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.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Kindle Spotlight -- Fiddlehead

Today I'm reviewing the latest volume in Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series that began with Boneshaker. The novel is Fiddlehead.

Like the other books in the series, the story takes place in an alternate 1880 United States where the Civil War is still being fought. This entry centers around Gideon Bardsley, a former slave-turned-inventor who has created the world's first computer, a gigantic calculating machine called the Fiddlehead. Gideon and his patron Abraham Lincoln (who survived Ford's Theatre but is now in a wheelchair) ask the machine a simple question: Which side will win the Civil War? The machine returns a perplexing answer -- neither side. If nothing is done, America will, in fact, be destroyed by the zombies that have plagued the series since the first book. But just who is creating these undead creatures? Unfortunately, Gideon is not able to figure this out before thugs destroy the Fiddlehead. Now on the run for his life, he takes up refuge in the Lincoln house. In order to protect his friend, the sixteenth president calls the Pinkerton Detective Agency. They send in Maria "Belle" Boyd, the protagonist from Clementine. Together with Ulysses S. Grant and a group of allies, she sets out to once and for all find out who's weaponizing the yellow gas from Seattle and trying to silence Gideon Bardsley.

I've enjoyed every entry in the Clockwork Century series I've read, and Fiddlehead ties its various elements together to bring a satisfying conclusion to the story. The characters are likable and easy to root for, and numerous figures from past books make their presence felt. Also, the villain this time around is appropriately menacing (not that Leviticus Blue wasn't a scumbag). We finally find out where all the zombies are coming from, something I've wanted to know since Dreadnought. However, the real shining star of Fiddlehead may just be Priest's master of imagery. She really brought me into her world with detailed, colorful descriptions of the environments her characters have to battle their way through. The laundry room scene is especially memorable, as Priest makes us believe we're in hell on earth.

Nevertheless, it isn't all good. Numerous typos throughout the story bring down Priest's otherwise excellent writing. It's not anything too bad, but I do feel it holds the book back from five-star status.

Still, the book is quite good and I have no problem recommending it to anyone who enjoyed past entries in the series, or science fiction readers in general.

Friday, November 22, 2013

First Look -- God School

Recently I teased the existence of my next novel with a crudely-drawn (hey, I'm nothing if not honest) world map. Well, now I'm taking the lid off the book. It's entitled God School, and it's exactly what it sounds like. It has nothing to do with my previous novels; it's an all-new world filled with all-new characters.

Eighteen-year-old Ev Bannen goes to Seraphim City to tour a potential college. However, his whole world is turned upside-down when he's attacked by an otherworldly creature called a refghast. A mysterious college professor saves Ev and reveals a startling secret--the man is really a god! He thinks Ev has what it takes to become a deity, so he invites him to come attend the Kami Dios Academy, a school for training gods. With fallen gods on his trail (and with dreams of great power), Ev has no choice but to go to this school and major in very real divinity. But does he even have what it takes to become a god?

Chapter I: Invitations

Ev Bannen stood among the crowd in Millennium Square waiting for New Birth to begin. Seraphim City, the economic center of the crescent-shaped continent of Morovia, was the place to be when it came time to ring in the new year. And right now, Ev wasn’t about to argue with that. With rocking music, people wearing festive masks, and street vendors dishing out food to the thousands of people in attendance, this was one bitchin’ party.
            The event itself was born out of the millennia-old belief that the current universe was created from the rebirth of a phoenix rising from the ashes of the previous world. Also, no two universes were exactly the same. In fact, Morovians believed each world to be drastically different from the one that came before it. Ev didn’t know about that; frankly speaking, he wasn’t really sure what to believe. Nevertheless, he loved a good party, and so here he was.
            He looked at his watch. It was almost midnight. After another minute, the crowd around him began counting down as the van-sized paper machete phoenix atop the Nephilim Building in the center of Millenium Square was gradually lowered on a pole.
            Once the phoenix reached the roof, a sea of cheers roared across the city as the mythical effigy was launched back up to the top of the pole amid an explosion of pyrotechnic flames. The symbolism was now complete.
            Ev took it all in. The first month, Myrdon, had now begun, and the eighteen-year-old looked forward to what the new year had in store.

* * *

As he walked back to the hotel, he mentally went over his itinerary for the next day. Attending the New Birth bash wasn’t the official reason he had come to Seraphim City. In truth, he had come here to visit Seraphim City University. He had recently graduated from high school, and now he needed to find a college. He was considering a law degree. He wanted to uphold justice throughout Morovia, and he felt that was the best way to do it. He would defend the innocent and punish the guilty.
            While he thought about this, he suddenly realized he was alone on a dark street. That made him nervous; Seraphim City, for all its splendor, had a high crime rate. He feared he might become its next victim.
            He passed an alley. Without warning, a raspy voice whispered, “Ev Bannen.”
           Ev stopped, frozen. Had someone in the alley just called his name? “Is someone there?” he said weakly.
            For a moment there was dead silence. Then, “Ev Bannen.”
            “W-What do you want?”
            He couldn’t explain why, but he felt compelled to obey the voice. He walked into the alley. Only a dim bulb above a backdoor provided any illumination. He was terrified, but found himself unable to stop.
            When he finally stopped deep into the alley, he detected faint movement in front of him. It looked like a dark swarm of things. He stood transfixed. Every instinct he had told him to run like a maniac, yet he couldn’t get his legs to obey him.
            The swarm soon coalesced into a vaguely human shape. “Vaguely” was definitely the applicable term; the proportions were all wrong. It had huge bulbous arms, toothpick-thin legs and disk-shaped head. Ev couldn’t make out any more than that because of the lack of light, but he didn’t want to.
            It reached out and stroked his face with its oversize hand—or maybe it was a claw. Ev wanted to cry out in terror, even though that wouldn’t have been very manly. “
            It reached out and stroked his face with its oversize hand—or maybe it was a claw. Ev wanted to cry out in terror, even though that wouldn’t have been very manly. “Yes,” it wheezed. This is it, he thought. I’m going to die here, before I even have a chance to do anything with my life.
            However, from somewhere above him, a radiant orange glow appeared. The…thing…jumped back, raising a massive hand in front of its face. It was then that Ev got a better look at it. The whole creature was black as midnight, and its skin—assuming that was skin—looked oily, like a snake. But the worst part was the face; it had none. It might as well have been a black hole.
            Ev thought the scene couldn’t get any more surreal. He was wrong. Another figure came out of the air and landed in front of him. It was a man dressed like a college professor, with a dark suit and short cropped hair of a muddy hue.
            “Not fair,” the creature hissed. Ev had no idea how the thing was talking with no mouth.
            The man raised a fist. No, not just a fist—a flaming fist. He swiftly rammed it into the thing’s chest. It let out an ear-splitting howl before emitting an orange glow and turning to ash.
            Before tonight, Ev had no idea how much he had taken reality for granted. He realized, now, that it was a precious anchor, keeping you in the world you know, a predictable world full of rules, rules that all living things had to abide by. But this world he now found himself in, it had no rules. Anything could happen, and that was the truly terrifying thing about it.
            The man turned around to face Ev. He looked to be in his forties, with hard features lining his face. Yet there was also compassion there. “Are you all right?”
            All right? No, Ev was far from all right. He had been shaken to his core, and he honestly didn’t know how his bodily fluids had stayed inside him this whole time. In truth, he had experienced the terror of realizing he didn’t know anything about the world he lived in.
            The man gave him a cursory examination. “Good; it didn’t hurt you. If it did, you’d damn sure know it.”
            Finally, Ev managed to form a sentence. “What…what the hell was that?” He stared at the smoking remains.
            The man eyed it with disgust. “A refghast. Low-level monsters. They feed on humans.”
            Ev shook his head in disbelief. “I didn’t want to come in here, but I did anyway.”
            “The refghasts emit a hypnotic signal that compels people to obey them,” he explained.
            “But you didn’t obey. You…punched it with a flaming fist!”
            He grinned. “One of the perks of being a god.”
            Ev blinked. He could not possibly have heard that right. “A…god,” he said in disbelief.
            “Yes, Ev. I’m a god.”
            He shook his head vigorously. “No way. That can’t be true. Wait—how do you know my name?”
            The man said, “We’ve been watching you, Ev. We think you have what it takes to become a god yourself.”
            “Who’s ‘we’?”
            “The Kami Dios Academy. We train young people like yourself to become divine beings who watch over mankind.”
            Ev had to sit down. “This is too much. I mean, monsters that attack you in the night? Gods? A school for training gods? I must be losing it.”
            But the man assured him, “No, Ev. You’re perfectly sane. It’s just your knowledge that has changed. You’ve been invited to step into the world as it really is.”
            That wasn’t quite how Ev would have put it. “Dragged is more like it. I didn’t ask for this. Can’t I just go back to being blissfully ignorant?”
            “I’m afraid it’s too late for that. They’ve targeted you, and they’ll keep coming until they have you.”
            Ev got back to his feet. “Who’s ‘they’? What do they want with me?”
            The main replied, “They are gods like myself, only they’ve fallen low. Very low. They send out their refghasts to harvests humans with latent divine energy.”
            Ev still didn’t know what to think. “Divine energy? What are you talking about?”
            The man looked at his watch. “It’s getting late, and I think I’ve hurt your brain enough for one night. I’m staying in the same hotel as you. I’ll be there for another twenty-four hours. If you want to learn more, come to room 312. I’ll be waiting.”
            “Uh…OK.” Ev started to leave the alley. He turned around and said, “Thanks for saving me, I guess.” He felt he should say that, though he still didn’t really understand what was going on.”

            “Don’t mention it. I’m Brandon, by the way. Brandon Strong.

Friday, November 15, 2013

James Review -- Wolf Among The Stars

This week I decided to review Wolf Among the Stars by Steve White. 

The novel is the second, and so far last, in its series set about four decades after the end of Eagle Against the Stars. Humanity has began to spread among the stars after overthrowing the Earth First party government imposed by the Gev-Rogov, a section  of the Lokaron species which is viewed as the black sheep of their society by most of its members. At some point in the intermission, humanity was involved in an interstellar war with the Gev-Rogov, but the book skims over much of it. When the book opens, one of the heroes of Eagle Against the Stars has recently died and his son misses the funeral  due to being detained after discovering the body of his commanding officer who had committed suicide. Investigation of the suicide leads to the discovery of the Black Wolf Society, a secret society believed to be legend. An investigation into the society, launched by Andrew, his mother, the dead Admiral’s daughter Rachel, and an old Lokaron ally of humanity eventually reveals that the society is run by aliens who plan to spark a full-scale war between humanity and the Lokaron then serve as secret rulers when humans rule the galaxy  The efforts to stop the Black Wolf plot lead to a number of battles, losses, and a classic last-minute save.

I give the book 6.5/10. I feel that the battle sequences were the worst I’ve ever seen from this author, and that the 40-year time jump skipped far too many major events. Perhaps the author will later do a book covering those events, though given the amount of time between the release of the first two books, I doubt any others will be coming soon.  Regardless, the plot was enjoyable, though I wish they hadn’t killed off my favorite character from the first book right before this one takes place.

A Sneak peek at my next Novel

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Movie Review -- Thor: The Dark World

This week I'm reviewing the new movie Thor: The Dark World, starring Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. 

The movie opens with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) explaining that before the current universe existed, there was a world of darkness populated with the Dark Elves. Once light was created, they sought to impose their malevolent will upon the universe using a powerful energy source called the Aether. Odin's father defeated them and their leader Malekith (Doctor Who's Christopher Eccleston) and hid the Aether underground somewhere. A millennia later, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is investigating bizarre gravitational anomalies with sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings), when she finds herself pulled into a rift which takes her to a chamber where the Aether has been stored. She accidentally releases the strange red liquid which wastes no time finding a new home inside her body. Thor (Hemsworth), having been told Jane has disappeared, arrives, finds her, and takes her to Asgard for treatment. Around the same time, Malekith awakens and, sensing the revival of the Aether, attacks Asgard to get it. Thor, realizing he needs help defeating the Dark Elves and safeguarding Jane, springs his stepbrother Loki (Hiddleston) from Asgardian jail, and the trio hatch a plan to send Malekith packing. But can Loki be trusted?

When I saw the first Thor movie, I found the science fiction tropes a tad strange. Well, the sequel doesn't shy away from it. In fact, it embraces sci-fi. Energy weapons, singularity grenades, cloaking devices, space ships and advanced fight craft are all present throughout the film. If you hate the idea of Thor being a sci-fi story, you won't like this. If however, you're willing to give it a chance, you'll find an entertaining movie. The acting is good, especially Hiddleston's acting. He makes Loki a fully human character (if you'll forgive the expression), showing genuine emotions in response to powerful moments without breaking a sweat. Furthermore, supporting actors Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard give us numerous funny moments. Watching the comedic effects of Dr. Selvig's deteriorating mental state (because of what he experienced in The Avengers) is good for a laugh. And to top it off, the CG delivers some beautiful Asgardian imagery.

However, the movie isn't perfect. Malekith may be a cool-looking baddie, but he's pretty generic. He comes off as just another villain motivated by revenge. There is no depth to any of the Dark Elves, whereas the Asgardians are pretty colorful.

Still, I have no trouble recommending this film, though comic book fans probably already know whether or not they want to see it. Thor: The Dark World, is in theaters now.

"I have it all under control."
"Is that why everything's on fire?"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

James Review -- Guardian of Night

This week I decided to review Guardian of the Night by Tony Daniel. 

While this is the second book by this author that I’ve read, it’s the first that wasn’t in a long- established setting, so I was curious about just what I was getting into. The main focus of the book is an alien captain who is member of a race who humanity calls the Sceeves, who has just been given command of the Guardian of Night, a ship equipped with a one-of-a-kind super weapon, and Earth and its forces who are preparing for a second invasion by the Sceeves, the first having ended when they pulled back to put down an ideological movement in their ranks which their rulers viewed as a threat. 

In the process of the purges, the captain of the Guardian of Night lost his wife and children and now wishes to defect, hoping that humanity can defeat the rulers of his people with the super weapon. Meanwhile, humanity’s fleet is being pushed back by the Sceeves, and it's clear that the main battle will reach the Sol system soon. Having received word of the Guardian of Night’s intention to defect, Earth sends a newly-commissioned frigate to bring her in with the mission eventually leading to a massive battle inside the Sol system.

I give the book a 7.5 out of 10. It definitely has a "Red October in space" feel to it. But some of the difficulties in communication between the two main species are fascinating, and while I wish there were more space battles in the book, I’ll admit that I’m not sure where they would fit in, and the technology used by both sides--especially in the creation of ships--is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Still, there are some points I feel deserve more explanation. For example, the first Sceeve invasion utterly devastated Earth, leaving only roughly 180 million humans alive when the book takes place several years later. It is stated that the United States military was the only military which managed to significantly hurt the invasion force but doesn’t explain why the US Military was so much more effective than every other military force in the world. Still, overall, it was a lot of fun, and hopefully sequels or prequels will be coming in the future.

The Game Called Revolution -- Special Promotion

Today and tomorrow, The Game Called Revolution Kindle version will be heavily discounted. The price will gradually go back up as the sale nears its end. Get it while it's hot!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie Review -- Ender's Game

Today James and I went to see the new movie Ender's Game, an adaptation of the Orson Scott Card novel. Now I'm here to tell you all about it.

Fifty years ago, an alien race called the Formics attacked Earth and nearly destroyed us. Humanity barely managed to defeat them and since then we have feared another attack. So mankind decided to raise children from birth to be the ultimate tacticians. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of these children, a prodigy with a strategic mind. He has a knack for ruthless efficiency, and soon catches the attention of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). Graff thinks Ender has the potential to be the best of the best, and ships him off to a training academy aboard an orbiting space station. There Ender makes new friends, including Bernard (Conor Carroll) and Petra (Hailee Steinfeld). They join him on Team Dragon, and together they participate in zero-g games against the the other teams, all in preparation for the next war against the Formics. However, the stress begins to take its toll on Ender, and he starts to question whether he really has what it takes to be a leader. All the while, Graff is pushing him to complete his training and take his rightful place as mankind's savior. Can Ender keep it together long enough to send the Formics packing?

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The CG is well-done, and the acting is solid. I particularly liked the way Ender's emotional baggage is conveyed to us. You can really see he's under a lot of pressure to see things through. The weight of the world is seriously on his shoulders, and Asa Butterfield does a great job of showing that. Also, Ben Kingsley gives a good performance, but I won't go into that because of spoilers.

However, those expecting a 100%-percent faithful adaptation may be disappointed. The writers took some liberties with the story, as James kept reminding me. "In the book, they didn't have FTL drives." "In the book, the aliens never reached Earth." "In the book, the shower scene is longer and more drawn out." In my opinion, because they took out parts leading up to the final revelation, it loses some punch.

Still, this movie is pretty good. I heartily recommend it over the last one I saw (Escape Plan). It's head and shoulders above most sci-fi films out there.

"When this is over, we'll have the luxury of debating the morality of what we do."