Saturday, December 9, 2017

James Review -- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volume Four

This week I decided to review Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volume Four written by Kyle Higgens

Billy Cranston and Tommy Oliver are still trapped in the timeline ruled by Lord Drakkon, this timeline’s counterpart to Tommy who rejoined Rita’s forces after being freed from the Mind Control spell she placed him under. The pair are led by this timeline’s Saba to the Coinless, an anti-Drakkon resistance movement led by this timeline’s Trini Kwan and Zack Taylor. While roaming the Coinless headquarters, Cranston finds a library dedicated to his dead counterpart and tracks down Kwan trying to find out what happened. Kwan explains that Cranston’s counterpart was killed protecting her during a lost battle. And when Drakkon tracks Saba to the Coinless base and launches an attack, Kwan leads Cranston to the last resort option of the Coinless, his counterpart’s power coin, the last one in this timeline not controlled by Drakkon. But Cranston is uncertain if the power granted by the coin will be enough to allow him to turn the tide against the overwhelming army the rebels face…

Meanwhile in the primary timeline Trini Kwan, Jason Scott, Zack Taylor, and Kimberly Heart are trying to find a way to regain their powers, and retake their command center, now serving as Rita Repulsa’s base of operations. Alpha 5 contacts them, revealing an unguarded route into the command center. But when the rangers arrive they discover that Alpha has been reprogrammed to lure them into a trap and find themselves in a desperate battle against a squadron of enhanced versions of Goldar
There is also a short scene where Zordon, trapped in a space between timelines, observes what happened in Drakkon’s timeline. He also has a brief discussion with his dying counterpart as well as meeting that timeline’s Saba.

I give this book 8.5 out of 10. I still enjoy the new forms of the original characters a great deal as well as the overall story. But there were a number of questions about Drakkon’s timeline left unanswered which I wanted answers to badly. Also, there’s a point in the simultaneous climatic battles where even after re-reading them several times I’m not sure which timeline it takes place in or if it is supposed to mean the same thing is happening in both timelines because the shifts aren’t always made clear and I feel that shifts between timelines should always be obvious.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Aragami Update

I have finished the first draft of Aragami, the next book in my Divine Protector series. It's editing time. Here's the current schedule:

  1. Self-editing
  2. Implementing suggestions from beta readers
  3. Professional edit by my oh-so-professional editor
  4. Commission cover from my artist
  5. Convert to Kindle
  6. List it for pre-order on Amazon
I'm shooting for an early 2018 release with a paperback release to follow. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Phasma

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you're all having a merry holiday. Much like the original pilgrims, today's review also concerns the story of a group of people struggling to survive in a harsh environment. It is Phasma: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Delilah S. Dawson. Finally we get the origin story of The Force Awakens most mysterious character.

The story begins with Resistance spy Vi Moradi exiting hyperspace and running smack dab into a First Order ship, the Absolution. She is promptly captured and taken prisoner by well-respected officer Captain Cardinal. He escorts her to a secret dungeon aboard the ship and interrogates her about Captain Phasma. He wants information he can use to take the chrome-plated woman down, and he believes Vi has it. Vi agrees to cooperate if he'll let her go afterwards. Cardinal says he will, if she gives him the proof he needs to discredit Phasma. Vi then tells him a story.

Years ago, on the ravaged planet Parnassos, there lived two sibling teenagers, Keldo and Phasma, who governed their crappy spot of land. You see, on Parnassos there was very little plant life, sparse food, acid rain and hostile neighbors. In other words, it sucked. They made the best of it, however, managing to eke out a meager living.

One day a ship crashes on Parnassos, and from the escape pod emerges a man named Brendol Hux. He's a First Order officer and promises to save them from their miserable existence if they help him get back to his ship. Phasma sees it as their only hope for salvation, but Keldo disagrees. Phasma disobeys him and takes her best warriors, along with Hux and three stormtroopers, to set out on a journey that will decide everyone's fates. Cardinal listens to Vi's story, but what will he do once it's finished? 

After a rather underwhelming presence in The Force Awakens, Phasma needed something to keep people interested in her. Thankfully, her namesake novel does just that. Dawson has managed to churn out a compelling and well-realized psychological profile for this character. You'll get to know Phasma very well and understand the forces that helped shape her into the lethal First Order presence she became. Dawson's writing isn't perfect, but unless you're an author like me, you'll probably never notice.

If you're a fan of Star Wars and looking forward to The Last Jedi next month, you've got read this first. It'll give you a much better appreciation for Phasma's character going into the new film.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Review -- Justice League

The DC Comics cinematic universe soldiers on in this week's big-time offering in Justice League. Once again directed by Zack Snyder, is it another bomb like Batman VS. Superman? Let's find out.

The story begins with Batman (Ben Affleck) luring out a mysterious creature called a Parademon and trying to capture it. These things are popping up all over, and something needs to be done about them. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) informs him this is the work of a demonic tyrant called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Realizing time is of the essence, they set out to recruit other super-powered beings. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) is an athlete turned cyborg who can interface with computers. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is super fast. And Arthur Curry (Jason Moma) is the prince of Atlantis and handy with a trident. Together they set out to stop Steppenwolf, but Batman thinks they're still not enough. He wants to bring back the world's greatest hero, but is that a good idea?

I hear this movie's been getting bashed by critics. I don't know what complaints they might have because I don't read reviews of things I'm going to review myself so as to avoid being influenced. But just like the Ghostbusters reboot, I'm here to tell you this movie's A-OK. Sure, it's just The Avengers with DC characters (and with a very similar plot). And yes, the message doesn't get any deeper than a speech about the power of hope. But is this really a bad thing? You want your superhero action, and this gives it to you. You'll see all the badassery you want, delivered with all the panache you want. The only thing missing is Tony Stark's snarkiness (or is that Starkiness?).

And this is all accompanied by a terrific score courtesy of Danny Elfman who did the theme for the 1980's Batman movie. You might think he's only good for the Simpsons theme, but he's actually very talented. I feel the change in composer works well here since even Hans Zimmer is sick of doing this (hence the reason he retired from superhero movies).

Finally, the post-credits scene really sets up a conflict of epic proportions to be continued in a future film.

Bottom line: You can't go wrong with Justice League.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok Thoughts

I just saw Thor: Ragnarok today. Since it's not quite timely and you've probably seen it already, I won't waste your time with a full review. I will say I like the new direction the series has taken. Tonally it is different from previous Thor movies, opting for a more caper-esque action romp with a new electronic soundtrack by Mark Motherbaugh. Cate Blanchett still looks stunning despite being almost 50. Newcomer Tessa Thompson plays her part well and in a less obvious way (I was not expecting a drunken Valkyrie to fall off her ship's ramp upon entry). Loki delivers fewer surprises and acts pretty much how you would expect from him.

Other than that, it's pretty much your standard Marvel movie, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view. Not groundbreaking but pretty solid.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gamma: Original Sin

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gamma: Original Sin by David R. George III. 

The novel has two primary stories. One of these is set in the novel’s present of 2386 and the other is set in 2380 being told as a series of flashbacks.

The present story begins with the USS Robinson, commanded by Captain Benjamin Sisko, making its first contact with a new civilization since its long-term exploration of non-Dominion controlled portions of the Gamma Quadrant began. However, the ships that they encounter attack them first with weapons that disrupt space and create zones of non-space, then with sonic weapons that knock out the crew. 

While the crew is unconscious the attackers kidnap dozens of children including Captain Sisko’s daughter Rebecca. With the Robinsion’s engines useless due to being in non-space, the crew first must discover a way to free themselves. 

After the starship escapes from the area of the attack, she sets out to find the base of their attackers, discovering the remains of other ships that had suffered similar attacks along the way. When the home world of their attackers is discovered they try to negotiate the release of the children but the Glant, their attackers, refuse. The Glant eventually reveal that their culture creates each new generation by having organics create mechanical bodies then harvesting the brains of children to install in those bodies. With very little time before the harvesting begins the Robinson’s crew struggles to find a way to rescue the children before it’s too late…

The flashback story starts with Rebecca being kidnapped by an extremist from a Bajoran religious sect that believes she is the Avatar of their prophecies. But as the length of her captivity grows her captor becomes more unstable eventually deciding that the prophecy calls for him to kill Rebecca so she doesn’t become a tyrant. When he takes her to a large forest planning to kill both her and himself a desperate race to stop him begins…

I give this book 7 out of 10. While nothing is particularly bad I feel it has some key flaws. First, I feel the flashback story could have used more development, perhaps even its own book. Also, while I don’t dislike the story, I feel it is a poor choice for the first book of the Gamma sub-series. I think it would have been better for the first book of the sub-series to have a story that didn’t have such a large portion dedicated to flashbacks. Instead, I feel the space would have been better used getting to know the Robinson’s crew. Finally, while I see some interesting possibilities from what the ending revealed, I’m worried they will be shoved aside for a long time before anything is developed from them.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Flame Kissed

Alexis Radcliff is back with a new series called Seeking the Dragon. She asked me to review the first book, Flame Kissed, and so here we go.

The protagonist is 17-year-old Ella Denton. Years ago, her family was killed in a mysterious fire and she got shuffled between foster families until finally arriving at the Dentons. So now she's settled in and getting ready to go off to college. But before she does, she heads off to a ski lodge with friends and family. There she is reunited with her long-time crush Nick. She plans to confess her feelings for him, but stuff happens and she ends up getting transported to a parallel world called Ether-Realm which seems to be filled entirely with dicks. They all either want to perform unspeakable medical experiments on her, enslave her, or just beat her into submission. Not a good way to spend summer vacation. I get the sense there are nicer people around, but we don't meet them in the first book. But hey, at least she has some strange magic power to make things a little better.

And that's pretty much it for the first volume. It's very short and mostly just serves to introduce us to Ella and the Ether-World. Obviously there are big secrets to be revealed, but you'll have to wait until later. Honestly, you can almost skip this one because I've told you just about everything. Still, it wouldn't hurt to start from the beginning, and you can knock this out in about an hour. For the most part, it's written well, although Radcliff uses words like "feel" and "saw" instead of just showing what was felt and seen.

I sort of feel this should have been longer, because it just doesn't do as good of a job as it should bringing us into the world. It doesn't really get good until the end. On the flip side, however, that hopefully means the subsequent books will be even better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

James Review -- Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig. 

The story opens with Norra Wexley’s team hunting Imperial Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, whom they believe is responsible for a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations using mind- controlled agents, including Nora Wexley’s husband Brentin. Meanwhile, Sloane and Brentin have joined forces to hunt down Gallius Rax, the true mastermind behind the assassinations and now leader of the Empire in all but name. Both group’s find their way to Rax’s home world of Jakku. Sloane and Brentin arrive first and begin a long journey across the world having to ally with the local Hutt crimelord.

When Norra’s group arrives, they find a massive Imperial fleet gathered around the planet. While their ship flees Norra and Jas Emari take an escape pod to the planet’s surface, and Norra’s son Temmin sends Mister Bones, a B1 battle droid he had repaired and upgraded to protect his mother. 
Soon Norra and Jas are captured and separated. Eventually Norra is rescued by Mister Bones and they shortly regroup with Jas, who had also escaped captivity.

Meanwhile, on Chandrila, the current Republic capital, the members of Norra’s team that fled Jakku find themselves caught in a maze of Republic politics as they try to gain support for an attack on the Imperial fleet over Jakku. Eventually they succeed, but as the battle rages, Norra’s group and Sloane’s duo discover what Rax’s true plan is. And other enemies are closing on the Republic’s leaders while the bulk of its fleet is away…
he book also includes several sections showing events away from the main plot, and flashbacks to earlier portions of Rax’s life and his education by Palpatine.

I give the book 7 out of 10. I still like most of the characters and the battle sequences were entertaining. It was also interesting to see a little of Palpatine’s thought process behind the plan he entrusted to Rax. However, the political scenes dragged on far too long in my opinion, and felt like filler for the most part. Also, there were a number of sections near the end that made little sense to me. Finally, I feel that the ending created more questions than it answered.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Horns of the Ram

Last year I reviewed Austin Rogers' intriguing sci-fi novel Sacred Planet ( A while back, he asked me to review the follow-up. I was sitting on a sizable pile of stuff to read and couldn't get to it right away, but while it's no longer timely, I'm keeping my word and finally reviewing it. Here is Dominion Series book two, Horns of the Ram.

The story picks up shortly after the first book. Davin and Strange are the only two members of the Fossa to survive the ambush in Jerusalem which resulted in the abduction of Sierra Falco. Davin is patched up by a Middle Eastern group of freedom fighters called the Defenders of Glory, and they task him with rescuing Sierra. They send along a Defender named Kiki to help them/make sure they don't run away. The trio sets off in the Fossa for Carinian space.

Meanwhile, Ulrich Morvan continues his mysterious and sinister agenda to make Carina great again. He's championing for war, and he doesn't particularly care who it's with. His sights are set on Earth--the Sacred Planet, and he wants to claim it for Carina.

Meanwhile, Cristiana of the house of Eagle wants to be the champion of Zantorian of the Sagittarium Regnum like her hero Kastor (only with a more optimistic future). She competes in an intense race across a volcanic planet to make it happen, but the competition is fierce.

Back on Earth, the Defenders begin their campaign to seize Jerusalem from the Confederacy. Backed by a mysterious adviser, it looks like they might have a shot at pulling it off. Zantorian is concerned by these developments, so he sends Cristiana and fellow warrior-noble Larkin to get to the bottom of it. But when they arrive, they discover the identity of the adviser, and it's the last person they would ever suspect.

So some people want to start a war, and others want to prevent it. Regardless of who succeeds, the galaxy will never be the same.

As I reported last time, this series is pretty much Game of Thrones in space. But before you go writing Austin Rogers off as a George R.R. Martin wannabe, hear me out. Horns of the Ram is a worthy follow-up to Sacred Planet. It's well-written, has great action and endearing characters. There are also very detailed descriptions of what is happening in each scene, so you feel like you're there. If you like science fiction, you have no excuse not to pick this up. Give this series a try, and you won't regret it.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

James Review -- Rita Longknife: Enemy in Sight

This week I decided to review Rita Longknife: Enemy in Sight by Mike Shepherd. 

When this book begins, the series namesake is in command of a heavy cruiser dedicated to exploration. She has found the wreckage of an alien ship, in a time where humanity has never contacted any non-human sentient life, and evidence that first contact was made by pirates. After her ship returns home, a council decides to commission a task force to deal with the growing pirate menace before attempting to locate and establish peaceful contact with the aliens. Rita is assigned a command of the warships assigned to the mission with her husband Ray attached to the fleet’s ground force.

Meanwhile the pirate fleet splits into two groups, each with a small colony as a base. But they swiftly reunite when an alien colony rich in gold and silver is found. At first the occupation of the alien world seems to go well, but it swiftly turns into a fight with the alien settlers waging a guerilla war against the pirates. And after some of the pirate ships seeking more worlds to plunder are routed by an alien fleet and lead it back to the occupied colony, the pirate armada flees, planning to make a stand at the nearer of the two colonies they were using as bases.

The anti-pirate task force encounters a suspected pirate vessel near the planet Savannah and sets out in pursuit but the acting leader of LeMonte, one of the pirate base worlds, manages to convince them his world is just an unregistered colony rather than a pirate port. The naval force returns to base but soon one of the two pirate ships that survived the first battle with an alien fleet, and whom had abandoned their comrades, arrives warning of an alien attack force. The naval fleet sets out again but this time discovers that both pirate colonies have been eradicated. The warships move on to the alien colony the pirates had occupied and find themselves facing an alien fleet of unknown power and technology…

I give this book 9 out of 10. It has a nice variety of scenes, and I like some of the new characters a lot, or, at least the ones that weren’t in books I have read before, but there were two major drawbacks that keep me from rating it higher. The final battle was too short for my taste and, even worse, the battle between the pirate armada and the alien pursuit force was skipped entirely. After all the pirate-focused chapters I was really looking forward to this conflict but, instead, the pirate plotline ends as soon as the pirate fleet is deploying to make its stand. I’ve always liked this author’s space battles so I view this as a horrible error.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pandora's Box 4S 800

Today I want to tell you about an exciting new product I just acquired. It is the Pandora's Box 4S and it is a dream come true. It's pretty much a retro videogame console that only plays arcade games, but man, they are some of the best games ever. This isn't shovelware; these are real arcade games you used to have to shell out your hard-earned money to play in the arcade, or plunk down thousands of dollars for a full cabinet in your home. There are multiple versions of this available, but I'm going to focus on the particular one I bought.

The thing comes pre-loaded with (depending on the model you purchase) 800 or more arcade games. It has many of the greats such as the Ninja Turtles games, The Simpsons, X-Men, countless fighting games like Street Fighter, and obscure Japanese titles. If I had this as a kid, I would have literally died of joy.

However, I should mention it's not perfect. Here are the pros and cons.

1.) 800 of the greatest arcade games ever
2.) HDMI support. You can also hook it up to your PC monitor.
3.) Uses an authentic joystick setup
4.) USB support
5.) You can create a Favorites list so you don't have to keep cycling through the massive library to find the game you want to play.
6.) The games run pretty faithfully from what I've seen so far.

1.) The emulation isn't perfect. I've noticed some slight (and not so slight) glitches.
2.) Comes with a very cheap HDMI cable which broke the same day I set it up. You're better off using your own.
3.) The power cable comes in two pieces that don't fit very well together.
4.) The model I got has a two-player joystick board which requires you and a friend to pretty much be rubbing up against one another to play. There are other models which come with different controllers, so maybe shop around a bit.

So far, I feel the pros outweigh the cons and this thing is fantastic. I'll keep playing on it, and if my opinion changes, I'll let you know.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of The Federation: Patterns of Interference

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of The Federation: Patterns of Interference by Christopher L. Bennett. 

The story begins shortly after the prior book. After the chain of events that led to the collapse of the Partnership of Civilizations was started by the Federation trying to help them without understanding their situation, Admiral Jonathan Archer is trying to set up a non-interference directive in the hopes of preventing any future such disasters. But he faces strong opposition from his friend Thy'lek Shran, who views such a directive as an indictment of one of his proteges killed at the forefront of the crisis, and others who fear such a directive will lead to Starfleet officers doing nothing while less advanced civilizations are destroyed by forces beyond their control--such as natural disasters.  

While Archer doesn’t consider the latter scenario likely, he must also struggle with his dedication to his cause after realizing that both the Orion Syndicate and Section 31 hope for the directive to become reality as well as the news that his beloved dog Porthos is dying.

Meanwhile, Sauria has been conquered by Emperor Maltuvis, who received economic aid from the Federation in exchange for valuable resources found in his nation before launching his plot to seize control of his world, and is now receiving covert aid from the Orion Syndicate. Starfleet sends a team to assist resistance forces opposing him but the Orions plan to arrange a disaster involving the aid team to encourage isolationism within the Federation. Charles Tucker III hopes to use the Saurian situation in his quest to destroy Section 31 by planting evidence showing that the organization’s apparent leader is working with the Orion Syndicate. But he must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to end Section 31 and face the possibility that he is becoming too much like his enemy.

There is also a plot involving the planet Birnam where the Earth Cargo Ship Verne has discovered that some of the planet’s mobile plant life contain compounds that would be of great pharmaceutical value. But there is some evidence that the plants in question might be sentient and the only way to harvest the compounds is to kill the plants. After the USS Endeavour arrives to investigate the possibility that the plants are intelligent, tensions quickly heat between the Starfleet crew and the members of Verne’s crew who believe the plants aren’t intelligent and that the tests are taking too long, thus delaying pharmaceutical deals.

I give this book 9 out of 10. It has a nice variety of scenes but there is very little action in it. Even the Sauria plot only has a couple of short action scenes. Also I feel it suffers from the fact that the ultimate resolution of most of the plots has been established elsewhere. Finally, the Birnam plot feels completely disconnected from the Non-Interference Directive and Sauria plots.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

James Review -- RCN: Death’s Bright Day

This week I decided to review RCN: Death’s Bright Day by David Drake. 

The novel starts with the wedding of Daniel Leary and Miranda Dorst. The couple plans to take the yacht Princess Cecile, formerly a naval corvette that Leary had commanded for much of his career, to the planet Jardin for their honeymoon, based on stories about the world told to the bride by her deceased father. 

However, the Cinnnabar government asks Leary to take the ship to the Tarbell cluster after his honeymoon ends. The cluster is in a state of civil war with each faction supported by a branch of the Alliance of Free Stars’s Fifth Bureau, or their secret police. The Republic of Cinnnabar fears that if the Tarbell rebels claim victory, it will set in motion events leading to a resumption of the war between Cinnnabar and the Alliance.

But first Leary and his wife have to escape after being abandoned in a cave system on Jardin by a guide who feels his family’s legacy is violated by their presence and has a grudge against Dorst’s father. Escaping just as their allies were about to come in after them, Dorst returns home while the Princess Cecile and her crew continue to the Tarbell cluster.

There Leary leads a swift raid against pirates, and under pressure from Adele Mundy, Leary’s friend, signals officer, and Cinnnabar intelligence agent, the Tarbell government gives Leary command of their naval forces. While Leary works to make the ships and crews fit to fight, Mundy finds herself having to take on the duties of a critically injured Fifth Bureau member, who was supposed to aid the Cinnnabar mission. Leary plans and executes a mission that captures the heavy cruiser that was serving as the rebel flagship. But as he leads his strengthened forces towards the rebel capital he finds that the rebellion’s allies have supplied it with a battleship leaving his fleet facing a much stronger enemy force…

I give this book 9.5 out of 10. It has a great variety of action scenes and battles. It also has some nice humor in the early parts of the book. My only complaints are that the scenes on Jardin feel disconnected from the Tarbell story, more like filler then part of a larger tale, and I still wish the setting would return to a full war instead of smaller conflicts. It  feels like the story is just dancing around something major that is coming.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Author Interview -- Bridgett Morigna

Today I'm talking with fantasy author Bridgett Morigna who has found an unorthodox way to earn money writing via Patreon.

1.) How would you describe your writing? Darker than expected. The first time someone called The Dreams dark I was caught off guard. To me, it was just the story that I had to tell with the characters I created. Now that I've had some time to step away from the project, I can see what others saw. I never set out to make my stories dark, but once I start writing and exploring the concept and characters things inevitably take a dark turn. 2.) Why write for free? I'm a big believer in the goodwill of the internet. Growing up I was always in awe of the hours upon hours of reading material I could find for free online. I guess a part of me always wanted to be part of the internet repository of creativity. 3.) Where did the idea for The Dreams come from? The Dreams is the result of more than a decade of accumulated inspiration. The original idea started as a fanfiction concept combined with a fascination with kitsune while I was in high school. The idea that finally became the current story combined elements of that original idea with my experiences in college and during a serious illness. I'd held onto this idea for so long that elements of it have been drawn from a number of places in my life. 4.) What made you decide to study Japanese? It all started with anime. I've always been a big fan of shows involving history and folklore and learning the language helped me better understand those shows in context. 5.) You've chosen to be supported solely through Patreon. How has that worked out for you? I think it is working out really well! I love the idea of giving people the option to support my writing without forcing them to pay for the content. It's great having my Patreon as a place to post things that would only be of interest to people that are already invested in my writing. 6.) Your Twitter pic is Serial Experiments Lain. Are you a big fan of that series? Yep! I've been a fan since way back when I saw it on TechTV. 7.) Have you seen Haibane Renmei? It is also from Yoshitoshi ABe. I haven't watched Haibane Renmei. If it's anything like Lain, I'll have to check it out. 8.) Any plans to put your stories for sale on Kindle or Nook? My goal is to one day have my stories available in places like Amazon, Smashwords, etc. My serials need a lot of extra work to get them into tip-top shape for ebook format. 9.) What advice do you have for aspiring authors? There isn't one right way to be an author. Write, publish and measure success in a way that suits your personality. You'll be happier and more productive than if you tried to follow someone else's path to success.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Cool Kickstarter Project -- Lona: Realm of Colors

Do you have serious problems? Don't you wish you could just paint them away? Well, good news! In this indie game I recently found on Kickstarter, you can. It is Lona: Realm of Colors.

This point-and-click game stars the titular Lona, an artist with a heavy heart. She begins painting to deal with her problems, and the more she does it, the more she gets sucked into it and loses her grip on reality. Here are excerpts from the official Kickstarter page:

What happens if you could escape from life difficulties that you can do nothing about? What if you could paint all your troubles away or turn them into magical musical notes? “Lona: Realm of Colors” is an artistic adventure about a girl trying to deal with her difficulties by painting them. The more she paints the more her drawings transform real life troubles into abstract art forms and as she is more and more consumed by her paintings she loses touch with real world, and finally gets trapped in her art.

“Lona: Realm of Colors” is a point and click adventure in nature focusing on art and narration instead of fetch puzzles and dialogue. Each level is an abstraction of Lona’s story and it is up to you to bring peace and balance to her painting and find out what has happened to her.

Each level has two sides: a chaotic side represented by Ms. Schmidt the cat and a dark side represented by Mr. Ruppel the crow. You can switch between the two worlds at will and try to bring balance to these extreme interpretations of a single situation. You can use items from each world in the other one and everything you do might affect both worlds. There will be 15 unique scenes from Lona’s memory and paintings each having two sides.

This game looks like it's going to be something really special, and as always, I encourage everyone to support it. We need more unique, beautiful games like this and lli. Become a backer today!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

James Review -- Starcraft: Evolution

This week I decided to review Starcraft: Evolution by Timothy Zahn. 

The story begins six years after the end of Starcraft 2. There is an uneasy truce between the three largest powers in the Koprulu Sector. The Terran Dominion led by Emperor Valerian Mengsk, The Protoss led by Hierarch Artanis, and the Zerg led by Overqueen Zagara. 

Zagara sends a message to Mengsk requesting his aid to defend the Zerg presence on Gystt, a planet that was the site of a Terran colony destroyed by the Protoss in the early stages of their anti-Zerg campaign which led to the events of the original Starcraft game. Mengsk decides to investigate personally and when he arrives at Gystt, Zagara invites him and Artanis to a meeting on the planet.
There she tells them that the Zerg wish to atone for their past actions. Using the Adostra, a new form of Zerg created using a limited supply of Xel’Naga essence, they can heal worlds devastated during the recent wars. 

But a Terran team en route to examine the Adostra in one of their three breeding grounds find themselves assaulted by Pryolisks, a new form of Zerg. Artanis believes this is proof that Zagara has lied to them and prepares to wipe out the Adostra. 

However, in the aftermath of the attack on a second breeding ground, the Terran team, accompanied by an exiled Protoss, comes to believe that the Pryolisks are deliberately trying to get the Terrans and Protoss to exterminate the Adostra. Megnsk launches a desperate effort to discover his people’s true enemies while struggling to convince Artanis not to launch an offensive that will reignite the war between the three powers.

I give this book 9 out of 10. I liked the battle sequences a lot and enjoyed the new characters. However there were a couple of early scenes that I feel should have been integrated into the main plot better and some of the periods between battle scenes were rather dull to me. Also, I feel the story is a little too self-contained. I wish the story had some better hooks for possible sequels because I would love to see these characters again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Kissed by Literature

Jordan Elizabeth is back with a new book, this one a little different from her previous novels. It is Kissed by Literature: A Collection of Short Stories. Is it worth your time? Let's find out.

As the title tells you, it's a collection of short stories, though many of them are actually flash fiction clocking in at only a few pages. The stories are mostly supernatural in nature, featuring ghosts and other spirits, though there are others which feature either science fiction or the mundane such as a girl meeting her favorite author. Many of the stories feature an M. Night. Shyamalan twist at the end.

There are some good ideas and a few good stories in this collection, but the book suffers from too many stories. The problem with a short story collection is you have to get re-invested in each new story, and with the sheer amount of stories on offer here, it drags on for too long. Jordan should have stuck to just a small handful of stories rather than the more than dozen here. It also doesn't help that she gives us a parade of young female protagonists that blend together. I honestly can't remember most of them which is why this review is shorter than most of the ones I write.

In addition, she should have done more research. In one story, a girl becomes incapacitated from unknowingly drinking snake venom. But venom is generally harmless unless injected into the bloodstream (

I will, however, say I like the one story that ties into Jordan's previous book Escape from Witchwood Hollow.

This isn't necessarily a bad offering from Jordan Elizabeth, but it's not for me.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

James Review -- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volume Three

This week I decided to review Mighty Morphin Power Rangers volume three written by Kyle Higgens.

The story begins shortly after the end of volume two. Rita Repulsa has seized control of the Power Ranger command center with the aid of the Black Dragon. Billy Cranston, The Blue Ranger, has been captured and the other four original rangers have been forced to tap into the Green Ranger Tommy Oliver’s unique link to the Morphing Grid after being cut off from their usual powers.

The rangers manage to halt Repulsa’s attack on major cities using their Zords Cranston is imprisoned with Goldar. who controls the dimension they are trapped in but refuses to leave without the permission of his Empress. Cranston convinces Goldar, who hates the Black Dragon, to free him so he can help the other rangers defeat the Black Dragon thus possibly convincing Repulsa to restore Goldar to his place at her side. The rangers soon realize that the Black Dragon is a Zord that can alter its size. While most of the rangers launch an attack to force the Black Dragon to become the size of a typical Zord so Cranston and Oliver can infiltrate it via its access hatch.

The two manage to ruin the Black Dragon but find themselves in the future of an alternate timeline where the world was overrun by Repulsa’s army and Earth is now ruled by Lord Drakkon. The pair sets out in hopes of finding allies and a way home while reeling from what they have learned about the nature of this Earth’s ruler…

There is a flashback sequence focusing on Cranston as he begins to doubt whether he can truly become a hero. The chapter covers the battle that shook his resolve and his efforts to try and discover what makes a hero.

The volume also contains a short section of The Ongoing Adventures of Bulk and Skull by Steve Orlando. In this adventure the namesake duo find themselves recruited by Rita Repulsa to pilot Finster’s latest monster and hilarity ensues.

I give this volume 9 out of 10. The main story was interesting but there were a few parts I feel should have been explained in more detail and it could have used more combat. The flashback was fun but I think it would have fit in better if it had occurred earlier in the volume. The Bulk and Skull section was a nice counter to the grim tone of  the latter sections of the main story and I found it much more amusing then any of the attempted comedy sections focused on the duo in the original TV series.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Revisiting the Classics -- Time Bandits

Today we're taking a look at the 1981 fantasy movie Time Bandits. It was brought to us by several of the Monty Python crew, but is it as good as a Monty Python movie? Let's find out.

The story begins somewhere in United Kingdom suburbia. Poor Kevin (Craig Warnock) is just a pre-teen adolescent trying to get some sleep when six unruly dwarves (little people, not the Tolkien variety) burst from his closet. Turns out said closet is a portal through time and said dwarves came through it to escape from their master the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) because they have just stolen a map of all the "time holes." They have a brilliant plan to get rich robbing their way through time and they drag poor Kevin along for the ride.

Their first stop is Napoleonic France where they decide to swindle the big N himself, played by Ian Holm (so that's where Ash went after Alien). After some comical misadventures, they find themselves in medieval England where they have a humorous run-in with Robin Hood (John Cleese as the top of his comedic game).

Unfortunately for our time-traveling pilferers, the Lord of Evil (David Warner) wants very much to get his hands on the map, and he hatches a scheme to get it from the dwarves and free himself from his prison in the process. And anyone who stands in his way or otherwise annoys shall get turned into an animal (and that's that if they're lucky), you better believe it. Not that his minions mind; in fact, they very much welcome unnecessary explosions.

With Kevin and the dwarves on a collision course with the prince of darkness himself, will anyone get out alive?

You might at first mistake this for a fantasy Monty Python movie. However, it succeeds at forging its own identity. Yes, it has funny jokes, but it also has somber moments courtesy of Kevin. This poor kid just wants to find a loving family (not sure what's wrong with the parents he's got, other than them being dull), and he tries very hard to connect with the dwarves and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), but in the end, he may end up alone.

In addition, the movie is very imaginative. Think that's just a ship they're sailing? You'll never guess what it really is.

Time Bandits also has great special effects for 1981, and even better production values. I already prefer this film's version of Titanic to James Cameron's, by the way. Yeah, it hasn't aged so well in some parts, but I feel it holds up as a whole.

The only things I'm iffy on are the pacing and the deus ex machina resolution to the story. It sort of trivializes all the hard work Kevin and the dwarves put in to stop Evil. I do, however, like the ending. It's a total WTF moment that will make you question everything you've just seen.

In short, I recommend Time Bandits to anyone who's a fan of fantasy and/or Monty Python.

Friday, July 28, 2017

James Review -- Legion of the Damned: Andromeda’s War

This week I decided to review Legion of the Damned: Andromeda’s War by William C. Dietz. The story begins not long after the end of the previous book. Legionnaire Andromeda McKee, who is secretly Cathrine Carletto one of two surviving members of a family targeted for annihilation by the empress Ophelia, is pondering her decision to not kill the Empress when she had the chance.

Back on Earth, the resistance group led by McKee’s uncle, the only other survivor of her family, manages to kill the Empress’s secretary and lover. But this leads to a massive retaliatory attack to kill anyone in the area where the secretary was assassinated and Mc’Kee’s uncle falls during the battle. John Avery, McKee’s lover and former superior, has found himself assigned as Ophelia’s military attache. But most of his time is focused on Prince Nicholai, Ophelia's young heir. The group goes on a tour of the outer colonies but the Empress’s ship is badly damaged during an ambush by a fleet belonging to the alien Hudathan. An emergency jump carries the Empress’s cruiser to a crash landing on the planet Savas where there is a small human outpost. But Savas is also where disgraced Hudathan Admiral Nola-Ba is working to build a secret base. The natives allied to the Hudathan find the wreckage of the human ship and launch a massive attack which Avery, Nicholai, and Daska, a synthetic double of the Emperss, manage to escape but Ophelia and the rest of the human survivors are captured.

McKee is selected to lead a small team to rescue the Empress while the Imperial navy fights to secure the space around Savas. But will she pass up a second chance at vengeance even knowing that such an attempt might lead to retaliation against her subordinates?

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. It had a nice variety of battles and some interesting characters. However I feel some events and decisions by characters happen more because they need to for the plot to move where the author wants than because they make sense. Also, I think there were some parts that could have been removed or shortened without hindering the story.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cool Kickstarter Project -- lli

Last night I was browsing Kickstarter projects and I came across one which grabbed my interest. It is a videogame being made by a developer named Misha in New Zealand.

The game has you guiding an immortal girl named lli as she explores her memories and tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of an entire city. With a decided lack of combat, you must talk your way out of conflict. This may turn off some, but I find it refreshing. Here's how Misha describes it:

"Ili is a person haunted by regret and who longs for the past. Your aim is to guide Ili through her past and meet the ghosts from her past. While Ili is the game’s protagonist, you control most of her actions and act more like her spiritual guide. You are to help her say or do things that she would be too afraid to do by herself. The problems put in front of both you and Ili can be solved in different ways through talking. Do you intend to change the past? Or is it better to make peace with the past and to move on?"

The art style is both gorgeous and desolate. lli herself looks like a character from Ah-Ha's music video for "Take on Me," and her hand-drawn world looks like you're exploring someone's Dungeons and Dragons map come to life. Honestly, words can't do it justice; you really have to see it for yourself.

I don't know about the music yet. The song that plays during the demo is beautiful, but Misha wants to compose an original soundtrack if the project gets enough money. 

There isn't a whole lot of time left in the Kickstarter campaign, so I encourage everyone to hurry over there and back this project. Clearly, it's going to be something special. And, like I said, there's a demo on there, so you have no excuse not to give it a try.

Friday, July 21, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales by Una McCormack. 

The story begins shortly after the fall of Section 31. Garak is leader of the Cardassian Union when a report investigating the possibility of war crimes committed on Bajor during the Cardassian occupation of the planet emerges. The report recommends further investigation and trials which Garak agrees to. But doing so sparks resentment among the military which fears any soldier or unit that served on Bajor will be blamed whether they were involved in the crimes being investigated or not.

Doctor Kathrine Pulaski and her colleague Peter Alden, a former Starfleet intelligence officer who now serves on a research ship with Pulaski, arrive on Cardassia Prime so Pulaski can accept a medal on behalf of the team that discovered the treatment that solved the Andorian Reproductive crisis in time to prevent the extinction of the Andorian species. But Pulaski swiftly clashes with Garak after he denies her request to visit Julian Bashir. Bashir is in a catatonic state induced by the mental breakdown he suffered due to the psychological trauma he endured in the final phase of his quest to destroy Section 31. He has been receiving care on Cardassia Prime since Section 31’s downfall.

Also the Chief Academician of the University of the Union is retiring. Professor Natima Lang, once of the leaders of the dissident movement during the period when the military ruled the Union, seeks the post. However Garak opposes her being given this role. Soon afterwards, Doctor Elima Antok, heavily involved with the report urging further investigation into war crimes on Bajor, discovers evidence that Lang had approved the university supporting genetic experiments on Bajoran-Cardassian hybrid children to remove their Bajoran traits. These experiments killed or maimed a number of their subjects, and Antok, who is herself part Bajoran, doesn’t want to believe that Lang, one of her personal heroes, could do such a thing but she soon receives threats should she reveal what she knows.

Antok meets Pulaski and confides in her about what is going on, but soon after, both women are kidnapped. Pulaski escapes but she has become convinced that Garak is behind a plot to discredit Lang and the kidnappings so she gathers a few allies and tries to find and rescue Antok on their own. Meanwhile, Garak attempts to find the true mastermind behind the kidnappings and to discover the truth about the accusations against Lang even as the conflict with Pulsaki reaches new heights.

I give this book 8 out of 10. It had an interesting blend of subplots and how they came together. However I felt the ending was weak and it seemed like the Federation characters were far too eager to go along with Pulsaki’s suspicions against Garak to the point of barging into his office demanding answers when then have no actual proof he is currently involved in any plots against anyone.

Friday, July 14, 2017

James Review -- Destroyermen: Blood in the Water

This week I decided to review Destroyermen: Blood in the Water by Taylor Anderson. 

The story begins shortly after the previous book. The SMS Amerika is carrying a number of the Grand Alliance leaders and thousands of wounded home. But Contre Admiral Rauol Laborde of the fascist League of Tripoli is angry after being forced to withdraw from his blockade of the capital of the Republic of Real People, so he decides to intercept an capture Amerika. The attack initially goes well but then Amerika's mentally ill former captain makes his way to the bridge and orders his ship, a cruise liner converted to a raider cruiser, to open fire on the battleship that has captured Amerika, then flee and when the battleship returns fire,  Amerika is destroyed, killing most of her passengers and crew though a number of high level Alliance personnel were transferring to Laborde's flagship at the time. This leaves the League's leadership reeling as they scramble to try and incorporate Amerika's destruction into their plans to spark a war that will cripple the Grand Alliance and its various non-League enemies clearing the way for a global takeover.

Meanwhile Japanese officer Hiashi Kurokawa has been secretly building a group of aircraft carriers and planes for them to deploy. He uses this force to launch a massive attack on an Alliance convoy carrying badly needed supplies and troops and both the convoy's transports and the escort fore which includes the first two modern, roughly World War II tech-level, warships built by the Grand Alliance, quickly find themselves in a desperate battle.

The two expeditions sent out to find possible allies for the Alliance press on. Fred Reynolds and Kari-Faask manage to capture a number of Holy Dominion troops shortly before making contact with the New United States, formed by a group of troops and the transports carrying them to their timelines's version of the war between the United States and Mexico a century before the book takes place. Unfortunately, they discover that the claim by a NUS agent that they were preparing a massive force to attack the Holy Dominion is false and are left trying to convince their hosts to ally with the Grand Alliance.

The team sent to find the long lost kin of the Alliance's Lemurians struggle to survive attacks by the various hostile animals in the region and narrowly manage to avoid getting into a full scale battle with those they are seeking to befriend. They are surprised to discover that much about what they have done in this universe is known thanks to a World War II Allied bomber that was shifted to this area and crashed with an intact radio receiver. Talks go well and they group soon finds itself launching an attack on a Grik-run slave labor camp in hopes of liberating some of their new allies.

I give this book 8 out of 10. The battle scenes were nicely written and varied but there weren't enough of them in my opinion. Also, I noticed a number of minor errors that never should have made it past the editor. I wish the New United States plot had been extended and there are a couple of scenes that I'm honestly not sure why they were included since I feel they have little or nothing to do with any key points of the book. And there are a few events that don't make sense to me, especially in the League of Tripoli subplot. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Movie Review -- Spider-Man: Homecoming

Is it that time of the month? Yep, it's time for another Marvel movie, this one being Spider-Man: Homecoming? Is it worth your time, or should the series be rebooted yet again? Let's find out.

The story begins right after The Avengers. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his salvage crew get the screw job of their lives when the government steps in and takes away their right to salvage the alien technology left in New York City. Not one to give up so easily, Toomes manages to keep a decent cache and turns his crew into high-tech thieves and gun runners with it.

Flash forward to the present. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is helping out Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as Spider-Man while trying to get through high school. Peter wants to be an Avenger, but Stark thinks he's far from ready, and so Spidey is stuck fighting petty crimes.

One night, however, Peter intercedes to stop a gang of thieves from robbing a bank. But said thieves fight back with their advanced weaponry, and much property damage ensues. This catches the attention of Toomes, who makes it his mission to eliminate Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Peter still has high school to deal with. There's an academic meet coming up, and he hopes to catch the attention of the lovely Liz (Laura Harrier). But with Toomes putting everyone in danger, there may not be time for a social life. Can our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man save the day without getting grounded?

When it comes to Spider-Man movies, you have the Tobey McGuire era, the Andrew Garfield era, and now we have the start of the Tom Holland era. How does the current era fit in? In terms of quality, I feel it's better than the Garfield films (haven't seen the Tobey ones in years, so I can't really make a comparison to those). For one thing, Homecoming has tight action and is genuinely funny (something I haven't been able to say about the movies I've seen lately). The ending, in particular, features a great reaction from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) when she discovers a shocking secret.

Some may say the Vulture is a minor league villain for Spidey, but it's understandable at this early stage in Peter's career; he's just getting started and isn't ready for heavies like Doc Ock. Michael Keaton puts in a respectable performance as the villain and looks a lot cooler than the lame old guy from the comics.

If I have any criticism for this film, it's the fact I don't think Spidey's suit looks as good as the one from the Tobey days. That is, until the end of the movie which I won't spoil. On the plus side, Homecoming Spidey's lacking style is taken to the extreme when he is forced to fight without his suit. I enjoyed this part as he really comes into his own here and proves his worth as a hero.

One other bright spot in this film is Michelle (Zendaya) who manages to steal the show with her quirky apathy even though her true identity isn't confirmed until the end.

Bottom line: Not bad.

Friday, July 7, 2017

James Review -- Halo: Envoy

This week I decided to review Halo: Envoy by Tobias S. Buckell. The story is set six years after the end of the war between humanity and the Covenant. After the end of the war, surviving human colonists who had evacuated the planet Carrow returned to rebuild their homes only to discover that a number of Sangheili, commonly known as Elites by humans, are already building settlements on the planet. The two species' settlements are far apart but tensions are beginning to rise. Even though the human settlers are independent the United Earth Government has sent envoy Melody Azikiwe to help negotiate a truce between the two sides.

When the book begins forces loyal to Sangheili Fleetmaster Rojka 'Kasaan, who wishes to co-exist with the humans on Carrow, are under attack by a dissident Sangheili fleet led by 'Kasaan's relative Thars 'Sarov aided by a Jiralhanae, commonly know as Brutes, squadron led by Chieftain Hekabe. Rojka's forces are losing the battle with a boarding assault on his flagship imminent, so Azikiwe tries to convince him to awaken Gray Team, a trio of Spartan-IIs held in stasis on his vessel, to aid in the defense. But 'Kasaan refuses stating that the Spartans, whom he refers to as the Demon Three, dying with him will be the one thing that makes his death worth it. Azikiwe sets out to liberate Gray Team, succeeding, but is badly wounded in the process and knocked unconscious The Spartans take her and flee the ship, using the life boat they had been recovered from by the Sangheili, and flee to Carrow. This leads to 'Kasaan crash landing his cruiser on the planet to pursue and destroy Gray Team.

In Suraka, the primary human settlement on Carrow, Governor Ellis Gass is working to rally what's left of the population, the settlement's militia, and the few remaining armed sublight merchant ships of their fleet, after devastating damage suffered in 'Sarov's opening attack. They begin drawing up plans to drive the occupiers from Suraka, using their ships and a number of illegally obtained heavy weapons. And Hekabe launches an attack of 'Sarov's forces before setting out to reach his true objective, an ancient Forerunner installation hidden on Carrow.

Azikiwe and Gray Team reach an Office of Naval Intelligence outpost on Carrow where both groups decide to reveal what they know. Gray Team explains why they are so hated by 'Kasaan and every other Sangheili on the planet.

Azikiwe reveals that the United Earth Government knows why Hekabe wants Carrow's Forerunner base. The Sangheili and Humans discovered the Sharquoi, a type of super soldier created by the Forerunners. One was awoken accidentally and killed dozens of human soldiers before being killed. Sharquoi aren't very intelligent but the Forerunners created a unique device which allows the user to telepathically link with and control any Sharquoi in range. Hekabe obtained the control device during the fall of the Covenant and has discovered that Caow's Forerunner installation contains thousands of Sharquoi in stasis which he intends to unleash as his personal army in a war on any who stand in his way. When Hekabe unleashes the Sharquoi, Azikiwe is forced to launch a desperate attempt to create an alliance between 'Kassan's loyalists, Gray Team, and the remaining Surakan defenders to stop Hekabe before he gains the means to take the Sharquoi to other worlds.

I give this book 9 out of 10. It has some very interesting characters, a nice variety of battles, and some very interesting problems that the characters must face. Really, my only complaint is that I wish it was a little longer and covered Thars 'Sarov's initial attack on the Surakans and the full battle between 'Kassan's fleet and the alliance of Hekabe and 'Sarov rather then starting late in the fleet battle.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Early Look -- Aragami

Today I'm giving you an extended look at Aragami, the latest book in my Divine Protector series. This one's a prequel and you'll see what life (and the afterlife) was like in the previous universe. As always, please forgive the formatting; Word doesn't translate well to Blogger.


Martin McDonnell is an ordinary guy with an ordinary job. One tragic event keeps him from enjoying life.

Serika is a Shinigami, a god of death. She has one overpowering goal: to kill Martin McDonnell. But Martin's time hasn't come yet, and ending him is against the rules. Nevertheless, she's hell-bent on carrying out this act, and she has one week to do it. Why does she want him dead so bad? Could the answer lie in her mysterious past?

Regardless of the truth, she will carry out her deadly agenda, heedless of the threat her actions pose to the entire universe. This is the beginning of the end.

On a street in Oklahoma, almost to Oklahoma City but technically still in Edmond, was a certain company. Located off Memorial Road was a large building.
            The business in question was Business Scanning Systems. They specialized in taking physical documents from companies and scanning them onto computer before sending them the digital files. Sometimes they sent the physical documents back, but other times said companies paid BSS to destroy them or store them.
            At the bottom of the BSS food chain were the preppers. Their job was to prep the documents for scanning, a job most people didn’t even know existed. They accomplished this by sorting, smoothing, removing staples and other obstacles that wouldn’t make it through the scanners. Great attention had to be paid when doing this; a simple error could screw up one’s whole day, and too many errors would get an ass fired.
            One such prepper was 24-year-old Martin McDonnell. He had been doing this for a few years now—having gotten the job straight out of college—and considered himself experienced but hardly a veteran. No, the real veterans had been here for a decade or more. They’d seen it all and knew how to deal with just about anything.
            McDonnell was six feet tall and two hundred pounds. He kept in shape by working out once a week, though he still had some flab he would have liked to get rid of. Also, his eyebrows were a little too bushy for his tastes, though she had found them cute. And he often found himself pulling at his unruly sideburns, knowing he needed to do something about them.
            On this particular October day, he sat at his table—one of many in the warehouse known as Records Center 2—and flipped through pages, pulling out staples and moving sticky notes which covered information that would otherwise have been missed. He sat at the left-most table in the large area. To his left was the break area and above him was the mezzanine with its abundance of crap they kept in storage. And in front of him was the box he had pulled the documents out of—now turned on its side—with a stack of folders containing said documents. He also had his tools—staple remover, pens, Xacto knife, tape dispenser, and those rubber things that go on your fingers to help you flip through pages faster. Folder by folder, he removed the documents, prepper them and put them back into the box. Later the scan operator would scan them onto the server.
            He glanced at his watch. Another half hour until break time. Just great. He wouldn’t say he hated his job exactly, but neither did he have the zest for life he used to enjoy. Not since that fateful night, anyway. That one mistake had changed his life forever.
            So he just sat there in his red shirt with the BSS logo, mechanically doing his job and pouring money into his 401k. If he had to described his life, he would have called it a treadmill; he kept moving but never got anywhere.
            Mercifully, break time eventually came. Betty Sodatrino came up behind him on her way to clock out. “Break time, Martin.”
            “Thanks,” he said.
            “Me and Marci are going to the mall after work. You wanna come?”
            He shrugged. “Sure.”
            “Great. See you then.” She flashed him two fingers in a V-sign.
            Martin didn’t have many friends at work, but Betty was one of them. Almost as tall as him, she was a lithe bundle of energy with chestnut hair. She was the one who made things bearable for him. He liked her. A lot. Nothing had yet happened between them, but he wouldn’t be too shook up if it did. It also didn’t hurt that she always smelled sweetly of an irresistible fragrance.
            Stretching, he got up and made his way to the break room and its clock to punch out.

* * *

As a formerly devout follower of Shinto, Serika had never believed in the Christian notion of Hell. The whole idea of a fire and brimstone world beneath the surface of the earth was absurd.
            Too bad. She would have killed for that afterlife. No, what she found upon dying was something infinitely worse: Yomi. She could still remember the welcome speech upon arriving in this world: “Welcome, you were a good Shintoist in life and now we’re going to make you a Shinigami, isn’t that great!?”
            She hadn’t believed in Shinigamis, either, but that one turned out to be true. As a god of death, her job was to monitor the lives of everyone in her assigned district (hers being Oklahoma City) and escort their souls to the afterlife. The devoted Shintoists became Shinigamis, and everyone else just became regular dead souls. Turns out they were the lucky ones; being a Shinigami was the worst job you could ask for if you weren’t assigned to a Shinto-rich city like Tokyo which ended up having lots of Shinigamis. But, no, she had to have died in Oklahoma City, a large area with very few people assigned to it. That meant long days, assloads of paperwork, and death. Lots of death. And since the afterlife was classical Japanese, there were no ergonomic chairs, the result being countless hours sitting on tatami mats. She hated those fucking mats. They spent every day mocking her. She’d kill (pun intended) to be able to rip apart each and every one of them, tearing them into smaller and smaller pieces until they were microscopic and she couldn’t physically see them anymore and she wouldn’t have to deal with them ever again!
            But that wasn’t the worst part, oh no.  The worst part was the suffocating loneliness. Her parents were still alive, and the bulk of her relatives who had died lived in Japan and she hadn’t known them in life. They were strangers to her here.
            As she walked down the hallway of the Bureau of Post-Life Relations with its hanging red lanterns and paper walls, she exchanged pleasantries with her co-workers whom she passed. She was being completely fake, though; she didn’t give a damn about any of them. She wished they’d all drop dead—except they already were. Only two people commanded her attention, and she would deal with them both in time.
            She passed by a mirror and noted her appearance. Like all Shinigamis, she wore a black cloak over an equally black kimono. Her raven hair was pulled back into two long pig tails which ran down her back, and traditional geta footwear adorned her feet. Yes, the afterlife had a dress code.
            She soon found the room she wanted and entered. Like most of the afterlife’s rooms, it was brown with tatami mats on the floor. Unlike the other rooms, however, there was a circular metal depression in the center of the floor.
            She approached it and it lit up. “Aogami,” she said. In response, a blue light shot up and enveloped the room. Japanese characters floated about in a chaotic pattern. English was her native language, but her mother had insisted she learn Japanese. Nevertheless, her brain still had to translate for her.
            The characters formed words in front of her face:

こんにちは、セリカどの。 何ですか。[Hello, Serika-dono. What is it?]

The Shinigami weren’t all-powerful or all-knowing. In order to monitor every mortal on Earth and track their probable lifespans, a ridiculously sophisticated computer was needed. Thus, Aogami was created.
She replied, “I need information on a specific person. His name is Martin McDonnell and he lives in Oklahoma City in America.”

[Subject located. Status: 24-years-old. Formerly married, but that is no longer the case. Currently employed at Business Scanning Systems in Edmond.]

“Good,” she said. “Based on current projections, when will he die?”

[In 42.38 years.]

That was no good. She wanted him dead yesterday. “Is there any chance he’ll die sooner?”

[It is possible. He enjoys beer. Alcohol poisoning is difficult to anticipate.]

She stood there for a moment in silence, contemplating her target’s possible demise. “Would it be possible to get a Section Six exemption for him?” In other words, would it be possible to kill him ahead of schedule? She wasn’t holding her breath, though.

[Negative. Section Six exemptions only apply to the most dangerous individuals on Earth. It can only be invoked if said individual is about to commit mass destruction.]

She was disappointed, but not surprised; the Shinigamis couldn’t even get permission to kill the 9/11 hijackers before they carried out their acts. Millions of lives had to be threatened before a Section Six exemption would be authorized. If Martin McDonnell was to die, it would have to be done in blatant violation of the rules. “What would be the penalty for killing him now?”

The characters turned red and began shaking erratically. [Warning! Pre-emptive termination is strictly forbidden! Lord First will be notified of this.]

Unfortunately for Aogami, Serika had anticipated this. Unbeknownst to the AI, she had a friend (and she used the term loosely) named Hebimaru insert an elusive subroutine into its program. With only a simple phrase, she could command its compliance. “Dame da.Don’t do that.

The characters turned back to normal. [Compliance subroutine activated. All interactions between us will remain private.]

“Very good,” she said. “Now, then. Answer my previous question, you piece of shit.”

[The penalty for pre-emptive termination includes extended incarceration.]

She needed to avoid getting caught, then. Imprisonment would ruin everything. “OK,” she said. “If I were to attempt to kill Martin McDonnel, how long would it take for the higher-ups to get wind of it?”

[Based on pre-existing relationship, the Shinigami monitor Martin McDonnell more closely than others. Repeated attempts to kill him would quickly draw their attention. Estimated time for you to become a suspect, depending on the blatancy of the assassination attempts: one week.]

So all she had to do was kill him within seven days. Doing it in person was risky; she couldn’t be seen with him.  Therefore, she felt she should find someone or something to do it for her.
            She already had an idea. “Show me what he’s up to right now.” He should have been at work.
            The characters resolved into a 3D hologram in front of her which showed Martin at BSS. An attractive woman whom Serika knew as Betty Sodatrino walked up to him. “Break time, Martin.”
            “Thanks,” he said.
            “Me and Marci are going to the mall after work. You wanna come?”
            He shrugged. “Sure.”
            “Great. See you then.” She flashed him two fingers in a V-sign. Serika felt flush with anger. She hadn’t realized their relationship had progressed that far.
            Serika shook her head. It didn’t matter. Martin would soon be dead and Betty would have to find someone else. Right now Serika needed to focus. They had to have been talking about Quail Springs Mall which was just up the street on Memorial. “That’s enough.” The image turned back into kana and kanji characters. “Are there any disturbed—nay, psychotic—individuals near Quail Springs Mall right now?”

[Yes. Robert Simons. Age thirty-four. Schizophrenic. Currently sleeping under an overpass on May Avenue outside the mall.]

            “Is he prone to violet outbursts?”


Serika smiled. It looked as if she would get this knocked out in one day. Martin would die and then her life (or afterlife) wouldn’t suck so much.

Itsu made mo.
            It was time to pay Robert Simmons a visit.


Martin’s shift ended at 4:30. He drove up the street to Quail Springs Mall, taking Memorial rather than the adjacent Kilpatrick Turnpike since it was only a few miles.
            He ventured inside and met Betty and Marci Atkins in front of the Yogurt Shack. Betty’s best friend, Marci was a stocky twenty-year-old of short brown hair and average features. Half the time Martin couldn’t even remember what she looked like. Nevertheless, the two young women were inseparable, leaving Martin jealous at times. It had been too long since he had felt that kind of kinship with anyone. Not since that day…
            “Martin? Hello?” Betty snapped her fingers in front of Martin’s face, bringing him out of his funk.
            “Oh. Sorry.”
            She smiled at him. “Try to stay with us, OK?”
            “Uh, yeah.”
            “I’m glad you decided to come out with us,” she said. “You always seem to be in some kind of funk.”
            “Quit apologizing. You’re bumming me out. Try to have some fun with us.”
            He nodded. “OK. Sure.”
            “Now,” she said. “Where should we go first?”

* * *

The gods had the ability to project their consciousness to anywhere on Earth for the purposes of reconnaissance and guidance. They used this to watch people who were about to die and to provide guidance to the living. The latter wasn’t usually done by Shinigami, but there were many gods of different religions and some of them did this for the humans.
            Serika found Robert Simons exactly where Aogami said he would be under the overpass outside Quail Springs Mall. Emaciated, bald and probably smelling of shit, this was not the kind of person she would have associated with in life. She found herself immediately repulsed by him. Let’s just get this over with.
            “Robert,” she cooed. “Wake up, Robert.”
            His eyes jerked open. “Who said that?”
            “I’m God.” It wasn’t exactly a lie.
            He looked all around. She wasn’t physically there, so he couldn’t see her. “God’s a woman?”
            “I can be whatever I want. Today I feel like having ovaries.”
            He stared aghast at empty space. “What do you want?”
            She turned up the charm. “I need a favor from you. Can you do that for your Lord?”
            “W-What kind of favor?”
            Smiling, she replied, “It’s nothing, really. You just have to kill the Antichrist.”
            He perked up at this. “Antichrist?”
            “Yes. There’s a very bad man inside Quail Springs Mall right now.” She projected an image of Martin McDonnell into his mind. “He’s going to destroy the world if you don’t stop him.”
            He thought about it for a moment. “If I kill him, will you make the voices go away?”
            “Of course,” she said as sweetly as possible. She could actually feel her blood sugar rising. “Not only that, but I’ll make sure you get into Heaven.”
            He leapt to his feet with surprising speed. “Then I’ll do it. I’ll kill the Antichrist before he can stop Christmas.” Great, she thought. He was adding his own interpretation to this. Well, whatever. Just as long as he got the job done.
            Robert pulled a hunting knife from his pocket and began looking at it lustfully. “Better keep that in your pocket until you find Martin McDonnell,” she advised.
            “Whatever you say, God!” He then strutted off to the mall. This was going very well, she thought.
            She returned to her body in Yomi and reclined in her chair in her office. The room itself was sparse, just a desk, chair and window which let in sunlight behind her. It looked like any other office in this realm—tatami floor and brown paper walls. She saw no point in personalizing her own private hell.
            For the first time in a while, though, she felt at peace. Once Robert Simons finished the job, she would actually be happy.
            After all, everyone deserved happiness.

* * *

Martin, Betty and Marci strolled through Quail Springs Mall, browsing the shops. Their first stop was Gameshop where they perused the latest videogames.
            “I’ve been wanting to play this,” Marci said as she picked up Stanley Hizzard, Boy Wizard, a fantasy simulator where you played a boy at a school for wizards. It was based on a series of novels by some British author. Marci loved that series, even going so far as to have a Stanley Hizzard lunchbox she brought to work every day. Martin was never really in to it; after all, a school for people with powers? That was just silly. So he muttered something encouraging and turned his attention to McFadden 2017 which had just come out. He had long been into sports games (even though he didn’t play any sports in real life). He had fond memories of playing Basketball Jam on the Super Pretendo as a kid. Dunking those flaming balls had been incredibly satisfying.
            He eyed McFadden 2017 but decided not to buy it. As a new release, it was $59.99, and money was tight at the moment.
            Betty checked out their selection of J-RPGS. Japanese games weren’t as popular as they used to be due to a decline in quality and an increase in quality from their Western counterparts, but they still had a decent audience in the States.
            “Check this out, Martin,” she said, handing him the empty display case of a game called Rondo of Destiny 7. It had a spiky-haired protagonist on the cover. He reached over and, as he took hold, accidentally brushed her hand. He unexpectedly felt a surge of pleasure ripple through him,
            She quickly looked away, embarrassed. Had her face turned red? No, it couldn’t be. He was certain she didn’t have any feelings for him.
            He shook his head. He didn’t need this. It was far better if he didn’t date anyone. At the end of the day, all it took was one stupid mistake to ruin everything.
            Marci ended up getting Wizard Academy, while Martin and Betty left empty-handed. The three then left the store.

* * *

In the twisted hurricane disaster area he called a mind, Robert Simons was on the hunt.
            Martin McDonnell.
            Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
All he had to do was kill the Antichrist and God would take away the voices. This had been his dream as long as he could remember (though his memory was filled with gaps large enough to drive a big rig through). With McDonnell’s face burned into his raw sewage brain, he would have no trouble finding his target.
Like a killer cyborg sent from the future, he patrolled the corridors of Quail Springs Mall, his eyes scanning each and every face searching for McDonnell. These faces eyed him with fear and suspicion, but he barely noticed.
Suddenly, God’s voice was in his head again. McDonnell’s on the second floor, heading for the escalator. Wait for him behind it at the bottom, then attack.
“Will do, God!” The fear and suspicion on the previously mentioned faces intensified.
Don’t say it out loud, you idiot! People are getting suspicious. Just hurry up and do this.
“Yes, God!”

God groaned.