Friday, October 30, 2015

James Review -- Bodacious Space Pirates: Abyss of Hyperspace: Volume 1

This week I decided to try something I haven’t done before: Namely reviewing a manga volume. The manga in question is Bodacious Space Pirates: Abyss of Hyperspace: Volume 1. 

The volume opens showing Captain Marika Kato of the space pirate--actually privateer--ship Bentenmaru raiding a cruise liner. There’s then a short section explaining the history of space piracy in the setting and that most current pirate activities are basically shows to entertain the passengers of cruise liners and such. Then there is a short scene with Marika discussing the job with her crew before returning home. 

And a brief meeting with her mother, a legendary former pirate in her own right, the next morning Marika heads to school for a meeting of the yacht club which she is president of. After a discussion of possible upgrades to the school’s space yacht and ideas for recruiting new members. Marika leaves for another raid  The scene then shifts to a young boy, Kanata Mugen, who receives a package from his father before being forced to flee an unidentified group. 

Back on the Bentenmaru, Marika finds that the job has been canceled, one of many recent cancellations due to a rash disturbances in hyperspace. However, they are given a new job which involves staging the kidnapping of Kanata. The scene then shifts to an interlude where the pirate ship Barbaroosa is attempting to escape a hyperspace whirlpool. 

The story then shifts to the raid on the passenger liner carrying Kanata where Kanata and Marika narrowly evade the agents pursuing him, and Kanata is revealed to be the son of a renowned hyperspace expert. But, shortly after leaving the passenger line,r the Bentenmaru finds itself being pursued by a trio of warships and is forced to make a risky course change while in hyperspace. 

However the troubles of their latest job might not leave Marika alone once she leaves the ship…

I give this volume 8.5 out of 10. It is a good beginning to a story but I wish that the pursuit sequences and raid to retrieve Kanata had more action. Also, while the Barbaroosa’s crew includes my favorite character from the franchise, I still feel that the Barbaroosa scene could have easily been saved for a later volume as I believe that placing it where it occurs doesn’t really benefit what is happening at that point in the story.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Kindle Spotlight -- Born of Treasure

Recently, I reviewed Jordan Elizabeth's novel Escape from Witchwood Hollow. Well, she then sent me her most recent work, the steampunk story Born of Treasure. Without further ado, here we go.

OK, this is the second book in the series, so I don't have 100% of the plot, but I did get the gist of it. The story centers around a young man named Clark Grisham who lives in a 19th-century fictional world. He was a miner and the son of a brilliant inventor. However, his father was murdered by the vile Senator Horan, and Clark was adopted by the Treasure family, becoming Clark Treasure. He became quite close to his new sister Amethyst; in fact, what the rest of the family doesn't know is that he secretly married her.

Unfortunately for Clark, he drank what he thought was absinthe, but it turned out to be a potion for interacting with the dead! Now he sees ghosts and can even bring them back to life. This has ended up being quite the curse for him, because now the army is after him and wants to use his powers to command an army of the dead. Leading the hunt is Captain Greenwood (who's a huge a-hole, as you can probably imagine) who will stop at nothing to see Clark enslaved. But our hero won't go quietly, and he's prepared to kill anyone who threatens him or his family. Who will come out on top in this otherworldly conflict?

Born of Treasure is a good story. It has an engaging narrative, a likable protagonist, and appropriately unlikable villains. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading it, which is always a good sign. I especially like the fact Clark isn't a goodie-two-shoes; he can get violent at the drop of a hat, dispatching anyone who poses a threat.

However, the writing isn't perfect. Elizabeth sometimes confuses her characters, specifically referring to one when she really means another. I personally didn't find this to be a big deal, but this may turn some readers off.

In the end, I think this is a solid effort, and I'm interested to see what Jordan Elizabeth comes up with next.

Friday, October 23, 2015

James Review -- Star Trek: Titan: Sight Unseen

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Titan: Sight Unseen by James Swallow.
The story begins on a starship belonging to the Dinac, an early warp civilization that the Federation is attempting to ally with. The USS Whitetree is assisting a Dinac vessel, whose drive has failed, when a subspace rift opens and swallows the Whitetree. An aftershock from the rift knocks Ythiss, a Starfleet engineer aboard the Dinac vessel, unconscious and when he awakens he soon realizes that the Dinac pinnace has been boarded by unknown assailants.
The story then shifts to Earth where Admiral William Riker is impatiently awaiting new orders. He is assigned as the sector commander of the Alpha Quadrant Frontier Zone, which includes the Dinac homeworld. He chooses the USS Titan, his former command, as his flagship with Captain Vale, his former first officer, as captain (and a commander widely distrusted by many in Starfleet due to her actions during the recent Anjar presidency as first officer).
The Titan sets out to investigate what has happened to the Whitetree and the Dinac vessel they were aiding. The Dinac vessel is found empty, but a log left by Ythiss, who had formerly served on the Titan, mentions the crew being stalked by someone. Eventually, the Titan discovers that the Solanae, a race from another dimension which once kidnapped and performed experiments on a number of Starfleet personnel (including the then-Commander Riker) are behind the disappearances. After repelling an invasion of Solanae drones, a follow-up attack captures a number of Titan crewmembers including Riker’s wife and daughter.
Eventually the Titan discovers the Ciari, a group of rebel Solanae opposed to their government’s plans to invade normal space and enslave or exterminate the races native to it. Despite a very rocky start, the Titan must find a way to convince the Ciari to provide the data needed to enter the Solanae dimension, rescue any prisoners the Solanae have, and prevent a full scale invasion armed with biogenic weapons.
I give this book 8.5 out of 10. I almost always like it when the Star Trek novels revisit plotlines from a TV series and provide answers to long unanswered questions. The author also does a good job establishing the goals and mindset of the Solanae and what conditions led to that mindset. even if the mindset itself is a little too simple for my tastes. Also, the tensions between Riker and Vale as the former starts trying to step back into the captain’s role are well-written, especially as Riker grows more desperate, and the story does a good job of showing why allowing a new admiral to select their former command as their flagship isn’t always a good idea. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

James Review -- The Dred Chronicles: Breakout

This week I decided to review The Dred Chronicles: Breakout by Ann Aguire. 

The story opens in he aftermath of Havoc. The population of the prison ship Perdition has been basically reduced to two factions: Dred and her allies and the followers of Silence. Dred’s forces have been badly weakened but have forged an alliance with the handful of survivors from the mercenary force sent to exterminate the prisoners. Dred’s band plans to use the docking access codes provided by the mercenaries, and parts found on the station, to create an escape craft. However, supply problems arise swiftly, made all the worse by the existence of RC-17, a robot containing the locations of supply caches established by the deceased Ike. These caches are vital to the escape plan, but matters soon become worse when it is revealed that one of the group’s members believed that RC-17 was a spy and attacked, disabling the robot’s battery. 

This leads to a hunt for a replacement battery launched by Dred and her lover Jael. After managing to ambush some of Silence's followers, they manage to rescue Hex, an alien prisoner whom neither is familiar with. Then the band splits into five teams to scout the caches, but one team sets off a trap left behind after Silence’s forces raided the supplies, and Jael sets out for vengeance, raiding Silence’s base, unaware that Silence has overheard Dred and him discussing their escape plan. 

Eventually, Hex reveals himself as a shape-shifter taking Jael’s place and handing him over to Silence and leaving Dred to face off against Hex. A recon mission and a rescue raid follow, and eventually the band finds some vid logs concerning Rebestah Saren, a young woman once assigned to investigate some of the higher ups of the corporation that was running Perdition at the time. The last logs reveal a horrifying truth. Soon after, the survivors of the group manage to escape Perdition but there are enemies both old and new awaiting them...

I give this book 7 out of 10. I liked that the story actually shows the events that occur after the escape in detail, rather than ending with the escape or just giving us the escape followed by the epilogue. And, admittedly, I was surprised that the ending is mostly happy, if bittersweet at times. But I feel that the combat scenes were lacking in detail and length, there are parts of the story where I believe that even the mentally stable members of the cast are committing insane actions, and I feel that the revelation concerning Silence was too predictable.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kindle Spotlight -- A Vanishing Glow

I recently received a copy of Alexis Radcliff's latest novel A Vanishing Glow. Is it any good? Let's find out.
The story takes place in the steampunk land of Ghavarim. Jason Tern is head of the Windriders, a group of highly skilled scouts who patrol the frontier. One day, he meets up with his childhood friend Nole Ryon who is about to become High Sovereign. Not content to advance by himself, Nole asks Jason to become the Lord Regent, his right hand. Jason accepts, but they have their work cut out for them; Nole is determined to help out underprivileged farmers and other disenfranchised members of Ghavarim society, and this makes him many enemies with those who want to maintain the status quo. Undaunted, Nole charges ahead to become High Sovereign, but then tragedy strikes...
Meanwhile, military engineers Nilya and Verse eke out a modest living. One day, Nilya invents a powerful sonic device. She shows it to her mentor Hank, and, impressed, he agrees to help her get the promotion she wants. However, the two women are soon sent on a mission to bomb what they are told is an empty rebel base. Unfortunately for them, the truth turns out to be very different, and Nilya must try to pick up the pieces of her shattered life in the wake of her greatest mistake.
Elsewhere, Jason, as the new Lord Regent, conducts an investigation into the event that shattered his life. But there are potential suspects everywhere, and he has to be careful whom he trusts. Enemies lurk around every corner, ready to strike at anyone who pokes their nose where it doesn't belong. What's more, Jason discovers there is a terrible price to be paid to find justice, and those closesest to him may have to give up their lives to complete the mission.
A Vanishing Glow is an enjoyable read with a good amount of uncertainty. Like Game of Thrones, Radcliff's characters are disposable, and you never know who will be sacrificed next. I also empathized with these characters, particularly Nilya who gets screwed over pretty badly but still finds the strength to keep on going.
I also like the pacing; the narrative has a nice flow and doesn't focus on any one character too much. It is kinda weird that Jason and Nilya never meet, but I don't mind; their separate stories intersect at appropriate points.
Furthermore, Radcliff put an impressive amount of thought into crafting her steampunk world, filling it with interesting figures and lore. I had no trouble buying into the idea of Ghavarim and its people.
And, finally, I should point out that this book only makes up parts 1 & 2 of the series, and the intriguing ending (which will leave you guessing) leaves it wide open for a successful sequel, which I look forward to reading.

Friday, October 9, 2015

James Review -- The Makaum War: Guerilla

This week I decided to review The Makaum War: Guerilla by Mel Odom. The story opens with Master Sargent Frank Sage and his Makaum friend and scout Jahup searching for a suspected treaty- violating Phrenorian military base in Makaum’s jungles. Upon finding the base, they identify Phrenorian Captain Zhoh GhiCemid,a warrior whose skills Sage knows all too well, as he arrives at the base.

Then the story switches to GhiCemid’s viewpoint as he examines the base and eventually meets its commander General Rangha, who is revealed to have only reached his rank due to the actions of one of his ancestors, and whom GhiCemid’s has no respect for.

Back In the Makaum capital, Noojin, Jahup’s closest friend,  is hanging out near the human military base Fort York despite her disliking the human presence on her world. She is playing with a small local lizard when Jahup’s younger sister, Telilu, tries to sneak up on her. But the peaceful time among the two young women and the lizard is soon ruined as Noojin sees a group of Makaum planning to ambush a human patrol. And to make matters worse, left with no other way to warn the soldiers, Noojin shoots one with an arrow which she knows won’t penetrate the soldier’s armor. But when the soldier returns fire, Noojin and Telilu barely escape with their lives and are then forced to give themselves up to the humans while fleeing the Makaum attackers.

Master Sargent Sage is informed of what happens en route to the fort and, while Jahup is being treated for injuries sustained during an attack of local wildlife, the master sergeant is sent to convince Noojin to reveal what she knows. He succeeds after telling her a story about his childhood in a remote South American village and pointing out that the attackers might strike against Telilu in the fear that she could identify them as well as targeting Noojin herself. They meet with Hahup’s grandmother, who is a member of the Quass, the leadership of the Makaum people, and then the master sergeant sets out to find the attackers and those aiding them.

Meanwhile, Zhoh GhiCemid suspects that General Rangha has been engaging in criminal activities, including arms dealing, and sets out to find proof of his suspicions. His quest and Sage’s brings them and their allies to a spaceport where their forces must form a temporary alliance. But the Phrenorians are hiding part of their objective, and what of the assassins who arrive earlier in the book?

I give this book 8 out of 10. I like the details of Frank Sage’s early life, even if there is a tragic note to them, and that the author includes some information on Phrenorian culture from a Phrenorian’s viewpoint rather than filtering it through a human viewpoint, and does the same with Makaum culture. I also like that the author makes it clear that not all the Makaum who wish for the offworlders to go away are violent, some just see the changes brought by the offworlders as a bad thing, though from what I can tell, based on the descriptions of prior events, the previous book focused far more on the negative effects of offworld interference on Makaum.

Friday, October 2, 2015

James Review -- Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy: The Paradise Snare

This week I decided to review the re-release of Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy: The Paradise Snare by A. C. Crispin. 

The story opens with a young Han Solo, apparently orphaned, and having lived on the Trader’s Luck, a former troop transport converted to a mobile criminal base of operations and captained by Garris Shrike. But Han has grown tired of Shrike’s rules and cruelty and has hatched a daring plan to escape to Ylesia, a world which has put out an ad for pilots, especially Corellian ones. Han’s plan is to sneak aboard a droid-piloted transport destined for Ylesia, but when he steals a blaster pistol, his attempt to fool the ship’s security systems fail leading to a confrontation with Shrike’s forces where Dewlanna, the vessel’s Wookiee cook who served as a surrogate mother for Solo, is mortally wounded and tells Solo to flee before dying. 

Solo manages to escape and eventually reaches Ylesia, nearly crashing in the process due to the world’s treacherous winds, and needing to land in a rush due to a shortage of air. Han, operating under a false name, is hired and discovers that the droid craft he rode on is being converted to a crewed vessel which he will be flying due to a number of Ylesiain droid craft recently being seized by pirates. He is assigned a Togorian guard and gunner named Muuurgh. Han soon discovers that Ylesia is supposed to be a religious sanctuary but is, in fact, a major Hutt spice-refining center with the T'landa Til priests using a natural ability intended to attract mates to produce Exultation which would bring such pleasure to would-be religious pilgrims that they would become addicted to the experience and thus become eager slaves for the refineries. Han also begins to fall in love with a young Pilgrim named Bria Tharen and tries to make her understand the trap she has fallen into. 

Eventually Muuurgh comes to trust Han after the two escape a pirate attack and Han refuses to abandon him after he is wounded. Muuurgh had come to Ylesia seeking his fiancée Mrrov but he had been told that she had left the planet and, with no money to book passage offnworld, he had taken the guard job offered to him. Bria reveals that Mrrov is actually still on the planet and soon a plan to rescue Bria and Mrrov begins to form. But with the High Priest of Ylesia planning to marry Bria off to one of his allies the plan is forced into a rush mode, and even if the two couples can escape the security forces on the ground they must still face Ylesia’s windstorms and any ships in orbit. 

And there are older enemies of Han’s still out there. The story also includes a few flashbacks to earlier periods of Han’s life like his first meeting with his cousin Thrackan.

I give this book 7 out of 10. It is mostly well written, though some of the action sequences could have used more detail in my opinion. There are two big flaws in it, however. First is the complete and utter lack of Chewbacca, or any of the other characters established as being Han’s friends before the movies for that matter.  Second is the shear absurdity of why Han becomes a pilot for Ylesia. He wants to gain enough piloting experience to do well in the entrance exams for the Imperial Navy by working as a drug smuggler. I’m sorry, but this just makes absolutely no sense to me. Still, all in all, it was a decent book, though not the author’s best.