Friday, March 17, 2017

James Review -- The Corporation Wars: Insurgence

This week I decided to review The Corporation Wars: Insurgence by Ken Macleod. 

The story starts right after the secret discovered at the end of the last book was revealed. In the Locke Provisos simulation, the strain of processing all the data is effecting the senses of the human minds inside the sim. Shaw, who fled during the first war and against accidentally createded sentient AIs, manages to fix the problem but this changes the flow of time so that instead of one day in reality lasting one thousand days in the simulation, the passage of time in both reality and virtual reality will match leaving much less time for those inside to prepare for the coming battles then they had anticipated.

Meanwhile, in reality, the strike force on its way to attack the rebel AIs and their Arcane Disputes allies collapses into a civil war. This happens because while most of the minds controlling the war machines were soldiers of the Affiliation ideology during Earth's ancient Last World War, Arcane Disputes claims to have proof that Locke Provisos is secretly controlled by agents of the Reaction Ideology which the Affiliation opposed in the war with other agencies compromised by similar agents. 

Unfortunately for Harlod Newton, who was a Reaction agent within the Affiliation movement during the war, he receives the message after committing himself to an attempt to seize a AI-controlled rock alone. Meanwhile, Carlos, driven to defect after discovering Arcane Dispute's claims near the end of the previous book, reaches the Arcane Disputes module and is uploaded into its simulation based on an MMO popular among the Affiliation movement whose leadership includes Jax, who had originally recruited Carlos for the Affiliation and had been his lover. The rebel AIs declare themselves neutral in the conflict between the two ideologies because they believe neither will truly treat them as equals. 

But Baser, the AI controlling the rock Newton is heading for, refuses to stand down and is cast out by the other AIs before being captured by Newton who is forced to link up with Arcane Disputes. In the Locke Provisos module, those opposing the Reaction seize control and move to land on a planet and establish a base of operations. And the Arcane Disputes forces prepare to launch a strike to keep the Locke module from reaching its goal. Carlos, Newton and a few others who have become disgruntled with the Arcane leadership form a plan to free Baser and defect to the AI Freebot faction.

I give this book 8.5 out of 10 The battle sequences weren't improved very much from the first book in my opinion. Also, this book feels like it has a lot more sections that were added more for lengthening the book then adding anything to the setting or that felt like they were drilling in points I didn't see the need to remind the reader of. Did we really need a group of Reaction fighters who clearly aren't entirely comfortable with Newton, a well known African-British Reaction member to remind us what the story had explained before, namely that many Reaction members came from white supremacist groups? But the ending and the plot by Carlos and his allies late in the book does leave a lot of interesting possibilities for the next book.



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Author Interview -- Michelle Lowe

Today we're doing something different and interviewing another author. Please welcome Michelle Lowe, author of Legacy.

1.) What genre do you primarily write in?

Even though I’ve written one nonfiction novel, I generally write fiction. It’s simply more enjoyable. With fiction, I can play around with facts and build my own worlds. There’s a lot of intelligence and creativity that goes into writing fiction, I believe. There’s much that can be created, so many imaginative ways to explain how made up things function. You really work your brain coming up with how everything goes and make it believable no matter how unbelievable it is!  

2.) What sets you apart from other authors?

Well, I’d say it’s because I’m broke, but I think that goes for most authors. Um, that’s kind of a hard question only because other than my own writing style, I’m not really that different from any other writer out there. We’re all storytellers, some of us are good and some of us are not. Some are successful for the being good storytellers, few are successful even though they’re not for one reason or another. The rest, like me, are still climbing, still envisioning that one day all our hard work will pay off. This isn’t an easy life to get into. Not a simple dream come true. Yet, I am thrilled to be in this fray with so many other dreamers and yarn spinners. 


3.) What did you learn from writing Legacy?

A lot, actually. Aside from all the research needed for, not just this book, but the entire Legacy series, I’ve learned that I really enjoy writing steampunk. Granted, Legacy is tad different from other steampunk novels. While most books of this genre already have technologies and gadgets invented and in use, I’ve started this series during the cusp of when the Industrial Revolution is really taking hold on the world. Legacy is set in an alternate universe, naturally, and there are plenty of inventions and machines throughout the entire series, like a Spanish galleon that can produce its own winds by way of huge fans powered by water, an oven that makes cremated corpses into diamonds, (a real thing by the way), the first airship ever made, living automatons, a cryo chamber that promises to bring back the dead, robotic limbs, and all that fun stuff. Yet there’s also this old supernatural world that still exists, and these two worlds, machine and magic, overlap one another. I suppose you can say that it’s the transition between an old world and new. Writing this series has given me a new way to write and has opened my imagination box even wider.

4.) What about European history intrigues you?

European history has an abundance of material to work with regarding storytelling. Granted the entire world has a great amount of interesting documented historical accounts, and I’ve used bits and pieces of them in all my stories. It’s hard to explain because to me it’s the same as asking why a person likes the color blue over other colors. European history is none more fascinating than any other past events on other continents. It’s just a preference, I suppose.

5.) Do you paint oil paintings or just admire them?

I paint and I absolutely love it! I do admire many painting other than oils. I enjoy abstract art and paintings with loads of little details such as the works of Hieronymus Bosch. I also enjoy some scenery artwork like those from painter, Robert Doares. I have a reproduction of his Spring River painting on my wall that my parents bought over forty years ago.  


6.) What is your favorite knickknack?

I have bunches of knickknacks that I collect. A collage of items, from owl sculptures to an old Carter’s fountain pen ink jar. Some of my favorites that I’ve gathered are natural things like rocks. I’ve collected small rocks from various places, spanning from the Mojave Desert to Hawaii. I even grabbed a phaneritic rock from the backyard of my childhood home a few years back. One day, I hope a snag a little stone from England whenever I get a chance to visit.


7.) What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I once read that you can make anything by writing. And it’s true! Writing opens minds, introduces new perspectives and brings people into worlds they never knew existed. Writing is an art form that is beautiful, tragic, complex, stunning and horrifying. My best advice for aspiring writers is to develop a thick skin. Take constructive criticism with a grain of salt and learn from what others tell you. Trust me, you’ll grow as a writer that way. And read! Read! Read! Read! When a writer is reading, it’s different than non-writers. We’re not just reading, we’re studying! We’re finding out new ways to describe things, broadening our vocabulary and learning how these other authors thread their stories together. Whatever genre you write, reading will help significantly when you put your own pen to paper. Don’t concern yourself about getting that first rough draft just right, either. First drafts are meant to free spirits and very ugly ones too. You only need to get your story out of your head and onto paper or in a Word document. Worry about making it pretty later on during editing. And don’t rush. It’s so easy nowadays to toss out stories in front of the whole world. Self-publishing has become easily available thanks to companies like Amazon and Createspace. Writers no longer need the gatekeepers’ permission to publish their work, or spend thousands of dollars going through a vanity press in the hopes that they’ll make that money back. Yet the ease to publish shouldn’t mean that the art of writing needs to be forgotten. Writing a book or novella takes time and ought to take just as long if not longer to make better through proper editing and revision. It’s best to sit on a manuscript for a while before going back to work on it rather than rush in getting it done just to publish it. It doesn’t matter how good the story is, if readers are distracted by poor writing and grammar flaws, you’ll lose them quick!

All in all, read more, write with passion, but edit with care and devotion toward the craft and learn from others. Most of all, write what you love!      


8.) What’s the best way to connect with readers?

Talking to them. Sites like Goodreads are a great way to reach out to people. I’ve also just recently worked my way to building up my nerve to do Facebook Live. I’d love to chat with people and getting to know them as well as let them know me, the person behind the book, as it were. Another good way to connect with readers is to be friendly. Let them in on what you’re doing in your writing from time to time, and listen to what they have to say. If they didn’t like one of your books even though they liked or loved your other novels, or didn’t enjoy some parts in any other book you wrote, listen to why and don’t get sore about it. Just because they’re a fan of yours doesn’t mean they’re going to love everything you put out there. Who knows, maybe there’ll be something to learn from it. Be humble, after all, writers are nothing without their readers.





Twitter: @michellelowe_7

Kickstarter: http://kck.st/2llpSWw


Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2h6sPrt


Legacy Twitter: @LegacySeries_6



Saturday, March 4, 2017

Movie Review -- Logan

Today we have the final film in Marvel's Wolverine trilogy. It is Logan. How does it stack up against its predecessors? Let's find out.

The story takes place in 2029 America. It has been years since a Mutant was born, and they've pretty much died out. Poor Logan (Hugh Jackman) is eking out a living as a limo driver (when he's not busy trying to drink himself to death) while struggling to obtain medication for an Alzheimer's-riddled Charles Xavier (an especially vulgar Patrick Stewart). See, Professor X has...err, episodes, for lack of a better term, in which he psychically assaults everyone around him and he needs special pills to keep that from happening.

Anyway, one day Logan is approached by a Mexican woman who asks him to escort a pre-pubescent girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who has serious anger issues. But there are bad men from Essex Corporation after Laura, and when they attack the place where Logan is keeping Xavier to get her, everyone finds out just how dangerous she is courtesy of her Adamantium claws. She ****s them up! Turns out she's a clone of Logan, and she didn't exactly turn out how her creators wanted (what with the tendency to go on killing sprees), so they decided to do away with her and their other test subjects. And they've created a new test subject...who also goes on a killing spree.

Logan feels bad for her, but not quite bad enough to help her out. It takes a little prodding from a pudding-brained Xavier to get him to do the right thing. So they set out to find the fabled rendezvous point for the other test subjects, but getting there won't be easy; Essex basically has an army and enhanced soldiers to do their bidding, and Logan's body is falling apart on him. Can our heroes survive long enough to ensure a fresh start for Mutantkind? And will Logan ever stop breaking the fourth wall by reading X-Men comics within the movie?

As I said before, this is the third movie in this series, not counting the many X-Men films. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a joke and The Wolverine was lackluster. Thankfully, Logan emerges to be the first good movie to star Marvel's Canadian Mutant. The switch to an R-rating was a gamble that pays off. With the heaps of gore and swearing, you can tell this film wants to be taken seriously by comic book and action fans. It doesn't insult us with weak depictions of violence like a lot of PG-13 movies. Every time Logan stabbed someone in the previous films, you knew in the back of your mind this is what was happening. We just never saw it until now.

I also want to commend newcomer Dafne Keen on a job well done. She really nails her performance of a broken child raised by psychopaths in Mexico, something that's obviously not so easy to pull off.

And finally, I want to mention the powerful story. It hits all the right notes as we witness the loss of characters who have been with us for years. Think you know who will live and die? Think again.

Bottom line: This is the Wolverine movie we've been waiting for.



James Review -- The Descent of Anansi

This week I decided to reach back into the mists of science fiction history and review The Descent of Anansi by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. 

The story starts with the space-based corporation Falling Angel Enterprises narrowly voting to declare independence from the United States. To raise money they auction off a new highly advanced form of cable they have developed and the bidding comes down to Brazil Techimetal-Electromotores and the Japanese-based Oyama Construction, which plans to use the cable to complete a vital bridge. Oyama wins and the cable is loaded onto a cargo pod carried by the shuttle Anansi and crewed by pilot Janet De Camp, her co pilot and former lover Marion Guiness, and Janet's estranged husband Thomas who is an ion drive tech, along with Doctor Dexter Stonecypher, the creator of the cable they are carrying. 

While en route, Doctor Stonecypher suffers a heart attack leading to the Anasi accelerating in order to reach help faster, but as the shuttle approaches Earth it is struck by a missile launched by Middle-Eastern extremists, damaging the craft and killing Doctor Stonecypher. Two Brazilian shuttles launch on a rescue mission but the crew of Anansi soon realize they are actually coming to seize the cargo and vessel. In the face of the first attempt at space piracy in human history, the surviving crew of Anansi launches a desperate attempt to get their cargo out of reach of the raiders and get their damaged vessel to safety on Earth while struggling to repel a hostile boarding party.

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. It is an interesting adventure story but I feel it could have really used some more length to better show the setting and what is happening away from Anansi. Still, the main cast is well developed, though it is also very small. And I have to say I think this is both the shortest and least accurate back cover description of a book I have ever read. Less then six lines with two of those in giant font and not a single sentence matches what is happening in the story. The back cover makes it sound like Falling Angel Enterprises is waging a war for independence against the United States when the only action the USA takes against Falling Angel in the story is a minor hurdle for the Anansi near the story's end and the only armed conflict in the main story is the missile attack and a short engagement with mercenaries. 



Saturday, February 25, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Headlong Flight

This week I decided to review Star Trek: The Next Generation: Headlong Flight by Dayton Ward. 

The story takes place across three universes at three different points in time. One is the primary Star Trek novel setting where the Enterprise 1701-E is exploring the Odyssean Pass near Romulan space in 2386. Another is a universe where Captain Picard was killed during the events of the episode Best of Both Worlds and the region is being explored by Enterprise 1701-D commanded by William Riker in 2367. And the final universe is one where the Enterprise 1701 was apparently destroyed during the events of The Original Series episode The Balance of Terror and the area is being explored by the Romulan warship Bloodied Talon and its escorts in 2266. 

Each vessel discovers a planet that mysteriously appears then vanishes while sending a warning message to stay away. The Enterprise-E sends a shuttle that is on the planet Ushalon when it disappears and the away team makes contact with the Sidrac who are on the planet. They explain that in their universe, Ushalon was the base for a project to launch probes into other universes using a quantum-field generator. At first the project went well, but then an accident caused the planet to shift between the various universes probes had reached, stranding the project's scientists with no way home. 

While the planet is in the Bloodied Talon's native universe the Romulans send a team in an attempt to seize the Sidrac technology, then launch an orbital bombardment in an attempt to prevent the generator from shifting the planet away. This results in all of the Romulan ships and the alternate Enterprise-D being shifted to the Enterprise-E's home dimension along with Ushalon. This leaves Picard struggling to forge an alliance to launch a risky plan to return the Sidrac to their homes while the Romulan Commander Sarith plots to use the disruptions recent events have inflicted on the various ships to seize one or both Federation vessels and the quantum-field generator.

I give this book 8.5 out of 10. The overall story is well-written and has some interesting characters and interactions between them. I also liked the combat sequences. The single major issue I have with this book is the number of unanswered questions I had when it was over. Usually I am more forgiving of this because I see them as possible hooks for later stories but in this case almost all of these questions are tied to the alternate universes encountered by the Enterprise-E and the characters native to those universes. This means I find it highly unlikely that they will be answered in later books.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review -- Seconds

Today we have Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel follow-up to the insanely awesome Scott Pilgrim series: Seconds. Is it as good? Let's find out.

The story follows aspiring restaurateur Katie Clay who already has one successful restaurant called Seconds under her belt. She isn't stopping there, though; she's planning on going solo for her next venture (Seconds basically belongs to the investors who funded it and she wants a place to call her own). But, of course, things don't go quite the way she wants. Her ex-boyfriend Max drops back into her life and she doesn't know how to deal with it. Also, one of her employees named Hazel gets injured on the job, causing Katie quite a bit of stress. And, finally, she finds her decision to hook up with the head chef to be a mistake because they were making out while Hazel got hot oil on her arms.

But just as things seem somewhat bleak, a mysterious girl named Lis appears in her bedroom and hints at a way to change things. Katie then finds a mysterious kit in her dresser with the following instructions:


  1. "Write your mistake"
  2. "Ingest one mushroom"
  3. "Go to sleep"
  4. "Wake anew"
So she writes her mistake ("I shouldn't of fooled around with Andrew! Workplace canoodling is NO GOOD!") on the included notepad and eats the included mushroom. She then wakes up the next morning to find her make-out sessions with Andrew never happened, therefore Hazel never got injured. Everything's good, right? But, Katie thinks to herself, what if she were to keep performing the ritual and making things better and better? With that philosophy in mind, any time something bad happens, she changes history to fix it.

But this pisses off Lis who insists you only get one chance at changing the past. Katie says to hell with that, though; she wants to get her life perfect. So again and again she eats the mushrooms, fixing every mistake she makes. However, for each mistake she fixes, a new one pops up, kinda like a whack-a-mole game. Not only that, she finds reality is getting increasingly distorted the more she does this. And all the while, a dark...something...is growing in the basement of Seconds, becoming stronger with each change to history. Katie will ultimately discover the shocking truth about what she's actually been doing.

Seconds continues O'Malley's cute cartooney art style we saw in Scott Pilgrim and Lost at Sea. I would say the tone of the story is somewhere between those two. We get the fantastical elements of Scott Pilgrim and the adult language of Lost at Sea, so it's a nice median. Seconds is a stand-alone story like Lost at Sea, so we don't have the multiple volumes like Scott Pilgrim. Still, at 323 pages, it certainly doesn't feel short. You get a full-length story that's well worth the hardcover price. 

In terms of the narrative itself, O'Malley continues the theme of his previous works of struggling to make your way in the world as a young adult, so, mostly, it doesn't break new ground, and this time-travel story is one we've seen before in other series'. However, the final revelation really nails it. You'll end up feeling sympathy for something that didn't seem pitiable at first.

Bottom line: Seconds is another home run by Bryan Lee O'Malley. 


https://www.amazon.com/Seconds-Graphic-Bryan-Lee-OMalley-ebook/dp/B00JXKY8X8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487480481&sr=1-1&keywords=Seconds

Friday, February 17, 2017

James Review -- Weird Space: Satan's Reach

This week I decided to review Weird Space: Satan's Reach by Eric Brown. 

The story starts with free trader Dan Harper a former telepathic agent of the Expansion, the authoritarian regime that rules most of humanity, before he stole a ship and fled to the uncontrolled Satan's Reach region, arriving on the world Ajanta to deliver cargo. Ajanta is ruled by the native Ajantans who use addiction to a drug native to the world to enslave the planet's human population. Harper meets Zeela, a young woman certain to die horribly at Ajantan hands. Harper agrees to help her flee the planet but soon finds himself held in an Ajantan lair with her after being betrayed by his customer and sold to the Ajantans. The two manage to escape and are rescued by the Judi Hearne, Harper's AI equipped ship.

Meanwhile bounty hunter Sharl Janaker and a Vetch (another spacefaring species the Expansion recently fought a war with) named Helsh Kreller are recruited to retrieve Harper and his ship. The Weird, an organic technology-equipped hive mind from another dimension, has begun an invasion of human and Vetch space seeking to absorb both species via portals linking the two dimensions that are incredibly resistant to damage. And the Weird have infected a number of humans and Vetch with parasites, allowing the Weird to seize control of the hosts at will. The only way to identify these hosts is via telepathic scan making Harper very valuable.

In Satan's Reach, Harper takes Zeela to Tarrasay, a world where he often conducts business, after apparently evading the pursuing Ajantans, with plans to let her build a new life there. But she convinces him to take her to her homeworld of Kallasta and the stopover on Tarrasay is interrupted by a run-in with Janaker and Kreller. So now with bounty hunters and Ajantans chasing them, Harper and Zeela set out for Kallasta, making various stops and destroying an Ajantan warship en route. But when they reach their destination they discover that Zeela's parents had left because they were fleeing the early stages of an invasion of their world by the Weird. They meet and team up with Janaker and Kreller after the latter rescue them from another team of Ajantans but an agent of the Weird is far closer then they believe...

I give this book 7 out of 10. The characters are interesting, even if some of their stories are pretty predictable. However, I feel the setting needed much more detail included and the combat sequences are far too brief for my tastes and included very little in the way of details concerning what is going on in most cases. Still, the story has potential and I hope later books reinforce the areas where this one was lacking.


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