Friday, September 30, 2011

Audiobook Review: 007 - Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

Incident 20. Thousands of lives will be lost. British interests at stake. Only one man has any chance of piecing together the clues in time - James Bond, returning in this novel set in the modern day. Like any good Bond adventure, he goes to a number of far flung countries in search of answers. Things start out in Serbia, where Bond is trying to stop a train derailment from unloading radioactive toxins into a city’s water supply – and starts to make his first connection to the cryptic message intelligence had received, by tracking one of the recipients, Nile Dunn. But when Dunn heads back to London, Bond has to face a completely different set of rules – he has no license to kill, nor act as anything other than a civilian while in his home country, something that MI-5 has no trouble reminding him of. He must learn to work with his counterpart Percy if he’s to have any hope of tracking his prey. As the days tick by, Bond finds himself whisked off to Dubai as well as South Africa, investigating an international Recycling company owned by a man who may just be so fascinated with death that he’s decided to try killing for himself. All the while, the Friday deadline for Incident 20 looms closer. This is not the Bond of the over-exaggerated movies, but much more aligned with Daniel Craig’s more recent portrayal. He uses some high-tech spy gadgets, but this is a spy novel after all. There are some memorable action sequences, but again these are not “dangling from the top of the Eiffel Tower” type scenes, but nighttime assassinations and covert operations. Bond goes deep undercover during a portion of the book, an aspect rarely used in recent memory despite the fact that it should be a major part of any spy novel. Don’t let all the modern technology and politics fool you, this is an old school James Bond novel, written in a kind of style very reminiscent of Ian Fleming. I’m a long-time fan, having seen all the movies, read half a dozen of the Fleming novels, and a few of the non-Fleming ones. These things can always be hit-or-miss (even Flemings own novels). In fact I listened to Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks a couple of years ago, and found it to dreadful, way too concerned with trying to be a “true” sequel to Fleming’s books, that the story just wasn’t any fun at all. Not a problem here. By not trying to craft a sequel, Deaver has actually done a better job at capturing the voice of the original author, the phrasing of sentences and the tone of the novel – there’s something about the pulpy way in which Fleming wrote (sparse descriptions, pointed text) that Deaver copies well. On top of that, Deaver introduces a number of new secondary characters to the Bond universe, the first memorable ones I can think of in recent history – and I don’t mean villains or bond-girls, but actual co-workers of 007. Philly Maidenstone and M’s Chief of Staff. Even Bond’s parents (who are dead) get more characterization than I can ever remember them having before. Between these new characters and the few dangling plot threads, I’ll anxiously await what I hope will be more Bond novels from Deaver. Since this is an audiobook review, I should talk about that aspect. While not as filled with special effects as a Warhammer audio drama, I was impressed with both the reader Toby Stephens (who is an actor that has appeared in Tomorrow Never Dies, as well as having read Bond books before) and with some of the sound effects that were used (making it sound like the voice is coming through a phone as appropriate). The reader was just excellent, even when attempting to do female voices, and it never once took me out of the experience. If you’re a fan of Bond, this is the best book I’ve read outside of an Ian Fleming original, and I’d more than recommend giving it a shot.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Birthday Giveaway-- "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor

It's my birthday today-- but you get the present! I LOVED Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and I have to share this book. I am giving away a slightly used copy (really it's just like new) because I think this book is worth the hype and I want to spread the word as much as possible.

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Thursday October 12th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Book Review-- "The Hum and the Shiver" by Alex Bledsoe

Bronwyn Hyatt was the quintessential wild child before she left the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee for the desert of Iraq when she enlisted in the Army. But her fate is changed forever when a violent abduction turns her into a famous war hero as her rescue is broadcast on live television.

When Bronwyn returns to her quiet family home there are those who think she'll return to her former ways and once again live up to her reputation as the "Bronwynator,"-- including her former boyfriend Dwayne. But there are larger problems looming for Bronwyn when omens begin to show that death is looming for her family and a persistent ghost, known as a "haint," insists that Bronwyn needs to deal with the pain of her past in order to be ready for the tragedy that awaits her.

For the Tufa, the mysterious people that have inhabited the Smoky Mountains longer than the earliest European settlers, Bronwyn's status as a war hero means nothing against her obligations as a First Daughter and her duty to learn the songs of her ancestors. But Bronwyn's music has left her in the wake of her trauma, and she doesn't know if she can recapture it-- or the magic that is part of her heritage.

Anyone who has read the Eddie Lacrosse series by Alex Bledsoe might be expecting The Hum and the Shiver to have a similar action oriented sensibility. But this is a quiet story in many ways. Bronwyn may have pushed the limits in her youth but her experiences in the Army have tempered her need to defy authority at every turn. That isn't to say that she's submissive-- far from it-- but the needs of her family, and her people, have finally taken their proper place in Bronwyn's world view. And it's the milder aspects of the story that take center stage. The music and the relationships between Bronwyn, her family and her trouble-making ex-boyfriend, as well as a new potential love interest, make up the bulk of the story. It's mostly about the characters and their interactions rather than a series of events.

The interesting thing about "The Hum and the Shiver" is that the characters frequently don't do what you expect. Even though Bronwyn comes home hailed as a hero, her family isn't that impressed; and it takes quite a while before the book begins to explain why it is frowned upon for a Tufa to leave their home. Bronwyn's parents are by turns loving and abrasive and there are moments when they aren't that likable-- much like any real family.

Bledsoe is also very good at writing about touchy topics. It would be easy to inject some political bias into a book that features a character that has just come home from a controversial war, but the narrative walks a fine line that doesn't heel to any one point of view but doesn't dodge the subject either. Religion is also something that is brought up, quite gently, thanks to a main character that is also a minister. Again, Bledsoe is respectful without being judgmental toward any particular belief-- something I really appreciated.

"The Hum and the Shiver" has a very earthy sensibility. Topics like sex and death are presented frankly among the Tufa characters, which adds to the mystery behind just what the Tufa are exactly-- a mystery I won't spoil here. I will say that the reveal doesn't come swiftly and it's somewhat unexpected when it does arrive-- I found myself rereading a few passages to make sure I understood that what was happening was literal and not metaphorical. And if I had one minor critique of the book it would be that the two sections of the book are very different and don't immediately jibe. That said-- I liked the overall effect and the way that part of the story played out.

Reading "The Hum and the Shiver" reminds me why Alex Bledsoe is one of my favorite authors. Whether he writes sword and sorcery, vampire fiction or contemporary fantasy the writing is solid and believable. The characters are all finely drawn without being overly idealized. And, most importantly, the stories are always written with an understated sense of humor. "The Hum and the Shiver" is a lovely piece of contemporary fantasy and well worth the time.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine.

This week's can't wait to read selection is:

The Infernals by John Connolly
Atria Books
October 18, 2011
320 pages

From New York Times bestselling author John Connolly, a wonderfully strange and brilliant novel about a boy, his dog, and their struggle to escape the wrath of demons. Young Samuel Johnson is in trouble. Not only is his eyesight so poor that he mistakenly asks out a letter box on a date, but an angry demon is seeking revenge for Samuel’s part in foiling the invasion of Earth by the forces of evil. It wants to get its claws on Samuel, and when Samuel and his faithful dachshund, Boswell, are pulled through a portal into the dark realm, the home of the Infernals, it gets its chance.

But catching Samuel is not going to be easy, for the Infernals have not reckoned on the bravery and cleverness of a boy and his dog, or the loyalty of Samuel’s friend, the hapless demon Nurd, or the presence of two clueless policemen and the unlucky, if cheerfully optimistic, driver of an ice-cream van.

Most of all, no one has planned on the intervention of an unexpected band of little men, for Samuel and Boswell are not the only inhabitants of Earth who have found themselves in the underworld. If you thought demons were frightening, just wait until you meet Mr. Merryweather’s Elves. . . .

I've never read John Connolly before, but this sounds like my kind of book.

The Rest of the 2011 Movie Releases-- Anything Worth Watching?

The 2011 box office has been hit or miss. "Thor" and "Captain America" were pretty good and "Harry Potter" wowed audiences. "Green Lantern," "Red Riding Hood" and "Cowboys & Aliens" on the other hand failed to impress. Box office receipts have been down from last year according to Box Office Mojo, but that's easily explained by the dwindling economy and maybe some lowered expectations (especially after last year's dismal cinematic offerings). So the question now is whether there is anything left to inspire audiences to leave their home theaters for the chance to pay to see it immediately. Here's the list of genre films that are slated for the rest of the year and my thoughts on them-- would you pay a premium to see any of them?

Dream House (Universal Pictures, September 30, 2011)

Successful publisher Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) quits a job in New York City to relocate his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and two girls to a quaint New England town. But as they settle into their new life, they discover their perfect home was the scene of the murder of a mother and her children, while the entire city believes it was at the hands of the husband, who survived. When Will investigates the tragedy, his only lead comes from Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), a neighbor who was close to the family that died. As Will and Ann piece together the disturbing puzzle, they discover that the story of the last man to leave Will's dream house will be just as horrifying to the one who came next.

I don't watch a lot of horror films but I may make an exception for this one thanks to good casting and what looks like some good twists and turns.

Real Steel (Touchstone Pictures, October 7, 2011)

Robots have replaced humans in boxing. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) loses a chance to become a boxing champion when robots take over, and he becomes a small-time promoter. When he has difficulty making a living, he reluctantly teams up with his son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build a robot that can contend for the championship.

I'm not sure where I stand on this one. On the one hand I have a massive crush on Hugh Jackman. On the other I was never a big fan of rock 'em sock 'em robots.

The Thing (Strike Entertainment, Morgan Creek Productions, October 14, 2011)

Taking place three days before the events of the John Carpenter film, paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) joins a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across a crashed extraterrestrial spaceship buried in the ice of Antarctica. They discover a creature that seems to have died in the crash eons ago.
When an experiment frees the alien from its frozen prison, Kate joins the crew's pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), to keep it from killing and imitating them one at a time, using its uncanny ability to mimic any life form it absorbs through digestion, and potentially reaching civilization.

Maybe prequels are the way to go-- the success of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" would suggest that anyway. The previews to this one actually look promising, so it may further the trend.

Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount Pictures, October 21, 2011)

The third film takes place in 1988, when Katie and Kristi were kids. While trying to get video proof of Bloody Mary, Katie and Kristi are first confronted by the monstrous demon haunting them in the first and second movies along with their family. Although shown to be a prequel in the trailer, it is unconfirmed if it will be a parallel sequel like the previous film again

I haven't followed this series at all, so I can't begin to guess whether this will be worth watching. Though it's a good guess it's getting pretty formulaic by now.

The Three Musketeers (Summit Entertainment, October 21 2011)

In the 17th-century, famed Musketeers Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) steal highly coveted airship designs from a high-security vault, the sweet taste of success is short-lived. Their beautiful partner-in-crime, Milady (Milla Jovovich), drugs the trio and sells the designs to a higher bidder, the ultra-cool Englishman, Buckingham (Orlando Bloom); a major blow to the famed swordsmen. So one year later, the devil-may-care young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) journeys to Paris to realize his dream of becoming a Musketeer, but he finds them a shadow of their former selves, working menial jobs and seeking a cause worth serving.
The conniving Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) hatches a deadly plot to overthrow the young King Louis (Freddie Fox). Employing the double agent Milady to do the dirty work, he frames the King's new bride, Queen Anne (Juno Temple) in an affair with Buckingham. If the King buys into the lie, war with England will follow, the Queen will die and the people of France will demand a stronger leader – Richelieu himself – to see them through the crisis. If the King doesn't buy into the lie, peace may yet stand a chance. So the Three Musketeers along with D'Artagnan undertake the mission to retrieve a priceless diamond necklace from the impregnable Tower of London and return it to the Queen in time for an all-important ball.

This is definitely not for purists. It looks more like a steampunk fantasy than anything else and the whole "Three Musketeers" story is nothing more than a vehicle for some pretty visuals. That said, it could be a lot of fun if you just want to turn off your brain and be entertained.

In Time (20th Century Fox, October 28, 2011)

In a retro-future when the aging gene has been switched off, people stop aging at 25 years old. However, stamped on their arm is a clock of how long they will live. To avoid overpopulation, time has become the currency and the way people pay for luxuries and necessities. The rich can live forever, while the rest try to negotiate for their immortality. A poor young man is accused of murder when he inherits a fortune of time from a dead upper class man over a century old prior to his death. He is forced to go on the run from a corrupt FBI-like police force known as the 'Timekeepers', as well as from a hoodlum-like middle-aged Mob called the 'Minutemen', led by a senior citizen named Fortis, who is 75 years old.

I put this one up under the presumption that the lawsiut by Harlan Ellison doesn't prevent the movie from opening on its scheduled date. Lawsuits aside I think this looks like it could be a good one.

Puss in Boots (Dreamworks, November 4,2011)

The story takes place before Puss met Shrek, when he was a swashbuckling hero who protected the innocent. A bunch of old pub thugs tell him that two murderous outlaws called Jack and Jill have discovered an ancient power that can destroy the world. Puss then sets off on a journey with his old friend Humpty Dumpty who also introduces him to Kitty Softpaws, a sly black cat who takes an interest in Puss's journey. With his new sidekicks, Puss sets off on his most adventurous and dangerous journey ever.

I'm over Shrek (didn't even see the last one) but I'd go see this. I'm already pretty sure my kids are going to drag me to it anyway.

Immortals (Universal Pictures, November 11, 2011)

Years after the Titanomachy, the Titan Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) declares war on humanity. He searches for the Epirus Bow, a legendary weapon created by the war god Ares (Daniel Sharman), which will allow him to free the rest of the Titans from Tartarus and take revenge on the Olympians who brought about their downfall. In accordance with ancient laws, the gods are unable to take a side in the war between Hyperion and humanity. It is left to a peasant named Theseus (Henry Cavill), chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans) and accompanied by the priestess Phaedra (Freida Pinto) and a slave (Stephen Dorff), to protect his homeland and save the gods.


Breaking Dawn Part 1 (Summit Entertainment, November 18, 2011)

In the highly anticipated next chapter of the blockbuster The Twilight Saga, the new found married bliss of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is cut short when a series of betrayals and misfortunes threatens to destroy their world.
After their wedding, Bella and Edward travel to Rio de Janeiro for their honeymoon, where they finally give in to their passions. Bella soon discovers she is pregnant, and during a nearly fatal childbirth, Edward finally fulfills her wish to become immortal.
But the arrival of their remarkable daughter, Renesmee, sets in motion a perilous chain of events that pits the Cullens and their allies against the Volturi, the fearsome council of vampire leaders, setting the stage for an all-out battle.
The suspenseful and deeply romantic Breaking Dawn continues the epic tale of supernatural fantasy and passionate love that has made The Twilight Saga a worldwide phenomenon

I don't get the appeal at all. But I have plenty of female friends, who are old enough to know better, who are really excited for this. Sigh.

Hugo (Paramount Pictures, November 23, 2011)

Hugo Cabret is an orphan boy living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station. When Hugo encounters a broken automaton, an eccentric girl, and the cold, reserved man who runs the toy shop, he is caught up in a magical, mysterious adventure that could put all of his secrets in jeopardy.

Does it make a difference if an animated film is directed by Martin Scorsese? I guess we'll find out.

The Muppets (Walt Disney Films, November 23, 2011)

Oil has been discovered beneath the Muppet Theater and oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to raze the Muppet Theater to drill. New Muppet Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, his brother[17] Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary's girlfriend[17] Mary (Amy Adams) learn about Tex Richman's plan, and try to stop him by staging The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever, raising $10 million needed to save the theater. In order to stage The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever, Walter, Mary, and Gary must help Kermit the Frog reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways. Fozzie Bear now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a powerful plumbing magnate.

Maybe I'm weird, but I'm not hugely nostalgic over the Muppets. I'll probably only see this if forced by my kids.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Focus Features, December 9, 2011)

British intelligence officer George Smiley comes out of retirement to uncover a Russian double agent. Agent Ricki Tarr had been sent to Istanbul to investigate a Soviet agent, Boris. He is about to return to London, when he sees Boris beating up his wife, Irina, and he starts an affair with her. Irina is also a Soviet agent and tells him of the existence of a mole (a penetration agent) run by Soviet spymaster Karla, within the "Circus", the headquarters of British intelligence. Tarr takes his suspicions to Oliver Lacon, the senior civil servant in charge of intelligence.
Smiley's former boss, Control, had suspected the existence of the mole and sends agent Jim Prideaux to Budapest, Hungary to meet a Hungarian general who wishes to provide information. The operation is blown and Prideaux is shot in the back and captured by Soviet intelligence. As a result Control and Smiley retire from the Circus and Percy Alleline becomes Chief, with Bill Haydon as his deputy. Their ability to deliver apparently high grade Soviet intelligence material, code named "Witchcraft", establishes their status.
Smiley's investigations, authorised by Lacon and aided by Peter Guillam and retired researcher Connie Sachs, follow Control's chain of thought, investigating suspects code named "Tinker" (Alleline), "Tailor" (Haydon), "Soldier" (Roy Bland) and "Poorman" (Toby Esterhase). Prideaux, who has been repatriated, is interviewed at the prep school where he has taken a position as a teacher. With the aid of Tarr, Smiley lays a trap and captures the mole, who is revealed to be Haydon, at a safe-house, along with Polyakov, a Soviet intelligence officer, to whom the mole had been passing secrets, under the guise of receiving Witchcraft material. Jim Prideaux tracks his former friend Haydon down to the "Nursery" at Sarratt, the agent training and interrogation centre for the Circus, and shoots him dead. Smiley is elevated to take control of the Circus.

Added by request-- and I gotta admit, this looks good.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros. Pictures, December 16, 2011)

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law returns as his formidable colleague, Dr. Watson, in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room...until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large--Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris)--and not only is he Holmes' intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence, as construed by Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), points to suicide. But Sherlock Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of murder--a murder that is only one piece of a larger and much more portentous puzzle, designed by one Professor Moriarty. Mixing business with pleasure, Holmes tracks the clues to an underground gentlemen's club, where he and his brother, Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry) are toasting Dr. Watson on his last night of bachelorhood. It is there that Holmes encounters Sim (Noomi Rapace), a Gypsy fortune teller, who sees more than she is telling and whose unwitting involvement in the prince's murder makes her the killer's next target. Holmes barely manages to save her life and, in return, she reluctantly agrees to help him. The investigation becomes ever more dangerous as it leads Holmes, Watson and Sim across the continent, from England to France to Germany and finally to Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead as he spins a web of death and destruction--all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history.

Oh hell yeah.

The Adventures of Tin Tin: Secret of the Unicorn (Columbia Pictures, December 23, 2011)

Combining the stories of The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, the film depicts Tintin's (Jamie Bell) first encounter with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and the discovery of a clue to the treasure of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddoque. They set out to find it with protection from a prison escapee who tried to get the treasure as well as Detectives Thompson and Thomson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost).

I'm thinking this will be a rental.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Columbia Pictures, December 21, 2011)

A discredited journalist (Daniel Craig) and a mysterious computer hacker discover that even the wealthiest families have skeletons in their closets while working to solve the mystery of a 40-year-old murder in this David Fincher-directed remake of the 2009 Swedish thriller of the same name. Inspired by late author Stieg Larsson's successful trilogy of books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gets under way as the two leads (Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara) are briefed in the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, whose uncle suspects she may have been killed by a member of their own family. The deeper they dig for the truth, however, the greater the risk of being buried alive by members of the family, who will go to great lengths to keep their secrets tightly sealed.

This isn't exactly genre, but it has certainly created a lot of buzz. I'm one of the few people that couldn't get into the book (darn thing gave me a headache) but I might be persuaded to see the cinematic version.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Paramount Pictures, December 21, 2011)

When a terrorist bombing destroys the Kremlin, the United States government initiates a black ops "ghost protocol" and disavows the entire Impossible Mission Force. Ethan Hunt and his team are to be blamed for the attack, but are allowed to escape as part of a plan to enable them to operate in the dark, outside of their agency. However, Hunt is warned that if any member of his team is captured during their mission, they will be charged as terrorists planning to incite global nuclear war. Ethan is then forced to work with ex-IMF agent Brandt, who knows more about Hunt and his past than even Hunt himself.

The early reviews will have a lot to do with whether I see this or not. This is the fourth in the franchise-- and that can get old. But in this case they do wait a decent amount of time between films, which does help prevent franchise fatigue. We'll see.

There are a few glimmers of hope here, but nothing that's knocking my socks off. I guess the good news is that the closer it gets to 2012, the closer we get to "The Dark Knight Rises." Now that's something to look forward to.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Game Review: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

This blog isn't known for featuring game reviews, but once we received the opportunity to do one for the Warhammer 40,000 game Space Marine, we just couldn't turn it down. Below, I present to you a WH40K focused review of the PC version by Jon Lotz of Man in Black Reviews, originally of The Nerd Station. If you're more interested in a shorter but still informative review, you may want to look at this review by Sith Jammies.

Like with Star Wars, Warhammer 40,000 has a very rich mythos, with numerous characters and factions all engaged in an unending cycle of war. Unlike with Star Wars however, few people even know Warhammer 40,000 exists, and that is because the 40k series primarily is in novel form. Warhammer 40,000 initially started its life as a tabletop war game and rose to prominence through that route. Eventually it became popular enough that Games Workshop, the company behind the game began producing books based upon the series and not long after, several video games were created to capitalize upon the series. Now we come to Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine, a game that embodies all that Warhammer 40,000 stands for so this game really does use the franchise well and is a very good jumping off point for non fans for the series.


The graphics for Space Marine look quite good, all of the environments are detailed, and they really show off the sweeping architecture of the grim far future. The enemies are decently detailed although they do all look the same for the most part. The armor and weapons the characters use are also well detailed as well and the armor and weapons actually match the descriptions given in the Warhammer 40,000 novel series. The main issue graphically is the facial animations they do look unimpressive and the lip-syncing is sub par.


The game takes place from the third person perspective, however the Gameplay is anything but standard, instead of being a cover based shooter like the Gears of War series, combat in Space Marine is melee focused. The enemies in the early parts of the game use swarm tactics to try and kill you and you do not have enough bullets in your ranged weapons for them all, so more often than not you will need to use your melee weapon to smite your foes. Unlike with other games switching to your melee weapon feels natural, on the PC it’s the right mouse button. With the controls set up the way they are you can slice through a horde of foes, and then quickly start firing a ranged weapon at a distant target all without having to pause and switch inventory. You can carry up to four ranged weapons in addition to a melee weapon at one time, and the weapons all complement themselves well. In a rather unique move, Space Marine does not include regenerative health or health packs, instead you have to perform special finishing moves on stunned enemies in order to regain health and you can also regain health by using the Fury Mode. Fury Mode is a special mode that you can send your Space Marine into that regenerates health, and increases speed and damage. This is a good mode to use if a large number of foes are swarming you or you have to face a large number of miniboss level enemies.


The story for Space Marine is really well written so fans of the series should love it as it does not break with canon, and actually parallels the popular Ultramrarines novel series by Graham McNeill. The developers really chose the best faction to play as since the Space Marines are genetically engineered super soldiers that are designed to give and take tremendous punishment. They are basically giant engines of destruction, in fact in the game when you sprint you get a loud thudding sound effect and the screen shakes. In the game you play as Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, you are being sent to a forge world that has come under attack by the alien orks, and you must help fight the invasion. You are joined by two companions, a veteran Sergeant and a relatively inexperienced youth. The companion AI is terrible, they have trouble killing one enemy between them and if you are getting attacked they will sometimes just stand there doing nothing at all, so how either one of them survived training is beyond me. The orks were a great choice for an enemy seeing as how they are basically video game enemies to start with. When the orks attack a planet they usually bring millions of troopers, so it makes sense that Captain Titus has to chop and shoot his way through hundreds of them. The plot also features moments of betrayal and deceit that are staples of the novel series. The voice acting is decent, however the voice actor for Titus himself gives a very low-key performance with all of his battle cries sounding fairly weak.


Multi-player is fairly standard, there are the basic modes such as death-match and control point capture, and you can gain experience points to unlock new weapons and armor. Cooperative mode is based around fighting a large horde of enemies. Overall the multi-player is fairly well designed and is a good complement to the single player campaign.

Final Thoughts

Space Marine handles the franchise well and uses the elements that makes Warhammer 40,000 so popular, the PC version is a decent port, it controls fairly well, but it lacks a manual saving system and whenever you reach a checkpoint the game tells you not to turn off your system. Those are only minor complaints however as the game is really quite well made and a good deal of fun no matter what system you play it on. I do highly recommend it for Warhammer 40,000 fans and fans of action games in general.

If you'd like a little closer look into the gameplay of Space Marine, Hydriatus has this review to offer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Audiobook Review: Warhammer 40,000 – Red & Black by James Swallow

Since Throne of Lies and my first introduction to a battle sister of the WH40K universe, I’ve been looking forward to learning more about them. Red & Black is the perfect way to immerse someone new into this segment of the franchise, though it may not be the most action packed of stories. Red & Black slowly brings the listener up to speed, first introducing Miriya, the commander who will serve as the main character through the story. It is through her eyes that we learn about her order, what their purpose is in service to the Emperor and how it differs from the Astartes warriors who populate the military structure. The primary purpose of Sisters of Battle is to enforce the religion which worships the God-Emperor of mankind, and it is for this reason that Miriya is summoned before her superior for a special mission. A colony world called Hollos, which had been cut off from the Imperium for millennia due off due to storms of chaos energy in space, has recently made contact again. But there have been disturbing developments on that world during the interceding years, as replicants (clones) have risen to the status of human citizens – even ruling the planet because of their extended lifetimes. This is blasphemous in the Imperium where clones are slaves, where their intelligence is purposefully limited by genetic manipulation, and they cannot possibly have a soul. Yet Miriya finds herself face-to-face with the replicant named Ro, who prays to the God-Emperor just as she does, and speaks of His divine will. So Miriya and her squad go to Hollos on board a ship capable of destroying the world completely. Her mandate is to pass judgment on the entire civilization – can it be reintegrated into the Imperium, or is it too far gone? And how can she make that judgment when nothing is quite as it seems on this world. If replicants have managed to maintain peace as rulers and protectors of the humans for hundreds of years, why does a massive clone army attack as soon as Miriya and her squad arrive? Why are the natural-born humans meeting with Miriya in secret to overthrow their replicant rulers if they are so benevolent? And how can this entire situation be salvaged without razing the entire planet? This story is less about the battles that a typical Warhammer 40,000 story focuses on, and more about exploring some real science fiction concepts in a universe with very specific rules and expectations. Things that would be exceptional in our universe, like the concept of a species of humans who were genetically created for one thing and have evolved to a point where they so strongly believe in non-violence – is treated with distain within the context of that universe. There are a couple of action sequences, but that is not really the reason to tune in for this particular audiodrama, it’s for the exploration of the WH40K universe through the eyes of the Battle Sisters. I will say that similar to my last experience with The Madness Within this isn’t the perfect story to have adapted to an audiodrama, as there isn't much use of the background audio effects as you get in some of the others I've reviewed. There are a couple of moments where the sound effects really get the listener into the scene (like upon the arrival of the Battle Sisters on Hollos and the crowds are cheering and the voice of the advisor from the Mechanicus), but it’s really more about the work of the two women (Lisa Bowerman and Beth Chalmers) reading the various parts of this story and taking on various roles which makes it an impressive listening experience. I find it much more fulfilling when these stories are treated more like a play or an episode of a TV series than as strictly a book being read to the listener. Ultimately Red & Black my not be at the top of my list of favorite audiodramas from the Black Library, but I also wouldn’t rank it at the bottom – just somewhere in the middle. I think it’s a great way to introduce the Sisters of Battle to new readers/listeners, and it kept me entertained throughout. It’s just important to realize this is not as action-packed of a story as one might normally expect from a Warhammer 40,000 book, and setting your expectations around that you should find it to be an enjoyable listening experience.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Giveaway! "The Highest Frontier" by Joan Slonczewski

Courtesy of Tor Books I have a copy of "The Highest Frontier" by Joan Slonczewski to offer for giveaway.

The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

One of the most respected writers of hard SF, it has been more than ten years since Joan Slonczewski's last novel. Now she returns with a spectacular tour de force of the college of the future, in orbit. Jennifer Ramos Kennedy, a girl from a rich and politically influential family (a distant relation descended from the famous Kennedy clan), whose twin brother has died in an accident and left her bereft, is about to enter her freshman year at Frontera College.

Frontera is an exciting school built with media money, and a bit from tribal casinos too, dedicated to educating the best and brightest of this future world. We accompany Jenny as she proceeds through her early days at school, encountering surprises and wonders and some unpleasant problems. The Earth is altered by global warming, and an invasive alien species called ultraphytes threatens the surviving ecosystem. Jenny is being raised for great things, but while she's in school she just wants to do her homework, go on a few dates, and get by. The world that Jenny is living in is one of the most fascinating and creative in contemporary SF, and the problems Jenny faces will involve every reader, young and old.

Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Thursday October 6th. No multiple entries-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Books Received

Ganymede by Cherie Priest

The air pirate Andan Cly is going straight. Well, straighter. Although he’s happy to run alcohol guns wherever the money’s good, he doesn’t think the world needs more sap, or its increasingly ugly side-effects. But becoming legit is easier said than done, and Cly’s first legal gig—a supply run for the Seattle Underground—will be paid for by sap money.

New Orleans is not Cly’s first pick for a shopping run. He loved the Big Easy once, back when he also loved a beautiful mixed-race prostitute named Josephine Early—but that was a decade ago, and he hasn’t looked back since. Jo’s still thinking about him, though, or so he learns when he gets a telegram about a peculiar piloting job. It’s a chance to complete two lucrative jobs at once, one he can’t refuse. He sends his old paramour a note and heads for New Orleans, with no idea of what he’s in for—or what she wants him to fly.

But he won’t be flying. Not exactly. Hidden at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lurks an astonishing war machine, an immense submersible called the Ganymede. This prototype could end the war, if only anyone had the faintest idea of how to operate it…. If only they could sneak it past the Southern forces at the mouth of the Mississippi River… If only it hadn’t killed most of the men who’d ever set foot inside it.

But it’s those “if onlys” that will decide whether Cly and his crew will end up in the history books, or at the bottom of the ocean.

Prospero Regained by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Prospero, the sorcerer on whose island of exile William Shakespeare set his play, The Tempest, has endured these past many centuries. His daughter Miranda runs the family business, Prospero, Inc. so smoothly that the vast majority of humanity has no idea that the Prosperos’ magic has protected Earth from numerous disasters. But Prospero himself has been kidnapped by demons from Hell, and Miranda, aided by her siblings, has followed her father into Hell to save him from a certain doom at the hands of vengeful demons. Time is running out for Miranda, and for the great magician himself. Their battle against the most terrifying forces of the Pit is a great fantasy adventure.

Pharmacology by Christopher Herz

1993. San Francisco. The digital and pharmaceutical industries are booming. They're looking for the young, the hip, and those on the counterculture fringe to be both the face and consumer of their new world order. Recruited by an advertising agency focused on targeting a new drug to her own age demographic, Sarah Striker is grateful for the steady income, but begins to question the side effects of the products she's pushing.

Sarah begins publishing an underground 'Zine to expose the secrets behind the pharmaceutical industry's aims. Fulfilled by her quest to spread the truth, her new life seems to be working out perfectly-until she realizes that she herself is perilously close to becoming a victim of this new corporate world.

A kinetic, hyper-stylized jolt of pure energy, Herz delivers a strong follow up to his debut novel, The Last Block in Harlem. Full of vibrant characters and razor-sharp dialogue, Pharmacology captures the voice of the Internet generation with style, heart, and soul.

Eyes to See (The Jeremiah Hunt Chronicle) by Joseph Nassise

In an urban fantasy that charts daring new territory in the field, Jeremiah Hunt has been broken by a malevolent force that has taken his young daughter and everything else of value in his life: his marriage, his career, his reputation. Desperate to reclaim what he has lost, Hunt finally turns to the supernatural for justice.

Abandoning all hope for a normal life, he enters the world of ghosts and even more dangerous entities from beyond the grave. Sacrificing his normal sight so that he can see the souls of the dead and the powers that stalk his worst nightmares, Hunt embarks upon a strange new career--a pariah among the living; a scourge among the dead; doomed to walk between the light of day and the deepest darkness beyond night.

His love for his departed daughter sustains him when all is most hopeless, but Hunt is cursed by something more evil than he can possibly imagine. As he descends into the maelstrom of his terrifying quest, he discovers that even his deepest fears are but prelude to yet darker deeds by a powerful entity from beyond the grave...that will not let him go until it has used him for its own nefarious purposes.

Ghosts by Gaslight Edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers

Seventeen all-new stories illuminate the steampunk world of fog and fear!

Modern masters of the supernatural weave their magic to revitalize the chilling Victorian and Edwardian ghostly tale: here are haunted houses, arcane inventions, spirits reaching across the centuries, ghosts in the machine, fateful revelations, gaslit streets scarcely keeping the dark at bay, and other twisted variations on the immortal classics that frighten us still.

The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

One of the most respected writers of hard SF, it has been more than ten years since Joan Slonczewski's last novel. Now she returns with a spectacular tour de force of the college of the future, in orbit. Jennifer Ramos Kennedy, a girl from a rich and politically influential family (a distant relation descended from the famous Kennedy clan), whose twin brother has died in an accident and left her bereft, is about to enter her freshman year at Frontera College.

Frontera is an exciting school built with media money, and a bit from tribal casinos too, dedicated to educating the best and brightest of this future world. We accompany Jenny as she proceeds through her early days at school, encountering surprises and wonders and some unpleasant problems. The Earth is altered by global warming, and an invasive alien species called ultraphytes threatens the surviving ecosystem. Jenny is being raised for great things, but while she's in school she just wants to do her homework, go on a few dates, and get by. The world that Jenny is living in is one of the most fascinating and creative in contemporary SF, and the problems Jenny faces will involve every reader, young and old.

The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman

The Hallows. Ancient artifacts imbued with a primal and deadly power. But are they protectors of this world, or the keys to its destruction?

A gruesome murder in London reveals a sinister plot to uncover a two-thousand-year-old secret.

For decades, the Keepers guarded these Hallows, keeping them safe and hidden and apart from each other. But now the Keepers are being brutally murdered, their prizes stolen, the ancient objects bathed in their blood.

Now, only a few remain.

With her dying breath, one of the Keepers convinces Sarah Miller, a practical stranger, to deliver her Hallow—a broken sword with devastating powers—to her American nephew, Owen.

The duo quickly become suspects in a series of murders as they are chased by both the police and the sadistic Dark Man and his nubile mistress.

As Sarah and Owen search for the surviving Keepers, they unravel the deadly secret the Keepers were charged to protect. The mystery leads Sarah and Owen on a cat-and-mouse chase through England and Wales, and history itself, as they discover that the sword may be the only thing standing between the world … and a horror beyond imagining.

Vampire Art Now by Jasmine Becket-Griffith and Matthew David Becket

Ever since Bram Stoker’s perennial best-seller Dracula, vampires have been one of the key inspirations to film-makers and authors alike. The latest installment in the Twilight series is one of this year’s biggest blockbusters, and modern takes on the classic themes of blood, immortality, fear and desire are never far from the best-seller lists. Yet vampires are a source of rich inspiration to visual artists as well, and this collection reveals their work in all its gruesome glory.

From the elegant beauties of Victoria Frances to the decaying savages of Anne Stokes, from the more whimsical caricatures of Delphine Levesqe Demers to Jo Chen’s renditions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vampire Art Now showcases the varying representations of this legendary figure. The book illustrates the vampire in his or her many moods: either wooing lovers with a hypnotic stare, biting long necks (willing and unwilling), or staring straight at the viewer as if ready to bound off the page in a nocturnal frenzy. By presenting multiple artists’ takes on what it means to be a vampire, this collection illustrates how one cultural icon can vary so greatly across different cultures, classes, media, and artistic aesthetics.

No other supernatural creature has captured our collective imagination quite like the vampire and Vampire Art Now is the perfect compendium to pay homage to that tradition. After perusing these pages, these illustrations are sure to haunt readers’ nightmares and tantalize their fantasies, as they have for generations.

Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music - broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station - is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he'll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell...

In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood.

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

No one knows where the Tufa came from, or how they ended up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, yet when the first Europeans arrived, they were already there. Dark-haired, enigmatic, and suspicious of outsiders, the Tufa live quiet lives in the hills and valleys of Cloud County. While their origins may be lost to history, there are clues in their music—hints of their true nature buried in the songs they have passed down for generations.

Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns from Iraq wounded in body and in spirit, only to face the very things that drove her away in the first place: her family, her obligations to the Tufa, and her dangerous ex-boyfriend. But more trouble lurks in the mountains and hollows of her childhood home. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, and a restless “haint” lurks nearby, waiting to reveal Bronwyn’s darkest secrets. Worst of all, Bronwyn has lost touch with the music that was once a vital part of her identity.

With death stalking her family, Bronwyn will need to summon the strength to take her place among the true Tufa and once again fly on the night winds. . . .

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

A startling, wonderful novel about the true meaning of being an alien in an equally alien world.

"We are specks. Pieces of dust in this universe. Big nothings.

"I know what I am."

Mal lives on the fringes of high school. Angry. Misunderstood. Yet loving the world -- or, at least, an idea of the world.

Then he meets Hooper. Who says he's from another planet. And may be going home very soon.

Circle of Secrets by Kimberly Griffiths Little

Critically acclaimed author Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a haunting story of friendship and family and the power of faith, once again set against the lush backdrop of the Lousiana bayou.
After her mother walked out on Shelby Jayne and her dad, Shelby thought she'd never speak to her mamma again. But with her dad leaving the country for work, it turns out she doesn't have a choice: Shelby has to move back into her mamma's house, deep in the heart of the Louisiana bayou.

Her new classmates tease and torment her, so Shelby's relieved to finally find a friend in Gwen, a mysterious girl who lives alone on the bayou. But Shelby can't help wondering if Gwen has something to do with the puzzling messages she finds hidden in the blue bottle tree behind her house. The only person who might be able to explain is her mamma -- but Shelby's not ready to ask. Not yet. It may take a brush with something from the beyond to help Shelby see that the power to put her own ghosts to rest is within her reach.

Kimberley Griffiths Little's haunting and powerful tale brings one girl's attempt to grapple with family, friendship, and forgiveness to beautiful, vivid life.

Rip Tide (Dark Life Book 2) by Kat Falls

The sequel to the acclaimed subsea adventure DARK LIFE.
Ty has always known that the ocean is a dangerous place. Every time he swims beyond the borders of his family's subsea farm, he's prepared to face all manner of aquatic predators-sharks, squid, killer whales . . .
What Ty isn't prepared to find in the deep is an entire township chained to a sunken submarine, its inhabitants condemned to an icy underwater grave. It's only the first clue to a mystery that has claimed hundreds of lives and stands to claim two more -- lives very precious to Ty and his Topsider ally, Gemma.

Now in a desperate race against the clock, Ty and Gemma find themselves in conflict with outlaws, Seaguard officers, and the savage, trident-wielding surfs -- plus a menagerie of the most deadly creatures the ocean has to offer.
Kat Falls brings to life the mysteries, marvels, and monsters of the deep in this fast-paced and inventive action-adventure.

Sound Bender by Lin Oliver and Theo Baker

A roaring, supernatural adventure that spans New York, and the globe!
After their parents' plane goes down over the ocean, Leo and his brother Hollis are forced into the custody of their rich and enigmatic uncle Crane, a dealer of rare and probably illicit antiques. But almost as soon as he's settled--or as close to settled as he can get in the bleak Brooklyn mansion, surrounded by his uncle's dubious staff--Leo receives a mysterious package his father put together long ago, to be opened on his 13th birthday. With the package, Leo discovers he has an amazing ability. He can hear the history of any object by touching it. But when Leo finds a strange helmet buried among his uncle's artifacts, and hears a pained cry coming from it, a mystery unravels as to its origin.

A Web of Air (Fever Crumb) by Phillip Reeve

The second, thrilling adventure in the Fever Crumb trilogy from the brilliant and award-winning Philip Reeve.

Two years ago, Fever Crumb escaped the war-torn city of London in a traveling theater. Now, she arrives in the extraordinary city of Mayda, where buildings ascend the cliffs on funicular rails, and a mysterious recluse is building a machine that can fly. Fever is the engineer he needs - but ruthless enemies will kill to possess their secrets.

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

In an America devastated by war and plague, the only way to survive is to keep moving.

In the aftermath of a war, America’s landscape has been ravaged and two thirds of the population left dead from a vicious strain of influenza. Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his family were among the few that survived and became salvagers, roaming the country in search of material to trade for food and other items essential for survival. But when Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma after an accident, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true, where there are real houses, barbecues, a school, and even baseball games. Then Stephen meets strong, defiant, mischievous Jenny, who refuses to accept things as they are. And when they play a prank that goes horribly wrong, chaos erupts, and they find themselves in the midst of a battle that will change Settler’s Landing forever.

Six Days by Philip Webb

Will they find the lost treasure before time runs out? A gripping adventure about a desperate race through the wastelands of future London to find a relic of extraordinary power.

For Cass and Wilbur, life as scavengers is all they've ever known -- rummaging the ruins of London in search of a precious, powerful relic no one, not even their new Russian masters, has ever seen.

But when Erin and Peyto, two strangers from a faraway place, show up and claim they hold the key to locating the mysterious missing artifact, the treasure hunt takes on a lethal urgency. If the kids don't find the crucial object in SIX DAYS, their world will come crashing to an end!

iBoy by Kevin Brooks

What can he do with his new powers -- and what are they doing to him?

Before the attack, Tom Harvey was just an average teen. But a head-on collision with high technology has turned him into an actualized App. Fragments of a shattered iPhone are embedded in his brain. And they're having an extraordinary effect on his every thought.

Because now Tom knows, sees, and can do more than any normal boy ever could. But with his new powers comes a choice: To avenge Lucy, the girl he loves, will he hunt down the vicious gangsters who hurt her? Will he take the law into his own electric hands and exterminate them from the South London housing projects where, by fear and violence, they rule?

Not even his mental search engine can predict the shocking outcome of iBoy's actions.
A WiFi, WTF thriller by YA master Kevin Brooks.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Spellbound by Blake Charlton

In a world where one’s magical prowess is determined by one’s skill with words and ability to spell, Nicodemus is a wizardly apprentice afflicted by a curse that causes him to misspell magical texts. Now, the demon who cursed him has hatched a conspiracy to force Nicodemus to change language and ultimately use it to destroy all human life. As Nico tries to thwart the demon’s plan, he faces challenges from all sides. But his biggest challenge is his own disability, which causes him to create chaos wherever he goes. And the chaos surrounding Nico is affecting the world so profoundly that the kingdom to which he has fled to gather strength is on the brink of civil war, and he suspects that his closest allies—even Francesca, whom he loves more than life itself—may be subject to the demon’s vast powers. As Nico tries to forestall the apocalypse, he realizes that he doesn’t know if he can fully trust anyone, not even the woman he loves. And if he makes one wrong move, not only will his life be forfeit, he may end up destroying all mortal life as well.

Introducing new twists to the unique magical system of Spellwright, and exploring issues that will bring readers a deeper appreciation of a fascinating world, Spellbound is sure to please Blake Charlton's fans and increase their number.

With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan returns to the Onyx Court, a fairy city hidden below Queen Victoria's London. Now the Onyx Court faces its greatest challenge.

Seven years ago, Eliza's childhood sweetheart vanished from the streets of Whitechapel. No one believed her when she told them that he was stolen away by the faeries.

But she hasn't given up the search. It will lead her across London and into the hidden palace that gives refuge to faeries in the mortal world. That refuge is now crumbling, broken by the iron of the underground railway, and the resulting chaos spills over to the streets above.
Three centuries of the Onyx Court are about to come to an end. Without the palace's protection, the fae have little choice but to flee. Those who stay have one goal: to find safety in a city that does not welcome them. But what price will the mortals of London pay for that safety?

The Rift Walker: Vampire Empire Book Two by Clay and Susan Griffith

Princess Adele struggles with a life of marriage and obligation as her Equatorian Empire and their American Republic allies stand on the brink of war against the vampire clans of the north. However, the alliance's horrific strategy for total victory drives Adele to abandon her duty and embark on a desperate quest to keep her nation from staining its hands with genocide. Reunited with her great love, the mysterious adventurer known to the world as the Greyfriar, Adele is pursued by her own people as well as her vengeful husband, senator Clark. With the human alliance in disarrray, Prince Cesare, lord of the British vampire clan, seizes the initiative and strikes at the very heart of Equatoria.

As Adele labors to bring order to her world, she learns more about the strange powers she exhibited in the north. Her teacher, Mamoru, leads a secret cabal of geomancers who believe Adele is the one who can touch the vast power of the Earth that surges through ley lines and wells up at the rifts where the lines meet. These energies are the key to defeating the enemy of mankind, and if Princess Adele could ever bring this power under her command, she could be death to vampires. But such a victory will also cost the life of Adele's beloved Greyfriar.

The Rift Walkeris the second book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternative history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic politcal themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine.

This weeks can't wait to read selection is:

The Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham
October 4, 2011
576 pages

With the first two books in the Acacia Trilogy, Acacia and The Other Lands, David Anthony Durham has created a vast and engrossing canvas of a world in turmoil, where the surviving children of a royal dynasty are on a quest to realize their fates—and perhaps right ancient wrongs once and for all. As The Sacred Band begins, one of them, Queen Corinn, bestrides the world as a result of her mastery of spells found in the ancient Book of Elenet. Her younger brother, Dariel, has been sent on a perilous mis­sion to the Other Lands, while her sister, Mena, travels to the far north to confront an invasion of the feared race of the Auldek. Their separate trajectories will converge in a series of world-shaping, earth-shattering battles, all ren­dered with vividly imagined detail and in heroic scale.

David Anthony Durham concludes his tale of kingdoms in collision in an exciting fashion. His fictional world is at once realistic and fantastic, informed with an eloquent and dis­tinctively Shakespearean sensibility.

I'm going on vacation in two weeks and I'm devoting the whole trip to this series. I can't wait!

"The Shadow Reader" by Sandy Williams--

So many new urban fantasies to choose from-- many of them with pretty women on the cover. How do you decide which one to read? Do you go with the one with the sword, or the one with the knife and colorful tattoos? I went with the one with the sword-- and I'm glad I did.

McKenzie's only real goal in life is to finally finish college. A simple dream that has been impossible to accomplish after she was found by the fae and thrust into a war between the fae king and the rebels who want to overthrow his rule. For ten years McKenzie has worked as a Shadow Reader-- a human who can read the shadow signatures left by the fae as they travel from one place to another through multi-dimensional rifts. It's a dangerous job, one that McKenzie would like to leave, but before she has a chance to act on that desire she is kidnapped by the rebels.

Rather than just kill McKenzie, the rebel leader Aren plots to convert McKenzie to the rebel's cause by teaching her the fae language and showing her a side of the conflict she hasn't been exposed to before. But McKenzie isn't so easily swayed: for ten years she's been in love with the king's swordmaster and her loyalty  isn't something Aren can procure by a few kindnesses and a lot of overt flirtations.

But the more McKenzie learns about the rebel's side of things the harder it is to be so sure about what side she should support-- and it doesn't help that her attraction to Aren is becoming stronger by the day.

The Shadow Reader is set up, in many respects, as a paranormal romance featuring a love triangle; and usually that would be a turn off for me. What saves "The Shadow Reader" from going off the abyss into the tragically cliché is the way the main character McKenzie is portrayed and the consistency with which the character is written throughout the book.

McKenzie is drawn into the fae world by her special ability and a threat from a dangerous rebel fae when she is just sixteen years old. Her protector and advocate during her years of service with the fae is Kyol-- with whom she falls in love despite the illicit nature of their relationship among the fae. It's the loyalty to Kyol that is McKenzie's driving motivation throughout her captivity with the rebel fae-- and that loyalty is the best characteristic Williams could have given her main character. Thanks to that one admirable trait McKenzie is a well-grounded character who doesn't fly into the arms of the first man with broad shoulders. Because Aren has to work so hard to convince McKenzie that he is on the side of righteousness, we're given the opportunity to get to know him and the people who fight on his side.

"The Shadow Reader" isn't a perfect book. Williams does try to avoid using info-dumps to inform the reader about the world of the fae and how it relates to our world-- and for the most part I appreciate the attempt to fuse the world-building into the story that way. But the more confused I got, the more I wished for an info-dump or two. It would appear that the fae are aware of the human world, but we're mostly not aware of theirs; except for the few humans who can see through fae illusions. But we're never told how the fae discovered our world and why they would continue to open access to it when it appears that our world is affecting the magic of theirs-- and the conflict between the rebels and the throne is largely based on this assumption. There were a few other points that confused me; for example, why humans would cross over to work in the fae realm to begin with. There is some attempt to offer some rationale for this as we get further into the book-- and McKenzie's personal motivations are finally explained. "The Shadow Reader" is definitely a book that you have to read all the way through to fully understand.

Overall fans of paranormal fiction should like "The Shadow Reader." It has a unique story with well developed characters. The romance involved isn't the done-to-death love triangle, but rather the kind that we can all relate to as we let go of our childhood dreams of what we hope for vs. what is realistic as we grow up. McKenzie is likable and tough, but not grating or obnoxious. There are times when she is perhaps slightly too idealized and there is a certain irresistible quality to her that is reminiscent of Bella of "Twilight" but, thankfully, "The Shadow Reader" doesn't come close to that level of angst. Kyol and Aren are also well defined and while you might root for one character over the other, you won't hate either one. It's a likable, fast moving, inventive fantasy that promises to be a series worth following.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 19, 2011

Movie Review: Apollo 18 (2001)

Apollo 18 is a movie of the “found footage” variety- the ones made to look like you’re just publishing somebody’s home videos. This already hurts the score for me, because after the first few, I find this a fairly uninspired method of filming that has little to add, relies way too much on suspension of disbelief, and is not entertaining to watch. Is it wrong to base a score on the genre of film? I think it can be right. After all, every review is subjective, and somebody who believes mindless popcorn flicks are poorly written and deserving of a lesser score than other genres or somebody who hates all “chick flicks” is likely to base their score on the same thing. The trick is being very clear about it, and being consistent.

So, here’s for consistency: I didn’t like the prototype (that would be Blair Witch Project when it comes to most audiences) and I have no interest in the genre. If I wanted to watch somebody’s home videos shot without a tripod, I’d do that.

But wait, there’s more! Apollo 18 is designed to take the idea of “found footage” into space. In most genres, this adds for cheese value even if done poorly, and guarantees a minimum score of 3 out of 10. But let’s look at this, shall we? Found footage is based off looking like it came from real cameras. Have you ever seen footage from the cameras on the moon? It is boring. Always. Unless you’re caught up in the giant leap for mankind, these videos are not stimulating in the slightest. They’re valuable in a documentary with a voice over or in short bursts, but watching over an hour of this footage is liable to make even the most patient man start lighting himself afire to see how entertaining it is. It only took about fifteen minutes for me to realize that unless they drastically abandoned the found footage premise early on, this film was not going to be a fun time for me, or the other two people in the theatre. You know what Apollo 18's biggest strength is? It sticks to its blasters all day. Only problem was, it was sold a defective power pack.

How about the acting? The acting wasn't terrible, so that should be a good thing, right? Yes and no. If you expect to have a good or an average film, bad acting hurts it. But if it's already a bad or below average film, I feel bad acting can make it more entertaining. Once you’ve established that production values aren’t going to help the film, anything really goes when it comes to making it worth your time.

In Apollo 18, we have three actors that make up the majority of what you’re watching. None of these do a terrible job, but none of them really draw you in and make you love the film either. What might even be particularly good performances based on the directing they were given doesn’t make the film any more enjoyable, because the audience is often confused at what sort of genre direction the events on screen are going in. If we don’t know if he’s supposed to act possessed or not, we can’t tell if he’s doing a good job of it. Ultimately, a bad actor that made me laugh would have been preferable to the passable or even potentially above average acting that got no emotional reaction out of me.

Now the writing itself needs a look, because without understanding my feelings about that, the above line can be taken out of context to look cold and heartless. As fans of the found footage genre have said, you already know everybody is going to die, because that’s the entire premise of the genre. Okay, so that little bit of drama’s gone. It doesn’t really matter because everything bad that happens to the protagonists (I would hesitate to consider calling them “heroes”, for reasons I’ll go into later) is contrived, obvious, and cliché. I was able to time, if not to the exact second, then to the correct minute every time that something bad was going to happen to the two astronauts and, if not the exact event, what would result from it.

That’s the thing about poor writing and good execution: If I was resigned to your death thirty minutes ago, you crying and trying to prevent it now isn’t going to make me feel sorry for you, it isn’t going to make me wish you were alive. It feels like you’re insulting my intelligence and intentionally prolonging my agony.

A screenplay with no comedic value (I don’t think a single joke in this film made me crack a smile), one that is filled with foregone conclusions and cliches, has no suspense, no tension and no entertainment value. In a case such as this, it is up to the visuals and the score, be they action-packed, creepy, or otherwise able to draw you in, to redeem the film. Bad acting can make it funny, but we already addressed that. We also addressed the utter lack of interesting visuals and, this being found footage, there’s no score. When there is, the breathing sound that is not explained anywhere in the film is out of place and obviously a last ditch effort to get a fear reaction out of the audience.

That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? A reaction from the audience. A horror movie where the movie isn’t scared is not a good movie, whatever else goes into it. An action or exploitation movie that doesn’t get your blood pumping has no purpose. A comedy movie where you don’t laugh is just Family Guy on the big screen.

A movie is made to entertain you, or possibly educate you. When you’re watching a movie, you’re supposed to care either about what is happening, what is going to happen, or how it impacts the characters. When watching the movie feels like watching a mathematical equation scroll across the screen (I actually would have found that more entertaining than Apollo 18), then not only is the movie doing something wrong, but it deserves the worst possible recommendation. If you want to leave the theatre 30 minutes in but stick with it, only to not receive even a few moments’ worth of entertainment value, that, to me, is what a 1 out of 10 movie is all about.

Bill Silvia is a regular contributor at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews. To see more of his content, you can visit Man in Black Reviews.