hankrules2011

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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

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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Some More Book Reviews

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 8, 2020

Being ThereBeing There by Jerzy Kosiński
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Postmodern brilliance. Stunning in what is says in what it doesn’t say. I actually prefer Kosinki’s The Painted Bird, which is a little more brutal, but I honestly think Being There is the author’s best truly “postmodern” work, translated well to the screen, and perfectly holds a mirror up to society. Will they even glance at it? I did. Kicked my ass. Couldn’t be more recommended, but for those of you don’t like minimalist postmodern, you may find yourself bored, possibly not picking up on some subtleties, or simply unimpressed. Or you may actually walk away feeling more and more impressed the more you think about it. (In fact, I was so impressed with it that I wrote a short paper on it from a Reader Response position and it was published in a peer-reviewed, MLA-indexed journal: The Arkansas Review. It’s titled “The Dialectics of Getting There: Kosinski’s Being There and the Existential Anti-Hero.” It’s actually online somewhere, but I don’t know what the policy here for giving our URLs is, so if you’re interested at all, you can either do a search or go to my blog listed on my profile (hankrules2011), with hyperlink, and find it listed among a few publications.) Feel free to leave comments re your own observations, if you’ve read it. It’s definitely not a universally admired or appreciated text. Which makes it all the more delicious for me. 😉

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MashMash by Richard Hooker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always loved this book! I think it was a unique and special book for its time, a lightweight counter to the heavy stuff going on around it, such as Catch 22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Clockwork Orange and the like, all of which are great, but are a reflection of their times, as well as what was going on socially, culturally and politically in the US, particularly with Vietnam — and Hooker using Korea as an obvious substitute in his commentary on such things couched in humor. The beauty of this novel is, it DOES allude to and address some really serious issues and things, similarly to the other books mentioned, but again, differently so that one didn’t feel so threatened, to use an odd description of possible/probable reader response to others of that time. Brilliant, IMO. And of course, the TV show that came out of the movie that came out of this book was one of the best loved TV shows of all time, including by me as a major fan, so the book set off a chain of awesome (cinematic) events that impacted millions of people, largely in a good way. So while most people probably wouldn’t consider this novel as more than a cheap comedy, I tend to see much more value in it and I’ll stand behind that as long as I’m alive. Definitely recommended!

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The Late Great Planet EarthThe Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Utter trash! I still can’t believe how this POS swept over America during the 1970s, resulting in millions, I’m sure, for Lindsey, that asshole, as well as a horrible POS wildly fantastic, mythological horror show of a movie that was traumatic as shit to kids like me and others I knew whose fundie parents forced them to go see it. In retrospect, it was a total joke, a hoax, and Lindsey was and remains an utter fraud. Personally, I think those of us who are “fundie survivors” from the 1970s — and there are a LOT of us: read Seth Andrews — should file class action lawsuits against Hal and his publisher, as well as those assholes responsible for that shitty movie, A Thief In The Night, which traumatized me and tons of people and kids like me, not only at that time, but to this day, resulting in decades of therapy which has never been effective, scarring me for life. Another target of a wished for class action lawsuit would be the publisher of those damn Chick tracts, which also scared the shit out of me and most of the other people I knew. All those awesome cartoons and drawings of demons, the flames of Hell, drugged out ’70s hippies destined for Hell, etc. All of these and much more contributed to fucking ruining my life and tens of thousands like me, of driving us away from fundie/evangelicals forever, of feeling nothing but disgust and disdain, if not outright hatred for the hypocritical, lying fire and brimstone manipulators trying to use prehistoric rubbish to scare everyone possible into doing their damn will (and filling their pockets at the same time). I’ll never forgive them and I’ll never forgive Lindsey for this wretched joke of a piece of total shit book that did so much permanent damage to untold legions of people. If you wonder why people are leaving the churches in the US in droves these days and why over 20% of the American population are called the “Nones,” as in no church, no mythological supernatural tooth fairy in the sky, etc., you can thank Lindsey, those responsible for the other atrocities mentioned here, and the assholes who carry on their tradition, like Tim Lehay , who field a softer brand, but still put through the same apocalyptic message (while raking in millions on the side). If it were possible, I wouldn’t give this book a “0” – I would give it a “-1,000” or onward to infinity. If you value reason, logic, sanity, human decency, facts, etc., and if you frown upon or even despise those theistic religionists (particularly conservative Christians in the western world) who use terms like “love,” “morals,” “peace,” “family values,” etc., when they’re too lazy and stupid to read their own holy book and discover the atrocities committed by the god of the old testament while claiming their Jesus was a holy man of peace and love, while he stated he came with a sword to split up families and turn parents against children, etc., bragged that he spoke in parables so his idiot disciples literally wouldn’t be able to understand anything he said, and left no writings or proof of his existence, and none from any witnesses were ever written down so much could be said about the gospels, etc., aside from the millions of literal lies, discrepancies, untruths, fraud, etc., in their holy book and especially the new testament, then by all means, avoid this idiocy. I couldn’t recommend it any less than I am doing now. Truly one of the most despicable books in history by one of the most despicable humans in history… If there were an actual hell their mythology describes, he and his ilk would be destined for it.

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Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Not remotely impressed. For two primary reasons, among others. One, this just seems like a lot of fluffy filler. I have no idea how Godin made this into a full length book because I just got the feeling a decent, well thought out and written magazine article would have sufficed and even been more successful, perhaps. More importantly, I disagree with the title, premise and some possible conclusions that may be drawn from the book’s thesis.

OBVIOUSLY there are typically “linchpins” in most companies and certainly most successful companies. That should be so transparently understood that I fail to see the necessity in even writing a book about it at all. However, I learned early in my business career, initially from advisors and mentors, later from employers and bosses, and sadly, from personal experience as well as witnessing such with various colleagues in many companies and businesses — the thing that was drilled into my head from the beginning both verbally and through observation and experience — is that NO ONE is EVER indispensable! To think someone is, is utterly foolish, totally naive, completely wrong, and places too much value on “linchpins,” whom while no matter how valuable, can ALWAYS be replaced — I’ve seen it dozens of times at companies throughout the country from the lowest on the rungs to the very highest, at Founder, President and CEO, etc.

So, I have well over 30 years of business experience and I’ve seen this play out too many times to count. I’ve seen teachers with experience, great success and tenure get sacked. I’ve seen founders of startups that quickly grew into multimillion dollar public companies get dumped by the board. No One is Indispensable! I literally have only seen one person at one company who very likely may have been and was treated as such and who basically calls the shots as VP Engineering — after her former boss, the VP of Engineering with multiple degrees from Georgia Tech — was let go to move her up. Bizarre world… Book? Not recommended.

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Strange Attraction: The Best Of Ten Years Of ZyzzyvaStrange Attraction: The Best Of Ten Years Of Zyzzyva by Howard Junker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to confess that during my decades of writing several hours a day, 362 days a year, and submitting work to hundreds, thousands of zines, journals, magazines, publications around the world and during my decades of prolific success, while I had a very good acceptance percentage and was fortunate enough to be published in many high quality literary journals as well as newspapers, commercial magazines and more, there were really very few “major” ones I actually liked to read. I know that sounds nuts, but I was never a big fan of the New Yorker or the Paris Review, nor the Southern Humanities Review, Ploughshares, etc. Too damn mainstream, too much a party of the only “acceptable” literary canon, as defined by those who thought and think they are the official arbiters of such. Most of whom are idiots with no talent.

However, there were some journals, as well as many zines, magazines and the like, that I DID look forward to, often because they weren’t so freaking obsessed with calm ponds, chirping robins, lovely deer in the forest, calm lake waters and all that bullshit. At a minimum, they’d publish a diverse selection of material and writers, typically mixing the totally unknown with the most famous around. And on more topics of interest, relatable to me and others who weren’t Black Mountain fans, and Zyzzyva was one of them. Some others included Exquisite Corpse, New York Quarterly, Long Shot, Wormwood Review, Chiron Review, Caffeine, ONTHEBUS, Rattle, Poetry, Asheville Poetry Review, Main Street Rag and several others. The interesting thing about Zyzzyva was it centered largely on West Coast writers, and that intrigued me even before I became a West Coast writer!

Zyzzyva was a large, beautiful perfect bound book-sized journal and Junker, as editor, picked some great stuff, a nice fairly diverse selection of works, with a great mix of writers, and it was one of the few I read through cover to cover. I must admit though that one of my great publishing disappointments was I could never get Howard to accept ANY of my stuff, and I submitted annually for years! And I couldn’t figure out why because he published a ton of writers I was often published with in other magazines. It didn’t make any sense. But every editor is different and frankly it’s often subjective. Sometimes you like a person’s work and never another’s, no matter how qualified or whatever. I was an editor and publisher myself for some years, so I know what I’m talking about. There were two sides to this. On one hand, if various literary journals rejected me a couple of times, I usually crossed them off my list and moved on, but there were – for reasons I still don’t know – some others out there that I continued to submit to every damn year for YEARS, both hoping and convinced they’d eventually accept some of my work, only to be rejected annually by 98% of them. It was disheartening. It’s been a long time and I forget virtually all of them, but I do recall one was Arizona State’s Haydens Ferry Review, the annual issue of ONTHEBUS – and Jack Grapes, the editor, was a freaking friend of mine! – the Sierra Nevada Review (seriously???) and a few others. One that finally accepted my work after over a decade of submissions was Emory University’s Lullwater Review. Funny, that… And so Zyzzyva was one of these journals.

Conversely, there were some high quality writers, editors, magazines, journals and zines that liked me personally, liked what and how I wrote, liked my work and in some cases, loved to publish me constantly. As in the opposite of the example I just gave in the previous paragraph. Some of the writers and editors who seemed to like me included the great Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gerald Locklin (author of over 125 books, as well as editor), Michael Bugeja at Writer’s Digest, who liked to quote me as an SME in the annual Poet’s Market they published, the incredible Charles Bukowski, the longtime editor of the esteemed Poetry Magazine, Joseph Parisi (who amusingly secretly confided in me that he loved my work but worried that some might be “too much” for the traditional Poetry Magazine reader, which I thought was funny and it made me happy to see people like myself and the most openly anti-establishment poet around – Bukowski – start to appear in Poetry and other high quality literary journals, in some cases with the editors gritting their teeth, I’m sure), Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, who was publisher of his own press, and many others. And as stated, there were some journals and magazines that seemed to like to publish my work regularly to constantly in virtually every issue. Some of these included Chiron Review, Caffeine (where I regularly appeared alongside Bukowski), Hawaii Review, Pearl, Long Shot, Finland’s Sivullinen (and many other Finnish magazines, where they often shockingly put me on their covers alongside Bukowski – I mean photos and everything!), Belgium’s De Nar, Poetry Ireland Review (with Seamus Heaney, and they paid very well!), the infamous longtime punk magazine, Flipside, whose poetry editor loved my stuff, the famous horro magazine, Wicked Mystic (they paid well), L.A.’s big Saturday Afternoon Journal, music magazine Industrialnation, and a number of others.

The point? The point is that while I was very successful, pretty well known around the world in those kinds of literary circles, appeared regularly in publications featuring Ginsberg, Bukowski, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan, William Burroughs, and other heavyweights, I felt I *should* have been good enough to have my work appear in most publications I submitted to — because I did so strategically, avoiding those I knew wouldn’t like my style or my stuff — and so Zyzzyva remained a constant disappointment for me as a writer because I could not understand at all why Junker wouldn’t publish me when he published so many others in my various circles. But I never let that disappointment ruin my appreciation for and love of that journal, and while I’ve not seen it in a long time, I’ll always remember it fondly and with great respect. If you missed out on it, I recommend looking up old issues, or perhaps … of course, getting this book because Howard picked an assortment of quality writers and material to appear in these pages, so I strongly recommend it.

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My Years In Books: 2019

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 24, 2019

Every year, I participate in the Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge. At the beginning of each year, you set a goal for how many books you’ll read that year. Goodreads keeps track of your running total and then lets you know how you’ve done and what percentage of your goal you met. You can also see other participants in the Reading Challenge. Each year, they provide an end of year webpage showing your stats, how you did, etc. For some reason, they recently decided to make them only able to share to a few social network sites where I no longer have accounts. I remain annoyed by this, so I’m doing the next best thing for the second straight year. (And you can see my blog entry for 2018’s results here:  My Year In Books: 2018.) I’ve taken several screenshots showing information like what they describe as your “Year in Books,” parts of the webpage showing how many books, pages, etc, you read that year, the average length of the book, etc., my 2019 Reading Challenge results, my Reading Challenge results since 2013 and something I’ve never done before — an intro to the webpage of My Year in Books because as you’ll see, my numbers are tremendously skewed up this year and are thus somewhat deceptive, so I felt obligated to explain. For what it’s worth, I set my 2019 reading goal at 90 books. Goodreads is reporting I read 443 books, or 492% of my original goal. Like I said, I wrote an explanation because while I exceed my goal every year, it’s never by that much and there are a couple of reasons why this year’s numbers aren’t completely accurate. So I’m going to post these screenshots for you to see. If you want to see the actual books I read this year, you can go to my Goodreads profile here. (I believe you have to be a logged in member to view it, however…)

And now, the promised screenshots. Comments are welcome…

 

2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge

My Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge Results

 

 

 

My Goodreads All-time Annual Reading Challenge Results

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My Year In Books: 2019”

Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My Year In Books: 2019” — Introduction

Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My Year In Books: 2019” — End Of Webpage

Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

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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 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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A Review of Nemesis

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 20, 2016

NemesisNemesis by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is one of Asimov’s later works, perhaps his last work, I can’t recall. Much of it is pretty interesting, but it has its weaknesses as well. To me, that sentence sums up Asimov as a writer and his career as well. At times brilliant, at times a total dud. You never know what you’re getting with him until you start reading.

Nemesis is the story of an Earth colony called Rotor that seeks to escape from the solar system, wanting to create its own upstart civilization free of Earth’s constraints, and even the other settlements’, and it somehow amazingly with Asimov’s amazingly spurious scientific mumbo jumbo moves the colony to a new area of a neighboring star system that is concealed from Earth by huge clouds (no, Hubble couldn’t see through that, thank you), and the star is called Nemesis by the woman who discovers it. The moon that orbits it (there’s an insignificant planet too) is called Erythro and Rotor comes to orbit all of it. And everyone in the solar system is amazed at Rotor’s disappearance and wonders how they did it and where they went. Earth finds the best scientists and puts them on it.

The main protagonist in this book is a fifteen-year-old girl named Marlene. At first, you kind of like her because she’s smart, individualistic, and has big dreams. You also feel sorry for her because she’s basically described by everyone as being ugly but smart. Then you start to realize she’s crazy and she started to get on my nerves in a big damn way. She pretty much ruined the book for me. She turned into a spoiled, dictatorial, tyrannical brat who literally physically made others do her bidding by her mind control, because yes, she has this bizarre ability to “read” other people’s body language, their movements and actions and reactions and facial expressions and other bullshit like that and be able to tell people to their face every thing that person has ever done, thought, is thinking, ever will think or do in their lifetime, etc. I’m slightly exaggerating, but you get the picture. It’s unnerving to everyone around her and doesn’t make her very popular. Indeed, the more she uses her power, which she does, the more eerie and creepy she becomes and the more power hungry she becomes.

And here’s the really weird thing about Marlene. She’s obsessed with Erythro. She wants to go visit it, so she engineers a way to get it done. When she’s there, she makes sure she gets out on the planet’s surface, which is very dangerous, since there are minute alien life forms and a plague. And you need a space suit, since the air is unbreathable. She then keeps finding ways to keep upping the ante. Her super scientist mother is with her on the planet and her only purpose is to wring her hands, act like the poor, helpless female she is, and seek the companionship of the big, strong male character from her past who of course is in love with her and has been his whole life. Eventually, Marlene is so obsessed with the place, she wants to become one with it and insists in going out alone and takes her space suit off, but survives somehow, and then encounters the planet’s major alien life form, who communicates with her. It frightens her at first, but she goes back for more and they establish a relationship. It’s freaking bizarre.

Meanwhile … that’s a lot … the person in charge of Rotor is a scheming man who thinks he’s the only person who can save the colony from disaster. Marlene’s father, her mother’s ex-husband who deserted them before Marlene turned two because Rotor was going to migrate out into space and he was an Earthman and didn’t want to go (also because he was a spy and wasn’t going anywhere with them), is on a secret trip out to where Earth’s government thinks Rotor is, with some government scientists and a super fast new ship. When they find Rotor, he is hoping to reunite with his daughter, even though it’s been nearly 15 years.

Asimov has never been strong at character development in many of his books, as I’ve noted in many previous reviews. I guess this book is as good as any in most of his books, which is to say barely passable for most authors, but not too bad for him. The dialogue, though, is fairly bad. God, her father, Crile, repeated the same crap over and over so many times, I kept hoping he would get blown out an airlock. Marlene kept repeating herself so many times, I kept hoping the alien(s) would melt her with acid or something cool like that. I hated her that much halfway through the book. And it’s not only the repetitions. It’s Asimov’s typical formal language, even for a fifteen-year-old girl. Not remotely believable. Did he ever talk to a teenager that age? I just have a hard time believing that in the late 1980s, when this book was published, girls in their mid-teens sounded that formal. Not remotely realistic. Hell, the rest of the gang sounded incredibly formal too. They all sounded like they came from, ta dah, the same author!

Another complaint along these lines is that a lot of text got bogged down in infodumps, showing off Asimov’s alleged scientific knowledge about how a colony like Rotor got into orbit around Nemesis to the point where no one cares anymore, and who discovered the star and why it was named that, etc, etc. It’s just too much.

Also, the ending was unbelievably anti-climactic and simply unbelievable. Not remotely believable at all. I couldn’t believe that Asimov would have his readers buy that as a legitimate ending. I was stunned. Seriously?

This is a book that had a good premise. Seriously. I was excited to begin reading it. And then I started hating the characters. A lot. The schemers, the weak female scientists who need a strong man in their lives, the father figure who’s been holding out for the (weak) female love of his life, the Earth spies and scientists, the obsessed former father, the increasingly powerful and nearly evil teenager and her alien love-fest, which seems incredibly unhealthy. Etc. Just too much. The scheming, the manipulating, the using, the alien(s), everything just started annoying me a lot. I thought about not finishing it, but by that time I was halfway through, so I kept reading. I partially enjoyed the book, although as I said, I thought the ending was seriously weak. I’m not sure whether to give this two or three stars. I think there are too many issues to give it three, so I’m giving it two stars. Not recommended. Sadly.

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A Review of Califia’s Daughters

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 18, 2016

Califia's DaughtersCalifia’s Daughters by Leigh Richards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Califia’s Daughters is one of the most unique, inventive, thought provoking, dark, disturbing, pseudo-violent, feminist-based, post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels I have read in a long time, if ever. I thoroughly enjoyed it and came away impressed with the book and author. What a work of art!

The book takes place in the not too distant future after some type of apocalyptic nightmare has taken place, presumably throughout North America, probably the world, and most certainly California. Most people have forgotten how to use things such as automobiles and planes, or that there even were such things years ago, and for most, life consists of an agrarian society. At some point, someone – we’re not told who – released biological/chemical/ radioactive agents/toxins that have caused various plagues around much of the world, resulting in a monster virus affecting the world’s men, so that nine of every ten male babies and men in general who are born or live die shortly after birth or contracting this virus. Thus, two things. One, it’s a matriarchal society, with women having to assume ALL roles in society – hunter/gatherer, homemaker, warrior, scientist, farmer, etc., and two, all surviving males are treated like precious gemstones, to be protected at all costs, given regular security, aren’t allowed to do anything dangerous, must hide if anyone new comes to their villages, must be protected from infections, etc. And every village has Amazonian-like warrior women. In this novel, in the Valley in which we read about, the chief protector is Dian and her guard dogs, who she has trained to be perfect guards and killing machines. Additionally, she has additional warriors she has trained to protect the Valley.

So it passes that one day, a group approaches, something to fear, and they are met by Dian and her dogs. It is a group from another town up in northern California and they come bearing a gift and a proposition. It’s quite odd. They would like to bring and leave a male as their gift, quite a valuable gift, if Dian’s town will allow them to relocate to the Valley and join forces for protection from the evil armies forming up north and moving southward. The town council contemplates it and tentatively decides to accept their offer, but Dian’s sister, the leader, and Dian agree that she will secretly go up to their town on a reconnaissance mission to see if everything is as they say it is, if they’re on the up and up, before ultimately allowing them to move south to join them. It will be a long, arduous trip, but a necessary one.

And so, after wading through all of that preliminary stuff, the real part of the book that contains the action, character development, strong plotting, strong dialogue, extreme tension and intrigue, seemingly impossible scenarios, and horrible sacrifices takes place. And it’s all worth it. Dian travels north with a couple of her dogs, first through the major city of Meijing (the major West Coast city/power), then on up through the wastelands. What she experiences is nothing short of horrifying. What she encounters is humanity like little she’s encountered before, loyalty unlike what she was expecting, sacrifice more than any person should ever have to make, ungodly pain, Ashtown, the Angels, Breaker, an insane Captain who’s a psychotic bitch if there ever was one, serious violence, depression, an unexpected pregnancy, relationships that matter, betrayals, an uprising, escape attempts, the hopes and dreams of one day making it back to the Valley alive, etc.

It’s a tense, fascinating journey and I found myself on edge half the time, hoping like hell she could get out of the mess she was in. I was emotionally invested in this book. I also found it interesting, to be honest, to see how in a matriarchal society, so many stereotypical traits, often associated with men in a less than stellar way, shine through even though men not only aren’t the prevalent gender, but aren’t even exposed to society and culture. It’s as though there’s little to no difference between the two genders when the two are in power at separate times in history. To the best of my knowledge, the author is somewhat of a feminist, and many of her fans are definitely feminists, so I found this intriguing.

Whatever the case, I thought the ending was pretty good, but a little too abrupt. A whole lot was left out. A lot. We got to see the very final ending, but not how we got to transition from point A to point Z. I would have liked to see the points in between. Also, the epilogue seems to disappoint a number of people and I, too, wish it hadn’t been included. Nonetheless, this was such a unique, unusual, intriguing, well written, well thought out, well plotted book, that even with was minor flaws, I’m not going to quibble. This is definitely worth five stars. And definitely recommended!

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A Review of Out of the Silent Planet

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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A Review of Speaker for the Dead

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Issue of RRR

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2016

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

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