Friday, October 30, 2015

A Rising Thunder

A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington, #13)A Rising Thunder by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this #13th Honor Harrington book wasn't quite as good as the preceding Mission of Honor, I still enjoyed it immensely. Even though it has a 4.05 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, a lot of people don't like it because it lacks sufficient action for them and is too talky. But, for me, if you like political intrigue and political maneuvering, this is the story for you. And I do. The Honorverse is getting much more complex and it's no longer just huge space battles with monstrous fleets blowing each other up. Now you have a growing conflict between the huge, arrogant Solarian League and Manticore and its new ally, The Republic of Haven, its old enemy. You also have the evil Mesan Alliance with all it's trying to do to destroy everyone. And now you have Beowulf, a long-time League member who has close financial and personal ties with Manticore, considering leaving the Solarian League to join forces with Manticore. It doesn't hurt that the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Beowulf's governing body, is Honor's uncle.

We see a lot of the Solarian League's top level bureaucrats making mistake after mistake in continually underestimating Manticore. We see them sending a huge fleet to Manticore to demolish it, only to have it totally annihilated. For the first time, they're actually told by naval analysts they have virtually no chance of winning the war and little chance of remaining in power. Indeed, the Solarian League might even collapse. So, they make contingency plans. We see Manticore start making economic war on the League and it starts to really hurt the League. And we see the League blame Beowulf as traitors and as the reason the invasion failed.

Apparently, this book is simply one half of a longer book that was cut in two by the publisher with the second half published a year or two later. I just bought this second book and got it in the mail yesterday. Started it last night. Don't know how it'll turn out, but hopefully it'll be good. So, yes, not as much action, though there's definitely some. And a lot of politics and political intrigue. Which I like. It sets the plot up more fully so you understand how and why things are transpiring as they are. I'm not certain this is actually a five star book, because it's not actually as good as other Honor books I've given five stars to, but I can't think of any reasons not to give it five stars, so I am. Recommended.


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Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel (Robot, #1)The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, at last! In this book, Asimov proves that he is capable of writing ... something. He's reasonably intelligent and articulate. I'm kind of shocked. After reading the Foundation books, I was convinced he was an imbecile and his reputation had been faked. His writing was so atrocious, I could only finish the first one. In this book, he actually proves he knows what a transition is, something you never see in a Foundation book. He also proves he knows how to write dialogue, although still not very good. Better than Foundation, however.

This book centers around the murder of a Spacer, presumably by an Earthman in New York City, which is a huge city underground, and one detective Baley is ordered to investigate and find the killer. And he's assigned a partner. A Spacer robot named R. Daneel Olivaw. What's the big deal? Well, Earthmen hate Spacers and hate robots with a passion. And Spacers tend to look down on Earthmen because of their diseases and their hatred of robots. So, due to the First Law of Robotics, it's impossible for a robot to have killed this man, and it has to be a human, and since it wasn't a Spacer, it has to have been an Earthman, but since no one is allowed into Spacetown with weapons of any kind, who could it have been and how could they have done it? Baley has to find out and find out fast. And he has to get past his own hatred of and bias against robots. It's a pretty good plot, although the mystery is pretty easy to solve halfway through the book. One of the downsides is that, while Baley ultimately solves the mystery, he proves numerous times that he's a total dumbass. Great protagonist. This is, I believe, the first in the Robot series of books. It's okay; maybe the rest will be better. Whatever the case, I now know Asimov is capable of stringing sentences together without sounding like an idiot. I guess that's good. If you want a quick, albeit outdated read, it's cautiously recommended.


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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mission of Honor

Mission of Honor (Honor Harrington #12)Mission of Honor by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book! I don't know what all these one and two star reviews for a 4.17 rated novel are talking about. This was easily the best Honor Harrington book I've read to date. So much happens in this book. I guess the thing most people complain about is there's not enough action, but I disagree. Too much politics, people say. Well, you've got to see and understand the politics to understand how things transpire between Manticore, Haven, the Solarian League and other places. It's essential to the plot. Does Weber get carried away with conversation and meetings? Yep. But I'm used to that and that's what the skill of skimming is for. This is the book where war, real war, between battered Manticore and the huge, arrogant Solarian League begins. And the Manties kick the crap out of the Sollies, which just pisses the Sollies off even more. This is the book when we see Manpower/Mesa rise up and launch plans to create the Mesan Alignment, a group of worlds containing genetically created "supermen," to change the face and fate of humanity forever. This is where we learn they've been the ones manipulating Manticore and Haven all this time and are now manipulating the Solarian League to attack Manticore in an effort to destroy the Star Empire. And this is the book in which we see unreal technology employed by the Mesans to absolutely destroy Manticore and its allies. This is also the book when we finally see an end to the decades old war between Manticore and Haven, something we've all looked forward to for a long time. So we don't see enough of Honor. Big deal! A lot happens in this book. The series has expanded beyond Honor and besides, she still plays a major role. So there aren't the usual huge space battles between hundreds of ships of wall. Big deal! There are still battles and talk of more. And this book is setting us all up for what will come in the next book, when I'm sure all hell will break loose. I'm used to giving Honor books five stars, but I'd give this book 10 if I could. I really thought it was that good. Definitely recommended.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mr. Hockey

Mr. Hockey: My StoryMr. Hockey: My Story by Gordie Howe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really good autobiography of one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Perhaps the best. He played in an era that preceded me, so I never got to see him play, but I've seen video and I've obviously read about him and he was pretty impressive. I knew he played a long time, until he was quite old, but I learned a whole lot more about him in this book.

Gordie Howe was a Saskatoon boy who grew up loving and playing hockey. And he was good. This was in the era when the NHL just had six teams, an era that lasted for a long time, so jobs were scarce at the NHL level. Still, he dreamed of playing in the NHL. Like many hockey players, he wasn't the best student. He wanted to be out on the ice all the time. He was so good that the New York Rangers offered him a contract when he was just 15! And he turned them down. He was very shy and the thought of moving to New York, where he wouldn't know anyone, turned him off. The next year, at 16, Detroit offered him a contract. He asked if he'd know anyone in camp. Apparently a number of Saskatoon boys would be going to their training camp and that sealed the deal for him. He quit high school (one of his biggest regrets, he writes) and became a professional hockey player. He spent two years, but only the second playing, in the minors and was finally brought up to Detroit around 1948. His original contract was for something like $2500. Back then, there was no player's union and players weren't allowed to discuss their contracts with each other. The owners said they made no money and couldn't afford to pay the players much and the players believed them. It was a crock of shit. For years, Howe made next to nothing, even when Detroit told him he'd be the highest paid Red Wing and one of the highest paid players in the league. In the late 60s, when he found out a scrub was making substantially more than him, as well as many other teammates, he felt really betrayed. And demanded a big raise. Which he immediately got. And then he realized he could have demanded four times that much and gotten it.

Howe became a scoring machine. He won six Art Ross trophies for NHL scoring leaders and six Hart awards for NHL MVP. He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups. And this is the thing that really impressed me -- he was in the top five in NHL scoring for 20 consecutive years!!! That's completely unheard of. Sidney Crosby has been in the top five in consecutive years, I believe, twice. Other players, once, twice, four times. How? Twenty consecutive seasons. That's unreal. Of course, there are a lot of people who think Howe was a dirty player and he addresses his hard nosed style of play in the book and admits to it, but largely writes that he became violent largely in retaliation. In any event, he became the NHL's all time scoring leader and also accumulated 2,000 career penalty minutes. His scoring title lasted until Wayne Gretzy came along and took it.

One thing I didn't know was Howe played long enough -- and longer -- to play on the same team with two of his grown sons! How incredible is that? They played together for years. And although I knew this, it's incredible to think that he played in five decades -- the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties, when he was in his fifties. Isn't that astonishing?

He writes a lot about his wife, whom he dearly loved. She became his business manager and was quite good at looking out for him. Unfortunately, she died in 2009 and he's been alone and missing her since. He's now in his late 80s and, as his children write in the final chapter, is getting dementia, which is very unfortunate. At least he retained enough of his memory to write this book. What a great player. He played professional hockey for 32 years. That's got to be some kind of record that will never be broken. Is this the best autobiography I've ever read? No. But it's a quick and interesting read and well worth the time. Recommended.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Foundation and Empire

Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2)Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'm sorry if I sound like a sci fi traitor, but this book sucks. And this series sucks. I have no idea how it won a one time Hugo for best sci fi/fantasy trilogy of all time, beating Lord of the Rings, but the idiots who gave it to Asimov were complete morons. First of all, this book is unbelievably stupid. It's divided into two parts. In the first, a young general of the fading Galactic Empire comes to invade Foundation. With 10 warships, only eight of which work. And it turns into a 10 year war. Somehow. I have no idea how Asimov figures that. In David Weber's space battles, hundreds of ships are destroyed in seconds in his books and that's how I picture things to be. You don't go "invade" a world with eight ships, nor would it take 10 years. That's just stupid. And when Foundation defeats him, they somehow have defeated the Galactic Empire too, even though it encompasses thousands of planets and Foundation has invaded none of them, so that makes literally no sense. The second half of the book is about a mutant called "the Mule," which is an utterly stupid name, who is anti-Foundation and who has arisen from nowhere to take over a planet without firing a shot, whom no one has really seen, who there are only rumors about, who all of a sudden is taking over all sorts of planets, and who attacks Foundation for some reason. It's mind numbingly stupid. The second thing that makes giving this book part of the best trilogy of all time stupid is, like the other Foundation books, the writing is utterly atrocious. Asimov can't write. It's like he got three degrees in science and decided he could write novels, so he did, but he actually can't. Compare that to me. I have three degrees in English and writing. What if I decided I wanted to go dabble in science? I would have no validity to do so, but isn't that the same thing Asimov is doing? I like his robot books, to a certain degree, but frankly, the more I read of him, the more horrified I am at his total lack of writing skills. For instance, the man has never heard of transitions. Never. One minute a character is talking to someone, telling him he'll go to another planet to talk to someone else, and the next sentence he's talking to that other person, but you don't know that because there's been no transition letting you know that. There's been no goodbyes said, no space travel, no landings, no travels on a new planet, no setting up meetings with a new person, nothing. Just the next sentence, the character is talking to the new person and it just magically happens. Terrible writing. Then try this on. This is a one sentence paragraph opening chapter 16. It's unreal.

"When the twenty-seven independent Trading worlds, united only by their distrust of the mother planet of the Foundation, concert an assembly among themselves, and each is big with a pride grown of its smallness, hardened by its own insularity, and embittered by eternal danger -- there are preliminary negotiations to be overcome of a pettiness sufficiently staggering to heartsicken the most persevering."

What the HELL is that about? What does that even mean? It's just gibberish! It's trash! And that's how Asimov writes. He writes like crap. Who taught him how to write? Did he ever take any writing classes, let alone creative writing classes, in college? And his dialogues are typically wooden and unbelievable as well. Just atrocious. Bad, bad, bad. He mixes 1950s casual colloquialisms with formalities and pseudo-technical gibberish to make it even worse. It hasn't aged well, that's for sure.

When I read the first Foundation novel a little while ago, I was disappointed, but I thought it was somewhat original, so even though I thought it was a three star book, I gave it a four star review. This one isn't sliding by. I didn't even finish it, I was so disgusted. And I have the next one, the next two actually. Somehow I doubt I'll read them now. I can only think they'll be massive disappointments to me. For the life of me, I have no idea how many people can give this book a five star rating. Clearly they have few standards as far as quality of writing goes. Call me a snob, but I think there are many, many more sci fi writers out there with infinitely better writing skills -- and ideas -- than Asimov. I just started a huge book of his early stories which has a very high rating on Goodreads. I hope I'll like it and I actually think I might. But this book? Not recommended at all.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

I, Robot

I, RobotI, Robot by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My introduction to I, Robot was through the movie by the same name starring Will Smith over a decade ago. Having enjoyed it immensely, I was dumbstruck to find out that the book by the same name and author the movie borrowed its title from had absolutely nothing whatsoever in common with it at all. Nothing. Geez. Nonetheless, I generally enjoyed this book. It's a series of nine connected short stories featuring Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist with the company U.S. Robots, and her career spanning life going from robots that don't even talk to ultimately giant robots that run the world. There are some pretty crazy things that take place in the stories and sometimes you wonder how the characters are going to escape their predicaments, but they always do. However, as I've been discovering the more I've been reading Asimov lately, the writing is dreadful. The dialogue is wooden and unbelievable and the author has hardly heard of transitions, which makes for difficult reading at times. This book reads better than the Foundation novels, which are truly dreadful to read, but it still could have been improved. I'm beginning to wonder how Asimov gained his mammoth reputation if all of his work contains writing of this type. Cause it's pretty bad. At least the characters are slightly more developed -- but not much -- than in Foundation. Nonetheless, a fun read and cautiously recommended.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

In Death Ground

In Death Ground (Starfire, #3)In Death Ground by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a big book of space battles. That's all it is. No major plot or back plot. No real character development. No real politics, no religion. Just the Terran Alliance (humans and their several alien allies) against the Bugs, who are spider looking aliens who are suicidal killers who like to eat the people they capture on planets they conquer. This is just battle after battle after battle. It's okay at first, because they're fairly good, but then they get redundant. Fast. After all, how many times can you see hundreds of Alliance fighters fight Bug gunboats, all slaughtering each other by the hundreds, before you just go brain dead and fight the urge to yawn? Besides, the Alliance has virtually no ships, ever, and the Bugs have a zillion. And they're constantly getting slaughtered by the hundreds, but they just keep coming, over and over and over again. After awhile, it gets tiring to see the same old thing take place -- 40 Alliance ships, most of them small, against 150 Bug ships, most of them huge. The real kicker of this book is the Alliance gets its ass kicked in the end and they don't win. Instead, they hunker down to play defense for what will obviously be a sequel. Kind of annoying and besides, the authors have created such a one sided situation that I don't see how the Alliance can possibly win in the sequel no matter what they do. So it'll be the extinction of humanity and its allies. It's not bad writing, but it becomes boring fairly quickly, unless you like reading about the same types of space battles over and over again. If you do, you'll love it. Personally, not recommended.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hell's Foundations Quiver

Hell's Foundations Quiver (Safehold, #8)Hell's Foundations Quiver by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN A GREAT DEAL OF PROFANITY. IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY PROFANITY, PLEASE DO NOT READ IT.


Hell's Foundations Quiver (Safehold #8) was a fantastic book. But David Weber, the author, is a first class ASSHOLE and I'm getting really sick of this addictive fucking series he's written. This is the fourth straight book with the war in Siddermark and with where the book ended, it's clear to me that there will need to be between two and four more books before this war is concluded, if then. And that's too goddamn much. Damn it, the first war was over in one book, the first. The second war, between Charis and Corisonde, was over in one book. Why the fuck can't this fucking war be over in one fucking book??? Why the hell does it have to stretch over four fucking books, and now apparently many more? WTF? Weber is obviously a greedy fuck who has discovered that if you write 1,000 page books in such incredible detail from so many perspectives, you can draw a war out six or eight or 10 books and suckers like you and me will pay countless millions for them. Cause it's admittedly an awesome story. In fact, it's the best story I've ever read. That's why I keep coming back to it, even with all the stupid names I resent so much and even with all of the phrases Weber has his characters repeat on virtually every other page until you want to bash your head into the wall. Countless reviewers have commented on how slow the plot is. Well, he's slowed it down even more. Even though this book is probably the best Siddermark book in the series, and even though it's full of action and battles, nothing really happens. There's no progression. No resolution. Just a military stalement for yet another year, basically. So why write the fucking book at all? Because Weber wants to make bank, that's why? Greedy prick! I'd love to tell that SOB off. He's the most amazing writer, even with his bad, annoying habits, and can create the most amazing worlds, but damn, he manipulates his readers with his unbelievably slowed down and unresolved plots. Yes, it was good to see the vicars, the Group of Four, freaking out. Yes, it was good to see Charis and Siddermark settling some debts, militarily. Yes, it was damn good to see Merlin slaughter some bastard Army of God fanatics again. And, yes, like the ending of the last book, the ending of this book was pretty good, with Merlin appearing out of the blue before Earl Thirsk of Dohlar. Presumably in an attempt to save his life. And since this book began with where the previous book left off, it's safe to assume the next one will too. (And the first chapter of this book was excellent!) But, dammit, do I have to wade through umpteen more battles I'll never remember with newer weapons that barely progress technologically with lots of politics and religion and realistically nothing at all happening? Cause if I do, I'll never read another fucking Weber novel again. I already hate his guts for doing all this shit to us. I already resent him for his obvious manipulations of his readers. Does he really have to string it out so damn long? And not only that, but when the war in Siddermark is finally over sometime in, oh, book 12 or so, will we FINALLY get to see Charis invade the Temple Lands and attack Zion and finally pay back the Group of Four like we all have been dying to see for the last eight books? When the hell is that going to happen? Or is Weber going to string that war out for five or eight books too? Cause if he does, I'll be dead before this series is done and frankly, he's no younger than me, so he might want to consider finishing the fucking series before he dies himself. Asshole. And what about getting humanity back to space? When the hell is that going to happen? In book 35? I mean, really? WTF? Weber started an excellent series and then got carried away and now he's dug everyone a hole they'll never get out of. What a cruel bastard. Honestly, if you read this book on its own merits, it's a five star book. It's really good. But you can't do that. Because it's part of the series and because it's a big part of the war in Siddermark sub-series, which Weber has yet to come close to completing and I'm so damn pissed about that, I'm inclined to give the book one star. Because that's what Weber deserves. So I'm compromising and giving it three undeserved stars. I guess if you're reading the series and haven't already given up, you'll have to read this, so it's recommended, but otherwise, give up now while you still can. Cause this series isn't going to be over for the next 20 fucking years.


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Kingpin

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime UndergroundKingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kingpin is a fascinating and utterly frightening account of one hacker/carder who essentially took on the world and took over the billion dollar carding empire -- until the FBI finally got him. Max “Vision” Butler was a giant self taught computer genius from Idaho who settled in San Francisco and met another guy named Chris and found they had some things in common, like making money and hacking. Max had already been in prison for hacking and had a vendetta against authority and society even while at the same time viewing himself as a "white hacker," hacking for society's good. He was a walking dichotomy. They set up a carding scheme with Max as the hacker/carder, hacking at first into restaurant point of sales machines and getting credit card data from them, and later into a zillion "secure" computers and servers of banks and companies (and individuals too) around the world. He gave the card data to Chris who built a card making factory in Orange County and soon he was making millions, while paying Max next to nothing. But Max enjoyed the challenge of hacking and carding. And he was the best, or at least one of the very best. There was a Ukrainian who could have challenged him for that title, apparently. Going by the name of "Iceman," Max destroyed all of the English speaking carding boards on the web one night and transferred all of their members to his new board, Carders Market. There, people exchanged ads and sales of stolen credit card numbers, by the millions at times, and other card and ID making odds and ends. Until one FBI agent infiltrated a competing board that Max had taken down. It was brought back and this agent was made an admin there. He was getting tons of info, but he was after Iceman. Trouble was Iceman found him first and tried to out him. The irony was, this FBI agent was so good that as soon as he was outed, he made some major online changes and defended himself successfully and pointed people in other directions. Another irony is that so many carders and admins were actually FBI informants. The story of how Max was ultimately caught and brought to justice was pretty exciting, like an action novel and again, the irony was it occurred immediately after he decided to quit carding and go legit and he had deleted his account from the board and was saying his goodbyes, even as the FBI came storming through his door.

This book is especially good because it's well written and written with authority, as the author, Kevin Poulsen is a well known former "dark hat" hacker from before Iceman's time, and is now a Wired editor. He writes quite well and while explaining technical things like Sequel hack attacks in Internet Explorer, it never feels like he's talking down to you. Indeed, he even shows some lines of code at various places in the book so you get a feel of what some of the hacks looked like. I've got to say, though, that I'm damn glad I use a Mac. Virtually all of the hacking/carding is done to and with Windows machines and can't be done on Macs. And since 95% of all computers and servers are running Windows commercially, it's scary as hell, but at least I don't have to worry about anything here at home. I hope. Still, the scary thing to learn was that online transactions are actually much more secure than live credit card transactions and that restaurants are the absolute worst. Followed by retail stores and gas stations, etc. The primary reason it's so bad in America, and trust me, we're not told just how bad it is, is because our credit cards still use those magnetic strips, which are completely hackable. The rest of the world has gone to unhackable chips and while some banks in America are making that transition -- I have two credit cards with chips -- most places won't because of the expense. They'd rather pay for stolen money and credit than to upgrade their systems. How screwed up is that? People's lives are totally ruined. Their social security numbers are stolen and sold, their driver's licenses are stolen and sold, their credit and debit cards and PINS are stolen and sold and the banks and companies don't want to make changes cause it's easier and cheaper to reimburse people. Great. Makes me want to never use a credit card again. And of course, that's impossible. Oh, never use a credit card via public wi fi. Never.

So I wasn't sure if this was actually a five star book or not, but I can't think of any reason not to give it five stars, so I am. Definitely recommended.

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Living Well With Migraine Disease and Headaches

Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You...That You Need to KnowLiving Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You...That You Need to Know by Teri Robert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book might have been a good, rudimentary resource when it was published, but since it's now 10 years old, it's rather dated, especially as related to the meds it discusses, and most of its information can undoubtedly be found online rather easily. Nonetheless, I learned some things from this book and was happy I read it. The book focused, of course, on migraine headaches, as well as tension and cluster headaches. It mentioned a few other more minor headaches, but just barely, and it didn't mention at all the head pain that I'm afflicted with, trigeminal neuralgia, perhaps because so few people have it. I don't know. I found it interesting that the author asserted that cluster headaches are the most painful condition known to mankind and are considered the "suicide" disease. It's interesting, because I have books that say the same thing about trigeminal neuralgia and I've read many articles that agree and even Wikipedia writes that TN is considered to be the "suicide disease." So who's right? I guess it doesn't matter that much. Both are considerably bad. And ironically, since I've been officially diagnosed with both, I guess I'm doubly suicidal, right?

This book had some good tips and had some good forms in it. It had some good tips for dealing with doctors and insurance companies and I appreciated that. As I wrote, the meds info is outdated, but the book can't help that. My primary complaint, though, is that even back then, shouldn't people with serious headaches and migraines have researched and known a lot of this basic information? This book is so basically rudimentary that I was shocked that people even had to know most of this stuff. Yet the author published questions and answers sent in by people which simply shocked me. Most were unbelievably ignorant. People, it's called the Internet. Research. Good book though. Something to use as a starter if you know nothing about serious headaches. Something to discard if you do. Moderately recommended for the current times.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Childhood's End

Childhood's EndChildhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Childhood's End is simply one of the most brilliant, excellent, and exciting science fiction novels I have ever read. To think that it was published in 1953, years before so much of this technology had even been thought of, is miraculous.

One day numerous huge space ships appear and hover over all of Earth's major cities. Aliens have "invaded" the earth. They are called "Overlords" and people are now at their mercy. However, they've come to do good! They solve Earth's political, criminal, religious, military, and nuclear war problems and introduce a life of leisure and prosperity to all of humanity. Yet they won't show themselves and this drives people nuts. The head of the UN is the only human allowed to talk to the Overlord Supervisor and he does so once a week. Finally, he begs him to show himself to humanity and is told that the Overlords will ... in 50 years.

Fifty years later, when mankind has grown lazy and incompetent, the Overlords descend from their ships and show themselves and what humans see is shocking. Yet they get used to seeing them among them.

Meanwhile, one man, Jan, decides to stow away on an Overlord ship to go their home planet. He estimates it will take 80 earth years, but because of light speed, only two month his time, or four months going both ways, as he's sure he'll be sent back once he's found there. And he succeeds. And is stunned at what he finds. The Overlords' planet and cities are unlike anything he could ever have imagined and he yearns for Earth.

Meanwhile, a couple named Greg and Jean have two young children where they live on an island commune. Their oldest boy is saved from a tsunami by an Overlord and starts having odd dreams. His parents become worried. Greg eventually meets with Karellen, the Overlord Supervisor, and what he is told chills him. Mankind is changing. The Overlords are here to supervise that. What happens to facilitate that is truly original and the ultimate fate of humanity is rather sad, in my opinion. When Jan gets home from the Overlord's planet, he is stunned at the changes on Earth. And a lot is explained to him, and to us. The final pages are chilling and simply unreal. I've never read anything like them before. Clarke can really write some original stuff.

To me, this is easily a five star book. In fact, I'm under the impression that this won a Hugo at some point. If so, it was much deserved. The book "only" has a 4.07 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, so there are obviously some people who don't agree with my assertion, but that's still a pretty good rating. Do I recommend it? Hell yeah, I do! This is easily one of the best books I have ever read. And frankly it helps that it's only about 200 pages. You can read it in a day or two. Strongly recommended.

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Foundation

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly don't know how many stars to give this book. I know how many I'm supposed to -- five. After all, it -- and the other two books that make up the Foundation trilogy -- was awarded the one time Hugo for best all time sci fi/fantasy trilogy ever, beating out Lord Of The Rings and others. So it's major. And I was prepared to be mightily impressed. Unfortunately, I wasn't. It was okay. It was interesting. At times, I suppose it might have been exciting. But on the whole, it was largely dull. There was absolutely no character development at all. There was only one female character in the whole book and she appeared in about two pages toward the end of the book. The book is about one Hari Seldon, who has developed a new branch of mathematics called psychohistory. This is 50,000 years in the future, by the way. Psychohistory can roughly predict the future on a large scale. Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire and creates a brilliant plan to save the knowledge of the human race in a gigantic encyclopedia as well as to shorten the barbaric period expected to follow the demise from 30,000 years to 1,000 years. A select group of scientists are chosen to write the encyclopedia and to unknowingly carry out the plan to re-create the Galactic Empire in 1,000 years.

Seldon dies and others carry on with his plans. The Foundation, as it is called, is a nuclear world. The barbaric worlds around it are not. The Foundation creates a religion in which to "invade" the nearby worlds, establish their religion and establish nuclear nations so that these worlds will become dependent upon the Foundation for their very lives. It's brilliant. But somewhat dated. And there is no fighting in this book. All warring is done by wits. Which is interesting. The first Seldon replacement is a politician. The next two are traders. The book ends with the third and I assume the next book will pick up with a fourth, although I don't know what his status will be. I've read that the next two books are better than this one and I'm hoping that's the case because I really wasn't overly impressed with this book. Indeed, I'd give it three stars, to be honest, if in fact it weren't Asimov and the Foundation series, with its gigantic reputation -- thus the four stars. Nonetheless, recommended.


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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

At All Costs

At All Costs (Honor Harrington, #11)At All Costs by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another five star Honor Harrington book. It seems all I ever give those books are five stars. But I think they're that good. This book has a 4.15 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, so a lot of people obviously like it, but most of the reviews I read were one and two star reviews simply bitching about it. And I don't understand that. Why are they even reading this series if they don't like the characters, the kingdoms and systems, the politics -- which are essential to the plot -- the battles, etc? I think these people giving these books one stars are idiots and need to be reading something else, something besides military sci fi, obviously.

I think this book is a turning point in the series, even though the series is drawing to a close. Honor gets pregnant and via tubing, gives birth to a baby boy. Everyone's happy. However, maybe not everyone. See, the people on her planet of Grayson wouldn't understand a single, unmarried woman giving birth to a bastard child, so someone must think about a solution. She, of course, has been seeing Earl White Haven, and by extension, his crippled wife, Emily, who also gets pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. The grand solution? Honor marries them. Both of them. I know, it's crazy and no one protests at all, but she does it and I guess it satisfies people. However, I would have liked it if Weber had written some people's reactions into the book.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic documents going back and forth between Manticore and Haven have been sabotaged, so both make plans to restart the war, and many have misgivings about it. Honor is selected to lead Manticore's fleet and they strike first and draw blood. However, Haven has developed a huge fleet and attacks a planet and does even more damage. Haven's president wants to end the war and sends a peace proposal to Queen Elizabeth who grudgingly agrees to meet with her in a neutral location. However, three separate assassination attacks take place leading to some gruesome Manticorian deaths, all of which point to Haven, so Manticore gears up to restart the war once more. Haven knows they're not responsible, but they also know Manticore assumes they are, so they plan to put together the biggest, strongest fleet ever assembled and attack Manticore's home system and end the war with Manticore's surrender. And so develops the biggest, baddest, coolest space battle you'll ever read about. Hundreds of superdreadnaughts and thousands of LACs fly and die. Millions of people die. And who wins? Well, you have to read the book, of course! It's a pretty awesome and big section of the book, though. Weber really knows how to write battle scenes. It's his greatest strength.

From events that occur in this book, it looks like Manticore is about to gain a new enemy for future books. That's pretty bad for a kingdom suddenly without much of a fleet, since their fleet has been shot to hell. But I'll take that bridge when I come to it in the next book. I'm anxious to see Honor get back to Grayson to settle things with the opposition steadholders. Very anxious to see that. If you're reading this series, this book is strongly recommended. If you're not reading this series, don't start with this book -- you won't know half of what's going on. Awesome book.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

From Counterculture to Cyberculture

From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital UtopianismFrom Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was a massive disappointment. I had been wanting to read it for so long and had really been looking forward to it. I had heard about the Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Earth Review and their respective influences for years, and I had been on The WELL for over a decade myself (sch@well.com) and thought it was the best BBS ever devised, and of course Wired Magazine was awesome, so I knew this book had to be cool as hell. Boy, was I wrong. I actually almost finished it, almost made it 300 pages through before giving up in disgust. I don't know how you could take such a COOL topic or topics such as Stewart Brand, 60s/70s counterculture, the invention and growth of the Internet, the importance of the Whole Earth Catalog, the influence of The WELL, the influence of Wired, the growth of the New Economy, and so much more, and make it SO DAMN BORING!!! God, this book sucks. It reads like a bad doctoral dissertation, which I guess should come as little surprise since Turner got his PhD at UC San Diego and taught or teaches at Stanford. He's writing to his academic cronies and I guess he's writing to impress them, but it's definitely not for laymen, because he takes a chronology of events, times, places, people, things, happenings, big ideas, etc, et al, and bores you to tears while also beating you over the head with redundancy until you want to bash your head into a concrete wall. This is frankly one of the worst written books I've ever had the misfortune to read and I have no doubt that if ANY other decent writer out there had undertaken to write a book about similar topics, they could have written an engaging, enlightening, entertaining and cool book that would have captured most readers' attentions. Instead, this garbage kills any interest I've ever had in the subject and I'm almost embarrassed now to have been on such a cool and influential BBS as The WELL after Turner has turned his destructive powers of total boredom on it. I'm giving the book two stars instead of one because the topic is good, but the book is not. Most definitely not recommended. I can't stress that enough.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

The Untethered Soul

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond YourselfThe Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Untethered Soul is a unique book and it obviously means a lot to a whole lot of people because I've never seen a book with a higher rating on Goodreads than this one. Yet I had some problems with it. For that, I'm a little embarrassed, to be honest. Nonetheless, I did.

First of all, I don't normally pick up too many spiritual books to read. I bought this one on the recommendation of a relative. And I found it intriguing. Singer has some interesting concepts. He wants people to stop suffering, to be free, to find their consciousness, to become self aware, to attain true enlightenment. In that regard, it's largely an Eastern religious book, although Singer tries to "Westernize" it by mentioning Jesus (and other spiritual leaders) throughout the book. He begins with the voice in your head that is always talking to you, your own, always second guessing you, offering you advice, often wrong, etc. He writes that if the person behind this voice were on the sofa beside you, you would kick him out in a heartbeat, thinking him crazy. Not a bad point. He writes of the "monkey man," the person inside your head who makes your life miserable and how you can go about silencing him and attaining your true freedom. Yet at the same time, his instructions for doing this seem to me -- but apparently not to others -- to be rather vague, as though the reader already knows some of the steps for going about this. For instance, if your heart is closed, you'll be hurt by things. You need to open your heart to attain true happiness. Um, okay. How exactly do you "open your heart?" Cause I don't know how. I don't think it's as easy as just that.

The book, while small and apparently easy to understand for many, seems fairly heavy to me. Perhaps that's because I'm stupid, although I've read an awful lot of philosophy over the years, but there's an awful lot of advice here, some of it quite good when you can follow it. And if I were to follow it, I'd have to read this book some five or six times to just be able to even try to follow all of the advice he gives. I can't do it with one reading. I tried out some of the things in the early chapters and it's quite difficult.

In the later chapters, he starts to get pretty redundant. Actually, he is pretty much throughout the entire book, but it becomes more noticeable in the later chapters. He also starts talking more about God, which is the subject of his last chapter. I actually got something out of this, although I'm not sure I agree with everything he asserts.

Singer believes one can become totally free and totally happy, but in order to do so, one has to seemingly completely clear oneself of any distractions and thoughts of virtually anything, becoming a nonhuman organism (in my words). That doesn't appeal to me. I think that's a weakness of both the book and his approach.

The Untethered Soul is an ambitious book and parts of it are quite good, but I think some of it's pretty vague, some of it's pretty damn difficult to actually accomplish, some of it's boringly redundant, and it might be a little overrated by some. I'm glad I read it and I might reread it again at some point, but it's not the greatest book ever written. Nonetheless, recommended.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Firebird

FirebirdFirebird by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been feeling horrible lately and frankly don't feel well enough to write a normal and thorough review or synopsis, so I apologize. I just felt the need to get a few words down though.

Firebird is the sixth and probably last book in the Alex Benedict series, a series I've largely enjoyed. And I feel like this book is as good or better than any book in the series.

In Firebird, Alex and Chase attempt to do a couple of things, or more accurately, there are two distinct plots in this book. Which makes it doubly interesting. The first involves the late physicist Christopher Robin (I'm not kidding), who tried to understand the time space continuum and ultimately may have found the way in which ships -- and people in them -- can time travel. Eternally. Secondly, AIs have always featured heavily in this series and in this book, McDevitt explores whether they are sentient beings, whether they evolve, whether they even have souls, and if so, should they be given every right a human has. There's a planet called Villanueva which has been deserted for 7,000 years as the population was destroyed by a natural disaster, but the AIs are still functioning after all these years. And virtually every human who has landed on the planet since has been killed by them. Naturally, Alex and Chase go to Villanueva. There, they find some things they are looking for, are attacked (naturally), escape, and are contacted in their ship by an AI who is anxious to be liberated from that planet. After much thought and worry, as well as pleading on his part, they return to the planet to get him, retrieve him and take him back to Rimway. He explains many other AIs also want off the planet. Alex gets publicity out of this and a lot of missions are taken to go rescue the AIs, even though Alex doesn't think it's a good idea. And there are a lot of deaths. For which he's blamed. All of a sudden, he's one of the most hated people on the planet. So it helps that he and Chase are off in space a lot of the time, searching for Robins' lost ships. Do they find them? Possibly. If they do, it's an awesome conclusion to a great series. This could easily be read as a stand alone book, but I still think one should start with the first book and read them in order. Whatever the case, strongly recommended.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The War Minstrels

The War Minstrels (War Minstrels, #1)The War Minstrels by Karen Haber
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Oh my God, is this a stupid book! Needless to say, I didn't get very far in it before giving up and putting it aside. The protagonist is a dumbass and, frankly, it seems that all of the characters in this book are morons. I don't know why the author chose to write them that way, but it makes them all quite unlikable from the beginning, so it seems like a bad idea to me. Kayla is an empath who comes up with the bright idea of becoming a prisoner to be put on board a prison ship to contact another prisoner who owns and knows the location of a valuable jewel -- like she would give it up??? -- so that she could get that information and then use her empath abilities to contact her shipmates who would swoop in on the prison ship and save her. Except that the guards use drugs on her, which dulls her abilities to use her empath skills. Etc. Also, the dialogue in this book is quite bad. The scenarios are stupid. And Kayla is part of a "legal" smuggler ship that is now an "illegal" pirate that boards a freighter. With three people in its boarding party. To fight five people on the freighter. Now I admit that I've been reading too much David Weber over the past couple of years, so I'm sure my views are pretty skewed, but his freighters always have something 300, 400, 500 personnel or more. Five? Really? When freighters are boarded in his books, it's usually a company of armored battle Marines with pulsar rifles. Three people? Really? And then these three people transfer the contents of the freighter to their ship somehow? Right. Like I said, stupid. I hate stupid sci fi authors. And there are so many of them. I'm sure not going to read Haber again. Not recommended.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

War of Honor

War of Honor (Honor Harrington, #10)War of Honor by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though this Honor Harrington book has a 4.09 rating on a 5.0 scale on Goodreads, it seemed that all I saw were one and two star reviews. People HATED this book! They thought there was too much politics and not enough action. Well, I completely disagree and I loved this book. Yes, there is a hell of a lot of politics, but it's all completely critical to understanding the buildup to the beginning of the new war between Haven and Manticore. Without seeing the politics and the behind the scenes dialogues and scenarios, we'd have no idea why hostilities have resumed. It's critical to the book and the series. I suppose Weber probably does go overboard on the amount of politics he shoves into this book. He has a tendency to do that in his books. But it's still critical to the book. In fact, I wish we had seen more of Grayson's politics in action, personally. That was probably pretty critical too, but Weber largely skipped over that.

In this book, the Opposition government, led by Baron High Ridge, has downsized Manticore's navy by an extreme amount, because of sheer arrogance and stupidity. Meanwhile, in the four years of negotiations, during which time Haven has actually tried to get a peace plan in place and High Ridge won't negotiate cause he's a greedy bastard, Haven's been rebuilding its navy. Big time. At the same time, the Andermani Empire is trying to take Manticore on to take over Silesia and Honor is named task force commander of a largely obsolete group of ships sent to Silesia to watch over the Andermanis. Fortunately, Grayson sends a group of its state of the art superdreadnaughts to support her, so that's awesome. Communications between Haven and Manticore disintegrate over time, in part because Haven's Secretary of State is modifying them to tick off the High Ridge government. So finally, Haven attacks Manticore's many systems it had taken from Haven in the previous war, as well as Honor, and they have great success, accept for Honor, of course.

One thing in this book which is odd and which is a carry over from the previous book is a budding romance between Honor and Earl White Haven, who is married. It doesn't seem realistic, like her relationship with her dead lover, Paul. It seems forced, strained, unbelievable, and the government's opposition releases news that they are lovers, when at the time they are not, and it damages their reputations. Yet they yearn for each other. And White Haven's crippled wife, whom he loves, meets Honor and loves her immediately and approves of their romance like any wife would -- in a stupid, unrealistic sci fi novel written by an arrogant, dumbass man! This carries over to the following book too, which I've already started.

This isn't the best Honor book I've read, but it's quite complex and juggles many scenarios and issues simultaneously and does so rather well. Honor is still perfect, a bit too much, but one unique and cool thing about this book is Weber turns the tables on the systems. In this book, the Havenites are portrayed as the reasonable, peace loving, nice, realistic people while the Manticorian government is portrayed as arrogant, greedy, snide, deceitful liars, and much worse, so that you actually find yourself rooting for Haven for the first time ever. It's brilliant! Good book. If you're reading the series, strongly recommended.


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