Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Horns of the Ram

Last year I reviewed Austin Rogers' intriguing sci-fi novel Sacred Planet (http://tinyurl.com/y7w73hzr). A while back, he asked me to review the follow-up. I was sitting on a sizable pile of stuff to read and couldn't get to it right away, but while it's no longer timely, I'm keeping my word and finally reviewing it. Here is Dominion Series book two, Horns of the Ram.

The story picks up shortly after the first book. Davin and Strange are the only two members of the Fossa to survive the ambush in Jerusalem which resulted in the abduction of Sierra Falco. Davin is patched up by a Middle Eastern group of freedom fighters called the Defenders of Glory, and they task him with rescuing Sierra. They send along a Defender named Kiki to help them/make sure they don't run away. The trio sets off in the Fossa for Carinian space.

Meanwhile, Ulrich Morvan continues his mysterious and sinister agenda to make Carina great again. He's championing for war, and he doesn't particularly care who it's with. His sights are set on Earth--the Sacred Planet, and he wants to claim it for Carina.

Meanwhile, Cristiana of the house of Eagle wants to be the champion of Zantorian of the Sagittarium Regnum like her hero Kastor (only with a more optimistic future). She competes in an intense race across a volcanic planet to make it happen, but the competition is fierce.

Back on Earth, the Defenders begin their campaign to seize Jerusalem from the Confederacy. Backed by a mysterious adviser, it looks like they might have a shot at pulling it off. Zantorian is concerned by these developments, so he sends Cristiana and fellow warrior-noble Larkin to get to the bottom of it. But when they arrive, they discover the identity of the adviser, and it's the last person they would ever suspect.

So some people want to start a war, and others want to prevent it. Regardless of who succeeds, the galaxy will never be the same.

As I reported last time, this series is pretty much Game of Thrones in space. But before you go writing Austin Rogers off as a George R.R. Martin wannabe, hear me out. Horns of the Ram is a worthy follow-up to Sacred Planet. It's well-written, has great action and endearing characters. There are also very detailed descriptions of what is happening in each scene, so you feel like you're there. If you like science fiction, you have no excuse not to pick this up. Give this series a try, and you won't regret it.


https://www.amazon.com/Horns-Ram-Dominion-Book-2-ebook/dp/B06WLMXT3B/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507770630&sr=1-1&keywords=Horns+of+the+ram

Saturday, October 7, 2017

James Review -- Rita Longknife: Enemy in Sight

This week I decided to review Rita Longknife: Enemy in Sight by Mike Shepherd. 

When this book begins, the series namesake is in command of a heavy cruiser dedicated to exploration. She has found the wreckage of an alien ship, in a time where humanity has never contacted any non-human sentient life, and evidence that first contact was made by pirates. After her ship returns home, a council decides to commission a task force to deal with the growing pirate menace before attempting to locate and establish peaceful contact with the aliens. Rita is assigned a command of the warships assigned to the mission with her husband Ray attached to the fleet’s ground force.

Meanwhile the pirate fleet splits into two groups, each with a small colony as a base. But they swiftly reunite when an alien colony rich in gold and silver is found. At first the occupation of the alien world seems to go well, but it swiftly turns into a fight with the alien settlers waging a guerilla war against the pirates. And after some of the pirate ships seeking more worlds to plunder are routed by an alien fleet and lead it back to the occupied colony, the pirate armada flees, planning to make a stand at the nearer of the two colonies they were using as bases.

The anti-pirate task force encounters a suspected pirate vessel near the planet Savannah and sets out in pursuit but the acting leader of LeMonte, one of the pirate base worlds, manages to convince them his world is just an unregistered colony rather than a pirate port. The naval force returns to base but soon one of the two pirate ships that survived the first battle with an alien fleet, and whom had abandoned their comrades, arrives warning of an alien attack force. The naval fleet sets out again but this time discovers that both pirate colonies have been eradicated. The warships move on to the alien colony the pirates had occupied and find themselves facing an alien fleet of unknown power and technology…

I give this book 9 out of 10. It has a nice variety of scenes, and I like some of the new characters a lot, or, at least the ones that weren’t in books I have read before, but there were two major drawbacks that keep me from rating it higher. The final battle was too short for my taste and, even worse, the battle between the pirate armada and the alien pursuit force was skipped entirely. After all the pirate-focused chapters I was really looking forward to this conflict but, instead, the pirate plotline ends as soon as the pirate fleet is deploying to make its stand. I’ve always liked this author’s space battles so I view this as a horrible error.



Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pandora's Box 4S 800

Today I want to tell you about an exciting new product I just acquired. It is the Pandora's Box 4S and it is a dream come true. It's pretty much a retro videogame console that only plays arcade games, but man, they are some of the best games ever. This isn't shovelware; these are real arcade games you used to have to shell out your hard-earned money to play in the arcade, or plunk down thousands of dollars for a full cabinet in your home. There are multiple versions of this available, but I'm going to focus on the particular one I bought.

The thing comes pre-loaded with (depending on the model you purchase) 800 or more arcade games. It has many of the greats such as the Ninja Turtles games, The Simpsons, X-Men, countless fighting games like Street Fighter, and obscure Japanese titles. If I had this as a kid, I would have literally died of joy.

However, I should mention it's not perfect. Here are the pros and cons.

Pros:
1.) 800 of the greatest arcade games ever
2.) HDMI support. You can also hook it up to your PC monitor.
3.) Uses an authentic joystick setup
4.) USB support
5.) You can create a Favorites list so you don't have to keep cycling through the massive library to find the game you want to play.
6.) The games run pretty faithfully from what I've seen so far.

Cons:
1.) The emulation isn't perfect. I've noticed some slight (and not so slight) glitches.
2.) Comes with a very cheap HDMI cable which broke the same day I set it up. You're better off using your own.
3.) The power cable comes in two pieces that don't fit very well together.
4.) The model I got has a two-player joystick board which requires you and a friend to pretty much be rubbing up against one another to play. There are other models which come with different controllers, so maybe shop around a bit.

So far, I feel the pros outweigh the cons and this thing is fantastic. I'll keep playing on it, and if my opinion changes, I'll let you know.
https://www.amazon.com/Console-Classic-Players-Pandoras-multiplayer/dp/B074FVLQF2/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_img_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=T5REGJKJ54PT85FKT4NY

Sunday, October 1, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of The Federation: Patterns of Interference

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of The Federation: Patterns of Interference by Christopher L. Bennett. 

The story begins shortly after the prior book. After the chain of events that led to the collapse of the Partnership of Civilizations was started by the Federation trying to help them without understanding their situation, Admiral Jonathan Archer is trying to set up a non-interference directive in the hopes of preventing any future such disasters. But he faces strong opposition from his friend Thy'lek Shran, who views such a directive as an indictment of one of his proteges killed at the forefront of the crisis, and others who fear such a directive will lead to Starfleet officers doing nothing while less advanced civilizations are destroyed by forces beyond their control--such as natural disasters.  

While Archer doesn’t consider the latter scenario likely, he must also struggle with his dedication to his cause after realizing that both the Orion Syndicate and Section 31 hope for the directive to become reality as well as the news that his beloved dog Porthos is dying.

Meanwhile, Sauria has been conquered by Emperor Maltuvis, who received economic aid from the Federation in exchange for valuable resources found in his nation before launching his plot to seize control of his world, and is now receiving covert aid from the Orion Syndicate. Starfleet sends a team to assist resistance forces opposing him but the Orions plan to arrange a disaster involving the aid team to encourage isolationism within the Federation. Charles Tucker III hopes to use the Saurian situation in his quest to destroy Section 31 by planting evidence showing that the organization’s apparent leader is working with the Orion Syndicate. But he must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to end Section 31 and face the possibility that he is becoming too much like his enemy.

There is also a plot involving the planet Birnam where the Earth Cargo Ship Verne has discovered that some of the planet’s mobile plant life contain compounds that would be of great pharmaceutical value. But there is some evidence that the plants in question might be sentient and the only way to harvest the compounds is to kill the plants. After the USS Endeavour arrives to investigate the possibility that the plants are intelligent, tensions quickly heat between the Starfleet crew and the members of Verne’s crew who believe the plants aren’t intelligent and that the tests are taking too long, thus delaying pharmaceutical deals.

I give this book 9 out of 10. It has a nice variety of scenes but there is very little action in it. Even the Sauria plot only has a couple of short action scenes. Also I feel it suffers from the fact that the ultimate resolution of most of the plots has been established elsewhere. Finally, the Birnam plot feels completely disconnected from the Non-Interference Directive and Sauria plots.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

James Review -- RCN: Death’s Bright Day

This week I decided to review RCN: Death’s Bright Day by David Drake. 

The novel starts with the wedding of Daniel Leary and Miranda Dorst. The couple plans to take the yacht Princess Cecile, formerly a naval corvette that Leary had commanded for much of his career, to the planet Jardin for their honeymoon, based on stories about the world told to the bride by her deceased father. 

However, the Cinnnabar government asks Leary to take the ship to the Tarbell cluster after his honeymoon ends. The cluster is in a state of civil war with each faction supported by a branch of the Alliance of Free Stars’s Fifth Bureau, or their secret police. The Republic of Cinnnabar fears that if the Tarbell rebels claim victory, it will set in motion events leading to a resumption of the war between Cinnnabar and the Alliance.

But first Leary and his wife have to escape after being abandoned in a cave system on Jardin by a guide who feels his family’s legacy is violated by their presence and has a grudge against Dorst’s father. Escaping just as their allies were about to come in after them, Dorst returns home while the Princess Cecile and her crew continue to the Tarbell cluster.

There Leary leads a swift raid against pirates, and under pressure from Adele Mundy, Leary’s friend, signals officer, and Cinnnabar intelligence agent, the Tarbell government gives Leary command of their naval forces. While Leary works to make the ships and crews fit to fight, Mundy finds herself having to take on the duties of a critically injured Fifth Bureau member, who was supposed to aid the Cinnnabar mission. Leary plans and executes a mission that captures the heavy cruiser that was serving as the rebel flagship. But as he leads his strengthened forces towards the rebel capital he finds that the rebellion’s allies have supplied it with a battleship leaving his fleet facing a much stronger enemy force…

I give this book 9.5 out of 10. It has a great variety of action scenes and battles. It also has some nice humor in the early parts of the book. My only complaints are that the scenes on Jardin feel disconnected from the Tarbell story, more like filler then part of a larger tale, and I still wish the setting would return to a full war instead of smaller conflicts. It  feels like the story is just dancing around something major that is coming.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Author Interview -- Bridgett Morigna

Today I'm talking with fantasy author Bridgett Morigna who has found an unorthodox way to earn money writing via Patreon.

1.) How would you describe your writing? Darker than expected. The first time someone called The Dreams dark I was caught off guard. To me, it was just the story that I had to tell with the characters I created. Now that I've had some time to step away from the project, I can see what others saw. I never set out to make my stories dark, but once I start writing and exploring the concept and characters things inevitably take a dark turn. 2.) Why write for free? I'm a big believer in the goodwill of the internet. Growing up I was always in awe of the hours upon hours of reading material I could find for free online. I guess a part of me always wanted to be part of the internet repository of creativity. 3.) Where did the idea for The Dreams come from? The Dreams is the result of more than a decade of accumulated inspiration. The original idea started as a fanfiction concept combined with a fascination with kitsune while I was in high school. The idea that finally became the current story combined elements of that original idea with my experiences in college and during a serious illness. I'd held onto this idea for so long that elements of it have been drawn from a number of places in my life. 4.) What made you decide to study Japanese? It all started with anime. I've always been a big fan of shows involving history and folklore and learning the language helped me better understand those shows in context. 5.) You've chosen to be supported solely through Patreon. How has that worked out for you? I think it is working out really well! I love the idea of giving people the option to support my writing without forcing them to pay for the content. It's great having my Patreon as a place to post things that would only be of interest to people that are already invested in my writing. 6.) Your Twitter pic is Serial Experiments Lain. Are you a big fan of that series? Yep! I've been a fan since way back when I saw it on TechTV. 7.) Have you seen Haibane Renmei? It is also from Yoshitoshi ABe. I haven't watched Haibane Renmei. If it's anything like Lain, I'll have to check it out. 8.) Any plans to put your stories for sale on Kindle or Nook? My goal is to one day have my stories available in places like Amazon, Smashwords, etc. My serials need a lot of extra work to get them into tip-top shape for ebook format. 9.) What advice do you have for aspiring authors? There isn't one right way to be an author. Write, publish and measure success in a way that suits your personality. You'll be happier and more productive than if you tried to follow someone else's path to success.

https://twitter.com/bridgettmorigna

https://www.patreon.com/bridgettmorigna

https://bridgettmorigna.com/

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Cool Kickstarter Project -- Lona: Realm of Colors

Do you have serious problems? Don't you wish you could just paint them away? Well, good news! In this indie game I recently found on Kickstarter, you can. It is Lona: Realm of Colors.

This point-and-click game stars the titular Lona, an artist with a heavy heart. She begins painting to deal with her problems, and the more she does it, the more she gets sucked into it and loses her grip on reality. Here are excerpts from the official Kickstarter page:

What happens if you could escape from life difficulties that you can do nothing about? What if you could paint all your troubles away or turn them into magical musical notes? “Lona: Realm of Colors” is an artistic adventure about a girl trying to deal with her difficulties by painting them. The more she paints the more her drawings transform real life troubles into abstract art forms and as she is more and more consumed by her paintings she loses touch with real world, and finally gets trapped in her art.

“Lona: Realm of Colors” is a point and click adventure in nature focusing on art and narration instead of fetch puzzles and dialogue. Each level is an abstraction of Lona’s story and it is up to you to bring peace and balance to her painting and find out what has happened to her.

Each level has two sides: a chaotic side represented by Ms. Schmidt the cat and a dark side represented by Mr. Ruppel the crow. You can switch between the two worlds at will and try to bring balance to these extreme interpretations of a single situation. You can use items from each world in the other one and everything you do might affect both worlds. There will be 15 unique scenes from Lona’s memory and paintings each having two sides.

This game looks like it's going to be something really special, and as always, I encourage everyone to support it. We need more unique, beautiful games like this and lli. Become a backer today!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spacefox/lona-realm-of-colors?ref=user_menu

Saturday, August 26, 2017

James Review -- Starcraft: Evolution

This week I decided to review Starcraft: Evolution by Timothy Zahn. 

The story begins six years after the end of Starcraft 2. There is an uneasy truce between the three largest powers in the Koprulu Sector. The Terran Dominion led by Emperor Valerian Mengsk, The Protoss led by Hierarch Artanis, and the Zerg led by Overqueen Zagara. 

Zagara sends a message to Mengsk requesting his aid to defend the Zerg presence on Gystt, a planet that was the site of a Terran colony destroyed by the Protoss in the early stages of their anti-Zerg campaign which led to the events of the original Starcraft game. Mengsk decides to investigate personally and when he arrives at Gystt, Zagara invites him and Artanis to a meeting on the planet.
There she tells them that the Zerg wish to atone for their past actions. Using the Adostra, a new form of Zerg created using a limited supply of Xel’Naga essence, they can heal worlds devastated during the recent wars. 

But a Terran team en route to examine the Adostra in one of their three breeding grounds find themselves assaulted by Pryolisks, a new form of Zerg. Artanis believes this is proof that Zagara has lied to them and prepares to wipe out the Adostra. 

However, in the aftermath of the attack on a second breeding ground, the Terran team, accompanied by an exiled Protoss, comes to believe that the Pryolisks are deliberately trying to get the Terrans and Protoss to exterminate the Adostra. Megnsk launches a desperate effort to discover his people’s true enemies while struggling to convince Artanis not to launch an offensive that will reignite the war between the three powers.

I give this book 9 out of 10. I liked the battle sequences a lot and enjoyed the new characters. However there were a couple of early scenes that I feel should have been integrated into the main plot better and some of the periods between battle scenes were rather dull to me. Also, I feel the story is a little too self-contained. I wish the story had some better hooks for possible sequels because I would love to see these characters again.



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Kissed by Literature

Jordan Elizabeth is back with a new book, this one a little different from her previous novels. It is Kissed by Literature: A Collection of Short Stories. Is it worth your time? Let's find out.

As the title tells you, it's a collection of short stories, though many of them are actually flash fiction clocking in at only a few pages. The stories are mostly supernatural in nature, featuring ghosts and other spirits, though there are others which feature either science fiction or the mundane such as a girl meeting her favorite author. Many of the stories feature an M. Night. Shyamalan twist at the end.

There are some good ideas and a few good stories in this collection, but the book suffers from too many stories. The problem with a short story collection is you have to get re-invested in each new story, and with the sheer amount of stories on offer here, it drags on for too long. Jordan should have stuck to just a small handful of stories rather than the more than dozen here. It also doesn't help that she gives us a parade of young female protagonists that blend together. I honestly can't remember most of them which is why this review is shorter than most of the ones I write.

In addition, she should have done more research. In one story, a girl becomes incapacitated from unknowingly drinking snake venom. But venom is generally harmless unless injected into the bloodstream (https://www.quora.com/What-would-happen-if-you-drank-snake-venom).

I will, however, say I like the one story that ties into Jordan's previous book Escape from Witchwood Hollow.

This isn't necessarily a bad offering from Jordan Elizabeth, but it's not for me.

https://www.amazon.com/Kissed-Literature-Collection-Short-Stories-ebook/dp/B07434C1CX/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503530217&sr=1-1&keywords=Kissed+by+literature

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.


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