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

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review- Fizz: Nothing is as it seems

First Reviewed July of 2012
Fizz : by Zvi Schreiber

Fizz nothing is as it seems by Zvi Schreiber is the thoroughly enjoyable story of a young girl coming of age in a community that shuns technology blaming it for everything from war to global warming.

This is a great novel for anyone who loves physics and anyone who thinks they cant understand it. And maybe even a few who hate physics. It's also a great novel for anyone who loves historic novels. Though In both these cases I'm not sure I'm the best qualified to attest to the veracity of the content.

We pick up Fizz in her life when she is given a possible choice to leave her protective community and mingle with the evils of the outer world while making an informed decision about where to spend the rest of her life. Unlike some other communities that shun the modern world that have sprung up throughout the ages this one doesn't seem to have any firm roots in religious beliefs in a god and creator. It does have strong opinions about and against the study of science. Fizz finds herself questioning many things around her which she is expected to take at face value. So,though it is common for most who reach her age to take a pass on this option to strike out into the world, she is strongly considering it because of her inquisitive mind.

Add to this the notion that her father (who has already left the community before she was born) has spearheaded the construction of a time machine and you have the beginnings of an odd but engaging experiment.

This novel takes the reader and Fizz on a historic journey back through time to begin the study of physics on a quest to answer a few simple questions that Fizz is certain will be solved in one simple visit with one of the great minds of the past. As the story builds we not only get a glimpse of Fizz but we get a glimpse of what must be a universal principle that the more you know the more you need to know. We get to see Fizz grow and the reader perhaps begins to question the wisdom of a community that has stifled someone with such a brilliant intellect and thirst for knowledge. And somewhere in all of this she may begin to see the work of a creator.

J.L. Dobias

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Review:Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue (The Bern Saga Book 1)by Hugh Howey

Original Review date in 2013
Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue (The Bern Saga Book 1)by Hugh Howey

It takes a fairly riveting book to keep me up past bedtime. That Molly Fyde did so is not that hard to understand when looking at the whole. Everyone loves those stories where the female protagonist is strong willed well balanced and determined. I think in this case the strong willed is the only thing that stands out in the opening scenes.

The story starts with Molly on a flight as navigator to Cole Mendonca on a mission for the (space) Navy. The first interesting phase of this story is a revelation of the possibility the crew is out so long on duty that members are allowed to sleep at the helm. Molly- an orphan- is having a dream about her parents leaving her. Cole wakes her up to have her check out some readings from their system update logs. Molly tries to shrug it off but Cole, who seems to be a paranoid conspiracy type, thinks something is up.

Now, some background: Molly is one of few if any female's who have registered with the navy to train at the academy to be a pilot and her skill are up there with the rest but for some reason this world took a huge backward step and is not very gender friendly in the military. So, Molly is navigating when she should be piloting.(At least that's the impression Molly gives us.)

While they discuss the discrepancy they also discover that the enemy force they are going up against is far greater than they expect. Molly shows her strength by issuing recommendation for their assault that turn out to be quite sound. No one takes her serious so only her team begin that maneuver. But, someone has sabotaged their armament and nothing will deploy properly. All of this reinforces Cole's misgivings over the update.

At the onset of the battle Cole is out and unable to help her and she has to take control; while the rest of her team is taken out. The other flights out there will be overwhelmed so Molly begins to do what she does best. Thinking outside the box. Knowing that what she's doing is suicide the reader get to see the side of Molly Fyde that might result in her own undoing. In a brave act she avoids the enemy long enough to turn their own weapons upon them causing some damage, though it in no way will save the rest.

She somehow survives this and you will have to read to find out.

The important thing here is that whatever sabotage happened to her ship- has not been recorded so everything she did makes her look like an incompetent loose cannon and forces her to be relieved of duty. Her uncle-an admiral-who has supported her through all of this can do nothing to help.

Molly opts to go to normal school to finish her education, which looks as though she's admitting complete defeat.

So we have Molly Fyde the strong willed not so balanced -out of the box loose cannon- who all of a sudden seems less than determined. Perhaps it's that she realizes she can't fight the system, maybe it's because she doesn't want to.

Though she has a severe failing in lack of determination. Molly in some ways reminds me of Honor Harrington, David Weber's character. Then in other ways she reminds me of Ky Vatta, Elizabeth Moons character in the Vatta's War.

In fact a lot of the beginning is like the Vatta stories.

Molly seems to be missing the drive that makes those other characters and it's difficult to determine, in this story, whether that's considered a critical weakness. It certainly might be a contributing factor towards her getting into so much trouble.

When her uncle, the admiral, comes to her with the revelation that her father's ship, which was lost, has been located she jumps at the chance to volunteer to pilot it back. Her uncle attempts to dissuade her but not much. At this point as a reader I was already a bit suspicious of this. Next her old friend and secret love Cole is enlisted to help. Add to that the whole affair becomes shrouded in mystery when they have to do all of the trip to the ship in secrecy. Cole is already suspicious and when the contact they are to meet in this backwater pirate planet is acting strangely and things begin to unravel the paranoia sinks its teeth in hard.

The ships name is Parsona -as is Molly's mother's name. It's her heirloom and in order for her to claim it she's going to have to think way out of the box and she and Cole will become fugitives running from the Navy that sent them there.

This book is one misadventure after another and the only thing the reader can be sure of is that each time the crew of Parsona go into a situation they think is going to be fine- it's not.

Pretty soon Molly picks up the most unlikely crew of dangerous misfits for her ship. All things considered the most passive yet dangerous is Molly who is in charge most of the time. The only thing standing between her and fate is the dangerous allies she's collecting.

Quickly we discover nothing that Molly trusts can truly be trusted and it all has something to do with the ship Parsona. Will Molly be able to stay alive to get all the answers?

You will have to read to find out.

Not everything is answered, but the ending is quite satisfactory for the beginning of a series.

Anyone who loves those tactical space novels of Elizabeth Moon and David Weber should love Molly Fyde. Lovers of Science Fiction and Fantasy should love the story.

There are several different worlds built here in this story and in many such novels, usually by the third world built it gets old. Hugh Howey does a fair job of keeping them all interesting. Each world story seems to add up to the motivation for each of the alien crew of Molly's ship. We'll have to see how well he keeps up with himself in the future novels.

Your Usual Sci-Fi Military Heroine who's been slightly Mollyfyde.

J.L. Dobias

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review:Hindsight by A.A. Bell

Original Review in May 2013

Hindsight by A.A. Bell

I read Diamond Eyes- the first of the trilogy of this story and fell in love with Mira and all her quirky ways. So naturally its inevitable that I read Hindsight.

The intensity of this novel just blew me away. Granted I'm not one to read a whole lot of suspense thrillers. I've enjoyed such greats as Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. Shimbumi by Trevanian and many but not all of Ludlum's Jason Bourne novels.

I'm not a great fan of novels that use violence as a sort of jar mechanism to pull people out of their comfort zone although it's really difficult to write good thrillers without that element. What I appreciate is the artist who paints the characters successfully around that element.

You could say that this series is Science Fiction but I think that's a very small portion of the mix of genre's we have here. Mira's story reads almost like paranormal romance although the science is well woven into the story to give it less of the mystical feel. Her story is also one intense ride into suspense and mystery.

Now after admitting that I'm not the expert on suspense and thrillers I have to say that A.A. Bell does a magnificent job of using the violence in the story to weave in the hints for the various motivations of many of the characters. For Mira everyone is suspect in their motives and allegiances and I felt that even in the grisly elements portrayed that there were insights that logically lead up to each successive revelation as the story built to its climax.

Taking up from Diamond Eyes Mira Chambers is still institutionalized at Serenity and living with the memories that keep reminding her of her part in Ben's (Bennet Chiron) suffering. Ben is recuperating and attempting to gain freedom for Mira by becoming her guardian. The catch is that his past life and prison time make that nearly impossible. Through some tenuous arraignment Ben seems to achieve that with the help of the institutions matron Madonna Sanchez.

The story opens with a murder one that Mira comes across while jogging- one that she can't easily share with anyone because it happened days ago because Mira sees things that are in the past because of her Diamond Eyes that are sensitive to slow light.

I must confess that when I picked up Diamond Eyes I was thinking oh great a suspense thriller mystery with a blind sleuth that can see into the past. She has a side-kick Ben who has saved her from the institute and now works with her to solve cases.

That's not what I got- but I'm not disappointed; I really do love these books the way they are.

Mira is about to be thrust back into the world of intrigue this time dredging up Ben's past and the reason he went to prison. She's going to have to undergo the changes that will occur while she detoxes from the chemicals that the institute has used to control her; and, she has to deal with her feeling for Ben and her fear that she will cause him harm again. She'll also have to deal with her nemesis Colonel Kitching who wants to have her Diamond Eyes and the ever invasive General Garland who also would like to use Mira's talent and her eyes. Not to mention her-Moriarty like rival- the elderly Fredarick 'Leopard' who can hear voices from the future and is also a client at Serenity who is in love with Madonna Sanchez and views Mira's existence as a threat to Madonna. Fredarick is also related to Colonel Kitching.

This doesn't even cover having to deal with Ben's overbearing mother Mel and a few ex-girlfriends. Then add in an over protective lance corporal Lockman who seems to be anything from a bodyguard to a black ops both frightening and somehow appealing to Mira and you have an extra blend to an already troubled romance.

Mira herself is an intriguing character who has spent over 10 years in an institution and has to deal with assimilating a lot of technical advances while she herself is a biological wonder that sometimes surpasses all of that development.

There are many gems of narrative that come out of this and her perception of her talent.

[quote]`I was thinking about time,' she confessed, `... about how pointless it is trying to fight it or change to suit it, because we're already caught up in it, like a tide, and we're just the fish. Close your eyes and you might even feel it, the breeze traveling through time like a current, taking our scents and memories with it.'[/quote]

Bell, A A (2011-06-01). Hindsight (Kindle Locations 1714-1717). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

And a lot of humor such as the time Mel fixes Ben and Mira a romantic dinner that seems a bit over spiced.

[quote]At least she still had fond memories of the meal before she'd taken her first bite; so romantic on the beachside patio.[/quote]

Bell, A A (2011-06-01). Hindsight (Kindle Locations 2397-2398). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

This story has several onion like layers to the plot. There are all sorts of twists and turns that once it gets going roll the story down a long and almost endless hill of action, suspense and gore that makes this 'not for the faint of heart'; though I was surprised that it never left that bad taste that always begs the question "why is that even there?"

Everything is well placed and timed in this story and even if the reader doesn't feel they need a score card to keep track of all the threads; its a marvel to watch A.A. Bell unfold all of them.

I recommend this to any fans of suspense and mystery -most Science fiction lovers should find something to take away and even Para normal Romance lovers will find a spot for Mira and her Diamond Eyes.

Definitely read Diamond Eyes before Hindsight if you haven't because after you do you'll have to buy the rest of the trilogy to finish the rest of Mira's story. Each book gets better.

The next book is Leopard Dreaming and I've already put it in my kindle.

J.L. Dobias

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review::Grey Enigmas by Gareth Lewis

Original Review:April 2014
Grey EnigmasGrey Enigmas by Gareth Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grey Enigmas by Gareth Lewis

This is a cute little novella with rather unique idea in a strange cyberpunk like novel that (like many novels I've recently read) seems to take a page from these game MMORPG's with the mind-scape and the Actors. There's one of the MMORPG's I'm thinking of that specifically calls them Actors instead of Avatars.

I think this might be an extension of a longer work called the Grey Engines. In this story we have the futuristic society that is full of zombie like workers who allow their actors to take over the daily grind while they live in some idealistic world that exist in some sort of connected mind-scape.

Of course this story revolves around the people who spend less time in the mind-scape and more time in the real world. In the real world there is less crime and more control but occasionally things happen and when they can't solve the crime they look to people like Alex whom they have sentenced to live in a special section of mind-scape to met out their time for their crime.

Everyone has two personalities their own and their Actor-the personality who keeps an eye on them and when they do something wrong the actor will turn them in and this is what happened to Alex. But Alex is an investigator, one of the best, and they need him to solve a murder before more happen. Someone had committed a murder and their actor has not turned them in which means something is seriously wrong with the system.

So Alex is brought out of storage to solve the crime while being hamstrung in so many ways that he can hardly do the job. But that's not all: because there is something else going on that's going to greatly affect Alex because the members of the sheriff brain trust that pulled his body out of cold storage are not telling him all the truth.

Alex has no regard for their laws or rules, so he's going to get to the bottom of things if it kills him.

This is a great read for fans of SFF (a bit on the soft-side) There were some few moments when the style of writing confused me enough I had to step back a page to see where we were but those were minor distractions and the over all pace of the story was handled quite well.

J.L. Dobias

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Review::Grey Engines by Gareth Lewis

Original Review::May of 2014Grey EnginesGrey Engines by Gareth Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grey Engines by Gareth Lewis

I originally read this on Scrib'd but opted to buy it for my Kindle so I could make notes and do highlighting which are impossible to do in Scrib'd also it's impossible to do a simple dictionary lookup because of the nature of the Scrib'd files. All of these features need to be constructed and built into Scrib'd to accomodate their encryption or it makes it difficult for someone to go back and find things of interest not to mention the seach engine doesn't work at all .

This story is a great story for anyone who loves those MMORPG's and wondered what it might be like to be connected to everyone in a virtual world. The virtual world is not quite fully built yet but the Avatars are here with the people who can wander away from thier physical bodies and into an electronic environment. These are the survivors of the psychic attack by some form of psyonic bomb. Those left with telepathic abilities and a need to cope with their new world and to diligently watch for the impending invasion from the race responsible for sending the bomb.

In a highly structured society the invasion is going to shoehorn itself into their lives at the same time that many begin to question the leaders over the issue of who is in charge. While preparing for attack some day soon the leaders have kept a few secrets from thie poeple and when the invasion force arrive some of the secrets might be the only means of survival if they can get them out of hiding in time.

It's rather difficult to tell as this story starts just who the story is about. There are probably four or more groups of people this centers on but the one that strikes me as the most potable for the main plot is Sarah and her interaction with Thomas who proves to be one of the many secrets that have been shuffled off to the side. Thomas is by far the most interestingly developed characters but the problem with Thomas is that his whole character development revolves around the way he speaks and that turns out to be a fiction he created thus making him the most unreliable character you could have in a novel.

That leaves us with Sarah who is probably the most believable character in the bunch. From there there is her boyfriend Daniel who seems to be present to develop most of the real action scenes. I was a bit disappointed that we saw less of Sarah because I was certain that the part of the story that her life covers seems to contain the most consistent plot elements and introduces us to the ghost minds and the fact that Thomas is carrying a dark secret around with him. Not to mention that Thomas and Sarah are pivotal in the final resolution.

That much said: there are still a number of annoying things Gareth Lewis's choice of style in writing. There are a consistent number of sentence whose structure can only be best discribed as having the same flaws that passive sentences have. The sentences become cumbersome and difficult to read many times-not to mention the weird nature of almost double negatives.

In two instances we have this mouthful that says

Svetlana's idea may not be without some merit."
Lewis, Gareth (2013-11-11). Grey Engines (Kindle Location 1461). . Kindle Edition.

"Your idea may not be without merit."
Lewis, Gareth (2013-11-11). Grey Engines (Kindle Location 1766). . Kindle Edition.
:which I think might mean the same as (might have some merit) but i'm not sure. And this is used at least twice.
Had the surrounding text supported some other negative aspects in list or such then I might be tempted to see the rhythmic nature of saying it this way.

And then there is this mouth full.

He felt a sigh in his mind, but Akili's consciousness stayed with him as he detached from his body, travelling to where the others towards prepared to intercept the vessel.

Lewis, Gareth (2013-11-11). Grey Engines (Kindle Locations 1191-1192). . Kindle Edition.

There are at least a dozen more like this that made me stop and think and I'm pretty sure each time I was able to unfold them properly.

All of that aside the story itself is very good and well told beyond those speed-bumps. Though I do have a problem with the plot because on the surface it seems to be Man against Alien : the alien's have used a weapon meant to wipe out mankind before they arrive to steal resources from a now dead planet(assumed dead). So you would think the alien invasion and the conflict and the outcome would encompass the plot, but I was torn because there is a sub-plot with the administrators of Earth in the new society and how there decisions impact certain characters including Thomas and Sarah and the internal conflict Sarah eventually has to deal with along with the guilt Thomas has to deal with while trying to force Sarah to face some realities. And this does not even cover all of Thomas's secrets. And the subplot seemed to hold more weight than the surface plot.

Really you will have to read this to decide for yourself.

Once more this is great SFF for those who like the science just a bit soft boiled.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review::Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Full Fathom Five (Craft Sequence #3)Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Original Review:Oct 2014

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

I saw an ad and some comments about Max Gladstone and this book and decided to read the sample. The sample intrigued me and drew me into Max's strange world of magic quickly enough that I knew I'd be picking this one up for my library. The writing style is so unique and compelling I overlooked the fact that I felt like I was being dropped into the middle of a world I knew nothing about and expected to flounder around in. So before purchasing this book I took note that he had two others in the same world and decided I might do well to purchase those also and read them in order. This turned out to be quite fortuitous, but not in the way I had hoped. I love the writing and the whole idea of Max Gladstone's world of magic with its complexity, but it sometimes can be a rather difficult read because the world building is the type that sort of trickles in slowly as the characters in the world reluctantly reveal the world's story to the reader.

Full Fathom Five can stand alone as a novel as can both Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. Each novel takes place in a different city in a world where magic is used as currency and the flow of magic can deplete or replenish an individual depending on which end of the flow they are. The novels take place in a time after a great war against the gods and now we have people trying to prove they can exist without the gods. Though the gods seemed oppressive and in need of being deposed, it becomes clear early that those who deposed them might be just another evil and somewhere within all of that are the flawed but heroic characters who are trying to honorably mark out their existence within the new system. The players in the first two books seem to be separate groups and only in the third book does the reader see some crossover of characters from the first two, with mostly the name of cities and deposed gods being a factor to previously tie the books together.

The magic and the rules of magic in the world are always quite clear but the world itself can often seem enigmatic in many ways, but as I read this I began to get a sense of why. It seemed for me that the world itself was a world that was being built within the characters. The very way that the magic linked the people with each other and with their existence and the notion that for many of the people the magic is drawn from each other and then from the stars.

In a world where man has waged war against gods and put down many there are still cities that make use of their gods as it is in Three Parts Dead the city of Alt Coulumb is still powered mostly by the fire of the Lord of Flame, Kos until the day Kos is murdered and Tara Abernathy, a new intern of the Craft firm of Kelethras, Albrecht and Ao, is sent to investigate. This is a world where those with the greatest power, the Deathless Kings rule, and that power the craft exacts a price and though they live long they wither away to a skeletal existence. Many of those would strive to be like the gods and be rid of the old gods while some search for a mutual existence and firms like Kelethras Albrecht and Ao can resurrect a god under certain conditions; though the god will never be quite the same.

There are still priests who used to sacrifice to the gods and in Two Serpents Rise Caleb is the son of one such priest; Caleb works for Red King Consolidated, his job is to help keep the gods and their demons under control, which puts him at odds with his father. Caleb recalls too many of those sacrificed by his father to ever want to go back to that. But someone is trying to subvert things in Dresediel Lex; and Caleb must find out if it's his priestly father or some other subversive faction before it's too late.

In Kavekana of Full Fathom Five they make idols for their clients. Not the usual kind but those that can store the soul magic of their clients and act almost like a stock market for magic. But the idols can die if their magic is extended too thin and when a friends project is targeted for termination[the Idol is dying] Kai makes one desperate attempt to help her friend and the Idol; out of the belief that the Idol shouldn't be dying. The attempt goes poorly and Kai is injured badly and her career with the company is in danger. But in that brief moment of contact with the Idol when she nearly lost her life she saw something that will shake up her life more than the loss of her career. Along with the indigent Izza, who still worships gods, Kai is about to uncover something sinister about the Idols and supposedly dead Gods.

Max Gladstones protagonists in all of these stories are strong willed, honor bound and in many ways strangely flawed. The richness of each of these characters brings the reader closer to the world in which they live. But it takes a lot of attention to the details and descriptions to grasp that world and it's not always clear that the protagonists are doing the right thing though they are always doing it with the strong conviction and, even when they shy away from being martyrs, they end up positioning themselves to make a sacrifice because of their own strong sense of honor.

This is epic fantasy but in many ways for me it read as a literary epic that focuses on character more than setting and though some might find that to be a deficiency I love the character driven novels above all else so if a reader loves those stories about well crafted strong characters they will love this series of books and if they appreciate good prose they will drink these down or sip them slowly to their own tastes.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Review::Saves Nine by Les Lynam

. . . Saves Nine. . . Saves Nine by Les Lynam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Saves Nine by Les Lynam

I had an opportunity to read this as a sort of review copy quite a while ago. It obviously has undergone a few changes since then and it somehow became even longer than it was the first time. Since it's a time travel novel; sometimes being longer can be a horribly bad thing. I'm happy to say that that's not the case with this. This read to me the second time just a well as the first and in many ways felt as though I were reading it for the first time.

What I mean when I say that a long time travel novel can be bad; is that it can become recursive to an ad-nausea degree. You know: that bit where you have the character or characters live the same scene over and over until you feel like you are in some horrible remake of groundhog day. That doesn't happen here; though there is some overlap it usually breezes past quickly, because there's way too much other stuff going on to waste space[and time].

An odd thing I took from this novel is that I felt the main character Sean seemed almost a bit weak at time[which can be a good thing because character's need flaws]. This was not a showstopper weak, but there are times when as a reader I felt I would like to slap him up the side of the head for his actions and even his inaction. Of course, to his credit sometimes his inaction was a result of the programming of the enigmatic time traveler; claiming to be related to him.

The story starts out as an almost simple teen tale in high school with the usual angst. Some of this is the lame part of our character Sean as he tries to deal[not very well] with first someone obsessively stalking him and then his own obsession. But most of this is the setup for an early twist in the story and in a small way the prologue almost spoils some of it. Things get just a bit scary before they get really strange. And then when there is an excursion further into the past things are quite fun for bit.

In reading this twice I still found that it was well into the book that we meet the character I felt was the strongest in the whole story. This could just be me, so you really should read this book to see how you feel about it. At about this same time the book takes a more serious tone as we start to add up a few of the consequences of traveling through time and interacting with people[some who have been dead a few years or more in the time traveler's own time]. Les Lynam even threw a few thoughts and wrinkles that I don't recall seeing in this type of novel.

This is a long novel and happily I can say that in reading it through I never felt that there were any places where things could or should have been cut so the writing justifies the length[which is always a great thing]. When we weren't coming up with new ideas we were going through the process of developing the characters and moving the story forward. In fact; near the end and in the last few chapters I almost felt a sense of being rushed, which may have been exaggerated for me; because my favorite character was being developed a bit more and I hope that in the next installment of this series we see that happening at a different pace.

This is an outstanding debut novel from an author who cares enough to make the best attempt at delivering the cleanest clearest copy to the reader. This will make a great addition to the library of and Young Adult and those who love SFF just as well. A very thoughtful and thought provoking read.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review::Bane of Souls by Thaddeus White

Bane of SoulsBane of Souls by Thaddeus White

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bane of Souls by Thaddeus White

A friend suggest this read because I've been doing indie authors and they thought this one might do the trick. I'm glad they did. This was an entertaining read that is well written in the grammatical sense.

This is one of those books that almost lost me at the beginning. It opens with Francis who is being trussed up to drown in the River Axe by Wilf who is one of many corrupt Watchmen in the city of Highford.They are both despicable characters in their own way and in truth are very much alike. But this night Francis will meet a disembodied spirit who befriends him and can't help him and a magistri -mage who can and does help him. We do find that Francis has a tiny speck of loyalty in him that prevents him from revealing who left him out there to drown. He also has an almost unlikely girl friend named Sarah. The disembodied spirit named Samuel manages to assist Francis in obtaining a better life than his begging has given him and a better chance with Sarah. His intersection with the mage Julia brings him in contact with the other mage and possibly with the Main Character Horst. This is Horst's story, I think, but there are so many to chose from.

The other main character is the setting. This is possibly overwrought as far as description of what it looks like, but as long as the descriptions are there seems to be very little that brought me into the taste,smell, and feel of the story. Even Horst, who by default becomes the main character when you reach the end, is distanced by his desire to be somewhere else all the time. And there are so many characters that take the focus it is often difficult to keep up with and sort through them through the cover of all the description. If you love books that describe the setting down to tiny detail you should love this book.

There were few if any characters that peaked my interest or garnered sympathy. The most interesting character is Thaddeus who is basically an orbital character who floats out there intersecting with the other main characters periodically and even garnering the limelight now an then. Thaddeus is a thief in a world of thieves who is the only one who really seems to be comfortable with who he is and makes no pretense with special title or anything like that as do the rest of the community of thieves. He's the only character that rings true to himself all the time and he probably deserves his own book.

Being limited in my scope of reading in this genre I couldn't help get a certain feeling as though this were a slightly more mature Harry Potter type novel. I think it might have been the disembodied spirits and the notion of the great evil being one of those and needing to find the perfect vessel to bring him closer to this world and to greater power.

What I found missing was a good solid plot to grab onto. Oh, I'm sure it's there and I'll figure it out as I write all this. We have at least a handful of stories. The story of Horst the Kuhrisch who's last wish would be-to become a mage. The story of Francis the begger and Sarah and Francis' brief rise in society. We have the story of the Mage community a tight community devoutly protecting the city and other cities throughout the land. We have Thaddeus the head of the underworld so to speak and his fight to retain his power. And we have the officials of the city and their miriad of stories. And we have the evil spirit. These are all definitely part of the world building and are interesting; again, if world building is the readers interest. What they don't all do is come together clearly all the time, so there are things that don't seem to move, I can't say plot , the story and they don't even always move each other along, but just occasionally contribute a bit here and there.

There is so much going on and so much description that in a way, for me, it was hard to keep up and keep things straight. I had to go backwards a few times to figure out if I zoned out or if the story just japed into a different direction. (A couple of times it really was me zoning out.)

This is one of those stories that a lot of people die in- and the very ending had a predictable element to it. The Plot might be best described as good vs evil though in this case, with few if any redeeming characters, it might be grey vs black and the victory of the many over the one evil. And with as many times as that victory seems to occur it, is uncertain there has been a victory.

There could be more books coming though this seems to leave the stories in a fair place.

This is a great book for the SFF fans especially those who like the descriptive world building of a world of magic and evil spirits.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review::Emergence by Nick M. Lloyd

EmergenceEmergence by Nick M. Lloyd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every once in a while there is a book that just grabs my attention and keeps it. I hadn't quite expected that from Nick Lloyd's Emergence. It seems to be written in the style of a procedural suspense thriller. This tends to create the air of Hard Science Fiction and thankfully not the difficult kind of hard. Well, maybe some difficult if you try to include the many worlds interpretation. I almost thought it would slip away from me when I was forced to focus heavily on the alien race. The world of Jack and Louise was becoming so entertaining that I didn't really want to take a break to examine the Gadium in the ship above Earth and certainly not the ones far off in space at other worlds.

There are a number of ways to handle alien races in a Science Fiction novel. One of those ways is to try to make everyday life and dialogue sound like us. Sometimes that choice can make the story a bit less than palatable. In Emergence it helped a lot, because there's a lot to get to know about these aliens before the climax of the story. What brings them here; and why they have come all this way only to watch. Much of this gets answered and even more questions the reader hasn't thought to ask. The procedural nature of the story is not limited to the Earth half of the story and the reader should be ready to learn a lot about the procedural nature of the aliens who watch.

But, to be honest, what I liked about Emergence is the characters. I had resolved that I was going to be concentrating on the colorful characters of all the Earth Humans. The animosity between Jack and Louise drive the story. Louise might not have begun her investigation, but for the conflict she'd been having with Jack. The dynamic duo of Jeff and Mike as college professors and the main researchers within the story are a good foil for Louise's hard nosed investigative reporting. But that was quickly derailed by the scenes depicting the initial discomfort between the aliens Aytch and Justio, which expands as the reader finds there are dissenters in the most perfect ranks of the great race.

At one point I was almost ready to let the story guide me into the look and feel of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But this never got to the level of silliness of Douglas Adam's work. This seems to stay in the more serious vein perhaps like X-files. One would think that since the aliens are mostly there to watch that it would be pretty boring. For the most part the reader is initially led to believe it is pretty sedate; but soon, with the potential for internal strife, things begin to get interesting.

It takes a while for the reader to come to grips with the rules that the Gadium must abide by while observing the Emergence. It's those rules that set the stage for most of the story's conflicts. It's those rules and the Gadium belief that they are doing the right thing that lead to some pretty strange occurrences. Eventually everyone will be in a race against time to complete missions that all seem to be at odds with each other.

It's easy to start picking sides but it becomes confusing when the reader has to take into consideration that one or the other of the Gadium factions has to dominate and when that happens then the conflict becomes between them and the humans and neither of the former two are a good choice for that ultimate conflict and the humans are being set up to mostly lose in any situation.

When it gets to the final solutions the readers is left satisfied; but the final judgment will be that there will likely be more to this story.

This is well written well paced Procedural Science Fiction that waxes Hard most of the time though the seeming theoretical nature of Many Worlds Interpretation will stretch some readers suspension of disbelief.

You need to read this to see what I mean and you shouldn't be disappointed.

J.L. Dobias

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