5-Stars for “Finding Billy Battles – Book II” by Ronald E. Yates

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I learned so much from this well-written and meticulously researched book. I’m not usually that much of a fan of historical fiction, but in this case it was a welcome educational experience. As Billy’s journeys take him to Saigon, the Philippines, and even turn-of-the-20th-century Germany, this story is richly imbued with cultural and historical facts I previously did not know. This included something as simple as where white pepper comes from, but most especially the dark history of colonialism. I had heard of the Spanish-American War, but had no idea it was fought in the Philippines, much less why.

I have grown up simply accepting the fact that the British, French, and Spanish did a considerable amount of exploring, which also constituted conquests for more land and resources. This is apparent by the languages spoken in diverse parts of the world, far from where they originated. Getting a glimpse into the climate and attitudes of the 19th century, especially how indigenous people were trampled and exploited, brought up multiple considerations that had previously been entirely off my radar.

While colonialism’s defenders note that it brings a higher standard of living to these areas, it is also at a high price to the cultural norms and freedom of those unfortunate enough to live in such a place. Insights into Saigon in the late 1800s provided a new understanding into the Vietnam War and guerilla warfare. While in some cases, America has helped defend these countries, in others it has been just as guilty as the European conquests. Ironically, American is the prime example of a country that rebelled successfully against colonialism, yet then went on to force it on others, for example Native Americans. We are no better than anyone else and it’s easy for me to understand why other countries hate us.

The best part of this story is that all these fascinating details were woven into the plot of a story with believable characters caught up in this historical drama, from the Old West, to pre-WWI Europe, and overseas in the Far East.  I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a meaty, well-researched read that serves up more than an interesting story. History buffs will love it. While it is the second book in a trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had no trouble following it without the benefit of reading the first.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

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“Immortal: The Soulmate” by Terra James

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This suspenseful sequel was another great page-turner, which picked up where “The Chosen” left off. While unconventional, the author’s technique of writing each chapter in a different character’s first-person viewpoint works nicely for understanding the characters and their motivation. More insights into the different cultures, particularly the link between Emmaline as a witch and Dravon as a vampire were illustrated, as well as a closer look at the Fae, with a bit more magic introduced.

One of the best parts of this series is the way the author gradually takes you into a fantasy world, which eventually feels normal with its supernatural population of witches, vampires, werewolves, and fae, and how these different cultures interact. There’s a great lesson and analogy in this story for human races in general with regard to getting along, that it’s together in cooperation that great power is achieved. However, there will always be opposing sides of good and evil, so nothing is ever simple.

I especially liked Sadie’s blessings as a healer where she used another language. I didn’t bother dropping it into Google Translate to find out if it was real or not, but it looked convincing and added a really nice touch of authenticity.

This is an excellent story with engaging characters. The cliffhangers are done skillfully, i.e., in a way that makes you want to find out what happens next without making you growl at an abrupt non-ending. It was suspenseful enough for me to keep reading, but my emotional involvement was fairly low. If a book can make me both laugh and cry it will easily earn five stars. This one didn’t do either, but it’s generally imaginative and well-written so I’ll give it four and a half.

Pick up a copy on Amazon here.

A Very Elegant Conversation with a Vampire

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5stars

Review of “A Perilous Thirst” by Rhani D’Chae

This short story is as elegantly written as its cover implies, taking you straight into the mind and very cold heart of a traditional vampire. We’ve had an “interview” with a vampire sometime back, but this is a “conversation” with a vampire, or perhaps, “seduction” by a vampire. And what an entrancing and enlightening one it is!

This is not a friendly, warm, fuzzy, and moral creature, even though he states that he has never forced himself on anyone. Nonetheless, he is of the human blood-sucking type from which nightmares derive. This is one who has lived for thousands of years, has amassed plenty of money, has sophisticated manners as well as tastes, and is now living in Tacoma, Washington in 1987.  As the story begins, he has not indulged his sordid nature for four months and the lack of nourishment is agonizing. He’s in a bar, perusing the potential menu items, while explaining his dilemma and buying drinks for–you!

He explains the reason for his abstinence is not only because he’s gay, but due to his concern with contracting HIV. This is a horrible fate for vampires because they cannot die, but nevertheless waste away if they become infected. Thus, he is extremely cautious in choosing his next victim. He finds one whom he gets drunk and offers to take home, continuing his soliloquy as he returns to his own residence.

The writing is no less than literary in caliber, tastefully done, and amazingly unoffensive, given the topics under discussion. Yet there are bits of subtle, albeit dark, humor, such as referring to his catches as “tv dinners”, a reference to fang-sized condoms, and noting he prefers to live alone not only to more easily conceal his true nature but because “the young men of today tend to equate cohabitation with a ‘relationship’, and so while I am simply attempting to keep my sustenance close at hand, they are picking out bedroom furniture and embroidering our initials onto the bath towels.”

If you’ve been indulging in the usual vampire fare out there these days, much of which is clever and entertaining, you nonetheless should spend an evening with a real vampire, one who could easily have been one of Count Dracula’s contemporaries. This was the perfect read for Halloween and offered a fascinating glimpse into a true vampire’s persona and character. It was chilling, yet fascinating, and truly one of the best pieces of outstanding writing I’ve seen in a long time.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

“Elon Musk: 199 Best Quotes” Only Scratches the Surface

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As an Elon Musk fan, I enjoyed reading this collection of quotes. I was a little disappointed that so many were redundant, but there were nonetheless some jewels. I recently read Musk’s biography by Ashlee Vance, which I highly recommend, and this book of quotes was a nice refresher, though there are many sides of Musk that weren’t reflected. He is far more complex than these would indicate. If you’re really interested in getting to know who and what he is and how he got there, I you need to read Vance’s biography.

Some of my favorite Musk characteristics are his “If you want something done right, do it yourself” philosophy and his “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” management view. I was definitely impressed with the fact he’s the father of 5 boys, a set of twins and a set of triplets, for which he has shared custody with his former wife, and that he’ll take them to work with him. There’s also the matter of his indomitable spirit that kept him pressing forward in spite of various failures. Having been bullied to the point of hospitalization as a child, he has definitely risen above that, definitely demonstrating that “the best revenge is to live well.” None of this was covered by these quotes.

My personal opinion of Musk is that we need more people like him in this world of entitlement where so many are sitting around waiting for a handout or the world to come to them. He is the ultimate self-made man whose primary goal has not been money, but the good of the planet and humanity. While this quote book is a nice introduction, it barely scratches the surface of what he has accomplished and how, much less his very humanitarian motivation. The quotes included match the title and are nicely documented (which takes up nearly half of the book), but if you really want to learn about him, this is only a drop in the bucket.

You can pick up a copy of the quote book here and Vance’s biography here.

“The Empire”: Sci-Fi Thriller Extraordinaire from JRD

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This complex sci-fi thriller is loaded with twists, turns, and entanglements between worlds, cultures, and religions. Dizon has created a fascinating universe full of convincing conflicts which reflect those facing the world today, but elevated to spacefaring civilizations. While hard science fiction focuses on advanced technology and its applications, political science fiction looks at a future based on extrapolating Earth’s vices into a dystopian nightmare that encompasses entire planets as opposed to countries.  If there were ever a case against space colonization, that is certainly it. If we can’t even get along with our fellow earthlings, what business do we have venturing out into space? Allegedly, the ETs are against us attaining the ability for interstellar travel for that very reason and this novel certainly provides a case in point.

To sum things up, Styrena Stone, daughter of the president of what is an interstellar remnant of the USA, has been kidnapped by terrorists who have a devious political agenda. They want her mother to sign a non-aggression treaty so they can proceed unencumbered with their intent to conquer other worlds. There are two individuals determined to rescue Styrena, Von Kilgore, former member of the Global Intelligence Agency, and Grav Drachna, rogue starship captain and general bad boy. As you would expect, these two aren’t exactly on friendly terms. Intricate schemes are made by both sides, along with a host of political schemes and conspiracies which come together in a nail-biting climax that holds plenty of context for a sequel.

Dizon’s subtle humor had me in stitches from time to time, largely related to his character naming convention, which I won’t spoil by revealing. His writing style is crisp and moves at lightspeed. I would love for him to include a dramatis personae to help keep everyone straight, since there are so many characters involved, each with his or her own agenda, both political and personal. The author’s ability to create vivid characters, each with a strong personality and motivation is what adds depth and suspense to Dizon’s stories, adding the potential for plenty of surprises.

Setting all this intrigue against a futuristic interstellar backdrop will draw in science fiction fans as well as those who are already hooked on Dizon’s ability to create unforgettable characters immersed in suspenseful situations. I can’t wait to see where this potentially epic story goes next.

You can pickup a paperback on Amazon here or an ebook at Barnes & Noble here. The electronic version is also available on Smashwords and most online retailers.

Immortal: The Chosen

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This fast-moving story gets this series off to a well-written, suspense-filled start. While I’m not that much of a vampire fan, I was nonetheless taken in by the strong characters and interesting plot that gives the vampire/werewolf/witch culture an interesting new twist. Great fiction begins with convincing characters with whom the reader can connect, and the author did a great job of populating her tale accordingly. This was achieved by getting inside each one’s head by switching the point of view for each chapter.

While such a technique can be confusing, this was done effectively and allowed the reader to get to know the thoughts and feelings of each important member of this intriguing story. This method was much more intimate than an omniscient view point, which often weakens the reader-character connection. This method worked very nicely and reminded me of piecing together a mystery by reading the journals of each character.

My only criticism, which is really quite minor but enough for me to give it four stars, is that toward the end there were quite a few names thrown around of late-breaking characters whose place in the story was a bit fuzzy. I suspect they will be more important in the next episode and this was simply an introduction. However, I tend to stick to the convention of minimizing reader confusion by not naming characters who do not relate directly to the plot (except in the case of red herrings, of course). This resulted in having to deal with a lot of faceless people with foggy identities as the story climaxed, a slight distraction that really didn’t add anything other than slowing things down as each new person was logged in, so to speak. Nonetheless, it did show the gathering of forces that would play an important part in the sequel, even though this could have been done without names.

While the ending was a cliffhanger, it was handled in such a way that it didn’t leave me gasping or frustrated, but could see the next volume coming together. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, liked the characters, and will definitely be reading the sequel.

Creative Fun for Halloween!

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If you’re looking for ideas for a Halloween-related story, either for yourself as an author or as a parent or teacher, this book is for you. Loaded with fun and appropriately creepy premises, there’s no need to look any further for inspiration. Teachers could easily use this jewel to spawn a creative writing assignment that students would actually enjoy. Great fun, not only for Halloween, but for coming up with stories around the campfire. Fostering a child’s creativity and imagination is highly recommended by educators and these clever ideas provide plenty of brain fodder. Don’t miss it!

“Mr. Spaceship” is Mediocre Except for Context

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This little known short story by Philip K. Dick, one of the all-time great classic science fiction authors popular from the 50s to 70s, is an interesting read for its historical value, if nothing else. If someone wrote it today, I suspect it would receive little acclaim or attention. It’s actual publication date I don’t know, since its copyright is expired and now in the public domain, but I would guess the 50s. One reviewer on Amazon summed it up beautifully by stating it “reads as if in black and white Rod Serling mode.” The detail is indeed sketchy and in the context of today’s technology, beyond lean, the theme now a worn-out cliche. However, it presents interesting brain fodder at the philosophical level.

The basic premise is that a human brain is used as the control mechanism for a spaceship. Of course the brain goes rogue with its new “body,” i.e. the spacecraft. In a way, this is the antithesis of artificial intelligence, and apparently his pet philosophical question with regard to what actually constitutes consciousness and reality. At what point, if ever, does an augmented human lose its humanity and at what point does artificial intelligence attain status as a living being? Clearly this has a lot of relevance today as both scenarios move toward reality.

What makes this more interesting to me is the fact that Dick is the author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” from which the 1982 movie, “Blade Runner” came, with a new one, albeit a sequel, just released. He also wrote “Minority Report”, “Total Recall”, and various others, so he did put out some outstanding work.

Reading about him on Wikpedia gives me the impression this guy wasn’t wrapped too tight. He had a drug problem most of his life and various other issues. Perhaps he was a genius, which isn’t an easy cross to bear, and would explain the otherworldly, dystopian essence of his work, which reflected his unique view of life.

This short story is worth reading for its historical value, but certainly not his best work, which didn’t even earn mention in Wikipedia. A novel of his won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, showing he did put out some excellent, thought-provoking work. Clearly this really isn’t one of them. It has value, however, in the context of his other achievements, the Cold War climate during which it was written, and the many questions he posed, which have still not been answered, even as our technology brings us to the threshold of urgently needing to know.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here. It’s free for Kindle and very reasonable for a print copy, if you’re so inclined.

The “Purrfect” Read for International Feral Cat Day

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Malcolm Gatta’s touching backstory transported me to a fantasy world I’ve not visited in a long time. I lean more toward science fiction and thrillers, not being that much of a vampire or zombie fan, which seem to dominate the fantasy genre of late. But as a cat lover and someone who has often envied my housecats’ idyllic existence, the idea of a cat shifter was intriguing, so I couldn’t resist checking it out. It’s the prequel to a trilogy which I have not yet read, but will probably add it to my reading list after experiencing this beautifully written, albeit heartrending tale of loss and renewed hope.

My only criticism is that I felt the sprinkling of expletives was unnecessary. There were probably only three in the entire story, but they were biggies, didn’t add to the story or characters, and such that I would hesitate to gift this story to my grandchildren. It’s not that I’m personally offended by such language myself. After all, my father was in the Navy and I worked at NASA over 20 years around engineers and such, plus have to admit I drop a few myself from time to time. There’s no question that some situations are best expressed through an expletive. Furthermore, sad but true, coarse language is now a part of today’s popular culture like never before, a possible symptom of what the world has become. However, there are still some who wish to avoid it and/or don’t want to condone much less encourage it. There are also creative ways to include such words in a story without actual use.

I feel crossing the PG barrier can cut off readers from an author’s fan list, which most can ill-afford. It’s apparently still enough of an issue that on sites where books are rated such as MyBookCave, inappropriate language is pointed out along with content related to sex and violence. I didn’t mean to go off on a total rant about it because this story really was outstanding, but it would have been even better to me without the bombs which seemed out of place with the smooth, even poetic, narrative as a whole.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

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Global Cat Day

 

 

5 Stars for “Elon Musk: Tesla, Space-X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance

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I’ve been fascinated by Musk for quite a while. I even entertained thoughts he might be some sort of space alien hybrid, helping us develop new technologies. I wondered where this guy came from and where he got all that money. I wondered why his new technologies, which are a threat to industries which have been known to resort to rather nasty tactics to suppress such competition, seemed to have no power to do so in his case. This book certainly answered all my questions and then some. I had no idea he was one of those dot-com millionaires, starting with his connection with PayPal. Explaining where his money came from certainly clarified quite a lot. His personality explained the rest.

As someone who worked as a NASA contractor for over twenty years, I can especially appreciate what he has done with Space-X. While some accuse him, and rightfully so, of being a obsessive workaholic and expecting the same from his employees, you have to admit that his system of finding the best and brightest and luring them to work for him works. Musk doesn’t suffer fools. You disagree with him or goof up and you’re gone. In today’s world of tolerance and dumbing down the general population via our pathetic education system, this certainly goes against the grain. But it gets things done.

I saw so much mediocrity at NASA it was pathetic. But it was only part of the problem as far as technological advances were concerned. I remember seeing an invoice one time for small a metal plate with a part number on it costing thousands of dollars. I mean, really. How ridiculous is that? But that’s how government contracting works. Musk, on the other hand, emphasized efficiency. It was his money, so he pushed for keeping costs down. Rather than buy from a manufacturer on the other side of the world, he would develop the needed facilities and make it himself. He demanded perfection and refused to give up.

One philosophy I always liked and employed as a manager myself was “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Clearly he had the same attitude. His employees knew better than to simply complain about something being an obstacle. They needed to contribute to a solution or get slam-dunked.

There was so much about his management style that I admired. In most cases in today’s world, his tactics will either get you sued for harassment and/or fired. Which explains a lot. But if you want something considered impossible done correctly, that’s what it takes. The results of Musk’s methods speak for themselves.  He does what he says he’ll do and is a force to be reckoned with. He’s not been suppressed by existing industries since he has the money to proceed on his own, unlike most inventors who depend on selling their patents. In that case, they’re typically bought up by competitors, their ideas left to rot somewhere in a file cabinet to assure the status quo.

Along those lines, Tesla is another awesome success story, a venture that was more than once on the brink of failure. But Musk persevered, his vision and intentions a testimony to those who promote such tactics for manifesting what you want. I loved the part where Tesla acquired a former GM plant in Fremont, California (not too far from where I lived many years ago) virtually for free. Tesla is driving conventional car makers crazy. The cars are kicking butt in all areas from safety to speed to virtually “free” fuel as he builds recharging stations.  He’s out to change the world and making steady progress doing so, specifically in previously troubled industries collapsing under their own weight.

His personal life was certainly interesting as well. Did you realize he has 5 boys, i.e. a set of twins and a set of triplets from his first wife, Justine? Or that as a child he was bullied, in some cases brutally enough to land him in the hospital. His photographic memory has served him well, his intelligence and scientific understanding off the scale. If someone tells him something can’t be done, he usually fires them and does it himself. I find that inspiring, not obnoxious.

The author did a great job of providing a glimpse of what this guy is like, not only as a slave-driving manager, but as a person. I admire much of what he stands for and stands up for.  I loved the author’s candid writing style, often imbued with humor that had me laughing out loud. I don’t doubt that I will eventually read this book again. It’s inspirational to see what one determined man can accomplish when he sets his mind to what needs to be done, then commandeers the help and talent he needs to get there, leaving naysayers in the dust. His self-imposed mission is to save the world from itself and so far it looks as if he might do just that. It won’t surprise me one bit if he’s the one who gets us to Mars. If you have any doubts, then you should read this book. It made a believer out of me and restored my faith in old-fashioned hard work and ingenuity, which has somehow gotten lost in our crazy world.

This book convinced me, more than ever, that it’s people like Musk who should be considered heroes in today’s world. Not obnoxious sports figures, crooked politicians, and those who want to be taken care of at others’ expense. It’s time that we return a strong work ethic and intelligence to the status it deserves for making this a better world.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here. I recommend it highly. I will warn you that it contains a multitude of f-bombs. If you want to share this awesome story with your kids, which I also recommend, there’s a cleaned up version you can get here.