Friday, May 30, 2014

Review::Shadow of Freedom(Honor Harrington series #14) by David Weber (or #18- or Honorverse #5)

Shadow of Freedom (Honorverse, #5)Shadow of Freedom by David Weber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shadow of Freedom(Honor Harrington series #14) by David Weber

This is the 14th installment (And by some indicators its book 18) on my list but in all truth this is not an Honor Harrington novel. This is a Vice Admiral Gold Peak Michelle Henke novel. And why not, it's about time she got her own novel.

The odd thing is the cover in amazon says A New Honor Harrington Novel and my copy says A New Honorverse Novel. I think mine is the mass market edition But I'm not sure and its a 6 by 9 paper back.

I enjoyed this book and 'David Weber' gives us a new side to the novels by starting out with some rebel forces on some Solarian Protectorates. There are a handful of new characters being introduced who are pretty interesting and some more political intrigue. Just when you though you had a handle of all the things going on in the Honorverse David throws another wrench in the works.

Manticore is being misrepresented as supporting the rebels and the people doing the job are so far delivering the goods, but will that remain the standard and what will happen to Manticore's credibility with these people when everything goes south.

One thing right away that I have a big quibble about is that chapter six in this book is verbatim the same chapter as chapter four of the previous book. Yes that ties things in nicely and even tells you that we are back in time a bit and all; but really: the same pages from one book dropped into the next.

The story with Anton Zilwiki and Victor Cachat and Yana and their escape from disaster has spanned the last three books so it's no surprise it shows up here. So now that we have established the time line of this story we should be mindful that this is the sixth chapter. And the one chapter before when Michelle shows up is a bit ambiguous toward identifying the timeline.

This book can actually stand alone which might reinforce the notion of recycling chapters. I think if someone wanted to jump into the series currently without reading all the rest this might be a great point to do that. Honor Harrington only has honorable mentions so it's pretty much a Gold Peak novel.

Michelle is coming into her own as a strategist and the hardware seems a quite a bit better than what Honor started with; a long time back. The one problem is that this makes the battles with the Manticoran Navy quite one sided most of the way through the book.

The style of writing in this book is quite different and somewhat subdued compared to the previous and if I were inclined to conspiracy theories I'd suggest that David might have only had part of a hand in the creation of this story.

Still with about half the number of pages that previous recent novels have had this is a good standout novel on it's own and I think I could grow to like Michelle Henke as much as I do Honor.

Great Procedural and military and political suspense SSF for the Usual Fans.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review::Convergent Space by John-Paul Cleary

Convergent SpaceConvergent Space by John-Paul Cleary

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Convergent Space by John-Paul Cleary

I love a novel that entertains me and I don't mind having to suspend my disbelief long enough to do that. This novel delivers in that department and I would love to give it really high honors; but I do have some issues, so while I give it high marks I will feel compelled to air some of the issues. Basically I give it a 4 star and it could be a 5 star, but not with the way things are.

The novel starts with a great mystery. Earth has devolved to a planet of artifact hunters sort of the Indiana Jones of outer space. This creates for the reader a feeling that the Artifact hunters care more about the hunt then others lives. Enter into this Ronella Tintet who has had some doubts and has retired from being an Archeosoldier. After having been responsible for the loss of many lives she has retired to a place called Renick that belongs to Renaissance space and is governed by her friend Viggo. Rone is working at a post for the Earth Search Archeosoldiers, but is not actively doing much. She has a history we'll hear about later and a good reason for not wanting to be part of the search, but when a dying Archeosoldier shows up with some important leads to the Search to clear the Human's name in regards to the Great Wave that nearly destroyed many worlds and brought the Guild to an end; she has to once more take to space to follow the lead to its end.

This part is both a good plot and a bit contrived in the sense that it's a solid lead that the Search people should take seriously, but the reader gets the impression they want to press Rone into doing it because they can't spare anyone else. It might be that they mean to force her back into action, but it still seems a bit thin here and either it is a good lead or it isn't and 'the' Rone, that everyone gets to know in the development stage, is not really the person they want on something as important as this seems to be.

Also the race that Viggo belongs to seems to be a mystery. It could be he's human too; but it's not likely, though he must be humanoid because we never gets much description. There are a lot of alien races in the story and most seem humanoid, which I can live with though it seems a bit Star Trekish. The annoying thing is that they all talk like people who come out of some dialect in or around Great Britain.

Certain words almost become annoying; such as crikey and scupper. Scupper might have more than one meaning-I don't know- but it didn't fit in this context at least not while trying to unravel what the plot was calling for. The larger problems in grammar are the construction of sentences that seem a bit unwieldy and difficult to unravel the intended meaning.

The science is not hard science, but that's not a problem for me; except that the plot of the story is reliant upon a lot of the science so that makes it difficult for the reader to digest it all. What I mean by that is the scope of the Great Wave of destruction, as to a later explanation of the device that causes it, makes it difficult to grasp how it manages to do such widespread damage. The real plot of the story seems more centered on an older notion of opening the Pandora's box in this case the search seems to, at each step, open the box more and more until we reveal something that no one really wants. More than that though the Great Wave itself is a mystery that is just as much a Pandora's box. So this is really not a hard science story, which is a relief because the science is not all that well explained or examined. But it is unfortunate that it does dominate the story.

The story itself becomes a sort of quest for the key story, where each step leads to more information about the next step. First we have to catch an impossibly fast ship that might have the key in the form of a pictorial history, a Phlegar artifact; The Wits of Forlihn. Aboard the burn ship she gains a crew-member along with the Wits. And each step they seem to gain things like this-crew members and clues. At one point they run across an invasion force, which ends up being a plot device that looks like the cart before the horse. But a lot of the plot is driven this way, which gives the feel of Deus ex Machina that smacks of a DejaVu feeling. By that I mean that in this case the invasion fleet could have been a good reason for Rone to decide to start on the quest, but since she didn't know about it until later it becomes a reason to continue on the quest. Still even then it's not that clear cut to the reader for quite a while how important it is since Rone keeps trying to ignore it.

The characters in the story are not the strongest of characters. They all have some major flaws and that can be good in many ways. The problem I had with it is when it came time for the big decision it was very difficult to sort out from the development that they were ready to make the decision that they made. And this is a big Pandora box thing and it really is a determinant factory in the whole plot.

But a lot of this can be considered my own subjective opinion and a person really needs to read this to get a real understanding of what I'm saying here.

This is really science heavy and character light, where for my own preferences it would work out better the other way around. Not to mention that the Science is more simple than simon pure.

Great story for lovers of SFF light on the science and might work well for Young Adults though there are some questionable moral dilemma in the story that bear some scrutiny for the younger end of that scale.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Review::The War Gate by Chris Stevenson

The War GateThe War Gate by Chris Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The War Gate by Chris Stevenson

The War Gate is an enigma that begins to defy having a set genre. While it starts with a rather Paranormal almost Rosemary's Baby setup with some bit of mumbo jumbo about gates and the clear indication that Avalon Labrador might be getting a second chance by being reborn in the child she conceived without the act of sex and it move quickly into a Young Adult novel catching up with Avy the daughter as she graduates from school; has a birthday; and has her stepfather kick her out of house and home to get some job experience.

Avalon has been wrongly convicted of killing her husband and has been in prison for fourteen years. She is on death row when Father Janus Geminus visits supposedly to take her final confession. Through his agency she conceives a child and is saved temporarily from death-row to birth the child and then she passes away during childbirth with a hint of the notion she might be reborn. When Avy strikes out on her own due to her stepfathers insistence she will meet Janus Geminus who oddly seems to have not aged.

After Avy moves out she is compelled to learn more about her mother and she meets Sebastian, a magician who will give her a job as his assistant. This is where the book becomes a detective novel replete with all the transparency of a classic Noir mystery full of simile and metaphor to bring to mind the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Many of these phrases will borderline on cliche but for the most part they don't interfere with the intended tone of the story.

The reader and Avy discover more about the gates and Janus Geminus and we start to drift closely to Mythological time travel with teleportation within strange gates that exist within every door. Avy learns she is a gate-walker and she has the ability to use these gates. (likely because of how she was conceived and who her perceived father is.) There is direct correlation between Janus of the Roman myth and the Janus of this story which is made very clearly through the narrative.

A health portion of the novel is almost dark comedic mystery with a touch of romance until the WaxMan is introduced. It then becomes much darker and gritty and dangerous. This is when it dips heavily into the Paranormal and we learn more about Sebastian who seem to be a bit on the paranormal side of things. So we have a Paranormal Pseudo Noir mystery romance science fiction containing a bit of mythos and fable.

The plot is quite a bit convoluted at times and yet kept simplistic enough to follow with a few nice twists and turns that make it difficult to determine exactly where everything will end.

There was one point that I felt created a bit of inexplicable hole in the plot; that involved the grandparents of Avy. Since we find out early on that she looks a lot like her mother and she has been living with her uncle and aunt on her fathers side of the family.(The father that is not really her father.) There is an explanation given for her mothers mother having avoided seeing her, but none given that her 'fathers' parents have not seen her and this is important because at one point she is posing as someone else in front of both grandparents and no one recognizes her. And even though her grandmother on her mother's side had never seen her; just the fact that she looks a lot like her mother should have made that woman do a double take. There is no explanation about her uncles parents seeming to not know what Avy looks like.(Maybe they never visited.)

That aside everything is pretty tight throughout and the writing is great with good pacing though I was sometimes thrown off by the number of cliche like metaphors and similes that seemed mostly there to give the feel of an old classic mystery.

This story was definitely worth reading and I'll be looking forward to reading more especially Chris Stevenson's latest The Girl They Sold to the Moon as soon as the publisher decides to offer it in kindle format.

J.L. Dobias

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Review::Stormdancer (The Lotus War Book One) by Jay Kristoff

Stormdancer (The Lotus War, #1)Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stormdancer (The Lotus War Book One) by Jay Kristoff

This book is marketed as Japanese Steam-Punk and that alone is intriguing. I have often heard people ask if there were other steam-punk novels than those centered on Great Britain and the European nations. This seems almost designed to fit that bill and for that reason it stood as part of the reason I waited before reading this. I always read the reviews along with a sampling of the beginning and I particularly pay attention to the bad reviews. Bad reviews range most generally between short and not very informative to a few sentences that leave me puzzled. This one for some reason garnered a few lengthy almost vindictive reviews and after reading those I decided to let it sit till I had a moment to read it with a more open mind. That moment came and I'm glad I waited because: although there are some rather suspect style decisions in the author's approach, there is a rather entertaining and thought provoking plot sandwiched between all the world building. I give Jay Kristoff high marks for that, but there were some puzzling things that I'd like to mention.

First of all this is not Japanese Steam-punk. At best it is Shima Imperium Steam-punk. It's an alternate reality and though(by the maps supplied) it manages to be central to what we consider Japan; it is an Imperium that seems to extend much farther than that and is the dominant Kingdom on this alternate planet. I for one do not have a problem with that setup and the anachronisms that appear throughout when trying to compare this to our world. In fact; even though I have not yet become an expert on Steam-punk, I believe one qualifier is that the story will contain some anachronisms. I will, though, make the observation that there are certain efforts by Jay Kristoff to legitimatize the Japanese setting through the use of certain words. Some of these are in the dialogue and do seem to become a bit annoying; though I found I was annoyed by different reasons than some readers. I felt like it was just a bad style choice.

What I mean by that is that the author chose to have the characters speaking English and my thought is that when that is done it might be prudent to avoid certain expressions like; it's only one word ; or it's two simple syllables. But personally that wasn't at all that annoying because the meaning comes through anyway. I'm looking more at other novels where the characters language is not English but they speak English. Usually if the author chooses to have them momentarily speak their language natively it is for entire phrases and sometimes they even append a translation. Sometimes they don't translate and I think they think it's just fun to make you look it up. Not that often have I seen single words singled out to consistently replace single common words and that's what happens here in the dialogue. The words Hai, Sama, and Aiya are placed in the dialogue almost as though they are a reminder for the writer that this characters are pseudo Japanese or worse yet that he thinks that the reader will forget that fact. For the record I got that notion in the first couple of pages and never needed any prompts to continue the illusion. I could not find any valid justification for not using the English equivalents to these words. That's just me though.

The next complaint I have is the decision to make the story drag until about 24% of the way through somewhere about 11 chapters and 78 pages the world building comes to a grinding halt and we finally see character development. Up until this point we have a very young Yukiko who acts well beyond her age but is being defined in a rather stiff manner and we only occasionally see flashbacks that explain possibly why she acts so mature. It is not until this 11th chapter that we get a closer look at her and her father and their relationship and how his drive to capture the Arashitora coupled with his strange sense of honor and loyalty to the Shogun can easily eclipse even his love and compassion for his daughter. And we see how despite her love and sense of honor and loyalty to her father she is still at best the rebellious teen who is trying to reconcile her own sense of values against those being imposed upon her while respectfully remaining a dutiful daughter. This coupled with the discovery that the Arashitora are still alive and they have an opportunity to capture it all conspire to put their relationship to task. Despite the intense action in the scene this is a highly emotionally charged scene that defines the entire book. I'm just amazed that there are a large number of people who make it this far.

From this point forward the last three quarters of the novel make this worth reading.

This is where the story began for me and when I go back I can find nothing in the previous ten chapters that are essential to driving the story. What little bit of world building that might be necessary and the back-story could have been fitted in anywhere inside what remains and there honestly is a whole lot of world building that seems to be trying to establish the Japanese connection that I found unnecessary to this story. Terms such as shakuhachi flute, yakuza, split-toed tabi socks, kimonos and an infinite array of others that seem mostly to be trying to create validation for a setting that is, at best, a caricature to that setting. The incessant nonstop world building in this case might be the reason some people have such fierce objection to the misuse of a few words. For me it was fortunate that I ignored the glossary at the end and mentally inserted my own best guess to the English word that should have been there: and moved on.

One of the strongest things I judge a novel on is whether it entertains me and this book did despite how long it took to get there. I do think it could have been better if the author could have stepped back and realized that he needed to create the alternate world he was writing about; as opposed to the flimsy caricature of a world he ended up with. Good world building is when the author builds a world that is consistent within itself and I think that this is that. I also think it's more difficult to see this because of having to look around the extra hand-waving with pseudo historic references that seem mostly unnecessary to driving the plot forward.

I would recommend this to SFF fans and lovers of Steam-punk with the caveat that the reader should not expect historic and cultural accuracy. And I give it high marks but could have given it the top rating if there had been some balance in the world building.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review::Damascus(The Syrian Revolution)by Jad Ziade

Damascus (The Syrian Revolution)Damascus by Jad Ziade

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Damascus(The Syrian Revolution)by Jad Ziade

Damascus is going to be one of those novels that readers will learn to love and hate. I'm going to give it high marks for a number of reasons, but because of that I'm going to get quite brutal about the parts that I had trouble with. Spelling and grammar are not a problem with this novel though there might be some rules that were bent seriously. I liked the description and the language and appreciate that there is a lot of information packed into this novel, which might account for a tendency to push the reader back when it comes to character description. Oddly: though I felt that the narrative delivery of character description was handled in a style I felt has damaged the novel the characters themselves have a depth they manage to punch through all of that to give a richness along with the abundance in number of characters. This book has a huge cast and that alone helps account for the epic nature of the novel and the potential for the future in the series.

Also to be clear I was given a copy of this to read so I could deliver a review; so keep that in mind as a possible influence on my rating.

I felt the beginning of the novel was a bit slow. But I like that in my novels and I usually read a good chunk of the first chapter or first couple of chapters before I decide to persevere or not. Fortunately this novel has a fair amount to sample and it managed to catch my interest fully by the last two pages of the sample so if you stick it out to that extent you should have a fair idea if this novel is for you. Don't ask me why the thief and the whore characters were the ones to hook me. You have to read at least the sample to understand. Seriously though they are the first characters who are allowed to come to life in the story.

This novel is fiction and safe to say fantasy. It might be written in the same style as some old myths or fables and it even mentions Scheherazade and the One Thousand and One Nights. There is an element of magic. And a great element of frustration in trying to pinpoint the era in which it is to take place. I'm going to take a shot at it and maybe just give Jad Ziade a clear picture of why he needs to be a bit more helpful in this regard. My best guess is that this is a story of an alternate Earth and alternate Damascus where there is -instead of the USA something called the Amreekan Empire. Not to be confused with that movie. It took me quite some time to figure out an approximate date which turned out for me to be some time possible around or after the year 2024 with a whole lot of anachronistic stuff going on.(That means that all bets are off about accuracy in cultural references.)

In this world we have the European powers and the Amreekan Empire both vying for the real-estate in Syria. We have the 'muslim' peoples and we have the Marxists both working somewhat at odds with those powers though the king of Damascus appears to be working with the Amreekans. The Amreekans appear to be a rough caricature of Imperialist Americans in that there emblem seems to resemble the USA Emblem and there is mention of Kentucky jam cake. Other than that the rest is purely fictionalized.

The anachronistic part comes in that the time of 2024 is coupled with the use of horse drawn carriages and swords and some for of mail-armor and no visible evidence of firearms that I can recall; and though there are warships those are not described and other modern War devices are not mentioned. The reason to pinpoint 2024 (assuming this alternate universe has some semblance of similar timelines) is that we have certain things drawing us up the time scale as they get mentioned. It starts with the emblem and the Kentucky jam cake and works into references to Roberts Rules which was published in 1876 and illustrator Edmond Dulac who lived from October 22, 1882 – May 25, 1953)and whose illustration career was around -1908-1939 and finally a reference to this being a century after V.I.Lenin died.

The beauty and the trouble with using a City like Damascus is that it has been around for such a long time and spans such a great history that it makes things more confusing when there is no direct reference to any dates and years in the story to give you a focus. As far as I can tell the rich detail of resources mentioned in the story all have probable historical reference to Damascus somewhere along the entire line and it is the details that occasionally are thrown out there that help pinpoint some notion of what year it is. Then it becomes bewildering because things look a bit odd for that era. Add to that the strong element of magic and the rather theatrical inclusion of ghosts that are seen only by one character and you have a sort of Paranormal, Magic,Alternate Historical Romance. (the other kind of romance)

It's difficult to pin down if this is a character driven story and who the Main Character might be. My best guess is that the Thief Ghazi might qualify but stylistically he doesn't show much improvement over the length of the novel, although we get to see how he developed into what he is today and he's a rather tragic figure. My next favorite character would be Soha the woman that Ghazi ends up framing for murder although Nadine, who gets a slow start begins to make leaps and bounds. Nadine might be considered an unreliable character in some ways, which is greatly affected by the leap she makes in changing before the readers eyes. As far as character description: If you read the sample you will note right away that there is a tendency in the narrative to lump character descriptions into a neat paragraph and then move on which works but feels a bit clunky to me as a reader.

There are some interesting political social ideologies expressed in the novel that I didn't always agree with, but it's not like I need to agree. The interesting thing is that Jad Ziade is able to express both sides and in this case sometimes what seems more like four sides in a way that makes most of the characters believable in their dogmatic pursuit of their individual truths. It does create confusion for me as a reader when pairings are made that seem at odds with each other;and left me wondering if they were becoming wishy washy or duplicitous in their natures.

A final caveat for those who like everything tied up nicely at the end. This is a series and I'm not sure how many novels there will be, but it means that some threads begun here are not entirely resolved by the end and there are far more questions then answers. I can only say that I was quite satisfied where it did end and am looking forward to reading the rest of the story.

I recommend Damascus to SFF Alternate reality fans and my friends who like to rip into cultural discrepancies that they perceive in these alternate realities.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Review::The Chronos Clock by Wendy L. Callahan

The Chronos Clock (Aetheric Artifacts, #1)The Chronos Clock by Wendy L. Callahan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Chronos Clock by Wendy L. Callahan

Being still quite new to the steam-punk genre I find myself constantly moving that pointer around for the definition and this installment has been of little help. It would seem that possibly having gear driven mechanical devices such as clocks is somewhat of a help. It also must be in a Victorian setting with Victorian dress and society. It doesn't hurt to have dirigibles but they might not be necessary. It's preferable that steam power mechanicals are highlighted but again maybe not so necessary, although this exclusion would be the most puzzling. That much aside The Chronos Clock is quite entertaining and I'll allow the nod to Steam-punk with just the thought that a bit more steam might help me with the definition.

In this series we have two magic groups one called the Celestial and one called the Aetheral; the latter being also know as Infernal and Daemonic. Demetra the main character is an Aetheral, part human part Aetheral, and she has a somewhat handy talent to attract energy imbued devices; devices empowered with some Aetheric or Celestial energy. This is what she is doing at the beginning with an Aetheric device, Celestial devices are a bit more difficult for her to handle. She not only can detect them but she can usually cause them to come to her unless they are somehow bound where they are.

The story opens with her locating one of her treasures and being confronted by a Celestial who would like to take the item. He attempts a deadly attack and she quickly dispatches him with her razor sharp fan, made for her by her life long friend Simon Warom. The nasty Celestial turns to ash or some such flakiness that leaves little if any trace.

We then become acquainted with Demetra's Stepmother, Rowena, her stepsister, Verity and her father Nigel Ashdown and lastly her ex-fiance Francis Winterton. Francis brings trouble in the form of blackmailers who have made it clear he must persuade his ex to use her ability to find the Chronos Clock. Thus begins the adventure of the mysterious kidnapper searching for a legend and bringing the ex's together to reluctantly work with each other. And this begins the plot of the brokenhearted Demetra who finds herself unable to open her heart to anyone for fear of having it broken again and the question of whether this quest will bring closure or make things worse. The quest of the Chronos Clock acts as a device to introduce the reader to this struggle.

The story is well written with well defined characters; and a world of magic with neat rules that need to be paid attention to. Rules that often define how Demetra must act and interact with specific people throughout the novel. And I suspect, throughout the series.

I can recommend this to Steam-punk fans who don't insist on a lot of steam in their punk but are more enamored to the dress, the goggles, the leather and the gear driven side of the mechanical equation. Also great SFF for fantasy fans who like a little magic in the mix.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review::The Man Who Wasn't Anders Voss by Greg Curtis

The Man Who Wasn't Anders VossThe Man Who Wasn't Anders Voss by Greg Curtis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Man Who Wasn't Anders Voss by Greg Curtis

I want to give this book high marks for a well crafted plot and interesting characters; but I'm torn by some style choices that tend to drag it down a bit. This is a clever little tale that uses a couple of well heeled tropes. The first is the notion of sending bits and bites of living and inanimate matter across the vastness of space in a signal that might defy even the speed of light. The other is the one where aliens get a first hand look at the moral decrepitude of the human race and decide they don't need that in their neighborhood.

Dr Harrison is your typical scientist or maybe your typical mad scientist who has discovered a way to send explorers to other stars with the touch of a button, so to speak. And Anders Voss is one of a thousand subjects he's experimenting with but unlike the good Doctor Moreau who kept his creations close by, Dr. Harrison is sending his as far as he can, away from him and out of sight. And on the other side of this the Man who wasn't comes out in a burst of terrifying bloodcurdling mental agony.

The Doctor was wrong or worse he lied because he had plenty of time to test this thing. And Anders Voss has been a dupe, a convict in a prison who is given the option to help with space exploration or do some mining at the mars prison facility. And so Anders gets a first hand experience of the discovery that Star Treks 'Bones' was right to worry about having your atoms scrambled and sent across long distances and reassembled. But initially upon arrival Anders feels physically alright just mentally off-put by the fact that he just witnessed his own death and now this new creation on the other end is someone else who has a similar body with all new atoms and the same memories. He doesn't know that things can get much worse.

This kind of death is a great concept, but like beating the dead horse Greg Curtis visits the notion of death by disintegration and reintegration so many times it's almost like he doesn't trust the reader to believe how horrible the process really is so he describes it from many different angles. The first chapter is mostly that and the reader doesn't get a good picture of what is happening until the second chapter with Doctor Harrison who we find out is an evil scientist who has no regard for convicted criminals. Next we get slogged down by some mundane stuff to continue a sense of world building and it's not until the aliens bail Anders out of his situation that the story really takes off.

I'm being a bit unfair here though because we do get a full explanation of the crime in those first three chapters. As Anders, who decides he should now be called Lars, struggles both with setting up camp and the equipment that will allow him to communicate with Earth and he has to decide if he wants to suffer death to return to Earth the same way he got there. The reader also gets the build up to a realization that not only does the Doctor not expect him to want to come back that way, he also expects Anders/Lars to become sick and die and there is no cure for it and no stopping the process.

The actual plot and character development start around the time the aliens pick Lars up and discover that he must have been sent through a Wave function Transporter which they know is a heinous crime of murder not once but twice because of the after effects. Lars doesn't just die once to have to live with the horrible memory of that; but he is doomed to die a second time. This raises a moral issue of how this doubles the crime that the Doctor is committing if each tranportee has experienced this.

The Alien way of life is so different from human that they have difficulty understanding how anyone could purposely do such a thing and they have as much trouble understanding Lars desire for revenge. They have a totally different idea of justice. And when they begin to locate many more of the strange Wave function tranportees they begin to have serious reservations about the entire human race.

This is a good novel for SFF soft Science Fiction fans with a great take on some old notions with some new twists and I could easily live with the slow and redundant start, although I need to offer my usual caveat for a novel that has way too many poorly constructed sentences with other grammatical errors and could have stood to have another set of eyes check some things before publication.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review::Blightcross by C.A. Lang

BlightcrossBlightcross by C.A. Lang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blightcross by C.A. Lang

This is another I had in my wish list. I was hoping for a steam-punk novel and it almost had me at the start. There seemed to be an air ship and possibly Victorian values if not dress, but there was this massive creep into other elements that shifted it from steam-punk and into an alternate world whose era seemed to be a bit slippery. There seemed to be some technology that was beyond what I was expecting and then just a whole lot of magic and a feeling we were in some bygone era that had magic and was transitioning to machine.

Clearly at some point I felt more like I was reading something like a cross between Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars series and Simon R. Green's Death-stalker series with a whole bunch of magic tossed into the mix and then add in some dark fantasy similar to Stephen Palmer's The Rat and the Serpent.

The main character Capra is not what she seems which is a typical trope. She's apparently not what everyone else thinks nor does she have a clear grasp of who or what she is herself. But that might not matter because she's an adventuress and an opportunist trying to stay one step ahead of her past and apparently burning bridges as she goes. Dannac is her only friend and they are an unlikely pair since she is Valoii and he is Ehzeri and they are mortal enemies. And they are on their way to Blightcross where they believe people don't care as much about the differences between the two. But the question is; is Blightcross really what they think it is?

They are thieves and they are on one last scam that will net them enough money to retire, but that quickly goes south when their past catches up, Capra's past, and the people who are pursuing her as a deserter are close at her heals. Now penniless in Blightcross they have to look for work that will keep them in low profile and help get them out of danger while pursuing their dreams of retirement.

Blightcross proves to be a place that chews its people up and spits them out. It is also the place where myth, magic and mayhem have come to roost.

This is where the plots digress into a murderous hodgepodge that becomes difficult to follow and reminded me greatly of those Deathstalker Series. Capra is a strong character but she's one that is hard to sympathize with because we never quite get to know her or her story because an apparent part of the plot is to leave that shrouded in mystery and doubt.

I give the story high marks for entertainment value and the beginning was quite good though it gives the readers little clue to just where this story will end up. There are plenty of twists and turns in a fast but well paced story most of the way until we reach the pall mall helter skelter final pages.

I recommend this to anyone who loves the adventure novels with a bit of tease into steam-punk and then digression into dark fantasy with magic and technology blended together into a retelling of a mythological tale.

SFF Steam-punk Magic Dark Fantasy

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review::Into the Deep by Missy Fleming

Into the DeepInto the Deep by Missy Fleming

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Into the Deep by Missy Fleming

On the surface this book looks to be a sort of cross between little mermaid and Splash, but don't let it deceive you; it's much more than that. It has elements of familiar tropes but manages to go just a bit beyond those tropes to reach out to the reader.

Zoey is in some way your typical teen girl living a life that's a lie that she doesn't realize and that's going to change. But down further is this young girl who at the age of six lost a limb to a shark accident. She has a great mother, but she knows nothing about her father. Her mother at one time was very much into water sports and that's why they were out on the ocean that day of the accident. Since that time Zoey has had a fear of the water and the dangers within and her mother has been helping to cultivate that fear.

Zoey is reaching the age of 16 and her mother is starting to act a bit strange about the upcoming event. At the same time Zoey is trying to conquer her fear and has decided to go to an underwater exhibit. In Zoey's world there is great reason for her to do this now because the melting waters of the ocean are causing all sorts of changes and what this exhibit has to show may soon all be gone. Also she and her friend Charlotte are making other plans to join a night on the beach with other students and this might upset her mother so she's kept those plans to herself.

Strange things happen at the aquarium that further frighten Zoey and events on the beach are destined to change her life forever when she finds herself draw toward the sea despite her own fears.

This book contains elements of Romance and Lost Love, Self Discovery and Reunion, Royal Blood and Betrayal.

At the heart of it all is Zoey who is coming of age and discovering a whole new world of magic and danger that she must come to terms with quickly in order to stay alive and to keep the ones she loves safe. She may even discover she is in the right place at the right time to save the world.

This is a well paced story with some few twists and turns that all make perfect sense as the reader breaks the surface and dives into the deep with Missy Fleming.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review::A Rising Thunder by David Weber (Honor Harrington novel#13)

A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington, #13)A Rising Thunder by David Weber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Rising Thunder by David Weber (Honor Harrington novel#13)

This novel is a major turning point in the series and I would only recommend this to someone who has read all of the other 12 before this. There is a lot that is absorbed in the other novels that is taken into play in this one and it can be a bit confusing or even drag the reader down if they are not up to speed. I tried reading this before I'd remembered that there were two novels in-between which I'd not yet gotten hold of. I found it bogged me down a bit trying to get into the novel for a number of reasons.

It takes quite a while before you see Honor. There are a lot of changes in players in those two preceding novels. There are several subplots that are concentrated into those two missing novels. There is a lot of world building that has happened throughout and this is one of the few of the more recent books where David Weber has spent less time rehashing old world building. Some of this is good, but I found I needed to at least go back and read the two novels I had missed and that's how I ended up reading the whole series over.

A Rising Thunder reminds me more of a Tom Clancy or even a Robert Ludlum thriller more than it does your typical Science Fiction. This is something that has been building in the series as it has been growing. We move from a heavy military SF to a military political thriller SF to Something that becomes almost a blend of Soft and Hard SF which includes all sorts of political social psychological economical and military elements blended with the Science.

Is it really possible that Haven and Manticore can bury the hatchet and face this new bio-tech threat while wagging a new war against the Solarian League. More important though is; can they recover quick enough to unveil the greater Mesan threat. How much more strain can Manticore take before they lose the edge of being the possible cosmic glue that will bring all of the star kingdoms together?

A Rising Thunder is focused on the world building of the Solar League. We see a pattern developing here and we'll have to wait and see how many more novels it takes to confirm the pattern. Manticore manages to have a war against a another kingdom and they seem to decide victory and defeat almost by which side is the most incompetent. While we also see the balance being adjusted for military leaders who are competent facing each other in battle because of the political incompetence. There's always a fudge factor of a few bad men in the military. And this is what we begin to see in the Solar League in this novel.

As a sub plot we have the building power of Mesa and the growing threat they are to everyone. The question is how will David Weber move all the elements around by the time the Mesa begin to make their move and what kind of terrible battle with that bring.

A Rising Thunder is a bridge novel between the Haven conflict and the Solar League cold war and is in many ways a bit tame compared to the last two novels, yet it is packed with enough Suspense Thrills and Intrigues to keep the reader interested. It's possible that anyone who likes the more political and diplomatic end of conflict might be able to read this without much lead-in but to really appreciate it I think the reader has to know all the players and understand the past conflicts and present political climate to fully appreciate the whole.

David Weber is definitely setting the bar for this type of Military/Political Procedural Science Fiction.

I recommend this for all SFF fans, but again with the recommendation of reading the previous twelve books.
After battling through the 12 I somehow subjectively found this novel somewhat superior in its relative simplicity.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Review::Jacob's Log by Robert Neal Johnson

Jacob's LogJacob's Log by Robert Neal Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacob's Log by Robert Neal Johnson

This is about a novella size story that serves as a good way to get to know a new writer. It's a good effort that had for me a few road bumps along the way that were never enough to really spoil the story. I do feel that in a way the story gets shortchanged by being so short. There are a lot of ideas presented here and much great potential for the characters. Also many great moments of suspense and mystery as the main character draws closer to understanding the truth and I think that they all lead to a bit of slight disappointment perhaps because of the limited size of the story. Many times I felt as a reader I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, which never did because there is no other shoe. This was disappointing, but it was how the author chose to write the story and he still does tell a great story.

The story starts out as a story told from Gabriel's and Sarah's point of view. It quickly digresses into being mostly Gabrial's POV and then a lot of log files from Jacob's Log. I feel that Sarah gets short changed here in character development and perhaps again if this were a longer piece more time could be spent. In first books there is always the possibility of overdoing the world-building and back-story and trying to find the right balance in the method of delivery. Along with that sometimes there's an overt attempt to make the story as Simon pure science as one can get and that often eclipses the development of the characters. With these two potential road-bumps and the shortness of the story there are a lot of strange holes in the story. Having the suspense and mystery add to that mix as one of the lead causes for the author to run astray. Sometimes trying to not say something can spoil things in the way the author tries not to say it.

One thing that was annoying for me was the reference to weapons as number 7 rifles and number 5 rifles, which although seem to exist if I want to refresh my memory about them they really leave me,as a reader, a bit flat and I'd like a better description or name; but that's just me. Add to this that for some weird reason everyone initially is refereed to with a number letter designator until they do a sort of rite of passage name choice ceremony and this creates a sort of distancing in the writing that really makes it difficult to differentiate the characters and sympathize with them. In my version there are no scene change indicators and it is very difficult to catch all the scene changes when they happen, which caused some confusion to the readability for me.

It becomes clear early on: the story is more important than the characters or the science in this novella. The problem with that is that the attempt of keeping certain things from the reader make it difficult to follow the story and though it has a clear ending it's not clear that the reader gets a valid explanation for everything.

By that I mean that an apparently superior intelligence has contacted Earth warning of a catastrophe; but the people on board the ship don't know this and the reader finds out as they do. They aren't told any of it when they go to the planet and it's not until one of them dies on the planet that the reader gets a clue and then there is a bit of hand-waving about why everyone has been kept in the dark. But this message received has led to the creation, by some intelligent design, of a ship that will have an seemingly endless supply of material to create cloned-life and food and some form of glider craft that will take them to the planet by twos. In a way we have the true 'mother' ship, which is one of many things whose potential is overlooked in the development of the story.

Another thing that has been kept from them is that they are on this new planet possibly to rendezvous with someone or thing possibly the superior intellect that has helped them. Having gotten to the planet they keep crashing over and over because communications is not working and the mother ship sends out parties at a specific rate and no one can warn the next flight about the storm like spots that everyone seems to naturally gravitate toward, so people keep crashing. The gliders are intact enough that they could scavenge them; but they don't. There seems to be no provision made for illnesses so some have died from infections and possible viruses. They have some definite challenges.

Still, the novella is interesting enough to keep the reader's attention and I read this one straight through. It has a lot of good mystery; a tiny bit of suspense; and some science that makes sense and a well thought out plot. I had issues with the execution in that the science makes sense but the lack of planning and common sense don't and that lack is not well explained. The mystery and suspense are more for keeping the reader in the dark than they are for plot elements and so the reader expectation is deflated when you reach many of the reveals.

The whole superior intellect thread creates the largest expectation of waiting for some masterful shoe to drop which never really does and leave the reader with a notion that there has to be more to this story even though it does have a satisfactory ending that makes perfect sense to a resolution to the plot point of the story once the reader figures that out.

I could give this higher marks if some of the notions and potential subplots had been examined a little more closely and expanded upon and if more of the characters could be brought to life. It does serve as an entertaining read for those who like SFF that examine the notion of seeding other planets in the universe.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Review::Unexpected Gifts by S.R. Mallery

Unexpected GiftsUnexpected Gifts by S.R. Mallery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unexpected Gifts by S.R. Mallery

I've had this on my wish list for a while. For a change I actually was drawn to it by the cover but then the blurb helped me make the decision to put it in my wish list. I left it there until I noticed it again on Scrib'd and as with all that I decide to write up I find I have to pick up a copy on amazon to keep notes on.

Unexpected Gifts is a bit far from what I normally read, although one review called it 'time travel' which I do read so-gee now I'm confused. Anyway this falls more under dramatic fiction. And the novel is written using a framing technique of story framed within story. In this case it's several stories and the device to do this is a bit contrived but it's something I can live with.

Sonia is an interesting character who has mild OCD symptoms most of the time, which shows up mostly as a finger tapping tick; which I often found annoying in the story, but necessary. She is majoring in psychology possibly in part as a way to understand her OCD a bit more clearly. But she has more than the OCD going against her and it doesn't take time for the reader to see this. Enter the contrived part when she visits her parents and discovers there is an attic full of not just memorabilia but documents that give a fairly clear picture of her family history. She's about to find out that there might be some credibility to the notion that certain behavioral patterns are repeated throughout generations.

It starts out as a voyage to discover something that might help with dealing with her father who is a wheelchair bound veteran of the Vietnam War. She reads his letters sent to her mother: from Vietnam. This introduces her to the father she doesn't know because he won't talk about all of it. There is one small glitch in this in that there seems to be more information acquired here, this way, than we later on are led to believe could have been in those letters. But these letters and some diaries and other writing are all presented in small doses from her mother who seems to have some agenda in all of this to help her daughter.(The reader does not see the written material-but more of a flashback-and in some cases the flashback defies the maturity of the person who would be having the flash back at that time, but it is still effective in getting the point across and is otherwise done quite well.)

The outer frame of the story deals with the here and now and with Sonia's education and her friends and her boyfriend. As a reader I reached a frustration point where I wanted to shake her and wake her up about a few things. Part of this is because the style of writing allows the reader to know things ahead of time through things some of the characters don't really see, but this all works because the point is to have sympathy for Sonia no matter how much she seems to be sticking her head in the sand.

As the other stories unfold we see many of the people that are important to Sonia and to Sonia's mother are portrayed in ways that give Sonia insight into her family and in many ways to herself. A lot of this shows up as her making parallels from what she reads to things that happen in her life.

There is a lot of interesting and familiar history here because I would personally be about her fathers age so I went through a lot of the things he did around the years 1968 to 72 And that bit of history was neatly handled. The reader also goes all the way back to the suffrage movement seeing Sonia's family tied with many leaders of that movement. And there are a few other surprises but you'll have to read this to see them all.

If I were to voice any caveats to this work it would be one place where I felt Sonia fell out of character in an almost politically incorrect way(on top of it just not being her nature.) One of the characters has Cerebral Palsy and is in a wheelchair and Sonia's boyfriend Mike has just called the girl a mental retard. In defense of her new friend Sonia objects to that phrase and then does one worse by saying

"Mental retard? You don't even know what you're talking about! She's got Cerebral Palsy, Mike, not Down's Syndrome!"

Mallery, S.R. (2013-04-01). Unexpected Gifts (Kindle Locations 3116-3118). Mockingbird Lane Press. Kindle Edition.

Sonia's suffering OCD and she is taking Psychology classes so I don't think she'd make this kind of disastrous comparison. But she did and so were stuck with it as a reader and it dampens my sympathy for her at that point.

That aside Sonia is a well crafted character with some few faults and the overall story is well constructed creating a sort of modern fable with an interesting point.

This is a great read both for YA and Adults who like dramatic fiction with a bit of historical references an interesting genealogy.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Review::Looking Through The Mist by Rebecca Vickery

Looking Through The MistLooking Through The Mist by Rebecca J. Vickery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Looking Through The Mist by Rebecca Vickery

I picked up one of Rebecca's shorts just to get my feet wet and of course since I love Science fiction it was one that was slanted in that direction. This author loves to write stories with a twist and since shorts are sometimes difficult to judge by; I liked what I saw, but decided to check a few other of her short stories and in short order I was looking for something a bit longer. I must confess I was bit skittish since she does love to add those twists and I wasn't sure what she'd do with a novel. This one sounded interesting on several levels and I thought I'd give it a try and I am certainly happy I did.

Rebecca Vickery's characters really came to life for me in this story- another reason to worry about twists- but it was easy to get invested in these characters and be concerned about them right from the very start and that's what I love in my stories.

The main character Jessica Walter is a retired consultant for the FBI who is looking to start a new quieter life in a small community. Jessica is also a Psychic and when we meet her, she's having a vision and her visions always seem to involve children in danger, so how can she not do anything about this. Distressed she calls her old partner also newly retired FBI agent Bob Strickland. After a bit of coaxing Bob agrees to talk to the police in the nearby town where a possible child kidnapping is happening or will happen. And this is how Jessica meets Detective Jonathon Lansing. Despite all her efforts to keep a distance from the police work Jessica will find herself inexorably drawn into it all, which means she'll have to convince a whole new group of people that her psychic ability exists and should be taken seriously if they want to recover the child.

Right from the start Jessica's struggle with what is right and how to maintain her own personal safety draw the reader into a strong relationship with this character. And though there might be a small benefit in having to work with Jonathan Lansing, it is clearly evident that her ability takes a toll on her both physically and emotionally without all the skepticism and unwanted attention she might receive if people start treating her ability like a side show. Rebecca Vickery does such a great job creating these two characters that it's a treat that she does an equal job with all the other characters that people the novel.

This book goes on the top of my list in this genre with my recent favorite Diamond Eyes by AA Bell and I have yet another favorite author for suspense thrillers. Another great book I just could not put down until I had it finished. Looking Through the Mist is well written and superbly executed.

I hope there are more stories with Jessica and Jonathon.

J.L. Dobias

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Review::The Chair Between the Rails (Vaulan Cycle)by G.T. Anders

A Chair Between the Rails (Vaulan Cycle, #1)A Chair Between the Rails by G.T. Anders

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Chair Between the Rails (Vaulan Cycle)by G.T. Anders

This book can be, at times, an interesting but frustrating read. There's a leaning toward the poetic without a proper beat. The title itself The Chair Between the Rails at first embodies a notion of suicide on a chair between rails waiting for a train. The notion that this could then be twisted into a strange and somewhat surreal method of rebirth and in such a transition in the story, makes this a dark metaphoric journey within the head of someone who's rambling thoughts tend to fall into the category of mentally unstable.

That much said: I found it to be an enjoyable read from cover to cover. It reads like a blend of Bradbury and his love of trains and Hugh Howey and his outlandish dimensional space-scapes within the Molly Fyde series; then toss in a dash of anything from Ronald Dahl. Except I wouldn't recommend this for your younger children. The writing is steeped in metaphors that are some of the strangest metaphors I've read in quite some time. I'm still scratching my head about several of them. You'll have to read this to see what I mean.

James Feckidee and his son Austin are at Jame's Uncle Phil's funeral. But nothing is as it seems here, because Phil might not really be an uncle and James is newly divorced and struggling to maintain custody of his son, because of his own apparent mental capacity. Austin seems to also be somewhat affected, but it's not clear what the condition is. I could make a few guesses but it just isn't clear. The story quickly goes from ordinary, though funereal, to a horror thriller when some sort of beast follows them home and makes an attempt on their lives.

This all comes from the almost rambling narrative POV of Jim. It's a disturbing point of view and once again its not quite clear what is wrong with Jim; just that something is seriously wrong in the mental department. That might be one reason why we see pages on pages of repeated dialogue and repeated thoughts that almost become annoying enough to make a person put the book down. That may be some effort to create a beat and affect a mood within the narrative with the repetition, and it does in some way do that; but it is still quite annoying and part of what makes this a difficult read.

There are odd sentence structure; again perhaps waxing into the poetic that seem in most cases to work for the mood of the story; but they often make comprehension a bit of a struggle. There are a multitude of flashbacks that are clearly defined but have content that seems quite fractured and often is difficult to follow and sometimes is confused because the trigger is almost a parallel circumstance so even with being set off into indents the reader can easily get thrown off the rail for a moment until they realize-oh another flashback.

I'm not sure that I was all that impressed with the strangeness that the story took at a certain point in that it started to make me as the reader wonder if this was all just some demented episode of Jim's; because he had gone way off the rails. And I would guess that it's part of the style decision to have created that impression. So in about the best way of description-be prepared to be jerked out of your comfort zone several times while trying to piece together a mental image off of imagery that could easily be comparable to some of C.S Lewis's images in The Great Divorce.

There seems to be a large attempt to create some analogies to christian belief and doctrine, though I don't think that this story would have suffered much without those; and they in fact are drown out by the surreal nature of everything creating suspicion in the readers mind as to the mental state of the main POV character. Once again some Christians might have that moment of being jerked out of their comfort zone with any of the things that narrowly touch on theology.

There are a number of images that become internal metaphors for themselves and once again you will have to read this to understand what I'm saying. The story itself is taking place near the end of thee second world war and there seems to be a bit of a soapbox introduction to anti-nukes that keeps getting bandied about. Though this book attempt to create some metaphors and images that try to be serious it's difficult at best to take them that way since death and suicide are treated more as a means to get to another place in the story.

This makes a nice read for Fantasy lovers who want a bit of pseudo religion in their fantasy.
It might make an interesting reading for those who gravitate toward the literary, though this seems largely to come off as stream of consciousness over poetic prose in many cases, because of the reliance on portraying the mental state of the Main Character.

Though this could be treated as a light read, the style of writing will constantly interfere with that- so be warned.
This could be a 4 star with a little less emphasis placed on the declining mental state of the main characters.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere and Neil Gaiman are probably in that area that's not well defined, where someone tells me you will love this book and you will love this author. It usually comes on the heals of having either loved some other book or hated some book and author; prompting a response from another, concerned, reader who thinks I should read this book. The problem with some of that is that it creates several ephemeral bubbles of expectation about things I know nothing about, that grow into unfounded hope. And with that I open the pages to disappointment.

But to begin I was thoroughly entertained by this novel and never felt that I should throw it against the wall or in the trash or burn it or give it any other of those many forms of quick death. When I think back-I can't honestly say what I was expecting. I somehow think it might be that I was expecting an insightful novel written in a manor that I could point to and say, 'If you want an example of how to write well and be well read then you should look at this and take notes.' Maybe I was reading too much into what people were saying.

Fortunately getting that out of my system only took reading the first few pages. I should qualify that I usually read around ten to twenty pages while deciding to continue to read.

Before I start, I'll give my usual caveat for those who are pernickety. In my e-copy I found some sentence structure within that cause me more than once to reread lines to determine what they really meant to say; and in some cases was left wondering why that spurious thought was eveb there. There are a few errors such as extra words and missing words that crop up. There are even a few places where something jars, but seem to be out of what appears to be perfect planning. In one scene a character is running off to get food and another character says 'Curry please'. Where one could easily mistake that they might have meant 'Hurry please' but when the other character does get things with curry then the whole thing explains itself.

The story begins with our protagonist Richard Mayhew who is preparing to leave his small Scottish town and enter the big city of London. He's getting a proper sendoff from his friends and this is the moment we begin to see that Richard might be feeling a bit of disillusion with the direction of his life. But we will find that one of Richards faults is that he doesn't see the disillusion and so he really can't do anything about it. Oddly Richard seems to be similar in many ways to Quentin in "Lev Grossman's The Magician"-except for the obvious fact that Quentin is aware of his dissatisfaction. On this night Richard meets an elderly lady and offers her his umbrella to protect her against the elements-which tells us a bit about him- but before the chivalry she will offer to read his palm, where she cautions him that he has a long road ahead and he should watch out for doors.

Richard takes it all light-heartedly while agreeing to watch out for doors. As a reader I was certain doors would mean something else and most certainly he'd not recognize it before it hit him in the face or the backside.

Fast forward to London; a young lady is being pursued by thugs. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar and Mr. Ross are in hot pursuit; but the first two are using Mr. Ross as a sort of advanced scout. This proves prudent since the young lady has a talent that proves quite deadly. Their plan is to get her to use the talent and then overtake her while she is recharging her magic.

Richard is leading a normal life -he has a girl friend- a great job with many friends- plenty of challenges at work and is definitely showing signs that there are not enough hours in a day- suffice it to say he thinks he's happy. His girlfriend Jessica is controlling and manipulating and quite organized and focused- who could ask for anything more. Into this relationship falls the seriously injured young woman. We get to really see what Jessica is all about when she tries to ignore the bleeding and pleading person she assumes is homeless. Richard lets his better nature win at the risk of losing Jessica, although reason seems to go south as he agrees with the wishes of the severely injured woman and takes her home instead of to the hospital. His home.

The girl whose name is Doreen, is of course the mysterious Door since her nickname is Door. There are more than the obvious reasons for that nickname. By taking her in Richard puts himself at risk in more ways than one and soon finds this out when Mr. Croup and Mr Vandemar show up at his door. While they push their way into the apartment they all discover that Doreen has somehow vanished from the apartment- much to Richards relief. As soon as they leave she shows up and claims to have always been there; and that begins the stranger part of our fantasy. Now we enter a world that matches many of Disney's classic cartoons where people talk to animals and it even rivals Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland as Richard finds himself sucked down the rabbit hole into an alternate underground of London.

This begins a series of what look like inconsistencies within the magic of the story that seem to exist solely because of an effort to hide other surprises that the author has in mind for the reader.

Richard loses his existence in the real-world because he saw and got involved with Door. He becomes a non-person who no one in the real world can see. But now we have the question of why he and Jessica could see Door to begin with. This gets answered, but there is such a lag between the question and the answer that as a reader it was annoying because many more questions started to pile up for the answering.

This comes about not so much from an actual need to withhold the information as much as it is that the author has something else that might be deduced too early if he makes the reveal too early, which results in a reader, like myself, having difficulty with the suspension of disbelief when internally the magic has some problems. I have seen this same phenomenon in other books where the author tries so hard not to say one thing that it creates a withholding of information that's important to the scene and in many cases creates a false anticipation of events that never occur; and then a letdown to the reader.

There are many other example of this same style choice that become very annoying. One such occurs when a character appears to betray everyone, because we don't have enough information. Then when we get more information the readers has to say, well then why did he do it that way; that was stupid. And then even later when we have the rest revealed and we now know why he acted so stupid; we have reached a point where without a proper understanding in the cascade of revaluation, the whole thing looks like Deus ex Machina, which might explain why someone complained that there were a series of Deus ex Machina that occur throughout the novel.

The novel as a whole contains so many threads that seem to be derived from a long list of other works that include The wizard of OZ by Frank L. Baum; Princes Bride by William Goldman; The Night Life of the Gods by Thorne Smith; Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll and the Narnia series by CS Lewis, and there is hardly room for character development. The most striking character for me is marquis de Carabas. Though Richard has some bit of depth and is working on the issue of understanding his own dissatisfaction with his life he comes off as being easily directed rather than driven- which could be another flaw, but that one is never properly addressed. Hunter could have been a favorite except she suffered from that same need to keep things secret until we surprise the reader. This unfortunately makes hunter come off as and unknown variable with absolutely no depth.

It seemed like the characters had to be molded to fit the various borrowed themes and were restricted from any chance to reveal their own depth of character. Even the pivotal scenes where Richard obtains an object they need and later when he becomes a sort of warrior hero; these scenes lose their power because in both cases we don't know Richard enough to say that it went outside his character; although it looks like it's way outside his character.

Ultimately when all is finished all the plot lines and themes resolve out well finally and the magic seems to mostly follow it's internal rules. The story itself if a really good type of fable. It's quite an enjoyable read though it takes a bit of perseverance to wait for some of the explanation that help the logic. Such questionable logic as why would someone who has the power to open anything needs a key, let alone have to participate in a quest for the key. (This question is actually answered but it's there with a whole bunch of similar questions the reader has to wait some time before they are answered.)

This is really a good read for any Fantasy fans and those who like a light read with some built in colloquial humor based on pop references.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review::Birds of Lore by Ryan Durney (nickle(digital)edition)

Birds of Lore: (Book 1) Silver Paperback EditionBirds of Lore: (Book 1) Silver Paperback Edition by Ryan Durney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Birds of Lore by Ryan Durney (nickle(digital)edition)

Birds of Lore is one of those disturbingly alluring books. Though I'm not sure that I would have bothered with it had I not found it on Scribd. The art brings it to a serious adult level while the nature of the stories seem more like myths and fables set out as though they are part of a journal.

This book starts with an interesting poem entitled Here there be monsters. It has a recurring line Here there be... that never quite finishes though we get the point. The interesting thing about the incompleteness of this line is that it should warn us about the book.

This is part of a series that begins with the first a one of two about birds. The first bird is from a dream giving a clue to her location at the Garden of Iriy which prompts our Mythologist to hop in his Machine: the Omni Inter-dimensional Traveler. In the blurb it mentions it is stolen technology, but there is no clue of that in the first part of this book.

For the second bird; he enlist help in locating them, this time the help of a necromancer because these birds are associated with death. In the story this does not go well for the necromancer and this sets the pace for the rest of the book; in that every helper he enlists seems to end up being as expendable as the next tissue in the box. From here the Mythologist moves forward to strange different mythological birds. Each bird associates in some way with an erotic image of a woman and the graphic depictions seem to confirm this. At some point along the way the Omni is mentioned and seems to be used to convey him on occasion in this journey.

Each creature in each leg of his journey pose a threat to the Mythologist though it seems mostly fatal to those who assist him and he is somehow able to escape harm. Up until now most of this seems to take place in some altered past where he can blend his reality with myths to meet these legendary creature. When thing seem to get too tough he decides to head to the future for some more technological help in finding his legends. We can only guess that the future he goes to might be a past to his origin.

Emerging technology in 2313 catches his eye and he enlists Cale Corbett, a college student, to help him break into the technology. It promises to be able to use a painting and his imagination to create a virtual experience with another legendary bird.

This first part of the book seems to be set up to showcase the Myths and the authors knowledge of the myths mixed with the creation of a strange story about these birds and Myths. And since the birds themselves show up in the interior art panels that seems to lend some weight to their part in the story. This sets the emphasis on the illustration and the myth rather than the prose. So far the style of the writing keeps us distanced from the narrator and we really learn little about this person other than he is a dangerous person to hang around. Things do not go well for Cale Corbett. It's very difficult to tell if it's the birds or the technology or himself that are to blame for this.

The Mythologist seems to back-peddle for the second chapter going for more conventional birds and their myths. It is hard to tell if this might be because of what happened or just the next progression in the character's search. After the somewhat brief respite the Mythologist is able and willing to search out the mind exploration technology again. Here he enlist two people-perhaps with the hope there is safety in numbers. Dr. Braxton and Ivy Lane come from the future well after the mind exploration technology has been replace. All three go back to a turning point in history where they can use some of the functional mind technology to help create a virtual world where they can meet some of the birds the Mythologist is searching for.

This is where the story slips into Alice and Wonderland mode as the Eph-(the mind device) and the three adventurers begin the strange journey. For me this is where the story really begins. The rest seems to be some sort of introduction to get you to this point.

Though I find the illustrations to be superior and the mythology to be of interest I have to admit that when it began to gain momentum into a full blown story I was at a loss as to try to figure out what the main plot was and even some of the subplots. Somewhere in here we get a better notion that the Omni Inter-dimensional Traveler might be stolen and we can't refute that because of the Mythologists propensity to purloin other technology for his purpose. There is mention (several times)of the phrase "much wants more and loses all." from the goose that laid the golden egg- so perhaps that is the theme that hatches the plot that's gone missing.

So there's the illustrations and the special take on mythology that I could give high marks for but the attempt to bring it together into a sort of story or overall fable falls short because the story telling pales to the rest. So this makes a nice picture book with fables and perhaps a cautionary tale buried somewhere within that could have been brightened up with slightly more characterization giving the reader more sympathy and investment into the Mythologist.

And though one could say that the illustrations and the take on mythology can carry the books, it would seem the books of the series are to be connected by the presence of the Mythologist ( But I don't know that for certain.)

The Time traveling technology thief using Mind altering technologies and traversing into alternate times and earths creates a fantastic backdrop for huge possibilities that I'm not sure were fully taken advantage of, but I recommend this to any of those who like to delve into thoughtful pieces of whimsy for entertainment and edification.

J.L. Dobias

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Review::Mechanical by Pauline C. Harris

Mechanical by Pauline C. HarrisMechanical by Pauline C. Harris by Pauline C. Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mechanical by Pauline C. Harris

You know you have a great thing going when you finish the story leaving the reader wanting more and you've left them with a soft cliffhanger and you have a trilogy planned. There is so much to love about this novel, the most important is that it's well written. This is one of those rare instances when I stumbled across this by way of a friend in Facebook who was a friend of the author.

The big question is what does it take to have a soul and what happens when man creates androids. Where do they fall in this equation. But this story has a bit more than that and a few twist along the way that, as a reader, I saw coming; but that just made the whole thing better.

Drew is young girl who is not a young girl because she's just been activated, or in this case reactivated according to her memories. She's set out on a mission for the Creator or creators in this case. She's everything that can be superior to her human counterpart. Or is she?

She and Yvonne have been friends for a long time, as much as a mechanical persons can be friends, but this time things are different and Drew is having some issues trying to figure out what's so different with Yvonne.

She's soon going to find out there are things different about herself. And when she learns that humans have souls, something a mechanical can't have, she discovers the one thing in her whole creation cycle that she's ever wanted.

To go any further would give away too much of this story. The reader gets to watch Drew go through a transformation through the narrative that comes from her POV. There are many other moral questions posed to the reader that make this one good thought provoking novel.

This is listed as YA and it is a great story for YA but it's also great for all fans of SFF and as Pauline C. Harris matures into her writing she's going to give us some stuff that will rival such greats as Philip K. Dick and his classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

There is more to read after this one and all I can say is keep them coming.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Review::Series: Synchronicity Trilogy, Omnibus (1-3) By Michael McCloskey

Synchronicity Trilogy OmnibusSynchronicity Trilogy Omnibus by Michael McCloskey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Synchronicity Trilogy, Omnibus (1-3) By Michael McCloskey

I wasn't certain how I would react to reading the same story three times. Thankfully it didn't feel so much like that. There was some overlap but since this written from West World block POV and East World block POV and then Alien POV it worked out quite well.

I think that internally the story stays true to the science presented and as has been pointed out there is a expectation of suspension of disbelief in some parts. But this is science fiction and most of that does expect some suspension of disbelief.

It was a bit difficult to find any single character or set of characters to empathize with or root for and I think that it falls back to part of what the story is all about. What each story has in common is that the people we meet are all living on the edge and in many cases dealing with things that leave them in danger most of the time.

There are the corporate espionage people and the UN police force and the Chinese special forces and then the aliens who seem to be game players who have lived on the virtual edge for so long they are having trouble dealing with reality and have only a marginal understanding of the dangers of living on the edge in reality.

Then there is the ultra intelligent AI's that they all deal with which are the most dangerous feature of their daily lives. They are also the best tools for the needs of each group so that that temptation will always be there even though they know that it could lead to something worse than skynet form Terminator.

The aliens represent a cybernetic human/machine hybrid and are far advanced in many ways and become the target of the greed of all these people.

There are a good share of ethical questions brought into the story with slavery and forced labor and the use of virtual worlds and mind control and then there's the aliens.

Although it could be argued that some of the situations seem too far out, the real point of the story is how each group of people are reacting to what is happening in this particular what if situation. The pace is good the writing might need a bit of polish; but overall it has to be pretty good, because I read all three straight through hanging on to see what happens next.

It has an interesting end.

Great SFF for those not too keen for the Simon Pure type and who like to do a bit of thinking about how they would react to these things.

I definitely would like to know what happens next in this strange universe.

J.L. Dobias

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