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.


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. 



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