Sunday, April 29, 2018

James Review -- The Span of Empire

This week I decided to review Jao Empire: The Span of Empire by Eric Flint and David Carrico. 

The story begins with an exploration fleet from the alliance between the Jao, humanity, and the Lleix  exploring the Orion Arm seeking possible new allies. But they’ve only found the ruins of civilizations destroyed by the Ekhat. After discovering and destroying an Ekhat outpost, the fleet returns to base and decides to shift is explorations to the Sagittarius Arm following an uncharted trail of stars to the Arm unexplored by any Alliance members.

Shortly after arriving, they encounter the Khurush in their home system. But despite the fleet broadcasting a message of peace, hostilities break out. Eventually it is decided to disable one Khurush ship in hopes of capturing and beginning talks with the crew. The Khurush commander is killed and his son, Kamozh ar Mnuresh, surrenders in the hope that the rest of the crew, all retainers of his clan, will be spared. Even as the various allied personnel try to forge a bond with Mnuresh and his followers, they make contact with a new power, the Eleusherar Path, which includes some Khurush.

This leads Mnuresh to explain the xenopophia of most of his people. Centuries before, the Khurush had been visited by another species, identified by the Path as the Veldt, who claimed to come in peace. The Khurush welcomed the Veldt but their guests soon launched an invasion. When the Khurush Resistance began to claim victories against them, the Veldt retaliated by launching asteroids against three Khurush cities, including their capital. Shortly after the bombardment, the Veldt ships exploded, and when the war was won the ruler of the Khurush forbade his people from contacting other species.

The Path reveals that they are the enforcement arm of the Eleusherar Array, a loose alliance of thousands of worlds with only one common law, attacks that threaten the habitability of a world are forbidden, except for retaliation against worlds that have broken that law. But as talks between the Path and the allies continue, it is discovered that the Ekhat, while they can’t use Jao Frame Points, they can identify systems added to the Frame Point Network used for faster than light travel by the Jao. And soon a massive Ekhat attack fleet begins to arrive, leading to Mnuresh making a desperate plea to his people to join the allies and the Path in a desperate battle to prevent the annihilation of the Khurush worlds…

There is also a plotline following a young commander who first discovered the ruins of the outpost destroyed early in the book. This covers her training and rise to the heights of power in Ekhat society.

I give the book 9.5 out of 10. I greatly enjoyed the battle scenes. I also liked the exploration of the various cultures introduced in this book, and of the Ekhat culture as well. However, I wish we had learned more about the history of the Eleusherar Array and Eleusherar Path. Also, there are a few points where I feel that the jumps between the Ekhat plotline and the main plotline were occurring too frequently.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Movie Review -- Avengers: Infinity War

Good God, what a movie we have today. All roads have led to this. It's Avengers: Infinity War.

The story picks up right where Thor: Ragnarok left off. Turns out that ship they encountered at the end belongs to Thanos (Josh Brolin) who wastes no time tearing into them. He kills off one or two long-time characters before making off with one of the Infinity Stones. His plan is to gather all six of them and use their omnipotence to wipe out half the universe.

Thus begins an epic quest as a Who's Who of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the movies, not the TV series') assemble to fight this unprecedented threat. Normally, I would list off who plays whom, but they're are just so many I don't feel like it! Seriously, just about everyone from every MCU movie from the past decade makes an appearance. In fact, it's easier just to tell you who's not in it (Hawkeye and Ant-Man). Together, this veritable army of Marvelness bands together to keep Thanos from getting his grubby purple mitts on the Infinity Stones. But even the largest collection of superheroes ever assembled will have a hard time against this bastard and his powerful minions. Can our many protagonists succeed? And more important--who will survive? The answer may rock your world.

This is the biggest, baddest comic book movie of all time. With a ridiculously huge cast and a run time of two and a half hours, few expenses were spared in the making of this. I used to think the Expendables movies had impressive star power, but they were nothing compared to this. This is the Wrestlemania of superhero flicks. I wasn't sure it could hold up to the hype, but holy crap does it ever. It's got tons of heart-stopping action, loads of comedy, a superb soundtrack by Alan Silvestri, and one of the best villains ever. Thanos isn't your cookie-cutter bad guy; he's complex and displays genuine emotion. He believes wholeheartedly in his cause and that makes him extremely dangerous. DC needs to study this film carefully to learn how to do extended universes. Justice League is a joke in comparison.

It was also great fun seeing the various factions of the MCU come together and meet each other for the first time. Iron Man thinks Doctor Strange is a clown, while Thor thinks the Guardians of the Galaxy are morons. It works out great.

And the ending. Wow. It completely changes the MCU and I sincerely did not see it coming. How on earth are they going to resolve this? I guess we'll have to wait for the next one to find out. 

Bottom line: Stop whatever you're doing and go see Avengers: Infinity War. It blows all other comic book movies out of the water.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

James Review -- Star Trek: Voyager: Architects of Infinity

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Voyager: Architects of Infinity by Kirsten Beyer. 

The story begins with a team from Voyager, including Seven of Nine, discovering a new element while investigating a mysterious world deep in what was Borg territory. The world is mostly toxic but contain several habitable zones maintained by forcefields. Captain Chakotay is convinced that after recent events the crews of the Full Circle fleet need some rest badly so he convinces Admiral Kathryn Janeway to assign the entire fleet to the world as a combination of a peaceful scientific mission and shore leave.

At first both causes seem to be served well, but Voyager’s science officer, Lieutenant Devi Patel, has felt increasingly supplemented by Seven of Nine since Seven rejoined Voyager’s crew. She has located a region she is convinced is key to discovering the world’s secrets. Her team discovers a hidden complex underwater but soon discover the world is a lab complex built to study something known as the Edrehmaia. 

Unfortunately, the complex reveals that the presence of the Full Circle fleet has somehow compromised the systems maintaining the world, leaving only hours until the systems, including the forcefields which keep the world’s toxic natural conditions out, collapse. And Pavi accidentally orders the outpost they are in to seal itself, leading to a race to find a way to warn their comrades and reach safety.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Nancy Conlon has fallen into a coma. After having to transfer her unborn child to an incubator it is discovered that the baby’s stem cells can no longer be used to treat her mother’s condition. One of the doctors embarks on a desperate new plan. But this plan requires a donation from another crew member. And when the treatments to prepare the donor interact with emergency anti-radiation treatments the donor requires after an accident, an all new problem is unleashed…

I give this book 7 out of 10. I found the overall story and characters interesting and it was nice to have a purely exploration and investigation-focused Star Trek story again. But there were some sections I felt need better explanation and the author has a massive problem with prologues and epilogues in my opinion. This book’s prologue felt more like an end to the previous story then a beginning of a new one. Honestly, I don’t see any connection between it and the events of the rest of the book. And the epilogue seems more like the opening of a new book then an ending to this story.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

James Review -- Kris Longknife’s Successor

This week I decided to review Kris Longknife’s Successor by Mike Shepherd. 

The story begins with Grand Admiral Santiago attending a briefing on what has been happening in the Alwa system while she was away. The briefing starts with a discussion of Nuu Enterprise’s attempt to reclaim the Alwa system’s nationalized industries and Rita Nuu-Longknife’s plans to counter the actions of her son Alex, now CEO of the corporation founded by her father. The topic soon shifts to discoveries from a DNA analysis of the People and a discussion of how their former masters might have bred them to be submissive. Finally, the topic shifts to their feline allies who are withholding support unless more battlecruisers are assigned to defend their world and they receive help in setting up advanced industry and dealing with economic problems.

Soon news arrives that a convoy from human space has encountered a People force near the observation net for the systems surrounding the Cat homeworld. Santiago personally leads a task force to reinforce the fleet stationed there but finds herself struggling to work through cat politics in hope of gaining the support needed to defend the systems she is responsible for. But even as meetings between the Cat nations take place, multiple People task forces are detected closing on the feline world. Santiago is forced to disperse her ships to meet the various threats while trying to convince the Cats to release more nukes to the human fleets. And the People have many surprises of their own waiting from longer ranged weapons, and People versions of the frigates that proved so effective in the early stages of the conflict, to new tactics and adaptations of some of the more effective human plans. All of which must be faced by vastly outnumbered human and allied fleets…

I give this book 9 out of 10. I found the discussions of the suspected history of the People and their extinct masters both chilling and fascinating, though I question if such a plan could really work for long. The new insights into both Cat and People culture were interesting as well. And I consider the battles to be the best the author has written in a long time. While I still find the all-battlecruiser human fleets bland, the variety of the People fleets and the various conditions the battles took place under keep them from becoming boring. Also, the author does a good job of juggling multiple concurrent or nearly concurrent battles while leaving no significant chance that a reader might have trouble recalling what is happening in each battle.

However none of the questions that I feared would not be answered from the last book were answered in this one. And while the Rita Longknife sequences might lead to interesting things later currently they add little or no needed material to the story in my opinion. I feel this plot could have easily been shifted to a short story rather then being added to a novel.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

James Review -- Pacific Rim: Uprising: Ascension

This week I decided to review Pacific Rim: Uprising: Ascension by Greg Keyes. 

The main story begins with a new class of cadets, pretty much all of those that appear in the movie Pacific Rim: Uprising, arriving at the Moyulan Shatterdome to begin training. But soon after they arrive, sabotage leads the pilots of the Jaeger Chronos Berserker to believe they are fighting a Kaiju via a modified training simulation. In the end one of the pilots is killed and the other badly injured.

The cadets had toured the Chronos Berserker shortly before the disaster and investigators find a drive belonging to cadet Ou-Yang Jinhai. As training continues Ou-Yang finds himself paired with fellow cadet Viktoria Malikova, who is also a suspect. Realizing they are suspects they set out to try to discover the truth. Ou-Yang, who grew up in a Shatterdome, realizes how the sabotage was carried out, but while investigating to confirm his theory the two cadets are captured by agents of the Akumagami Front, a Kaiju-worshipping cult. And soon the investigators at Moyulan realize that the sabotage was just a distraction to allow the theft of information needed to carry out a far more devastating attack…

The story also includes a number of flashbacks to earlier events in the lives of Ou-Yang and Malikova as well as some to battles of the Kaiju War.

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. I like getting to learn more about the pasts and motivations of some of the characters and enjoyed getting some more insights into Jaeger Technology and pilot training a lot. However, some of the battle flashbacks are disjointed with several chapters between parts of a battle and in one case with a flashback to another battle in the middle. This made keeping track of what was happening in which fight annoying at times for me. Also, there are a few too many parallels between the book’s plot and that of Pacific Rim: Uprising for my tastes though the differences were enough to hold my interest most of the time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Kindle Spotlight -- Legacy: The Reunion

A few years ago I reviewed Michelle Lowe's novel Legacy (for that review, see Well, now she's back with Legacy: The Reunion. Is it worth your time? Let's find out.

The story picks up not too long after Legacy. Pierce Landcross manages to escape from vengeful British officer Lieutenant Javin with the help of the vampire Robin Hood. However, when he reunites with Clover and Archie, he learns Javin has arrested his parents for attempting to rob him and assaulting him. Deciding a word with the queen is in order, he sneaks into her home and tries to get her to intercede on his behalf. But she has an alternative proposal. If Pierce can infiltrate the prison where his parents are being held and get them out without being caught, she'll let them all go. But if he fails, it's curtains for all of them.

Pierce manages to succeed (for the most part) with the help of some old friends and reunites with his parents while meeting lovely Russian Taisia for the first time. He then learns of an inheritance, but in order to claim it, they'll have to solve a series of clues. Along the way, they'll learn about Pierce's family and its mysterious origins. However, both Javin and a duo of bad guys are after Pierce; can he claim the inheritance without getting killed in the process?

I criticized Legacy for being poorly edited. Thankfully, the sequel does not suffer from that. It's much better edited and I didn't have problems in that regard. But what about the story itself? Well, it's not as epic this time around. The world isn't being threatened; really, it's all about Pierce uncovering his origins. At first, I was bored because I didn't give a crap about his family. But once we got into the meat of it, I realized it really is an interesting story. Lowe has real talent; honestly, I feel this is worth more than the $1.99 she's charging for it. The only real complain I have is the fact she halts the plot's momentum mid-way to tell a prequel story involving Pierce's brother Joaquin. I feel she should have saved that for the end.

Other than that, Legacy: The Reunion is a solid read.