Friday, January 29, 2016

James Review -- Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy: The Hutt Gambit

This week I decided to review the re-release of Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy: The Hutt Gambit by AC Crispin.
The story starts a few weeks after Han is kicked out of the Imperial Navy for saving the life of the Wookiee Chewbacca, earning a life debt from the Wookiee in the process. At this point in their relationship, however, Han is trying to convince Chewbacca to stop following him around. Soon Han accepts a job to fly a ship and its cargo to a small planet in the Y’toub system, the center of Hutt power. After delivering the ship to a Hutt lord, Han receives a recommendation to Jiliac the Hutt, a relative of Jabba and leader of one of the most powerful Hutt organizations.
But the Hutt organization that runs Ylesia seeks vengeance for Han’s past actions and fighting off bounty hunters becomes a regular occurrence, and Han finds himself flying a wide variety of ships and jobs, including time serving as the pilot of  Jabba’s personal yacht and an encounter with a small pirate force sent to assassinate Jabba. Han’s reactions to the ambush make Jabba and Jiliac suspicious and Solo has to explain his past. Even worse, soon Han is captured by Boba Fett but is swiftly rescued by new ally Lando Calrissian. Lando asks Han to teach him how to pilot his newly won ship, the Millennium Falcon, and Han falls in love at first sight, though he does his best to conceal this. In time, Han manages to lease a small transport from Lando, but soon the local Moff turns his attention to stamping out Hutt criminal activity and Han, Lando and their allies must race to assemble a fleet and prepare a battle plan to defend Nar Shaddaa, even as the Hutts themselves try to stay out of the coming battle. There are also a few scenes following Han’s former lover Bria Tharen and her efforts as part of the Corellian Resistance.
I give this book 9 out of 10. The battle sequences are handled much better then in the prior book in my opinion. It was also nice to see the birth of the friendship between Han and Lando and the early adventures of the Han and Chewbacca team, along with Han and Lando showing some use of skills which make their later positions as general’s a little more believable.. There are also a few little parts that serve as nods to the original Star Wars movie without disrupting the story's flow, which I found to be a very nice touch. However, I still feel that skipping Han’s entire Imperial military career, with the previous book ending as he is leaving for the Academy and this one beginning a couple of months after he is discharged, was a massive mistake

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Early Impressions -- DC's Legends of Tomorrow

This past week saw the premier of the CW's comic book crossover series Legends of Tomorrow. I thought I'd tell you what I think about this show so far.
The story centers around evil immortal tyrant Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) who was believed to have been permanently destroyed in recent episodes of Arrow and The Flash. However, it turns out that's not the case, as he has now used his ancient Egyptian powers to resurrect himself. And in the 22nd-century, he has amassed enough military might to conquer the world.
Desperate to stop him is Time Master Rip Hunter (Doctor Who's Arthur Darvill). Rip goes back in time to recruit six heroes (and two villains) from the DC universe to embark on a mission to stop Savage once and for all. But this is a ragtag group who don't necessarily get along. Can they get their act together to save the world? And just what secrets is Rip Hunter hiding that could jeopardize this mission?
I watched the premier this past Thursday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has fantastic CG effects and the cast has great chemistry together. I really like seeing all the characters they've managed to include, and I feel they work well together. It's great that the CW has put so much into developing this universe. This dedication is already paying off in spades. If you've avoided delving into this universe until now, the time has definitely come.
Here's to a great run of superhero awesomeness on Legends of Tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2016

James Review -- The Lightship Chronicles: Impulse

This week I decided to review The Lightship Chronicles: Impulse by Dave Bara.
The story starts with Peter Cochrane, the main protagonist, receiving news that the Impulse, one of very few Lightships in the Union of Known Worlds fleet, has been attacked with a hyperdemisional weapon while exploring the distant Levant system, leaving a number of the crew dead, including his ex-girlfriend, whom he had broken up with due to her posting on Impulse. Peter is promoted and transferred to the Impulse with orders to be prepared to act should the ship'scaptain allow his lust for revenge to overwhelm his judgment, but soon a second encounter with the weapon that damaged Impulse leaves Peter in command.
And while Peter is leading a mission to rescue a shuttle damaged in the second strike against Impulse, Tralfane, the ship’s Earth Historian in charge of keeping the knowledge about Lightships that Earth doesn’t want its allies to have secure, seizes control of the vessel. Only a timely rescue by Serosian, another historian and longtime mentor to Peter, saves both rescuers and those they have recovered. Serosian believes that Tralfane wishes to take the Impulse to the descendants of the Royalists of the First Empire, an empire defeated by the Union in a long ago civil war, and Peter must first ally with and defend the inhabitants of Levant who are imprisoned by the very weapons platform that attacked the Impulse, then lead a desperate mission deep into the heart of Imperial loyalist territory to assure that the Impulse does not remain in their hands and rescue any surviving crew members while contending with conflicting loyalties among his troops. But even if he manages to penetrate enemy space, a massive battleship and other horrifying surprises await him.
I give this book 7.5 out of 10. The overall story is interesting but there are a few too many clich├ęs for my tastes, especially as it sets up the romance between Peter and Dobrina. Also, while the background is interesting, and leaves me hoping for a prequel story or series someday, there are some points which I think were vital to the current state of affairs that I feel should have been explained in more detail.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- The Spaceship Next Door

Today we have a recent novel from Gene Doucette: The Spaceship Next Door.
The story takes place in Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts. One day, a mysterious spaceship touches down in a field. The sleepy town immediately becomes the center of attention as the government tries to get a handle on this unexpected development.
Flash forward three years. The ship has simply sat idle all this time, and has become a fixture of Sorrow Falls. 16-year-old Annie Collins has accepted this and currently lives a quiet life in the town with her mother. One day, however, a reporter named Ed Somerville comes to town to supposedly do a story on the ship (or "Shippie" as Annie and her friend Violet call it). Except it becomes obvious to everyone that this guy's no reporter and he's actually working with the military. Nevertheless, an intrigued Annie agrees to show him around town so he can interview the colorful residents.
But as Ed and Annie get to work, strange events begin taking place. For one thing, dead people are spotted roaming the town, accosting locals and asking the ominous question "Are you?" Annie suspects Ed knows more than he's telling, but he's reluctant to divulge any further details. As the apparent zombie attacks increase in frequency and intensity, Annie presses Ed to reveal what he knows. But she may not be ready for the shocking truth.
The Spaceship Next Door is a witty and refreshing take on the alien invasion idea. Annie is a wise-cracking teenager with a well-developed sense of humor, and the quirky residents of Sorrow Falls help to bolster the comedy in this story. Furthermore, Doucette has done a fine job of realizing his world; this feels like a real town with real people.
But for all its levity, Annie's situation ultimately turns out to be very serious because of something I won't spoil here. I think Doucette handles this very well in the story.
Also, the nature of the aliens is smart and I certainly wasn't expecting it. Doucette should be commended for thinking outside the box on this one and giving us something other than your average malevolent extraterrestrials.
All in all, The Spaceship Next Door is a nice surprise.

Friday, January 15, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Ascendance

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Ascendance by David R George III.
The story is divided into two main parts with the first set in the late 2370s, while the second is set in the mid 2380s. The earlier part opens with Iliana Ghemor leading the full might of the Ascendants, a group of religious zealots--who had attacked a number of Bajoran colonies in the 23rd century and destroyed a number of civilizations in the Gamma Quadrant--against Bajor. The fleet consists of thousands of ships with highly advanced shielding and powerful conventional weaponry with both Deep Space Nine and the USS Defiant barely being able to slow the attack force down.
But even worse is the subspace weapon carried by the fleet’s flagship which might utterly eradicate Bajor if deployed against it. However, many of the Ascendants believe the subspace weapon is the key to delivering them to the final judgment of their gods and wish to attack with standard weaponry instead, and Taran'atar, a Jem’Hadar once brainwashed by Ghemor, launches a desperate gambit to shield Bajor from the subspace weapon.
In the 2380s, Odo’s attempt to link with what was believed to be a dormant shapeshifter has led to the unknown being attacking him, leaving the former constable in a comatose state. The being then escapes from the Starfleet research station, killing two staff members in the process, before setting a course for the Bajoran system. The Defiant is sent to intercept and attempt to communicate with the being, but when communications fail, the Defiant attempts to use force to stop the creature, but the being duplicates both the ship and its abilities and uses its new cloaking device to escape. When the being reaches the Bajoran system it mimics Deep Space Nine and sends a signal that Captain Ro Laran believes is an invitation for her to board it where she discovers the true nature of the being and its connection to both the battle against the Ascendant and other past events.
Meanwhile, the repercussions of the discovery that one of Bajor’s moons hides a giant device some believe was used to build the wormhole rock the station’s staff while Altek Dans, a time-displaced Bajoran from the distant past, continues to struggle to get permission to return home while adjusting to the new era. And Nog manages to restore Vic Fontaine’s holoprogram only to discover that inside the program things have gone downhill sharply.
I give this book 8 out of 10. The two core plotlines are great and tie into each other in ways I found very interesting. The big problem is the sideplots in the second part. Only the Altek Dans plot makes any real advancement. The suspected wormhole generator plot goes nowhere other than removing one character from the station and the Vic plot seems to have no connection to the other plots while doing little other than setting up a possible rehash of the plot from the episode "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang".

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Revisiting the Classics -- Flight of the Navigator

It's been quite some time since I've done this segment, so I thought I'd bring it back. Today we have the underappreciated 1986 film Flight of the Navigator.
The story begins on July 4, 1978, but it certainly doesn't stay there. 12-year-old David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is celebrating the nation's birthday in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with his parents and younger brother. When they get home from the festivities, David is sent into the woods to get his brother who's been playing out there. David trips and falls into a small ravine, but quickly gets out of it and heads home.
Or so he thinks.
But when he gets back, he finds a strange couple living in his house. A confused and scared David is taken to the police station to answer questions from equally confused cops who discover he was reported missing eight years ago and it's now 1986. David is reunited with his much older family who don't know what the hell happened but are glad to have him back.
Elsewhere, NASA officials discover an inert space craft of unknown origins. Dr. Louis Faraday (Howard Hesseman) finds out David has somehow created a computer printout of the ship and starts thinking the two cases are related. So David is brought in for testing and displays uncanny mental faculties. He is scared by this but puts up with it, believing the whole thing will be over in two days and he can return to his family. But he soon discovers Faraday isn't letting him go home any time soon, so he convinces intern Carolyn (a much younger Sarah Jessica Parker) to help him escape, and she manages to get him smuggled out in a robot.
The robot takes him to the ship which opens for him. He goes inside and meets robotic AI Max (Pee-Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens, though he's listed as "Paul Mall"). Max explains that David has been chosen as the ship's navigator to help with his mission. After an attempt to download the contents of David's brain results in a personality 360 for Max, the pair set out to evade NASA and hopefully get David back home to his own time.
Flight of the Navigator was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and it's a shame it never got a stronger following. It has quality special effects (for the time), some big-name stars (and one person who would later become a big-name star). It also has a delightful sense of wonder which really appealed to the child in me. You might think I'm blinded by nostalgia, but I still think this is a good movie. I just watched it for the first time in 20+ years and I feel it holds up. If you've never seen it, you've done yourself a disservice. Go see Flight of the Navigator.

Friday, January 8, 2016

James Review -- Kris Longknife: Unrelenting

This week I decided to review Kris Longknife: Unrelenting by Mike Shepherd.
The story opens with Admiral Longknife preparing for battle. Earth’s Admiral Yi will attack an enemy system with Third Fleet in an attempt to drive the enemy near or through another jump point where Longknife’s Second Fleet is waiting. But it soon becomes apparent that Yi has scrapped the battle plan in favor of one of his own making, and when Third Fleet begins taking losses, Second Fleet enters the battle early.
After defeating the enemy both fleets return to base where Kris relieves Admiral Yi of command of his fleet (but leaves him command of a frigate squadron). But, soon after returning to base, Kris receives a shocking surprise when she discovers she is presenlyt one of a rash of pregnancies among the female personnel of the fleet. It is soon determined that the contraceptive devices issued to all of the women in question were sabotaged, but whoever was behind it was specifically targeting Kris as most of the women only had one of their three devices replaced with used ones, but all of Admiral Longknife’s were replaced with useless devices.
While the hunt for the saboteur is on, Kris has to deal with increasing dissent among the civilians who had immigrated to the Alwa system and now aren’t allowed to leave for fear of leading the  genocidal People back to the majority of human space. And she alo has to struggle with managing Alwa’s economy well enough to keep both her fleet supported and the natives happy while fending off an array of suicide attacks from one direction while stalling for time to build up her strength to take on  the strongest People fleet yet encountered on another front.
And there are surprises from Human space and more problematic subordinates to deal with as well.   
I give this book 9 out of 10. While the battle sequences are far from the greatest that I have seen from this author, they are still enjoyable and some of the new weapons unveiled add interesting new dynamics to thr combat. While there is one weapon I feared could become a superweapon--ruining the tension of the combat scenes--it didn’t do so as badly as I feared, and in retrospect, the conditions required to use it are rare enough I doubt it will appear too often. The scenes on the Alwa front are mostly amusing, though some seem to be resolved too easily for my tastes or are never fully resolved  Also I like the ending of a book in an ongoing series to leave me some hint about what will happen in the beginning of the next book, and while we know where the main characters will be when the next book begins, we are left with no evidence regarding why they need to be there.

Friday, January 1, 2016

James Review -- Halo: The Forerunner Saga: Cryptum

This week I decided to review the recent re-release of Halo: The Forerunner Saga: Cryptum by Greg Bear.
The story begins long before the main Halo series on Erde-Tyrene, later known as Earth, homeworld of humanity and now a prison planet and nature preserve for what remains of the human race after humanity’s interstellar empire fought the Forerunners and was defeated. A young Forerunner named Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting, or Born, is travelling with two humans who eventually take him to the Cryptum where the Didact, the leader responsible for defeating Humanity during the war is imprisoned.
The trio releases the Didact then is taken with hm on a journey to many of the battlefields of the war including the world which had served as humanity’s capital after they abandoned their homeworld in the face of a Forerunner expansion long before the war. The world was also a treasure trove of artifacts of the ancient Precursors who proceeded the Forerunners, but something the Didact found there after the war is missing.
Eventually, Born is granted access to the Didact’s memories which reveal the truth. Long before the war the humans found a mysterious substance on an ancient spacecraft and exposed lab animals to it. These animals seemed fine but over generations their descendants and those who had eaten the meat of their descendants mutated into what became known as the Flood, and it was fleeing the Flood and needing new worlds which drove Humanity and their allies to attack the Forerunners.
The humans eventually developed a genetic weapon which devastated the Flood and drove it into flight but the sacrifices made to infect the Flood with the weapon decimated the human population. Some of the Flood escaped and are returning to the edges of known space. The Forerunners have been working on a weapon to defeat them once and for all: The Halo Array. But some oppose such a destructive weapon and, as one of the leaders of this movement, the Didact was imprisoned. Now the Flood are closing in, but as war looms an ancient secret from forgotten Forerunner history reveals the true nature of the mind now controlling their enemy…
I give this book 8 out of 10. It was an interesting origin story for both humanity in the Halo universe and an interesting peek into the culture of the Forerunners. However, some parts of the story, like the origins of the Flood, seem like preaching against animal experimentation more than anything. Also, I fail to see how the big secret revealed near the end could have possibly been unknown to the Forerunners before that point.