Saturday, November 26, 2016

James Review -- Kris Longknife: Bold

This week I decided to review Kris Longknife: Bold by Mike Shepherd. 

The story begins with Kris, her husband and bodyguard Jack, and their baby Ruth returning to Wardhaven after being summoned by King Raymond. The nearby Greenfield empire is in a state of civil war, (see the Vicky Peterwald series for more details on the war and the buildup to it) and Emperor Henry Peterwald has requested the Kris mediate between the factions loyal to the Empress and that loyal to Vicky. But before the trio can depart Wardhaven, they have to evade assassins because someone has put a hit out on Kris. Taking a squadron of battlecruisers, all that can be spared due to the ongoing conflict in the Alwa region, they set out for Greenfield during the journey defeating a pair of antique battleships that ambush their fleet en route to jump point. And at Greenfield they are forced to alter their plans and meet with the Imperial couple on ship after Jack and his advance security sweep is attacked by a group apparently planning to hold Jack hostage to influence Kris. After getting the Empress' side of the story, they set out for St. Petersburg, the headquarters of Vicky's forces, and meet with her arranging truce negotiations on the independent world of Cuzco. Despite more assassination attempts and a slow start, the talks go well. But when the Empress realizes that the rift between Vicky's faction and the Emperor is closing, she launches a two-front attack, sending a team to kidnap Ruth while calling a massive fleet to burn Cuzco to the ground with only Kris' nine battlecruisers to face dozens of battleships and more then fifty smaller warships.

I give this book 6.5 out of 10. It isn't horrible but it wasn't particularly interesting, either. The story cuts away from the conflict which had been the main focus of the recent story arc completely. Worse, this is the final book of this arc yet it sidelines the majority of the regularly appearing characters in the series within the first few pages. While I am hoping that this is setting up another spin off series, it didn't help the plot of this book at all in my opinion. Finally, the space combat is one of my favorite parts of the series but there wasn't much of it and it was usually utterly one-sided due to Kris' forces have a overwhelming technological advantage over her foes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: Prey: The Jackal's Trick

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Prey: The Jackal's Trick by John Jackson Miller. 

Korgh, protege of the long dead Klingon Commander Kruge, has seized control of the House of Kruge while working to unravel the Klingon Empire's long alliance with the Federation or at least move the Empire to leading the alliance of the Khitomer Accords signatories. He has unleashed the Unsung, a colony of disgraced Klingons whose core are the families of Kruge's discommendated military allies armed with the Birds of Prey of the Phantom Wing, a secret squadron created by Kruge and equipped with the most advanced technology Korgh's agents can discover. Led by Buxtus Cross, a member of the interstellar group of con artists known as the Circle of Jilaan, encountered by the Enterprise-D in The Next Generation episode Devil's Due, who has disguised himself as a gravely wounded Kruge, the Unsung are prepared to seek vengeance against the Klingon Empire.

The book opens by showing how Cross was recruited by the Circle. After this it shows the commissioning of a new Bird of Prey commanded by Korgh's grandson with Admiral Riker and General Kersh. But the ceremony turns into a battle when a pair of discommendated workers, inspired by the action of the Unsung, strike. A rash of attacks by other discommendated Klingons and attacks on them ensues while Riker continues to arrange talks between the Khitomer Accords signatories to negotiate a free flight path through the territories of the various powers. 

But doing so will require the support of the House of Kruge, which controls much of the Klingon territory in the proposed free flight path. Korgh insists on choosing the Klingon Empire's lead representative to the conference, deliberately choosing someone who will hinder the talks, and holding them at the Spirit's Forge, a legendary Klingon Fortress guarded by an equally legendary order of warriors replenished after being wiped out during the final Borg invasion. Korgh also orders the Unsung to destroy the conference. 

Meanwhile, Cross has been directing the Unsung against a series of Orion pirate hideouts seeking treasure and his Orion apprentice Shift's vengeance against her own people. Cross had been ordered by Korgh to execute the clone of Kahless the Unforgivable but instead keeps the clone alive for study, planning to someday impersonate the reincarnation of Kathless himself. He uses his Kahless impersonation to lure the defenders of the Spirit's Forge to their deaths and allowing the Unsung to take their place. But the ambush is discovered and the Unsung are driven to retreat in the ensuing battle. 

I give this book 8 out of 10. The story is interesting and I enjoyed the few battle sequences a great deal. The ending also did a great job of leaving me wondering what will happen in the final book of the trilogy. However, there is a major plot twist that I feel had no real foreshadowing at all and another part where a character's actions make no sense to me given what is known of that character's culture.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Another

Today we have a Japanese novel by Yukito Ayatsuji. It is Another.

The story takes place in Japan in 1998. Teenager Koichi Sakakibara has just transferred from Tokyo to the rural town of Yomiyama following a hospitalization. Everyone is friendly at first and the town seems very peaceful. But when he finally arrives at Yomiyama North Middle School, things take a strange turn. First, we are told a legend about a student named Misaki or Masaki (no one is quite sure) who died in the 1970s at this school. Ever since then, unexplained phenomena has been reported.

Anyway, Koichi meets his classmates and they seem to hit it off. However, he then encounters a mysterious girl in his class named Mei Misaki. She's antisocial, says cryptic things, comes and goes at seemingly random, and no one seems to notice her. They do, however, seem to take note of Koichi's attempts to befriend her and issue vague warnings. Koichi is understandably perplexed, but he can't get any answers from the students and faculty.

At first, this is just a confusing annoyance. But when people around him start to die horribly, it gets deadly serious and the people in his class become increasingly distant and terrified. At this point, the only one willing to answer his questions might be Mei Misaki. But the answers she gives won't necessarily make things easier for him, and eventually he will have a choice to make: stand up for Misaki and himself, or accept the status quo for the greater good.

This novel came out of nowhere for me, and I have to's delightfully different. I thought we were just going to get a standard ghost story, but the explanation for the bizarre happenings in this story turned out to be far more cerebral than I could have imagined. It's complicated, but rewarding when you finally grasp what's going on. You think you have Koichi's class and faculty figured out, but then the big revelation comes and you realize you have to take another look at these people.

I should also point out that Ayatsuji wrote a sequel, so don't expect things to wrap up neatly at the end of this volume.

Bottom line: Another is intelligent and freaky.

Friday, November 11, 2016

James Review -- The Lazarus War: Origins

This week I decided to review The Lazarus War: Origins by Jamie Sawyer.

When the story begins things are not going well for the Alliance or the Lazarus Legion, a simulant operations unit or one of a number of Alliance units that operate enhanced bodies remotely by linking the controller's mind to the artificial body. It has been six months since the disastrous Damascus operation and the Alliance's conflict with the human Asiatic Directorate continues while the alien Krell have burst out of their Quarantine Zone and overwhelmed a number of systems including the Alliance's largest base.

The book open with the Legion operating behind Directorate lines seeking prisoners taken during the Damascus incident, including one of the legion's members. The prison camp is located but the rescue soon turns into a three-sided battle between the Alliance, the Directorate, and the Krell, which ends with the Directorate nuking their own colony though the Alliance strike team manages to rescue several dozen prisoners. The Legion is then ordered to Calico Base which is the most hated Alliance post of Legion commander Lieutenant Colonel Conrad Harris because it was the last place he saw his lost love Elena Marceau and the launching point for her ship, the Endeavor, flagship of the fleet sent to negotiate an end to the First Krell War a decade before the current conflict. The fleet never returned, but soon after reaching the base Conrad is called to a briefing b the Alliance High Command which reveals that the Endeavor is intact and believed to carry a secret that could defeat the Krell once and for all. But before more details can be given an ex-Alliance simulant ops team that had defected to the Directorate assassinates the high command and a full Directorate invasion of Calico ensues.

Conrad manages to escape on board the Colossus, the only Alliance warship at the base to avoid destruction, and the hunt for the Endeavor is on with the Directorate flagship in pursuit and the Krell lying in wait. The Legion eventually finds the Endeavor and the survivors of it fleet only to discover the horrifying truth behind its mission leading to a desperate battle to prevent the return of an ancient force which would obliterate both humanity and the Krell if given the chance.

The story also includes a few flashbacks to the period when the Endeavor fleet launches and the aftermath of that launch, as well as the incident where Conrad gets his first feeble clue that the Endeavor had a hidden objective..

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. The combat scenes are excellent and the story well-written with many interesting characters, but I wish we had learned more about the various factions in play during the story. Also, having almost the entire tale told from the point of view of one character limits the reader's ability to know what is going on away from the protagonist and makes understanding the motivations and mindsets of any antagonists virtually impossible. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Movie Review -- Doctor Strange

Today we have the latest Marvel movie. It is Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Is it any good? Let's find out.

The film opens with brilliant but cocky surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange. He's got it all--wealth, fame, and the friendship of fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). However, everything changes when he is involved in an horrific car crash which nearly destroys his hands. With his future now in question, he looks to modern medicine to save him. But nothing works, prompting Strange to seek alternative and unorthodox treatments. His desperate journey takes him to Nepal where he meets the mysterious Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who takes him to his enclave to meet the even more mysterious Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Said Ancient One turns out to be the most powerful sorcerer on Earth, and she reluctantly agrees to train him in the mystic arts. After a baptism by fire (or ice) on Mt. Everest, he very quickly establishes himself as a fast learner thanks to his photographic memory.

Unfortunately for all involved, Strange isn't the first gifted pupil she's taken on. The evil Kaecilius has recently betrayed the organization of sorcerers and stolen a page from an ancient book which details how to summon the dreaded Dormammu to our world. With the planet now being threatened, Strange must rise to the occasion and master his magical powers. But the Ancient One is hiding a secret that will have serious consequences for the good guys. Can Doctor Strange defeat Kaecilius and his lackeys and keep Dormammu from devouring our world?

I've seen plenty of Marvel movies. Some are better than others. I'm happy to report Doctor Strange is refreshingly different from those that came before it. It's visually stunning and has a terrific cast,  a stellar soundtrack by Michael Giacchino, and a smart plot. Also, it doesn't suffer from annoying stereotypes like Ant Man did.

The only wrinkle here is a less than believable turn of events at the end where one major character does an abrupt 180. I don't really buy it and neither did James.

Still, I enjoyed Doctor Strange and I hope you will as well.

Friday, November 4, 2016

James Review -- Willful Child

This week I decided to review Willful Child by Steven Erikson. 

The story opens at some unidentified point in the future with a junkyard owner and his son finding an alien spacecraft among their trash. The alien pilot flees, leaving the ship behind, and father and son board the craft then take off for space where they accidentally launch a planet-wide EMP strike on Earth. The story then jumps forward about a century. Humanity has recovered from the EMP using alien technology found after the incident and formed the Affiliation, an interstellar state whose true purpose is little more then conquering or destroying everything in its path. Captain Hadrian Sawback has been assigned command of the Engage class starship Willful Child and handpicked his crew, choosing female crewmembers solely on their looks. Sawback received his command after setting a record for solving a puzzle given to command candidates but in doing so made many enemies among the admiralty so his first mission is hunting for smugglers. 

After reaching their destination, violating a number of regulations in the process, Sawback locates the smuggler, a highly illegal AI that seizes control of the Willful Child and sets course for hostile territory in hopes of discovering who created it. This leads to a fleet of Affiliation dreadnoughts being deployed to destroy the renegade starship and a number of battles and adventures, including a trip to a future where genetically engineered house cats have overrun Earth, battles against an eugenically-bred super chicken with powered armor, and an encounter with a fleet consisting of thousands of alien dreadnoughts. Eventually Sawback discovers the true goal of the AI and how it is tied into the secrets of his own past leading to a desperate rescue mission.

I give this book 6 out of 10. While I found some of the characters interesting--especially Sawback who alternates between being a jock type character and a man who acknowledges the flaws of the setting's human society and is struggling to find a way to fix the mess humanity has become--the story has on flaw I find unforgivable. This is a Star Trek parody but it is not very funny. The more I'm either laughing out loud or fighting the urge to do so while reading a parody the better. While there were a few amusing parts of the story they were few and far between and I didn't laugh aloud once while reading this book.