Friday, March 31, 2017

James Review -- Jerusalem Fire

This week I decided to review Jerusalem Fire by R. M. Meluch. 

The story is set in the fifty-ninth century AD after the end of a long dark age that followed the collapse of humanity's first interstellar civilization. The Na'id Empire, descended from a colony that had cut itself off from the rest of humanity to build a society where appearance and ethnicity did not matter, seeks to unite mankind under its rule, selectively breeding humans until they all share one ethnicity, and destroy or enslave any non-human sentient species. 

The story begins thirteen years after the fall of the city of Jerusalem, which had held out against a Na'id siege for a century. The Liberation, a rebel ship that smuggles dissidents to hidden independent colonies, captained by the renowned rebel Alihahd and surrounded by Na'id vessels as the rebel ship tries to lead its enemies away from the evacuation shuttles carrying its passengers. The Na'id are then ambushed by the Marauder, an infamous rebel ship using the guise of a legendary ghost ship to terrify its foes and a hologram of the ghost craft to draw their fire while it sets up the kill. 

In the ensuing battlem both renegade ships are destroyed but the survivors of their crews are recovered by a craft unrecognizable to them and taken to their rescuers' homem the legendary lost world of Iry. Told they can leave the next time a ship leaves the worldm the rebels struggle to integrate into the Itiri civilization native to the world. 

Their chance to leave comes when Ben, a human conscripted by the Na'id and then adopted by the Itiri before being cast out, goes on a quest for vengeance, targeting the Na'id installations where he had been brutalized as the Na'id tried to turn him into a good Na'id soldier. But eventually the Na'id locate Iry and Alihahd must face his actions during the final phases of the Siege of Jerusalem and their consequences while preparing for a final meeting with the Na'id forces...

I give this book 7 out of 10. The Na'id are an interesting example of a noble ideal gone horribly wrong becoming the very thing its creators opposed. But the story focuses on such a small area that we have no idea what is going on in the setting's big picture outside of the flashback to the Siege of Jerusalem. I think this would have been better if the author had written some other books in this setting, focusing on the big picture and the war between the Resistance and the Na'id before writing this one, because to me this feels like a side story within a larger setting with no novels covering the main story to support it. And, unfortunately, this long after the original release I have almost no hope for new books in the setting to fill in the gaps left by this one.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Movie Review -- Power Rangers

Today we have the reboot of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the kickass show from my youth. How does it compare to the original? Let's find out.

The story takes place in the town of Angel Grove. High school football star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) has just pulled off the prank of a lifetime. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be worth it, as it lands him on house arrest and detention for the rest of the school year. While in there, he meets functioning autistic Billy (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott). Jason saves Billy from a bully, and Billy quickly convinces him to sneak into the local quarry for some mischief. While there, they meet Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G). Things get hairy, though, when Billy unceremoniously sets off an explosion, uncovering a mysterious...something, including five glowing coins. Security arrives and the teens haul ass, meeting the business end of a train in their attempt to escape.

But, to their shock, each of them wakes up the next day like nothing happened. Not only that, but they seem to have acquired superhuman strength and durability. Wanting to know just what the hell is happening, they return to the quarry and discover an alien ship. There they are greeted by robotic Alpha-5 (Bill Hader) and his master Zordon (Bryan Cranston). Zordon explains the five teens have been chosen to become Power Rangers in order to battle the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) who has been revived after millions of years under water. To do so, they must learn to morph, but this time it's not as easy as yelling out the name of a dinosaur; their hearts must be in sync. This turns out to be incredibly difficult as each Ranger has serious emotional baggage and they don't know if they can trust one another. Will they be able to get to know one another and form a bond strong enough to ensure the survival of the human race?

I loved Power Rangers as a kid. I watched it religiously with my friends. Back then, I had no idea half of it was recycled footage from a Japanese show. It was all fresh and new to me. I stopped watching it after a while, but never forgot it. Flash forward 20-odd years, and now we have a new incarnation that's all CG. It definitely takes itself more seriously now, which I appreciate, but I think some of the magic is lost without wacky rubber monsters and cheesy dubbed lines (I had similar feelings about the last American Godzilla movie (which, coincidentally, also starred Bryan Cranston). I guess I'll always be a kaiju fan at heart.

So what we have here is a respectable, fun superhero movie with solid acting. Our teen stars deliver quality performances and nail their individual angst. Elizabeth Banks, in particular, really makes us feel as if she's a sinister alien (even if her character is very generic). I don't think this film is as good as the original, but--and I've said it before--nostalgia is a force to be reckoned with.

Nevertheless, if you're a Power Rangers fan, you owe it to yourself to go see this one, especially considering the exciting bonus scene at the end which expertly sets up the sequel. Oh, and as someone with Asperger's, I appreciate the fact they included a character on the Spectrum.

Friday, March 24, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Long Mirage

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Long Mirage by David R. George III. 

There are three main arcs in the story. One focuses on Quark, who believes he has been betrayed by Viray, the private investigator he hired to find Morn. Accompanied by Captain Ro, he sets out to track down Viray, leading to a reunion with Morn and an encounter with Federation security who are also searching for Morn. Meanwhile, Back on Deep Space Nine II Nog begins a quest to discover what has happened to Vic Fontaine in the years since anyone has entered Vic's holosuite program This leads to Nog and Science Commander Candlewood, who is helping him being locked out of the program after they are killed by two mobsters who are kidnapping Vic. Nog finds a way to get them back into the program but this leaves them a week to find Vic and allow him to know they are alive or the program will be reset to its starting point. They are eventually joined by Dabo girl Ulu Lani, who is actually an agent of Morn's. It turns out that the reason the Mob has kidnapped Vic is because Morn convinced Vic to aid him in a scheme within the program but the plan fell apart when Morn couldn't enter the program after the original Deep Space Nine, leaving Vic owing a massive debt to the Mob. Morn has been trying to find a way to save Vic himself. But with only two days until the Mob boss Bugsy Calderone has Vic killed, the race is on as Nog and his companions struggle to raise enough money to pay off Vic's debts.

Elsewhere, Bajor is still struggling with the revelation that Endalla, one of the planet's moons was a cover for a gigantic machine which the Ohalavaru religious sect claims was used to build the Bajoran wormhole. Clashes between the Ohalavaru and the more typical Bajoran believers are increasing. And Kira Nerys, who was last seen during the battle that led to the wormhole being sealed for years and the original Deep Space Nine being destroyed, has returned. While in the wormhole she experienced another life apparently in the distant past and Altek Dans, her lover in that past life, had emerged from the wormhole before her, eventually beginning a relationship with Captain Ro. Eventually Kira and Atek travel to Endalla to study the machine leading to the discovery of Atek's true origin...

There is also a smaller plot dealing with Odo and his interactions with a Jem'hadar battlecruiser loaded with refugees from many Dominion species who are seeking to establish a colony in the Alpha Quadrant and build a new life.

I give the book a 7.5 out of 10. I found the Quark and Vic plots interesting but I think most of the Kira plot should have been in another book, allowing it to be expanded. Also, I feel that the three connected love triangles in the story were resolved far too easily. Still, I am looking forward to finding out more about the Endalla device in future books.

Friday, March 17, 2017

James Review -- The Corporation Wars: Insurgence

This week I decided to review The Corporation Wars: Insurgence by Ken Macleod. 

The story starts right after the secret discovered at the end of the last book was revealed. In the Locke Provisos simulation, the strain of processing all the data is effecting the senses of the human minds inside the sim. Shaw, who fled during the first war and against accidentally createded sentient AIs, manages to fix the problem but this changes the flow of time so that instead of one day in reality lasting one thousand days in the simulation, the passage of time in both reality and virtual reality will match leaving much less time for those inside to prepare for the coming battles then they had anticipated.

Meanwhile, in reality, the strike force on its way to attack the rebel AIs and their Arcane Disputes allies collapses into a civil war. This happens because while most of the minds controlling the war machines were soldiers of the Affiliation ideology during Earth's ancient Last World War, Arcane Disputes claims to have proof that Locke Provisos is secretly controlled by agents of the Reaction Ideology which the Affiliation opposed in the war with other agencies compromised by similar agents. 

Unfortunately for Harlod Newton, who was a Reaction agent within the Affiliation movement during the war, he receives the message after committing himself to an attempt to seize a AI-controlled rock alone. Meanwhile, Carlos, driven to defect after discovering Arcane Dispute's claims near the end of the previous book, reaches the Arcane Disputes module and is uploaded into its simulation based on an MMO popular among the Affiliation movement whose leadership includes Jax, who had originally recruited Carlos for the Affiliation and had been his lover. The rebel AIs declare themselves neutral in the conflict between the two ideologies because they believe neither will truly treat them as equals. 

But Baser, the AI controlling the rock Newton is heading for, refuses to stand down and is cast out by the other AIs before being captured by Newton who is forced to link up with Arcane Disputes. In the Locke Provisos module, those opposing the Reaction seize control and move to land on a planet and establish a base of operations. And the Arcane Disputes forces prepare to launch a strike to keep the Locke module from reaching its goal. Carlos, Newton and a few others who have become disgruntled with the Arcane leadership form a plan to free Baser and defect to the AI Freebot faction.

I give this book 8.5 out of 10 The battle sequences weren't improved very much from the first book in my opinion. Also, this book feels like it has a lot more sections that were added more for lengthening the book then adding anything to the setting or that felt like they were drilling in points I didn't see the need to remind the reader of. Did we really need a group of Reaction fighters who clearly aren't entirely comfortable with Newton, a well known African-British Reaction member to remind us what the story had explained before, namely that many Reaction members came from white supremacist groups? But the ending and the plot by Carlos and his allies late in the book does leave a lot of interesting possibilities for the next book.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Author Interview -- Michelle Lowe

Today we're doing something different and interviewing another author. Please welcome Michelle Lowe, author of Legacy.

1.) What genre do you primarily write in?

Even though I’ve written one nonfiction novel, I generally write fiction. It’s simply more enjoyable. With fiction, I can play around with facts and build my own worlds. There’s a lot of intelligence and creativity that goes into writing fiction, I believe. There’s much that can be created, so many imaginative ways to explain how made up things function. You really work your brain coming up with how everything goes and make it believable no matter how unbelievable it is!  

2.) What sets you apart from other authors?

Well, I’d say it’s because I’m broke, but I think that goes for most authors. Um, that’s kind of a hard question only because other than my own writing style, I’m not really that different from any other writer out there. We’re all storytellers, some of us are good and some of us are not. Some are successful for the being good storytellers, few are successful even though they’re not for one reason or another. The rest, like me, are still climbing, still envisioning that one day all our hard work will pay off. This isn’t an easy life to get into. Not a simple dream come true. Yet, I am thrilled to be in this fray with so many other dreamers and yarn spinners. 

3.) What did you learn from writing Legacy?

A lot, actually. Aside from all the research needed for, not just this book, but the entire Legacy series, I’ve learned that I really enjoy writing steampunk. Granted, Legacy is tad different from other steampunk novels. While most books of this genre already have technologies and gadgets invented and in use, I’ve started this series during the cusp of when the Industrial Revolution is really taking hold on the world. Legacy is set in an alternate universe, naturally, and there are plenty of inventions and machines throughout the entire series, like a Spanish galleon that can produce its own winds by way of huge fans powered by water, an oven that makes cremated corpses into diamonds, (a real thing by the way), the first airship ever made, living automatons, a cryo chamber that promises to bring back the dead, robotic limbs, and all that fun stuff. Yet there’s also this old supernatural world that still exists, and these two worlds, machine and magic, overlap one another. I suppose you can say that it’s the transition between an old world and new. Writing this series has given me a new way to write and has opened my imagination box even wider.

4.) What about European history intrigues you?

European history has an abundance of material to work with regarding storytelling. Granted the entire world has a great amount of interesting documented historical accounts, and I’ve used bits and pieces of them in all my stories. It’s hard to explain because to me it’s the same as asking why a person likes the color blue over other colors. European history is none more fascinating than any other past events on other continents. It’s just a preference, I suppose.

5.) Do you paint oil paintings or just admire them?

I paint and I absolutely love it! I do admire many painting other than oils. I enjoy abstract art and paintings with loads of little details such as the works of Hieronymus Bosch. I also enjoy some scenery artwork like those from painter, Robert Doares. I have a reproduction of his Spring River painting on my wall that my parents bought over forty years ago.  

6.) What is your favorite knickknack?

I have bunches of knickknacks that I collect. A collage of items, from owl sculptures to an old Carter’s fountain pen ink jar. Some of my favorites that I’ve gathered are natural things like rocks. I’ve collected small rocks from various places, spanning from the Mojave Desert to Hawaii. I even grabbed a phaneritic rock from the backyard of my childhood home a few years back. One day, I hope a snag a little stone from England whenever I get a chance to visit.

7.) What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I once read that you can make anything by writing. And it’s true! Writing opens minds, introduces new perspectives and brings people into worlds they never knew existed. Writing is an art form that is beautiful, tragic, complex, stunning and horrifying. My best advice for aspiring writers is to develop a thick skin. Take constructive criticism with a grain of salt and learn from what others tell you. Trust me, you’ll grow as a writer that way. And read! Read! Read! Read! When a writer is reading, it’s different than non-writers. We’re not just reading, we’re studying! We’re finding out new ways to describe things, broadening our vocabulary and learning how these other authors thread their stories together. Whatever genre you write, reading will help significantly when you put your own pen to paper. Don’t concern yourself about getting that first rough draft just right, either. First drafts are meant to free spirits and very ugly ones too. You only need to get your story out of your head and onto paper or in a Word document. Worry about making it pretty later on during editing. And don’t rush. It’s so easy nowadays to toss out stories in front of the whole world. Self-publishing has become easily available thanks to companies like Amazon and Createspace. Writers no longer need the gatekeepers’ permission to publish their work, or spend thousands of dollars going through a vanity press in the hopes that they’ll make that money back. Yet the ease to publish shouldn’t mean that the art of writing needs to be forgotten. Writing a book or novella takes time and ought to take just as long if not longer to make better through proper editing and revision. It’s best to sit on a manuscript for a while before going back to work on it rather than rush in getting it done just to publish it. It doesn’t matter how good the story is, if readers are distracted by poor writing and grammar flaws, you’ll lose them quick!

All in all, read more, write with passion, but edit with care and devotion toward the craft and learn from others. Most of all, write what you love!      

8.) What’s the best way to connect with readers?

Talking to them. Sites like Goodreads are a great way to reach out to people. I’ve also just recently worked my way to building up my nerve to do Facebook Live. I’d love to chat with people and getting to know them as well as let them know me, the person behind the book, as it were. Another good way to connect with readers is to be friendly. Let them in on what you’re doing in your writing from time to time, and listen to what they have to say. If they didn’t like one of your books even though they liked or loved your other novels, or didn’t enjoy some parts in any other book you wrote, listen to why and don’t get sore about it. Just because they’re a fan of yours doesn’t mean they’re going to love everything you put out there. Who knows, maybe there’ll be something to learn from it. Be humble, after all, writers are nothing without their readers.

Twitter: @michellelowe_7


Barnes & Noble:

Legacy Twitter: @LegacySeries_6

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Movie Review -- Logan

Today we have the final film in Marvel's Wolverine trilogy. It is Logan. How does it stack up against its predecessors? Let's find out.

The story takes place in 2029 America. It has been years since a Mutant was born, and they've pretty much died out. Poor Logan (Hugh Jackman) is eking out a living as a limo driver (when he's not busy trying to drink himself to death) while struggling to obtain medication for an Alzheimer's-riddled Charles Xavier (an especially vulgar Patrick Stewart). See, Professor X has...err, episodes, for lack of a better term, in which he psychically assaults everyone around him and he needs special pills to keep that from happening.

Anyway, one day Logan is approached by a Mexican woman who asks him to escort a pre-pubescent girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who has serious anger issues. But there are bad men from Essex Corporation after Laura, and when they attack the place where Logan is keeping Xavier to get her, everyone finds out just how dangerous she is courtesy of her Adamantium claws. She ****s them up! Turns out she's a clone of Logan, and she didn't exactly turn out how her creators wanted (what with the tendency to go on killing sprees), so they decided to do away with her and their other test subjects. And they've created a new test subject...who also goes on a killing spree.

Logan feels bad for her, but not quite bad enough to help her out. It takes a little prodding from a pudding-brained Xavier to get him to do the right thing. So they set out to find the fabled rendezvous point for the other test subjects, but getting there won't be easy; Essex basically has an army and enhanced soldiers to do their bidding, and Logan's body is falling apart on him. Can our heroes survive long enough to ensure a fresh start for Mutantkind? And will Logan ever stop breaking the fourth wall by reading X-Men comics within the movie?

As I said before, this is the third movie in this series, not counting the many X-Men films. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a joke and The Wolverine was lackluster. Thankfully, Logan emerges to be the first good movie to star Marvel's Canadian Mutant. The switch to an R-rating was a gamble that pays off. With the heaps of gore and swearing, you can tell this film wants to be taken seriously by comic book and action fans. It doesn't insult us with weak depictions of violence like a lot of PG-13 movies. Every time Logan stabbed someone in the previous films, you knew in the back of your mind this is what was happening. We just never saw it until now.

I also want to commend newcomer Dafne Keen on a job well done. She really nails her performance of a broken child raised by psychopaths in Mexico, something that's obviously not so easy to pull off.

And finally, I want to mention the powerful story. It hits all the right notes as we witness the loss of characters who have been with us for years. Think you know who will live and die? Think again.

Bottom line: This is the Wolverine movie we've been waiting for.

James Review -- The Descent of Anansi

This week I decided to reach back into the mists of science fiction history and review The Descent of Anansi by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. 

The story starts with the space-based corporation Falling Angel Enterprises narrowly voting to declare independence from the United States. To raise money they auction off a new highly advanced form of cable they have developed and the bidding comes down to Brazil Techimetal-Electromotores and the Japanese-based Oyama Construction, which plans to use the cable to complete a vital bridge. Oyama wins and the cable is loaded onto a cargo pod carried by the shuttle Anansi and crewed by pilot Janet De Camp, her co pilot and former lover Marion Guiness, and Janet's estranged husband Thomas who is an ion drive tech, along with Doctor Dexter Stonecypher, the creator of the cable they are carrying. 

While en route, Doctor Stonecypher suffers a heart attack leading to the Anasi accelerating in order to reach help faster, but as the shuttle approaches Earth it is struck by a missile launched by Middle-Eastern extremists, damaging the craft and killing Doctor Stonecypher. Two Brazilian shuttles launch on a rescue mission but the crew of Anansi soon realize they are actually coming to seize the cargo and vessel. In the face of the first attempt at space piracy in human history, the surviving crew of Anansi launches a desperate attempt to get their cargo out of reach of the raiders and get their damaged vessel to safety on Earth while struggling to repel a hostile boarding party.

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. It is an interesting adventure story but I feel it could have really used some more length to better show the setting and what is happening away from Anansi. Still, the main cast is well developed, though it is also very small. And I have to say I think this is both the shortest and least accurate back cover description of a book I have ever read. Less then six lines with two of those in giant font and not a single sentence matches what is happening in the story. The back cover makes it sound like Falling Angel Enterprises is waging a war for independence against the United States when the only action the USA takes against Falling Angel in the story is a minor hurdle for the Anansi near the story's end and the only armed conflict in the main story is the missile attack and a short engagement with mercenaries.