Tag Archives: sci-fi

Vault of Shadows (The Nightsiders #2)

Title: Vault of Shadows

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Series: The Nightsiders #2

Milo is not having a good week. Milo somehow not only outsmarted the deadly Huntsman, an evil human made worse by the alien Bugs modifying him to be a supersoldier, but stole the egg containing all the Bug’s DNA and technology patterns. And the Nightsiders who helped with that—a tree spirit, a fire salamander, a rock boy, and a werewolf—are now part of the uneasy alliance with the last of humanity to take back the Earth.

But the Huntsman isn’t about to forget Milo. He’s determined to retrieve the stolen egg. And he’s got an entire race of aliens ready to support his every plan.

I still wonder if these aren’t a bit too dark for the age range, or if maybe this would work better for me if Milo wasn’t 11. On the one hand, the book doesn’t flinch away from the fact that when the Earth gets overrun by alien invaders, not even kids get a free pass. On the other, we’re not only dealing with people Milo knows dying, but it goes beyond that to human sacrifice (although this does at least happen completely offscreen).

The stakes go even higher, too. This time around a villain from the Nightsiders appears, someone who would prefer humanity to go extinct and will even join with the Huntsman to do it (parallels to the Wild Huntsman are likely intentional).

Milo’s dreams provide the only real edge his group has. Glimpses of past, present, and future warn and guide them. I did like the library, and the ghost who reads there. I also really appreciated the book pointing out that although Milo can only see his own group of resistance fighters, there is still fighting in the rest of the world, and all of them are contributing towards the hope of success.

Overall this is still a strong followup to the first book, although something about it still doesn’t quite click with me. Still, as long as the horror aspects aren’t too bothersome for the reader, it’s a good read. I rate this book Recommended.

The True Meaning of Smekday (The Smek Smeries #1)

Title: The True Meaning of Smekday

Author: Adam Rex

Series: The Smek Smeries #1

Gratuity is a precocious 11-year-old who happens to get a first-hand look at the alien Boov takeover of the planet. Little does she know a chance encounter with a Boov mechanic on the run will pull her into a war that’s spanned the galaxy. All she really wants, though, is to find out what happened to her mother (preferably while not being shot at by aliens).

The writing on this is strong, with a good sense of voice and engaging main characters. Gratuity (Tip) is independent enough to tackle her problems herself, even when it involves a long drive cross-country through alien-occupied territory. But she still wouldn’t get very far without a Boov who calls himself J.Lo, whose mechanical genius is matched by his appetite for toxic substances.  And the humor is also pretty strong, much of it in Tip’s wry observations about her circumstances.

But I found myself losing steam as the book progressed. The literary style started into a lot of literary tropes I’m tired of seeing. Oh, here’s a homosexual who got beaten senseless because people are nasty to homosexuals (this is one sentence and feels more like trying to check an Issues bingo card). Here’s how the greatest problems with sticking the entire country into one state are mostly people of different races devolving into bouts of racism (personally, I think the far, far, FAR bigger problem that wasn’t addressed was the severe lack of bathrooms. You can’t just stick millions of people into Arizona and expect to have enough toilets for everyone. And that’s discounting the fact that Arizona is kind of noted for being rather dry, so are the aliens running the plumbing systems now too, so that everyone can afford to flush? What about toilet paper? My thoughts go here because a large portion of the plot does get spent in bathrooms. But you could make the same argument about basic shelter or hygiene or medicines. But the story never talks about people dying left and right, unless they’re shooting each other.)

There were others, but it was in the same vein. The second big thing that bugged me with the end was Gratuity’s mom. The beginning paints her as lovable but not quite all there, easy to manipulate, easy to take advantage of. Given that, I never could believe what she ended up doing (trying to avoid spoiling anything, but it was before the Gorg).

So . . . nice prose, sure. But not for me. I kept fighting to suspend disbelief with the setting, and I didn’t like how the whole book felt like a Message about certain Issues in addition to a story. I rate this book Neutral.

Beast Master’s Ark (Beast Master)

Title: Beast Master’s Ark

Author: Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

Series: Beast Master

Storm has better things to do than cater to the egos of the scientists on the Ark. Some unknown thing is stripping living things down to the bone overnight, and if it isn’t stopped soon, the humans and the natives of Arzor might end up warring each other. Tani, a scientist, dislikes the Beast Masters because she thinks they kill their teams. But her help is vital if they hope to stop disaster.

A number of things broke the story, for me. Punctuation was one of my more minor quibbles, but cropped up often enough to be aggravating. Characters would ask each other questions, that are clearly questions, and not use question marks. Some of the dialog felt stilted. The story awkwardly sets up Storm and Tani for a couple well before either of them want anything to do with the other, with even the animals asking if they’re going to mate right after she arrives.

And I found Tani extremely unlikable. She’s supposed to be 19 but her behavior is really childish. Giving her a tragic backstory is almost an excuse not to think. She’s lived through a war: she ought to understand, at the very least, there are two sides, and sometimes choosing not to fight means getting run over. (I have no problem with extreme pacifists who are willing to stake their own lives on that philosophy. It starts becoming a problem when they want to stake everyone else’s lives on it too.) This is a big problem with the potential romance angle, because now I’m actively rooting against them getting together.

For something so intrinsic to her character and her upbringing, she changes her mind remarkably easily. The character just never felt right to me. The tragedy felt rather tacked on since once the decision is made that’s it.

Other than that, this is a decent enough read. I just couldn’t get over how much I hated Tani, which spoiled everything. I rate this book Neutral.

In Arcadia (Touchstone #5)

Title: In Arcadia

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #5

Laura never second-guessed her decision to walk through the gate to Munia to live with her daughter. But now that she’s on the other side, living in another world is settling into a directionless, mundane existence. Then comes the complication of possible romance. Having been divorced, Laura isn’t sure she wants to go through a relationship again.

I was expecting something closer to the Gratuitous Epilogue than the first three Touchstone books, but this isn’t even much like that. Although the idea of a story focusing on Cassandra’s mother was interesting, I thought the execution fell rather flat in several places.

I liked being able to see the impact Cassandra’s disappearance had on everyone at home, and what happened to the family as a result. Even though this was more of a summary backstory, it still filled in some holes and helped to explain why everyone who came with had decided that way. I liked the general story about Laura and her wanting to be close to her daughter but not be some kind of helicopter mom, understanding her daughter now has a family and a life.

The problem is I never really bought the romance, and unlike the other books, where there’s plenty going on outside that, here the romance is basically the story. I don’t mind the story being sex-positive, but I still find it bizarre Laura has no inkling this man even likes her, then a week later decides to sleep with him as the FIRST step in a relationship. And then half the reason she decides to continue it seems to be nothing more than “we had really good sex.” It would’ve made a lot more sense to me to have them start building the relationship on some common foundations before getting to that point. As it is, she’s known the man for mere hours before offering him that much intimacy.

It would have been nice to see more of her struggle with being a divorced person in a new relationship (and frankly, his struggle with the same; Tsur Selkie’s backstory is interesting, but he’s a rather flat character compared to Kaoren).

At least the twist at the very end leaves me hopeful some future book might explore the impact of that. But even if it does, it’s unlikely this one will need to be read to augment the story. I rate this book Neutral.

God Eater Resurrection (PS4/Vita/Steam)

Earth has been overrun by a new lifeform dubbed Aragami. These creatures will eat anything, and in a short period of time have devastated the earth. An organization called Fenrir has succeeded in creating artificial Aragami as weapons, and the so-called God Eaters who wield them are the only force capable of standing against the remnants of humanity and total destruction.

I can see why people think the plot of the first game is better than the second, although to my mind the anime actually did a better job of fleshing out the earliest story arc. Lindow doesn’t have much time to make an impression before things go haywire, and the aftermath feels a little strong for someone the player will hardly know. It’s almost more fun in the second arc piecing together who he really was, and what he’d been doing, and why he got into such a mess. And I like Ren, who is hugely critical of Lindow to the point where you can’t really tell if he thinks anything much of the guy everyone else admires. (And Ren pretty much requires rewatching a few of his cutscenes later on in the game to notice something that isn’t spelled out until later.)

Character-wise Soma, Ren, and Shio were the only ones who really made an impression. Soma has a very interesting backstory, although the game never gets really deep into it, but it’s interesting how he struggles between doing what his father commands and hating him for it (and then trying to deal with all the fallout from his father’s actions), along with the unusual circumstances of his birth.

The gameplay for this remains strong, although I struggled a lot in the beginning until figuring out ways to compensate for lower-damaging moves. Thankfully the Aragami can all be killed with melee only, although once you progress far enough to unlock the best sniper gun line (level 4) and the best blast gun (level 10), guns offer a handy alternative to those monsters you just aren’t in the mood to fight again. New type God Eaters are still a rare thing, so you don’t get more than a handful of characters who can both shield themselves and shoot you a healing bullet, which makes HP management a bit more of an issue here.

Resurrection, since it takes place before Rage Burst, doesn’t offer some of the enhancements found in the later game, but it does have its own unique gameplay in the Predator Styles. Basically, the devour function that allows you to steal enemy bullets and a bit of a power-up was revamped to allow for different moves, such as a dash-and-devour, arial devours, etc. In addition, the five different devour actions allow you to equip bonuses (basically free skills) that will apply once that form of devour is used and remain until that particular burst bar runs out (or in the case of melee/gun boosting, until your next melee/gun attack).

The menus have also gotten a welcome revamp. Now each weapon type has its own page, so you can more easily find just the recipes you’re interested in crafting. I was a little frustrated that it was harder to keep a non-elemental weapon early to mid-game (at least for Spears), but the crafting system in other ways is less frustrating because you have more missions featuring only a single Aragami, so it’s much easier to go after the particular ingredients or tickets you’re missing.

Overall this is a great bonus to have bundled into the God Eater 2: Rage Burst game, which is how I would recommend buying it, as you can get both games for a reasonable price. I beat all the plot missions around 55 hours, but am still working on missions I missed completing and trying to platinum the game. I rate this game Recommended.

Gratuitous Epilogue (Touchstone #4)

Title: Gratuitous Epilogue

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #4

Marriage, kids… Cassandra thought she’d have more time before all that happened. But life had other ideas, and now that The Worlds Have Been Saved, it’s time to live life to the fullest. Muina continues to grow and develop, the Setari are finally able to get a break, and everyone has their own ways to make this planet home.

It’s really hard to describe this one, except as a novel-sized love letter to fans of the trilogy. Those who liked a healthy dose of action mixed in with the adventures of everyday life might find this disappointing. It mostly covers a few weddings, some parties, kids, lots of babies, and some intriguing events that could (hopefully) lead to future books.

I liked seeing where it all went. Sen, Rye, and Ys can be a bit too good sometimes, though. I find it hard to believe she’s not dealing with bratty or challenging behavior more, especially from Sen, but on the other hand, the diary format means much of Cassandra’s life is summarized.

And the end, of course, leaves open a number of interesting “What happens next?!” possibilities. So I can hope another Gratuitous Epilogue might come along. If you’ve read the series and really like the slice of life bits, I rate this Recommended. If you haven’t read the series, by all means do that first, and if the slice of life isn’t to your taste than this will probably hold less appeal.

Caszandra (Touchstone #3)

Title: Caszandra

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #3

Cassandra Devlin has forged a funny sort of life for herself on another world. Now her newest relationship is rearranging her world all over again—this time in good ways. Mostly. It’s not fun to watch the Setari rushing off to deal with monstrous incursions from other spaces, or trying to figure out her own very odd abilities before they manage to kill her. And as the biggest mysteries grow ever closer to becoming solvable, the enemies they face grow even deadlier.

One thing I really like about these books is how very lived-in this world feels. Cassandra has plenty of adventure and otherworldly excitement, including her deepening talent set, which no one has ever seen before. But the diary highlights the fact that most of her days involve living. Sometimes recovering in medical, sometimes shopping, sometimes exploring more of Muina. Dealing with little life issues like having entertainment companies make television shows based on your life. It really brings home how she and the Setari are people first, dealing with crisis after crisis as they come up, because they’re the only ones who stand between three planets and total ruin.

There are several interesting twists here, too. The plot slowly unfolds, and unlike many stories, it’s not going to fully explain everything—because as Cassandra points out, the people doing the plotting neglected to have evil villain motivation speeches, or leave handbooks explaining their plots, and besides that most of what evidence they have is very old. But what is there is enough, and it’s not only plausible but lends some very disturbing implications to just what Cassandra herself might be able to do, or how others might try to take advantage of her.

The climax comes well before the actual end, and I liked seeing the “after.” Again, it helped to show how much these are people, and that their lives do go on. (And for the curious, there is another book called Gratuitous Epilogue, which is mainly more life stuff, some of which has been hinted at here.)

It’s hard to say too much about this one without spoiling something good, so I’ll just say this is a very solid set of books and has quickly become a favorite. I rate this book Recommended.