Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kindle Spotlight -- Chimera

The writing trio N.J. Tanger recently sent me a copy of their new novel Chimera to review. It's the first in a planned series which will include at least three books. So, without further ado, here we ago.

The story concerns citizens of the colony Stephen's Point on a planet light-years from Earth. Their ancestors were banished to this place because they owed a crapload of money to the government, so it fell on them and their descendants to work off the debt for seven generations. Earth had been sending regular supply ships to keep Stephen's Point stocked, but stopped doing that fifteen years ago. Now, the colony is running out of food, and drastic measures must be taken. The colony's overseers institute the Mandate which calls for severe rationing. The Mandate also creates the Selection, a rigorous process for finding a group of uber-talented children to crew the starship Chimera which originally brought them to this planet but has laid dormant since then. The plan is to take the Chimera back to Earth and save the colony.

Enter Theo Puck. He's a sub-par student and above-average troublemaker. One thing he does have going for him is his computer skills. One day, he hacks the Selection list and adds his name to it. This could lead to incarceration if he's found out, so he's naturally nervous about it. Afterwards, he heads out to the mountains to meet his childhood friend Meghan (who got onto the Selection list legitimately). But before he can tell her about his shenanigans, she takes him into a cave and shows him a narrow hole. Theo climbs in and finds writing on the wall which they believe were made by the Chimera's navigator Stephen. Stephen guided the ship to this planet and has been made into a god-like figure by those now living here. The writing could be a huge archaeological find.

Unfortunately, Theo also finds a dead body and the kid who murdered him. The killer demands Theo keep quiet about this, or else Meghan will be his next victim. Theo quickly agrees and is allowed to leave the cave. However, he soon catches the attention of the religious Order who applaud his entry into the Selection. Meghan, though, isn't amused by his cheating and demands he turn himself in.

Nevertheless, Theo decides to go forward with the Selection and shows up to the rigorous week of testing. He quickly finds himself in over his head with the grueling regime and his new drill sergeant. And to make matters worse, the killer is also among the participants. Can Theo survive the Selection, protect those closest to him, and become a crew member of the Chimera?

I thoroughly enjoyed Chimera. It has compelling characters, an engaging plot, and is very well-written. N.J. Tanger is actually three different people, and their combined writing skills make for a quality read. I especially like that the killer is a lot more complex than he first appears, and you're really never sure whether to hate him or sympathize with him.

Bottom line: you can't go wrong with reading Chimera. I look forward to reading the next book in the series later this year.

Friday, April 24, 2015

James Review -- Star Wars: A New Dawn

This week I decided to review Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. The story opens with a short scene regarding a number of young Jedi trainees being instructed about and shown the Emergency recall beacon. One of them, Caleb Dume, is questioned about why the beacon might be activated. After replying, Caleb asks if it might instead be used to warn Jedi to stay away from Coruscant. The story then skips forward to eight years after the events of the movie Revenge of the Sith. The new Imperial class Star Destroyer Ultimatum comes out of hyperspace on the edge of the safe jump zone in the Gorse system and is grazed by a nearby freighter which is unable to evade in time. The Gorse system is a major source of Thorilide crystals, a key component in turbolaser manufacture. The Ultimatum’s mission is to transport and support Imperial Count Vidian who has been assigned to increase efficiency of Thorilide production. The count swiftly orders the destruction of the damaged freighter after determining that getting a new cargo ship will take less time than the worst case projection for repairs. This incident is witnessed by Hera Syndulla, en route to meet a new contact, and Caleb, now known as Kanan Jarrus, has a job transporting highly unstable explosives to the mines of the moon Cynda. Soon after landing, Kanan is approached by Skelly, a Clone Wars veteran and explosives expert who claims to have found proof that if mining practices aren’t altered they could crack and destroy Cynda. Unfortunately when Skelly mentions the Empire having a possible disaster on its hands, the conversation is recorded by Imperial surveillance gear and routed to the team of Zaluna, a Sullustan surveillance worker. She flags Skelly as a potential threat which leads to stormtroopers being sent to arrest Skelly who sets off a bomb and flees. Meanwhile, Hera’s contact, who is part of Zaluna’s team, is arrested, but not before asking Zaluna to deliver some data to Hera. This sets off a wide variety of misadventures as Skelly tries to avoid capture and present his information to Count Vidian, whom he believes will alter mining procedures to ease the stress on the moon, while Hera tries to meet her contact, and Kanan mostly tries to stay out of the whole mess. But when Skelly delivers the data to Vidian, rather than alter procedures to save the moon the Count, who is being pushed to rapidly increase production, decides that cracking to moon open will ease access to the Thorilide buried in the moon’s depths, and sets in motion plans to blow the moon apart. When a test of the technique being planned kills Kana’s closest friend on the moon he, Hera, Skelly, and Zaluna all find themselves allied in a desperate struggle to save Cynda.
I give the book an 8 out of 10. I thought it was well written for the most part and the twists at the end were very well done. It mostly served as a prequel to the Rebels cartoon, but by introducing new characters allied to the heroes, it was saved from knowing that all the good guys will escape unscathed, and the space sequences were well done as well. While not my favorite parts of the story, this is a tale where the kinds of battles I love most just would not make sense.

Friday, April 17, 2015

James Review -- The Forever Hero: Dawn for a Distant Earth

This week I decided to review Forever Hero: Dawn for a Distant Earth by L.E, Modesitt, Jr. The story is set in the distant future where humanity rules a vast interstellar Empire. However Earth lays in ruins, drained of resources by humanity and devastated by wars and pollution. While the Empire occasionally makes efforts to restore Earth’s environment, the state always loses interest long before the objective is achieved. During the early stages of one of these efforts a devil kid, the local name for an orphan who lives in the wastes outside the few villages left on Earth, is rescued by a small group of Imperial officers who decide to attempt to educate him. Having selected the name MacGregor Gerswin, from the first name of one of the officers who initially educated him, and a term used to describe him by another officer, he enters the Imperial education system, eventually joining the military. After some time, including participating in the blockade of a planet undergoing a civil war, MacGregor finds himself reassigned to the mission to restore Earth. After more adventures, including discovering an ancient but still functional base from before the Collapse which ruined the world, MacGregor is put in charge of the restoration efforts. However, as neglect from his superiors cripples his efforts, MacGregor launches a desperate and highly illegal operation to obtain necessary equipment. But even if MacGregor and his allies manage to escape prosecution for their actions, they may find themselves locked into a course from which they can never escape.
I give the book a 7.5 out of 10. There isn’t anything particularly bad about it, but to me it was rather bland and I couldn’t find anything in it that was particularly special or memorable for the most part. But the book does improve greatly towards the end when MacGregor begins crafting his master plan, and the execution was well written. However there is very little combat in the book outside of a couple of shorts scenes near the beginning, so those wanting lots of lasers blazing or missiles flying should stay away.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Book Review -- Dark Intelligence

Today we have a recent release by Neal Asher: Dark Intelligence.

The story takes place in the distant future. Mankind is governed by a government called the Polity which is ruled by AIs. A century ago, the Polity went to war with a crab-like alien race called the prador. Thorvald Spear was a soldier in that war, and he witnessed his squad get wiped out in an attack by a rogue AI named Penny Royal aboard a Polity destroyer. Spear eventually dies and, a century later, his memories and personality are downloaded into a new body. Now free to do whatever he wants, and with a century of back pay in his bank account, he sets off to get revenge on Penny Royal. 

Spear approaches a powerful crime boss named Isobel Satomi and hires her ship to take him to where an abandoned Polity destroyer is--a ship he plans to use to attack Penny Royal. Isobel has had previous dealings with the AI; she had it make her into the ultimate weapon, and, unfortunately for her, the changes are horrifying and possibly permanent. Spear says he can cure her, but is he telling the truth?

Meanwhile, Captain Blight and his crew aboard the Rose find themselves hijacked by Penny Royal. The rogue AI has been pardoned by the Polity for unknown reasons and is intent on taking the Rose to an unknown destination for an unknown purpose.

And on a planet where humans worship the prador, crab patriarch Sverl finds his rule challenged by young upstarts. Penny Royal has plans for him as well, but just what are those plans?

Spear and Isobel soon have a falling out, and the former leaves with the abandoned destroyer which he rechristens the Lance. Isobel vows revenge for what transpired between them, and Penny Royal is happy to assist. Spear, Isobel, Blight, Sverl and their respective crews soon find themselves headed for a confrontation orchestrated by Penny Royal, but what is the AI's true goal? And are Spear's memories really his own? Furthermore, does Isobel's terrifying power know no bounds?

It took me a while to warm up to Dark Intelligence. The book has an intriguing plot and interesting characters, but it also has several flaws. For one, Thorvald Spear is a rather bland protagonist. You don't really get much insights into him other than he's a former soldier consumed with revenge and questioning his past. 

Also, the narrative gets bogged down with technobabble. I was never really sure what a USER is or how it works, and that goes for several other terms in the book. 

And finally, the story doesn't really get good until the last part of the novel. Up until then, I found it to be a slog. 

However, when it does eventually get going, it's a page-turner. By the end, I had a hard time putting it down and kept reading to see what would happen next. Isobel's horrifying transformation into a Jabba the Hutt/zerg from Starcraft creature was particularly compelling to witness because you really don't know just how monstrous and powerful she's going to get.

Bottom line: If you can get through the bulk of the book, you'll find a worthwhile story. I just wish the meat of it came sooner.

Friday, April 10, 2015

James Review -- Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic by Chirstopher L. Bennett. The story opens with a showdown in a hospital on Vulcan between a Starfleet security officer and a Malurian infiltrator linked to a Vulcan dissident movement who has a hostage. After the hostage situation has been defused, the story shifts to the USS Pioneer, under the command of Malcom Reed and Travis Mayweather, which is penetrating into uncharted territory. Unfortunately, they soon run into a problem. A decade before, the Enterprise had encountered an automated repair station which would arrange fake deaths for crew members from ships it had serviced and hook the crew members into the system to use their brains as boosters for its processing systems. The Pioneer has stumbled across another of these stations. They also warn a ship belonging to a local species known as the Menaik, who call the automated stations the Ware, of the trap. The Menaik ship had lost a passenger to the Ware station so the Pioneer launched a rescue mission, freeing both the Menaik passenger and another of the station’s victims before destroying the station. Unfortunately soon after this, the Pioneer is attacked and severely damaged by Ware warships seeking to reclaim the rescued victims of the station. After repairs, the Pioneer is sent as the lead vessel of a task force to investigate the Ware, discovering in the process  a species which has doomed itself to extinction through wars to capture sacrifices for the Ware. They also discover a primitive world which the Ware has recently begun to influence, and send an undercover team to combat the Ware influence while Pioneer continues hunting for the origin of the Ware, but the team soon runs into serious problems. Meanwhile on Vulcan the Kir’Shara, the original writings of Surak, which was rediscovered late in the Enterprise TV series, has been replaced with a duplicate. The dissident movements claim that it was always a fake, and an investigation is launched to discover how the Kir’Shara was stolen and who is behind the plot, but these discoveries may come too late to prevent a militaristic Vulcan movement from returning to power. There is also a third plot involving first contact with the Deltan homeworld. While things seem to go well at first it is soon discovered the hard way that the telepathic and empathic components of Deltan lovemaking can be extremely damaging to the minds of other species who aren’t prepared for it. The Starfleet vessel leaves, planning to never contact the world again but when Orions seeking to enslave the Deltans kidnap a number of the world’s population, the captain must decide whether the accidental injuries suffered by his crew justify leaving the Deltans to their fates.
I give the book a 7.5 out of 10. The Vulcan and Ware portions of the book were very well written and kept me wondering what would come next, despite the book’s status as a prequel meaning the basics of what would have to happen was known. However the Deltan portion of the book seemed to be added on just to fill in space. I feel it added little or nothing to the main plots and seemed added on as an afterthought just to get the the Orions into the story, activities which also seem to have little to do with their current goals as shown in the earlier books in the series in my opinion.

Friday, April 3, 2015

James Review -- Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves by James S. A. Corey. When the story opens, the Rebel Alliance is seeking a site to build a new permanent headquarters, but the search does not go well, as the latest planned location is now being scouted by Imperial probe droids. Luke Skywalker is named second in command of a scouting force led by Wedge Antilles that is sent to Seymarti, a solar system avoided by most due to the number of ships that have vanished there. Then Han Solo is asked to extract the spy Scarlet from the planet Cerroban while Princess Leia prepares for a vital conference on Kiamurr to meet a number of potential new allies for the rebellion. Soon after Han and Chewbacca  arrive at Cerroban, they run into Baasen, an old smuggler friend of theirs who claims to be working for Scarlet. But Baasen has really turned bounty hunter and captures them. The pair manages to escape but Baasen, who managed to convince Jabba the Hutt to pay him part of the bounty on Han in advance, is left desperate and still on their tail. The two partners eventually find Scarlet, but she isn’t ready to leave yet. Rather she plans to infiltrate an Imperial base to steal data linked to some discovery, data which has been stolen by someone else and which the Empire wants contained no matter the amount of destruction required.  While fleeing the system after the raid, the Falcon runs into Baasen’s ship and, after taking a missile hit, manages to escape. Scarlet soon realizes that Hunter Maas, the thief who stole the data she is seeking, is heading for Kiamurr with an Imperial force, ordered to level any planet he is found on, closing in. They reach Kiamurr where Hunter reveals that the discovery he has stolen the location of is an ancient device capable of controlling hyperspace completely. While Leia carries on negotiations with Hunter as a cover, Scarlet steals the data, which reveals that the device is at Seymarti . But Baasen catches up with the group as the Imperial attack fleet arrives, and they manage to convince him to join them in a race to Seymarti. But an Imperial force is already there and the scout team led by Luke and Wedge must take eight fighters against a Star Destroyer while Solo’s group must either capture or destroy a device which could grant its wielder control of the galaxy…
The book also includes "Silver and Scarlet," a short story about Scarlet’s mission to obtain vital information from a disgruntled Imperial general.
I give the book a 7.5 out of 10. First, by keeping the entire main story from Han’s perspective, we miss the battle between the rebel scout force and the Imperial archaeological team’s accompanying Star Destroyer, only hearing the results after the fact and getting no real detail on what happened during the fight, and I think seeing that battle in detail alone would have been worth the cost of the book.  Also, the ancient super device, being, or species plot has been done to death in the Star Wars Legends material, and the ability to hinder hyperspace travel was one of the traits of one of the earliest such devices to appear in the setting. Still the negotiation scenes, adventure sequences, and Han’s hunt for Scarlet and the ensuing infiltration mission were well done, as were the accompanying short story told from Scarlet’s perspective.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

God School Free 04/02 & 04/03

For the next two days, you can get God School for free on Kindle. Just head on over to to get your copy. Better hurry, though, because this deal won't last long!