Saturday, February 27, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Death and Doris

Today we  have a novella by Eddie J Green, entitled Death and Doris: Episode 1 (Escape Terminal). Modeled after anime such as .hack and Sword Art Online, is it worth your time?
The story centers around Everett Hall, a teenager with a incurable disease. His life consists of bouts of chemotherapy and agonizing nausea. One day, however, he receives an offer from the Escape Terminal Foundation to transfer his consciousness to an MMORPG called New Terminal while they work on a cure.
So he finds himself in a fantasy-themed online game. He chooses his name ("Everett Death"), his class (Hexer), his appearance, stats and skills. At first, his time in New Terminal is very liberating since he feels no sickness there. He soon meets a Berserker named Doris Night who asks to team up. Since anyone who dies in this world loses all medical support from Escape Terminal Foundation, Everett agrees to the alliance. They waste no time getting to work fighting monsters and leveling up.
But they quickly get in over their heads when they take on a particularly tough enemy and are saved by a mysterious Assassin named Miro Shade. In order to repay him, they agree to take on a seemingly simple quest. The quest turns out to be a lot more complicated than they bargained for, and tough decisions will have to be made in order to complete it.
And even if they succeed, they'll discover a sinister network of player-killers threatening the lives of people like Everett and Doris who depend on medical treatments from Escape Terminal Foundation for their survival in the real world. But our heroes will have to decide who they can trust in a world where everyone has secrets.
Death and Doris has a good story that's held back by a few things. First, Everett is annoyingly emo and keeps spouting cringe-inducing lines such as "You can't outrun the Reaper. The name's Everett Death, now take it to your grave." This bit gets old really fast.
Second, this book was very poorly edited; punctuation errors abound and you'll be spotting them with alarming regularity.
But, as I said, it has a good story. Green has included all the trappings of an MMORPG and you'll feel like you're playing one as you read. Also, the players' collective plight of playing the game to receive medical treatments makes them sympathetic and relatable, even though some of them do horrible things to one another. I especially like the fact that the longer they play the game, the more real-world memories they lose, lending a double-edged aspect to their adventures.
This is supposed to be the first in a long series of books. I look forward to future entries and hope Green will get them properly edited and ditch Everett's lame dialogue. That's all it will take for this series to become great.

Friday, February 26, 2016

James Review -- Star Wars: Lords of the Sith

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp.
The story begins with Cham Syndulla, former leader of the resistance against the Separatist occupation of Ryloth and current leader of the Free Ryloth movement which seeks to liberate the planet from the Empire, aboard an armed freighter waiting to meet an Imperial transport that has been captured by the rebels.
But when the transport arrives its commander, one of Cham’s most trusted lieutenants, sends a panicked message for Cham’s ship to flee the system because an Imperial fighter force led by Darth Vader is in hot pursuit, with a Star Destroyer not far behind. Unable to flee the system without being detected, all Cham and those with him can do is listen as Vader disables then boards the transport and wipes out it crew.
Back on Coruscant, Vader meets with Emperor Palpatine where the Emperor devises a plan to lure the Free Ryloth movement into a trap by travelling to the world with Vader and leaking word of the trip to the Ryloth senator’s staff which he is certain contains a rebel spy. Cham receives this information, but fearing it might be a trap, he contacts Belkor Dray, a disgruntled high-ranking Imperial officer who aids the rebels in an attempt to discredit his superior Moff Delion Mors, who apparently spends almost all of her time doing spice and indulging her other whims while doing very little work.
The meeting leads Cham to believe that the visit is not a trap because Belkor doesn’t know that Vader and Palpatine are coming. Based on this belief, the Free Ryloth Movement prepares everything it has for its chance to decapitate the Empire by eliminating Vader and Palpatine in one blow. They launch a fleet of salvaged droid fighters to attack the Star Destroyer carrying the two Sith Lords, then slip saboteur teams aboard the ship in craft sent to assist the warship, and one infiltrator team steals an Imperial escort boat to pursue when Vader and Palpatine.
Despite being misled by Belkor, who has them target both the shuttle containing their targets and the one carrying Moff Mors, the rebels manage to down both shuttles. But Vader and Palpatine, and some of the Imperial Royal Guards with them, survive, as does the Moff. So Palpatine, Vader, and their few soldiers must evade both the rebels and the hostile native wildlife while the Moff struggles to evade those loyal to Belkor and rally forces to aid the Emperor… The book also contains "Orientation," a short story focused on Vader’s and Palpatine’s journey aboard an elderly training cruiser to meet the Star Destroyer that carries them to Ryloth and the dangers they face on that trip.
I give this book 7 out of 10. It wasn’t bad but there were several major flaws. First, knowing that Vader and Palpatine must survive drained a lot of tension from the story. Second, the fates of almost all of the characters not introduced in this story are known to those who keep up with current Star Wars lore and not many of the new characters got enough development for me to care what happened to them. This was particularly bad for the Free Ryloth Movement, with only one of the newly introduced characters getting much development. Third, there was one action Palpatine orders Vader to commit during the story which I feel served no real purpose besides drilling in the point that Vader and Palpatine are evil with a tissue-thin excuse given to explain Palpatine’s motives.
Finally, there’s a lack of detail concerning most of the spacecraft in the story with only those seen on screen being identified by class, or even given decent descriptions, a flaw that carries over into "Orientation" as readers receive no details about the cruiser the story takes place on other than a little background history. A little more detail here would have made visualizing the space scenes much easier in my opinion. Still, the character combat scenes were well-done and the interactions between Vader and Palpatine were mostly great other than the scene I mentioned above.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Cogling

Today we have yet another novel from Jordan Elizabeth. She previously brought us Escape from Witchwood Hollow and Born of Treasure (both featured on this blog). How does this latest effort stack up? Let's find out.
The story centers around peasant girl Edna Mather who, along with her brother Harrison, eke out a meager living in a fictional steampunk world by working for a noble family and their daughter Rachel. Rich people like them can afford the services of the hags which are basically witches. Some hags are ugly stereotypical witches while others look like normal humans, but all possess magic.
One day, Harrison begins acting strangely and gets them in trouble by apparently stealing a pocket watch from Rachel's family. Edna chastises him and snatches the watch away. To her horror, he screams and explodes into mechanical pieces. Edna seriously freaks out and goes in search of help, only to run into adolescent thief Ike. He recognizes the pocket watch and explains her brother has been replaced by a cogling--a clockwork doppelganger. The real Harrison is being held prisoner (along with a number of other children) by the hags in a factory in the swamp. Furthermore, the hags are forcing the kids to assist in their nefarious plot to overthrow their human overlords.
So Edna and Ike set out for the factory, but they'll need help getting there. With that in mind, Ike recruits members of his family to assist in the rescue mission. Together, they board an airship and make haste to save Harrison. But even if they succeed, they'll be wanted fugitives for daring to attack the hags who are under the protection of the king. Will they save Harrison? What is the mysterious force that lies within Edna, clamoring to get out? And what secrets is Ike hiding that could jeopardize the mission?
Cogling is slow to get going, but eventually builds into an enjoyable story. Jordan Elizabeth has once again proven she has the writing chops to keep us entertained. I think this is even better than her previous efforts, and those weren't half bad. Here she has created an engaging steampunk world but also successfully melds fantasy elements such as dragons into it. I do feel the book could have benefited from more extensive editing, as typos and punctuation errors can be found occasionally. Nevertheless, Cogling is a solid effort that deserves to be read.

Friday, February 19, 2016

James Review -- The Ever-Expanding Universe: Mothership

This week I decided to review the re-release of The Ever-Expanding Universe: Mothership by Isla Neal and Martin Leicht.

The story begins with Elvie Nara on the Hanover School for Expecting Mothers, once an abandoned orbital cruise ship that has been converted into a school. Unfortunately for Elvie, her old nemesis Britta McVicker, whose baby shares a father with Elvie’s child, is on the ship as well, and the mutual father wanted nothing to do with Elvie after she got pregnant, After a confrontation with Britta, Elvie travels to the snack area and hacks the vending machines into giving her whatever she wants. But then she sees an unknown ship dock with the school and drop armed troops onto the ship.

She flees, gathering some more girls in the process, but they soon find the school’s staff drowning the students, and Elvie discovers that Cole Archer, the father of her baby and Britta’s is part of the invading force. The commandos explain that the staff members are really part of a group of aliens called the Jin’Kai. But when the commando team receives a message from their home base, Elvie recognizes their commander in chief as her favorite actor, James Dean, who has been dead since the 1950s, Cole is forced to reveal the truth. He and the commandos are part of an alien group known as the Almiri, which have lived among humans for thousands of years, with many of the great figures of human history actually being Almiri, and the Jin’Kai, who are newly arrived to Earth,  are another group from the same species. Their species is incredibly long lived but solely composed of males, so they breed with females of compatible species, but the birthing process renders their mothers sterile. On their homeworld, they accidentally bred with their first host species until that species died out due to the lack of fertile females.

The Almiri have a code that strictly limits their rate of breeding to avoid that tragedy repeating, a code Cole broke by impregnating Elvie, while the Jin’Kai see nothing wrong with breeding host species to extinction and both groups are now trying to wipe out the other. But with the school ship damaged and going down, the ship that brought the commandos destroyed, and a saboteur acting to block escape while Jin’kai reinforcements close in to finish the job, the situation is growing more desperate by the second. There are also a number of flashbacks to Elvie’s life on Earth and the early phases of her relationship with Cole.

I give this book 8 out of 10. Overall it was very amusing to me, though the sheer insanity of the plot might be bothersome to some people. Also, sometimes there were a few too many references to current culture and other franchises for my taste, like the Jin’kai born of a previous host species who are described as Predator and Xenomorph hybrids. Also there are a few things in the plot that don’t make sense to me, like the entire orbital school being set up as bait for Almiri mothers-to-be. Elvie wanted to go to space even before she was pregnant but was the same supposed to be true for all the girls? Was there some side effect to the pregnancy that made space more attractive to the girls? Was some kind of subliminal messaging involved, or what? I think something like this should have been explained beyond the reader being told the school was set up to lure girls impregnated by Almiri in.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Movie Review -- Deadpool

Today we have the NSFW comic book movie Deadpool. Does it live up to the hype? Let's find out.
The story centers around ex-soldier Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) who now makes a living protecting people from stalkers and other lowlifes. One day, he meets a beautiful hooker named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and they fall madly in love. Things are going well until Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Things seem to take a turn for the better when he meets a  man who offers to cure him. Not wanting Vanessa to see him die, he agrees to join a mysterious program. He is soon put in the custody of villainous scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein) who reveals Wade is actually undergoing a procedure to awaken his dormant mutant powers before being sold as a slave to the highest bidder. Soon, Wade's powers emerge, but at the cost of badly disfiguring him. He now has an incredibly healing ability but is seemingly doomed to be an outcast.
Wade escapes from Ajax's lab, sews himself a costume and christens himself "Deadpool." He then sets out to find Ajax and force him to heal his hideous disfigurement (all while making wisecracks). But standing in his way are a couple of X-Men: Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). Colossus wants Deadpool to join the X-Men, but Deadpool refuses, intent on finding Ajax. And when Ajax--along with his henchwoman Angel (Gina Carano) targets Vanessa, the stakes are raised even further. Who will triumph in the ensuing super-powered showdown?
Deadpool is a raunchy, action-packed good time. It successfully captures the feel of the comics while establishing its own identity. Fans worried 20th Century Fox would screw this up can rest easy; they're going to love this movie. I especially like the strong female characters in this story; Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Angel dominate their male counterparts and raise girl power to an impressive level. And Vanessa, while not possessing any powers, still holds her own in this testosterone-rich world.
The humor, for its part, is hit or miss. Some parts are genuinely funny, but others are not. I feel the jokes are appropriate for the titular character and I honestly wouldn't change it. It was a bit strange seeing typically PG-13 X-Men in an R-rated movie, but it works well here.
And finally, I must commend the action scenes in this film. They are balls-to-the-wall awesome and kick all sorts of ass. I was thoroughly entertained throughout and look forward to what they come up with in the inevitable sequel.
Bottom line: Deadpool rules.

Friday, February 12, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: Voyager: A Pocket Full of Lies

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Voyager: A Pocket Full of Lies by Kirsten Beyer.
The story opens with a few brief scenes before moving onto the main story which starts with part of the Full Circle Fleet moving to meet the Nihydrons, a species known for collecting information. But the Nihydron seemed shocked when they see Admiral Janeway. They soon explain that on a nearby world two groups known as the Rilnr and the Zahl have been fighting over their mutual homeworld of Sormana. A few years earlier the Rilnar were on the verge of losing the war when a new leader, or denzit, appeared claiming to be Kathryn Janeway and turned the tide of the battle.
Confused because Janeway’s death had been a multi-universal fixed point in time covering every current timeline and, to their knowledge, only Admiral Janeway had been revived, Voyager races to Sormana and after receiving permission from the ships assigned to stop any non-humanitarian aid from the offworld Rilnar and Zahl colonies to the combatants, Captain Chakotay goes to meet the Denzit Janeway who explains she was from a timeline Chakotay had encountered while on Voyager when the ship had been spilt among various points in its history.
Soon after Chakotay returned to his native time, the ship had been attacked and Captain Janeway was captured and tortured before being rescued by the Rilnar. When Chakotay’s efforts to convince Denzit Janeway to leave the war fail, Voyager leaves to retrieve Tuvok in hopes he can convince her to return to the Federation.
Meanwhile, the Full Circle fleet encounters a log buoy equipped with temporal shielding describing an alternate timeline where Voyager found itself at war with the nearby Krenim, who are peaceful in the new timeline. Tuvok not only fails to convince Denzit Janeway to leave, he, still reeling emotionally from the death of his son during the final Borg invasion, begins to support her when she reveals that she died and was revived during childbirth and that she believes that her Rilnar husband and their child are being held prisoner by the Zahl.
But the quest for the truth soon becomes a desperate race to prevent the utter destruction of Sormana. The novel also has two side stories, one of which deals with Ensign Icheb’s attempts to adapt to his new role as Tores’ aid, and the strain on his relations with the fleet’s engineering caused by his obsession with regulations. The other deals with Harry Kim’s relationship with Nancy Conlon plus her reaction to being taken over by an alien in a previous book and the devastating secret she learned during that incident.
I give the book 7.5 out of 10. The main storyline was great and I loved getting to learn more about the effects the changes in history wrought by the end of "Year of Hell" both on the Krenim people as a whole and some of the individual Krenim involved in the events of the episode, and there were a few pleasant surprises in the ending, though I wonder if there will be a followup story someday. However, the sidestories weren’t nearly as good as the main story and, in particular, I find the Conlon sideplot to be little more than wasted space personally. Though I get the feeling there might be some moral point hidden in it, I’m not certain and don’t know what it is supposed to be if there is one. If there isn’t, it seems like a bad soap opera plot and one certain to be continued. The Icheb plot was better but took too long to get to the point, in my opinion, though it had more impact on the main plot at least.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Manga Review -- Angel Beats: Heaven's Door

Today we have the manga companion to the stellar Angel Beats anime. This is Angel Beats: Heaven's Door Volume 1.

The story takes place before the anime. Average teenager Hinata wakes up at a mysterious school in an unknown place. His last memory is of being hit by a truck. The first person he meets is the student body president who doesn't give her name (but if you've seen the anime, you know exactly who she is). She tells him to get to class and he does, whereupon he discovers everyone somehow knows his name even though he's never met any of them.

He later has a deadly encounter with a headstrong girl named Yuri who introduces herself after kicking him off the roof of the school. Turns out, she did this to prove a very important truth: Hinata cannot die because they are already dead and this is the afterlife. Moreover, only a handful of the people at the school are actually real and the rest are more like computer programs.

We soon learn that Yuri holds a grudge against God (if you've seen the anime, you know why) and is determined to find Him in this world and punch Him in the face. But standing in their way is the student body president (whom they christen "Angel") and her mysterious powers. Yuri knows she'll need help taking down Angel, so she decides to recruit others to join her cause. Hinata brings on his vanilla roommate Ooyama, but will the three of them be enough to take down Angel and whoever else stands against them? Will they ever find God and beat Him senseless? And just who is the mysterious man holding a gun on them?

I was excited when I discovered this at Barnes & Noble and immediately purchased it. I can tell you I was not disappointed in the slightest. Angel Beats remains one of my all-time favorite anime, and this manga is a worthy companion to it. It retains the wit of the series (it's funny seeing Hinata continually kicked off the roof by Yuri whenever he annoys her), and I like seeing how the characters first met. Even though I know what will eventually happen, it's still fun watching it unfold. Finally, it's a heartfelt story with real emotions.

Angel Beats: Heaven's Door is a good time waiting to be had.

Friday, February 5, 2016

James Review -- First Salik War: The Terrans

This week I decided to review First Salik War: The Terrans by Jean Johnson.
The story opens with Jackie MacKenzie, a Terran psychic who served in the military and also served as a high ranking politician whose commission has suddenly been reactivated, on her way to a meeting. At this point, the only aliens Terrans have encountered are the Greys, with the abilities of the Terran military’s psychics being their only solid advantage, but recently a number of psychics with pre-cognitive abilities have been seeing visons of Terrans meeting a variety of alien species. A number of Terrans have been identified in these visions including MacKenzie, and these Terrans are being gathered as part of a plan to launch an expedition seeking the aliens seen in the visions.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the galaxy, the V’Dan and their allies are fighting a desperate war against the Salik, a race that views other sentient species as food and prefers to eat their prey alive. The V’Dan cruiser T’un Tunn G’Deth has been boarded, and while most of the crew wishes to commit suicide rather than be captured, Li’eth, the ship’s captain, chooses to surrender. He explains to his crew that there is an ancient prophecy regarding their vessel’s capture which says some of them will not only survive but be rescued by inhabitants of the legendary lost homeworld of the V’Dan. However, Li’eth has a secret that, if revealed, will result in him going on a one way trip to the Salik homeworld to serve as dinner for the Salik leadership.
Meanwhile back in the Sol system, the Terran expedition is preparing for their mission, but tensions soon rise between MacKenzie and Lieutenant Colvers who dislikes all psychics. Despite thse issues, the ship launches and is soon captured by the same Salik force that captured the T’un Tunn G’Deth, and MacKenzie manages to form a psychic link with Li’eth, who is an untrained psychic, allowing the Terrans and the surviving V’Dan to escape and flee back to Earth. The V’Dan are themselves humans, descended from a group teleported from Earth to the V’Dan capital world thousands of years earlier, but cultural differences between the two groups soon have the situation on the verge of diplomatic catastrophe, and Li’eth must reveal his ultimate secret to prevent disaster.
I give this book 6.5 out of 10. It is mostly diplomatic activity with little combat. I could forgive that, but there are some major blunders. Clovers’ reason for disliking psychics in general comes across as something more suited to a young child than a military officer, and while the fact that some V’Dan have trouble accepting Terrans as adults because Terrans don’t have the markings that most V’Dan get in puberty due to the virus used to adapt them to their new world isn’t as bad, it still takes far too long to drill through some characters’ heads in my opinion making it hard to immerse myself in the story at times.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- City of Light

Today we have a recent novel by Keri Arthur entitled City of Light: An Outcast Novel.
The backstory here is extensive and requires some explanation. At some point in the not-too-distant future, mankind goes to war with a race of supernatural beings called shifters. To combat this threat, humanity creates the déchetwarriors imbued with the animal DNA of the shifters. Unfortunately, the déchet were not enough, and nukes were eventually used. Sadly, the bombs opened up rifts between our world and the next, allowing the Others to invade. These beings include wraiths and vampires, and they have since become the scourge of both humans and shifters.
Flash forward a century later. Almost all the déchet got killed in the war, but a female named Tiger has survived. She lives in a bunker with a score of ghosts. Oh, yeah, she can talk with ghosts. One day, she saves a girl named Penny and her shifter guardian Jonas from vampires outside the perpetually-lit city of Central. Tiger patches up Jonas (even though as a shifter he's her mortal enemy) and takes them to the outcast settlement of Chaos which lies on the other side of Central. After an unfriendly welcome, Tiger meets mysterious human Nuri who, along with Jonas and other shifters, enlists her help in recovering a score of children who have been kidnapped in broad daylight--an apparent impossibility considering the sun is deadly to the Others.
Tiger then heads to the remains of the city of Carleen to talk with the ghosts there. She discovers a rift--a doorway to another place--and goes through it. She ends up in a Central brothel and realizes its owners are in league with the Others. She goes to report back to Nuri but runs into her old friend and occasional lover Sal whom she hasn't seen in over a century. They waste no time getting reacquainted (wink, wink), but she soon has doubts about him. Just where has he been for the past 105 years and what has he been up to? And why does someone else have his exact same scent (Tiger has an amazing sense of smell)? She has to sort things out and figure out where the missing children are, but she may have to make a tremendous sacrifice in the process.
City of Light is a very imaginative novel and a fresh take on the urban fantasy genre. I like what Keri Arthur has done here. She has created a compelling world and filled it with interesting characters. It's a great setting and I'd like to see more of it in the future. It's slow to get going, but eventually your patience pays off.
But potential readers should be forewarned: This novel has the most graphic sex scenes I've ever read--and I've read a lot. Prudish readers should stay away as things gets very intense.

But if you can get past that, you'll find a story well worth reading.