Friday, January 30, 2015

Hidden Empire review

This week I decided to review Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card. The story opens with a young Nigerian boy named Chinma. Chinma isn’t well-liked by his family, but he is very skilled at capturing a rare breed of monkey whose cries are believed to possibly be a form of language. But one day, a one of the monkeys bites Chinma’s older brother Ire and later sneezes in Chinma’s face. Ire very quickly becomes ill and the family races to the nearby city to seek help but Ire passes soon after they reach the city.  Chinma comes down with a different illness, however, which spreads swiftly through the region, killing almost half of its victims, though Chinma himself survives. Then there is a short scene introducing Colonel Barthlomew Coleman, or "Cole," who is in the Ukraine trying to convince his Ukrainian counterpart to pass a plan to deal with a likely Russian invasion to his superiors.  Then we switch to the United States where Cecily Malich, widowed during the minor civil war depicted in Empire, is called to advise President Torrent on his plan to deal with the epidemic in Africa. The president believes that the virus can’t be contained by national borders and orders a blockade of the continent. After we see Cole, who is now the commander of Ruben Malich’s old unit, being shown a new form of combat exo-skeleton. Back in Nigeria, the Muslim-controlled government decides to contain the virus, which emerged in the largely non-Muslim southern regions of the country by eradicating infected villages, including the no-longer-infected survivors of Chinma’s village. Chinma is the only survivor, and he flees with pictures of the massacre to one of the medical groups studying the virus on-site. Chinma and his evidence are sent to the United States where he is sent to live with Cecily’s family. The president declares the Nigerian government a renegade state and deploys forces to defend the areas threatened by the Nigerian military under the command of Cole who is made a temporary general. In time, many groups in the US wish to travel to Africa to aid those who are suffering from the virus, including Cecily’s son Mark. Eventually Cecily becomes convinced that doing so is the right thing to do as well, and convinces the president to allow aid workers into the region, including herself and Mark with Chinma joining them later. They arrive in the city Cole’s unit is stationed in while the virus is sweeping through both the city and the base. But when those opposed to the presence of the American forces sense the weakness of the critically ill soldiers, they attack and victory comes at a terrible price. But even when the surviving main characters return to America, they soon discover that captured rebel leader Aldo Verus has managed to rally a new force to strike at President Torrent directly and one final devastating battle awaits.

I give this book an 7.5 out of 10. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t anything special. The final battle was an interesting twist but signs of it  could be seen coming from long before that point. Otherwise it was a fairly typical and predictable plot. Also, chapter two seems to have little or nothing to do with the primary plot, and in my opinion it could have been cut with no loss to the story.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Star Wars The Hand of Thrawn Duology Visions of the Future review

This week I decided to review Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn Duology: Visions of the Future by Timothy Zahn. The story continues the multiple plotlines from the last book, with Imperial Supreme Commander Palleon awaiting a reply to his offer of truce talks with the New Republic and pondering who might be behind the recent attack on Chimera, as he is certain they were not who they claimed to be. Meanwhile the bickering over what punishment should be extracted for the role a group of Bothans played in the destruction of Caamas just after the Clone Wars, though it is clear that many are just using this as an excuse to pick up ancient feuds, and the number of warships over Bothawui begins to grow rapidly as both sides of the argument send fleets. Garm bel Iblis is called away to prepare for a Da raid on Yaga Minor, the most heavily guarded system in what is left of the Empire and one of the few places which might have an intact list of the Bothans involved in the Caamas attack, though he leaves Wedge Antilles and Coran Horn, former Corsec agent and secret Force Sensitive to observe the situation on Bothawui.  They eventually link up with an agent of Tallon Karrde who joins their efforts to hunt the Imperial agents who are trying to bring the crisis to a boiling point, but must soon rejoin bel Iblis for his raid. Meanwhile, Karrde himself is seeking Jorj Car'das, a former associate he has no desire to meet again but who might possess an intact Caamas Document.  It is eventually revealed that Car’das was the founder of the smuggling organization Karrde now leads, and Karrde fears that even if he gets through the maze of criminal organizations and pirate fleets on the road to Car’das his former boss will demand revenge. Also the rogue Imperial forces seeking to use the ongoing crisis to destroy the New Republic begin to gain ground as worlds who fear their neighbors and believe that Grand Admiral Thrawn has returned seek to rejoin the Empire. Han and Leia take what is supposed to be a vacation, but after being rescued from an Imperial ambush by a former Imperial sleeper cell, they split up, with Han and Lando going on a quest to find the well-hidden capital of the Empire, followed by Leia moving to meet Palleon after the message sent by his captured aide is reconstructed. All comes to a head over Yaga Minor and Bothawui where Han struggles to put in end to the battle between Republic factions sparked by war hawk Imperial saboteurs, and Lando must rally the tattered forces that remain to face a war hawk-controlled Imperial fleet. And as all this is happening, Luke continues his quest to rescue Mara Jade and joins her to discover the true secret of the Hand of Thrawn. But a great sacrifice is called for to stop the Hand from falling into the wrong hands and only Mara Jade can decide if the price she must pay will be worth it.

I give this book an 8.5 out of 10. It’s a great book and a wonderful send off for the Bantam era of Star Wars novels. However there are a few flaws. The biggest is the sense of scale. Its claimed that the Imperial forces over Bothawui are outnumbered twenty to one but still outgun their opposing forces when they drop out of cloak. That would be unlikely even if all of the Republic-allied vessels were among the smallest class to be considered warships rather than fighters or gunboats. But earlier in the book the classes of some of the warships gathering are mentioned and three of those classes could hold their own against an Imperial Star Destroyer or outgun one alone.  Also, while the author did a great job of tying the various plotlines to the main story, I feel there were a few areas that could have used a little trimming. This is one of the longest Star Wars novels ever released, and could have easily been divided into two books. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Clone Apocalypse review

This week I decided to review The Clone Apocalypse by Steven L. Kent. The book opens with an Enlisted Man’s Empire ship stumbles across an apparently derelict Explorer-class ship. When the clone crew investigates they find that all the clones who had been manning the Explorer are dead, killed by the killswitch designed by the Unifed Authority to end the lives of clones who realized that they were clones. Meanwhile back on Earth, Watson, who had served as interim president while Wayson Harris, the current leader of the EME, was missing, contacts Harris to let him know that he and his girlfriend have captured a high ranking UA spy and are trapped in territory controlled by the remnants of the UA forces. Harris leads a strike mission as a diversion for a successful rescue mission and it seems as if the EME’s victory in the war is inevitable. But then a mysterious flu begins striking clones across the EME, eventually triggering their killswitches. After it is discovered that Harris’ lover Sunny is a UA agent, Harris leads a strike to her apartment building, suspecting that stockpiles of the virus and possibly a cure can be found there. But there is no treatment and Harris, who lacks the killswitch but is still badly weakened by the flu, must flee as the UA launches its final offensive against the rapidly dwindling forces of the EME. But when Harris is betrayed, his few surviving allies must unite to save him and launch one last-ditch campaign against the now overwhelming might of the UA.

I give this book a 7 out of 10. The action sequences  are much better in this book then the previous one, and the absurd difference in quality between defense tech and weapons tech in the setting is still there but not as common. However, the book spoils itself far too often for my taste. There’s never any wondering how the EME might emerge victorious from the crisis because most of the early chapters end with a blurb making it crystal clear that the EME loses, and another early chapter ends in a blurb revealing where, and in one case how, and when major characters die. Also I found the ending very disappointing. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Death of Captain America review

This week I decided to review the adaptation of The Death of Captain America by Larry Hama.
The story opens with Red Skull using a Cosmic Cube to transfer his mind into the body of Aleksander Lukin, a former KGB general who was also the mentor of the Winter Soldier’s controller and possesses all of his teacher’s secrets.  Next we see Sharon Carter, Captain America’s former SHIELD handler and lover meeting with a SHIELD psychiatrist, who is soon revealed to be Doctor Fastus who is working for Red Skull. Then we see a couple battles and raids from the Marvel Civil War period all leading up to the assassination of Captain America.  While Agent Carter struggles against her programming which is preventing her from revealing the truth, the Winter Soldier has vowed vengeance against those responsible for the death of his former mentor and best friend, including the new Director of SHIELD, Tony Stark, whom he blames for putting Captain America in such a vulnerable position. Stark, fearing that the Winter Soldier has gone rogue, sends Barnes’ former student and brief lover the Black Widow after him. Stark also retires the position and title of Captain America only to discover that one of Steve Rogers’ final wishes was for Captain America to live on even if he died. Armed with this knowledge, Stark sets out to recruit Barnes to take his Mentor’s place. As the story goes on Carter is captured by Red Skull who is using a series of staged incidents, along with his daughter Sin and a number of SHIELD agents brainwashed by Fastus, to turn the American public against SHIELD so the Kronas Corporation, now controlled by Red Skull, can take over SHIELD’s duties in America. But this may just be window dressing for a plot to create a Captain America controlled by Red Skull…

I give this book an 8 out of 10. It wasn’t poorly written but some portions of the story seem like they were skimmed over without enough detail. Also, there are far too many questions left unanswered at the story’s end for my taste. To me it feels like only part of the full story was told and there should be a part two.