Friday, September 30, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: Legacies: Purgatory's Key

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Legacies: Purgatory's Key by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore. 

The story opens with a short scene focusing on Visla, member of a disgraced Klingon family and captain of the IKS Qo'daqh, an antique battle cruiser kept in service as a dumping ground for such personnel. The ship her son served on was recently destroyed while fighting alongside the USS Enterprise to repel a Romulan attempt to disrupt negotiations between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Visla's son was among the Klingon survivors rescued by the Enterprise but Visla feels this has further disgraced her son and vows revenge. 

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is preparing to return to Uslide to rescue Captain Una, any survivors from the Enterprise crew transported to the Jatohr universe eighteen years earlier and the various people sent there by the Romulans including Ambassador Sarek, Councilor Gorkon of the Klingon High Council, and Joanna McCoy. Kirk orders the Enterprise to begin the journey despite not having time to fully repair the ship and having no authorization to enter disputed territory and a system occupied by Klingons while Spock, Chekov, and Uhura work on modifying a probe to enter the Jatohr universe and locate those they seek to rescue. 

On Uslide,  Klingon scientists continue efforts to master the technology of the Jatohr but are eventually forced to retreat after triggering the citadel's security systems. When the Enterprise arrives it meets the IKS Vron'joQ commanded by J'Teglyr who agrees to corporate with the Enterprise rather then risk provoking Organian intervention. However, when the Qo'daqh arrives it attacks the Enterprise despite orders to the contrary, leading to the vessel being crippled and the survivors are rescued by J'Teglyr who then order the crippled warship destroyed in an effort to punish Visla. 

Meanwhile, in the Jatohr universe, Una eventually regroups with the remaining Enterprise crew members, the surviving Uslide who were banished there during the Jatohr occupation of their homeworld, and the members of the diplomatic party, but the group suffers heavy causalities fighting the Jatohr. Captain Una discovers that she seems to be able to influence reality around her and she and Sarek soon realize that everything they are perceiving is a form of shared hallucination. 

They then struggle to pierce the illusion and reactivate the probe sent by Enterprise, disabled by the natives because it caused them great pain, to use as a targeting beacon for a rescue attempt. Enterprise sends a landing party to the citadel to carry out part of the rescue plan but the citadel launches into space, beginning the next phase of the Jatohr plan to transform Uslide into a Jatohr colony. While Enterprise attacks the citadel trying to prevent permanent damage to Uslide. Visla seizes control of the Qo'daqh, leaving the Federation vessel in a desperate three way battle with little time to retrieve its landing party, complete the rescue, and disable or destroy the citadel.

I give this book 7 out of 10. While I enjoyed the story overall and thought the characters created for it were well written, I felt it had some significant flaws. First, by having Councilor Gorkon appear to die in combat against the Jatohr, it decreased the tension of that universe's events greatly for me. After all, knowing that Gorkon had to survive, why would I worry about the others who had apparently died there? Also, it suffers from being a prequel to a much older story in that I find it very odd that the events of this book are apparently forgotten by all the participants that appear in The Undiscovered Country which creates a jarring disconnect for me. Finally, I feel there were some important questions left unanswered at the end of the story.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Sacred Planet

Austin Rogers recently sent me a pre-release copy of his novel Sacred Planet. Quite a lengthy read, it took me some time but now I'm finished and ready to give you my review.

The story begins in the Carina Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. The scavenger ship Fossa arrives at the wreck of a yacht in hopes of scoring a huge payday. But what they find instead is Sierra Falco, the daughter of the Carinian prime minister and the only survivor of a vicious attack on the yacht. Sierra pins the blame on Abramists, a religious sect within Carina that seeks war with the nearby Sagittarians. Davin, the Fossa's captain, takes a liking to her and decides to help her get home. It won't be easy, though. All stargates leading to Carina have been closed following the attack, and the Abramists are hot on their trail, intent on keeping their involvement in the attack secret.

Meanwhile, in the Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy, on the planet Triumph, the nobleman warrior Kastor claims victory in a battle royale to become Champion to the Grand Lumis Zantorian. But Zantorian wants absolute loyalty, and the only way for Kastor to gain that is to kill his soul mate Pollaena. After some tragic bloodshed, Kastor is sent to the planet Upraad to convince their king Radovan to allow their world to be absorbed into Zantorian's empire. Radovan refuses, however, and since Kastor can't go back empty-handed, an alternative solution must be found. Kastor instead sides with Radovan's illegitimate son Abelard to overthrow the king. Cue an epic battle, some betrayals and more bloodshed (and we're only getting started).

Meanwhile, the Abramist Morvan is pushing Sierra's father to authorize an invasion of the Sagittarius Arm, blaming the attack on Zantorian. Morvan also wants to annex the holiest site in the galaxy, the Sacred Planet--Earth. But he also has designs on Upraad. He wants to control that planet as well, so he sends backup to help its ruler fight off a Sagittarian invasion (which leads to...guess what...more bloodshed). Kastor is then called upon to finish what he started, but the fruit of failure is bitter indeed.

Austin Rogers hasn't been shy in describing this as Game of Thrones in space, and that's an apt description. It switches between different characters who never meet, at least not in this book. There are power struggles, betrayals and, of course, bloodshed. The only thing missing is gratuitous nudity. I will say that what works for Game of Thrones works for Sacred Planet. The story is suitably epic in scope, and if you like GoT you'll like this. It's also pretty darn well-written and Rogers has a way with prose.

However, Sacred Planet also suffers from the same problem as GoT: too many characters. A lot of faces pop up in this book and I had a hard time keeping tabs on who was who, particularly in scenes that focus on ancillary characters.

Still, I consider that a minor quibble. I enjoyed Sacred Planet and have no problem recommending it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

James Review -- Poseidon's Children: Poseidon's Wake

This week I decided to review Poseidon's Children: Poseidon's Wake by Alistair Reynolds.

The story begins on Crucible where Nedge Akinya is held in permanent house arrest after her attempts to contact the alien machine nicknamed Mandala apparently resulted in the destruction of the colony holoship Zanzibar, more than four hundred thousand humans, and the vast majority of the Tectors, genetically engineered sentient elephants. But in time Crucible receives a message from Gliese 163, a solar system believed to have not been visited by humanity, requesting that Nedge be sent there.

Nedge's brother Mosbi sees this as an opportunity in his ongoing struggle to have the terms of Nedge's imprisonment relaxed and is planning to push for one of the two starships Crucible has under construction to be sent to reply to the signal. Nedge has come to believe that the pulse which apparently destroyed Zanzibar was a communication signal and Gliese 163 is among the likely candidates for its destination. They also suspect that the signal might have something to do with the Trinity, three beings taken by the alien machine Watchkeepers which now watch every system humanity inhabits but were first contacted by the Crucible colony. The trio consisted of an AI android based on Nedge's ancestor Eunice Akinya, Nedge's mother Chiku Green, one of three clones of Chiku Akinya, and the Tector Dakota with no other contact possible in the centuries since they departed.

Nedge can't go do to health reason but Mosbi, along with Nedge's daughter Goma and her wife Ru, both scientists who had dedicated themselves to a losing battle to save Crucible's Tector population which ends with the death of the last Tector on the world join the Starship Tavertine on its journey. As they leave the system a Watchkeeper sets out in pursuit, but rather than destroy the ship, as Watchkeepers sometimes do for no known reason, instead the immense alien machine begins clearing a path for the Tavertine.

However, powerful political forces on Crucible oppose the mission and Mosbi soon discovers evidence of a plot to disable or destroy the ship launching an investigation that ends with his death. A prime suspect is soon found, but without more evidence, he is sentenced to skipover stasis for the remainder of the mission rather than death. Meanwhile, on Mars, which is now ruled by the machines of the Evolvarium, Kanu Akinya, the son of Chiku Yellow, is an ambassador for the United Aquatic nations, one of four ambassadors who are the only humans on the red planet. He, along with two of his fellow ambassadors, is killed in an attack by the Reclamationist movement that wishes for humanity to seize control of Mars from the Evolvarium.

The Evolvarium resuscitates Kanu but this action casts doubt on his loyality to humanity so he is recalled. After delivering the belongings of his closest friend among the ambassadors to her family, he begins investigating the art work of one of his ancestors and reunites with his ex-wife Nissa who has taken up similar studies. The two grow close and eventually set out for Europa, but en route Kanu realizes the truth. While undergoing treatment on Mars Kanu had made a secret deal with the Evolvarium to allow Swift, his closes friend among the machines, to be embedded in his brain. The Evolvarium has discovered the signal sent to Crucible but is forbidden from leaving Mars so they asked Kanu to obtain a starship and set out for Gliese 163.

Nissa is furious to discover she was used in such a fashion but after their arrival on Europa triggers both a civil war among the Regals that inhabit the moon and an invasion by the Consolidation, one of the major human power blocks in the system, Kanu asks the Margrave, the leader of the friendly Regals to protect Nissa at all costs before setting out to launch the long hidden starship he names Icebreaker. But after launching the ship and evading the Consolidation, destroying one of their pursuit ships in the process, Kanu discovers that the Margrave's solution to protecting Nissa was to put her on board the Icebreaker leaving him facing a long journey with his only companions an AI in his head and a woman who despises him.

I give the book 6 out of 10. I feel that it is very longwinded and dull as there are no action sequences worth mentioning. Also, I wish the author had gone into more detail on the political factions in the Sol system and their goals and especially explained just why the Consolidation was so determined to prevent Kanu from leaving the Sol system. However I did like many of the characters and despite a brief period where it looked like a massively disappointing ending was pending, I actually liked how the story ended though I hope there will be a sequel to wrap some things up some day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Where Gods Dare -- Chapter II

Here is part of the second chapter from my upcoming novel. Again, sorry about the formatting. Word 2016 doesn't like Blogger.

Back aboard the Midgard, they reconvened on the bridge. “So what did you want to check?” Maya asked Ev.
            Sitting in the captain’s chair he told her. “I want to know if there are any more gods left on Narska besides us. Did Zero Grade’s attack remove everyone’s powers?”
            “Good thinking,” Daryn said. “You want to search for potential allies.”
            “Great plan. But how exactly do we do that?” Jaysin said.
            “Simple, really. Ragnarok?”
            The ship’s AI promptly responded. “Yes, Captain Bannen?”
            Ev grinned. “It still feels good to be called that. Now, then; Ragnarok, is there a sensor array or something that can tell us how many gods are left on the planet?”
            “I have very sophisticated sensors.”
            “Good. How many are left?”
            “Beginning scan. This could take up to a minute to probe the entire planet.” After a minute, she said, “Scan complete.”
            Holding his breath, Ev asked, “All right. Besides us on this ship, are there any gods left on Narska?”
            “Sensors show only one being with high levels of Ultimus energy.”
            “Great,” Daryn said. “Only one person left. This just keeps getting better and better.”
            “I wonder if they’re friendly,” CiCi said.
            Ev sighed. Zero Grade had done a thorough job of ridding themselves of their enemies. He wondered if any of their own had been caught in the blast; he didn’t know if the Flawless Few cared about collateral damage. “Fine, then. Ragnarok, can you identify the one remaining god?”
            “I’m sorry, Captain Bannen. The person in question is too far away.” After a pause, she declared, “Strange. The person has disappeared from my sensors.”
            “What do you think that means?” Jaysin asked.
            Ev shrugged. “Hell if I know. Ragnarok, what was their last known location?”
            The computer responded, “Approximately four hundred miles northwest of Seraphim City in Morovia.”
            To Ev, there was only one thing to do. “Take us there.”

* * *

The area in question turned out to be Flowerstone National Park, a mountainous area with a deep network of subterranean caves. Over the past several decades, only a small percentage of those caves had been mapped, and once the place became a protected site, strict regulations made further explorations prohibitively difficult.
            Looking out the bridge windows at the beautiful green landscape below them, Maya asked Ev, “Have you ever been here before?”
            “Once,” he replied. “My class went on a field trip here in junior high.
            Daryn said, “Ragnarok, are you sure this person is down there?”
            “Yes, Crewman Anders.”
            Daryn gave Ev an accusing look. “‘Crewman’?”
            Ev shrugged. “I didn’t know what else to call you.”
            “Anyway,” Daryn said, returning his attention to the ship’s AI. “Do you have visuals on this person?”
            “Negative. They seem to have the ability to mask their energy signature. That may explain why I lost them earlier. However, I am still detecting their presence somewhere in the park below. We are now above their last known location.”
            “All right,” Ev said. “Let’s go down and have a look.”

* * *

They wasted little time setting foot down in the park. The location they now found themselves in was a green valley flanked by mountain ridges. A large mountain stream ran to their right and continued on ahead to the base of nearby mountain, and fur trees could be seen all around.
            “It’s beautiful,” Maya said.
            “It sure is,” CiCi added.
            “We didn’t come here to sightsee,” Daryn reminded them.
            “Nothing wrong with taking in the magnificent view,” Jaysin argued.
            “Jaysin’s right,” Ev said. “Besides, we won’t find this person if we don’t look. And if we happen to see some breathtaking sights along the way, so be it.” He didn’t want to gush over the scenery like Maya and CiCi, but neither could he deny its beauty.
            “Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.”
            “Ah,” Jaysin said playfully. “Could it be you don’t like this place?”
            “We have far more beautiful sites in the Tru Republic,” Daryn asserted.
            Ev stopped. This was an opportunity too good to pass up. “I think you’re jealous of our national parks.”
            Daryn’s nostrils flared. “That’s ridiculous. You think your so-called parks are so special, when they’re far from it.”
            “You’re jealous,” Ev insisted, a smirk playing across his face.
            Daryn rolled his eyes. “Can we just get on with this?”

* * *

They traveled through the V-shaped valley and came to the base of a small mountain. Here they found a large hole in the ground leading to a subterranean cavern. Thrill seekers often parachuted into such places, and Ev had to wonder if their mystery person had been doing that.
            They stared into the gaping maw. “You think this person’s down there?” Maya said.
            “Only one way to find out,” Ev replied. He then yelled down, “Hello? Is anybody down there?”
            “Down there, down there, down there,” his voice echoed.
            After several moments of silence, Ev said, “I don’t think—” His words were suddenly cut off as he sensed something coming at them. Fast. “Get down!” He tackled Maya to the ground, just barely saving her from a flying silver blur. The object soared over their heads and came to rest on the other side of the hole.
            Ev stared at it, and realized he’d seen it before.


Friday, September 16, 2016

James Review -- Daedalus: The Venusian Gambit

This week I decided to review Daedalus: The Venusian Gambit by Michael J. Martinez. 

The series focuses on two universes which I have personally labeled the Daedalus universe, essentially a future version of our history, and the Known Worlds universe where Mars, Venus, and the moons of Saturn all have native sentient species and wooden ships, aided by alchemy, sail the solar system. The series focuses on the efforts of the Martian warlord Althotas, who was banished to a pocket universe for war crimes in the forty-second century BC of the Known Worlds, is seeking to break free and conquer both solar systems, with the story regularly jumping between the two timelines. 

The book starts by showing Althotas being exiled before shifting to Known Worlds 1803 AD. English Rear Admiral Thomas Weatherby is getting married but his wedding is crashed by Revenants, undead soldiers reanimated by alchemy, that have been marched across the English channel by the French army. Weatherby manages to escape along with his wife and some others but at a high cost as his mentor stays behind to lead the effort to stall the invaders long enough for Weatherby to flee. 

And in 2134 of the Daedalus universe, the head of Project Daedalus--formed to defend against Althotas and other such threats--is briefing the President of the United States on the project and the events of the first two books in the trilogy along with a new threat. The Chinese spacecraft Tienlong has been seized by two Joint Space Command officers and one Chinese officer possessed by the souls of ancient Martians loyal to Althotas. The JSC ship Armstrong is pursuing with her acting captain Shalia Jain determined to save her lover, Stephane Durand, who is one of the possessed. 

Eventually with aid from another JSC ship the Tienlong's crew is captured and, in time, a technique to allow Stephane to regain control of his body is developed. But other possessed agents are activated and head for Venus with the JSC in pursuit. 

In the Known Worlds it is now 1809 and, while much of England has been occupied by Napoleon's forces which have allied with renegade members of the Xan, (natives of Saturn's moons), the remaining free regions of the United Kingdom fight on. Admiral Weatherby is commander of the English Navy in both sea and space and, after repelling an attack on the primary English production facility for Mercurium, a substance which allows equipped ships to launch to space from anywhere on an ocean, while ships lacking it--like those used by the French--must take off from polar regions, over Mercury, he is recalled to England. 

After defending against an attack against the English government in exile's capital, plans are made to liberate the occupied sections of the United Kingom but the Xan approach explaining that they believe they have discovered a French plot to seize a Venusian Memory vault containing secrets dating back to the final war between the Martians and the Xan, a move that appears to be aimed at freeing Althotas,  Weatherby leads a small task force to Venus but finds a massive French fleet waiting for him. During the battle over Venus, a rift between the universes opens, depositing a small JSC force and the English and JSC units must team up for a final desperate attempt to prevent the liberation of a warlord imprisoned for almost six thousand years.

I give this book 8 out of 10. I thought the author did a really good job juggling the two stories until they merged, and there are some nice references to other Napoleon-era novel series' slipped in. The fleet battles were interesting but I also feel that they were far too short. Admittedly, my interest in Age of Sail naval warfare is strictly amateur but I'm almost certain that unless lucky hits were involved engagements lasted much longer then they did in this book. Also I wish the book had been longer to allow more development of both universes.

Friday, September 9, 2016

James Review -- Ultima

This week I decided to review Ultima by Stephen Baxter. 

When the story opens, Yuri Eden has been transported to a universe where the Roman Empire never fell but competes with the Xin Empire, based in China, while loosely allied with the Brikanti .nation centered on the British isles While he and those with him struggle to integrate into the crew of the ship that found them, a second ship fleeing an apocalyptic war in the Sol system finds itself transferred to this new universe. Its crew become part of this Earth's society with the AI Earthshine aiding in efforts to terraform Mars by diverting an asteroid Ceres. 

But Earthshine has the asteroid on a course to destroy Mars, so the refugees from the UN-ruled timeline and a group of Romans are sent to intercept. They make contact with Earthshine and discover his goal is to force contact with the lifeforms inhabiting Mars by threatening their survival. In the end, the Roman ship and the refugees are shifted to a third universe where the Incas rule humanity after destroying Rome, with most of humanity living in orbital habitats. 

Again, all the refugees struggle to integrate into a new society with some marrying and having children. In time they realize that in each new timeline they find themselves in humanity has gone further in replicating and spreading the Hatches, alien light speed deportation devices found on Per Aruda, a planet orbiting Proxima Centuari. Earthshine believes that the creators of the Hatches have been manipulating humanity across all of the universes. Eventually, the group finds itself on Per Aruda in the distant future when the collision between the Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy is growing near. There they discover a horrifying truth. Now with the end of the universe they are in imminent, the group must struggle to find a way to escape the timeline they are in and decide whose survival should be a priority if they find a way.

I give the book 7 out 10. I like the various societies introduced in the new universes and some of the technologies shown are interesting, but I didn't find the characters very gripping and I wish the series had been longer. I think the story would have been much better if there had been a whole book focused on the Roman universe and another focused on the Inca universe, thus allowing each timeline and the characters introduced by that timeline to be developed in more detail.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Re: Zero

Today we have a Japanese light novel by Tappei Nagatsuki. It is Re: Zero -Starting Life in Another World-, Vol. 1.

The story takes begins with high schooler Subaru Natsuki having run into a little snag while coming home from the convenience store. You see, somehow he got warped to a medieval fantasy world. He doesn't know who brought him here, but he thinks it's a cute girl. And with only his knowledge of anime fantasy tropes to go on, he's in a bit of a bind.

After a run-in with local hoodlums, he is saved by a mysterious silver-haired girl who calls herself Satella. She was chasing a thief who had stolen an equally mysterious badge from her. Subaru agrees to help her locate the thief, and eventually they find the repository for stolen goods waiting to be sold. Unfortunately, inside Subaru finds a corpse. Even more unforuntate, the killer hasn't left yet and quickly cuts them down. Subaru dies.

But in actuality, that's just the beginning of the story. As it turns out, he's inexplicably acquired the ability to go back in time upon death (think the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow). He doesn't understand it one bit, but that doesn't stop him from going back to the building. This time he gets there before everyone is murdered, and meets the proprietor Rom. He is then introduced to the thief, a teenage girl named Felt. He manages to negotiate a deal to retrieve the stolen badge using his cell phone which he claims is magical. His good luck doesn't last long, though, because a creepy woman named Elsa also shows up. And she's hell-bent on keeping that badge from returning to Satella. How many deaths will it take for Subaru to figure out how to keep everyone alive?

Re: Zero is a fun story. It manages to embrace the anime fantasy genre while remaining very self-aware and even a little spoofy. It makes no attempt to hide the inspiration it received from anime such as Magic Knight Rayearth, Escaflowne, and Now and Then, Here and There. If you're looking for a fantasy story that pokes fun at its forebearers while still remaining serious, Re: Zero is for you. It was even popular enough to receive anime and manga adaptations.

However, it does have an annoying flaw with its dialogue. It often doesn't tell you who's speaking, leaving you to figure it out for yourself. There were numerous times I found myself saying, "Wait, who said that? Was it Subaru? Oh, no, it was Satella."

But aside from that, I have no trouble recommending Re: Zero.

Friday, September 2, 2016

James Review -- The Icarus Corps: Titan's Fall

This week I decided to review The Icarus Corps: Titan's Fall by Zachary Brown. 

Before this book takes place, Earth was conquered more than a generation ago by the Arvani-led Accordance. While the Accordance tried to prevent humanity from spreading further than the moon now the war between the Accordance and its long-time enemies the Conglomeration has come to the Sol system and the Accordance wishes to use humans as troops in the fight. The Conglomeration has taken Saturn but doesn't control the gas giant's moons, so the few survivors of the battle for Icarus Base, now heroes of the human Colonial Protection Forces, are being redeployed to Shangri-La, a base on Titan, along with a host of rookies to replenish their unit's devastated ranks. 

Despite their jumpship being intercepted and downed by Conglomeration forces, they make their way to their new base. Soon, Sergeant Amiria Singh, a former anti-Accordance hacker who joined the military to get out of jail, has been traveling beyond the base's perimeter seeking signs of enemy activity in the area without authorization, and Lieutanant Devlin Hart, The viewpoint charter of the book who was blackmailed into joining the military by threats against his anti-Accordance dissident parents and any possible havens of theirs, is ordered to stop her. 

But Amiria soon finds evidence of enemy activity and the Conglomeration launches an assault on the Accordance's bases on the moon using forces that had been concealed beneath Titan's surface. Using drivers, creatures that can turn a human into a puppet, the Conglomeration has devastated the base's leadership. To make matters worse, the attack is led by Zeus, an Arvani defector who once was an instructor to the Icarus Base survivors and soon the Accordance begins an evacuation leaving many civilians behind because they prioritize saving soldiers over non-combatants. 

Hart's team is sent to a Trojan asteroid converted into an Accordance base and shipyard where they soon find themselves facing angry civilians while reeling from the news that Zeus' children, who are high ranking members of the Accordance, are seeking revenge against those they blame for the disgrace of their parent. Soon, the crews building some of the carriers at the shipyard mutiny and Hart must seek a way to minimize bloodshed despite being saddled with an Arvani officer willing to start executions at the slightest excuse. 

Then, after it is revealed that a human Conglomeration agent sparked the mutiny, Hart's team must endure the followup attack before being sent back to Titan where they will discover just how far the Arvani will go to deny their enemy territory and face a choice that will have a massive impact on humanity's future.

I give the book 7 out of 10. While it does a great ob of leaving the reader wondering which of the two alien powers us really the lesser evil, I feel that having the entire story told from a single character's viewpoint gives it an incredibly narrow focus. This is crippling in a story with large-scale battles, especially when the character is a low ranking officer because it means that the reader only sees a small section of what is happening. Also, I feel that the technology used in the story is left far too vague for my taste.  Most of the weapons involved are only described in the most general of terms.