Wednesday, December 30, 2015

David Gosnell's Wielder: The Betrayal

As a reader I always, always always give a book a hundred and fifty pages to get me hooked, especially if it's the first in the series. Well, except for Twilight. That got one hundred and forty and when I started praying for the next ten pages to go quickly, I gave up. True story. At any rate, sometimes I really am happy that I did. Sometimes, I'm not. This time, I'm ecstatic that I did (and it only took about fifty) because it took a minute for David Gosnell's The Wielder: Betrayal to really take off but once it did I was massively impressed. This book was a lot of fun. I'll get into the whys and wherefores in a minute, but I really enjoyed it. Gosnell can write.

The most important part of any book is the characters and this is where Gosnell really delivers. His main character, Arthur MacInerney goes through a character arc that is unlike anything I've seen before. His constant companions, who are literally demons that he is able to summon using tattoos given him as the result of a chance encounter, are not only believable they are entertaining. I can't quite wrap my head around the way that Gosnell managed to take demons and turn them into people. His demons (or Arthur's depending on how you view them) feel real. I can almost see myself sitting down for dinner with one of them or having Hjuul, the dog-like one, fall asleep at my feet.

Not all of the characters are friendly of course and Gosnell does a good job of making Arthur's enemies believable. He even manages to straddle the line with some of the enemies actually being the good guys. I don't want to give too much away here but there is definitely a time when Arthur finds out that things are not what they seem and that he needs to trust the people that he thought were out to get him. The fact that this makes sense to the audience is a compliment to Mr Gosnell and his ability to build a three dimensional universe. When one of the good guys..err... girls spit in Arthur's face I didn't hate her for it. It made sense for the character and Arthur had it coming. Of course, sometimes the bad guys are just bad.

Maldgorath is our main antagonist, pure evil type. This story really is an epic fantasy masquerading as an urban fantasy and we need that pure evil villain. What makes Maldy work though is that he's not just evil for evil's sake. He doesn't kick puppies just because he can. Dude is evil because he is obsessed. He is a collector of beings. He enslaves things not for the work they do, but for the sheer joy of doing so. He really is a sick, twisted sadist. He enjoys toying with the beings he has acquired but what collector doesn't enjoy playing with his toys?

The action sequences in the book are both well done and integral to the plot. I found myself wincing at all of the appropriate moments, cheering when I was supposed to and basically just caring about what happened. It was more than just that though. When Arthur stalks a man through a building I'm right there along with him. It feels immediate as does the following battle. When a fight erupts in a parking lot I find myself wanting to be in there swinging. Some parts of this book felt almost cinematic because of the way I could see them playing out in my head.

I'm going to guess that Gosnell has done some gaming. Not only does Arthur feel like Warlock from World of Warcraft at times, but some of the demons he uses feel similar to the demons in WoW. A couple of the fight scenes have the feel of a Battleground from WoW too. I don't know if Gosnell plays for sure but I'd be surprised if he didn't. (And David, if you see this and you do play, hit me up in game. I'm AKA Capellini, Undead Lock on Nesingwary. My guild is named Harmonious Death and we're always recruiting.) That's okay though. What he wrote makes sense whether you've played the games or not, but parts of it added to my enjoyment. Ok, seeing Arthur go from warlock one minute to priest the next was a little weird but it's all good. I enjoyed it and seeing the enemy react in an appropriate manner made me smile.

This book goes through some major twists. It would be easy to get whiplash if they didn't make so much sense. Gosnell does a good job of getting us ready for what's coming without letting us know what's coming. I don't know if I said that quite right, but what I meant is that he foreshadows things well without telegraphing his next move. There were a few times where I just didn't see what was coming but once it happened it made sense to me. This is something I struggle with in my own writing but Gosnell does it well. I'll have to go back through this book and see if I can break down how he did it.

It's true that this was not a perfect book. The first fifty pages just drag. I mean, I know it's the first book in a series and sometimes things take a minute to set up, but damn. The book starts at a funeral and wallows in it. Granted, the funeral sets up the rest of the book but things just kind of wander with no real sense of what's going on until something terrible happens and we're off and running. Once things do get moving though they don't let up.


There is also a moment near the end where Gosnell does something I've seen in a lot of games that irks me. It's when you FINALLY get to the big boss and you're beating the bejabbers out of him but he gets away and you have to hunt him down again. In games it's so you'll keep playing. In this book it's so that you'll read the rest of the series. That makes sense. Logical or not though, it's still annoying. That much being said, it was well foreshadowed and it's a cliché because it works.

Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 Tattoos

The Wielder: Betrayal
David Gosnell
Self published, 2012

The Wielder: Betrayal is available for purchase here:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Long, long ago (in 1983) in a galaxy far, far away (or maybe it was a movie theater in suburban Detroit, I get confused sometimes) a much younger Jimbo saw a movie called Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi. It was the beginning of a love affair that has lasted for over thirty years now. There have been good patches (the re-release of the original movies) there have been rough patches (the Special Editions and the prequels) but it has endured on the strength of a strong story and a sense of wonder. As I look back over the better days of my life one of them will always be the day I sat in a movie theater with my mom and watched some dude lead his kid out of the place because he thought Jaba the Hutt was gross. (True story). So, when I heard that there was yet another trilogy coming, I got both excited and nervous. Excited because I wanted more Star Wars. Nervous because I didn't want them to screw it up again. And this time Disney made the movie. We didn't need another Jar Jar. Fortunately, we didn't get one. What we got was far better than any Star Wars product since ROTJ. I hate to say it, but Disney got it right where George Lucas didn't. Make no mistake about it. Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivers.

I'm not going to spoil the story. And granted, I don't get many comments but I will delete any comments that contain spoilers but I will say that I loved this movie. I loved this movie because it introduced new characters that I care about. I loved the story. I loved the twists. I hate the fact that maybe the biggest one was spoiled for me by some douchebag on Facebook, but I can't put that one on Disney. I can't get over the fact that I had a couple of theories about things going into this flick and they're right, well...probably... or uhhh...maybe...well... I'm still trying to work things out but there are all kinds of issues still to be resolved in the sequel and things seem to be going in a direction that makes sense but is still open to interpretation. I mean, I went to see The Force Awakens and walked out wanting to see the sequel. It was that good. Of course there was this one part, that felt like it confirmed one of my theories probably but then....

UGH!!! Yeah, I could still be wrong. I'll be waiting two years to find out if I'm right or not and I'll be suffering the whole time. Then again, it beats going to see
Revenge of the Sith simply because I had seen the first two and well, it was Star Wars... kinda. And yes, it was the best of the prequels but that's like saying it was the best tasting Brussels Sprout. The Force Awakens wasn't a Brussels Sprout though. It was a big honking steak.

Let's face it. My two favorite things to see in a movie or read about in a novel are a BAFF (Bad Ass Fuckin' Female) and a BAFF (Big Ass Fuckin' Fight). Yes, they have the same acronym. Sue me. This movie had both. Rey was a straight up ass-kicker. Of course there was a fight. I won't go into details but it was huge and things blew up all over the place. It's Star Wars. It's Space Opera. It's supposed to work that way and it did. It was like being a little kid again. I can give no higher praise.

If the Special Effects crew doesn't win an Oscar I'm going to call bullshit and never watch the Oscars again. Well, ok. I don't really watch the Oscars but that's because most of my favorite movies lose to artsy crap that sucks. Please, if you have a vote in the Academy or if you know someone who does or if you know someone who knows someone who does don't vote for anything else. I'm not asking for a win for best movie, although it probably deserves that too, but simply one for Special Effects that dazzled. Industrial Lights and Magic is the best for a reason and that reason is Star Wars. The Force Awakens is their best work yet.

I've always been more about the story contained within a movie than the music and story is what I've developed this blog around but I'm also a band geek who played John Williams's music in marching band in high school. Something the SW franchise has always done to great effect is using music to influence emotion and emotional reaction is what makes a good story. Williams once again knocked it out of the park. I have always hoped that one of my kids would play in a marching band someday. Should that happy day come to pass, I now hope that they get to play some of the music from this movie. It was that good. It reflected the music of the first two trilogies but had enough of a new sound to be distinctive. I was impressed.

As we've all known for months now, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford are all in the movie reprising their original roles. I've been critical of Star Trek in the past for overusing old characters but that didn't happen here. Han, Luke and Leia were there and they played roles with varying levels of importance but they never overshadowed the new cast. It never felt like they were there just to be used as exclamation points. I remember DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy refusing to have anything to do with

In short, The Force Awakens was everything I hoped it would be. I don't say that about many movies. And, while I can't claim to have been there since Day One since I hadn't TURNED one yet, I've been a fan for a long time. I grew up with the toys and the games. I read the books with the record that went with them. This film was a worthy successor to those films in ways that the prequels just weren't. I hate to say it, but here's to the Mouse. Long may he reign.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Stars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Lucasfilms, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not yet available for purchase, but here are some links to get the old stuff to tide us all over until it hits:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

David Gerrold's Jacob

As someone who was involved in a small way in the recent Hugo controversy, I have been looking for an opportunity to read something by the other side. I wanted to get a look at what they considered to be award worthy. Imagine my sense of surprise when I found out from an anonymous source that David ”You Should Never Campaign for Awards" Gerrold had sent out a letter promoting his book Jacob. “Awesome” I thought to myself, “I can finally get a look at what the other side considers to be award winning. Maybe I can learn a little more about how things are supposed to look.” Yeah, I was sadly disappointed.

Honestly, if this is what good Science Fiction is, I'll just read drek. I've never been so bored in my life. Nothing happens in this story. It is a conversation that takes place over years between two men. There is no action. There is no hint that action is coming. The vampire in the series spends his time describing things that happened in his life before he was turned. I love a good story in flashback but that's not what this is. It is a conversation in written form. Some would call this artsy I'm sure, but I just call it boring.

The best part about this book was the beginning of the prologue. It had me intrigued. It's told in first person from the part of the vampire and specifically mentions Twilight and The Vampire Chronicles. That's hardly surprising. Combine Bella's whining with Anne Rice's homoerotic touch with her vamps and you get Jacob. You just have to do it badly. And that is probably the most annoying part of the entire work.

I'm not a Twilight fan. I read about the first hundred-forty pages of the first book and gave it to my niece. She and her mother both enjoyed it. I saw the first three movies because my then-wife loved the series. Fortunately I divorced her before I got dragged off to the last two. My attitude toward The Vampire Chronicles is completely and utterly different. I was introduced to them via the Interview With the Vampire. I didn't find out until I bought the VHS that was even a book that went with the movie because Anne Rice's work isn't shelved with the SF/F stuff and I don't usually venture into any other part of the bookstore but I loved it. I loved all of the books. And so, when somebody does this poor of an imitation of one of my favorite stories it pisses me off. Anne Rice's vampires did things. They went places. They partied in New Orleans and robbed ancient tombs of their inhabitants. They fought. They cried. The fought some more. They made up. The Talamasca showed up. One of them got turned. Etc.

Gerrold's vampires kind of do all of that but it happens offscreen and the details are left out. It's all talked about later in a “well, there was a war but I don't want to go through it all.” type attitude. There's a bunch of emotional whining, a lot of “Oh, I want to be a vampire and they're all being mean to me by not turning me” and a lot of “Oh noes, the vampire just left. I may never see him again,” but again, no action. Not all action has to be violence. There were a few sexual encounters described but for the most part only in vague terms. Honestly, if Gerrold was going to go into the sex he should have done it. Barring that, he could have left it at the bedroom door. Instead, he decided to half-ass things and it sucked.

Honestly though, the title that comes to mind while reading Jacob is not Interview With the Vampire and it's not Twilight, it's Axolotl Roadkill. For those that don't remember that was a story, written by Helene Hegemann which led to a controversy about plagiarism. She admits to having mixed two other stories together using a technique called “blending.” Others said she committed plagiarism. Apparently, Hegemann won the argument because her book is still available on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. Gerrold seems to have taken lessons from her because he used the same techniques. Granted, all Science Fiction and Fantasy stories are derivative in one form or another

Jacob is a book with no internal consistency. I'm sorry, but a character can have a background as a male prostitute who got paid to have sex with other men or he can have sex afterward with a boy he is supposedly in love with and not know how things work, but he can't do both. Likewise, his lover can either be a clueless newbie who doesn't know how things work or he can be experienced with a string of former lovers. It doesn't work both ways. I'm not offended by sex whether straight, gay or some other kind. It doesn't bother me. Being treated like an idiot does. If an author expects me to suspend disbelief, plausibility is key. I simply cannot bring myself to believe that someone who got paid to have sex doesn't know how to have sex. A little bit of continuity editing may have gone a long way here.

Once upon a time, Leonard Nimoy refused to do Star Trek Generations because he added nothing to the plot and was there simply as some type of exclamation point. Nimoy talks about it in his memoir I am Spock. I wish he could have had a conversation with Gerrold before Gerrold wrote the majority of his prologue. After the aforementioned good part, he goes into his writers' group. He lovingly details a bunch of characters (including one transgender person who was doubtlessly thrown in simply for box checking or, if you prefer, “the purposes of inclusion.”) who never appear again and have nothing to do with anything. It's a simple exercise in boredom and possibly revenge on people who were in a writing group with Dear Author at one point. It adds nothing to the story and should never have been included.

Then we're treated our lecture for the day: All writing must be not merely to entertain but to enlighten. That's a fascinating theory but one that falls apart in practice, especially since there is nothing enlightening about Jacob at all. That's alright though, because there's nothing entertaining about it either. Jacob is, put simply, a complete and utter waste of time. There is no reason to read it and my advice would be to save your time and money and spend it on something less painful. A root canal comes to mind.

Bottom Line: 0.25 out of 5 toothpicks (to hold your eyes open while you're reading this.

David Gerrold
ComicMix LLC, 2015

Jacob is available for purchase here:

Some entertaining stories that are worth your money are available for purchase here:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What I Want for the New Star Trek Series

There's a new Star Trek series on the horizon and we're all trying to figure out what that means, myself included. It's impossible to say what CBS Studios has planned at this point, but I have some definitely hope that some things happen and that others don't. I've watched every ST series, although there are still some episodes of Voyager that I haven't seen. I've seen every ST movie made. Legend has it that I watched my first Star Trek episode before the first time I slept in my crib. (To be clear, my father always claimed this. My mother said he was full of shit. She was never able to tell me what actually happened the day I came home for the hospital though, so I guess I'll never know the truth for sure.) I knew Kirk, Spock and McCoy before I knew my kindergarten teacher. I realized that this means that I haven't been watching ST as long as some, but still, I've been a fan for going on forty years so, unless you're a Worldcon member, that means that I've been around long enough to have an informed opinion.

Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation were the only two of the series to be directly overseen by Gene Roddenberry and they were, in my opinion, the two best. The reason for this is simple: They presented a bright future. Current fashions among New York publishing houses aside, most people like to believe that the future will be better than the present. The new Star Trek needs to keep this in mind. I don't care the leftist politics in many Star Trek episodes, but let's face it: Poverty has been eliminated. Disease is under control except on colony planets that need to the crew of the ship to save them. Humanity often faces threats from outside itself but it is internally united and has friends to help it along the way. Yes, there were lessons about racism included. Yes, we still have a long way to go. It is worth mentioning that the Enterprise crew was integrated when the show started in 1966. That was huge then, although it would go without mention now. I know that dystopic fiction is currently all the rage but that's not Trek. Trek needs to be and stay optimistic.

To me, the lack of racism displayed on the show is one of the most optimistic parts about it and it's done right. Sulu is the helmsman because he's damn good at being the helmsman. Uhura is the communications officer because she's good at the job. Geordi gets promoted because he deserves it based on his performance. Ensign Kim... You get the idea. Yes, there should be minority characters/actors present. There always has been. The series needs to not devolve into an SJW fest though. Have the dark skinned people there. Make them good at their jobs. This could be the first Trek to include an openly gay regular character. I would have no problem with that either. Regardless of any of that though, the point needs to not be “Look at me, I'm black, gay, Asian, etc, but that whoever they are they're an accepted member of the crew who does whatever their job is, has a personality with real problems/triumphs and continues on with their life and not “Look, I'm here for the sake of 'inclusion' and here is a list of why that's important.”

Exploration is, and always will be at the heart of Trek. The one thing I really don't like about the two movies in the Trek reboot series is that they both take place on or near Earth. I'm not saying that Earth the new series shouldn't involve Earth or that it shouldn't start there, but it needs to not be Earth centric. Deep Space Nine was a space station, but it was a Space Station on the frontier with a wormhole into the great unknown within hailing distance. Many episodes took place aboard DS9 but many other took us into the Delta Quadrant. The Original Series, Next Gen, Voyager and Enterprise all took place aboard vessels that were on a voyage of exploration. This cannot change. Trek is about “new life and new civilizations” and there is a reason why they “boldly go where no one has gone before.” It's not just a slogan, it's a mindset and it's the foundation of the Trek ethos. This has to stay.

I want to see a bad-ass captain. Picard was good in his series and Janeway was too but this time we need a Kirk, an Archer, or (preferably) a Sisko. Any fictional universe has to have good dialogue but at the end of the day action is one of the two key ingredients that make a good story. (We'll get to the other one next.) Say what you want about the latter group of captains above, they were men of action. Things moved when Sisko was along. Kirk probably rushed in a little too quickly at times, but he was always entertaining. Archer didn't screw around either. That's not to say that I didn't like the other two series (“All Good Things” is, in my opinion, the best episode of TV ever. Period. Dot. End of Sentence.) but I like it when things keep moving. I might take some for saying this but the one thing that the reboot movies got right is the way they keep the excitement level up. I want that when I stream every new episode.

The other key ingredient that any good story needs is good characters. They have to be people we care about. Whether it's the struggle between the Vulcan and Human halves of Spock's heritage, Data's effort to become human, Kira's fight to balance her love of and belief in a free Bajor, Archer's burning desire to be the first to see the universe or the battle that Sisko had to wage to accept his role as the Emissary there was always a reason to care about our heroes and always something they were dealing with. Kirk, Spock and McCoy were not friends in the first episode. Archer's crew was made up of strangers. Picard was an absolute douche toward Riker at the beginning of “Encounter at Farpoint.” The fact remains that by the time we became acquainted with these people we wanted to know more about them. This cannot change.

At the end of the day what this all adds up to is that the new series just needs to be fun. I want to want to turn on the newest episode of ST:2017 (since the name of the series hasn't been announced yet that I know of) and know that it's going to be an hour well spent. I want to one day think of the crew of the new ship the way I think of Scotty or O'Brien or Paris. Here's hoping that they get this one right. I'm a long way from being the only Trekkie out there who can't wait to see this. Please don't disappoint us, guys. We've supported this franchise for fifty years now. We deserve something that we'll enjoy.

Some Star Trek products can be purchased at the links below:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ryn Lilley's Underground Episode One: Lost Beginnings

Sometimes I read a story and think that the author must have spent a lot of time watching television and/or movies. Often, this is for a bad reason but it doesn't have to be. I watch a lot of television too and if I tell the story about Return of the Jedi being the first movie I ever saw at the theater one more time I may be murdered. I've loved going to movies ever since and now I've got Netflix. I mention this because Underground Episode One: Lost Beginnings has a television style feel to it. I really did feel more like I was watching this on television than reading it at times. It has similar pacing and dramatic draws as a full hour episode of something fun minus the commercials. Come to think about it, Ryn Lilley seems to be encouraging my Netflix addiction without trying to. That's okay because I enjoyed the book.

The first three books in the series are known as Season One, so I'm thinking that this is intentional. As a matter of fact, I actually went looking to see if there was a television series of the same name. I couldn't find one on the American version of Amazon, but this book was sent in by Dave Freer. He lives in Australia so maybe it is a show there. Then again, maybe not too. I've never been to Australia so I'm not going to claim to know anything about their television shows.

Part of the reason I say that this feels like a TV show is because of the way it starts. In a way it feels almost like an episode of Doogie Howser. Seriously. The book starts with a series of emails going back and forth to set the scene. We get to know the characters a bit and then it all drops in the pot and things go from scary to bad to worse in something like two minutes of camera time. The acceleration curve is steep.

This book, like many others admittedly, has a tendency to flash back and forth between point of view characters rather quickly. I'm a big fan of this kind of thing. George RR Martin and Harry Turtledove both come to mind. Lilley uses the technique effectively, yet I can't quite get over the fact that it feels like there is a director outside switching scenes and soundstages. I kept waiting for jump cuts. It was a lot of fun and kind of took me back to a class I took called Intro to Film. I kept trying to picture the camera angles.

The main character is a teenage boy who owns a computer/Artificial Intelligence with a nagging problem. He needs to get his homework done and the thing will not leave him alone. It's just as he gets it done and decides to head off to the other side of the asteroid that he lives on that things get interesting... and he ends up waking up somewhere he'd rather not be. The inhabitants of his new planet aren't human and their medical technology is not up to snuff and it just gets crazier from there. I really started to feel for the kid.

At one point the book cuts to either another planet or another part of the same planet. Things got a little hazy for me here. Here we meet a gladiator, imprisoned for a crime and forced to fight for his life. Things don't work out for his captors as he fights better than he is supposed to. He eventually manages to get himself freed but only because there is a war coming and his descendants will prove useful to the war effort. Apparently he has strong genes and is therefore useful as breeding stock. He is given a leadership position and then... the book ends. Left unclear is whether the war will be against humanity, or the planet where our heroes are, or somewhere else. Also unclear is how the humans in the book relate to this whole thing.

This is where the sensation of watching a TV show gets even stronger. Lost Beginnings has a lot of similarities to the first episode of Farscape, including the part where nothing is resolved and we're left with more questions than answers. There is a sequel out so I guess we'll get some there. Of course, that has the potential to lead to more questions, which will lead to another sequel... Yeah, that seems to be the way good SF is trending right now. I won't complain.

Lost Beginnings could have been longer. Things move really quickly and it would have been beneficial to see some more details added. I didn't count the words in this one, but I read it on my phone and I went through it in no time. It wasn't very long at all. What was there was definitely enjoyable, but I really wish there was more. Answering a few more of the questions brought up by the story would have been helpful as well.

It did take a little longer for this book to really get started than I wanted it to. The emails, the typical disagreements with parents were useful as lead in material, but I prefer an opening that just explodes from the page. We've all seen the opening to Episode IV right? The one where the Star Destroyer comes out of nowhere and starts firing on the Rebel ship? That type of opening is missing here and I would have preferred to see something in that vein rather than dragging the beginning out. Those are  minor things though and other than that the book was really good. I would seriously like to see this on my TV at some point. I think it has that kind of potential.

Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 alien artifacts.

Underground Episode One: Lost Beginnings
Ryn Lilley
Snapping Turtle, 2014

Underground Episode One: Lost Beginnings is available for purchase here:

The Entire First Season of Underground is also available here:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Guest Post from Lizzie Ashworth

Yay! My first guest post from an author! Lizzie Ashworth is an author who has had works featured on this blog twice previously. I reviewed Salvation and Denial and enjoyed both works. She recently contacted me to ask if I would review her newest book Caerwin and the Roman Dog. I really didn't think that this was the right blog to review the book because I do Science Fiction and Fantasy, but CATRD is a historical romance but she asked if I would allow her to do a guest blog and I decided that since we had a good working relationship and I do enjoy her work it would be a good idea. Below are some of her comments about writing and the new book, so sit back and enjoy.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Jim. Even though my new novel isn’t science fiction or
fantasy, I think every reader shares a fascination with alternate worlds. In Caerwin and the 
Roman Dog, I explore the past as it existed at the height of the Roman Empire and the end of
Celtic control over Britannia.

I think research is the key to authoring a good book. It doesn’t matter if the story centers in the
past or the future, or even in the present day. Building a believable setting where the characters
will interact means making sure that the ‘world-building’ is effective. What did they eat? What
was the weather? What were their daily routines?

In my novel, the setting is the Shropshire area of England, a place near the River Severn that
borders Wales. Elusive mists shroud ancient hillforts where Rome’s legions pursue their
conquest of the native tribes. Despite greater numbers, the native warriors wield weapons and
armor far inferior to Roman arms. (Details of Roman armor can be seen on my “Romans”
Pinterest page.) The biggest difference, however, rests in Rome’s military organization—the
army functions like a well-oiled machine.

It’s fascinating to study the chain of command that Rome perfected and which is used by writers
even in the most far-flung fictional world of the future. Obedience to the command hierarchy and
to the operational rules of a legion creates a strict dynamic for any character caught up in that
reality. In my story, that character is Marcellus. As the book opens with Legio XIV’s battle
against the Cornovii tribe, the tribe’s defenses have been breached and action quickly devolves
to a mop-up operation. Marcellus rounds the hillfort perimeter and spots a young woman,

Caerwin, trying to make her escape. Instantly enchanted, he brings her back to camp and
embarks on seduction.

And yes, in the midst of its historical action and setting, this novel is a sexy romance.

At any time of man’s history or future, the introduction of an attractive woman into a man’s
camp is certain to cause trouble. But Marcellus’ infatuation with a blue-eyed Cornovii princess
takes second place when his superior officer succumbs to his battle wounds. His death propels
Marcellus to sudden promotion as the legion’s commander. He’s not of the regular army serving
a twenty-plus year term, but rather a young professional of privileged rank meant to gain a taste
of military life before returning to serve Rome’s senatorial or merchant class. His crisis isn’t just
rebellious tribunes or a young woman he can’t get out of his mind, but also the heavy burden of
responsibility that comes with leading a force of ten thousand men in a hostile wilderness.

The struggle for Caerwin focuses on her stubborn refusal to accept her change of circumstance.
No longer part of her ancestral family and tribe, she’s suddenly enslaved to a Roman
commander. Can anyone ever come to terms with such a loss of freedom, family, and home?

The greater context encompasses two worlds. Dying on the Roman sword are the ancient
traditions of Britain’s Celtic tribes: allegiance to spirits embodied in springs, rivers, hills, trees,
and other natural elements, a social order strongly resembling modern democracy, and advanced
skills in metallurgy and weaving, to name a few. Many of the mysteries of that world are lost
forever because the Celts did not have a written language. Building a fictional world based on
this relative dearth of information forces an author deep into archaeological records.

At the time of our story, the last one hundred years since the triumph of Julius Caesar has seen
the erosion of Rome’s early republican political system. In its place is a sprawling empire under
the sole control of its emperor. The Senate has been reduced to a rubber-stamp function in state
affairs. Appetites of all kinds are indulged in hedonistic lifestyles, and this reality shows up in
the backstory of some of our characters.

Rome depends on its army and the conquest of new lands to produce its wealth including
precious metals and gems, agricultural bounty, and that ever useful commodity, slaves. Since the
initial invasion of Britannia in 43 A.D., Emperor Claudius has made it clear to his governor that
the four legions under his command must subdue and occupy this island and seize its treasures
for the greater glory of Rome. Marcellus has no options. Even in a foreign winter’s cold, he must
lead his troops on search and destroy missions.

Chained in his bedchamber, Caerwin awaits his return knowing that he spills the blood of her
people. She hates him. And yet, because he has favored her with his affections, she fares far
better than the rest of her fellow countrymen. How does she negotiate that conflict? What is the
emotional toll in knowing that she is the survivor? Can a vulnerable young woman resist her
body’s urges at the hands of an experience lover?

Caerwin can never return to the home and family she once knew, but she can at least plan to
escape the hated bonds of Roman captivity in the hope of living again among others of her own
kind. Much as he is drawn to this rebellious young queen, Marcellus can’t walk away from his
duty to Rome. The concessions he makes to Caerwin soon result in mutterings among his
tribunes. Personal and professional crisis ensues.

(Warning: Some scenes include explicit sexual descriptions.)

Caerwin and The Roman Dog
Lizzie Ashworth
Self-published, 2015

Caerwin and the Roman Dog is available for purchase at the link below:

Ashworth's works which have been previously reviewed on JASFFR are available at the following links as well:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Carol Van Natta's Overload Flux

Sometimes I read books and get way too excited about them. Sometimes, I hear a concept that just sounds way too cool and I can't wait to find out where it leads. So when I got a book about an interstellar battle against a greedy corporation that was cheating people and killing them in the process I was ready for some real excitement. I downloaded my copy of Overload Flux and I just couldn't wait to read a rip-roaring yarn about genetically engineered good guys against evil money-grubbing corporate types. I went into this expecting sheer awesome, but I was sadly disappointed.

Don't get me wrong. There were good parts to the story. Van Natta very obviously put in a ton of time planning this out. The two point of view characters have powers that play off of each other very well. The concept, as I stated above, is excellent. Add in a main character with a deadbeat boss and a past that could kill her just adds to it. There is a lot of potential here.

There is a love story that works and moves the plot along nicely. The main character development arc centers around it. Our heroine, Mairwen, is convinced that she in not truly human and is incapable of feeling emotion. By the end of the book she is in love and having trouble processing all of the good feelings from the emotions themselves and also from the type of physical contact that comes along with them. She comes a long way in under three hundred pages.

There was a truly entertaining firefight near the middle of the work as well. Things cooked. People acted quickly and consequences followed actions. The characters were truly spontaneous and did what they needed to do without meditating on it. The unexpected happened and was dealt with. It was by far the best written part of the book and was as good as passages I've read from authors who have sold millions of copies.

Unfortunately, Overload Flux suffers from a lot of deficiencies. Primary among them is a decided lack of action. Mairwen spends more time thinking than she does doing. The book plods along with a think, describe, think, describe pattern. Very little physical action takes place. Even in a sequence near the end of the tome where Mairwen is wounded and travelling around the inside of a ship desperate to evade detection we get little to no action and pages and pages of her thinking about what is going on around her and the probable consequences when she should have been acting. This thing just drags.

The love story in the book is a bit too overshadowed and predictable. I'm a stereotypical male. I miss romantic things all the time simply because I don't pay attention to those types of things and even I thought that it was beaten to death. It's a time-worn trope because it works and I get that, but when things get to the point that even I notice that it's overdone, well, it's overdone. I will admit though that it did add up to a payoff at the end when the two point of view characters managed to actually get together but they just spent too much time thinking about wanting to be together for it to really be worth it.

Another thing this book suffers from is it's lack of a definable villain. The enemy is a big pharma company. In and of itself, that's not a problem and could probably be considered a strength, Big business in general, and pharmaceutical companies in general are hated by many and could constitute a major draw. The issue is that there is no individual person or group of people to focus our anger on. This book needs a recurring character in it somewhere that is highly placed and benefiting from what the company is doing. A CEO or major stockholder (or two or three or six) would add a lot. The Star Wars trilogy was made several times better because we all hated Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. Overload Flux doesn't have that. I hate to put it this way, but this story needs an irredeemable bastard.

All in all, Overload Flux is a book that needs a major rewrite. The concept was awesome but it was poorly executed. There is a lot here but there just needs to be more happening and less internalizing. This book needs help.

Bottom Line: 2.5 out of 5 Defective Vaccines

Overload Flux
Carol Van Natta
Chavanch Press, 2014

Overload Flux is available for purchase here:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Veronica Roth's Divergent (with extras!)

I know the rest of the world read Veronica Roth's Divergent back during the late Pleistocene, but I just got around to it recently. Chalk it up to being busy and reading other stuff but I'm way behind here and I know it. At any rate, I thought I'd give this a try when I caught a copy of it for a good price. Also, it includes some extras that I thought I'd check out since this is such a hint and that kind of thing seems like it might be helpful in my own attempts at novel writing since she's obviously good at what she does. This is a dystopic novel for sure, but Roth makes things look like they may be on the upswing possibly... if things go right in the rest of the series. Don't worry. I won't spoil you. I haven't read the things, nor have I seen the movies, so I don't know what's coming. If you do shhh... I hate spoilers.

Roth does a magnificent job describing a post-apocalyptic Chicago as the setting of her novel. All of the details, from the El, to the Sears Tower to the remains of Lake Michigan are there. I've been to Chicago a few times and although I don't consider myself to be the expert a native of the area would be, I do recognize it. I won't promised you that none of the details were fudged but there is enough there that it feels authentic to someone who has been there. I felt like I was walking the streets and/or riding the El with her characters and it was an awesome feeling. I'm a little bitter because I feel like taking a trip there now and can't manage it right now, but that's actually a good thing from a reader's point of view.

Divergent  takes place after a catastrophic war. In the wake of the destruction, the survivors divide themselves into five factions: The Abnegation believe that a society based on self denial and helping others will lead to lack of conflict. The Amity believe that getting along and avoid aggression will lead to peace. The Candor believe that conflict comes from dishonesty and that the only way to avoid conflict is through complete, blunt honesty. The Dauntless believe that direct action and meeting problems head on is the only way to avoid war. Lastly, the Erudite believe that lack of knowledge and understanding leads to strife and that only education can prevent it.

That there are huge gaps between the factions is obvious. That things eventually come to a head is inevitable, especially given that the entire government is given over to one faction, the Abnegation. It is thought that they're the best for the job because they are self-sacrificing and don't want everything for themselves. The rumors aren't true but they don't have to be. A big lie will often work when nothing else will.

Members of Roth's society are able to choose their own faction at the age of sixteen. They are raised by their birth parents and then subjected to an aptitude test to show them where they would fit best. Trainees are allowed to pick their own faction regardless of the results of the tests, but this is not without risk. After selecting a faction, they are then put through a training and indoctrination period. Anyone who fails is forced to become factionless; homeless, poor and unvalued. These are the people who do the jobs that no one else wants. Ending up factionless is the worst fear of many trainees and for good reason. Who wouldn't fear a life of no meaning and no resources, starting at age sixteen? The story begins the day before main character Beatrice's Choosing Ceremony. The majority of Divergent deals with her attempt to get into her chosen faction.

Beatrice's training is not always easy for her, but she comes through it like a champion. This is a girl that I would be proud to call my daughter. She develops an interesting relationship with one of her trainers and finds out not only what she is capable of, but what her worst fears are and how to overcome them. Tris faces betrayal from among her closest friends and a fear of having her darkest secret discovered but through it all she never gives up. This is a main character that I can admire.

The conflict between two of the factions ramps up throughout the book and Beatrice becomes increasingly aware of the problems. She finds herself caught in the middle as her father is a leader in the Abnegation and is at the heart of the controversy. As the story goes on, things come to a head. Beatrice finds herself in a bad place and facing a situation no human being could ever be truly prepared for. Her method of dealing with it leads directly into the ending and the obvious set up for the next novel.

The extras that came with the edition of the book that I got were a lot of fun as well. Roth's writing tips are not exactly earth-shattering secrets to instant success but they are things I've heard mentioned by other successful authors and so I trust them. The faction manifestos are awesome. I have a sneaking suspicion that these were attached (at least in part) to Roth's notes as she was writing the book and that they were worked in later. I loved the chance to see what makes these factions tick. The faction quiz was nothing special but it was fun. The interview was excellent for people like me who enjoy getting a chance to learn more about famous people and how their mind works. Roth's comments on utopias versus dystopias were interesting and something I'm working very hard to avoid using as inspiration for a new writing project as I have too many irons in the fire already. There is also an excerpt for the next book, but I don't read excerpts. I'll read the whole thing when I get a chance and the excerpt will be in there somewhere.

This is yet another work containing my most hated character: Cliff Hanger. Seriously people. I get the fact that it does an author (and their publisher) good for the next book to sell too. That doesn't necessarily mean that we have to be dangling off the edge of a cliff at the end of every book. Ugh. It also occurs to me that Tris suffers from Harry Potter syndrome: She gets away with a lot more than she should be able to at times. In one particular instance I was flat out shocked and thrown out of the story when she got away with something scot-free that she should have been seriously punished for. Overall though, this book was pretty epic.

Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 Simulators

Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011

Divergent is available for purchase here:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pam Uphoff's Outcasts and Gods

 How far will we go to create a better type of humanity? I'm not referring to that the way a liberal would because I'm not defining "better" as more compassionate and easily herded. I'm defining "better" here as being stronger or at least less weak. Is it possible that we could one day be willing to alter our very DNA to do it? What would the reaction to such a thing be? Would "normal" (IE unaltered persons) be comfortable around those who had been altered? Would they want them around? I'm not sure what my answer would be to any of those questions, but Pam Uphoff lets us all know where she stands in her book Outcasts and Gods and she doesn't seem to be all that optimistic.

This book cooks from beginning to end. The pace is relentless. It starts out with genetically improved children being seized from their parents and moves through training, subterfuge and ultimately exploration. There is always more going on than there seems to be. The main character, a young man named Wolfgang, is perpetually three to four steps ahead of everyone and he needs to be. The one time he goofs it costs him his freedom.

OAG's heroes are a group of genetically engineered teens and young adults (up to, I think, age twenty-four) who have been taken from their families or raised in captivity under the guidance of a company. The government has decided that since they have been genetically altered they are not human and can be treated as property. Basically, they're treated as slaves and they're not happy about it but here's the kicker: These are kids who have been given powers the rest of humanity never had. They can throw fireballs, open and closes locks using telekinesis and do all sorts of other interesting things. I don't want to spoil too much but let's just say that messing with a telekinetic person is not a good plan. The fun really starts when they figure out how to open gates to other dimensions with alternate Earths.

The genetically engineered "gods" (as they are derisively referred to) are not at all passive participants. They work throughout the tale to improve their living situation and/or escape. The guards are afraid of them. They do whatever they can for themselves and hide things from their captors for as long as they can in an effort to give themselves an advantage. They're hardcore people stuck in a jacked up environment. It's not hard to make a comparison between Uphoff's "gods" and Jews in a Nazi concentration camp as long as it's not taken too far. The gods are enslaved and dehumanized but they do at least receive decent food and clothing. It's not a one to one match but for government work, it's a reasonable approximation.

Speaking of government, Uphoff's opinion toward government and mine appear to be not far off from each other. The US government in OAG is a greedy, control-hungry structure that takes over later than it could have simply because it can't get its act together to pass the necessary legislation. In short, Uphoff's government is bumbling, incompetent and power-hungry. I calls 'em as I sees 'em and I think she's got it right. The kids are left in bondage not for any real biological reason, they're as human as you or I, but because it's more convenient that way. There would be nothing stopping the company from hiring these people and paying them. They just don't want to and they're aided and abetted by a government that sees things as more convenient that way.

The thing that I really like about this book is that it was written first in a series and it NEEDS to be that first book. When I read the Dragonriders of Pern series at first I had no clue that it had ever had a basis in science fiction. I assumed that it was a purely fantasy story. It wasn't until I read  The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall that I had any clue about the true origins of the series. Uphill has done an excellent job in putting the first story first and cluing her readers in on how things started and why they happen the way they do. Kudos to her.

If there is anything that bothers me about the book it's that Wolfgang seems to be just a bit too slick and to have knowledge that he really should not. At one point he uses medical knowledge that he had no way to obtain to create a solution to a problem and not get caught. It didn't quite work for me. Also, some of the (admittedly lesser used) powers of the gods seem just a bit too convenient. Then again, I grew up watching Transformers and the same type of thing happened there all the time. All in all though the book was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to reading all of the sequels. I think. There seemed to be two missing from the list on Amazon or maybe I just missed them. But, if I can find them, I intend to buy them. If I can't, well.... Let's just say I hope I can. Oh, and it looks like Outcasts and Gods is available for ninety-nine cents on Amazon as of the date I posted this. I'm not sure how long that'll last.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Altered Genes

Outcasts and Gods
Pam Uphoff
Self Published, 2011

Outcasts and Gods is available for purchase here:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Declan Finn's Honor at Stake

Something I've always enjoyed is a new take on an old trope. Vampires have been around forever. Seriously, think about it. I personally have read everything from Bram Stoker's Dracula to P.N. Elrod's I, Strand: The Memoirs of a Vampire to about the first hundred and forty or so pages of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles will always have a place in my heart. I've literally read and watched so many vampire stories that I can't remember them all. I have never seen vampires done quite like Declan Finn did his in Honor at Stake. His take is new and refreshing and I loved it. The story itself was both entertaining and action packed, but vampire lore as interpreted through Catholic philosophy a la Thomas Aquinas is both new and interesting. The fact that he seems to have added a scientific explanation for the existence of vampires was a lot of fun as well. The nerd in me approves of this for the simple fact that I like to know everything and Finn offers me the answer to one of Fantasy's oldest questions.

Finn is the proprietor of a blog known as A Pius Man and is also a member of The Catholic Geeks so it's hardly surprising to see him take a Catholic point of view on anything. Still, his Catholic background clearly provides him with the background needed to fit his theory of vampirism into his own strange theology. I admit to not being as familiar with the philosophy of Aquinas as Mr Finn but he makes it work even to a relative neophyte such as myself. He also made me a bit bitter toward my Intro to Western Philosophy professor but it's not Finn's fault that my prof skipped from Aristotle all the way to Friedrich Nietzsche. Still, Finn got his point through to me and I had no familiarity. He explains enough to get his point across without coming to a full stop and delivering a lecture.

Finn is also obviously and old-school roleplayer. No, I'm not referring to someone who plays Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games like Everquest or World of Warcraft, both of which I have enjoyed, but someone who has played pen and paper RPGs. I'm not sure which ones but one of his characters flat out states that alignment has an effect on the powers and limitations of his vampires. He actually phrases it better but I can't remember the exact quote and I'm too lazy to look it up. I got a kick out of it. I've played Dungeons and Dragons and just about every Palladium RPG published in or before the mid 90s. I don't want to think about how many I've read through and never gotten a chance to play. I got a kick out of it. It's not a major part of the story, it's more of a throw away line, but it made my day. If you've played you'll love it. If not, it's like one paragraph out of the story and you probably won't even notice it. Either way, I couldn't NOT mention it.

The plot of the book combines a mystery with a Blade style battle against vampires with a government agent that knows about the supernatural and fights it just like in everybody paranoiac's fantasy about conspiracies. Oh, and let's not forget about the Vatican's special forces unit. Just like the old Prego commercial, "It's in there!" There is a surprise around every corner and one or two other factions that I've intentionally left out. The crazy part is that the conspiracy isn't even led by the government. Trying to figure out how it all goes together is just part of the fun.

Finn's characters are both deep and flawed and that makes them entertaining. Two of them fall in love and won't admit it. One of them is truly a sadist and wants to hide it. Others have a weird sense of humor. His villains are truly villainous. There is always a sense that worse is about to happen and it usually does. Not all is revealed and even when things are revealed they open up more questions. I'm still trying to figure something out and it's bugging me. It seems to me that there has to be at least one more book coming and this has the feeling of an ongoing series that never ends.

As much as I enjoyed the characters in Honor at Stake there is one who I can't stand: Cliff Hanger makes an appearance. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the book and I'm glad to know that there are more coming but after all the freshness and goodness of this story Finn hit us with the most overdone cliche in the history of history. Cliff hangers drive me up a wall. Having said that much, I'm still looking forward to the next installment. I just hope it gets here soon after he dropped that on all of us.

My only other complaint is that the cast may be a little too big at times. This seems to be the beginning of a series so I guess it's to be expected but it's not always easy to remember who is who. I really felt like I needed a scorecard at certain points. It's a manageable problem and seems to be something that will work itself out over time as we have more story to get used to the characters. I still loved the book.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 fangs

Honor at Stake
Declan Finn
Eternal Press, 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

Non SF/F Review: Rifqa Bary's Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus

(I wanted to leave a couple of quick warnings: 1.) This is a non-SF/F book. 2.) This will most likely be a post that is heavy on religion. You have been warned.)

Imagine a young girl who is accidentally blinded in one eye by her brother who threw her an airplane. Imagine a girl who was "sexually violated" by her uncle. Imagine an entire family forced to flee from Sri Lanka to New York because of the dishonor of these two acts. Imagine that same girl and the mental and physical abuse that came from within her own family. Imagine her suicidal feelings as she is told that she must put up with it. Imagine an intelligent young woman and her reaction when she realizes that she is expected to be a housewife against her wishes. Imagine her reaction when she is told that this is what Allah wants from her. This is the story of Rifqa Bary and her conversion from Islam to Christianity. It's the story of a girl who fled for her life to escape her vengeful father once he learned of her conversion. It is the story of someone I would love for my daughters to grow up and emulate. The story is Rifqa Bary's Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus and it is one of the best books I've ever read.

I decided to pick this book up after I saw a live interview with Rifqa Bary at church yesterday morning. The woman impressed me. It wasn't just her story, although that is amazing enough. This woman has a presence about her. She stood in front of that entire congregation and a couple of television cameras and kept her calm, even laughing at some points. She has earned it. She's been through a lot.

Bary's story is gripping. I went through about the first one hundred and forty pages in bed before I fell asleep after a long day. I haven't been captivated by a book like this in a long time. I couldn't put it down. Thank God I don't start my new job until Wednesday. I'd have been wondering about the book all day long at work if I'd had to go there. Instead, I woke up this morning and found my page (I wasn't kidding when I said I read until I fell asleep) and knocked the rest out in about an hour this morning. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement.

Hiding in the Light starts off in Sri Lanka in the bosom of a small family with a girl who feels loved and welcomed. It follows her gradual growth and change into a young woman who is no longer at peace with her life or her family. She finds herself questioning her Islamic faith and her family who no longer cares for her after she violates her honor. It shows her need for something deeper. She doesn't want to pray in a language that she doesn't understand.  She doesn't want to be forced to follow practices that she finds at odds with her life. The life required of her by her faith and her family are not fulfilling to her. She very clearly portrays her need to find something else as well as her confusion about what that could possibly be.

One day, a chance encounter at school changes her life. It leads to the awakening of faith in Christ as well as horror and fear. Rifqa knows that her family would never, could never, forgive her for abandoning the Muslim faith. It would be a stain on their honor that could never be removed. She finds her belief in Christianity deepening and her fear of discovery expanding. She takes to hiding books in her room and lying to her parents about where she goes when she leaves the house. She can't tell them she is going to church.

Bary's prose is clear and strong. Her story pushes ahead at just the right pace. You can feel her confusion and fear at points but she doesn't linger on them. You can feel her triumph at her eventual escape and the terror that goes along with it. I could not tell you how many books I've read by authors with writing careers that have lasted for longer than Bary has been alive. Very, very few of them can emote on a page the way she can. Through it all though, she comes off without sounding like a whiner. She keeps her focus on what happens next instead of the "Woe is me" factor.

No one should have to go through as much in an entire lifetime as Bary did in her first eighteen years of life. No one. Through it all though, she keeps her outlook hopeful and her faith in God. It is good that this is a biography because I'm not sure I could read a work of fiction that portrayed a character going through this much in such a short time.

Listening to her speak and reading her book not only left me amazed, it left me partially embarrassed. When Rifqa ran away from her parents' home and turned up several states away, it made national news. I had followed it at the time and then totally forgotten about it. I can't believe I had forgotten. This is a story that should never be forgotten. Rifqa Bary is an individual but she is far from the only person in a similar situation. We have to remember that and be ready to help these girls.

I meant it when I said that I hope my girls (I have three and no boys) grow up to be like Ms Bary. When they are/were little I make I ask(ed) them the following question: "What kind of person are you?" The answer I want, and I don't stop until I get it, is "Strong, proud smart and tough." My middle daughter added the word "Brave" to it. I can't help but think that Bary exemplifies all three and I plan to give this book to all of them to read once they're old enough. This one is a keeper.

Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 Baptismal Certificates

Hiding in the Light
Rifqa Bary
Waterborne Press, 2015

Hiding in the Light is available for purchase here:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Microsoft Films Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn

(How's about a little bit of housekeeping? This is my fiftieth post! Yay me! Or sumfin'...)

Here's a good way to start your Saturday: Get out of bed. Feed the animals. Grab a bowl of cereal. Watch Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. This is a movie with all of the goodies: The hero that doesn't fit but that we all want to see win, badass aliens that come out of nowhere, redemption, combat, and flying bullets. Things go boom. They fall down. Our heroes have to think fast if they want to survive. It doesn't get much better.

First off, the disclaimer: I have never owned an X-Box nor have I ever >GASP< played Halo. I'd love to check it out sometime and I'm a fan of first-person shooters in general but I haven't gotten there yet. I do most of my gaming on PC. I'm an MMORPG guy for the most part these days. So if you're here looking for a review of how the movie compares to the game, I'm sorry. I can't do that. I'm just an SF fan sharing my opinion with other SF fans. That much being said, this was an awesome movie.

This is the story of a young man who has been forced into a military life that he didn't want. His mother is a storied hero. His brother is a soldier in a line unit. He does what he is expected to because he is expected to, but his heart isn't in it. He's the stereotypical maverick who doesn't fit and can't (or won't) follow orders. He gets in a fight. It gets worse when he is offered a medical discharge because of an allergy. He could get out. While he's still deciding the shit hits the fan and off we go into the type of insanity you can only find in a well-written Science Fiction movie. And (minor spoiler) we do eventually get to meet up with the famed Master Chief.

You do not have to be an expert on the games to love Halo 4. Everything you need to know is contained at the beginning of the movie. The background of the people, the progress of the ongoing war against the Insurrectionists and the fact that something has gone haywire... It's all there. It was really easy to take in.

I'll be honest. This movie is trope laden but I loved that part about it. We get the Reluctant Hero, the Love Interest, the Just in Time and more. As stated before though, this is comfort food. The story unfolds and things happen more or less as you expect them to. The one big plot twist comes out of nowhere and is much bigger than I expected it to be. I like to call these types of moments "the Oh Shit Button." The writers didn't just push it, they almost broke it. That the characters in the movie held it together is to their credit.

The main character and his compatriots are all students at the United Nations Space Command's most exclusive training center. They're kids, freshmen for the most part. They get stuck in a jacked up situation and have to fight their way out even though they're not full trained yet. They're not sure where to go and they're poorly equipped but they do their best anyway. When faced with a fight for life they do what they have to and they act like soldiers.

The special effects crew for H4:FUD is to be commended. The explosions are massive. The aliens are impressive and the Master Chief looks like every promotional poster I've ever seen of him. Falling building look like falling buildings and the crash rocks the world.

The writers of H4:FUD have apparently read at least a few (and possibly many more) accounts of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of what I have read matches up with things that happen in the movie. I have no doubt that this was intentional. It adds an element of gritty realism that is missing from a lot of SFnal entertainment. Think about it. How many times did Kirk send the redshirts off to get killed and leave his audience wondering how it happened? Halo 4 doesn't do that. We get to see the action as it plays out.

My only beef is that this flick should have been longer. There was a bit of a cheat at the beginning to familiarize us with the characters that could have been worked around with another ten to fifteen minutes worth of action in my opinion. I find those types of cop outs to be rather annoying to say the least. Having said that, it did get us to the action sooner. All in all, it's a forgivable sin even if it did stick in my craw a bit.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Stun Rounds

 Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
Microsoft Films, 2012

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is available for purchase here:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Love Your Enemies

Luke 6:27-28:But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Welcome to the 2015 Post-Hugo love fest. Today we will learn about the thuggishness of our enemies, the reasons they have done it, why they have done it and what we should do about it. Understand that I criticize them not out of maliciousness or hatred bout out of a sincere concern for their though processes and what it could lead to. I would like nothing better than to hold hands with the Nielsen-Haydens and with Irene Gallo and to show them how much I care for them and how much I'd like to keep them from going astray. Unforunately, they seem to be emulating a few of history's more infamous men. Some of the teachings they seem to be emulating can be found below:

Adolph Hitler: "The future of a movement is conditioned by the fanaticism, yes, the intolerance, with which its adherents uphold it as the sole correct movement, and push it past other formations of a similar sort."

Joseph Stalin: "Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?"

Mao Zedong: "To read too many books is harmful."

Karl Marx: "The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism."

My dear enemies, those whom I love: Please stop following in the footsteps of such evil men. You reap not only the destruction of your enemies, people like me who you should love, but also of yourself. You are waging a war here that will destroy us all. Look at the men above. Hitler, Stalin and Mao all fought wars that killed millions. Marx invented the political beliefs that led to those wars as well as to wars fought in Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere. This is not the road you want to go down. I know you think that you are doing what is right, but let's look at each quote in order and see where you, the Anti-Puppies, the Tor lovers, the Social Justice Warriors or whatever term you feel most comfortable with are in line with some of history's greatest murderers.

Adolph Hitler: "The future of a movement is conditioned by the fanaticism, yes, the intolerance, with which its adherents uphold it as the sole correct movement, and push it past other formations of a similar sort."

(For all of you out there who think that Hitler does not belong with the rest of those quoted: He was the Leader of the Nazi party or the NSDAP or Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. Translated into English that's the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Hitler was a Leftist.)

Intolerance is the key to your agenda. No, not "intolerance" the way you define it. I speak here of tolerance of ideas different than your own.  Guys, really, you were once upon a time the Anti-Establishment right? Now that you're on top (And really, you are. Other than Baen, the publishes of SF/F are uniformly Leftist. You run the genre. It's time to admit to yourselves that you're not being picked on.) you're pushing to make sure that your beliefs are the only ones that are heard. That's your whole point right? The Hugo Awards weren't about advancing your cause, they were about crushing someone else's.

Now you think that you've pushed your agenda past us. You haven't really though and you need to understand that. You're missing something else here. We're already getting organized for next year. Kate Paulk has stepped forward as our leader. Rumor has it that there will be a couple more prominent women (not wymyn because really?) helping her. This should scare you. I'll tell you why.

The last three years you've been fighting with Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen. Both are men worthy of respect and that's the problem. Men have a code. They fight fair. They come at you from the front. I don't expect that from a woman and neither should you. A woman will claw, bite and gouge. I know these ladies. Vicious doesn't begin to describe it.

See, the problem is that you haven't really achieve ascendancy. You've handed your enemies a bigger club to beat you with. I mean, I really do thing you should just come forward and admit your inadequacy issues. If you weren't hugged enough as kids then it's time to get help. We're here for you. Admit your wrongdoing and your issues and we'll help you hug it out.

Joseph Stalin: "Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?"

Joseph Stalin was not a nice guy. He killed twenty-five million of his own people in purges and gulags. He was able to do it mainly because he did not allow anyone who opposed him to speak. That's what last night was all about right? Destroying those who disagreed with you. Granted, you didn't actually kill anyone. Your intent was no less sinister. Your entire point was to silence those that disagreed with you. That's all it was.

This is where things have the potential to get nasty. See, we're not the types to be silenced. We're going to continue to fight. You're bringing this pain on yourselves. If you could just accept that the world doesn't revolve around you and your beliefs. When you have sufficiently matured you will realize that there is value in an open and honest debate among philosophies. Maturation takes work though. It is time to come out of your shell and being the process.

Mao Zedong: "To read too many books is harmful."

Now, some may see this as kind of a strange quote. I get that. All of you SJW types that voted for the Hugo love to read right? But see, this isn't really a quote about a sheer number of books. This is a quote about people reading things they shouldn't and getting the wrong idea. Thought control is what you Anti-Puppies are all about right? Honestly, that's at the heart of your movement. The evil works supported by the Pups express the wrong ideas. Really. I mean, look at them.

Kate Paulk is a female immigrant but she believes in free speech and things like the value of the individual. Let's face it guys. I know that sometimes people say things that hurt your feelings. This is the real world though and you need to learn to live with it. The proper response to words you don't like is more words.

Brad Torgersen is, I will grant you, an evil terrible man who defends your right to denigrate him by putting his life on the line. I mean, he's actually in the military! Think about it though. You SJWs support your beliefs with award votes and hashtags. Can't you give just a little bit of respect to a man who is willing to put his life on the line to defend you? And let's ease off on the "he married the black woman to have a shield" thing. Think about it. His wife has a doctoral degree and knows all about power dynamics. Why can't she get any respect for her intelligence or courage? She's too smart to fall into a trap like that. You're just being mean.

Larry Correia is the International Lord of Hate but he's kind of joking when he says that. He doesn't really hate anyone. It's just what he feels like you've branded him so he's decided to embrace it. It's kind of like when African American refers to themselves by that nasty word that starts with the letter "N." I know his books are about kind of rough. They have lots of guns in them and one of his series is actually named after a fictional *GASP* corporation but they're pretty good if you try them. This is Science Fiction right? Even Captain Kirk had a pistol and Gene Roddenberry was a good Socialist right?

Karl Marx: "The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism."

This is the promise you're offering us for next year. If we stay out of the way you won't oppose us. That's good because if we're out of the way there would be nothing to oppose. But see, it's not going to be that way. It's much better to come to the table with an offer of peace that is acceptable to both parties. I know it's rough, but sometimes life can be that way. It's like Mick Jagger said: You can't always get what you want.

Guys, I'll be honest. I've heard at least two separate people that I respect point out that the best thing about this whole mess is that you're all getting old. See, once you've gotten past a certain point (and a lot of you are nearing it) old age will remove our problem for it. You've put your blood, sweat and tears into making Worldcon in general and the Hugos in particular the Socialist haven that it is today. By working with us you can preserve some of what you've built. Let's face it though: There are far more people with white hair at Worldcon than there are with black, brown, red or blonde. This isn't not a threat at all. We aren't going to harm you, but we have no compunctions about letting Mother Nature do our dirty work for us and couldn't stop her if we did.

There will be peace when both sides see something to agree on. You have rejected everything we've tried so now the ball is in your court. We're not going softly into that dark night. This is going to be a knock-down drag-out fight if it continues on this way. So let go of your totalitarian leanings. Come to us. Let's break bread together and show the love that we feel toward each other as enemies. You'll find that us Sad Puppies are much easier to deal with than our Rabid brethren. Push us far enough though and you may find that we've bonded together. You don't want that.

Below are some links to the works of two of the better Tor authors as a peace offering: