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A Review of The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 1, 2018

The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital WorldThe New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World by Damon Krukowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is more than just a simple “back to vinyl” sermon, refreshingly. It’s a highly scientific and socio-psychological look at the history of recorded music, the transition from analog to digital, and what that means to people and society.

Damon Krukowski writes as a musician, music fan, and techno nerd, yet mixes this all together quite skillfully. He writes about context, signal, and noise in ways that will make sense to most readers.

Krukowski writes that people hear in stereo sound. That having two ears allows us to make the small, even tiny, mental distinctions providing much-needed context for the world around us. He tells one story, among others, of a person falling over while riding a bicycle wearing earbuds because, while they were focused on the sounds that were being delivered in their ears, they weren’t able to integrate and HEAR other sounds in the world around them. Krukowski asserts that our stereo hearing is incredibly accurate for providing context for what we actually hear (and need to hear, for the most part) while our brains separate signal from noise.

And what’s the distinction? The author explains that signal is the foregrounded sound we’re supposed to concentrate on, ie., music in this case, while noise is the allegedly “unnecessary” sounds that interfere with our being able to focus on signal. The role of technology in separating signal from noise provides the allegedly purer sound that one obtains through digital transmission, eliminating noise entirely. But the question is, is music without (analog) noise what we really want to hear? Krukowski makes the case that it is not.

Krukowski’s “The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World” skillfully examines the science, physiology, and effects of the changes from analog sound to digital sound, not only over time, but now in the rapidly changing musical media world in which we live. By putting our audio experience of recorded music into a bigger context of how people interact with the world, he offers a more intricate view than many who bemoan the emergence of digital music as it’s experienced through devices like head phones, iPods, and even smartphones. He argues that the digital delivery of music replacing analog, tactile music has largely been responsible for the loss of community represented by now many distant-memory record stores where people could hang out, chill, and talk with others about music and other similar interests, while shopping for tangible, artistic items of value that one can hold and play and hear signal WITH noise. He then calls for the re-introduction of the noisy environment once surrounding all music, that would lessen the near-total isolation with which people now experience music.

The only reason I am giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is that he sometimes gets caught up in going seriously too far into hard technology that one might need an engineering degree to fully appreciate, and the middle has an extended section that drags a bit as a result. However, he ultimately delivers a very thoughtful analysis at how rapid technological change leads to unanticipated social consequences that aren’t always good. A very interesting and decent book and recommended for all audiophiles, vinyl (and CD) enthusiasts, and music lovers in general.

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A Review of Long Beach State: A Brief History

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 1, 2018

Long Beach State: A Brief History

Long Beach State: A Brief History

Long Beach State: A Brief History
by Barbara Kingsley-Wilson
Scott Holstad’s review
4 out of 5 stars


As an alumnus of Long Beach State, or California State University Long Beach, as it’s officially known, I was really excited to hear this book existed, to get it and read it. And I largely, mostly enjoyed it, and am glad it was written. I liked learning lots of information about its founding and the early days, its growth through the ’50s and ’60s, and even interesting info when I was there for grad school in the early 1990s…. But… I was annoyed it was only “A Brief History,” because as one of the largest and most diverse universities in California, I thought the book could — and should — have been easily three times longer and STILL left out lots of info! The author picked a few key topics and wrote short three and four page chapters, and I felt she could and should have written 10, 15, and 20 page chapters on topics such as, say, the sports programs. Nothing about the baseball team, which went to four College World Series beginning while I was there, or much about the women’s basketball team, which went to two women’s Final Fours during the years my undergraduate alma mater, Tennessee, was winning its first of eight national championships. I also found parts of it depressing, as how while the state created the school, initially as a teacher’s college, and then as a four year state school, and finally as a state university with numerous graduate programs, including even several PhD programs now, there was never enough money for the school to do anything to help itself, and thus, for years, it was just dirt, and muddy when it rained, parking lots, with dirt roads cutting through the campus, and how it initially started in two apartment complexes and how the first buildings, still in evidence there, looked like Soviet-era concrete block bunkers, which I found depressing when I was there, and you could tell how it went through growth spurts just by looking at the differing architectural styles, and how it’s always been a commuter school, unlike Tennessee or UCLA, two other non-commuter schools I went to, and the lack of support for most of the sports teams — except for women’s volleyball, strangely, although in fairness to that excellent program, it’s won a crapload of national championships and finished as second place runner up many other times, so what awesome success, but the school has had other sports programs that have experienced success, such as the baseball team, and at times, the basketball team, and I was disappointed to see how the small part on the basketball team focused on the early Jerry Tarkanian years and never mentioned coach Seth Greenwood, who was coaching when I was there and how two of our players were drafted by the NBA while I was there, one of them especially experiencing great success playing with Karl Malone in Utah, or even how the recent teams have experienced great success and have dominated the conference, gone to the NCAA tournament, and become nationally famous for playing any team, any time, anywhere, and plenty of top 20 teams, such as North Carolina and Kansas at those schools, and being very competitive, even beating some, such as top 20 Xavier, losing at UNC by only 3 points, etc, before going on to own its conference once conference play started. Nothing about that. I would have even liked to find out some info on the water polo and beach volleyball teams! Oh well. I appreciated the history of the Greek system there, because it was an issue when I was a student, as I recall, but again, felt discouraged that CSULB constantly had to hold fund raisers in the community to do things like buy tons of peach trees to plant to hide the ugly concrete buildings, and put brick patterns on the walls of some of these buildings, thus starting a new architectural style, begging for money to finish the famous Long Beach State Pyramid, where the basketball team plays, on how they had to start a new Scholars program, done while I was there, to bring up its academic reputation and attractiveness to students by giving school valedictorians a free ride — which worked! In the 1980s, US News & World Report rated LBSU as a pretty crappy school, but for the past decade or more, it’s gotten outstanding scores in a number of areas and has been listed as basically one of the three most ideal and attractive largely non-PhD granting universities in the West, and how it’s the best school for the money, the best ROI-type school in the entire country, and one of the most diverse schools in the country, and how the students who graduate from Long Beach owe less than most students from virtually all of the other universities in the country, etc, so it’s gotten high US News scores for a long while now, and has established itself as a decent academic school, thanks to a number of good programs instituted in the 1990s and up. I’m very proud of how far my first graduate alma mater has come in just a few short years, relatively speaking, starting with practically nothing and progressing to an appealing, well regarded university. I also enjoyed reading about all of the celebrities who attended Long Beach State, like the Carpenters (they were building the Carpenter Auditorium, or whatever its proper name is, while I was there), Steve Martin, Steven Spielberg, Chris Carter, and numerous baseball players, among others. I already knew about most of them, but it was still cool to read details I didn’t know. And I had to laugh about the t-shirt I read about regarding the now-gone football team. It reads “Long Beach State Football: Unbeaten since 1991.” The program was shut down back in 1991, the year before I got there, after new and legendary coach George Allen had died unexpectedly, because very few people supported the teams by attending the games over the years, and it was a huge drain on an already always tight school budget. I was deeply disappointed to attend a school whose football program had just been shut down, especially after going to UT, where the team competed for — and won — national championships on a regular basis, but a lot of smaller schools shut down their programs back then, like East Tennessee State University, just up the road from Knoxville 100 miles, among others because it takes a LOT of money to have and run a college football program, especially if you want to truly be competitive. I came to accept this over the years, and embraced that t-shirt’s slogan to the point of ordering one from the school just a week ago, literally, and I’ll now proudly wear it and laugh to myself as people will undoubtedly look confused when they see it.

All in all, it’s a decent little book, and I’m glad it was written and I’m glad I read it. But I STILL wish it wasn’t a “Brief History,” because I think the school deserves a “Comprehensive History,” and I guess I’ll just have to wait to see that one written some time in the future. Recommended for anyone who has ever attended or graduated from Long Beach State, as well as any interested Cal State University system supporters and Long Beach/L.A. County residents.

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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 The Sentinel

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 13, 2016

The Sentinel (The Sentinel Trilogy Book 1)The Sentinel by Michael Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sentinel is the first in a trilogy set in a future where humanity has splintered into largely ethnic factions, so that the English have settled several planets, centuries ago, and the Chinese, and so on. Most have lost touch with their roots. There are aliens in this universe and they have found allies with one such species. However, another – the Apex – is a buzzard-like bird species whose only goal is the eradication of all other sentient species. And when they attack ships, settlements, worlds, etc., they feast on their prey, horrifying those being attacked as they’re eaten alive.

Now, I’ve got to be truthful. The Apex are truly silly, as written. Many aliens are in sci fi. Sometimes you really have to stretch your imagination to buy into the worlds the author is painting for you. But this beats it all. These chickens have great technology, awesome starships, great armor and weapons, better comm technology than any species in the universe, and in order for them to power their ships, they have computers, thousands, perhaps millions, of years in the future. With keyboards, not voice recognition technology. Keyboards. Thousands of years in the future. Right. And they use their beaks and claws to tap the keys on the keyboards. OK, how fucking stupid is that? We’re under attack, Queen Apex Chicken! Let me peck some defensive commands into the computer to launch our missile counterattacks. Oops, took too damn long to peck those commands. We’re blown up. Sorry. See how stupid that is? Couldn’t the author have done something, anything better, more creative than that to make it moderately more believable, if spacefaring, warring buzzards are believable at all?

Anyway, the Singaporeans have their own world and fought off the Apex many years ago and established silent Sentinel forts throughout the various wormhole galaxies to guard against Apex attacks over a decade ago. Sentinel-3, led by Commander Li, has been lying silently in wait for 11 years. And it has become factionalized over time, with nearly half wanting to remain silent and complete their mission, even if that means staying until old age and death, while the others want to reach out and contact someone, anyone, thus giving away their position and risking Apex attack. Li is going crazy trying to hold the place together.

Along comes HMS Blackbeard, a beat up Albion Royal Navy warship. The Chinese don’t even know of this world and they are prepared to destroy it, but there are Apex hiding there who attack the ship and the fortress opens fire and between the fort and the ship, they destroy seven of the eight Apex ships, knowing one got away to warn other aliens, who will likely come attack.

The captain and crew of the ship are hoping for help repairing and restocking their ship, but they are caught in a tether and reeled into the fortress, where Li’s crazy sister has taken over with the hardliner’s, who decide to board the ship in an effort to kill most of them and take some of the crew to press them into service. They are repelled. Meanwhile, Li sides with the other group, retakes command of part of the fortress, and watches while members of the ship invade his fortress and take over his command and much of the fortress, leaving him to surrender.

There’s more action and, yes, the Apex return in force. What will happen? That’s why there’s a sequel, and yes, a trilogy. These damned new military sci fi writers keep shortening their full length books into trilogies, forcing us to buy several mini-length books at a time, just to read the whole story, because truthfully, the stories are honestly often so good, that I’ve just got to buy and continue. I’ve got to know what happens next! And that’s what I’ve done with this book. I’m halfway through with the next book.

I loved the plot. The writing is decent. The editing could have been better, but among the new breed of self-published or micro published sci fi books out there, it’s one of the better-edited books. It didn’t seem to have nearly as many typos or grammatical mistakes as many of these books do. That usually annoys the hell out of me. As mentioned, the climax is left to the next book, but then all of the current military sci fi authors are doing that lately, so you just have to accept that. And these Kindle books are so cheap, it’s really no big deal. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, so four stars, but certainly recommended.

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