Friday, April 17, 2015

Review::Mark of the Centipede by Cara Brookins

Mark of the Centipede (Timeshifters Journey 1)Mark of the Centipede by Cara Brookins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mark of the Centipede (Time Shifters 1)by Cara Brookins

This is a slightly different time travel novel than I've seen out here. This one requires less thought about historic accuracy and spends more time on the development of characters. It also has a bit of a twist in that there are two compellingly separate protagonists that end up at odds with each other adding a bit of wrinkle to the usual reader empathy factor. It also is written for young adults, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying it.

The story starts with a clever bit about Namor the Time Ranger who is inducted into the Time Rangers at age 12 and is 32 now and the agency has fallen on bad times and now most agents are Rogue agents who chose their own assignments and Namor's assignment is to locate another possible time traveler named Jordan Booker who is responsible for the death of Namor's time traveling parents.

Then the reader is introduced to Jordan Booker; perhaps to see how he became such a despicable person. Jordan and his sister Jada are on their way to Arkansas to live with their Aunt Maggie. They are orphans. And Aunt Maggie is now their guardian and she has used the (estate) money given her to purchase a rundown shack out in the middle of nowhere. Life isn't going to be very easy for these two and perhaps one might think that this and the abusive nature of Maggie might be what drives Jordan to evil straits.

On this secluded property is a crater that’s fenced in and its former owner, Albert, has been mining the crater for artifacts that might be alien in nature. Albert left some notes and artifacts and Jordan and Jada soon discover that there is definitely something strange out in the crater. Jordan eventually discovers that the Chronos (a possibly advanced society of some other time) have sent the time machine here so that he could travel through time and collect some artifacts that would help them save the future world. With that in mind he recklessly activates the time machine and ends up in a prehistoric landscape full of early humans who seem much more intelligent than historians have given them credit for with plenty of dangerous flora and fauna; and Jordan is stuck for 60 days before he can return. Jordan must undergo a severe self taught survival course and find the time machine, which has been moved; Plus he unknowingly is stalked by another time traveler.

So throughout the story we have two possible protagonist/antagonists who will eventually collide if Jordan survives long enough.

The novel is an interesting and surprisingly satisfying introduction to the strange world that Namor and Jordan live in and its interesting past. It also serves as a great medium to introduce the two characters who are destined to some eventual major conflict; but it’s a serial and there are three books: so it might be a while before I find all the answers.

Overall the novel is well written and draws to a satisfactory conclusion, leaving plenty of room for the next two novels. Definitely worth the time to read the well told story and crafted characters.

Good SFF for the Young and Adult and neat little Time Travel yarn though it does tend to stretch the Suspension of Disbelief factor a bit.

Well Done.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Review::Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson, #5)Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Silver Borne [Mercedes Thompson] by Patricia Briggs

This is book 5 in a series of books and I've not read any of the others so I'm not coming from the position of being a fan and some people might even wonder why I'm even bothering to try to pick up in the middle or even far end of something. The good news is that this stands well alone and there is plenty of information to bring a reader up to speed enough to understand this novel. I've no idea yet whether there's enough to understand the series, but it was a pretty fair read and since my usual genre reading doesn't touch much on Fae, Faries; and Shape-shifters; and werewolves; and witches. I don't come in with a whole bunch of baggage and expectations of what it means to be great urban fantasy.

I have read some of the samples of the first books and was already interested in this shape-shifting mechanic with an odd assortment of friends. While I was putting together a packet of paper books to have delivered to me, I was touched by a note that indicated I could get this bound edition for much less than an e-book or trade paper edition so I decided to give it a try before realizing that it was number 5 in the series. It sat with several others on my desk in a neat stack waiting patiently always trying to push itself to the top of the stack.

When I started reading it; it was much the same as the samples; with a sort of smooth story telling style that sucked me into the world of Mercedes Thompson. It didn't take long to find that she was owner of a specialty repair shop for imports and had a helper, Gabriel, who seemed quite normal and a few other helpers that seemed a bit more than what they appear. She also has access to Zee, the former repair shop owner, who stops by now and then to help bring wrecks back from the brink of death; sometimes he does this by way of his Fae Magic. Mercy has a bit of magic of her own; or at least she has a cane that follows her around and appears and disappears at the most opportune of moments. She has other magic friends and one of those has lent her an old book of Fae written by a Fae and this is what starts the story as she gets a call from a relative of the book owner, who gives her a strange message from Phineas Brewster about the book. When she attempts to return the book she finds that Phin might be missing and that begins a small mystery.

A more important aspect of this story is that Mercy is a coyote shape-shifter and her boyfriend Adam is a Werewolf and that relationship makes her a part of the pack: because Adam is the Alpha. There are pack members who are not happy with this and it creates a tension and subplot in the story that eventually converges with the main plot. Mercy lives in a motor home with a Werewolf roommate who has no pack and seems to be a long acquaintance; and though there are none apparent in this novel she has a few vampire connections, which show up as part of the contention between her and the Pack. Samuel the Werewolf roommate has his own subplot that also will converge with the main plot.

When someone mistakes Samuel's wolf for Adam’s and tries to collect an inexplicable bounty, someone has deadly intent, and Mercy eventually comes to the conclusion that the real target was her; and then begins the search for the reason that someone is trying to kill her.

To say that this has everything that a fan of Urban Fantasy could want would be a bit high handed of me since it's not my usual genre. But it has plenty enough for me with some tight writing and interesting plotting. The action and pace were good, though not the usual high octane stuff I see in today’s fiction; it was balanced well and kept the tension at the right amount in the right moment so it passes my test; but I'm not a great fan of the usual blood and gut carnage that seems to follow some of this genre.

Great urban fantasy in my limited opinion and well told story that might keep a few SFF fans happy.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review::Survival of the Fittest by Michael Taylor

Survival of the Fittest: The Last Hope for the Human RaceSurvival of the Fittest: The Last Hope for the Human Race by Michael Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Survival of the Fittest by Michael Taylor

In the final analysis I enjoyed the story; but that’s not saying I didn't have some problems reading it. This is a book that one could really want to give five stars to; but you would have to make a number of stretches to accomplish that. I wanted to like this but I must have some predefined prejudices that stand in the way. This has the earmarks for a great start to a new series of books with a fantastic premise and some interesting notions; but there are some style choices that stepped in the way of my enjoyment of the piece as a whole.

Lindsey Sutten finds herself alone in the darkness with confusion about where she is and why she's alone and uncertain of where her mother is: and she is afraid. This begins the first of several sections in the first chapter that introduce us to the main characters that will share this story. Having them each start with a separate section breaks up the initial tension by spreading it out in a slight confusing way; yet acts as a means to protect the reader from the up and coming style decisions that might jar a few people out of the story. But the trouble with Lindsey is that she sounds, at best, to be ten or twelve years old but is supposed to be 15 years old.

The second section is Alex and Ricardo and since more than one character shows up here we start to see the style choices showing up. The POV of choice seems to struggle at being Omniscient and at best perhaps subjective because it comes just a bit close to becoming Close third and that even starts to be head hopping but we can let it slide if we consider it to be Omniscient third. The problem I had was that the POV went from outside to often close to each boy one at a time and then jumps into a Plural POV that I just let slide because it was brief in this section. Unfortunately this seems to be a deliberate act that is used throughout the book. It is meant to achieve something (I think); but it keeps pushing me out of the story.

The story is interesting and suspenseful despite my struggles with the style and it keeps me into it; to find out what's going on and see what's going to happen. So far this is starting to read like one of those thrillers that often devolve into slashers. I'm not sure how eager I am to go on; but I forge ahead as the people group together first in small groups and then one large group of seven only to be attacked and separated. But this is good it gives us different dynamics within the group as they work their way back to becoming one group again.

The first part of the novel is named The Inner World Beginning. The second part is called The Outer World Beginning. This should have been the biggest clue to another problem. Probably another that is just a personal problem to me. The next part takes us back 40 years to a time when Earth was visited by UFO's and we did all those strange alien autopsies and discovered that the aliens intended on invading earth and they were sending super soldiers that had been augmented. This is where things become X-files strange in more way than one. The decision is to create our own augmented army based on theirs so there are some experiments put into place. They are creepy experiments with rather cold heartless creepy people who are all trapped into the system that says the only way out is if we kill you.

The more important discovery in part two is the deceit. This novel is what I'll affectionately call a Deceit-topia. I have read a number of them now. By the end of the chapter we discover that the seven people we read about earlier, who were left fighting for their lives against aliens while they were slowly transforming into their own version of these aliens; is all a simulation and these youths and many more are being held in stasis while they experience complete immersion into the virtual environment where they have nothing to fear as they can't get hurt. Which sort of kills all the tension built earlier; but the cool part is that their changes in world are changes that they are expected to undergo in the real world; so it's forgivable: this Deceit.

It's about now that we start experiencing a lot of the plural third sections and I almost at first thought it was perhaps somehow related to these seven and some connection they might have. That hope proves false when later, further narrative from the doctors and scientists on the outside indicates that often, when there are mobs of people together, the narrative starts describing things that happen to them all together in plural third. Almost like a mob. A huge problem though with the scientist and doctors is that they all seem to be the same cold type of personality that has rationalized why they do what they do while at the same time there is an almost false appearance that fear is held over them to keep them doing what they are told despite their conscience (which later you have to wonder if any of them have a conscience). Often their actions conflicted with what the narrator wanted us to believe. I found it very difficult to find any one of them that felt real while they seemed to vacillate back and forth up and down some moral scale that seemed to be there only as a means to drive the tension of the story instead of helping us find out who these people really are below the cold exteriors.

That and the strange decision that they couldn't implement their special forces until after the entire world is slaughtered seem to make the outside world part of the story hard to rationalize.

As for the inner world; that is vindicated somewhat when one of the researchers goes mad and tries to destroy the program putting anyone in the world at risk of real death. So real tension again.

As a whole this novel looks as though it's the possible beginning of a series and it does have some potential, though it might be just fine as a standalone considering the possibility of it going close into the horror genre. If you don't mind head hopping and the often shifts to Plural third person then there is a lot of food for thought in this novel; though you might have to throw a bit more suspension of disbelief into the decision making capabilities of all the adults.

This falls into SFF and horror with some Deceit-topic tendencies. Great read as long as you don't try to examine the adult player's motives too closely.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review::Tmpest by Julie Cross

Tempest (Tempest, #1)Tempest by Julie Cross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tempest by Julie Cross

I so much loved this novel. This was one of those that you go into a bit tentatively, not sure if you'll like it and in some way hoping you won't [It's a trilogy and if you like it, maybe; okay I'll look into the others later; but if you love it: then you're going to want to read the other two. Like yesterday.].

This was a great read. Done in first person and even with some sections in the bound book that are supposed to look hand written like a journal, which makes sense because Jackson's friend Adam has suggested that he needs to keep one with information about each of the Time Jumps that he takes. It was only by accident that he'd discovered that he could time jump and once Adam was convinced that that was what was happening, rather than Jackson having catatonic fits, Adam got on board quick and they started doing experiments to see how far back in time he could go. (The kindle version seems different with perhaps italic and bold italic for the handwritten part. So for the complete effect you might want to do the printed copies unless the first one is the only one that has this feature.)

Anyway Jackson's time travel life is his and Adam's secret and that will soon complicate things for Jackson, especially in his relationship to his girlfriend Holly. His dad seems too busy with his high paying job with a Pharmacy Company to take much notice. But when you are time traveling experimentally there are consequences, one of those being that you never know who might be watching. And though the reader soon finds out that Jackson's life is already a bit strangely complicate, it's about to get that much more complicated.

Jackson has a twin that died from cancer and he keeps seeing someone that looks like his sister; back before she died. Jackson and Courtney's mother died when they were young and their father had to raise them alone and when Courtney died that left Jackson alone. It's about the time that Adam and Jackson decide that there might be merit in finding out more about Jackson's mother, that all the experimentation catches up to him and while he is making up with Holly for having missed so many things while he'd been experimenting with Time Travel, they are attacked by some people who turn out to be time travelers who are aware of him and his abilities. Holly gets seriously injured and Jackson draws a parallel to possibly loosing her and having lost his sister and somehow he ends up trapped two years in the past (possibly from the trauma).

He needs to get back and somehow save Holly, but just as before he can only travel into the past; except now he ends up two years in the past as if that's his starting point and his real time is now his future. Between living two years in the past and traveling farther back in time, Jackson needs to find some answers that will lead him to the way of getting back to his own time. While he searches he uncovers a whole different picture about his own family and his father and his life and things will never be the same only because they were never quite what they appeared to be.

If Jackson thought life was complicated before; he didn't know the half of it.

Now the reader gets a better look into Jackson's past and into a bit of teen life while Jackson juggles life with his search and with trying to survive a past that he's slowly but surely beginning to alter just by being there. Throughout all of this the author never loses sight of the plot and the need to move the story forward and what develops it a tightly woven narrative that keeps twisting and reshaping as Jackson uncovers his past to save the future. Each step as the stakes get higher, Jackson finds himself with fewer people he can trust.

This is a roller-coaster ride with some big turns at the end that keep this exciting and still manage to give the absolute feel that this novel stands quite strong on its own despite being part of a trilogy.

Great SSF for fans of Time Travel conundrums and I just realized as I finished the sentence above this one, that I was going to give this one a five star.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review::Goblin Moon:Mask and Dagger 1 by Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Moon: Mask and Dagger 1Goblin Moon: Mask and Dagger 1 by Teresa Edgerton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goblin Moon: Mask and Dagger 1 by Teresa Edgerton

I read this novel a while ago and when I saw that the e-book was being re-released by a new publisher I thought I'd check to see if some problems had been taken care of.

This is an excellent read in many senses and it might be considered typical for what they refer to as GasLight Fantasy and GasLight Romance. And it has some very long sentences. I love long sentences and I especially love them when crafted well. This novel has plenty to whet the appetite and I shall show some from the first chapter that contain some of the problems I was looking at. Often the difficulty with long sentences is deciding how to punctuate them and sometimes that all boils down to style preferences. In this instance below the first paragraph seems okay but there was a glitch in my original copy in the second paragraph (that I had hoped would be fixed now), but it appears it made it through to this edition also.

In the paragraph that starts [For by river-wrack... ] at the word [floating] there is a period; which might be an intended semicolon or comma though I suppose that the following [with] might just be a new sentence with the capitol dropped by mistake; though this sentence works both ways and in a small way seems almost incomprehensible either way, unless you include the first paragraph, which is why I included it. Anyway at the very least I’m puzzled by the punctuation.
Old Lunn, she was a capricious river, as Jed well knew: restlessly eroding her own banks, making sudden leaps and changes in her course, especially upriver in the country districts where there were no strong river walls to contain her. Swelled by a high tide or by the rains and snow-melt of Quickening, she swept away manors and villages, churches and farmhouses, crumbled old graveyards and flooded ancient burial vaults, dislodging the dead as ruthlessly as she evicted the living. No, the Lunn respected no persons, either living or dead, but the crueler she was to others, she was that much kinder to men like Jed and his Uncle Caleb.

For by river-wrack and by sea-wrack brought in by the tide, off goods salvaged from water-logged bales and salt-stained wooden chests, by an occasional bloated corpse found floating. with money still in its pockets, the scavengers gleaned a meagre existence year 'round, and— especially when the full moon brought high tides and other disturbances— were sometimes able to live in comfort for an entire season off the grave offerings of the pious departed.
Edgerton, Teresa (2014-09-02). Goblin Moon: Mask and Dagger 1 (p. 5). Tickety Boo Press. Kindle Edition.

The scope of these paragraphs and especially the second paragraph even if we split it seem to bring to mind that famous quote from Paul Clifford.
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Through one of the obscurest quarters of London, and among haunts little loved by the gentlemen of the police, a man, evidently of the lowest orders, was wending his solitary way.
Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 9). . Kindle Edition.

I've never understood this to be purple prose; because if read in context it makes sense that it really is moving the story forward and the same holds true when you read each of the long sentences in Goblin Moon.

What I did find in my reading of Goblin Moon is a pattern that accompanied the paragraphs packed with long sentences. Often they contained what might be considered info dump in the form of character or scene description. So rather than have nine sentences it might become three very long and eloquent sentences. Or in some instances one paragraph-long-sentence.

But speaking of Paul Clifford one could draw more than style similarities with just a casual look. Both novels have a roguish man falling in love with young woman of some moderate station and having her inadvertently falling for the rogue. And both novels have a striking similar ending.

Goblin Moon might be described as primarily the story of Sara Vorder and Francis Skelbrooke; but it is also a story of the lives that intersect with theirs and perhaps a bit of a comedy of manners as they navigate the customs and mores of their society and try to save their friends.

Rich in descriptions; I still found Goblin Moon has a solid plot making a satisfying and entertaining read; even though it might be a bit light on character growth.

Great GasLight type Romance for fans of that type of fantasy.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Review::Oracle by Susan Boulton

OracleOracle by Susan Boulton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oracle by Susan Boulton

I must admit that I was drawn to this novel by reading the first chapter and getting acquainted with the Oracle; a character; who reminded me of another character in something I recently read. In Diamond Eyes by A.A. Bell there is a blind girl not quite blind who sees the past (not the future) and rambles on about things and is generally ignored. But where Oracle is allowed to roam and live off the charity of others Mira was institutionalized and often kept sedated. Both are integral to the plot of the story and both seem to embody the most innocent of characters. (Though Mira does have the spirit of an imp in her.) And somewhere around there the similarity ends and the Oracle takes on her own life as I dig into the story.

This novel is billed as Gaslight Fantasy and mentions Steam power also on the cover though it is only the vaguest of reference drawn to Steampunk and this book surely does not lean much into the Steampunk. Gaslight or Gaslamp as some would have it, seems to be where this story is. I'm not sure whether to call it Victorian or Edwardian; but that is mostly my own deficiency. Its historical fiction of a slightly altered world that has a lot that borders onto the Paranormal. It is a landscape of intrigue and suspense.

We have trains; possibly steam trains though there is no real depth taken in their description. The train is important, because the first half of the book is a bit of trying to understand the Oracle's fractured predictions: possibly to save the day. There are two characters that seem to be the main characters in the novel although it took me a bit to finally decide that. Through careful elimination as many characters became duplicitous and multifaceted and deceitful. Finally it devolved down to Pugh Avinguard and the Oracle (who is really his ex-wife; Claire). Pugh is a quite well developed character while the Oracle's development is often stunted by her being two personalities struggling to control one form.

One hindrance for me throughout the novel was that the shifting point of view would give me several different explanations of events in peoples lives-somewhat based on rumor so that it was often difficult to tell which story was the truth. As an example the rumors ran everywhere from Claire being dead to her having eloped with Pugh then running away and having the marriage annulled. And finally; to her father arraigned the marriage for political reasons and Pugh having cast her out and divorcing her and thwarting his father inlaws dreams. And I might not have all of that correct; but there were other characters as equally misrepresented this way.

This world in which the Oracle exists is one where slavery is practiced under another name and passed off as the best way to take care of the poor. There is change in the air and the Oracle is in tune with this though the political climate is still fraught with those who are comfortable with things staying the way they are. But rebellion is afoot and foreign interest would love to see the country fracture under the stress of social upheaval.

The Oracle has a future that seems to be heading into a dark area of things, but the reader is not to fear as there is some hope of redemption; though it may cost the few that are near to her.

There is an end to this story that can satisfy the reader, though there seems to be a large number of threads that are left hanging; or perhaps left to the imagination. It is difficult to tell from this if the author will seek to visit this land again.

Overall the novel has solid writing with a fair to sprawling plot that only resolves, at the end, if we look strictly toward this being the story of Clair and Pugh.

I would have loved to see Claire come out stronger in the story especially when there were other strong female characters such as Elizabeth who delivered my favorite tongue in cheek statement.

Remember, I am just a woman, and you are making my delicate mind hurt.

Boulton, Susan (2015-03-31). Oracle (Kindle Location 150). Tickety Boo Press. Kindle Edition.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Review::Suspended Earth by M.R. Mortimer

Suspended EarthSuspended Earth by M.R. Mortimer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Suspended Earth by M.R. Mortimer

Cyberpunk has been around since well before someone coined the term; sometimes lightly touched on by such greats as John Brunner and Philip K. Dick and in some cases examined to the extreme. But usually what stands out in the mind when another cyber punk novel comes around is; oh another matrix book. I suppose some might nod more toward William Gibson and say another Johnny Mnemonic book. Well they might pick one of his several other books. This book starts out a lot like the Matrix and eventually leads to a grossly nasty scene where the main character apparently explodes all across a room in a bloody mess as he vanishes from the net.

Fortunately we right away get images of what is: as opposed to what appears to be: and there are scenes of a caretaker with tanks of people in suspension with tubes hanging from them. Inside the Caretaker Generation Facility is the single caretaker who is getting ready to be replaced. His replacement apparently comes-seamlessly out of the many rows of potential candidates-and the caretakers own retirement to an incinerator is all done in a placid tone. It's a well orchestrated transfer, all done through the agency of a computer and in just the right number of steps that when the new caretaker goes crazy and nearly destroys some critical panels the old caretaker has already been incinerated and the computer is forced to kill the present caretaker and quickly extract a new caretaker.

Enter Daniel who is yanked out while with his girlfriend; leaving her traumatized in a grizzly room and left to answer questions the police have. Soon, by virtue of the virtual environment she discovers her boyfriend is not who he said he is or maybe even didn't exist and the police begin to suspect she's the victim of a gruesome hoax.

In the real world Daniel is confronted with a new reality including the body of the last failed caretaker as warning not to upset the computer. Daniel is left to try to figure out what's going on; but the computer has been programmed to not be very helpful in that area. Fortunately Daniel is a bit of a computer hacker and he begins to examine ways to get past all the safety features and in his efforts to locate his girlfriend and try to contact her he eventually triggers an event that nearly begins the destruction of the virtual world and that would mean the death of everyone in the tanks.

It takes a good portion of the book to get to a point where the people in the virtual world are safe and Daniel and others are able to, through the help of a rogue program previously inserted into the system, remove those who want out and begin to build a force that can investigate what is actually going on. They think they can do this, because there are a multitude of similar facilities in the world that have been programmed to various different historic eras and they are certain that one of them has clues to what might have happened; to have most of the earths population placed in these tanks.

Soon it's discovered that in our exploration of space we came across a race of beings who found that the human body contains a resource that they need and through some form of sinister alliance with humans have created these massive farms to keep people like cattle and oblivious to the real world as they live their lives in a virtual world.

This is when the real story begins and the struggle for mankind to regain it's foothold on its own planet.

This is a mostly well written story that appears to be a Prequel to the Author's previous work that takes place in the same universe. If I have any complaint it would be to the dozen or so times the sentence structure was convoluted enough to confuse me. They weren’t passive sentences, but they were just as difficult to read as any of the worst of those.

Because this was apparently written long before the others and later altered to fit into the front end of his series of books it seems appropriate enough to become a debut novel of a sort with a possibility of having a lot of his younger raw talent exposed. I have yet to read the others in the series, but this one is done well enough to entice me into finding out what else goes on in the strange universe as Earth regains its freedom.

This is fair SFF and some CyberPunk with a bit of a twist and lots of potential for future stories both in the real and the virtual world.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review::Abendau's Heir by Jo Zebedee

Abendau's Heir (The Inheritance Trilogy Book 1)Abendau's Heir by Jo Zebedee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Abendau's Heir (The Inheritance Trilogy Book 1) by Jo Zebedee

This is one of those novels that I wanted to really like maybe even love. It has that potential. And yet, in my enthusiasm I kept stumbling through the first chapters with this odd feeling of disconnect that confused me. I had to read through a second time to try to figure out what my problem was. Style choices the author made might have resonated with me in a rather unusual way. I would have to definitely recommend that others not take my judgment without trying to first read the novel. And then, if you do find some trouble as I did, you might want to tough it through; because eventually you'll get used to way the author writes and you can better appreciate the story.

This is a dark story, which was a bit unexpected: to me. It's a tragedy wrapped in a dark world. It reminded me of a discussion recently about GrimDark being a genre and someone’s argument that it was meant to be an ironic or satirical comment about certain over the top writing. I should qualify that I think it's a valid and respectable label these days; so when I say that this novel is GrimDark I mean it in a good sense. Jo Zebedee's world and universe is a dark universe that is lorded over by an evil Empress. But more so than that it's an unforgiving universe where every action has its consequence and, though some may have potential for good outcomes, the reader quickly discovers it pays to keep those consequences in mind; because they will show up like a bad penny.

If you read the prologue carefully you'll have everything you need to know. Ealyn is a seer and the Empress is evil. The Empress forces Ealyn to look at the prism and see her future, but not just her future; his too. The Empress has powers to delve into other minds so she too can see what he sees. Ealyn resists; because he knows there are great consequences to what he does when he Seers. But what he sees is that somehow the Empress is now pregnant with his and her children and that between their two powers she means to create ultimate power for herself. He sees the result in the cold adult faces of their powerful children and is horrified. After the Empress leaves his cell Ealyn is once more drawn into a vision; but this time he sees himself free and then he sees his children now happy and free. Energized with that vision he throws caution to the wind and despite knowing there will be everlasting consequences he's determined to find out how to make the second vision a reality and will seek the answer through his visions.

The first chapter brings us eight years in advance to a point where Ealyn and his children, Kare and Karia, are in a tenuous life aboard a spaceship trying to get by while the Empress pursues them and the rebels deny them full access to the rebel base because of the danger the Empress and her relentless pursuit represents. Ealyn is stuck between a rock and a hard place; because of all the time he spent doing visions he can see that some horrible future is overtaking him no matter which direction he goes and soon Kare will have to be trained to control any tendency to Seer. In a feeble effort to train Kare, Ealyn goes too far and is sucked into a trance like state to the worst of futures. The only hope for help to bring him out of this is to go to the rebel base where they will eventually be ejected again. All through these chapters it is for some reason very difficult for me as a reader to get close to the characters; but that turns out to be a blessing since people are about to die.

Eventually Kare will be left alone with relatives-more people who would rather not have the object of the Empress search in their home. Again we fast forward ten years and from here this becomes the story of Kare's tragic life in his efforts to elude his mother and stay alive. Kare doesn't get many breaks and every decision he makes has consequence, some of those not apparent to him until after he makes them. This does keep the tension high in the story and in some part helps the reader understand the final outcome to some degree. But let's get back to figuring out which part of my personal preference interferes with the style choices in this novel.

When I looked back through the second read I realized that the author loves long sentences and has a fixation on commas. This is not all bad. I love long sentences and enjoy the ones that are properly punctuated. The problem comes in some of the medium size sentences that almost appear to be long sentences that were shortened to vary the beat. The problem with that is that there is that beat or rhythm of the sentences in a paragraph and the more internal beat of the individual sentences that you start punctuating with commas and semicolons.

In the first paragraph this sentence…-
His captors knew him well enough to use subtle things to torment him: the sound of water, so blessed on the hot, dry, Abendau; the prism on its thin chain catching sunlight from a small window and sending rainbows darting; the slow build of pain in muscles held firm, a pain that went deep, full of despair.

Zebedee, Jo (2015-03-29). Abendau's Heir (The Inheritance Trilogy Book 1) (Kindle Locations 29-31). Tickety Boo Press Ltd. Kindle Edition.

…Begins to highlight both the skill of the author and the beginning of a pattern that threw me off just a bit.

This part--so blessed on the hot, dry, Abendau;--creates a distinct staccato effect separating out Hot- Dry - Abendau; giving it an intended beat and alone it seems quite harmless, but quickly it shows up again and again until it's like a pattern. Often there are separate sentences engineered into incomplete thoughts that get chained by commas while ignoring conjunctions to create the same distinct separation that might just as well have been short separate sentences; though those would once again interfere with the rhythm.

For me though this created a second problem because the narrator often was this shifting close third POV that unfortunately always has the same quirk and that tended to overshadow the character development and I had difficulty separating the characters from one another. The irony is that they are distinct characters once I get past that peculiar distracting consistent beat. The dropping or ignoring of conjunctions to create the beat creates a distinct narrator voice that becomes hard to separate from the close third POV.

The writing is good and tight and sometimes even a bit too sparse. There are only about a handful of sentences where I felt words were missing and they usually were stuck within these bits of beats as though necessary verbs were thrown away (I have no idea if that was by accident or on purpose.)

The plot is tight and as I have said quite dark.

If as a reader you like stories that balance upbeat with the down then this might not be for you. Not to say there are no upbeat moments, just that those usually follow major decisions and then there seems to be a need to show the consequences. If you are a reader who likes happy endings then I would stay away from this one. This is a tragedy in many ways and perhaps because the author intends to have more novels in this series she creates several tragedies at the end that drag the whole into a downward spiral. And those follow the major tragedy of the story pertaining to the primary protagonist.

All of the tragedies at the end, after the primary (concerning Kare), seem either to be part of a summation of what happened afterwards and the consequences; or they act as a prelude to the next story. I really find it ambiguous in that respect and probably could have stopped at the primary tragic choice without the extra added summations after; which could have been left to my imagination and for the next story. As a whole it just made the story that much darker.

This is okay SSF light on the science heavy fantasy and great for those who love GrimDark tragedies. And if you love novels that delve thickly into the consequences of the character's actions this is going to be a treat.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Review::Take the Star Road by Peter Grant

Take the Star Road (The Maxwell Saga, #1)Take the Star Road by Peter Grant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Take the Star Road (The Maxwell Saga Book 1) by Peter Grant

This novel is billed as being on par with Heinlein's juvenile series of novels and I can almost reconcile how that comes about. There are a number of problems with that assessment that I feel must be addressed. In all I enjoyed the story and the writing; but felt in many ways that this falls short of what it could be by some simple style choices. These same choices seem to be what would begin to distance this reader from comparing it to the Heinlein that I remember. There is room for thought that others might find the assessment of this work to be spot on; so I think as usual that it is best for future readers to make their own judgment. Of course to that end for some it might involve having to acquaint themselves with Heinlein's work.

To begin one thing that does hold true to Heinlein is the treatment of women in the novel is indicative of the expected treatment of someone writing back in the late fifties and early sixties. I'm not sure that is much of an endorsement though.

Steve Maxwell is an orphan. He's lived a rough life-from the sound of it-and has become seriously disillusioned of Earths government and is now working as a dishwasher on a space terminal with the hopes that he can scratch together enough funds to continue his education to a point he can qualify to work aboard a space vessel to reach the Commonweath: where he might hope to work to become a citizen. Steve has a certain moral ethics that is quite outstanding; but we don't learn this so much from him or from watching him as we do from having characters tell us this. We don't get close enough to Steve to really be able to examine this and this for me caused some puzzling incongruities. Steve is loyal and trustworthy and hardworking and he also holds title to second dan in karate. We learn all of this in the first chapter-along with a few other things. Almost enough to say we know everything we need to know just in that chapter alone.

Steve is near destitute while working for Louie in a saloon that caters to spacers and is at least a close connection to Steve's pursuits. Louie is not just a successful business man; but he is someone who has ties to the shady Dragon Tong who control this sector. The Lotus Tong mean to move in-apparently oblivious to the hornet’s nest they are stepping into-and they put pressure on Louie; who blows them off, resulting in them attacking Louie while Steve is still around and has a chance to display his talent and save his employer and endear himself to the Dragon Tong who consider Louis an irreplaceable resource. This also results in a reward removing that period of destitution; and indebtedness of his employer who will help facilitate his career with the Commonwealth. This is also the first time Steve has been involved in killing someone.

This covers a majority of the plot and a reader could almost skip to the last few chapters. I wouldn't personally recommend that; because for me it's the journey ( not the start point and destination) that counts. And there are still some things the reader has to learn about Steve and there is this puzzle about his seeming moral stance mentioned earlier and his easy acceptance of the forsaking of proper authority while allowing the Dragon Tong to administer their own justice to the Lotus Tong. And this will eventually lead to a bit more trouble for Steve before he leaves the Terminal for his career in space. But that misfortune will result in the fortune of obtaining an item that will become important later.

In many ways as a reader I was seeing more similarities to Voltair's Candide than to Heinlein's works. (In fact I reread Candide because of this.)Steve is rather naive, or at least seems that way; and that condition causes some discomfort that often results in unexpected fortune. The main difference between Steve and Candide is that Steve never really suffers as much physically. Morally Steve seems to be walking the fence between the pristine Commonweath he wants to join and the seedy underworld of the Dragon Tong without much thought that those two might conflict with each other somewhere down the line. But before that we must face the incongruity between his morals and his ending up in bed with his bosses girlfriend. This is passed off as something similar to the old trope about the big sendoff of the young soldier heading to boot camp and to battle. Only in this case Steve is heading toward everything good that he's imagined for his life.

The middle part of the novel becomes an even paced story-maybe too even paced. Throughout Steve has a favorite phrase that signals a bit of something that becomes too obvious: eventually. It varies a bit from; I hear; to I see; to the most favored of-I get it. What this signals is the completion of a long dialogue that begins in the form of the old ‘as you know’ or ‘as you should know’ or ‘let me explain’. If you’re a fan of dialogue, that’s good; because with this formula you get a lot of it. The middle of this book is a lot of world building where you will get a lot of science of this universe and how things work and even the structure of the hierarchy of crew on space ships and some of the military of the Commonwealth. All accomplished through dialogue. Because of that we lack in narrative that might bring us close to Steve. Lacking some in the five senses and mostly in any expressions that might confirm what we are led to believe about his morality, which we are mostly to take for granted through what others express and some face value. That is where the problem arises because we don't know exactly how he feels having to be closely allied with the Dragon Tong and looking to join the Commonwealth while maintaining his sense of morality.

I'm hoping; perhaps some of this will show up better in the future stories of this series.

Still: This is a good story overall and a great beginning to a new series that promises to open a whole new world or universe for us as Steve matures. If I have any complaint it might be that there is a point, when you read this you will see, where Steve seems to take a sharp turn from naive to some bit of too much cunning as he begins to try to steer developments between him and the Dragon Tong. So far the Commonwealth has either been oblivious to his Dragon Tong connection or they don't perceive it as a problem and we really don't know what Steve is thinking and once again at best we can hope that the next few stories will begin sorting that all out.

I'd love to give this four or five stars; but it faltered for me and as usual it could be chalked up to not enough character development in regards to getting up close and personal with the main character, which is my personal preference.

Great SFF and good for YA though there might be some moral ripples to work through and though we get a lot of ‘science’ I’m not sure it is that important to the story.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review::Battleframe:the Mindwars by Michael Gilmour

Battleframe: The Mindwars, Book 1Battleframe: The Mindwars, Book 1 by Michael Gilmour

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Battleframe: The Mindwars(Volume 1)by Michael Gilmour

This is another to add to my love to hate list. I wanted to really love this one; and it could have worked even with the rough start; unfortunately most of the problems that started in the first half were perpetuated through to the end. This is a good book with a great story and it should be four star read; but in the same token I'd have to stretch to do that; because there are style choices that interfere with character development.It's a debut of a new author so there is that to consider, and as is often the case style issues can appear to become exaggerated from inexperience in writing fiction. This can blindside some readers and perhaps in this case, because I like my stories to have good character development, it colors my perception. I think that a discerning reader will have to read this novel to make their own judgement.

The book starts with two separate stories that will inevitably meet and it employs something I've recently seen in a lot of other fiction; which is the omniscient seeming beings that meddle everywhere, but seem to be constrained from changing certain things. They show up throughout and serve mostly to distract in my opinion. The second story is that of two young boys who survive an alien invasion. These boys train to become warriors fighting those aliens using newly invented technology that might have been augmented by one of the mysterious omniscient ones from the prologue. The problem is that their story comprises about half the book and it turns out to be a deceit, which may be a determining part of the writers decision to use a specific style of writing to pull off this deceit. The author chose to write this part in omniscient third person. That's not such a bad decisions for pulling off this type of deceit because maintaining the deceit requires that the reader not get too much information from the characters head. What I mean by that is that if the reader were to be constantly close to the inside of the characters head there would have to be some obviously non-congruent thoughts; or the character's thoughts would have to be naturally deceitful, which then creates an unreliable narrator situation.

Unfortunately this point of view lends itself to the possibility of abuse and that seems to happen a lot in the first half of this novel. What I mean by that, is that; when in this point of view, it becomes easier to be tempted to use the narrator to dig into the surface thoughts of the characters and guide the reader to character motives in a seemingly capricious manner. But not just that, it also becomes easy to fall into the bad habit of digging into snippets of thoughts from all the characters all at once. And that occurs often in this novel to the tune of switching heads three or four times on the same page. What this does is create an impression of confusion and false impression of too much information; while at the same time preventing the reader from getting acquainted with any one character. But in this case the author is trying to prevent connection to the reader, because he doesn't want certain information to leak out just yet. The problem with all of that is that the deception becomes painfully obvious partially because of this point of view. I say painfully because I found myself so hoping that I was wrong about where this was going; because it did not bode well for my preferences in reading. Add to this deception the anomaly of flash backs that create back-story for the two characters, to fill in what has happened to get them to this point, and then when reaching the reveal the reader begins to wonder what purpose that back-story served.

What the story does have going for it is some interesting blend of various ideas. We have nano-tech that seems to be used both to augment biology and create somewhat unique battle armor for the characters to use in their fight against a relentless enemy( an enemy that apparently view them both as vermin to be exterminated and a possible source of food). The plot is a simple one of perseverance to survive and remain free. The main characters use the tech to fight and there is an added feature that allows the wearer to be whisked away from the battle in some instances; when they are incapacitated (through some sort of tele-porting that is so painful it is the last resort kind of thing the soldier wants to do and may even border on a fate worse than death or at least close to it). There are many more wonders of science in use in this world and oddly enough most of the tech part of the story survives after the deception is revealed.

Eventually the deception falls apart and what I most feared is true, but the upside is that this could mean that we now will be able to alter the point of view a bit and begin learning some things about these characters and why I should care about them. But first: as it falls apart we find out that our heroes have sons; but the back-story hasn't gotten even remotely near to how that might have occurred and as a reader I'm now tempted to want to know (more back-story please), but at the same time-things fall apart and I suddenly realize it might not be relevant.

I've seen the type of deception that we have here work in other novels. Many of Philip K. Dick's better pieces had stuff like this. But there's a way of crafting the deception that doesn't work here; because I get the impression that through all of this our main characters already were fully aware of at least one level of the deception(there are several levels here), which was why we had to be kept at a distance from their thoughts. The biggest problem in this novel is that we're dragged through the deception for half the novel, which means that we have to stay distanced from those thoughts for that half. Now with that out of the way there's room to redeem the narrative, but the writer seems to chose to remain remote. This created a few problems for me.

One oddity here is that I was just getting used to the writers use of third omniscience just as the story took this wide left turn to reveal the deception. A deception I had early on detected and had hoped, now that we were half way into the book, that I had been wrong about. The reader is quickly dropped into a new plot that seems to be a blend of the movie The Last Starfighter and Orson Scott Card's Ender series. I was hoping that now I'd get a look at the true character of the people behind the facade, unfortunately we are led to believe that, though there was a deception, we have to rely on the previous character development for any understanding of these characters and for me that was a problem, because I saw scant development of characters up to this point; so in many ways I had no idea what to expect of them. Yet from all of that previous deception we're supposed to believe that they would make the decisions they make; which are more suited to the plot than to the character abilities and motives: of which we really have little evidence.

At the same time according to our ever-present yet nearly invisible omniscient meddlers; these may be the ones that they have waited 50 thousand years for. They are the ones; the chosen; and in some ways we start sounding a lot like the original Star Wars, which is interesting since later there will be a tense scene that almost mirrors the destruction of the planet killing battle-star from the first movie. And many times this novel feels more like a movie than a book. By that I mean that we have the camera zooming all around and stopping now an then for a closeup of some faces. We get entire paragraphs of descriptions that look like a still photo; yet only a few lines now and then from out of someones head that tease us. And there was even one anomalous occasion where for some reason the narrator dropped to second person almost as though we were reading a manual.

The action is good and there is an element of suspense where there are some mysteries that occasionally crop up that make you wonder where things are going. There are some neat notions that seem to be extrapolations of things already examined in other novels. I found all of that to be well built with it's own defined rules and caveats, yet once again it's not enough to carry the story for me because I'm a character driven story lover. These characters were less the drivers and more the driven.

The good news is that most if not all the technology and world building stays intact despite the deception and for the most part continues to be consistent; though when our heroic chosen arrive to the final battle there are some developments that take us close to that chasm of Deus Ex Machina. But there will be sacrifices and lives will be lost; so they are not all that powerful: yet. Still there is a point that the story reaches that gave me strong impressions of the influence of the last few books of E.E. Doc Smith Skylark series; where some of the characters obtain some awesome mental powers. And the reader needs to read this to see what I mean.

Still this is not a book that gives you growth of character or a visible change through the journey of the story. It is difficult to reconcile the decisions made in the second half with the characters making those decisions and most assuredly those decision don't appear to reflect any growth or such in the characters. This has a great many notions and bits of technology that are of interest to those who like the world building. Yet even though the reader gets some close looks at the enemy there is little if any development of their motive other than that they react in fear and command by fear and intimidation.

I liked the ideas and the tech and they manage to stay consistent up until a certain point. But to be honest to discuss further my thoughts would likely be delving into some spoilers. I will be watching for more in this series from Michael Gilmour in the hope that, as his writing matures, his interest in developing characters will mature. This is good science fiction for those who like the technical end of the fiction without too much emphasis on the Simon Pure part of that. With a little more attention to balance in the writing, there is potential for greatness.

J.L. Dobias

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Review::Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This was a real surprise to me. I was searching for a quote from something else and there were enough word matches to place me smack dab in the middle of an html version of Jane Eyre. I wasn't sure what it was and had to scroll to the top to see; but sure enough it turns out that it was Jane Eyre. I've always thought Jane Eyre to be a sort of gothic romance; and it is. Never took much interest and was never obligated to read it all through school and college.

When I got to the top I started reading it.

Of course I'm aware that everyone these days in the writer’s forums talks about a great opening and a good hook. I'm not sure this had that but somehow it did manage to draw me in and now I'm perplexed. I read this in two sittings taking up half of two days; but I found I needed to read it.

It starts quite simple enough:
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Told in first person it is at the onset difficult to tell if this is some poor child being neglected or if she is truly in need of some bit of civilizing and has rightfully been partitioned off from her cousins and subjected to severe discipline. Being an orphan living with her uncle's family; on her father’s side; and being that her mother is reputed to have come from a poor family she should feel privileged to be here. But now her uncle has died; almost orphaning her again in a manner of speaking; and she's left with an aunt who doesn't want her and wouldn't care for her, but for the promise she made to her late husband before he died. As the story unfolds it becomes very clear that Jane is aware of all of this and that might influence her behavior some. Once again this is first person and told in a way that it is evident that it is the past and the narrator is likely a much older wiser Jane Eyre and yet it sometimes is difficult to separate that out, so it leaves the reader often seeing Jane as someone a bit more mature than her age. This and the acceptable mores of the time in relationship to woman’s place in that era sometimes make the novel frustrating until the reader remembers this is a very young girl in distant past times.

I suppose that one thing that drew me immediately into the story was the moral and physical privation Jane suffers once one clearly sees what is going on in this family. She's not just an outsider looking in; she's a prisoner of an unjust development of circumstance and an almost predatory indifference from those who should be close to her. She virtually lives in a closet. All of this reminds me of my favorite Dickens novels and is partially the reason I continued reading. But after her cousin strikes her in the head with a book, drawing blood, and comes at her violently; forcing her to defend herself, she’s chastised and sent to the red-room for punishment.

This is where the gothic element comes into the story. The red-room is the room her uncle died in and Jane is quickly overcome with the suspicion that his ghost resides within the room. Her aunt will have nothing of her complaints and relegates her to further time in the room. Eventually the unreasonable fear overtakes her and she passes out to be found that way some indeterminate time later. This leads to a visit from a doctor who is keen enough to recognize some things and suggest to the aunt that perhaps Jane would be better tempered if sent off to a school. His true motive seems clearly to be to somehow release the aunt of obligation and save Jane. There is still some struggle ahead before Jane is sent off and when she is her aunt sends a message that she is troubled and demon possessed child.

In school she meets more disagreeable sorts and the stigma of that pronouncement of her aunt threatens her condition until one teacher, Miss Temple, contacts the doctor for the true story and is able to acquit Jane. Jane makes a quick friend of Helen Burns who seems to have a quite Christian view about her life despite her own troubled nature and often tries to entreat Jane to follow her example; which in many ways might help Jane because she has become a person who vacillates between grudging acceptance to igniting like a flame when pushed too far and always getting herself into trouble with her honest forward nature during that time. But by now much of Jane's character has been formed and though some of Helen Burns does seem to rub off on her; she has her own specific treatment of morality that will mold her life later on.

Soon Jane is introduced to harsh reality of life in those times when her friend Helen grows sick and eventually dies on a night that Jane sneaks in to comfort her. This can't help but have a profound effect on Jane. Eventually because of poor conditions at the school many more of the girls die from Typhus and changes are eventually made to the way the facility is administered to make sure this doesn't happen again.

It is interesting to note that up to this point there are many parallels that historians and biographers draw between the life of Jane and that of Charlotte Bronte, though Charlotte was far from ever being orphaned.

The novel soon fast-forwards through her schooling to the time she becomes a teacher at the school and then becomes discontent enough to decide to reach out to become a governess to privately teach someone’s children. This leads to the real meat of the story that is a strong reflection of the time and mores and Jane's constant struggle to stay within the limits and confines of what is expected of a young woman and yet still stay within her own self defined moral concept.

I recall at the time I was reading this that there was a writer in a forum attempting a period piece that was near; but still quite a reach from Jane's time and during Suffrage. I made the observation that in one instance the inner dialogue of the young girl seemed to weaken her and that if she was working toward woman suffrage then perhaps she might not think so conventionally. Another reader commented that it would probably still be that way (the conventional way of thinking) for that time and cited Bronte's work among others to support this. That got me to thinking and I had to respond that although Jane Eyre tried to stay mute in many situations, when push came to shove she always shone through like a lioness with quite a lot of disregard for convention when it butted up to her ideal of moral sense and self worth.
Jane Eyre was way ahead of her time and was in many ways doomed to almost too much tragedy that would leave me shaking my head until I reminded myself of the era in which this was all taking place. Still there could have been no more liberated a woman in that time than was Jane Eyre and though tragic, it was inevitable that the only way she could enter into a happy marriage was with someone who was free to marry and who truly loved her and could treat her as an equal.

Eventually things work out; but not before a lot of hardship and few more brushes with what borders on the gothic with mentions of ghosts and vampires often leaving Jane in bits of melodramatic narrative. But all is well because Charlotte Bronte has a powerful command of the language and storytelling and it all works to support the framework of her story.

Not my usual fare but not as far away as one might think. A great Gothic Romance that is still worth reading today, as it was back then. For lovers of Gothic and Paranormal and of course Romance though much more the tragic romance.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review::Guy Erma and the Son of Empire by Sally Ann Melia

Guy Erma and the Son of EmpireGuy Erma and the Son of Empire by Sally Ann Melia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Guy Erma and Son of Empire by Sally Ann Melia

Once you start this book you won't put it down. It is a tightly woven well crafted tale that has all the mystery and suspense and intrigue that many of the old classics had. This novel wants to grab you and pull you through one adventure to the next with just enough time to put your head above the water and gasp for breath; then hold onto the seat of your pants ‘cause we got another reckless slide up ahead. Sometimes the pace seems relentless and yet there is a lot of time spent with the grandeur of world building, which tells you that there were some quiet moments; they just got filled with interesting narrative about the world and the people and the creatures.

This novel truly has everything. Character's with depth; and breath. Almost overwhelming sometimes; yet at the same time I never lost track of who was who in the large cast. The narrative takes the reader through the examination of prejudices and tenuous alliances and political intrigue that rival those in such classics as the Dune sagas.

The story starts with Karl Valvanchi, a Zaracan warrior, at Mezzatorra on the planet Sas Darona; a territory that is under dispute. The Freyne Empire believes it should be theirs. Karl is fighting a cold war of suspicion that the people inciting and helping the natives of Sas Darona to commit terrorist acts are part of the Dome Elite of the Freyne Empire. In the introduction we see the horrible result of the terrorists work and the one momentary gleam of hope for Karl when they capture a Dome Elite; only to watch as the proof slips through his fingers. And the damage is done because somehow someone has stolen s high tech virus from the Mezzatorra facility. (A virus that shouldn't exist; because the goal was to find a cure for a virulent virus on the planet; while someone of the Zaracan and the United Races thought it might make an interesting weapon.)

Next we switch to Freyne 2 where we meet the two main protagonist characters. It might take a while for them to realize they are both protagonists; but they get there before the end of the novel. Prince Teodor lives a structured life and the introduction to him is ambiguous as we see him in a somewhat weakened state, but it's a human weakness of fear based on history and a duty he needs to perform soon. His father and brother were murdered by a terrorist bomb while visiting the Dome where the Dome Elite are trained. He is now scheduled to visit and entertain the orphans in the Dome and he's frightened for his life. But duty calls and his mother Regent Sayginn has her own problems; what with unwanted advances from Emperor, now that she’s a widow, and her attempts at trying to maintain order on Freyne 2 until her son is ready to take control.

The society on Freyne is quite complex and the other main character is Guy Erma, an orphan living in the Dome, whose dream is to become one of the Elite. But even doing that is a quite complex task fighting a complex social structure that is stacked against him. And from here we are introduced to Chart Segat, the man who heads the Dome Elite once a friend of Teodor's father Serge and now a man who plays dangerous political games since his friends death. One of those games includes Guy because Guy is not what he appears to be and Chart Segat means to take every advantage. And everyone keeps telling Guy that to become part of Elite he must do whatever Chart Segat says.

Add to this mix Karl Valvanchi's brother Nikato is the ambassador to Freyne 2 and that their father is also an ambassador; it becomes understandable that, when Nikato uses their father to influence (strong-arm) Karl into sending some members of the local tribes on Sas Darona to Freyne on a sort of diplomatic cultural exchange, that Karl decides to come along for a visit and a bit of reconnaissance. There will be so many reasons he might regret that later; but you will have to read that to find out about those. For now when Prince Teodor is kidnapped Karl is enlisted by the Regent to help find him, so that's one good outcome of his coming to Freyne 2.

As you should see by now, this is becoming complex and this is only the tip of the iceberg; because there is so much more to the world that Sally has created. And it is all tightly woven while at the same time the narrative is handled so smoothly that it doesn't feel overwhelming.

There is almost the hint of one more main protagonist in the young Princess Nell Valvanchi, a niece of Karl's. Unfortunately she is not as strong a character as I was hoping to find in the work. But when you read you will see that there are plenty of reasons for that; and more than enough distractions in the plot to justify toning some of it down.

The plot itself seems to feel often like a rollercoaster ride; though it might be because of the extensive world building built into the scenes. This creates a rather protracted pace that though not too disturbing may account for what I felt was the one letdown at the end of the novel.

The novel ends well enough and I would give this a five star if it were not for the fact that I somehow perceived that the last chapter and the epilogue were two things that I could have done without. As I said I don't have a problem with how it ended and I don't think I have a problem with those two sections at the end setting things up for the next book. What struck me was that somehow the writing felt like it went from very tight to frayed at the ends.

I can't say more without giving up much; so again when you read the book you can make your own judgment. I might just be overreacting.

This is a great SFF for all fans of Fantasy and Science Fiction. If you loved Dune you'll love this and even if you may have struggled through Dune you won't find this as much a struggle because the narrative is set to let the details flow around the reader as you dive further into the novel.

Loved it and will be looking for more.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Yes Virginia: Pure Science Fiction Can Entertain

Yes Virginia: Pure Science Fiction Can Entertain

I recently read a rant about how Science Fiction shouldn't have or need the Gee Wiz science that pervade the modern era of such writing. The author bemoaned that it appeared today's readers prefer the Wiz Bang to real science. They stated: those who write Science Fiction with real science are writing to an elite audience of readers. I have doubts about this.

It was a comment meant to make me think. It did just that. I look into what is being proposed and tried to match that with what I look for myself and I saw some patterns; but not the ones being touted. It seems more a matter of one being more entertaining than the other and there is no good reason that they both shouldn't entertain the reader.

We as authors can take all of the stuff of science today and fill the stories with only that, which fulfills the notion of writing what we know. That would truly be Science and Fiction or maybe even Fact - depending on whether we depict fictional characters or real people and historically recognizable stories. Science - recognizable today (with physics as we understand it today) - turned to Fiction with the what if- that is common to Science Fiction - adding fictional and believable characters into the what if of speculation.

This reminds me of the old discussion about Sci-Fi not being Science Fiction and perhaps the above would be one of the delineating elements. In the article I read this was one distinction the writer was trying to make, though he called Sci-Fi Skiffy, because of a bad connotation put upon Skiffy as they call it. I actually hate that word Skiffy; so I’ll use Sci-Fi for the remainder of this article.

The issue I take is that for a reader it’s difficult to find and for the writer to write an as if without extrapolating the Science to some itchy limit, which runs the author head on into a bucket load of Sci-Fi. I'm not saying that that is bad or even wrong because some of the things Jules Verne wrote about seemed pretty fantastic at the time he wrote them, yet today there are parallels to the technology he imagined and what we have. What is interesting with an old classic such as that is that Jules Verne put some well defined characters into the story with all that fantastical science.

I look at what I like to read in both Science Fiction and Fantasy and try to discern what works and what doesn't: for me. I look at what is strict science and what looks like Gee Wiz or Wiz Bang; and I rediscover something that rises above the discussion about science and physics that we know.

That would be simple good story telling.

When objecting to all the special effects and strange (over- extrapolated) notions that appear to go too far (which all may ring true), is the focus so narrow that the narrative that surrounds it escapes us in our frustration? What I mean by that is that we sometimes labor under the misconception that the fantastic what if and derivative science we extrapolate from present understanding is the only element of the story that is important enough to define its quality, while overlooking skill in narrative and the well crafted stories with strong character development. The error lies in the belief that the science is the story and it doesn't matter how well we write or who we put into the story as long as the science is stunningly accurate and sounds plausible. So when people buy the story with inexplicable science, some camps are baffled that these readers can rave about the whole thing. We dismiss the idea that a well written story with strong believable characters the reader can relate to might be enough for many readers.

This is not to say we can't have both, but it also doesn't say that the stories with Simon Pure science fiction always naturally contains the elements of good fiction writing.

What I like in my fiction is stories driven about characters.(I look at the cover-read the blurb in back-if possible I read the first chapter or ten pages- then I decide if I’ll like it.) For me: if there are no stunning characters then the science must fill that void with science that becomes the missing element of character. Then we might have something like Anne McCaffrey's Ship Who Sang or perhaps Clark's Hal from 2001 Space Odyssey. And we are still very far away from those types of Artificial Intelligence that they could both be considered extrapolations that stretch the readers suspension of disbelief too far.

Any author who has mastered the ability to place a believable, likable character into whatever situation will get my full attention every time. For me good solid science becomes added value. The science becomes less necessary for me to enjoy and relate to the characters. Too often I've found novels that are mired in the science while they are peopled with one dimensional characters who could be interchanged with anyone and not change the story.

This underlines the most difficult problem encountered by new authors when they get caught up in the notion that they have the greatest new idea for a plot and they try to run with that, keeping it secret so that no one else will steal the idea, and then end up wondering how their idea can't catch on when they finish the piece. They don't recognize that their 'story' is not that great science woven into some fantastic notion that may in many cases turn out to be some combination of old tried and true plots such as blending Frankenstein with Sherlock Holmes and mixing them with Victorian fashion in a novel driven by the wonders of Steampunk with a mix of vampires and werewolves.Well that might be pure fantasy. But the point is that the reader has to see the human element in all of this and understand what drives the main character's story as it intersects with the myriad of ideas sprouting out of the authors mind.

For me plot's and themes and gadgets and fantastic scenes don't drive the story. The plots and themes keep it under control and help shape the story. The lands and technology are a backdrop to help keep the characters from becoming talking heads; but they still are nothing more than the props. Though I will grant that sometimes they are well crafted props.

Characters are what drive the type of fiction that I like. Believable people the reader can relate to and become sympathetic with. Their struggle or conflict and all the pitfalls and obstacles put in their path and how they deal with all of that while growing or maturing right there on the page. How they deal with and react to the science. This often rubs shoulders with what some define as the soft science fiction; the stories dealing with social, political or psychological sciences. It is when the Simon Purist try to avoid those three that they run afoul; because that distancing caused by the avoidance often rips at the heart of the story that I'm looking for.

Both the Pure and the Sci-Fi with Wiz Bang have to be balanced with good writing that engages the reader and if the author becomes enamored with the science or the special effects to the detriment of good character development then the story is lost. When the reader puts down one to pick up the other it is not a deficiency in the reader it is rather a disconnect of the story from the reader. They may not be abandoning the Wiz Bang in favor of real science or vice versa; but they are abandoning poor writing for something that is well crafted that grabs their attention and keeps them riveted to their seat while pages flow by. And it just might happen that those well crafted characters are surrounded by gardens of Wiz Bang.

There is no doubt that Pure Science can enhance a story as do a new and fresh plot or scene. But these cannot replace a well crafted story; they are the icing on the cake. They are the gift wrap under which awaits the surprise that is the author's skill at his craft of telling the story.

J.L. Dobias

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review::Convent of the Pure by Sara M. Harvey

Convent of the Pure by Sara M. Harvey

The Convent of the Pure by Sara M. Harvey is listed as a Steampunk novel.

Original Review Date June 15th 2012

I'm not a fan of Steampunk though I have enjoyed the Girl Genius and I must admit that this novel as well as some others gave me good reason to look up the definition of Steampunk. Since I'm giving this one the possibility of a read that makes defining it almost paramount.

I have been willing in the past to nod to aspects of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells that would easily slide into the Steampunk genre. There have been some aspects of the horror or shock fiction which I've struggled with. Such as Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. All and all I think I came to an agreeable understanding that the Convent of the Pure qualified. It also opened the avenue to look to some of my other old authors and to see how easily Edgar Rice Burroughs could fall in this category.

In fact the description of some of the scenes in the macabre lab reminded me of the Master Mind of Mars. Even the subsequent 'surgery' kept taking me back to that old novel.

The narrative itself without the aspects of Genre was more than enough to sustain my attention most of the way through. There may have been two or three places where I caught myself skipping ahead. If I were of the ilk of those in some forums I would write a two page analysis of what was wrong with one paragraph or sentence. It would be more likely that the fault lie in the reader who may have been trying to get an advanced look at where things were going.

It did not hurt that I'm a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that I kept trying to draw parallels to Portia and Buffy. But, this story has its own unique elements. I enjoyed the take on the Nephilim - the children of the sons of god and daughters of man. That they survived the flood and were hiding while assigning themselves as watchers over man. Elements of this part of the story bordered on a dystopic life for these watchers and once again - not a fan of dystopia novels. But it was Portia and her relationship to the ever present spirit of her lost love Imogen that catapulted me past those parts.

Being new to the genre I hesitate to say that the first half of the novel does or doesn't seem to contain much that is new and unique. It was a good and sustainable read and when I reached the second half which I'll refer to as that more grisly half I think the style and voice of the author, Sara, comes shining through. We see her show us Portia at her most vulnerable moments having to grow and learn to trust that the strength and determination she's been trying to build within herself is not as distant from her as she thinks.

Overall for me Sara M. Harvey may have tipped the scale that's been balancing me away from getting immersed in Steampunk. Way to go; as if I don't have enough to read already.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review::Oxygen by J.B. Olson& R.S Ingermanson

Oxygen by John B. Olson & randy Ingermanson

Original Review Date May 23rd 2012

I purchased the book Oxygen for two reasons one of those being to read the bit at the end for other Authors.

I wanted to thank the authors for a good read. I read the story first knowing it probably would have spoilers at the end.

I normally don't write much about what I read and it tends more towards the saccharin than anything else. Probably because mom said if you don't have anything nice to say...

In this case though I have so much nice to say I have to say a bit more.
I've read science fiction for quite some time well over 50 years. And if I were one prone to try to distill what would be pure science fiction I think that the authors nailed it here. Its fiction based on science as close to what we see today with little if any deviation. This could be happening now.

It's peopled with believable characters and situations and quirks. I think I've met some of these people. And the story contained 'for me' a predictable element at the beginning which might have blindsided me into not being ready for the twisting turning plot up ahead. I'm not revealing any of this trust me it starts out like a predictable episode of Murders She wrote and veers off into a roller-coaster ride of who dunnits.

The Authors John B. Olsen and Randy Ingermanson have done a thorough job of putting together an enjoyable and informative read. I did stop a couple times to double check their facts. But that's just me being me. If they slipped a few by me, well good for them. Their overall writing is solid.

That part said;I did see one issue or maybe a feature depending on what the authors might know or have intended. There is a great portion of the plot device that smacks of something I read long ago in Robert Heinleins The Man Who Sold the Moon. If the authors have read this I'm sure they should know what I'm referring to. If not they should perhaps check it out.

I'm assuming the best in that they pay homage to one of my favorite authors.
That said I envisioned this as an Apollo 13 meets The Man Who Sold the Moon.

For anyone who has read neither of these I suggest you read Oxygen first. Because its really good and it won't disappoint. Then read the Man Who Sold the Moon because it's pretty darn good too.

And anyone who has read The Man Who Sold the Moon I hope that doesn't end up as a spoiler. It shouldn't because its more of a cosmetic type lift and tuck and perhaps not even intended. Only the authors know for sure.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review::Transgression(a City of God Book)by R.S Ingermanson

Transgression (City of God #1)Transgression by Randy Ingermanson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Transgression(a City of God Book)by R.S Ingermanson

This was free and might still be; so I picked it up along with a few other free books and attempted to read two others before I started into this one. I won't name the other two since I might attempt yet to read them some future date. This is the only of the three freebies that grabbed my attention from the beginning. It managed to keep my attention for one long read in a rather quiet day.

This is a fair novel and as I said it grabbed me right away; but there were a number of things that were annoying to me. I think though that it's worth a read for anyone who likes to mix their science fiction with a bit of theology. Having already read both Oxygen novels (Oxygen and Fifth Man) and finding those entertaining, I'm not surprised that this one also entertains. It unfortunately contains many of the pitfalls that are in both oxygen stories. The writing is based on a formulaic method that in itself is fairly tight, but lends itself to some things I find particularly annoying.

As with many novels today the formula is to start with an action scene that draws the reader in by creating or display a bit of tightened drama and action (because the reader wants this?). This novel certainly does that; and its blurb hawks itself as a mystery suspense so this snippet at the beginning is meant to roll the mystery footage. The trouble is that it becomes mostly vital and probably is there because the actual first chapter is rather sedate and might not carry some readers into the story. For me chapter one was intriguing enough and all that the prologue did was keep me anticipating that at some point the novel was going to pick up the pace. It does pick it up but in a large way that prologue is really like those preview scenes from a movie that highlight all the action in the movie so that the best parts have been viewed before the movie-goer gets to the theater for the show. So when it reaches that point the main character Rivka manages to do a 180 turn on the drama and loses the momentum started by the prologue. She next wanders off like a tourist; rather than someone who was just hijacked into the past.

Normally I would begin with the explanation that what hurts this book the most is an attempt at keeping things a mystery. What I mean by this is that desire to keep the reader in the dark about certain facts becomes an impediment to good character development. But having read the two mentioned science fiction collaborations I would also have to say that this becomes compounded by some sort of stylistic method behind the writing. Often it feels like the narrative oscillates in and out for brief moments in the head of one character and sometimes gets too much information; and then snapping out to a far view to see characters that often display too much adolescent immaturity. There also seems to be a formulaic romance going on where Rivka is asked by Dov to find a date for Ari the physicist; creating the love quadrangle with Dov, Rivka, Ari, and Jessica. So while Jessica and Ari are suppose to get together; we discover that Jessica and Dov end up together more often and Rivka and Ari become close, then we discover there are seeming irreconcilable differences between Rivka and Ari pertaining to religion.

Finally we meet Damien West who has an almost inexplicable fondness for the manifesto of the Uni-bomber and has some agenda related to the wormhole time loop generator that Ari is having him construct.

It becomes difficult to decide if this is a romance or is meant to showcase a philosophical discussion about religion; while it becomes more certain that the science and the time travel have really minor parts and have fallen to the wayside in favor of one of those two. There are elements of what occur that definitely are locked into the need for these characters to be in the past and there is really some fun irony to the fact that of the three the one best to communicate and understand the language of the people is a woman; who is not to be spoken to directly in public. But as with other novels of this type there are characters of the past who seem all too ready to take in the time travelers despite anomalies that might characterize the future people as demons or heretics.

In the past each character seems to begin a path of examination of their beliefs as the 'truth' unfolds. And as it is this novel could not help but remind me of another recent read by Amy Deardon in her novel 'A Lever Long Enough'. She too had time travelers heading to the past to investigate the truth about Yeshua. These two novels seem almost a bit too parallel at the onset with the only difference being that in one there is a conspiracy to ultimately steer the proof in one direction; where in the other there's an attempt to end Christianity at one of its roots.

This novel is most likely best for those who might enjoy the discussion of religion and the difference between what is widely believed today as opposed to what may have been the root of our beliefs. Anyone that read 'A Lever Long Enough' could enjoy this book, but science fiction fans might be disappointed about the light treatment of the science involved.

Overall it's an enjoyable read; but if it was meant to be thought provoking it might have missed that mark for me.

J.L. Dobias

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