Posts tagged ‘review’

Overture, Earth Song Book 1, by Mark Wandrey. A review.

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Overture is the story of the end of the world. A Near Earth Object, previously thought to be in a safe orbit, has mysteriously shifted onto a collision course with our planet, and no one knows why. At the same time, a device has appeared in New York’s Central Park. One of 12 placed by aliens. It may represent an escape, but only for a small fraction of the population, and only if the team studying it can figure out what it is.

In the meantime, the other 11 devices have inflamed tensions around the world. As certain factions come to realize what the device is, a possibility of escape from the devastation of the impact, violence and conflict erupt as they vie for access and control of the portals.

This story introduces us to Mindy Patoy, a disgraced former astronomer, as she tries to decipher the purpose of the device, how it works and where it leads. Further complicating the issue is that this device, like each of the 11 others around the world, will only transport 144 individuals before shutting itself down. She must try to survive, as various different groups try to seize control of the device for their own ends, all before a world killing asteroid destroys all of humanity.

Overture is the first book in a series of four available, with more forthcoming. It is, as far as I can tell, Mark Wandrey’s first published work, and self-published, at that. I went into it with some trepidation. Mark is someone I know and talk to online, and I’m always a bit leery or reviewing someone I know. He didn’t ask me to read it, nor know I was planning on reading or reviewing it. My plan was, in fact, to give it a shot and if it was bad… we would never speak of it again. As far as I was concerned, it would never appear here. At least, not from me.

And yet, here it is.

It’s good. Really good. All of the technical aspects of a good, professional author are there. The dialog is believable. The characters act on believable motivations in believable ways. As to the story itself, it flows very well and I found myself reading deeper and longer, just one more page, one more chapter. This does not appear, to me anyway, to be the effort of an amateur.

As a fan of science fiction, I found the science to be solid, believable, and internally consistent. To me, there is nothing more likely to jar me out of an otherwise good story than just bad science. I have no problem with McGuffins, mind you. You know, those plot devices, like faster than light travel, or laser swords, or portals to other worlds for that matter, that the author asks you to accept when we don’t have the science to back it up. That’s not bad science, it’s just speculative, and that’s OK. Mark has his McGuffin in there, but no bad science.

I will say that it isn’t the absolutely best book I’ve ever read, but as I look over to my bookshelf, I see Tolkien, Pratchett, Herbert, Heinlein and McCaffery, so best book is quite a high hurdle. On the other hand, I honestly think that Wandrey can go on that bookshelf in good company and deserving of inclusion. In fact, I’m going to give the best one-sentence evaluation I think I can give an author or a book in a series.

It’s time to buy the next book.

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Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. A Review.

They say that a great novel will grab your attention immediately, so let’s look at Monster Hunter International…

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~~

On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.

 ~~

You, Sir, have my attention.

Now I know that many if not most of the readers on this page are already familiar with Larry Correia, AKA The International Lord of Hate (pbuh), and the book itself has been out for several years, so this review might not be needed. But hey, there are always new readers. We should be in the business of expanding the base and by Heaven above, business should be good! Besides we should be happy to show new folks from whence we have come so they can experience all the fun and excitement our genre has to offer. Also, and just as importantly, Baen Publishing is offering the first book of the Monster Hunter Universe, Monster Hunter International, as a free e-book. Free. Here.

http://www.baenebooks.com/p-1024-monster-hunter-international.aspx

It comes in many formats, including Rich Text Format which means you can read it in Microsoft Word on your computer. And, as with all Baen e-books, it is DRM free. So not only can you read it, you can also addict your friends! What’s not to like?

Ok, now that every here has absolutely no excuse to NOT have this book, let’s talk about it!

Monster Hunter International, the first of (currently) five books in the Monster Hunter Universe, introduces us to Owen Zastava Pitt, an accountant working in Dallas, and hating his boss. Owen is a big guy, as accountants go, and has a fondness for guns. I know what you are thinking, Larry Correia, a great big former accountant with an inordinate fondness for guns, is writing a story about a great big accountant with an inordinate fondness for guns… We aren’t exactly stretching much, are we? And the term “Mary Sue” comes to mind. You know what, that’s fair. Many journeyman writers often hear from the Pros, “Write what you know,” and perhaps Larry took that to heart. He then proceeded to write a heck of a rip roaring story. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s never, ever boring. If you follow his blog, you know Larry loves what he calls “Pulp” stories, and he loves B grade monster movies. He then proceeds to share that love with the rest of us, and thus, Monster Hunter International is born.

So we’ve met Owen, and now we get to meet his vile boss, Mr. Huffman. From the very first, Owen doesn’t like Mr. Huffman who, from all accounts, is not a good boss. Angry, prone to blaming others for his mistakes, lazy and not real bright, I’m sure none of us have ever had a boss that could fit that description (maybe a little sarcasm, there). However, Mr. Huffman is going through a bit of a life change. You see, a month before, he had been bitten by a werewolf. Now, he plans on eating Owen.

We now begin to learn that all those scary stories, all those things that go bump in the night, are not as make believe as we all would wish. After surviving his encounter with the werewolf and waking up in the hospital, Owen is introduced to two of mankind’s answers to the supernatural world. One is a government agency, the Monster Control Bureau (MCB), tasked with suppressing outbreaks, and also suppressing the knowledge of the monsters from the normal world. The other answer, in true capitalist American fashion, is a representative from Monster Hunter International (MHI), a private contracting company that makes its living killing monsters for the government provided bounty. MCB is there to kill Owen if he has been infected, and to threaten him into silence if not. MHI’s Earl Harbinger is there to recruit him.

After he is released from the hospital, Owen meets again with Harbinger and another representative of MHI, Julie Shackleford. Julie is described as, “…beautiful. In fact she was possibly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was tall, with dark black hair, light skin, and big brown eyes. Her face was beautiful, not fake beautiful like a model or an actress, because she was obviously a real person, but rather Helen of Troy, launch-a-thousand-ships kind of good-looking…” (Shib here. In another world, in another life, I think she might be named “Bridget”. Just saying.) Julie is there to help recruit Owen, and give another perspective on the business of monster hunting. As she tries to explain how the government has set up a fund to pay bounties on harmful, unnatural creatures, providing an unusual business opportunity for the right type of people, Harbinger answers Owen’s questions about the various types of creatures that are running around in the world. We’ve already run into werewolves, and we now learn that there are zombies, ghouls and vampires as well. Some of our stories and legends get them right, some do not, but they are out there.  After the meeting, Owen finds cannot return to the world pretending that the werewolf never happened, and agrees to become a Hunter.

Owen joins other recruits at the MHI compound in Calzador, Alabama. Among the recruits are Holly, a stripper captured by vampires, and Trip, a high school teacher whose class had turned into zombies. These two, with Owen, form the core of our developing cast of characters going forward. We are also introduced to the veterans of MHI, Sam Haven, the former seal and now one of their instructors, Milo Anderson, resident gun smith and weapon tech, and Grant Jefferson, another instructor and, much to Owen’s frustration, Julie’s boyfriend. The training is understandably hard, both physically and mentally. Much as in the military, the best place to find out if someone on your team cannot handle the stress of this extremely dangerous job would be during training, as opposed to out in the field.

We also get (and this is quite refreshing for a lot of us) accurate depictions of firearms, their uses and their capabilities. As a veteran, I cannot tell you how frustrating it can be when you see Hollywood turn a small handgun into an AutoCannon of Death and Destruction, with included infinity-clip™! Or when a hand grenade detonates into a 30 foot fireball, or when a normal sidearm knocks a villain head over heels, flying back 10 or 15 feet. You will not get that from Mr. Correia. He is a fire arms expert and an instructor. He knows his equipment, and he doesn’t insult his audience.

As we move past the training, we are introduced to the main conflict of the novel. Master Vampires, along with another, unknown creature, are seeking an artifact of great power, one capable of threatening humanity, and possibly opening access to the Earth to creatures that are beyond imagination. Here we can see Mr. Correia’s familiarity with the world of Lovecraft, the possibility of things so alien that they cannot functionally interact with humanity, whose goals and needs go beyond hate and evil, and are so far outside our reality, that for them to intrude into it, would cause death and destruction on scales that could only be compared to an extinction level event. As MHI tries to get out in front of the vampires and stop their depredations, they are also trying to find out the goals and objectives of this new creature, to stop him from using the artifact and destroying civilization.

Monster Hunter International is a great fun read, and is interesting for many reasons. It is Mr. Correia’s first novel, and sometimes, that shows. Some of the development could be smoother, and some of it is predictable. That said, the action scenes are first rate, and the book is never, ever boring. On top of that, it is a fun, exciting story, not bogged down by trying to shoehorn heavy handed messages about whatever the cause de’jour the author might posses. This is a great example of a book and an author that started out as an experiment in self-publishing that went wildly right. Mr. Correia was so successfully publishing this that Baen offered him a contract to republish it. That turned into a sequal, and then turned into two other series (The Grimnoire Chronicles and Dead Six, with Mike Kupari). Additionally, Mr. Correia has published Iron Kindoms with Skull Island Expeditions.  Mr. Correia is rightly considered a new and rising star in the world of Science Fiction/Fantasy as well as an amazing promoter of other new talent through his frequent Book Bombs on his blog, Monster Hunter Nation (http://monsterhunternation.com/).

So, you know you want to read this, and the price is certainly right (FREE! FREE! FREE!). If you don’t already have the book, you have to ask yourself, “Why the Heck not?” Whatever your reasons, just remember…

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            After reading (and re-reading) this book, I know it isn’t Mr. Correia’s best work, but it is still very, very good. I would give it 4 of 5 stars. I’ve purchased more than one copy, as gifts, and at least once as a replacement when I loaned it to a friend and mysteriously never got it back.

DareDevil, a Netflix Original Series.

Well, I finally got around to watching the DareDevil series on Netflix. I’ll be honest, I thought the first episode was, at best, OK. I dealt with the origin material well, and as far as I could tell, stayed pretty true to the roots of the comics. but still, OK. I’ll admit, DD was not my favorite Marvel property growing up. I do seem to recall that there was a period were he seemed to be the crossover character of choice, kind of like Wolverine in the 90s. As a result, the show did have to overcome that bias that I brought to the table.

DD So I watched Episode 1… Next day, Episode 2. Better, they had gotten a lot of the background material out of the way, and started to build the storyline. Still, I was not on fire for it. It was just better TV than average. The next day, I watched Episodes 3… and then 4… and then 5. If you’ll pardon my saying so, it had become a World on Fire. The hook was in and set. Sunday, episodes 6, 7, 8, and 9. I was mad because I knew dang well my job did not care how much i was enjoying the show, I still needed to be up at 5:30 to go to work. As I said somewhere else, if you are watching the sun rise, it should be because you are getting up & getting ready for work, not because you couldn’t stop watching DareDevil. I finished out the show on Wednesday night. One week, total, had passed and i am cursing/blessing Netflix for releasing the whole series in one go, and very unhappy that it will be 2016 before we get any new episodes.

A word of warning. As many of the Superhero movies have been lately, this is dark and gritty. For those curious about the Marvel Timeline, Season One takes place AFTER the Battle of New York (Avengers), but before the rise of Hydra (Captain America: Winter Soldier) There is quite a bit of violence, and violent death. Matt Murdock, aka DareDevil, has has anger issues that would make Bruce Banner say, “Hey, now, just a minute…”  After interrogating a thug, Matt has no qualms about dropping him over the side of a low building, confident that, since he’s landing in a trash container, he’ll probably survive. Murdock personally has a code against killing, but he has little problem with going right up next to that line.

The lead is played, and played well, by Charlie Cox. I am not personally familiar with anything he has done since the movie Stardust. But he does well. He needs to, because otherwise, he is in serious danger of being overshadowed by his cast mates.

Elden Henson plays a great Foggy Nelson. The kind, idealistic partner at Nelson & Murdock, Attorneys at Law (or Avacados at Law, you’ll know what I mean when you see it). He is joined by Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, their Office Manager, and initial damsel in distress. But the real danger of show thievery is Vincent D’Onofrio, as Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin.

D’Onofrio is not generally one of my favorite actors. I was never a fan of Law & Order, and while I liked Full Metal Jacket, his role there went from pathetic to deeply unsettling. As with the series itself, it took a couple of episodes to get used to the idea, and there were many times he reminded me of his role as Edgar in Men in Black, but he developed into the believable villian mastermind, and a credible physicle threat to DareDevil, as well.

Finally, I’m going to give a shout out to Toby Leonard Moore, who played James Wesley, Fisk’s Majordomo. He played his role extremely well, providing the right level of utter professionalism as the lieutenant to a major power player, with the right amount of ruthlessness that you would expect from someone in that position, coupled with respect and friendship of a man working with a boss he genuinely likes and respects. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in season two, and I’ll miss the guy.

So, in review, I’m giving DareDevil Season One Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five). I enjoyed the heck out of it, and I’m looking forward to returning to Hell’s Kitchen in Season Two.

~Old Shib