Saturday, May 30, 2015

Floodgate

FloodgateFloodgate by Alistair MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To a large degree, I enjoyed this book although it did have some flaws. First though, the plot. Terrorists attack the Dutch by threatening to destroy their system of dykes and flood the country unless their demands are met. After awhile, a nuclear threat is introduced into the equation. A senior Dutch policeman goes undercover and penetrates this group, who is coincidentally linked to a couple of other groups he's been working on, and with the help of a couple of friends, helps to save the day. But there's a lot of tension, a lot of drama. The gist of it is this terrorist group wants the Dutch to intervene with the British to get the British to withdraw from Northern Ireland (I think). The terrorists, whom you might expect to be reasonably intelligent and prepared, are portrayed as dolts and this Dutch cop as a superman, which isn't very realistic and which I thought was a weakness in the book. The real weakness, though, and this has been noted by many reviewers, is the dialogue. There's too damn much of it and it's unrealistic! For great lengths of time, there's nothing but dialogue and you just want something, anything to happen. And then you realize that no one speaks like that, from the good guys to the bad guys. It's silly! MacLean was definitely not a man of the street, I'll tell you that. The sheer weight of the dialogue really brings this book down a star, if not two, because it's so heavy handed, so clunky, so bad, so unnecessary. Just give us some damn action, Allistair! I enjoyed it, sure, but it's far from his best. Cautiously recommended.

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Runner

Runner (Run #1)Runner by William C. Dietz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. It was pretty much non-stop action and fairly exciting. Hard to put down.

In the distant future, universal technology has crumbled, leaving humankind to exist in a kind of medieval/20th century existence, minus any real technology -- with the exception of a series of rapidly decreasing star ships that go from planet to planet, transporting what people they can, as they were programmed to do hundreds of years ago. It's a bit of a bizarre premise, but if you can accept it, you're off.

Jak Rebo is a runner. Runners are hired to travel from planet to planet to deliver items for a stiff price. He's hired to deliver a young boy to another planet. This boy is part of a large religious sect that thinks he's the reincarnation of their leader and has to be tested against another boy from another sect. The problem is, this other sect wants this boy, Lee, dead. (The religion is obviously based on Buddhism.) Along the way, they pick up a female sensitive (clairvoyant) named Lanni Norr, through whom Milos Lysander, the dead founder of the Techno Society has chosen to reveal himself. The Techno Society wants to get the long dead star gates working again, the AIs working, technology working, and will stop at nothing to achieve this, so it's imperative they communicate with Lysander, who doesn't want to communicate with them, only to the general population through Norr. So Norr becomes their target. Additionally, to complicate matters, along the way they pick up another traveler, a giant who's wanted dead or alive, preferably dead. The chase all makes for good reading.

This is the first book in a series, apparently, and I enjoyed this one so much, I'll have to get the next one. I don't know how many books there are in this series, however. If you like an entertaining read and enjoy sci fi, this book's for you. Recommended.


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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

J.R.

J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in HockeyJ.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey by Jeremy Roenick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very enjoyable book to read, even if you're not a huge fan of Jeremy Roenick. I gained a lot of respect for him as a player as a result of reading this. He obviously loves the game of hockey and played with a lot of passion. Over the course of his 20 year career, he became one of a very few American-born players to score more than 500 career goals. Pretty impressive.

Roenick grew up a hockey player. He was playing pee wee hockey at 10 and his parents were traveling to other states to take him to tournaments. He moved around a lot as a kid, mostly due to his father's occupation, but as his hockey playing skills grew, his parents' determination for him to succeed grew, so his dad did something totally bizarre. Rather than take a promotion to a warm weather city like Dallas or LA, he took an entry level demotion to move to Boston so his son could grow up entrenched in a hockey atmosphere, losing some 50% of his income in the process. Still, he must have been doing pretty well, because JR went to prep schools, where he dominated. So much that he got drafted by Chicago after his junior year of high school. He wasn't even 160 pounds yet. Strangely, even though he wasn't into academics, he decided to go to college and went to Boston College -- for 15 minutes. Long enough to read the syllabus for a class and decide it wasn't for him. So soon, he was NHL-bound. He played a year in the minors, but got called up to Chicago and scored. The rest is history. He had a tough coach, was surrounded by good players, was a tough player himself, could score a lot, was a fast skater, a scrapper, and excelled. He lasted eight years in Chicago before they shipped him off to Phoenix, where he stayed for five years. Then he went to Philly, where I think he was also there for about five years. L.A. for one abysmal year, then two years with San Jose, then retirement. Along the way, his body took a lot of punishment. Hundreds of stitches, many broken bones, most teeth busted. Abused. He also partied his ass off, even though he was married. Strangely the book evades the topic of groupies. Gee, I wonder why? LOL! He devotes a chapter to a gambling problem he had, which was pretty bad. He played a lot of pranks. He was the life of the party, an entertainer. When he retired, he didn't know what he wanted to do, but he felt like he wanted to stay in front of the camera. So when NBC offered him his job as an analyst, he jumped for it. And I like watching him now. I think he's very good. There's a funny story in the book about a disagreement he and Mike Milbury had in the studio about a hit on Kris Letang which nearly brought them to blows. Speaking of Penguins stars, in the book's first paragraph, JR calls out Sidney Crosby for not showing enough or proper leadership. Which I tend to agree with, and I'm a huge Pens fan.

This book isn't the best autobiography I've ever read. There should have been more about the game of hockey itself and more hockey stories, with fewer party stories. But it's still quite entertaining. One area of confusion. He goes out of his way to ensure you know he's American, dammit! Yet the book is written in Canadian English (defencemen, cheque, etc). WTF? Whatever. I enjoyed it. If you like hockey, you probably will too. And even if you don't like hockey, but you like a good story, this might be a good book for you. Recommended.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Flight of the Condor

Flight Of The CondorFlight Of The Condor by Richard P. Henrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a word: cheesy. In another word: dated. In yet another word: entertaining. This book, published in 1987, is about a nuclear showdown between the US and USSR. America has a satellite up at all times overseeing Russia and their nuclear threat. When that satellite goes bad, it falls to earth and another one replaces it. Only this time, it doesn't. And one of the top Soviet generals takes notice. And decides he wants to take this opportunity to nuke the hell out of America while they can't spot what is going on over there. The US tries to launch another satellite on a Trident missile, only it's apparently shot down. They then decide to dust off the space shuttle, "Condor," and launch it manually via that. Word gets through to a terrorist organization and to the Russians and they both send teams to dismantle things. Meanwhile, this book is about subs. Our heroes are on a diesel powered sub called the Razorback, shadowing a Russian nuclear sub. And they want to take it out. Yep, they want to start WW III by sinking a Russian nuclear sub. Brilliant. As one of the crewmen puts it toward the end of the book, "...why didn't they blow away both vessels and be done with it. These were their waters. Another foreign nation had absolutely no business there. How much better it was to be safe now than sorry later." So they sink a French sub, thinking it's a Russian sub. With absolutely no ramifications. None.

There are a lot of discrepancies in the book. The dialogue is wooden, at times, and hardly believable. The situations are absurd. The feared Russian Spetsnaz are shown to be total pansies when the chips are down, thanks to American military police heroes. Uh huh. An oceanographer discovers an old college flame who's now a paleontologist with students on a dig near Vandenberg air base. So they immediately start up where they dropped things off 15 years previously and the reader has to suffer through lines like, "...he slowly gave himself until all was given. A whimper passed her lips as this gift was received deep in the tight, warm recesses of her womb." I'm not kidding. Worst sex scene ever. And there's an earthquake in Alaska that causes a tsunami to hit northern California. I have yet to figure out how this added to the plot. The oceanographer and an engineer fear sabotage and try to warn the Air Force higher ups, who won't listen, so when the Russians and terrorists are defeated and the shuttle makes it up and the satellite is launched, Russia backs down and the day is saved. Cheesy. Yet still somewhat entertaining. I wanted to put this book down and did a couple of times, but found myself drawn back to it every time, wanting to know what happened next. Not sure why. It's poorly written, the plot is bad, the dialogue choppy, but I still kind of liked it. A guilty pleasure? Sorry. I can't recommend it. But if you happen upon it in a used bookstore like I did and can get it for a buck, it's probably worth it.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Signal to Noise

This book wasn't too bad. It's a novel about a dystopian future world where Jack Potter is a cryptographer at a university ... and then things go downhill. It starts with his place being broken into and rapidly degenerates into his encountering aliens who are intent upon trading technologies with he and his best friends. The science is pretty hard in this novel. The author has a couple of science degrees and it shows. I frankly didn't understand a fifth of what I read. But what I did understand was scary. Jack gets some technology that will enable him to cure cancer, to delay aging, that will be a miracle drug, and he and his friends set up a corporation to start producing this. All the while, he's being pursued by the NSO, the government agents who want him dead. Simultaneously, China plays a role, as they apparently want into his head too, as his "uncle," who is a spy for them, does brain surgery on Jack and puts in an implant that partially blinds him. All the time, the people can interact via "bubbles," or VR-type environments set up in various locations. Meanwhile, one of Jack's friends screws him over with the company and takes control, all the while while this alien is becoming more and more demanding. It seems that Jack has even gotten in contact with other aliens, has given up their location to the original alien, only to find that these newer aliens have been eradicated. So, killer aliens. Ultimately, the aliens come for Earth, while Jack's former friend aligns herself with the evil NSO. One of Jack's last pieces of technology he gets from the aliens allows for travel virtually anywhere in the universe, so he sets up camp on the moon, gets a few allies from earth, and watches as the planet is essentially blown up. That is worth an extra star in my book. Heh. Of course, there's a sequel and I guess I'll have to read it now. It's not exactly cyberpunk, although there are elements in it, and it's not exactly hard SF, although there are elements of that too. It's a pretty good book and comes reasonably recommended.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Veteran

The VeteranThe Veteran by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Veteran is a book of five longish short stories by Forsyth, some of which are quite good, some of which are less so. Nearly all of them have somewhat surprising plot twists toward the end which give the reader a pretty good jolt.

The first story, "The Veteran," is about the murder of an unidentified old man by two young thugs. The police search everywhere for his identity, but to no avail. Then, to everyone's surprise, the best defense lawyer in London takes these thugs on and wins their case. Then ... plot twist.

The second story, "The Art of the Matter," is a delightful and heavily researched story on the art world and how a young art professional at an auction house gets royally screwed by a big wig there and his story of ultimate revenge. It's pretty sweet.

The third story, "The Miracle," is about an American tourist couple in Italy who happen upon an Italian of German origin in a town there who tells them a miraculous story, only to have, ta dah, a plot twist at the end. *** SPOILER ALERT *** I don't view this story as plausible after thinking about it though. To think that this man and his accomplice could set up their scam in a specific courtyard out of the way in this town and just expect suckers, like these tourists, to happen along and listen to a lengthy tale, only to give up their cash, is beyond belief. Just not realistic.

The fourth story, "The Citizen," is about drug running, with a mega plot twist at the end.

The final story, "Whispering Wind," is the one everyone raves about. Everyone seems to love it. I hated it. I couldn't stand it. It's novella length and I just couldn't finish the final 50 pages. I gave up. I was so bored. The story is about the life of the only white man to survive Custer's last stand, and you would think, interesting premise, right, especially as written by an upper class Englishman. But Custer hardly appears in this story and it turns into a fantasy story, and I hardly view Forsyth as a master of fantasy. Stick to the spy/thriller genre, Mr. Forsyth. Please. I hated this story.

All of this said, it's a pretty solid book and if you're a fan, you must read it. If you've never read any of his work, this really isn't representative of most of his work, but it's not bad. Somewhat recommended.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Rakehells of Heaven

The Rakehells of HeavenThe Rakehells of Heaven by John Boyd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with how many stars to give this book. On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was pretty original. On the other, it's not particularly well written, it's dated, and full of stereotypes. In it, two space cadets find a world similar to Earth with aliens similar to people, albeit mostly naked. The ship's commander, Adams, is a born again Bible thumping evangelist, while the other, O'Hara, is an Irish drunken lout who's hornier than anyone in the universe. Within minutes, O'Hara has sampled the local flavor, much to Adams' disgust.

This world is not broken up into countries, but into universities where everyone studies. The two spacemen find out they can teach noncredit courses, so they get started on Earth's art, drama, history, literature, ecology, emotions, legal systems, military, etc. And so they start these people down a slippery slope, for these people take things literally. Soon there is violence and then a police force. Then a guard of "centurions." Meanwhile, O'Hara is screwing every female alien on the planet and Adams falls in love with one and gets married. Both are committing big time Navy regulation no nos, so they'd likely be prosecuted with at least a court martial if found out. Soon, there is a murder, the first on this world in over 5,000 years.

O'Hara is the drama teacher here and puts on plays with his students. He takes many liberties with Shakespeare and the Bible. Adams doesn't appreciate it. There's a lot of tension. Meanwhile, Adam's wife becomes pregnant and has a daughter, who looks like O'Hara. Adams explodes! I won't give away the climax of the book, but the book is framed in such a way that it begins with the arrival of their starship with only Adams on board. While he is being debriefed, this tale emerges. At the end of the story, he simply walks off. What, no court martial? No firing squad? WTF? He violated about 100 regulations and he's simply going to get off? That doesn't make any sense to me, so I'm knocking it down a star just for that. Otherwise, it's an entertaining story -- with lots of sex -- although, not particularly well written. The dialogue isn't really believable. Can't say I recommend it for a general audience, but a sci fi fan might like it.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Naked Came the Robot

Naked Came the RobotNaked Came the Robot by Barry B. Longyear
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Naked Came the Robot is the craziest book I have ever read. It's simply insane. It's barely linear, barely sticks to the plot, which is a robot-run world is being invaded by alien robots and must fight them off with the help of human, Henry. Whose mother is made into a robot, with his permission. Coin operated sex with robots is one of the more normal things in this book. There are talking protoplasms, a general with turtle flappers for arms, a colonel who's a lobster (who is subsequently eaten), a robot best friend named Hugo, an old man wearing a red bra and panties and surrounded by teddy bears found in a looney bin, armed Amish, underground freeways, the nuclear deterrent between the US and the Soviets (this was first published in 1969), a world now run by the Economy rather than the military, wizards, talking roaches, references to Crane and Carrol and Dante, etc., a scene from hell, and more. It's nuts. Somehow a story emerges and somehow a story is told, but it's the telling that's entertaining, not the storyline itself. I'd give it a five on originality and about a two on actual writing, as it appears to have been written by a college English major undergrad. So three stars it is. If you want something crazy and witty and entertaining, it's recommended. If you want serious sci fi, avoid it like the plague.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Terminal State

The Terminal State (Avery Cates, #4)The Terminal State by Jeff Somers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Avery Cates is back in a big way! This is the fourth book in the Avery Cates saga and I'm glad I gave it a chance. I hated the third book. I didn't even finish it. As I recall, while reviewing it last fall, I was put off by Cates always being so damn exhausted, so tired, so fatigued, so desirous of wanting to just lie down and die, so much so that I wanted to lie down and die, so I put the damn book down to die. Thankfully, this book was much better.

In The Terminal State, Cates gets rounded up and forced into the army, where he's given a nano tech upgrade. While he's under, the legendary Cainnic Orel, that hard-to-find foe Cates is dying to kill with his bare hands, buys him from the army and sets him on a mission. How, you might ask? With his new tech upgrade, his head is given a remote control explosive, as well as a pain device, so that the holder of the remote can send shocks of horrific pain through his body or even just blow his head off. So, it's do the mission and hopefully get to kill Orel or die.

The mission seems somewhat straightforward. With two others, Mara and The Poet, make their way into Hong Kong City to kill a techie named Lindholm and steal a "God Augment" he has created, which is a piece of tech that gives someone fantastic abilities and powers. Cates barely tolerates Mara, who he figures out is an avatar (of Orel), but what he doesn't realize is that The Poet is also an avatar of Belling, another old nemesis. It's a fantastic mission and it's amazing to see how the three get into Hong Kong City and get to their target without getting killed. One of my only real complaints with the Cates character is he always gets the hell beaten out of him and gets up and keeps going. I mean, he takes more than any human could possibly take and keeps on going. It's not remotely realistic. But it's sci fi, so leave reality at the door, right?

The ending is awesome, with Cates being recaptured by the army and his old pal Remy leading him away to execute him, only to find Remy goes missing from his unit. Great open ended ending.

I had thought this was a four book series, but I found out it was a five book series, so now I'm going to have to read the fifth book. I hope it's as good as this one. The first two were quite good. As noted previously, the third one sucked. This one got the series back on track. Where will the fifth one take us, Mr. Somers? Recommended.


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Friday, May 8, 2015

Fumbling The Future

Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal ComputerFumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer by Douglas K. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is an excellent overview of how Xerox created the first personal computer in 1973 and then did absolutely nothing with it, due to unbelievable incompetence, thus losing out on the biggest market share any company has probably ever seen and billions of dollars. It supplements Dealers of Lightning, which is an excellent book on Xerox PARC, the research facility behind the creation of the computer, and gives a behind the scenes look from the top level down of the company as a whole. Thus, I think the two books go well together, hand in hand. By 1973, PARC had created a system they called EARS (Ethernet, Alto, Research character generator, Scanned laser output). So, they invented ethernet, the PC (the Alto), the mouse, and the laser printer. They also produced the first bit mapped images on the first GUI displays, some of the first and easiest programming languages, the first easy to use text editor, and a host of other things. And all Xerox management did was pretend they didn't exist. Cause Xerox Sold Copiers!!! What the hell were computers anyway? They were just glorified word processors for secretaries. (Wouldn't that have given them enough business to start producing them?) By the time 1980 rolled around, it became clear that other companies were eating them for lunch and their market share had plummeted, and IBM was rumored to be investing in their own PC, so Xerox finally got serious. With the Star. Created by a group that was separate from PARC, Xerox's embarrassment. When the Star was released, it cost about $12,000 and needed a $30,000 printer and God knows what else. And it wouldn't run anyone else's software. Meanwhile all of these little Japanese companies were creating cheap PCs with standardized parts that could run anyone's software and use anyone's parts. The Star was a disaster. Xerox was never the same. I seriously hope the morons at the top learned their lesson. Finally, I noticed this book was published in 1999, although first published in 1988 by iUniverse, which is a self publishing company. I have no idea why these authors self published. In my opinion, this book is good enough for a traditional publisher to have snapped up and published. Maybe they were just impatient, I don't know. Regardless, it was a good book and certainly recommended for anyone interested in learning about the interesting history behind the first personal computer.

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Warrior: Frank Sturgis

Warrior: Frank Sturgis---The CIA's #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by WatergateWarrior: Frank Sturgis---The CIA's #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by Watergate by Jim Hunt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is about a legend in the subject's own mind. And perhaps the co-authors'. And perhaps even a few others. But he's really not all that. This book is poorly researched, is largely hearsay, is mostly guided by the nephew of the subject, who lived with him for awhile and is one of the co-authors, and seems spurious at best.

Sturgis joined the Marines in WWII and fought in the Pacific, winning several decorations. He was later stationed in Europe after the war. This is where he began spying for the Zionist movement for Israel, pre-Mossad, something which would have been illegal and would have resulted in dishonorable discharge at best and perhaps even loss of his citizenship. After leaving the Marines, he joined the Navy and the Army, although in what capacity, I'm not sure. The book states he served in all four armed services, but he did not serve in the Air Force, one of a number of factual mistakes made by the authors.

Following his military career, Sturgis, who's real name was Fiorini and who changed his name to suit his circumstances some 33 alleged times opened up several bars, but grew restless, so he became a mercenary and started becoming involved in several South and Central American country's military efforts, both in terms of training and arms supplying. At some point, he became interested in Cuba and was put off by the dictator there and intrigued by the new rebel, Castro, who promised reform and democracy. So Sturgis went off to offer his help to Castro. He trained his rebels, supplied arms and ammunition, an airplane and boats, and helped Castro and Che take over Cuba. A famous picture of Sturgis holding a rifle and identified as a captain in Castro's army standing on a mass grave appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper, which later got him into trouble. When he returns to America, he was stripped of his citizenship, and held for trial. His Florida senator got him off. He returned to Cuba, retained his status in the army, was given control of the air force, and was then made the gambling czar. In this capacity, he met all the mob bosses, many of whom he pissed off, most of whom he forced back to the US. Still, he seemed to be on good terms with them. During this time, he was approached, apparently, by a CIA agent who asked him to spy on Castro and supply them with any information about communism or anything else that could be indicting. Since Sturgis was extremely anti-communist, he agreed. And he was becoming nervous. It seemed Castro was backtracking on his promise for democracy and was filling his cabinet with communists. Che played a big role in this. Sturgis thought it might be time for him to head back to Miami. But first he contemplated assassinating Castro. It wouldn't be the first time he'd done such a thing, apparently. He was, after all according to the book, the CIA's "#1 Assassin-Spy," and someone Castro later called the CIA's "most dangerous agent." He apparently had at least four opportunities. On page 80 in the book, it states "Throughout his anti-Castro career, Frank participated in more than 150 air operations and 60 boat incursions. As Frank put it, these missions were done both 'with the green light and without the green light'." So one of my biggest questions about the book is, at some point, Sturgis is asked why he didn't pull the trigger and he replied that he never got the green light. So if he hated Castro that much, why suddenly wait for the green light when everything else he does is done without any authority? That makes utterly no sense at all. It sounds like a bad cop out and I don't buy it.

In 1959, Frank leaves Cuba for Miami, where he sets up an anti-Castro operation, where he sends in teams of people, including himself, to disrupt, antagonize, breed anti-Castro resentment, etc. It barely ever works. He does this for the rest of his life.

Much later, he is hired to commit the Watergate burglary, where he is caught and goes to prison. He allegedly does this as a CIA operative, along with other CIA operatives, most of whom are Cubans who the CIA are just dying to hire to join the CIA fresh off the boat (sarcasm intended) when Sturgis remains an independent contractor his whole career and is never an actual employee of the Agency.

One thing that's interesting about the book is the Kennedy assassination conspiracy. Apparently there are those who believe Frank was involved and indeed was the "only one who could pull off killing Kennedy." Um, right. Yep. Apparently, because of his Cuban connections, his mob connections, and his right wing CIA connections, all of whom wanted Kennedy dead, he was the one to pull it all together and pictures show him as one of the tramps on the grassy knoll. The two co-authors offer their own interpretations, one of which places him in Dallas on hand and ready to pull the trigger, and the other of which states that he had to have been in Miami through an eyewitness account, but that he could have overseen everything and indeed, probably did. If this is true, it's likely the only successful thing he ever did, as he failed at unseating Castro and he failed at Watergate. Now, he did help assassinate a couple of small time banana republic dictators, apparently, so I guess that's something, but for a man who considered himself a true patriot, he sure did a lot of unpatriotic things, including hating Kennedy for life after the Bay of Pigs incident, which he apparently trained the men for, and including virtually everything else he did.

Enough. It's hard enough to believe that much of this is true. If it is, Sturgis was an interesting failure. He's dead, so we'll never truly know. His nephew thinks he knows, but he doesn't -- it's conjecture. The tale is fascinating, but largely unbelievable and thus not recommended.


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