Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review::Beautiful Zurt by Jes Simon

Beautiful ZurtBeautiful Zurt by Jes Simon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beautiful Zurt by Jes Simon

This novella is interesting; but rather frustrating. It has the earmarks of something that could have been quite good; but falls backwards, because of the general premise behind it all. I like this as a short entertaining piece of light Sci-Fi and would love to give it high marks; but there is a struggle with that. The story itself is easily discerned to be one of a re-creation of a game experience put into context of a story. It has a sort of nostalgic flare to it; but inwardly the nostalgia seems to stifle the piece. It is not easy to explain but I'll give it a try.

The first puzzle that comes and then unravels itself is the immediate strangeness of the nomenclature for the tools and other oddities found in the world. This is the first clue that this is mostly about a game (one that might exist). The player Renya Zaffor has arrived on the planet after her ship attained orbit; and was somehow trapped leaving her few options from which she somehow determines transporting down is the best option. From there she is stuck. She was drawn here by a friend, The Baron, who seems absent; leaving her as the sole occupant of the world. The Baron has left some notes pertaining to the Tools that are lying around everywhere--tools that may be assembled in various ways to make different levels of tools--none of which have much if any explanation from the Baron as to their use. The names are weird and probably not names created by the Baron; though we don't know much about him, so that assumption might be taking license with the feeling that this is a game.

Much of the first part of the book Renya is wandering around assembling tools and finding even some tools not yet in the Baron's notes while she makes her own notes; possibly for the next unfortunate who might be trapped here. Sometimes blasé about things Renya is a bit concerned about what might happen when her food supplies run short. Eventually she discovers that one common room she's been using will give her access to the language of whoever created the tools. When a new arrival appears she is able to help them learn much more quickly all that is needed only to have them zapped into some sort of creature construct.

The map of the world easily begins to read like one of those MMORPG's of today and as it turns out this, though textual rather than graphics, might be one of the earliest of multiplayer games. Knowing in advance that that is what this is might be more helpful than a spoiler so I won't count this as a spoiler. Though this mirrors the game it is real--at least to Renya and the four others involved in the story.

There is a plot of sorts in all of this, which involves mostly finding the Baron and getting off the planet. Though we learn a bit about the Baron's past we don't really get to know Renya enough to know if her actions and attitude are reasonable to the circumstances under which she finds herself. As a reader I found that, at best, I had to rely on the notion that the Baron must have expected something of this nature from her; since he lured her to be trapped with him.

This novella is an interesting story that might be more suited to those interested in MMORPG's and enjoy Sci-Fi. It's a quick light read and does contain an evenly paced story. It might be most valuable to those who have some nostalgic connection to the original game it was derived from, since it maintains the games naming conventions and some of the general map of the world.

Overall, for me, this was a good framework for a story; but it could have been fleshed out more.

J.L. Dobias

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Review:Date Night on Union Station by E.M. Foner

Date Night on Union Station (EarthCent Ambassador Book 1)Date Night on Union Station by E. M. Foner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Date Night on Union Station by E.M. Foner

Humor is subjective and I always have to keep that in mind when I read something that is billed as good comic science fiction. Maybe I'm thick and just have a problem seeing the humor. When I think of good humor in diplomacy and science fiction I always settle back into images of Keith Laumer's Retief series of books. Well move over Retief because Kelly Frank has just hit the space ways.

I really expected this to turn into a comic romance in a great hurry because the first thing we find out is that Kelly's co-workers have decided to get her a subscription to the stations dating service. But before we let things digress too much we have to stipulate that this is Union Space Station and it's owned and operated by the Stryx who have sponsored the humans in the attempt to uplift them into space. And Kelly has been installed as the acting consul or acting Ambassador for Earth. She has one major problem with most of the alien races trying to understand why she 'acting' out the part. The station has a Stryx intelligence named Gryph who controls the station and a part of that, which interfaces with Kelly, calls itself Libby although the various persona of the station like to remain separated in a sort of anonymous way.

Kelly of course is single and the agency that does the matchmaking (secretly run by Libby) is at best a dysfunctional analogue to Jane Austin's Emma. Every date for Kelly seems to double as a work assignment with little hope that she'll ever meet anyone who she might actually enjoy being with. But not to worry because her coworker Donna has two pre-teen daughters who will call her Aunt Kelly and will surely help one way or another. The girls do manage at least to make some money out of selling flowers to many of the people using the dating services.

Kelly is finding her pre paid dating service is costing her more than it's worth and would be interfering with her whole job as ambassador if it weren't for the fact that it seems to slowly be working her around to investigation into a major problem that Earth has at the moment. Being that Earth is such a primitive planet it has to rely on the trade of such quaint wares as kitchen utensils such as cork screws and can openers; but recent knockoffs produced by aliens have started to cut into profits and the poor quality is giving their trade a bad name. The Stryx rules have no prohibition to these alien counterfeiting practices so Kelly has to find a more elegant solution beyond just finding and identifying the culprits.

This is a really fun and intelligent read with the whole mess actually making a certain twisted sense as it all plays out; and Kelly's eventual solution might leave her homeless and penniless, but there is light at the end of the corridor.

As it is this is less romance and less science fiction and a great bit of tongue in cheek type humor while watching Kelly have to deal with aliens who seem to think...well, in some alien manner.

Great casual read to fill a night with elements that should satisfy the average Sci-Fi lover and some of the SFF lovers and maybe even a few of the less stringent SF lovers.

For good entertainment I recommend this and any other of Kelly's adventures. Have a fun read.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review::Indigo Heartfire by Jo Marryat

Indigo Heartfire (A Heartfire Novel Book 1)Indigo Heartfire by Jo Marryat

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Indigo Heartfire by Jo Marryat

This is another to go on my love/hate list. I'm giving it high marks just so I'll feel good about telling all the things I hate along with the things I love. This is first a love story that has a fantasy element. I was hoping for a fantasy story that had a love element but six of one half a dozen of the other. It's well written; but well written doesn't always get the reader past style decisions. Of course Romance in not my usual first pick so there might be some elements of style that I'm not in tune with. Still overall I enjoyed the story and the characters. It just took a while to warm up to them.

This novel started out a bit slow for me and it became a sea of trope types quickly. I think perhaps it feels like a means of throwing the reader off trail a bit by insisting that the point of view draw all his impressions of the people he meets into his own set of recognizable tropes. Of course Robert Kirk himself is a trope of sorts. He is a man who is still grieving and has been grieving for over five years; but has decided to rejoin society and at least give the appearance of trying to move on. In the beginning he starts introducing us to various new acquaintances as french underwear, taxi thief, and harridan with a handbag. Don't worry though soon we'll get some names. As it is Robert is an osteopath and he's elected to join a holistic health practice that's filled with some quirky practitioners; through his eyes. Robert is still fraught with thoughts of his departed wife Elaine and is for the most part indifferent to relationships; though from his description of the women he meets it's apparent that he's not dead yet. The first ten percent or 27 pages of the novel are getting us acquainted with the people he'll work with and himself; but it seems that since it's through rather cynical eyes that the real introductions come much latter as some of his impressions unravel a bit to give the reader the real picture. Perhaps it those flip flop characterizations that help obscure important details.

The fantasy part of the novel hits at around 40 pages into the story when they all get together as a group and meditate; while in Roberts head we see him imagine a place on the beach with a tiny fairy that looks, in his description, like Lindsay Lohan. All of this is supposed to be in response to the guidance of the one in charge of the meditation, but as we see it from Roberts point of view he seems to imagine it before she tells everyone to imagine it. It's not difficult for the reader to see that something strange is up. The novel itself did not start taking off for me until about 70 pages into the story when Robert finally accepts that Annabelle the fairy is real. Really though to be fair this book quite good and I think a reader needs to make their own judgement. Again for me from there and for around half the book it does quite well; sometimes reminding me of the old Topper ghost stories by Thorne Smith. I could almost feature Constance Bennett as Annabelle rather than Lindsay Lohan. Like those novels and the movies this novel is filled with many light moments of humor and serendipitous circumstances. There are some serious moments and even some moments that brought tears to my eyes.

Eventually I got past Robert the snarky people-label-er and into the real tragic Robert that lay behind all of that wall of animosity that he puts between him and everything outside. It turns out that he's quite a complex and noble soul, which takes us back into the dark side of what dragged me out of the novel for a moment and that's the last quarter of the novel. The novel's ending is at about three quarters of the way through when the reader is placed on the doorstep of near future which requires some detailed explaining; and then there is a quarter devoted to explaining how things got to that place. What I'm unsure of, even scanning back through the second time, is whether I should have been able to guess those things. The clues unfold in the last quarter and they are almost like the summation at the end of a mystery where the detective unravels the mystery to the other characters. Usually those work best when the reader has mostly unraveled it just moments before the detective. Somehow the hidden clues all remained hidden-at least to me. I'm glad I forged ahead into the summation.

I was almost tempted to believe it was just me not quite catching these hints; but then I kept asking 'why' the one quarter explanation at the end; if it should be obvious. It left me thinking that the main character Robert was deliberately obfuscating a few things along the way to throw us off and perhaps does too good a job. The saving grace is that the last quarter manages to hold itself up by delivering a few more tear worthy moments even though we already know the outcome at the time. So when you read this (please do) if you do figure this out by the three quarter mark I recommend you go over the summation because it's just as well written as the rest even if I'm not fond of the style choice at this point.

This is a great read for those who like Romance and light fantasy that is written quite well and sometimes overly clever with a caution that there might be some colloquialisms that will make some people stumble a bit and even be a devilish bit difficult to track down the meaning. Good humorous fun read for all. A top notch debut novel.

Truly this is one of those books that is about the journey just as much as the destination. And it turns out that this might be more a story about Annabelle than anything else since the next installment seems to take up the story from here and into her next project.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review::Bled White by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus

Bled White (Awake in the Dark #2)Bled White by Tim McBain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bled White by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus

This book will go on my love/hate list. You will either love this or hate it. The first book was really good as an introduction but the finishing style of cliffhanger-ish ending begins that love-hate relationship. I'm not certain how many books will be done in all for this series, but I do have some friends who steer clear of any that look to be going past 3 with the pattern described by the plots and endings of the first two books. I had just a bit of trouble because number two had a clear look of starting off where one left off and thus could not stand alone. For me the first could stand alone with it being a rather upended ending that could almost be considered thought provoking. Had the second started more standalone I could come to the same conclusion that the ending of the second could also be considered as a single story with similar upended ending. The problem is that it goes that other route because the beginning depends on you knowing what happened in the previous and this comes close to what I really hate which is those books that have been torn into ten parts to make a serialized set of e-books. Only at least these are long enough to be called novels.

I think that I would have been happier if these had been put into one book instead of split like this. That would make it plenty long and it has that sort of ending that feels more rounded than the first book. Though both endings are quite satisfactory, it doesn't bode well that there is an undefined number ahead. Again the longer more epic novel would have been just right because we could rationalize, 'ok, four hundred some pages and they didn't want to subject the reader to eight hundred: so that's cool.' But this is just me ranting.

As with before the writing is superb. And Jeff Grobnagger is still the same old Jeff he used to be, which might be why someone might feel a bit let down this time. He almost looked like he was ready to make some headway and then he gets kicked back to the curb in this book. He still is naive and this is one thing that really hurts him and the reader can see this and so far there are few if any people he can trust. Yet he too easily trusts at the same time he is paranoid, which makes him his own worst enemy. He has some real issues that keep rearing their heads and he spends so much time on these this time that there are other questions that should come to mind that he completely overlooks.

Telling anyone about these questions would be a spoiler and I think that it would be best to read this story.

Once again this is a great suspense thriller without as much leaning toward the science as the mystical this time, which is fine because the better part of the last was probably the same.

I'm beginning to like the character Ms. Babinaux; though I don't trust her at all and I'll be interested in how things go with her in the next installment.

This is great SSF for fans of Thriller Horror Suspense and who don't mind the serialized nature of the stories. They could ‘almost’ each stand alone, though they are just not strong enough and you'll be eager to go on to the next one when it comes out, so you can hope for some resolution.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Review::Fade to Black by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus

Fade to Black (Awake in the Dark Book 1)Fade to Black by Tim McBain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fade to Black by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus

When you use a title like this is a fair thing to say that you might get muddled in with a few other books of the same title. Notwithstanding that this is the second book of this title that I've read in less than a year. The first is by Francis Knight and it's a pretty good magic world, dystopic, fantasy and bears reading. This book is a bit different though I'm not sure where to put it yet in genre. Since it is part of a series I think I'll wait, before passing that judgment. Although it does stand as a pretty intense psychological thriller, I enjoyed this and I think a lot more people will enjoy it than I'd have thought when I first went into reading it.

When this Fade to Black was first drawn to my attention I was reticent about reading it just from having sampled the authors, Tim McBain and L.T. Varus, first book. I was thinking maybe Stephen King quality and I do read those, possibly Dean Koontz which I've read less of and have half a dozen of his waiting for the right moment. I do that kind of horror suspense, but not that often so I passed on these books. Then I got this message through twitter and (well I won't go into it) I’ll only say that if you get the message you'll see what I mean and you won't be able to resist. So I picked Fade to Black because it was mentioned and because I was intrigued with the notion of reading two Fade to Black in six months time. I wasn't disappointed and I was greatly surprised to find this wasn't anything as I expected.

Jeff Grobnagger is not your average hero; maybe he's your average anti-hero though he doesn't seem average anything. It seems he strives to be less than average if not invisible. Thankfully he is engaging enough that it doesn't hurt that the reader is going to be stuck in his head all the way through this piece. He's really messed up though, and you can't help but feel sorry for him even while he makes you laugh a bit by his almost seeming naïve yet snarky take on things. Jeff has a problem, well he has a large number of problems, but the seizures are the one of greatest concern here. It's not just the seizures it's the dreams that accompany them; or maybe we should say the recurring dream. It seems that he consistently finds himself dangling by one foot from a rope while an assassin is soon to arrive and strangle the life out of him. Quite thankfully when that occurs he wakes from his seizure, and when the reader first meets him he wakes in the grocery store where Glenn and a dozen other people are gathered around with concerned faces. This would probably be mildly embarrassing if Jeff didn't have an aversion to people so it might be more like horrifying and as I learn more about Jeff it becomes evident that to him the dream is less horrifying than dealing with people. But today Glenn manages to force himself on Jeff and begins the uphill battle toward changing Jeff's life.

In this novel the seizures are a gateway into some other level of consciousness (possibly) and there are other people who can experience these things while there are several groups that have been trying to attain the level that Jeff seems to have reached. Glenn thinks that this has something to do with the disappearance of his daughter, Amity, and that somehow Jeff will help him find her but Jeff wants nothing to do with that until his place is trashed when someone tries to take him out with some potshots and by his reclusive nature he has nowhere to go except to Glenn’s for a place to crash.

From here the reader is taken into a world that has several options ranging from magic and Tarot to Quantum Physics as an explanation for what might be happening. The bottom line for Jeff is that a hooded unknown kills him every time he has this dream generated during a seizure and he doesn't know why or who. Somehow the threat to his real life and the several cult like groups and Glenn and Amity are all tied together and Glenn is relying on Jeff to get the answers. And at about 20 percent of the way through the story I had a fair idea of the ‘who’ but not the why and a notion about a possible ironic outcome. I don't consider myself greatly exceptional at deducing things so it's likely that others might come to the same conclusions. Rather than being disheartened I would just console other readers with the reality that it's less about the destination and more about the journey in this story. This is a journey with Jeff that you won't want to put aside once you start down the path. It was a short enough read that I finished it in one sitting.

Being in Jeff's head and hearing his doubts and fears and paranoia are what make this a psychological thriller as he finds there are few he can trust. The ending is a bit of a surprise in that it's more like the end of the first act and there will be some acts to follow, which there will be. But as it stands the ending gives it more of the feel I initially thought with those suspense and horror authors mentioned above. Still there is a promise of some redemption in that the second book is already there to be read which I intend to do. And by the nature of this book the debut novel I passed on is now on my list.

No matter what you feel going into this novel I expect most readers will enjoy the read and be thirsty for the next one. But don't take my word for, by all means pick up a copy and make your own judgment.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review::Stranger's Descent by Tony Barrett

Stranger's Descent (The Chronicles of the Return Book 1)Stranger's Descent by Tony Barrett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stranger's Descent(Chronicles of the Return Book1) by Tony Barrett

This is a great size novel for a debut novel and I might be able to qualify that a bit more once I understand what genre to place it into. I give it high marks for keeping my interest and making me work to search out the least bit of redeemable traits that might be evident in the main characters. If you're looking for something in a light read this could almost qualify if it weren't such a dark world. It has the feel of the wild west except that it has magic, witches, warlocks, Were-beasts, and zeppelins. If you love dystopic tales this could easily fall into that catagory. And with the zeppelins and were-beasts it might fall in the category of steam punk, but only narrowly. I'm almost inclined to give it a new tag; maybe cowboy-punk [Don't quote me on that].

The characters are all quite dark and it is difficult to really find any that I could empathize with. In some respects this brought to mind the DeathStalker series of Simon R. Green. I had trouble empathizing with most of the characters in Deathstalker. But where Deathstalker often veers into the gritty and the fantastic Stranger's Descent is gritty with a bit more realism. It's this element of Gritty Dark Realism that colors the first part making it a difficult read for me. It took about one third of the way into the novel before I began to syncronize with Tony Barretts dismal pace to where I could really begin to enjoy the story. A person really has to carefully read this to see what I mean because this might be related to my own preferences.

There are a multitude of well drawn characters and for the most part they are distinct from each other and yet there is some bit of the darkness of the story that drags them all down to the same level until they begin to look a lot the same [variations on a theme]. By this I mean that we have the Stranger who obviously has a rather mysterious past [even though it has all been dramatized in dime fiction] and despite his own misgivings toward things magic he has gotten involved with magic and one specific wizard. Later he makes use of the connection to that magic to get himself out of the corner he manages to paint himself into. We have Jerrod and Perin who seem to be two young men with some bits of idealistic notions about soldiers and yet they work for a General who is a madman bent on the destruction of all around him and often find themselves at odds with what they are ordered to do. Misandry and Harkon are witch and wizard and work for 'the master' supposedly working toward the return but each would just as easily tear out the others eyes than to be in a partnership and they both seem to have their own agenda. And in the end it's difficult to tell exactly what their master might be working at and, if they knew, whether they would continue to work with him. There are more. The point is they all are complex characters[all seemingly molded by the worst this world has to offer] and they are many but thankfully they are not difficult to keep up with.

If there is any problem at all in the characters it's a result of the darkness that is cast across the world; that manages to drag all of the characters to their deepest weakest point and for me that made it difficult to empathise with anyone. Life is cheap in this novel and all the characters seem to hold to this philosophy and that tends to make them self centered. This world has an evil to it that brings out the worst in every character. If the character of Wyn had been a bit stronger he might have been able to redeem the plot more than the hints and inuendo about things yet to be explained that eventually gave me the feeling there was a much greater depth to everything that Tony Barrett will be revealing in future parts to this story.

Over all though the writting is solid and the author has taken some time to try to make the reading experience better than the average non-traditional author. One caveat here being that though there are still less than a handful of errors, they are errors that stand out enough that they will be hard not to notice. The story is well paced except the portion that makes this a dystopic tale which carries on relentless throughout the entire novel with no other pace beyond utterly gritty and depressing all the time.

This is great for those who love the epic fantasy such as Deathstalker and especially for those who key into the darker grittier pieces of those worlds.

Good SFF with moderate use of science and more for the magic aficionado.

J.L. Dobias

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Review::Pilot (A Tale of the Sea) by James Fenimore Cooper

The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea  The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea by James Fenimore Cooper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pilot (A Tale of the Sea) by James Fenimore Cooper 1824

One more deviation from my normal reads. Someone was asking about good historical fiction they might use for an essay and this was one of the offerings mentioned. I couldn't resist since its a fictionalized account involving a notable hero of revolutionary fame in the United States of America.

The novel itself reminded me of the style and scope of Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1830) and the stranger's life, as it vicariously told, reminds me of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (as related in his memoir written 1798 published 1822-German). As such our hero is called stranger and Mr. Grey and John in the few scenes within which he is prominent. Truly the style is what makes this classic what it is. It is more reminiscent of the Dumas books with the romantic adventure spirit. But what am I saying? Dumas and Fenimore were contemporaries, though Dumas' writing may have begun well after the publication of Pilot. Some would like to say that Fenimore created the template for this type of romance, but I think there are other's to pull up to that position who come from further back in literary history. Pilot was written partially in response to The Pirate by Sir Walter Scott(1822). But I will admit that Fenimore improved the genre immensely.

In the Pilot James Fenimore Cooper uses a device that I have found annoying though seemingly prevalent in his era. This is breaching the forth wall, well maybe it was supposed to be an aside back then, but for me it pushed through each time he pause to let the reader know we were going to skip this part or jump back and show the reader what he knows the readers are so anxious to see. This enables him to, throughout, bring in several asides that apprise the reader of things that otherwise might be left unknown or at maybe bewildering to the reader: or at least we are led to believe so by Fenimore.

One such instance is this next-where in three short sentences he brings us back and up to date.

We must leave the two adventurers winding their way among the broken piles, and venturing boldly beneath the tottering arches of the ruin, to accompany the reader, at the same hour, within the more comfortable walls of the abbey; where, it will be remembered, Borroughcliffe was left in a condition of very equivocal ease. As the earth had, however, in the interval, nearly run its daily round, circumstances had intervened to release the soldier from his confinement-- and no one, ignorant of the fact, would suppose that the gentleman who was now seated at the hospitable board of Colonel Howard, directing , with so much discretion, the energies of his masticators to the delicacies of the feast, could read, in his careless air and smiling visage, that those foragers of nature had been so recently condemned, for four long hours , to the mortification of discussing the barren subject of his own sword-hilt. Borroughcliffe, however, maintained not only his usual post, but his well-earned reputation at the table, with his ordinary coolness of demeanor; though at times there were fleeting smiles that crossed his military aspect, which sufficiently indicated that he considered the matter of his reflection to be of a particularly ludicrous character.

Cooper, James Fenimore (2012-05-16). The Pilot (p. 236). . Kindle Edition.

More important than this though is the introduction that proclaims that Fenimore is attempting to write a sea adventure with more realistic tone (Being that he served for five years as a seaman aboard a merchant ship and obtained the rank of midshipman.). Somehow in those words I mistakenly conjured notions of the harsh realities of seafaring life without realizing that this was going to digress quickly into a romance heavily on the romantic side of lovers and sometimes tragic lovers.

The story opens off the coast of Great Briton; and if my reckoning is correct it's somewhat north and east of the isle and within some treacherous waters. Our secondary characters (Barnstable and Griffith) are bringing two vessels into a bay that is protected by rock with the expectation of obtaining a passenger they will call the Pilot, who we are led to believe will be helping navigate around these waters unknown to them. It is by the Pilot's instructions that they are to make rock-fall and send a party ashore. One of that party is Barnstable, the captain of the whaling schooner Ariel, who we quickly find has the surprise of a lover who has anticipated their landing. What ensues before Pilot arrives is a bit of a trist (very brief) with his love Katherine Plowden who tells him of her and Cecilia's plight[Cecilia is Grifiths lover]. Cecilia Howard is a ward of Colonel Howard as is Katherine though Cecilia is more closely tied to the man. The Colonel staunchly supports his king and eschews the rebellious Americans, which is why he has brought his wards back to England. With not enough time Katherine leaves Barnstable with a letter and some instructions. These become important in the sense that she demonstrates that their movements in English waters are being watch; particularly by the Colonel. While many believe that a man name Paul Jones is aboard those vessels the Colonel is certain that Barnstable and Griffith are aboard with the colonel's nephew, Merry. This is the one of two times Paul Jones is directly mentioned though many times alluded to.

The Pilot proves his mettle to the sailors by saving them through navigating in troubled waters back out of this rocky bay. The Pilot's purpose is left mostly unknown in a sense of a need to know basis. Because they reveal a portion of what is in Katherine's letter the Pilot finds it worthy of a diversion and serendipitously he takes Griffith along and they manage to become captured. It should come as no surprise when one of St. Ruth's nuns, Alice Dunscombe, is shocked to recognize a voice when the prisoners are interrogated. Soon Pilot becomes a player in the grand romantic tragedy that is afoot.

It doesn't take long for the plot to be diverted leaving this reader with the notion that the original plot he perceived was a MacGuffin and the true plot is one of lost love and young love and duty and honor and perhaps whether all those can all survive in the same adventure tale. Make no mistake, there are still a few naval battles to be fought and the usual pitfalls and storms of nature against man. There are even some strange turns of events that often stretch the suspension of disbelief.

This is a great classic for all readers and might interest some of those Romance fans though mostly Adventure Romance and those who are interested in the details of ocean sailing ships. This rather dusty historical romance fiction still reads quite well and satisfied this reader's thirst for exceptionally long sentences.

J.L. Dobias.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review::Endeavour (A Sleeping Gods Novel)by Ralph Kern

EndeavourEndeavour by Ralph Kern

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Endeavour by Ralph Kerns

I have visited this novel once before and read it now three time. This year I've had the pleasure of reading three outstanding novels by debut novelists in the Science Fiction category. Each of them qualifies in my mind as solid pure science science fiction. But I think that the reader should make their own choice so you should read them. The other two are; Day One by John Forsberg and Emergence by Nick M. Lloyd. This; the third novel in the group[and at least the third time this one has been released after edits] was just as outstanding, but initially had some problems with editing. I'm happy to say 'most' of those were taken care of.

This novel itself is almost indicative of the space program today and then what it might be like in the future. At first glance it is almost akin to a Star Trek spin-off; but it takes the story of the Dyson Sphere further. It moves to the more current trend in science fiction to Matrioshka Arrays based on the Dyson Sphere. But first it has to get us into space so we invent a sort of cross between a star-gate and the transporter technologies. A three Dee printer using the stuff of the cosmos to print copies of the travelers to their destination.

The primary plot premise in this story derives from the question; where is everybody? I'm not talking about a Twilight Zone last man on earth episode I'm talking of the Fermi Paradox. Since our sun and world are relatively young then there might be older systems with older worlds with older civilizations with more advanced technology and the universe should be full of explorers and colonies- so where is everybody?

This book is about the search for the answer. Endeavour should appeal to all Pure science Science Fiction Fans because Ralph Kern does a great job of trying to keep his science well grounded with the physics we know today. There are a lot of recognizable locations that are used in the search and some interesting speculations on what we might find out there.

Ralph Kern does a spectacular job of entertaining.

And despite the new edits I do have some of the usual Caveats. Most of the previous problems were conquered, but for me there were still some problems with around a dozen sentences that had poor punctuation that often left me confuse.

Lydia rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, as Harry filled them in quickly and succinctly.

Kern, Ralph (2014-10-17). Endeavour: A Sleeping Gods Novel (Kindle Location 1061). Tickety Boo Press. Kindle Edition.

I offer the one above as the mildest example where I was not really sure what Harry was filling Lydia's eyes with. And this may just be me; but I felt it would have made more sense if it had read ' ,as Harry filled everyone in quickly and succinctly '.

Also; and this is a pet peeve of mine when it come to the pure science ones; there is a word here that is spelled Tokomak. If this is the Magnetic Plasma Torus then it should be TOKAMAK or Tokamak since it's name is an acronym and there is an English variety from a different acronym that is Tochamac. But all of this is minor stuff and many readers will not notice them or at least you should read and make your own judgement about the punctuation at best.

The story spans long distances and a long time, but we experience it through the eyes of those chosen to explore and their unique situation allows them to stretch the time of their lives. The search is like searching for a needle in a haystack only it's in the middle of a field of haystacks and it's pitch black out. So what happens when we light a match to see? You will have to read this fine piece to get that answer.

Great stuff for the SFF fans and for anyone who enjoys entertaining and thought provoking speculative fiction. If you're a fan of Star Trek or Babylon 5 or just someone who enjoys watching the space program and are looking for something fresh to read; you should read this.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review::Endeavour by Ralph Kerns

EndeavourEndeavour by Ralph Kern

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Endeavour by Ralph Kerns

This novel looked interesting in that it seemed to promise to give an experience more representative of what the space program today is like and what it might be like in the future. As I read the story it began to look a lot like the typical star trek spinoff but it was taking the story of the Dyson Sphere further. It in fact seemed to be moving it more toward the more current trend in science fiction to Matrioshka Arrays based on the Dyson Sphere. But first it has to get us into space so we invent a sort of cross between a star-gate and the transporter technologies. I have to admit its been a while since I read a book of this caliber; since John Forsberg's Day One.

The entire premise or plot in this story is the notion of question; where is everybody? I'm not talking about the Twilight Zone episode I'm talking of the Fermi Paradox. Since our sun and world are relatively young then there might be older systems with older worlds with older civilizations with more advanced technology and the universe should be full of explorers and colonies- so where is everybody?

This book begins and embodies the search for the answer that reveals the truth. Endeavour should appeal to all Simon Pure Science Fiction Fans because Ralph Kern does a great job of trying to keep his science well grounded with the physics we know today. There are a lot of recognizable locations that are used in the search and some interesting speculations on what we might find out there.

Ralph Kern does a spectacular job of entertaining us, but I do have some of the usual Caveats. I have a rule that says if I find 6 errors there are likely to be 6 more and so I draw the line at 6, which equals 12 in my screwy system. What I mean by errors is problems with grammar, spelling and punctuation. Most of mine end up mostly concentrated on the first two. The version of the novel that I have (Feb 14 2014) has over 50 suspicious problems I encountered(The author has had editing done since this originally was written.). These are usually things that are easily rectified, in that the reader can figure out the correct word usage or grammar intended. But it means that those people who have problems with that will want to keep that in mind. Some of these might go unnoticed to some people.

The story spans long distances and a long time, but we experience it through the eyes of those chosen to explore and their unique situation allows them to stretch the time of their lives. The search is like searching for a needle in a haystack only it's in the middle of a field of haystacks and it's pitch black out. So what happens when we light a match to see? You will have to read this fine piece to get that answer.

Great stuff for the SFF fans and for anyone who enjoys entertaining and thought provoking speculative fiction. If you're a fan of star trek or Babylon 5 or just someone who enjoys watching the space program you should read this.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Review::Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker

Mendoza in Hollywood (The Company, #3)Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mendoza in Hollywood (aka. At the Edge of the West) by Kage Baker

This is the third offering in The Company Series and my second read of Kage Baker. I skipped Sky Coyote because I enjoy the Mendoza character and wanted to get more of her, but if I continue reading this I think I'll have to begin now to read them in order or things may not work out well. I'm getting a sense of this being one rather epic story being told in several novel size chunks. Based on some comments about that last few books in the series I would have to say that the only way I'll be able to judge properly is to try to get the entire picture in order to understand the ending of the series. In the final analysis of this novel I still have to say I'm hooked on the Mendoza character and would have liked to have been assured that she had a greater part in the remaining parts of the story.

I love my fiction character driven, and that's what makes this and the Garden of Iden outstanding as novels. The story and plot in each seems somewhat incomplete although there is still that flavor of completeness extant. Unfortunately both novels have the tragic romance as the main arc in each; although there are differences in the loves she has, even if they could be twins.

Upon having her first lover discover she's an immortal Cyborg and having him decide she's a devil and trying to take her with him when he allows himself to be burned to death for his overzealous religious convictions, Mendoza is content to stay clear of mortals. Unfortunately she keeps having nightmares that her lover is returning to her; and in most cases he's attempting to finish the job of killing her. Only her nightmares might be something more to do with Chrome radiation she emits that causes a distortion in time. When the twin to her lover shows up, over 150 years after the first is burned to death, she tries to be cautious about falling in love again; but fate won't let her off that easy.

Though the story takes place mostly in the area that will one day be Hollywood and there are allusions to the streets and structures that will some day be in specific spots, there is one chapter that confused me a bit--meaning I may have missed something and I hope it wasn't important. Though it is 1862; Mendoza and her companions are all Cyborgs created by the people from the future who were originally testing immortality by altering non-significant people through out the ages in the past (what better way to do so than to go back in time and change people then check up on them in the future when you return). The Cyborgs are also then enlisted to secretly store things from the past that are known to have gone extinct or disappeared and caching them away for the Company. They also are trained in a facility that has many future features, so thus acquainted; it makes sense that they would have movie nights through the delivery of movies from the future. I'm not sure why, though, the movie Intolerance by David Ward Griffith ends up being discussed in length as they watch it.

To get back to the story--at some point Mendoza realizes that this incarnation of her lover, though not as likely to have as adverse a reaction to finding out she's a Cyborg, does have a fatal flaw. His overwhelming dedication to his work makes her think he would have made a better Cyborg for the Company than she is. The rest of the story from here on seems to both complete the tragedy and contribute to foreshadowing the future. Too much discussion would spoil things and this novel bears reading..

Kage Bakers blend of wry humor and historical references as before makes this a singular and entertaining read.

This is a great SFF read for fans of Historical fiction and Time travel novels along with Romance (mostly those who don't mind the bit of tragic romance.)

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review::Fear the Survivors by Stephen Moss

Fear the Survivors(The Fear Saga, #2)Fear the Survivors by Stephen Moss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fear the Survivors (The Fear Saga Book 2) by Stephen Moss

This novel is a fantastic read for all those fans who love the scientific military novels that delve into both the description of the science behind the weapons and their deployment. It is also a novel for those who like those political thrillers that delve into the intricacies of diplomacy versus the high achievers who just want to see things completed. And it has great suspense, as against this backdrop, we see almost indestructible forces working in the background to manipulate the Earth toward its own destruction. Well the destruction of all humans anyway. It would be preferable that atomic weapons not be used to destroy the very resource that brings the aliens here to conquer Earth. This novel also includes some elements close to cyberpunk with creations that are close to what we are familiar with in the Terminator franchise.

All of this makes for the sound of an exciting novel and I have to admit that I did greatly enjoy the read. The problem for me is that there is much more than what I've mentioned and hardly enough room to contain it all. That means there were some decisions made about how to tell the story that in a small way limit the novel. At least it limits the novel for me. I have special needs in that I love character driven novels. This novel has plenty of characters and many of those carry over from the previous novel. The characters are quite complex, but the style of writing seems to come from an Omniscient third many times that drops to almost objective omniscient view other times(There is just enough subjective along the way to pull us away from objective though the Prologue seems to start out objective: or at least that's how I saw it). This leads to the science often coming in vast spurts of narrative that sound like textbook data. For me it felt like we went through Close Third Omniscient to Omniscient that wavered between the objective and subjective and it was probably my own failure to pin down the exact POV that made the first part of this novel a difficult read.

Chapter one begins feeling almost like a close third yet somehow omniscient; but never quite close enough and then it almost seems like the narrator starts to get a bit subjective and in fact begins down a style path that stays with the story throughout. This is the path where the narrator tells the reader that there are things that the characters don't know to lend to the story a bit of foretelling or foreboding. Mostly the first part of the novel is catching us up on the previous story and, though the urgency of the alien invasion is pushed back a bit, we get a slow trickle of information that brings someone unfamiliar with the first book up to speed. I would recommend reading the first book. And anyone who has read that is familiar with the author’s style and if they enjoyed that book this one is every bit as well written.

There is a slight bit, possibly, of humor, which brings us closer to the alien invaders. This deals with Lana who set off a nuclear weapon in order to save herself. She's repairing under a trashy trailer in a trailer park where a pair of 'trashy' people live. What she endures leads her to plot the death of the trailers occupants. From there after repairing she begins her terminator style killing spree. I had a hard time with this part but some people might be able to appreciate better than I did. Once again this gets us up to speed with both the character Lana and her quest for revenge. (Possibly any problem I have with this stems from having twice lived in trailer parks: maybe not as trashy as this one.)

Half of the novel is filled with the science. The science that brings Earth up to speed with the aliens and all the equipment that will be needed to use as weapons against the coming invasion force. Along with this is the arc of finding and executing the remaining part of the advance force (except for the two who have decided to help Earth resist the invasion). The second half is the political posturing and the arc that shows us how the main character Neal goes from being a key member of the United States response to the invasion, to something more autonomous and what he has to endure and the compromises he has to make. One problem with all of this is that the story doesn't take off for me until Neal begins breaking away from this political umbilical cord. Neal has grown quite a bit from the last novel, almost beyond his own original character.

Stephen Moss demonstrates a vast knowledge of global affairs and politics along with an interest in the science around the development and use of military grade materials. There is a fantastic scene drawn out in one place where the tether for the space elevator is dropping out of the sky and vehicles are attempting to retrieve it to bring it to its anchor point. I have no idea about the physics but it is a pretty intense piece of reading. A lot of the science and even the politics seem to be used as a build-up to the final demonstration where we get to see the pieces fall together and either fail or succeed. In this way I was reminded of a recent read by Tom Kratman's A Desert Called Peace.

A pivotal new character is brought to us via the initial story summary at the beginning and that was probably one of my favorite characters in the story; though they don't get that much time in the story until near the end. This character reminded me of Orson Scott Card's Ender. In that they are being placed in a similar situation.

Over all, despite my own feelings about the style choices made, the choices reflect the same as those in the first novel, which speaks for consistency. And for those people who like their science to be well thought out and consistent and also like stories with description of the manufacture and capabilities of the hardware that's being used, this novel will fill the bill. It kept my interest and I definitely want to know what will happen in the next installment.

If you are like me and find that the first part almost drags a bit, I'd advise sticking through it all because it will pick up and if you have read and enjoyed the first book then this one won't disappoint. There are about a handful of strange grammar glitches along the way, but not anything too disturbing. Sometimes a duplication of a word on either side of the word it is modifying.(Almost as though the wording of the sentence was changed at some point and a deletion was missed.)

If you like all the science stuff or the military science fiction then this will definitely take care of your needs. For those who like the suspense of international politics; there's a heavy dose in the mix. This is all paced well with action and plenty of conflict.

Something for almost everyone.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Review::The Soldier's Sympathy by Chris Guillory

The Soldier's SympathyThe Soldier's Sympathy by Chris Guillory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Soldier's Sympathy by Chris Guillory

The Soldier's Sympathy starts with and Epilogue and Jaron, an evident assassin for Kamiken [A sort of Corporate Agency that employs mercenaries.] We see Jaron casually making his hit while talking to himself. Only he's getting answers in his head and for a bit it might sound like he's employing some sort of advanced AI weapon that is helping him acquire the target; if not for his asking the voice to recall their wedding. After the kill we get a flash back to when Jaron was a soldier on a mission to the moon to rout out a nasty terrorist group known as the Tantalus [Think mindless zombie like followers who eat other people]. There ensues a slight bit of techno-babel related to the mission and a slight bit of world building that is mostly, but not quite (we'll see the Tantalus later), unimportant because the point of this flashback is that upon completion of the mission Jaron gets the bad news that his wife Mari has died; victim of an accident. This is followed by a brief explanation how that all leads to his employment with Kamiken and the suggestion by them that he have a Sympathy implant.

This is a good novel and right away we can see it will be a suspense novel with elements reminiscent of Philip k. Dick[[ASIN:0547572298 Ubik]] or for more recent readers perhaps William Gibson [[ASIN:0399158448 The Peripheral]]. But as I read on I find it has so many more elements twisted into the plot that it might seem a bit overpopulate. It's also a neat adventure yarn for those who love the near ceaseless action. But being suspense it carry's baggage that I've always had trouble with in this genre and that more than anything is what prevents me from giving five stars. I do give it high marks though and for all of that as usual I'll try to explain myself somewhat. Not everyone will agree with the way I see things and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from reading this because it's the kind of book that you will want to read in one sitting regardless of whether you are capable or not.

I resume the story with Jaron reporting in to find he has another assignment with just enough time to rest in between. I get to know a bit more about Jaron but Jaron is one of many mysteries in the story that create the suspense so Chris Guillory deliberately short changes the reader on details. As with all good suspense I'll get to know what I need to know, but only when the author decides. There are many such omissions throughout and for me as a reader these add up to anticipation of a big payoff and in most instances the author acquits himself.
I get a walk through of the building Jaron works out of; one somewhat protracted by detailed description until we reach the assistant's office out side of Mr. Santos office, which thankfully is sparsely decorated. But this is setting a tone I'm going to see throughout for both the type of description of scene and location and the techno-babel involving the hardware employed by the mercs. For the reader who gets excited about world building and the detail of weaponry this novel will be a great treat.

The next scene I get to is the next assignment that is a retrieve or kill situation. Here things go poorly and it turns rapidly into a kill operation (Well, maybe a bit sluggishly considering all the detail to hardware.) Still as it turns out the target is a child. Thankfully Jaron makes a hasty decision and turns on his comrades and runs off with the young girl. By this time we're introduced to at least five distinct and well developed characters and there will be many more; almost an overwhelming amount for this reader.(I'll get back to this.) For now though the important thing is that for me I struggled with this turn about because all there is are hints to some element in Jaron's past that might influence the mans decision to risk everything to save a child. Sure it is a child, but up to this point all I know is that all these characters are ruthless killers. But once again this is part of that mystery and suspense aspect of withholding information.

After the failure and loss of the target and Jaron two of those involved are sent on a pickup that will intersect with more people important to the story. Alex Ibara and Daniel Richter are official police troops investigating a case involving someone who might be having a reaction to his Sympathy implant. The two Kamiken agents have been sent to intercept the suspect after they take him down. Despite objections that Alex and Dan have about giving the man up they have to because of orders from headquarters, but they both suspect that something is way off. Their subsequent investigation leads them head on into a confrontation with Jaron who is on the run with the child. Alex turns out to be the one character I love the most in this novel and it might be because she's one of the few major players who doesn't seem to have all the extra baggage that we aren't suppose to know yet. It might also be that her point of view isn't as cluttered with all the techno-babel, though I'm not sure why because she is in possession of one of the neatest technical devices.

It would probably take a novel to mention all the major players and that might account for why it seemed that the story would always bog down a bit while we encounter a paragraph or two of the newly introduced characters. It took me a while to get used to this pace to where I began to expect it and was sometimes pleasantly surprised when I received information about other characters through the eyes of someone else. Strangely it was often someone looking at one of the many ones with mysterious pasts and there were clues included for the reader, like specific tattoos and such which are important later. Once again I might be hyper sensitive to this and it's best for the discerning reader to make their own judgment.

This novel contains a lot of familiar elements to me. Throughout the novel the scenes switch up through a wide variety so varied I had visions of several other stories come to mind. When describing the facility where the girl, Jessica, had come from and her dreams of what might have occurred there, it brought to mind A.A. Bell's [[ASIN:B0047O2JB8 Diamond Eyes]]. And of course the flight scenes with Joran and the child reminded me of Stephen Kings [[ASIN:0451167805 Firestarter]]. But much later some desert scenes couldn't help but bring to mind the Mad Max movies. Later there is an explanation of the auger witches and how they interface with computers and satellites and the use of a viruse that regulates the connection which brought to mind a recent read of Tara K. Harper's [[ASIN:0345380517 Cat Scratch Fever]] and subsequent sequel [[ASIN:0345380525 Cataract]]. And this story does get every bit as gritty as the Cat Scratch Fever though it doesn't ever get quite as dark.

So though the ground work is familiar there are some style choices that make this unique to itself. Some choices seemed a bit risky but many paid off in the long run, but for me it meant that I had to get 20 percent of the way into the novel before it really took off and that was only after I managed to understand the pace and general style of presentation to where I could anticipate certain slowdowns at the introduction of each new major character.[Sometimes the effort seems to be duplicated in that as the story unfolds we get to know what we need to know without the separate blocked paragraphs of character description, though those blocks did help to cement the differences between characters.] There are grizzly elements in the description of many scenes because there are scenes with mass slaughter happening, which are mostly justified by the need to level the playing field between protagonist and antagonist by a show of somewhat indiscriminate destruction evident in the nature of augmented mercenaries.

This novel should excite most SFF military suspense enthusiasts and contains elements of Cyberpunk and even a slight dystopic atmosphere.

I highly recommend this to those interested in this type of fiction and despite my protests I did read it all in one sitting; because I was really interested in getting the answers to the questions. The reader won't be disappointed.

One note: There is one possible plot hole, but to discuss it would give away too much and spoil things so my best suggestion to the reader is to see if you notice it when you read The Soldier's Sympathy. [I'm easily confused sometimes and this may be the case. (translates:: I'll probably have to read this novel one more time.)]

J.L. Dobias

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