Monday, June 29, 2015

The Golden Gate

The Golden GateThe Golden Gate by Alistair MacLean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not really sure how I feel about this one. I normally like MacLean novels, and to a certain degree, I enjoyed this, but I think it had some flaws too.

The book is about the hijacking of the US president and an Arab king and prince on their coach in the middle of the Golden Gate bridge during a visit to San Francisco. Everything has been meticulously planned out. The bridge is wired with explosives. Three coaches are hijacked; the other two contain journalists and FBI agents. (MacLean somehow thinks that FBI agents protect the president, not the Secret Service.) Branson, the bad guy, and his 17 men take over and demand half a billion dollars, among other things. Fighting against them is Revson, an FBI agent posing as a photographer, who is under immediate and aggravating suspicion for being something other than what he is. Branson doesn't trust him, but has him searched and discovers nothing, so.... Revson enlists the aid of a beautiful blonde to get messages to the head of the FBI and the VP, as well as others, and to get their coded responses. He uses an ambulance for this. The ambulance delivers all sorts of unlikely weapons and the powers that be deliver a submarine for his assistance. He starts executing a psychological warfare operation against Branson and his men and it works and there's a final show down to end the book. The ending is abrupt and, in my opinion, deeply unsatisfying.

Among the things I didn't like about this book was the fact that the bad guy was so much more likeable than the good guy. He had so much more personality. Revson was a cold fish. He went about his business like a robot. Another thing I didn't like was the dialogue. I think this is one of MacLean's real weaknesses. No matter where the setting -- Brazil, Britain, Africa, the Mediterranean, the US, the Netherlands -- the people all sound the same -- like upper class British people. It's like he's never talked to an American before. I don't think he got "American" down very well for this novel. Another thing I didn't like was the opening was pretty good. It had a lot of action. Then for the remainder of the book, it really kind of just dragged. It was pretty boring. Maybe I shouldn't compare, but it's hard not to.

So, normally I would give a MacLean book a four or five star review, and I was going to give it four, but upon reflection, I think it's really only worth three stars. I'm not sure I would recommend it as a thriller. Maybe if you run out of other books....

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Eagle Station

Eagle Station (Wings of War, #4)Eagle Station by Mark Berent
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I didn't even make it to the first 100 pages. It was dull. Boring. Bland. I've read plenty of Vietnam books that were gripping, immediately, engaging, enthralling. This was none of that. There was one short piece of action, but not much else. Additionally, the book opens with two first-year Air Force Academy cadets, Dominguez and Tanaka, who are mercilessly harassed/hazed by an upper classman just cause he's a dick. You think these guys are going to be the primary protagonists when the plot shifts to Vietnam several years later, but it seems to turn out that they're merely secondary characters. So why lead off the book with them? It's confusing. Maybe it's just cause I'm not an Air Force guy. Maybe it's cause I'm more of a grunt on the ground guy, or even a Special Forces guy. The grunts have to survive in hostile territory in fear and terror 24/7 while the Air Force guys fly an hour or so, drop a few bombs, fly back and have cocktails. Big damn deal. I guess I'm jaded because I know the Air Force is important, especially these days, but I find more to enjoy reading an infantryman's book than an Air Force man's book, I guess. Whatever the case, I wasn't impressed with the writing, with the plotting, with the set up, with none of it and, especially as I didn't finish it, I'm afraid I can't recommend it.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Short Victorious War

The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3)The Short Victorious War by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Honor Harrington! She's a great character in a great series. And it's nice to have a strong female protagonist in a sci fi novel, which hasn't always been the case in this genre.

In this book, "Dame" Honor is given the honor of being given the top ship in the Royal Manticoran navy -- the Nike. She's sent out to Hancock to be the flag ship for a junior admiral who turns out to be a great guy and a great supporter of hers. However, when she gets there, her ship has suffered damage on the way and has to be docked to be fixed, which will take many weeks.

Meanwhile, the always broke Republic of Haven is plotting to attack Manticore and take their spoils, counting on their superiority in numbers over Manticore's smaller, but more technologically advanced armed forces. One of the things I liked about this book is we get a glimpse at the inner workings of Haven's politicians and military planners. We're kept abreast of things as they happen. Another interesting facet to the book is that there is a revolution taking place in Haven, and we get to see the beginnings of it.

Another thing I liked about this book is the character development we see in Honor, as opposed to other books. She grows and changes and adapts and becomes nearly human in this book and I appreciated that. In this book, she develops a love interest, which came out of the blue -- for me and for her -- but she's happy with it and that's good. However, she's so unused to being feminine that she needs help in putting cosmetics on and the scene in which she asks her exec for help is pretty funny.

Of course, it wouldn't be an Honor Harrington book without a huge space battle. The senior admiral has taken the bulk of the ships in the system to another place, gambling that's where the Haven ships will appear. He's wrong. Imagine the horror Honor and her colleagues feel when over 100 Haven ships, including 35 mega-ships, appear out of nowhere and start toward them and they only have some five or six to defend themselves with. Reinforcements are on the way, however, so if they can just hold them off for a few hours, the space station there might be saved, as well as Honor and her mates. Through Honor's ingenuity, they release hundreds of missiles at the Haven fleet and score some direct hits, destroying some ships in the process. The Haven commander is ticked! They go after Honor and score some hits of their own. Some of Honor's colleagues are blown up and Honor's ship is hit, but not too badly. Then, tah dah, reinforcements! And the Haven fleet takes off. And the main Manticore fleet that had been lying in wait goes to Haven's space station and destroys it and the rest of Haven's fleet. It's over. Honor has saved the day. My only complaint is we don't get to see the battle at Haven's space station with their fleet being decimated. Oh well. That would have made the book a lot bigger, I guess.

I do have one complaint with this book and with this series. It's sci fi. They have hyperspace, hyper drives. They can travel light years in a very short period of time. They can have video communications with each other within systems. But not out of the systems. They actually have to rely on courier boats to send messages to each other, like "We've been attacked," or something to that effect, and it can take 11 days or 17 days, etc. It seems utterly stupid to me. You're telling me that three or four thousand years from now with huge space ships and laser beams and hyperspace travel, you have to send messages by boats??? WTF??? That's the most stupid thing I've ever heard! I don't know what Weber was thinking when he came up with that system, but I'm not impressed. However, that complaint aside, it's still a fun read and a great series and I'm already looking forward to the next one. Definitely recommended.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Theories of Flight

Theories of Flight (Samuil Petrovitch, #2)Theories of Flight by Simon Morden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in a three book series and I loved the first book so much, I had to get the next two. However, this one wasn't quite as good as the first one, in my opinion. Still, it was pretty good and I enjoyed it.

Dr Samuil Petrovich is a scientist who has just discovered how to make anti-gravity. He works and lives in the Metrozone, which used to be London before Armageddon changed the world some 20 odd years ago. Before that, he lived in Russia. We're never told just how he came to the Metrozone from Russia, nor how he survived Armgeddon.

In the first book, he meets a great woman named Maddie who's an Amazonian nun with a huge gun who helps him defeat the New Machine Jihad. This book picks up four months later. And they're married. The romantic in me had hoped to see the two of them together and I'm thrilled that they're married. Unfortunately, the book starts out with his discovery of anti-gravity, only to have him receive a call that Maddy's been shot -- she's in the army now. His face is all over TV, but he can't stop to enjoy the fame -- he's got to get to the hospital. He does and she's generally OK and actually goes back to the front lines quite soon after. Meanwhile, Sonja contacts him, as does Chaim, the old cop he barely got along with from the first book. He tells Sam that the CIA is after the technology behind the New Machine Jihad and has sent agents to the Metrozone. Unfortunately, he's killed shortly thereafter. Then, the gist of the story starts. The Outties, the people who were barred from entering London during Armageddon and have lived in the outskirts in radiation ever since, are attacking with a force of some 200,000 people and the Metrozone army has to fight them off, and they don't have enough forces. Sam takes his rat, his tablet I guess, and takes off across town in search of Maddie, but finds he's on the wrong side of town and is surrounded by Outties and all of the bridges are wired to explode. Not good. He has a VR companion named Michael who he has running data crunches for him and he takes over command of the army with his help, using the US government's own computers for computing power, as well as Wall Street's. And then the book gets repetitive. See Sam run. Run Sam run. Watch Sam run. Sam runs. A lot. He's shot at too, and does his share of killing people, but mostly he runs. Along the way, he gathers up a 14 year old wonder girl named Lucy as a companion, Sonja's ninja bodyguard is killed, Valentina, a Russian mobster's hit woman who's helping him out, is along for the ride, and they all search for Maddie. Fruitlessly. By the end of the book, you're banging your head against the wall, wishing the two would just get reunited to stop the damn running. However, along the way, Sam is able to keep up with his VR, command the military, stop the attack, attack the CIA agents, rescue Maddie and Lucy, who had been captured, and the end is grand. Except you don't get to see Sam and Maddy together. She rides up on a motorcycle after he's had a meeting with some city leaders and talks to him for a minute and then rides off. And that's it! Very unsatisfying. I hope the third book will have more of her because she was such a great presence in the first book and I really missed her in this one. Still, it was a fun read, even with all of my complaints, and certainly recommended for any cyberpunk/sci fi fan.

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Who I Am

Who I AmWho I Am by Pete Townshend
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, this book was a gigantic disappointment! I got it after seeing The Who on their 50th Anniversary Tour stopover in Atlanta. Pete was funny, engaging, a great musician and all around great guy. I've always admired him. I thought this would be a great book. Boy, was I wrong.

Now Keith Richards' autobiography is the standard by which all rock autobiographies are written. It's excellent. I thought this one could mirror that at least. It doesn't. Instead, it's a series of loosely collected, somewhat chronologically arranged anecdotes, some of which begin and end with one paragraph and others of which run on for pages. Pete talks about his spiritual adviser, Meher Baba -- although he never met him -- without giving us any idea as to why he felt so strongly about him. Pete name drops constantly, without giving us much detail on who these people are to the importance of the text. Maybe a brief explanation, but that's it. A sentence. What the scoop on the band? Won't get it here. I know almost nothing more about The Who now than when I started the book. I know Roger had a temper and liked to start fights when he was younger. OK. I know Keith and John were party animals. But you never really get a sense for who these men are. What their relationships are like. How they worked together. It's very frustrating. As for Pete, he marries Karen and has two daughters. He goes on tour and tries to remain loyal, but when he gets drunk, does the groupie thing. And then feels somewhat guilty. But not very. And he constantly falls in love. Or is it lust? Pete becomes a raging alcoholic and then a raging cokehead, but eventually cleans up on the coke. He relapses on the alcohol. After 25 years of marriage to Karen, they split up and he takes a new, young lover. What were the reasons for the split up? Not really mentioned. He just said the marriage was suffering. He doesn't really get at the meat of things in this book. It's like when 11 people are killed in a stampede at a Cincinnati concert in 1979 -- you'd think that'd be time for reflection, but they just leave town and go to the next concert. Here's something that really irritated the shit out of me -- he claimed to be broke all the damn time, but in the very next paragraph was buying a new mansion and a new yacht and a new sailboat and a new car and a new studio and all sorts of expensive equipment to go into it. I don't know how many houses he had at one point, but it was A LOT! But he was broke. Um, yeah. Sure, Pete. He graciously decided to go on tour with the group after he had decided to shut the band down because he didn't want the other band members to have to live in smaller houses. Classy. Here's another thing I didn't like -- he spent half the damn book talking about albums that were utter shit while ignoring classics like Who's Next! Who cares about some of the ones he focuses on? Iron Man? Really? An album from a book from Ted Hughes? Really? And he went on and on about Tommy. We had to learn about the 8th stage production of the show on some tiny stage in some podunk town in some small state in mid-America, like it mattered at all. When he could have been writing about more important things. Like his relationship to his bandmates. Or to Karen. Or to his daughters. Or his songs. Or something. I'm so sick of hearing about Tommy I want to puke. And then there's the pedophilia thing, something I had forgotten. He sets it up beautifully. He starts implying early on that he starts "remembering" possible sexual abuse by his grandmother and a male friend of hers when he was a child. He relives this in therapy. He never goes into detail. It's just implied. Then, he mentions that he meets a Russian who wants to start a Russian orphanage who he's going to help out financially and he goes online to a search engine and types in something like Russian orphanage little boys or something like that and is all of a sudden confronted with kiddie porn. He's horrified. He's outraged. He wants to write an expose on kiddie porn on the Internet, so he goes about researching it. Sound stupid yet? He goes to a site and enters his credit card number to show that banks are working with kiddie porn sites, without bothering to think that now it's HIS credit card number the feds have on file. And sure enough, he's arrested and all ELEVEN of his computer are confiscated. And he pleads no contest. Sign of guilt? Who knows? Pedophile? Who knows? Disappointing, that's for sure. He spends a lot of time setting this topic up and then almost no time at all once it arrives and is addressed. I wonder why. Two last things. This typifies the book to me. At the end of the book, he is writing about various things, wrapping up, and he writes about being a heroin addict. Um, what the hell??? Where did that come from? When was that ever addressed in the book? Never mentioned. Damned bizarre. The second thing -- when Keith dies, he writes that Roger called him and said that Keith had did it. And that's it. That's all he says about Keith's death. So I don't know if Keith committed suicide, if he OD'd, if he died of natural causes, how this affected the band, how this affected Pete, how this affected the fans, nothing. All I know is that Pete immediately got a new drummer and got the band back out on tour which strikes me as pretty shitty. When John dies, there's more, but not much. Pete just doesn't put much into human relationships in this book. And it's sad. It's like he's an immature, self absorbed, egomaniacal-yet-frail person who wrote a bad book which was badly edited and now here it is and it's bitterly disappointing. I wanted to give it four stars or better, but I just can't and I can't recommend it either. Too bad.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Last Man Out of Saigon

The Last Man Out Of Saigon: A NovelThe Last Man Out Of Saigon: A Novel by Chris Mullin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting novel to read. You see, it's deeply anti-American and pro-Vietnamese and I think it would have helped to know these facts before delving into it, as it's about a CIA agent inserted into South Vietnam three days before the fall of Saigon. You would think it would be a CIA thriller. It's not. If you're a die hard American "patriot," you'll probably be offended by the book. If, however, you can disassociate yourself from the politics and just enjoy the book for what it is, it's not a bad book.

A CIA agent, MacShane, who's never been to Vietnam and who's worked in Bolivia and Brazil, as well as possibly Chile, doing some underhanded stuff there for the CIA, is sent to Vietnam as it's about to fall to the NVA, for the purpose of spying on the Vietnamese and possibly destabilizing their new government, as well as establishing contacts and building resistance. It sounds unlikely, but if you can get past that, then you're into the book. He arrives, Saigon falls, he stays, pretending to be a journalist. But his cover is blown and he is captured. And you immediately think, oh no, because everyone's heard of the North Vietnamese atrocities. But he's treated well. He's surprised. He's interrogated, yes, but it's not bad and he's not tortured and he's given decent food and cigarettes and is allowed to exercise and wander the grounds. After awhile, he's transported to Hanoi, where he's taken to the Hanoi Hilton, although it's not referred to as such in this book. Again, he's treated well. It's been decided that he's going to be "re-educated," so a professor comes to interact with him every day and they converse about all sorts of things. And he starts questioning his country's action and intents. Everywhere he sees bomb damage, but happy people going about their business. Everyone he meets has lost relatives in the war and are possibly scarred, but they all treat him well.

After a couple of months of this, he's told he's going to be taken out into the countryside to work in a labor camp. He panics. He decides to escape. Security is lax, so he does and escapes to the Red Cross in a hotel, who are assholes to him. Still, he spends the night with them, determined to go to the British Embassy the next morning for aid. And he does, but it's closed. And he's recaptured. And the military is pissed! He's embarrassed them. After all of their good will. He's taken to a tougher jail, but after about 10 days is taken a couple hours out of the city to a village where he will live and labor in the fields with the peasants. He knows virtually no Vietnamese and they know no English. Fortunately, there's a school teacher in the next village who knows some English, so she becomes his interpreter and teacher. And it doesn't hurt that she's lovely. Turns out her entire family, as well as her fiance, were all killed by the US. Bombs fell everywhere. It's made pretty clear in this book that the Vietnamese aren't the ones committing torture, the US/CIA is. The Vietnamese aren't the ones bombing villages, the US is. The US government commits murder, yet the Vietnamese people love the American people, with whom they have no argument. Sounds like a type of utopia, doesn't it? MacShane begins to really enjoy farming with these people, who accept them as one of their own, and he falls in love with Ha, the school teacher, who falls in love with him. She knows the US will come get him some time, but he wants to stay there and marry her and be a farmer. She won't hear of it. So his former boss, the asshole who betrayed him to the NVA, comes to Vietnam to rescue him and MacShane confronts him with his evidence. The official tries to cover up, but off they go into the sunset, back to America, leaving MacShane's heart back in Vietnam forever.

Ah, romance. Seriously, a little iffy there. I did some Googling of the author. Turns out he's a British left wing Labour Party politician who's written several books, at least one of which has been turned into a movie. He's so left wing, he scares his left wing colleagues. And his wife is Vietnamese. So I guess it should come as little surprise that he's rabidly anti-American and pro-Vietnamese in this book. My "patriotic" inclination is to not like that, but since I'm feeling royally unpatriotic these days with all of these crazed Republican assholes running around like nutjobs claiming to be patriotic, maybe I'll side with him. After all, I think we shouldn't have been in Vietnam to begin with. It was a civil war and one we had no business intruding in. And as many atrocities as the North Vietnamese committed, and yes there were many, I'm sure the US committed their own as well. So, would I recommend this book? I'm not sure. Perhaps. But with the caveat that you go in with the foreknowledge that you know what you're getting yourself into. If you do that, it's an interesting book. Although, frankly, it's not much of a thriller. Very little action. Not much at all. In fact, I'm not sure why I'm even giving it three stars. I guess because it was pretty original. Otherwise, two. Very, very cautiously recommended then.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Deepsix

Deepsix (The Academy, #2)Deepsix by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book in The Academy series and I loved it. Hutch, the space ship pilot from the first novel, is back, a number of years later, still piloting ships around for the Academy.

A back plot. An earth-like planet is found and a group of scientists found to explore it, but they're nearly all killed by bird-like creatures. One scientist named Nightingale remained alive. Fast forward twenty years. In the same system, this same earth-like planet is about to collide with a huge planet floating through space destroying everything in its path and the smaller planet is going to explode. Naturally, the Academy had sent a team of scientists up to view this once in a lifetime phenomena and then the unthinkable occurs -- evidence of civilization turns up. A tower is found buried in ice. A scan is completed and entire cities are found buried beneath the ice. It's important to find out what civilizations lived there, what happened to them, what they were like, etc., before the planet explodes. Unfortunately, the scientific ship doesn't have a lander, so there's no way they can make it to the planet's surface. However, Hutch is in a ship nearby with a few other people, including Nightingale, and they're ordered to the planet's surface to explore and gather as much evidence as possible in their lander. So they do. In the meantime, another ship has appeared, carrying gawkers, including one insufferable Gregory MacAllister, a writer, editor, and all around snob, who agrees to a young writer's request to go to the surface to conduct an interview. So they join Hutch, who is none to happy to have them.

Hutch finds some really good stuff. But the big planet is approaching and wreaking havoc with the weather. There's an earthquake, and MacAllister's lander falls down a new crack in the ice, wrecking. He and the female reporter take off in Hutch's, only to crash land a short distance later. She dies, as does one of Hutch's crew. That's two landers. They need another one to get off the planet. An emergency signal is sent out and yet another ship is contacted by the Academy with instructions to go to their aid with their lander. However, they are sabotaged by a bigwig on board, who releases the lander so they won't have to go, and so he can go to his precious dig on another planet which is oh so much more important than people's lives.

What the hell are they going to do? Nightingale suggests their only chance may be to hike the 200 kilometers across difficult terrain with alien animals that want to eat them to find the old lander his old crew abandoned with the hope that it would still work. So they go off. And are attacked. And lose another crew member. And during this journey, MacAllister learns to become human, which is refreshing. And Hutch displays her exceptional leadership qualities. Meanwhile, the ship's captains are meeting with scientists to see if anything else can be done. Seems like there's one more long shot and it's got to work, because the old lander won't have enough power to get out of orbit. An alien object has appeared. It's many kilometers long and has a net at the end of it with an asteroid caught in it. They decide to cut it up and weld it into a scoop, so Hutch can literally fly into it and be scooped up in this object. So volunteers from the ships learn to weld and go out into outer space and do the job, all the while with time running down. The two worlds are about to collide.

Hutch and one of the girls make it to the lander and it still works, so they take off. They need some technical stuff left back at the tower scavenged from their old landers, so they take off for it. However, Marcel, their ship commander informs them that the tower is about to be completely submerged in water due to the planet's ongoing issues. They make it back and sure enough, it's submerged and they're screwed, so they head back to recover MacAllister and Nightingale. Then they head for a high area. They're told of the scoop plan and they hope, oh, they hope. But it seems to unlikely. They'll have seconds to do it before the scoop leaves the rendezvous area. To top matters off, the Academy has found another area on top of a mountain that they want explored -- with the worlds about to collide -- while waiting for the scoop to be completed, so the lander heads off to the mountain and they encounter a flat surface on top of the mountain and evidence of civilization. It appears that two life forms were on the planet -- hawks and crickets. It appears that the hawks appeared out of nowhere to save the crickets with their own scoop thousands of years ago. What happened to them? No one will ever know. Some stuff happens. The action is breath taking. Finally it's time, so they head off to meet the scoop. Only to have the net on the scoop tear when a meteor field rips through it. Man, will nothing work? Are they saved? I'm not going to say because I don't want to give away the ending. I want you to read it for yourself. But I thought this book packed a lot more action into it than its predecessor and I was glad for that because I got occasionally bored with the first one. I saw character development here, character depth, science at work, alien culture, space ships -- hey, it's good sci fi! I've already got all of the other books in the series and I'm already looking forward to reading the third one. Definitely recommended.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

A Poverty of Words

A Poverty of WordsA Poverty of Words by Frederick Pollack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Frederick Pollack is a thinking man’s poet. And that’s shown through in his new book, A Poverty of Words. It’s not an easy read. It’s, at times, hard to get through. Sometimes you feel like you need a dictionary or a thesaurus, or perhaps even you need to be able to Google classical Greek names and terms. But it’s worth it. Because after you’ve finished this book, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, and so did the poet writing this book.

While Pollack can sometimes take a narrative tone, he’s no Bukowski. He’s a little more “upscale.” Sometimes he bridges the gap between ancient and contemporary, as in “Tristia,” where Ovid dreams of telephones and email as he lives in exile. His poem entitled “The Recession” should be a mandatory reading for those in need of lessons learned.

Indeed, Pollack takes on a number of issues in this book, including homelessness (“The Soundwall”) and politics, in several poems. In “White House Talks,” subtitled “July, 2011,” he writes, “The most rational man in the room/never sighs or rolls his eyes/or interrupts. “ Some of the people in the room love their freedom and can do nothing but talk more and more about it, all the while while money talks. The poem ends, “feels confident/it will back him rather than these yahoos/and almost sighs, a courtesan among whores.” In “Hasty Orion,” he refers to the “’Kenyan’ commander-in-chief.” In “Troll,” he refers to himself as a “libtard” or “liberal retard.”

Pollack is a teacher/professor, as I once was, and I quite enjoyed his taking a little pot shot at students in “Charisma”: “As he spoke, the IQ/of his class diminished./When he reached the tenth minute/they had forgotten five./As he finished that sentence/they lost its beginning.” Oh, how I have had those feelings in years past! Standing in front of a group of people with their eyes glazed over doesn’t do much for the ego.

One of his poems that closes the book, “The Former Tenants,” is rough and gritty. In it, the speaker looks at a former group home that can’t sell and wonders why. “The town-house where the group home was/isn’t selling. Perhaps it’s the recession;/perhaps the barred windows, odd in this neighborhood./Or an echo of screams in the walls/Except that such effluvia don’t exist./Paint cures what it covers; people live/dreamlessly where prisons were, and torture.”

A Poverty of Words is, at 130 pages, a nice sized volume of poems, just about the right size. I don’t know what the price is. My only real complaint, and this is minor, is that the acknowledgement page comes at the end of the book and is an insert, something I’ve never seen before. Mine fell out of the book entirely. I don’t know why they chose to do it that way, but it’s highly unusual. Acknowledgements typically come at the beginning of poetry books. Most of the poems in this book appear to have been published in a wide variety of magazines, although I confess to not having heard of a number of them. That just means I shall have to look them up and more reading for me, right? Frederick Pollack accomplishes a lot with this book. It’s a big endeavor and he succeeds. Recommended? Definitely.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

No Man's Land

No Man's LandNo Man's Land by Eric L. Haney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fairly well written thriller with not quite enough action that has a plot with an odd twist/ending.

Tanner is a Delta vet who is hired by the US government to find the little grandson of an emir whose son and family were killed by terrorists and who is being held hostage somewhere in north Africa. He's given virtually unlimited resources to do this. One of the things that was strange for me right off the bat was that the location of the terrorist army was easily pinpointed and known by all involved. Okay, how did that happen? Then, Tanner and his crew go to a group of Bedouin-type tribesmen who have a bone to pick with this army and align themselves to attack their fort together. During all of this, everything goes right for Tanner. In fact, during the whole book, everything goes right for Tanner. He finds the boy and the boy's nurse and rescues them, the militia exact their revenge, he sends his crew away and he's off to Italy, where he actually encounters his first difficulty, only to escape it almost immediately. And that's why this book gets three stars instead of five. It's not remotely realistic. Nothing happens so easily to a thriller hero. Something always goes wrong. In Alistair MacLain's work, numerous things go wrong all the time. Makes it more exciting. This? Just not believable. I doubt I'll pick up another Tanner novel. It was too disappointing. Not recommended.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Nothin' To Lose: The Making of KISS

Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975)Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS by Ken Sharp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, this was a fascinating book! It's a behind the scenes look at the creation of KISS and their rise to fame, circa 1972-1975. It's co-authored by two band members, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, so you see a lot more of their viewpoints than others, but they have good stuff to share, so it works out. It's interestingly presented in that it's 99% interviews. The primary author, Ken Sharp, sets up a chapter or section with a brief paragraph and then there is page after page of interviews with band members, managers, record company owners and employees, producers, DJs, fans, concert attendees, and other bands, some of whom liked KISS and some of whom hated them. Very interesting.

KISS got its start in Queens with Gene and Paul wanting to start a band. They found Peter Criss, their drummer, through a newspaper/magazine ad, and I think they found Ace by guitarists trying out and him standing out to them. The band started out named Wicked Lester and they only played at the Coventry. Apparently, in the early '70s, there were only three clubs in all of NYC that would take bands playing original music -- all of the rest wanted covers. KISS wasn't about covers. KISS was about heavy metal partying. They were about girls and love and lust and life. Nothing subtle. Nothing to think about. Not your thinking man's band. But they played the hell out of the Coventry. Then they got a gig at a club in Amnityville, out on Long Island. Yep, that Amnityville. And by this time, they were wearing early versions of their makeup, although Paul was just wearing red lipstick and rouge. (Even after reading this book, it still isn't clear to me who came up with the kubuki makeup thing. It happened early. It was obviously a gimmick. I just don't know.) Glam was popular at the time, and KISS wanted to out-glam all of them. They found a manager and then started doing gigs at an old hotel in NYC, a place where other decent bands had played, but was run down. By then, several people had heard of them and were started to come see their shows. Their manager sent them on the road. To tiny little places no one's ever heard of to play at places like high school cafeterias and barns. I'm not kidding. And they went all out, pretending they were at Madison Square Garden every time. They thought they owed it to the audience and they were trying to build an audience one person at a time. They went on a three city Canadian tour and froze their pants off. Again, they played in odd places. They were glad to get home.

A fellow came into their lives named Neil Bogart, who was a record company owner. He loved KISS and could envision big things for them, so he started a new company called Casablanca, aligned it with Warner, and signed KISS. KISS made a record. The record didn't sell. They continued to tour. They opened for just about anyone. They opened for folk artists. They opened for comedians. They opened for Manfred Mann, who hated them. They opened for ZZ Top. They opened for Slade. They opened for Black Oak Arkansas, which was a strange combo. They hated each other. They opened for Black Sabbath. Sabbath hated them and dropped them from the tour midway through. Still, they soldiered on.

By this time, their show had gotten big. They had their makeup and costumes. Gene was breathing fire and spitting blood. They had huge amps and could blow the sound of just about anyone off the stage. They had drums on risers. It was pretty professional, especially for an opening act. It got to the point where not many bands wanted KISS to open for them cause they were concerned about being upstaged.

A side note. The band were not partiers. Gene and Paul didn't drink or do drugs. Ace drank a lot, but kept to himself. Peter enjoyed the girls. They all enjoyed the girls, actually. The rumors about the groupies are apparently true. Lines and lines of girls waiting to be let into the hotel rooms of these guys just for a quickie. Bizarre. I've never understood groupies. Still, they didn't trash hotel rooms or do crazy things like Zeppelin did and other bands.

A second album came out. Sold about the same amount as the first. Not much. They couldn't get radio airplay. They weren't a singles band. They also couldn't get press. Rolling Stone detested them. About the only magazine to cover them was Creem, based in Detroit, the city KISS made their home. They considered themselves to be a blue collar rock and roll band playing gritty, real life stuff and they thought they would appeal to blue collar workers who had shitty jobs who would like to bang heads for a few hours. And they were right.

Sometime along the way, Neil cut ties with Warner because he didn't think they were promoting KISS sufficiently, so he took a big gamble and mortgaged his house and maxed out his credit cards. KISS was losing money like crazy. Still, everyone thought they'd make it. Big. It was just a matter of time. There were more and more fans. The shows were getting sold out. You'd see t-shirts and posters. People would call up radio stations and ask for KISS.

Third album -- Dressed to Kill. Had "Rock and Roll All Nite" on it. Didn't chart. They couldn't buy radio airtime. It did sell better than the first two albums, but not enough to generate enough money so that they'd go into the black. What to do?

Someone came up with the idea to capture the intensity of their live shows on an album, because they just didn't think it was happening with the albums they had put out so far. So Alive was born. It was a double live album and had a great cover shot of the band and it sold -- in the millions! And "Rock and Roll All Nite" (live) made the top 20. All of a sudden, they were international stars. Someone in middle America, a schoolboy, decided to start the KISS Army, to which I belonged as a kid, and it grew to become huge. All of a sudden, they were headliners. Pre-Steve Perry Journey opened for them. Rush opened for them. Rush and KISS came out about the same time, KISS perhaps a year or two earlier, so they could each relate to how things were going for each other. KISS loved Rush and Rush loved KISS. They had nothing but great things to say about each other in this book. Some kids at a high school in the midwest wrote KISS to ask if they'd come to their homecoming and they did! The whole town came out for it. Everyone dressed as a KISS member, babies and old people. The mayor gave them the key to the city. This, after the local clergy had taken him to task for allowing them to come to town. Hah! It was fun to read about.

One of the great things about this book is all of the pictures. There are hundreds of pictures of KISS, of liner notes, scrawled lyrics, fliers from early shows, etc. Real collector item stuff. The reason I'm giving this book four stars instead of five, however, is the incredible redundancy. The author would raise an issue, there would be an interview quote about it and then something like 10-15 more just like it. It's like he was beating you over the head with it. It really ticked me off. Just give us a few. Some of these interview quotes were completely unnecessary. Did he have a page count he had to make? It just went on and on. The book gets a five for the photos and a three for the redundancy and a four plus for the story, so a solid four overall. Recommended.

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When Eight Bells Toll

When Eight Bells TollWhen Eight Bells Toll by Alistair MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was pretty good, but not MacLean's best. It's an action/thriller set at sea featuring British Secret Service agent Peter Calvert and his boss, Admiral Sir Arthur Arnford-Jason, called Uncle Arthur for some reason. Calvert is witty, but is also a cold blooded killer. He's also a bit of a misogynist, although that may be a product of the book's publication time of the 1960s more than anything.

The opening scene is spectacular, one of the best I've read. It really leaves you breathless. People are trying to kill Calvert. Why? Who? Well, as is the case with most MacLean heroes, Calvert displays superhuman skills and stamina to get to those trying to get to him. A plot is uncovered, a piracy plot, in which people and ships are disappearing, people get murdered, and a helicopter he's in gets shot down. One thing that frustrated me about the book, though, was that you don't really have a clue what it's all about until you're about two thirds of the way through it. By that time, you might be irritated you've read so far without having been told what's going on. Calvert, though, seems to know a lot and likes to tell people what's going on, even after Uncle Arthur has said things about need to know. He has his reasons though. Of course, with most MacLean novels, there's a twist at the end of the book, although I found it a bit convoluted. Call me a dullard and I won't take offense. I just had to read extra carefully to make sense of it all. Another thing that bothered me was the plot seemed just so unrealistic. I don't see how anyone would have done what was done in this novel. Too much chance to plan realistically. Still, it lends itself toward excitement. Whatever my complaints, this book is action packed and rarely slow. Lots of violence, if that's your thing. It's very similar, I think, to a James Bond film -- just more violent. Think of the era of publication and it makes sense. Recommended? Yes.



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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Special Ops

Special Ops (Brotherhood of War, #9)Special Ops by W.E.B. Griffin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I gave this book a chance, I really did, but I found it so bloody boring that I just gave up after 130 pages (which is a lot more than I'd usually give most books!).

It's part of a series, apparently the last one, and in it US Special Forces serviceman Jack Portet has just finished helping Belgian paratroopers liberate his family from Stanleyville in the Congo and is being reunited with his fiance, Marjorie Bellmon. Why his family is in Stanleyville, I'm not sure if we're ever told. It's a big mystery to me. And Marjorie is the daughter of a general, which makes Jack being a sergeant a bit of a problem. However, the main plot of the book is supposed to be about the arrival of Che Guevara from Cuba in a hope of driving the fascist imperialists out and bring communism to the people of the Congo. Yep. This is taking place in 1964, btw.

Aside from mistakes made in the book that other people have pointed out, like Kennedy Airport being named such in 1959 when it wasn't named that until 1963 and Visa cards mentioned in the late '50s when they didn't come into existence for another decade, I was quite simply just bored. I never knew that everyone in the military knew everyone else. General So and So? Oh yes, I know him. His daughter is my son-in-law's best friend's neighbor. General Such and Such? Know him too. We served together 30 years ago. Different units, but I've heard of him. Geez. So many dinner parties. So many wedding and honeymoon arrangements. So many vacation arrangements. Don't these people ever freakin' DO anything? Could they be any more boring? I know this has a good rating on Goodreads, so I know I'm in the minority, but I guess I just didn't get it. I don't see what's so great about this book. Maybe if I had labored through the whole thing, I would have ended with a different perspective, but I just couldn't do it. Not recommended.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

On Basilisk Station

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1)On Basilisk Station by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flawed, but entertaining.

Honor Harrington, newly-promoted Captain in the Queen’s Royal Manticoran Navy, has taken command of her first space cruiser, Fearless, and she is elated. She's worked for this moment for years. Unfortunately, an enemy has seen to it that she and her ship is deployed to Basilisk Station and its planet, Medusa, a low-status assignment that basically entails acting as customs agents. Morale is low. Morale creeps lower when the higher ranking officer in the system, Admiral Young, takes his ship home for refitting, leaving Honor and her ship alone to police the entire system with their light cruiser that has been retrofitted and had armaments taken from it. The worst part is the neighboring system of Haven is planning on invading Manticore and taking over Medusa by way of the wormhole junction terminus at Basilisk Station. It's enough to make one pull one's hair out!

This is a pretty good sci fi novel. There are aliens, on Medusa, fights between spaceships, political goings on, battles between Marines and aliens, spies, plots, etc. Through it all, Honor keeps her cool and does everything perfectly. And that's one of my problems with the book. She's too perfect. One could not be any more perfect than she is. She knows the exact right things to say at the exact right times and the exact right things to do at the exact right times and she toys with the lives of her crew, which costs the lives of over 100 of her crew members, by playing guessing games with a Haven warship captain, assuming he'll do this and do that, which of course he does. And so she defeats him, at great cost to herself and her crew. She has a temper too, but only once does she display it and it's in private, after her parents have been threatened by the richest tyrant in the system. Another thing that bugged me about this novel was her exec. He resented Honor, but Weber beat this to freakin' death! They didn't develop the right relationship. There wasn't mutual trust. He wasn't working with her. What was wrong with him? Why didn't he meet her halfway? OMG. Over and over again. I wanted to kill the guy, or Honor, or both. And you knew he would come around and they would become best buds, which is exactly what happened halfway through the book. Duh! Weber, come on! And then there were the long, drawn out discussions of technical details, which I could have done without, and so could tons of other people if you go by the other reviews out there. One occurred during a tense action scene. An eight page discussion of FTL travel interrupted this action sequence at the most inopportune time and you just have to wonder what the hell the author was thinking when he wrote that. Oh well.

Even with all of my bitching, I enjoyed the book. There was a lot of mystery, a lot of intrigue, a lot of action, and it was nice to see a primary female SF protagonist who was in command because of her brains, not because she was hot. The inner monologue was sometimes overlong, but it was also good to see Honor step through her options as she thought through things. And of course, she saved Manticore from Haven and was rewarded for it, so that was a nice ending. This is the first book in a series and I'll probably read more. I have one other book in it, although it's not the next one. I'd like to read the next one next, so maybe I'll just go ahead and get that. If you like good, entertaining sci fi, I'd say I'd have to recommend this one.


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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Alistair MacLean's Death Train

Alistair MacLean's Death TrainAlistair MacLean's Death Train by Alastair MacNeill
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Poorly conceived and poorly written. It started off rather clumsily, but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and continue. And at times I was glad I did. At other times, I wanted to chew my own head off. I can't believe I finished this trash. Alistair MacLean was a master. Alastair MacNeill is an imbecile. I don't know how much of the book MacLean had written at the time of his death, but I'm willing to bet MacNeill wrote about 95%+ of this. MacLean couldn't possibly have written such junk.

It's a new world calling for new types of security, a type involving world cooperation. Thus, UNACO is born. The United Nations Anti-Crime Agency is known only at the top levels of the United Nations and has unlimited powers and funding and it pulls in its agents from the top intelligence agencies around the world.

Enter George, Sabrina, and CW. These are our heroes. They're sent to Europe to look for six kegs allegedly containing weapons grade plutonium on a train. They're to find the kegs, and find out who's behind this nefarious plot. CW goes to Germany where it seems the plutonium originated from. He poses as a journalist and is met by the PR director of a big nuclear plant who is, of course, hot and who blows his cover on day one. But oh no -- she's trapped and in trouble and her office is bugged! She needs saving. Someone follows them and attacks her. Someone is after CW. What will happen?

Meanwhile Sabrina and George get on the train. George is a gruff asshole who hates Sabrina because she's a rich, hottie princess who, he thinks, got the job through her father. However, she's the best shot in UNACO and that's how she got the job, and she's a sweetie who we all fall in love with. Sickened yet? On the train, George meets someone who has constructed a game that he agrees to play. It involves putting your hand in constraints that contain electrical voltage and putting your hand on the board, the voltage increases and the first person to move their hand away loses. How stupid is that? So Sabrina sees an old ex of hers who's a world renown billionaire on the train with some losers and starts talking to them. One of the losers is an assassin and tells this rich guy that this was the woman who killed one of his henchmen earlier. So they plan to snatch her. And they do. And she gets arrested and thrown into a Swiss jail, where she's booked on a murder charge. And UNACO gets her off and puts her on the train again, via helicopter. George has been joined by a Russian KGB agent working for UNACO dressed as a priest and soon they're joined by Sabrina, who's dressed as a nun. Forgive me if my memory falters, but I think George and Sabrina are captured once again and escape once again and are put on the train once again. But I could be wrong.

Meanwhile, CW is making headway in Germany. The head of product testing is trying to kill him and CW confronts him and he's taken into custody. Pleased that things are working out so well there, he's prepared to leave to go back to NYC when he gets a frantic call from the PR lady with a man telling him to go to the nuclear plant immediately, so he does. When he gets there, he's disarmed and taken to a place in the plant with a large pool of water, where he's taken up a ladder onto a catwalk. Only to be met by the PR woman with his gun pointed at him. Huge.Shock. Never saw that coming. Yeah. He kills her. Spoiler, sorry.

The train makes it to Italy, but the car carrying the kegs is missing and so are the bad guys. Turns out they're headed for Libya, by way of another African country. George and Sabrina take off, Berretas in hand. This author really should be a salesman for Berreta. They're taken to the rich guy's plant by helicopter, disable a guard, go in a warehouse and see the bad guys. They've been instructed to assassinate them. As Sabrina gets ready to go for the kill shot, she hears something and discovers it's a rat. So the poor, stupid, pathetic girl shrieks and falls to the floor, dropping her gun, resulting in the bad guys shooting at them and capturing them once again. *shakes head* So they're going to be killed, right? How? George is going to put his hand back in that game and play a death match with one of their men, who has never lost. So how will Sabrina die? We're never told. While George is struggling with his pain, Sabrina is cutting her bonds loose with broken glass and then frees George. A guard comes back and announces he's to kill them and George twists his neck and kills him. Just like that. Easy as pie. And so the chase continues. The rich guy has the detonator for the plutonium. He presses it as they're killing him, spoiler -- sorry -- and nothing happens. All the bad guys get killed, the good guys win, they go back to NYC to celebrate, George asks Sabrina out on a date and the KGB chief in charge of all of this is placed under arrest, but apparently chooses to kill himself first. Book over.

There are so many stereotypes. And so many foreshadowed moments you just see coming. And so little character development. And such a stupid plot. And UNACO is all powerful. Must be nice, right? This will undoubtedly be the only Alastair MacNeill book I read. Definitely not recommended.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Engines of God

Funny, I thought this book would be boring, but it really wasn't. It was pretty exciting. It's got space ships, scientists and archaeology of ancient alien civilizations, alien space stations, other worlds and other beings on other worlds, not all nice either, murder, love, mystery, a sense of foreboding -- what more do you want? Hutch, the protagonist, is a space ship pilot and while many reviewers complain that her character doesn't develop sufficiently for them, I really enjoyed her. I did feel, however, like it was two novellas loosely connected, as though there were a climax in the middle of the book and then, boom, off to a new adventure. That threw me. The ending was also somewhat abrupt. But I enjoyed reading about the Monument Makers, the alien languages and symbols, the fight to remain alive in what appears to be a dark moment for all. This is the first in a series and I've already gotten more books in this series. I want to find out more of what happens. I was quite happy with this book and think this is what good sci fi should be. Recommended.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ambient

AmbientAmbient by Jack Womack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant! Ambient is a 1987 (publication date) update of A Clockwork Orange with some additional ultraviolence and a new language thrown in. The author even pays tribute to A Clockwork Orange early in the book.

In this book, we follow O'Malley, a bodyguard for a dysfunctional CEO of a major company in a 21st century dystopian New York City. Avalon is Mister Dryden, his boss's, mistress/concubine. She's very young and very hot and has a thing for wigs. And O'Malley is in love with her.

O'Malley has another side to him. His sister is an "ambient," or a genetically modified mutant living amongst each other who have their own language-within-a-language and who tend to be pretty violent. But hey, everyone in this book is violent. Rapes, muggings, murders, etc., are commonly seen and passed on by. O'Malley lives with Enid, his sister, in a run down nightmare of a place where no sane non-ambient would go. He's accepted there because of her. Oh, and in addition to naturally occurring mutants, there are those who wish to join them and become ambients. Enid is one of these. She's 6'3" tall and has spikes sticking out of her head, pointed sides out. She's also had her breasts cut off. She has a girlfriend who's a psychopathic midget. Normal, right?

The army is fighting another army on Long Island and boys are being chewed up left and right. It's your duty to serve, unless you can get a sweet gig like O'Malley has. The army boys are always shooting at people, into crowds, on buses and trains, raping girls in the streets -- they're insane.

Meanwhile, Mister Dryden's father, who worships Elvis, owns the corporation and seems to be wanting to re-take control of what he's given his son. He views his son as unstable. His son views him as unstable. Something's got to give, right? Well, Mister Dryden convinces O'Malley to put a bomb under his father's desk next time they're visiting his estate, so he does. And he and Avalon finally hook up. Mister Dryden tells O'Malley he'll have to get out of the country for awhile until the coast is clear, so he makes plans to do so. He and Avalon decide to go together, so after the bomb is set, they take off. And encounter some problems. People are out to get them. But why? Turns out Avalon knew about the plan, knew where the bomb was and went into the office and changed the time for it to go off when both Mister Dryden AND his father would be in there. However, they don't know if it went off, or if it did, if the men were in there. So, they don't know if there's a manhunt on for them or not. And apparently there is.

O'Malley takes Avalon to his place in the Ambient part of town to hide out. The next morning, there's a car outside, waiting. So they take off. And a chase ensues. They wind up down in the subway tunnels and come across a religious service the ambients are having, who do not like being interrupted. Just as they're about to be killed, Enid intervenes and saves their hides. She and her girlfriend then take them through the sewers to a safe house. Tired, they fall asleep. When O'Malley wakes, he finds Avalon gone with a left for him note saying, "You're next." He's both frightened and livid. He figures Mister Dryden has done it, so he goes after him. Then he goes after his father. He's introduced to Alice, a monster computer that knows just about everything and is reunited with Avalon, who appears to have betrayed him to Mister Dryden's father. He can't believe it. And then ... what? Do you actually think I'm going to tell you the ending? No way! It's a great book and you'll have to get it and read it and find out for yourself what happens. Apparently, this book is part of a series, perhaps the first one. If so, I want the others. It's kind of cyberpunk, but not really. It's kind of sci fi, but more just dystopian, so if you want to classify that as sci fi, have at it. It was a hard book to read because of all of the violence, and I've seen and read more than my fair share. At some times, it felt like a nightmare. I was honestly glad when it was over and I had finished. But I loved it. It was really original and really awesome. The characters were great, the plot was great, the dialogue was insane. Good stuff. Five stars. Strongly recommended, if you can stomach it.

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cybernetic Jungle

Cybernetic JungleCybernetic Jungle by S.N. Lewitt
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Stupid, stupid, stupid book. Allegedly a cyberpunk book, although I found no evidence of that. In fairness to you and to the author, I didn't finish the book. I thought it was too hideous to continue after the first seven chapters. But boy, what a disappointment!

Paulo Sylvia (a girl's name?) and his best pal form a gang in Brazil in the near future to compete with other gangs, dealing with the drug market. They are part of the outcasts of society. Meanwhile, the wealthy elite have it sweet and a young lady named Zaide is a member of such a family. Zaide dreams of escaping her family's estate to go to the city to experience life in a different way. Sylvia wants cash and revenge for a broken family. They meet at a Carnival-like festival, where they dance and exchange sweet nothings. Yep.

Where's the sci fi, you ask? I asked that too. Well, there's a robot that's a death machine. And. And. And that's about it. Sylvia has a teflon knife and a crossbow pistol. You can't even tell if this book is taking place in the future. Sure, there are helicopters, but we have those now. They have the World Cup. BFD. Yawn. A lot of attention is paid to Zaide's long, beautiful, lustrous near-black hair, as well as to her attire. If I didn't know better, I'd say this is actually a romance written under the guise of a sci fi novel. But surely the author, one "S.N. Lewitt," wouldn't have done that, right? Well, I checked the copyright page, and the copyright is made out to "Shariann Lewitt." Yep, a woman sci fi writer. Who has written a romance disguised as a sci fi novel to make some cash. I'm disgusted. I hate to sound like a total sexist pig here, but why do so many female sci fi novelists have to write romances? In fairness to them, why do so many male sci fi authors have to write sexually perverted scenes in their books, like Heinlein did? Totally unnecessary. I want hard sci fi. I want military sci fi. I want true cyberpunk. I want Philip K. Dick. I don't want this trash.

If I had continued on, maybe I would have ended up liking the novel, but I doubt it. I gave it 70 pages. That's more than enough. It didn't even deserve that much. Definitely not recommended.


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Friday, June 5, 2015

The Transvection Machine

The Transvection MachineThe Transvection Machine by Edward D. Hoch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh no! Vander Defoe, the inventor of the new transvection machine that's going to save humanity, has been murdered! At least that's how it appears. He goes to the hospital to have his appendix removed and the mechanical surgeon causes blood to start spurting out at the first incision and the human nurse helping out can't save him. Since Vander is one of the president's cabinet members (of extraterrestrial defense?), it's important to get to the bottom of things. So the CIB is called in. The CIB stands for Computer Investigation Bureau, and their director is Carl Crader. His younger sidekick is Earl Jazine. They head from NYC to DC to meet with the president and be briefed by his assistant, Maarten Tromp. There are possible paths they could follow, but where to start? Crader decides to return to New York to look for a criminal who has escaped a prison on Venus named Euler Frost. He was in prison for murder and had been hooked up with a revolutionary group of people dedicated to eradicating the world of the computers and machines that have taken over society. He sends Earl to investigate Vander's wife, Gretel, and his ex-parter -- and one of her lovers -- Hubert Ganger. Turns out they had talked about killing Vander just that day, only they don't tell Earl that. They deny all knowledge. That path is taken away. Earl goes to interview the nurse, thinking she had to have been the murderer since everyone knows machines can't murder, can't make mistakes, can't screw up. She denies everything, says everything went by the book. He interviews her doctor supervisor who stands up for her and the hospital, again saying it couldn't have been the machine. What now?

But what is the transvection machine, you ask? It's a device that transports anything and anyone from one place to another, whether it's in a room, different cities, or possibly even different planets. Vander is the only one who knows how it works and he's proven it works by transvecting a monkey from Boston to another city and by transvecting a Chinese girl from the US to India. The government is seriously interested in his machine, because if it can be proven to transport people between planets safely, then they can populate Venus and beat the Russo-Chinese at it, the country that is dominating Venusian populating. But there's a dark secret behind the transvection machine.

Crader is concerned about Frost, because apparently he escaped from Venus last week and could have made it back to earth in time to kill Vander. Turns out Frost is back. The author gives us the story from everyone's vantage point throughout the novel, which is interesting, but at times a little irritating as well. And he does try to kill Vander, but his plot is foiled when one of his assistants appears and saves him from his unsuspecting death. A CIB researcher has found out that the revolutionary group Frost was a part of has actually grown during the time he was on Venus and is headquartered on a small Pacific island known for tourism. Crader decides to go there to look for Frost. On the way, he meets a minister and they strike up a friendship. The minister decides to stay on the island with him, so they can have a good time together. And that is his undoing. The minister is none other than the leader of HAND, this group, and he kidnaps Crader, but only to have him return to the president to relay a message to him, that Gloria Chang has gone over to their side. Crader does this and the message is meaningless to the president. But things are starting to make sense to Crader. And also to Earl. He sees the nurse creeping along the street by the new White House, seemingly hoping not to be found, and witnesses her meeting someone in a parking garage. The man she meets is the doctor. Earl confronts him and the doctor attacks him and escapes. Sometime later, the nurse re-enters the operating room to look at the machine, which couldn't have done it, and is murdered. By whom? The machine again? Earl is at the hospital looking for her and encounters the doctor, who he confronts again. The doctor pleads innocence. Just then, Earl looks up and sees Vander's ex-parter in hospital scrubs and takes off after him. Meanwhile, HAND is planning to destroy the computers at the Federal Medical Center, to spark a revolution against computers and technology everywhere. And Crader has had plenty of time to think about HAND's motivations and has doubts about computers himself now.

And that's all of the plot you'll get from me! If you want to know who murdered Vander, if HAND succeeds in blowing up the Federal Medical Center, if a revolution is started, what happens to Frost, what happens to Crader, etc., you'll have to get the book and read it yourself. It's a very short book. I read it in a day. It's an easy read too. The science is hogwash, but if you can get beyond that, it's an enjoyable story. And Vander's wife, soon to be ex, is a drug addled nympho, who's pretty funny. My only real complaint about the book is that the author is SO anti-computer, SO anti-machine, SO anti-technology, that he beats it into your damn head virtually every damn page! It gets old very fast. Talk about beating a dead horse. And this is sci fi!!! I understand, however, that the author is actually a mystery writer, so maybe he was anti-technology. This was published many years ago. Who knows? It's just damned annoying. Still, as a lightweight, escapist read, it's fun. Somewhat recommended.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Equations of Life

Equations of Life (Samuil Petrovitch, #1)Equations of Life by Simon Morden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this book! Great dystopian novel. Samuil Petrovitch is a Russian ex-pat living in the London Metrozone after an apocalypse, that we're told little about, has occurred some years in the past. He's a grad student in physics and about to solve the problem of time travel with a colleague. Then something happens. He gets involved. He notices a beautiful young lady about to be kidnapped and possibly assassinated and grabs her. A chase ensues and they escape. The police get involved, of course. Turns out she's the daughter of the biggest Japanese mobster there is and the Russian mob was out to get her. Now there's a price on his head.

The book is one major chase scene after another through a rapidly deteriorating London. In the midst of this, he meets Maddy, a young Amazonian nun with the biggest gun he's ever seen. They become partners. See, the girl he saved does end up getting kidnapped after all and he vows to save her. In the meantime, something called the New Machine Jihad starts tearing the city apart, with all of the electronics going crazy. He comes close to dying I don't know how many times and many people do die in this book, but it's not overly gross. I was reading Jack Womack's Ambient at the same time, another dystopian novel that I really enjoyed, but I was seriously glad to be done with it because its violence was so insane. Not so with this book. My only real complaint with this book was the ages of the primary characters. Petrovich and Maddy are both about 20 and the girl he saved, Sonja, was about 17. Yet all have the emotional and mental abilities of people much older, in their mid-30s perhaps, as well as academic and work qualifications. Not totally believable there.

I don't want to give away the plot ending and apparently there are two sequels, so I put them on my Amazon Wish List, as I really enjoyed this book and want to read more. I can see why this won the Philip K. Dick award. It's not really cyberpunk, although it's got some elements of it. It was published in 1987, so technology was more limited then. Still, the author did foresee some things, which was pretty cool. If you like this type of novel, try it out -- you won't be disappointed. Recommended.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Puppet on a Chain

Puppet on a ChainPuppet on a Chain by Alistair MacLean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars or four? Three or four? How about three and a half?

This Alistair MacLean book is an odd one. It's darker than his other books, and even creepy. It's about Paul Sherman, a British Interpol agent, in Amsterdam looking for the source of drug trafficking into Britain. Aided by the Dutch police and by two good looking female assistants, he's almost immediately thrown into the thick of things when the person he was coming to meet is gunned down at the airport in his sight. After that, he's followed to and from his hotel throughout the novel.

It was amusing to see "cannabis" as the source of so much evil in this book, considering pot is now legal in several states. However, the main drug Sherman is after is heroin. And he finds it in the strangest of locations. One of my complaints about the book is, after years on the case -- from afar -- and after the Dutch have done nothing, in one to two days, Sherman finds the drugs, the source, the dealers, everything. It's not very believable. In fact, the implausibility of the story is something I just don’t like about the novel. Sherman is constantly having his gun taken from him by the bad guys, who never kill him, thus giving him the opportunity to escape. He's above the law, breaking numerous laws himself as he tries to find out what he's after. The person we think to be the main dealer, Reverend Goodbody, has a whole town under his spell and willing to commit murder for him. Really? Then there's the life-like female puppets hanging from a chain on top of a warehouse. It's too much to take.

Additionally, Sherman isn't very likeable. He lies constantly. He's a sexist pig. (This book was written in the 1960s....) After treating his female assistants like annoying children the whole way through the book, at the very end, he all of a sudden wants to marry one of them. Say what? He's so condescending. Prig. I wanted to like him. I wanted to be on his side. The bad guys were so bad, that I had to be on his side, but I think I secretly wanted him to die too. Terrible of me, I know.

This book is not the author's worst, but it's far from his best -- very far. It is fast paced and entertaining, yes, but just not very believable, and that knocks it down a star for me. The sexism knocks it down another star. Three stars. Very cautiously recommended.


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Monday, June 1, 2015

Misquoting Jesus

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyMisquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Misquoting Jesus through carefully and thoughtfully and concluded it was an excellent book written by an author who clearly knows of which he speaks. Before I started reading it, I had read a number of reviews online, some supportive, some negative. The negative ones seemed to say that, yes, well, everyone knows there have been changes in the Bible over the years. Big deal. They’re minor and they don’t change the overall theme of the Bible. Well, after reading this book, I beg to differ. Like the author, I grew up believing the Bible was the inherent word of God – God’s chosen words as inspired to be written by several select human authors. You had to believe everything. Of course, as I grew older, I began to have doubts. For instance, take all of Leviticus. No one stones their children for being disobedient, people eat shrimp and bacon, men cut their hair and beards, etc. But if you followed the Bible like you were supposed to, you couldn’t do those things, right? So that prepared me for the cherry picking that Christians do with the Bible left and right to suit whatever agenda they have. So textual changes can make a big deal, yes, especially when non-changes like those in Leviticus make a big or non-big deal, depending on how you view things.

Before, I go any further, let me state that I view myself as a Christian. A liberal one, not a fundie or even an evangelical, which is what I grew up as, but still, a Bible reading and respecting Christian. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate though.

Early in this book, just to show people what sort of things they’ll be exposed to, Ehrman shows us some discrepancies. He calls them mistakes. These include when Mark says Jesus was killed the day after the Passover meal, yet John says he died the day before it. And Luke indicating that Mary and Joseph had come to Nazareth a month after going to Bethlehem, while Matthew says they went to Egypt. And in Galations, when Paul says he did not go to Jerusalem after his conversion, while the book of Acts says that’s the first thing he did upon leaving Damascus. And on and on.

So what happened to the Bible? Who changed it and why? Well, the author would have us believe that scribes, both professional and nonprofessional, made numerous changes, both unintentional and intentional over the course of centuries and that as these manuscripts were handed down as gospel, the changes were handed down, so that there was no longer any possible way to know what it was the authors of the Bible and specifically the New Testament wrote. He goes into elaborate detail on the details of scribes having to copy letter by letter books (letters) of the New Testament, as well as other documents, and showed that many of these scribes were barely literate themselves, if at all. One example of unintentional changes were that Greek at the time was written without spaces between words, so that a particular phrase that was meant to have meant one thing, could have actually meant something else when copied or transcribed or translated later on. Intentional changes were made by people who, perhaps, wanted to include an agenda against women in the church when none, perhaps, may have existed in the original texts.

The book that the King James Bible was founded on was the Johannine Comma by Erasmus. The author takes great pains to show its flaws. Meanwhile, there were those who were intent upon translating the Greek New Testament and providing scholarship for it. One such person, John Mill of Queens College, Oxford, spent 30 years back in the seventeenth century compiling a list of “variations,” or discrepancies (or mistakes) in the various manuscripts he had available to him, dating back to the oldest texts available. He found over 30,000 discrepancies! That’s right – 30,000. The author then goes on to say that currently, we possess over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, 57 times as many as Mill, and that there are now known to be between 200,000 and 400,000 discrepancies in the New Testament, or more words than exist in it. It’s stunning. If that doesn’t show that the Bible is NOT the inherent word of God, I don’t know what will. And if you follow that logic, then if it’s not, then how can you believe any of it, or know what to believe or not believe?

I had meant to write a much more detailed review, but feel that I’d never finish with it. Hopefully I’ve made my point. The author certainly made his with me. Needless to say, he no longer thinks the Bible is the inherent word of God, and I’m not sure I do either, or that I have for some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain words of God – just that it was written by people and they can make mistakes over the course of centuries. I’d strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject.



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