Friday, December 30, 2016

James Review -- Linesman: Confluence

This week I decided to review Linesman: Confluence by S. K. Dunstall. 

The story starts with Crown Princess Michelle and Radko, Ean Lambert's bodyguard traveling to their homeworld of Lancia where the Emperor reveals that he has arranged marriages for both of them. He wishes for Michelle to marry the leader of the Worlds of the Lesser Gods, ten worlds whose allegiance would allow Lancia to effectively control the New Alliance and positioned near Redmond, the plotters who sparked the war between the New Alliance and the Gate Union and controllers of all current human production of the lines, alien technology long ago recovered by humanity and now vital to human space travel and many other purposes. For Radko he has arranged marriage to Sutter Dow, a merchant infamous for destabilizing economies before Lancia swoops in and picks up the pieces. To stall for time, Radko joins a covert mission to Redmond sent to obtain a report on experiments being conducted on linesmen, humans who can interact with the lines. But the mission is soon forced to flee to the Worlds of the Lesser Gods where they will discover a multi-faction plot, including Lancian traitors seeking to seize the alien Confluence fleet that is vital to the New Alliance.

Meanwhile at Confluence station, Ean works to train new linesmen to crew the fleet, but he must also fend off attacks by the Gate Union and lead a mission to aid a besieged New Alliance system while still struggling to learn all of the secrets and weapons of the alien vessels. But unbeknownst to him there are enemies far closer then he knows, and they are far more powerful then he or his allies can imagine...

I give this book 8 out of 10. The political maneuvers and intrigue are handled well but the combat was far less interesting to me. Still, that front was better then the last book. However, I wish there had been more focus into the origins of the alien fleet, specifically into the concerns about the war they had apparently fled from and what it mean if their ancient enemies are still out there. These concerns got mentioned briefly and I was looking forward to seeing where they led, only to have the story set them aside for more focus on the conflicts between human factions and frankly I find the clash between the Gate Union and the New Alliance in this story dull. What's worse is I feel it has a lot of potential but this book reduces it to a sideshow for the most part.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

James Review -- The Clan Chronicles: Reunification: This Gulf of Time and Stars

This week I decided to review The Clan Chronicles: Reunification: This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda. Long before the story takes place, there existed the Clan, members of a race identical in appearance to humans with strong telepathic powers and the ability to travel at FTL speeds using a dimension known as the M'hir. They lost all of their memories of their origin world during the journey but brought with them a large supply of highly sought-after artifacts created by the ancient Hoveny Concentrix, the most advanced civilization in known history. Since their arrival, the Clan has used their mental abilities to manipulate humanity when they felt it was necessary. However the Clan has also been breeding its Chooser females to try and increase the strength of their M'hir-related powers While this project succeeded, it may also doom the Clan. When a Clan female Chooser mates with a Clan male there is a backlash from their power which kills the male if the female is too strong and Sira di Sarc, the strongest Chooser is so powerful that no clan male can safely mate with her. She eventually mates safely with Jason Morgon, a human starship captain and telepath, then becomes Leader of the Clan. Seeking help in solving its reproductive crisis the Clan reveals itself to the Trade Pact, a very fragile alliance of many species including Humanity.

The book opens with a meeting among a number of Trade Pact representatives forging a secret alliance to destroy the Clan for motives ranging from fear and vengeance to greed. Then the story shifts to following Sira through Clan social occasions and her exiled father's attempt to contact her shortly after Trade Pact Enforcer Sector Chief Lydis Bowman, whose family ties to the Clan predate the Clan's arrival in human space, tries to meet with her but is rebuffed. Sira's exiled father also seeks to meet with her, and while he is initially rebuffed as well, she agrees to meet him. But their meeting is interrupted when the assaults intended to eradicate the Clan begin, inflicting heavy damage on the Clan, their friends, and any bystanders nearby, with Clan losses made worse by the fact that when one member of a bonded couple dies the other follows swiftly. Reeling from the loss of over half their population, the Clan soon decides that the only way to survive is to launch an investigation to locate their long forgotten homeworld, aided by their remaining non-Clan allies, and return there. The Clan and Jason eventually do locate the Clan's world of Cersi and journey there. But three sentient species inhabit Cersi, The Om'ray, which the Clan members belong to, the Oud, and the Tikitik with the latter two species each controlling their own clans of Om'ray. And soon after arrival, the Clan gets caught up in the struggles between local factions eventually leading them to discover the true history of their world and the ancient origins of their species...

I give this book 7 out of 10. Fans of action in stories will find little to like here, though I'm not letting that effect the score. While the general storyline is interesting, I feel that there were several parts that could use more detail and others that could be trimmed or cut without harming the story. Also there were a few parts of the story which seemed like failed attempts to be humorous. In particular, I feel that the Cersi portions could have used more detail. In fact, combined with the shift in tone that accompanied the shift to Cersi, I feel that it might have been better if the story had been divided into two books with the second beginning with the arrival on Ceri and being a greatly expanded version of the Cersi sections.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Movie Review -- Rogue One

Today we have another wave of Star Wars mania. It is the prequel Rogue One. Is it any good? Let's find out.

The story begins fifteen years before A New Hope and sees former Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) taken by Imperial officer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to aid in the construction of a new super weapon. To save his family (or what's left of it), Galen goes with him.

Flash forward to shortly before A New Hope. Galen's daughter/trouble maker Jyn (Felicity Jones) is busted out of Imperial custody (she had been arrested for various crimes) by the Rebellion and taken to meet with them. She doesn't trust them (or apparently anyone for that matter) but agrees to go on a mission for them in exchange for her freedom. The mission is to meet with militant radical Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and find the location of Galen. Things go reasonably well until Krennic tests out his new weapon--the Death Star--on Saw's location. 

Upon hearing a message her father left for her, Jyn decides they need to steal the Death Star plans from the Imperial planet Scarif. But the planet is heavily defended, and attacking it seems like a suicide mission. Nevertheless, a hastily put together crew of Rebel pilots might just have what it takes. Can they shut down the most powerful weapon the galaxy's ever seen before the Empire becomes unstoppable?

Rogue One is a fun popcorn movie which should satisfy Star Wars fans. It brings in interesting new characters and tells what was, up until now, a murky period of the franchise's history. You know they're going to steal the Death Star plans and you know Luke Skywalker's going to blow up said Death Star, but you don't know the sacrifices that will need to be made for that to happen. I must also commend director Gareth Edwards for pulling this off despite not having much directing experience (he previously did 2014's American Godzilla reboot). 

However, I would also like to point out the fact this movie's not a game-changer in any way. Everything it does has been done before, so don't expect anything revolutionary. If you're OK with that, you'll enjoy Rogue One.

James Review -- Star Trek: Prey: Hall of Heroes

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Prey: Hall of Heroes by John Jackson Miller. 

The story opens with a flashback showing how the Orion woman Shift became an agent of Breen intelligence. In the present, Korgh is trying to finish his plan to destroy the survivors of the Unsung, saved from his treachery by Worf, and discover what happened to the survivors of the Circle of Jilaan team that Korgh used to manipulate the Unsung. Both Worf and the clone of Kahless begin working to try to guide the surviving Unsung back to an honorable path while Starfleet, The Klingon Defense Force, and the Typhon Pact powers hunt for them. 

In the end the Unsung set out to turn themselves in and answer for their actions, but they find themselves in a new battle. Shift has ricked Korgh into sending the House of Kruge's home fleet to a fake meeting with her and uses the Circle of Jilaan's technology to convince the highly religious Kinshya to attack the House of Kruge's territory, aided by Breen advisers, by impersonating the Kinshya goddess of war. With the House of Kruge's ships out of position, only the remaining Unsung vessels, a handful of Starfleet and Klingon ships, and the forces that are on or can be raised on the targeted planets stand in the invasion's way, while Starfleet tries to convince the Kinshya that they have been deceived and Worf struggles to find a way to save the Unsung, undo an injustice older than he is, and prevent a new injustice.

I give this book 7 out of 10. It did a good job of wrapping up most of the trilogy's plot threads and had some fun combat sequences and a wide variety of scenes from teaching and trials to battles, and a few amusing humor bits. However, there were a few sections where I feel that some of the factions involved were blatantly acting in ways that contradicted their current goals. Also, there were several minor editing or writing errors I found which indicate to me that the author wasn't familiar with the characters or just didn't think things through when writing the scenes involved.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Book Review -- The Isolator: The Trancer

Back in March I reviewed a novel by Reki Kawahara entitled The Isolator: Volume II: The Igniter. Well, they recently released Volume 3: The Trancer. Is it any good? Let's find out (for my review of the previous volume, see

The story takes place not long after Igniter. Minoru Utsugi (code-named Isolator) continues to battle the evil alien parasites known as the Ruby Eyes and their Syndicate for the branch of the Japanese government called the Specialized Forces Division. When the book opens, Minoru and fellow SFD member Yumiko Azu (AKA Accelerator) find themselves venturing into a nuclear power plant that was abandoned after the tsunami of 2011 in order to retrieve a robot that has gone silent. Normally the extreme radiation levels would kill anyone who set foot in there, but Minoru's impenetrable barrier keeps out everything but light. This allows him to enter and search for the robot.

Later, Minoru meets Suu Komura (Refractor), said to be the strongest of the Jet Eyes (the good alien parasites). Suu has the ability to turn invisible and does this with just about everyone because she's terrified of being seen due to childhood trauma. The two hit it off and Minoru even manages to take her inside his barrier, something he hasn't been able to do with Yumiko. With the combination of their powers, this seems to make them undetectable and unstoppable, so team leader Professor Riri (Speculator) decides to send them on a mission to infiltrate a Syndicate safe house to find clues to the location of the bad guys' HQ. 

But it won't be easy. The Syndicate has a particularly talented and dangerous agent named Ryuu Mikawa (Trancer) who can weaponize water. Also, Mikawa's mentor, the mysterious Liquidizer, has a frightening power of her own and brains to match. Can the good guys hope to win against this fearsome duo?

Trancer is an engaging story which manages to top the previous volume because it has double the antagonists, each of which interesting in his/her own right. The powers on display are also quite clever and, in fact, are a source of character development, giving us a look into their users' psyches and why their respective abilities manifested in the first place. 

In addition, I appreciate the research that went into this story. Kawahara clearly did his homework, demonstrating an impressive knowledge of chemistry. Pay attention and you just might learn something.

In summary: Trancer is a fun, smart story.

Friday, December 9, 2016

James Review -- Thunderbird

This week I decided to review Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt. 

An ancient but highly advanced complex has been discovered on land belong to the Sioux tribe, including a teleportation device leading to another habitable world nicknamed Eden, a complex of tunnels at an unknown location nicknamed the Maze, and an abandoned space station outside the Milky Way galaxy. The United States government sent a force of US Marshals to seize the installation, named the Roundhouse but diplomacy managed to talk them down before the fighting became serious. 

When the book begins the President of the United States has decided to allow James Walker, Chairman of the Sioux, to be in charge of Roundhouse-related matters. Walker faces pressure to destroy the Roundhouse from those who fear that if the Roundhouse's technology is duplicated it will devastate industries linked to common human forms of transportation and cripple the global economy, or fear alien attack through the teleporter. On the other side, he also faces pressure from those who want to speed the exploration efforts. When the first mission to depart from Eden to one of the new sites linked to its teleportation station launches, they find an alien race but manage to withdraw without making first contact. But they soon make contact with the Arkons, a sentient gorilla-like race native to Eden. The contact goes peacefully and soon a mission to learn the language of the Arkons, and discover more about their culture. Meanwhile it is discovered that an invisible alien had traveled to Earth from the Maze. While the being's actions have been harmless so far and helpful in some cases, it is feared the alien might accidentally cause harm to humans if it remains so a mission to guide the creature back to the Maze is launched. And soon after, a mission to an apocalyptic and extremely hot world nicknamed Brimstone will reveal the ultimate secret of the Roundhouse's technology.

I give this book 6 out of 10. The reason for the low rating is very simple. I found the book incredibly boring. With the exception of a lone suicide attack by an insane teenager, the conflicts in the book are resolved far to easily for my tastes. Occasional easy conflict resolution is fine but if it happens too often I feel it makes for a dull story. The exploration missions are interesting but the tale slams to a halt just as a new factor that I feel could have led the story in many very interesting new directions arose. And again there is nor real conflict at the story's climax.

Friday, December 2, 2016

James Review -- Safehold: Hell's Foundations Quiver

This week I decided to review Safehold: Hell's Foundations Quiver by David Weber. 

In the future humanity expands into space and forms the Terran Federation. However, they encountered the Gbaba, an extremely xenophobic species that attacked the Federation plunging it into a long interstellar war which humanity lost. Seeking to avoid extinction, Operation Ark set out to form a hidden human colony on the distant world of Safehold. However some of the leaders of Operation Ark wished to hide from the Gbaba for all eternity. They seized control of the mission, wiped the memories of almost all the colonists, who were in stasis, and set up a society ruled by the Church of God Awaiting which taught that technological and scientific advancement was evil in order to prevent Safehold's population from advancing to the level where they might be noticed by the Gbaba. Eventually the Church formed an Inquisition to put down those who opposed its edicts and over the centuries the Church grew crueler and more corrupt. Around seven centuries after the colony was founded, a Terran Federation AI, based on the personalities of dead humans and named Merlin, awoke and began planning to overthrow the Church and set Safehold back on the path to reclaim humanity's place among the stars. Merlin allied with the island nation of Charis and encouraged them to rise against the Church, beginning a long war.

When the book begins Charis has achieved a number of victories against the Church and its allied nations due to their rapidly advancing technological base, roughly equivalent to Earth's in the mid to late nineteenth-century AD. The Group of Four, The church's unofficial leadership, consisting of the leader's of the army, treasury, inquisition, and the chancellor of the Council of Vicars, who has basically decided to stay out of decision making related to the war, is torn. They have begun to grudgingly adopt a number of technological innovations but the grand inquisitor insists on being involved in military matters often leading to conflict with the military's commander and the treasurer as they wish to pull back their forces to shorten supply lines and concentrate their strength while he insists on holding their ground, in particular defending a number of inquisition-run concentration camps in occupied regions of the Charis-allied Republic of Siddarmark. 

The Charsian troops and their allies use their superior mobility during the winter and vastly superior artillery to inflict a number of defeats on the church's forces and entrap some of the church's armies, while in the concentration camps many of the church's troops and one at least one inquisitor begin to question the morality of how the prisoners are being treated. 

And when the Grand Inquisitor orders the execution of the inmates in the camps that can't be evacuated before the advancing Charsian armies reach them, this sparks rebellions among one of the camp garrisons. Meanwhile Merlin has allied with a secret order, once part of the church, but long ago banned and begun using her intelligence assets to aid the order's assassins in strikes against the Inquisition, leading to increased paranoia among the church's leadership and the Grand Inquisitor assuming direct control of all military force in the capital city of Zion. 

On the seas the Charsian ironclads have given their forces a massive advantage despite having to commit many of their ships to commerce protection. But the church's allies are preparing to counter with armored vessels of their own armed with spar torpedoes, and after one massive battle the Charsian ironclad HMS Dreadnought is captured along with part of her crew. As the captured sailors begin the journey to Zion for execution, the Charsians plan a desperate rescue while the Grand Inquisitor begins plans to better control the jihad's most successful naval commander until he is no longer needed...

The book also includes a detailed list of characters and information on them as well as a glossary of Chasian terms.

I give this book 9 out of 10. It does a great job of providing enough detail on the setting and what has happened in the previous books that a new reader won't be completely lost, and both the battlefront and rear area sequences are interesting. However, there are a few parts I think could have been trimmed without harming the story. Also, I feel there are two main plotlines in the book and that it might have been better to spit them into two smaller novels and add some more details to them rather then have them both in a single massive novel.