Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Club - June 2015 Reading List

Mostly pretty recent books read in June. Let's gt right to it.

The Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper
In a solar system settled long ago from Earth, humans have split into two competing groups, those who wished to augment their minds and bodies with machinery, surgery and genetics into barely recognizably human and those who preferred to remain mostly human. A war many years ago between the two groups forced the more adventurous out into the darker reaches of the solar system. In the inner system, the earth-like planet they all call home is now a reserve where dedicated men and women worked to restore the planet to a more natural state after centuries of industrialization. The bulk of humanity lives in glittering space stations orbiting the sun. The story concerns three people, two women friends who live in space and a man from the planet. They are more or less ordinary people who get caught up in a new struggle with the modified humans from the dark. This is a 2-part sequel to another 2-part book which details the earlier history of this solar system but it stands alone pretty well. It's well written, the characters are believable and how they react to the new situation and grow into their new rolls is well written. Recommended.

The Machine Awakes by Adam Christopher
This book is set in the same universe as an earlier book by Christopher ("The Burning Dark") which I haven't read.  After colonizing many worlds, humans have met a hostile alien machine intelligence called the Spiders.  There is a lot of stuff going on in this book, not all of it fits together well. It starts out with an Earth agent infiltrating an illegal gambling space station and ends with him being involved in the war with the Spiders as they try to take over the human mining satellites of Jupiter. I had some trouble following the story and some of the technology described seemed more for the convenience of the author than anything plausible. I'm not sure I'd recommend this one.

Screwed by Eoin Colfer
This is a sequel to the author's "Plugged" which I haven't read. The author does a good job of catching the reader up on the first book so it stands alone. Daniel McEvoy is a former Irish soldier who saw action with the UN in various places but is now settled in New Jersey and owns a gambling club. He's got himself in debt to the local Irish mob (presumably as a result of what ever happened in the first book) and finds himself running an errand for the mob boss which may set him free if he performs the job well. But nothing goes well, and Daniel, a self-described man of peace finds himself in conflict with New York mobsters, crooked New York cops and Irish relatives out to kill him. The book is very humorous and pretty violent. Colfer is apparently known as the author of YA books but this book is very adult in language. The audio book was great. Recommended.

Tracker by C. J. Cherryh

This is the 16th novel in Cherryh's Foreigner books. The series comes in 3-book installments and I've read most of them. This was a pretty good installment and actually a good entry point to the series, if you haven't read any of them. I'd recommend any books in the series, in fact, I'd recommend going back to the first. The overall story is about a space ship full of humans who end up on a world already inhabited by an sentient species. The stories take place many hundreds of years after first contact. Humans and atevi share the planet under an uneasy truce formed after the original War of the Landing. Bren Cameron, who originally was the human's envoy to the atevi ruler is now a Lord of the avevi's court. In this installment, the human-atevi world is potentially under threat from an alien ship from deep space. Recommended.

Unbreakable by W. C. Bauers
Military science fiction of the most derivative sort. Not a bad first novel (and first book of a series) but it's pretty much loaded up with cliches. A young woman, with the improbable name of Promise Paen, is the newly promoted 2nd lieutenant of a Republican Marine Corp unit who's company is sent to the planet of Montana (Paen's home world) to help protect it from the Republic's enemy the Lusitanian Empire. Montana is a rough frontier world with no defense of it's own. The Marine's are attacked by pirates (in the pay of the Empire) and it's leadership killed, leaving Paen in charge when they hit the ground. The ship that brought them is also heavily damaged and there are no reinforcements coming.  Then a small armada of Lusitanians show up. Under Paen's leadership, the Republican marines manage to defeat the much larger force from the Empire. I kinda of liked it and would recommend it but don't expect too much. You may notice some similarity in the cover design to "The Edge of Dark" above. They are both the work of Stephan Martiniere.

Personal by Lee Child
This is the 19th Jack Reacher book. I must say that Jack (and possibly Lee Child) are getting a bit long in the tooth. Reacher, who has to be about 60 years old, can't possibly be as tough as he once was, and, considering that, Child doesn't give him much to do in this book. It's a complicated story about a sniper, once put away by Reacher, who is now out of prison and wanted for an attempted assassination of the French President. For Reacher, it's personal, get it? Reacher gets into only one fight and though traveling around with a young and attractive female FBI agent, he seems to have no interest in her. Nor she in him. He's old enough to be her grandfather! If you've read all the other Jack Reacher novels, go ahead and read this one. If not, find the early ones in the series and read them instead.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

I'm back from vacation

I'm back after a 13-day vacation with included an Alaskan Cruise and sight-seeing in Washington State.  Here are just a few photos summarizing our trip that I took with my cell phone. Regular posting will resume shortly.

This was the ship we sailed to Alaska on, the MS Westerdam (operated by Holland America).

Our home away from home for 7 days.

Some Alaskan coast line from sea.

Of course, the food was wonderful.

We mostly had good weather, except in Ketchikan where it rained all day. Here's the ship's pool with the roof open.

Back in Seattle we had dinner on the Space Needle.

We visited Mt. Ranier.

The weather in Washington state was wonderful, bright sunny days with temperatures in the upper 80's, leading to spectacular views of the mountains. All this sun and heat however is bad for the state as they are in a prolonged drought. This is supposed to be the rainy season there.

Then we visited Mt. St. Helens.

This is looking right into the side of the mountain that blew out back in 1980. This cruise was to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary which was on May 17. The Mt. St. Helens eruption was also 35 years ago, on May 18.

On the morning of our flight home we had some time to visit the Pacific Bonsai Museum near our hotel.

 This place was awesome. This is a Japanese maple started in 1956. Long time readers of this blog may remember postings of my attempts at bonsai. Nothing I've done approaches even the poorest specimen at the museum.

Friday, June 19, 2015

We be crusin'

My lovely wife and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this year by taking a cruise to Alaska. We'll be departing Seattle on June 20, returning June 27. Then we'e going to spend a few days driving around Washington state.

There will be no new blog posts until probably the first full week in July.  I hope you miss me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2015 Panini Prizm Inserts

OK, with any luck, this will be the last Panini post of 2015.

The product has 10 insert sets. There are 2 autographed inserts but no relics. Most of the inserts have ultiple parallels, some of the parallels are autographed. I pulled 4 of the inserts, not bad considering I only bought 1 blaster and 3 packs. All but one of the inserts are new this year, with only "USA Baseball" making a return appearance.

Panini Prizm Fresh Faces #5 Joc Pederson
Whoa, this kid's hit 17 home runs already this season.  This 15-card set is die-cut on the sides and top (the top is curved). In addition to several different colored parallels, this insert also comes in an autographed version (in 7 different variations).

Panini Prizm Field Pass #3 Carlos Santana
A 15-card insert set in 6 flavors. This is the base insert.

Panini Prizm Fireworks #5 Nelson Cruz
A 20-card insert set in 6 flavors. This is actually the Prizms parallel of this insert. The slight rainbow cast of the silver gives it away. Or the fact that it says "Prizm" on the back of the card. I also pulled a base card from the set as well.

And finally:

Panini Prizm Baseball Signature Prizms Camo #25 Tom Koehler
It's always nice to pull an auto or relic from a blaster. And not just any auto, but a serial numbered auto. The "Baseball Signature Prizms" some in 8 flavors. This is the "Camo" parallel, numbered to 199.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

2015 Panini Prizm

Two Panini products in a row.

Panini Prizm has the same problem as all Panini baseball products. They don't have an MLB license so they can't show MLB logos, or apparently, even mention MLB team names.  They photoshop away logos on uniforms instead of relying on contorted poses. The other problem is a problem shared with Panini Donruss, the batter cards pretty much all look the same and the pitcher cards all look the same. There are few fielding plays depicted.

Otherwise, I kind of like Prizm. It's certainly shiny enough.  I bought a blaster and a 3-pack value pack (to get the red white and blue parallels included).

The main difference between 2015 and past years is the absence of borders on this year's card fronts. That is a plus. Also the photo on the back is a bit larger, but since it's the same photo that's on the front, it doesn't make much difference.

The cards are a bit cheaper this year, $0.63/card vs. $0.72/card last year.

I pulled just the one Phillie card but at least it was current Phillie phenom Maikel Franco. I also pulled Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg.

The biggest problem with Panini is, and always has been, that it's impossible to collect. There are 200 cards in the base set which doesn't sound too bad but there are 14 base set parallels. Each pack only has 4 cards it it, and only 2 of them are base cards. Making the outrageous assumption that you wouldn't get any duplicates, you'd have to buy 100 packs, at $252, to get the base set. So the cards are nice to look at but I'd never consider trying to build a set.

Of the 14 parallel sets I pulled 4 of them.

This is the Prizms subset (yes, this card is a Panini Prizm Prizms). It's got a refractive finish much like Topps Chrome Refractors. Hey, do you know what a prism does? It refracts light.

This is the Panini Prizm Prizms Black and White Checker. This set is serial numbered to 149.

Panini Prizm Prizms Red Baseball. If the little baseballs look familiar, it's the same baseball from 2014 Donruss.

Panini Prizm Prizms Red White and Blue Mojo. These remind me a bit of Topps Chrome X-Fractors.

I hope to have a post up soon with the inserts from the packs I bought.

Monday, June 15, 2015

One more 2015 Panini American card

Here's the next to the last card I pulled from the 6 packs I bought.

Another card featuring someone I didn't recognize. The back of the card provides some information on her.

OK, well she's on the show "The Real Housewives of New Jersey". This is not a show I've ever watched but I'd heard of it. She has four beautiful daughters and has written cookbooks. I checked her on Wikipedia and found out a few other things. She was born on May 18, 1972 and has also appeared on Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice". The 3rd line of the article starts "As of 2015 she lives in a federal prison". Whoa, I didn't see that coming.

Further down it says:

"On March 4, 2014, Teresa and Joe entered a guilty plea to 41 counts of fraud, following a deal struck with federal prosecutors. The couple was accused of engaging in bank, mail, wire, and bankruptcy fraud, which allegedly saw them net over $5 million over a 10-year period. On October 2, 2014, Teresa was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison; Joe received a 41-month sentence, followed by potential deportation to Italy."

Friday, June 12, 2015

2015 Panini Americana

Due to probably some deep-seated personality disorder, I actually like Panini (formerly Donruss) Americana. I don't go out of my way to buy it but if I see it on the self, I'll buy a blaster or at least a few packs. I don't remember seeing it last year but Target had a single box of packs this year so I bought some.

Really, I shouldn't buy any of this stuff because the subjects are generally B of C-list celebrities I've, at best, hardly ever heard of. A couple of years ago they featured a lot of astronauts which was pretty great.  There are 78 cards in the base set, and, sad to say, most of the names fail to ring a bell. The cards themselves are pretty good looking and there are some big starts in there. Like, who doesn't know this guy?

I rarely watch un-scripted TV shows, but we got hooked on ABC's show "Wipeout", so I also know this person.
But this guy was unfamiliar until I read his bio.
This is who the character Steve Urkel, from the TV show "Family Matters" grew up to be. I never watched "Family Matters" but even in those pre-Internet days it was impossible to not know who he was.

This lady is supposed to be a professional wrestler.

I never was much of a fan of professional wrestling but I thought wrestlers looked more like this.

The base set comes in 5 flavors: plain, black, blue, green and red. I pulled 2 red cards, one of Ms. Marie.
The red border goes nicely with her hair. I don't know about the other colors, the the red has a foil thing going on. I pulled two of the red parallels.

As I mentioned above, there are 78 cards in the base set, plus 4 parallels. Overall, counting parallels of the base set and parallels of different insert cards, there are about 85 inserts to pull from this set.  It seems like every pack should have at least one insert but I only got 5 inserts in the 6 packs I bought.

Look carefully, these are two different inserts. The top one is "Certified Albums", the other is "Certified Singles". The two sets have identical checklists of 6 cards each. Lucky me I got the same person from each set. I'll admit that I had no idea who she was but I have heard of Destiny's Child. At least they used a different photo for each set. These have 5 parallels each, one of them autographed.

And finally,
This insert is die-cut, has 6 cards and they are all jockeys. I actually already had a card of Ms Sutherland, from 2012 Goodwin's Champions.

If you've made it this far, a couple of final points.

 I had a little difficulty finding the checklists for this set. Neither nor had it. I guess it's a brand new issue. I went on Panini's site and found what I needed but they did not make it easy.

Second, the front of the pack has the statement "Ages 9+". Would a 9-year-old be interested in any of these cards?

It also says "No Purchase Necessary - See Back For Details". On the back is says you can get a chance to win an insert card by sending them a 3x5 card in a #10 envelope. I've seen this on other cards. Has anyone ever tried this and gotten a card back?

The back also says that non-base cards are inserted, on average, in every other pack, so I guess I got lucky.

If you want a chance to win a card, and you're a Canadian (except if you're from Quebec, you're just out of luck), you have to solve a mathematical skill test. The test is: 754+855/285x239-581. Yikes! You'll have to take your shoes off for that.  Good luck Canadians! Here's how Google parses it.