Thursday, January 28, 2016

Joseph J Madden's The Starhawk Chronicles II: Rest and Wreck-reation

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The gang, tired from it's recent (mis)adventures wants to get away from it all. They journey to the greatest vacation spot since ever and there they proceed to... watch the world fall apart around them. First it's something small, then it's something else then it's “Oh my Gawd we're all gonna die.” Or maybe this time, it's Joseph J Madden's The Star Hawk Chronicles Book II: Rest and Wreck-reation. Because honestly, what's a few explosions and a corpse or two between friends?

We're all familiar with the basic tale but Madden puts a spin on things that just makes it work. Things start off kind of slow. There is a meeting with the boss of the vacation spot. Things look good but actually aren't. Things are alleged. Things are denied. The crew of the Starhawk gets sucked into something they wanted no part of and it takes blood, sweat and tears to, hopefully, get out of it.

The planet may be named Utopia, but it's not one. Trouble is everywhere and things are rotten at the core. Our heroes stumble into things and if it takes a little ass-kicking to fix things well... This is the Starhawk Chronicles. I'm half tempted to believe that Madden decided to call his series that because Epic of Ass-whooping just wouldn't have looked right on a cover. I doubt that he'd admit to that even if it were true but I wouldn't be surprised if it were true. Jesse and his crew can't go anywhere without getting into a good scrape. It makes for a good time.

Once again, Madden transports us to a world where hijinks and hilarity abound. Just like the first book (entitled simply The Starhawk Chronicles) this is classic Space Opera in the Spaghetti Western mold with a bit of comedy to lighten things up. This time it feels like he tossed in just a dash of Scooby Doo as well. I had a lot of fun with the detective work angle of this book. I kept looking for Velma to walk in like “Jinkies!” It didn't happen but there's always the sequel right? And there is a lot right with a starship captain that would fit perfect in a ten gallon hat. Madden may have watched a little bit too much Firefly but that's not exactly a bad thing.

All games aside though, Madden does do a very good job of mixing genres. Mystery and Science Fiction just work when done right and he does it right. Granted, they get a bit of help from an unexpected source but that happens in many mystery novels and TV shows as well as, probably, real life.

The fight scenes in this tome were pretty epic. I always feel like scraps are going to be pretty small with a crew the size of the Starhawk's but not this time. They may be small but they are mighty... and they bring friends. Also, Jesse is smart enough to know why he should bring an artillery piece to a pistol fight. He doesn't play and neither does anyone else on his crew. When the balloon goes up they know how to react and it's usually effective, but seldom pretty.

The crew has trouble dealing with their newfound celebrity at first and that adds a bit of a realistic touch to a book full of faster than light spacecraft and aliens. Even though not all of the crew are human in a biological sense they are human seeming in their response to something that effects their lives but is out of their control. If they live it up a little, well, who wouldn't? And if an invitation to dinner with an important person results in unforeseen circumstances and a bit of foreshadowing that's all the better.

I don't think Madden consciously wrote this from a political point of view, but his view on crony capitalism shines through. In this case, it's more of the view of a business owner who IS the government but it can't be missed. In an election year this is a strong reminder that businessmen don't always have everyone's best interests at heart and that too much government interference in the economy is a bad thing. I really should've read this thing before The Donald started running for president because I can't help but picture the main villain as wearing a bad toupe. Maybe that's just me though.

I will say this for the victims in Rest and Wreck-reation though. They're not passive. When their chance comes they do whatever they can to get back at those who have wronged them. If one in particular goes a little further than I thought she would, well, good. It makes sense from a character point of view and I think it helps bring something home. Mistreatment changes people and the meek victim you thought you had may in fact be someone totally different. Poke the wrong beehive and you will get stung. And when that bee stings, you'd best hope its sting isn't toxic.

All of that being said, this is not a perfect work. Aside from the fact that the vacation gone wrong is so commonly used there was one character in particular missing and I'm pretty bitter about it. Madden knew that those complaints were coming and put something in an afterword and it makes sense but I wanted her there. Parts of this book were a bit predictable as well. A massive change in attitude from one of the crew members was probably necessary and is understandable but it just feels weird. Not so much wrong as, umm... too quick maybe? It was a full reversal of an earlier opinion and it went a hundred and eight degrees in like two sentences. Then again, it's combat and sometimes things have to happen quickly. All in all though, those mistakes were minor and I really enjoyed the book.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Missile Launches

The Starhawk Chronicles Book II: Rest and Wreck-reation
Joseph J Madden
Self Published, 2015

The Starhawk Chronicles Book II: Rest and Wreck-reation is available for purchase here:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP Alan Rickman

(BEWARE: Spoilers abound.)

I became a Harry Potter fan because I was forced to. I mean that literally. I, unlike many Potter fans, was an adult when the first book came to the United States in 1998. I was twenty-one at the time. I don't remember precisely when I first heard about the Potter phenomenon, but to me it was for kids. I couldn't get why all of these adults were reading this kids book. I was never going to do it. Then, I met this new girl (that I later married and eventually divorced) and she loved it... and there was still no way. She had a degree in Elementary Education and a collection of Captain Underpants books as well. I was now CONVINCED that this was kids stuff. Then a funny thing happened.

I lost my job less than two weeks before Christmas. I had no money saved. I was screwed. My only activities involved searching for a job, reading and sleep. Nicole got me a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for Christmas. I still wasn't going to read it, but I liked this chick. She bought me this book for Christmas and I wasn't working, so I didn't have an excuse. I figured I'd try to gut my way through the first ten pages and call it a day. I mean, she can't be mad if I at least TRIED, right? Then another funny thing happened.

I loved that book. I was sitting at her house one day while she was at work when I read it. When she got home from that work I was about halfway through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I had taken it off of her bookshelf. I was also really hungry because I had forgotten to eat lunch. I'm a three-hundred pound man. That just doesn't happen. By the weekend I had read all the way through book four. That was as far as the series went at the time. I saw the first movie that weekend (at a second run discount theater) as well and the second one the following weekend. I was hooked.

Harry Potter is, of course, a work of fantasy. Fantasy does not work without a good villain. There has to be something to fight against to move the plot. The ultimate villain is Voldemort, but in the first few books - really until the death of Cedric Diggory - the more immediate villain is Snape. He hates Potter with a passion. Snape wants to fail Harry not because of his classwork but out of sheer Jealousy. Snape is an evil prick. If you don't want to slap Snape in his arrogant, overbearing face at least once you're not a Potter fan. I found out about Snape's good guy status much later, just like the rest of you but I'll never truly LIKE the character in the way I like Harry, Ron or Hermione. Respect, sure. Pity, yes. Hell, I'd trust him at my back in a battle, but I wouldn't want to have a beer with the guy, ever. I'd end up freaking out at the guy and walking out.

The movies cemented that opinion for me. Snape was an evil bastard. There was no two ways about it. Alan Rickman didn't just play that character. When the lights were on and the camera was rolling, Rickman WAS Snape. Seriously. How many of you out there can read those books and not HEAR Snape being a cocky, condescending, smarmy asshole in Rickman's voice. There may have been better actors from a technical standpoint as relates to some aspect of the craft that I have no clue about. I have never seen an actor so completely become a character though. I don't know if another actor anywhere in the world could have sold me so completely on Snape's face turn. This was the guy who had performed the Unbreakable Vow charm on Draco and killed Dumbledore. Somehow though, some way he got me through it as he sat on the floor dying and remembering his long-lost unrequited love. In like thirty seconds Rickman, through Snape changed my entire perspective on a character I had been following for years at that point. Rowling's writing hadn't managed that in the book. Rickman's performance did.

And today, I woke up on my day off and found out that we had lost Alan Rickman overnight. I posted a quick Facebook status about it and had planned to go on about my day. I've got stuff to get done, right? I mean I've got groceries to get, an apartment to clean and a head to shave. I haven't eaten yet today. We've lost countless famous people over the years and many who have had more influence over than Alan Rickman. Right? I mean, I just realized that Alan Rickman is one of my favorite actors but he's just an actor. Right? Well...

Not only am I a blogger, I am also an as yet unpublished writer of fiction. I have some well defined and measure goals and some that are quite subjective. One of the subjective goals is to one day write a character like Severus Snape. A character who can act like a villain for an entire series and then turn on a dime at the end and make the reader re-evaluate everything they know about him. A character that a member of the audience may have hated for years and then consider in an entirely new light at the end. Snape is one of the greatest characters I've ever read. Period. Dot. END OF SENTENCE.

And yet, it's not Rowling's words on a page that I remember when I think of Snape. I mean, she clearly deserves a ton credit for conceiving and writing the character. For me though, it was Rickman's voice, his facial expressions and his skill that really makes this character for me. When (if) I manage to hit that milestone and reach that goal it won't be Rowling I'll be thinking of and comparing myself to. It will be the performance of Rickman. He did it right.

So rest in peace Alan Rickman. Be assured that your fans will never forget you. I will never forget you. You will live on through your legacy of only God knows how many characters, most of which had nothing to do with Harry Potter. Yet, at the end of the day, you'll always be Snape to me. He was your greatest and meant the most to so many. Farewell and Godspeed.

Some Harry Potter titles are available at the links below:

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fiona Skye's Taming Shadows: Revelations Trilogy Book One

Imagine, if you will, a world where the Preternatural existed. In this world it had always been hidden. Now further imagine that something occurred which forced its acknowledge. The world became aware of things that it had scoffed at only a day previously. What would it take to make that happen? What would the effects of simply acknowledging the existence of something that had always been mocked be? What if not everything was known about and brought forward ? What if the still -unknown wanted to stay unknown? What if Fiona Skye wrote a book named Taming Shadows and explored these same topics. Well, she did and I enjoyed it.

The Revelations (as they're known) were put forth after a massive confrontation was caught on tape. Our heroine, Riley O'Rourke got caught up in some bad stuff and it made the news. Instead of calling the Men In Black she decided to let the world know about her (she's a were-jaguar) and others like her. She stops hiding what she is. I know I don't usually do spoilers but this all happens in the prologue so I figure it's okay this time. Riley's entire life and the lives of everyone on Earth all change in mere minutes.

What makes Taming Shadows enjoyable is that it's not a novel built on a grand scale. The story focuses very tightly on the life of Riley. We see her day to day, her love interest and her improved lifestyle. She gets her own talk show and the big house and expensive car to go with it, but there's more than that. We see her dealing with the regular and mundane and with the Preternatural in much the same fashion. For Riley, her exceptional nature is a fact of life that must be dealt with but that doesn't keep her from being her. All this despite the fact that she never asked to be a Critter and was changed without her consent.

The world that Skye builds is impressive. There is an entire hierarchy of Preternatural beings. One of Riley's intimates is the Duke of Tucson. Another owns a bar that caters to the Preternatural. Along the way she meets more people and realizes that the previously hidden world that she revealed. Skye did well here because we learn about the way Riley's world works as Riley does. Sometimes with new fantasy worlds things can be a bit disconcerting but Skye pulled it off. She gets enough details in to make things make sense and keep us interesting without slowing the plot down and boring us all to death. Kudos to her. Surprises abound and I won't reveal too much. One does wonder if Skye may have read a bit of Jim Butcher however.

Riley is simultaneously near the bottom (as are all the Critters/were-creatures) and near the top (being friends with the local nobility.) She ends up stuck in the middle of a fight between factions that she never knew existed and spends as much time worrying about what effect it will have on her livelihood as she does wondering whether she will survive it. She still has a young woman's natural appetites and she is not afraid to assuage them when she can and if she falls in love easily, well... It works for the plot.

I've remarked before on my love for a strong female protagonist and Riley certainly is one of those. She can scrap with the best of them. She has the personal courage to reveal an entirely new world to the rest of humanity. She goes toe to toe with some seriously scary stuff and the details of how she got Changed... I'll leave that for the book but it's not something anyone would come through unscathed, physically or emotionally. Having said that much though, she's not always sure of what comes next. She doubts her choices and doesn't always know what she should do. In short, she feels more human than most other characters that I've read. Skye really does a good job selling her protagonist. Not only do I feel like I could hang out with Riley and friends, I feel like I already have.

That's actually a really good thing and it's something that gets overlooked by many other writers. The Duke of Tucson, aka Onyx, is a vampire that's been around for several millennia. He makes sense though. Onyx is not the wantonly cruel Count Dracula, but neither is he some Stephanie Meyers spawned sparkly wimp. Riley's boyfriend is a cop. He's not some insufferable hardcore stereotype. Nor is he a superheroic ass-stomper. He's a man with a job and a woman that he cares about. Skye's supporting cast is well thought out and written.

Skye put some research into this book and it shows. I've been avoiding about what though. Suffice it to say that she seems to have done some reading of non-standard sources but it works. Some of what's in the book is trope based, but the roots are in folklore. If some old superstitions weren't really superstitions in a world where the existence the Preternatural were hidden that makes sense, especially if those old superstitions regard protection against the undead.

My one complaint about the books involves the villains. There are two groups of them and their motivations are a bit unclear. I mean, on one hand their motivation seems obvious, but maybe too obvious. Riley gets suckered in right on cue but I wonder... I don't want to give up too much. Let's just say that one of the two groups could have prevented the entire problem by remaining out of the picture and didn't. Given the fact that their intervention drives Riley into the arms of their opposition and creates a problem they would have been better off to avoid, it seems a bit pointless. Then again, no one is perfect and maybe they knew more than I knew they knew or something. That much being said, I really did like this book and look forward to the sequels. It's book one of a trilogy.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 claws

Taming Shadows; Revelations Trilogy Book One
Fiona Skye

Self Published, 2015

Taming Shadows is available for purchase here: