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Science Fiction Review

Review – Wreck of the Nebula Dream

Wreck of the Nebula DreamWreck of the Nebula Dream
by Veronica Scott
Ebook or Paperback

Science Fiction Romance

I was poking around on Veronica’s Scott site–she’s incredibly cool–when I saw an awesome looking science fiction title–Wreck of the Nebula Dream.

Wow. What’s that? I checked it out. It turns out that it was a science fiction romance billed as Titanic in space.

Wow again. I brought it up at Amazon and clicked Purchase.

Here’s the blurb:

Traveling unexpectedly aboard the luxury liner Nebula Dream on its maiden voyage across the galaxy, Sectors Special Forces Captain Nick Jameson is ready for ten relaxing days, and hoping to forget his last disastrous mission behind enemy lines. He figures he’ll gamble at the casino, take in the shows, maybe even have a shipboard fling with Mara Lyrae, the beautiful but reserved businesswoman he meets.

All his plans vaporize when the ship suffers a wreck of Titanic proportions. Captain and crew abandon ship, leaving the 8000 passengers stranded without enough lifeboats and drifting unarmed in enemy territory. Aided by Mara, Nick must find a way off the doomed ship for himself and several other innocent people before deadly enemy forces reach them or the ship’s malfunctioning engines finish ticking down to self destruction.

But can Nick conquer the demons from his past that tell him he’ll fail these innocent people just as he failed to save his Special Forces team? Will he outpace his own doubts to win this vital race against time?

I can’t rave about this story enough. The main character, Nick, is compelling and likable, which is a good thing because 80 percent of the story is from his point-of-view.

The story begins in a shuttle as the last group of passengers is being shuttled to the Nebula Dream in the last minutes before its departure. Along the way, Nick has an early chance to be a hero when a superstitious traveler decides to try to kill herself. The opening was a bit contrived and somewhat unnecessary in my opinion, but it did serve the purpose of getting the main characters together.

Once on board the ship, Nick somehow scores a personal tour of the ship by one of the ship officers. This tour comes in handy later. He also takes a jaunt up to the observation deck, where he meets a very interesting old lady.

Less then twenty-four hours later, the ship is in chaos, and no one knows what is going on. Ms. Scott did a great job sowing chaos into the plot. The first challenge is people mobbing the lifeboats, and due to some unforgivable shortcuts taken by the space cruse line, there aren’t nearly enough of them. Plus, there are gaping holes in the hole, and bulkheads are slamming down everywhere to preserve the oxygen in the ship.

What a ride. Everyone has a chance to be a hero. Even the children and the old woman.

This is very much a science fantasy, somewhat along the lines of Star Wars. The mythology has nothing to do with anything you’ve ever heard of in Earth history, which makes it all the more cool. In fact, I am not even sure an “Earth history” is intended in this book, although I may be mistaken. The deities plays a role at least two times, the story is open to a sequel involving one of the deities in particular.

The story is tense, the romance is sweet, and the villains are ruthless. If you pick up this book, the pages will fly by and you will be absorbed into a story that you won’t easily forget.

Review – Balance of Terror by KS Augustin

Balance-of-Terror-K.-S.-AugustinBalance of Terror
by KS Augustin
Ebook – 5.99

Science Fiction Romance

A while back, I read In Enemy Hands, a science fiction romance by KS Augustin, and I absolutely loved it. I never forgot it, so every once in a while I would look up the author’s site to see if the second book had been published.

Now it has!

I promptly bought a copy and immediately started reading. I finished in just a few days despite the fact that it is over 100,000 words.

Although the initial novel in this series was published by Carina Press, this novel is self-published. While I don’t really get the cover, the editing and pacing in the novel is superb, and it is well laid-out and professional.

Here’s the blurb:

Save one man? Or save billions? It’s Moon’s choice.

Stellar physicist Moon Thadin and amnesiac savant Srin Flerovs are on their way to possible sanctuary with an old research partner of Moon’s. But between them and safety lie a cunning arms dealer, a suspicious pirate captain, and a universe of unfamiliarity.

Refusing to turn her research into a weapon, Moon and Srin outran the Republic in IN ENEMY HANDS, only to find that the anti-Republic rebels they’re heading for want her knowledge for the same reason, and they’re willing to trade critical gene therapy for it. Withhold the therapy and Srin will die. Share the research and billions will die.

Can the needs of one ever truly outweigh the needs of many?

When we left our heroes, Srin and Moon were fleeing from Srin’s former keepers, the operatives of the Republic who tampered with his genes and kept him amnesiac for over 20 years. They fled with the help of Moon’s former research partner, Kad, who is a member of a resistance movement. They are now on a backwater of a world and Moon has, with the help of some friendly doctors, concocted a cocktail of drugs that keep Srin alive and his memory intact.

After his health is finally stable, Moon finally takes a chip that Kad gave her and plays the recording that is stored on it. Following the directions on the recording, she withdraws a large sum of money and they travel to another town to make contact with the man who will bring them to Kad and his rebellion.

But it turns out, everyone has an agenda.

Everyone.

What follows is an epic journey across an inhospitable planet, and then across the galaxy. All along the way they have hard decisions to make, including at one point a decision on whether or not to join the crew of a very intriguing ship owned by a man named Quinton, who is the subject of a followup novel. Sometimes I wondered why Moon and Srin kept on going where they were going since they knew the decisions they would have to make once they got there–and that it would likely not go well for them. However, they really did have few other options. As a reader, I genuinely didn’t see there was any way they could get their happy ending.

But a good author leaves at least one door ajar a teeny, tiny bit.

If you like science fiction romance, this ought to be a great read for you. I’ll be giving it five stars!

Monday Review – Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Old Man’s War
by John Scalzi
Tor Books

Military Science Fiction

I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time, and when I got my Kindle it was one of the first books I got. I read it and loved it.

To me, this was the perfect science fiction tale. It featured a likable hero, the 75 year old John Perry. It involved a twist that I never saw coming, but sure should have. And it involved really, really ruthless enemies, and aliens that are just about as strange as one can imagine.

John Perry is celebrating his 75th birthday by joining the army. He intended to join with his wife, but she unfortunately died before the requisite age. He joins for a ten year term, and knowing that he can never return to Earth.

Before actually being able to join, he undergoes a rigorous series of physical and psychological exams. One of my favorite parts was when a doctor tells him that he has testicular cancer. The doctor is unconcerned about it and is totally uninterested in treating it.

“Why wouldn’t you cure it?” I asked. “If you can ‘shore up’ an affected region, it sounds like you could probably fix it completely if you wanted to.”

 

“We can, but it’s not necessary,” Dr. Russell said. “You’ll be getting a more comprehensive overhaul in a couple of days. We just need to keep you going until then.”

 

“What does this ‘comprehensive overhaul’ mean, anyway?” I asked.

 

“It means that when it’s done, you’ll wonder why you ever worried about a spot of cancer on your testicle,” he said. “That’s a promise …”

By this time, I was in total suspense about this “comprehensive overhaul” and dying to find out what it meant. And I never expected what it turned out to be.

For the entire first half of the novel, this suspense was more than enough to keep me turning the pages. The only real conflict was between the recruits and the military’s medical personnel, and even then, it was like the above. And the usual conflict between recruit and drill sergeant.

So what’s missing? A girl. And yes, there is a girl. Several, in fact, but really, the only girl for John is his dead wife, Kathy. She has an impact on the story in a big way. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Through most of the book, the other character drift in and out of the story and then die off. The story focuses on John exclusively and almost to its detriment. However, toward the end, it starts focusing on a core group of characters, especially one named Jane Sagan. She is a lieutenant in the ever-intriguing Ghost Brigades, the subject of the second novel in the series. (Which I read as well.)

One final thing–although this book is quite gritty, the gritty portions made me wince only because I was so taken with the main character. More importantly, the author did not overwhelm the story with grit– it is also full of humor and heart. I will be giving this novel a rare five stars at Amazon and GoodReads.

This Kindle version of this novel is the same price as the paperback, and that will spawn a gripe in an upcoming post. But regardless of which version you buy, it is well worth the money.

Review: Empire by David Dunwoody


Empire

By David Dunwoody (website)
Gallery Books
Trade paperback, $15.00

Reviewed by Raven

Blurb:

The year is 2112.

The crippled U.S. government and its military forces are giving up the century-long fight against an undead plague. Born of an otherworldly energy fused with a deadly virus, the ravaging hordes of zombified humans and animals have no natural enemies. But they do have one supernatural enemy: Death himself.

Descending upon the ghost town of Jefferson Harbor, Louisiana, the Grim Reaper embarks on a bloody campaign to put down the legions that have defied his touch for so long. He will find allies in the city’s last survivors, and a nemesis in a man who wants to harness the force driving the zombies—a man who seeks to rebuild America into an empire of the dead.

Empire was a super-quick read. I breezed through it in two days. It’s sort of a debut; it was David Dunwoody’s first novel, although this is the second edition. The hook for me was Death fighting zombies. His doing that makes sense, right? They’re defying him by being undead, and of course he finds it a tad annoying.

The story is a lot more complicated than just Death fighting zombies, though. There are human survivors fighting zombies and a human villain creating and controlling zombies. I wouldn’t even say Death is the main character, although he’s a major character. It’s basically a sprawling story that takes in all aspects of the zombie war in Jefferson Harbor. We even get to look through the eyes of some of the zombies.

If you like zombie novels, like gore, don’t mind explicit near-rape (I had to skim that scene), and are a fan of cinematic writing, you should like Empire. What do I mean by cinematic writing? Dunwoody’s style moves the story along fast, but he concentrates mainly on plot. There’s not a lot of room for character development, especially of minor players. Most of the human characters spend the book running away from zombies most of the time, and most of the zombie characters spend it running after dinner (humans) most of the time. It was like watching a zombie movie: the majority of it is about fighting zombies. Also, the cast of characters was so huge I couldn’t keep them all straight, especially since some of them had similar names.

I did manage to keep the plot threads straight, although I wouldn’t have minded more clarification of the human villain’s ultimate aims, which stayed nebulous. Of all the plot threads, I’d say I was most invested in three of the storylines, one of them being Death’s. Another one I enjoyed was about a cop who’s just trying to hold things together as well as he can. Given the number of zombies running around, it’s not well.

I’m guessing most people reading this book are looking for a fun romp with zombies, and they’ll probably find it here. Dunwoody’s pretty good at tackling all aspects of zombie-ism, including the impact on religion, although when he touches on that, he never makes a firm statement for or against the different characters’ beliefs. Various powers, animate and inanimate, seem to be hovering around, but it’s not clear who or what they are. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with his treatment of religion. I would have preferred to know what statement he was making.

My biggest problem, though? I concluded I’m not a fan of zombies. That’s no reflection on Empire. It’s purely personal. This novel was my first foray into the world of zombies (unless you count Shaun of the Dead), and my disbelief kept coming unsuspended. For some reason I can deal with vampires, who are also undead, but the idea of scores of zombies shambling around doesn’t seem to work for me. I didn’t put this book down, but I probably won’t read another zombie novel. But if you’re a fan of zombies and you’re looking for the fun romp I mentioned above, you might want to give Empire a shot.

Empire will be available on May 16th.

Debut Review: Veracity by Laura Bynum


VERACITY

by Laura Bynum
Pocket Books
Hardcover – $25
Dystopian Science Fiction

VERACITY by Laura Bynum was a welcome change of pace, and despite some plausability issues I had with certain aspects of the plot, I enjoyed it very much. Veracity is a near-future dystopian science fiction story.

Veracity begins with Harper Adams making her escape from her job, the government and her country. She can no longer live with any of these and is willing to do anything to escape — even give up her daughter.

For Harper lives in a future America — actually, a post-America — that is so repressive that it forbids the utterance of thousands of words. She worked as a Monitor for the government where she uses her ability to see auras in the enforcement of the law. She can sometimes recognize truth from lies, plus she is precognitive and remote-sensing. Certain technologies keep the populace in line, and deals out instant punishment for any infractions. This includes children. The Blue Coat police force uses rape and unfettered violence to enforce the law. The Bible has been rewritten as the Confederation Bible. It’s a sort of watered-down Christianity, and it’s the only government-sanctioned religion.

This was a real page-turner. Harper was likable, but I would have liked to seen more character development. As I mentioned above, I occasionally ran into problems with plausibility. In writing circles, the willingness of the reader to set aside reality long enough to read the novel is called suspension of disbelief. The story stretched my ability suspend my disbelief in several places. Early on in the story, for example, we learn that many police are unarmed.

“. . . the largely gun-free system has flourished. Fists, elblows, knees, mouth, teeth, the fleshy weapons carried by men, the ones used to inflict more intimate punishments — these broadcast an absolute and terrifying power the business end of a pistol doesn’t match.”

I thought, “huh?” If this were true, our entire history wouldn’t include one huge, never-ending arms race. The business end of a pistol is about the most terrifying thing I can imagine. I immediately wanted to know how the government would have accomplished the incredible task of disarming our gun-loving populace. However, Ms. Bynum dealth with that tricky problem by not dealing with it. It just happened, and it was so. This happened rather frequently.

I also had difficulty believing that so many sweeping and brutal changes could have happened over the course of one generation, especially since they were voluntary changes. People actually agreed to have slates implanted in their necks, which would monitor their every word, and would zap them if they said a Red Listed word. It was a stretch to my credulity.

One could argue that Stalin managed to install a horrifically oppressive regime within a generation of the revolution in 1917. But the Russian regime that preceded the revolution was hardly one based on freedom. There was a reason for the revolution. I do agree that people are willing to exchange their freedom for security, but only incrementally. Which can lead to horrible things, but I would have been more credulous of a fifty year timespan. One hundred years would have been even better.

Since I otherwise found the book intriguing, I decided to suspend my disbelief in my disbelief of my suspension of disbelief.

Harper has a harrowing time getting into the resistance. In order for her to put on a convincing act for the authorities, she can’t know anything until she’s actually in. It was very well done and made the opening pages just fly by. Ms. Bynum has frequent flashbacks to Harper’s draft into the Monitor program and certain key scenes in her high school years. There was one intriguing character early in the story — the Monitor who tested her — that I wanted to see again, but she didn’t turn up.

Among the things Harper has to give up in order to flee the Monitor program and join the resistance is her daughter, Veracity. She has to make it look like she has no love for her daughter, or the government will use the girl as leverage. This made for some great suspense. Another nailbiting series of scenes involved Harper having to go off on a mission all by herself. And she has to go all the way into the bowels of a Blue Coat station. This would make a great book club book. I just want to talk about it, but I can’t say too much because I want you to discover all these interesting plot twists for yourself.

Bravo to the author for not making the ending one of those cliched everything-is-lost types of endings that have been done way too much these days. There is a struggle, of course, but it didn’t follow one of those well-plowed formulas, so it was more unpredictable than some other novels I’ve read lately. The ending ending pages were extremely subtle, and quite well done. Oh, and more kudos to the author for not making this one of those excessively gritty novels. In fact, if it weren’t for the swearing and the sex scenes, this could easily have been a Christian novel.

I think many of the problems I had with the novel were personal because I’m such a stickler for plausibility. Everyone has their own plausibility tolerance level. Obviously the author found it plausible and so did the many people it takes to get a book published these days, and so might you. I obviously enjoyed the story anyway, and I will certainly be interested in reading Ms. Bynum’s next effort.

Here is another point of view by The Crotchety Old Fan.

UPDATE: Remarks in the comments have led me to believe that by ending this review on a low note, I gave the mistaken impression that I didn’t enjoy it. This is not the case. I really enjoyed this novel and found it quite impossible to put down. It was refreshing to read a science fiction novel that didn’t try to shock one’s senses with grittiness, and who isn’t afraid to end a novel on a hopeful note.

Review: The Court of the Air

CourtOfTheAir
Court of the Air
by Stephen Hunt
Amazon USAUKCanada
First Chapter

Genre: Steampunk

Review by Superwench83

At first running for their lives, Molly Templar and Oliver Brooks soon find themselves at the heart of a revolution, and they don’t know which side they’re on. In a world where the monarchy has long been overthrown, where the current regime disfigures the kings and puts them on display, where fey are locked up or forced to wear collars that control their powers, it’s hard to be content with the status quo. Raised in a poorhouse, the only thing certain about Molly’s future is that it’s bleak. Touched by the feymist, Oliver is destined to be an outcast unless he lets the government put a collar around his neck. But when Molly witnesses a murder and Oliver is framed for one, they find themselves on a new–and unwelcome–adventure.

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt was my first venture into steampunk, and I feel a bit out of my element writing this review. I read lots of fantasy, historicals, and historical fantasy, but not a lot of sci fi, and I’m not as familiar with sci fi’s traits and tropes. (In written form, at least. I watch lots of sci fi; I just don’t read much of it.) The Court of the Air is a magical tale full of historical inspiration, but I’d definitely call it sci fi. Gritty sci fi, although it does have that fantastical air. It has awe-inspiring aircraft that are essentially hot air balloon warships, and placid steammen who follow the religion of Gear-gi-ju. It also has hideous bio-engineered abominations and dark insect gods. Not to mention lots of bloodshed.

Between the subtle plot nuances and intricate worldbuilding, there’s a lot to digest, which makes The Court of the Air a slow read, but in a good way. Flying through it too fast means missing out on a lot of things. The plot unfolds gradually, and with all that it contains, it’s good to pause and mull it over a while before reading on. This is an intelligent read, one that requires you to puzzle things out on your own.

The thing that struck me most while reading The Court of the Air was how many other stories it brought to mind. There were times when the communityists’ mantras reminded me of 1984, when the steammen alternately reminded me of the Tinman from The Wizard of Oz and the mechanical world of Disney’s Robots. The subterranean tunnels beneath Middlesteel brought to mind the dark elf city of Menzoberranzan. The fusion of all these things gave the story a touch of the familiar while ultimately creating something completely new. I can safely say I’ve never read or watched anything like it.

Between the thick layers of plot and the intense worldbuilding, there wasn’t a lot of room for character development. But that’s not bad in this case. The characters were just sympathetic enough to pull you into the story, and for a plot-driven story like this, I think that worked for the best. The focus was on the story and the unique world it takes place in. Any more would have overwhelmed it. So the sparse characterization works well in The Court of the Air. Now that much of the worldbuilding has been done, however, I’d like to see deeper character development in the rest of the series. Ultimately, I liked The Court of the Air and plan to read the next book.