Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review -- City of Blades

Today we have a recent release by Robert Jackson Bennett: City of Blades. It's the second book in the series, but you don't have to have read the first one to follow the plot.

The story takes place in a fictional world with approximately World War II-level technology. The country of Saypur (basically India) calls aging foul-mouthed general Turyin Mulagesh out of retirement and sends her to the city of Voortyashtan to investigate a mysterious mineral that's been discovered. This substance, dubbed thinadeskite, is a perfect conductor of electricity. This indicates it might be Divine, and the city was once the home of the goddess Voortya. But Voortya was supposed to have been killed years ago, and a Divinity's miracles die when they do. Mulagesh is to determine the origin of thinadeskite and discover the fate of a missing researcher named Sumitra Choudhry.

So Mulagesh goes to the city and meets Signe Harkvaldsson, who's in charge of building a thriving port in Voortyashtan. Signe shows her around, but has her own agenda which might interfere with Mulagesh's mission. Soon, though, they get called to the site of an horrific murder. Mulagesh discovers thinadeskite at the scene, further complicating matters. The killings are believed to be the work of local insurgents, but the truth is far more terrifying than they can imagine.

Now Mulagesh faces mounting questions. What exactly is thinadeskite? What happened to Choudhry? Who--or what--is murdering people in Voortyashtan? Who has stolen explosives and built a secret tunnel into the thinadeskite mine? Is Voortya really dead? The search for answers will take Mulagesh into the afterlife, the fabled City of Blades. What will she find there, and will she be able to return?

City of Blades is a riveting novel. It features an original, well-thought-out setting and compelling protagonist. Mulagesh certainly isn't your typical heroine; she's rough around the edges and wracked with guilt over actions she committed as a child in a soul-crushing war. Such a flawed--but still likeable--main character is a welcome change from the books I usually read.

The decision to base the primary country on India is also a move I wasn't expecting and I like it. I would have liked to have gotten more information on Saypur and its involvement with the Continent where Voortyashtan is located, but perhaps that was given in the first book.

City of Blades, quite simply, grabs you and doesn't let go. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Movie Review -- Independence Day: Resurgence

Today we have the sequel to the 1996 movie Independence Day. Is it as good? Let's find out.

Taking place exactly 20 years after the first film, this one shows us the world after mankind defeated the aliens and jacked their technology, creating a much more advanced and unified civilization. However, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), the man who figured out how to defeat the invaders the first time, travels to Africa to inspect an intact city destroyer. As it turns out, the vessel has begun broadcasting a distress signal to its people out in the cosmos.

Soon a 3,000-mile-wide ship arrives and attacks Earth's lunar outpost (the aliens must be drunk because it smashes across the surface of the moon like the universe's biggest pebble across water) before heading to our planet where they land on a huge chunk of it. President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) tries to warn everyone, but it's too late. Now the aliens begin attacking mankind anew, and this time, it seems nothing may be able to stop them. But never underestimate David Levinson; with a new generation of fighter pilots, he just might be able to figure out a way to win.

Meanwhile, David's father Julius (Judd Hirsch) gets knocked out trying to escape the landing ship and is saved by (presumably) orphaned children. He decides the best course of action is to find David, so they drive across the country to Area 51. But this might put a wrinkle in David's plans...

I was a huge fan of the original Independence Day back in 1996 when I was in the sixth grade. I've seen it many times and even drew fan art. The movie redefined epic and was shot on a scale previously unheard of. It just kicked so much ass.

Flash forward to 2016. We have basically the same deal, and while it's not a bad thing, it fails to capture the revolutionary spirit of the original. Don't get me wrong; I like this movie. But it's pretty much more of the same. If you're a fan of the original, you'll like this one. You just won't be blown away like last time.

But before you start accusing me of hating on this film, I would like to mention what's good about it. I like that they brought back many of the characters from the first one and we get to see how they've grown (or grown old). Also, we learn more about the mysterious invaders (and even another alien race which I won't spoil). And it successfully sets up a third movie (which hopefully won't take 20 years to make).

Bottom line: Independence Day: Resurgence is a fun film which won't blow you away.

Friday, June 24, 2016

James Review -- Independence Day: Crucible

This week I decided to review Independence Day: Crucible by Greg Keyes. 

The novel covers the two decades between the original movie and its upcoming sequel with a number of parallel plotlines. The largest of the plotlines focuses first on the efforts of the survivors of the movie cast to defeat the alien remnant forces that emerge from the wrecks of the downed alien city destroyers as the battle shifts from the skies to the ground where the aliens unleash a mix of their own technology with captured human weapons. 

Efforts then shift to uniting the survivors of humanity and rebuilding civilization despite the loss of roughly half the human population. While President Whitmore and his successors focus on the political front and Steven Hiller works on helping train a new generation of pilots, David Levinson refuses to become the head of the Earth Space Defense program intended as a shield against a feared return by force responding to a possible distress call from the invaders instead wanting to focus his efforts on reverse engineering captured alien technology and combining it with Human science.  

But that decision comes to haunt him when his efforts to slow a project he fears is being pushed too quickly fail and the rush leads to tragedy, he must accept the role he once rejected. Another plot follows Jake Morrison, orphaned by the invasion, through his efforts to gain the knowledge needed to enter the elite schooling which will set him on the path to the Earth Space Defense Academy, along the way befriending, and adopting for all intents and purposes fellow orphan Charlie Miller. Then, at the academy, Jake becomes close to both Dylan Hiller and Patricia Whitmore but in time his own ego will become one of his most powerful enemies and may also become a threat to his friends as well. 

A third plotline focuses on Dikembe Umbutu beginning with his journey from England to his homeland in the Congo during the invasion. When he arrives home, he meets his twin brother and finds that their father Upanga has declared their home province an independent republic and is refusing all foreign aid. And, unlike the other alien destroyers, the one in Dikembe’s home landed intact rather than being shot down making that area the strongest concentration of alien forces on Earth. Dikembe finds himself thrust into a leadership role in his new country’s military, but when the aliens discover who the leader of the human forces in the region is, he and his brother are made priority targets for capture. While their father leads a rescue mission, Dikembe’s brother is killed. And in time Upanga becomes increasingly paranoid and repressive as years pass. While Dikembe has no desire to harm his father he must eventually decide just how far he is willing to go to end the reign of terror that grips his home.

I give the book 7.5 out of 10. While the book does a very good job of introducing its new characters, there were a few areas I found lacking. First, I wish the author had either covered one of the nearly three dozen major battles occurring at the same time as the final battle of the original movie thoroughly or shown more of one the post movie battles that took place outside the Congo in detail. And two significant characters from the movie die over the course of the book but not only do you not actually see the deaths--though you do see the early stages of one of the incidents--you don’t get to see their aftermaths. Instead the characters are alive at the end of one chapter, time skips forward months or years between chapters, and then their deaths get mentioned almost in passing. Also given how one of the two died I can’t help but suspect that the author was trying to slip an unneeded, in my opinion, life lesson to the readers. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Force and Motion

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Force and Motion by Jeffery Lang. 

Benjamin Maxwell, a former Starfleet officer and starship captain who led his ship, the USS Phoenix, on a renegade offensive against the Cardassians whom he believed were secretly planning to resume war against the Federation, has been released from prison and after serving as a helmsman on a freighter, He resigned after a battle against pirates because he felt guilty about the deaths of the pirates, and has since become a janitor on the Robert Hooke, a civilian space station used for fringe research projects, some of which are on the edge of legality.  

Miles O’Brien, who formerly served under Maxwell, and Nog, who is trying to forge a closer friendship with O’Brien, travel from nearby Deep Space Nine to visit him. After meeting Finch, the leader of the station, who is working on creating genetically engineered organisms to cure the poison left behind on worlds devastated by the Borg in their final invasion. 

Unfortunately, soon Mother, the being at the core of Finch’s project, breaks loose, devastating the station. While most of the population--including Nog and O’Brien--evacuate, Maxwell and Finch are left behind, and soon the one of the evacuation craft begins suffering severe damage, leaving Nog and O’Brien no choice but to tow it back to the station with space suits and cables. 

Meanwhile, Maxwell meets Finch, who is rapidly losing his mind in the latter’s laboratory. And with the situation nearly a disaster, the secret customer for Finch’s work arrives ready to take what he has paid for by force. 

The novel also has a few flashbacks to Maxwell’s time in prison, and the period when he had just lost his wife and children along with some flashbacks to scenes from Nog’s life leading up to the novel and O’Brien’s Cardassian War service.

I give this book 5 out of 10. The main story is OK but nothing special in my opinion. The part where Maxwell resigns as helmsman of a freighter out of guilt for killing a crew of pirates who had killed the captain of the ship he was serving on makes no sense to me, unless he underwent an unmentioned lobotomy or something in prison. Some of the flashbacks seem pointless to me and these often come at points where the main story had good momentum going, only to be interrupted by an unneeded jump to the past. Also, descriptions of how Maxwell’s family died given in the novel don’t fit with what was stated in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Wounded" which introduced Maxwell, and I find the idea of an author writing a follow-up to an episode but not confirming that he or she got the details of a key event from that story correct to be unforgivable. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

James Review -- Alien: Invasion

This week I decided to review Alien: Invasion, book two of the Rage War by Tim Lebbon. For the review of the first book, see

When the story begins, the Human Sphere has formed an alliance with the Yautja, more commonly known as Predators, who are fleeing an assault by the Rage, ancient human space explorers driven mad by time who have come to believe that they were exiled to deep space--rather than volunteering for their journey-- and who seek revenge against the humans they left behind. But in the depths of space ,the Rage has discovered weapons and technology far beyond that of both the Human Sphere and the Yautja, including the secret to taming the Xenomorph aliens, an ability long sought by the Weyland-Yutani corporation which rules the Human Sphere.

Using the Fiennes ships--ancient human sleeper ships--as transports and Xenomorph breeding grounds, the forces of the Rage sweep through the Gamma Quadrant of human space, overrunning everything in their path despite desperate resistance from the Colonial Marines. Meanwhile, Liliya, a defecting Rage android, and Hashori, a Predator who captured her, flee to the independent mining station Hell, but though they disabled the drophole used to reach the station, they must find a way off it before the Rage forces pursuing Liliya catch up to them, and discover how to use the knowledge Liliya holds against the Rage without allowing Weyland-Yutani to abuse it.

And when the remains of a Colonial Marine strike team seeking to capture one of the Rage’s android generals discovers the Othello, a secret Fiennes ship that plays a key role in the Rage’s master plan, they must ally with a group of anti-Rage rebels in a desperate attempt to stop  the vessel before it can launch a devastating offensive against the core of the Human sphere while the bulk of humanity’s might is focused on the battles taking place in the distant Outer Rim.

I give the book 9 out of 10. While I feel the combat sequences are well handled, and I was pleasantly surpised that there were a few space combat scenes which I didn’t expect from an Alien novel. However, while seeing the story from a variety of viewpoints was interesting, it also led to a few sections that seemed disconnected from the rest of the story and I wish there were more Predator viewpoints in the novel.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Movie Review -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Today we have the sequel to 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Is it any good? Let's find out.

As the story opens, the Ninja Turtles are helping April O'Neil (Megan Fox) investigate shady scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) who she suspects is working for Shredder (Brian Tee) who has been in prison following his defeat in the previous movie. She is soon proven correct when she hacks into one of Stockman's devices, and soon the Foot Clan springs Shredder from police custody despite the turtles' valiant efforts to stop them. Security guard Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) takes the blame for the escape, and decides to redeem himself by hunting down two of the other escapees, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE's Sheamus).

Meanwhile, Shredder is summoned by interdimensional warlord Krang (Brad Garrett) to help him reassemble the pieces of a teleporter which would allow him to bring his mighty fortress, the Technodrome, into our world to conquer it. Shredder agrees and recruits Bebop and Rocksteady, injecting them with a mysterious substance which transforms them into really strong (but really really stupid) animals.

The turtles get wind of the plot, but when they discover a potential solution to their appearance problem, they become divided and find it difficult to trust each other. But they'd better move quickly, as the forces of evil are well within sight of their ultimate goal. Will they take the easy way out, or will they stand strong and face a world that hates and fears them?

As a Ninja Turtles fan all my life, this movie is the answer to my fanboy prayers. It's got everything a fan could want. We finally get to see Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang on the big screen, and they're not complete jokes like in the old cartoon. They're actually suitably threatening and give the turtles a run for their money. The movie's also got great action, though the jokes are hit or miss. This film simply hits all the right notes, and Ninja Turtles fans old and new will love it.

Honestly, I don't know where they go from here. It's going to be hard to top this one.

Friday, June 3, 2016

James Review -- Cobra Rebellion: Cobra Outlaw

This week I decided to review Cobra Rebellion: Cobra Outlaw by Timothy Zahn.

The book focuses on several members of the Broom and Moreau family, most of whom are Cobras, or cybernetically enhanced super-soldiers. The family’s leader, Paul, is being held on Aventine by the Dominion of Man who are preparing to mind-sift him in hopes of discovering the secret location of Qasama, the birthplace of Cobra technology. The Dominion has arranged a riot to seize control of the planet and forced most of the world’s Cobras to wear explosive collars but some of the Broom clan have escaped and carry on a war of harassment, seeking to avoid bloodshed while they hunt for a way to liberate their fellow Cobras.

Meanwhile, Jody Broom has escaped and is travelling to Qasama to become a Cobra herself, seizing a Dominion scout ship in the process. But Barrington Moreau, a distant relative of the Cobra clan which provides most of the book’s viewpoint characters, and captain of the Dominion cruiser Dorian is racing to meet a friendly member of the alien Troft who can tell him where Qasama is.

However, after battling a hostile Troft faction en route, Barrington is left little choice but to ask Qasama to treat his wounded, even though he knows the Dominion plans to lure the Troft into launching a full-scale assault on the world in order to weaken the Troft forces near the Dominion homeland. And once Jody’s conversion to a Cobra is complete, she begins plotting to flee the world with her captured vessel, seeking to discover the fate of her brother Merrick.

And, on the Troft world of Muninn, Merrick, captured and enslaved by the Troft, has managed to escape along with another slave, Anya Winghunter, whose parents had been part of a failed rebellion against the Troft over a decade earlier. Merrick is hoping to discover the purpose of a mysterious facility on the world while bringing Anya to her childhood home, and the pair eventually ally with a Troft master named Kjoic, but the planet has many predators, dangerous even to a Cobra. Merrick doesn’t dare reveal what he is, and Kjoic has his own secrets.

I give the book 8.5 out of 10. The combat sequences are brilliant but few, and for the most part the author does a great job weaving the plot threads together. However, there are some plot twists that come out of nowhere, the book needed a few more battles, and a few parts of the book seem like nothing but padding. And I hate it when the back cover of a book lies about what happens in the story, and the back cover of this book couldn’t even get the name of one of the primary characters right.