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I call Bullshit (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 23 July 2017 00:00

n these days of "Fake news" and presidents and parties who don't care if what they spout is a lie or not, it's fun to read a book that, as the title says, works at "Debunking the most commonly repeated myths".

For example:

Do you think Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone?

Mammals arrived after the dinosaurs became extinct?

Humans only use 10 percent of their brains?

The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space?

Author Jamie Frater piles through many, many myths, things we only know through hearsay (i.e. Facebook). I'd wished I'd read this book before spouting off about toilets flushing one way north of the equator, the opposite south. And there was the interesting one about how artificial sweeteners don’t cause cancer (when you read about the tests and how misrepresented they were, you'll add a touch of sweetener to your coffee again (as I have) and breathe easier). Sadly, cell phones don't cause cancer (I was rooting for that one). But no, it was a very interesting book.

Up until the end. It's as if the writer ran out of materials (and with all the information out there, I'm sure he could have trolled Snopes for ideas). In the last section he began to literally repeat himself, cycling through several myth groups: nudists, Wicca, Muslims, Catholics and ninjas. After a while, by the fourth (or more) clarification (many of them close to earlier ones) it got a bit fatiguing (I actually skipped some of the last). I thought the book should have ended on a crescendo but instead it closed on an echoing whimper. Too bad.

Still, a fun read.


Last Updated on Saturday, 15 July 2017 13:28
The Outback Stars (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 16 July 2017 00:00

nother one from the used book shop, this time a military-grade page turner about... shipboard life on a starship.

I thought this was a book of an ongoing series (turns out it’s the first one, I think) - Lieutenant Jodenny Scott survived a horrific terrorist attack on her last ship, one that left her burned and burdened with survivors' guilt. And just as it takes her a while to return to active service (don't worry - we don't get dragged through her convalescence - she didn't like it any more than we would have), it takes us a while to find out what is going on in this strange new universe.

Earth has been racked with so many environmental disasters now that it's taken to naming its ships after them (lest we forget). But some sort of wormholes have been discovered, ones that permit these massive ships to leave the Sol System and plunge out to the Seven Sisters cluster (which I have viewed and have a soft spot in my heart for, HERE). There, we have discovered ancient artifacts, rock domes that are arranged in certain ways, all that is left of this one-time race.

So, that aside, Lt Scott uses her hero's status to get back into space as quickly as possible. Bumping herself aboard the Aral Sea, she finds herself assigned as a supply officer in one of the support divisions. Now, this caught my eye - my old man was a supply officer and I'd have loved to passed this book on to him - I'm sure he'd have loved a hero after his own career path. Regardless, her division is in shambles. The droids that work the supply racks are fitful, her people casual and rumors of pilferage abound. So she starts pushing back, the usual "whip them into shape" deal that goes passably well.

However, she's got other problems - one of her chiefs, a badgered young man, has caught her eye (talk about forbidden love). And one of the ship's scientists has come to her with a wacky theory regarding her former ship, the gutted Yangtze, and what might have really happened.

I'll give this book a very favorable review - I'm not sure how Sandra McDonald did it, but a book about shipboard infighting and petty squabbles and sexual tension was really very interesting - I found myself resuming my practice of reading for a bit before bed and at odd weekend chances, just to move further into the story. Very well written.

Further, there was a moment were something very, very, VERY unlikely happens. I blinked at that, then shrugged it off. Then, in a very opportune moment, it happens again. I felt myself groan at this - we were getting along so well, book, and then you had to drop this clunker in. But eventually it does make sense and slots right into the storyline like a strangely shaped (perhaps alien-shaped) part. So I could let it go. The book and I could be friends.

All things said, it was a good, not a hair-on-fire page-turner but just a fun read. I saw that she was working on "The further adventures of..." but didn't see it over at the local Barnes and Noble (check Amazon? You know me better). But yes, a solid recommendation from me. I'm sure my dad would have enjoyed it as well.


Last Updated on Saturday, 15 July 2017 09:41
Avatar – The Last Airbender (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 09 July 2017 14:53

eah, yeah, so it’s a cartoon, and one that I had no interest in watching until a friend coaxed me into it. I’d seen some things about it in the early 2000’s when it first came out. Little bald kid with an arrow tattooed on his forehead. I didn’t give it a second thought.

Anyway, it’s classic storytelling. In this fantasy world, there are four “bender” classes: earth, wind, fire and air, each forming their own nations. However, there is always an “Avatar”, one who can bend all four, the peacekeeping force. In this case, it’s Aang, a goofy little kid so reluctant to stand against the Fire Nation’s rise to power that he suspended-animationed inside an iceberg until found a hundred years later by one of the final water benders. Turns out the Fire Nation, unchecked, has pretty much taken over the world and now he’s back at his old job, stopping it.

From there, we pick up the usual band of supporting protagonists, all of them with their own virtues, powers and baggage, all forming into an interesting mix. There are discoveries and setbacks, all the favorite devices of quests, people doubting and leaving, battles with self-conscious, humorous interludes and thrilling escapes. Running sixty-one episodes over three sessions, it was an amazing effort. Only once or twice did the story become a little “story-ish” and the animation falter. But yes, a fantastic tale that pulled me in and captivated me. I really enjoyed it. And I’ll add that I thought I’d see every sort of bending there was, but the creators kept it new with imaginative uses (including creepy “blood bending”). So my eyes ended up full of spectacle and my ears full of story.

Actually, I hadn’t thought to review it (it’s hardly a book and it’s certainly not high-fiction). But it’s Sunday and I’m not quite through with The Outback Stars so I decided why not review it as a story and not as a book. Seriously, if you have access through any video service, you should check it out. It was a delightful tale with thrilling animation.


The Man in the Iron Mask (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 02 July 2017 00:00

nd so ends, the series that started with Three Musketeers, proceeded through Twenty Years After, then into The Vicomte of Bragelonne, Ten Years Later, and Louise de la Vallière. By my estimates, it took 4000 pages to arrive at this point. And after three years and something like 100 books and short stories later, I'm ready to conclude this saga with The Man in the Iron Mask.

I've written how the eternal bonds formed in the first book, of three (then four) common soldiers were unified by friendship and duty. I've also noted (in later books) how the four have broken, reforming as France suffers its changes. Good enemies become weasely courtiers. Good kings become bad ones. Religion (and frankly, ambition) draw the friendships apart.

And here we are at Mask: they are all old now, looking at their lives in retrospect, all but Aramis, General of the Jesuits, who has schemes in mind (still!). And what schemes. He has learned that when Louie XIV was born, there was also a Louie XIV.V, meaning a twin only minutes behind the elder. With everyone downstairs toasting each other, everybody save Anne of Austria (who I like far less as she gets older). And she does the only thing a mother can do - she has her child banished to the country (for his youth) and then to the Bastille (welcome to manhood, there). But Aramis knows, and Aramis schemes.

With the help of a bed in an estate that lowers into the service corridors, he convinces trusty Porthos (still strong, but perhaps just a touch senile) to help him spirit His Majesty out. They take him to the Bastille and swap him for the false king, trained and now instituted into the Royal bed, now to serve as a better ruler (and perhaps a puppet, as well as a stepping-stone to popedom) to Kingmaker Aramis.

Really, it's hard to like the guy.

Well, the scheme bombs. The first person Aramis approaches is Fouquet, a soon-to-be-disgraced minister who could save himself by going along but righteously does not. This leaves Aramis in the lurch, forcing him to flee to fortified Belle-Isle with the confused Porthos. And if that isn’t bad enough – he leaves the false king, unwarned and unaware, to face his angry true brother when he returns. Talk about uncomfortable family reunions.

But all is not well for everyone. D'Artagnan is nearly disgraced by dragging his feet in catching the fugitives (here, I side with Louie - Aramis meant for him to stay in the bastille for the rest of his life, seen as a king-wannabe madman. Perhaps Louie should have picked someone else, or D'Artagnan should have declined? And Athos is distraught over his adapted son Raoul who has gone on an African campaign to die (still upset over Louise's treachery of the heart). In the end, everyone dies but Aramis: Porthos heroically defending his false friend, lovelorned Raoul in battle, Athos in the pain of his loss, and D'Artagnan while on campaign in Holland, standing before the thirteenth fort he's taken, the day won, victory his, struck by the final shot of the day, right as he reaches for his awarded Marshall's baton. And Aramis, he's an old, graying Spanish ambassador. His death, when it comes, will be a whimper; of this we can be sure as readers.

It was sad to read D'Artagnan's final thoughts as his life drained away, how he would soon be reunited with Athos and Porthos and even Raoul. But Aramis? It was goodbye forever.

A bittersweet ending to one of the grandest epics I've ever read, and interesting that it shows that there can be friends who can't be saved.

If you are a reader and love classics, you might attempt this long journey. I've marked the trailhead and the waypoints above. Get ready for the read of your life.



Last Updated on Saturday, 01 July 2017 15:04

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