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: