The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SPECTRUM


The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

I didn’t find the genre of this novel post-apocalyptic or dystopian like most reviewers did. It smacks of weird fiction (but not in a bad way). You don’t know what weird fiction is? Read award winning author, China Mieville, who is the undisputed champion of that genre. See my reviews of Railsea (10/26/2012); Embassytown (3/4/2012) and Kraken (4/10/2011)...then you will know what I’m talking about. Martin Ott’s novel is written in that style sans Mieville’s rather sesquipedalian language and the constant use of "that that". I thought Ott’s novel was weird fiction because no matter how well you assume that you understand the story, you really don’t have a full grasp of what’s going on. You kinda do, but you really don’t. That’s the hallmark of weird fiction novels. I mean in Ott’s novel, exactly what is the Usan empire? Why is "usa" used as an interjection throughout the story, such as, “Usa, that hurt!” (in other words, “God, that hurt”). Did you get a good handle on what crisping was? And what’s up with Mr. G? Why are there pets in this story, such as a Chimpanzadog or a Chickendog? Because that’s weird fiction. Have a idea for a pet? Just go to your local Pet Center and tell them what you want. I mostly enjoyed Ott’s story, but like the three Mieville novels I mentioned above...I felt, nonetheless, that I had brain damage when the story ended.

President George Polk (a crisping freak) was on top of the world in his ozonodome in Collings City. “A party smoldered behind smoky windows, emanating a hazy crimson glow. Inside, a crowd had formed in George Polk’s rumpus room, a high-tech entertainment center and gambling den where the president entertained guests, brokered deals, pretty much whatever he wanted.” Mere Roosevelt, who works for Polk, is there. His claim to fame with Polk is that he developed a transmission fluid that increased the efficiency of the city’s organiputer (don’t ask me what that is). And he just got crisped! (first treatment?). Mere is a lightening...why is it important to be dark skinned? “He didn’t notice any change in pigmentation - he was still plenty light for a Hightowner.” Mere and his wife, Gail, used to be Lowtowners. Mere wanders home after some shenanigans in town and gets into a heated argument with Gail. Mere falls asleep. When he wakes, “Her Zero G suitcase was gone, just as she was. After all the threats, she finally gone and done it. She’d moved out on him.” Then, “Mere waited as long as he dared and sliced airborne through the faint after-image of the phasing hatch. He pivoted after landing and whirled in time to watch the doorway solidify.” When I was in the Marine Corps, the D.I. would say, “Now that’s how a Marine leaves a room.” Haha.  

Mere realizes that “Today was Augusa 1, the beginning of yet another citywide clothing mandate. To liquidate overstock from faulty quotas, Pyramid marketers had created a new fashion-turtle neck shirts without shirts. Mere was stopped by a policemen (a white shirt) who said, Where is your turtleneck ring, citizen? The white shirt flicked on his portable comp, unwrapped a fresh needle, and pricked Mere in the palm. A trail of wires snaked beneath the guard’s uniform and emerged through his pant legs into an organiport.” The white shirt realizes that Mere is okay and just got promoted by friends in high places. Mere says, “So does this mean I’m free to go?” The officer says, “With a warning. But don’t let it happen again or we’ll slag your ass, friends or no.” Mere’s major troubles start when he finds his wife in a sexual situation at the Sierra Resort. He beats the men up and leaves. He decides to head to a bar that was in his old neighborhood in North Irony called Boo’s Bar. “A watered down rom (the drink of choice) didn’t sound like too bad an idea, especially after demolishing those loin-clothed fatcats.” Later that night (on page 42), outside the Boo’s Bar, Mere would mistakenly kill a white shirt. This is where the main anguish for Mere starts and the action shifts into overdrive.

Weird fiction is tough to read because almost every situation is somewhat bizarre and fuzzy. That’s why I say that my brain bleeds trying to figure out what’s going on. Sometimes the reader is not cognizant of the simplest things, such as what year the story is taking place in, or whether or not the characters are on earth or on an imaginary land. Anyway, Martin Ott did a yeoman’s job on this novel, but I can’t grade his novel at the same level that I rated China Mieville’s Railsea. By the way, I had to read three of Mieville’s novels before the lightbulb went on.  
  
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I believe it’s notable that Book Reviews and Comments by Rick O has surpassed a significant milestone...The Tercentenary level. That’s right, the above review of Spectrum is review number 301. It took six years and nine months to do it, but it got done. Hopefully my reviews over that time period have become more expressive, eloquent and omniscient (just kidding). But seriously, after writing reviews for almost seven years, it has given me a better understanding of the writing game, and I hope that that knowledge has reflected in better and better reviews by me and my guest reviewers. Did I get China Mieville with that that or what? Anyway, I’m constantly getting emails from authors expressing their preference for my style. They tell me that they like my in-depth look at their work (remember it’s their baby) and they love my comparing of their book to similar books and authors. My third book of reviews should be published around Christmas time.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

EMPIRE of the SUMMER MOON


In 1871, the Manifest Destiny was in full swing and it was time to rid the West of the hated Comanches. This 2010 bestseller by S.C. Gwynne certainly gives the reader a belly full of hate for the Comanches. Was the author writing about the savagery of the Indians more than the brutality of the white man? Probably, but the Indians were most likely employing their terroristic actions against the settlers to discourage any others from coming west. Early on Andrew Jackson wanted to extend the area of freedom west. He had many followers that believed the United States should set up democratic governments going west. That was the death knell for Mexico and all Indian tribes...later it was extended to the Pacific Ocean and beyond. It seemed the prevailing attitude was: If you weren’t Caucasian...you weren’t qualified to govern your territory. The author didn’t say that, but it was done in a tacit manner. Any historian knows how the Manifest Destiny advanced westward after the Indians were defeated. Anyway, this book centers on the hated Comanche nation. The Comanches were so vicious that they were able to kowtow the ferocious Apache tribe and chase them into Mexico. This book also features the kidnapping of nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker by the Comanches culminating in the birth of her half breed (by Comanche war chief Peta Nocona) son, Quanah, who later became the leader of the Comanche nation. A 1956 movie starring John Wayne, The Searchers, was inspired by this true event. Caveat to the faint of heart...don’t read anymore of this review.   

The book basically covers the forty year war against the Comanche nation. The book tends to flip back and forth during the various years of conflict. This was a tad annoying to me; I would have preferred the years to have been in a chronological order during the hostilities between the Comanches, the white settlers, the Union Army and the Texas Rangers. Anyway, Colonel Mackenzie was given the task of wiping out the Comanches in 1871 by General William Tecumseh Sherman, hero of the Civil War. “For Mackenzie on the southern plains, Comanches were the obvious target: No tribe in the history of the Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, and American occupations of this land had ever caused so much havoc and death. None was even a close second.” Early on, Mackenzie’s troop came upon an Indian attack of a wagon train. It became known as the Salt Creek Massacre. “According to Captain Robert G. Carter, Mackenzie’s subordinate, who witnessed its aftermath, the victims were stripped, scalped, and mutilated. Some had been beheaded and others had their brains scooped out. Their fingers, toes and private parts had been cut off and stuck in their mouths. They had been clearly tortured, too. Upon each exposed abdomen had been placed a mass of live coals. One wretched man, Samuel Elliott, was found chained between wagon wheels and, a fire having been made from the wagon pole, he had been slowly roasted to death...burnt to a crisp.”

By 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, making the old trails west obsolete, such as the Oregon Trail. Buffalo hunters were slaughtering the buffalo. “In Kansas alone, the bones of 31 million buffalo were sold for fertilizer between 1868-1881.” All these changes were underway when Mackenzie’s Raiders left their camps on Clear Fork. The Indian tribes were impeding progress...they needed to be wiped out. Especially the hostile Comanches band known as the Quahadis. “Quahadis were the hardest, fiercest, least yielding component of a tribe that had long had the reputation as the most violent and warlike on the continent; if they ran low on water, they were known to drink the contents of a dead horse’s stomach, something even the toughest Texas Ranger would not do. Even other Comanches feared them.” In 1871, Mackenzie was tracking a Quahadi band that was led by a young war chief by the name of Quanah. Mackenzie and his men didn’t know much about Quanah. No one did... Quanah was simply too young for anyone to know much about him yet...He was reputed to be ruthless, clever, and fearless in battle. But there was something else about Quanah, too. He was a half breed, the son of a Comanche chief and a white woman.” Okay, aside from the first paragraph, all of this happened in the first seven pages. On page eight the reader is going to find out why Quanah’s mother was famous... “She was the best known of all Indian captives of the era...She was ‘the white squaw’ because she had refused on repeated occasions to return to her people.” Who was she?

“Her name was Cynthia Ann Parker. She was the daughter of one of early Texas’s most prominent families, one that included Texas Ranger captains, politicians, and prominent Baptists who founded the state’s first Protestant church. In 1836 (you see what I mean about flip flopping years?), at the age of nine, she had been kidnapped in a Comanche raid at Parker’s Fort, ninety miles south of present Dallas. She soon forgot her mother tongue, learned the Indian ways, and became a full member of the tribe. She married Peta Nocona, a prominent war chief, and had three children by him, of whom Quanah was the eldest. In 1860, when Quanah was twelve, Cynthia Ann was recaptured at the battle of Pease River during an attack by Texas Rangers on her village, during which everyone but her and her infant daughter, Prairie Flower, were killed.” Her husband, Peta Nocona was pursued by Texas Ranger, Sul Ross, and ultimately killed, but her two sons, Quanah and Peanuts, got away. Okay, you just had a eight page taste of history, the rest of the pages are on you. The book seemed long (although it was less than 400 pages) because reading history in its straight form can be a bit boring, but the knowledge gained is priceless. I highly recommend this piece of yesteryear.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: It seems to me that the Union Army and the Texas Rangers took a very long time to figure out how to fight the Comanches, and when they finally did...the war turned in their favor. Why the troops would dismount to fight the world’s best horsemen (the Comanches), who could accurately fire arrow after arrow with precision, is beyond me. Finally, when the Texas Rangers got the famous Jack Hays to lead them, strategy was used for the first time against the Indians. “Hays preferred surprise-killing them, just as the Comanches preferred to do, in their villages while they slept. He had learned the fundamental lesson of plains warfare: It was either victory or death.” There was no such thing as a fair fight. You either won or lost.

“He also learned quickly what would become his main advantage: Comanches were extremely predictable. They never changed their methods. They were deeply custom-bound and equally mired in their notions of medicine and magic. They reacted to a given situation - such as the killing of their war chief or medicine man - in exactly the same way, every time. In white man’s terms, they were easily spooked.” In other words, if you killed one of their leaders, they became disorganized and scattered.

The invention of Samuel Colt’s .36 caliber, five chambered rounds revolving pistol was a God send for Hay’s troops. Now in a mounted close-up fight, Hay’s troops each had two chambered pistols (a total of ten shots before having to reload) against the Indians, who had a quiver of twenty arrows each. “No one knows exactly how these revolvers came into the hands of Jack Hays and his Rangers. But they most certainly did. Whenever the event took place, the Rangers immediately grasped the significance of such weapons. To them, Colt’s contraption was a revelation: a multishot weapon that could be used from horseback and thus, at last, even the odds.”

Unknowingly, a big weapon the white men brought to the plains were their diseases. Cholera, measles, malaria, smallpox, whooping cough and influenza killed off many thousands of Indians.        

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


This is a guest review by my thirteen year old grandson, Kai O:

Don’t panic! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy starts off as a normal day for Arthur Dent. However, Arthur will soon have to walk outside his home to try to stop a construction crew from clearing out his house for a new bypass. But for Arthur Dent, that’s a small problem to worry about, because unbeknownst to him, a Vogon spaceship is heading to Earth to demolish it for a new Galactic Freeway.

Luckily for Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, one of Arthur’s friends (who is actually a
researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) shows up. And Ford knows exactly what’s going on. So he grabs Arthur and pulls him away from his home to go to the local pub for muscle relaxants (booze). At the pub, Ford tries to explain to Arthur how he is really a researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who has been marooned on Earth. Next he tries to tell Arthur that a Vogon Constructor fleet is screaming towards earth with the intent to demolish the planet for a new Galactic Freeway.

Their muscles relaxed, Ford and Arthur leave the pub to try to get off the planet. Unfortunately, Arthur isn’t cooperating because he just discovered that his house has been destroyed. In his rage, Arthur doesn’t notice the Vogon fleet descending towards Earth. The Vogons announce their plans to the entire world. Finally, Arthur understands what Ford has been trying to tell him. At the last second, Ford takes Arthur and beams them up into a Vogon ship. Ford explains to Arthur that the Dentrassi chefs aboard the ship allowed them to be beamed up.

Arthur doesn’t know this yet, but this is the beginning of an adventure that will take him across the galaxy. This is just the first of five hilarious novels by Douglas Adams. This series is easily one of the best I’ve ever read. I strongly recommend this novel to anyone thirteen and up.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: My grandson has taken over the YA book review duties, so I can concentrate on other genres (not that Hitchhiker’s was a YA book). I think he has been doing a great job in honing his review skills.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

the X VARIANT

The author sent me a copy of her novel to review:

When the author, Rosemary Cole, said her novel would be a post-apocalyptic/time travel/zombie novel, I thought no way. She did accomplish that, but I think that it would have been a smoother trip without the time travel part. Couldn’t they (the Unathi) figure out a cure for the zombie-like virus without going back in time? For that matter, couldn’t the author come up with a better name for the surviving human race of the future other than Unathi...how do you pronounce that? (I’m being picky) Mutating viruses in novels are not new. I wonder if the author got some of her ideas from Michael Crichton. Crichton’s Andromeda Strain (1969) deals with a out of control virus that mutates. And Crichton’s Prey (2002) deals with the nanoswarm similar to Cole’s dronet. If she did read the Crichton novels to get ideas...kudos to her. I can’t think of two better novels to read to gain insight to the future scientific world without boring the reader to death with technical hodgepodge. Rosemary Cole gave the reader just enough technical information to understand what was going on. More importantly she gave the reader (in my opinion) an original story with three dissimilar predicaments in the same novel...well done Rosemary.  

It’s 2616 and life on earth is utopian. Humans have evolved into a super post-apocalyptic being known as the Unathi after a virus notoriously called SHAV (synthetic hemorrhagic airborne virus) almost wiped out earth’s population in 2079. Originally SHAV was created to cure cancer, then unwisely used as a weapon against the United Islamic States...later it mutated into a worldwide killer. The new human model known as the Unathi knows no violence. The current human of 2616 was of the old flesh and bone version combined with a symbiont and undetectable drones. What? Okay, I’ll let our main character, Kala, explain what they are, as she answers a question on how she can detect people, if they are around or not, from a human of the 2079 past, “My symbiont lets me do that,” explained Kala. At his blank stare, she went on. “I am Unathi. We are a symbiotic race, two combined species dependent upon each other - human host and symbiont. Our symbionts evolved from the SHA virus over hundreds of years. It produces drones inside our bodies that can tell us where objects or living things are in our vicinity. They can also pacify humans.” She almost said “or kill them,” but stopped herself just in time. Do you see how easily you can understand the science in this novel without all the technical jargon? Simple and to the point.

Anyhow, The 2616 Unathi rarely had any health issues; that’s why it was a surprise when some of the population developed problems with their drones and the Dronet that connected everyone directly mentality. “Every Unathi individual was carefully engineered (They have careparents, not a mom and dad) in a science that had developed over the centuries since the pandemic, selecting the most desirable genetic material from around the globe...but now there was something wrong. People’s drones had stopped functioning, and no one knew why.” Our heroine, Kala (who has a sentient symbiont and is stronger and faster than the rest of the Unathi’s, but is smaller in stature), was meeting her bondmate (apparently Unathi’s don’t get married), Liet, for lunch at a nearby open-roofed dining room. Liet seemed troubled over what was going on. “Kala fully expected someone to figure out what was going on and make the disappearances stop (people were disappearing from all over North America), but they went on and on...she heard their cries on the Dronet.” Suddenly a man in the dining room started to breathe heavily. Unexpectedly, Kala’s drones couldn’t feel him, it was like he was a animal. His eyes bugged out, bared his teeth and attacked a woman near him. He was killing her, but since the Unathi knew no violence in their utopian world, no one knew how to help her. Kala and Liet ran for their lives. They ran to the airtrain station. A woman on the train turns on a man, sinking her teeth into his neck. The woman had mutated into what’s called a Xin (a X-person, later called a ghal) causing her to become a killer. Kala, Liet and some passengers they met on the train are forced to jump off the train or face death. They are badly hurt from the jump, but the symbionts in their bodies quickly healed their broken bones and other severe injuries.

Afterwards, Kala and the train survivors find a woman who was building a hovering device. They attach it to a floating barge and look for food. They find a rooftop where a holocast conference for the living is just starting. The main speaker is a scientist named Wilm. “Greetings, he said. I am Wilm. I know you’re all thinking that there’s no hope. And you’re right, there is none-not for us personally. But there is hope of saving our kind. Please listen to what I have to say.” He explains that the 2079 virus mutated into different strains. The epsilon strain was flawed and these genes are latent. “We don’t know why they’ve suddenly switched on now, but that’s what has happened in the symbionts of the Xin, and we have the X-variant mutant as a result.” So what’s next? “However, we did discover something we didn’t know: there is one strain that doesn’t have the genetic flaw. Beta has no flaw, Wilm said, Beta is perfect.” Okay, how can they defeat this virus and survive as a race? Alright I will tell you and end this teaser...what happens later is worth the price of this novel. “Now, you’re probably wondering what this discovery can do for us. Well, it can’t save us personally, but it might save the Unathi race. As luck-or fate-would have it, after decades of work my colleagues and I have just completed testing a device for faster-than-light space travel...we are now attempting to convert that technology to time travel, and I believe it will work. If we can go back to 2079 and change the past, we have a chance to save the Unathi.”

Wilm believes that if they go back to 2079 and kill all the humans that have the epsilon strain and protect all the people that have the Beta strain, the future will change and the current virus of 2616 would never have happened. Wow, what a story. But since the Unathi are nonviolent, will they be able to kill? If they succeed, will they be able to get back to 2616? What happens if they don’t succeed? What if Wilm’s theory is wrong? Okay, I covered the first 67 pages, now you will have to read the next 234 pages to find out what happens. By the way, this is only book one of a planned trilogy...book two will be out in 2018. As I said in the first paragraph, Rosemary Cole would have had an easier time writing this novel if she would have left the time travel part out, nevertheless she triumphed big-time on her own accord. Get your copy of this exciting novel now...you will be glad you did.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I loved the two Michael Crichton novels, but my favorite mutated virus novel is a Stephen King’s novel, The Stand (1978). I read the novel in 1978, so I never got to review the novel on my site (I would have to reread the novel...it’s too long to do that again) because I started my review site in 2010. But I’ll tell you what Goodreads.com and Amazon.com said about King’s novel:

Goodreads.com says: This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.

Amazon.com says: Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.

A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge-Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.