Saturday, October 27, 2018

James Review -- Enderverse: Children of the Fleet

This week I decided to review Enderverse: Children of the Fleet by Orson Scott Card. 

The story is set after the end of the Third Formic War. Dabeet Ochoa is a young genius who never knew his father. However, he is told by his mother that his father was an officer of the International Fleet. He sends every form of application he can to get into Fleet School, formerly Battle School, which now trains children to lead colonization missions and scouting expeditions rather than training them to command war fleets.

After the applications are sent, Ochoa finds himself being interviewed personally by Hyrum Graff, once head of Battle School and currently the Minister of Colonization. During the interview, Graff reveals that the woman who raised Ochoa is not actually his biological mother which leaves the young man reeling. And shortly after the interview, Ochoa is kidnapped by a group representing an unknown nation. The international peace caused by the Formic threat is fraying rapidly in the aftermath of their eradication, and Ochoa convinces the men holding him that the best way to fulfill their goal of getting the International Fleet to intervene to end fighting on Earth is to let him go so he can help them raid Fleet School.

His captors agree but make it clear they will retaliate against his foster mother if he fails to aid them. After arriving at Fleet School, Ochoa holds himself aloof from the other students, and many dislike him because almost all of the other students had space experience prior to Fleet School which they feel make him a liability since he does not. However, Ochoa soon discovers that pieces of the refurbished Battle Room walls can be removed. He begins working on making structures from these pieces, but the process takes too long to be useful during Battle Room exercises with just one person. Zhang He, another student, notices Ochoa’s actions and becomes intrigued, offering to help him. When this doesn’t cut construction time enough, Zhang sets out to recruit a small band of students. However, eventually Ochoa receives word that the attack is coming, and after revealing the truth to the rest of the construction band, they set out in a desperate attempt to stop the assault.

The book also includes sections containing IM style chats regarding events in the story and essays submitted as assignments in the school.
I give the book 8.5 out of 10. I liked a lot of the new characters and thought the essay sections helped readers know more about the mindsets of the students involved. Also, I liked a deeper look into the motivations of the attack on Fleet School and what happened on Earth after the alien threat was ended. However, I felt the "Ochoa’s father’s true identity" twist was a little too predictable and that the story really needed more action sequences. Finally, there were multiple points where the synopsis on the back of the book contained false information, and I really hate when books are published without such mistakes being found and fixed.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

James Review -- Vicky Peterwald: Dominator

This week I decided to review Vicky Peterwald: Dominator by Mike Shepherd. 

The story begins with the protagonist en route to her wedding, which goes well despite an assassination attempt during the journey. However, Vicky’s father fails to attend, and intelligence soon indicates that he has been left penniless by the manipulations of the Bowlingame family, which Vicky’s dead and wicked stepmother belonged to.

Vicky leads a fleet to Greenfield, the capital of the section of the empire officially ruled by her father but now ruled by the Bowlingames. Vicky knows instantly that the message explaining why her father is unavailable is a lie, because he is supposedly hunting bears in an area where the breed of bear in question no longer lives. She leads a team to her father’s incomplete palace to find that not only is the structure unfinished, but electrical service has been discontinued in the depths of a harsh winter. Emperor Peterwald isn’t there, but three cooks who are the last loyal members of his staff and whom Vicky considers to be her aunts are there. The cooks are rescued, then Vicky launches raids against the homes on the various high-ranking members of the Bowlingame family on the world. Emperor Peterwald is rescued, but he is on the verge of starvation due to the shortage, and low quality, of the food provided for him and his loyal staff members, and it is unknown if he will ever fully recover.

Soon after the fleet returns to Vicky’s territory, a fleet loyal to the Bowlingames raids a small world loyal to Vicky, and in response, Vicky’s forces begin a counteroffensive. Their first target is the world of Dresden. When they arrive, Vicky’s forces find the High Dresden space station seeded with an array of boobytraps. And even when the traps are bypassed, the Bowlingame forces reveal that much of the planet’s civilian population has been taken hostage and surrounded with a variety of explosives.

Using a storm system as cover, Vicky’s forces land a strike force including the Grand Duchess herself. However, they soon find a badly-damaged bridge which will allow only a small team to pass, a team that must include Vicky because her computer Maggie is the best hope of safely disarming the bombs around the hostages. And in the end, Vicky’s team finds themselves in a desperate battle against overwhelming odds with the fates of the hostages on the line…

Also, throughout the story, Vicky and her computer Maggie face a number of struggles tied to Maggie's growing self-awareness, including a tragedy when Maggie’s plan to intercept an enemy missile salvo destroys a number of friendly small craft.

I give this book 8 out of 10. It has a number of interesting planning sequences, and I like the issues Vicky and Maggie face regarding Maggie’s growing sentience a lot. The main problem I have is that space combat has always been one of the author’s strongest areas in my opinion, but there is almost no space combat in this book. The missile attack I mentioned above is pretty much it, and the author could have easily fit a few more small space battle scenes in without disrupting the book’s plot.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Author Interview -- Sarah Kuhn

Today I have the honor of interviewing one of my favorite authors. A while back I reviewed Sarah Kuhn's novel Heroine Complex (see here for my review) and got hooked on the Asian girl power F-bombs. With three books in the series and even more awesomeness on the way, Ms. Kuhn is definitely on a roll. Lucky for us, she had time to answer a few burning questions.

How would you describe your writing to a newb?

Superheroine-powered romance-fantasy that’s as fun and vibrant and candy-colored as Jason Chan’s beautiful covers for the HEROINE series. (That’s what I’m always trying to live up to, anyway.) Packed with feels of all kinds. Spotlighting women of color getting to have fun and adventure and happy endings.

Where did the idea for Heroine Complex come from?

I grew up on a steady diet of superhero comics and I particularly loved the X-Men, because they always spend an excessive amount of time talking about their feelings, even when—especially when!—the world needs saving. I always wondered, though, who was doing all the behind-the-scenes dirty work—taking costumes to the dry cleaners, updating the social media, cleaning up all the superpowered messes left behind. I thought it would be fun to write about the person who has to do all that, the beleaguered PA to superheroes. That’s how I found Evie Tanaka, superheroine PA extraordinaire, who stars in the first book. And then all her friends wanted their own stories, too.

Who are your female role models?

Way too many to list here, but my biggest role models are my girl gangs, all the wonderful women I’m close to. When everything else in the world seems terrible, being part of those communities has saved my life.

Heroine Complex is told from Evie's POV. Why did you change to Annie's POV for Heroine Worship?

In the first draft of the book, Aveda was more of a one-note diva — she was really awful to Evie, and one of my editor’s first notes was that she didn’t really understand why they were friends in the first place. I had to go back and really explore that question, and that’s how I got into the deeper nuances of their relationships — how Aveda had really always been there to save Evie and they’d developed this not-very-healthy codependent relationship they needed to fix. It made me really feel for Aveda, to realize that everything she was doing stemmed from her ultra perfectionist nature and her fear of failure and of being alone. She became real to me through that process, so of course that made me want to her explore her story. (Plus, I really wanted to show how she and Scott finally got together!)

Which of your characters do you identify with most?

I always identify the most with whoever I’m writing at the time. When I wrote Evie, I felt her need for control and the tentative unleashing of her allowing herself to really want things. With Aveda, I felt that perfectionist nature and fear of messing up deep in my bones. And with Bea, I felt her need for whimsy and excitement and the deep grief she was trying to run away from. I think I have to connect to each character that deeply in order to write them well.

Have you written anything you wish more people would notice?

I have written a few tweets that I feel were very underrated.

What can a hungry writer do to get exposure?

I don’t think there’s any magic answer to that — except just write. Finish something. Start the next thing. Try different things. In any creative industry, we feel like we have control over so little — but as long as you’re writing, you’re steering the ship. (This sentence sounded good when I started writing it, and now I’m like, what? What does that mean?? But see, I can write another sentence — I’m steering the ship!)

Which of the superpowers in your stories would you most want to have? Say, the super handy GPS power?

That would come in extremely handy in LA, but my original dream power was shooting fire out of my hands, so I still kind of want Evie’s. (Probably no one else wants me to have this power, though.)