Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie Review -- 47 Ronin

Today I'm reviewing the new Keanu Reeves movie 47 Ronin, based on the old Japanese story.

The story takes place in feudal Japan, a land of myth and monsters. Kai (Reeves) is a mysterious foreigner who was taken in by the Asano clan as a boy. Viewed with fear and disdain because of his strange origins, he is a second-class citizen within the clan. Only the lovely Mika (Kou Shibasaki) seems to take a shine to him.

One day the Asanos play host to the shogun Tokugawa (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and their rival Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). A bit of treachery on the part of Kira and his witch (Rinko Kikuchi) forces Kai to fill in for the Asano's representative in a sparring match. Unfortunately, only samurai are allowed in the match, and when Kai's good-natured deception is revealed, he is severely punished. The betrayal doesn't end there, though. The witch tricks Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) into attacking Kira. This leads to Asano's death and his land falling into the hands of Kira. His second-in-command Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is imprisoned and Kai is sold into slavery.

One year later, Oishi is released and immediately hatches a plan to avenge his former lord and save Mika from her impending marriage to Kira. This means breaking Kai out of captivity and reuniting with his scattered men (who are now masterless ronin). This is only the beginning, however. In order for their mission to succeed, they must face the mysterious inhuman Tengu, the witch's magic, and Kira's army. Will they be able to overcome these odds and bring the bad guys to justice?

I quite enjoyed this movie. A large part of said enjoyment comes from the slick production values, particularly the costume designs. There's a wide assortment of costumes in this film, and it really imparts the wealth and beauty of Japan (even if wasn't filmed there). The characters are even played by real Japanese actors, unlike some movies. I also appreciate the amount of research that went into this film. The writers really know their Japanese mythology and theater.

The acting itself is good, if not exactly stellar. Keanu Reeves brings a stoic edge to his character, and Rinko Kikuchi delivers a suitably sinister vibe to her role. There aren't really any standout performances to speak of.

However, I do have a few complaints. Namely, the villains themselves are pretty generic. I was expecting some sort of diabolical endgame from the witch, but her motivation remains pretty shallow and murky throughout. Whatever she was planning, I'm still in the dark about it.

Fortunately, the movie has some cool action to offset that. I can safely say I was kept entertained until the end credits. Also, it is worth mentioning the story does not have a traditional Hollywood ending. You might not like what happens to our heroes.

All in all, I really like this movie, and I encourage everyone to go see it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Third Look -- God School

Brandon and Freya used their powers to halt all the traffic in front of the hotel and freeze the people already out there. Once that was done, Freya conjured a sleigh out of thin air and gestured for Ev to get in back of it. He did so, though he felt silly. The two gods got in front after attaching a harness to Freya’s tigers. They evidently were meant to pull the thing.
            “Ready, Ev?” Brandon asked.
            “As ready as I’m going to be, I guess.”
            Freya took the reins. “Let’s go!” The cats begin running, and the sleigh followed suit. Down 6th Street they went, and they must have been quite the sight—if anyone could see them. After a minute the tigers took to the air. Ev felt a rush of excitement as the sleigh rose off the ground. The Seraphim City skyline spread out before them, a glittering collection of lights and skyscrapers. Ev couldn’t help but marvel as they got a grand view of the magnificent city.
            Before long they passed over Jaxon Harbor and the Treadwell Bridge on their way out of the city. No one on the ground seemed to notice the sleigh flying above their heads. That was probably due to the gods’ magic—or powers or whatever.
            Soon they were over the Nibian Sea, heading east. The sleigh must have picked up speed, because before Ev knew it they passed over the Murnau Islands.
            Despite the fact they were exposed to the elements, Ev didn’t feel cold, and the wind wasn’t whipping loudly through the sleigh.
            Brandon turned around to face him. “You know anything about the Murnau Islands?”
            Ev shrugged. “They don’t think very highly of women, I hear.”
            “That’s an understatement,” Freya said, keeping her eyes ahead.
            Ev was curious about that statement. “What do you mean?”
            “They have absolutely no respect for women. They don’t even consider them to be human,” Brandon explained. “You’ll find out all the ugly details soon enough. For now, it’s best not to think about it. Ignorance is bliss, in this case.”
            “Uh…OK.” Now he was really curious, in that “I want to know, but I don’t want to know” sort of way.

* * *

After flying for a while (Ev’s cell phone said it had only been an hour, though it felt like longer), they arrived at their destination: Mt. Oleia. True to Brandon’s map, the mountain rose out of the sea like an angry rock giant. It was mostly comprised of one massive crag, with two smaller crags flanking it.
            Freya maneuvered the sleigh around to bring them closer to a tiny, almost imperceptible opening on the main crag’s face. They flew into it and landed in what appeared to be some sort of hanger. Inside were other sleighs of varying sizes and colors. Some looked like they could hold at least twenty people.
            They got out of the sleigh, and a young man in a jumpsuit came over to them. “Welcome back, Miss Freya, Mr. Strong. How did it go? The old girl didn’t give you any trouble, did she?”
            “None at all, Josh,” Freya said. “She handles as good as she ever did. My kids really have the hang of it by this point.” She indicated the tigers. She then whistled, and they retreated back into her chest. Ev wondered whether they were, in fact, her children or just her pets. He didn’t know anything about the Old Gods, but then again, no one did.
            Brandon said, “Come on; the President is waiting for us.”
            Ev cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. “The President?”
            Freya explained, “The school’s president. He’s also the dean and overall mentor to everyone. He’s the one who sent us to get you.”
            “Oh. That makes sense. So he’s like the head god or something?”
            Brandon replied, “Basically. Although he was actually born in the current, universe, he’s the one who founded this school. He recognized the need to create more gods to maintain order and keep Carnivál in check.”
            They began walking across the hanger. Freya said, “The President is actually fairly young for a god, but he’s shown an amazing ability to grow as a deity.”
            “He’s a natural born leader. That’s why we Lost Gods follow him.”
            They reached the end of the hanger and got into an elevator. It took them down one floor, where they emerged into a circular reception area. A middle-aged brunette woman sat at a desk in the center of the room. Vending machines and a coffee dispenser were located to her left. Behind her was another elevator. A map of the school hung on the wall to her right.
            “Welcome back, you two,” the receptionist said to Brandon and Freya.
            “Good to see you again, Aphrodite,” Brandon replied. “Tell the President we brought Ev Bannen. I’m sure he’ll want to see him as soon as possible.”
            Aphrodite clicked her tongue. “Unfortunately, he’s in a meeting at the moment. I’ll let him know you’ve returned. Nice to meet you, Ev.”
            “Uh…thanks,” Ev said, not really sure what to do here.
            “We’ll head on down now,” Freya said.
            “I’ll let you know when the President gets out of his meeting,” Aphrodite assured them.
            They proceeded past the reception desk to the other elevator. This one had more buttons than the other:

Level 2 – Offices
Level 3-4 – Classrooms
Level 5-6 – Dorms
Level 7 – Recreation
Level 8-9 – Training

            They got off at level five, which Brandon and Freya explained was the men’s dormitory. The elevator was situated in the middle of a long corridor. The hallway was brown with a white floor, and various flyers hung on bulletin boards. It looked just like any other college dorm, except this one was inside a mountain in the middle of the ocean.
            They sat him down at a chair in the hallway and told him to wait there until they returned. Minutes passed.
            Soon the elevators began letting off students. They were dressed in seemingly every fashion on the planet. It then occurred to Ev that the Kami Dios Academy probably recruited from all over the world.
            He didn’t know any of these guys, so he decided to keep his head down. However, one student, a bronzed-skin youth with short, spiked brown hair, approached him. “G’day, mate. Don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” He offered Ev his hand.
            Ev stood up and nervously shook hands with him. This guy had at least a foot on Ev in height. He wore a brown vest and tie. “Uh…hi.”
            “The name’s Jaysin. Jaysin Marx. Niceta meet you.”
            “Ev. Ev Bannen.”
            Jaysin said, “You new here?”
            Ev nodded. “Yeah. Just got here literally five minutes ago. Had some trouble with rofghosts.”
            “You mean refghasts?”
            “Yeah.” Ev felt embarrassed to have gotten wrong the name of the things that had almost killed him.
            “Ugly little biters, aren’t they?”
            “Well…they didn’t actually bite me.”
            Jaysin laughed. “Just a figure of speech. They can’t bite you. They’ve got no mouths for it.”
            “I noticed. So how do they talk?”
            He explained, “The hypnotic signals they use to lure you in also let them communicate. Don’t really understand how it works, myself, but there you go.”
            Ev decided to change the subject. “So, where are you from, Jaysin?”
            “Chrichton? I’ve never met anyone from there before.”
            Jaysin replied, “Not surprising. Most Chrichtons never leave the country. It’s too much trouble getting over the mountain chains.
            “Where are you from?”
            Ev said, “Upton. It’s a small town on Morovia, about a thousand miles south of Seraphim City.”
            “Seraphim City! I’ve been there. Real twigging parties they throw there.”
            “Another bit of Chrichton slang. When you’re mostly cut off from the rest of the world, you develop your own unique vocabulary.
            “So tell me: What kind of god are you going to become?”
            Ev was taken aback by the question. “What kind…?”
            “Yeah. Just like in religion and mythology, there’s different gods for different things. For example, Miss Freya is the goddess of love. Another person might be the god of thunder. Me, I’m gonna become the god of money.” To illustrate this point, he pulled out a fat wad of bills from his pocket.
            Ev gaped at it. “Holy…!”
            “Best to mind that kind of language around here. Never know who you’ll parse off talking like that.”
            Ev wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he just said, “Thanks.”
            “Don’t mention it. But going back to what I was saying—sooner or later everyone here has to figure out what kind of god they want to become. It’s your major, in other words.”
            “All right, I’ll definitely be thinking about it.”
            “Good.” Jaysin checked his expensive-looking watch. “I gotta get going. Maybe I’ll see you later.”
            “Yeah, maybe. Thanks for the advice.”
            “Don’t mention it.” And with that, he left. The hallway soon cleared, leaving Ev more or less alone again.
            Fortunately, within a few minutes Brandon and Freya returned. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Have you met any of the other students yet,” Brandon asked.
            “Yeah, I met one guy. Said he was going to become the god of money.”
            “Must be Jaysin Marx,” Freya said. “He might sound greedy, but he’s not. That’s because…well, better to let him tell you.”
            Ev said, “Um…OK.”
            “Come. The President is waiting for you,” Brandon said.

Chapter III: Getting Acquainted

They returned to Level 2. Brandon and Freya led Ev past rows of offices to the one at the end of the hallway. The name plate read “President Bethos”.
            Ev did a double-take. “Wait,” he said. “The Bethos?”
            Freya nodded. “That’s right. The god of Morovia. And he can’t wait to meet you.”
            The level of anxiety Ev felt at that moment could safely be described as nearly overwhelming. He was as nervous as he had ever been, and his feet felt like lead.
            Nevertheless, he managed to get himself moving into the President’s office. Unfortunately, his nervousness didn’t go away upon seeing Bethos. The President was certainly not what Ev had been expecting.
            “Hello, Ev! Come in, sit down.”
            Ev nervously did so. “Uh…hi.”
            Bethos reclined back in his chair. “Not what you were expecting?”
            He had to admit, “Well…not really. All the pictures of you are…” He didn’t want to finish that sentence, didn’t want to incur the President’s wrath.
            Bethos finished the sentence for him. “White? Tall? Long beard?”
            Ev nodded weakly, afraid that at any moment he would be struck by lightning.
            In fact, Bethos was not any of those things. He had skin black as midnight, he was about three foot six inches tall, and clean-shaven. He wore a burgundy suit and tie instead of a toga.
            He laughed at the massive historical discrepancy. “When I first became a god...” He turned to the bald, tanned man standing next to his desk—who was wearing a toga—and said, “How many years has it been, Ku?”
            Ku? The famous prophet who came from an unknown land and worked to spread the word of Bethos all those years ago? The day got more exciting by the minute.
            Ku said matter-of-factly, “Three thousand, one hundred and fifteen days.”
            Bethos pointed to his servant with a thumb. “This guy keeps track of those things so I don’t have to. Hell, I imparted a bit of my power to him so he could live forever for that exact purpose.” He laughed again. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes. When I first started, the world wasn’t ready for a diminutive black god. So they made me a tall white guy.”
            Ev dared to speak up at that moment. “But…couldn’t you make yourself taller? You are a god.”
            Bethos shrugged. “What would be the point? To gain peoples’ respect? I’ve already got it! Everyone here has chosen to follow me out of respect. I have no reason to change my appearance now.”
            That made sense. Still… “But why don’t you appear to the world and show them the real you?”
            Bethos explained, “Being a god isn’t about glory or vanity. We choose to remain in the shadows and help mankind from behind the scenes.”
            Ev was becoming more and more at ease around the President. “But mankind has fought countless wars because they don’t know what you’re all about.”
            “And whose fault is that?” Bethos said, maintaining his carefree attitude. “My man Ku laid it out for them a long time ago. Some of them called him a liar and claimed they alone knew my true nature.”
            Ev took the chance to ask the question he had always wondered about. “So where do we go after we die?”
            To his surprise, Bethos shrugged. “Beats me. We gods live forever, so even we don’t know. Some think there’s an ultimate god who resides over the afterlife. If you become a god yourself, you will likely never find out.”
            The thought was both encouraging and depressing. Ironically, if Ev indeed became a god, some answers could be forever denied him. Nevertheless, he thought it a risk worth taking. “Do you really think I can become one?”
            “Anyone can—and will—become supremely powerful if they stay here long enough. The built-up energies left over from the Big Bang will see to that. You’re probably already experiencing increased vitality just from being here a half hour.”
            In fact, he was. It wasn’t anything dramatic yet, but he did feel as though he had more energy. “Kinda feels like I just had one of those energy drinks.”
            Bethos pointed at him and smiled. “Exactly. The longer you stay here, the stronger you’ll become. However, it is our job to make sure you’re ready for godhood. As you attend classes and take tests, we’ll evaluate your progress. If we don’t feel you’re going to become a proper deity, you’ll be expelled. Sorry, but we have to be honest with you going in.”
            That scared Ev. “What will happen to me if I’m expelled?”
            “You’ll have to leave the Academy. Mostly likely you’ll end up going home.”
            Home? That scared him even more. “Professor Strong said you guys have been watching me. Does that mean you know what kind of home I come from?”
            The President nodded grimly. “That we do.”
            “Then you know home is the last place I want to go. My father used to beat me, and my mom just didn’t care. That place can’t even be called a home. I’d rather take my chances with those fallen gods than go back there.”
            From behind him, Brandon replied, “All the more reason for you to succeed here.” Ev hadn’t realized he and Freya were still in the room.
            “But do you really think I can?” he asked, to no one in particular.
            “I think you have the determination necessary. Your high school GPA was quite good, so we know you can apply yourself.”
            Yeah, but apply myself to becoming a god? That’s something else entirely. Nevertheless, Ev said, “Well, I don’t want to go home, and I don’t want to be killed by…uh…what’s that group’s name?”
            “Carnivál,” Freya replied.
            “Yeah. Them. I don’t want them sending any more of those refghasts after me until I can defend myself like the rest of you. So…” He took a deep breath, in case he found any arguments against what he was about to say. “I’ll do it. I’ll enroll here.”
            “Excellent!” Bethos said. “We’ll give you the paperwork to fill out, and then you’ll be an official student here. Now, other colleges have tuition—”
            Without thinking, Ev cut him off. “Oh, crap! I didn’t think about tuition. I have hardly in money on me. I was hoping to get a scholarship to whatever university I ended up attending.”
            “You didn’t let me finish,” Bethos said. “Other colleges have tuition, but not us. You can’t put a price on godhood, after all. We use our powers to keep the school running, not money, so you can rest easy.”
            Ev breathed the biggest sigh of relief of his life so far. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
            Laughing again, the President said, “Don’t mention it, kid.
            “Now, there is one last thing I want to mention. You must eventually decide what kind of god you want to become.”
            “Yeah, this one guy said that to me. I really don’t know what I want to become god of,” Ev said.
            Freya said, “You have to become a god that can help people. We don’t allow our students to represent anything negative. With one exception, only Carnivál has the gods of hatred, vengeance, death, etc. You must choose something positive to represent.”
            Ev remembered, “That Jaysin guy said you’re the god of love.”
            Smiling, she said, “Exactly. There is nothing more positive in this world than love. I answer the prayers of mortals that pertain to love. For instance, I generally give them subconscious guidance. If I feel the mate you’re pursuing is right for you, I’ll help you succeed. But if that person isn’t right for you, I’ll nudge you away from them. The receptionist, Aphrodite, helps me out with that. Just because you’re a god doesn’t mean you can answer every single prayer.”
            “But how do I answer prayers? Do I just put my head to the ground and listen or something?”
            They all laughed. “We’ll teach you how to do it,” Brandon said.

            Bethos said, “Just be thinking about what kind of god you want to become. Now, then—I think you should get settled in the dorm. I’ll leave that to you two.” He indicated Brandon and Freya.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Special Promotion -- Secrets of the New World

Today and tomorrow, the Kindle edition of Secrets of the New World will be on sale. The price will start at $0.99 and keep rising until it goes back to normal at $3.50. Get the savings while you can!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cool Kickstarter Project -- Red: A Cyberpunk Fairytale

I recently came across a kickass project on Kickstarter, and after backing it, I decided to share it with you. It's a graphic novel by Daniel Velez and Sean Stephens called Red: A Cyberpunk Fairytale. Think a crazy anime cyberpunk version of Little Red Riding Hood, and you're pretty much there. I strongly encourage everyone out there to back this project.

Copied from the project page:
A sci-fi version of Little Red Riding Hood. Red, a member of a private security firm, must fight to survive in a violent world.
The Comic: Red: A Cyberpunk Fairytale Vol. 1 is an 80 page graphic novel created by Daniel Velez and Sean Stephens. Inspired by the classic fairytale Little Red Riding Hood, it tells the story of Red, a member of a private security firm. She lives, works, and fights to survive in a futuristic world that is spiraling into a violent police state. When Red's grandmother falls victim to a bio-terror attack, Red will unravel a mystery involving the terror group known as the Lords of the Fourth Order, the megacorporation known as Canis, as well as the most clandestine levels of government.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Second Look -- God School

Here is the second part of the preview of my next novel, God School. Enjoy!

The next day, Ev was walking around Seraphim City University. He saw Central Quad, the student union, the polished granite clock tower in the center of campus, the various departments, and Cherub Field, home of the Fighting Angels. An angelic figure wielding boxing gloves and clearly ready to fight was displayed on the wall above the bleachers.
            It was all so very…ordinary. No, perhaps a better term would be a deception. He now knew the world wasn’t as simple and peaceful as this. How could he pretend otherwise?
            He couldn’t, and he knew it. He had seen the truth, and he could never turn his back on it, could never forget the reality of the thing that almost killed him last night. Those gyrkahs were out there, preying on humans.
            He realized there was only one thing to do. If he truly believed in justice, he had to take Brandon Strong up on his offer. But first, he needed to know if the mysterious man had been telling the truth.

* * *

He sat on his metal throne within the dark ruined building, surrounded by debris and other things the humans had abandoned. “I don’t see the kid with you,” he told them. “Why is that?”
            One of the many refghasts in the room shambled forward, its long, stringy legs struggling to hold the body aloft. They were truly pitiful creatures, he thought. “So sorry, Lord Belial,” it rasped. “Our brothersister was attacked by the god before it could siphon the human’s energy. Against a deity, what could our brothersister do?”
            “I don’t care much for your excuses,” Belial said. He wore a fiery red trench coat with matching pants and shirt, and he had spiked orange hair. “No more of that. Tonight we’re going to get him, understand?” The refghasts wheezed the affirmative. “Good. There’s just one more thing.” He made a fist. The refghast that had tried to make excuses exploded into bright fragments. “The rest of you will fare the same if you fail tonight.”
            He reclined back in his oversized chair. It was a bit awkward, but he didn’t care. As the boss of these monsters, it was his job to do whatever he wanted. And he loved his job.

* * *

Ev knocked on the door. It opened to reveal Brandon Strong. “I knew you’d come, Ev. We gods are pretty good at seeing the future.”
            Ev entered the hotel room.“So you’re…what’s the word…om-ni-scient?”
            Brandon laughed. “No, not really. Some gods can glimpse the future. The rest of us have simply been around long enough to understand humans pretty well. But none of us know exactly what will happen.”
            “Let’s cut to the chase,” Ev said. “Where exactly is this school of yours?”
            “I’ll show you,” Brandon replied. He led Ev to the table by the window. On it was a map of the world. On the left side of the map was the crescent continent of Morovia. To the right of that lay the Murnau Islands. Much farther to the east lay the Stangea mountain chain which cut the rest of the world off from the continent of Chrichton. Stangea’s sister mountain chain, Rangea was directly west of Morovia. The two chains each ran north to south from one pole to the other. Finally, at each pole sat a massive continent; the chilly Faust Kingdom in the north, and the Tru Kingdom in the south.
            “All right; so where on the map is this god school?” Ev said.
            Brandon pointed to a mountain, located halfway between the Murnau Islands and the Stangea mountain chain, only a little further south of both, called Mt. Oleia. “Here.”
            Ev scrutinized it with suspicion. “Mt. Oleia? Never heard of it.”
            Brandon said, “Nor should you have. It’s not on any map except this one. We use our powers to keep it hidden from the rest of the world, especially the fallen gods. They’d love nothing more than to put us under their thumb.”
            Fair enough, he supposed. “But what exactly do you do at this school?”
            “As I said, we train you to become a god.”
            “So…what? You infuse me with your power?” Ev asked.
            Brandon shook his head. “Not exactly. Part of the reason we protect Mt. Oleia is because it’s a focal point.”
            “Focal point?”
            “That’s right. You see, there are areas of the universe where vast reserves of energy left over from the Big Bang collect. If someone hangs around that energy long enough, they’ll become a god. We have to make sure they’re sufficiently prepared to become divine.”
            Ev almost found it funny. “So gods are basically superheroes?”
            “Not even close, kid. We don’t save the life of everyone in danger. We have to judge when it’s that person’s time. Gods have far more responsibility than comic book characters. We must listen to the prayers of millions, and decide how to answer them.”
            “Yeah, but—”
            Ev’s words were cut off by the power being cut off. The room was plunged into darkness. Only the lights outside the window provided any illumination.
            “Looks like we’re out of time,” Brandon said. “They’re here.”
            Ev was about to ask Who’s here? when a strange rasping began throughout the room. It didn’t take him long to remember where he’d heard it before; indeed, he would never forget it as long as he lived. It was the same rasping he had heard when that refghast tried to kill him last night.
            Only now there were more. A lot more. From all over the room they appeared, some coming up through the floor, some through the walls, and some floated down from the ceiling. “Bethos be damned.”
            “You shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” Brandon said. Ev thought he detected humor in the other man’s voice.
            Suddenly the windows of the room exploded inwards, and Ev was showered with glass. He felt it biting into him, even through his clothes. He brushed it off as best he could, but he knew he couldn’t get all of it, not in the time he had.
            A figure appeared outside the window. He was just floating there, many stories above the ground—on fire! He gave them a sadistic grin.
            Brandon said, “Belial! I should have known it was you. What does Carnivál want with Ev Bannen?”
            The fiery man called Belial said, “Ah, Brandon Strong—that is your name these days, isn’t it? We Old Gods in Carnivál feel no need to hide our true selves.
            “What we want with Ev Bannen is none of your business. Let us take him and we won’t have any trouble.”
            “And if I say no? Will you sic your pets on us?” The refghasts were all around them now, and Ev was terrified Brandon wouldn’t be able to save him this time.”
            “On you?” Belial said. “No, my ‘pets’—as you call them—are only for the human. I’ll deal with you myself.”
            Strangely, Brandon only responded with, “Ev, get out of the way of the door. Though scared to death, Ev managed to move over a few feet, coming closer to the nearby refghasts. Brandon then crouched, stretched his legs, and without further warning, rocketed through the window at Belial.  

Chapter II: A Little Late for Introductions?

Brandon collided with Belial in mid-air, and the two proceeded to fly across the Sepaphim City skyline, exchanging punches, kicks, and any physical attacks they felt like giving one another.
            Punch. Belial said, “I didn’t expect you to abandon the human like that.”
            Punch. Brandon replied, “I didn’t abandon anyone. I simply deferred the task to another.”
            Kick. “You mean…?”
            Punch. “That’s right. I didn’t come to Seraphim City alone. Freya is here.”
            Elbow. “Tsk! I should have known,” Belial said, spitting out blood.

* * *

The refghasts reached out to Ev. This was truly the end, he thought. Brandon had left him to fight that other guy, and now he was alone with these monsters. He screwed his eyes as tight as he could make them; he didn’t want to see it coming.
            Without warning, however, the hotel door exploded inward. It flew across the room, creaming two refghasts in the process.
            “Sorry I’m late,” said a beautiful woman with long blonde hair and a magnificent golden necklace, as she entered the room. She wore a dark coat and matching pants.
            Ev stood there, gawking at her. “W-Who are you?”
            She entered the room. The refghasts turned their attention to her. “Sorry about that,” she said sheepishly. “My name’s Freya. Along with Brandon, I’m one of the Lost Gods.” Morovia worshipped the god Bethos, but most of the world followed the Lost Gods, deities believed to be holdovers from the previous universe. No one knew their names since they came from another world entirely, but believers had faith the Lost Gods continued to guide them in modern times.
            “Please tell me you’re here to save me from these things,” he said, generating faith of his own.
            She smiled. “That I am.” Freya then put fingers to her mouth and whistled. Her chest suddenly began to glow, and before Ev’s astonished eyes two figures emerged from her midsection. They were shimmering golden tigers. “Protect Ev Bannen,” she commanded them.
The tigers nodded their assent and leapt at the two refghasts nearest Ev. They proceeded to tear them to fleshy pieces.
            The other monsters shambled towards Freya, moaning, “Not fair. Inteference.”
            The goddess held out her hand and said, “Come to me, Hildesvini.” A golden spear materialized in her grip. She held it above her head. “Foul creatures. I shall cleanse thee from this world.” She had evidently decided now was the time to get serious.
            The refghasts lunged at her. However, she swung her spear in a wide arc, incinerating each of them instantly.
            All the while, Ev stared dumbfounded at the spectacle. So this was the power of a god, he thought to himself. And if Brandon could be believed, the power could be his.
It was an intoxicating thought, but one he didn’t have time to indulge. The remaining refghasts came at him in a last-ditch effort to accomplish their mission. Fortunately, Freya rushed in and cut them down in the most graceful manner he had ever seen. It all seemed effortless to him.
When it was over, she asked him, “Are you all right?”
He nodded. “Yeah, thanks to you. You saved me.”
The sheepish smile returned. “That’s what I’m here for. Now, we just have to wait for Brandon to return.”
Ev said, “Are you sure you shouldn’t go help him? That other guy looked pretty tough.”
Freya shook her head. “Brandon can handle himself. Besides, my job here is to protect you. Unless, of course, you’d like to be left alone.”
He frantically dismissed the idea. “No, no, no, no. Some more of those things might show up.”
“Then we are in agreement, then! I’ll stay here with you until Brandon returns.”
As it turned out, Brandon returned rather quickly. Ev said to him, “What happened to that fire guy?”
Brandon shrugged. “He ran off after he found out I brought Freya along. He knew the odds were stacked against him.”
“We’ve got to get Ev to the Academy before Belial has time to plan another attack,” Freya said.
“The Academy?” Ev said, dumbstruck. “I just want to go home.”
But Brandon said, “Bad idea. You’ll just be putting your family in danger. The safest place for you is the Kami Dios Academy.”
“He’s right, Ev. At the Academy we can train you to defend yourself against Carnivál,” Freya added.
Ev opened his mouth to argue, but no words came out. They were right, he knew; the only way to protect himself and his family was to accompany these two gods to their mysterious school and take them up on their offer. “Fine. Let’s go before the hotel staff shows up to investigate this mess.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” Freya said. “I used my powers of illusion to hide all the commotion from them. As far as they know, nothing has happened here tonight.”

Another convenient power. Ev wondered what kind of powers he would have as a god. However, a far more important question occurred to him. Am I even cut out to be a god?


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Annihilation review

This week I decided to review Star Wars: The Old Republic Annihilation by Drew Karpyshyn. The main character of the book is Theron Shan. Son of the Jedi Grandmaster and a Republic soldier later revealed to be the highest ranking officer in the Republic military, a Republic Intelligence operative. The book opens with him discovering a plot to sell Republic POWs into slavery and launching a successful rescue mission. Unfortunately in the process he disrupts a plan to uncover the network involved in the POW selling scam and ignores orders to leave Nar Shaddaa. He then meets with a Hutt to try talking him out of launching an attack on a ship’s crew including Teff’ith, a smuggler who was an ally of Theron’s on an earlier mission which saw the death of the Jedi who raised him. The attack has already been launched however so Theron races to the rescue. After succeeding in saving Teff’ith he returns to Coruscant. Meanwhile Darth Karrid, a Jedi sent to infiltrate the Sith who fell to the Dark Side, and is now commander of the most powerful warship in the Galaxy, is attempting to gain a recently vacated seat on the Sith Empire’s Dark Council by aiding her main rival in retaking a system he had lost then luring him into attacking her Battlecruiser so she can destroy him without angering the Empire’s leadership. Upon return and as punishment for disrupting the operation on Nar Shaddaa  Theron is assigned to the analysis division focused on finding a way to destroy Karrid’s Ascendant Spear. In time he is returned to the field alongside Jedi Master Gnost-Dural, who trained Karrid and assigned her to infiltrate the Sith, with reluctant help from Teff’ith. First they are sent to obtain one of the Empire’s most secure coding devices then to sabotage the Ascendant Spear. The latter becomes a race against time to trick the Spear into diverting to the world of Duros, a major Republic shipbuilding center, and soon to be the site of a massive Imperial attack. Meanwhile Teff’ith, and Theron’s mother Satele struggle to convince Jace Malcom, Theron’s father whose still angry about never having been told about his son,  to divert a Republic fleet to Duros, revealing that Imperial codes had been broken, and that the Spear will be there. All leads to a climactic battle with the fate of the Republic and the galaxy in the balance.
I give this book an 8.5 out of 10. It is by far my favorite recent Star Wars novel, of those I’ve read, and favorite The Old Republic era novel. This is the only novel set before the Prequel era where I feel the author viewed the space battles as more then something to skim over en route to the groundside action and lightsaber duels. It shows a balance that has become unfortunately rare in Star Wars novels of recent years. Despite this there’s one glaring error that annoys me. Ion weapons in Star Wars have been shown as disabling a ship, droid, or machine rather than destroying it all the way back to the first Star Wars movie but the Ascendant Spear is shown using her Ion cannons to destroy at least one hostile fighter. Not enough to ruin the book but, in my opinion, a mistake even basic research by the writer or a remotely decent editor would have prevented. The spy and commando portions of the book are incredible and, to me at least, up there with the best scenes focused on such matters that the Star Wars novels have ever had.