Praxis by Justin Knight

Last Friday, as I mentioned in my periscope earlier, we had a new science fiction novel come out by one Justin Knight, of which I had the privilege of reading an advance copy. Praxis is the story of a group of humans going to a mining colony for the first time, mostly focused on the organizational aspects of heading out on such an expedition, and the personal relationships that are impacted.

Much of the book is very slice-of-life, and Justin is fantastic at presenting unique and thoughtful characters that have conversations like you and I would have. I thoroughly enjoyed the main characters. It does get a little political on the right spectrum in the way it handles radical feminism, but not burdensome so.

There’s an interweaving side plot of aliens who are dealing with escaped prisoners which escalates throughout that. It culminates in solid action, but I won’t spoil that further for you.

Much of the book is close to hard science fiction in the not too distant future. The characters have a lot of things like kindles and the like, and it’s loaded with references to popular culture.

If this sounds like your speed, check out Praxis, available on Amazon. 

Comic Review: X-O Manowar #7

Aric has donned the X-O armor up to the shoulders now, and is regularly wearing it, despite the fact that he spends time talking to the armor and telling it how it is simply a tool (poor good skin!). He’s uncovered in quick fashion that the plot of the general to bring in this monolith to subdue the Burnt had more to the equation, that the emperor made a deal with the aliens, in exchange for an artifact in his palace tower. He leads soldiers into epic battle, but is facing multiple fronts and is forced to choose which is the best course of action for the planet.

Story wise, it may be  the best issue so far. This isn’t a comic that you’re getting a big twist from, it’s not set up like a mystery reveal, but it’s interesting the way Kindt set up world-building reveals in every issue. The plot is simple — very action/adventure pulp, and that’s very fitting for a Conan The Barbarian In Space Armor story. It feels perfect for the character and the book.

It’s both extremely fast paced and yet still manages to be very single-issue contained for storylines. Each issue so far has been an escalating battle. First at a unit level, then into full armies, and now even against space invaders. It makes you wonder if the ante can really keep being upped every issue, but he’s managed to do so through seven issues so far. That’s what’s impressed me really is the fast pace and the single-issue storytelling (even though it does build into a larger arc). It’s very different than most modern comics.

The issue also has a side story, one that’s being told of the day’s events, and you can actually go back through and read the dialogue boxes in this issue by themselves (I did and I recommend doing so) after it’s done for a different perspective of the read. It’s extremely detailed and hard worked on in that regard.

Speaking of extremely detailed, it’s time to talk Clayton Crain, whose digital art graces this issue. I really loved Tomas Giorello’s original run and thought in many ways issues 4-6  with Doug Braithwaite surpassed that. Crain’s style is very much his own, you can see it on any book he touches. It’s extremely intricately painted, and beautiful on that level. I think it fit the scope of the alien invasion well and is beautiful to look at all the details within the panels. I’m a big fan and I thought the issue flowed fine like that. I did see it mentioned that it was a little tough to follow, as it’s so complicated at times with the frazzled, dark space battles it can get hard to read. This is something that happens in Crain books which I’ve seen a bit of. I believe it’s from the overuse of dark saturated colors, and a little brightness and less saturation would fix those issues, but this is his stylistic choice. It’s correct that because of that it’s not perfect, but the design of the aliens, the intricate details of every figure are so beautiful, that it may take a sec to focus and really absorb what’s going on, but it’s incredible work.

Overall, the storyline is getting even more compelling than before, even as of issue #7. It would be fine to jump on with this issue alone, but still better with the first six issues as a backdrop. If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that the wall-to-wall action doesn’t leave a ton of room for character development. There were only a couple of panels of those moments and I’d love to actually get to know some of this cast that gets explained in the opening credits every issue. There’s still not a ton of reason to care about many of them. But there are a limit to pages, and to keep this pace in which i love so much there definitely have to be some sacrifices… just like Aric has to make whenever he goes into battle (thematic!). Conclusion: Aric Rules!

10/10


New Release Book: War Demons by Russell Newquist

I meant to blog about this on Wednesday but with how crazy this week has been, I didn’t quite get around to it. For those new here from the SFWA Anti-Male Writer controversy or #ComicGate, I try to make sure to keep people up date on fun fiction that’s politics-free in the market, as the most important thing we can do outside of calling out the massive ethics problems in the entertainment industry, is to support people who don’t hate us, who write fun, action-adventure like we keep demanding.

Russell Newquist hit that spot with War Demons.

I almost never read Urban Fantasy as a genre. It’s known by the Dresden Files or Monster Hunter or October Daye, but for some reason I just love Steampunk or Space as a setting a bit more than a modern environment. Maybe it’s my PTSD from having read Spider-Man’s One More Day arc that i just can’t read modern supernatural fiction anymore.

But this story follows a soldier with some PTSD, who’s not sure if the problems he’s having adjusting back from his trip from Afghanistan are in his own head — until the world goes crazy with demons, zombies, and so much off the wall action it never lets up.

I received an early copy of this, and already left my review (and my blurb). So if this kind of story appeals to you, check it out:

https://www.amazon.com/War-Demons-Fantasy-Thriller-Prodigal-ebook/dp/B075NZDP8S

Comic Review: Bloodshot: Salvation #1

Bloodshot is a character from Valiant Comics who is kind of like a cross between Punisher and Wolverine. An experiment from a secret military organization, Bloodshot is infused with nanites that make him a killing machine and give him regeneration powers.
This book continues with the feel of Bloodshot: Reborn, much more than the crazy/zany epic Bloodshot USA mini-series that directly preceded it. I would recommend reading both (no need for the 2012 Bloodshot series which doesn’t really have the same feel) before getting into this. Bloodshot has a baby and him and his girl Magic are on the run, trying to live normal lives. There’s a project omen happening from the evil government mooks and Magic’s father is a weird creepy dude who’s calling and saying awful things to her. It went back and forth between now and a “soon” when baby bloodshot is a bit older, an interesting way of doing things, will have to see how that develops.Characters great. I love it all. I didn’t love the fighting between Magic/Bloodshot but these are messed up characters so it’s fitting with the way they are. I kinda want my heroes a little more heroic when it comes to home life, but that’s a personal preference. Though nothing BAD happened, there were points where it made me uncomfortable. But… that’s a testament to how much I care about the characters, so maybe it’s a plus.

Pacing was a bit slower than the last Bloodshot series. Bloodshot: Reborn did open with pacing like this, but part of it felt like it moved a little more quickly. Maybe it’s the now/soon vs. the way the Reborn plot had an FBI element to it that was intriguing. I’m ready for a return to real action after that introspective run, however. Bloodshot USA really pushed the action and it got me itching for it. I’d dock a couple points here on that level

I’m a -bit- worried about political signalling. It’s not all that bad but there’s mentions of racial killings, the bad father is of course a church leader of some sort (was clarified with cult but still ehhh…). Nothing really bothersome like we see from Marvel but I hope it doesn’t mean the books’s going there in the future. Lemire did say in an interview with Newsarama that he meant to go further, but dialed it back in later drafts. I think that was a smart choice if that’s the case. We need less political nonsense in comics. As it is, no points docked but I’m paying attention on that level because I think there were 3 lines of it — one or two is easy to glance over once it’s three it’s a pattern, something I pick up when I’m editing as a writer.

The art is fabulous. I love the style. Love Lewis LaRosa. This is top notch and it’s where Valiant books have been standing out above Marvel/DC lately. Nothing negative there. There’s a bit much on the talking heads back and forth layout wise but I think that’s a script issue getting back to the pacing more than anything to do with the artist.

Overall, solid start. I’m definitely interested in more though part of that is trusting Lemire to wow me like he did in Bloodshot: Reborn.

8/10

Retro Review: King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle

Last week, like many, I was saddened by the news that Jerry Pournelle died. He was one of the giants of Science Fiction, so prolific and really having done so much for the genre. I hadn’t in the course of my readings, read King David’s Spaceship, however, and so I figured I would honor his prolific and fruitful life by remedying that, of which I spent the last week doing.

King David’s Spaceship is a story about a fallen human imperium which is slowly reclaiming worlds that have lost technology, been disconnected, in an effort to never have a devastating war between humanity again. All new worlds get monitored and brought in according to 3 classes: class 1, class 2, and colonies, and the colonies end up getting flooded by imperial merchants and the like who take over society. King David wants none of this so he sets about a team of people to figure out how to get to the class 2 status.

They’ve determined the way to do so is build a spaceship, but they don’t have the technology to do so. Colonel Nathan McKinnie among others are sent off to another planet to go find some sacred library that is supposed to have information on the ship.

The opening of the book was interesting, but it slowed down a bit significantly into discussions of how things were going to happen. I wasn’t sure about the book after part I as to whether I liked it or not, but it turns out Pournelle was just setting the stage for part II which is all epic adventure.

When it gets into part II, it really becomes a fantasy novel — kind of a book within a book. There’s epic battles, barbarians, pirates, great politics with the church, a lot of fun all around. The world building is so deep and so rich it’s incredible, some of the best I’ve ever read. Pournelle spent so much time working out every detail of multiple civilizations that it’s staggering, a true master of the craft.

And it’s all smooth sailing (or spaceship flying!) from there. The book becomes compelling, the side characters even get wonderful moments in the limelight and are well developed. It becomes very difficult to put the book down at that point, and when it ended, I found myself wishing it didn’t. I love the wrapping a fantasy adventure in a sci-fi novel and it does come back to the sci-fi elements.  Really a neat and imaginative work all around. If you haven’t read Pournelle and would like to, this is an excellent place to start.

9/10

Book Review: Thrawn

Several weeks ago I mentioned I was rereading the original Thrawn trilogy in preparation for the new book by Timothy Zahn. I hadn’t read them since I was a teenager, and was wondering if they held up as much as I’d enjoyed them as a kid. It turns out these are some of the best space opera books ever penned, tie-in fiction or no.

Many of my readers were upset that Star Wars declared the extended universe non-canon upon Disney’s purchase of the property, and vowed to never read Star Wars books again. I’ve taken a different thought on it — where it’s like comics, at least before I stopped reading  Marvel + DC altogether due to their excessive politics: it depends on the writer. That seems to be the case here.

I was nervous about this book as fellow space opera author C.T. Phipps posted a review on the book that was less than stellar, but was mostly due to his disappointment that this built off of an already published short story which he read before. I’m not sure which section of this book it was as I hadn’t read it before, but it feels like the portion where Thrawn was brought to the imperial academy and then his academy stay might have been that, as the book changed tone and pace from that point.

This story follows Thrawn’s life from a point where he was picked up as an alien by Imperials, brought before the emperor, taken to the academy, and then gets promoted all the way up the ranks. We know how it ends up, so there’s no spoilers there. Part of the problem with prequels is knowing that journey, and it makes it a little less tense than non-prequels for that reason.

Zahn also weaved a couple new characters into the plot, a woman by the name of Arihnda Pryce who has appeared several times in Star Wars: Rebels gets an origin/backstory as well, as she navigates politics in the Empire from a lowly worker up to very high echelons. I actually didn’t recall her character from rebels, so her story was actually some of the most interesting parts of the book as I didn’t know where it would lead.

Like the later Thrawn trilogy, Thrawn has a human aide in this where he describes all of his plans to. Eli Vanto, who progresses and becomes a tactician as he learns from Thrawn. This perspective also brought forth a nice element where readers weren’t sure what was going to happen.

I enjoyed the mysterious villain Nightswan who gets introduced in the book, and how he ties the plots together. It was well-crafted and leads to a very fun conclusion to the story. It was well done all around and I enjoyed seeing the back and forth between two strategists trying to out-chess each other as each situation developed.

The characterizations are perfect. Zahn nails his creation, I love the little strategy advice at the beginning of every chapter like it’s a Sun Tzu book and actually how that ties into the end as well. Just nicely done all around in that regard. I actually care about Arihnda more than I do Mara Jade. I really thought she had a lot of depth to her. Eli Vanto replaced Captain Pellaeon from the original series and filled that role quite nicely.

I didn’t see many contradictions from the original universe. There’s probably some details to nitpick, but I’m not that type of reader. I read for fun plot and character feel — and this delivered all the way around. I could hardly put it down once I started the book.

While it didn’t have the masterful grand epic plot of the original Trilogy, I didn’t really expect it to either. It wouldn’t be fair to compare a character origin story to that kind of a sprawling space opera, and so I don’t. This does add to that though, and I’m glad I had that fresh in my mind while I was reading this. It didn’t matter so much, as this book stands alone 100%, but it helps for love of the character going in.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for more. I was very happy with this book and rank it as one of the best I’ve read this year.

Fiction Review: Walking On A Sea Of Clouds By Gray Rinehart

I met Gray Rinehart at LibertyCon this year and had a brief chat with him about his debut novel, stating I’d read and review it when it came out. With ebooks, I’m exceedingly slow, but fortunately this is still on the level of new releases so let’s delve into his debut novel, Walking On A Sea Of Clouds. 

This is a hard science fiction book, no ifs ands or buts about it. For my readers who are into strict action/adventure or military SF only, this book may not be for you. However for hard science fiction, Mr. Rinehart succeeded at creating a very good work. I personally like to get a breadth of reading in so this was an excellent change of pace to my usual.

The story at its core is a procedural one about a corporation funding the first colony on the moon, the set up missions, the follow up training, and then the first days on the colony as they struggle with the harsh realities that an airless hostile environment on the outside would actually be like. It’s a colonization story in the tradition of Kim Stanley Robinson.

Where this differs from a lot of procedural sci-fi, is that Rinehart does a good job in the first several chapters of establishing reasons to care about the characters, humanizing them and creating attachment. I liked Stormie a lot more than I did the other main perspective character, but they were both likable and interesting. Their relationships with their significant others were near as important as the main plot of the book.

A reader gets a great sense of how these folk live their lives, in a very detailed manner. Rinehart clearly researched the science and engineering of all of this to an extreme degree from the way the colony’s constructed, to the moon vehicles, to the way air pressure and moon dust is handled. There were a lot of details of colonization I’d never considered before reading this fiction.

On the other side, Rinehart also shows his love of science fiction at every turn. There are a LOT of references to classic sci-fi. Many readers would enjoy this for the references alone, I know I loved finding the nods here and there, some more overt than others.

On a critical level, as this is more realistic and procedural, the tension levels weren’t all that high throughout the book. It would ebb and flow depending on the situation, but I didn’t end up feeling a ton of danger to the main characters. The end has a surprise element to it which was enjoyable, but I would have liked a bit more tension there at different points. I’m not sure if that’s a subgenre difference between my usual action/adventure reading and the hard procedural hard sci-fi, but I could think of ways to have added a bit more in there for a few of the scenes. There is also a pattern I note to the book of accident – fix, accident – fix, that is a plot point but may have been repeated one too many times and there could have been a shortening of the book by a scene or two.

The prose was tight, clean, and as professional as can be. Rinehart really knows his writing. As a debut novel, it’s extremely solid and Gray Rinehart is a name you should look out for in the future as taking up the Arthur C. Clarke style mantle in hard sci-fi.

https://www.amazon.com/Gray-Rinehart/e/B001KINULM

TV Review: Amazon Prime’s The Tick

This weekend i watched the 6 episodes of The Tick. I don’t watch a lot of TV because it’s usually so dark and dreary it’s painful to watch and makes you feel bad. I don’t want to get in that head space This followed a little bit of that trend as it’s MUCH darker than the original live action show, and needless to say a lot more than the cartoon or comic.

This story is really Arthur’s show, and probably should have been titled as such, but The Tick is a brand where we know what characters we’ll be getting.

Arthur is a mal-adjusted person, who sees things, gets really depressed, has OCD, probably some PTSD from watching his father get destroyed by The Terror. He’s lived in terror his whole life and has been trying to prove that The Terror is still around. The Tick shows up and brings Arthur his moth-bunny suit, which has lots of cool powers, and Arthur thinks he’s hallucinating the Tick at first. That first episode is pretty darn dark, and I recommend at least binging through 2 perhaps 3 to really get into the series because of that. I get why they did it but it needs more to get its legs.

The Tick also acts as narrator, saying some very over the top superhero things. The snark factor is extremely high, like most modern comedies. It makes it hard to have real laugh out loud moments in the first couple episodes because of the darkness and that.

I do enjoy the Terror’s look, the primary villain Ms. Lint and everything. It was cute, the characters were well done and had the spirit of their old iterations, which made them very easy to latch onto.

The filming was done in a very low-budget manner, which I found fits the Tick quite well. At least it looks low budget. There were some pretty big action scenes and effects in there for what this was. I love the Tick’s little commentary about everything, it’s very fun throughout.

Frankly, if you come at this with an open mind not expecting a series drama and not expecting the tick of yore, you’ll have fun with this series. There are great laughter moments, the plot progresses very well — and very seriously, maybe too much so but it worked. I love the scenes with Arthur’s family the best. Walter rules.

And it ends on a cliffhanger — very poignantly so. Definitely needs a season 2 and i hope we get one.

My only complaint is the Tick never once said “SPOON!”

9/10

Steampunk Review: Tainted by Morgan Busse

 

Tainted is a Steampunk novel set in a Victorian-style fantasy world that doesn’t feel all too different from most London settings. Kat is mostly alone—with a dead mother and a mad scientist father who spends all his time away from her, on his projects, and she’s left raised by paid staff, a woman who ends up a relation to the other main character, who is a detective become bounty hunter after his life goes wrong.

Morgan Busse does about as excellent a job as possible as setting up sympathetic characters. Both are put into situations where they’re hurting immensely through betrayal within the first few chapters, a trick that the master of sci-fi, Lois McMaster Bujold oft uses in her books, a formula to put characters through the worst possible situations from their perspective and see what happens when they come out the other side. When writers do that, it makes it very easy to latch on and go through the rest of books, and Busse succeeded in this.

The story is billed as a Frankenstein redone steampunk, and there are some of those elements there, but this reads much more like a romance-fantasy than a horror novel, so I think it’s better to go in with those expectations. Kat goes to what basically amounts to a mad science school, and has these strange powers she can’t explain that she tries not to use because it makes her feel as if she’s losing a part of her soul. Stephen spends early chapters moping, but he eventually decides to help Kat in her quest to figure out what’s going on with her.

It eventually comes to a climax that is hard to put down in the last hundred pages as the pace picks up and the stakes keep getting raised. There’s romance, betrayal, and a cool mad science laboratory with Frankenstein-style experiments that I wish I’d seen a lot more of earlier in the book, as this is where the world becomes compelling. Naturally there’s an airship captain because it’s steampunk, and the set up there does play a useful part to the story. Busse does an excellent job with the Chekov’s gun and making sure everything ties in, and is foreshadowed ahead of time.

A couple of criticisms of the book are that it uses the standard “no women are allowed into _____” trope where it didn’t really seem to have much use to the story. It’d be nice to not see that in every book out there, but it’s what we have in the market currently. After the first couple chapters, this part of the storyline goes away almost completely so it doesn’t negatively impact the book too much.

Second, this is done by a Christian publisher and it falls into the small trap where the characters stop and pray every few chapters as if to remind a reader it’s a Christian book. World city, however, is set in a fantasy world, and the religion and who/what they’re praying to isn’t well defined, and doesn’t seem to impact the story. Again this is minor, as it happens periodically but doesn’t overwhelm the story, but might be something to look out for.

Minor elements that didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the story too much.

Overall this is a fine first steampunk outing. Fun characters, a well-paced story that’s on the run and doesn’t stop. The writing style is light and easy to read, good for a fantasy/steampunk set up. The heroes are heroes reluctantly, and the villains are certainly villains. The last third of the book is where it really shines after the set up. Tainted does not completely resolve, but is set up for a book 2 so be aware of that as well. It was a pretty natural stopping point for the story, however, and I did enjoy enough that I will read the second in the series.

https://www.amazon.com/Tainted-Soul-Chronicles-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01BTHEUWQ

Comic Review: Golgatha

I picked this up because I saw a kickstarter that had a science fiction comic, and those are pretty rare. It looked very heavy on the SF, which I was excited about. So how did the story break down?

Golgatha is the story of colonists who get sent on a mission to colonize a new world on a sleeper ship. When they get there 80 years later, they find that there’s already a robust colony set up, and that technology was discovered that surpassed where they were at, making them redundant. The world promises to be different and disorienting, and conceptually, what a cool idea. Unfortunately the book breaks down from there.

There’s four parts here, four issues, and the first whole issue is spent on showing us a character who is really dark, did some dark things for the military, and basically is getting forced away from his home after his wife disowns him. That’s the main crux of it, not much sci-fi at all. This is very much too dark for my tastes, and the pacing and way it played out reminded me of those mid-90s comics that tried really hard to be edgy. I ended up liking the character well enough to continue.

Now on the kickstarter and on a full page here — we get introduced to this crew of this sleeper colony who has all these skills, do different things and…. then never appear in the issue. The colony ship crashes and so the promise set up by these introductions evaporates immediately. We’re reintroduced to the “you’ve been gone a long time…” new cast, and find out that the head of the world is the main character’s grandson.

Now the colony is huge, like a big city, and… we don’t get to see much of it. We’re told there’s a culture that’s very different, told there’s no place for soldiers anymore (later there are soldiers and battle drones). We never see anything, however.

A crisis gets explained to us in issue 2, where someone basically suicide bombed the city, and we don’t really get much clear explanation of that other than the colony leader’s ex wife disappeared years ago after finding some “anomaly.” Another interesting premise, cool concept, and comes back with some poor execution. We get a lot of talking, a romantic plot that doesn’t quite work out with the only other survivor of the colony ship (the others I guess died after that intro page) and a really slow build. These first two issues could have been used to set a way more epic stage for issues 3 and 4, or show us some of the culture of Golgatha, something.  The character set up was fine but I keep seeing “oh this is cool…” and then it misses the cool parts.

In issue 3, they set out to find the lost ex-wife of the colony leader, they find her after a little bit of cool action, and it gets kinda cool again. A small twist is set up and I’ll try not to spoil it. From this point on, the story flowed pretty nicely, albeit still with some pacing issues to the more interesting elements of the story.

The action was very light, the promise of “needing a soldier” — well they didn’t really need one. The main character could have had any background and really done fine with what was thrown in front of him. The scientist that also stated how smart she was several times, and also went in some weird Bhuddism stuff… also wasn’t really needed. She could have not existed in the story and it would have proceeded fine, and maybe given some more pages to try to flesh out some of the cool alien stuff, the cool world, and the cool missing doctor influenced by the anomaly stuff a bit more.

While I hit the pacing for several pages of talking that didn’t go anywhere, some odd religious references that didn’t quite feel natural, introducing some concepts (like the colony’s AI) that didn’t really get used for much, it did flow very well. I read this very fast and in one sitting, so the comic didn’t drag, despite its diversions.

The story was alright at the end, and though I really picked it apart. I didn’t hate it. I don’t regret reading, and it wasn’t boring for the most part. And most importantly — there were no politics in it! It just went on a lot of little tangents that didn’t come anywhere near to fruition, and hit a lot of backstory that really didn’t matter to the plot. The side vignettes in the kickstarter version are pretty interesting, enjoyed those, but the “science “content at the end was skippable.

Art wise… it looked like a high quality web comic, though not really the standard with which I was used to whenever I picked up a Top Cow book. It was fine, serviceable, but some of the colors blurred in the cooler moments — like when they were falling into the chasm, and it wasn’t as evocative of action in those points where I would have liked. It just came off a little flat, which didn’t help with the oddly paced storytelling.

I don’t love blasting things I read, and sometimes I just choose not to write reviews because of that, but, it’s on my mind, and unfortunately, I also have in my mind what I’d have done to fix it if I had written it. The issue does end with a cool action sequence and some changes that are interesting — and a really intriguing concept again for a promised volume 2. The concepts are cool all around, and they have a lot of them, I just think this needed a lot more tightening up at the end of the day.

6/10