Friday, November 27, 2015

James Review -- Star Trek: Seekers: All That’s Left

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Seekers: All That’s Left by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore.
The story opens on Cantrel V, a planet with a Federation colony that is studying the few remains from an ancient war that devastated the planet and apparently led to the extinction of one and possibly two sentient species. The Miranda class Starship USS Aephas is supporting their efforts, but an unknown starship soon arrives and begins bombarding the planet’s surface, and when the Aephas attempts to intervene it inflicts some damage but is forced to withdraw before summoning the Constitution class USS Endeavour to help.
After both ships engage the enemy vessel again, they attempt to slip a boarding party onto the ship. The vessel is running on automatic systems but soon the crew begin to awaken. The crew consists of Lrondi, a race of external symbiont creatures, and various hosts of Lrondi. But many of the Lrondi crew lack hosts and they have no problem taking unwilling hosts. Those of the boarding party who manage to escape collection by the Lrondi soon find themselves on the run from their converted comrades and engaged in a desperate effort to evade capture and both find a way to free their crewmates and warn their ships what has happened.
Meanwhile, some of the Starfleet personnel on the planet accidently stumble across an underground Lrondi-controlled city left over from the war between the Lrondi and the inhabitants of the planet they controlled and those natives who fought to the end and forced the Lrondi to flee or go underground.
Eventually, the situation on the surface turns to a Lrondi attack aimed at collecting the colonists and Starfleet members on the world while the starships struggle to find a way to prevent Lrondi reinforcements from joining the ground battle without killing the boarding party or destroying the Lrondi.
I give this book 9 out of 10. The Lrondi are an interesting antagonist to me. While in some ways they remind me of the Borg or especially the parasites from the TNG episode "Conspiracy," there are enough differences to make them interesting such as both Lrondi and host maintaining their personalities, each Lrondi being a distinct individual, and the Lrondi seeking to make their hosts desire to fufill their wishes rather than forcing them to obey. Also, I thought giving different species distinct reactions to the bonding process on both sides was a nice touch and I think the ending suits the tone of the overall franchise wonderfully. Still, there are a number of parts that dragged on and felt like they were being extended to make the story longer to me.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Kindle Spotlight -- I am Princess X

Good evening, everyone! Today we celebrate Thanksgiving with not just food, but a book review. And it's not just any book, but the latest from Cherie Priest: I am Princess X. Quite a departure from her Clockwork Century books, is it worth your time? Let's find out.
The story centers around childhood friends May and Libby growing up in Seattle (a recurring setting in Priest's novels since she lives there). One day, these two kids decide to create a comic book. It's crudely drawn (at first) but very imaginative. It stars Princess X, an ass-kicking young woman who defends her fantasy realm from all manner of evil. Libby draws it, and May contributes to the story. Anyway, all is going well until Libby and her mother have an horrific car crash. Her mother is killed, and Libby dies as well.
Or does she?
Three years pass. May manages to move on with her life following Libby's death and her parents' divorce. But, suddenly, she begins seeing strange drawings all over town of none other than Princess X. The character they created is now everywhere in the form of artwork and merchandise and, upon digging deeper, May discovers the story is still going in the form of a web comic. May enlists the help of hacker Trick to track down the source of this Princess X explosion. Once she starts reading the story, she discovers hidden clues and comes to the conclusion that Libby is still alive.
But if that's the case, how did she survive the car crash? Why has she remained in hiding? And just whose body was buried in her place? Perhaps the answer has something to do with the sinister Needle Man in the web comic. As May and Trick hunt down clues, they discover more and more parallels between the real world and Princess X. Maybe the story isn't a work of fiction after all. Maybe May can get to the bottom of it and discover her long lost friend's ultimate fate.
But someone is very intent on keeping them from finding the truth, and he'll kill anyone who gets in his way. Just who is the Needle Man, and what does he want?
I am Princess X is very different from Boneshaker and it's sequels. It's a very grounded story, but, like everything Cherie Priest does, it's exceptionally well-written. You can easily believe these girls are real people, and you'll want to follow their story to the very end. Priest proves she can write fantastically in whatever genre she chooses. It even has excellent comic book pages with beautiful artwork accompanying the story.
However, the book has one serious drawback, and it has nothing to do with Priest's writing. You see, the font is tiny for an ebook, and it strained my eyes to read it. You can zoom with the Kindle, but it zooms in too far and you have to scroll through the now-oversize text. Maybe the problem lies with the limitations of my first-generation Kindle, but I couldn't read this for more than a half hour. I'm guessing the paperback version is easier to read, so I would go with that if possible.
Anyway, the story itself is excellent and has good pacing. If you can get a version that won't hurt your eyes, I strongly recommend I am Princess X.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cool Kickstarter Project -- MST3K

Get ready, ladies and gentleman! Mystery Science Theater 3000 is coming back! Series creator Joel Hodgson has created a Kickstarter to bring the crew of the Satellite of Love back from the dead.

For those who have never seen the show, it's about a guy and his robot buddies stuck on a space station who are forced by a mad scientist to watch crappy b-movies. To avoid going insane, they make fun of these awful films. From "Puma Man" to "Manos: The Hands of Fate," no travesty of cinema is safe from these guys. I was a huge fan back in the 90's, and I'm excited to see this series return.

Please head on over to and become a backer RIGHT NOW.

Friday, November 20, 2015

James Review -- Mecha Corps

This week I decided to review Mecha Corps by Brett Patton.
The story opens with Matt Lowell about to arrive on Earth. While Earth is a backwater world, it is also the location of the training camp for the pilots of the biomechanical mecha which are one of the Universal Union’s main advantages in their long-running conflict with the Corsair Confederacy.
After a training exercise, where the cadets believe they are facing live ammo, the remaining cadets are put through the Mind Raze to test their ability to link their brains with the Mecha. For Matt, who possesses a perfect memory, this forces him to relive the incident which made him choose to become a mecha pilot. When Matt was six years old, Corsairs raided the lab where his father was doing research. Matt managed to activate a Power Loader and attacked the Corsair leader but was defeated, and he then discovered that the enemy leader is a Humax, one of a group of genetically engineered humans who were believed to be wiped out after they tried to conquer the rest of humanity. The leader spared Matt, impressed by his courage, but killed his father.
After the flashback, the cadets spend some time getting to know each other before another training exercise, involving teams of three piloting a submersible craft through an underwater battle to reach the real training camp. Matt performs brilliantly, often better then those who have completed training.
After an incident during a combat exercise, Matt and his remaining classmates are offered the chance to be test pilots for the next generation Demon class mecha. After arriving at the distant and well-hidden Mecha Base, the training for the new units begins. But an exercise in merging multiple Demons into one turns into an utter disaster killing one cadet, the rest of the team are removed from the Demon program.
Eventually Rayder, the most feared of the Corsair’s leaders, captures a Union ship, a number of mecha, and their pilots, including one of the former Demon trainees, and reveals his face. Matt recognizes him as the Corsair who killed his father. Matt is soon told the truth that his father was seeking clues to the location of a missing Humax colony but was killed before he could reveal what he had found to the Union.
Matt leads a mission to the world where his father died but, after the Corsair locate and attack Mecha Base, Matt and what’s left of his team must mount a desperate defense before launching a strike into the heart of enemy territory with what strength they have left.
I give this book 7 out of 10. The characters and the development of their relationships and back stories are interesting but I wish we had been given more details on the setting. Also, the battle sequences are either OK at best or bland at worst. Finally, the author really needs to work on finding better names for nations and bases. Universal Union, and Corsair Confederacy are both poor names for organizations in my opinion, and if Mecha Base was the best idea the author could come up with for a name for the Mecha Corps headquarters, he should consider hiring someone to name such things for him in any books he writes in the future.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kindle Spotlight -- Helios

A while back I reviewed N.J. Tanger's novel Chimera ( Well, now this writing trio is back with their follow-up: Helios. Is it as good as the first? Let's find out.
The story takes place not too long after the events of the first book. Theo Puck and his friends are training to crew the colony ship Chimera which needs to be woken after centuries of dormancy at Stephen's Point. Only the so-called Jubilee Children can crew the ship, so the task falls to them. Their mission is to use the Chimera to return to Earth and find out just what the hell is going on back there. This stems from the fact Earth has just sent them a resupply ship full of corpses, an unsettling turn of events to say the least.
The person in charge of the mission, Director Moorland, is testing the children to see who's best suited for each role on the Chimera. Theo is testing off the charts as a navigator, so it seems the job will fall to either him or antisocial newcomer Selena Samuelson. The take-charge Marcus Locke is being eyed as a potential captain, but very few people know he's actually a murderer, and Theo isn't sure if he can trust him.
As the cadets get used to their new routine, each of them begins feeling out one another. Theo gets off to a rocky start with Selena who is distrustful by nature. Making things more complicated is the possibility they'll have to work together to finally wake the Chimera, an unappealing prospect for Selena. Furthermore, Marcus despises her because she doesn't fit into his carefully planned agenda.
Eventually, Moorland has to make a decision as to who should crew the ship. It seems Marcus will lead the mission, but his increasingly sinister behavior has those around him questioning his ethics. Just what is he after, and what (or who) is he willing to sacrifice to get it? Will Moorland take the ultimate risk by putting him in charge? And who will Theo ultimately side with? The answer may surprise you.
Helios is a page-turner from start to finish. It has an incredibly engaging story that will keep you hooked until the end. I dare say it may even be better than the first book. A few typos crop up here and there, but they don't bring down the experience.
The best aspect of this story is the characterization. The three writers expertly build a roster of compelling protagonists (and at least one antagonist). Marcus in particular is a deep character; you never know if you should hate him or sympathize with him (or both). While you may not like his personality or methods, you can't deny he makes some good points about their perilous mission.
Finally, the white-knuckle climax has me waiting eagerly for the next book in the series, as the fate of several characters is left up in the air, and one very big problem for our species still needs to be solved.

Bottom line: Go read Helios. Now.

Friday, November 13, 2015

James Review -- The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword

This week I decided to review The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword by Jack Campbell.
The story begins with a Syndicate ship carrying Jason Boyens, who once led a Syndicate force that attempted to retake the Midway system, entering the system while President Iceni and General Drakon debate what to do with Colonel Morgan, Drakon’s aide who has proven herself as crazy as she is dangerous and, unkown to anyone but herself and Drakon, the biological mother of the general’s daughter, a daughter Morgan believes will someday rule all of humanity.
Boyens claims that he wishes to defect, and soon after he arrives, a Syndicate fleet does as well, with the fleet being led by an infamous Syndicate security officer. After a battle which nearly sees the Midway fleet’s acting flagship destroyed and a desperate bluff involving the incomplete battleship Midway the badly damaged Syndicate fleet withdraws but then proceeds to bombard a planet in another rebel system.
Drakon convinces Iceni to let him send Morgan, whom he is convinced remains loyal to him despite the insanity of her plans, to scout and sabotage the forces of warlord-controlled Ulindi system as a prelude to a liberation mission led by Drakon . But after the fleet departs Morgan runs into an ambush and Boyens reveals to Iceni that Ulindi is actually still under the control of the Syndicate central government, with its apparent revolt just bait to lure Midway’s forces into a trap.
While Drakon and his ground troops struggle to seize an enemy base while under attack from multiple directions, and then withstand a siege the space forces supporting him must juggle providing assistance to their ground forces and avoiding being pinned in range of the overwhelming enemy fleet.
Meanwhile, back on Midway, Iceni races to assemble a relief force for the Ulindi Expedition while trying to determine how to deal with a population brought to the brink of rioting by rumors spread by an unknown enemy without resorting to the tactics favored by the government she is rebelling against. And there is still the question of what the message left by the friendly alien Dancers means.
I give this book 7 out of 10. The combat scenes are great. However the Morgan sideplot and its status when the book ends were poorly handled in my opinion. Also, when something happens that surprises me in a story, either book or series, I like to go back and re-read the earlier portions searching for clues that I missed the first time. However, there is a major surprise in this book which either came out of nowhere, I somehow missed the clues after reading all the proceeding books three times, or it is such a badly handled cliché, that I wish it had come out of nowhere.

Friday, November 6, 2015

James Review -- Star Wars: X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble

This week I decided to review the re-release of Star Wars: X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble by Michael Stackpole.
The novel opens with a small skirmish in the Borleias system involving one Rogue Squadron X-Wing and two Y-Wings from Champion Squadron repelling a reconnaissance force sent by the Warlord Zsinj. The story then shifts to the base on Borleias where Wedge Antilles is meeting with the two newest members of Rogue Squadron before shifting to Corran  Horn’s quarters where Hore and squadron XO Tycho Celchu  discuss Horn’s investigation into the odd behavior of Emtrey, the unit’s M-3P0 droid, who unknown by the Alliance had been programmed to serve as a scrounging and trade droid by a desperate supply officer who died during the Battle of Hoth years prior to the events of the book.
The discussion then shifts to why many in the upper ranks of the New Republic distrust Celchu  to the point of keeping him under watch at all times. Celchu  explains that he had been captured by the Empire while on a reconnaissance mission and eventually escaped, but before being transferred to the POW camp he escaped from, he had been held at Lusankya, a legendary prison apparently used to create Imperial sleeper agents. After a meeting where the provisional council discusses strategy and decides it is time to move on Coruscant and a raid on the freighter which escaped the battle that opened the story, Rogue Squadron is assigned to infiltrate Coruscant in small groups and assess the planet’s defenses, but first they must travel to Kessel and secure the release of a number of prisoners to be used to revive the crippled Black Sun Organization in an effort to distract the Empire.  
Meanwhile, the Empire is seeking to create a bioweapon that only targets non-human species, but the bioweapon is also designed to be treatable so the Republic will be forced to exhaust its resources saving as many people as they can from it. While the initial infiltration of the Rogues goes well, one group finds themselves having to defend one of their human members from the Alien Combine, a coalition of non-humans that wishes to execute him as an example to the Empire, while Corran finds himself in a firefight with an old Black Sun nemesis of his.
Then the Empire raids the Combine and Corran crashes into the battle while fleeing his enemies. And soon the Rogue’s mission is changed to finding a way to bring down the planet’s shields. After one attempt ends in an ambush which the Rogues are rescued from by Celchu, who had been slipped onto the world as an ace in the hole by Commander Antilles, another attempt is launched trying to use an artificial thunder storm to disable the power grid feeding the shield generators. But time is fast running out, and there is at least one Imperial agent attached to the mission…
I give this book 8 out of 10. On one hand, I love the detail put into the Coruscant mission. Getting to see things like how the Empire paints Palpatine’s death and the sections detailing the backstories of Celchu and Emtrey were well done, as were the combat sequences.
On the other hand, how Celchu escaped Alliance custody and infiltrated Coruscant is left completely unanswered. Also, I feel the reasoning behind sending Rogue Squadron to scout the planet rather than an intelligence team is thin at best. It feels like the author is still treating the New Republic like the Rebel Alliance that had to basically just send whoever they could on missions because they often didn’t have the proper trained personnel, a problem that shouldn’t exist anymore since the New Republic apparently controls a fifth of known space at this point. Also, I find it mildly annoying that the author identifies freighters with added weapons as assault frigates when, at the point the book was written, there were two established warship classes known as Assault Frigates in the setting and neither was a modified freighter class.