Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Boys of Winter

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey TeamThe Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was both an enjoyable book to read while being simultaneously frustrating as well. It was enjoyable because it gave the story of the miracle on ice, the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team's triumph over the big, bad USSR team which always won gold medals and which had just crushed the US 10-3 10 days before the game. You also get to read about the coaches and players and that's cool. However, it's frustrating because of the way the author chose to construct the book. I realize I'm in the minority here, as many reviewers have expressed admiration for this style, but it annoyed the hell out of me. He starts with the game. People are skating, the puck is being passed. Several minutes into it, a particular US player gets the puck and then you immediately are torn from the game and given a lengthy story on the player, beginning with his birth, his upbringing playing hockey, his pee wee days, his middle school days, his high school playing, his college playing and stats, his status on the Olympic team, who he married, how many kids he had, what career he had after the Olympics were over, and everything up to the present, which is 2005, when the book was published. These breaks last probably 10 pages or more and break up the continuity of the game endlessly. It happens all the time. It's so damned annoying. Just as you're about to get into a rush to the goal by the US, the author breaks away for one of these long profiles and you forget about the game. Or not. But by the time you return to the game, you're so ticked, you no longer care. I have no idea why he chose to do it this way. If I had been writing it, I would have had profiles of all the players in one location, either in the front, the middle, or at the end, and then the game in its entirety.

So the Russians score first, of course. A lot of attention is given to goalie Jim Craig in this book, but deservedly so, because in my opinion, he single handedly won the game for the Americans. He stopped dozens of shots. He had an amazing night. We tied the game. They scored again. We tied it again. Then in the third period, another tie -- 3-3. With 10 minutes left in the game, US captain Mike Eruzione, a household name back then, came down the ice and got one past Russia's world class goalie to put the US up 4-3 and all the US had to do was hang on. And they did. Game over, America wins, stuns the world. And this was a semi-final. We still had to win the gold medal, which we did against Finland a couple of days later. Our coach, Herb Brooks, was a royal jerk to his guys, but he motivated them to win. The Soviets were stunned, but many drank congratulatory cocktails to the Americans later that night, which was classy of them.

It's kind of funny how the day after I finished reading this book, I read how Jim Craig is putting all of his Olympic stuff up for auction for about $6 million. Weird how things work out. Brooks died in a car crash a few years ago. The team was at the funeral. It was good to catch up on guys whose names I had forgotten and to relive an event I watched on TV so long ago. It has a special memory for me. Aside from my criticism, this is a good book and the author is a good writer, so it's recommended.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Omega

Omega (The Academy, #4)Omega by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was somewhat disappointed in this book, especially when compared to its predecessor in the series, Chindi, which was an amazing book. The series features an Academy pilot, Hutch, who everyone loves. She constantly saves the day through smarts and bravery. In this book, however, she's no longer a pilot. She's now an administrator for the Academy and when we do see her, she's taking flak from everybody for not being able to grant inane wishes or she's sending messages off to her star ship pilots. That's all we get from her. Major disappointment.

In this book, we get more of the Omega clouds, monstrously huge clouds floating through space, decimating virtually every city on all worlds they encounter. One is headed for earth in about 1,0000 years. Meanwhile, they find another that's turning and heading for an earth-like planet in about nine months. The problem is, this planet is inhabited by a pre-industrial, but still advanced civilization. Aliens. They look vaguely similar to us, in a cartoon like way, and have amazing architecture, libraries, restaurants, theaters, temples, etc. There are 11 cities on this planet, all fairly near each other. And they have no idea what's about to happen to them.

There's an Academy ship out there and the four people aboard are instructed to go down to the planet and interact with the aliens, who are being called Goompahs, a term I learned to utterly hate by the end of the book. The team wears clothing that make them invisible and they go into the cities, but Dig, one of the book's heroes, starts a stampede that kills the leader of the team, so something goes wrong right away.

Another ship is on the way with supplies, including dozens of things to be placed around the cities to eavesdrop on them so we can learn their language. Because the only way to save them is to either divert the Omega or to convince the Goompahs to leave their cities and head for the high ground. Unfortunately, the Goompahs are scared to death of humans, having seen Dig, and think he's a demon. So convincing them to leave their cities seems out. A ship is sent with scientists and linguists. The linguists get daily reports from the planet with recordings of conversation and start learning Goompah and become quite conversant in it. They're going to dress up as Goompahs and tell them in their own language to leave when the cloud arrives. Another ship is sent with a huge kite (which struck me as really stupid) and some video devices, to divert the cloud. The leader of this ship is a major asshole. It's a nine month flight, so they'll just barely be beating the cloud there.

The ship with the linguists loses its engines after six months and is stranded. Another ship comes by with room for one passenger, and the asshole gets on, determined to divert the cloud. Meanwhile, Dig has heard an alien woman speak who makes wild claims about seeing things all over the world which may or may not exist. He decides to appear before her and tell her about the cloud, which is now visible to the Goompahs, and tell her to head to the hills and to tell everyone. She freaks, but doesn't run away and he gives her the message.

Dig has a thing for his pilot, Kellie, and one of the other ship's captains marries them. Rather than a celebration, the asshole insists that Kellie take him right then and there to the cloud to try and divert it. Nice. The cloud sucks them in and Kellie escapes, while asshole blows the ship up in the cloud. I was glad to see him die.

Do the humans divert the cloud? Or do they convince the Goompahs to leave their cities and go to higher ground? If so, how? And what happens to the planet? You'll have to read it to find out.

Aside from some of the problems that I've already mentioned, this book is too long and simply DRAGS. Oh my God, I thought it would never end. I wanted everyone to die by the end of the book. I couldn't say that about the previous books in this series. McDevitt is a good writer, normally, and I have the last two books in this series. I'm hoping for a return to form. Recommended if you're reading the series. Otherwise, not recommended.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend

Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey LegendGrant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend by Grant Fuhr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good sports biography. Not the best I've read, but pretty good.

Grant Fuhr is a legend. One of the best goalies to ever play the game of hockey and a Hall of Famer. And the first black goalie to ever play and the first elite black player and I believe the first black Hall of Famer. He played most of his career for the Edmonton Oilers, before moving on to five other teams toward the end of his 17 year career. He set a number of records along the way and won five Stanley Cups. With Edmonton's emphasis on offense, with Wayne Gretzy, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and others, he was usually the only line of defense for the Oilers, but teams rarely beat him. He was athletically gifted and could move very quickly. Had great reflexes. His personal stats will never be among the best, because when he played it was an offensive league, not the defensive league it is now. There were over eight goals scored per game, as opposed to the six per game scored now. Things have tightened up. But if he played now, I'm certain his stats would be among the best.

Fuhr was adopted by white parents in Alberta, Canada as a baby. Later, they adopted his sister. When he was five, they told him he was adopted. He didn't care. They were his parents. He loved them. He went to school and played hockey and baseball. All of the kids in the neighborhood did. It was a small town outside of Edmonton. He decided at a young age he wanted to play goalie in the NHL. His parents did everything to support his dreams. He didn't really notice color and no one else in the community seemed to either. There were two other black children in the school and some Native Americans. But everyone played and everyone was equal. Except Grant wasn't. He was exceptional. He started playing in local leagues, often for two at a time. And as a result, his grades suffered. He would skip class to go out on the ice to play hockey. At 17, a scout saw him and told his boss at a minor league Victoria team to sign him, that he was going to be great. So he did and Grant dropped out of school to go pro. And he set the world on fire! He was amazing. He owned the league. He learned to play golf in the off season and that became a lifelong passion. The next season, he came back and had an even better year. The NHL draft came up, this was 1981 I believe, and Grant knew he was going to get drafted, but by whom? He thought it would be by Toronto or the Rangers. Surprisingly, the Edmonton Oilers took him with the eighth pick, even though they already had a star goalie in Andy Moog.

Grant came to his first camp, with his $45,000 contract in hand, thinking he'd play a little and be sent back to the minors, so he was shocked when the team kept him on the roster. And then he got to play in the fourth game of the season and did fairly well. And he kept playing. He split time with Moog, but at one point he had something like a 13 game no-loss streak going. He ended the year with a good record and good stats and as a finalist for the Venzina trophy, given to the best goalie in the league. (He only won that award once.) His second year, for whatever reason, was rockier. People began to question if drafting him was a wise decision. He began to have doubts about himself. But his third year, he came back and dominated. And for the rest of the decade, he owned the NHL. He helped the team to five Stanley Cups and people attributed much of his success to his laid back nature. He felt no fear. He was confident. He enjoyed the competition. But he suffered some injuries, mostly to his shoulder. But in one playoff game in the late '80s, a goon dived on his leg, tearing his ACL and other tendons, requiring extensive surgery and his coach was livid.

At this point, I've got to be honest. There had been rumors for some time that some of the Oilers were using drugs. Fuhr had always denied he did. How could he perform at such a high level if he did? But it came out that he had used coke, at a minimum, for a number of years and his reputation took a major hit. The NHL decided to make an example out of him and suspended him for a full season, even though he had quit using drugs two years prior to this point. He took his punishment quietly and with many apologies to everyone.

In the late '80s, when Gretzy got traded to the LA Kings, everyone in the world was in shock. How could that happen? Fuhr, by that time, was making more realistic money, but Edmonton didn't have the money to pay their superstars, so he saw the writing on the wall. He got traded. It was a huge shock to the system. And so began his short term journeys. Finally, around 2000, he retired when his knees could no longer take it. And the Hall of Fame beckoned in 2003. A fitting end to a great career.

Normally this would be a five star book. But there's one thing that really bugged me about this book. It's the set up of the book. It's allegedly by Grant, with Bruce Dowbiggin, but Dowbiggin is obviously the real writer and interviews Grant at various intervals for short quotes about various things. So Grant didn't write this. Also, the book is supposed to be a bio. But when I got it, I was surprised to see it is divided by chapter into 10 prominent games and those were to be discussed. I wasn't really thrilled with that, but I went with it. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that each chapter spent about one paragraph on the chapter's game and the rest of the chapter building a standard bio, beginning with Grant's birth and moving chronologically forward chapter by chapter. It's kind of false advertising. Don't get me wrong. I was glad to have the standard bio instead of just 10 games. But why divide the book into 10 chapters of 10 games if you're just going to write a standard bio? It's stupid. Aside from those complaints, it's a good book and if you're a hockey fan, you'll want to read it. Recommended.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Flag In Exile

Flag in Exile (Honor Harrington, #5)Flag in Exile by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another good Honor Harrington book, the fifth of the series. In it, she's lost her commission in the Manticoran navy due to her duel with arch-enemy Pavel Young, in which she legally killed him, and is now on half pay. She has retreated to the planet of Grayson, where she has been made a Homesteader, something akin to a governor of her own state. She's been awarded their highest honor for saving their planet from an invasion a few years ago and is much loved and respected by many. But not all. See, Grayson is backwards. It's a patriarchal, religious zealotry-based world where women are respected, but they are expected to stay home, barefoot and pregnant. And the church, while not the official ruling body, controls much of what goes on. So Honor has a lot to learn and the people of Grayson have a lot to learn about her. Fortunately, the leader of the planet has been offworld and has seen what there is to offer and is determined to bring about reforms to his planet, in terms of technology and women's roles.

When we see Honor, she is trying to recover from her lover's murder in the previous book. And she's having to endure demonstrations at the entrance to her capital, people who have been bused in from other homesteads with signs calling her a harlot, etc. Her people don't like it, as they like and respect her, but little can be done about it. Meanwhile, the navy has been refitting some superdreadnaughts captured from a battle with Haven, given to them by Manticore, which will beef up their fleet significantly. However, they lack experienced captains and officers. So, the commanding admiral asks permission to ask Honor to take over and join the navy. She thinks it over and agrees. She's surprised to find that they've made her an admiral and have given her her own squadron of superdreadnaughts and support craft.

Before she goes up to her new ship, there's a community party, which is interrupted by an outsider priest, who screams maddening insults at her, even as the leading religious figure is there with her. This man goes too far, however, and the crowd beats him up, only to be saved at Honor's command by her guards. The church strips this man of his office and his homesteader, and religious fanatic if I've ever seen one, is livid. He arrests the new priest sent to his community and reinstalls the disgraced priest who has been barred. The world's leader is ticked, but he feels there is little he can do.

Honor has invested in a venture called Sky Domes to build domes over the cities to protect them from the harsh environment. The evil homesteader has gotten some of his men into the work crew and sabotages the project, causing a dome to collapse, killing 32 children and over 70 adults. All of a sudden, all of Grayson is against her and he is elated. However, her engineers know it couldn't have happened by accident and they pour over video and details and discover the sabotage, finding the perpetrator and alerting Honor and the president. Honor is on her ship with the religious leader and her lead engineer. The president calls a secret, closed meeting of the "Keys," the Steaders. They don't know what it's about, but it can't be good because that never happens. On their way from her ship to the ground, two assassins get onto her airfield and fire a surface to air missile, blowing up her craft and killing a number of people. She survives. One of the assassins comes looking for her and points his gun at her head. Just as he pulls the trigger, someone leaps in front of Honor, saving her and dying for her in the process. It is the world's religious leader. When the assassin sees this, he is dumbstruck and gives himself up because he knows he is now going to Hell. He signs a detailed confession and the president calls a new secret meeting of the Keys and announces he is charging a member of the body with treason and murder and the crowd gasps. Honor walks into the chamber and the president charges the religious nut. Just as he is about to be hauled away, this guy invokes a little used rule that allows him to challenge his accuser or his accuser's champion to a duel by sword. He's a grand champion. He knows he will kill Honor. Honor slices the shit out of him. It was awesome to see him die.

So she returns to her ship to rest and relax. She's been up and going for something like 36 hours. She has four broken ribs. She has cuts and bruises. After one hour of sleep, however, she is woken. There's an emergency. Radar shows an incoming fleet of about 160 star ships. They're being invaded by Haven. All she has is her six superdreadnaughts, several battleships, and some cruisers. How will she survive? Does she survive? You'll have to read the book to find out.

The reason why this is a good book in the series is because we get to see Honor displaying all sorts of emotions, for once. Normally, she's something like a robot. Here's she's fragile, scared, elated, excited, angry, sad, etc, and it fills her character out more so than in previous books. I like that. Now I'm eager to read the next book in the series. If you haven't read any Honor Harrington books, I suggest you start with the first one, although this probably stands on its own. Nonetheless, recommended.


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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Polaris

Polaris (Alex Benedict, #2)Polaris by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very enjoyable, even exciting, sci fi mystery featuring Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath. Alex is a dealer of valuable antiques and Chase is his pilot who helps out around his business. The book takes place some 12 years from when the events in the previous book took place.

Sixty years ago, a starship called Polaris went far, far away to watch a collision between a star and a white dwarf, something that happens once every thousand years or so and which would result in a huge explosion. Other ships are going too, with scientists who are going to be collecting data. Polaris has a female pilot and six passengers. They are high profile scientists and notables who are being treated to this VIP experience by Survey, the agency responsible for such missions. After the explosion, the various ships head back. The pilot of Polaris radios Survey to announce that departure is immanent and then nothing is heard from them again. Ever. Eventually, Survey sends another ship out to look for it. They find it drifting, board it, and find no one on board. There are no people there. And thus the mystery begins. The ship is hauled home and about 50 ships are sent out to the site to look for aliens or something like that, something that could have boarded the ship without leaving a trace and captured the people aboard. Nothing is found.

Fast forward 60 years. Alex and Chase are approached by Survey to attend a pre-sale of artifacts from Polaris, stuff that would be very, very valuable. They're given a limit of seven items they can take. They take some items they consider worthy and leave. On their way out, an announcement is made that there's a bomb in the building and to evacuate. Everyone scatters. Sure enough, the building blows up and all of the Polaris artifacts are destroyed. Except Alex's.

They go home and set up deals with clients to sell five of the items, keeping two. They go out and upon their return, find the house has been broken into. Some coins are missing, but that's about it. The valuable stuff out in the open is untouched. Very odd. They notice, however, that the pilot's flight jacket has been moved, although nothing has been done to it as far as they can tell. They call the police, who basically do nothing in this book. The break in frustrated me, because in the previous book, this happened several times to Alex and his life was even threatened, so you would think he would have invested in a good security system, but nope. Now he does.

They start hearing from their Polaris clients. A man and woman are approaching them and asking to see their new artifacts, and to touch them. Alex is worried about theft. They go to one of their clients' house to await the arrival of the man, who had contacted her in advance. He appears, touches the artifact, apparently loses interest and leaves. Alex thinks he may be behind the break in, so they follow him in their skimmer, gaining on him as he goes out over the ocean. They fail to notice, however, another skimmer that draws alongside them and then its pilot shoots at them, damaging their skimmer, forcing them to crash land in the ocean. Murder attempt number one. The police are annoyed he didn't tell them about things. They beg him to stay out of it, to let them do their job. So he goes home and they spend time researching the people on the Polaris, as well as the people on the rescue craft. Turns out one of the two people on the rescue craft had been killed. They take their new skimmer and go interview his widow. Meanwhile the police get back to him with IDs on the man and woman after the artifacts. They have pictures. The woman looks like the Polaris pilot. They wonder if she had had family, a daughter, but she hadn't. However, they found out she had been married, and her husband had been killed in an accident that a lot of people thought was a murder committed by her. They travel to her hometown and interview some people. Apparently, she was snooty and standoffish, but not too many people now thought she would have murdered him. They thought he slipped off a mountain by himself when they were out walking. On their way home, their space craft turns out to be sabotaged and they nearly die, again. This happens several times in the book and is one of my few complaints about the book. How many times do you have to be nearly murdered before you learn to check out your craft before flying? How many times does it take before you just lie low? How stupid could you be? Are you really that dumb? A lot of reviewers think so.

Another strange thing they find out about was that the leader of Survey was supposed to go on Polaris, but got called away at the last minute by some unknown pressing engagement. Three years later, he walked out of his office and was never seen again. Something else that is strange is that none of the people they're researching have pasts. None of the dead people, none of the people trying to take the artifacts. It's like they don't officially exist and never did. Weird.

Alex and Chase begin wondering about things. What if the people on board were part of a conspiracy? What if they wanted to disappear and leave Polaris a mystery? Were there habitable planets nearby? Were there space stations nearby? They had their AI do a search and he came up with several. They decided to take their space ship out there to look around and that's where I'm going to stop, other than to say they solve the mystery and I found that very satisfying. I had my suspicions for some time, but it was good to read the details about how Alex and Chase arrived at their conclusions and what resulted from that.

I've read a lot of poor reviews, all by women, critical of the author for his portrayal of Chase. In the first book, Alex is the protagonist and narrator. In this book, it's Chase. A lot of women think she doesn't sound like an authentic woman and couldn't and don't buy her as one. Thus the poor reviews. Frankly, perhaps because I'm a stupid man, I didn't notice that. Her dialogue didn't bother me in the least and I found it very believable for her character. But like I said, I'm a guy. I guess women would know better than me.

I think McDevitt is an exceptional writer and I love this series. I'm ready to start the next one and I can't wait. I love the science and I love the personalities. It's a really good book, and while I think everyone should read the first one first, I strongly recommend this book.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Comfortably Numb

Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink FloydComfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! After reading this book, I've come to the conclusion that Roger Waters was one of the biggest assholes who has ever lived. He was/is a freakin' monster! A bully. A grouch. Never happy. Always has to be right. Always has to win. Always has to have the last word. Confrontational. Critical as hell. A royal dick. To everyone. Especially to David Gilmour. And Richard Wright. He generally spared Nick Mason.

This is one of the most comprehensive rock bios I've ever read, starting out with the group's boyhoods in Cambridge in the 1950s to their forming the band in the mid-60s. Of course, Syd Barret was the singer and guitar player and was charisma personified. This book probably is probably one fourth about Syd, which irritated the hell out of me and nearly knocked it down a star. I've never understood the writer's, fan's, and band's obsession of and love for Syd Barret. Floyd's classic album Wish You Were Here was made as a tribute to Barret and just about every album they produced had songs that were tributes to him. Yet he was only with the band for one fucking album!!! The first one. The band has been in existence for 50 years and he was with the band for about two, so get the fuck over him people. Damn! He wasn't even that good. And six months into their first album's existence, he went insane. Too many drugs, mostly pot and LSD. Lots and lots of acid, daily. He burned himself out. He went from being a fun, eccentric, vibrant young man with lots of promise to a basic corpse on stage who couldn't/wouldn't sing and just let his guitar hand around his neck without playing it. So the band hired their friend David Gilmour to come in and back Barret up, to play the guitar for him and even sing the songs, all the while pretending it was Syd. But that didn't last very long. After about six months of that, one night the band decided not to pick Syd up for a show. And then they didn't the next night. And after that, he was gone.

Pink Floyd got their start playing at the UFO, a psychedelic club in London where they were the house band and everyone was tripping. When their first album came out, it generally got decent reviews and made them minor stars. They were doing what was called acid rock or space rock, take your pick. After Syd left, they had to find a new songwriter, so Roger took that role on his shoulders and became the band's de facto leader. He wrote the songs, with minor contributions from the others and Gilmour sang. Gilmour was apparently an excellent guitar player, while Waters was a mediocre bassist, but he was an ideas man and felt good about that.

Their next few albums got decent reviews, but weren't huge sellers and their record company was begging them for a hit single. Finally, they produced the all time classic, Dark Side of the Moon, which stayed on the charts for an amazing 14 straight years. That changed everything. It went to number one in many countries, made them superstars, and made them rich. And they went on tours. Big tours. Expensive tours. Tours that Waters became dictator of in regards to everything in every detail.

Wish You Were Here and Animals came out over the next few years and sold well. Everyone seemed to know the first one was the band's tribute to Syd, who by this time was quite ill. But Gilmour was watching out for him, making sure he was getting his royalties and being taken care of. Around this time, Waters had had enough of Wright, who he thought wasn't contributing enough, so he got the band to fire him, which was stunning. Wright's keyboards played in integral role on virtually every Floyd song there was and he had even written some songs, so it was just a crazy power play. This didn't sit well with Gilmour, who by this time was having a hard time even conversing cordially with Waters.

Meanwhile, Waters had a vision. He wanted to do a themed album, a brutal album about a rock star who goes crazy, gets power hungry, but is then redeemed at the end. In other words, himself. And Syd. He wrote the songs for The Wall and the band put it all together for a year and a half. The band hired Wright back, but not as a full member, rather as an hourly player with no credits. Somehow Wright agreed to this. When The Wall came out, it was a huge hit and Waters was flush with pride. And then they made it into a movie, starring Bob Geldoff as the main character. Waters hated Geldoff, but couldn't do anything about the casting. The band went on a huge tour with some 200 roadies, all around the world, and made a killing, but Waters pissed everyone off so much, that a lot of people refused to ever speak to him again. Gilmour, by this time, hardly spoke to Waters, himself. He had had it with him. And Waters had had it with Gilmour. So he quit Pink Floyd and tried to dissolve the band. But Gilmour and Mason had other ideas. They wanted to keep the band going, with Wright, and still put out albums under the Pink Floyd name. Waters was incensed and sued them to stop it. He lost. Hah! Serves him right. He went on to do solo albums, none of which made a dent in the charts. He toured to crowds of 6,000 people, but claimed it didn't bother him. Meanwhile, the remaining members of Pink Floyd gradually decided to do another album, after Gilmour put out his own solo album, which also didn't sell. A Momentary Lapse of Reason was produced with Gilmour writing most of the songs, with the help of his then journalist girlfriend, later his wife. The album shot to number one everywhere and the band went out on huge stadium tours playing to 80,000 people at a time. Gilmour must have felt vindicated, but Waters couldn't let it go, bitching that Gilmour could only do it with the help of his wife, that he didn't have the talent to do it on his own. He also said the album sucked.

Fast forward a few years. There are more solo albums, by everyone. None sold well. The members of Pink Floyd decide to do another album and spend a good bit of time producing it. It hit number one on the charts too and they went on another big tour. During this tour, they played new stuff, very old stuff, including stuff from the first album, and the entire Dark Side of the Moon album. Recordings of the concert were later released as Pulse. Of course, Waters was immensely critical.

And that's about it. Waters produced an opera that was mildly successful and allegedly mellowed in his 60s. The band reunited for Liveaid 8 around 2005 and there was speculation they'd get together again. Waters even indicated he'd be willing to, but Gilmour wouldn't hear of it. He hated Waters too much. He turned down a $250,000,000 offer. The book ends with a new solo Gilmour album that becomes the band's first solo album to sell successfully and with Gilmour finally finding some peace. And with Syd's death in 2006. He lived very frugally, but to everyone's surprise, was quite rich when he died. He left his money to his brothers and sisters. None of the band members attended the funeral. Syd was quite insane for most of his life. A pity.

One of the cool things about this book is the detailed descriptions of the covers and how they came about. How they were conceived and shot or drawn. You don't usually get that in rock bios and I was glad to see that. You also get commentary on most songs on the albums. Pink Floyd is one of the most enduring and successful bands in rock history. This book does them justice and is definitely recommended for fans and anyone else.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

The Witches of Chiswick

The Witches of Chiswick The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the absolute craziest books I've ever read in my life! The author is clearly insane. Or British. He's British and has that British sense of humor, sort of a Terry Pratchett meets Monty Python on acid. This book is nuts.

Will Starling lives in a London suburb with his parents in the 23rd century. Everyone except him is fat, and his is teased mercilessly for being slim. He lives in a 300 story high rise and it's a dystopia now, with acid rain, non-existent technology, synthetic foods, lack of jobs, etc. But he has a job. He works at that Tate Museum, scanning pictures of old paintings for future display. He particularly loves the 19th century, especially Victorian art. There aren't any books anymore either, so he downloads books from the British Library to his palmtop and reads a lot. One day something odd happens. He's scanning a picture and notices one of the characters in this Victorian painting is wearing a digital watch. What? He alerts his boss and is informed the painting will be destroyed. Distraught, he sneaks into the archives and moves the painting to another location so it won't be destroyed. Later, at home with his parents, a Terminator style robot comes into their apartment to get the painting and to kill him. His bulky parents save his life by sitting on the robot, but they found out that four other Will Starlings (uncles) were slaughtered by this robot before he came to their place. Will takes off. He meets his friend Tim, a computer nerd at the museum. He tells Will that a coven of witches rule the world. Wills scoffs. He tells Will that he's got a highly illegal drug that can take you back into your ancestors' memories and you can relive past lives. He gives a bunch to Will and Will takes them all. Next thing you know, Will lands on a street in 19th century London. Victorian England. He can't believe it. He has time traveled. Will meets a man named Hugo Rune, who tells him he's an ancestor and to come with him. Rune knows everyone - Oscar Wilde, a lady's man, Queen Victoria, Charles Babbage, inventor of the computer and many other technical devices, Count Otto Black, who has an aerial circus, HG Wells, and many others. He shows Will a good time and tells him he's a magician. They spend a year traveling the world, meeting the tzar in Russia, the Mandarins, the Pope, who is a vampire, and many others. Will learns to enjoy good food, fine champagne, and the company of exotic women. Upon their return, they meet up with Rune's friend Sherlock Holmes, who has been told Will is the person he is looking for. He's hands a case over to Will, cause he's got a heavy case load, and says he needs it solved asap. Will thinks it'll be a piece of cake, cause he's read all of the books. He opens the file and it's Jack the Ripper, a series of crimes never solved. He groans. Rune has faith in him though. They go back to their hotel, quite drunk, and when Will awakes, he's alone. He gets a paper and finds out Jack has struck again, but it's Rune who's the victim. Will is stunned. He gets Rune's case and finds Barry, the Galactic Guardian sprout. Claims God sent him and other vegetables to be guardian angels cause he ran out of angels. Barry can time travel. Barry gives advice. He suckers Will into putting him into his ear and then Will can't get him out and hears a voice in his head from that point on. Will decides to solves the Ripper case. He goes to the police station with his file and is told Jack has been caught. He's got blood all over him and it's definitely him. Will asks to see him and when the door opens, he sees himself and is stunned. He's got to get himself out of there. He uses a high form of martial arts to knock the policemen out and gets the other Will out of the building, takes a horse and carriage and takes off. They find a water trough and wash the blood off, then go to a bar for some refreshment and to talk. The other Will is freaked out. Will just wants to find out what's up. Turns out the other Will is from a different future than Will and has traveled back in time with the help of Larry, Barry's brother, to kill the witches of Chiswick, who will destroy all of technology at the stroke of midnight, 1899, and the computers and air cars and electrical cars and faxes and everything will be gone and it'll be back to horse and buggy times with no memories of anything else. The other Will has been raised to put a stop to this. Will travels with Barry at some point back to his future to talk to Tim about all of this, who's very excited to hear about everything. Turns out they're half brothers. Tim wants to go back with him. Back to the past. Will and Will get arrested for starting a fight in a bar. They go before the judge, who is about to sentence them to execution, when Tim, their new lawyer, walks in. He says he's going to put on a lengthy defense, call dozens of witnesses, and prove their innocence. The prosecutor, in league with the witches, calls a snail boy to the stand. He can't talk, but the prosecutor and judge pretend they can understand his grunts and believe that Will and Will are guilty. Tim pulls a gun and the courtroom clears. The police come to the scene and pull their weapons. The hostages are sent out, the snail boy, his female caretaker, and the prosecutor. Then the police open fire on the courthouse. The hostages get away and it's the Wills and Tim, disguised as the others.

I could go on and on, but it would take too long. They discover Rune's manse and hack into the witches' computer. Another Terminator robot or two are dispatched to kill them. They meet HG Wells. The other Will takes off, not to be seen again, at least for a long time. The snail boy reappears and joins Will, Tim, and Wells and they are determined to stop Otto, the leader of the witches, and their evil, Satanic plot to destroy technology at the end of the century. On December 31, 1899, 2,000 people are gathered in the air to watch Count Otto Black's flying circus. The four are there, trying to locate the computer program that will destroy everything so they can put a virus in it. Oh, and Martians are on their way to earth to invade. The ending is abrupt and I didn't particularly care for it. I thought it could have been better. I'll let you read the book to see what happens at the end.

Rankin is humorous, that's for sure. There are jokes and puns on practically every page, most of them corny as hell. But there are TOO many! After awhile, you just wish you could read the story without groaning from another damn joke. That's why I'm giving it four stars instead of five. He uses play on words, jokes from the present, has a foul mouth and mind, which I don't mind usually, but it was a bit much, and just overreaches on the jokes. But the story is pretty good, while seemingly convoluted. He's apparently written a bunch of other books that I've never heard of, but have crazy titles. I'll probably read him again if I can find him. Apparently he's hard to find in America. This is steampunk, for those interested. Recommended.


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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Avenger

AvengerAvenger by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It was a great read. I read over some reviews when I finished it and was gratified to see a lot of people agreed with me, but I found two one star reviews, both of which admitted this was the first time they'd read Forsyth. Their main complaint seemed to be all of the "history" that Forsyth wrote about and forced us to read before the action started. One of them said this was the "lamest" book ever. Um, insanity! Nuts! If you knew anything about the author, you'd know that he always spends the first halves of his books building up the back story before proceeding to the action. That's his thing. It's attention to detail and it's masterful. It's what draws a lot of people to him. This book does have a lot of "history" and planning and detail, but it's all essential to the entire story and the story is good. In fact, it's incredibly exciting. I couldn't put the book down over the final 100 pages. I had to see what would happen.

It's 1995, and a nice young man -- college age -- leaves North America to go to war torn Bosnia to help out aid services for the summer. Where he is brutally killed by a group of para-military Serbs, led by Serb butcher Zoran Zilic. The boy's grandfather, in Canada, a very wealthy individual, hires a private detective to go look for him. He's pretty good and he eventually finds out that Ricky is undoubtedly dead, but he couldn't nail down the perpetrator. He had his suspicions and found one of the soldiers in Belgrade, who he couldn't get to confess, but with whom he left his card in case he ever wanted to. Fast forward to 2001. This soldier had a conscious and decided to confess. This confession made its way to the detective and then to the Canadian millionaire. And he wanted his revenge.

Meanwhile, there's attorney Cal Dexter. He's a Vietnam vet, where he was a "Tunnel Rat," an unsung hero of a man who went into heavily booby trapped Viet Cong tunnels to raid their quarters and to assassinate as many as possible. He was very good. Now he's much older, but he trains for triathlons on a regular basis and is in fantastic shape. He practices in a small New Jersey town, but keeps an apartment in New York City where he can operate out of for his side business by which he goes by the name of Avenger. He's a mercenary. I know it sounds a little bizarre and it is, but just go with it. The only means of communicating with the Avenger is by placing ads in a small airplane magazine and one day he sees an ad asking for him to contact someone with no price ceiling for their job. He does. It's the grandfather.

Meanwhile, the grandfather had also talked to some politicians who had taken the case of Zoran Zilic up with the Feds, notably the FBI and CIA. One of the FBI higher ups was aghast at what Zilic had done and wanted to get him. He had a talk with CIA agent Paul Devereux and found out that Devereux seemed to know where Zilic had disappeared to after the Bosnian war was over, but he wouldn't give him up. This really ticked the FBI guy off and they parted ways unamicably. Devereux knew exactly where Zilic was. He was working for him. For two years, Devereux had been working on a way to get to bin Laden and Zilic was going to be his way in, carrying nuclear materials to sell to bin Laden only to blow bin Laden away with a drone via GPS when he reached him. So where was Zilic? Living on a heavily guarded estate in a small central American country called San Marino. And the Avenger had to find him and snatch him.

Dexter did some digging, made some assumptions, thought some thoughts and came up with some information. He basically came up with San Marino. He went and hired a private plane to fly over, where he spotted the huge fortified estate and took tons of photos from the plane. But he was spotted. Add that to the fact that he placed a call that was deemed suspicious to some people, and some people were on the phone to Devereux telling him that someone was after Zilic. He couldn't believe it. He was so close to getting bin Laden. He had to stop this person, find him and stop him asap. So he started looking for him, first by getting the details on the plane. He found the pilot had been killed, presumably by Zilac's men. He kept searching. Meanwhile Dexter was looking at pictures. He was impressed. The mansion was surrounded by a huge wall that was patrolled by numerous armed guards. On three sides, it was surrounded by cliffs beside the ocean. It's only entrance was up high on a road from a slave labor camp owned by Zilic where some 1200 Hispanic men toiled on a self sustaining farm, next to a private air field. All surrounded by numerous fences and gates. There were hungry dobermans patrolling at night. As he found out later, in the water by the mansion, there were tons of sharks. In the river providing water to the estate, there were piranha. There were also spikes in the river. There were about 100 armed guards. It was a fortress. How was one man going to get in there, grab Zilic, and get out?

Dexter made his preparations. He bought supplies, got fake passports, while Devereux found out about the Avenger and went after him. But Dexter was always one step ahead of him. He went down to San Marino and had a hard time getting in, crashed the gate, left with the authorities looking for him, and returned later with a different passport. He rented a car and then left it to go hiking off into the jungle toward the estate. Word got to the CIA that the Avenger had penetrated San Marino and Devereux couldn't believe it. Dexter had faked his own death with his first attempt and it had bought him some time, so the San Marino army was ticked and started looking for him everywhere while Devereux sent his second in command there to take charge and take care of Zilic. He was worried Zilic would not go after bin Laden if he found out a mercenary was after him and the CIA couldn't get him.

So does Dexter do it? Well, you know he must, right? But how? I'm not going to tell you. You're going to have to read the book yourself. It's pretty damn amazing though. Even with Zilic finally finding out about Dexter and the dogs being loosed and all of the guards being stationed everywhere, is it possible Dexter still finds a way? It's completely crazy. When everything's over, Dexter winds up back in the US and calls the man in Canada. But it's the final page of the book that's stunning and makes it worth the price of the book alone. I won't spoil it for you. The reason why I'm not giving this book five stars and am giving it only four is because Forsyth leaves so many things to chance that Dexter gets right. It's just not very realistic. How would he know the man he kidnaps would be working that day? How would he know the guards would go for those small bombs? How would he know they'd go for the airplane? That seems like the unlikeliest assumption to me. How did he know a lot of things? How did he know to always stay one step ahead of the CIA, especially when he didn't even know the CIA was tracking him? It's just not that realistic. But it makes for a fantastic story. If you can get past the realism aspect of it, it's a fun ride. I definitely recommend this book.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Field of Dishonor

Field of Dishonor (Honor Harrington, #4)Field of Dishonor by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this Honor Harrington book, the fourth in the series. It's very different from the first three, where she was the standout star ship captain who battled the Republic of Haven's numerically superior ships and won. In this book, she's home on Manticore while her ship is undergoing time consuming repairs. And Pavel Young, her nemesis, is being court martialed for desertion and cowardice, as well as several other things. Two of the charges would result in execution if he is found guilty. The problem is ... politics. Manticore wants to press the war with Haven while it has the upper hand, but the liberals in their version of Parliament are completely opposed and they hate Honor with a passion. They think she's trying to "get" Young, one of their own highly born aristocrats, truth be damned. The other half back Honor and have seen the video truth of Young fleeing in his ship as he is told to return to the fleet to fight Haven. Honor is told that if he is found guilty, it could hurt the war effort, badly, and she's shocked. She doesn't understand politics.

We're spared the trial, but we see the jury deliberate, if you can call it that. There are six, and they are deadlocked and one of them, in favor of Young, is a total asshole. He wants to get Young off on a technicality, even though the others appeal to him by telling him he KNOWS Young fled, he KNOWS, Young disobeyed a direct command, and he still wants to do this? Yes he does. Honor is in the courtroom when the jury returns with their verdict. Young is found guilty on the first three minor counts, but on the two major counts, the jury is deadlocked and his life is spared. However, he is kicked out of the Navy and stripped of his medals and income. Fortune calls, however. His father, an earl, dies in the courtroom. Pavel immediately finds himself an earl in the House of Lords. Is there no justice? Honor is devastated.

She decides to go visit her new estate on Grayson, a backwards world trying to work itself into the present. Women take a backseat to men on this planet, but because Honor saved the planet from destruction in a previous book, she's given their highest award and the title of homesteader, I think, which entitles her to an estate. But it also includes obligations, because now she would be responsible for the people in her area, her own government, her budget, her military -- everything. First, she has to be officially invited in by the sitting homesteaders. No woman has ever worn this medal and there has never been a woman homesteader on this planet and some people are very opposed to Honor's doing this, but she passes their judgment and begins her rule. Then something very bad happens. Her old pal, Mike, now a star ship captain shows up and tells her that Paul, Honor's lover, is dead. Has been killed. In a duel. Honor goes ice cold and can think of nothing but justice. She immediately leaves Grayson with her own guard from her "province" and practices her shooting skills on the star ship while going back to Manticore.

What has happened is that Young has hired a professional duelist/hitman to kill Paul, and then goad Honor into a duel so he can kill her too. Young holds Honor responsible for his ills, when it was really his own fault. When she returns, she goes to a bar, finds this man, and goads him into challenging her for a duel. And he smirks because he knows he's going to kill her. Meanwhile, she's calm, even as her friends and colleagues are freaking out. One of these men, a mentor of sorts, tells her if she kills him, she'll be out of the Navy, and if she prepares to duel Young, which is her goal, she'll be a pariah and will lose everything. She doesn't care. She just wants justice.

***SPOILER***

On the assigned day, the duelist and Honor meet on a field, complete with the media there in a frenzy, and they are to fire at the drop of a hanky. It flutters in the wind and before the duelist can even get a shot off, she hits him five times, blowing his head off. It's sweet. I loved it. The Lords go nuts. The media go nuts. But while there, while speaking to the media, she challenges Young to a duel to the death for his murder and another attempted murder of her by some hired assassins that her Grayson team stopped. He freaks out and hides in his mansion. He only leaves to go to the House of Lords. She realizes she can't get to him, so she does something rather clever. Some time back, she was given a title and admitted to the House of Lords, but she's never gone. One day, she shows up and invokes a little used rule that a new member can address the group immediately and she is given permission. She throws off her cloak, Young sees her and freaks out. She re-issues her challenge and he has no option but to accept it. They meet on the assigned day, stand back to back and walk forward. When they reach thirty paces, they are to turn and fire on command. One shot at a time. After just a few steps, Honor hears the word, "Down," and dives, only to be shot in her left shoulder. She rolls to evade the other shots and sees Young standing there with an empty gun staring at her. She puts three bullets in his heart and he is finally, finally, finally dead and out of her life. Sweet, sweet justice. Unfortunately, as she knew would be the case, she is stripped of her captaincy, but not kicked out of the Navy. Just put on half pay and kind of retired. She decides to return to Grayson. As she's preparing to leave, her mentor comes to visit her and tells her after the furor is over, there will be the war with Haven and they'll need competent captains and he basically promises her she'll be back. So there's hope.

One of the things I loved about this book was Honor's character development, which was so much more detailed than in previous books. You really get to see her grow and expand, learn and lead, make mistakes, show she's human, while still performing at a superhuman level. It's good to know she's not just a robot. Sometimes the politics got to be a bit much, but as it was integral to the story, I can forgive Weber that. It was odd, however, not to see Honor in any space ship battle scenes. Unusual. I kind of liked it. I don't know if this is my favorite Honor book -- it's so different -- but to me, it's worth five stars and I won't hesitate to recommend it at all.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

A Different Kind of Same

A Different Kind of Same: A MemoirA Different Kind of Same: A Memoir by Kelley Clink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a raw, at times painful, memoir about suicide, mental illness, family, self acceptance, and spiritual journeys. Kelley's brother, Matt, committed suicide shortly before he was to graduate from college, mirroring her own attempt of a few years earlier. For years, she struggles with the idea that she modeled that behavior for him. She shuts down. Can't function. Except to exhibit violence rages, usually taken out against her husband, who must be a saint because this went on for four and a half years and I'm not sure I could have handled that for so long. She discovers Matt's longtime blog and starts reading it three years after his death and gains insights into him she hadn't had before. And she starts healing, to a certain degree. But healing takes time, as does self acceptance, so her cycle of pain, self hatred, anger, and violence continued. It's been over a decade now and she's doing much better, thank God. I wouldn't wish her experience on anyone. She found Buddhism helped give her a sense of peace that her Catholicism she was brought up with did not. She started writing, I assume what became this book. She went to therapy. Now, when she thinks of Matt, she thinks good things, even as they relate to her, and that's what she needed to do the whole time. Recommended for anyone going through a crisis with mental illness or a loved one who has tried or succeeded in committing suicide. It can help open up some doors to the mind and thoughts one might be unaware of otherwise.


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In Fury Born

In Fury BornIn Fury Born by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man, I love David Weber's books! He really knows how to write action packed sci fi novels. I admire and enjoy that.

In Fury Born has a 4.19 out of a 5.0 rating on Goodreads, which is pretty darn good, but you'd never realize it by looking at the most recent reviews, many of which are pretty savage. Apparently it's because this book is based on an earlier book he wrote which contains the second half of this book. What he did with this book was write a 450 page prequel to turn it into a near-900 page beast of a novel, all of which I enjoyed as I hadn't read that earlier work. So no complaints from me.

Alicia DeVries seems destined for a military career from a young age. She listens to her retired military grandfather tell war stories and her parents fret. She turns out to be brilliant and goes to college quite early, I believe at 14, graduating at 17, before then joining the Marines, which probably disappoints her parents. In one of her first roles as a Marine, she acts as a sniper for her squad and methodically kills tons of bad guys in a bad skirmish. In fact, she distinguishes herself so well, that she's recruited away to become a part of the Imperial Cadre, the best of the best, the Emperor's own military force, where there is a cap of some 40,000 soldiers (in a universe of thousands of worlds with billions of people) and where they can't even meet that standard. The Cadre is bad. They're augmented, turned into types of human robots with internal computers and medical abilities, and something called the "tick," which slows things down and enables one to enhance their abilities to do just about anything. They're fierce. In her first action, Sergent DeVries is sent with a company of some 274 Cadre drop commandos to raid a place, only they drop right into a setup. The bad guys are waiting for them and weapons rip right through them. There are hostages they're there to rescue, some 600 of them. Alley and her company lose their commanding officers immediately and it becomes apparent that she's the last remaining officer, even though she's brand new. She rallies her remaining troops to her and they push through to their target, suffering horrible losses, but giving out horrible losses in return. They make it to the building housing the hostages and gather them together, waiting for Marine reinforcements. Out of the 274 Cadre personnel who went in, nine come out. Alley is one of them. Over 800 bad guys died. For this action (or for the next one -- I forget, sorry), she's given the highest military award there is. Only three living people have it, and one of them is her grandfather. She's the third. She's now a living legend, particularly after this next action I won't go into for time and length of review purposes.

Now, however, it's become apparent to her that there's a leak from inside the Cadre to the bad guys and she knows where it's coming from. They're always one step ahead of the Cadre waiting for them. Turns out it's an intelligence officer, a colonel I think, who she goes to confront and pretty much destroys before guards can pull her off of him. The thing is, she could have killed him with one punch, but she wanted him to suffer, so she broke just about every bone he had. As a result, she's told by her hero and friend, the Brigadier Sir Arthur Keita, that this man is going to be essentially retired, but not punished, as the powers that be don't want bad publicity. She's horrified and immediately quits the Cadre.

Whew! That's a lot. But the book's only half over. She returns to her parents' world out in the boonies and is out hunting one day when some pirates who have been terrorizing the various worlds out there descend and kill her family. She returns to find them there and goes freakin' insane, slaughtering all 23 of them and vowing vengeance upon those who ordered this. She was badly injured in the firefight and is lying in the snow in subzero temperatures when she hears a voice in her head asking her if she'd like vengeance. She said yes. She's asked if she'll give anything for it and she agrees, so at this point, in chapter 33, Tisiphone, one of the old Greek Furies, enters her head and vows to help her, keeping her alive for days and keeping her hate alive at the same time. Alley is found and brought to a hospital where she's heard talking to no one at all, Tisiphone. They think she's crazy. She's transferred to a military hospital, where Sir Arthur and her old best friend from the Cadre, now a doctor and a major in the Cadre, join her in an effort to help her. She tells them everything, along with an intelligence specialist. They think she's probably crazy, but that she believes she's telling the truth. Who knows, right? Well, Tisiphone spends her time digging into computer systems and learning. At some point she tells Alley it's time. Time to go seek vengeance. She helps Alley escape and they go to an airfield, where they barely get away and then to an orbiting space yard, where they snag a state of the art war ship with a state of the art AI, which the human pilot, Alley, has to synth mesh with. This is frightening, because in many cases, upon separation, both human and AI go insane, so this is permanent.

The goal is to find the pirates. To do this, they disguise the ship as a freighter and decide to become smugglers in an effort to find their way to the people dealing with the pirates and their stolen goods. The odd thing about the pirates, though, is that they're not really stealing that much. They're slaughtering people by the millions and not taking much. Why? They daring the fleet to come looking for them. And how are they getting so close to these worlds without warnings being sent away upon sight? Turns out they're in Navy fleet ships. A lot of them. They're traitors, and they go deep into the empire. Traitors everywhere. Alley gets closer and closer. The intelligence agent is on her trail. The brigadier is trying to keep abreast of things. Where will everything lead? The whole universe thinks that Alley is a crazed lunatic who has assaulted Cadre personal, stolen an expensive Navy ship, is armed and dangerous, and has a shoot on sight order. How is she going to get out of this?

Well, I'm not going to give away the ending of the book, but it's very exciting and very climactic and very satisfying. I only have two complaints. One is, as with all of Weber's books, he has to name each and every major and minor character one encounters in the 900 pages, thus making it impossible to know who the hell is who, as you're trying to remember hundreds of names, as well as names of dozens of planets. It's annoying as hell. Especially since about half of these people get blown to hell in a dozen pages. Did we really need to know their names and titles? Was that really necessary? My brain can only hold so many names at one time. The second complaint is the book is hard sci fi for the first 32 chapters and then, without warning, in the 33rd chapter we have this fantasy element appear in Tisiphone -- out of the blue -- and then she plays a hugely major role for the rest of the book. It's jarring. If she had been introduced earlier in the book, it would have been easier to take, but to get a major character halfway through? Well, that's stretching it.

Still, it's a very, very good book. I kept turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. It was that exciting. Even though it's long as hell, I'm sure I'll read it again. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I strongly recommend it.


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Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Talent for War

A Talent for War (Alex Benedict, #1)A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Talent for War is an excellent mystery for a sci fi novel. Jack McDevitt has a real talent for creating new worlds, alien species, archeologies, suspense, and science fiction in general. I really like his books.

In this book, Alex Benedict finds out that his uncle Gabe dies, or rather disappears, in a star ship and leaves his estate to his favorite nephew. Alex moves home -- he grew up with Gabe -- only to find the house has been broken into and a few things have been stolen, including an important file Gave wanted him to have. Gabe left him a holo telling him he was working on a project and that Alex should find it and continue on, that he would know what to do. And so the mystery begins. With the help of the house's AI, Alex starts researching various things. First of all, the entire human universe worships the legacy of war hero Christopher Sim, who while getting killed in the process, helped to beat an invading alien horde that had been annihilating human worlds. Sim, and his brother, an orator who also died, has shrines dedicated to him on virtually every world you visit. Then there's Tanner, a woman who wanted to make peace, then war, with the aliens and who wrote extensively about her experiences. There's also a poet whose writings seem to have codes in them, if only they were understandable.

A woman shows up at Alex's house named Chase. She's a pilot and she had been hired by Gabe to take him way out in space for a couple of months and she wants to get paid. She ends up being a big part of the story and ends up helping Alex out with his research and travels, because he starts traveling to other cities and planets as the mystery unfolds. He finds out that a ship has been out to a distant part of the universe, come back, but can find nothing about it as everything is classified, including even the crew list. However, he finds out who one of the crew members is and starts trying to track him down. And it seems everywhere he goes, this guy, Hugh, has already been there, one step ahead of him. Why? Why is everything classified?

Sim died in a glorious way with seven volunteers he brought up from a planet to fight with him before his ship was blown out of the sky. But things are strange. Turns out his ship makes appearances at this planet one day and then at another planet that should take 11 days to get there some four days later and so on. How does he accomplish this? And who is Matt Olander? How does he figure into this? How exactly is he a war hero?

Alex's home is broken into again and then, when he and Chase are on another planet, a woman Alex has gone on a few dates with comes up to him in a restaurant and tells him she's planted a bomb on his skimmer, which Chase is using, and to get her out of there. He's dumbfounded. Turns out she's the one who's been breaking in, stealing stuff, and trying to kill him. Cause he's getting too close to the truth. Whatever that is. He radios Chase, but it's nearly too late, so he and this woman take off to go save her and find her in the ocean due to a blown up, disintegrated skimmer, where he rescues her, but the woman dies. Stranger and stranger.

I could keep going on and on, but I'll just say it's a fascinating history that McDevitt constructs and a wonderful mystery that he creates and while it can get a little dry at times and while there are too many city and planet names, and people for that matter, to remember, it's a great story and as you build to the climax, it becomes a real page turner and I couldn't put the book down over the last 75 pages. The last quarter of the book is shocking, starting with the truth about Olander and Sim, then with the remainder of the novel, followed by the epilogue. Shocking. This is the first in a series and now I want to read the others. I guess I'll have to put them on my Amazon Wish List. The only reason I'm not giving this book five stars is because it does drag and there is a lot of monologue and history and poetry and mythology and it can get pretty dry for extended periods of time. But I still enjoyed it and heartily recommend it.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Vertical Run

Vertical RunVertical Run by Joseph R. Garber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the best thrillers I have ever read! It was a real page turner. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. I can't say that about a lot of "thrillers" I read. And to think I got it for only a nickel at a used bookstore.

One morning, Dave Elliot is in his office and his boss, the company president, walks in. With a gun. To shoot Dave. Dave's old (he's 47) special forces training kicks in and he knocks out the man and takes his gun. What is happening? He leaves his office only to run into a couple of bulky men with obvious shoulder holsters under their jackets. A shootout ensues. Dave escapes. He goes up several floors from his 45th floor office in New York City to see his best friend and lawyer, who tries to kill him. He escapes. What the hell is going on? The next thing you know Dave is running for his life from all kinds of burly men with guns and a psychopath leader of the group who communicates to Dave via a radio of some sort that Dave has taken from one of the men he took out. He decides to call a TV station to call in a bomb threat so the cops will come and everyone will evacuate the building. He'll escape in the chaos. He reaches the first floor and there are lots of men with guns down there. All of a sudden he hears someone scream that they see him, go get him. He turns and sees his wife standing with these men. It's crazy! Dave does eventually get out, and goes to a lab he had gone to the day before for a tour where something odd had happened. When he gets there, the building is empty. He decides to return to the office tower -- where the men with guns are -- to look at this company's file in his boss's desk. He has to know what's going on and why. He gets back in the building and finds dozens of men waiting for him. What he does next is genius. What he finds out is shocking. The twist at the end of the book is brilliant. The last couple of pages provide a good climax to the story. It's a very satisfying book and I'll probably reread it several times. Definitely recommended.

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User Friendly

User FriendlyUser Friendly by Spider Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

User Friendly is funny ... to the point of being just plain stupid. Stupid jokes. Stupid puns. Stupid. And the science fiction is virtually non-existent. I could barely detect any. It's a book of short stories, essays, speeches, and rap. Yes, rap. That's stupid, in and of itself. The essays were the best, I guess. User Friendly is reader friendly, but that's about it. Lightweight BS. Not worth the $2.95 I paid for it, used. I feel ripped off. Not recommended.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Green Berets

The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army's Elite Special Forces UnitThe Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army's Elite Special Forces Unit by Robin Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I first read it many years ago in high school and it's stuck with me ever since, so when I saw it in a used bookstore, I bought it and reread it and I'm glad I did. The Green Berets is journalistic nonfiction being marketed as fiction to protect the identity and locations of the people and places involved. Since this book was published in 1965, the north Vietnamese could have read it and done some damage with it if it named actual people or locations. Since it was published in 1965, you can guess that it's about American military "advisers," not actual servicemen as the war hadn't started yet. But it had, secretly. This book has stories on green berets in Laos with local militias they've recruited and trained hitting the Viet Cong and the NVA (Viet Minh, as they're referred to here). This book shows real life heroes in action, in harm's way, far from safety, doing a lot of damage to Uncle Ho. Makes one wonder if Special Forces had been allowed to keeping fighting the war their way how differently things might have gone. There's a sweet, but sad, love story in the book. There are some humorous moments. I think one thing that really has stuck with me over the years is the fact that this book started my disrespect for the South Vietnamese military, which was full of crooked pansies who wouldn't fight at night, wouldn't get up early in the morning to march, wouldn't land their helicopters in "hot"" DZs, demanded to be in charge but when the fighting started, would run away and let the Americans do it. This surprised me, but as I've read dozens and dozens of books on the Vietnam war over the years, this fact is told over and over again. Yet I've never understood why. The northern Vietnamese army was tough as nails, to be feared, would charge into machine gun fire without thinking. The south Vietnamese army was a bunch of pussies. Why? They were supposed to be fighting to save their country. Didn't they care? I have read accounts where some of them said let the Americans do it, we won't. That's a sick attitude. Frankly, it was a civil war and the US had no business being there. I'm glad the country's reunified, even if it is communist. It's just a shame that so many had to die. However, the book is not for the squeamish. There are accounts of Viet Cong atrocities that turn your stomach. But that's war and it happened, so it had to be reported. I'm sure Moore could have made his book twice as big with all of the stories he collected while he was over there serving in the field himself, and I sometimes wonder why he chose the ones he did, but they're all good. By the way, before the green berets let him tour with them, they made him become, essentially a green beret. He had to go to jump school, get scuba training, jungle warfare training, all of it. He earned his beret. Great book. Strongly recommended.

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Spy Line

Spy Line (Bernard Samson, #5)Spy Line by Len Deighton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As utterly atrocious as this book's predecessor, Sky Hook, was -- and it was horrible -- this book is a serious improvement on it. The last book left the reader with all sorts of unanswered questions and was obviously written for the sole purpose of getting readers to buy the sequel, which really pissed me off. So I bought the sequel, which pissed me off even more, and a lot of these questions were finally answered. British spy Bernard Samson is back and remains largely clueless about so much. He's still obsessed with his wife, Fiona, and her defection to the KGB and misses her a lot, even though he's got a great new girlfriend in Gloria, who is hot, young (at 22, half his age), smart, loves him and his kids, dotes on him, is good at parties, etc. He's an idiot. The book generally starts with him being on the run from the Service, who has set him up, but he later comes in and returns to work, only to be sent to an Austrian stamp collecting auction. Yep. And there's a murder. Yep. Weird. Later, he's taken through the Iron Curtain, where he meets Fiona for the first time in a long time and she tells him she's still working for the Service and is about to come back out of Russia, back to Britain. This leaves him in a quandary. Still, later his boss and Fiona's sister go to Berlin and insist he go with them to act as a cover for their affair. While there, he's supposed to bring someone out of Russia and he realizes it's Fiona. There's a gunfight, and I never figured out why. Totally arbitrary. Then there's the reappearance of Bret from the previous book. Annoying prick. At least Samson's dry wit is on display here, something which was lacking in the previous book. This is the fifth book in what is either a six or nine book series. As okay as this book was, I don't think I'll pick up the next book. I'm thoroughly unimpressed with this author and I think I'll stick with Forsyth for my spy books. Not really recommended, and certainly not as a stand alone book.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Chindi

Chindi (The Academy, #3)Chindi by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chindi is one of the best books I have ever read – ever! It’s got everything – intrigue, mystery, action, adventure, archeology, ancient alien civilizations, space ships, and in this novel, real live aliens. It’s freakin’ awesome!

This is the third novel in the six novel series entitled The Academy series, featuring Priscilla Hutchins, or Hutch, the space ship pilot for the Science Academy. Normally, she spends her time ferrying archeologists around to various planets and participating as she can, but lately she’s been thinking of retiring. She’s had a full and distinctive career. However, she’s given one last assignment that’s hard to turn down – ferry members of the Contact Society, a bunch of alien nutjobs, out to a neutron star where a couple of radio transmissions had been discovered so they can explore. They desperately want to discover an alien race.

There are, I believe, some six members of the Contact Society along for the ride, led by George, who’s paying her salary and with whom she bumps heads from time to time. He wants to take over, but as captain of the ship, she asserts that she has final say in matters.

They get out to the star and discover a network of stealth satellites engaged in the observation of a number of worlds. This is big. They decide to try and follow the satellites to try and track down who built the network and why. This leads to new worlds. They discover one beautiful world they call Paradise and against Hutch’s wishes, land on it. The reason? They discover aliens on it, whom they call Angels because they’re beautiful people with large wings. They step out of their lander bearing gifts and are attacked and suffer two fatalities before Hutch saves them and gets them out of there. It’s sobering. Hutch wants to return, but the remainder of the group want to keep going.

They keep following the satellites and find a new world with a huge home on it. They land and find it’s deserted, but looks lived in. They discover two burial plots outside and one looks like it’s been touched recently. They call the Academy and the Academy decides to send a ship of researchers out there.

Meanwhile, while they’re out in space, they spot a rock-like monster sized space ship, an alien one, and are really excited. They call it the chindi. George wants to land on it and explore it, especially if it involves finding an alien race inside. They send radio messages to the ship, but they are ignored. Finally, against Hutch’s better judgment, they go to the ship and cut through a hatch and get inside the ship. It’s huge. Bigger than big cities. They find many rooms that are like museums showing other alien races and even movies of them. George is ecstatic and wants to stay on the ship with his crew. Hutch is worried the ship could take off into hyperspace at any time though, but George says she can come back to pick them up when it’s about to do that, so against her better judgment, she agrees. I guess she’s a bit of a pushover, when I think of it.

After a few days, Hutch’s AI tells her the chindi is about to take off and she contacts George to let them know they don’t have much time. And the ship is in the middle of something like a hurricane. She doesn’t know if she can pick them up safely. She tries, but one of them dies and another, her love interest, is trapped on the ship. She goes into hyperspace to meet the chindi at its supposed destination and beats it there. Big concern. Now there are several human ships in the system and the problem is how to get Tor, the man on board, off the ship before it goes hyper. It’s an exciting and breathtaking finish to the novel and you don’t get a break from the action at all. During this adventure, a couple of other ships that took satellites on board for Academy exploration blew up, so there were more deaths. Was it all worth it? Okay, so Hutch is a bit of a pushover, but she saves the day repeatedly and saves people’s lives in the process. She’s a great ship’s captain. And the Contact Society makes some great discoveries. This is a fantastic novel, better than the previous two, and I don’t see how the author will be able to top it in the next three, but I’m eagerly waiting to read all of them. Strongly recommended.


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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Spy Hook

Spy Hook (Bernard Samson, #4)Spy Hook by Len Deighton
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

THIS BOOK IS A FRAUD! THIS BOOK IS A JOKE! THIS BOOK IS AN OUTRAGE! Whew. Okay. Breathe.

This was my first Len Deighton book after having heard about him for years. I knew he wrote spy books. I thought they might be like MaClean or Forsyth books. I was dead wrong. This wasn't a spy book. It was a mystery, and not a very good one. Additionally, this was the fourth book in what very well might be a nine book series, and it's not much of a stand alone novel, so that hurts it.

In this book, Bernard Sampson is a "spy" working for the "Service" who has a buddy who has moved to America who confides in him that there are some funds no one knows about in the Service that are missing and wonders if Sampson's wife, who has defected to the KGB, has something to do with it. Days later, Sampson is told this man has been murdered, which turns out to be false. Sampson's curiosity is piqued, so he asks a few questions and before you know it, everyone he talks to is telling him to shut the F*** up and mind his own damn business, even old, trusted friends he's known for years. He's even sent out to L.A. where he's to be given instructions, is picked up at LAX, driven to a compound and is reunited with an old friend he thought was dead, but is obviously not. This guy gives him the same line. On the way back to the airport, the CIA picks him up and gives him the same line. What the hell is going on? He goes to visit an old family friend in the English countryside who tells him the same thing and who makes him promise not to go visit his new hot girlfriend's unstable uncle, which he immediately does, and who tries to kill him. He's saved by a friend. He goes to the director of the Service and spills all, thinking this will solve things. He's then sent to Berlin, where, as he and a friend are getting off the plane, he spots MPs waiting -- for him. The director has set him up. His friend claims to be him and is dragged off so he can escape and he goes to East Germany, returns, goes to an old Service friend's house, confronts him about the money, his wife, his friend, everything, is given some money and sent on his way and leaves. End of story. AND THAT'S IT!!! NO QUESTIONS ANSWERED. NO RESOLUTION. NOT EVEN ANY REAL ACTION. WTF??? What kind of spy story is this? This is pathetic. And Deighton has this annoying manner of presenting his characters as clowns, jokes, with sad attempts at humor. It's bad writing. And Sampson is grouchy and a real asshole to everyone he meets, except his 22 year old girlfriend, whom he adores. I mean, you can't like this guy. I was rooting for him to get shot. Nothing happens in this book and I read this criticism on a lot of reviews, apparently because the author uses this book to set up the next book in the series. But I'll be damned if I'm supposed to buy a book just to buy another! That sucks! That's marketing, not authorship. The irony is, I did buy the sequel when I bought this and I started reading it immediately to find out what the hell happens to this jerk, but if I don't get some resolution out of this book, I'm writing this author off permanently and burning both books. I already hate the guy. What a schmuck. Definitely not recommended -- at all. Under any circumstance.

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