The Chain by Antony Millen

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A dystopian scavenger hunt that takes you across the world and brings you back cynical and rebellious.

In The Chain we are introduced to a cynical story of near-futurism where everyone is watching everyone all the time. Governments cease to function as they once did as the online world both transcends and negates borders. As Lukan and Topia travel the world they see first-hand the impact of the global network upon small communities; on local customs and mythologies and even dialects. Through the digital corporatocracy society is slowly being eroded and dissolved and replaced by a mainstream connectivist culture. There are some brilliant ideas in this book that have much relevance for today’s world and the direction we are headed. The Chain deals with themes of technology vs freedom of speech, preservation of culture, knowledge vs censorship and the impact of technology upon small communities and cultures.

Despite having some brilliant ideas, this book ultimately doesn’t deliver on the fundamentals. The characters motivations are weak, vague or sometimes forced, and in the boys journey they encounter very little, if any, real conflict until towards the climax. The reader is told of the global police state, and of the constant monitoring, censoring and dictation of social media, yet this predominantly remains an unseen world. In a heavily regulated and controlled society the boys manage to, very easily, travel across the world, walk through cities, discover allies almost immediately upon arrival of a new country, and engage with communities of “off-liners”. The boys experiences contrast the given expectation of the world. The government agents are lenient and barely do more than stand around in the shadows, watching but remaining inactive. Right from the start of the book, Millen misses an opportunity to present the totalitarian forces as anything but indifferent. Even Lukan and Topia’s motivations are lackluster. This, coupled with the lack of imminent danger or threat to the boys throughout the book, leaves their journey feeling flat and, overall, dissatisfaying. If the characters lack a solid emotional drive or investment then so do the readers.

But, despite the lack of genuine emotion, implied or inherent, the book is still an enjoyable read. Millen presents a very interesting and poignant look at the future and introduces some fascinating new concepts, while taking existing concepts and giving them a refreshing makeover. Everyone loves to compare dystopian fiction to Orwell’s 1984, but The Chain is more comfortable in the company of the likes of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. A sometimes-thought provoking read with moderate cyberpunk elements: 6/10.

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Squid’s Grief by D.K. Mok

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A fast-paced thriller filled with humor, intrigue and palpable smoke-screens.

Set in the near future, Squids Grief is a crime thriller with some cyberpunk elements. Squid is a thief with morals who has ‘one last job’ before she goes clean, but everything goes wrong when she finds Grief, a man with no memories, inside the boot of a car she steals. Meanwhile, the gangs are in upheaval as they are restructured and gang-war begins to break out and Police officer Casey is trying to tackle the rising gang violence in the city of Baltus; but the harder she fights, the more intricate the web of corruption ensnaring the city and it’s officials becomes.

D.K. Mok’s third novel, Squid’s Grief is thoughtfully written; fast-paced with excellent action and consistent humor throughout, it also manages to deal with strong themes without being preachy. Both villains and heroes are seeking new beginnings; the gangs, the police department, Casey, Squid, Grief and even the city itself – everyone is seeking a figurative rebirth and a fresh start. The secondary theme of redemption is also strong in this book. Both heroes and villains alike are three dimensional characters full of regret and desire; they are well written, likable characters who all walk in that moral grey zone. There is no clear-cut good or bad. Everyone is a hero, or a villain, to someone depending on their situation or point of view.

The thriller aspect of the story was well done. I fell for many of the distractions and got distracted by the smokescreens and I was wholly surprised by the twists as they appeared. In all, this was a very enjoyable read that I recommend to anyone that enjoys the show Gotham or authors like John le Carre or Lee Child. 8/10.

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Galaxy9 by Darryl Brent

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A fast-paced read that meanders as aimlessly as his characters motivations.

Galaxy9 is Darryl Brent’s first published novel. The book is about three engineering students who come across a spaceship and then explore space. That’s it. His command of the English language is good, and he can write a well-paced story with well described settings and locations, but he lacks the skill at creating depth in character or plot.

Described as “Science Fiction Comedy Adventure for Young Adults” this book undershoots drastically, missing all the standard benchmarks of young adults fiction. The characters are two dimensional and often make illogical and sometimes nonsensical decisions. There is very little emotional input by the characters and there isn’t particularly much at stake for them either. This makes it hard for the reader to emotionally invest in the characters or the book.

The story jumps between chapters like a frog on steroids – each chapter does little to add to character or atmosphere, and reads more like the transcript for a children’s saturday morning show with chapters being heavily disconnected to each other and lacking an overarching plot. Brent is heavily inspired by Star Wars, and this comes through very clearly in this book and, unfortunately, he doesn’t do a great job disguising this fact. The opening chapter reads like a scene from Star Wars complete with Han Solo Isaac flying the Millenium Falcon Midnight Shrike, and the rest of the book descends into a smuggling/mercenary/freight-delivery serialization, not unlike Star Wars: Rebels.

What Darryl Brent lacks in skill he makes up for through sheer ambition, creating a large-scale universe with many exciting characters and exotic settings. With so much material and so many ideas, Brent would have been better off writing a larger book and spending a bit more quiet time with the characters. He is currently writing a sequel called Galaxy9 Breakout. 3/10.

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The Observers by C. R. Downing

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A buddy-cop comedy of errors in the tradition of Douglas Adams or J. D. Crayne. This is what happens when a science teacher writes fiction. Not to be confused with Damon Knight’s ‘The Observers’.

The Observers explores complex scientific themes; should science and technology advance simply for the sake of progress? Who should be in control? Who does ownership of information really belong to? These themes are explored through our two main characters, Mxpan and Zerpall. Mollusc-like telepathic beings, Glieseians have made themselves technological overseers that monitor species technological development and intervene as necessary. The Observers is a comedic buddy-cop novel about two investigators, one being the by-the-book professional, and the other being a fun-loving take-it-as-it-comes kind of guy.

Despite interesting and well-written characters the book falls flat, however, with its setting and plot. There are three major plot lines in this book. Each is contextually irrelevant to the other and the book feels like three short stories were stuck together and as it progresses it begins to feel disconnected. The story is forgettable and the major plots lack satisfying conclusions, leaving you feeling underwhelmed.

Downing is a teacher of science, and his knowledge and love for technology and biology clearly show, but he has missed some major opportunities. As with the forgettable plot, so are the settings equally uninteresting. Different alien worlds and civilizations are treated almost indifferently – despite well developed characters downing has forgotten to characterize the worlds or environments, and with the vague story this lends to the feeling of staleness throughout the book.

However, this is a comedy book and the humour is well written: timing is everything in comedy, and Downing delivers witty punch-lines and well-paced gags that carry the reader through an often drawn-out experience. The banter between Mxpan and Zerpall is delightful and Zerpall’s child-like innocence is often laugh-out-loud material. If Downing had given even a fraction of the attention he gave his characters to the settings and plot, this book could have been a monumental entry to the genre, placing him with the likes of Heinlein or Asprin. 5/10.

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Kumari: Goddess of Gotham

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Dark and humorous, Kumari is a fun read that comfortably bridges the divide between Adult and Young Adult fantasy. Lees has written a heroine that is complex and endearing.

Amanda Lees parents met in the Borneo jungle where her Glaswegian-born mother had set up a hospital and her father was an Oxford-educated Gurkha officer. Goddess of Gotham was written as a tribute to her late mother, and to reflect Lee’s own exotic upbringing, exploring her love of the world and it’s different cultures.

The first in a trilogy, Goddess of Gotham is the story of Kumari, a thirteen year-old girl who is a goddess-in-training and lives in a hidden kingdom in the mountains. Despite being a goddess, her life is full of restrictions and instructions and she becomes disillusioned with her preordained role in the universe. All of this changes when her mother, the goddess, is killed and Kumari attempts to resurrect her and find the truth. But Kumari has not yet mastered her magical powers, least of all resurrection, and suddenly finds herself in the strange and fantastic world of modern day New York.

The city is no place for children, and she quickly finds herself placed in a foster home, attending state education and falling in love with a cute boy. The mortal realm is not so bad and she thinks she could get used to living here with her new friends and family. But there is a downside – she must leave her new-found life behind, or she will become mortal and never be able to return to her kingdom. But she does not know where her kingdom is, or even where New York is. Time is running out. Soon, she will lose all her powers and become mortal and she will never find the truth of who killed her mother. And who are the men that keep trying to capture her. Who do they work for, and how do they know who she is?

Inspired and steeped heavily in Nepalese and Hindu belief, Kumari, Goddess of Gotham is a riveting read that blends the magical and fantastic with the real-world. Often times a dark and thrilling adventure, Kumari is also a brightly coloured and light-hearted story. The characters are well-written and are believable and relateable, the story is original and gripping from the first page.

The first book in a trilogy, and also Amanda Lees debut novel, Goddess of Gotham is an emotional and exciting read for Young Adults or Adults alike. 8/10

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A Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin

Winter is Coming.
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Martin crafts a complex and exhilarating story that leaves you breathless and yearning for more.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire Book One) was first published in 1996 to relative success, which was further boosted by HBO’s serialization of the novel onto television. Inspired by greats such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan and Robert E. Howard, Martin creates a rich world in the tradition of Middle-Earth set in a low-magic historical/medieval setting where the savagery of the Feudal system is as much a character as the people themselves.

Avoiding the cliches found in modern fantasy epics, Martin has ground the genre back to a relatable level – family dynamics. His mastery of the narrative is obvious not only in his ability to weave complicated plots and points of view together into a fast-paced political melee, but more his ability to draw his characters in a moral gray scale. With some exceptions, no character is specifically good or bad – they all fight for their honor, or their family, or their kingdom, or merely follow the customs or religious beliefs common and accepted in their homelands. Martin throws the reader into this Feudalistic maelstrom and expects the reader to make his or her own judgments on the characters. There are several characters that are clearly in the villain role, and yet Martin has managed to craft them all as multi-faceted and even sympathetic so that, right to the end, they remain ambiguous.

A Game of Thrones is Shakespearean tragedy dressed up with even more violence, dark energies, and plenty of sex: it is both equally a timeless classic and a post-modern marvel. Martin draws from multiple sub-genres so that there is something recognizable to all readers, no matter what fiction they normally read.

The only drawback is that Martin’s world is so rich in character and description that, for the first half of the book, it is often easy to get lost in the finer details, but as the book progresses and characters are killed off, the narrative becomes less muddy and becomes clearer and easier to follow.

An exciting read with many original and intriguing concepts as well as many familiar and more comfortable ideas. 8/10

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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Empirestrikesback“That boy is our last hope,” Ben Kenobi said, his voice heavy with emotion.

“No,” Kenobi’s former teacher corrected with a knowing gleam in his large eyes. “There is another.”

For those who do not know the story of The Empire Strikes Back: Luke, Han and Leia lead the rebellion against the fascist Empire and it’s Imperial forces that rule the galaxy. Their hidden base, on the frozen world of Hoth, is discovered by Imperial forces and they must survive military assault and evacuate the planet. Luke is a Jedi-in-training and exiles himself across the galaxy to find a legendary Jedi Master who can train him to refine his skills, so he can face off against the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.

While Luke is training, his friends are trying to flee Imperial forces but are eventually captured when they land on a ‘neutral’ world. They are betrayed to the Empire and Han is captured and given to a bounty hunter to trade for reward. The capture of Lukes’ friends is all a trap, however, to lure Luke to confront Vader so he may either corrupt and convert him, or kill him and end any potential threat he presents.

Most of the brilliance of The Empire Strikes Back comes from the use and application of mythic structure. Even though this story is a sequel, it stands on it’s own. Our characters are introduced with backstories that aren’t explained, but are dripped out through interactions, reactions and dialogue – Our hero, Luke, is destined to face off with his nemesis, Darth Vader, but ultimately he fails, and the nemesis is left in a stronger position than ever.

Our heroes Allies are the ones whom we follow for the duration of the story; we experience their conflicts and their resolutions and they, figuratively and literally, function as the vehicle that moves our Hero, Luke, from point A to point B. At the end of this journey, Luke is not a great deal more powerful than at the beginning, but what he has gained is knowledge and wisdom and humility. With this, he takes a step back and realizes he must train harder and discipline himself even more. An important message for a hero to portray in every generation. And ultimately, we are introduced to The Emperor, a Lucifer figure manipulating Darth Vader and even the rebels every step of the way.

All these elements give the universe the story is set in a sense of wholeness and vastness – everything is a part of something greater, whether or not you can see it. The story and it’s mythos and contexts are, like The Force itself, what surrounds and binds everything together. The story is a four dimensional unit; beginning, middle, end, but it has a before, and an after, and even a ‘sideways’ where things are happening concurrently that impact the main characters, such as bounty hunters and politics. The universe George Lucas created has a background and a foreground and nothing feels forced or out of place.

Being a novelization that came out the same year as the film, meant it was inevitable that there would be discrepancies. In the book, Yoda is blue, not green, and Darth Vaders light-saber is described as blue, not red. Some dialogue is a little different, but the over-all character development or story context remains the same – though perhaps the initial back-and-forth between Hand and Leia is a little more love/hate than in the films – Han being much more sexist than in the movie. Luke’s training with Yoda is also extended in the book.esb_0009

These may seem like significant deviations to the lore of Star Wars, but Glut’s novelization is possibly one of the most faithful there is. After reading through both the initial and the final scripts for the film, Glut’s novelization is incredibly faithful to the final script used for the film. Unfortunately, during filming, lines were ad-libbed and scenes were cut out and new aesthetic decisions were made. Initially, Yoda was supposed to be blue (as seen in The Empire Strikes Back comic by Marvel), and Darth Vader’s light saber is never referred to as either red or blue in the script. The extended sequences of dialogue that expand on what was in the film were actually in the script as well. Not only this, but you can see these in the deleted scenes on the blue-ray version of the film.

People have criticized Glut for ‘adding’ sequences or getting details wrong, but the reality is that the man did his job exactly as he was asked, and very faithfully and accurately novelized the script he was given.

Where the book lacks is in adding richness or depth to the characters or story. The medium of writing allows a story teller to get inside a characters head and share their feelings and motivations. This would imply an immediate advantage over the film, but this was barely explored by Glut. In an interview with Jedinews.co.uk (2011) Glut poses the question himself as to why people would bother reading the book and then watching the film, or vice versa. He states himself that he has no understanding of the point of a novelization and has also never been a fan of Star Wars. For him it was just a job – it was just money.

This may sound callous, but back then that was George Lucas’ focus; part of Lucas’ contract being he gets a set commission off all merchandising instead of a single payment from the studio. His focus was to produce as much product as quickly as he could to maximize his return – there was little confidence in the film being successful at the time, and he was already planning his tactical retreat.

Another weak element of is Princess Leia’s involvement in the book. Leia’s passive role in this film isn’t so evident, but it’s strikingly obvious in the novelization. She doesn’t even play a damsel in distress role. She’s basically only there for Han to be sexist towards, and then to share a meaningful kiss when Han is frozen in carbonite at the end. Though she does also play, through her passiveness, a leadership role when it comes to tactics and strategy – which is true to her character. For the bulk of the film she is out of her element, and at the mercy of the Millenium Falcon, and so due to circumstance, must be the more passive character, as it would be poor judgement not to let the captain take control of his own ship.

This, again, is not a criticism of Glut, but to the script itself. This script wrote her as an irrelevant side-character, and tasked to recreating the script, Glut had no choice but to recreate that irrelevance on paper.

I do recommend the novelization to all fans, despite it’s differences to the cult film that has inspired generations. It does enhance characters in some parts, but mostly gives an interesting insight into the potential decisions the franchise could have made in direction and aesthetic. Even if you aren’t a fan, at just over 200 pages it is not a difficult read – the prose is clear and simple and it is an easy read.

I rate it a 7.5/10

For more information about the amazing talent that is Donald F. Glut, you can read about him on wikipedia or visit his website here.

 

Star Wars: Ylesia by Walter Jon Williams

YlesiajediorderYlesia is the sixteenth installment in the New Jedi Order series. Set in the Expanded Universe (now known as Star Wars Legends) it takes place approximately thirty years after A New Hope, though the EU/Legend stories are all now considered non-canonical since the Disney purchase of Star Wars. Ylesia takes place specifically between chapters 21 and 22 in Williams’ Star Wars novel The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.

On the planet of Ylesia a group of traitors and criminals have set up a collaborationist government working in tandem with the devastating invasion forces of the Yuuzhan Vong. Inadvertantly finding himself leading these traiters is Han Solo’s nephew, Thrackan. The forces of The New Republic are planning a massive offensive to obliterate all collaborators on the planet and make an example of anyone that hinders the Republic.

Jacen Solo, Han Solo’s son, has a bitter resentment towards the Yuuzhan Vong, once being their prisoner. He proposes a raid into the heart of Ylesia’s capital, to capture the collaborators and hold them for trial and exile them offworld; a prolonged trial, he hopes, will extend the message that traitors to The New Republic will be held to account. What The New Republic doesn’t realize is that Yuuzhan Vong reinforcements have been sent, and the simple extraction of political officials turns into a full-on battle.

Not being familiar with this particular time-line in the Star Wars Legends universe, it took me a while to familiarize myself with the characters and settings. I didn’t read the blurb or synopsis and had no idea of what the book would be about. Once I knew the who and the what, the story became very self explanatory. Ylesia is a novella, so Williams doesn’t have page space to drag out character development, but does so efficiently with the time and word count that he has.

This is not a book filled with light-sabre battles and storm troopers – this is a more thought out political drama dealing with more complex issues, while still providing the expected stock of (limited) force-use, alien creatures, spaceships and explosions. It is an enjoyable book, despite doing very little to stand out, but it does nothing to really make me criticize, either. It is a genuinely good book, that left me wanting more. I wanted to know where these characters were going, what the consequences of the battle of Ylesia were. It was an unsatisfying ending for me, because I was left wanting so much more. Now that I know this is actually set between chapters in a larger Star Wars novel, I see now that I shall have to find and read this book as well. Like anything Williams writes, the book has excellent dialogue and action sequences, and you never feel lost in the excitement or confused by inconsistent characterization.

I recommend this book to Star Wars fans and rate it a 4/5. To download a FREE copy of this e-book follow this link here: Ylesia Download.

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Star Wars “Brothers in Arms” – FCBD 2005

cbcb1d1c-ecdf-439a-8e5a-429d5e614bf7Since 2002 the American Comic Book Industry began promoting Free Comic Book Day to encourage customers to visit independent comic book retailers, to encourage sales and attract new customers. The promotion was a success and still runs to this day. 2005 saw the release of the first Star Wars FCBD comic, which can be downloaded for free from Amazon.

Originally destined to be called “Brothers in Arms,” this title was already in use, and as such this comic was left without an official title, however it has retained it’s unofficial name. This story takes place after Attack of The Clones and approximately four and a half months before Revenge of The Sith. Anakin and Obi Wan, having found Count Dooku’s citadel, are shot down as they approach it.

They crash land on the heavily forested planet and are forced to trek the long distance to the citadel.Time works against them – they need to get Dooku’s castle and catch Dooku and Grievous unaware, capturing them and ending the Trade Federation’s military front. However, when they finally infiltrate Dooku’s citadel it is over-run with an army of droids waiting for them, and no sign of the Sith or his General.

Their ship, meanwhile, has finished being repaired by the crew they left behind with the wreck, and they swoop in at the last minute and rescue the two Jedi from the swarm of droids.

Brothers in Arms is a short comic and is very easy to read. The interactions between Anakin and Obi Wan are poorly written, despite being an adaptation of the films – Anakin has slightly more emotion than in the films, which is great, but Obi Wan has lost the calm demeanor that made him such a formidable Jedi Knight and is now on an emotional rollercoaster. Let’s be honest – even the banter in the films between the two characters was often flat and uninspired, but it was Ewen Mcgregor’s clear sense of fun that gave the character some life. In the comic book we have none of the charisma or sense of charm that Mcgregor brought to the film.

The artwork is very nice. The characters are drawn to very closely resemble the characters from the films. The backgrounds and scenery are detailed and have a lot of depth. The light-sabre fight scenes and the general action is done really well.

It is not a sophisticated book, but a great introduction to comics and Star Wars for youngsters or die hard Star Wars or comic fans. I rate this book a 3/5.

Star Wars: Memes, Funny Memes & NSFW.

51tzal5-v7l-_sx311_bo1204203200_This is less of a review and more of a warning: Do Not Purchase This Book. Do not even download the free version. S.S Publishing has collected Star Wars memes from around the internet of varying resolutions and poorly edited them together into a bland, unoriginal and not even slightly entertaining book. On the Amazon page for this book he claims, “In this book, it contains best collection of memes that will make laugh out loud so loud that your friends will think you have gone crazy.” This is a very debatable statement.

There is an introduction page (though it reads more like a disclaimer) before the lazy google image search and cut-and-paste begins.

Our goal is for you to be completely satisfied with your purchase and reading experience (laughing out loud anyone?), if for any reason this is not the case we would appreciate it if you would give us a chance to address your concerns BEFORE leaving feedback. Simply log in to our Facebook group, and address your concerns and we will do our best to address your issue.

It is designed as click-Bait on the Kindle Store, and that is all there is to it – except for that one meme of Chewbacca on a hair advertisement. That one made me smile. In fact, there are some good memes that are genuinely funny spread very thinly throughout this book. Unfortunately, terrible editing and a very forgiving selection criteria makes finding the good memes an uninteresting chore. To summarize, this book is incredibly lazy, and I would recommend just browsing for Star Wars parody images on google or deviant art.

I give this book a 1/5.