Friday, March 28, 2014

To Do or Die Review

This week I decided to review To Do or Die by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe. It’s the fourth and latest book in the Jump Universe series, though there are many other books out, or coming soon in the same setting but occurring decades later. When To Do or Die begins the cruiser Patton is being dispatched to the planet Savannah. Officially the Patton’s mission is to transport reinforcements for the guard unit at the planet’s embassy, and to provide protection for a Senate fact-finding committee en route to the planet to observe upcoming elections. Unofficially, Ruth Torden, a civilian attached to the vessel’s now farming section, is also being sent to investigate the possibility that Savannah is linked to a syndicate of drug dealers, pirates, and slavers which the Patton battled in the second book of the series. It doesn’t take long to discover that the current leader of the world maintains power by terrorizing the population, and to locate the drug development center that Ruth was sent to find. This leads to a variety of battles ranging from fistfights with corrupt cops, to running battles with tanks through the capital city, and a desperate mission to prevent Savannah’s army from flooding the capital.
I give this book a 7 out of 10. The story is well written, and many of the parts concerning the investigations on Savannah are interesting, if disturbing at times, and the ground battles were very enjoyable. But while the ground battles aren’t bad I feel that the author does his best work in his space battle sequences, There were no space engagements in this book and unlike the previous book I can think of at least two places where a space battle would have fit perfectly into the story.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kindle Spotlight -- The Time Machine Did It

Today we have the John Swartzwelder comedy The Time Machine Did It. Swartzwelder wrote many of the greatest Simpsons episodes, so when I found out he also wrote a novel, I had to have it. As it turns out, he wrote a bunch of novels, but as far as I can tell, this is the first.

The zany noir story centers around inept detective Frank Burly. He's about as terrible a gumshoe as they come. Hardly anyone ever comes to him for help. This has a lot to do with the fact you have to pass three better detectives' offices on the way to his. Also, his secretary couldn't possibly get any less apathetic. Her frequent tongue lashings don't seem to bother him too much, though. "Normally, I wouldn't let an employee talk to me like that. But she's quit so many times neither one of us remembers whether she's working for me right now or not."

One day, a filthy hobo named Mandible comes to Burly with a case. All the other detectives turned him down, so Burly is his last hope. He wants the sucky detective to retrieve a figurine that has been stolen from him. Burly takes the case, but eventually discovers there's a time machine involved (he doesn't notice at first because he's so stupid). He investigates, making him the target of both a powerful crime family and corrupt cops who all want the time machine for. themselves. He ends up going back to 1941 where he gets stuck for almost a year when the device returns without him. He was clueless in the present, but in the past might be royally screwed.

The Time Machine Did It is an absolutely hilarious novel. Swartzwelder proves he still has the comedic edge even without the visual component to back him up. Watching his protagonist blunder his way across time--wrecking history in the process--and getting the crap beat out of him repeatedly gives the reader many laughs. Swartzwelder is a master of the absurd and that comes across plain as day here, particularly in the last part of the story where Burly makes a complete mess of history (including giving Abraham Lincoln a much worse death at Ford's Theatre) and gets into a fist fight with himself.

In short: If you enjoyed the golden age of the Simpsons, you'll get a real kick out of The Time Machine Did It..

Monday, March 17, 2014

Kindle Spotlight -- Skyskipper (The Ballad of Bailey Jo)

Today we have Lexa Roi Clarke's steampunk novel Skyskipper (The Ballad of Bailey Jo).

The story takes place in a fictional 19th-century world. Lonely orphan Bailey Jo (no last name) makes a living as a transporter. Whether its people or contraband, she'll deliver it for you. At the novel's outset, she makes a rather rough landing in the town of Wellington while transporting a group of people there in her airship Draggle. The passengers angrily disembark, and Bailey Jo proceeds to steal a part she needs to fix the Draggle. She soon runs into a street performer named Ollie Arkwright who greatly upsets her by pretending to destroy her most cherished possession. Infuriated, she leaves but is soon accosted by a group of thugs. Fortunately, Ollie shows up to save her with a large (fake) gun. She thanks him by offering to transport him somewhere. Ultimately, though, her dream is to find the mythical floating city of Landover. Ollie decides to come along for the ride. Unfortunately, for reasons Bailey Jo is reluctant to divulge, she's become the quarry of a powerful figure known only as the Professor. The Professor sends Jackdaws--mechanical birdlike assassins--after her. The pair goes from place to place, dodging the Jackdaws and meeting all sorts of colorful characters in their quest for answers. Just who is the Professor, and why is he/she so interested in Bailey Jo? How does Ollie's father fit into all this? What happened to Bailey Jo's sister? And is Bailey Jo really who she claims to be?

This is a very worthwhile read. It's well-written and features a veritable rogue's gallery of characters. Most of them have embraced mechanization of their bodies, so they'll definitely keep your interest. I also quite enjoyed the action sequences. Lexa Roi Clarke really has a flair for cinematic scenes. Even though it's just a novel, I felt like I was watching a movie. Any time you can say that about a book, you know you've got one worth reading. Normally I have a complaint or two about the novels I read, but not this one. It's just that good.

In short: I can easily recommend Skyskipper (The Ballad of Bailey Jo).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kindle Spotlight -- Automatic Woman

Today we have Nathan Yocum's steampunk novel Automatic Woman.

The story centers around Jacob "Jolly" Fellows, a cockney thug who works in London for Bow Street Firm, a Pinkerton-type organization. Jolly's jobs range from investigative work to bounty-hunting. One day he gets sent to talk with one Dr. Saxon. Saxon has built an automaton ballerina and it has gone missing. Jolly takes his statement and leaves. He returns later to Saxon's theater to find the titular automatic woman crushing the life out of the poor doctor. Jolly manages to beat her until she stops functioning, but he passes out from injuries he sustained in the fight. He awakens later to find himself arrested for Saxon's murder. The coppers don't buy his story, and it looks like he'll hang for the crime. However, mysterious benefactors pay his bail on the condition he retrieve (steal) the homicidal automaton from the evidence locker and turn it over to them so they can study it and find out how it works. He complies, but in doing so he unwittingly becomes a pawn in a battle between criminal masterminds. He must navigate a veritable minefield populated by historical and literary figures such as Charles Darwin, Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle and mad Russian Rasputin. Does Jolly have what it takes to make it out of this alive and protect those he cares about?

Sadly, I must report the review copy I was given by Nathan Yocum is rife with poor editing. At numerous points he fails to add a space after periods, leading to flawed sentences. I don't know if the copy he's selling on Amazon suffers from this, but I urge caution when buying it.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn't recommend stories that suffer from a lack of editing. However, in this case I will do so because the plot is just that good. The narrative features compelling characters and the kind of villains you love to hate. Yocum also does a good job of conveying Jolly's simple-yet-honest nature. He's really a lovable oaf despite his lack of class. And, most importantly, the book becomes a page-turner towards the end and provides a satisfying conclusion to the story.

Bottom line: If you can look past the typos, you'll find a quality story. Just remember to sample it before handing over the money for it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Kindle Spotlight -- Hope and the Clever Man

Today we have the steampunk fantasy novel Hope and the Clever Man by Mike Reeves-McMillan. We wouldn't want to keep the gnomes waiting, so here we go.

The protagonist is a girl named Hope at Merrybourne who lives at Merrybourne manor in the region of Koskant. When she was eight years old she displayed a talent for magic, so her father arranged for her to be tutored in the magical arts. This goes on until it comes time for her to choose a college to attend. She gains a scholarship to the University of Illene. She joins their magic program, and does very well until a certain incident almost derails her stay there. You see, she dates a young man named Faithful, and all seems well. Unfortunately, she catches him in bed with another girl. Hope puts a curse on his boy-parts which will activate unless he stays true to his name. The two women leave and quickly strike up a friendship. The other girl's name is Briar and she's going for a law degree.

Upon graduation, Hope and Briar get a flat together. Briar becomes a lawyer, and Hope goes to work for the Realmgold (basically the president of Koskant). She becomes an assistant to scruffy "clever man" Dignified, the Realmgold's chief inventor. Together they create the Koskant equivalent of Skype: Magic mirrors that enable people to chat with one another over long distances. The mirrors are a huge hit, and Hope and Dignified receive commendations for them.

Meanwhile, Briar befriends the gnomes that work with Hope and Dignified. As a seeker of justice, she cannot turn a blind eye to the gnomes' working conditions. You see, they're basically slaves to the dwarven people. Briar sets out to convince the Realmgold to grant them equality under the law. However, this move has serious repercussions. Can Hope, Briar, the gnomes and the clever man weather this storm and still make it to their airhorse race (yes, they invent airhorses)?

Hope and the Clever Man is an entertaining and very well-written story. I was quite impressed by the lack of typos within the narrative. It's considerably more polished than a lot of books I read, and I commend Reeves-McMillan for that. In addition, the story is refreshingly unpredictable; I honestly didn't know what was going to happen from one scene to the next. And the fact it doesn't have an obvious antagonist is a plus. The heroes of this story go to battle against social and legal evils rather than a baddie with shallow world-domination plans.

However, I should point out there's a brief sub-plot involving an attempted assault on Hope by a stranger in the middle of the night. It goes nowhere and I feel it could have been left out without causing any problems.

Still, this is a quality story that I have no trouble recommending.