hankrules2011

Just trying to make it, a day at a time…

A Review of Spy Hook

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 1, 2015

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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A Review of The Short Victorious War

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 27, 2015

The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3)The Short Victorious War by David Weber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Review of Theories of Flight

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2015

Theories of Flight (Samuil Petrovitch, #2)Theories of Flight by Simon Morden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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A Review of Who I Am

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2015

Who I AmWho I Am by Pete Townshend

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

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

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A Review of The Last Man Out of Saigon

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2015

The Last Man Out Of Saigon: A NovelThe Last Man Out Of Saigon: A Novel by Chris Mullin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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A Review of Deepsix

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2015

Deepsix (The Academy, #2)Deepsix by Jack McDevitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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New RRR Out!

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 21, 2015

Since it’s the first day of summer, I’d like to announce the publication of the Summer 2015 issue of Ray’s Road Review. Please read and enjoy.

Since I’m the poetry editor, I’d like to highlight the poets. They include Susan C. Waters, Bill Abbott, Ivan Jenson, Grant Mason, Mitchell Grabois, Michelle Askin, and Erren Kelly. Additionally, there are two books reviews for books by Frederick Pollack and Dimitris Lyacos. I hope you like it all.

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My First WP Post Anniversary

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 20, 2015

Today is my fourth anniversary of my first WordPress blog post! Yay! I migrated over from Xanga to WordPress, a little unsure of things, but eventually found my way around and the rest is history. I’m going to post my first post from June 20, 2011. It’s short.

 

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Hello world!

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 20, 2011

Hi there! My name is Scott Holstad. I’ve been blogging on Xanga since February 2004, and while I am still there, I have decided to try a new, different blog over here on WordPress.

Let’s see … what should I say about myself? I was born in Boston and have lived in several states and two countries. I have moved roughly 26 times. My favorite place I have lived has been Los Angeles. I’m now living in the Chattanooga TN area. (I moved up here from an island I was living on. By the beach. Across the street from the bar I frequented every night. Sweet living. Good times….)

I’m a professional student and teacher. Thirteen years of college at six academic institutions, resulting in three (underused) degrees. Taught at three academic institutions.

More importantly, I’m a professional writer and editor, with decades of experience to my credit. I have experience in the newspaper, magazine (print and online), and book publishing industries. While I have authored 15 published poetry collections over the years, I have generally supported myself through technical writing and editing, project and program management, and consulting.

I am currently serving as the poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review, an excellent online literary journal founded by a fantastic fiction writer named Chris Duncan. He is also serving as the fiction editor. Please stop by the site and read. If inspired to do so, submit as well. We’re eager and open to submissions.

I guess that’s enough for now. If anyone stumbles across my new blog and wants to say hi, please leave some comment telling me about yourself. It’d be greatly appreciated. Cheers!

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There! That was it. Not very impressive, was it? Still, my first effort. My first effort on Xanga back in 2004 was even worse. My next effort was better. I might reprint that in another day or so. Thanks for reading.

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A Review of Nothing’ to Lose: The Making of KISS

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 17, 2015

Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975)Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS by Ken Sharp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Review of On Basilisk Station

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 14, 2015

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1)On Basilisk Station by David Weber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flawed, but entertaining.

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

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

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

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