Saturday, August 5, 2017

James Review -- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volume Three

This week I decided to review Mighty Morphin Power Rangers volume three written by Kyle Higgens.

The story begins shortly after the end of volume two. Rita Repulsa has seized control of the Power Ranger command center with the aid of the Black Dragon. Billy Cranston, The Blue Ranger, has been captured and the other four original rangers have been forced to tap into the Green Ranger Tommy Oliver’s unique link to the Morphing Grid after being cut off from their usual powers.

The rangers manage to halt Repulsa’s attack on major cities using their Zords Cranston is imprisoned with Goldar. who controls the dimension they are trapped in but refuses to leave without the permission of his Empress. Cranston convinces Goldar, who hates the Black Dragon, to free him so he can help the other rangers defeat the Black Dragon thus possibly convincing Repulsa to restore Goldar to his place at her side. The rangers soon realize that the Black Dragon is a Zord that can alter its size. While most of the rangers launch an attack to force the Black Dragon to become the size of a typical Zord so Cranston and Oliver can infiltrate it via its access hatch.

The two manage to ruin the Black Dragon but find themselves in the future of an alternate timeline where the world was overrun by Repulsa’s army and Earth is now ruled by Lord Drakkon. The pair sets out in hopes of finding allies and a way home while reeling from what they have learned about the nature of this Earth’s ruler…

There is a flashback sequence focusing on Cranston as he begins to doubt whether he can truly become a hero. The chapter covers the battle that shook his resolve and his efforts to try and discover what makes a hero.

The volume also contains a short section of The Ongoing Adventures of Bulk and Skull by Steve Orlando. In this adventure the namesake duo find themselves recruited by Rita Repulsa to pilot Finster’s latest monster and hilarity ensues.

I give this volume 9 out of 10. The main story was interesting but there were a few parts I feel should have been explained in more detail and it could have used more combat. The flashback was fun but I think it would have fit in better if it had occurred earlier in the volume. The Bulk and Skull section was a nice counter to the grim tone of  the latter sections of the main story and I found it much more amusing then any of the attempted comedy sections focused on the duo in the original TV series.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Revisiting the Classics -- Time Bandits

Today we're taking a look at the 1981 fantasy movie Time Bandits. It was brought to us by several of the Monty Python crew, but is it as good as a Monty Python movie? Let's find out.

The story begins somewhere in United Kingdom suburbia. Poor Kevin (Craig Warnock) is just a pre-teen adolescent trying to get some sleep when six unruly dwarves (little people, not the Tolkien variety) burst from his closet. Turns out said closet is a portal through time and said dwarves came through it to escape from their master the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) because they have just stolen a map of all the "time holes." They have a brilliant plan to get rich robbing their way through time and they drag poor Kevin along for the ride.

Their first stop is Napoleonic France where they decide to swindle the big N himself, played by Ian Holm (so that's where Ash went after Alien). After some comical misadventures, they find themselves in medieval England where they have a humorous run-in with Robin Hood (John Cleese as the top of his comedic game).

Unfortunately for our time-traveling pilferers, the Lord of Evil (David Warner) wants very much to get his hands on the map, and he hatches a scheme to get it from the dwarves and free himself from his prison in the process. And anyone who stands in his way or otherwise annoys shall get turned into an animal (and that's that if they're lucky), you better believe it. Not that his minions mind; in fact, they very much welcome unnecessary explosions.

With Kevin and the dwarves on a collision course with the prince of darkness himself, will anyone get out alive?

You might at first mistake this for a fantasy Monty Python movie. However, it succeeds at forging its own identity. Yes, it has funny jokes, but it also has somber moments courtesy of Kevin. This poor kid just wants to find a loving family (not sure what's wrong with the parents he's got, other than them being dull), and he tries very hard to connect with the dwarves and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), but in the end, he may end up alone.

In addition, the movie is very imaginative. Think that's just a ship they're sailing? You'll never guess what it really is.

Time Bandits also has great special effects for 1981, and even better production values. I already prefer this film's version of Titanic to James Cameron's, by the way. Yeah, it hasn't aged so well in some parts, but I feel it holds up as a whole.

The only things I'm iffy on are the pacing and the deus ex machina resolution to the story. It sort of trivializes all the hard work Kevin and the dwarves put in to stop Evil. I do, however, like the ending. It's a total WTF moment that will make you question everything you've just seen.

In short, I recommend Time Bandits to anyone who's a fan of fantasy and/or Monty Python.


Friday, July 28, 2017

James Review -- Legion of the Damned: Andromeda’s War

This week I decided to review Legion of the Damned: Andromeda’s War by William C. Dietz. The story begins not long after the end of the previous book. Legionnaire Andromeda McKee, who is secretly Cathrine Carletto one of two surviving members of a family targeted for annihilation by the empress Ophelia, is pondering her decision to not kill the Empress when she had the chance.

Back on Earth, the resistance group led by McKee’s uncle, the only other survivor of her family, manages to kill the Empress’s secretary and lover. But this leads to a massive retaliatory attack to kill anyone in the area where the secretary was assassinated and Mc’Kee’s uncle falls during the battle. John Avery, McKee’s lover and former superior, has found himself assigned as Ophelia’s military attache. But most of his time is focused on Prince Nicholai, Ophelia's young heir. The group goes on a tour of the outer colonies but the Empress’s ship is badly damaged during an ambush by a fleet belonging to the alien Hudathan. An emergency jump carries the Empress’s cruiser to a crash landing on the planet Savas where there is a small human outpost. But Savas is also where disgraced Hudathan Admiral Nola-Ba is working to build a secret base. The natives allied to the Hudathan find the wreckage of the human ship and launch a massive attack which Avery, Nicholai, and Daska, a synthetic double of the Emperss, manage to escape but Ophelia and the rest of the human survivors are captured.

McKee is selected to lead a small team to rescue the Empress while the Imperial navy fights to secure the space around Savas. But will she pass up a second chance at vengeance even knowing that such an attempt might lead to retaliation against her subordinates?

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. It had a nice variety of battles and some interesting characters. However I feel some events and decisions by characters happen more because they need to for the plot to move where the author wants than because they make sense. Also, I think there were some parts that could have been removed or shortened without hindering the story.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cool Kickstarter Project -- lli

Last night I was browsing Kickstarter projects and I came across one which grabbed my interest. It is a videogame being made by a developer named Misha in New Zealand.

The game has you guiding an immortal girl named lli as she explores her memories and tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of an entire city. With a decided lack of combat, you must talk your way out of conflict. This may turn off some, but I find it refreshing. Here's how Misha describes it:

"Ili is a person haunted by regret and who longs for the past. Your aim is to guide Ili through her past and meet the ghosts from her past. While Ili is the game’s protagonist, you control most of her actions and act more like her spiritual guide. You are to help her say or do things that she would be too afraid to do by herself. The problems put in front of both you and Ili can be solved in different ways through talking. Do you intend to change the past? Or is it better to make peace with the past and to move on?"

The art style is both gorgeous and desolate. lli herself looks like a character from Ah-Ha's music video for "Take on Me," and her hand-drawn world looks like you're exploring someone's Dungeons and Dragons map come to life. Honestly, words can't do it justice; you really have to see it for yourself.

I don't know about the music yet. The song that plays during the demo is beautiful, but Misha wants to compose an original soundtrack if the project gets enough money. 

There isn't a whole lot of time left in the Kickstarter campaign, so I encourage everyone to hurry over there and back this project. Clearly, it's going to be something special. And, like I said, there's a demo on there, so you have no excuse not to give it a try.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/447132087/ili

Friday, July 21, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales by Una McCormack. 

The story begins shortly after the fall of Section 31. Garak is leader of the Cardassian Union when a report investigating the possibility of war crimes committed on Bajor during the Cardassian occupation of the planet emerges. The report recommends further investigation and trials which Garak agrees to. But doing so sparks resentment among the military which fears any soldier or unit that served on Bajor will be blamed whether they were involved in the crimes being investigated or not.

Doctor Kathrine Pulaski and her colleague Peter Alden, a former Starfleet intelligence officer who now serves on a research ship with Pulaski, arrive on Cardassia Prime so Pulaski can accept a medal on behalf of the team that discovered the treatment that solved the Andorian Reproductive crisis in time to prevent the extinction of the Andorian species. But Pulaski swiftly clashes with Garak after he denies her request to visit Julian Bashir. Bashir is in a catatonic state induced by the mental breakdown he suffered due to the psychological trauma he endured in the final phase of his quest to destroy Section 31. He has been receiving care on Cardassia Prime since Section 31’s downfall.

Also the Chief Academician of the University of the Union is retiring. Professor Natima Lang, once of the leaders of the dissident movement during the period when the military ruled the Union, seeks the post. However Garak opposes her being given this role. Soon afterwards, Doctor Elima Antok, heavily involved with the report urging further investigation into war crimes on Bajor, discovers evidence that Lang had approved the university supporting genetic experiments on Bajoran-Cardassian hybrid children to remove their Bajoran traits. These experiments killed or maimed a number of their subjects, and Antok, who is herself part Bajoran, doesn’t want to believe that Lang, one of her personal heroes, could do such a thing but she soon receives threats should she reveal what she knows.

Antok meets Pulaski and confides in her about what is going on, but soon after, both women are kidnapped. Pulaski escapes but she has become convinced that Garak is behind a plot to discredit Lang and the kidnappings so she gathers a few allies and tries to find and rescue Antok on their own. Meanwhile, Garak attempts to find the true mastermind behind the kidnappings and to discover the truth about the accusations against Lang even as the conflict with Pulsaki reaches new heights.

I give this book 8 out of 10. It had an interesting blend of subplots and how they came together. However I felt the ending was weak and it seemed like the Federation characters were far too eager to go along with Pulsaki’s suspicions against Garak to the point of barging into his office demanding answers when then have no actual proof he is currently involved in any plots against anyone.



Friday, July 14, 2017

James Review -- Destroyermen: Blood in the Water

This week I decided to review Destroyermen: Blood in the Water by Taylor Anderson. 

The story begins shortly after the previous book. The SMS Amerika is carrying a number of the Grand Alliance leaders and thousands of wounded home. But Contre Admiral Rauol Laborde of the fascist League of Tripoli is angry after being forced to withdraw from his blockade of the capital of the Republic of Real People, so he decides to intercept an capture Amerika. The attack initially goes well but then Amerika's mentally ill former captain makes his way to the bridge and orders his ship, a cruise liner converted to a raider cruiser, to open fire on the battleship that has captured Amerika, then flee and when the battleship returns fire,  Amerika is destroyed, killing most of her passengers and crew though a number of high level Alliance personnel were transferring to Laborde's flagship at the time. This leaves the League's leadership reeling as they scramble to try and incorporate Amerika's destruction into their plans to spark a war that will cripple the Grand Alliance and its various non-League enemies clearing the way for a global takeover.

Meanwhile Japanese officer Hiashi Kurokawa has been secretly building a group of aircraft carriers and planes for them to deploy. He uses this force to launch a massive attack on an Alliance convoy carrying badly needed supplies and troops and both the convoy's transports and the escort fore which includes the first two modern, roughly World War II tech-level, warships built by the Grand Alliance, quickly find themselves in a desperate battle.

The two expeditions sent out to find possible allies for the Alliance press on. Fred Reynolds and Kari-Faask manage to capture a number of Holy Dominion troops shortly before making contact with the New United States, formed by a group of troops and the transports carrying them to their timelines's version of the war between the United States and Mexico a century before the book takes place. Unfortunately, they discover that the claim by a NUS agent that they were preparing a massive force to attack the Holy Dominion is false and are left trying to convince their hosts to ally with the Grand Alliance.

The team sent to find the long lost kin of the Alliance's Lemurians struggle to survive attacks by the various hostile animals in the region and narrowly manage to avoid getting into a full scale battle with those they are seeking to befriend. They are surprised to discover that much about what they have done in this universe is known thanks to a World War II Allied bomber that was shifted to this area and crashed with an intact radio receiver. Talks go well and they group soon finds itself launching an attack on a Grik-run slave labor camp in hopes of liberating some of their new allies.

I give this book 8 out of 10. The battle scenes were nicely written and varied but there weren't enough of them in my opinion. Also, I noticed a number of minor errors that never should have made it past the editor. I wish the New United States plot had been extended and there are a couple of scenes that I'm honestly not sure why they were included since I feel they have little or nothing to do with any key points of the book. And there are a few events that don't make sense to me, especially in the League of Tripoli subplot. 



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Movie Review -- Spider-Man: Homecoming

Is it that time of the month? Yep, it's time for another Marvel movie, this one being Spider-Man: Homecoming? Is it worth your time, or should the series be rebooted yet again? Let's find out.

The story begins right after The Avengers. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his salvage crew get the screw job of their lives when the government steps in and takes away their right to salvage the alien technology left in New York City. Not one to give up so easily, Toomes manages to keep a decent cache and turns his crew into high-tech thieves and gun runners with it.

Flash forward to the present. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is helping out Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as Spider-Man while trying to get through high school. Peter wants to be an Avenger, but Stark thinks he's far from ready, and so Spidey is stuck fighting petty crimes.

One night, however, Peter intercedes to stop a gang of thieves from robbing a bank. But said thieves fight back with their advanced weaponry, and much property damage ensues. This catches the attention of Toomes, who makes it his mission to eliminate Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Peter still has high school to deal with. There's an academic meet coming up, and he hopes to catch the attention of the lovely Liz (Laura Harrier). But with Toomes putting everyone in danger, there may not be time for a social life. Can our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man save the day without getting grounded?

When it comes to Spider-Man movies, you have the Tobey McGuire era, the Andrew Garfield era, and now we have the start of the Tom Holland era. How does the current era fit in? In terms of quality, I feel it's better than the Garfield films (haven't seen the Tobey ones in years, so I can't really make a comparison to those). For one thing, Homecoming has tight action and is genuinely funny (something I haven't been able to say about the movies I've seen lately). The ending, in particular, features a great reaction from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) when she discovers a shocking secret.

Some may say the Vulture is a minor league villain for Spidey, but it's understandable at this early stage in Peter's career; he's just getting started and isn't ready for heavies like Doc Ock. Michael Keaton puts in a respectable performance as the villain and looks a lot cooler than the lame old guy from the comics.

If I have any criticism for this film, it's the fact I don't think Spidey's suit looks as good as the one from the Tobey days. That is, until the end of the movie which I won't spoil. On the plus side, Homecoming Spidey's lacking style is taken to the extreme when he is forced to fight without his suit. I enjoyed this part as he really comes into his own here and proves his worth as a hero.

One other bright spot in this film is Michelle (Zendaya) who manages to steal the show with her quirky apathy even though her true identity isn't confirmed until the end.

Bottom line: Not bad.


Friday, July 7, 2017

James Review -- Halo: Envoy

This week I decided to review Halo: Envoy by Tobias S. Buckell. The story is set six years after the end of the war between humanity and the Covenant. After the end of the war, surviving human colonists who had evacuated the planet Carrow returned to rebuild their homes only to discover that a number of Sangheili, commonly known as Elites by humans, are already building settlements on the planet. The two species' settlements are far apart but tensions are beginning to rise. Even though the human settlers are independent the United Earth Government has sent envoy Melody Azikiwe to help negotiate a truce between the two sides.

When the book begins forces loyal to Sangheili Fleetmaster Rojka 'Kasaan, who wishes to co-exist with the humans on Carrow, are under attack by a dissident Sangheili fleet led by 'Kasaan's relative Thars 'Sarov aided by a Jiralhanae, commonly know as Brutes, squadron led by Chieftain Hekabe. Rojka's forces are losing the battle with a boarding assault on his flagship imminent, so Azikiwe tries to convince him to awaken Gray Team, a trio of Spartan-IIs held in stasis on his vessel, to aid in the defense. But 'Kasaan refuses stating that the Spartans, whom he refers to as the Demon Three, dying with him will be the one thing that makes his death worth it. Azikiwe sets out to liberate Gray Team, succeeding, but is badly wounded in the process and knocked unconscious The Spartans take her and flee the ship, using the life boat they had been recovered from by the Sangheili, and flee to Carrow. This leads to 'Kasaan crash landing his cruiser on the planet to pursue and destroy Gray Team.

In Suraka, the primary human settlement on Carrow, Governor Ellis Gass is working to rally what's left of the population, the settlement's militia, and the few remaining armed sublight merchant ships of their fleet, after devastating damage suffered in 'Sarov's opening attack. They begin drawing up plans to drive the occupiers from Suraka, using their ships and a number of illegally obtained heavy weapons. And Hekabe launches an attack of 'Sarov's forces before setting out to reach his true objective, an ancient Forerunner installation hidden on Carrow.

Azikiwe and Gray Team reach an Office of Naval Intelligence outpost on Carrow where both groups decide to reveal what they know. Gray Team explains why they are so hated by 'Kasaan and every other Sangheili on the planet.

Azikiwe reveals that the United Earth Government knows why Hekabe wants Carrow's Forerunner base. The Sangheili and Humans discovered the Sharquoi, a type of super soldier created by the Forerunners. One was awoken accidentally and killed dozens of human soldiers before being killed. Sharquoi aren't very intelligent but the Forerunners created a unique device which allows the user to telepathically link with and control any Sharquoi in range. Hekabe obtained the control device during the fall of the Covenant and has discovered that Caow's Forerunner installation contains thousands of Sharquoi in stasis which he intends to unleash as his personal army in a war on any who stand in his way. When Hekabe unleashes the Sharquoi, Azikiwe is forced to launch a desperate attempt to create an alliance between 'Kassan's loyalists, Gray Team, and the remaining Surakan defenders to stop Hekabe before he gains the means to take the Sharquoi to other worlds.

I give this book 9 out of 10. It has some very interesting characters, a nice variety of battles, and some very interesting problems that the characters must face. Really, my only complaint is that I wish it was a little longer and covered Thars 'Sarov's initial attack on the Surakans and the full battle between 'Kassan's fleet and the alliance of Hekabe and 'Sarov rather then starting late in the fleet battle.




Sunday, July 2, 2017

Early Look -- Aragami

Today I'm giving you an extended look at Aragami, the latest book in my Divine Protector series. This one's a prequel and you'll see what life (and the afterlife) was like in the previous universe. As always, please forgive the formatting; Word doesn't translate well to Blogger.

Synopsis:

Martin McDonnell is an ordinary guy with an ordinary job. One tragic event keeps him from enjoying life.

Serika is a Shinigami, a god of death. She has one overpowering goal: to kill Martin McDonnell. But Martin's time hasn't come yet, and ending him is against the rules. Nevertheless, she's hell-bent on carrying out this act, and she has one week to do it. Why does she want him dead so bad? Could the answer lie in her mysterious past?

Regardless of the truth, she will carry out her deadly agenda, heedless of the threat her actions pose to the entire universe. This is the beginning of the end.


On a street in Oklahoma, almost to Oklahoma City but technically still in Edmond, was a certain company. Located off Memorial Road was a large building.
            The business in question was Business Scanning Systems. They specialized in taking physical documents from companies and scanning them onto computer before sending them the digital files. Sometimes they sent the physical documents back, but other times said companies paid BSS to destroy them or store them.
            At the bottom of the BSS food chain were the preppers. Their job was to prep the documents for scanning, a job most people didn’t even know existed. They accomplished this by sorting, smoothing, removing staples and other obstacles that wouldn’t make it through the scanners. Great attention had to be paid when doing this; a simple error could screw up one’s whole day, and too many errors would get an ass fired.
            One such prepper was 24-year-old Martin McDonnell. He had been doing this for a few years now—having gotten the job straight out of college—and considered himself experienced but hardly a veteran. No, the real veterans had been here for a decade or more. They’d seen it all and knew how to deal with just about anything.
            McDonnell was six feet tall and two hundred pounds. He kept in shape by working out once a week, though he still had some flab he would have liked to get rid of. Also, his eyebrows were a little too bushy for his tastes, though she had found them cute. And he often found himself pulling at his unruly sideburns, knowing he needed to do something about them.
            On this particular October day, he sat at his table—one of many in the warehouse known as Records Center 2—and flipped through pages, pulling out staples and moving sticky notes which covered information that would otherwise have been missed. He sat at the left-most table in the large area. To his left was the break area and above him was the mezzanine with its abundance of crap they kept in storage. And in front of him was the box he had pulled the documents out of—now turned on its side—with a stack of folders containing said documents. He also had his tools—staple remover, pens, Xacto knife, tape dispenser, and those rubber things that go on your fingers to help you flip through pages faster. Folder by folder, he removed the documents, prepper them and put them back into the box. Later the scan operator would scan them onto the server.
            He glanced at his watch. Another half hour until break time. Just great. He wouldn’t say he hated his job exactly, but neither did he have the zest for life he used to enjoy. Not since that fateful night, anyway. That one mistake had changed his life forever.
            So he just sat there in his red shirt with the BSS logo, mechanically doing his job and pouring money into his 401k. If he had to described his life, he would have called it a treadmill; he kept moving but never got anywhere.
            Mercifully, break time eventually came. Betty Sodatrino came up behind him on her way to clock out. “Break time, Martin.”
            “Thanks,” he said.
            “Me and Marci are going to the mall after work. You wanna come?”
            He shrugged. “Sure.”
            “Great. See you then.” She flashed him two fingers in a V-sign.
            Martin didn’t have many friends at work, but Betty was one of them. Almost as tall as him, she was a lithe bundle of energy with chestnut hair. She was the one who made things bearable for him. He liked her. A lot. Nothing had yet happened between them, but he wouldn’t be too shook up if it did. It also didn’t hurt that she always smelled sweetly of an irresistible fragrance.
            Stretching, he got up and made his way to the break room and its clock to punch out.

* * *

As a formerly devout follower of Shinto, Serika had never believed in the Christian notion of Hell. The whole idea of a fire and brimstone world beneath the surface of the earth was absurd.
            Too bad. She would have killed for that afterlife. No, what she found upon dying was something infinitely worse: Yomi. She could still remember the welcome speech upon arriving in this world: “Welcome, you were a good Shintoist in life and now we’re going to make you a Shinigami, isn’t that great!?”
            She hadn’t believed in Shinigamis, either, but that one turned out to be true. As a god of death, her job was to monitor the lives of everyone in her assigned district (hers being Oklahoma City) and escort their souls to the afterlife. The devoted Shintoists became Shinigamis, and everyone else just became regular dead souls. Turns out they were the lucky ones; being a Shinigami was the worst job you could ask for if you weren’t assigned to a Shinto-rich city like Tokyo which ended up having lots of Shinigamis. But, no, she had to have died in Oklahoma City, a large area with very few people assigned to it. That meant long days, assloads of paperwork, and death. Lots of death. And since the afterlife was classical Japanese, there were no ergonomic chairs, the result being countless hours sitting on tatami mats. She hated those fucking mats. They spent every day mocking her. She’d kill (pun intended) to be able to rip apart each and every one of them, tearing them into smaller and smaller pieces until they were microscopic and she couldn’t physically see them anymore and she wouldn’t have to deal with them ever again!
            But that wasn’t the worst part, oh no.  The worst part was the suffocating loneliness. Her parents were still alive, and the bulk of her relatives who had died lived in Japan and she hadn’t known them in life. They were strangers to her here.
            As she walked down the hallway of the Bureau of Post-Life Relations with its hanging red lanterns and paper walls, she exchanged pleasantries with her co-workers whom she passed. She was being completely fake, though; she didn’t give a damn about any of them. She wished they’d all drop dead—except they already were. Only two people commanded her attention, and she would deal with them both in time.
            She passed by a mirror and noted her appearance. Like all Shinigamis, she wore a black cloak over an equally black kimono. Her raven hair was pulled back into two long pig tails which ran down her back, and traditional geta footwear adorned her feet. Yes, the afterlife had a dress code.
            She soon found the room she wanted and entered. Like most of the afterlife’s rooms, it was brown with tatami mats on the floor. Unlike the other rooms, however, there was a circular metal depression in the center of the floor.
            She approached it and it lit up. “Aogami,” she said. In response, a blue light shot up and enveloped the room. Japanese characters floated about in a chaotic pattern. English was her native language, but her mother had insisted she learn Japanese. Nevertheless, her brain still had to translate for her.
            The characters formed words in front of her face:

こんにちは、セリカどの。 何ですか。[Hello, Serika-dono. What is it?]



The Shinigami weren’t all-powerful or all-knowing. In order to monitor every mortal on Earth and track their probable lifespans, a ridiculously sophisticated computer was needed. Thus, Aogami was created.
She replied, “I need information on a specific person. His name is Martin McDonnell and he lives in Oklahoma City in America.”

[Subject located. Status: 24-years-old. Formerly married, but that is no longer the case. Currently employed at Business Scanning Systems in Edmond.]

“Good,” she said. “Based on current projections, when will he die?”

[In 42.38 years.]

That was no good. She wanted him dead yesterday. “Is there any chance he’ll die sooner?”

[It is possible. He enjoys beer. Alcohol poisoning is difficult to anticipate.]

She stood there for a moment in silence, contemplating her target’s possible demise. “Would it be possible to get a Section Six exemption for him?” In other words, would it be possible to kill him ahead of schedule? She wasn’t holding her breath, though.

[Negative. Section Six exemptions only apply to the most dangerous individuals on Earth. It can only be invoked if said individual is about to commit mass destruction.]

She was disappointed, but not surprised; the Shinigamis couldn’t even get permission to kill the 9/11 hijackers before they carried out their acts. Millions of lives had to be threatened before a Section Six exemption would be authorized. If Martin McDonnell was to die, it would have to be done in blatant violation of the rules. “What would be the penalty for killing him now?”

The characters turned red and began shaking erratically. [Warning! Pre-emptive termination is strictly forbidden! Lord First will be notified of this.]

Unfortunately for Aogami, Serika had anticipated this. Unbeknownst to the AI, she had a friend (and she used the term loosely) named Hebimaru insert an elusive subroutine into its program. With only a simple phrase, she could command its compliance. “Dame da.Don’t do that.

The characters turned back to normal. [Compliance subroutine activated. All interactions between us will remain private.]

“Very good,” she said. “Now, then. Answer my previous question, you piece of shit.”

[The penalty for pre-emptive termination includes extended incarceration.]

She needed to avoid getting caught, then. Imprisonment would ruin everything. “OK,” she said. “If I were to attempt to kill Martin McDonnel, how long would it take for the higher-ups to get wind of it?”

[Based on pre-existing relationship, the Shinigami monitor Martin McDonnell more closely than others. Repeated attempts to kill him would quickly draw their attention. Estimated time for you to become a suspect, depending on the blatancy of the assassination attempts: one week.]

So all she had to do was kill him within seven days. Doing it in person was risky; she couldn’t be seen with him.  Therefore, she felt she should find someone or something to do it for her.
            She already had an idea. “Show me what he’s up to right now.” He should have been at work.
            The characters resolved into a 3D hologram in front of her which showed Martin at BSS. An attractive woman whom Serika knew as Betty Sodatrino walked up to him. “Break time, Martin.”
            “Thanks,” he said.
            “Me and Marci are going to the mall after work. You wanna come?”
            He shrugged. “Sure.”
            “Great. See you then.” She flashed him two fingers in a V-sign. Serika felt flush with anger. She hadn’t realized their relationship had progressed that far.
            Serika shook her head. It didn’t matter. Martin would soon be dead and Betty would have to find someone else. Right now Serika needed to focus. They had to have been talking about Quail Springs Mall which was just up the street on Memorial. “That’s enough.” The image turned back into kana and kanji characters. “Are there any disturbed—nay, psychotic—individuals near Quail Springs Mall right now?”

[Yes. Robert Simons. Age thirty-four. Schizophrenic. Currently sleeping under an overpass on May Avenue outside the mall.]

            “Is he prone to violet outbursts?”

[Very.]

Serika smiled. It looked as if she would get this knocked out in one day. Martin would die and then her life (or afterlife) wouldn’t suck so much.

Itsu made mo.
            It was time to pay Robert Simmons a visit.



2




Martin’s shift ended at 4:30. He drove up the street to Quail Springs Mall, taking Memorial rather than the adjacent Kilpatrick Turnpike since it was only a few miles.
            He ventured inside and met Betty and Marci Atkins in front of the Yogurt Shack. Betty’s best friend, Marci was a stocky twenty-year-old of short brown hair and average features. Half the time Martin couldn’t even remember what she looked like. Nevertheless, the two young women were inseparable, leaving Martin jealous at times. It had been too long since he had felt that kind of kinship with anyone. Not since that day…
            “Martin? Hello?” Betty snapped her fingers in front of Martin’s face, bringing him out of his funk.
            “Oh. Sorry.”
            She smiled at him. “Try to stay with us, OK?”
            “Uh, yeah.”
            “I’m glad you decided to come out with us,” she said. “You always seem to be in some kind of funk.”
            “Sorry.”
            “Quit apologizing. You’re bumming me out. Try to have some fun with us.”
            He nodded. “OK. Sure.”
            “Now,” she said. “Where should we go first?”

* * *

The gods had the ability to project their consciousness to anywhere on Earth for the purposes of reconnaissance and guidance. They used this to watch people who were about to die and to provide guidance to the living. The latter wasn’t usually done by Shinigami, but there were many gods of different religions and some of them did this for the humans.
            Serika found Robert Simons exactly where Aogami said he would be under the overpass outside Quail Springs Mall. Emaciated, bald and probably smelling of shit, this was not the kind of person she would have associated with in life. She found herself immediately repulsed by him. Let’s just get this over with.
            “Robert,” she cooed. “Wake up, Robert.”
            His eyes jerked open. “Who said that?”
            “I’m God.” It wasn’t exactly a lie.
            He looked all around. She wasn’t physically there, so he couldn’t see her. “God’s a woman?”
            “I can be whatever I want. Today I feel like having ovaries.”
            He stared aghast at empty space. “What do you want?”
            She turned up the charm. “I need a favor from you. Can you do that for your Lord?”
            “W-What kind of favor?”
            Smiling, she replied, “It’s nothing, really. You just have to kill the Antichrist.”
            He perked up at this. “Antichrist?”
            “Yes. There’s a very bad man inside Quail Springs Mall right now.” She projected an image of Martin McDonnell into his mind. “He’s going to destroy the world if you don’t stop him.”
            He thought about it for a moment. “If I kill him, will you make the voices go away?”
            “Of course,” she said as sweetly as possible. She could actually feel her blood sugar rising. “Not only that, but I’ll make sure you get into Heaven.”
            He leapt to his feet with surprising speed. “Then I’ll do it. I’ll kill the Antichrist before he can stop Christmas.” Great, she thought. He was adding his own interpretation to this. Well, whatever. Just as long as he got the job done.
            Robert pulled a hunting knife from his pocket and began looking at it lustfully. “Better keep that in your pocket until you find Martin McDonnell,” she advised.
            “Whatever you say, God!” He then strutted off to the mall. This was going very well, she thought.
            She returned to her body in Yomi and reclined in her chair in her office. The room itself was sparse, just a desk, chair and window which let in sunlight behind her. It looked like any other office in this realm—tatami floor and brown paper walls. She saw no point in personalizing her own private hell.
            For the first time in a while, though, she felt at peace. Once Robert Simons finished the job, she would actually be happy.
            After all, everyone deserved happiness.

* * *

Martin, Betty and Marci strolled through Quail Springs Mall, browsing the shops. Their first stop was Gameshop where they perused the latest videogames.
            “I’ve been wanting to play this,” Marci said as she picked up Stanley Hizzard, Boy Wizard, a fantasy simulator where you played a boy at a school for wizards. It was based on a series of novels by some British author. Marci loved that series, even going so far as to have a Stanley Hizzard lunchbox she brought to work every day. Martin was never really in to it; after all, a school for people with powers? That was just silly. So he muttered something encouraging and turned his attention to McFadden 2017 which had just come out. He had long been into sports games (even though he didn’t play any sports in real life). He had fond memories of playing Basketball Jam on the Super Pretendo as a kid. Dunking those flaming balls had been incredibly satisfying.
            He eyed McFadden 2017 but decided not to buy it. As a new release, it was $59.99, and money was tight at the moment.
            Betty checked out their selection of J-RPGS. Japanese games weren’t as popular as they used to be due to a decline in quality and an increase in quality from their Western counterparts, but they still had a decent audience in the States.
            “Check this out, Martin,” she said, handing him the empty display case of a game called Rondo of Destiny 7. It had a spiky-haired protagonist on the cover. He reached over and, as he took hold, accidentally brushed her hand. He unexpectedly felt a surge of pleasure ripple through him,
            She quickly looked away, embarrassed. Had her face turned red? No, it couldn’t be. He was certain she didn’t have any feelings for him.
            He shook his head. He didn’t need this. It was far better if he didn’t date anyone. At the end of the day, all it took was one stupid mistake to ruin everything.
            Marci ended up getting Wizard Academy, while Martin and Betty left empty-handed. The three then left the store.

* * *

In the twisted hurricane disaster area he called a mind, Robert Simons was on the hunt.
            Martin McDonnell.
            Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
All he had to do was kill the Antichrist and God would take away the voices. This had been his dream as long as he could remember (though his memory was filled with gaps large enough to drive a big rig through). With McDonnell’s face burned into his raw sewage brain, he would have no trouble finding his target.
Like a killer cyborg sent from the future, he patrolled the corridors of Quail Springs Mall, his eyes scanning each and every face searching for McDonnell. These faces eyed him with fear and suspicion, but he barely noticed.
Suddenly, God’s voice was in his head again. McDonnell’s on the second floor, heading for the escalator. Wait for him behind it at the bottom, then attack.
“Will do, God!” The fear and suspicion on the previously mentioned faces intensified.
Don’t say it out loud, you idiot! People are getting suspicious. Just hurry up and do this.
“Yes, God!”

God groaned.



Friday, June 30, 2017

James Review -- Foreigner: Visitor

This week I decided to review Foreigner: Visitor by C. J. Cherryh. 

The story begins not long after Mikas Tillington, the human leader on Alpha station, a space station orbiting Earth jointly controlled by the planet's Aevi natives and the humans who immigrated to the world long ago, had refused to shift power to the Atevi counterparts of his crew when scheduled, and locked down and cut communications to the section of the station inhabited by refugees from Reunion station, a distant human station that had to be abandoned due to severe damage suffered in a long ago attack by the alien Kyo. Since arrival Tillington had been treating the refugees as second- class citizens, and Bren Cameron, a human agent of a powerful Atevi leader, must weave his way through the various political messes caused by Tillington's actions such as the fate of a group of human children under Atevi protection who had to flee to Atevi territory to escape imprisonment.

Meanwhile a Kyo ship approaches with unknown intent, which is causing fear that another attack is imminent. The Kyo begin meetings with Cameron, who is trying to discover why the aliens attacked Reunion station once but never struck again despite many years passing. At first he suspects the Phoenix, the ancient starship which found itself lost with no way home and is responsible for building Alpha and Reunion station, and the initial human population of Earth, accidentally did something to provoke the Kyo, who have been at war with an unknown power for decades. But as talks continue and Cameron earns a deeper level of trust from the Kyo, he will discover the real reason for the long ago attack and the chilling secret of the distant war being waged...


I give this book 9 out of 10. This isn't a book for action fans; it is purely diplomatic, featuring political maneuverings with no combat scenes at all. That said, it is very well-written with a number of interesting charters and challenges they face. The main problem is that this is part of a very long series and when a series gets this long there are going to be a fair number of readers like me that haven't read it from the beginning. I think a short chapter at the beginning explaining how the story reached the point where Visitor began would have helped greatly. While the book did a decent job covering the setting's recent history, there are still many questions left unanswered which I feel should have been answered. 


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Movie Review -- Transformers: The Last Knight

Today we have the fifth installment in the Transformers franchise by Michael Bay. Is it worth your time? Let's find out.

The story picks up some time after the last film. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is missing out in space, and no one knows where Megatron (Frank Welker) is, so the Transformers on Earth lack leadership. This is especially troubling since they're still being hunted by humanity.

Meanwhile, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has become an outlaw for his efforts to protect Autobots from the TRF--the military outfit hunting Transformers. One day he saves a group of kids who have wandered into the forbidden zone of Chicago looking for alien souvenirs. One of the kids, Izabella (Isabella Moner), turns out to be an expert mechanic, so she stays with Cade to help out. 

Unfortunately for them, the TRF has formed an alliance with Megatron and they launch an assault on Cade's base. Cade ends up running into a miniature Transformer who works for Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) who has ties to Sam from the first three movies. Burton shares Earth's secret connection with the Transformers and reveals Cade's heroic destiny. Burton also nabs Oxford professor Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) because she, too, has ties to all this.

Elsewhere, Optimus meets his maker and is given a sinister mission to carry out: Destroy the Earth to save Cybertron. How far will he go to accomplish this, and will he ever be the same?

After Transformers: Age of Extinction, I wasn't excited for another entry in this series. The Last Knight, sadly, does little to restore my faith in said series. At 2 1/2 hours, it goes on for far too long, has too many obnoxious characters, and presents predictable action. If you liked Age of Extinction, you'll like this one. Everyone else will fight an uphill battle to stay awake.

If Bay would shave a half hour off the running time, get rid of the annoying Transformers like Mohawk, and mix things up a little, I think we'd have a far better film on our hands. As it stands, I can't really recommend this one.



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