Book Reviews

The Executioner #2 “Death Squad ” by Don Pendleton ***

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This book picks up right where War on the Mafia left off. Mack has a million dollar bounty on his head and every mobster in America wants to collect it. Bolan realizes that he may need some help. He recruits ten of his old ‘Nam buddies, all ruthless killers in their own right, and assembles a crack assassination squad. It would have been better if Pendleton had only shown Mack bringing in two or three old war buddies. With so many characters, it’s not possible to flesh them out in such a short novel. Half of them are pure stereotypes like the hippie, the Indian, etc. All of them easily agree to work for Mack, risking their lives and their freedom, merely for the thrill of killing and whatever spoils they can collect along the way. A little more conflict among the gang would have helped flesh out this straightforward story.

Because this is a team book it differs from the other Executioner novels. Mack is merely one of many characters which includes not only the Death Squad but also a cast of mobsters, hitmen, and cops. There is one glaringly absent character type… women. As in, not a single one. Mack doesn’t get laid even once, he’s just too busy killing. And kill he does. Now with a team he can wipe out entire Mafia families in one fell swoop. It is only when Mack finally underestimates multiple families ability to work together that things start to fall apart. Ten trained and heavily armed assassins can cause a whole lot of damage but there are only so many armed men they can kill at one time. Needless to say, after this experience, Mack decides that it’s best to work alone.

3 satchel charges outta 5

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? *****

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You would think that I would be reading old Batman comics this weekend with the death of Adam West, but instead I decided to read a more appropriate Superman story that I finally picked up. Heralded as one of the greatest Superman yarns of all time, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was originally published in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 in 1986. When one hears the words “greatest comic story of all time” one name always comes to mind, Alan Moore. And so it is with this finale of the original superhero. Moore was hot off of Watchmen and retiring long-time editor Julie Schwartz wanted the best for his final send off. The most famous Superman artist of the sixties Curt Swan was brought back to draw both issues with George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger inking them.

The story is an “imaginary tale” of Superman’s last days. It has an epic, Lord of the Rings feel to it as Superman makes his final stand at the Fortress of Solitude, surrounded by his closest friends and lovers. All of his greatest villains team up all at once to make sure he dies for good. Even formerly mischievous and comic villains like Bizarro and Mr. Mxyzptlk turn to chaotic evil as they are simply sick of their foe’s existence. Superman realizes that he cannot take them all on at once, even with his great power. Lex Luthor’s mind and body are taken over by Brainiac who leads the assault and Superman’s lesser villains start to wipe out his secret identity, Metropolis and his friends.

The primary obstruction to Brainiac’s plan is of course the Justice League, so he forms an impenetrable force field around the Fortress that they can’t get past. Batman and Wonder Woman end up having to merely watch the final battle from the outside. What follows is complete carnage as Jimmy Olsen and Lana Lang are slaughtered and the Fortress of Solitude is destroyed by a nuclear blast. Superman himself is forced to kill for the first time as it’s the only option. Batman has only one line in the story after the forcefield is dropped, but it’s a good one: “It’s like walking amongst the fragments of a legend.”

As the title insinuates, by the end, Superman is no more. The character was then rebooted by John Byrne in the Man of Steel mini-series that reset Superman’s timeline after Crisis on Infinite Earths. This would be a great story for Warner Brothers to make as an animated film. My only complaint is that two issues were two few. Four would have been ideal. As it is, the final twist is contained only in the very last page.

5 Legends Outta 5

A newly recolored version of the story can be read here
http://readcomiconline.to/Comic/Superman-Whatever-Happened-to-the-Man-of-Tomorrow/TPB?id=70445

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood *

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It’s been out for 30 years, but I finally read this often mentioned epistolary novel by Margaret Atwood. I have not read any of her other books and this is her best known. It really should not even be called a novel. It is the unstructured, stream of consciousness, rantings of a dull kept woman. The book is a fragment of an audio diary kept by the main character Offred who lives sometime in the near future. She has all of the intelligence of a subservient Christian housewife with uninteresting and meandering thoughts about her situation. Other than describing her dystopian reality (not very well I must say) Offred goes on and on about her simplistic feelings and desires. She makes the perfect slave for her religious masters. She does as she’s told and never disobeys in any real way. I kept wondering why I was reading about this character. Surely someone else in this universe would be more interesting to follow and listen to, like her friend Ofglen. Offred is simply a massive bore with no real insights or observations. I would call her one of the dullest characters in all of literature.

Some notes on this future world: Congress and the President of the USA have all been executed by fanatical Christian MGTOWs. In a twisted version of Snake’s ultimate dream, women become slaves that can no longer legally own property, hold jobs, vote, or even have names. They must take their husband/owners name, that’s why we get “Of Fred.” Offred doesn’t have access to books and seems fairly uneducated so we don’t learn what exactly took the human population down, but it seems to be either a nuclear war or some kind of radiation disaster. So Offred finds herself as a nun-like sex slave whose only reason to exist is to create children for a high ranking military commander. She is told that if she acts up her legs and arms can be cut off as only her torso is required for sex. The commander’s wife is a dried up old hag who lays under Offred during awkward ritualistic inseminations.

Even if one looks at it as an allegory for the struggle for women’s equality, it’s still boring and plotless. Nothing happens. NOTHING. Offred is a paranoid but willing rape victim in a Puritan/Nazi theocracy, the end. Her job is to lie down and get screwed. That’s her life. And much like Offred’s occupation, I wanted to lay this book down every time I started reading it again. I had to finish it, but it was a struggle. In between fuckings she watches dissenters get executed and tiptoes around her masters so as not to find herself in a noose. I would recommend it to feminists maybe, but not to science fiction or dystopia fans. You can’t out-kafka Kafka, which is what Atwood was trying to do. If you want to feel oppressed and depressed than read it, but I personally hated it. I am not a fan of Kafka either. It’s depressing for depressions sake. You could see it as a warning about religious fanaticism, but I think Arthur Miller covered that already in The Crucible.

1 Dystopian Nightmare Outta 5

A Tale of Two Hamiltons

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Alexander Hamilton: Chernow vs. DiLorenzo

My dad would love all of this attention his hero Alexander Hamilton is getting. This is mostly due his life story being turned into the most successful Broadway musical of all time. Looking around my dad’s den I realized that the biggest picture on the wall was of old Alex. So the least I could do is read a couple of books about the guy.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

This is the book that inspired the musical. Chernow presents Hamilton as the prototypical American success story. Born in the Caribbean, Hamilton was an unlikely Founding Father of our country, but his life was anything but normal. The event that started it all was a scholarship from a wealthy patron on St. Croix island that sent young Hamilton to NYC. After some heroic actions in the Revolutionary War and a lifelong friendship with George Washington, his career was ready to rock. And it just kept rocking until the end. I can see why so many people find him inspiring and important. He amassed enormous power and influence over a young nation and he did have some sense of the history that was happening around him.

In case anyone reading is new to Hamilton I will just list some of the things that made him famous:

– Established West Point
– Founded the Coast Guard
– Elected to the Congress of the Confederation representing New York
– Wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers which lead to the Second Constitutional Convention
– First Secretary of the Treasury
– As a trial lawyer in New York he published the first manual on civil procedure
– Established the Bank of North America
– Wrote the Report on the Subject of Manufactures
– Founded the New York Post

Not a bad resume, and that’s only the cream off the top. Chernow wrote a page turning, entertaining biography that pretty much covers all of the bases. We go from birth to death and it even had a nice epilogue about Elizabeth Hamilton who lived until 1854 – long enough to become American royalty and almost long enough to see the Civil War.

However Chernow falls into a trap that is common among modern biographers, that is embellishing the past using “psycho history.” Not the kind invented by Isaac Asimov in Foundation, but the modern kind which uses psychology to examine motives and emotions of people who left no diaries. This is used by the well known plagiarist and Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin. It essentially lets the biographer put words into the mouths of historical figures and should be discouraged. The matters of slavery and adultery in particular allows Chernow to erase anything negative about the man, so his tale can be spic and span. Chernow claims that Hamilton was an abolitionist while nothing in the historical record would lead one to believe this. He was no more an abolitionist than George Washington. We know for a fact that he bought at least two slaves. Chernow says they were for his brother and again with no evidence to support that claim. Chernow also uses kid gloves when describing another thing Hamilton is famous for, the very first public sex scandal. Not that any of that is really important.

Speaking of things not important, Chernow spends too much time discussing whether or not Hamilton was gay. Never mind that he was married, had affairs with women, and had eight children. No, he must have loved cock too. If he sucked a dick or two as a young military man, we will never know so there seems to be little gained from discussing it. But other than that, the book is fun to read even if it is biased in the positive. It reads like a novel.

3 Thrown Away Shots Outta 5

Hamilton’s Curse by Thomas DiLorenzo

I felt that I had to read another book on Hamilton to get the real facts. A short book that doesn’t mess around with any filler or homosexual speculation, Hamilton’s Curse by The Real Lincoln author Thomas DiLorenzo sets the record straight on the ten spot’s legacy. He examines Hamilton’s monetary policy and why it was not a national blessing (as Hamilton called the national debt) but a curse. Blatantly calling him an “economic ignoramus” DiLorenzo shows step by step how Hamilton’s lack of knowledge about business lead us to the crony capitalism we have today. Not stopping there, he also describes how Hamilton’s love of the British monarchy lead us to the imperial presidency of Abraham Lincoln and later Barack Obama, a man with so much power that even Hamilton would be shocked to behold.

Hamilton started the first central bank in the U.S. and it’s legacy is what we now know as The Fed, a destructive institution that causes the boom bust cycles in the market. The subtitle of DiLorenzo’s book is “How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution–and What It Means for Americans Today.” Jefferson is still a more famous Founder than Hamilton, but it’s Hamilton’s monarchist America that we live in today. Jefferson’s ideas about a small federal government and laissez-faire economy was usurped by Hamilton’s strong federal government and interventionist monetary policy. It’s easy to see why. Those in power like it that way. So much like Abe Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton does not deserve the universal praise he receives from the mainstream historians. It is DiLorenzo’s contention that it would have been much better for us if Hamilton had never been born at all.

4 Constitutional Conventions Outta 5

‘Looking Out For #1’ by Robert Ringer *

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I do not think that his book works as a philosophy text or a self-help book. Ringer has learned a few things in his life and just as anyone becomes wiser with age some it is good advice. Stay away from toxic, abusive people – okay, seems like common sense. However, most of it is horrible, detrimental advice that should be avoided. As other reviewers have mentioned, Ringer is an egoist: the philosophy which states that it is unethical to consider others before the self. He rants against the “moralists” of the world who want to tell you what to do. He does not believe that ethics is based on scientifically derived facts and well considered logic. He thinks that everyone makes up their own ethics (or “morality” as he calls it.) Nothing could be further from the truth. Ethics is a science, not something that one can just invent for themselves.

Let’s take something that is obviously unethical like eating meat. Ringer would call me a “moralist” for telling someone that eating meat when vegetables are available is wrong because it deprives an animal of it’s life unnecessarily. He would say that since the meat eater is satisfying his own interests, it’s perfectly fine. Ringer does say that one should not harm “others” but fails to define “others” or “harm.” Clearly he does not think that animals deserve any consideration, as neither did his idol Ayn Rand. Both writers clearly failed at logic. I really enjoy Rand’s science fiction novels and her promotion of atheism, however her ethical egoism is illogical. Yes, looking out for number one can, as a side effect, end up being best for everyone in some instances. However, this philosophy can also cause harm. Negative utilitarianism is the only worthwhile philosophical position. Everything else, including egoism, is crap.

Looking out for yourself, or your tribe, or your species is just irrational bigotry. You cannot be an egoist without causing harm. For instance look at Ringer’s own life. As an egomaniac he decided to bring four men into this world, a completely irrational thing to do, as it causes immense amounts of harm. But oh no! I’m a moralist telling an irrational idiot what to do! Shame on me for trying to prevent harm to someone else!

In a ridiculous article Ringer published about his son’s untimely demise he characteristically leaves out all details: how old he was, how he died, etc, and then goes on to stroke his own ego as a “member of the most solemn of all fraternities” when he says “Losing a child is something that cannot be fully comprehended by anyone who has not paid the fraternity’s oppressive membership fee.” This is just one of Ringer’s many lies. So because I have lost a parent and a brother I do not understand grief? I understand that Ringer made his son’s death happen by creating him. He did it to serve his own massive ego and did not care what misfortunes happen to his children. It’s all about HIM. This book is stupid, half-baked nonsense and a waste of paper. Ringer does not have the mind nor the education to be giving advice. He is simply a moron.

* star outta *****

Amazing Stories August 1928 Issue Review

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You might be asking, why review a magazine from 89 years ago? As an sf fan my library didn’t seem complete without it. The reason being that the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories is perhaps the most influential piece of pulp literature ever published. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury (now collectively known as The Grandmasters of Science Fiction) all named this single issue as a primary reason why they got into writing “scientific fiction” stories.

This issue also marked the beginning of the rise of American science fiction. The genre up to that point had been dominated by a Brit (H.G. Wells) and a Frenchman (Jules Verne). There existed science fiction stories before those two of course (many cite Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the origin of the science fiction novel) however it wasn’t until Wells and Verne that speculative stories relying heavily on science and technology came to prominence. American Edgar Rice Burroughs took Well’s torch and ran with it in the 1910s with his John Carter of Mars novels, but diverged from pure science stories to form the new hybrid genre of “science fantasy.”

Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories premiere issue came out in April 1926. It was the first magazine dedicated exclusively to science fiction, specifically the sub-genre of “hard sf.” This alone was a milestone. The first years of Amazing contained reprints of Wells, Verne, Burroughs, and Poe stories primarily. Many prominent writers of the period like H.P. Lovecraft avoided Amazing because the pay was low. Gernsbeck did not pay Wells and other writers reprint royalties either.

It wasn’t until the August 1928 issue, which featured the first chapters of two brand new short novels by American authors, that the magazine passed into legend. Those stories were Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan and The Skylark of Space by Edward E. Smith.

Armageddon 2419 A.D.

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: A former Army Air Service captain who later worked for a chemical corporation is involved in a tragic accident. He is entombed after an explosion in a crypt full of a mysterious radioactive gas. Thinking that only moments have passed the captain digs himself out only to soon realize that he has been sleeping for 492 years! If you guessed that this captain’s name is Anthony “Buck” Rogers, then you guessed correctly. Armageddon 2419 A.D. is the famous airman’s very first appearance. Catching the eye of a newspaper publisher Nowlan was asked to adapt his character to the comic strip format and the rest is history. Buck Rogers would become the very first science fiction comic strip and the first science fiction themed radio show. The character would later go on to star in serials, movies, television, and of course he would be featured on toy ray guns for generations to come.

The novel is still very readable today and if it were to be a straight film adaptation it would probably be rated R. I found that not only did the famous authors above get inspired by this story, but I think Frank Herbert probably read it too. The lasgun/shield/bladed weapon dynamic from Dune seems to be borrowed from Nowlan. In Buck’s future America of 2419 ballistic weapons have evolved into essentially mini atomic artillery shells. So the use of them in war would cause such cataclysmic destruction that human combat has once again gone back to knife fighting. Buck (not given that nickname until the comics) is a veteran of World War I so he is very adept at hand to hand combat, surprising even his future comrades with his proclivity for violence. At one point he guts an enemy “bisecting him from groin to chin” with his deadly blade.

Gene Roddenberry was inspired by Buck Rogers and the copycat character Flash Gordon when he wrote the part of Captain Kirk. Buck has many Kirk-like qualities. He’s a take charge man of action and the ideal military leader. He is also a ladies man. He has sex with Wilma the very first day he wakes up in the future. I pictured Buster Crabbe’s face rather than Gil Gerard’s as I read the novel, but I couldn’t help imagine Erin Gray as Wilma for obvious reasons.

A cool aspect of the story is that it’s told in first person perspective. You get inside Buck’s head and see the future as he does. If you are familiar with the character then you know the tale, but I’ll summarize it anyway… Buck wakes up and immediately sees Wilma about to die while being pursued by a “Han.” She is bounding in giant leaps by using an anti-gravity belt which naturally makes Buck realize that he’s not in Kansas anymore. During her fight with the Han, Wilma drops her ray gun. Buck, without knowing what side she’s on, grabs it and blasts the Han to atoms. He learns from Wilma that the year is 2419 and the U.S. has been conquered by the Hans (essentially an Asian Empire similar to the ancient Mongolian Empire). There are a few racist slurs or what could be considered racist in our p.c. times, as the Hans are sometimes called the “yellow blight.”

Americans of this era are reduced to a small native population similar to the Native American Indians. The Hans live in giant ships in the sky and care little for the gnat-like savages below them. Fresh from the blood soaked battlefields of Europe Buck realizes that the Americans are not even utilizing their technology to take down the oppressive Hans. After Buck leads an overwhelmingly successful raid on a Han ship they elect him leader of their tribe. There are some more Dune similarities here as he becomes the “boss” and marries the tribe’s highest ranking female, Wilma. Once in charge Buck reorganizes the tribes and creates the greatest day of carnage the Hans have ever seen. He literally kills thousands of them without mercy, kind of like Muad’Dib’s jihad.

The language is naturally dated to the 1920s, but this was still a really fun read so I think I will check out the sequel The Airlords of Han. Besides directly influencing Flash Gordon and Star Trek, Buck Roger’s of the comics would also influence other famous sci-fi characters like Superman. The character’s inspiration snowballed from the 1930s until now and cannot be underestimated. He was the first science fiction action hero. It should be noted that the Buck Rogers comic strip and ‘80s TV series bare little resemblance to this original version.

4 Ray Guns Outta 5

The Skylark of Space

Many people mistake the cover art of Amazing’s August 1926 issue to be a drawing of Buck Rogers, but it’s actually an illustration for the magazine’s feature story, The Skylark of Space by E. E. “Doc” Smith. Both stories just happen to feature anti-gravity belts, which must have been a cultural meme at the time. Whereas Armageddon would end up being hugely influential in pop culture, Skylark became one of the greatest inspirations in science fiction literature. Isaac Asimov said of the novel, “It had adventure of an unprecedented kind… the first great classic of American science fiction.”

E. E. Smith is considered to be the founder of the “space opera” sub-genre. Where as it’s easy to see how a war novel like Armageddon influenced writers like Heinlein, it’s just as obvious how Skylark influenced space opera writers like Asimov. Scientific discovery and technology is the cause for the plot, but the effects are all human. There are elements of the crime thriller, the intrigue of a spy novel, the action of a Western, and the romance of a Dicken’s story… in space!

Travelling faster than light with an FTL drive seems old hat these days, it’s shown in movies and TV shows so often, but there was a time before FTL journeys to distant stars. That all changed with The Skylark of Space, the very first interstellar story. Just that alone opened up a new world to fiction writers and readers. Travelling to other planets and solar systems…. the possibilities send the imagination soaring. Former Galaxy editor and sf novelist Frederich Pohl remarked, “With the exception of the works of H. G. Wells, possibly those of Jules Verne – and almost no other writer – it has inspired more imitators and done more to change the nature of all the science fiction written after it than almost any other single work.”

As 21st century reading, Skylark does not hold up as well at Armageddon. Smith was actually a real scientist and not a professional writer. He composed the book while working on his Ph.D. He would go on to write several sequels up until his death in 1966, but still remained a working scientist for his entire life. The very first voyage of the Starship Skylark was a trip around the Moon. Sadly Smith would not live see that historic visit happen for real by the Apollo 8 astronauts two years later. The invention of the fictional starship was inevitable, but it started here. The Enterprise and Millennium Falcon can be traced directly to this story.

Even more so than Nowlan, Smith loves ‘20s era slang. “Wouldn’t that rattle your slats?” or “‘Great Cat!’ he ejaculated” amuse us in ways he would never have imagined. What is perhaps most interesting is the scientific knowledge of the day. Smith is aware of Einstein’s work and incorporated it into the story. Atomic energy must have been a hot topic at the time as both stories feature it, even though it had not been invented yet. The whole basis of The Skylark of Space is the discovery of atomic fission. The only similarity to hero Dick Seaton’s discovery and the Manhattan Project is that energy is released from matter. The method is totally different. For example (and this is fortunate for Seaton) copper and not uranium or plutonium, is the element that is used for the reaction. To break the energy out of the copper Seaton first had to discover “X” the unknown element, which used in conjunction with copper and a particle accelerator, can cause an atomic blast or anti-gravity. It is this discovery that is used to power the Skylark to the stars.

What is any good Western without a villain? That would be the man who almost owned Seaton’s discovery, the owner of his lab, Marc “Blackie” DuQuesne. DuQuesne is a sociopath and decides to use every criminal trick in the book to get Seaton’s X element back and claim the power and wealth it will bring for himself. What follows is a wild chase through the cosmos, past black holes and strange planets. Smith mentions the cosmic speed limit early in the story but to the protagonist’s surprise they discover a new physical law where matter and velocity separate. This allows them to go many factors faster than the speed of light and reach distant solar systems with Star Trek like speed. Like Armageddon the denouement is an aerial battle of humongous proportions. Perhaps both authors were inspired by the zeppelins of the day as both of their wars imagine giant floating warships. Like Nowlan’s hero, Smith’s Dick Seaton quickly chooses sides (no Prime Directive here) in an alien planetary war and fights alongside them, becoming a legend in no time. The climax ofSkylark is tense and exciting, even now. Armageddon feels a bit more like a beginning chapter (as it certainly was) where Skylark is a proper science fiction novel. It has a great villain, romance, a hero of course, a loyal sidekick, and a ton of action. The blueprint for many imitators was all there.

3 Quantities of X Outta 5

As they are in the public domain you can read or download both of these novels for free on Gutenberg.com.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/32530
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20869

The White Plague by Frank Herbert **

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I read this novel because I am a fan of the Dune saga. I would lump this stand-alone novel along with Herbert’s final two Dune books as one of his lesser works. Honestly it’s too bad Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson weren’t around to help when he wrote this thing. Their talent at crafting Hollywood style page turners would have tightened up this overly long yarn.

Herbert was a man of great ideas, but his execution this time was less than satisfactory. I assume that Herbert read The Stand which came out four years before this and decided to do his own version of the end times. The idea here is a madman who creates a virus that only kills women. He wanted it contained only to Ireland, England, and Libya but of course it spreads to the entire world and then to other mammals. By the time the plague is at it’s height, the male population is at 10,000 for every one woman. The world descends into chaos and martial law and places like Africa are simply bombed, blockaded, and written off.

The novel drags in the middle quite annoyingly as we follow characters walking around, doing absolutely nothing interesting. We never have a clear protagonist in the story either. Interesting characters like the POTUS, show up here and there every 50 or 100 pages and then fade away again. If Herbert had just picked one major character to follow the novel would been a much better read. The setting of early ‘80s Northern Ireland with it’s IRA bombings is dated in 2015 as is the book’s references to computers. In one part of the story a computer program has to be physically flown on a plane from the U.S. to Ireland. Sounds crazy now in our era of broadband.

I’m surprised an editor didn’t get Herbert to shorten this thing up. Entire chapters could have been eliminated and the middle of the book goes nowhere. There’s a good story to be told here, but it needed another couple of drafts. Still it’s an interesting book, as most post-apocalyptic stories usually are. Things would go to hell quickly no doubt about it. However I found the story needlessly depressing with no redemption for the human race by the end. If anything this book does at least provide a warning, a man-made plague is very likely to be the thing that ends the human story once and for all.

I think any Irishophile would get more out of it as it takes place almost entirely on the Emerald Isle. There are many references to Irish history, culture, and of course their hatred of the English.

2 mutated strains of DNA outta 5