Tag Archives: sci-fi

City of Gods II: Horsemen (City of Gods #2)

Title: City of Gods II: Horsemen

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #2

The Horsemen have learned much during their time at the Academy, but now they have to face final exams. True to form, the exams aren’t easy—and some of them require involving themselves in the outside world. And after, everyone is split up as they’re sent on their first real missions . . .

I still think this is better as “kids with powers” than Horsemen specifically, the little nod to a vision of horses notwithstanding. That said, it’s still an interesting world, and each of the kids gets a lot of opportunity to develop.

In some ways this feels like a novella about the final exams, followed by the first half of a book about their first missions. That’s not a bad thing—both stories rotate between all four Horsemen and the split means things can go in several directions. One of the missions, for example, is directly built on an exam.

I like that Gunnar’s challenge is more about leadership, because he’s not really used to working with others still, much less the people who actually end up by his side. And I liked that Rowan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as he’s seemed (I usually love berserkers, but Rowan being an arrogant bully cancelled that out). I liked that Saoirse picked up the biggest incongruity about the minotaurs and is clever in playing to her strengths. I liked that Kayana gets challenged over her sociopathic tendencies, because Tommy and Cassander show her she may be extremely intelligent but she’s operating from a bad set of assumptions about humanity. And Tommy not only has a chance to be more of a leader himself, he’s got hints about the shape of his destiny that intrigue me.

Some of the characters felt a bit weaker, though. Cassander sometimes comes across as less of a character and more of a mouthpiece, and I dearly hope Kayana’s “overpopulation is the problem” confronts the reality that people can be jerks just fine even if they have all their material needs met.

Overall, though, this is still a really unique setting that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s fun to see Apaches and Celts and Spartans and Amazons and so much more all vying for attention. There’s enough tech to be a light sci-fi while of course the gods provide a lot of magic. I rate this book Recommended.

Advertisements

Subjugation (Subjugation #1)

Title: Subjugation

Author: James Galloway

Series: Subjugation #1

Humans had dreamed of alien contact, but nobody expected the Faey to show up one day in a gigantic battleship, demanding Earth surrender or be annihilated. These blue-skinned humanoids then solidified the subjugation by using their telepathy to root out and crush any resistance. But Jason Fox refuses to surrender. His plan to do just well enough in school to avoid forced labor on the farms and then wash out to a quiet career comes to a screeching halt when he captures the interest of one of the Faey Marines stationed in his town. She wants him, and she won’t take no for an answer. Soon his little resistance snowballs into a far bigger fight than he ever imagined.

I’m really torn on this book. On the one hand, I love the detailed descriptions of alien tech. The ideas behind it, how it fits together, and how Jason scrapes by with obsolete components built to do something outside the original specs is a lot of fun. The plasma-based technology is interesting, and some of my favorite parts are where the story spends a page or more simply breaking down how the newest gadget works. Add to that the challenge of building a habitable base in an urban wilderness of abandoned towns, or the various prank wars Jason initiates, or the eventual real war that happens despite everything, and there’s a lot of fun to be had.

And the twist about human telepaths was really good.

On the other hand, there’s just no way I buy the “romantic” relationships. The Faey are a female-dominated society whose women are a teenage boy’s wildest dream come true: girls whose thoughts are dominated by sex, all have great bodies, and don’t mind sleeping around. All. The. Time. In fact the book gets pretty fervent in its defense of why it’s totally okay for Jason to be true loves with one Faey female but bedding anyone else he finds attractive. And his partner equally expects to be able to sleep around herself.

I don’t buy the lack of jealousy (he rationalizes the situation over and over to himself, but since when was jealousy rational?), or on the flip side, the way his roaming eye isn’t degrading his bond with his true love. I don’t see anything deep in his relationship with the woman he gets involved with. It’s a relationship that starts with her not honoring his “no,” and even though that drives him wild, once he ends up sleeping with her they’re golden. I could go on, but it boils down to Sex Makes Everything Better just being something that ought to work out better in theory than in practice.

(For a great counter-example, see Teckla by Steven Brust, where Vlad and his wife love each other but have irreconcilable political differences. And this is not because I think everything ought to end unhappily, but because it highlights the hard truth that holding to convictions can cost you, and which ones you choose to hold on to determine what has to be sacrificed).

Overall, whether or not you like this is going to depend on two things: if you like getting a lot of details about pretty much everything, and if you don’t mind or enjoy the way all the sex gets presented. I rate this book Neutral.

Star Ocean 4 (Xbox 360/PS3)

Title: Star Ocean 4

Systems: XBox 360 / PS3

World War III left Earth a ruined wasteland, so mankind turned to space. Edge Mavrick is one of the specially trained expedition forces on the lookout for habitable planets and extraterrestrial life. What he finds is an adventure he never expected.

This is the first Star Ocean game I’ve put any significant time into. It’s supposed to be the second-worst, but I found it a fairly good game, albeit with a lot of things I wanted tweaked for quality-of-life improvements.

The story was okay (although most of the PAs you can trigger on ship journeys range from mildly interesting to extremely cringeworthy), though there was one big, big decision Edge makes in the middle that had me wondering how on earth anyone would be that stupid. And the rest of the crew doesn’t help, either—they not only unanimously agree it’s a bad idea, but they turn around and say they’ll still follow Edge’s every order. Even though he’s just gotten a lot of people in a lot of trouble.

And then, following that, Edge goes off the deep end in the other direction, equating showing off in the Coliseum with his big stupid decision. Even though no one copying his moves could possibly do a fraction of that damage.

Also I’m just shaking my head on the reasons why spacefaring civilizations are using swords and bows, even if I don’t care to fight everything with some form of gun.

From a gameplay perspective, everything I liked usually came with a “but I wish they’d done this.” The action fighting system is much lighter than a Tales game, which could be better or worse, depending on how much you like the often-intricate Tales systems. What I missed most was the ability to assign shortcuts to teammate attacks, so you can request healing or a certain attack without having to switch characters (because the AI almost never does what I want once I leave my chosen character). The targeting system is awful. Play a melee oriented character and s/he will consistently target an enemy that runs away—and rather than change targets to the enemies YOU ARE RUNNING PAST, will stick on that first enemy. This makes going for the lots of kill trophies really annoying if you’re trying to do them without setting everyone else to “Do Nothing”. Add to that it’s hard to cancel out of attacks, your spellcasters only fast-cast if you do it manually, stealing requires a knockdown attack . . .

Or take Item Creation/Synthesis. This can only be done on the Calnus. So if you pick up a new party member or finally gather/mine the ingredients you needed, you have to trek all the way back to wherever you parked your ship to use it. From a story standpoint this makes sense, but it’s one place in particular that I wish they’d ignored logic and just let you do it as long as the correct characters were in your party. Oh, and you can only carry 20 of any item, which includes materials only used in IC/Synthesis. And some recipes will call for up to 20 of one ingredient. (And using IC at all means dealing with Welch, who is supremely annoying and badly needs an option to turn off her voice.)

Also I am enough of a Synthesis nut that I went and bought the Xbox 360 version for any future playthroughs because I like being able to break the game when possible, and the rebalancing for the PS3 version cut out a lot of the more interesting synthesis possibilities.

The trek could have been less horrible if there was some way to fast travel. Nope, your advanced spacefaring explorers go everywhere on foot. The best you’ll get (eventually) is a bunny that’s not only marginally faster than your dashing (because it doesn’t hit the slowdown at the end of each dash). Also it takes a while to be able to summon the bunny where you need it, so until then have fun running to the two areas where they are found wild to pick one up for a trek across the giant maps. Which if you are coming from your ship is no help at all.

The Coliseum is fine . . . except the only good way to earn points for the prize shop is to use the bunny races. Because fighting below your level nets you 2 coins, so the only way to earn anything is to advance in the ranks, or try to advance two characters far enough for the reward to be worth it and then keep switching so they can fight each other and swap places over and over. But you’ll still earn more faster from bunny racing. Which isn’t really “racing” because you don’t drive the bunny, you just control whether it dashes or jumps. Also the PS3 version apparently interprets “50 consecutive solo wins” as “must be done in one sitting because reloading from save resets the counter.” Since you don’t get items or monster book data from Coliseum fights (why not? Seriously, this would make it at least a tad less annoying if I could farm for drops/percentage) this is just monotonous. (For the record, I only wanted 50% trophy completion to unlock level cap for postgame, so I could at least attempt Ethereal Queen. I don’t need to spend hundreds of hours for 100%.)

Finally, the postgame dungeon desperately needs a save point, or a fast travel checkpoint. Doing everything in one run would be fine if it didn’t take HOURS to get to the top due to the horrible way it gates the floors. And you have to redo those every single time. I like the challenge of creating ultimate equipment and trying it out against a superboss. I don’t like the assumption that I have no life and can throw away better than a half a day any time I want to attempt that challenge.

Overall, this was decently enjoyable, but the little aggravations were enough to prevent it from being a favorite. I beat the main game in about 100 hours (mostly because I’m OCD when it comes to things like filling out a monster encyclopedia to 100%, but I eventually gave up because beating 100 of the monsters that only spawn one to a mob got too tedious). Recommended if what’s detailed above doesn’t scare you off.

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.