Saturday, November 12, 2016

Outriders

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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Running A Web Design Business From Home

Running A Web Design Business From Home: How To Get Clients, Keep Good Clients and Make Money with Your Home BusinessRunning A Web Design Business From Home: How To Get Clients, Keep Good Clients and Make Money with Your Home Business by Rob Cubbon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This tiny book/booklet is a good initial source for someone hoping to be a freelance web designer or to even start their own design business from home. It goes into how to go about setting up this type of business -- basic stuff, such as the tools you'll need, hardware, software, etc. It goes into how to get clients and how to keep them, how to get referrals, how to get clients you can establish relationships with who will give you ongoing work. While it never touches on the actual coding, it does touch on running design projects and the best way to do so. The author of this book could have expanded it and written a whole lot more, like adding about 200 more pages, but I don't think that was his intent. I think he just wanted to provide a quick start guide, for all intents and purposes, and if that was his intent, I think he succeeded pretty well. It's really not a bad book. I've read several books on this subject now, some very long and comprehensive, and this was one of the better ones. Four stars and recommended -- as a quick start guide.


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Linux Beginner's Crash Course

Linux Beginner's Crash Course: Linux for Beginner's Guide to Linux Command Line, Linux System & Linux CommandsLinux Beginner's Crash Course: Linux for Beginner's Guide to Linux Command Line, Linux System & Linux Commands by Quick Start Guides
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somewhat helpful, but very, very basic. Covers just the bare necessities, such as the shell and command line, which is good, but if you want anymore more specific, you'll want to invest in a book that is either bigger or that focuses on your own particular flavor of Linux, in my case Ubuntu. Still, a nice way to kick off an intro for a newbie.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Orbs

Orbs (Orbs #1)Orbs by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Orbs is truly a horrible book. The science is unbelievably bad, the writing is pretty bad, the plot is hideous, predictable, and stereotypical, and I can't believe I actually bought this book. It has to do with "biomes," which scientists, psychologists, computer nerds, etc., are to be living in and working in in a large cave for several months in preparation for transition to Mars, in part to see if they can withstand the radiation they will encounter on Mars. So, then why is the biome built deep underground, shielding it from said radiation, when its stated ultimate purpose is for a trip to Mars during which it will be subjected to more radiation than it would be on Earth? That literally makes no sense. And why is the leader of this group of professionals a particle physicist? Why is she even needed? She would have nothing to do with a project like this, in terms of her profession. And why in the hell does she hate the AI so damn much? It's like she has a personal vendetta against the AI, who could and is very helpful to and for the group. For that matter, why is a psychologist needed, and even a computer nerd/hacker, who incidentally has such a damned nasty and irritating personality that you hope the Marines who show up later either beat the shit out of him or "accidentally" shoot him. To death. God, that guy is a fucking asshole!

Character development is largely lacking in this book, aside from perhaps the protagonist. Most of the other characters remain empty shells of nothingness we never really get to know. The aliens who come want to steal our water supply. Not exactly new. Okay, they're blobs, but that's not exactly exciting either. The kids are freaky, the Marines are stereotypes, the science suspect. All in all, not a good effort, not a good book. Maybe one of the author's other books might be better. I haven't read anything else by this author, so I am willing to give him another chance. Nonetheless, one star and not recommended.

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The Risen Empire

The Risen Empire (Succession, #1-2)The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I just had a hard time with this book. I guess I can deal with an undead emperor who's lived and reigned for 1600 years, his beloved little sister, and his worshiping people, as well as his enemies, the Rix, but the thing that really kind of irritated me was actually the beginning of the book -- a "thrilling" space battle. At least it's supposed to be. And at first it seems like it even might be. There's a lot of tension, action, strategy, pilots risking their ships and lives traveling tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of kilometers on a mission to rescue the Child Empress, who the Rix kidnapped. How they got to such a closely guarded person of importance and kidnapped her is beyond me, but hey, it's part of the plot so I guess you have to go with it. Okay, so I was going along until I found out that these ships were one millimeter big. And that the pilots had voluntarily had themselves permanently shrunk down to one millimeter big themselves so they could pilot these bad ass ships in an effort to save the Child Empress. Of course, the author doesn't explain how a one millimeter pilot could fit into a ship of the exact same size. It seems to me that the pilot would have to be just a little bit smaller, don't you think? But maybe I'm being nit picky. No, I don't think so. I think this is a plot flaw. Also, how many people would truly volunteer to be shrunk down to one millimeter, even if it's for their leader? Is that even believable? Moreover, the tens or hundreds of thousands of kilometers the ships travel are actually going from one room in a big house or mansion or palace or something to another room. Seriously? Holy shit! I'm sorry, but when the plot is that stupid, I stop reading! Maybe the book gets better, cause after all, it has a very good rating, but at this point, I'm pretty annoyed and wishing I were reading David Weber, Chris Bunch, or even Phillip K. Dick. Cause this is downright stupid. So, I have to say that I felt that this wasn't the book for me. After all, I have hundreds more waiting for me to read them, most probably better than this. One star, which seems harsh and possibly worth two, but I'm too annoyed to give it two. Not recommended.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

To Honor You Call Us

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 na├»ve 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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Friday, October 21, 2016

From Windows to Ubuntu

From Windows To UbuntuFrom Windows To Ubuntu by Gary Newell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Windows To Ubuntu is a guide for Windows users interested in using Ubuntu for the first time. There is a chapter on how to dual boot Windows with Ubuntu, which is what I needed to read when I bought this book. This small book then goes on to cover a number of things, such as showing you around the Unity desktop, complete with sections on the launcher and the Dash. And since most people need to know how to print, there is a guide showing how to set up a printer. Additionally, as many people know, Linux-based computers typically have important security issues, so there is a small section on security, including how to add other users. Furthermore, there is a fairly in-depth overview of LibreOffice, Linux’s free version of MS Office, with guides covering Writer, Calc, Impress and Database.

This book is only 180 pages, so it only covers the basics. Don’t buy it expecting detailed information. But it’s a good introduction for Windows users who are transitioning to Ubuntu, so it’s not a bad investment. There are many other resources out there that are more comprehensive for when you’re ready to take that step. Four stars and recommended.

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Children of Time

Children of TimeChildren of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An epic story that many people love, but I just couldn't get into it. Its slow pacing and constant switching between human and insect protagonists from chapter to chapter drove me nuts. It had some interesting ideas and, yes, was fairly unique, but I actually found it fairly boring.

Humanity has destroyed Earth, but slightly before this happens, a scientist discovers a planet that gets terraformed and she hatches a plan to drop a nano-virus on some chimps to start over, minus people, but this nano will help them evolve quickly, super quickly, and will turn them into geniuses within centuries. Trouble is, the chimps never make it to the planet, so when the nano is dropped, it's dropped on spiders and ants. And so we get the tale of super spiders that grow larger and stronger and smarter over generations, so that at some point, they're geniuses.

Meanwhile, a spaceship carrying thousands of people in cyrosleep is searching for a planet to colonize and happen upon this one. As they approach it, an AI stops them and threatens them. The AI is based on this scientist, who is mad as a hatter by now.

The rest of the story revolves around what happens when the humans interact with the spiders, basically. And I've got to say, the chapters with the humans don't do much for me. The chapters with the spiders are moderately interesting, as well as with the ants. But then again, it's sort of creepy, with an almost horror-like vibe to it.

Whatever the case, it's just not my cup of tea. I had heard a lot of good things about it, so I decided to give it a try. I'm more of a military sci fi guy, so maybe I'll just stick with that. I'll stick with David Weber. This probably isn't a bad book for most. Just didn't do it for me. Three stars for boredom, as well as for possibly being overrated. Recommended for people who like hard science, but only cautiously so.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Rainbows End

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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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Linux Install or Dual Boot

Linux Install or Dual BootLinux Install or Dual Boot by Susan Tringale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very necessary book on an important topic for those of us who are not already Linux masters. Unfortunately, this book is rather light on detail and depth and leaves you guessing at a great deal of what you have to do much of the time. It covers most of the basics, but when it comes to partitioning the hard drive, for instance, it doesn't really give in depth guidance into making a decision into how or how much one should decide to do, what the decision making process should be, other than some of the base partitions for Linux root partitions, which are quite small, and have little to do with partitioning up a one terabyte hard drive. I wanted to know how much hard drive space I should realistically give to Windows and how much to Linux. Is Linux going to be as much of a hard drive hog as Windows? I somehow doubt it, but compare for me. It's details like this I missed and could have used. There was information issues that were important to deal with, but not enough on trouble shooting, which I needed because when I did this, I ran into two problems I didn't encounter described in this book or anywhere else. It would have been helpful to have more information. In short, this book is a good, basic starter, but needed more, much more for it to be truly useful and I think if there's ever another edition, hopefully it could be rewritten with these criticisms in mind. Three stars. Recommended because it's an important subject with few resources out there on it.

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