An Audio-Book Review: What? Again?

The Lost Destroyer

Volume 3 of “The Lost Starship.”
By Vaughn Heppner
Published by Vaughn Heppner
Read by Mark Boyett

The Book:

So, Starship Victory, an ancient vessel not so much commanded by Captain Maddox as negotiated by Maddox and the ship’s “deified” AI, Galyan, manages a resounding defeat of the vastly superior “New Men,” but while en-route back to Earth, Maddox and his small crew discover a planet-destroying machine inside an ion storm. However, there is a traitor on board and soon that planet destroyer is on its way to Earth, pausing only to wipe out a few worlds and their defending fleets along the way.

The synopsis sounds good, but I guess I am in the minority in my opinion of this book and of the series it is a part of.

First of all, the antagonists are pretty much all the same. It doesn’t matter if they are the “New Men,” the “Methuselahs,” people from high-gravity worlds, or alien artificial intelligences. They are all smugly arrogant in their assurance that they are better than the normal humans (who are actually in rather short supply among the characters) and spend far too much time telling everyone else how much smarter and/or stronger they are. If Heppner’s future world had Twitter, I swear you would be unable to distinguish their Tweets from the torrent of self-congratulatory verbal diarrhea that spews from Donald Trump’s account. As many people pointed out recently, a truly intelligent person does not need to keep going on about how smart he or she is and, in most cases, they won’t. So, my first instinct on reading this book is that none of these “supermen,” who ought to be directly vying with each other over the dominance of Mankind, sound all that intelligent. In fact, they sound more like they are trying to convince themselves rather than intimidate the lowly mere humans they are addressing. However, they seem to have convinced the normal folk (and even the main characters of the series) that they really are better.

I’m still not convinced. In this book, at least one of the “New Men” has managed to infiltrate the government and military of Earth and can deliver orders, unbeknownst to the top brass, to the entire fleet. Meanwhile, they know the planet-killer thing is on its way (and apparently want it to come, so they can use it), but the only orders sent out are to arrest Maddox and shut down Victory. Seriously? Why? It might be more effective to order the fleet away into the wrong part of space, or simply command all ships to engage in “radio-silence.” Or give any number of orders on Earth itself, but, no, they go after Maddox and his ship. Why not simply send orders to Maddox to go somewhere else?

The Methuselah Men appear to be just as silly at times, proof that a high IQ does not mean much if you do not actually think through solving a problem. They have a whole different Machiavellian way of thinking and also seem to have because a strong “shadow force” within the Earth Government , but they, too, seem to like complex and uncertain schemes (that show how clever they are???) where a few simple actions would be more effective. I won’t go into details – spoilers – but they should be easy to spot.

In all, what could be a vastly entertaining space opera just grinds on with the same “I’m much better than you are, you lowly worm, so just stop fighting and bow down to me” rhetoric with a lot of action scenes in between the braggadocio, leaving me with the feeling that I have seen all this before. It might be nice if, just once, a knowledgeable and intelligent character was actually helpful and not setting up the main cast for betrayal, though.

Well, Like I said, I seem to be in the minority and the book has received much better reviews elsewhere, so maybe it is just me.

 

The Audiobook:

Mark Boyett reads the story passably. I was neither wowed nor disappointed by his reading. His presentation could have used a bit more character, but then I was not constantly groaning and being tempted to turn it off either. It’s not bad, it’s not great, but as I said, it’s quite passable.

So, while the book is not to my taste and neither the characters nor the situation ever really develop (one or the other at least, please!) It’s passable and technically better than a lot of the trash that is out there. I don’t think most readers will throw it in the far corner of their room convinced they could do better… (well I think I could do better, but remember I’m a self-published author too), so for a gritty space opera, it’s not horrible and Mister Boyett’s reading might even enhance it a bit.

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An Audio-Book Review: Flash! Bam! Alakazam!

Fire and Fury

Inside the Trump White House

By Michael Wolff
Published by Macmillan Audio
Read by Holter Graham

The Book:

Like most of the recent books about politicians how you feel about this book is going to be colored by your own political bent. I think a lot of people who bought it did so simply because President Trump and his representatives tried so hard to stop its release. I’ll admit that was my main reason. Certainly, had he not made such a fuss and kept his mouth shut, the book would have been released and probably forgotten after a week or two. So, before I go any further, if you are a Trump supporter, you are probably going to hate this book and not believe a word of it. And if you lean anywhere from slightly right to left of the celestial sphere, this book will give you vindication for opposing the current administration.

One of the criticisms I have heard is that it is entirely inaccurate and full of fictional accounts. That is not a good criticism. Yes, some of the details have been found to be in error or to put it bluntly; wrong, but the overall picture of an administration running on chaos with a direction that changes with the wind? Yeah, that seems to be right on the head of the proverbial nail. This is apparently not just the opinion of Michael Wolff. Supposedly, there is another upcoming book, Defiance Disorder by Fox News host, Howard Kurtz, that will corroborate the chaotic view Wolff’s book gives us. However, I haven’t heard much about that one since the initial advance releases were made two weeks ago. I think it was supposed to be released last week, but I have yet to see it. Whether it has been quietly pulled back or is being updated to include the latest… I do not know. (Correction: The name of Kurtz’s new book is Media Madness and was released on schedule. Defiance disorder was his diagnosis of Donald Trump. And if I can find a copy, maybe I’ll review that one too…)

Regardless of what you think of the content of this book, it is written entertainingly. You probably not learn anything from it you have not heard by channel surfing at news time, but Wolff does glue it all together in a rough timeline starting near the end of the campaign up until Steve Bannon left the White House. I could not help but think, “Stay tuned for next week’s episode.”

For some reason, my audio edition played the book backwards. I don’t know why this happens, but sometimes when I transfer a book to the flashdrive I listen from in my car, the chapters start from the end and work their way back to the start. When listening to a novel, I can easily overcome this by using the button that moves me to the previous track and then, as each track ends, go back to the one that should come after it. It’s a little annoying but since tracks generally last from 20 to 60 minutes, it’s not like I am constantly hitting the “Last track” button.

This time, however, I chose to listen to it in reverse order. I had already read most of the book on my Kindle Fire, so I knew how the book progressed. I also knew that the chapters are fairly self-contained. You really can open the book at random and read a chapter without finding yourself hopelessly lost, so listening to the chapters in reverse order very much opened my eyes to stuff that I had forgotten.

As the current administration bulls onward with one controversy upstaging the last at a pace that is exhausting us all, we tend to forget things that have happened or been said earlier than a few weeks ago. Hearing some of Donald Trump’s earlier pronouncements and actions after the more recent ones, really brought home how little improvement there has been in the chaotic situation at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. All that seems to have changed, in fact, is the cast of characters as fewer and fewer of those working there and speaking for the White House come forward with increasingly less experience at what they are doing.

One complaint is that Steve Bannon plays an over-riding role in the book and does not receive all the criticism he has coming to him. Wolff almost manages to make him a sympathetic character especially as Trump begins to sour on him. Frankly that was not a viewpoint I was willing to accept or even believe. It seemed to me that everyone involved tended to get what they deserved good or bad. Bannon was no exception.

In any case, even if you are a Trump supporter, I recommend reading this book. It is a view of what is happening in today’s politics and how they affect us all. As I said above, the book is entertaining and written like a novel rather than a dry treatise on poitics. That might cause some to discount what it says, but forget the details – you have probably heard them all by now anyway – and just get a feel of what it’s like to work in Trump’s administration.

…and then be thankful you have a nice humdrum and possibly boring job, because sometimes boring brings comfort.

 

The Audiobook:

Just as the book is written in a dramatic manner, Holter Graham makes a dramatic reading of it. I don’t know, however, if that was a good thing. Graham’s dramatic style, for me, detracted from the more serious issues Wolff brings up. In spite of the novel-like use of dialogue to push the story, the book is nonfiction and dramatic enough without the reader working hard to make it even more so.

My biggest complaint, however is that he constantly mispronounces Corey Lewandowsky’s (lu ənˈ daʊski) name. When Holter Graham says it, it comes out “Levandovsky” which may have been how it was pronounced  in the “Old Country” or not I don’t know, but not the way the person in question says it. At first I wondered that Trump had two people working for him with such similar names, but eventually I decided that Mister Graham must have been living under a rock for a year and a half and so did not really know who these people were. Is that possible?

On the other hand, I think I would really like to heard Mister Graham read some of my favorite novels, because he does it very well.

So, the book is easy to read and entertaining whether you like what Mister Wolff says or not and a window into the Trump White House in part of its first year. Some details are in error, but overall it has been proven to be right. If you have not read it, do not go by what the pundits have told you, because like in the case of most books they did not read the entire book, only the opening chapter and selected snippets the publisher tossed out ahead of the actual release. The really meaty stuff is still in there waiting for you. And, if you want to listen to the audiobook, well you will definitely not fall asleep!

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An Audio-Book Review: Almost There!

How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR Dragon Book #11

By Cressida Cowell

Published by Hatchette Audio

Read by David Tennant

 

The Book:

We’re coming up on the end of the series and each book in turn seems to take place in an increasingly short amount of time. The last two books, according to the introduction of this penultimate volume, take place across the span of only two days.

When we last saw our heroes, the plan was to get to the Island of Tomorrow and to present the “King’s” Ten Things to the Guardians there, after which Hiccup could be crowned the King of the Wilderwest. If they were to approach but with even one item short meant the Guardians would kill them. Plus, they must do it during the Yule of Doomsday season. Any other time… death. The Guardians are not nice people, I guess.

Hiccup only has one of the things, the toothless dragon (aka Toothless) and our old friend Alvin the Treacherous has the rest, having stolen them from Hiccup. Now, Hiccups ’s Mom, Valhallarama, has told Hiccup and his friends, Fishlegs and Camicazi, to stay hidden while she retrieve’s the rest of the King’s Things, but don’t you know that nothing ever goes according to plan?

So far, the entire “How to Train Your Dragon” series has been a lot of fun and this volume just continues in that line. Admittedly the story has been getting increasingly dark (so did the Harry Potter series), but while the adventure has increased in gravity, there has still be a lighter line running through it so even when Hiccup and his friends are in very deep trouble, it is still a fun story.

A lot happens during the single day this book covers and giving any more details would be unfair spoilers, but if you have read the first ten of the series, this would be a terrible place to stop. Like last time it ends with our heroes in a lot of trouble and you’ll be anxious to see how it all resolves.

 

The Audiobook:

I have said it before, but David Tennant reads these stories excellently. He is one of only two readers I have listened to who can do “Funny voices” without driving me completely up the wall. The only reader I have heard who does it better is Tom Baker, another former star of Doctor Who. Now I don’t think it’s fair to say that only The Doctor can get away with funny voices, generally the bane of audiobooks, but these two certainly can. I will admit that some of Tennant’s voices grated on my nerves a bit, but then so did the characters he applied them to (such as Excellinor the witch, who would have annoyed me no matter what voice was used to delineate her).

So, the story continues even if this volume represents a definite “Middle-of-the-story” and I look forward to listening to the conclusion.

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An Audio-Book Review: Okay, actually It’s a Series of Lectures…

Roots of Human Behavior

A lecture series by Dr. Barbara J. King

Published by The Teaching Company

 

The Lectures:

Sometimes I forget that I have already reviewed something and start listening to it all over again. This was the case with Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave recently. I listened to the first few tracks thinking, “This sounds very familiar.” And when I looked it up it turned out I had, indeed listened to it back in 2016. Oh well. By the way, I did enjoy what I listened to. It was a nice example of science fiction from the 1950’s, full of interesting concepts without getting too heavy. This review, however is not about that. No, this is about yet another series of lectures I listened to recently, this time given by biological anthropologist, Dr. Barbara J. King (The College of William and Mary).

Recorded lecture series, I have found, can be a hit or miss proposition and sometimes one’s enjoyment of such lectures is entirely dependent on one’s interest in the subject. I will admit freely that with two degrees in Anthropology under my belt, this was definitely a subject I was interested in, although way back when I was in school, much of the material Dr. King presents was either very new or entirely unknown. To date myself, I had a class in Physical Anthropology taught by Dr. Donald Johanson before he found the famous Australopithecine fossil, “Lucy.” (Btw, that was another great class and it’s a shame that was not recorded)

In any case, while the few behavioral studies on apes and monkeys were touched on, there was not a lot of time spent on them, probably because they were just starting to produce results that were clearly observed on multiple occasions. It was a delight for me to come across this series and be able to catch up, although this course was created in 2001. So, it probably is not the latest on the subject, but for someone who hasn’t looked seriously at it since about 1980, that was good enough.

I enjoyed Dr. King’s presentation style – not every reviewer agrees with me – and I would have had no trouble both staying awake and absorbing what she had to say even at an 8am class (actually I never have had an Anthropology class at 8 am – I suspect none of my professors would willingly teach at that hour). I found her lecture style engaging, if not overly emotional (do you really want an emotional lecturer? How would you judge their objectivity?), But she presented the content clearly and even managed to point out where others have argued over the meaning of observed behaviors and while she frequently uses material from her own research, she carefully gives credit to others in the field as well.

If there was anything to criticize (and I don’t think this really counts) I think I might have liked more discussion of pre- Homo sapiens hominid behavior, although, in fairness, no one alive has ever observed the behavior of any of our evolutionary cousins and ancestors and what we believe is based on our observations of the monkeys and apes extrapolated to the hominids as they gradually evolved into modern humans.

So, all told, if this is a subject you are even only vaguely interested in, I recommend this lecture series highly. It’s a great introduction to biological anthropology. Also, I see that Dr. King has at least one other lecture series recorded, which I look forward to listening to as well.

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An Audio-Book Review: Arf! I mean Woof! Oh… Oops…

Wizard at Large

By Terry Brooks

Published by Books in Motion

Read by Cameron Beierle

 

The Book:

This is the third offering in the “Magic Kingdom of Landover” series and it, apparently is very popular among fantasy readers. Therefore, take what I am about to say with a grain of salt; I find myself increasingly less enchanted by the series, which involves Ben “Doc” Holliday, corporate lawyer and his new position as the High Lord of Landover, a magical land that exists in some other world that can only be accessed via a magical pendant, unless you are a dragon, it seems. Dragons can go anywhere they want. It also involves Ben’s new love, a green-skinned and haired sylph named, Willow, the Wizard, Questor Thews, and a man Questor turned into a dog, named Abernathy. There are also a fair sized minor cast of characters, some of whom seem to be there just to add extra chapters to the story and some of whom, even if necessary to the plot, are terminally annoying.

By the way, the dragon seems to be the best-drawn character and his only clearly defined trait is that he is a grouch. Of course, he has a right to be grouchy, since Holliday and his minions are apt to force the dragon to do stuff he doesn’t want to do and never do any of them deign to say, “Thank you.”

The characters (dragon included) seem rather one, or at best two-dimensional and there is no real character development, unless you count Questor Thews becoming annoyingly smug in the fact that, for once, his magic seems to be working as he wants it to.

The story, I found somewhat slim as well; Questor claims to have found a way to turn Abernathy back into a man but when he tries it, he botches the magic by sneezing (supposedly, I suspect he just did not know what he was doing) and instead, the man-dog disappears and a fancy bottle shows up in his place. It’s a rather distinctive bottle and Questor ought to have recognized it instantly, but that would have shortened the story, or at least forced Mister Brooks into plotting this one a bit more interestingly. Eventually, Questor remembers that he last saw the bottle in the hands of the former prince of Landover (who along with Questor’s brother, Meeks, sold the kingdom to Holliday – long story – see Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold) and that the bottle contained a “darkling” which in any other world would have just been called a genie or djinn, and one of the more malicious ones.

By the time he remembers that, the bottle has been stolen by the most annoying characters of the series, Pip and Sot – the G’home Gnomes, from whom it is stolen by trolls who kill each other over the bottle and then it ends up in various other hands (which pushes the plot not at all) and eventually it ends up with one of Holliday’s arch nemeses, which gives us a sort of climax… actually the same climax we see in the first two books.

Meanwhile, it is determined that Abernathy ended up in this world with Ben’s pendant (which ought to have meant that he and the pendant was lost) but Questor manages to send Ben and Willow to Los Vegas (Polution is apparently not good for sylphs and other living things) and they must find out where Abernathy is. This turns out not to be much of a problem, nor is their lack of any real money, etc., since Ben just has to call his old partner and get bailed out. Everything is just too darned pat. There’s a problem and they quickly solve it.

I’ll stop the plot description there and just say, I am not really sure just what sort of story this (and the whole series) is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be epic fantasy? Not really. It’s is not quite serious enough. Is it light fantasy? Almost, but then it is not really light enough. Is it supposed to be a satire on the whole fantasy genre? Maybe, since it uses nearly every cliché in the genre, but it is not clearly satirical. It takes itself too seriously. It needs a few jokes to work as a satire. There are situations that could be amusing, but they really are not written that way. Even the G’home Gnomes just come off as annoying and likely deserving of all the kicks in their backsides they receive from the other characters.

It’s sort of a shame. I think the concept is a great one, but it feels like Mister Brooks was just phoning it in while working on his Shanara stories. Then again, thousands of fans disagree with me…

 

The Audiobook:

I have to admit that Cameron Beierle read this volume better, for the most part than I felt he did in the previous stories, however, he has still not lost his penchant for really bad “funny voices,” and, worst of all, he is still mispronouncing the word “Paladin.” Considering how important the Paladin is to the series (Ben uses the pendant to become the invincible Paladin – all “deus ex machina” – to defeat his foes at the end of the stories – so far at least) this mispronunciation is not forgivable. The word is used repeatedly and getting it wrong would have been enough to ruin the story for me, had I liked it in the first place.

So, if you are a fan of Terry Brooks, you will probably like the story. If not, I advise looking for something else to read and definitely see if you can find someone else’s reading of it.

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I Want a “Fake News Award”

This is not normally a political blog. Yes, I do have some rather strong opinions when it comes to politics and the way my country ought to be run. To put it all in context, I like to think of myself as a Heinleinian “Rational Anarchist,” not entirely unlike Professor  de la Paz from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Of course that means I have serious issues with both Republican and Democratic parties (NB to Republicans: the name of the party in opposition to you is “The Democratic Party,” not “The Democrat Party.” Because there are only two major political parties in the USA, getting one of them habitually wrong makes you appear to be both ignorant and loutish. Seriously? Are you people incapable of remembering the names of two whole parties? No matter how much you might disagree with their agenda, try, at least, to accord just barely enough courtesy to get their name right. Alternatively, just rush ahead to the logical conclusion and call them the Jackass Party and they can call you the Hephalump Party. Btw, the Hephalump of the Pooh books was not particularly wise.)

Anyway, with the news this morning that the “Fake News Awards” that President Trump proposes to hand out are being pushed back to January 17, I feel it is not too late to get in the running. Why are they getting pushed back? Not sure, but it’s possible he is still looking for a venue, some celebrity guests (aside from potential host, Scott Baio). It’s also possible there was a hold-up in the proposed trophies. I mean, he is giving out little statuettes, isn’t he? Also, it’s possible the entertainment needs an extra week of rehearsal time. All this gives me a chance to get in on it, right?

Now, I understand these awards are supposedly for the “Mainstream Media,” and in spite of years of publishing a fan rag called “The Pre-Dawn Leftist,” (name borrowed from Johnny Hart’s B.C. comic strip), I probably do not qualify as mainstream anything, but it seems to me that fake news is fake news and there should be an amateur category to encourage the rest of us who might be emerging mainstream mediaites (is that a word?. Probably not, but all this is fake news and I stand by it!

Now I suppose to qualify, I need to publish a fake story and I have to admit that all the goods ones have already been taken. There was last week’s post of my “:Big Nuclear Button…” In case you’re wondering, you do not get a special blazer when you join the Nuclear Club, but that was just commentary. I need a story. The good news is, I’m a novelist, I can make up a story, right?

So, I implore the Academy of Fake News to take note of the following paragraph and keep me in consideration for an award next week;

President Trump recently stripped down and went skinny dipping in one of the water hazards at his Mar-a-Lago resort. The incident was covered up by a mysterious truck that rolled up and stopped between Mister Trump and the observing news cameras (I’ll bet you were wondering what that truck was really doing, weren’t you?). While the members of the news media, which are forced to keep their distance when ever Trump is at a Monopoly property to which he owns the title deed, were unable to record the incident, the president was observed by staff members and residents of Mar-a-Lago. The sight of the president’s naked body caused half a dozen women and two grown men to collapse from shock, one of whom was rushed to a near-by hospital for resuscitation and the others have been forced to seek counselling following the traumatic incident. When fellow residents protested Mister Trump’s actions, he replied, “I own this @#$% place and I have options on the rest of the @#$% world. I’ll do whatever I @#$% want!” However, two minutes later he was heard to say, “It was another hole-in-one. That’s eighty-seven in a row now. I’m a very stable genius on the golf course!”

So, there you go, my own contribution to fake news. Please remember to nominate me to the Academy and vote for me when your ballots arrive. Who knows? Maybe it will help me sell some more of my books. It sure didn’t harm Michael Wolff.

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I Have One On My Desk Too!

Nuclear Button.jpg

Just saying…

Posted in Humor, Jonathan Edward Feinstein, Nuclear Button, Politics, Social Commentary | Leave a comment