Saturday, March 31, 2018

James Review -- Tau Ceti Agenda: Kill Before Dying

This week I decided to review Tau Ceti Agenda: Kill Before Dying by Travis S. Taylor. 

After inflicting a defeat on the Chiata, an alien race that seeks to exterminate all other intelligent species, General Alexander Moore meets with Ghuthlavex Uurrgan, a representative of the Ghuthlaeer Dominion, which is also at war with the Chiata. Uurrgan reveals the existence of a system deep in Chiata-controlled space which the Chiata use as a staging area. For reasons unknown to the Dominion, Quantum Membrane technology, used for long range faster-than-light travel by both the Dominion and humanity, won’t function once ships enter the system, but Uurrgan believes the human fleet could find something that would greatly aid them in the war.

Moore’s fleet launches a mission to the unnamed system but the expedition quickly finds itself fighting a massive Chiata force. While withdrawing from the system’s primary planet, the craft piloted by Deanna Moore, the general’s daughter, is damaged and forced to land on the world’s surface. While evading Chiata forces she finds a device that transports her to a meeting with a member of the species that created the system’s defenses who explains their purpose while Deanna tries to convince them to help the human fleet.

I give the book 8 out of 10. I liked the characters and battle scenes a lot. However, there are a few scenes I feel serve little purpose in the story, and others I feel need to be expanded and some that have major impacts on the ending that I feel needed to be written in a more attention-grabbing style. There was one point the first time I read that book that something I feel was important that had occurred earlier in the book was mentioned and I actually had to go back to find when and how it had happened. I read the book over a few hours so I feel that the details of this scene not being memorable was a big flaw.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

James Review -- Star Trek: Discovery: Drastic Measures

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Discovery: Drastic Measures by Dayton Ward. 

The book is focused on Tarsus IV during a crisis, first mentioned in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Conscience of the King" and set twenty years after the bulk of the book, where a fungal infection has devastated the planet’s food supplies and crops as well as contaminating the equipment used to transform raw materials into food. 

The story opens with Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Lorca, commander of a Starfleet observation post on the planet, having to repel a raid by members of the colonial security force. Interrogating the prisoners reveals that planetary governor Gisela Ribero has been removed from power and replaced by Adrian Kodos, who ordered the attack.

Lorca leads the survivors of his team to New Anchorage, the planet’s capital city, hoping to blend in with the civilian population. After receiving a message from Balayna Ferasini, his lover, that she has been invited to a large gathering at the city’s amphitheater by Kodos Lorca, he takes his team to her apartment seeking sanctuary. But the gathering at the amphitheater is a mass execution of the thousands of colonists Kodos believes must die to prevent the starvation of the rest of the colony, including Ferasini.

Shortly thereafter, the colonial support ship USS Narbonne arrives weeks earlier then anticipated, with a hastily assembled team led by Commander Philippa Georgiou to aid the colony. Kodos and many of his followers vanish, using terrain that hinders sensors to hide, and Governor Ribero is restored to power. Lorca volunteers to hunt for Kodos but soon finds himself struggling to control his rage when dealing with prisoners allied to Kodos. 

Meanwhile, a search for an image of Kodos, who had erased all the pictures of him he could, is finished when a young James Kirk and his friend Thomas Leighton, who lost his parents and was badly injured during the massacre, manage to recover a picture from a computer belonging to an ally of Kodos and identify him.

As the Starfleet forces try to both help the colony and find Kodos they find themselves facing raids by Kodos’s followers to obtain supplies and free their imprisoned allies. After Lorca captures Alexander Simmons, a former agent of Kodos who refused to take part in the massacre at the last moment, Simmons leads Lorca’s team to the area where Kodos’s encampment lays. But as Lorca closes in Kodos’s followers launch an attack intended to cripple the Narbonne and seize a transport to escape the planet…

There are also a few framing chapters following a woman who survived the crisis as a child as she interviews participants in the events to gather material to write a book about the crisis.

I give this book 8.5 out of 10. I liked the overall story and the characterizations a lot. While the final outcome was known, it does a good job filling in the blanks, including the big one--namely, how did Kodos mange to both escape and fake his death so successfully. However, there was another book released a couple of years ago this discuses these events which clashes with this one on some details and I feel Mr. Ward should have checked all reasonably available material discussing these events to make sure that no such clashes occurred.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Movie Review -- Pacific Rim: Uprising

It's been a while, but I decided to come back for another review or two. This time it's the sequel to the giant robot action-fest Pacific Rim. Unlike the first, this one isn't directed by Guillermo del Toro. Can it deliver a knockout?

The story begins ten years after Pacific Rim with party boy/smuggler Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Stacker Pentecost from the original. He gets into trouble one day with orphan Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a teenage rebel who has built her own mini Jaeger unit. This is illegal, and the authorities swiftly arrive and, after a chase in Amara's tiny Jaeger, the two are arrested.

However, both are acknowledged for their piloting skills by Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and recruited to become Jaeger pilots. Neither are given a warm welcome, and both have to prove themselves. Jake is reunited with his old partner Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and they have to provide security for an upcoming summit. But things go from bad to worse when a renegade Jaeger unit shows up and attacks everyone. Unfortunately for our heroes, this is only the tip of a traitorous iceberg. Can Jake and his team prevent a Kaiju resurgence and the annihilation of mankind?

Sitting through this movie, I really didn't miss del Toro not being in the director's chair (he's a producer this time). This movie gives you everything the first one did, minus some key characters (where the hell is Raleigh?). It's got all the robot smashing action you could ever want, along with some genuinely funny moments. The plot, which I initially thought was predictable, proved to be less so. I thought for sure I knew who the villain was, but I was wrong. Other than that, it's about the same as its predecessor (giant monsters threaten the world, a hero and heroine have to form an unlikely team to save it), but is that really so bad? Perhaps my standards have fallen a bit, but I quite enjoyed Pacific Rim: Uprising, and the clapping throughout the theater at the end let me know I wasn't alone. If you liked the first one, you'll probably like the sequel. If you didn't, Uprising won't change your mind.

Note to the creators: Next time, bring back Ron Perlman, dammit!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

James Review -- Star Wars: Thrawn

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn. 

Shortly after the book begins, a scouting party from the Venator-class Star Destroyer Strikefast finds an encampment on a planet in the Unknown Regions. Following standard operating procedure, they begin to study the encampment, but after suffering causalities, the destroyer’s commander, Captain Voss Parck, orders them to withdraw. Captain Parck swiftly realizes that the encampment’s inhabitant, Thrawn, managed to board the Strikefast by disguising himself as a stormtrooper and captures the Chiss exile. 

After an interview, aided by Cadet Eli Vanto, who speaks a rare language known by Thrawn, Parck decides to take the Chiss to Emperor Palpatine who assigns Thrawn to a three-month course at the Royal Imperial Academy to study Basic and Imperial technology and procedures with Vanto finishing his own training there while tutoring Thrawn in Basic.

Thrawn and Vanto manage to evade both traps designed to get them expelled from the Academy, and assaults from fellow cadets to graduate second and third in their class. Vanto is assigned as Thrawn’s aide but even after graduating they face prejudice due to Thrawn being nonhuman and Vanto’s home far from the Core. They also face jealousy from superiors embarrassed by Thrawn’s superior skill, at times leading to retaliation against their few friends among their superiors. Eventually they meet a pirate known as Nightswan, the first of many encounters with Nightswan’s plans to spark rebellion against the Empire.

Meanwhile Arihnda Pryce is driven from her home on Lothal after the family has to give up their mine holdings there in response to local Imperial officials framing her mother for embezzlement. Pryce sets out to gain the power and status needed to retaliate against her enemies. During her rise through the ranks, she inadvertently became part of an organization linked to Nightswan and aides Thrawn and the Imperial Security Bureau in dismantling the group. In time she becomes governor of Lothal, but eventually the area where her parents live is taken by Nightswan’s rebels with Thrawn assigned to root them out. She receives permission to launch an effort to rescue her family but events swiftly go out of control sending the plans of both Pryce and Thrawn disastrously awry…

I give this book 9.5 out of 10. I enjoyed the various characters and learning more about their goals and motives. I also respect the author for being willing to stand against the Rebels writers efforts to paint Thrawn as more of a stereotypical Imperial. The only things I felt could be improved were expanding some of the space battles and adding more detail to a few sections. Honestly I think giving the Thrawn and Pryce plots separate novels and filling the space with more details on the plot of each character would have been great.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Aragami Now Available For Pre-Order

I got the ebook file back from the company I hired for conversion, and it looks pretty darn good. Better than anything I've ever published, if I do say so myself. Really professional work. You can now pre-order the book on Kindle. It will be released on March 27. Just head on over to the Amazon page. Enjoy!