Friday, March 27, 2015

James Review -- I Robot: To Obey

This week I decided to review I Robot: To Obey by Mickey Zucker Reichert. The story follows Susan Calvin, a medical student, during her residency. It opens with Susan, having recovered from injuries sustained during an attack by the Society for Humanity, an anti-robot extremist group, which claimed the life of her lover, beginning her residency at the psychiatric ward at Manhattan Hasbro Hospital. At first, most of her problems are tied to clashes with her superiors over the diagnosis and treatment of her patients or the guardians of those patients. But then her father and one of their neighbors are murdered. Things grow even more mysterious when Susan discovers that the official cause of death for her father is clearly false, and the body goes missing, officially cremated without her permission. Susan continues investigating and eventually discovers that her father was actually an android disguised as a human. He had been created to raise her after her biological parents were assassinated by the Society for Humanity when she was a child. Her parents had been deeply involved in the creation of positronic brains, and had arranged it so it was impossible to create positronic brains that didn’t adhere to the three laws of robotics. The Society for Humanity had killed her birth parents because they believed her parents knew how to deactivate the three laws, and were after her android father, but are now after her as well. Even worse Susan is also being targeted by a United States black ops group who also believe that she has the knowledge to deactivate the three laws and wish to use it to create a machine army. This leads to Susan and the few allies she can trust being forced to flee from both forces with little in the way of resources and no idea how to convince those hunting her of the fact that no one can disable the three laws.
I give this book an 8.5 out of 10. The mystery and hospital sequences are well written even though I think most of the hospital scenes are just a side story to the real plot, but I found the action sequences somewhat lacking. The book is very realistic though and I find it chilling how easily I could see the events in it occurring if the proper technologies and programming existed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Kindle Spotlight -- Fenris Unchained

It's been a while since I've done this segment, so I decided to bring it back. Today we have a review of Kal Spriggs' space novel Fenris Unchained. Is it worth reading? Let's find out.

The plot centers around siblings Melanie and Rawn Armstrong who operate their late parents' freighter Kip Thorne. On one particularly unlucky day, the ship--which was in dire need of repairs to begin with--gives out during atmospheric reentry over the planet Dakota and the siblings are forced to bail. Sadly, losing their beloved ship is only the beginning of their troubles. Local authorities charge them with reckless endangerment, criminal negligence and violation of traffic laws. When Melanie tries to explain the situation, they hold her in contempt of court and sentence her and Rawn to fifteen years hard labor. 

Things seem bleak, but all is not lost. A Guard Intelligence operative named Mueller offers to commute their sentence if they agree to carry out an important mission. A century ago, a warship called the Fenris went missing and was presumed destroyed. However, it has just reappeared and its computer seems intent on finishing it's mission: the destruction of the planet Vagyr. To avoid a lengthy prison term, and to save countless innocent lives, the Armstrongs agree to the deal. But to complete the mission, Melanie will have to deal with dangerous teammates, an unpredictable AI, terrorists, and her own tragic past. It will be difficult enough as is, and making matters worse, not everyone is who they claim to be, and those closest to her may just be the most dangerous obstacles of all. Will catastrophe be averted, or will an entire planet burn?

I wish I could recommend this novel. It's got a compelling story and a likable protagonist. Unfortunately, it wasn't edited very well (if at all). Typos, extra words and other errors pop up frequently. and it really brings down the whole experience. According to Amazon, this book has an editor by the name of Leo Champion, but I find that hard to believe. Any decent editor would have been able to spot the multitude of errors that mar this novel. If you've been following this blog since the beginning, you know I'm big on editing, and Fenris Unchained falls well short of my expectations. As it is, I'm listing this book as one to avoid.

Friday, March 20, 2015

James Review -- Star Trek: The Original Series: Savage Trade

This week I decided to review Star Trek: The Original Series: Savage Trade by Tony Daniel. The story opens with the Enterprise approaching Zeta Gibraltar, a Federation science outpost which hasn’t been responding to communications for a week. While examining the base and narrowly avoiding a land mine, it is determined that the outpost had been raided by the L’rah’hane, a species known for working as slavers and pirates, whose fleet had been smashed by the Federation in the late twenty-second century, or about ninety years before the book takes place.  The Enterprise plunges into the nearby Vara Nebula hunting for the raiders eventually finding a small task force. A battle ensues, and during the engagement the prisoners held by the L’rah’hane revolt, led by what appears to be George Washington. After the battle, it is revealed that Washington is one of a number of Excalibian refugees on the run from their homeworld’s government and seeking asylum in the Federation. They had been on Zeta Gibraltar awaiting the Federation’s council’s decision when the raid occurred. Soon Valek, a Vulcan special repersentive, aide to Spock’s father who is tied to some of the unpleasant episodes of Spock’s childhood, arrives armed with orders granting her full authority over the situation. She and Kirk soon join forces to interrogate the Excalibians, trying to determine their honesty. Meanwhile, Chekov and Sulu have been sent out in a shuttle in hopes of locating the L’rah’hane base. They instead discover an outpost belonging to a remnant of the Hradrian Empire which the L’rah’hane served. They also discover a fleet gathering to attack Zeta Gibraltar, but engine damage during their escape turns their mission into a desperate race home to warn the Enterprise what is coming. The Excalibians claim the captured L’rah’hane ships as the defense fleet of their newly declared nation and join the Enterprise in battle. But as the dust settles from that fight, more Excalibians are racing towards Zeta Gibraltar pursued by a hostile power that even they can’t control…
I give this book a 9 out of 10. It’s a great follow-up to the original TV series episode The Savage Curtain. The battle sequences were well written as were the political issues raised. Also, it did a good job of not revealing what was coming too soon. I honestly never saw the events of the last few chapters coming until they were occurring.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

God School Getting Drunk

God School is up for 2014 Book of the Year at reader blog The Drunken Druid. I'm very proud to be in the running for this award. You can see the other nine nominees by going to The winner will be announced on 03/31.

Friday, March 13, 2015

James Review -- Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil

This week I decided to review Star Wars:  Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno. The story takes place just before Star Wars: Episode III and opens with Anakin Skywalker and Obiwan Kenobi leading an attack on Cato Neimoidia in hopes of capturing Nute Gunray. After a series of mishaps, including the creatures they are using as cover panicking due to a minefield, and Obiwan being forced to do battle while disoriented by the effects of some spores native to the world, Gunray gets away but leaves behind a mechno-chair with a direct comm line to his master Darth Sidious and General Grievious. An attempt to trigger the chair’s self-destruct is blocked by Skywalker triggering a recording of Gunray and Sidious talking. In response to this Anakin and Obiwan are ordered to hunt down Sidious. First they travel to meet a Xi’Carran who engraved some of the decorative markings on the chair. At first the engraver flees, but when cornered, he reveals where the transceiver was built: in a Commerce Guild mining facility. But, meanwhile, an encrypted message to the captured transceiver is intercepted and deciphered, revealing that Grievious is planning to attack the Republic world of Belderone. While intercepting the attack will reveal that Separatist communications have been compromised, the Jedi decide to set up an ambush over the world with Anakin and Obiwan being summoned to the defense, In the end, Grievious flees but not before dozens of Jedi and thousands of civilians are killed. The hunt for the transceiver resumes, but the two Jedi are arrested after reaching the mining center. Their arresting officer is a Republic intelligence agent, however, and locks them in a cell with the designer of the transceiver. This blows his cover, though, and soon he is arrested as well, leading to a jailbreak. Next, the Jedi duo moves to find the pilot who delivered Darth Maul’s ship, the Scimitar, to him. After a little barhopping, they find her just in time to be ambushed. The pilot is injured but survives, and she tells them that the ship was delivered to the Works on Coruscant. While Mace Windu leads a team into the Works in search of evidence of the identity of Sidious, Anakin and Obiwan lead an assault on the planet Tythe in an attempt to capture Count Dooku. After a furious space battle, in which all of Red Squadron except for Anakin and Obiwan are lost, they land on the world. But while they battle Dooku, Sidious has decided to accelerate his endgame for the war and an assault on Coruscant begins…

I give this book a 9.5 out of 10. It is by far may favorite of the Star Wars novels set before the era of the original movies by far. It had a great balance of space combat and mystery, some comic bits, and more importantly it didn’t involve mention of the Force every other line like many modern Star Wars novels do. The small portions from viewpoints other than the two main characters were a lot of fun as well. And even though I knew the basics of how it had to end from the beginning, there were still enough surprises and grey areas that I was kept interested.  

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Movie Review -- Chappie

James is in the hospital this week, but never fear; I'm here with a review of Neil Blomkamp's latest film, Chappie. Blomkamp previously brought us District 9 and Elysium. Is Chappie as good? Let's find out.

The movie takes place one year from now in the South African city of Johannesburg. Technology giant Tetravaal has created robots and is selling them to Johannesburg as a police force. There are two types of robots, the Scouts, which are human-size, and the Moose, which is more like a walking tank. The Scouts are the preferred choice of the Johannesburg police, and the Moose has yet to be approved for deployment as it is seen as overkill.

The Scouts are the brain child of Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), who isn't satisfied with creating mere robots. He's actually been working on a program to create true artificial intelligence, and he manages to finish it. Now, he hopes, he can create a machine that can feel and be artistic. However, his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) sees no value in a weapons company developing such a robot, and won't let him test it. Nonetheless, he decides to go behind her back and install the program in the recently decommissioned Scout #0022. 

But before he can do so, he's kidnapped by local hoodlums who want to shut down the Scouts so they can pull off a big heist without fear of police interference. Deon explains there is no off switch for his robots, but if they'll let him install his new program in #0022, he can teach the machine to assist them. They let him do it, and its comes online with the mind of a child. Rechristened Chappie, the droid employs his new sense of wonder and begins learning all sorts of things. Deon is excited, but also concerned; Chappie's new owners are taking him down a dark path of crime and discouraging him from exploring his artistic side.

Meanwhile, Deon's coworker Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) sees the Scouts as a threat to funding for the Moose (his project), and wants to get rid of Chappie...permanently. Deon resolves to save his creation, but is he in over his head? And can an unlikely alliance overcome the deadly obstacles Vincent throws at them?

Chappie is a stylish film, and I like that it's set in an out of the way place like Johannesburg (District 9 was also set there). This particular city is a pretty cool location if I do say so myself. However, I don't feel this movie is as good as District 9 (I never saw Elysium, so I can't comment on that one). Whereas District 9 was a fresh take on aliens, Chappie is more like District 9 Lite With Robots. It has some cool and definitely entertaining action scenes, but overall, it doesn't bring enough new ideas to the table. The premise of a robot learning humanity has been done to death, and I just don't see Blomkamp taking it in any new directions here.

Don't get me wrong; I like Chappie. I think it's an entertaining film. I just don't think it realizes its full potential,