Friday, April 28, 2017

James Review -- The Lost Stars: Shattered Spear

This week I decided to review The Lost Stars: Shattered Spear by Jack Campbell. 

The story begins shortly after the previous book, with General Artur Drakon and President Gwen Iceni, the leaders of the Midway Star system, continuing their rebellion against the Syndicate Worlds and seeking to firm up the new governments in other rebel systems nearby. While scouting Iwa, a neighboring system and potential staging area for future attacks on Midway, the Midway forces discover signs that the alien Enigmas, who manipulated the Syndicate Worlds government into starting a century-long war with the neighboring Alliance that the Enigmas in order to destroy both human powers, might have reached this system. 

Previously it was believed Midway was the only human system the Enigmas could reach, but now there are concerns about the possibility of a full scale invasion. Midway sends the heavy cruiser Manticoreon on a diplomatic mission to the nearby pirate warlord Grannaile Imallye But while the mission is en route, Iceni discovers that Imallye is the daughter of a man executed after being framed to cover a higher ranking executive's crimes and turned it by Iceni, who didn't know it was a setup. Manticore is forced to flee narrowly escaping a vengeful Imallye's flagship. The mission also discovers that Iwa has been overrun by the Engimas with the entire human population, other then a handful of soldiers, killed. Midway begins planning an assault to destroy the new Enigma base in the system with President Iceni personally leading the fleet, but when the strike force arrives it finds three forces waiting: a Syndicate force sent to reclaim the system, Enigma defenders and Imallye's fleet. This leaves Iceni's task force facing multiple hostile fleets even as the few ships left to guard Midway find themselves facing another Syndicate attack force.

There is also a plot dealing with the relationship between Drakon and Iceni as they become romantically involved while each has to face attacks launched by the other's renegade former aide with a rogue former aide, Mehmet Togo for Iceni and Colonel Roh Morgan for Drakon who is loyal to their former superior but sees the other member of the leadership duo as an obstacle to be eliminated to allow the person they support to rule alone.

I give this book 9 out of 10. While I still prefer the larger battle scenes from the main Lost Fleet series and its Beyond the Frontier successor I think this book had the best battles of this series. However, I wish the plotline dealing with the renegade aides had gotten more attention. In particular I think some sections from the points of view of Togo and Morgan would have added a lot to that part of the story. While this book wraps up a number of plot points it leaves some open and I'm curious to see if this is the end of the Lost Stars series or just a point where the author is apparently taking a break like he is from the Lost Fleet series to focus on the new prequel Genesis Fleet books.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Author Interview -- Grady P. Brown

Today we have Grady P. Brown, author of the superhero series The Young Guardians.

1.) How would you describe your writing?
My writing is mostly self-taught, but has undergone much change and evolution over the years after much practice. I focus on providing as much description and emotional atmosphere as possible for my readers.

2.) Tell me about The Young Guardians.
The Young Guardians are my ongoing superhero series that revolves around a group of teenagers who acquire superhuman powers after a chance encounter with the last of the high elves. Now they are being hunted by an organization of supervillains, including a cyborg who seeks vengeance. Now I am reaching the fourth and final volume of the Young Guardians Series, which will depict their final battle against the most powerful supervillain in the world.

3.) How has living with autism impacted your writing?
Due to my autism, I am able to better visualize the scenes in my stories in greater detail. Also, my autism gives me a powerful memory, which enables me to remember everything about my characters and stories. If anything happens to any of my stories, I can easily rewrite them.

4.) I see you like Tite Kubo. Are you a fan of Bleach? Why or why not?
I am a fan of Bleach because I love the intense action scenes as well as Ichigo's growth as a character.

5.) Tell me about your relationship with Christopher Paolini.
I am a huge fan of his Inheritance Cycle. His success is what inspired me to become a writer myself. Recently, we have been communicating through He has provided much needed insight on what is required to be a writer. It has been a tremendous honor to receive such lessons from him.

6.) What's your take on Star Wars: Episode VIII? Do you think it will be any good?
This question I can answer for a fortnight so I will try to make my answer brief. I think it will be a great film for everyone because we will be exposed to something greater than the balance between light and dark. Also, I look forward to seeing how Kylo Ren's training under Supreme Leader Snoke will be completed and how it will transform him as a dark side practitioner.

7.) What is your interest in medieval history?
In order to gain as much inspiration and information for my new fantasy book, I have studied many aspects from the Norman invasion of 1066 to the Tudor Dynasty of the 16th century. Like the Star Wars question, I could answer this question for a fortnight because of how much I have learned. Soon, I will immerse myself even deeper into the medieval lifestyle by taking blacksmithing, fencing, archery, and horsemanship classes. Also, I believe that learning about medieval history is very worthwhile because it allows me to reconnect with my ancestral roots.

8.) What is your advice for aspiring authors?
While writing a new story, be sure to keep your cards close to your chest and not reveal everything about your story until it is published. That will reduce the risk of people stealing your idea. In addition, while writing a story, be sure to make keep a flash drive in order to make copies of your story in case something happens to the main copy.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Defending Robocop 3

Have you ever found something you enjoy, but everyone else hates it? I feel for you and am here with a new segment to give entertainment pariahs a second chance, starting with the disregarded third entry in the Robocop franchise.

On paper, it sounds like a bad idea. Replace series star Peter Weller, tone down the mature content to a PG-13 rating, and make the film the campiest one yet. For most people, it seems their enjoyment of this movie ends here.

However, I want to convince you to give it another chance. For one, I don't feel new lead Robert John Burke was a bad choice. He might sound a little different, but he looks exactly like Robocop and plays the part well. 

And two--the movie isn't as toned-down as you might think. It still has blood, violence and plenty of swearing (just no F-bombs).

And three--a casual fan might roll their eyes at the film's goofiness, but the series has always had a healthy sense of humor. It just isn't quite as edgy this time around. And if you thought 2 wasn't goofy, go watch the scenes where Robocop spits out proverbs at random and tries to Mirandize a corpse.

Also working in 3's favor is the return of numerous people from previous entries. Lewis, Sergeant Reed and OCP's Johnson haven't gone anywhere and are still as lovable as you remember. Hell, they even brought back the "I'd buy that for a dollar" guy. Also returning are original composer Basil Poledouris (which results in a killer soundtrack) and Robocop 2 writer Frank Miller.

Also, you might not like new antagonist Otomo, but seriously--how do you top Cain? And it only makes sense that technology would eventually advance to the point scientists could build an android that passes for human. He might not provide nearly as big a challenge as Cain, ED-209 or even Clarence Boddiker, but I still think he's a cool villain because he's calm, silent and carries a katana. Plus, being Japanese just makes everything better.

Now let's talk about Robocop's arsenal. His new weapons are pretty cool (there's a funny scene where he puts his new flamethrower to work in the police station), and he HAS A FREAKING JET PACK! Sorry, let me call down a moment. OK. So yeah. He has a jet pack and he knows how to use it.

And, finally, the movie has heart. The plight of people being forced out of their homes by big business is one many can relate to. Robocop fights against his own programming to come to their rescue, and his bond with Nikko is one of the movie's highlights. 

Bottom line: It's still better than the reboot.

Friday, April 21, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Section 31: Control

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Section 31: Control by David Mack. 

The story has two main plot lines. The smaller plot line is set in the 22nd century beginning before Earth's governments unite, and continuing to the aftermath of the Federation's founding. Professor Aaron Ikerson has created Uraei, an AI software which observes any messages sent or other activities using equipment carrying its software, which swiftly becomes pretty much any electronics manufactured on Earth. The idea is that Uraei will identify possible threats and pass the data to humans who will decide what to do regarding the threats, but as the program is secretly spread among humanity's neighboring worlds it adapts and soon begins acting on its own, arranging accidents to eliminate possible threats to its plans and creating an organization to serve its goal of defending humanity and its allies at all costs. This leaves Ikerson and his few allies in a desperate race to stop his creation.

The main story takes place in the late twenty-fourth century. A group of scientists have discovered Uraei, which has spread throughout the Federation and beyond, evolving to the point where it can pretty much manipulate the Federation at will They inform reporter Ozla Graniv. Seeking a way to neutralize Uraei, because she has been warned that trying to reveal its existence while it is active would be futile and probably suicidal, she contacts Julian Bashir and Sarina Douglas. They realize that Uraei must be the key to Section 31's power, thus destroying it would be vital to completing their goal of eliminating the rogue organization. The trio sets out for Orion, one of the few local worlds where Uraei has comparatively little influence, to meet with Data. Data agrees to help them but their efforts alert the AI and they and Data's daughter Lal are forced to flee from a Section 31 strike team. They travel to Cardassia Prime where Garek, now leader of the Cardassian government, offers them sanctuary while they plan their next move. But Section 31 follows them and they are again forced to flee with Douglas being captured. Regrouping on a well-hidden rogue planet, the remaining members of the group plot a desperate three-pronged strike to destroy Uraei and bring down Section 31 even as their enemies try to brainwash Douglas and turn her against her allies and her lover Bashir...

I give this book 3 out of 10. There aren't any real problems with the writing I see, but I have a number of issues with the story itself. First and least there was an earlier Star Trek novel which covered the origins of the organization that became Section 31 and this book ignores that completely. Second and by far the biggest complaint I have is that I feel Uraei is a betrayal of everything the Federation and humanity in the Trek future is supposed to represent. I was never entirely happy about the existence of Section 31 but there were so many renegades and rogue groups in Star Trek lore that I consider one long lasting group of well meaning, out of control extremists acceptable. Giving that group the capability to spy constantly on pretty much everyone in the Federation and many in neighboring areas and placing it in the hands of a rogue, killer AI pushes it far past the acceptable limit in my opinion. Finally, I hate the ending with a passion. It is definitely my least favorite ending to a Star Trek novel ever and right now its a solid contender for my least favorite ending in a novel of any kind and is made worse because the authors of future books will have to either write around the ending, deal with the long term effects of the ending, or throw the ending out in favor of what is needed to write their stories.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Author Interview -- Kayl Karadjian

Today I'm talking with Kayl Karadjian, author of the Tales of Ashkar series.

1.) How would you describe your work if I was a publisher and you were pitching it to me?
The simplest way to explain my work is that it all comes from my soul. The stories that I weave, regardless of its genre, are tethered by one central theme: the human struggle and the desire to transcend. In my Tales of Ashkar series, I combine high fantasy, filled with magic and monsters, and the struggles that we can all relate to: love, loss, and longing. And while it is high fantasy, it is not a good vs evil tale. Most of my characters are morally gray, and the story arcs reflect that. In fact, the protagonists introduced in the first book are actually the villains in the second. 

2.) What is your Tales of Ashkar series about?
Leading from my post above, Tales of Ashkar is a high fantasy series filled with magic and monsters. Several races exist in Ashkar, including humans, a mermaid-like race, a humanoid reptilian race, a humanoid cat-like race, and an elf-like race. Each of the races have their own distinct culture and geopolitics, which augment the world-building of Ashkar and make it feel alive. While the series is set to be a 9-novel epic, the main story revolves around factions at war oblivious to a greater cosmic conflict.

3.) You wrote on your blog that you enjoyed Daredevil Season 1. Have you seen Season 2? If so, what are your thoughts?
I have seen season 2 but have yet to get to reviewing it. I thought it was much better than the first because of Jon Bernthal's Punisher, but I also thought it suffered with a poorly handled Elektra (whether it was the writing or the actress I have no idea).

4.) You've been researching writing conferences. Is this something you consider important as an author?
I have yet to attend a writing conference, so I'm still on the fence on whether or not they are integral to being an author. I want to attend one of the New York ones, and perhaps at that point I'll have a better idea. Most are a bit steep with price, so I think it depends on the connections made.

5.) Tales of Ashkar Book 3 is pushing 100,000 words. What do you think is a good length for a novel?
For me the most important aspect of book length is saying what you want to say and not trying to inflate the numbers. I think some authors feel like they have to hit a certain number to feel like they've written enough, which ends up diluting the novel instead. On the other hand, I don't believe there should be a maximum on length.

6.) Holy crap, you're going to write an erotic kaiju novel?? Tell me more about this.

The idea for it was born out of a love of kaijus (I'm a huge godzilla fan, and have been since I was five. I used to have all the movies on VHS but they got lost somewhere), and inspiration from Nic Pizzolatto (most known for being behind True Detective). I've always wanted to create something on kaijus, but I think that you can't really make a good story with them without having human characters that you care about. That's why Pizzolatto inspired me because he incorporates philosophy with human nature, things that are present in Godzilla but Pizzolatto does it in a very gritty, visceral way that I like.

Anyway, my book will take place in San Francisco and involve a rampaging monster impeding on a dysfunctional love between two characters who are caught in the middle of it. Without giving away too much detail, its going to be dark and steamy, centering around a love just about to blossom only to be twisted by the end of the world.

7.) And you're developing a digital card game via Kickstarter? Details, details!
While just barely into early early early development (meaning just me and my brother shooting ideas back and forth), its going to be based on Tales of Ashkar initially, but also include my other IPs down the road. It's going to be super complex but still easy to get into. Think of it like a game that's easy to pick up but hard to master. With the way it'll work with deckbuilding, think of it like having ten different hearthstone classes only you can advance in an RPG like system and actually combine classes. To make easy to understand, think of it like having a warrior and a mage in one deck with the option of choosing cards from either while making the deck with a ton more variability in card design and abilities.

8.) You're planning to get an agent? What advice do you have for writers looking for an agent?

For my entire writing career I've teetered on the traditional publishing vs self-publishing conflict. I've self-published three books so far, and I queried agents for two of them. The issue is if you don't get a bite, should you wait and keep trying or put it out yourself? To me, waiting can mean never, so self-published was the route I went. 

My advice to agents (from someone who has been unsuccessful so far) is that you need to have 1 of 2 things: a solid social media platform and reach, already have success, or both. In such a competitive business, agents and publishers won't take a chance on an unknown.

9.) Who is Pizzolatto?
Like I mentioned above, Nic Pizzolatto is the guy behind True Detective, although he started first as a crime/thriller writer and snagged a nice TV deal. He's one of my inspirations as a writer because his stuff is very philosophical and I think that he captures the human element very well.


Friday, April 14, 2017

James Review -- Weird Space: The Star of the Sea

This week I decided to review Weird Space: Star of the Sea by Una McCormack. 

The story begins weeks after Delia Walker entered a Weird portal on Stella Maris and an attack by the Expansion, humanity's primary government, intended to contain a secret known by some of the people on Walker's ship. Stella Maris is unique in containing a long peaceful joint settlement of humans and Vetch, a species humanity fought a long war with, though their primary government's are now loosely allied against the Weird. Stella Maris is also the only known world with a Weird portal where the Weird have aided the inhabitants rather then attempting to absorb or enslave them. 

Soon after the story begins, a young woman named Cassandra, who appears to be around fifteen years of age and claims to be the daughter of Delia who was pregnant when she entered the Weird dimension, arrives. The Expansion is sending a scientific team to study the portal as well and try to discover what makes Stella Maris different from other worlds affected by the Weird. Cassandra claims she is on a mission that requires her to travel to the heart of the Expansion and she departs with Failt, a young Vetch rescued by the Walker party before they reached Stella Maris, and pilot Vale on board the Baba Yaga, once the Walker party's ship. 

Vale is a fugitive in the Expansion and on Capital Station, the primary hub between the Expansion and the independent Satan's Reach, which contains Stella Maris, Cassandra and Failt rescue her after she is captured by Expansion bounty hunters. Cassandra reveals that contact with the dimension inhabited by humanity and the Vetch split the Weird hive mind in two. One section wishes to absorb and destroy humanity and the Vetch while another, responsible for the portal on Stella Maris, wishes to peacefully co-exist with the native species. But the hostile Weird are preparing to attack the heart of the Expansion and Cassandra's mission is to prevent the attack. Despite the risk, Vale joins Cassandra on her journey while Failt returns to help the settlers on Stella Maris where the Expansion scientific mission has become an occupation using the excuse of a virus to segregate the Vetch and a guerrilla resistance is preparing for battle.

There is also a subplot following Maxine Lee, an agent of the Bureau, the intelligence organization which rules the Expansion in all but name, as she draws closer to some of her organization's darkest secrets...

I give this book 7 out of 10. The main characters are fairly interesting and it does a good job explaining the key events that led to this point. The book's biggest issues are that it is too short and needs more action badly. It would have benefited greatly from another hundred or so pages to fill in more details, especially concerning the events occurring on Stella Maris after the Baba Yaga departed. In my opinion, the story would have benefited greatly from some more combat scenes, and Stella Maris was the perfect chance to add them but too much of the fighting is skimmed over rather than being covered in detail.

Friday, April 7, 2017

James Review -- Mass Effect: Andromeda: Nexus Uprising

This week I decided to review Mass Effect: Andromeda: Nexus Uprising by Jason M.Hough and K. C. Alexander. 

The story begins with the Andromeda Initiative, a project to colonize a star cluster in the Andromeda galaxy, launching several space arks and the Nexus, which is to serve as a hub and command center depart with their crews and the colonists in stasis. But when the Nexus reaches its destination it encounters a mysterious interstellar phenomena, later named The Scourge, which severely damages the station and kills a number of the crew. 

With Initiative Director Jien Garson missing and much of the command staff dead, command falls to Salarian Revenue Management Deputy Director Jarun Tann, advised by the human Security Director Sloane Kelly and the human Director of Colonial Affairs Foster Addison. After awakening a tech team specializing in life support led by Turian Calix Corvannis to repair the failing life support systems, the decision is eventually made to wake up others to help repair the station, but with the first set of Hydroponics crops ruined, supplies are tight, leading to rationing. And tensions only rise when Garson is found among the dead from the Scourge encounter. 

Eventually the life support team begins to lose faith in the new leadership after one of their members is killed by the Scourge, followed by the arrest of another for sabotaging a computer database, with her actions caught by hidden security cameras Kelly had secretly added without Tann's or Addison's knowledge. When replacement hydroponic crops are revealed to require more time than anticipated, which will lead to the station running out of food before the first harvest is ready, 

Tann puts out a call for volunteers to go back into stasis but no one heeds his call. Shortly after this, Kelly joins a work team going into a zone where communications don't function. She returns to find that Tann and Addison have sent scouting missions to a number of nearby worlds and that her second in command Kandros has joined one of those missions apparently believing that she was OK with him going while she didn't even know about the scouting runs until after they were launched. 

In time, seven of the eight scout shuttles return, with the missing craft being the one carrying Kandros which only heightens Kelly's anger at her fellow leader. After Tann issues an order to force most of the awake Nexus crew into stasis, Corvannis, who has lost his last faith in the current Nexus leadership due to them concealing the results of the scouting expedition from the population, issues a call for a rebellion...

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. It suffers from being a prequel in that anyone who has played much of Mass Effect: Andromeda knows how it will end. There were a couple of interesting surprises in the story, though. But I wish the rebellion portion of the book lasted longer and the question I was hoping for an answer to the most, namely why Tann was so high on the leadership succession list, was left unanswered. It didn't even give enough hints for me to form a decent theory regarding the answer and, worse, the story implies that the answer will never be revealed.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Author Interview -- Claire Buss

Today we have another interview, this time with Claire Buss. She won 2nd place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015.

1.) What genre do you primarily write in?

My debut novel, The Gaia Effect, is a dystopian novel set 200 years in the future and my current work in progress is called The Rose Thief. It's a humorous fantasy quest set on an alternative world. My genres are definitely science fantasy.

2.) Why did you give up on becoming a reporter?
When I was little I wanted to be Lois Lane, I even spent my work experience at my local paper. It wasn't very glamorous and there were no super heroes - big disappointment. Then my careers adviser recommended a career in law so I almost went to Uni to read law. I swerved and worked in an office environment for about 15 years before finally realising creative writing was what I wanted to do. I think I decided not to be a reporter because I wanted to write my stories and not other peoples.

3.) What inspired you to write The Gaia Effect?
The idea for The Gaia Effect came to me about seven years ago when I was feeling really poorly, laid up in bed. I wrote feverishly for about four pages and then put it in a box and left the idea alone. When I saw the writing competition at my local library, I think Gaia was still bubbling around in my head. I had no firm plan of what was going to happen next, I would just sit down and write a thousand words at a time and let the characters talk to me.

4.) Why should people read your work?
People should read my work because there are nuggets of genius to be discovered. That's what my husband says anyway! I like to write stories with emotion and feeling, with characters that you can relate to and hopefully remind you of someone you know. I want to illicit a response, make you cry or gasp or be annoyed. If you enjoy reading, you should read as much as possible

5.) Why do you think you did so well in the Pen to Print competition?
I was surprised that I came second in the Pen to Print competition, there were about 60 entrants overall so it was a huge achievement. There was a huge variety in the genre entrants - the winner was a YA paranormal story whilst third place was social commentary on young Muslims living in East London. Feedback from the judging panel was surprising at how much they enjoyed reading the book and how strong their emotional response was to events that occur.

6.) What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
My advice for aspiring writers is to read as much as possible and write every day. Even if you don't know where the story is going or how to start or even how to finish - just keep writing. It's the only way to improve. Enter competitions and submit to anthologies, you never know what's going to happen. Join in with social groups on places like Facebook & Goodreads, learn from other writer's experience. Build your social media presence. And write. And write. And write. Everyday.

7.) What's the best way to connect with readers?
The best way to connect with readers is to be approachable. Share some personal things on social media so your readers know a little bit about you the person as well as you the writer, whether it's your favourite TV show or the fact that you love to bake. Get involved in as many local events, support your library and indie bookshops by giving them your time. Answer queries, thank everyone for getting in touch & connecting with you and research existing social groups in your genre or topic - if you're writing about a particular historical event then it makes sense to talk to interest groups about that event, get them interested in you.

8.) What does the future hold for Claire Buss?
Hopefully my future is bright. I have lots of ideas and a real passion to continue writing. After The Rose Thief I will be working on a sequel to The Gaia Effect. I also have a short story collection that's almost finished and a book about a book club that's in early development. Now that I've found something I love doing I want to keep going.