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Review of “Starship Grifters,” by Robert Kroese

Starship Grifters  by Robert Kroese

Publisher: 47North
Genre: Sci-fi/Comedy
Length: Novel (215 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars

This book opened me up to an entire sub-genre I didn’t think I would enjoy. Sci-fi farce/comedy. I’ve never been one to enjoy comedic fiction as I’ve always found the genre is better suited for TV or Movies. Boy was I wrong.

This book is a hilarious romp through a far-future galaxy that exposes some of the ridiculous throughout the Star Wars Saga and in science fiction in genre. That’s not to say this is dumb, however, If anything it’s quite the opposite. Mr. Kroese is a brilliant writer. Even when he isn’t being funny every line of this book crackles with energy. And for every witty reference there is a smart creation of his own such as their form of Rationalizing Interstellar Travel. And as much as I was laughing throughout, I never felt disconnected from the silly universe created in this book.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between sarcastic, self-centered and self-proclaimed legend, Rex Nihilo, and his robot partner Sasha. He’s a conman always on the lookout for a pay day and she is a semi-sentient robot unable to tell a lie or develop an have original original thought. Their banter and antics hold the entire story together. Every time she has to get him out of a mess of his own design or pour him a margarita while he watches others do his bidding.

The story here isn’t going too win any awards, but it’s almost secondary to me. This is a parody of science fiction through and through, and an adventure filled with mishaps and accidental victories. Every member in the supporting cast is great and will keep you laughing, but nobody does it like Rex. Any time he opens his mouth it’s gold, obnoxious gold, but gold nonetheless. I highly recommend this novel, especially for those who haven’t tried this sub-genre before and are looking for something fresh

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

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Review of “A Darker Shade of Magic,” by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic  by V.E. Schwab

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Novel (401 pages)
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

It’s been a while since I read a proper Fantasy novel, so I was very excited going into this one. It’s been recommended to me a bunch. I can’t say I was disappointed. This is a real solid start to a series. I didn’t find it spectacular and wouldn’t call it one of my favorite fantasy novels ever, but there is really intriguing setting in here.

Kell (amazing name by the way!) is an excellent protagonist. He’s flawed in many ways, but sympathetic in how he cares for the family who took him in. To me he was a character who is just beginning to get a grip on his powers but is holding back from who he could be. That’s the most exciting prospect about the sequels to me. Seeing him blossom fully and move on from magician seeking curiosities, to a full-fledged hero.

It’s how his magic works that is the star. This isn’t a wonderfully complex system of using magic like you’d find in “The Kingkiller Chronicles,” but it’s enough to keep the story humming along at full speed. He is born a special race who can access blood magic, true magic, and use it to traverse the multiverse. This idea of placing parallel worlds in a fantasy setting isn’t completely original, but it’s in their description that the true magic lies. Each London we’re presented with has a character of it’s own, and I wished I spent even more time learning about their differences.

The other main character, Lila, was hit and miss for me. She was so scrappy and rebellious that at times she almost seemed like a cartoon, and spoke like it too. Placed beside Kell who was such a three-dimensional character, I just couldn’t get behind her plight. Rise up from the riches is tried and true, but to me she just didn’t make the cut. Maybe it’s just that Kell was so captivating throughout…

My other issue, the villains. Holland is Kell’s rival and stole every scene he was in, but his bosses, the villainous Danes in charge of White London, were cardboard villains. I would have loved more focus on Holland instead because everything with the Danes merely led to a final confrontation that simply didn’t feel earned. They had so little face-time throughout and where I got to hear plenty about how evil they are through Kell’s thoughts, I didn’t see it like with Holland.

This is still an awesome kick-off to a series. Each of the three Londons (There are four but we don’t get to see Black London yet) are a treat to behold, and the reserved hero Kell is worth investing time in. I can’t wait to see where the sequels take him, and hope they’re able to do as much justice to his human companion Lila.

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

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Review of “Wool”, by Hugh Howey

The Wool Omnibus  by Hugh Howey

Publisher: Broad Reach Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (530 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 - 5) (Silo series) by [Howey, Hugh]I know, I know, I’m late to the party, but I was selected to write a short story for an anthology related to Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool’ Series, so it was time to sit down and give this a read. I was really pleasantly surprised! Usually a series with as much hype as this doesn’t live up to it, but I definitely felt it did.

Mr. Howey has developed a fascinating world. The descriptions, the imagery, all top notch. While maybe not the most original or believable story throughout, it was more than good enough. My biggest issue was that the ending felt a bit rushed. There is so much detail in every page, yet all of a sudden the story wraps up. It felt a bit contrived, and Juliette’s character seemed to change a little merely to fit the needs of the story.

That wasn’t enough to ruin it for me though. Dystopian fiction just isn’t usually my thing, but after reading this I can’t believe books like Divergent and Hunger Games made it onto the silver screen before this. It was made for the movies.

If you don’t want to read this entire thing and have to pick just one book in the omnibus, part one is the way to go. It totally sold me on the premise of the underground world Mr. Howey has so lovingly crafted, and was a beautifully haunting story. Honestly, I think my biggest problem with the end portion of the omnibus might be that this first part was so strong. Nothing else in the book affected me like those first few brilliant chapters.

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

 

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Review of “The Life Engineered,” a novel by J-F Dubeau

The Life Engineered  by J-F Dubeau

Publisher: Sword & Laser
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (175 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars

Image result for the life engineeredWhat a surprise this book was. I saw some reviews on it, thought it sounded interesting, and am glad I decided to read it. This isn’t a perfect book, but Mr. Dubeau has skills and is a name I’ll be looking out for on the science fiction scene.

More than anything, I found this novel to be unique. The main characters are all robots (known as Capeks) who have been left in charge of the galaxy by humanity after their creators went into hiding for unknown reasons. But they aren’t your typical, emotionless robots. These Capeks have personalities as varied and interesting as any humans. The main character, Dagir, takes us on an journey to discover the cause between the first acts of violence in Capek culture. There are epic battles between metal behemoths galore, but at the root of everything is a very intriguing philosophical disagreement.

That’s the real strength of this novel. Mr. Dubeau’s world-building is top notch, with nothing as interesting as the Nursery where artificial minds are nurtured. It uses Buddhist mythology, birth, rebirth and nirvana as a way to decide when the mind is ready to be released into the universe. I won’t say more than that, but trust me it’s a fascinating idea.

My one real issue with the novel is that it needed a good editor to trim down the fat. There’s a lot of overwriting here. Paragraphs of description that feel redundant because the subtext of the preceding dialogue already told me what was happening, or didn’t, but a single line of dialogue would have sufficed. This is already a short read, but that kind of brevity would have made it go by smoother.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this. For a debut novel, Mr. Dubeau absolutely nailed this. I can only imagine the series getting better!

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

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Review of “Star Wars: Lost Stars,” a novel by Claudia Gray

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Publisher: LucasBooks
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (560 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars

Image result for star wars the lost starsI’d heard so many good things about this book that I decided to give it a shot. I usually don’t like young adult so I wasn’t sure it was for me.

I’m so glad I took the chance. This was easily the best new canon Star Wars novel I’ve read so far by a long shot. In my opinion, never before has Star Wars gotten so personal. This story of the love and connection during war, between Thane and Ciena, was as captivating as any I’ve ever read. Sure there are some young adult elements like during their training and some love scenes that had me roll my eyes, but never enough to take me out of it.

The war between the rebels and the empire is a staple of Star Wars as everybody knows, but it never felt realistic to me until now. It was more an exaggerated dark vs light conflict. But seeing the war from both sides, from the perspectives of two normal officers who are drawn to opposite sides, really had me invested in the struggle. This book didn’t need the force or bounty hunters to hold my interest, and I think proved to me how ripe the Star Wars universe is for every type of story.

And the way Gray plays on the events of the original trilogy to bring Thane and Ciena at crucial times added so much to those movies for me. It made me care about the people on the Death Stars who died in ways the movies couldn’t. The horrors of war were plainly visible here, like a story of two people on opposite sides of our own civil war drawn to fight one another.

I highly recommend this book. Don’t be scared off by the young adult tag if that’s not your thing. This book is rife with realistic relationships and adult themes.

 

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

 

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Review of “The Darth Bane Series,” by Drew Karpyshyn

Publisher: LucasBooks
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (Three Books. 1009 Pages overall)
Rating: 5/5 stars

KeepDarth Bane: Star Wars Legends 3-Book Bundle: Path of Destruction, Rule of Two, Dynasty of Evil (Star Wars: Darth Bane Trilogy - Legends) by [Karpyshyn, Drew]ing up with the current Star Wars craze, this is one of my favorite novels set in that universe. Though it may be a “Legends” story now, Darth Bane himself remains canon and hopefully one day this book will be too.

I LOVE stories that focus on the villains, and that’s what you get with this trilogy. Drew Karpyshyn takes the reader into mind of one of the most powerful Sith Lords there ever was -Darth Bane, the founder of the infamous ‘rule of two’ we hear references to in the movies. It’s such an interesting look into the Sith mindset that sometimes it made me question whether the jedi really are completely good. It’s a perspective I’ve always wanted to see more fleshed out in a Star Wars book.

This is a three book series so there is a lot to cover, but I’ll avoid any spoilers because it’s worth the trip. Darth Bane is a captivating character, all at once terrifying and charismatic. While I found the first book (which is solely about his rise to power in the sith order) to be the best by far, the others were still great as he takes on a female apprentice named Darth Zannah. The action is fast-paced and thrilling, and the slow parts are filled with intriguing descriptions of the philosophical ideals which breathe further life into the dark side of the force.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, I can’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy this. If you’re not, there’s still a lot to love. The trilogy is a wild ride, and Mr. Karpyshyn’s ability to seamlessly add additional characters throughout the sequels is masterful. This is especially true in the second book when there is a POV jedi character, Johun, and the reader gets to see the direct contrast (and similarities) between the two creeds. Star wars is often so black and white, so it was great to see some grayness here.
Overall, the ending of the third book was a little disappointing for me, but it isn’t enough to detract from the entire trilogy. It’s a wonderful story about the pursuit of true power. In my opinion, Bane stands alone as the most compelling villains that Star Wars universe has to offer.

The complete series can be purchased for kindle here.

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Review of “Star Wars: Lords of the Sith,” a novel by Paul S. Kemp

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S.Kemp

Publisher: LucasBooks
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (321 pages)Length:
Rating: 4/5 stars

This is the first Star Wars novel in the new canon that I’ve finished so far. There’s no question that this is a solid story, but don’t let the title trick you. This is being marketed as a tale of Vader and the Emperor, but they really come off as secondary characters. It’s really a handful of others who take center stage. I love the dynamic between Vader and the Emperor so I might not have picked this up had I realized that, but I’m glad I did. While it doesn’t live up to some of my Star Wars favorites (Bane Trilogy, Thrawn Trilogy I’m looking at you) Lords of the Sith kept me captivated from beginning to start.

The novel takes place only a few years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The planet Ryloth is suffering under the heal of the new Empire and a Twi’lek named Cham Syndulla leads a resistance movement against them. After an encounter with Vader and witnessing his power, he decides to try and cut the head from the Empire by having both Vader and the Emperor killed. What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse between this small group of rebels, imperial officers and the two most powerful people in the galaxy.

In my opinion Cham and his partner/romantic interest Isval are the stars of this book. They have a wonderful dynamic; he as the calm, collected but jaded rebel leader with the weight of the movement on his shoulders, and she as a former sex-slave at the hands of the Empire fueled entirely by rage. They couldn’t be more different, but Mr. Kemp did a great job of building their relationship over the course of the book. Isval especially stood out for me. Without spoiling anything, there’s a scene early on in the book showing what she does when she takes a break from freedom fighting that nearly brought a tear to my eyes.

On the other hand are Vader and the Emperor, and their struggle to survive the attempt on their lives. I wish they had more scenes together because every single one was brilliant. There’s a constant tension present between them. Vader respects his master’s power but it’s clear there are no feelings of true friendship. And he’s constantly being tested for weakness by the Emperor. Unfortunately, the extent of their role in Lord of the Sith’s story-line leaves them without any character arc whatsoever. It’s a real shame. They start the book with that dynamic, and when it ends nothing has changed at all.

I wasn’t as sold on the final two POV characters, Imperial Moff Mors and her overly ambitious second-in-command Belkor. They serve their purposes well as far as the storyline went, but I found myself less invested in the chapters focusing on them. I’d much rather have spent more time with the others. Even if the relationship between the Emperor and Vader wasn’t going to change dramatically, a few more conversations exploring it could’ve easily replaced the numerous pages filled with Belkor’s complaining.

All in all, I’d recommend this book to any Star Wars fan. The story is strong, the action thrilling and often brutal, and the ending came together flawlessly even while knowing certain characters obviously had to survive. There are also plenty of references sprinkled throughout that are sure to excite people who follow the universe closely (and especially who watch Star Wars Rebels). I just wish someone would change the title and the book description. This isn’t a story about Vader and the Emperor, it’s the story about two Twi’leks who dared to fight back against insurmountable odds.

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

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Review of “A Girl Named Bright,” a short story by Veronica Viscardi

A Girl Named Bright by Veronica Viscardi

Publisher: Fantastic Stores of the Imagination
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Short Story (3,000 words)
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

According to Fantastic Stories of the Imagination this is Ms. Viscardi’s first published story. That’s very impressive, because this was an exceptionally touching story. It’s basically a journal log by a young girl named Bree while she’s on a journey to a colony in another solar system.

I appreciate any story brave enough to base it’s entire premise around Time Dilation Theory. It’s such a fascinating concept, and one which most science fiction books can’t really delve into due to storytelling concerns. Here, thanks to relativity, a one year journey to Proxima Centauri equals one hundred years back on Earth. That means that while Bree is ten when she says goodbye to her best friend Adie, by the time she arrives Adie will be one hundred years older.

The journal entries mostly track Bree’s conversations with Adie as she goes through the ups and downs of living an entire life while Bree stays the same age. It’s heartbreaking in a sense, but also quite inspiring. As old as Adie gets, she never forgets about her best childhood friend. I think that’s something we can all relate to, and to play it out across light years makes this a wonderfully unique story.

This story is available for free in the 2015 Nov-Dec issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination.

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