Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review::Fade to Black by Francis Knight

Fade to Black (Rojan Dizon, #1)Fade to Black by Francis Knight

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fade to Black by Francis Knight

This is really a great debut novel. There is a lot to like about it and there is a bit even to detest. It's written in a stylish Noir that reminds me of the old black and white mysteries with the gumshoes. Sort of a Mystic Maltese Falcon. The main character is Rojan Dizon a pain Mage who really isn't all that fond of pain so he's tried not to do too much magic. There's more to it than that though because too much pain magic can lead to a very dark place that often is impossible for the Mage to find his way out of. Rojan has lived in a dark world in a black existence trying to avoid another darkness that makes everything around him seem pale in comparison. He uses his magic to locate people and that's how the reader is introduced to him when an unsavory client hires him to find and bring back his teen age daughter Lise who has run away. Lise has some tricks up her sleeve that have made his job particularly difficult and he's had to resort to a device manufactured by a dwarf colleague. The device amplifies his magic which mean he has to still endure pain but a bit less of it to get good result. Rojan is not a particularly likeable character but what he does in his interaction with Lise tells us that there is someone with just a bit more heart behind the veneer that covers him in the first part of the book.

As the story unfolds we begin to find the reason that Rojan lives on the edge using his magic illegally and defying the Ministry. There was a golden age when Pain Mages controlled things and were powerful. They were trained to properly use the magic. Then the Ministry stepped in and began to ban the use of pain magic. Things were controlled and operated using Synth, but Synth turned out to be a very bad thing and now they have something less powerful running things called Glow. And now they have a dark dystopic environment that is still poisoned by the Synth and there are too many mysteries behind what makes the Glow operate.

This dystopic world is similar in many way to the one in Thea von Harbou's Metropolis. And there are a number of other similarities to the two stories. Rojan has a family a brother though his mother has died from the effects of synth and his father has run off abandoning them. Rojan too has run; despite his promise to his mother that he would take care of his brother. And now his brother has contacted him because someone has killed his brother's wife and kidnapped their daughter. This novel is chock full of old tropes but this is the story of Rojan and his journey of self discovery that takes him to the depths of the world he would have preferred to forget.

The trail to his niece takes him to the lowest level of society where it still rains Synth and life is cheap and there is evidence that the Ministry is hip deep in whatever it is that is driving the social order in the lowest levels of society. In the depths of despair where even the errant ministry minions might find that life is cheap; they are still feared by those who would kill them because of what they represent even to the cut throats of the social order.

It is there that Rojan must confront his greatest fears and hope to find a balance in the power that he's been trying to avoid. Here he discovers love for an idea that is represented by a person who is nothing like that ideal, but masquerades as that person he is drawn to. When the time comes Rojan has to draw deep into himself to decide if he will do what is right or try to return to his comfort-zone where he's kept himself hidden.

This is an outstanding SFF that most Fantasy lovers should enjoy and some Science Fiction aficionados will appreciate.

It will definitely be worthwhile to see what Francis Knight follows this with.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review::The Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

The Girl They Sold to the MoonThe Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

I wanted the ARC to this book but they never got back to me; so I had to buy a copy and wait patiently for it to arrive in the mail, which was all well and good because I had other things to do anyway. Finding myself with an extra day, where I wanted to read something just a bit on the light side, I picked it up and read the boldfaced type all the way from the front right through to the finish. This book reminded me some of the old science fiction I read some thirty years ago. Some of the Robert Heinlein juvenile Science Fiction series. I enjoyed reading it and I want to give it high marks, but I'm going to be brutally honest about a few things.

Chris Stevenson has created a sort of sassy character in Tilly Breedlove who is sold into a sort of slavery in order to keep her father out of prison. Her mother has some few years earlier passed away and without her influence her father has fallen prey to all his vices and she has no delusions, going into this whole arrangement, that he will change his ways. In this dystopic future that sounds like a throwback to the times Charles Dickens wrote of; we have a society that allows parents to sell their children into some sort of work camp slavery while parents try to pay off their debts to stay out of prison through a loan which they must then pay off before their children can be released.

That whole arraignment lends itself toward some real potential for failure.

The Girl They Sold to the Moon bears some strong resemblance to the one other book I have read by this author: The War Gate. By this I mean that it has several threads running through it that make up a whole bunch of mini plots that revolve around the main plot that seems to be a soft science fiction light weight which is why I call this light reading. It is a good Young Adult novel and it almost seems like a twisted merging of Dickens' David Copperfield and Oliver Twist and Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars staged in the environment of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But the whole thing diverges into it's own world because of that potential for the slave workers to become permanent property of the company when someone defaults on the loan.

Of The Girl They Sold to the Moon and The War Gate similarities there is that striking male character that is a magician. And both books delve into the world of entertainment while striking off in slightly divergent directions of Science Fiction in the one and Magic in the other. If I have any complaints at all it's that there sometime is a difficulty for me to zero in on which plot is the prime plot of the novel.

The most likely candidate is the dystopic society's inhumane treatment of these young family members who are traded off and sometimes left to pay their own way out of a system that seems to have the cards stacked against them. But I get confused about this very plot when the potential evil motives of the company are often glossed over too quickly in favor of the sub plot of the infighting between the chattel-ed entertainers vie-ing for the top position; a position that only serves to make the company richer through their success. Then there is the moon-crossed love story hindered by the presence of rules prohibiting the girls from fraternizing with anyone in any close manner on or off work. Along with all of this we have a thread about Tilly's desire to be in the very work she is now in and the frustration in the knowledge that her unexpected success is all going to someone else benefit until she gets released.

This is a great light read of soft SFF with some romance and a couple of good cat-fights.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review::Blood Sacrifice (The Healers of Meligna, Book 3) by K.J. Colt

Blood SacrificeBlood Sacrifice by K.J. Colt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blood Sacrifice (The Healers of Meligna, Book 3) by K.J. Colt

When it comes to fantasy I will admit that it's about third down on my list. I'm a lover of Science Fiction and Science Fantasy and then finally Fantasy. So it might say a lot that I'm finding K. J. Colt rising quickly up the ranks of my favorite authors. She has been enticing me with her voice for the first two volumes of this series and now I think I've settle into a place where I expect certain things from her as an author and she doesn't disappoint and it's encouraging to watch her grow in her writing.

Her main character Adenine is beginning to shape up to become a very complex character. In the earlier books she was young and seemed so naive at times. She was being thrust around by whatever fate the plans of others seemed to have in store for her. The reader slowly watches as she begins to assert herself and develop into something bordering onto rebellious, and that's with some very good reasons. Treated like property and as a slave to the Queens with the proviso that things will only go well for her if she tow the line as all the other healers and prostitute herself for the glory of men and her Queen.

In the third novel Adenine has resolved to save other young girls like herself from such a fate, but it would seem this time her largest battle will be against herself. Going behind the backs of her friends to do things alone she creates more trouble than good, which has begun to be a trademark failing she has developed. She has a long way to go to grow out of this and it's going to cost her more this time then it has in the past. She is afraid that what she does always ends up hurting others and she's having a great difficulty letting the past go while continuing to berate herself for what she has done.

Adenine is living in an era where she is expected to keep in line with her head down and do as she's told; and the harshness of the reality of that life has triggered her rebellious side. This time all the stops are pulled as she seemingly unwisely reacts poorly to all authority and even her King.

In many ways Adenine reminds me of Edmond Dante's of The Count of Monte Cristo when he sheds the life of Edmond Dante and becomes the Count and finds himself hardening his heart to enter into the darkness of the deed he must accomplish. He too had trouble letting the past go. And she does go deeply into some dark areas of her character with some moments of self deception and ultimately inner conflict. She attempts to make use of her ability to heal herself by inflicting herself with wounds and become inured to pain, so that she can teach herself to live with the pain with hopes of becoming invincible in battle. And in a way this seeming invincibility might be making her overly forward in her dealings with authority. Unlike Edmond Dante; Adenine keeps finding herself back in prison for her perceived misdeeds.

Adenine has learned a secret about healing that allows her to discard the old way of healing through sex; and she's getting ready to preform test to determine if others might have the same healing blood. If she can get past the narrow-mindedness of the leaders she might be able to teach them this before it is too late. But the clock is ticking because the Queens are getting ready to expand their territory and there are others such as the emperor of Bivinia who are ready to move to stop the Queens from expanding and committing themselves to their own territorial expansion. But Adenine is a healer and years of prejudice to healers are hard to drive past to get to the point where people of influence will allow her to help them.

There are a number of well crafted twists and turns in this novel that kept me on the edge of my seat and propelled me to finish this in one sitting.

This is great world building Fantasy for the lovers of Fantasy: with complex characters.
Adenine has her work cut out for her and sometimes she's her own worst enemy.

Looking forward to the next installment in this series and for those who haven't read any of the previous novels I recommend you get acquainted starting with the first novel. You won't be disappointed.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, June 16, 2014

All You Need is Kill (Edge of Tomorrow) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

All You Need Is KillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All You Need is Kill (Edge of Tomorrow)by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

I don't usually write reviews of films; so why should I start now? Let's forget that three other people wrote the screenplay for this little gem of a film. I enjoyed the film aside from having just a moment of confusion about the ending.(Hope that doesn't stand as a spoiler.) As soon as I got home I got onto Amazons site and downloaded the book. This turned out to be fortuitous because the book was every bit as good, if not better than the movie in many ways and it was, not so surprisingly, nothing like the movie. This works out well for both because if you have read the book you can still enjoy the movie as something quite different. And if you've seen the movie I would recommend that you read the book it came from. The ending is less of a head shaker but then you need to read it to find out what I mean by that.

So I've heard it said that this was like Groundhog Day mixed with Starship Troopers. And more reverently compared to Groundhog Day mixed with Independence Day. Since these Mimics reminded me a lot of the Matrix Sentinel I think we can toss some of that into it too. But that's the movie and I'm cutting quickly to the original novel from which the idea was taken.

In the book the Mimics are described as looking somewhat like frogs which comes nowhere close to what we see in the movie. Keiji(Cage) Kiriya is not a Major in the US Forces(as William Cage in the movie is) but instead a UDF Jacket Jockey-fresh and green as they come going into his first real battle. A short battle at that, and perhaps one of the longest short battles ever. His first meeting with the Full Metal Bitch (Mad Wargarita as the Japanese refer to her) is when she quiets him, after he's fatally hit, with some casual conversation; while she waits for him to die so she can take his battery. This is the introduction to the beginning of the loops. From Keiji's POV we get the grit of the war and perhaps some of the bitterness toward those in command sending out the Jackets to die.

The story itself begins much like the book The Good Soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek (which is a dark comedy on the horror of war and the incompetence of the Army.) The movie starts much the same, but for my tastes seems to be a bit more comedic ( and that might well be the reason to compare it to Starship Troopers), which may have diminished the characters that surround Keiji as he prepares each day to go to battle vowing to save as many of his comrades as he can. Rita Vrataski may be the closest character carried over from book to movie. Well the red hair might be a bit off or washed out in the movie. But I would have to agree with some that the movie portrayal somewhat diminishes the strong female character by placing her further back from the lens than is in the book. In the book the reader gets a whole chapter from her POV.

The book also contains an account of the use of a battle axe trademark of Rita and how Keiji quickly picks up on the value of such; enough to begin training with one as soon as possible. I particularly love the explanation of how the axe would be the weapon of choice for close battle.

In the book there is a far greater field from which to become acquainted with the characters. This and the many differences of book to movie make it a separate story in itself that stands well and above the film in so many ways I can not emphasize enough the importance of reading this story as a sort of measure of a much more powerful story.

For those who haven't seen the movie it is worth watching even for those who have read the book because in so many ways it is a completely different story being told.

For a movie that is quite outstanding on it's own; the book is far superior and well worth a read.

This is great SFF for the Military Minded Fan.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Review::Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

EarthseedEarthseed by Pamela Sargent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

I came across this book while looking at a request someone had for a book they had once read. Someone may have mentioned these novels or I might have just stumbled upon them at the time. Either way I decided since I have read Pamela Sargent's Venus series and enjoyed her style of writing I would give these a try. I have to admit that the first 100 pages almost discouraged me. The books are being marked now as Teen fiction and they certainly read like Young Adult at least for the first half I have no idea what they were listed as back in 1983 first printing.

There is a point when the story finally takes off with some reasonable conflicts and interesting plot twists and it become a book that's hard to put down.

I was expecting a lot more from Pamela Sargent when this started out with Zoheret, a young teen living a sheltered life aboard Ship with her young friends and the struggles of the day were to the tune of; which girl her favorite boy was spending time with. This actually does define Zoheret from the beginning and there is a lot of time spent showing us how shallow she can be. Aboard ship everyone is somewhat healthy but for some reason some of the people born aboard have defects. They all seem to have been born through some sort of cloning or test tube type of process and the Ship acts as their single parent. Zoheret is Ships favorite and the other children aboard are pretty normal children some not so nice while making fun of the others.

The premise of this story is that they are aboard this ship heading for a planet they will colonize. It doesn't take much imagination to see that they are not nearly ready to do this and that something has to happen soon or they might never be ready. Several of the group seem aware of this and are asking Ship to let them go into a part of the ship that is like a massive garden that can sometimes be dangerous. They want to go in and have Ship shut down all the safety's so they can begin to learn how to survive.

At this point it begins to sound a lot like the Lord of the Flies when things start to go all wrong in what has been termed a competition. People get hurt but no one dies and the Ship seems blase about the whole thing and though sometimes Zoheret can have insightful thoughts she mostly is stuck in teen angst about finding a boyfriend.

About halfway through the book Pamela Sargent finally turns on the style I'm more used to from her and we begin to see some conflict. Something is not quite right with Ship and while Ship sends them out for more training in the wilderness region of the ship 'she' begins to act strangely even as the children begin their devolution to Lord of the Flies territory. The teens soon discover that they are not alone aboard Ship and that there is not just one other set of settlers here there are two and both could be very dangerous to them and even to the continued integrity of the ship.

And now what first sounded like a light version of Lord of the Flies, begins to start darkening until we have several moral questions being examined while the stakes get higher and people begin to die. The decisions the characters have to make become real and relevant and they become much more difficult for some of them. We finally begin to see Zoheret growing to a more reasonable level of maturity as she begins to realize she can't trust the one who has been her mother, protector and constant companion throughout her life and their journey.

Once again Pamela Sargent delivers her usual insightful and well crafted SFF that will capture most fans as long as they suffer through the first part of world building.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review::Tarnished: The St. Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper

Tarnished (The St. Croix Chronicles, #1)Tarnished by Karina Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tarnished: The St. Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper

I'm not one to twitter a lot but I got this suggestion from twitter and it looked like an interesting submission into the Steam-punk genre although as we see from the authors own self proclamation it is more Dark and Sexy Paranormal Romance and Historical Urban Fantasy. I was recently reading someone's blog in relation to Steam-punk being more Fantasy than Science Fiction because of the whole taking place in the past and being anachronistic in nature. And I would agree to an extent meaning that don't much like that they said that it was Fantasy Fiction, which just sort of ground me as being redundant since fiction is synonymous with fantasy and a number of other words relating to something that is not real.

Tarnished is definitely a book written for entertainment, but not for the faint of heart. This means both that it is both Dark and Sexy. So be prepared to get the blood pumping. What I enjoyed about this is the Dark because it extends evenly across the good and the bad. The main character Cherry St. Croix has a dark past. She's the daughter of a mad scientist whose parents died in a fire when she was a little girl. Though she stood to inherit she was shuttled off to an orphanage and then ends up working at a circus before her relatives catch up to her. By then she has been introduced to a number of seedy practices one of which is a Opium habit. Even now she uses it to get rid of her constant nightmares. But she's on a stipend until she reaches 21 so she finds herself doing the dirty work of a Collector to augment her fixed income so she can afford her habit.

Though Cherry doesn't sound like the best of characters she will surprise the reader as Karina Cooper makes her both believable and endearing in her struggles through the first half of the novel. There are many dark events ahead of Cherry and she will dig herself deeper into the darkness before she will see light. Rather than romance this book has some steamy sex but the context is rather dark so the bulk of the novel should be considered dark fantasy at best. It's quite well written with some well drawn and flawed characters with of course Cherry being the most Anachronistic thing in the the story; since her entire character defies the conventions of those times.

Still: this is a great story with a strong female protagonist who has quite a few demons under her belt for someone so young. A woman of the world who is still quite naive and will take a few knocks before she's willing to admit that. What is disappointing and what I would agree with others about is that the last portion of the book did not do Ms St. Croix any credit to her abilities. I could possibly chalk this one up to her heavy use of opium. Maybe in the next installment she will get smart and clean herself up.

I'm looking forward to the next installment as she continues her hunt for bounty as a collector.

Great Steam-Punk that's a bit on the darker side than even some of the other steam-punk I've read. Good for SFF fans who look toward the fantasy part.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Review::The Sixth Movement by Shiva Winters ( Forgotten Children, Book Two )

The Sixth MovementThe Sixth Movement by Shiva Winters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sixth Movement by Shiva Winters

When Shiva Winters proclaims that she writes for entertainment she's not kidding. I've come to expect a number of things from her work and the highest on the list is the entertainment. This installment of Forgotten Children is no exception to the rules. There will be long sentences lots of world building and bunches of creative science along with somewhat realistic though rather super-humanly strong characters. If you're looking for strong female characters then look no further. Shiva(The character in the novel) and her adopted family have plenty to go around.

In the previous book we learned many of the dark secrets of Anslaw; and Shiva rediscovered herself and made her stand against an abuse that had gone on for too long. This resulted in her being interred at Anslaw and Aerisa. Free to live there, but not free to live among others except the other sixes. This has given her the time and opportunity to release more of her fellow 6's from their cryogenic containers and begin a slow process of integrating them. But now they need to further gain freedom by becoming less dependent on the government that is grudgingly taking care of their responsibilities to the soldiers they created.

One way Shiva and company can do this is to help track down the 5's who were sold off into the black market. But for Shiva; the only way to do this type of work, is on her terms. So the majority of the plot to this installment is the conflict between her with her family of 6's and the government. Some of those officials seem to earnestly want to help but many still want to use the 6's and gain some sort of return on their investment. Shiva will have to stand strong against any potential for abuse and she'll have to somehow learn to trust those who deserve the trust.

The reader is about to learn more about the abuse Shiva had to endure and the result; with some rather extensive explanations for some unknown passages under Anslaw. And as Shiva's intellect begins to kick in strong we see the building of the base from which the community of 6's will begin to gain their freedom. Yet each time Shiva needs to interface with the politicians and military it becomes a test of wills.

This installment includes some few strategic battles pitting 6's against 5's and those battles, for the most part, seem mostly one-sided, but since the real conflict here is between those who want to help and those who want to continue to abuse, it works out quite well as the plot goes and it creates a well paced Science Fiction Military Suspense Thriller.

As I mentioned the main players are beginning to look like super-humans with extra powers that give them the edge. But Shiva Winters does her usual excellent job of bring the human characteristics into each character with their flaws both major and minor and all displaying simple normal human traits. As with the previous novel there is a distinct Lesbian thread in the story but it does not overpower or dominate the story and is handled in a quite logical believable fashion.

As always with Shiva's writing I caution anyone who has a weakness when it come to grammar that there will be at least a few flaws in the fabric. Most are in the form of repeated words or missing words.

Like a good scotch whiskey Shiva Winter's prose can sometimes be an acquired taste so I recommend for the new reader to start with some of her earlier work. You will love it or hate it but if you read enough you should start craving it. I'm always happy to see when she releases one of her newer labels.

I had a chance to look at the ARC for her new steam-punk novel and, for those fans that love her current series already, it will be a great treat to add to your collection.

No pressure for you to get that one finished Shiva.

J.L. Dobias

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