Monday, May 30, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Star Wars: Bloodline

Today we have a recent novel by Claudia Gray. It's Star Wars: Bloodline.

The story takes place a number of years before The Force Awakens. Leia Organa is a New Republic senator in her forties dealing with a do-nothing senate which is divided into two factions: the Populists and the Centrists. The Populists want each planet's government to be sovereign, while the Centrists advocate for a strong central government. Leia is a Populist, but even she can't seem to get the senate to do any meaningful governing.

One day, a Twi'lek representative pleads for the senate to investigate a powerful drug cartel running roughshod over his home world. Most senators dismiss his concerns, but Leia decides they need to do something. So she teams up with Centrist Ransolm Casterfo to go to the afflicted world of Bastatha and meet with the cartel leader, but things don't go as planned. After an impromptu rescue by Casterfo, they head back to the senate to report their findings.

Before long, it is decided the senate needs a strong leader to make decisions, so both factions begin fielding candidates for First Senator. Leia seems a shoe-in for the role, but a terrorist act soon shakes the senate to its core, with both sides blaming one another. Nevertheless, Leia is determined to get to the bottom of things. But when her greatest secret is revealed, she's rendered powerless.

To make matters worse, the cartel is merely the tip of the iceberg. Leia and her remaining allies discover the existence of a powerful paramilitary organization bent on galactic conquest. They've got to get to the bottom of things and convince the senate to act before it's too late, but with Leia now the galaxy's biggest pariah, it seems only a desperate, foolhardy mission can save the New Republic.

Bloodline is a first-rate Star Wars novel. Claudia Gray really understands Leia and what makes her tick. We truly get an in-depth analysis of her character. We go deep into her psychology and find out what motivates her actions. We find out how she feels as mother, wife, senator, rebel and royalty. This is more than we ever got in any of the movies. It's far better than Before the Awakening which I reviewed months ago and which I felt didn't add much to Star Wars lore. Bloodline, on the contrary, adds a great deal and succeeds admirably in explaining how Leia came to be the leader of the Resistance.

I also like the fact the author included numerous references to the prequels. I don't really like those movies but they are a part of the Star Wars universe and shouldn't be forgotten.

Bottom line: if you're a Star Wars fan, you have to read Bloodline.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Movie Review -- X-Men: Apocalypse

Today we have yet another Marvel movie, this one hailing from the X-Men universe. It's X-Men: Apocalypse. Is it worth your time? Let's find out.

The story takes place in 1983. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is currently running his school for mutants when a new student arrives: Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan). Scott has gained the ability to shoot devastating optic blasts from his eyes, and the school quickly sets about helping him to control it.

Meanwhile, the all-powerful first mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) awakens from his long slumber and begins recruiting followers to help him conquer the world. He starts with Ororo Munroe (Alexandra Shipp) before gaining Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy). But he's still one horseman short, so he approaches Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has recently suffered a terrible tragedy and has lost all hope. A grief-stricken Magneto agrees to join Apocalypse in his quest for world domination.

Elsewhere, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has gone to Xavier for help in finding Magneto. But their attempts backfire when Apocalypse learns of Xavier and his ability to control minds. Apocalypse then figures out what he needs to dominate mankind, and he wastes no time putting his sinister plan into action. The X-Men unite to save the world, but do they stand a chance against the seemingly unstoppable power of Apocalypse?

This might be the best X-Men movie ever. I've been waiting a long time to see Apocalypse on the big screen, and I was not disappointed. They didn't gimp his powers like they did with some characters *coughroguecough* and he's portrayed as genuinely intimidating. The film also has another great sequence with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) doing his super-speed thing while everything blows up around him. His character is used far better than the Avengers: Age of Ultron version.

The only thing that I don't like is the fact that Psylocke has no depth here. I was really looking forward to seeing her in action, and I feel Olivia Munn was a great choice to play her, but her character is pretty flat and her motivations remain ambiguous. Hopefully this will be resolved in future installments.

Other than that, X-Men: Apocalypse will satisfy comic book fans everywhere.

Friday, May 27, 2016

James Review -- Destroyermen: Straits of Hell

This week I decided to review Destroyermen: Straits of Hell by Taylor Anderson. 

The novel begins shortly after the surviving crew of the USS Walker, a destroyer displaced from World War II to an alternate universe, and the feline Lemurians they have allied with, have seized the capital of the Grik, a reptilian species whose culture primarily sees other sentient species as slaves and food sources though they have allied with some Japanese forces displaced from the Second World War. With the leader of the Grik killed in their capital’s fall, Eshk, among the most dangerous of the Grik military commanders due to his willingness to ignore tradition, works to gain the regency for whichever under-aged daughter of the fallen leader emerges from the bloodbath of Grik rituals for claiming the throne victorious, while also manipulating his Grik enemies into sending themselves to their own deaths. 

Meanwhile, the Dominion, a nightmarish religious state, prepares to assault the alliance’s Fort Defiance which is still struggling to recover from a devastating illness. And the League of Tripoli, a force formed by fascist forces from a timeline where France, Italy, and Spain are the major fascist powers, begins to work to hinder the alliance’s efforts to secure aid from their allies while also working to keep the factions they claim to be assisting weakened. 

Knowing they will need more strength, the alliance leadership sends a small team to find the remaining inhabitants of the Lemurian homelands, which have been cut off from the allied Lemurians since the Grik invasion long ago. But while the mission is away the Dominion unleashes a massive assault on Fort Defiance aided by new secret weapons, and a Grik force lures the alliance fleet away from Grik City, leaving the city’s defenses badly weakened as a counterattack closes in. The book also includes a small section at the back detailing the ships, aircraft, and weapons used by the various forces seen in the book.

I give the book 8.5 out of 10. Despite having never read any of the many earlier books in the series, I was able to get a good feel for the setting and the various cultures and governments in the book. The battle sequences were well-written and there were some interesting ideas for tactics used by the forces to compensate for the mixed-technology bases used by all sides. Also, the author did a great job of keeping the various units in use relevant despite the disparity in technology levels, with no one force seeming too overwhelming despite any tech advantages they might have.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Problems With Battleborn

Recently I picked up Battleborn for PS4. I was excited for this game since it's from the same people who made Borderlands. However, I've found it disappointing, and I'll tell you why.

1.) It requires a constant internet connection. It doesn't matter if you're playing solo; you have to be online. If you ever lose your connection, you can't play. This is a bonehead move on Gearbox's (the developer) part and one I feel to be completely unnecessary.

2.) An over-reliance on escort/defense missions. Too many missions in this game require you to defend something, and you automatically fail if you can't defend it. If it were one or two missions, I could forgive it. But it's several, so I can't.

3.) You go back to level one after each mission, killing the sense of progress you would have had by building up your character. I don't like having to re-level my character each mission, choosing the same skills over and over again. Much of the fun in Borderlands came by building up my char and molding him/her into a mighty warrior. I sort of understand why Gearbox did this; they probably wanted everyone to start off on a level playing field. But it just doesn't work for me.

Because of these flaws, Battleborn falls well short of its amazing potential. It has a wildly diverse cast of characters and smart humor, and could have easily achieved greatness if not for its problems.

Friday, May 20, 2016

James Review -- Star Trek: The Original Series: Elusive Salvation

This week I decided to review Star Trek: The Original Series: Elusive Salvation by Dayton Ward. 

The story starts in the mid-nineteenth century with a group of Iramahl fleeing pursuit by a force of the Ptaen, a species that had long ago conquered their people, aboard a damaged spacecraft that is forced to land on Earth. The surviving Iramahl go to ground seeking to avoid Ptaen hunters they are certain will come for them, while also seeking a means to contact the resistance movement on their homewold to confirm their survival. They eventually track a message sent by Guinan--who is living on Earth at this point--to her uncle and convince her to forward a message for them before being forced to flee a Ptaen hunting party. 

In the late twenty-third century, an unidentified stealth technology-equipped vessel is detected entering the Sol system and Admiral Kirk is put in charge of efforts to establish contact with the ship flying his flag from Enterprise, which is a training ship at this time. Eventually, contact is established with the craft which is an Iramahl ship seeking the group that had fled to Earth so long ago. The Iramahl resistance movement, aided by Ptaen sympathizers, has succeeded in liberating their world, but the Iramahl still face a major crisis. The natural lifespan of an Iramahl is several centuries but in the belief that doing so would make the Iramahl easier to control the Ptaen genetically modified the Iramahl so that their lifespan would be shortened to a few decades. The Iramahl who had fled to Earth in the distant past were rebel scientists who had discovered how to undo the genetic tampering inflicted by their masters, which made them high priority targets of the Ptaen government, and the modern Iramahl have come to Earth seeking the lost knowledge that could restore what the genetic engineering has taken from them. 

But while the Federation wishes to help the Iramahl they must also deal with concerns stemming from the Ptaen being on friendly terms with the Klingon Empire, especially since the territory of both the Iramahl  and the Ptaen is much closer to Klingon space then the Federation. After efforts to find the Iramahl  data in the twenty-third century fail, Kirk comes up with the idea of contacting his occasional allies in the twentieth century, Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln and having them seek the Iramahl who could still be alive in that era. 

Eventually, after a short time from Kirk’s perspective and over a decade from her own, Roberta contacts Kirk requesting that he and Spock travel to the past to aid her efforts to fulfill the request. After arriving, Kirk and Spock join Roberta in a mission to recover part of the ship that brought the Iramahl to Earth from Majestic-12, the division of the United States government in charge of dealing with extraterrestrial encounters and technology. While they succeed in obtaining the ship, transporting it to a warehouse controlled by Gary Seven and Roberta arms the vessel’s self-destruct system. 

With the clock ticking a signal is sent which is hoped will bring the Iramahl to the vessel, but the signal is also received by Majestic-12 and the Ptaen and all three groups soon converge on the warehouse with time to disarm the self-destruct swiftly running out.

I give the book 8.5 out of 10. It was overall a very enjoyable book. However, it was also very light on the action and I feel there are a number of portions that could have been trimmed without harming the story. Also, I doubt the story of the Iramahl and the Ptaen will get much followup in later books, which I find disappointing. And I wish we had gotten to learn more about the Ptaen culture and what motivates their leadership’s actions, because with the little detail we got they come off as pretty generic villains. Also, during the portion set on Enterprise where she is partially manned by cadets, I wish some of those cadets had been cameos by characters from stories written earlier rather than just being created for a very short scene. Still, the parts where the author tied bits of the story to other Trek stories were handled well but there weren’t many of them. And I enjoyed the ending very much.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Book Review -- Predator: Incursion

Today we have Predator: Incursion, book one of The Rage War by Tim Lebbon.

The story begins in 2351 at Alpha Centauri. Synthetic human Liliya has just released Xenomorphs from containment on board the Evelyn-Tew, a research vessel studying the deadly creatures. She has done this on behalf of a mysterious group called the Founders, who want the ship's data for their own mysterious (but probably nefarious) purposes. Liliya steals the data and escapes in the one remaining escape pod, leaving everyone else to die. She feels bad about this, but believes it's for the greater good.

Flash forward to 2692 at Southgate Station 12. Lieutenant Johnny Mains is commander of the 5th Excursionists, a group of Colonial Marines more popularly known as the VoidLarks. They've just finished repelling an attack by the Yautja (also known as the Predators), losing two of their own in the process. Mains discovers the hunter aliens have been making more and more incursions into human territory, but no one knows why. Nevertheless, the VoidLarks continue on their mission, soon arriving at a Yautja habitat (basically a gigantic ship) they want to observe. A battle ensues, whereupon the VoidLarks end up boarding the habitat and face the battle of their lives.

Meanwhile, xenobiologist Isa Palant is studying the Yautja at Love Grove Base on LV-1529. Her desire to know more about these beings is powerful, and having just gotten two fresh specimens (well, as fresh as corpses can be), she's excited. However, one of her colleagues inexplicably goes nuts and blows the hell out of the place on behalf of the Founders, destroying life support systems and threatening all their lives. They band together and fight for survival, holding out hope for rescue, but it might not be humans that find them...

Elsewhere, a much older Liliya knows what the Founders are up to, and after having a change of heart, she's determined to put a stop to it (apparently, some evil is OK, but a lot of evil is not). However, the Founders (now calling themselves the Rage) are far more powerful than they were in the 24th century, and their resources seem overwhelming. They're coming, and they're not coming in peace.

So the race is on to find out just who's behind a string of terrorist attacks and what's got the Yautja so scared. In the end, it might take an unlikely alliance to stand up to the threat and prevent genocide.

I've read a number of Predator and Alien novels, and Incursion ranks as one of the best. It's well-written and features strong female characters, which I always like in a story (in fact, the VoidLarks are mostly women). I will, however, admit it was weird seeing the Predators at such a disadvantage. The whole appeal of them was they were a nearly unstoppable force, but now everyone's on a much more level playing field due to the advancement in human technology.

Still, the narrative features excellent action and doesn't hold back on the gore, successfully conveying the horrors of war. I recommend this story for fans of both Predator and Aliens.

Friday, May 13, 2016

James Review -- The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Leviathan

This week I decided to review The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Leviathan by Jack Campbell.

The story begins with the Alliance fleet led by Admiral John Geary pursuing the AI-controlled fleet which was prepared by the Alliance to stop Geary if he tried to launch a military coup. Unfortunately, it has now gone out of control and is attacking any spacecraft or stations it can find. After narrowly averting an attack on an Alliance base, Geary takes some time to repair and refit his fleet while trying to provide the patches that will eliminate the government-installed computer code which prevents Alliance ship sensors from seeing the AI warships, only to find his efforts hindered by a lack of funding and rogue government agents determined to keep the Alliance navy blind to the rogue forces.

When Geary receives a distress call from a ship fleeing a nearby system blockaded by the machine fleet, he senses a trap and, after evading an ambush by taking a less direct route to the system, a running battle begins which the Alliance fleet eventually wins by draining the fuel supply of the enemy warships until they are forced to return to their base. While this severely drains the Alliance’s own resources, it leads Geary to the idea of defeating the enemy by destroying their supply and repair base before draining them of fuel.

This leads to an effort to locate the base, which is discovered to be Unity Alternate, a fallback position in case the Alliance capital of Unity fell during the recently ended war with the Syndicated Worlds, and that the AI feet was originally part of that worst case scenario contingency plan. In time, Geary realizes that the Dancers, so far the only friendly aliens the Alliance has encountered, have been trying to point out the base’s location to him and soon the Dancers, who have had very bad experiences with AI-controlled military units of their own, send a fleet to join the Alliance force. But communications with the Dancers are still difficult and grow more so when it is realized that they have been talking to the Dancers in the equivalent of the grammar used by young Dancer children and need to somehow form their messages as poems or songs to speak properly with them. But the fleet must also find a means to access Unity Alternate, and when they reach it, there will be many surprises waiting for them…

I give this book 9 out of 10. Watching the characters deal with the variety of problems with fighting a fleet that pound-for-pound outclassed them, as was watching Geary continue to struggle with fighting an enemy modeled after himself that has fresh ships which can travel faster and hit harder the Geary’s, while many of Geary’s ships are outdated and his funding and supply stockpiles at critical levels. The battle sequences were very well done and I thought the communication with the Dancers side-plot was handled well. The ending had many surprises and while I am a little sad that the main Lost Fleet series is going on hiatus, this was a great book to wrap the current plot on.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cover Reveal -- Until We Break

Here it is! The cover for Until We Break, Divine Protector book three.

It's been half a year since Arcturus Reich's defeat. Ev Bannen is on track to become a god of justice and secure a bright future with Maya. However, everything changes when Zero Grade launches an attack on his hometown. Ev races to the rescue, but he's powerless to stop the outbreak of the next great god war. Soon, everyone he knows is dragged into the struggle, and it seems only a miracle can stop mankind from being decimated.

The book will be released on July 5 exclusively on Kindle, with a paperback copy to follow at a later date. You can pre-order at

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Movie Review -- Captain America: Civil War

Today we have the latest Marvel movie, Captain America: Civil War. Adapted from the popular Civil War story line of 2006, how does it fare as a movie? Let's find out.

The story begins as Captain America (Chris Evans), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) are pursuing heavily armed bad guys in Nigeria. The baddies' leader self-destructs during the struggle, and Wanda redirects the blast into a nearby building, killing innocent people. This is only the latest in a string of catastrophes the Avengers have been involved in, prompting the world community to propose a bill which would put the team under U.N. command. Cap objects to this idea, but Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) agrees with it after being confronted with their past mistakes.

So Stark and Romanoff head to Vienna to sign the new charter, and they meet Wakandan prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Things seem to be going well until a car bomb explodes, trashing the building and killing T'Challa's father. The only evidence points to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), AKA the Winter Soldier and former Hydra pawn. Orders are given to find Barnes and kill him on the spot, but Cap, being his friend, finds him first and decides to protect him. They are then joined by Sam, Wanda, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). All of them are declared to be criminals, and Stark puts together his own team to bring them to justice.

All the while, a mysterious man is setting his own nefarious plan into motion, and the Avengers must uncover the plot before it's too late. But how can they do this when they're too busy fighting each other?

Captain America: Civil War is another outstanding entry in Marvel's ever-growing library of films. It's got great action and an impressive cast of characters. It's too bad they couldn't get every single Marvel character to participate like in the original comic story, but licensing and budget issues make that unfeasible. Still, I'm satisfied with everyone they managed to include. It's also great to finally see Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in this universe, even if his costume looks kinda cheesy.

The movie also has a strong story, focusing on issues of loyalty and heroic responsibility. It all culminates in some epic and emotional battles, along with an ending that leaves serious questions to be answered. Don't expect everything to be wrapped up before the credits roll.

Bottom line: If you love comic book movies, you  have to see Captain America: Civil War.

Friday, May 6, 2016

James Review -- Star Wars: Aftermath

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. 

After a short prologue showing a riot on Coruscant following the news of Palpatine’s death, the story jumps forward to a few months after the Battle of Endor. Wedge Antilles is scouting a number of systems in the Outer Rim which are considered likely Imperial rallying points, and when visiting the Akiva system, he discovers a gathering of Imperial warships but is captured before he can warn the New Republic. 

The Imperial gathering includes a number of high-ranking officals and officers who are seeking to work out a plan for the continuation of the Empire in the face of the current crisis. Former rebel pilot Norra Wexley returns to her homeworld of Akiva on board a smuggling craft, only to find an Imperial blockade awaiting her. 

After reaching the planet, Norra sets out to find her son Temmin and flee the planet. But Temmin, furious with his mother for leaving him when she left to join the rebellion soon after the Empire arrested his father, refuses to leave despite having salvaged a crate containing something of very high value belong to the local Imperial allied crime lord Surat Nuat. 

Meanwhile, bounty hunter Jas Emari has come to the planet seeking one of the members of the New Republic’s most wanted list, but when she sees several members of the list coming for the summit to determine the Empire’s next move, she is forced to flee only, to be captured by Surat, who has also captured Temmin.

Former Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir Rath Velus, who deserted after Endor, who came to Akiva because while it paid tribute to the Empire and served as a shore leave port, it was never occupied by Imperial forces, finds himself surrounded by those forces he is seeking to avoid and attempts to convince Surat to help him escape, only to find himself imprisoned with Jas. 

The duo escape and move to free Temmin so he can repair Jas’ favored weapon, only to find themselves trapped and rescued by Norra and Mr. Bones, an old Separatist battle droid extensively modified and reprogrammed by Temmin. 

The group flees to Norra’s sister’s home and begins planning to capture the Imperial leaders, free Wedge, and warn the New Republic of what is happening. But their plan runs into a host of enemy forces and obstacles. And Wedge manages to escape long enough to send the Republic a distress call before being recaptured, but the Republic fleet doesn’t know how strong the Imperial force in the system really is… The book also includes a number of interludes showing battles, and the aftermath of the Empire’s fall on many worlds, and one setting up the upcoming second Aftermath novel.

I give the book 7 out of 10. There wasn’t anything particularly horrible about it, but it had a number of flaws. I feel the final battle should have gotten far more detail then it received. Also, I feel that one of the interlude scenes has nothing to do with the war and I seriously doubt that scene will tie into a later plot, though I might be surprised. And there are a few events I consider a little too convenient to be believable.

Finally, in many of the online discussions I have read concerning this book, people were complaining about the number of homosexual characters in it and I think these complaints are utterly blowing things out of proportion. I only found three confirmed homosexuals in the book, two married minor characters, and one major character, plus a couple of possible. And their sexuality is never made a big issue in the story unless you count a homosexual character rejecting the advances of a member of the other gender then explaining why they aren’t interested when asked about it. The Star Wars galaxy has a vastly larger population then Earth and there is no logical reason to believe homosexuality doesn’t exist there, so I find people complaining because a handful of homosexuals appear in a Star War novel to be ludicrous.

[Scott's note: my computer is acting up so I wasn't able to get the cover image]