17 January 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Voyager by A.C. Hadfield

The Lost Voyager (Carson Mach Adventure #2)The Lost Voyager (Carson Mach Adventure #2) by A.C. Hadfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mining ship goes missing… 
Its precious cargo could change the galaxy… 
Unless one man and his crew can find the lost Voyager. 

Carson Mach, a freelance rogue captain, and his crew are faced with a seemingly routine mission to find and rescue the Voyager, a missing mining ship in a remote system. Only he and his employers know what the lost ship carries in its cargo hold and the devastating consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. 

On arrival to the Noven system, the destination of the Voyager, Mach and his crew have three planets to explore, with no clues as to where the ship and its artefact might be. Their first stop reveals a terrifying new enemy has joined the search, raising the stakes considerably. 

If the new threat finds the cargo, it will place the entire galaxy in a perilous position from which it won’t recover. Mach and his crew must overcome impossible odds and defeat the new enemy if they’re to reach the Voyager and save the lives of trillions.

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A solid if rather predictable tale, more "military" sci-fi than space opera in my opinion. There's aliens, blood and guts, cool weaponry and a bit of bad language, filled with plenty of action and gritty dialogue. All good stuff. It gallops along a fair old rate as we follow our freelance mercenary crew on a job to distant planets for a hush-hush job where they discover some unexpected things. I powered through this quickly and this is because it's written in a nice style that I thought flowed very well. The story line itself is nothing all that spectacular and I found myself anticipating the plot easily during most of it. Everything ended very much like I thought it would. That said, it's an okay story, enjoyable enough to read so that I never once felt like giving up on it. But it sorely needs a twist in there somewhere, something that will come as a surprise and leave the reader wondering and surprised. Alas, it had so such twist and that was my only disappointment. This author can write pretty good, and if this book had thrown me a storyline curve ball it would be a beauty. Here's another example of quite acceptable indie science fiction that we're seeing more and more of these days. Sort of recommended, a good fun read for a holiday away, etc.

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BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster

Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set years after Return of the Jedi, this stunning action-packed adventure rockets us back into the world of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2,and Luke Skywalker, while introducing a host of exciting new characters. Darth Vader may have been redeemed and the Emperor vanquished, but peace can be fleeting, and evil does not easily relent. Yet the simple belief in good can still empower ordinary individuals to rise and meet the greatest challenges.

So return to that galaxy far, far away, and prepare yourself for what happens when the Force awakens. . .

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This book was a very pleasant surprise indeed. I've given it a high rating simply because it is a whole lot of fun, a supremely entertaining novelization of The Force Awakens that enabled me to experience a broader view of what is a great addition to the Star Wars canon. It's a quick read, flows very well and doesn't get bogged down in superfluous detail or minutiae of the Star Wars universe. This is partially why I've rated it so highly, the author has managed to weave the story into a fun action sci-fi novel. Sure, having in my mind's eye the characters, locations, ships and weapons, etc. really helped to visualize the story, but what a movie can't portray so well is the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters. This book presents very well this aspect, with some good insights of the characters' motivations and feelings. It's no ground breaking masterpiece that had me gasping with wonder but, taken for what it is intended to be, it's a cool ride. It's simply a well composed adaptation to another medium, written to follow the movie screenplay almost scene by scene. There are one or two minor scenes and characters and that I don't remember from the film, but generally the book follows the movie closely. Overall it's enhanced wonderfully my grasp of the story, a bit of background to the characters and the various places and things that make up the story backdrop. Add this one to your "to read" stack for a quick gap filler and I reckon that, like me, you'll be pleasantly surprised with what you discover.

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BOOK REVIEW: I, Judas The 5th Gospel by Bob Mayer

I, Judas The 5th GospelI, Judas The 5th Gospel by Bob Mayer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What if Judas is still alive, hidden away in the jungles of the Amazon, waiting for the Second Coming? 

As a massive object appears at the edge of the solar system heading directly toward Earth, the Brotherhood heralds it as Wormwood, one of the signs the Rapture and it’s just seven days away. They have been preparing to implement the Great Commission as designated by Jesus—where everyone on the planet must hear the word of God before the end in order to be saved. They will use advanced technology to send that message directly into the minds of every human on the planet. The question is: will the message kill everyone who gets it or save them?
Believing him to be the anti-Christ, they also send a team of assassins up the Amazon to find the Great Betrayer and kill him.

Opposing the Brotherhood is the Triumvirate of the Illuminati. They believe they must stop the Great Commission and also they try to stop the assassination team. At the same time they rush to gather nuclear weapons and launch missiles into space to divert the Intruder, as they call the object.

Two survivors do finally make it to Judas, and he tells them a story, the true story of what happened over two millennia ago.

As the object nears Earth, both sides become locked in a world-wide battle for the future of the human race, as Judas prepares in the jungle for the Second Coming.

Which is not at all what anyone expects.

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As is typical with anything from Bob Mayer (also writing as Robert Doherty) this book delivers an action-filled ride as the world faces annihilation by a massive object bearing down on Earth from space. The one who is pivotal in determining the planet's fate is none other than two thousand year old Judas Iscariot, hiding deep inside the Amazon jungle waiting for his time to arrive. Judas has been "cursed" by Jesus to walk the earth until His second coming, but the hows and whys are not as one would expect. It's a departure from traditional Christian thought on the matter of end-time events, but if you can cope with that you're in for an interesting and tense ride. The book covers only a few days, but it's a very eventful few days.

Anyone familiar with Mayer's work like the Area 51 or Atlantis series will be familiar with how he deftly weaves into his stories a combination of history and mythology with military tech and action, and this book is exactly that. I always enjoy this sort of story, reminiscent of the intrigue and mystery of Dan Brown fused with some military coolness like Dale Brown or Tom Clancy. Also in there are a few sci-fi elements as well, much like Mayer's other work, and I'd wager that most techno thriller fans could probably get into this book.

The players in the book are not all that deep or complex, yet are developed enough for the purposes of the story, which is another characteristic of Mayer's work that I like. The cast is a good range of people from those with noble intentions and moral fibre through to complete and utter bastards who display fanatical devotion to their respective causes, willing to be stopped by nothing or no one to achieve their goals. Slightly cliché, yes, but it works well for this sort of thing. I didn't latch onto any particular character like I normally do with books, but had my definite favourites, including one player who turned out to be the key component to the whole story, and not in a way that I had forseen.

It's certainly a fun read, no doubt about it, I had no trouble getting back into it for another session, and it came to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. The last quarter of the book really flies by, and i had to stop for air a few times, the pace was so quick. A minor niggle with the Kindle version that I read is the relatively high number text errors, these mostly being the substitution of incorrect words, i.e. "Atlantis" ocean, "Jesus" where Judas should have been mentioned, and other minor words. It certainly seems to me that it was software doing the spelling and grammar checking. They're not major errors, but enough to slightly upset the reading rhythm of an otherwise fast flowing story. Mayer's use of a more "indie" style of publishing is evident in this. But, overall it's enjoyable and a definite fun read that anyone who likes fast paced yarns with a bit of intrigue will enjoy.

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08 January 2016

10 Space Opera Series Star Wars Fan Might Enjoy

by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
(guest post on SFFWORLD)

With all the excitement over a new 
Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, especially one with the original cast and which seems to capture the original trilogy’s spirit, some fans of space opera might be looking for ways to keep getting their space opera fix. So here are 10 great series fans should check out:

Especially for those enamored with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, the new strong heroine of the new Star Wars, the New York Times Bestselling Honor books which are well over 25 now, are a great read. A bit more structured militarily and politically, they nonetheless follow the female heroine and her friends as they fight against an intergalactic Empire which threatens their system. Honor is a woman of immense talent and strength but lower self-confidence and ego, who seems as surprised by her own success most of the time as her enemies are. Shorter lengths, especially in the opening novels, make these easy to get into, but once you do, they are hard to put down. While On Basilik Station, the first book, is the logical place to start, many of these can standalone, despite ongoing arcs, so you can actually start almost anywhere and still enjoy them.

Written by a former Naval officer, this series follows Captain, then Admiral, Jack “Black Jack” Geary as he leads the Alliance in fighting the alien Syndics who are attempting to conquer their galaxy and beyond. Also military focused but rich in characters, this one is another can’t-put-down read which, like the Weber books, has now branched into multiple series offshoots. Also New York Times Bestsellers, you can start with The Lost Fleet original series or the Perilous Shield follow up series. With one or two books a year arriving, expect to enjoy this for a long time to come.

Now the basis of a new SyFy TV series, The Expanse books are grittier with an old fashioned feel, so not as kid friendly as the previous two series on our list, but their mix of political maneuvering, nourish mystery and subplots, and diverse, intriguing characters is a big win. SyFy bills them as the scifi Game Of Thrones but I don’t personally agree with the comparison. The Expanse is its own animal and a very good one at that, well worth checking out for space opera fans looking for something with a harder edge. Also New York Times bestsellers, they start withLeviathan’s Wake and continue from there, but the series is not following them strictly, so even if you’ve seen the show and worry the books will feel repetitive, they often won’t. Episodes are using material from later books mixed with earlier storylines. For me, they are a chance to explore the characters and world more richly and in depth for fans of the show.

The first 7 books were bestsellers in the 90s and early 2000s and now Anderson has returned to that universe for a new trilogy. The first two books, The Dark Between The Stars and Blood of The Cosmos are out, and the first received a Hugo nomination for Best Novel. The final book, Eternity’s Mind, arrives this summer. Anderson’s own ode to Star Wars and other influences (he himself has written several bestselling Star Wars books), this new trilogy continues the next generation of the original Seven Suns, which start with Hidden Empire and ends with The Ashes of Worlds. Huge cast of characters, space ships, aliens, battles, politics—epic in every way with all the key elements. Worth checking out.

Multiple Hugo winner Bujold serves up her own long running series about Miles Verkosigan, friends and family. The latest book, Gentleman Jole and The Red Queen, is out in February, but there are dozens here with multiple storylines and arcs to follow. Begun with Shards of Honor in 1986, the series has continued for thirty years and developed a huge fan base. The books started with how Miles’ parents met and fell in love and now follows his adventures as well. Since the books skip around through the decades of the series itself, so can readers. Almost anywhere is a good place to start. Filled with high adventure, epic politics, alien encounters, war, battles, and even romance, the series provides something for about everyone. Bestsellers all.

An epic series about survivors of a space craft who crash on planets inhabited by hostile, sentient aliens, the series has stretched to 16 books since it debuted. For those fascinated by the aliens of Star Wars and the diverse cultures that make up such epic stories, the Foreigner books really explore the culture clash of human and alien cultures as they attempt to live alongside one another and find either peace or destroy each other. Far more about the cultural politics and first encounter than military aspects, these are thinking man’s reads with rich characters and worlds and fascinating interactions that stretch out over many generations and thus can be entered into easily at any point. There are even subtrilogy installments.

What started with essentially a Romeo and Juliet in space story about two warring families has grown into an intergalactic saga on an epic scale. Now 14 books strong, from two different publishers, the series continues with the latest iteration delving into new mysteries surrounding royal families and assassination plots. The characters and world are rich and unfold gradually, like Star Wars with much complicated pre and post history readers just have to piece together as they discover it, and there is plenty of action mixed with interpersonal drama, politicking and even military aspects. Bestselling series.

This is a newer series but the second book is out in January. Following Peter Cochrane, an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy, this series has similar echoes to the Honor books and Lost Fleetwith its military focus, but is new enough and rich enough that all kinds of aspects are yet to be explored. Start with Impulse, then pick up Starbound and read away. While there is a bit of romance and sex mixed in, the real focus here is action and dynamic characters you want to root for with some humor and witty banter mixed in of the kind Star Wars fans expect and enjoy.

A master of his craft, Resnick is known for humorous banter mixed in with interesting politics and cross cultural encounters. The Starship series are set about the Starship Teddy Roosevelt as a group or rejects and raw recruits fight to defend their system and to survive on the outer edges of a galactic war. The Widowmaker series follows Jefferson Nighthawk, the consummate bounty hunter, who was frozen for a century in order to defeat a deadly disease but is called out of retirement for one special commission, and a very large chunk of cash. As he hunts an assassin haunting the galaxy, Nighthawk encounters aliens and schemers of all shapes and sizes and goes on a series of action packed adventures. For Boba Fett fans, this one will have broad appeal.

The Quadrail series will appeal to Star Wars fans looking for a shorter series. Only five books, it follows former government agent turned PI, Frank Compton, as he and a partner investigate a planned attack on the Quadrail, an incredible transportation system connecting civilizations across the galaxy with Earth. Zahn will already be familiar to Star Wars fans from his five Thrawnbooks, which launched the Expanded Universe bestselling novel series continuing the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and friends. But this is a series he created himself. Compton is compelling and the nourish detective elements and details of an interesting Quadrail and alien threat unfold gradually with real suspense and surprises along the way. A series that is shorter and self-contained for those less interested in voluminous series, it will nonetheless leave you wanting more.

There are numerous other such series inspired by Star Wars and Star Trek and the like, of course, and not all will be for everyone. But these 10 (actually 12) series will provide a great place to start, outside, of course, the Star Wars books themselves, which are too numerous to count. For a newer series which has received some acclaim for capturing the feel of Star Wars: A New Hope, including Honorable Mention on Barnes and Noble’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases, you can check out my own Saga of Davi Rhii, which starts with The Worker Prince: Author’s Definitive Edition (Amazon) and will be continued in The Returning and The Exodus, out next year. Regardless of where you start, I hope you find something you can enjoy, and May The Force Be With You Always!

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a Hugo-nominated editor and author of adult and children’s science fiction and fantasy including The Worker PrinceAbraham Lincoln Dinosaur Hunter: Land Of Legends, and books in Decipher’s Wars and The X-Files (both forthcoming). He’s edited novels like The Martian by Andy Weir, Oshenerth by Alan Dean Foster and A Game of Authors by Frank Herbert as well as anthologies including Mission: TomorrowGalactic Games (forthcoming),Decision Points (forthcoming), Shattered Shields (with Jennifer Brozek), and Beyond The Sun.Find him on Twitter and Facebook as @BryanThomasS or at his website www.bryanthomasschmidt.net
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04 January 2016

Against all odds, print books are on the rise again in the US

For the last half decade, ever since digital books and e-readers first came on the scene, news headlines have been at war. “The physical book is dead,” some reports declared, while others vehemently argued for the eternality of the printed word.

Data, actually, supports the latter sentiment. At least in the US, sales of physical books have experienced a renewed surge of interest, according to Nielsen BookScan, a data provider that collects data on roughly 85% of the print market.

As of early December 2015, Nielsen says, around 571 million paper books have been sold in the country—a modest but noticeable increase over the 559 million sold in 2014.

Publishers told the Associated Press this week that the rise of coloring books and books authored by YouTube stars this year seems to have contributed to Americans’ re-investment in physical books. The release of Harper Lee’s much-buzzed-about (albeit bizarre) second novel Go Set A Watchman also may have played a part; Lee’s book sold four times as many copies in hardcover as in e-book format, suggesting that most readers wanted to own a physical copy of the historic book, HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham told the AP.

While it’d be a stretch to say that the physical book is thriving, it’s at least staying strong. The same can’t be said of the e-book, which is seeing a decline in popularity. A Pew Research Center study in October found that fewer Americans are buying and using e-reading devices like Kindles and Nooks than they did in past years. [This I find very surprising -- LS]

Assuming these trends continue, 2016 might just be the year that the physical book makes a real comeback.

-- This article is stolen from current affairs & news site QUARTZGo check them out to appease my guilt...

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01 January 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Weird Space: The Baba Yaga by Eric Brown & Una McCormack

Weird Space: The Baba YagaWeird Space: The Baba Yaga by Eric Brown & Una McCormack (Weird Space #3)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The growing threat of the Weird has driven the Expansion to paranoia and oppression. Mandatory testing for infection is introduced, and the colony Braun's World - following reports of a new portal opening - is purged from orbit, at an unimaginable cost in lives.

Delia Walker, a senior analyst in the Expansions's intelligence bureau, protests the new policies and is drummed out. Desperate for a sign of hope, she charters the decrepit freighter the Baba Yaga and heads into Satan's Reach, following rumours of a world where humans and the Weird live peacefully side by side.

Hunted by the Bureau, Walker, her pilot Yershov, and Failt – a Vetch child stowaway, fleeing slavery – will uncover secrets about both the Weird and the Expansion; secrets that could prevent the seemingly inevitable war...

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This is a fine continuation to what is actually turning into a rather good space opera series where a vast galactic civilization is contending with invasion by the mysterious and seemingly invincible Weird from another dimension of space. I've long been a fan of Eric Brown's work, and this time he's allowed another author to latch onto his ideas and to move the story forward. Una McCormack is evidently very experienced with sci-fi writing and this shows through with this book. It's written in a nice style, is an easy read, and generally moves along in a nice steady way. There was never a point anywhere where things got boring or stale, and the author kept developing the background universe which will support future stories in the series. The story has a great beginning and end and the middle sections are enjoyable to read if not spectacular in any particular way. The conclusion opens up new questions about key aspects of the story, i.e. what the Weird really are and what their intentions are. McCormack has written a story that feels very much like what I've come to expect from Brown, which means a good story that doesn't mess with my head too much yet delivers a very entertaining journey through the pages. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. Definitely recommended.

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