Friday, July 31, 2015

Let's see how this turns out...

As some of you are probably already aware, today is the deadline to vote in the 2015 Hugo Awards. I've come out publicly on the side of the Sad Puppies, and I do hope they win, but this is not a "Vote for the Puppies" post per se. What I'm posting about is "If you paid for the right to vote... VOTE!!!!" post. Don't vote for my favorite nominee(or at least don't vote for my favorite because it's MY favorite nominee) vote for your favorite nominee. Vote on quality of story. Vote because you love the author. Vote because of political conent if you must but vote dammit! And vote for a nominee.

I am of the opinion that the noted rash of late registering voters this year were probably mostly Sad Puppies followers. I could be wrong. I have no access to insider information. I will say that this appears to be unusual given the amount of comment it raised. If it wasn't typical Hugo voters registering it had to have been our side. It just makes sense. Again, I could be wrong and I have already sent out for a double order of crow on order. I'll be eating it if I'm wrong.

I will say this: Noah Ward is the biggest asshole this side of Cliff Hanger. If you CHORF types can't get over yourselves enough to admit someone who doesn't share your beliefs into your little club, you suck. I mean that. Voting No Award isn't a way to "stick it to the man" it's a way to mark yourselves as bullies. What you're doing if you vote No Award is showing the world that you're too cowardly to expose yourself to ideas that you don't agree with. At that point why not just burn them? It worked for Hitler. So yes, let's all burn the works of the evil, privileged White Male writers because John Scalzi said to. Also, let's not look too closely at John Scalzi. Or the Neilsen-Haydens or...  Nevermind. Oh, but I forgot the side that WANTS people to read all points of view and make their own decisions is made up of Nazis. Sorry, I forget that the side that believes in freedom is the one for totalitarian government.

I want to take the time out to congratulate the Puppies (both Sad and Rabid) for a second. I don't care if you win, lose or tie here. The bottom line is that you have managed to get a conversation started. For too long we've taken crap from the K. Tempest Bradfords of the world because we were scared to fight back. Don't get me wrong. If K Tempest Teapot wants to only read non-white male straight authors then she has that right. The bottom line is that she tried to take away the livelihood of writers based on race and we fought back.

I'm not saying that minorities, women, LBGTQI, WTFever people should be banned or even discouraged from writing/reading, etc. No one on our side is. What I'm saying is that I shouldn't have to vote for someone based on that crap. I'm saying that equality means equal treatment and if you want to win an award for a story you should have to WRITE A GOOD STORY. That's all I'm saying.

So go forth and vote today my brave Hugo-nauts. Vote you conscience. Vote for the best story because YOU think it's the best story. Don't worry about whether or not your choice is politically correct. Don't worry about whether it supports the right causes. Just worry about whether or not you enjoyed the story and found it entertaining. Let the CHORFs be CHORFs and do what feels right for you.

Some works by Sad Puppies leadership (past, present and future) can be found at the links below:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Maxwell Zain's Tomb of The Old One: Heaven's Damned

(Note from Jimbo: I don't usually review shorts. That much being said, I promised Max Zain a review without telling him my requirements. When he sent me a short I decided that since I hadn't made myself clear I'd review it anyway because integrity.)

When Maxwell Zain sent me a copy of his short story, Tomb of the Old One: Heaven's Damned, for review he remarked that it was his first published story. I went into it knowing that and well... I kind of got what I expected. That's not to say it's a bad story, just that it's a little rougher than what I would typically expect. Max has some good ideas, but honestly, it feels like they just weren't developed enough. I usually start with the good though, so let's go there first.

Max's world seems to be pretty well thought out. There is a balance of power between vampires, who see human beings as a source of fear, and angels who protect humanity. There has apparently been a war going on for quite a while between the two. There is room for a lot of intrigue here. I mean that. I once wrote an alternate campaign setting for the Palladium Fantasy RPG and the beginnings of my notes sounded a lot like the beginning of this short. There is some real potential here. Vampires versus angels is something that hasn't been done to death as a concept. It is also something that has some interesting implications from a religious angle that could be used to great effect.

The action sequences were fairly well done and one particular sequence made me cringe. Zain definitely has the potential to turn into someone who can write a rip-roaring good times page turner. I like the way he thinks. I really do.

There are three problems with this story. One, he's got a couple of info-dumps in there. I don't usually mind that. I'm a David Weber fan. That much being said, this is a forty-five hundred word short. An author needs to wrap a story around the info-dumps and there's just not much here. Zain obviously wanted to do some serious world building. I can respect that, but an author needs more room than this to do that kind of world building. There's just not enough room here for what he's doing.

The second is that he tries to cram too much in here. I don't want to give too much away here, but this story starts with an info dump and probably thirty-five hundred words or so later (I didn't actually count) we're involved in a situation that would be a good ending to a book or maybe even a trilogy. Better yet, it might just work as the ending of a novel that starts a trilogy because Zain breaks out my least favorite character (Cliff Hanger) at the end. There is definitely something here but it's just not developed enough.

The third is a lack of character development. I get that this is a short but even then something should change about the main character. There was an attempt at the end of the work to show a little bit of something but it just didn't go far enough.

Basically, what I'm saying here is that I think this guy has potential. I plan to keep track of where he goes from here and see what he turns into because I honestly think that he just needs a little more development and maybe enough patience to write a novel if that's what is needed to tell his story.

Bottom Line: 3.25 out of 5 Broken Halos

Tomb of the Old One: Heaven's Damned
Maxwell Zain
Self Published, 2015

Tomb of the Old One: Heaven's Damned is available for purchase here:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Clusters: Case of the Missing by T.M. Williams

Just a few days ago I posted a request for some help finding some research materials for one of my current WiPs. I was almost immediately told that I should do my own writing and not write at all if I didn't have an imagination. I took the criticism in stride and did my best not to get all butthurt about it. The thing is I know that research makes better novels from my experiences as a reader. I won't speak for T.M. Williams and where she came by the same knowledge but she obviously knows the benefits of research because Clusters: Case of the Missing is not only well written, it's also well researched. More on that in a minute. It is also a highly entertaining SF meets detective novel cross-genre mash up that just kind of works.

Our story is about a reporter - Ethan "Call me Franco" Franco- who starts out writing a story about a local disappearance and ends up trying to figure out why they are so common. Along the way he works with a cast of characters, one of which ends up missing and presumed dead. He faces the typical reaction of families with recent losses toward reporters. William's attitude is a bit more sympathetic toward her character than mine was in the same circumstances but I've experienced a loss that was covered by the press. It wasn't pretty and I feel sorry for the guy who got my sister on the phone after my father drowned, but let's just say that scene hit me pretty hard. Others may not experience the scene the way I did. It's an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone. In a way it actually enhanced my enjoyment of the story. In another it exposed me to a side of my own personality that I'm not real proud of. Either way it was well written and had to be there.

The aforementioned side characters are well done and act right. I was a bit skeptical at first when Franco walks up to be part of a search (and cover it in the process) because I knew what should happen the second the rest of the team found out he was a reporter and it went down just about right. The thing is, Williams used a fairly predictable occurrence to teach us more about Franco and his dedication while giving the characters around him a reason to trust him. He still had to work hard to gain the trust everyone else got but it gave them a reason to let him in. It just worked. I haven't seen many similar situations handled with the same skill or instinct. Kudos to her.

I was a bit concerned about reviewing this at first because I wasn't sure that there was a real Science Fiction/ Fantasy element to it. It was teased a little bit early but it was nearly two-thirds of the way through the book before there was any explicit SF content. I won't spoil the surprise but I will say that it is there and, while it's not quite what I expected,  it was worth the wait. And honestly, the story was worth reading as a mystery story even if it hadn't been. It's been a long time since I've really considered myself a fan of mystery stories, but if there were more like this I probably still would be.

Interspersed throughout the story are recaps of real life disappearances referred to as True Cases. Williams has placed them to enhance the story by showing us what real life case she used as source material for a given disappearance in the book. At the end are several more. They add to the X-Files like aura of the story.  I also get the feeling that I was deliberately misled by the author at one point. What I had assumed was happening was not what was happening. Once revealed the secret made sense but it wasn't what I thought it would be. That's the mark of a great mystery writer. A well placed red herring set up the rest of the story brilliantly.

There is definitely a government conspiracy at work throughout the book. It's well written and believable. Williams not only shows us the what and why but the how. Left for us to determine- and it's easy because it's painfully obvious - is the who and when people are effected. This is something we've all seen and heard of. The phrase "Conspiracy Freak" is not just a description, it's an epithet. If some things were true, pointing them out would still get a person labeled as a loony in today's society. Williams looks that potential phenomenon straight in the face and calls us all on it. I got a good chuckle from that. "The secret is out" only works if people are inclined to believe you.

Speaking of which, there is definitely room for a sequel here and I'm going to call for one. Williams hints at what the exact nature of the conspiracy is, but never goes deeply into how far up it goes, who knows what or exactly how much danger the conspiracy is protecting us from. At the end of the day we're left wondering if this is something that is going to spread outside of the National Park System or if it will stay there. Clusters reads well as a self contained novel but there is much more story to be told. More questions are raised than answered as well.

Overall there wasn't much to complain about with the book except the lack of definable SF content throughout most of it. This book was a real page turner and, if things didn't go exactly how I wanted them to, at least they went a way that really worked for the story. Williams does mention the fact that often when someone disappears there is a freak storm afterward that obliterates evidence of where they may have gone. The characters in the book speak of freak weather as being part of the mystery. They seem to believe that whatever is causing the disappearances is causing the weather. Then the subject just drops and never reappears. I was waiting for something to tie that conversation to the greater plot but it never happened. In that respect, I guess I was a bit unfulfilled. Other than that though, this was an solid book.

Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 Lost Hikers

Clusters: Case of the Missing
T.M. Williams
AZ Publishing Services, 2014

Clusters: Case of the Missing can be purchased here:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Liane Miller's Artifice

(Just a bit of housekeeping. Apparently, when an author sends you a .pdf with their cover that means you're supposed to use it in your review. Oops. Thank you to Lianne Miller for pointing that out. If you're an author who I reviewed before this and would like to see a .pdf of your cover on your review, please send me one and I'll update your review.)


Can someone please call Stephanie Meyer and tell her to read a book? It is a book in which a young girl is caught in between a vampire and a werewolf. It is a book about a girl whose life is quite frankly jacked up. It is a story about a girl, in this case named Eliza, has decisions to make that aren't always easy. It's a book about a girl who faces challenges by looking them straight in the face without flinching or turning into a whiny little bitch. In short, Lianne Millers Artifice  is a book about a character in some ways similar to Bella from Twilight and it DOESN'T SUCK. I think Ms. Meyers could learn a bit about characterization and keeping an audience that doesn't consist solely of teenage girls entertained by reading this. Really, all Artifice is missing when compared to the Twilight Saga is millions of dollars worth of marketing. I mean that. Err, well maybe that and three sequels. But there was a preview of a sequel to Artifice in the back of this book, so Miller is catching up. And it's not like I got much out of the sequels anyway, since I gave up on the Meyer written drek after one hundred and forty pages. I hear my then twelve year old niece enjoyed it though.

Artifice is about a girl named Eliza Ross. At the beginning of the book, she doesn't really have much of a memory or much of a life. She is a young college student who no one will talk to. She goes to class and back to her apartment. She regularly calls the police about a stalker that the can't find any sign of. About the time she gets locked into a psychiatric hospital, things start to get interesting. When her medical tests all come up weird and they decide that she is imagining her stalker things go off the rails and that's where the story really begins to heat up.

Before I get too far into the story, I want to point something out about the cover. It's beautiful but it's also a bit misleading. I spent five seconds looking at the picture and decided this was a paranormal romance. The story has elements of both the paranormal and romance genres present, but it is not by any means an actual paranormal romance. It has other elements that are just as prevalent and doesn't follow the typical romance formula that I've seen too many times in other places.

Artifice mixes genres quite effectively. We've got a bit of the paranormal and romance genres as mentioned above but there is also a good deal of mystery mixed in. Eliza doesn't know who or what she is. She has no idea how old she is or where she came from originally.  There are others in the book who do and we are clued in early but in many ways we don't know much more than she does. The end of the book leaves Eliza and the reader both still wondering about her personal history. Hints about but much is left to the imagination. I find I like it that way as the mystery helps pull us along in the story and helps build interest in other aspects of the story.

 Miller manages to do something few other authors have attempted and even fewer have pulled off, at least without multiple books to do it in. The books early villains are Eliza's allies at the end. Her most hated antagonist ends up being someone very important to her. It's a slow process to be sure, but Miller makes us want to like them and she manages to get us to do it. If it takes a Big Bad to make it happen then so be it. This is fantasy fiction and all great fantasy fiction has a great villain who is equal in skill and cunning to the heroes. Shashenka is not only that, but he also has access to more resources than our heroes and it shows. As the master of several covens of vampires he has greater numbers on his side as well. He's not the largest of the cast physically but he is far more powerful than mere size would indicate.

Eliza herself is impressive. This is a woman who doesn't have it all. She lacks in knowledge of self and, when we first meet her, is far from rich. She has a stalker and ends up in ever worsening situations. The bottom line, though, is that Eliza never gives up. She doesn't look to everyone else to fix her problems for her. In a situation where she could curl up into a ball and give up and feel sorry for herself but she doesn't. She fights and fights hard. I found myself liking this girl early in the book and liked her even more by the end. I may not agree with everything she does but I understand why she does and why she must. Her ability to fight is mentioned (and at one point she achieves the ultimate in modern-day bad-ass appearance by wielding a katana) but it's not shown much. Her willingness to sacrifice herself to protect her friends is impressive as well.

I really only have one complaint about the book and I hesitate to mention it but I feel like I have to. I try to keep my comments strictly about character and story and not so much to stylistic type things. The authors are review are published and I'm not (except as a blog writer I guess) and I tend to leave that end of things alone because I take it for granted that they can do it well or I would never have heard of them. This book has one stylistic thing that drove me up a wall until I got used to it and it will probably push some potential readers away, so I have to mention it in respect to fairness.

Artifice is written in the present tense. I found that hard to deal with at first. I got used to it after about two hundred pages but at first I found myself rewriting passages in my head to put them into past tense because that's what I'm used to. Once I got used to it I really enjoyed the book but it did cause some cognitive dissonance at first. Honestly, I'm not really sure if I got used to it or if I just got so wrapped up in the story that I forgot about redoing parts of it, but either way the story overrode the style for me. I know that things won't work that way for everyone though.

Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 fangs. It would definitely be higher if not for the present tense issue.

Lianna Miller
Self published, 2015

Artifice is available for purchase at the following link:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

NBC Universal's Minions

Minions is not a movie for the uber serious SF/F Fan. If, however, you enjoy goofy, cute, family friendly goodness this is a good place to look. Fans of the Despicable Me franchise (or their parents) will immediately recognize these lovable little guys. They've been around for what seems like forever and the merchandising is everywhere. I have to admit that I hadn't seen the first two movies when I allowed my two minions to talk me into taking them to see this flick, but I'm glad I did. We had a good time.

First, just in case one of the uber-sensitive true-fen Puppy Kicker types walks in: Yes, this is SF. Any movie featuring lava guns, jet pack dresses, abominable snowmen, etc. has enough SF elements to qualify. Plus it's my blog and I'll post if I want to. And besides, you idiots gave If You Were a Dinosaur My Love a Hugo and that wasn't SF or a story. Anything that includes guns that shoot lava and/or dresses that have rocket boosters and fire missiles is SF even if it wasn't written for the cause of advancing your leftist BS.

The story follows our little yellow heroes from pre-history up until the late 1960s. They have a boss. They lose a boss. They gain another one. Then they go years and years without one. Life is bleak for a people whose entire existence centers around revolves around service to an evil master because they don't know what to do without one. Freedom sucks when all they know is service. They no longer have a purpose in life. And then... well, if you've seen the first two movies you can make a decent guess as to who the boss they end up with is.

This is not a movie you go see for its awesome special effects budget or its Heinlein-esque plot.This is a movie made for kids. That's not to say that adults can't enjoy it. I did. It's silly. It's fun. It's entertaining. It's just not sophisticated. It's a straight up good time.

As someone who hadn't seen the first two movies I wasn't sure what to expect out of our little yellow heroes. They were personable, fun and actually had personalities. It was weird, but after about the first ten minutes or so I stopped noticing that they couldn't speak. That's not quite right. They do verbalize a bit it's not in words. Well, except for Ba-na-na! I guess Bob just likes them. So does my four year old. I had to give her one when we got home.

The non-minion characters are fun as well. As someone who has been to a couple SF/F cons I got a kick out of seeing the movie's take on them with VillainCon. The con was both funny and entertaining, complete with the appearance of the celebrity on a big stage. Since the Minions were looking for a new boss, it was a logical place for them to go. Even their trip to the con was fun to watch. For the record: When Bob isn't eating bananas he's kind of a bad-ass.

As far as real complaints, I didn't have many. I went into the movie expecting campy and fun. I got campy and fun. This movie will never be a classic to me the way GI Joe: The Movie (1987) or the animated Transformers flick are, but I could see them becoming that for my daughters' generation. In fact, I'll predict: This movie (and probably the first two based on the way I've heard kids talk about them) will be one of the comfort movies that people like us are watching in twenty to thirty years to take them back to their childhood. Seriously. This could be the next generations' The Princess Bride or The Neverending Story. Only time will tell if I'm right, but I think I will be.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 plastic toys from McDonalds

NBC Universal, 2015

Minions is not yet available for purchase, but the first two movies can be found for purchase here:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Star Trek Enterprise: These are the Voyages

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Star Trek. I watched my first episode of Star Trek with my dad not long after the first time I had my first diaper changed. I went to DC when they had the twenty-fifth anniversary tribute at the Smithsonian. It was the first time I ever bought a birthday present for one of my parents with money I made myself. (I paid for the audio tour. It was my dad's birthday.) I have a pretty epic story about the first time I watched Encounter at Far Point. I was ten (almost eleven) when it debuted.  and I can still smell the popcorn we made that night when I think about it. Some would disagree with me (and that's OK) but I'm convinced that All Good Things is the best episode of TV ever. Period. Dot. End of Sentence. I wanted to be Wesley Crusher. (Which was a bit odd since I had a crush on his mom.) I couldn't stand Jake Cisco. (This attitude changed on my second watching twenty years later.) I wanted to be Quark just so I could smack Rom. I had a thing for Captain Janeway too. Smart, hot and not to be trifled with, she was exactly the way I've always like my women. I even watched the animated series growing up when I could. It was hard to find on TV but I did my best. The one series I didn't really watch in it's first run was Star Trek: Enterprise, which seems weird to me now because I remember being excited about not just the show but the fact that it starred Scott Bakula and I remembered him from Quantum Leap. Then again, those were the Everquest years, so maybe it does make sense after all. I wasn't watching much TV period. And dammit, my name is Jim McCoy. I never had a chance to NOT be a Trek fan.

So, when I recently decided to binge watch Star Trek: Enterprise on Netflix I'm sure it surprised exactly no one who had spent at least five minutes talking to me.  It was pretty much inevitable once I realized that it was there. I have to say I was pretty impressed. The characters are believable. There is just enough of a hint of what's to come that you can feel it but not so much that it feels too obvious. Captain Archer in particular undergoes an awesome character arc and so do those around him. Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker grows more than any other character I've seen on television from an impulsive young officer to a man that deserves his own starship. There was a lot of good and very little bad. I loved it.

This review however, and now that I'm finally coming to the point, is not about the series as a whole. It is about the last episode "These are the Voyages." I understand that ST:ENT was cancelled early but I can't help but think that this episode was all about taking the easy way out. Seriously. Something that bothered me about ST:DS9 was that they relied too much on characters from ST:TNG. It wasn't overpowering, it was just enough to be annoying. But, at the end of the day, ST:DS9 was its own show and the send off the characters got was awesome and well deserved if a bit melancholy. That is not the case for the final episode of  ST:ENT. Oh, the series was its own series for ninety-seven episodes but it's the ninety-eighth and final one that has me steaming.

"These are the Voyages" is told using the point of view of, not one of its regular characters, but of Will Ricker, first officer of the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701D. Guys? Really? I'm going to put this in the most rational, loving, calm manner that I can. All of that being said I have a question: WHAT IN THE EVER LIVING FUCK WERE THEY THINKING!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Seriously. Consider me nerd-raged beyond all others at this moment.

Listen, I'm not a ST:TNG hater. Nor do I have anything against the character of Will Riker, Jonathan Frakes the actor/director (whose contributions to the Trek franchise go far beyond just his acting) or against the character of Deanna Troi or Marin Sirtis the actress. All of the above are intensely entertaining and well worth my time to watch. I just don't think they belonged here. And what kills me is that there was enough of a story here to work without them.

By way of a brief introduction to the episode I'll just say that Commander Riker is agonizing over a decision about revealing some information to Captain Picard. The episode starts off with a First Officer's Personal Log and not a Captain's Log. That steams me. Every episode of Trek, regardless of actual series, starts off with the Commanding Officer doing a log. Well, except for this one.  That kills me. But even more than that, I can't help but feel cheated here.

ST:TOS died an ignominious death at the end of the third season but every other live action series since has had a definitive last episode. They've all been epic. I've already talked about "All Good Things." It brought back one of the best villains in the Trek mythos and forced the Enterprise crew to be at their best to fight back. The last episode of ST:DS9 ended the Dominion War and saw Ben Cisco elevated into the Bajoran Pantheon. The last episode of ST:VOY saw the crew of the Voyager make it home. The last episode of ST:ENT should have been the story of Archer and his crew helping out an old friend on the way home to attend a very important ceremony. It should have let us emote at the death of another old friend that we had followed throughout the series and what could have been. There should have been a speech at the end and the signing of a document that laid the foundation for the United Federation of Planets and every one of the series that came "after" it. Instead it was about a character from another show and his decision making process. I'm sorry but the show deserved better. The characters deserved better. The fans deserved better. I hate writing this but it's true. They should have concentrated on the characters from Enterprise and not Next Gen. Seriously.

Bottom Line: For the series as a whole: 4.9 out of 5 phase pistols. For the "These are the Voyages" episode: 3.0 out of 5 wilted penii.

Star Trek: Enterprise "These are the Voyages"
Paramount, 2005

Star Trek: Enterprise is available for purchase here:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cedar Sanderson's The God's Wolfling

Ok, I'll admit it. As a guy who read Bulfinch's Mythology before he became a teenager I've always wanted to know what a story with characters from differing mythologies would look like.  I've always wanted to see just a bit of fighting as well and, to put it bluntly, if you've read the Thor comic book by Marvel and haven't wondered what it would be like to see the Asgardians mix it up with some of the other gods you haven't lived. Cedar Sanderson's The God's Wolfling provides a universe that mixes the mythologies and has a war as well. It's a tale of a girl who is too young to do what needs doing - and does it anyway. It is also a crossover novel that mixes SF with fantasy in a manner similar to John Ringo's Council Wars series.

As someone who has a passion for this kind of thing, I'm going to start off this review by praising Ms Sanderson for the hard work she put into not just the writing of this book, but the research. She shows a lot of knowledge about various myths. We could argue all day long about whether or not things would shake out the way she thinks they would (and we WOULD and probably WILL because we're nerds and that's what we do. ) but she has obviously done enough work to at least make an educated guess. If her version of Fimbulwinter isn't what I always expected, it works within the story and displays the concepts in her novel better than just about anything else could. Oh, and just for full disclosure, I'm an Irish lad myself and seeing some of the mythology of my ancestral isle probably did add to my enjoyment of the work.

Our heroes are heroic and are led by a young lass named Linn. She's a youngster who could have used a bit more seasoning before setting off on an adventure of the scope of this one or apparently in the first book, Vulcan's Kittens which I have yet to read. VK was published before Sanderson came onto my radar and I don't remember hearing about it until I received my copy of GTW and I do plan on picking it up.

This book is a sequel, purportedly the last book in the Children of Myth Duology. I can say from experience that while there are obvious references to the first book this book is easy to follow if you haven't read it. The story holds together using the logic internal to it and the references to the first story aren't overpowering. It holds up well as a stand alone and I can't help but think that Sanderson planned things that way. The story draws you in on its own merits and there is no need for knowledge of Linn's first adventure.

I don't want to add too many spoilers because that's not what I do, but Sanderson does a very effective job of mixing magic and technology and, indeed, showing how the magic in her book is actually technology. We all know the adage about "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." from Arthur C. Clarke. Sanderson illustrates that concept with the use of nanotechnology. She also manages to include enough to make the concept known without going too far into it and boring the reader. This is a hard line to walk and she does it well.

The battle scenes in the book are well done. Sanderson does something that, quite honestly, TV shows and movies seem to capture better than most books in dropping us into the middle of a battle out of nowhere and making it believable. She pulls it off well. Oddly enough, I was thinking about this last concept last night while watching Star Trek:Enterprise and then read it today. Violence in the real world isn't always presaged by anything definable or even noticeable. All too often in just happens out of nowhere. There is a lot to be said for the drama of two men staring each other down before the bullets start flying but a little touch of realism is even better. While we're on the subject, Linn finds herself at times wrapped up in violence and wishing for a gun. As a guy who has read all of the Harry Potter novels multiple times and seen the movies more times than he's read the books I find this refreshing. I mean, who hasn't seen the assault on Hogwarts and wished for a M60 for use against the Death Eaters charging across the bridge? Add a few more points for further realism. 

In her note at the end, entitled "What Comes Next?" Sanderson points out that this was originally intended to be the final book in the series. I fail to see the logic behind that decision. I mean, it's her series and her decision but there's more left here. Then she points out that she has learned about more pantheons and that she is willing to do more with those other mythologies. This makes sense to me. Sanderson seems to have done something quite well without realizing it: She wrote a good self-contained story with a satisfying enough ending for this book but she left a lot of loose ends. When I say a lot of loose ends I mean a ton of them. Some may not be as loose as I think they are and I may spend too much time on TV Tropes but until Authorial Fiat is established by the next release I'm sticking to my theory.

My only complaint about this book is that it's too short. It really feels rushed in spots. I've always preferred longer works and The God's Wolfing is only about one hundred seventy-seven pages long but I think another twist or two and maybe another fight or so wouldn't have gone amiss. Granted, this is the story of Linn and not the story of the war but if she had been around when more things happened instead of hearing about them later it would have added something to this story. Then again, saying that I wish there were more to this story is, in another way, a compliment.

Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 Nanobots

The God's Wolfling
Cedar Sanderson
Stonycroft Publishing, 2014

The God's Wolfling can be purchased here:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

James Young's An Unproven Concept (Kraken Edition)

I've been in the mood for a rocking Space Opera for quite awhile now. Don't get me wrong. Near future SF is awesome when it's well done. My first love is fantasy and always will be. I've read a lot of good stuff lately. That much being said, there's still something visceral about unknown aliens attacking because who knows why and ships exploding. Yes, a nice uplifting story is nice but nothing beats a rip-snorting good page-turner that finds me cracking a book open before I can open my eyes far enough to see through my eyelids. Love scenes are awesome when done right (Yes, I admit it. I'm a Robotech fan for the love of Bob.) but nothing beats that moment of "Oh shit, where did that come from? And why is is shooting at me?" And if you're looking for a little bit of suspense, a lot of excitement, a big fight or two with an alien thrown in here and there and maybe just a smidge of a romantic element, then you're looking for James Young's An Unproven Concept.

Before I get to the story itself, I want to mention a couple of things I really like about the book that weren't, strictly speaking, part of the story. Young has thrown in a couple of important things that might be of use to a person who likes SF/F but isn't all that familiar with nautical terms: One is a drawing at the beginning of the book showing the different parts of the ship (bow, stern, etc.) and directional terms used by sailors such as ventral, dorsal, etc. Being a landlubber myself I liked this part of the story a lot. There is also a glossary at the end of the book for anything that still leaves the reader confused. Some of us can really benefit from this type of thing. Seriously. If you're looking at getting into the works of a guy like David Weber this may be a good place to start. Young can teach you the basics and give you a great story. Then you can go forth and use your knowledge for no goo... err... to enjoy other things as well. The best kind of knowledge is that which doesn't hurt to get and that can be reused for free. Oh, and there were a few other illustrations in the book that I loved that weren't necessarily educational as well.

Young's story revolves around a passenger liner that is someplace it shouldn't be. It gets attacked by alien and the humans in the book, many of whom are either military or security personnel, or both, fight back to try to save their own skins and the lives of the civilians around them. The aliens appear out of nowhere and things get ugly quickly. The fact that no one quite knows who they are adds spice. The fact that no one knows where the came from might just be what leads into the rest of the series. I haven't read it yet so it's hard to say, but I'm definitely looking forward to more. There is a lot of story here still to be told.

What is here is awesome though. Survival is guaranteed to no one in this tome. When a passenger liner full of civilians and retired military gets boarded things get ugly quickly. Young's aliens make pretty good but not perfect (more on this later) villains. They're ruthless and intelligent but not all knowing and annoying. They can fight but apparently have a skilled technical caste as well. I don't want to spoil the book but there are times when they do something completely unexpected and it works. Our heroes are always on their toes and they have to be.

Young's heroes aren't always heroic in the sense a lot of other writers' heroes are. That's because he portrays them as doing what's necessary instead of what feels good. Young's characters are not James T Kirk. There is no overacting, no aha moment and no miraculous ending. This does start to look like the Kobayashi Maru, but there is no cheating here. When one of Young's characters is given the choice between defending a group of innocents or acting to save the entire ship he makes the militarily right decision. It's not easy for him and he pays the price later but he does his duty. Young's captains do their duty when they know what the cost is likely for the same reason This type of gritty realism is hard to pull of but Young does a damn good job of it. Young is retired military and it shows, although I'm still trying to figure out how an Army guy ended up writing Navy and Marine stories has me a bit perplexed.

There is a lot of political intrigue in this work. It's obvious that Young has been hard at work on his universe and that there is a lot out there left to be revealed. It's politics at all levels as well: Fleet politics, interstellar politics and office politics all appear in the story and they all matter. When the shooting pauses, the politics go full tilt. Unless there is some other form of personal drama going on. This is Space Opera and, while the romance does not by any stretch of the imagination take over the book, it's there and well done.  One moment in particular is the kind of thing that will stick with you forever once you've read the book.

I only have one major complaint about this work but it's one I've had about a lot of others. The aliens in the book are inhuman and enigmatic. That's OK. Aliens don't have to be human because they're aliens. They're almost complete ciphers though. At no point do we get a scene with an alien point of view. We never find out what their motivations are. They just show up and kick ass. Granted, the book focuses on the humans and their reactions but AUC could have been even better if we knew why the aliens were doing what they were doing. Here's hoping that future volumes will reveal more about the enemy. His motivations matter too and can make for some good reading. There's a reason that Yellow Eyes is my favorite of John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata series. That much being said, this book still rocks and it's not like there was any great need in the plot to throw this in there.

Bottom Line:4.75 out of 5 Gas Giants

An Uproven Concept
James Young
Self published, 2014

An Unproven Conceptis available for sale here:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lizzie Ashworth's Denial

What do you get when you cross New Age mysticism, corporate intrigue, a weird wasting disease related to pollution, a psychic cure for it, a string of murders and the development of a man from an upstanding citizen to a gutter bum and back to an upstanding citizen again? I you're thinking it's Lizzie Ashworth's Denial then you're right. If you're thinking of something else let me know, because I'd probably like to read that too. This is the second book in the House of Rae series, following Salvation which I reviewed previously. I enjoyed the first one and I can't help but think that this one is even better precisely because it came afterward and she had more experience writing SF/F.

Ashworth's work has all of the themes listed above and it mixes them really well. She finds a way to switch between points of view and tie things together that, if you were to describe them to me verbally don't sound like they would fit together all that well. Don't ask me how she made it work. I'll just say she did. Ashworth has a sharp mind and makes her characters believable.

This book, like the one before it, has a point of view that can only be described as a limited first-person omniscient. This is something I hadn't seen until I read her first book but now that I have a bit more familiarity with it, having read the work of both Ashworth and Daniella Bova, I'm actually enjoying it. It can be a bit strange if you have to abandon a book mid chapter but she manages to identify her characters well enough that after a sentence or two you can figure out who you're reading. And wow, do those characters vary.

Back from the first book is our hero Josh, who is now back in school and working as a gray water technician. He is in love with a wonderful graduate student. Things go from good to bad to ugly quickly.  Before long he's alone and homeless. This poor guy has been through so much and come through so often he seems to be unstoppable. Along the way though, he still manages to shag some tail because, well... He's Josh. Pumping chicks is what he does. And once again the sex helps him get through tough times in his life.  He also has some psychic ability and this plays a much larger part in Denial than it did in Salvation.

The SF/F, probably more fantasy honestly, aspect in this book is much stronger than in the first one. It focuses around the healing ability of pleasure energy which is focused by the houses (in this case Houses of Rae, but there are other houses as well) and the fruits of their labors. The houses themselves are full of varying forms of entertainment, from the simple pleasures of a walk through a garden to booze, drugs or prostitution. If it feels good you can do it at a house. (The House of Rae specifically caters to an all female clientele but it is made clear that there are equivalent facilities for men. They just never appear "on screen.") The energy goes into a network and is distributed for use at healing facilities all over the world.

One of the main problems of the novel revolves on a specific house and its problem connecting to the grid that distributes the energy and this is where we get some of the New Age mysticism. A ceremony is conducted to travel into the Astral Plane and Feng Shui and acupuncture are both used in attempts to reconnect to the grid. I found myself enjoying this part of the book a lot. I'm not a New Age mystic by any stretch of the imagination but it was fun.

Ashworth has also toned way down on the sex this time around and I approve. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a prude but I don't usually read too many books with large amounts of sex because it's just not my thing. By no means is this book sex-free but the plot no longer centers around it and the book works better because of that fact. What sex is left in the book is plot necessary. For Ashworth growth, or some forms of it at least, is linked to sex. Her characters use sex to get past the rough parts of their lives and overcome their past. It's not a philosophy I subscribe to, but it's one that works for her.

The dark side of the corporate world is here for all to see. Ashworth's millionaires are self made men who cheated their way to the top. Denial is a good title as most of them have raked in millions while profiting off of dirty dealings and back room bargains. Fortunes are made and lost. One of the millionaires is a flat out despicable human being. Another regrets his past. All are seen as human beings, warts and all. A major part of the plot takes place when one of the millionaires has to defend his daughter against her asshole ex-husband. They all fight dirty. I approve.

I shouldn't have to write this, but I will anyway. Ashworth's treatment of some of the men in this book is exactly the type of thing that would set off the whiny types that complained about the latest Mad Max being a "feminist movie." Yes, one of them is a dirtbad on his best day. Yes, another can only seem to get himself together when he gets laid on a regular basis. Guess what, there are people like that in the real world. Yes, some of Ashworth's women are strong characters. If you can't deal with those things you may wish to avoid this book. I'm okay with it though. People have foibles and I don't see a realistic depiction to be a reason to cry into my beer.

My complaints about this book are fairly minimal. Ashworth's use of the multiple first person point of view works but sometimes she has time squeezing herself into the head of a man. Josh in particular actually describes a scene at one point as "I wept." An extremely effeminate man may describe himself as weeping, but Josh just isn't that kind of guy. I could see "I cried hard" maybe but weep? Sure, I've sat around and sobbed like a bitch at one point or another, but I have NEVER wept. Even if I have. But that's nitpicking. I find myself wondering at some points if the mosquito drones in her book would be able to carry enough liquid to cause the effect she ascribes to them but it is SF and I don't really have the technical details down enough to say it wouldn't work either. I'm thinking that the end of this one sets up the next one but I'm not sure if that's a good thing. It's not really a cliffhanger but it's not really NOT a cliffhanger. Also, conspicuous by her absence is Rae and this IS the House of Rae series.  All in all though, there wasn't much to complain about and the good far outweighed the bad.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Mystic Crystals

Book two of the House of Rae series
 Lizzie Ashworth
Self Published, 2015

Denial can be purchased here: