Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review::Fear The Sky by Stephen Moss

Fear the SkyFear the Sky by Stephen Moss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fear The Sky(The Fear Saga Book1)by Stephen Moss

I looked into this novel by way of someones recommendation that it was unique hard science fiction debut novel of a higher caliber than many of those out there today. I can't say I didn't enjoy it because I did and though I struggled to get through it in one night, I almost pulled it off. It is well written and I give it high marks for keeping me entertained, but for that I have to be honest and dispute a few of the notions someone else had when the recommended it to me.

This novel is a great novel for those who like their Science Fiction heavily dominated by the Science. I'm not absolutely certain that it is hard, while in many areas it clearly seems like magic. But the science is also dominated by some procedural elements that give it that firmer feel like one might get from a David Weber novel. What I mean by that is we get the length descriptions of the hardware being used and mix in a bit of the science with that and then we get a few quick action scenes where some of the science gets used.

This novel is also pretty heavy into the political end of things and also the familiar intricate suspense building of espionage similar to the Honor Harrington novels.

What the book might lack is a firm development of characters. There is character development but between the dominant science and politics and the large cast, the development of characters suffers a bit. I love great charactorization in my novels and missed out a bit on that in the wide spread nature of this novel.

The plot itself seemed to take a blend of Battlestar Galactica and it's old and new cast of evil to mix a robot with human outer skin much like what is seen in the first Terminator movie. From there it's the old invasion trope with a slight twist in that the aliens want the Earth intact with absolutely no human life remaining. To do that they need to be sure that all nuclear war material is neutralized, which accounts for the Android like advance force they send. The setup for invasion and the long logical discovery of that invasion dominate a large portion of the novel and almost drag it down and it doesn't really take off until the investigators are absolutely certain that they are witnessing the beginning of a potential invasion. The upside to this is that that portion of the novel sets the characters of the two main characters I found the most intriguing.

So if you like those heavily dominant Science and Political scenarios with the espionage to keep you on the edge of your seat and some few examples of how devastating the gap is between the struggling Humans and the aliens, to the tune of a heartless machine against flesh, then this is the book for you. There are at least a couple characters that you might find that you sympathize with though if you're like me you might be disappointed that there is little time left to examine them closely.

Good read for SFF fans who love the procedural science and tech dominated fiction.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review::Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1)Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Under the Empyrean Sky(The Heartland Trilogy Book 1) by Chuck Wendig

This is one of those books I might not just pick up and check out; so I admittedly have gotten this through the Kindle Unlimited program and downloaded it to check it out; though it was in the wishlist.

THE CORN REACHES for the land-boat above it, but the corn is slow and the cat-maran is fast. The stretching, yearning stalks hiss against the boat’s bottom, making a white noise that sounds like pollen coming out of a piss-blizzard.

Wendig, Chuck (2013-07-30). Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy Book 1) (Kindle Locations 61-63). Skyscape. Kindle Edition.

Now the above is probably why I put this in the wish list and didn't just buy it and start reading. Don't get me wrong-this is great imagery; it's just when it gets to piss-blizzard and I wandered off to try to find out what a piss-blizzard might be that it lost me back then.

This time I read through and--guess what--within context of the story there is a definition for piss-blizzard.

I think originally I felt like I'd stepped into a Ken Kesey novel or maybe something like a Richard Farina novel maybe some wierd spinoff of Been Down So Long Looks Like Up To Me. But then there are these blizzards caused by the pollen from the corn and they get pretty violent up your nose kind of yellow fog blizzard that are called piss-blizzard so that makes more sense than thinking Richard Farina has started to write science fiction Dystopia.

This is no ordinary corn this super corn engineered to be prolific and meant to be used in all sorts of applications from fuel to feed. But there is some bit of foreboding here when there is talk of the blight afflicting humans and how it slowly takes over the body until it squeezes the life out of the people. Better to take them out and burn them before everyone else is infected. But is there more to it than that and could this be tied to the use of corn for beer and alcohol and perhaps even linked to Cael's fathers rather simple warning that it's best not to imbibe in too many or anything that is made with the corn.

In the above quote the whole begining of the novel sounds like quite good imagery with corn reaching and yearning. And since I had stopped there once; it stayed that way in my mind for quite some time, but I soon found that this was more literal than literary. This corn seems to have a life of its own and if you get left out there too long and start napping you could easily become just that much more fodder for its purpose. This corn is worse than crabgrass as it reaches out takes hold and moves into the surrounding area choking out everything.

Life on the ground is structured around the control and harvesting of this corn. The villages of people who live amongst the corn receive some token support and reward in the harvesting of the corn, though I was a bit confused about what they actually have to do with that harvest since the corn seemed to be harvested by automated machinery. And when that machinery breaks down the villagers don't so much repair it as scavenge from it. So quite basically as the villagers have a transient vagrant sector that scavenge off of them they scavenge off the machinery of the Empyreans who live in the sky. So is it any wonder they are treated often like rats and just barely tolerated.

The Corn and the society seem to be threads of a plot that might run throughout the series where the central plot of this novel might be the lives of some of the people in the villages amongst the corn. In a way its all about the lives of the 'children of the corn'[my name for them-not the author's]. And that moniker might be quite appropriate to where the plot begins to guide me as a reader into the near horror in the story.

If I have a niggle in this novel it might be how it seems to take society backwards or maybe sidling depending on how one views our society today. Of course this is fiction so the author may take it any direction he chooses. It just seems to me that there are some opportunities for some strong female characters that get tossed aside for what seems like the usual male dominated tropes. This would be alright if wasn't for the fact that the plot now is driven by this male need to acquire the female. In this instance it is Gwennie who has been the stabilizing influence in Cael's team of scavengers and there is a whole relationship thing between the two that is tragically doomed when the marriage lottery that the village does matches Gwennie with Boyland, who is Cael's arch enemy. And at this point Gwennie's value plummets while the two men begin a slow dance of rivalry.

But this whole society works that way and I soon find that Cael may be on the road to repeating history. There is some potential for another girl, Wanda Mecklin, who is the one who wins Cael as a potential mate; but once again she is cast aside to move the plot forward. And there is Cael's sister Merelda who has potential to be strong and show up that way, but she disappears from the story quickly. So this becomes a male dominated story, which is not so much a problem as an observation. Then there is Proctor Agrasanto from the sky city who is a villain-ness so she has to come off tough; but even so, she constantly seems to want to be somewhere else rather than preforming her duties. So even though the women seem to be an important part of a plot point they also seem to come off as mostly window dressing which tends to weaken the whole plot point for me.

Setting those concerns aside this is still a very well written book that captured my interest enough for me to finish in one sitting. I hope that we see a brighter future for the women in the story toward reaching their potential, but I will be looking toward the next novel to find where the other threads are taking the larger story.

This is strong SFF in a classic sense with some fresh notions and a few of the usual tropes that should keep the average reader entertained for one sustained sitting.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review::Rebel Wing by Tracy Banghart

Rebel Wing (Rebel Wing #1)Rebel Wing by Tracy Banghart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rebel Wing by Tracy Banghart

I really enjoyed this novel as a tale of growth within the main character. This growth was both external and internal and the full understanding of the character's growth evolves so slowly across the story that it still takes a huge jolt at one point close to the end for them to realize how much they've changed. The story had consistent science and world building throughout and main premise in the story seemed to hinge on one specific element.

Aris loves to fly her wingjet and she expects soon to be promised to her young man Calix. She knows flying is impractical unless she preforms crop dusting or traveling for a living but Calix will be going into the health sector and he understands her need to fly. In their perfect world it could be that way, but they are about to find out their perfect world will be shattered. The day before that revelation Aris receives a visitor who offers her something that sounds exciting and yet impossible while foretelling the coming events that will require enough manpower that many, including Calix, will be inducted into the military.

The Dominion of Atalanta[Aris and Calix's home] is at war with Safaran dominion and they are losing despite their own propaganda to the contrary. There is an intricate political landscape that involves disputes over control of resources and even a few personal conflicts. The majority of the Dominions seem to be caught in the middle but the leader of Atalanta believes that Safaran is after more than just resources and he knows that the first in danger after Atalanta would be Ruslana whose leader is someone he knows well enough that he has to step carefully in order to enlist her help. As it is she can only offer a minimum of support, but that is integral to the rest of the story.

In this world and particularly in Atalanta the women are not allowed to fight in the military, in fact doing so would be a punishable crime. If I as a reader had one niggling with this novel it would be that the reason for this was never made clear. I appreciate that there might be some attempt to parallel our attitudes and emphasize those feelings by making it a crime. And that would explain that some women might dress as men to sneak into the ranks and the notion of the veil that is used to disguise them is quite ingenious. The women who serve may even die but will never be acknowledge. Although there might be parallels in our western culture there seem to be less of those in the east to the tune that woman were acknowledged to have been warriors; so that not all history has been altered to cast those women as men. So it might have been helpful, all around, to demonstrate some solid reasoning for it being a crime or maybe an explanation that, the logic behind it all; defies logic[which might just sound like reality].

The whole notion does add some interesting flavor to the story so as long as every reader might accept the rule as fact without any substantial background it stands very much to enrich the story as Aris has to make her decision, which in this case she makes for all the wrong reasons. But more than that is that Aris undergoes training that she would otherwise never have because of a childhood ailment that left her physically stunted and as it seems to turn out her life in her village managed to continue to keep her stunted. Her training eventually removes some physical affectations she has and makes her a stronger person while we are introduced to the actual character behind all the physical as we watch that character grow.

Aris is deployed as Aristos and has to carefully hide her secret lest she be caught and arrested. She believes she is in this only when and until she is reunited with Calix; while she's being used by others for her outstanding skill at flying. Her journey from being a selfish sheltered young woman to coming face to face with the horror of war and the realization of the part she could play in all of this make this story a very well told and defined tale of coming of age.

This story should appeal to lovers of SFF and Romance and Adventure and certainly all the mid to upper half of the young adult crowd. The complex political atmosphere and relationships between the players keep the reader on their toes and the pay off is well worth the read.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Review::The Empress Graves by E.J. Tett

The Empress GravesThe Empress Graves by E.J. Tett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Empress Graves(The Power of Malinas Book 2) by E.J. Tett

When I read the first novel of this series, The Kingdom of Malinas, I didn't have that many of the strict fantasy genre, from which this comes, under my belt. Since then I've been trying to get in a few and now I've returned to the world of Sorrel, Little Cloud, Millicent and others with a bit more understanding. This book is every bit as much as good and readable as the first.

I now have somewhat the ability to compare and I would easily compare this series with that of The Healers of Meligna-series by K.J. Colt. Though there is a certain polished quality behind the Healers that isn't quite here in the The Emperess Graves and Kingdom of Malinas I still found similar depth of world building and great writing style. Though E.J. Tett's characters are well defined and developed they lack a certain dimensionality that I see in other author's work. By this I mean that there where times, such as when someone close to Sorrel is ruthlessly murdered before her eyes, that though she has a somewhat appropriate response in seeking revenge, there is never much time spent with any inner struggle she might have with the loss of someone so close. It's as though she compartmentalizes it while she seeks revenge, but the reader never gets a full sense that that is really what she's doing. It's as though the rush to the plot has no regard for some precious character details and its hard to feel the true impact of the loss of this character.

Admit-ably I had to return to the first book to recall much of what happened previously since it has been a while since I last read that. This is important because the main antagonist--the Empress--is a figure from out of the first novel and it took me a while to realize this. And though this novel might easily stand alone, it is enhanced with some knowledge from the previous novel. It is at the end of the first novel that Millicent makes it clear that there is a power hidden in the Kingdom of Malinas and that that power draws evil.

This novel concerns a quest for that power. On the surface throughout the novel we see Sorrel struggling, but it is hard to tell if she is struggling with her own quest for revenge or if she might be influenced by this power. As we get closer to the end, the power itself is a major turning point and it remained unclear to me whether that power would have a negative influence on Sorrel and though we see her struggle greatly near the end it's not all that clear if its only a struggle with her quest for vengeance or it might be something more tied to this power drawing evil.

The Empress Graves is well paced and keeps the readers attention throughout and for me it was easy to finish in one sitting. As it gets closer to the end the tension mounts and as is with novels of this nature death takes no favorites.

This is good SFF for the young and old and should stand well with those who love the epic fantasies. I would recommend to anyone who hasn't read the first book to read that before reading this one though it's not absolutely mandatory.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review::The Beasts of Upton Puddle by Simon West-Bulford

The Beasts of Upton PuddleThe Beasts of Upton Puddle by Simon West-Bulford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Beasts of Upton Puddle by Simon West-Bulford

This was a surprising book. I'd picked it up with several others and left it unattended for quite a bit. I was recently going to be reformatting hard drives on two computers and needed something to pass the time while I sat and observed the electronic equivalent of paint drying. I remembered I had this book and thought it would be just the right kind of light reading I needed for this task. I'm glad I finally decided to read this one.

This is the well told tale of a young man who is going through life with the usual adolescent problems for any bright young man with few if any true friends. The story opens with Joe stopping during his weekend delivery of newspapers to take a nap at the edge of the forest[Something he might be less inclined to do if he were reading the news he was delivering]. I know; pretty sedate, but there's a prologue that punched it up for a starter. Joe nods off and dreams a peculiar dream only to be awakened to catch a glimps of what is possibly the Beast of Upton Puddle. This leads to the dicovery of an injured badger, which Joe takes to the vet, as usual; but this time Joe is told the vet is too busy to help him. The vet gives Joe a list of alternate possibilities, which leads to Ms. Merrynether's Elizabethan Mansion where Joe discovers several mythical creatures.[But not before first becoming a delivery boy for Ronny Merrynether; bringing back strange groceries.]

It doesn't take long to discover that Joe has some peculiar talents, some of which may account for his inability to make friends. When Joe meets a tiny saraph, a giant flying eyeball, a narcoleptic kappa, a hiccup-y wyvern and poisonous manticore at the mansion, it's not hard to see why he becomes suspicious of where the beast in the forest may have come from. He also finds Heinrich, a man with a severely burnt face, at the mansion; along with a cluricaun with a drinking problem. Lilly, the cluricaun, is the comic relief; though his mischief borders on dangerous.

The entire group add up to a strange army of misfits. And it doesn't take long for the evil to show up in the form of Mr. Redwar, someone who wants to buy out Ms. Merrynether for undisclosed reasons. But far worse than one wicked man is what might happen if the world where all these wonderful creatures have come from is exposed to the human race and that opens the possibility of war.

Joe doesn't know it yet but he's about to become a pawn in the much larger game that has intimate ties with the prologue.

This novel was just what the doctor ordered for the day and it seems the whole process began to be paced around finishing The Beasts of Upton Puddle.

A well paced action packed, sometimes hilarious, read full of a great variety of characters. this book is a great addition to the reading stack of any YA lover of SFF.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Review:: Lightwing by Tara K. Harper

LightwingLightwing by Tara K. Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lightwing by Tara K. Harper

This is my second read of this old classic. Old now because it's over twenty years and it still reads well. This reminded me of many of my favorite classics from back in the sixties and seventies and many of those are Robert Heinlein books. This one though had the flavor of a Marion Zimmer Bradley and in particular the Color's of Space. The protagonist is female and a somewhat modified human variant.

Kiondili Wae has some considerable Esper talent that will do her well down the road, but she doesn't yet realize how strong her talent is. She's the underdog fighting her way up alone, because her parents were mistakenly blacklisted and then murdered; although the guild called it a regrettable accident. It left her with minor citizenship with fewer privileges than her peers and having to work hard to earn her education. She has little hope of moving rapidly up the ladder to fair employment, but she's not discouraged because she has confidence in her abilities. She just seems to need better focus.

Kiondili has an Esper ability that has been measured lower than actual and she's treading thin ice because if they find out they might become suspicious that she has excelled in her lessons by stripping the answers from other peoples heads. But that becomes a double edge sword when some job recruiters find this out and offer her a job and wave the normal testing fee she would have to pay. The tester is a Ruvian and they are high in Esper abilities and this is one of many aliens the reader will be introduced to.

If I had one quibble with this book it might be that there are almost too many interesting aliens peopling the story. Still Tara Harper does a great job of keeping them sorted for this reader and she gets high marks for that. The science sometimes almost seems a bit inexplicable, but what is of greater interest is that it is consistent science within the story and it seems well thought out though this reader got a bit lost in it sometimes.

When Kiondili reaches her posting at Corson she discovers it won't be an easy fit right from the start with a handful of alien species, some predatory; and the few species she should be comfortable with end up being the worst to deal with. She'll be Dr. Stillman's assistant and the doctor seems quite nice, but manages to put her right in the middle of an ongoing practical joke battle between the doctor and an alien race, the Dhirrnu, who love to engage in practical jokes. But that's just a mild part of her start at the facility since she's already made the acquaintance of an Ixia who would just as easily make her its lunch, as to take her to lunch.

When her higher Esper abilities are discovered Kiondili finds herself accused of stealing ideas from the mind of a human researcher and she undergoes a close examination from a Ruvian who digs deep into her mind to uncover the truth. Though she comes out exonerated she does not come out unscathed and I thought that Tara Harper did a splendid job of describing what could only be understood to be a mind rape and it's affects on Kiondili.

The science of the story though is about this consortium of aliens and humans who are trying to uncover the secrets to faster than light travel and how Kiondili contributes despite all the stumbling blocks thrown before her.

Even after twenty years this is a solidly good read with fine characterization and a story that grips the reader from front to back. It's a must read for lovers of SF and SFF.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review:: When Night Falls(Regeneration Series)by Airicka Phoenix

When Night FallsWhen Night Falls by Airicka Phoenix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Night Falls(Regeneration Series)by Airicka Phoenix

I like a good science fiction and I can take or leave a horror and even tolerate a romance now and then. So this book seems to be a sort of teasy treat that tries to combine all three and include a bit of suspense. I can give it high marks for entertaining but not the highest. I can't give it 3.5 so I have gone with 4 and will be brutally honest about why its not a 5.

This starts out strong with a spaceship full of the last survivors of a self destructed earth. It reminded me of Poul Anderson's After Doomsday, but within a few pages that comparison fell apart which was a bit of a shame. We move quickly into the romance and angsty romance at that.

It might be the romance that spoiled this, but only because it seemed like a trope here and rather than enhancing the development of the character I felt it hindered. We start out with two couples Scarlett and Hunter; and RolfGray and Kiera. But as it develops we discover that Scarlett and Hunter are not really a couple; though I felt it confusing at first, yet some how clear that Hunter might prefer men over women. The confusion might be deliberate because at first Hunter comes off as the somewhat laid back but still capable of being jealous boyfriend. Later it becomes clearer that he might just dislike Rolf, though his protest seem more in line with not liking Scarlett getting into the middle of what he perceives as a couple; in RolfGray and Kiera. [This might be Rolf Gray but in my edition it always shows as RolfGray]

As the story develops we discover there is a slowly percolating relationship between Scarlett and Rolf. It started from their first meeting as they boarded the ship long ago and grew stronger because of an incident that occurred after they discovered Earth was dead. I will leave it to others to read the novel to discover this. What concerns me is that in part this relationship and the people involved are what drag things down a bit for me. I like a story that has good characterization and this story had potential for that, but I kept feeling it was falling short and in some cases confusing me. By this I mean that though I can understand the fault of the characters having crossed up relationships; I would have like to have seen some evidence of growth or understanding and or growth of understanding. That said; they are young people still so we need to cut a bit of slack and realize that the angst could look just as real as it looks like a trope.

I don't mind tropes as long as they don't drive the story and for a while these do.

This novel lacks any real strong characters. And though we do get introduced to the horror[some zombie-fy-ing virus], we don't get introduced to the real evil until very close to the end; so the novel has to rely on the protagonists and they all come off pretty weak to me. They do have their moments and though Rolf does shine as a leader he often drops the ball. Scarlett could have been an awesome kick evil protagonist if she didn't seem to get so weak at the knee's around Rolf. But the weakest thing was the complicated relationship between Rolf and Kiera, which seemed to exist only for the sole purpose to allow time for Hunter to spout recriminations at Scarlett and for Scarlett to angst over while beating herself up.

The tropes themselves were not as much the problem as the fact that they were necessary to drive some of the plot and develop the characters. And for me as character development they all fell short. I think they could be mentioned, but then would have been better shoved off in the background. Again; for me the angsty love scenes hurt more than helped. The whole whinny Hunter friendship jealousy thing was too far off for me and didn't help though I could see that it adds to the tension. In the same token the clingy needy and sometime sulky nature of Kiera in her relationship, though adding tension, did less to help. When certain points resolve around these characters the nature of Hunter's and Kiera's relationships to Scarlett and Rolf almost make less sense to me, but that could just be me and I think the reader would have to make their own judgement on this. So you should read it and see.

The plot, and there is a plot that drives the story, is another redeeming feature. I was pleasantly pleased with the twists and even comfortable with the ending of this as the first part of a series. The entire novel is written well with only a handful of grammatical problems that shouldn't hamper the average reader's enjoyment. I think with the strong start and the twisty plot this could easily have been a five for me had there been less emphasis on tropes and more on strengthening the characters. As it is I would give it a 3.5 star but in lieu of that it's a 4 that could be a 5.

For readers who like zombie stories that have a plot that doesn't devolve into a gore fest and who like a bit of light Sci Fi in the mix with a dash of romance this should make an easy enjoyable read. If you can get past the tropes or maybe even discover that I'm overreacting to my own perceptions of trope you should read this and let me know.

J.L. Dobias

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