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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

A Review of “The Emperor’s Assassin”

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 19, 2021

The Emperor's AssassinThe Emperor’s Assassin by Autumn Bardot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an admittedly subjective and biased comment, but while I know people who like this book and historical fiction in general, I can’t do it. It’s not just I don’t like historical fiction. That is true, but not the problem. The problem is simply that I’ve always been a serious student of history, am a member of two professional history orgs (like AHA), feel it’s essential to study the past for a zillion reasons, most of which should be obvious except to Americans who are generally too lazy, stupid and apathetic to read any history. If I had a dollar for every time I actually heard someone say something like they didn’t know anything about WW I and didn’t care, didn’t know anything about WW II because “it didn’t matter or have any impact on their life or work,” which I once found stunning but now sadly expect and this side from what should be obvious to most (read Philip Dick or P Roth to get an idea of other potential realities we could be living in if tens of millions of people hadn’t sacrificed everything). In fact a few times I’ve gotten so ticked that the old professor in me kicked in so I gave a few bored 4.0 GPA accounting, economics, etc., students an hour lecture off the top of my head going decade by decade outlining basics that have transpired so that, yes, it did and DOES impact you and your job, you apathetic dumbass! The worst though are the few who told me they didn’t even know who was in the damn Vietnam War. I didn’t bother, there’s no hope. All I could say was “Well, they spot you one of the countries just in the name of the war!”

So is there a point? Yes. Historical fiction is not history, it’s not accurate nor is it intended to be. It is nothing but fantasy out of the author’s head who is using elements of some historical events as a backdrop for their story. In a sense then it’s genre fiction like sci fi, horror, fantasy, thriller, etc., all of which have their legitimate place, but the backdrop-purported historical environment may be nice, realistic or cool, but since the author is making a story up and simply surrounding it with the façade of a semblance of historical reality, they could just as easily put unicorns, spaceships, monsters and the like in and with a “legit” historical backdrop, there would likely be little difference between such absurdities and dragons, rumored by many to have once existed. The author is writing a fantasy but if I want to read fiction, I’ll read fiction. If I want history, I don’t want some fairytale – I want serious nonfiction! So yes I know I’m probably in the minority and probably sound grumpy as well, but I think I have a case and I’m sticking to it. Otherwise I recommend it for those who like the genre.

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Book Review: Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 20, 2020

Well, unfortunately I’m rather livid at the moment because even though I had written I do not have the time or energy for a proper review due to severely bad health and a late time of night, I had just spent 1.5 hours working on the BEGINNING of a review, presumably saving as I went along as I always do. However, I don’t know what happened, but the page refreshed and everything was lost — all of my time and work and I don’t have the time or energy to try to recreate that, so I’m very unhappy. As a result, I’m just going to leave a few minor paragraphs or so with apologies… I did want to do it justice.

Normally I’m a fan of Bart Ehrman’s, although I don’t always agree with him. Unfortunately, I think this is his worst book and I’m shocked he put his name to it. Frankly for the scholar people view him as and he frankly promotes himself to be, he embarrasses himself in his sad efforts to first, trash the credentials of those he opposes in the initial stages of the book, especially as compared to his own “fantastic” academic credentials, which should be beneath him for multiple reasons: 1) it’s unnecessary and unprofessional, 2) other people DO have legitimate credentials despite what he thinks, and worse, he misrepresents at least one or more in terms of their specialties proving a lack of validity in facing a scholar of his character and 3) while I don’t have time to go into all of his academic background, I doubt he’d love it if people knew the initial fundamentalist “academic” institution where he obtained a three year (?) degree acknowledges on its own website currently that this degree was NOT accredited. Moreover, as someone who over the course of my entire life, have known countless friends, colleagues and family members who attended and graduated from Moody Bible Institute, I can attest to the fact that not one of them were able to find professional employment post-graduation, largely due to their spurious academic “qualifications.” This, the vaunted academic “scholar” Bart Ehrman!

As to the book, his arguments are weak and generally beneath his usual standards — by far — and do little to convince anyone that he has outdone his “opponents.” Indeed, he actually relies on hearsay and speculation, which are hardly convincing in the academic world. (The fact that no New Testament author ever MET Jesus, let alone possibly even met someone who knew him, is a non-issue for Ehrman as his relates that PAUL, of all of them, CLAIMED to have met Peter and James, yet there is not one shred of either independent evidence nor Jewish evidence to confirm that, so all we have to go on is Paul swearing he did, so must have. Good enough, eh? And I jumped off my roof today and flew around town because despite no one seeing and documenting it, I swear I did and thus it’s true. Not too different from American fantasies in 2020, where whatever one wishes to believe is apparently true. (Until science proves them wrong. Like every time.) Another little hint is the long acknowledged fact that while no one in the Bible, including the authors of the Gospels, can possibly provide evidence (nor is there independent evidence anywhere) of any sayings of this Jesus, let alone the accuracy of claimed sayings, Paul may have “known” of a couple — through his debatable vision. Again, we have to take him at his word, and then one must wonder why Paul virtually NEVER refers to Jesus’ actual LIFE. If he “knew” him as he claimed, wouldn’t he have recorded … something? No, instead we get post-crucifixion spirit Jesus and the religion Jesus never set out to create while Paul himself did.Finally, the actual topic of this book — Did Jesus exist? Well, there are tons of books on the subject, from all angles. And so many areas to cover. And so many Jesus’s back then, as apparently not only was it a somewhat common name, but also somewhat common for others claiming that name while additionally claiming to be the Messiah. More importantly, there are so many clues, examples and outright facts to make one legitimately doubt he existed that it’s entirely possible to assert with authority that he did not exist — as a number of people do. A few things before referring to others. It’s virtually undisputed that the Gospels were written long after his death, that the authors are unknown (with the names attributed to them generally considered to have been so potentially hundreds of years after they were written), that the authors did not know Jesus nor knew anyone else who knew Jesus and the fact that Jesus and his followers are assumed to have been illiterate and thus Jesus never left one shred of any alleged teachings of his, as well as the fact that each gospel was written in educated Greek while this Jesus would have spoken Aramaic (with some Hebrew translation thrown into the gospels for good measure when it came to the alleged prophecies, most of which have been proven to have been taken out of context, simply wrong or even nonexistent), it’s plausible to assert that possibly everything attributed to Jesus, if not virtually all of the gospels themselves, were complete fabrications. Indeed, scholars have had to resort to a hypothetical source they refer to as “Q” (as well as a couple of other such sources) to fill in a ton of blanks, because there is no evidence to support many of the claims made in the gospels, so naturally someone HAD to know the details and we’ll just conveniently call him “Q.” There is absolutely no evidence for this Q, let alone independent evidence at that. A million other things aside, in addition to the well-known town of “Nazareth” Jesus came from not yet actually even existing, thus forcing theologians to stretch hard to make other Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Semitic, Arab and eventually Latin translations of words that appeared to be close to “Nazareth” while yet none of them actually meant or were “Nazareth” somehow fit, which REALLY ticks them off due to its inconvenience, ultimately there is literally no independent evidence or mention from the first century (nor virtually any Jewish mention as well, literally) to confirm or even allude to the validity of ANY claims of this Jesus the Jewish Messiah ever existing — and this in a century famous for its record keeping, particularly by the Romans, if not other peoples and races. Thus there are records on nearly everything and everyone of note throughout the empire, and certainly Judea as well, and among untold numbers of records, there are none of any crucifixion of a Jesus of Nazareth (it wasn’t until after 300 CE that Jewish Christian writers and historians began referring in print to a place even called something similar to “Nazareth,” while a Greek variant was found sometime after 220 CE. Indeed, no secular reference to such a town was ever found until a 1962 archaeological dig, which traced the inscription found back to around 300 AD — in Hebrew), none of any mammoth earthquake (let alone any earthquake) on the day of the crucifixion, nor of the temple’s curtain being ripped in half (which Jewish historians would surely have documented), NOR any resurrected zombies wandering the streets of Jerusalem, nor any huge crowds gathering around any teachers in that general area and by that name, nor of any travels, arrivals and departures of any Oriental “wise men” come to worship the babe — who was either there within Herod’s grasp or in Egypt depending on which gospel one chooses to believe — nor of any famous miracles, healings and exorcisms by a Jesus in Galilee (a backwater at the time), and certainly no dead people coming back to life. Etc., etc. There is NO independent evidence to back up a shred of this fancy nor any evidence outside of the Bible itself, and the gospels disagree with each other in so many ways that those who believe the book to be the inerrant word of God (how does one combine four different resurrection stories?) must be driven crazy by this and those who find alternate ways of interpretation then are forced to cherry pick!

It’s late and I can’t continue, so I’ll close with some reference material I’m recommending for dear deluded Mr Ehrman, as well as any other readers who may be interested. These are by no means the only resources — simply ones that come to mind at the moment (although the first is pretty good).

1) Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald.

2) Jesus: Mything in Action, Vol. I (The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion Book 2) by David Fitzgerald. If I recall — and it’s been awhile — I think this is the first of a three-book series and this book covers the gospels…

3) Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed by R.G. Price.

and an interesting additional book not specifically about Jesus, but really more about the Bible and specifically the Old Testament. It’s an archaeological account by two Jewish academics and scientists who seemingly prove the bulk of what we know as the Old Testament — if true at all — was never ever written until Israel and Judah had been split as separate kingdoms and Israel had been conquered and taken away and while I don’t want to give away all of the spoilers, the gist is these stories appear to be scientifically proven to have not been written until possibly around 700 BCE, thus potentially calling into question basically all we’ve been taught and all we’ve been taught to believe and pretty much everything else associated with it and that follows it. Even if you disagree, it’s intellectually interesting and a good exercise in (internal) debate.

4) The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Ultimately, I would only recommend this book to show people additional confirmation of any scientific or literal evidence of the lack of the Biblical Jesus. If you’re a theocratic religionist who lacks an open mind, this book won’t be for you — it might serve only to irritate you. If you are interested in this debate, or series of debates, you may find this book intriguing, although I would have it pretty low on my reading list. Ultimately Ehrman’s worst book and definitely not recommended.

My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

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A Review of The Road to Hell

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Review of A Blink of the Screen

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 16, 2016

A Blink of the Screen: Collected Short FictionA Blink of the Screen: Collected Short Fiction by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Blink of the Screen is a collection of short stories by the late, great Terry Pratchett, which has some wonderful pieces in it and is an absolute must for any Pratchett fan. The book is divided into pieces he wrote as standalone short stories about various topics beginning from the young age of 13 with “The Hades Business,” which was published in 1963. Published. Written at 13. It’s about Hell and its need for good PR. It’s pretty funny. The writing is obviously immature and it’s not a “great” short story, but you can see the beginnings of a good writer there.

The second section is of Discworld-related short stories, involving famous Discworld characters, such as Cohen the Barbarian, Rincewind, Lord Havelock Vetinari, and of course in the longest story in the book (“The Sea and Little Fishes” (1998)), two of the best Discworld characters, in a Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax story. Asked by some younger, snobby witches not to compete in an annual witchery contest because she always wins, Granny Weatherwax decides to “be nice about” the insult. The crux of the problem and, hence, the story is, her neighbors and, most certainly the other witches, aren’t used to her being nice. At all. A delightful, yet at times, quite sad story. Very well written.

Other good stories in this collection include “Final Reward” (1988), where an author kills off his most popular character and is shocked when the character shows up at his doorstep to “meet his maker.” The character is a seven-foot tall barbarian with a monstrous sword. What to do?

Another good one is “Death and What Comes Next” (2004). Death is my favorite Discworld character. Philosophers evidently think they can argue with Death when he comes for them. However, Death can apply some philosophical logic, too.

ASTONISHING, said Death. REALLY ASTONISHING. LET ME PUT FORWARD ANOTHER SUGGESTION: THAT YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUCKY SPECIES OF APE THAT IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF CREATION VIA A LANGUAGE THAT EVOLVED IN ORDER TO TELL ONE ANOTHER WHERE THE RIPE FRUIT WAS.

There’s a story about the game, “Thud,” which I believe may have been a real game in England, based on the Discworld novel. “The Ankh-Morpork National Anthem” (1999) is short, but funny. “#ifdefDEBUG + `world/enough’ + `time'” (1990) is actually a pretty good cyberpunk story. Not William Gibson good, but startling good for an author who doesn’t usually dabble in such things.

Of course, there are some stories that are less interesting, but that’s always the case in any short story collection. Some stand out, some do not. Overall, this is a solid four star collection. And as I said, a must for any Pratchett fan. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Hell’s Gate

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 16, 2015

Hell's Gate (Multiverse, #1)Hell’s Gate by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hell’s Gate is a newish military sci fi/fantasy series by prolific writer David Weber and Linda Evans. It’s about two separate earth-like universes exploring portals into other similar universes, leading to an unthinkable meeting in one of these alternative universes, by accident. And, to everyone’s shock and horror, both men who see each other shoot at each other simultaneously (although the Arcanan – the “bad” guys – actually shoots first) and kill each other. Unfortunately, the Sharonan team is a small civilian survey team while the Arcanans are a much larger military force and they go after the Sharonans. And they slaughter them, while taking heavy casualties.

Something of note. The interesting premise of this book and series is this: Sharona runs on the standard technology of the early 20th century, complete with standard weaponry such as rifles, revolvers, machine guns, etc., although a certain percentage of the population has “Talent,” and are “Voices” – mental abilities to speak over long distances, etc. They are invaluable for communicating over incredibly long distances in the empire. However, Arcana uses magic to function as a manufacturing/military society. Everything is run by spells and their weapons are both ancient (crossbows) and mythical (fire breathing dragons). The utter shock when both sides encounter each other is huge. Especially when they ultimately find they can’t even communicate, nor can they understand how either civilization can even work.

The only two Sharonian survivors of what turns out to be a mistaken Arcanan attack, Shaylar and Jathmar, are taken prisoner by Sir Jasak Olderhan, an honorable officer who seeks to protect their lives from his own people. He is helped by Magister Gadrial Kelbryan, a Gifted sorceress, for lack of a better description. Unfortunately, it seems the Arcanans are a war-like people, while at the same time, word of this disaster has reached Sharona and people are outraged, especially since Shaylar was the most popular woman in their universe and they mistakenly believe she was killed. Their whole world is shocked, outraged, and terrified of a possible war coming to them and preparations are made for war — troops, logistics, a worldwide Conclave of all the rulers leading to a demand for a universal government, most likely lead by Ternathian emperor Zindel chan Calirath.

The end of the novel is a cliffhanger, as the Arcanans have sent “diplomats” out to seek negotiations with the Sharonans while they move thousands of troops and dozens of dragons to the front for a surprise attack. Sharona won’t know what hit them. And there the book ends. Weber is so good at ending his books like this. It’s damned maddening! So I immediately had to go out and buy the sequel and I’m already halfway through it.

This is a great book with a unique and great premise, but I’m only giving it four stars because there are so many wasted pages of descriptions and explanations of kingdoms and territories and populations and peoples, none of which really matter to the story – they’re just filler. And this book is almost 1,300 pages! It’s the biggest damn book I’ve ever read! If they had cut out the unessential stuff, it probably would have been closer to 800 pages or less. But as I’ve always said of Weber books, I’m convinced he’s paid by the word/page count. He writes really, really long books with tons of completely unnecessary infodumps that you learn to just skim over to save your own sanity. Four stars for what should be a five star book. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of The Witches of Chiswick

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 20, 2015

The Witches of Chiswick The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the absolute craziest books I’ve ever read in my life! The author is clearly insane. Or British. He’s British and has that British sense of humor, sort of a Terry Pratchett meets Monty Python on acid. This book is nuts.

Will Starling lives in a London suburb with his parents in the 23rd century. Everyone except him is fat, and his is teased mercilessly for being slim. He lives in a 300 story high rise and it’s a dystopia now, with acid rain, non-existent technology, synthetic foods, lack of jobs, etc. But he has a job. He works at that Tate Museum, scanning pictures of old paintings for future display. He particularly loves the 19th century, especially Victorian art. There aren’t any books anymore either, so he downloads books from the British Library to his palmtop and reads a lot. One day something odd happens. He’s scanning a picture and notices one of the characters in this Victorian painting is wearing a digital watch. What? He alerts his boss and is informed the painting will be destroyed. Distraught, he sneaks into the archives and moves the painting to another location so it won’t be destroyed. Later, at home with his parents, a Terminator style robot comes into their apartment to get the painting and to kill him. His bulky parents save his life by sitting on the robot, but they found out that four other Will Starlings (uncles) were slaughtered by this robot before he came to their place. Will takes off. He meets his friend Tim, a computer nerd at the museum. He tells Will that a coven of witches rule the world. Wills scoffs. He tells Will that he’s got a highly illegal drug that can take you back into your ancestors’ memories and you can relive past lives. He gives a bunch to Will and Will takes them all. Next thing you know, Will lands on a street in 19th century London. Victorian England. He can’t believe it. He has time traveled. Will meets a man named Hugo Rune, who tells him he’s an ancestor and to come with him. Rune knows everyone – Oscar Wilde, a lady’s man, Queen Victoria, Charles Babbage, inventor of the computer and many other technical devices, Count Otto Black, who has an aerial circus, HG Wells, and many others. He shows Will a good time and tells him he’s a magician. They spend a year traveling the world, meeting the tzar in Russia, the Mandarins, the Pope, who is a vampire, and many others. Will learns to enjoy good food, fine champagne, and the company of exotic women. Upon their return, they meet up with Rune’s friend Sherlock Holmes, who has been told Will is the person he is looking for. He’s hands a case over to Will, cause he’s got a heavy case load, and says he needs it solved asap. Will thinks it’ll be a piece of cake, cause he’s read all of the books. He opens the file and it’s Jack the Ripper, a series of crimes never solved. He groans. Rune has faith in him though. They go back to their hotel, quite drunk, and when Will awakes, he’s alone. He gets a paper and finds out Jack has struck again, but it’s Rune who’s the victim. Will is stunned. He gets Rune’s case and finds Barry, the Galactic Guardian sprout. Claims God sent him and other vegetables to be guardian angels cause he ran out of angels. Barry can time travel. Barry gives advice. He suckers Will into putting him into his ear and then Will can’t get him out and hears a voice in his head from that point on. Will decides to solves the Ripper case. He goes to the police station with his file and is told Jack has been caught. He’s got blood all over him and it’s definitely him. Will asks to see him and when the door opens, he sees himself and is stunned. He’s got to get himself out of there. He uses a high form of martial arts to knock the policemen out and gets the other Will out of the building, takes a horse and carriage and takes off. They find a water trough and wash the blood off, then go to a bar for some refreshment and to talk. The other Will is freaked out. Will just wants to find out what’s up. Turns out the other Will is from a different future than Will and has traveled back in time with the help of Larry, Barry’s brother, to kill the witches of Chiswick, who will destroy all of technology at the stroke of midnight, 1899, and the computers and air cars and electrical cars and faxes and everything will be gone and it’ll be back to horse and buggy times with no memories of anything else. The other Will has been raised to put a stop to this. Will travels with Barry at some point back to his future to talk to Tim about all of this, who’s very excited to hear about everything. Turns out they’re half brothers. Tim wants to go back with him. Back to the past. Will and Will get arrested for starting a fight in a bar. They go before the judge, who is about to sentence them to execution, when Tim, their new lawyer, walks in. He says he’s going to put on a lengthy defense, call dozens of witnesses, and prove their innocence. The prosecutor, in league with the witches, calls a snail boy to the stand. He can’t talk, but the prosecutor and judge pretend they can understand his grunts and believe that Will and Will are guilty. Tim pulls a gun and the courtroom clears. The police come to the scene and pull their weapons. The hostages are sent out, the snail boy, his female caretaker, and the prosecutor. Then the police open fire on the courthouse. The hostages get away and it’s the Wills and Tim, disguised as the others.

I could go on and on, but it would take too long. They discover Rune’s manse and hack into the witches’ computer. Another Terminator robot or two are dispatched to kill them. They meet HG Wells. The other Will takes off, not to be seen again, at least for a long time. The snail boy reappears and joins Will, Tim, and Wells and they are determined to stop Otto, the leader of the witches, and their evil, Satanic plot to destroy technology at the end of the century. On December 31, 1899, 2,000 people are gathered in the air to watch Count Otto Black’s flying circus. The four are there, trying to locate the computer program that will destroy everything so they can put a virus in it. Oh, and Martians are on their way to earth to invade. The ending is abrupt and I didn’t particularly care for it. I thought it could have been better. I’ll let you read the book to see what happens at the end.

Rankin is humorous, that’s for sure. There are jokes and puns on practically every page, most of them corny as hell. But there are TOO many! After awhile, you just wish you could read the story without groaning from another damn joke. That’s why I’m giving it four stars instead of five. He uses play on words, jokes from the present, has a foul mouth and mind, which I don’t mind usually, but it was a bit much, and just overreaches on the jokes. But the story is pretty good, while seemingly convoluted. He’s apparently written a bunch of other books that I’ve never heard of, but have crazy titles. I’ll probably read him again if I can find him. Apparently he’s hard to find in America. This is steampunk, for those interested. Recommended.

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