to teach her about the Middle Ages because that is where she wants to travel to, specifically England, 1320. She learns all sorts of things, languages, spinning, riding, cooking, dressing oneself, etc., and after awhile, she feels she’s ready and her academic advisor believes she is too. The trouble is, her tutor, Mr. Dunwoody, doesn’t think she’s ready at all and thinks this is a huge mistake and furthermore thinks her academic advisor is an idiot who is pushing things too quickly, etc., while the student, one “Kivrin,” is champing at the bit, knowing she’s ready. And off she goes. And Dunwoody frets. And worries. And talks about it – incessantly. As in that’s all he talks about to anyone. And he complains – that she’s in danger, that she shouldn’t have gone, that she might not have gone to the right year, the right location, that anything could have gone wrong, and … well, you get the picture.

Meanwhile, Kivrin DOESN’T wind up in 1320. She apparently winds up in 1348, the year the Black Plague started and she finds herself very, very sick. And nothing is as she prepared for it. Everyone is wrong. Her clothes are wrong. Her name is wrong. Her cover story is wrong. Her language is wrong, as no one can understand her, and she can’t understand them. Her built-in translator doesn’t work. And she must go back and find the drop zone, so she can go home. She says this over and over again to everyone she meets. She must find the drop zone, she must go back to the drop zone, where’s the bloody drop zone? She also thinks about Dunwoody – a lot. Mr. Dunwoody was right about this, right about that, he’s probably not worrying about me, he probably is worrying about me, come save me Mr. Dunwoody.

I’ve never read a book where two characters, especially characters separated presumably by some 40 years, obsess so damn much over each other, repeatedly, over and over, four, five, six times a page. It’s fucking annoying as hell! I made it to page 202 out of 578 pages and decided if I read about the damn drop zone one more time and if I have to read about Dunwoody freaking out about Kivrin and Kivrin thinking over and over again about Dunwoody, I’d go psychotic and then no one could hold me responsible for the evil things that I would do. Rather than have that drastic outcome, I decided to stop. Holy shit, what an annoying book! I had read some one and two star reviews that commented about the damned repeating crap that goes on in this book, but I really wasn’t prepared for this idiocy. Willis could have cut out the repeating and shaved half the page count off the book and actually possibly made it readable. I don’t know how the book has a 4+ rating, because I think it’s utter rubbish. And the tech who sends Kivrin through to the 1300s collapses before he can provide Dunwoody and the others with crucial information and all he does, apparently, throughout the entire book, is raise his head up from his bed and remark that something terrible happened. Well, no shit asshole! Why don’t you tell someone something sometime some year, you jerk? Quit whining and be a man! Geez, what a pansy. Crappy book. No more than one star and most certainly not recommended under any circumstance.

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