Friday, December 28, 2018

RJ Batla's Death Cloud

I hope to one day meet RJ Batla, like maybe at a con or something. On that day, I will initiate a three step process:

1.) Shake his hand and congratulate him on his awesome books.
2.) Offer to buy him a drink sometime
3.) Give him a dirty look and a lecture about keeping people up all night when they have to pick their kids up the next day and take them to celebrate Christmas with their extended family. 'Taint fair

Seriously guys, be careful with Batla's newest, Death Cloud. It causes this weird disease where you can't take your eyes off of the page and sleeping becomes something that other people do. I couldn't put this thing down. That can be a problem if you've got some weird real world stuff going on like,  oh, I dunno work or family or school or something. It's worth it. Just plan a vacation or send the kids to Grandma's house or something. I mean, who doesn't need some time off?

Death Cloud is a mix between  Steampunk, Fantasy, Superhero Fiction and a fight movie (ala Bloodsport) or a fighting game (similar to like a Mortal Kombat or Soul Blade) although the Steampunk elements are a lot less pronounced than in the first book. It's a really entertaining mix. Given the fact that the supers in the book have levels to their powers, I kind of wonder if maybe Batla hasn't done a bit of pen and paper RPGing as well. This one sets up and moves.

Those of you who have read the first book will remember that it revolved around the trials and travails of one Jayton Baird and his training and journey to compete in a tournament. Well, now he's there and the fights are intense. watching Jayton try to navigate these fights and plan for his enemies and their abilities is fascinating. Remember when you were a kid and you'd sit across the lunch table at school and argue over who would win in a fight between Green Lantern and Superman? (hint: Green Lantern. Kryptonite is green.) This book is like a series of those fights, except that most of the heroes in Death Cloud have more powers than your average comic book superhero.

And it gets better too, because not only is there a tournament going on, there is a war going on too. This is not Marvel's Civil War either. It's  a war fought the way real wars are fought: As a battle royal, two sides against each other and piles of bodies. It's entertaining but it's a little crazy. I mean, how many different powers can hit all at the same time? What kind of carnage could that cause? And what does war look like on a world where people's most potent weapons aren't the ones in their hands, they're the powers locked inside their bodies? It's an interesting look at something I hadn't really considered before, at least with these kinds of powers.

The characters in the book are pretty amazeballs. Jayton's team is composed of some totally awesome people on it. They're focused on their twins missions of winning the war and helping Jayton win the tournament but they have a lot of other things going on besides. There are romances brewing and personal issues abound. I actually had pegged one of them as a bad guy, but it turns out I was wrong. It looks like they really were who they claimed to be and I'm just a suspicious asshole. Who knew? (Huh? Whaddaya mean everybody?)

There is a cast of villains here as well. Batla did a really good job of making the villains in Death Cloud believable. Most of them want riches and power but how is that different than what ordinary people want? (If you disagree think about it this way: You may be comfortable financially or you may not but you probably want a nicer car or a bigger house. You may claim you don't want power, but there's probably something you'd like to change in society. It takes power to do that.) They're willing to take things further than a lot of us probably would, but those people exist in the real world as well. Gang bangers, mafia members, politicians, etc. are all willing to go to extreme lengths to get what they want. I like villains that make sense. I like villains who do what they do for a reason. Batla did this right.

Our main villain, once again, is the evil Malstrak. He's crazy and wants to run everything. Okay, so that's an archetype from history, but it works. He's got followers and an agenda. He's not going to lose no matter what happens, just ask him. All of Death Cloud is focused on the defeat of this one individual. He's a batshit insane wannabe dictator with an attitude problem. He's the kind of guy I can love to hate. He's perfect.

Our hero, Jayton Baird is believable because he is flawed. He has the same power that makes Malstrak such a complete nutcase (nope, not a spoiler. It was revealed in like the first ten pages of Fire Eyes Awakened, the first book.) and he struggles to overcome it. How he deals with it makes for an interesting subplot. I'm waiting to see where this goes in the next book, because there is something building here and I can't tell what.  I'm waiting for the big reveal. Something big is going to happen because of this power I can't wait to find out what it is. He also finds himself dealing with a major recurring distraction throughout the story. I kept waiting for the distraction to kill him.

Per Batla's mailing list emails,Death Cloud is the second in a four book series. I'm waiting (im)patiently for the next two. The book obviously sets up a sequel and it promises to be a good one. Keep your eyes peeled, because I'm sure I'll be reviewing it here.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Epic Battles

Death Cloud
RJ Batla
Self Published, 2018

Thursday, December 20, 2018

James Young's Aries' Red Sky

So what happens when two groups of humanity that have been separated by so many years and so much distance that they're unaware of each other's existence come into contact with one another? What if one group thought their territory was being invaded by aliens? How would the other group react? If you're not sure (or maybe if you just want to read a good story) ask James L. Young. I'm sure he'll smile and sell you a copy of Aries' Red Sky. He promotes his stuff at cons all the time so I've got to believe he'll have a copy handy. It's worth the price too.

And let's face it. I know it's the holiday season, but pretty soon that'll be over. Your options will be to paint the walls or read a book and you JUST GOT that gift certificate. So I'm here to tell you how to spend that  gift certificate and a few hours of your time and why. And you should spend that time and money on Aries' Red Sky. Keep reading, and I'll tell you why.

Aries' Red Sky is the best kind of Military Science Fiction: It was written by a real veteran, in this case a West Point graduate, so it's got a real military feeling to it. Mil-SF, when written by non-veterans often has one of two flaws: Either the people play second fiddle to the weaponry or they're all just a bunch of paper cutout asshole warmongers. Young, predictably enough for a veteran, gets it. Members of the military are really real people with real people problems, thoughts and emotions. It shows in his work. Yes, his characters have a "proper military bearing" but they also have moments when they're just like anyone else.

But that's not to say that the hardware gets short shrift. Young's warships are built to make war and have all of the fancy little doodads that make them better at it. Aries' Red Sky is a war story plain and simple. It takes place in space so technology is needed and it's there. There is a bit of a conflict between design philosophies and that makes sense too. Anyone who has studied naval warfare during the Twentieth Century can certainly tell you all about the battles between battleship admirals and carrier admirals fought in planning rooms worldwide. It makes sense that different navies would build differently in centuries to come as well.

Speaking of philosophy, the two sides on this war find themselves with very different philosophies. There had to have been a temptation to make one side of the philosophical debate the good guys and the other the bad guys but Young avoids that. Don't get me wrong. Anyone who follows this blog knows that I love heroic heroes and villainous villains. Sometimes though, wars are fought by people just doing their job. That really is the case in Aries' Red Sky.There are times when the two sides in the war see each others actions as barbaric but at the end of the day, the characters are doing what's right according to what they've always believed. It's an interesting dichotomy. A lot of the tension in the book comes from philosophical differences and it just works.

Aries' Red Sky is also a work of Space Opera. You get all of the romance your little heart desires. If some of it ends up in a bunk, well... These are adults and I did mention something about people being people earlier, right?I once heard a Navy veteran talk about "friggin' in the riggin'." And, while there is obviously no rigging used in space, the phrase does seem to fit here. It's not just sex though and that's an important difference. There is romance here.

It sometimes amazes me how little Mil-SF authors skip over other real people things like time with family. Listen, we all know that members of the military frequently get deployed and can't see their family like they want to. The fact remains that I've never met, talked to, or heard of a member of the military who doesn't like to see their family whenever duty allows. Young included that in here and it's good to see.

Of course, in any war story there need to be fight scenes and Young is a master. The space battles in this thing are epic. There's plenty of boom-boom and bang-bang to keep that atavistic streak of yours going. We get both fleet engagements and marines in action so it's varied enough to keep things interesting too. It's not pretty. Every one of the combat sequences in Aries' Red Sky is graphic in the extreme. This is good. Bad things happen in war and they should be given full their full weight in fiction. That much being said, if you're like that one chick I dated back in the Nineties who almost passed out at the mere thought of blood, maybe you should try watching House Hunters or something and leave the action and suspense to the people who can handle it.  As for me, I'll be over here watching things explode.

I'm guessing that Young has read some actual military history. There is a lot going on in Aries' Red Sky that works in a historical setting but not so much in the here and now. That said, it works in an interstellar setting as well. I'm not making sense. Let me try it this way. In the real world, Planet Earth in 1814 the Battle of New Orleans was fought. It was the last battle in the War of 1812. It was also fought after the war had ended. How is that possible? It's possible because the Treaty of Ghent (that's the one that ended the war) was signed overseas and word hadn't reach the North American Continent in general or the city of New Orleans in particular in time to stop it. American General Andrew Jackson (yes that Andrew Jackson) and British General Sir Edward Pakenham were fighting what could have been a vital battle without orders because they had no way to receive any. Aries' Red Sky is the first in a trilogy and I'm wondering how that's going to effect the story moving forward. I can't wait to find out.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Dropped Rocks

Aries' Red Sky
James Young
Self Published, 2018

Aries' Red Sky is available for purchase at the following link:

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Universal Pictures's Mortal Engines

So this past Saturday was my birthday and I decided to treat myself to a movie as a birthday present to myself. Seeing as my next two days off were Sunday and Tuesday and I had an absolute crapton of stuff to do on Sunday, I decided to go see a movie on Tuesday. And, since I was convinced that both Aqua and Bumblebee had opened this past Friday, I spent all weekend trying to decide which one to go to. So, when the time came to choose, I decided that I would find the one in the most workable time slot. Oops! They're both starting this coming Friday and not last Friday! I suck! But I REALLY wanted to go see a movie, so what's a nerd-boy to do? I know! I'll go see Mortal Engines. GOOD CHOICE NERD-BOY!!!

Seriously, I enjoyed this movie. It's got a post-apocalyptic setting and I love those. The acting was good. The special effects were amazeballs (more about those below) and the story was tight. I've looked for a reason to complain about Mortal Engines and I can't find one. It's that good.

Don't blink while you're watching Mortal Engines. This flick moves fast and there is a lot to it. Plot twists abound and not everything is as it seems. Characters come and go quickly and you're never sure whether you should trust the newest person to show or not. I looked down to scratch my nose at one point and missed thirty-seven plot points, four new characters and a major clue about something. I think. Or maybe I'm exaggerating, but why take the chance? Seriously, you paid for the ticket, now pay attention.

The special effects for this movie were orgasmic. I don't know who did them (and I'm too lazy to look) but WOW. Big guns, moving cities, explosions, one thing I'm not going to talk about and more. This was one of the most visually impressive movies I've ever seen in my life. Obviously, a lot of the credit for the concepts put forth go to Phillip Reeve, the author of the Mortal Engines novel that the movie was based on. I'm more than happy to give him that credit because he deserves it. The fact remains that translating that writing into the extravaganza that appears on screen. It seems like every scene has some kind of awesome looking something in it.Whether it's a city on treads or an airship or whatever it all looks awesome and that's good because a Steampunk movie demands a Steampunk aesthetic.

And speaking of Steampunk: I know it's a less popular sub-genre of Speculative Fiction than most. I know it's treated like an unwanted stepchild. I just don't know why. It's kind of weird, but it's not like Wookies and Vulcans aren't. The stories are good. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Mad Max movie or The Walking Dead can get with post-apocalyptic Steampunk. Anyone who like historical fiction can get with actual steam age Steampunk. So why the hate? I don't get it.

I do know this much though: Taking your friend who doesn't like Steampunk to see Mortal Engines is likely to create a new fan. This movie is that good. Seeing it was maybe the fastest two hours of my life. I mean, I could've brained the guy in the row ahead of me who decided to pull out his phone during one of the good parts, but honestly I can't put that on Universal Studios.

Speaking of Steampunk though, I have to ask: Why is it necessary for every single thing to be different than every other? Is it some weird unwritten rule of Steampunk physics that every airship has to be built differently than every other one? Why has no one ever made the same model mining unit as someone else? I get the fact that things are cobble together with whatever is available. I get the fact that modern-day factories either don't exist anymore or never have. But dude: The American West was settle with Conestoga wagons in a time period with a comparable level of technology to most of Steampunk. It was ubiquitous. So why can't one airship maker create an airship that looks like someone else's? I don't get it. I probably never will.

Getting back to Mortal Engines, I have to say that the characters all make sense and feel real. As a moviegoer, I was able to understand what they did and why they did it. Phillip Reeve apparently understands human nature. Yes, there was one incredibly stupid moment for one the characters. I won't spoil too much but given the character's level of knowledge and experience, what he did makes sense. I can't say I'd have acted much different in their position.

The world building element to this story was excellent. It was a slow build, but that makes sense. We learn things as the story progresses and we need to. A good writer (whether book, TV or movie) can teach us about their world without pages (or minutes) of exposition while we're all just sitting there waiting for something to happen in the story. Reeve and the people who wrote the screenplay both seem to have a sense of what to reveal when and how that works. It's really well done, with our questions being answered it's necessary.

Mortal Engines has all of the good stuff you could possibly want. It's got heroes and heroines. It's got villains who think they're heroes but you hate them anyway. It's got a romance. There's fighting. There's honesty moments. There's trickeration. Everything you could ever want you'll find here. So go see the movie and bring your friends. You'll all thank me.

I haven't read the book (I didn't even know that there WAS a book until the end credits popped up) but it turns out that there is a whole series here. That's good news because I was hoping for a sequel. The bad news is that not enough people have seen it and it looks like it will probably lose money. That sucks because there won't be a sequel unless the take is big enough to supply a profit. I really hope things turn around for Mortal Engines somehow because I want to see more. I guess if it does fail, then at least I've done what I could for it.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Traction Cities

Mortal Engines
Universal Pictures, 2018

Some Mortal Engines related merchandise is available at the following links:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

IDW's Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Volume 1

There are those of us out there who *GASP* grew up reading comic books at a time when publishers didn't reprint them as trade paperbacks. Yeah, I'm that old. I'm so old my parents let my twelve year old self ride two miles on my back to get to the comic shop alone or with a friend. They thought nothing of it. Yet, the fact remains that I am no longer twelve. I have a car now. And comic book publishers do indeed make trade paperbacks now. So, one day when I went walking into my Local Hobby Shop (that sells comics) in search of a Dungeons and Dragons game to join, I came across something that made me smile. (For the record, I didn't manage to find a game to join. Sucks to be me.)

You see, up on a shelf near the door was a stack of trade paperbacks marked Transformers vs G.I. Joe. I had been dimly aware of the series, but when it started back in 2014, I was fresh off of a divorce and five dollars a month was an amount I just couldn't afford (no, I'm not joking). So I missed it the first time around. I'm going to do my best to make sure I don't miss it the second time around though. Admittedly, it'll be around longer than it was last time. That's one of the things that I love about the trend toward TPB. It makes it much easier, and cheaper, to catch up on the old stuff.

As a wee little Jimbo (which I actually was, back in the Dark Ages) I loved both the Transformers and G.I. Joe. I had way more Joe stuff, but that's just me. I watched the cartoons religiously. I didn't have anything approaching the same amount of Transformers toys as I did G.I. Joe but I enjoyed both immensely. I'll be honest in stating that a lot of the rest of this review is based on nostalgia and less on cold, hard professionalism, but it's my job to call 'em as I see 'em and I loved this book.

See, when I was a kid Transformers vs. G.I. Joe wasn't just the title of a book. It was a game we played. You should have seen what the First Generation Optimus Prime did to my G.I. Joe MOBAT. (That's Mobile Armored Battle Tank for you non Joe loving communists out there.) It was a good time. I'm really glad someone saw an opportunity and decided to tell this story in visual form.

And the visuals are really awesome. The art in this book is highly reminiscent of the comics I had as a kid. I had copies of both  Transformers #1 and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #3 (yes, really, even if both were hand me downs and in bad shape when I got them) and they looked a lot like this. I'm not saying bad things about the art of the modern era because it's good. I'm just saying that, the whole Transformers vs G.I. Joe concept is nostalgic for me and the art makes it more so.

Growing up one of my greatest disappointments in both franchises was when they released a new generation of toys and the old generation straight up disappeared from the comics and the TV shows. That made me do a major sad. But, I'm happy to say that IDW, in the form of writers Tom Scioli and John Barber, did the right thing by including characters from all generations. Even in the animated Transformers movie from the Eighties all of the older characters are killed off in the first few minutes.

I especially enjoyed the commentary at the end with the writers. I've always said that I would listen to the commentary while watching some of my favorite DVDs but I never have because listening to someone talk over my movies sucks. This is different. It's at the end of the book so I was able to flip back and forth and find out what they were talking about while not having the story interrupted. I get why that wouldn't work for DVDs but it works great here.

I also like the fact that they included some of the rough drafts of the actual panels as they were working toward a finished product. Any writer knows the process of writing followed by revising, followed by more revising and the revising your revisions, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that actual comic book artists do the same thing. It's good to see that other groups of people deal with the same crap that we have to.

I may be just a bit bitter because they gender-swapped one of my favorite characters. I've talked about this before. I am not at all against representation. Hell, it can be a good thing if it's done right. Of course, doing it right means that the groups of people who wish to be represented should create their own characters and write their owns stories instead of expecting someone else to do it for them. Especially since G.I. Joe has plenty of female characters already. I'm not a fan of pandering to the SJW set and there is no reason for it to happen here. That was the one place where I'm going to call bullshit. The rest of the story was interesting and engaging. This was just rampant liberal politics and therefore an unnecessary detraction from the story.

Overall though, this was an enjoyable book and I'll be picking up Volume 2 as soon as I'm able to. Actually, I need to check my email because I think I have a coupon for a discount because my birthday is this weekend. Yep, two more days and I'll be the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. I'm old. I'm not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, but what the hell? It's my bloggie and I'll be goofy if I want to.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Energon Cubes

Transformers vs. G.I Joe Volume 1
Tom Scioli and John Barber
IDW, 2014

Transformers vs. G.I Joe Volume 1 is available for purchase at the following link:

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Declan Finn's Death Cult

Ladies and Gentleman (and you in the back) I present to you a plot synopsis of Declan Finn's Latest Book, Death Cult.

Dude, don't
He did?
That sounds like it hurt.
That had to have hurt
Them again
I'm not sure that's physically possible
I KNOW that's NOT physically possible
The End!

 You may all now return to your regularly scheduled lives.


And honestly, I don't thinking I've quite done it justice. There is a slight chance that I'm oversimplifying a bit. The book is after all, quite a bit longer than that so called synopsis. It's worth reading every word though, because Death Cult kicks ass.

In Hell Spawn Saint Tommy fought a demon. It was ugly. There was lots of fighting and many people died to death. It was quite horrifying. I loved the book, but I was a bit worried. Don't get me wrong. Finn is a good author. But when you're writing Christian fiction and you go up against a demon, what comes next? I mean, I didn't see Finn bringing Satan himself to Earth for a straight up rumble, although I'd buy that book. The threats need to get bigger if you're going to keep it entertaining. So what do you do and who do you do it with? You fight a death cult. (No, that's not a spoiler. It's the title of the stinking book.) It works. It's deadly dangerous and definitely something that most Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, would find themselves at odds with.

I will say this much: Some of the symbolism in this book is both funny and a little blatant. I'm thinking of one thing in particular which I'm not going to mention. It makes massive amounts of sense. It's pretty gross. It's kind of funny in a sick sort of way because of how well it fits. I enjoyed it and it works but it's pretty hard to miss.

Finn has built his world very well. We're treated to some old friends and some new acquaintances and they all fit together nicely. I really like it when a book stays true to the universe it is written in. Death Cult does so nicely. The internal logic is consistent, the characters stay true to their own motivations. I don't mean that the book is predictable because it's not. There is, however, a difference between logical and predictable and Finn has found his groove here.

Having said that, it's worth mentioning that not every saint was Mother Theresa. I mean Saint George slew the dragon and the Catholic faith has seen it's share of fights as well as saints that were involved in them. Tommy is no exception. Yes, he's a nice guy when he can be. That doesn't mean he's always a nice guy. My pastor (who admittedly is not Catholic) just did a sermon a few weeks ago about the sixth commandment and talked about how it's not wrong to kill in the defense of life. Trust me when I tell you that Tommy has plenty of reasons to fight God would approve of all of them.

In a way, part of the reason I think I liked this book so much is because Finn picked a villain that made sense in the context of that selfsame commandment. The villain is the kind of person you just want to slap and can't. They are evil personified (and I'm guessing that's intentional) and hide behind a facade of providing a useful service. They really boil my butt. It did me heart well to see Tommy after them.

Finn has always (or at least as long as I've been reading his work) been able to write an awesome action sequence and Death Cult gave him a chance to show off his skills. You start to feel bad for Tommy after awhile because of all the crap he is going through but that doesn't mean it's not fun to "watch". I will say that I have no intention of ever getting on Finn's bad side though. It would appear to be a bad idea. If he can conceive of violence at this level, he might just be able to get the drop on me. That would be a bad thing.

The politics in this book work for me. I have no trouble seeing a liberal mayor cover for an unmitigated evil within his city if it fits his ideology. Finn does a good job of displaying things in a way that would not please the mainstream media, but fits with the beliefs of roughly half the country. It is presented in a manner consistent with religion (his main character is a saint in the making after all) but without being overly preachy. There are conversations I've had with family members that cover some of the same subjects. I'd like to get some of them to read Death Cult specifically, but since they don't really do horror...


Let's face it though. Family or not, if you can't enjoy a Declan Finn book you pretty much suck at life and your opinion doesn't really matter. Seriously, you all need to read this book right now. I'll wait to finish the review. Hie thee off to Amazon and purchase the thing. The link is down there somewhere. Okay, okay. If you haven't bought the first book, Hell Spawn then I'll wait for you to get back after buying both of them. Go ahead.




Back now? Did you put your credit card number in right? Actually, I don't really care as long as you didn't use mine. I bought the Indiegogo with the ARC and the autographed copy so yeah... I dished out the loot already.

Ok, so maybe I talked a bit of trash there, but this is a really good book and I'm seriously looking forward to number three. I think he announced a title, but if so, I'm pretty sure I forgot what it was going to be. That's okay though. I'm gonna read it anyway.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Hail Marys

Death Cult
Declan Finn
Silver Empire, 2018

Death Cult is available for purchase at the following link: