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

A Review of Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories Volume 1

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 23, 2015

The Complete Stories, Vol 1The Complete Stories, Vol 1 by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This 600+ page book of short stories is a pretty good collection of Asimov’s early 1950s work. Some of the stories are very, very good, such as “Nightfall,” which I was delighted to find had been turned into a full novel later, which I recently bought and intend to read. Others are not quite as good. One that irritated me was “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda,” where a man comes “home” to a space station after being out in space for a long time and as he’ll be heading for the planet and his wife in another day, he contacts a local woman for a one nighter — even though he’s married. Events occur that delay their tryst and she gets impatient with him and I guess the humor lies in his attempts to solve everything so they can get together and hit the sack. Finally, everything has been taken care of and he’s ready to go meet the whore, when he hears a woman call his name and turns around to find his wife unexpectedly greeting him — and he’s ticked. To me, this was a very offensive and sexist story. I didn’t think it merited inclusion in an anthology of collected works since it was in such poor taste. But then, as I’ve discovered, Asimov — if you go by his early work — was a bit of a sexist himself, as he rarely used female characters and with one exception I can think of, when he did, they were typically window dressing — poor, helpless, empty headed dullards completely dependent on men to save them from whatever was happening to them. Oh, and as we learn in one story here, woman like to talk. A lot. I guess that’s all they do. Pig. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt by saying maybe he was a product of his times. It was the 1950s after all and women’s lib hadn’t occurred and a woman’s place was in the home, so maybe…. And I haven’t read enough of his later work to know differently, although I just finished Foundation’s Edge today and it had strong female characters, although one was evil. It was written in the 1980s. Maybe he adjusted with the times.

In any event, the stories in the book are largely pretty good, until you get to about the last 100 pages or so and then the quality of the work drops off immensely. I’m not sure why that is, but the last several stories are quite bad. There’s a marked difference between them and the earlier pieces. Again, I don’t know why the editors decided to do it that way, but that’s just the way it happened, so I guess you have to live with it. One thing that was interesting is Asimov’s obsession with computers, using one giant computer he calls “Multivac” repeatedly in his stories. Multivac is a computer that pretty much runs the world and everything in it. It is hundreds of miles big and spits out data punch cards, much like the giant 1950s-era computers did, requiring specially trained computer programmers and operators to interpret its results and instructions. He also worries about man versus machine and sides with man virtually every time, which is interesting as he is constantly writing about machines such as robots. I find Multivac interesting because it’s proof that Asimov had absolutely no sci fi foresight like other sci fi writers, such as Philip K. Dick, did. He never was really able to guess at desktops, laptops, smart phones, or anything like that. Meanwhile, so many other early sci fi writers were able to envision things such as these that I am continually amazed that Asimov maintains the massive sci fi reputation he enjoys. Personally, I think he was stuck in a 1950s nuclear-era technology rut with absolutely little ability to think ahead creatively like so many of his peers and while the stories in this book are generally pleasantly well written, except for much dialogue, which Asimov always seems to have problems writing, his writing skills don’t even begin to measure up to so many other sci fi writers, it’s not even funny. Personally, I think he had several decent ideas and could tell a decent story, but then so could hundreds of other writers, so in my opinion, he was just a hack. I can easily name numerous other sci fi writers who are infinitely better than he ever was.

Whatever the case, and no matter how poorly Asimov wrote most of his novels, most of these short stories are quite good and are pretty well written. I assume he must have had a good editor. This book is the highest rated book I have ever seen on Goodreads, with a 4.36 out of 5 score. I certainly don’t think it deserves a 5 at all and I’m not even sure it deserves a 4, but I’m going ahead and giving it one just because so much of it was entertaining and after all, isn’t that what you want out of a good short story? I’m curious, now, to see how his writing matured in the ’60s, so if I see Volume 2 of this series, I’ll probably get it. As for this book? Recommended.

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A Review of Foundation’s Edge

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 23, 2015

Foundation's Edge (Foundation, #4)Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spectacular! Finally, a Foundation book worthy of its reputation and legacy. I found the Foundation Trilogy to be quite mediocre, at best, and even gave the second one just one star and couldn’t even finish it, it was so bad. The writing was horrible in the first three books, the characters undeveloped, the plotlines flat, the technology rather pathetic with far too much reliance on nuclear energy 20,000 years in the future. The books sucked. But this one, written 30 years later, shows a maturity in the writing style, a certain growth, and while no one can ever confuse Asimov’s ability to create character development with “real” writers, he certainly improves it in this book. So, too, the plot is decidedly better, more intricate, more intriguing, the book may even be viewed as a page turner! What a pleasant surprise.

Foundation’s Edge focuses on Foundation Councilman Golan Trevize, whose ideas about the existence of the Second Foundation get him in a great deal of trouble. Likewise, a young Speaker of the Second Foundation, also aware that something is completely wrong with the Seldon Plan, is viewed as a troublemaker. Trevize is arrested and exiled for his challenge to the Mayor of the Foundation. He is given a secret mission – to find the Second Foundation and determine what it is up to and then to report back. The Second Foundation’s Speaker’s goal is to find who is manipulating the Seldon Plan outside the Second Foundation, as he is now convinced is happening. These two mysteries and men are destined to find one another and then, what happens, happens.

Trevize takes historian Jan Pelorat, an unknown academic who believes, bizarrely, that humans, now spread over a zillion planets, actually originated on a single planet: Earth. Pelorat unwittingly joins Trevize as a cover for his search for the Second Foundation. Pelorat is obsessed with Earth. Why did people leave Earth 20,000 years ago? For instance, why are there no records of its history or location anywhere, just rumors? Was Earth destroyed by radioactivity? Did a war between robots and humanity force humans to flee the planet to establish new worlds?

Speaker Gendibal takes as his companion a Hamish woman named Novi, whom he will use as a mental alarm in the event anyone or anything attempts to take his mind over. Novi ends up playing a significant role in this book.

Foundation Mayor Branno leads a fleet of five warships to the mysterious planet Trevize and Pelorat locate, Gaia, a planet found on no maps or in no databases anywhere. Trevize, Gendibal, and Branno all appear at Gaia simultaneously and discover something unbelievable. And something unbelievable happens to end the novel.

There is another book Asimov apparently wrote after this book and this one was so good that I’ll probably buy that one and read it too. I hope it’ll be nearly as decent as this was. I also know there are now preludes to the original trilogy, but as I hated the trilogy so much, I doubt I’m interested in reading any preludes. This book is superior, a most excellent book, and while it helps to have read the trilogy, I’m not certain it’s necessary – it can probably be read as a stand alone book. Even though it’s over 425 pages, it doesn’t feel long and is a quick read. Definitely worth the investment. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of Hell Hath No Fury

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 19, 2015

Hell Hath No Fury (Multiverse, #2)Hell Hath No Fury by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second in the Multiverse series created by David Weber and Linda Evans, Hell Hath No Fury is quite excellent. If one can stomach quite a bit of violence. For violent it is. Two separate worlds in two separate universes, each exploring new alternate universes through portals they’ve discovered, encounter each other in the first book. And Arcana, the magical, militaristic culture run entirely by spells attacks a civilian survey crew from Sharona, which is a technology-based world, of a WW I era of technology, including rifles, revolvers, artillery, etc. Both sides suffer casualties, but while Arcana takes two prisoners, both of whom are presumed dead by Sharona, and one of them is the most popular woman in their universe, Sharona exacts their revenge on Arcana. So Arcana sends out some “diplomats,” asking to negotiate, not shoot. Things seem odd, but the Sharonans decide to negotiate in good faith, as they don’t want an interstellar war. Meanwhile, the devious Arcanans are moving up thousands of troops and dozens of battle and transport dragons to attack the Sharonans and invade their portals and take as many as possible into Sharonan territory. In doing so, they’ve lied to their troops, telling them their most popular citizen was killed by Sharanon troops when in fact it was an Arcanan who killed him. And they know that. They’re itching to start an interstellar war, but they have no orders to do so. One rogue mid-level officer has ordered this and now tens of thousands of lives are at stake.

Meanwhile, we meet Crown Prince Janaki, heir to the Sharonan throne, detailed to take some prisoners home and accompany Voice Darcel Kinlafia, the man who “saw” the original slaughter and alerted all of Sharona to what had happened. Janaki is a good man and talks Kinlafia into going ahead of him to run for Parliament, where he might be able to do some good. He, like his whole royal family, has Glimpses and knows his destiny lies in dying in defense of a major portal fort several universes away. His father, Zindel, and his sister, Andrin, not yet 18, both have strong Glimpses and are deeply worried. A Conclave is called and a world government is called for to unify the world’s countries and their armies into one, all presumably to be led by Zindel. Unfortunately, one Chava Busar, Emperor of Uromathia, is holding everything up, refusing to give his approval to this arrangement unless Zindel’s son marries one of his daughters, thus putting his grandchild on the empire’s throne at some point in the future. Many people are ticked, but Zindel agrees and the time is set for putting this all together.

So, the time has come for the Arcanans to attack. And they do, with 14,000 men against 800 Sharonans. And they lose a battle dragon or two, which shocks them, even though they annihilate all Sharonans. There are three types of battle dragons. One breathes fire, one throws lightning bolts, the third breathes poison gas, killing the most people. They are their secret weapon, since the uncivilized, barbaric Sharonans don’t have and have never seen magic.

And they attack a fort. And decimate it. And take prisoners. And torture and slaughter the prisoners. And this becomes a pattern. When Weber, for this is undoubtedly his work, writes bad guys, they are REALLY bad! The Arcanans are evil bastards. They kill all the Voices, since the have learned about the Sharonan VoiceNet and how they use it, and they destroy fort after fort, taking prisoners and torturing and slaughtering them as they go. It seems the only honorable Arcanans are the long distant Jasak Olderhan and Gadrial Kelbryan.

Finally, they reach the big fort, the major fort where Janaki is. Through his Glimpses, he has been able to warn the commander of the impending attack, how it will happen, where it will come from, how to defend, etc. And they’re ready. The battle scene is a typical David Weber battle scene: most excellent. And of course, Janaki dies. The serious problem with that is it leaves Andrin heir to the throne and now Busar is insisting she immediately marry one of his sons and he is gloating his way to the throne. However, as we will hopefully find out in the next book, Kinlafi will have something to say about that and will play a major role in the survival of Sharona. The book ends in a typical Weber cliffhanger stalemate and I’m damned eager to see some Sharonan revenge. The problem for many people is that this book was published in 2007 and there’s been no Book Three. People have been left hanging and they’re not happy about it. Apparently, Linda Evans became quite ill, so the series was discontinued. People ask why Weber didn’t just continue it himself, since it was so quite obviously HIS book. But he didn’t. The good news is, I just learned that Book Three is scheduled for publication in March 2016! With a different co-author. Don’t know what happened to Evans, but I’m damned glad Weber got together with someone to continue an excellent series. The first book was quite good, but this one was better. Lots of action, lots of intrigue. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Hyper-Chondriac

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 19, 2015

Hyper-chondriac: One Man's Quest to Hurry Up and Calm DownHyper-chondriac: One Man’s Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down by Brian Frazer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting memoir. At times, it’s often quite funny. At times, it’s often quite sad. It’s about one man’s experience with coming to terms with and trying to overcome his rage, anxiety, tension, and violent outbursts. At least he recognized his problems and tried, right?

Brian grew up in a Long Island Jewish family where his mother had MS and was one angry, pissed off, horrible bitch of a human being who practically tortured his father for life and made life miserable for him and his siblings. They never ate dinner together, except for once a year. They only ate fast food. When Brian went to college, he didn’t know how to use utensils and ate, quite quickly, with his fingers and hands and thought all the stares were admiring stares of appreciation for his appetite. He literally ate everything as quickly as possible and with his hands. In fact, he was always in a hurry, always impatient, and blew up at anyone who got in his way or who let him down, especially as he was excessively punctual. He took up body building — he was rather OCD — and built his body so greatly that he won competitions. Then he took to eating ice cream competitions. And so it continued.

One thing I didn’t like about the book is that somewhere there’s a break in the book — and his life — where he apparently graduates from college, moves to Los Angeles, marries a girl named Nancy, and becomes a writer — and he doesn’t mention any of this in his own memoir. Um, okay. Yeah. Rather stupid, if you ask me.

The remaining chapters are about Brian’s attempts to get his life under control. He finally finds out he’s “abnormal” when he goes to a dermatologist who tells him he’s the most tense human he’s ever seen and proscribes Zoloft for him. He’s stunned. Of course, he knew he was guilty of tremendous road rage, but then, wasn’t everyone? So, he turns to other areas that might help him — yoga, tai chi, Ayurveda, cranial-sacral therapy, etc. Each chapter is on one of these and more. He learns something about himself and of value for his search for betterment in each chapter, no matter how ridiculous the scene or how badly he’s getting ripped off. Finally, he and Nancy get a dog near the end of the book and it’s a very calm dog. And it helps calm him, along with his stringent diet, yoga (which initially almost destroyed his hip), etc. Towards the end of the book, a sister calls him to let him know his mother is having serious medical problems and his father has thrown his back out and needs help caring for her, so Brian and Nancy take off for the East coast to help out, where he is immediately taken back to the anger and hatred of his youth. But he survives and moves on, wishing his mother could too. He leaves the reader with his status as a work in progress. It’s really an unfinished book. I wondered why he chose to write this particular book at this particular time in his life. I don’t know the reason and will probably never find out. Whatever the case, it’s a good read, if for no other reason then it’s very, very funny. Recommended.

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A Review of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 18, 2015

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary FaithMeeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith by Marcus J. Borg
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

For a long time now, I’ve heard that Marcus Borg is THE intellectual theologian of liberal Christians and as a result, I’ve been wanting to read some of his work. See, I was born into a strict evangelical, near fundie, home and grew up indoctrinated in evangelical tenants, taught to fear and hate “liberal” Christians, who weren’t actual Christians at all and who were going to hell. By the time I reached college, I was so disgusted with my religion, I left the church – went as far away as I could – and stayed away for two decades. Sometime in my mid to late 30s, for some unknown reason, I felt drawn back to God and the church and explored my old church and others like it because I knew no better. And I was overwhelmed by the judgmentalness, intolerance, dogma, right wing politics, hatred of the poor, and obsession with wealth. Literally, in my old church, the richest man in town went to “our church,” the mayor went to “our church,” a state senator went to “our church,” the governor was an elder at “our church,” a congressman went to “our church,” 5,000 people went to “our church” which had a huge campus you needed a map for and a budget in the tens of millions. It was truly disgusting. I’ve read what Jesus taught and did while he lived and these people certainly didn’t reflect that, in my opinion. So, it took a long time, I guess because I’m stupid, but I finally figured out I’m not an evangelical in my 40s and went looking for a new church. And found a home in a mainline church. Which seems to teach what Jesus taught, unlike the evangelicals and fundies. Now, in all honesty, even though I know Jesus wouldn’t approve, evangelicals repulse and disgust me and I can’t stand them and can’t stand to be around their arrogant, I’m-better-than-you, I’m-the-only-person-saved, yuppie asses. If there is a hell, I personally think most of them will wind up there. But then I sound too much like them, so maybe I better retract that statement.

Anyway, Borg. I got this book and started reading eagerly. And to my astonishment, I was beyond disappointed. I was appalled. Borg is literally bone headed stupid. He’s a dumbass of the first degree. He’s not a “real” Christian, in my opinion, probably doesn’t even know what one is, and this book is a sham. Even though I view myself as a fairly liberal Christian, I’m afraid I’m going to probably come across sounding like my old evangelical self in this review. And that disturbs me.

First of all, Borg grew up Lutheran. And didn’t really know too much about Christianity, even by his own admission. He began having doubts at a young age, like many people. However, unlike many people who wonder why God allows horrors to happen to “innocent” people, he wondered how God could be everywhere when he was clearly up in Heaven. Which strikes me as odd. Just odd.

He went to college, I believe at a Lutheran school. And experienced enough doubts to become a closet agnostic. And then a closet atheist. And so, logically (sarcasm intended), he went to seminary. Where he had four life changing experiences that changed his mind forever and brought him back to Christianity. As he wrote this, I eagerly waited to read about them. Imagine my shock and disappointment when he NEVER even wrote what they were, not one of them. What the hell? What is that about? Bizarre!

So Borg went on to become a religious studies professor at Oregon State University where he did “research” on historic Christianity and Jesus and came up with some “startling” conclusions. Bear in mind, it took him some 40 years or so to realize this and he’s announcing this publicly in this book – he’s come to the realization that Christianity is not about works or deeds or following commandments or belief or sacraments. Instead it’s simply about having a personal relationship with God! With God! Unreal!!! Can you believe that? I knew that at age four. Ask ANY evangelical child of five years or so and they’ll be able to tell you that. And yet Borg had to study and research and dedicate years to come up with this mind blowing conclusion that he is illuminating the world with, one which most of the world already knows. His stupidity is unsurpassed.

This book then goes on to talk about Jesus. Sort of. It talks about “pre-Easter” and “post-Easter” Jesus. See, pre-Easter Jesus is historical. Post-Easter Jesus probably didn’t exist and is metaphorical. Not possible. Jesus was a “spirit person.” A holy man, but you can’t say that, because holy means spiritual and that’s not cool and of course it’s not PC to say “man,” so spirit person it is. And here’s another startling revelation Borg comes to. Jesus was compassionate! Wow! Borg, you sure are brilliant. However, that’s not all. Oh no. See, Borg talks about wisdom, how important it is in the Bible, how it was present at the beginning of creation, how it connotes with Jesus himself. He then goes on to say that the Greek word for wisdom is the feminine noun, “Sophia.” So he does this neat little trick of quoting several Bible verses, substituting “Sophia” for “wisdom” wherever he finds it, thus making it feminine, yet proving nothing. Except in his own mind. See, he equates wisdom with God. And since wisdom is equated with God and since wisdom is female, therefore God is a woman. Yep. And Jesus was therefore not the Son of God the Father, but the Mother. Not that Jesus was the Son of anyone, nor was he God, nor was he part of the Trinity, cause all of that’s bullshit for Borg. Not possible. Pure metaphor, if not outright lie. I honestly don’t have a problem with a genderless god. In fact, that’s how I view God. But probably due to my ingrained evangelical upbringing, I have a major problem with God as woman. Unless I’m mistaken, God is a patriarchal god throughout the Bible, worshiped as such by his people, a patriarchal people, and worshiped as a male god by Christians throughout the centuries. Now I admit, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, but I’m unwilling to simply throw that out and change God to a woman just to be PC. I have a woman pastor at my church, so I obviously don’t have a problem with female religious leadership, but in my opinion, both the Old and New Testaments clearly define the female role in society and it’s certainly not to be a matriarchal culture, like it or not, fair or not. Sorry, but true.

Even though I was near the end of the book, after this chapter and after the preceding showcases of utter ignorance and stupidity, I decided not to finish the last few pages of the book. And I’m deleting all of the other Borg books I have on my Amazon wish list. To me, he’s a pathetic fraud and no intellectual. To me, he wouldn’t know Christianity if it bit him on the butt. I’ll be content to read liberal Christian authors like Rob Bell and Brian McClaren. While reading reviews of this highly rated book, I came across a highly placed one star review that sums up a lot of what I think about this book and I’m going to quote it in its entirety, giving credit to the author, but doing so without his permission. I hope he won’t mind.

Oct 04, 2012 Webster Bull rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: faith
Two Episcopalians whom I respect told me I should read this book. Both said that it frames Jesus in a way that makes sense to them. It does not make sense to me.

The non-sense begins with the whole notion of needing to frame Jesus to make him palatable for our liberal, postmodern, science-driven culture. Which is what Lutheran theologian Marcus Borg does in this popular book whose cover claims “Over 250,000 Sold!”

Borg says that we need to look at our images of Jesus, and if we don’t like them, come up with our own. Better yet, adopt Borg’s images, for which he provides up-to-the-minute scholarly reasons. He is the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion at Oregon State University.

Borg doesn’t buy the image of Jesus as divine savior. So out it goes. He doesn’t particularly like the image of Jesus as a teacher either, because it leads, he claims, to a moralistic image of the Christian life.

Instead, he asks us to “image” Jesus as a spirit person. (Why does “image” have to be a verb? For that matter, who made “narratival” an adjective?)

What, you ask, is a “spirit person”? It is Borg’s gender-inclusive term for what used to be known, in the dark ages, as a holy man. Spirit, of course, is that shapeless something so many of us take for granted, the noun form of the comfy, empty, all-embracing adjective “spiritual.” Heaven forbid that anyone should be “religious”! But at least we’ve learned something earthshaking: Jesus was a holy man! Except that we shouldn’t refer to him as a man.

Next, Borg asks us to “image” Jesus as compassionate. What a breakthrough idea! This leads to a discussion of the Jewish “purity system” and how Jesus broke down this system, which of course suggests that we, in our compassion, should break down any and all cultural norms.

Yet the idea of “compassion” overturning cultural norms involves Borg in a circular logic he doesn’t admit. If you overturn the old norms for new ones, shouldn’t the new ones become new targets of our “compassion”? But he is so determined to make Jesus politically correct that logic goes out the window.

Here’s another revolutionary image of Jesus we are asked to embrace: He was a sage! He was a “teacher of wisdom”! This leads to a long disquisition on the Greek word for wisdom, Sophia, and the fact that it is a feminine noun. Soon enough we are asked to envision God as feminine and “womb-like.” Borg retranslates passages from the Book of Wisdom, substituting Sophia. The amusing results speak for themselves:

“Sophia cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance tot he city gates she speaks . . . ” And so on. Pretty soon, we are asked to consider Jesus Christ’s feminine qualities:

“In what sense is Christ the wisdom of (and from) God? In particular, are we to understand ‘wisdom of God’ in these verses [from St. Paul] as resonating with the nuances of divine Sophia? It is possible, and if so, it means that Paul spoke of Jesus as the Sophia of and from God.”

Later: “For Paul, Jesus is the embodiment of Sophia.” So the Lord is actually a woman in a man’s body? Isn’t that what’s meant by transgendered? Wow, I never thought of Jesus that way!

Borg ends this flight of theological fancy by analyzing the three “Macro-Stories of Scripture.” (For Borg, everything is narratival!) Two macro-stories are acceptable to him: the Exodus narrative and the story of exile and return surrounding the Babylonian captivity. The third is not so acceptable, however: the “priestly story,” the whole idea that “the priest is the one who makes us right with God by offering sacrifice on our behalf.” To take this story seriously means taking sin seriously, and guilt, and forgiveness. Let Borg speak for himself:

“This story is very hard to believe. The notion that God’s only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that God could not forgive us without that having happened, and that we are saved by believing this story, is simply incredible. Taken metaphorically, this story can be very powerful. But taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message. To many people, it simply makes no sense, and I think we need to be straightforward about that.”

The author throws out so much of the baby Jesus with the bathwater that there’s very little left of Him. Arguing against the “purity system,” Borg ends with a Jesus who has been air-brushed clean of any possibly offensive qualities, like his manhood, for example. Though Borg says he is searching for the historical Jesus, he ends with nothing but images, thinking apparently that only a politically correct, sanitized, insubstantial Jesus can bring skeptics back to church.

Which of course is why the mainline Protestant denominations are shrinking every week. There’s no there there, and nothing left of Jesus, man or God.

Needless to say, this book is most certainly NOT recommended under any circumstance. Unless you’re a transgender, feminist liberal Christian, at which point you’ll probably like it….

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A Review of Hell’s Gate

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 16, 2015

Hell's Gate (Multiverse, #1)Hell’s Gate by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hell’s Gate is a newish military sci fi/fantasy series by prolific writer David Weber and Linda Evans. It’s about two separate earth-like universes exploring portals into other similar universes, leading to an unthinkable meeting in one of these alternative universes, by accident. And, to everyone’s shock and horror, both men who see each other shoot at each other simultaneously (although the Arcanan – the “bad” guys – actually shoots first) and kill each other. Unfortunately, the Sharonan team is a small civilian survey team while the Arcanans are a much larger military force and they go after the Sharonans. And they slaughter them, while taking heavy casualties.

Something of note. The interesting premise of this book and series is this: Sharona runs on the standard technology of the early 20th century, complete with standard weaponry such as rifles, revolvers, machine guns, etc., although a certain percentage of the population has “Talent,” and are “Voices” – mental abilities to speak over long distances, etc. They are invaluable for communicating over incredibly long distances in the empire. However, Arcana uses magic to function as a manufacturing/military society. Everything is run by spells and their weapons are both ancient (crossbows) and mythical (fire breathing dragons). The utter shock when both sides encounter each other is huge. Especially when they ultimately find they can’t even communicate, nor can they understand how either civilization can even work.

The only two Sharonian survivors of what turns out to be a mistaken Arcanan attack, Shaylar and Jathmar, are taken prisoner by Sir Jasak Olderhan, an honorable officer who seeks to protect their lives from his own people. He is helped by Magister Gadrial Kelbryan, a Gifted sorceress, for lack of a better description. Unfortunately, it seems the Arcanans are a war-like people, while at the same time, word of this disaster has reached Sharona and people are outraged, especially since Shaylar was the most popular woman in their universe and they mistakenly believe she was killed. Their whole world is shocked, outraged, and terrified of a possible war coming to them and preparations are made for war — troops, logistics, a worldwide Conclave of all the rulers leading to a demand for a universal government, most likely lead by Ternathian emperor Zindel chan Calirath.

The end of the novel is a cliffhanger, as the Arcanans have sent “diplomats” out to seek negotiations with the Sharonans while they move thousands of troops and dozens of dragons to the front for a surprise attack. Sharona won’t know what hit them. And there the book ends. Weber is so good at ending his books like this. It’s damned maddening! So I immediately had to go out and buy the sequel and I’m already halfway through it.

This is a great book with a unique and great premise, but I’m only giving it four stars because there are so many wasted pages of descriptions and explanations of kingdoms and territories and populations and peoples, none of which really matter to the story – they’re just filler. And this book is almost 1,300 pages! It’s the biggest damn book I’ve ever read! If they had cut out the unessential stuff, it probably would have been closer to 800 pages or less. But as I’ve always said of Weber books, I’m convinced he’s paid by the word/page count. He writes really, really long books with tons of completely unnecessary infodumps that you learn to just skim over to save your own sanity. Four stars for what should be a five star book. Definitely recommended.

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Vanderbilt Neurology Headache Clinic Visit Outcome

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 14, 2015

As I may have mentioned, I have spent several months trying to get into Vandy’s Headache Clinic before finally finding out I was accepted and getting an appointment. It was for this past Thursday. I was both excited and nervous.

Some background. In September 2010, I started getting horrific headaches that I thought were severe migraines, but they didn’t go away and only got worse. My quality of life lessened and they became incapacitating. Eventually, I had massively severe head and facial pain, largely unilateral, which worsened as the day progressed, each day, and I was only functional in the mornings, having to spend the rest of the day in bed. I tried all sorts of pain medications, mostly over the counter and prescription migraine, but the only one that ever helped at all was Percocet. In February 2011, I quit my job. I could no longer function. By that point, I was busy going to all sorts of doctors, dentists, chiropractors, etc., et al, in morning appointments, all over town, trying to find a diagnosis and cure for my condition. The pain was ungodly. Virtually everyone I went to threw their hands up into the air and said they didn’t know, they couldn’t help me. One neurologist I went to had me undergo a lumbar puncture to test me for pseudotumor cerebri. I needed a “score” (spinal fluid pressure) of 20 to have it and I got a 19, right on the cusp, so he concluded I did not and then said he couldn’t help me. So I went to yet another neurologist. He tried a few things and nothing worked, so he sent me to a pain management specialist. In the meantime, my psychiatrist asked if anyone had suggested trigeminal neuralgia. I said no. He said I should look into it. As soon as I left his office, I looked it up and I’ll be damned if it didn’t look exactly like what I had. There are two types and it seemed to me I had the harder one to diagnose, Type 2. When I went to the pain management specialist, he spent an hour and a half with me and listened to me and went over many things with me and then agreed with my assessment and gave me a preliminary diagnosis of TN Type 2 and scheduled me for a diagnostic procedure called a gasserian ganglion block. If I responded to it, I had it. I underwent the procedure, the pain immediately disappeared for the first time in 10 months and it stayed away for 18 days. I had it. I was elated! There was finally a name associated with my problem and that meant there were actual ways to treat it. Nothing great, unfortunately, but ways. Ironically, there’s one medication that is supposed to work really well for people, but I’m allergic to it, so that leaves nerve blocks and five different surgeries, all but one of which are temporary fixes. The other one is a permanent “cure,” but it’s dangerous, sometimes fatal, and some neurosurgeons are reluctant to go that route. And it can kill the nerves in your face and take a year to recover from. So it’s the last resort. So I’ve had a series of nerve blocks over the past few years, some effective, the last three, last year, totally ineffective.

Fast forward to Spring 2014. My TN had been somewhat under control for awhile and I was glad. Then I started getting a new type of head pain, a “standard” type of bilateral headache that was incredibly severe. It’s gotten worse over the past year and a half and this year, it’s been brutal. It’s gotten so bad that I now have a 9 or 10 out of 10 headache pain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every month, all year. I don’t get any breaks. Pain medications do little. Combine that with the severe back pain I’m in, which is also a 9 and 10 out of 10, and I’m in constant agony. I’m looking at several possible surgeries there. In the meantime, I’ve been to my primary care physician, my pain management specialist, a new neurosurgeon, and now a new neurologist trying to find the source of this new damn head pain and a way to stop it. That’s what the three gasserian ganglion blocks were for last fall, but I knew they wouldn’t work because I knew it wasn’t TN pain and I couldn’t get my damn doctor to understand that. My doctors don’t believe me when I tell them my pain is bilateral. In fact, my neurologist told me last time I was there that in all the years he’s been practicing, and he’s a headache specialist, I’m the FIRST person who’s ever told him he has a bilateral headache! I find that virtually impossible to believe. Impossible. By the way, he has diagnosed me with a cluster headache, which is supposed to be the most severely painful condition known to mankind, just as trigeminal neuralgia is too, depending on which research you read and believe. Either way I’m screwed. And this neurologist, to his credit, seemed to be trying some things to help me, but not very well. His meds he gave me did nothing. He gave me Botox injections, but they helped some for a couple of weeks and that’s it. And I don’t like him. He’s the most ego maniacal, narcissistic, controlling doctor I’ve ever met and all of my other doctors I’ve ever had have been wrong, wrong, wrong because only HE knows what’s right. Asshole. So I’m going to stop going to him. That’s when I decided to look to for a better facility out of town for help, cause Chattanooga doctors are worthless.

Enter Vandy. Allegedly a good neurology department with a headache clinic and 80 neurologists on staff. I had some preliminary medical records sent to them with a referral and I was eventually accepted, as I said. I was sent a letter instructing me to bring all of my medical records with me, so I spent two weeks and $120 getting them from four doctors. Getting them from my neurologist was pure hell. He didn’t want to give them to me. Kept making excuses. Had to “approve” my request. Had my personal file in his office which his staff didn’t have access to. Demanded to know why I wanted them. I refused to tell him. If I told him I wanted to take them to another neurologist, he would have gone apeshit insane! I don’t think he would have given them to me. Gretchen decided to go with me for two reasons. One is, it’s a six hour drive both ways and because of my pain, I probably wouldn’t be able to drive back on my own. So that was nice of her. Also she wanted to be supportive and supply supplementary information to the doctor in the consultation and learn things in general. So I got a list of all 22 of my prescriptions and got all of my paperwork together and we hit the road at 7 AM Thursday.

We finally got to Nashville and got there early enough to have a cup of coffee. I then checked in. I was registered and a nurse took my vitals and recorded all of my medications and asked some various questions and then we had to go wait out in the hallway lobby, where there were virtually no seats anywhere. Now understand, we had high expectations. I viewed this as my last resort. My last hope. We expected to spend serious time here. We expected to meet a doctor, spend a great deal of time going over my head pain history, maybe pointing out some things in my various medical records, being given a thorough exam, asked a ton of questions, being given a preliminary diagnosis, and hopefully a new “miracle” prescription that no one in Chattanooga was smart enough to think of. We thought we’d spend some two or more hours there easily. When I went to my consultation and diagnosis at my pain management specialist, he spent over an hour and a half with me.

So, we were taken back to a room and eventually, a very young, very tiny black woman came in and introduced herself as Dr. Williams. She was energetic and extremely assertive. She hadn’t read any of the massive amounts of paperwork I had filled out at home and brought with me or filled out while I was there waiting. I showed her my huge pile of medical records their letter instructed me to bring and was going to hand it over when she surprised us be telling us she didn’t want it. It wasn’t relevant. It didn’t matter. She didn’t care about it. That seriously pissed me off because I spent money and a lot of time and effort getting those records and she blew that off in 30 seconds. In terms of discussing my head pain background, she spent less than five minutes, if that. If that. She seemed more interested in my ADHD and my Adderall. She wanted to know if I’d ever had Botox treatments. That was a question I had just answered on the paperwork I had filled out in the lobby. If she had looked at my paperwork she would have known the answer to that. I told her once. She told me it takes three full treatments of 31 facial injections each before they work. So, she decided to prescribe two migraine medications that I don’t need and won’t work, one of which my rheumatologist has forbidden me from taking, and to double my dose of Topamax, even though I’ve been on the higher dose and found the side effects so horrible, I begged to be taken off it. I was also stunned she would do that without even consulting my doctor who prescribes my Topamax for me now to see if he was okay with that. That’s not professional. She then said I needed Botox treatment “right away.” I thought that would mean next week. Gretchen asked if I needed to drive all the way back up here for that, if someone in Chattanooga could do it. She didn’t seem very thrilled with that, so I volunteered to drive back up to Nashville, which seemed to mollify her. She said the scheduler would set up the Botox treatment. For right away. And she gave me their first available appointment. For mid-February. Mid-fucking-February. Assholes. And this Dr. Williams spent a grand total of perhaps, at the most, 20 minutes with us. We drove six hours for that. Six fucking hours. As Gretchen pointed out to me on the drive home, she didn’t do ANYTHING that any doctor in Chattanooga couldn’t do himself. Nothing. Where was the Vandy magic? Where was the Vandy reputation? And this woman was so sure of herself, so cocky. She KNEW she would cure my pain immediately. And I’m totally unconvinced. Everyone else has tried and failed, why would she succeed? So I gave the visit a generous C-. Gretchen gave it an F. Gretchen was lived. She thought the doctor had an attitude and a serious chip on her shoulder for some reason. She thought she didn’t like Gretchen questioning her. Maybe she’s right, I don’t know.

I had an appointment with my primary care physician here in town yesterday. I told he and his nurse about my experience. They were horrified. They’re going to refer me to yet another local neurologist in the hope that I can find one decent enough to think — apparently they all suck in this town; it’s well known — and maybe, if he agrees with the Botox assessment, he can do it on his own well before I would have to go back up to Nashville again. And then I could just dump Vandy and strike it up as a stupid effort on my part. And there’s always Emory in Atlanta. They’re supposed to have a good pain clinic. Although I’m somewhat leery now. Some of my friends are suggesting the Cleveland Clinic or Mayo, but I’m not made of money. I can’t afford to do that. Geez! It’s got to be within driving distance. That limits my options tremendously. All I can say is Gretchen and I feel really disillusioned with our experience with Vandy and don’t think they really know what they’re doing, no matter how good their reputation. Maybe all Tennessee neurologists are inept? It’s possible. I expected a minimum of two hours and a thorough consultation. I got 20 minutes and a treatment plan I’m not convinced will work and which any doctor in Chattanooga could do next week, not three months from now. I can’t believe I waited for this, hoped for this, put all of this time, money, and effort into this. What a bust.

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A Review of Deathworld

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 10, 2015

Deathworld 1Deathworld 1 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It wasn’t perfect, but boy, was it unique and original! It was so interesting and so intriguing and so action packed, especially for such a small book. And it was really good, surprisingly so for one published as long ago as 1960.

Jason dinAlt, an interplanetary gambler, is forced to take a small sum of money and gamble to make a huge sum of money or face death by some huge, deathly stranger he encounters in his new hotel room. And he does it. But he takes the casino for so much that he has to escape with the stranger. He discovers that this man, Kerk, is an ambassador from a planet he’s never heard of — Pyrrus. The money is for a large weapons shipment. Jason quizzes Kerk about Pyrrus and is intrigued when he is told it’s the most dangerous planet in the galaxy, that mankind is always at war with every living creature, as well as the whole environment, on the planet. Jason thinks of it as a challenge and decides to go to Pyrrus with Kerk, against Kerk’s wishes. And so he does.

When he gets there, he is immediately brought inside a large building and begins survival training with small children. He’s outfitted with a hardy gun and develops quick draw instincts. He practices in simulators against predators and plants and insects and learns to use his medkit and how to survive, along with the six year olds. Eventually he’s learned all he thinks there is to learn, but he hasn’t been released yet, so he complains and they finally let him outside. And he’s shocked. He’s immediately attacked by some huge beast with large, sharp teeth and giant claws that he manages to shoot. The gravity is twice that of Earth’s. There are volcanoes, hurricanes, five or six rainstorms a day, snowstorms, hailstorms, earthquakes, grass blades with real blades on them, insects that can poison you within seconds, etc. The city of 30,000 people is walled off and everyone is trained to kill anything nonhuman that moves.

Jason begins to think something is odd about this. He starts to think that it’s weird how everything on the planet is trying to kill all the humans and maybe, just maybe, there’s someone or something directing them to do this for some reason. He’s determined to find out and put a stop to this war, for that’s what it is. He goes to the library and goes through the remains of the old colony’s records, but they’re all destroyed, except for one, which details life on the planet for the original settlers. And it wasn’t quite so bad back then. So what happened? He needs access to more records. However, there’s a large scale attack on the city and everyone has to go to the battle. He goes and while trying to escape the killer animals, a Pyrrun man is killed saving Jason. And Kerk is incensed. He banishes Jason to his quarters and tells him he’s going off planet the next time a ship leaves in 11 days. However, Jason is restless and can’t let it go. He sneaks out and goes to the kitchens. He talks to people, asking for their records. They laugh at him. No one lives long enough on Pyrrus to have records. He asks about oral histories. They laugh at that too. However, someone mentions something about “grubbers” and he asks what that is. And is astonished at the hostile and violent reaction he gets. From more than one person. But a semi-friend, while hostile, suggests he ask someone else, so he finds this person and does and he talks to Jason. Apparently, these city dwellers aren’t the only people on the planet. That’s shocking. Apparently there are savage barbarians living across the jungles and not only that, but the city trades goods with them for food! Jason is blown away. He asks if he can go on an exchange run and talks his way into it. When he arrives at the destination, he escapes into the jungle and is left alone. However, nothing attacks him. Strange. At some point, though, someone or something grabs him from behind and he is taken captive. He travels some distance and is released from his bonds and he finds he is in the grubbers’ hands. They want to know who he is and what he wants. He explains that he’s an offworld ecologist, studying animal and plant life on the planet and that he came from the city and wanted to meet them. He strikes up a friendship with them, discovers they’re farmers, descended from the original colonists, resent the city dwellers for withholding important goods like medicine and yet live in areas with no environmental hostility. In fact, they have pets and pack animals. Jason is a psi and all of a sudden realizes that everything on this planet has psionic abilities and the truth of the situation comes to him. The rest of the book lies in his efforts to help the city folks attain peace with their attackers and bring the grubbers and the city people back together to live in harmony. Can it be done? Hard task. Maybe he’s up to it, maybe he’s not. That’s what sequels are for, right?

Interesting book. Some people complain that it’s too direct, not complex enough, but I have no troubles with that. It was still interesting and entertaining and again, highly original. I’ve never read anything like it and you rarely get to say something like that. This is the first book in a trilogy and I’ll probably end up buying the other two books. Highly recommended.

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A Review of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 9, 2015

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (The World As Myth)The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Why, why, why? Why am I so stupid? After I finished my last Heinlein book some months ago (can’t remember which one, sorry), in my review I said I’d never read another one of his books, I was so disgusted with him as a perverted writer. I mean, he’s a De Sade pervert. Dirty old man. And I’m no prude. But I don’t want to pick up a decent seeming sci fi book only to find it full of nothing more than gratuitous sex and little else, likely designed to shock and titillate. It’s stupid and, frankly, boring. I think Heinlein has written a couple of decent books I’ve liked over the years, but generally he’s very overrated and he’s really a disgusting person. So I can’t explain what made me stop in the bookstore this weekend while browsing through the shelves and pick this book up and look at the back cover. But the synopsis made it sound interesting and since it was a decent used price, I thought why not. So I did. And regretted it.

The book is about Dr. Richard Ames, who is a resident of Golden Rule habitat, which is a space colony near the moon. One night, he is out to dinner with his soon-to-be wife Gwen Novak when a strange man is killed directly in front of him at his table. Before he knows it, he’s running for his life from an unknown enemy or group of enemies. The thing that made me want to stop reading this book, which I did, was that so many unlikely things happened to Ames and Gwen in a 20 hour period, that it was completely unbelievable. The murder, the three minute cleanup and disappearance of the corpse, the assassination attempt, the evictions, the other murder, the murder frame up, the chase, the rip offs, the sabotaged space ship which crash lands, etc. It’s just too damn much. If half of this stuff would happen to anyone in a 20 hour period, they’d have a nervous breakdown. It’s not believable. To make matters worse, the dialogue is so damned “proper” and so, frankly, stilted, it’s not to be believed either. Gwen takes the assassin under care to turn him into a proper person by educating him in his speech patterns, because one needs to learn how to speak properly if one wants to get ahead in life. Seriously? He just tried to kill your husband. WTF? That’s beyond stupid. And their dialogues and “witticisms” (if you can actually call them that) during their stressful flight from authority stretches imagination. No one talks like that. At all. Ever. No one. It’s beyond stupid. And so I stopped reading. Bear in mind my comment that Heinlein is a perv. So I read some reviews of this book after I stopped reading and to my total lack of surprise, this book turns into a giant Penthouse jerkoff complete with orgies and incest and tons of naked women throwing themselves at Ames throughout the book and why am I not surprised? I know a lot of sci fi writer geeks are a little sex obsessed, probably because they never got any growing up, but damn, what the HELL is wrong with Heinlein? He’s a sick bastard. OK, I learned my lesson. I should have stuck to my guns. No matter how good the back cover sounded, it was Heinlein and bound to be bad, so this was definitely my last Heinlein book ever and he can kiss my ass. What an overrated writer. What a bad excuse for a sci fi author. What a freak. Definitely not recommended, both for the plot and the porn.

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A Review of The Naked Sun

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 8, 2015

The Naked Sun (Robot, #2)The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Naked Sun is really not a bad follow up to The Caves of Steel, both of The Robot series. The book features Earth and New York City detective Elijah Baley and Aurora humanoid robot, friend, and detective R. Daneel Olivaw traveling to Outer World Solaria to solve a murder. Solaria is a very odd world that has essentially no crime at all. It’s a world of 20,000 people and 200 million robots spread out on several thousand gigantic estates around the planet. People are hermits and refuse to “see” anyone else at all, instead “viewing” them holographically when they need to interact. The only time there are human interactions are basically when children are growing up and even though they are cared for by robots, there are occasional times they are needed by people and although these caretakers are disgusted by this, they do their duty. Additionally, most people are married, though not all. Some of these people live together, but in sprawling estates in their own areas so that they don’t encounter each other ever — except on rare occasion when “intimacy” is allowed and required. Finally, rare medical attention, when not being given by “viewing,” is administered by seeing, although it can be traumatic. There’s one doctor, one sociologist, two fetalogists (child caretakers), 10 roboticists, and just not too many of any one type of profession. There’s one or two policemen, but I’m not sure why.

So a leading scientist described as a “good Solarian” was murdered in his estate. The problem was, who could have done it. He was with his robots, but everyone knows that the First Law of Robotics won’t permit robots to harm humans. The only other option was his wife, Gladia Delmarre, who he never would have allowed into his presence in his laboratory, but as she was the only human with access, she’s the guilty party as far as Solaria is concerned. Unfortunately, there’s no murder weapon, no motive, no confession, nothing. So, since Baley (and Olivaw) did such a great job solving the Spacer murder on Earth the previous year, he was requested to come try to solve this murder. And he goes against his wishes. Because like all Earthmen, he’s terrified of open spaces and of light, such as sunlight. Remember that he lives in a giant city under ground full of people and going to a planet where everything is on the surface and there are so few people and so many hated robots is hideous to him. But it’s his duty, so he does it. And in the process, the lead investigator who invited him to Solaria is murdered in his presence while viewing and he himself is attacked with an assassination attempt, so it becomes quite personal. And as he investigates, the obvious murderer to everyone becomes the less obvious person to him, as he looks at other possibilities. To be perfectly honest, this isn’t the hardest mystery to solve. I had it figured out about halfway through the book, but it was still enjoyable to see how things played out and besides, that wasn’t what this book was about. This book’s strengths lie in its look at sociological views of human evolution and technology, in this case, robots. The Solarian sociologist who is the acknowledged expert knows nothing. He is self taught and doesn’t care to study anything by anyone on any other worlds, no matter how advanced or helpful their work may be. The physician, too, seems woeful in his abilities. Solaria, in its efforts to become the perfect human world and society, is freaking falling apart and disintegrating and they don’t even realize it. But Baley does. He sees and understands. The only humans left on Solaria are admittedly the “leisure” class and they are practically useless and helpless. This is what we’ll come to with the aid of robots? Hopefully not. The sociologist shocks Baley by telling him Solaria is based on Earth, but he’s right to a certain degree. They are simply opposite extremes of each other. As in the last book, Baley had become convinced that in order for Earth to survive its population explosion and diminishing resources, it had to once again advance into outer space and again colonize new planets, he’s now further convinced of the necessity for that and when he returns to New York, he makes a point of expressing that to the powers that be, hoping that someone, somewhere will see the light.

The actual solving of the murder is pretty dramatic and somewhat satisfying, if also fairly simplistic and to a minimal degree, somewhat predictable in terms of who the culprit is. My two main complaints about this book are we don’t see as much of Daneel Olivaw as we did in the preceding book, and that’s a shame, and I also find it very hard to believe that Solaria has devolved so much in the 200 years of its colonization so that people are now so disgusted with human contact that they can’t even tolerate it at all and can’t even say the word, “children,” for instance, and can barely tolerate the notion of intimacy with anyone, including a spouse. How can people, in 200 years, grow to despise being in contact with each other so much that some, this happens, would rather commit suicide? It stretches the imagination and I find it somewhat unbelievable. But whatever the case, it is what it is, so I guess you have to go with it.

I thought hard about giving this book five stars because I thought it was pretty original and quite enjoyable, but I’m giving it four because the actual mystery is rather simplistic, as I said, and because there are some elements of the book, as noted, that seem rather unbelievable. It’s not bad though and I certainly recommend it to anyone in search of a decent sci fi mystery to read. And it’s not essential that one have read the first robot book to read this either; it can be read as a stand alone novel. Recommended.

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