Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Review -- Justice League

The DC Comics cinematic universe soldiers on in this week's big-time offering in Justice League. Once again directed by Zack Snyder, is it another bomb like Batman VS. Superman? Let's find out.

The story begins with Batman (Ben Affleck) luring out a mysterious creature called a Parademon and trying to capture it. These things are popping up all over, and something needs to be done about them. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) informs him this is the work of a demonic tyrant called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Realizing time is of the essence, they set out to recruit other super-powered beings. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) is an athlete turned cyborg who can interface with computers. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is super fast. And Arthur Curry (Jason Moma) is the prince of Atlantis and handy with a trident. Together they set out to stop Steppenwolf, but Batman thinks they're still not enough. He wants to bring back the world's greatest hero, but is that a good idea?

I hear this movie's been getting bashed by critics. I don't know what complaints they might have because I don't read reviews of things I'm going to review myself so as to avoid being influenced. But just like the Ghostbusters reboot, I'm here to tell you this movie's A-OK. Sure, it's just The Avengers with DC characters (and with a very similar plot). And yes, the message doesn't get any deeper than a speech about the power of hope. But is this really a bad thing? You want your superhero action, and this gives it to you. You'll see all the badassery you want, delivered with all the panache you want. The only thing missing is Tony Stark's snarkiness (or is that Starkiness?).

And this is all accompanied by a terrific score courtesy of Danny Elfman who did the theme for the 1980's Batman movie. You might think he's only good for the Simpsons theme, but he's actually very talented. I feel the change in composer works well here since even Hans Zimmer is sick of doing this (hence the reason he retired from superhero movies).

Finally, the post-credits scene really sets up a conflict of epic proportions to be continued in a future film.

Bottom line: You can't go wrong with Justice League.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok Thoughts

I just saw Thor: Ragnarok today. Since it's not quite timely and you've probably seen it already, I won't waste your time with a full review. I will say I like the new direction the series has taken. Tonally it is different from previous Thor movies, opting for a more caper-esque action romp with a new electronic soundtrack by Mark Motherbaugh. Cate Blanchett still looks stunning despite being almost 50. Newcomer Tessa Thompson plays her part well and in a less obvious way (I was not expecting a drunken Valkyrie to fall off her ship's ramp upon entry). Loki delivers fewer surprises and acts pretty much how you would expect from him.

Other than that, it's pretty much your standard Marvel movie, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view. Not groundbreaking but pretty solid.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gamma: Original Sin

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gamma: Original Sin by David R. George III. 

The novel has two primary stories. One of these is set in the novel’s present of 2386 and the other is set in 2380 being told as a series of flashbacks.

The present story begins with the USS Robinson, commanded by Captain Benjamin Sisko, making its first contact with a new civilization since its long-term exploration of non-Dominion controlled portions of the Gamma Quadrant began. However, the ships that they encounter attack them first with weapons that disrupt space and create zones of non-space, then with sonic weapons that knock out the crew. 

While the crew is unconscious the attackers kidnap dozens of children including Captain Sisko’s daughter Rebecca. With the Robinsion’s engines useless due to being in non-space, the crew first must discover a way to free themselves. 

After the starship escapes from the area of the attack, she sets out to find the base of their attackers, discovering the remains of other ships that had suffered similar attacks along the way. When the home world of their attackers is discovered they try to negotiate the release of the children but the Glant, their attackers, refuse. The Glant eventually reveal that their culture creates each new generation by having organics create mechanical bodies then harvesting the brains of children to install in those bodies. With very little time before the harvesting begins the Robinson’s crew struggles to find a way to rescue the children before it’s too late…

The flashback story starts with Rebecca being kidnapped by an extremist from a Bajoran religious sect that believes she is the Avatar of their prophecies. But as the length of her captivity grows her captor becomes more unstable eventually deciding that the prophecy calls for him to kill Rebecca so she doesn’t become a tyrant. When he takes her to a large forest planning to kill both her and himself a desperate race to stop him begins…

I give this book 7 out of 10. While nothing is particularly bad I feel it has some key flaws. First, I feel the flashback story could have used more development, perhaps even its own book. Also, while I don’t dislike the story, I feel it is a poor choice for the first book of the Gamma sub-series. I think it would have been better for the first book of the sub-series to have a story that didn’t have such a large portion dedicated to flashbacks. Instead, I feel the space would have been better used getting to know the Robinson’s crew. Finally, while I see some interesting possibilities from what the ending revealed, I’m worried they will be shoved aside for a long time before anything is developed from them.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Flame Kissed

Alexis Radcliff is back with a new series called Seeking the Dragon. She asked me to review the first book, Flame Kissed, and so here we go.

The protagonist is 17-year-old Ella Denton. Years ago, her family was killed in a mysterious fire and she got shuffled between foster families until finally arriving at the Dentons. So now she's settled in and getting ready to go off to college. But before she does, she heads off to a ski lodge with friends and family. There she is reunited with her long-time crush Nick. She plans to confess her feelings for him, but stuff happens and she ends up getting transported to a parallel world called Ether-Realm which seems to be filled entirely with dicks. They all either want to perform unspeakable medical experiments on her, enslave her, or just beat her into submission. Not a good way to spend summer vacation. I get the sense there are nicer people around, but we don't meet them in the first book. But hey, at least she has some strange magic power to make things a little better.

And that's pretty much it for the first volume. It's very short and mostly just serves to introduce us to Ella and the Ether-World. Obviously there are big secrets to be revealed, but you'll have to wait until later. Honestly, you can almost skip this one because I've told you just about everything. Still, it wouldn't hurt to start from the beginning, and you can knock this out in about an hour. For the most part, it's written well, although Radcliff uses words like "feel" and "saw" instead of just showing what was felt and seen.

I sort of feel this should have been longer, because it just doesn't do as good of a job as it should bringing us into the world. It doesn't really get good until the end. On the flip side, however, that hopefully means the subsequent books will be even better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

James Review -- Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig. 

The story opens with Norra Wexley’s team hunting Imperial Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, whom they believe is responsible for a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations using mind- controlled agents, including Nora Wexley’s husband Brentin. Meanwhile, Sloane and Brentin have joined forces to hunt down Gallius Rax, the true mastermind behind the assassinations and now leader of the Empire in all but name. Both group’s find their way to Rax’s home world of Jakku. Sloane and Brentin arrive first and begin a long journey across the world having to ally with the local Hutt crimelord.

When Norra’s group arrives, they find a massive Imperial fleet gathered around the planet. While their ship flees Norra and Jas Emari take an escape pod to the planet’s surface, and Norra’s son Temmin sends Mister Bones, a B1 battle droid he had repaired and upgraded to protect his mother. 
Soon Norra and Jas are captured and separated. Eventually Norra is rescued by Mister Bones and they shortly regroup with Jas, who had also escaped captivity.

Meanwhile, on Chandrila, the current Republic capital, the members of Norra’s team that fled Jakku find themselves caught in a maze of Republic politics as they try to gain support for an attack on the Imperial fleet over Jakku. Eventually they succeed, but as the battle rages, Norra’s group and Sloane’s duo discover what Rax’s true plan is. And other enemies are closing on the Republic’s leaders while the bulk of its fleet is away…
he book also includes several sections showing events away from the main plot, and flashbacks to earlier portions of Rax’s life and his education by Palpatine.

I give the book 7 out of 10. I still like most of the characters and the battle sequences were entertaining. It was also interesting to see a little of Palpatine’s thought process behind the plan he entrusted to Rax. However, the political scenes dragged on far too long in my opinion, and felt like filler for the most part. Also, there were a number of sections near the end that made little sense to me. Finally, I feel that the ending created more questions than it answered.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Horns of the Ram

Last year I reviewed Austin Rogers' intriguing sci-fi novel Sacred Planet ( 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.