Friday, October 21, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: Prey: Hell's Heart

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Prey: Hell's Heart by John Jackson Miller. 

The story takes place in two periods of time, shifting between them throughout the story. The first is in the aftermath of the movie The Search for Spock. The death of Klingon commander Kruge has left his house, known for the skill of its engineers and shipwrights, in chaos as potential heirs fight over the position of house leader. Kruge's allies among the Klingon military have moved to secure the house's strategic assets against other houses and outsiders seeking to take advantage of the chaos. 

But this has led to the feuding nobles uniting their forces against Kruge's allies while claiming they seek to usurp the leadership of the house. Korgh, Kruge's protege, was entrusted with command of a hidden base on the planet Gamaral which was constructing the Phantom Wing, a secret squadron of highly advanced Birds of Prey. He leads Kruge's allies there with the nobles in hot pursuit, but when he arrives the base is empty and Kruge's allies are defeated by mercenaries hired by the nobles. Most of Kruge's surviving allies are discommendated en masse but Korgh, who was left on Gamaral, manages to make contact with the Phantom Wing and sets out to rescue Kruge's allies from exile to crew his fleet and seek revenge on James T. Kirk and the Enterprise. But after the leader of the exiles refuses to violate their banishment, Korgh is left to find a new path.

In the late twenty-fourth century Gamaral is a Federation colony and the Enterprise-E is sent to carry the nobles of the House of Kruge and the clone of Kahless to a ceremony celebrating the heroism of the nobles during the Battle of Gamaral, aided by Galdor, the house's Gin'tak, or trustee. After investigating, Worf and Kahless come to the conclusion that none of the nobles they are supposed to honor took part in the battle but as Kahless begins his speech the event is struck by a team of assassins while the Enterprise finds itself under attack from multiple warships that can fire while cloaked. 

Almost all of the nobles of the House of Kruge are killed in the attack while Kahless and Worf are captured by the assassins. In the aftermath of the attack, Galdor reveals that he is actually Korgh and offers proof that he was adopted by Kruge. Meanwhile, Worf and Kahless are taken to the assassins' base, a colony in the Briar Patch, where they discover that their captors are the Unsung, the survivors and descendants of Kruge's exiled allies. With the Enterprise and Klingon warships searching for them, Worf takes advantage of an Unsung ceremony being broadcast to the galaxy to send a hidden message to the Enterprise, but the ceremony swiftly take a terrible turn...

I give this book 7 out of 10. The battle sequences are well-written but too few and short for my taste. The investigation of Worf and Kahless into the Battle of Gamaral was interesting but rendered moot by the timing of the assassin's strike. And the political portion of the book dragged on too long. Also, the back cover reveals a key spoiler that I feel shouldn't have been revealed until the reader reached the appropriate point in the story.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hidden Gem -- Star Wreck

Recently James gave me a book to read, and I thought I'd share it with you. It's the 1993 unauthorized parody Star Wreck V: The Undiscovered Nursing Home by Leah Rewolinski. It's the fifth book in the series, but you don't have to have read the previous capers.

The story begins with Starfreak Command ordering Captain Smirk and his crew of geezers to report to the Under the Attic Nursing Home following a debacle with the Fountain of Youth. Smirk and his fellow senior citizen officers aren't about to take this lying down, however. They hijack their ship, the USS Endocrine, and warp to the planet where the Fountain resides.

The angry Admiral Les decides to dispatch another aging crew, this one led by Jean-Lucy Ricardo. They hightail it to Smirk's location, only to discover the renegade crew has built a theme park utilizing the mystical water. Christened Juven Isle Park, it's marketed as a fun place for youngsters. Ricardo and co. want to apprehend Smirk and his compadres, but they have trouble identifying them since the Fountain has restored their youth. After a few days of trial and error, the clueless pursuers come up empty.

Exasperated with Ricardo's failure, Les sends a third officer to finish the job: Commander Crisco. If he succeeds, he'll get command of Geek Space Nine. But will he even nap the right crew? Meanwhile, there are more hijinks involving the Kringle Wart, his son Smartalecsander, the omnipotent Q-tip and an android who thinks he's Elvis.

Star Wreck isn't shy about its low-brow humor or lack of subtlety. Each scene is like a pie in the face, and you know exactly who's getting lampooned if you're a fan of Star Trek. Rewolinski expertly nails the wacky humor she was aiming for and left me wanting more. The book is also the right length; at 149 pages, it doesn't wear out its welcome. If this were a full-length novel, the humor might have worn thin, but thankfully this isn't the case. It's also dirt-cheap BTW.

If you're a Trekkie, you've got to read Star Wreck V: The Undiscovered Nursing Home.

Friday, October 14, 2016

James Review -- Deus Ex: Black Light

This week I decided to review Deus Ex: Black Light by James Swallow. 

The story begins more than a year after the battle on Panchea, an experimental weather modification base with dark secrets that served the climax of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and the Aug Incident where Hugh Darrow, a mad scientist seeking revenge against those who could benefit from using his creations while he could not, forced much of the world's cybernetically-augmented population into psychotic episodes, often with devastating consequences, leading to widespread hatred and oppression for the remaining Augs. 

Adam Jensen awakes from the coma he has been in since the incident to find himself in an asylum for Augs effected by the incident in Alaska. After befriending Stacks, a former steeljack who wiped out his wife and children in the madness of the incident, Jensen seeks to destroy the Illuminati, which provided Darrow with the means to carry out his plan as part of their own plot to control the world. 

The pair escape the facility and journey to Detroit to make contact with Frank Pritchard, a hacker who had once worked with Jensen at Sarif Industries. Jensen returns to find his home city in ruins, the hope of revival brought by the Aug industry ruined by the incident. The team launches a raid on the remains of Sarif Industries HQ seeking Neuropozine, the drug needed to prevent Stacks from suffering implant rejection. While there they encounter a number of Augs who were driven from an abandoned Sarif Industries factory by the Motor City Bangers, an Aug gang, 

Believing that the Bangers are seeking military augmentation prototypes at the factory, Jensen's team moves to destroy the factory but things go horribly wrong. Stacks sees a room full of failed Aug limbs which triggers a flash back to the death of his family along with a new psychotic episode, leading to him being mortally wounded after killing a number of Bangers. Jensen chases Magnet, leader of the Bangers, from the burning factory but is intercepted by Task Force 29, a covert Interpol counter-terrorism unit investigating his activities and the prototype weapons. 

Jensen escapes but so do Magnet and the prototypes. Jensen and Pritchard continue their investigation and discover that Jensen's security pass was used to enter some of the possible prototype storage sites. This leads them to two of Jensen's former subordinates at Sarif, but one is killed by a hit squad sent by his partner who is then executed by the Illuminati agent who masterminded the plot to seize the prototypes. Jensen tracks to weapons to an airport where they will be handed over to an Illuminati smuggler but Jensen is captured by Task Force 29. After convincing the Task Force's commander that they both want the prototypes destroyed, Jensen is invited to join the raid on the airport as an unarmed observer, but he is forced into action with the raid runs into a trap. 

After the battle ends, the task force team's leader tries to recruit Jensen who declines and departs. But Jensen soon discovers that an Illuminati strike team is planning to ambush the train carrying the prototypes to their destruction with orders to seize the cargo and kill everyone on board. This leads Jensen into a desperate effort to stop the Illuminati from seizing the prototypes and save as many Task Force 29 agents as possible.

I give this book 9 out of 10. The story is well written and manages to stand alone for the most part despite leading into the plot of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The significant characters are developed well and the combat sequences were great. However, there were some plot threads that I feel needed more attention and I wish we had seen more investigative work done during the story.

Friday, October 7, 2016

James Review -- Rebellion: Weapons of War

This week I decided to review Rebellion: Weapons of War by M.R. Forbes. 

The story begin the rebel starship Magellan has successfully escaped Earth after retrieving a Dread weapon from resistance forces on Earth in hopes of examining the weapon and discovering why Dread weapons can penetrate Dread armor that human weapons are useless against. But the Magellan fled beyond the edge of the slipstream it used to escape and is now stranded in deep space until another slipstream can be located and reached.

And, on board, Gabriel St. Martin faces the painful task of informing his father General Theodore St. Martin that among the human clones used by the Dread forces were clones of Gabriel's mother Juliet which means she was captured by the Dread at some point. And this news comes while the general is struggling with addiction to the pain medications he was put on after losing his legs. But rather then driving the general further to despair, this news ignites a new determination to beat his addiction and regain his ability to lead. 

Back in the Sol system, Dread officer Tea'va is assigned command of the warship Ishur and sent to pursue the Magellan. He forms an alliance with the scientist Zoelle, one of the clones of Juliet St. Martin, and when the Magellan is located he launches a fighter strike with the few pilots recovered from the strain of the many slip jumps needed to intercept Magellan. In desperation, the humans launch their own fighters only to discover to their shock that the fighter weapons can damage and destroy the normally immune Dread Bats. 

After this failed strike, the Dread known as Gr'el launches an attempt to assassinate Tea'va and seizes control of the Ishur. Tea'va escapes but finds himself on the run through his former command with his allies dead and Zoelle turning against him to become Gr'el's second in command. Meanwhile, on the Magellan the vessel's science team discover the secret behind the Dread armor which leads to the Magellan launching a desperate assault on the Ishur. 

Elsewhere on Earth, Soon Kim, a pilot from Magellan shot down drawing fire from the fighter carrying the captured Dread weapon, is rescued by a resistance unit led by Donovan Peters and Ehri, one of the Juliet clones who has turned against the Dread. They return to find their base overrun and receive orders from their dying general to take the base's medical officer and flee to a major resistance base in Texas. But the journey is made difficult by Dread forces hunting for them, and cracking down on any surviving free human settlements they can find. Donovan's band meet both friendly and hostile humans and launch an attack on a Dread base hoping to win a victory to rally survivors, many of whom have spent all their lives running from and fearing the Dread conquerors, to the rebel cause.

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. The author did a great job with the main characters but there was far too little attention given to developing the minor characters in my opinion. There were many times minor characters died and I felt nothing because they hadn't been developed enough for me to have any feeling regarding them. The author did wonderfully develop the Dread culture and explain their point of view and motivations and feelings regarding the war, but the action scene needed more length and intensity badly. Also, there was a love triangle side plot which I feel was pointless. The story ended on a good cliffhanger though and I'm still looking forward to the pending sequel.

Friday, September 30, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: Legacies: Purgatory's Key

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Legacies: Purgatory's Key by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore. 

The story opens with a short scene focusing on Visla, member of a disgraced Klingon family and captain of the IKS Qo'daqh, an antique battle cruiser kept in service as a dumping ground for such personnel. The ship her son served on was recently destroyed while fighting alongside the USS Enterprise to repel a Romulan attempt to disrupt negotiations between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Visla's son was among the Klingon survivors rescued by the Enterprise but Visla feels this has further disgraced her son and vows revenge. 

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is preparing to return to Uslide to rescue Captain Una, any survivors from the Enterprise crew transported to the Jatohr universe eighteen years earlier and the various people sent there by the Romulans including Ambassador Sarek, Councilor Gorkon of the Klingon High Council, and Joanna McCoy. Kirk orders the Enterprise to begin the journey despite not having time to fully repair the ship and having no authorization to enter disputed territory and a system occupied by Klingons while Spock, Chekov, and Uhura work on modifying a probe to enter the Jatohr universe and locate those they seek to rescue. 

On Uslide,  Klingon scientists continue efforts to master the technology of the Jatohr but are eventually forced to retreat after triggering the citadel's security systems. When the Enterprise arrives it meets the IKS Vron'joQ commanded by J'Teglyr who agrees to corporate with the Enterprise rather then risk provoking Organian intervention. However, when the Qo'daqh arrives it attacks the Enterprise despite orders to the contrary, leading to the vessel being crippled and the survivors are rescued by J'Teglyr who then order the crippled warship destroyed in an effort to punish Visla. 

Meanwhile, in the Jatohr universe, Una eventually regroups with the remaining Enterprise crew members, the surviving Uslide who were banished there during the Jatohr occupation of their homeworld, and the members of the diplomatic party, but the group suffers heavy causalities fighting the Jatohr. Captain Una discovers that she seems to be able to influence reality around her and she and Sarek soon realize that everything they are perceiving is a form of shared hallucination. 

They then struggle to pierce the illusion and reactivate the probe sent by Enterprise, disabled by the natives because it caused them great pain, to use as a targeting beacon for a rescue attempt. Enterprise sends a landing party to the citadel to carry out part of the rescue plan but the citadel launches into space, beginning the next phase of the Jatohr plan to transform Uslide into a Jatohr colony. While Enterprise attacks the citadel trying to prevent permanent damage to Uslide. Visla seizes control of the Qo'daqh, leaving the Federation vessel in a desperate three way battle with little time to retrieve its landing party, complete the rescue, and disable or destroy the citadel.

I give this book 7 out of 10. While I enjoyed the story overall and thought the characters created for it were well written, I felt it had some significant flaws. First, by having Councilor Gorkon appear to die in combat against the Jatohr, it decreased the tension of that universe's events greatly for me. After all, knowing that Gorkon had to survive, why would I worry about the others who had apparently died there? Also, it suffers from being a prequel to a much older story in that I find it very odd that the events of this book are apparently forgotten by all the participants that appear in The Undiscovered Country which creates a jarring disconnect for me. Finally, I feel there were some important questions left unanswered at the end of the story.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Sacred Planet

Austin Rogers recently sent me a pre-release copy of his novel Sacred Planet. Quite a lengthy read, it took me some time but now I'm finished and ready to give you my review.

The story begins in the Carina Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. The scavenger ship Fossa arrives at the wreck of a yacht in hopes of scoring a huge payday. But what they find instead is Sierra Falco, the daughter of the Carinian prime minister and the only survivor of a vicious attack on the yacht. Sierra pins the blame on Abramists, a religious sect within Carina that seeks war with the nearby Sagittarians. Davin, the Fossa's captain, takes a liking to her and decides to help her get home. It won't be easy, though. All stargates leading to Carina have been closed following the attack, and the Abramists are hot on their trail, intent on keeping their involvement in the attack secret.

Meanwhile, in the Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy, on the planet Triumph, the nobleman warrior Kastor claims victory in a battle royale to become Champion to the Grand Lumis Zantorian. But Zantorian wants absolute loyalty, and the only way for Kastor to gain that is to kill his soul mate Pollaena. After some tragic bloodshed, Kastor is sent to the planet Upraad to convince their king Radovan to allow their world to be absorbed into Zantorian's empire. Radovan refuses, however, and since Kastor can't go back empty-handed, an alternative solution must be found. Kastor instead sides with Radovan's illegitimate son Abelard to overthrow the king. Cue an epic battle, some betrayals and more bloodshed (and we're only getting started).

Meanwhile, the Abramist Morvan is pushing Sierra's father to authorize an invasion of the Sagittarius Arm, blaming the attack on Zantorian. Morvan also wants to annex the holiest site in the galaxy, the Sacred Planet--Earth. But he also has designs on Upraad. He wants to control that planet as well, so he sends backup to help its ruler fight off a Sagittarian invasion (which leads to...guess what...more bloodshed). Kastor is then called upon to finish what he started, but the fruit of failure is bitter indeed.

Austin Rogers hasn't been shy in describing this as Game of Thrones in space, and that's an apt description. It switches between different characters who never meet, at least not in this book. There are power struggles, betrayals and, of course, bloodshed. The only thing missing is gratuitous nudity. I will say that what works for Game of Thrones works for Sacred Planet. The story is suitably epic in scope, and if you like GoT you'll like this. It's also pretty darn well-written and Rogers has a way with prose.

However, Sacred Planet also suffers from the same problem as GoT: too many characters. A lot of faces pop up in this book and I had a hard time keeping tabs on who was who, particularly in scenes that focus on ancillary characters.

Still, I consider that a minor quibble. I enjoyed Sacred Planet and have no problem recommending it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

James Review -- Poseidon's Children: Poseidon's Wake

This week I decided to review Poseidon's Children: Poseidon's Wake by Alistair Reynolds.

The story begins on Crucible where Nedge Akinya is held in permanent house arrest after her attempts to contact the alien machine nicknamed Mandala apparently resulted in the destruction of the colony holoship Zanzibar, more than four hundred thousand humans, and the vast majority of the Tectors, genetically engineered sentient elephants. But in time Crucible receives a message from Gliese 163, a solar system believed to have not been visited by humanity, requesting that Nedge be sent there.

Nedge's brother Mosbi sees this as an opportunity in his ongoing struggle to have the terms of Nedge's imprisonment relaxed and is planning to push for one of the two starships Crucible has under construction to be sent to reply to the signal. Nedge has come to believe that the pulse which apparently destroyed Zanzibar was a communication signal and Gliese 163 is among the likely candidates for its destination. They also suspect that the signal might have something to do with the Trinity, three beings taken by the alien machine Watchkeepers which now watch every system humanity inhabits but were first contacted by the Crucible colony. The trio consisted of an AI android based on Nedge's ancestor Eunice Akinya, Nedge's mother Chiku Green, one of three clones of Chiku Akinya, and the Tector Dakota with no other contact possible in the centuries since they departed.

Nedge can't go do to health reason but Mosbi, along with Nedge's daughter Goma and her wife Ru, both scientists who had dedicated themselves to a losing battle to save Crucible's Tector population which ends with the death of the last Tector on the world join the Starship Tavertine on its journey. As they leave the system a Watchkeeper sets out in pursuit, but rather than destroy the ship, as Watchkeepers sometimes do for no known reason, instead the immense alien machine begins clearing a path for the Tavertine.

However, powerful political forces on Crucible oppose the mission and Mosbi soon discovers evidence of a plot to disable or destroy the ship launching an investigation that ends with his death. A prime suspect is soon found, but without more evidence, he is sentenced to skipover stasis for the remainder of the mission rather than death. Meanwhile, on Mars, which is now ruled by the machines of the Evolvarium, Kanu Akinya, the son of Chiku Yellow, is an ambassador for the United Aquatic nations, one of four ambassadors who are the only humans on the red planet. He, along with two of his fellow ambassadors, is killed in an attack by the Reclamationist movement that wishes for humanity to seize control of Mars from the Evolvarium.

The Evolvarium resuscitates Kanu but this action casts doubt on his loyality to humanity so he is recalled. After delivering the belongings of his closest friend among the ambassadors to her family, he begins investigating the art work of one of his ancestors and reunites with his ex-wife Nissa who has taken up similar studies. The two grow close and eventually set out for Europa, but en route Kanu realizes the truth. While undergoing treatment on Mars Kanu had made a secret deal with the Evolvarium to allow Swift, his closes friend among the machines, to be embedded in his brain. The Evolvarium has discovered the signal sent to Crucible but is forbidden from leaving Mars so they asked Kanu to obtain a starship and set out for Gliese 163.

Nissa is furious to discover she was used in such a fashion but after their arrival on Europa triggers both a civil war among the Regals that inhabit the moon and an invasion by the Consolidation, one of the major human power blocks in the system, Kanu asks the Margrave, the leader of the friendly Regals to protect Nissa at all costs before setting out to launch the long hidden starship he names Icebreaker. But after launching the ship and evading the Consolidation, destroying one of their pursuit ships in the process, Kanu discovers that the Margrave's solution to protecting Nissa was to put her on board the Icebreaker leaving him facing a long journey with his only companions an AI in his head and a woman who despises him.

I give the book 6 out of 10. I feel that it is very longwinded and dull as there are no action sequences worth mentioning. Also, I wish the author had gone into more detail on the political factions in the Sol system and their goals and especially explained just why the Consolidation was so determined to prevent Kanu from leaving the Sol system. However I did like many of the characters and despite a brief period where it looked like a massively disappointing ending was pending, I actually liked how the story ended though I hope there will be a sequel to wrap some things up some day.