Thursday, 30 May 2013

Bioshock Infinite: Mind in Revolt - Joe Fielder & Ken Levine



Title: Bioshock Infinite - Mind in Revolt
Author: Joe Fielder & Ken Levine
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2013
Formats: Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
I really enjoyed playing Bioshock Infinity on my PC and upon completing it I realised that I wanted to know more about the world in which it was set. Therefore, when I noticed that the short story, “Mind in Revolt” was going to be made available I jumped at the chance to pick it up and further immerse myself in the world of Columbia.

The basic premise of the story is that it helps expand upon the conflict witnessed within the game between two factions known as the Founders and the Vox Populi. The story takes place prior to the events of the game and is told in the form of an audio transcript between a doctor and his patient/prisoner, the leader of the Vox Populi, Daisy Fitzroy.

Whilst I found this to be an interesting look at Daisy Fitzroy herself, it didn’t really do that much to enhance the readers knowledge of who she actually was. Even with the rather clever format and reasonable writing the short length and rather weak characters limited what could be accomplished. This meant that the entire thing felt like a bit of let-down and I can’t see it working as a hook to get someone interested in playing the game which is a shame.

Overall, whilst I did appreciate the journey back into the world of Columbia, it just didn’t capture my interest of imagination as much as I hoped it would. Personally, it felt to me that the entire story was just a collection of voxophone recordings that they had decided to omit from the game. To be honest, I find it hard to recommend the book on its own merits and it is probably something that only hardened Bioshock fans would want to read.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Best Foot Forward - Susie Kelly



Title: Best Foot Forward
Author: Susie Kelly
Genre: Non Fiction
Published: 2000
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Smashwords
Amazon UK

Review:
“Best Foot Forward” is a personal account written by Susie Kelly that charts a walk she undertakes across France from La Rochelle to Geneva. Susie, a middle aged English woman domiciled in France had never really embarked upon a journey as long as that before but as she was getting bored of her shorter regular walks she decided she wanted to undertake the challenge. And so, after finding a woman on the internet to come all the way from the USA and look after her home and animals she sets out of her 550 mile journey which would take around 6 weeks to complete.

As someone who isn’t much a walker, I found that Susie does a good job in detailing the various problems and issues she encounters on her hike. This ensured that I could relate and understand the problems she was facing without having personally experienced some of them. In addition, she ensures that some of her narrative focuses on the people, places and animals she encounters during her journey which really helps bring the areas of France she visited alive.

I find that I am almost in awe of Susie for what she accomplishes as her determination and humour enable her to succeed in overcoming some quite severe difficulties. Terrible blisters, an eyesight issue, unsuitable tent and a fair amount of rainfall would have ensured that I would have returned home long rather quickly. Although, I have to admit that I found it rather perplexing that she seemed to do so little to try and remedy many of these problems. Even if she personally didn’t pass anywhere that could have provided a new tent etc. then surely a friend could have dropped off some better equipment if she asked.

In a way the problems she faced due to inadequate equipment and planning actually limited the story a little. This is because it ensured that a lot of the novel was focussed on these issues so that at times the entire account felt rather joyless. It came across like she was more interested in struggling to reach her final destination than actually enjoying the journey itself.

Overall, I did find this to be an interesting book that did keep me entertained as it explored both Susie’s struggles and the places she was visiting. If you are interested in reading true stories highlighting determination, strength and faith then I think Susie’s adventure will appeal.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Star Trek: Vulcan's Glory - D.C. Fontana



Title: Vulcan's Glory
Author: D.C. Fontana
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 1989
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Vulcan’s Glory” by D.C. Fontana is the latest novel in my Star Trek Reading Challenge which involves trying to read the novels in chronological order. This story follows both Spock & Scotty’s first ever voyage on the Enterprise which at the time is under the command of Christopher Pike as seen in the original Star Trek pilot episode, “The Cage”.

At its heart the story is a murder mystery surrounding the search for a Vulcan relic known as the Vulcan’s Glory. However, there are other elements to the plot including a look into Spock’s relationship with his family, an attempt by Captain Pike to help with the development of trade routes on a planet recovering from previous disasters and a rather amusing attempt by Scotty to set up a whisky still in the engine room.

The story really was quite an interesting adventure as I enjoyed reading some more about the crew of Pike’s Enterprise. I found the personalities of the crew were nicely handled and it was good to see something written about them by Fontana who is one of the original Star Trek writers. My favourite concept though within the story was the way in which Fontana delves into the more “hypocritical” side of Vulcan lives. For example, elements of their “hidden” emotions are explored and it becomes quite clear that the various rituals and family commitments they are beholden to do not always fall within the realms of logic.

An issue I did have with the book is that Fontana has actually tried to put too much plot into it. There are far too many storylines going on and whilst some of them are delved into other portions were skimmed over and it all just feels a bit disjointed. It is almost as if Fontana had an idea to explore this period across multiple novels but was worried she may only get one attempt about the Christopher Pike era so just tried to cram it all in.

My final note on the story is that it really does help to be quite knowledgeable on various Star Trek TV episodes. The reason is that there are various plot points left dangling in the book that are not resolved until various episodes on TV. Therefore it could leave the more casual watchers of Star Trek a bit disappointed if they were expecting closure on some of the plot points initiated in this book and haven’t seen the relevant episode.

Overall, I did enjoy this look at the lives of Pike and his crew as they travelled the galaxy prior to Kirk’s captaincy. There are lots of interesting plot points within the novel but I think it would have worked better had these been spread across multiple novels rather than having them all competing for attention in just one. Personally, I am a little sad we didn’t see more of this crew on TV or in novels as I think there are a lot of interesting concepts and ideas that could be further explored.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Corpus Pretereo - Edited by Patrick Jennings-Mapp & Alexandra J. Ash



Title: Corpus Pretereo
Author: Various (Edited by Patrick Jennings-Mapp & Alexandra J. Ash)
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Published: 2011
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon

Review:
“Corpus Pretereo” is an anthology of sixteen short stories by various different authors that span several different genres under the speculative fiction umbrella. This includes genres such as fantasy, horror and science-fiction with the overall subject of the stories being that of escape.

As is normal with anthologies such as this the stories are a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality and entertainment. For example, some of them are enthralling complete stories that provide well thought out endings whilst others just come across like an opening chapter in a much longer story. However, overall there was more than enough enjoyable stories contained here to make me feel that the anthology is well worth the price.

As there is such a large collection of stories in the collection I will not comment on all of the stories, but will pick a sample of both the positive and negative to give as balanced a review as I can. The Devil and Neil Armstrong: This clever and thoughtful story was probably my favourite story in the collection. It involves two concepts I find interesting, space exploration and time travel to create an interesting concept that had me contemplating the way in which the past influences the present.

The Carnival: Whilst I found this story to be very atmospheric and had me very intrigued, however it was let down by a terribly inclusive ending. This story more than any other struck me as being the opening chapter in a novella rather than it working as a satisfying standalone short story.

Crash: A superb dystopian story in which a group of children try to survive and find a place for themselves in a hostile world. Even with the stories’ short length, the author has managed create well developed and interesting characters that suck the reader in. This is supported by a strong narrative voice and interesting depth to the world. The ending was conclusive but I would still love to learn more about the characters and their world.

The Curl of the Wave: I found the writing to be perfect in evoking an entertaining and strong image of what the author was trying to portray. However, I think it was let down by a lack of characterisation that just made it hard to fully become engaged with the characters and therefore the story as a whole.

This is just a short taste of what the collection contains and there are further stories that I enjoyed and others that just didn’t appeal although as you can see from my comments above the negatives didn’t always necessarily ruin my interest in a story. However, overall I found that there were enough interesting, enjoyable and entertaining stories within the collection to make me more than happy to recommend it. So if you are a fan of speculative fiction and would like to sample the work of various authors that they may not normally read then this anthology more than fits the bill.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Terminus - Paul Melhuish



Title: Terminus
Author: Paul Melhuish
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2012
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Smashwords
Amazon UK

Review:
“Terminus” by Paul Melhuish is a rather interesting blend of Science Fiction and horror that I found thoroughly entertaining although there were a few minor issues. The plot itself is based around Sii Terminus, a man whose past with scarred by an encounter with a strange alien species. Now though, he is captain of a space craft that has been tasked with the simple sounding task of taking an important bureaucrat out to another planet named Thanatos One. However, upon arrival it becomes obvious that the task is not that simple and soon Sii and his crew encounter horrors and danger they could never have imagined in their darkest dreams.

The first thing I noted about the book is that it does start of quite slowly, which isn’t helped by the use of specialised slang which I will discuss later on. However, upon arrival at Thanatos One itself the pace really does pick up with various twists and turns keeping the reader on their toes. I really found myself desperate to turn each page and discover what was coming next. The overall feel of the novel is quite dark as the horror scenes themselves can be quite graphic and there is a pervasive level of corruption and decadence within the society that Melhuish has created. Yet, the novel does also have some rather amusing elements of dark humour which cleverly ensures that it doesn’t become subsumed by the more depressing and morose elements.

The writing was clever and descriptive which really helps the reader envision both the characters and the world they inhabit. Melhuish has also tried to show the evolution of his society by including a form of slang that has resulted from the slow corruption of English. Whilst I found this quite interesting and clever, I did think it could detract from the novel as the reader tried to understand what the words actually meant. Basically, I found myself getting bogged down early on in the novel as I tried to both understand the new slang and put up with the slow initial pacing.

In regards to the characters, the majority of them fit in with their rather decaying society very well with various flaws and issue visible for all to see. Despite this however, I couldn’t help but find myself liking most of them with Sii Terminus himself being the ultimate anti-hero. The fact that I found myself caring about the characters really helped to enhance the power of the horror elements. This was nice to see as I find that too many horror stories rely on gore alone to thrill the readers.

Overall, this was an exciting and interesting horror story that uses its futuristic setting incredibly well. I think I would recommend the book to lovers of several genres as fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, dystopian, horror and even space-opera should find something in the book that appeals.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Star Trek: Republic (My Brother's Keeper Book 1) - Michael Jan Friedman



Title: Republic (My Brother's Keeper Book 1)
Author: Michael Jan Friedman
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 1998
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Republic” by Michael Jan Friedman is an interesting Star Trek novel that forms the first part in the “My Brother’s Keeper” trilogy. This trilogy explores the relationship between Kirk and Gary Mitchell, a character that died during the second pilot episode of Star Trek entitled "Where No Man Has Gone Before".

The plot of this first book in the series starts with a framing story which details the final events of "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Then upon Mitchell’s death the reader get to explore some of the psychological impact of the tragedy upon Kirk who opens up to Spock and relates the story of how he and Mitchell first met back in the Academy. The novel then follows Kirk and Mitchell through the birth of their friendship and the first real adventure together aboard the USS Republic when it is diverted to a planet so Starfleet may provide support in securing a peace deal between two long warring factions.

The core story was entertaining and interesting as the reader gets to witness the development of Kirk & Mitchell’s friendship and how they rub off on each other in various ways. However, the USS Republic planeside portion of the story felt a little bit stale at times as it was neither very original nor that interesting in my opinion. It just felt like Friedman had inserted this section of the story into the book so there would be some sort of action etc. rather than it all just being about the character interactions.

As an additional note, I found the treatment of “Where No Man Has Gone Before” to be excellent. I have not yet read James Blish’s originally novelizations of the TV series episodes but it would have to be something really special to better what Freidman has done with the framing story in this novel. It captures elements of the TV show well but also adds to and enhances the aftermath in a well thought out manner that ensures people who have seen the show will actually read something a little bit more in-depth.

However, whilst I did enjoy learning some more about Kirk and Mitchell’s history, the characters just felt a little bit off to me at times. I found it hard to believe that Kirk was such a failure with the ladies as we witness here, nor could I believe that Mitchell would suddenly decide randomly to take on a mission to “loosen” up Kirk. In addition, Mitchell’s psychic abilities seemed a little bit too developed and the way in which he used them to solve every problem without an issue seemed a bit too far-fetched for me. Luckily, none of this was a major issue as their core personalities were pretty much as I would have imagined them at that time.

Overall this was an interesting and enjoyable look at the relationship between Kirk and Mitchell and how it was formed. The overall storyline isn’t anything special, but the real plus points in the novel are in relation to the characters themselves and how they develop through knowing each other. After reading the book, I am more than curious to know how different the TV series could have been had Mitchell not been killed off as he is a rather interesting character. Either way, I am now looking forward to the next book in the series so Kirk and Mitchell’s enjoyable relationship can be explored even further.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Visionary of Peace (Vallar Book 2) - Cindy Borgne




Title: Visionary of Peace (Vallar Book 2)
Author: Cindy Borgne
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2013
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
"Visionary of Peace" by Cindy Borgne is the 2nd novel in her “Vallar” Science Fiction series. I loved the previous novel which I reviewed here so was looking forward to reading this as soon as I received it. Whilst it didn’t grab my attention as much as the first novel, this was still an enjoyable, action packed adventure story that appealed on many levels.

Plot wise, we once again follow the escapades of Ian Connors on Mars who is now living a new life using his psychic abilities to assist the GenTech Corporation following his defection from MarsCorp as seen in the previous novel. However, after several years of stalemate, it appears that MarsCorp have obtained a new ally and seem intent on finally finishing off GenTech once and for all. And so Ian must once again work towards defeating his old faction and secure the future for Mars once and for all.

Once again, Borgne has delivered a quick-paced read that combines enjoyable action and adventure along with a tale of romance as Ian and Kayla try and make their relationship work despite the various obstacles created by distance, war and politics. Borgne has used this relationship and other elements of the story to really try and develop the characters further that what we saw in the previous novel and I appreciated this.

In addition It was also nice to see that the villains in the novel weren’t just evil, cruel caricatures. There is a depth to them as the reader can see and understand their motivations and reasons for doing what they do even if we may not always agree with them. Too often recently I have bemoaned the rather black and white nature of villains so I really appreciated that little extra shown here.

One issue I did have with the novel is in regards to the alternating first-person perspective between Ian and Kayla. It could get a bit confusing at times, especially when Ian and Kalyla were together and it would shift perspectives. To be honest, within a couple of pages I was normally back in the right frame but it did get annoying getting thrown out of the moment as I tried to re-adjust for each chapter.

Overall, this was a riveting sequel that expands well upon the world introduced in the previous novel “Seer of Mars”. The action is fun and the characters are developed further so if you enjoyed the first novel then I don’t think you will be disappointed with this entry in the “Vallar” series.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Calm Before the Storm (Stewards of the White Circle Book 1) - JT Brewer




Title: Calm Before the Storm (Stewards of the White Circle Book 1)
Author: JT Brewer
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Calm Before The Storm" is an interesting urban fantasy novel written by a husband/wife duo known as JT Brewer. The interesting thing about this story was that I had originally been asked to read it under a different title which was “Omega’s Shepherd” but before I got onto it the authors asked me to hold off as they were re-working the novel. Anyway, the novel as it stands now is going to be the first in a series of novels known as “Stewards of the White Circle” and after reading this book I am looking forward to reading the future novels.

The plot itself follows a famous Biology professor known as Dr James Omega who is drawn to a University in Colorado as he searches for someone known as the Shepherd who appears to have some sort of special destiny regarding life on Earth. Of course, he isn’t the only one searching and a demon has been unleashed from hell to try and thwart the aims of Dr Omega and his fellow Stewards of the White Circle.

The story itself does involve an interesting premise and I was very curious about where the overall plot is heading in the long run. In addition there were some really interesting references to a deeper history that I am sure will be further developed in future novels. However, a problem I did have is that the novel suffers from being dedicated to the overall set up with little real tension or excitement. The authors do try to include something in regards to an avalanche at one point but this just doesn’t work for me as the other characters involved were just random people that were never introduced and were never mentioned again.

The writing itself was tidy, descriptive and easily captured the imagery that the authors were trying to invoke. In addition, I actually found the pacing to be more than competent enough to stop my mind drifting off which was nice to see considering the issues I had with the lack of tension etc.

The biggest issue I probably had with the novel however is in relation to the characters who just felt a little bit too flat for me which made it hard for me to really connect with them. They were all just so black and white and lacked any meaningful depth or complexity which would have really drawn me in. This is epitomised by the romantic relationship between two of the protagonists which was quite simply bad. I found it to be clich├ęd, unimaginative and obvious to the point that it actually irritated me a little.

Despite this review sounding rather negative, I did find the book to be an interesting and enjoyable introduction to a new series of fantasy novels. However, I do think it is missing a real sense of tension and I hope we can see some real development in the characters going forward. Personally, I am still looking forward to reading the next book in the series which is a good sign for any introductory book such as this.