Tag Archives: sci-fi

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.

Lab Rat One (Touchstone #2)

Title: Lab Rat One

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #2

Cassandra Devlin is still adjusting to being on another planet. Well, technically, planets, since she’s been the instrumental force in re-opening Munia for Tare’s people to recolonize. But the mystery of what killed the original inhabitants of Munia and drove the survivors to other planets hasn’t been solved. The rifts and the memories of monsters that populate the spaces are growing worse. And even though her abilities make her irreplaceable, no one’s really sure what to do with her. Can she survive long enough to find a place in this crazy new world?

This continues smoothly right from where Stray left off. If you haven’t read that book first, stop reading this and go do that.

I like how well-drawn these characters are. Cassandra really isn’t more than a typical teen in so many ways, and she’s having a lot of trouble keeping up with the Olympic-level athletic Setari. Having weird enhancement abilities doesn’t give her a free pass–she’s worked as hard as her body will tolerate, and still isn’t very good in a fight. I liked that the Setari exercise so much, amusingly enough. They’re not magically able to make themselves fit and trim either, and being injured requires rehabilitation even with some of the fast-healing nanotechnology they’ve invented.

It shows in other ways too. The awkwardness of the monitoring comes back, especially when Cassandara starts thinking about a possible relationship. The little pieces of daily life, like television shows and shopping, intersperses with the more intense periods of missions, invasions, and general action.

I was also impressed the story firmly stays away from becoming a dystopia, where Cassandara needs to rebel against Evil Authority and reshape society. Instead she’s doing the work to fit in where she can, puts up with a lot of stress and discomfort, but still has limits she won’t cross.

The one thing that I wasn’t so keen on was the way the major relationship worked out in the end. It just seemed too much, too fast.

**SPOILERS**

Not that it didn’t make some sense to skip a few things, but going from a cool working relationship straight to sex in the span of about ten minutes felt really bizarre. No clearing the air, no trying to offer a bit of a relationship before sleeping together, just sex. I liked his character a lot, but I hadn’t thought he was someone so quick to jump between the sheets.

**SPOILERS END**

Overall if you liked Stray this is a very good followup. The character dynamics are very strong, and although the greater mysteries are unfolding very slowly, there’s plenty of action and excitement along the way. I rate this book Recommended.

Stray (Touchstone #1)

Title: Stray

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #1

Cassandra Devlin isn’t doing anything spectacular when she simply walks into another world. But wishing won’t get her back home. Now she’s got to survive in an alien world. Surviving in the wild is a lot harder than she’s thought, but nothing can prepare her for what she discovers.

I don’t want to spoil too much in the summary, as I didn’t read a whole lot about this going in (other than knowing multiple people who were crazy about the book), and I found a lot of the plot surprising in good ways. So I’d like to leave the opportunity open for others to be surprised too.

I really liked how detailed and character-oriented this is. It isn’t a survival/adventure story like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, where the main character is at least moderately prepared to face raw Nature. Cassandra has a backpack, a few school supplies, clothes that are in no way suited to wandering around forests, and no hope of return/rescue. And as she eventually realizes, no hope of counting on what she does know to be true, either, as she encounters creatures and things that cause her to accept she’s no longer on Earth.

I’m not terribly fond of the diary format, but I do like how raw and honest Cassandra is through it. Due to the format her reactions to events always feel a bit delayed, since we’re reading about them after the event is over.

The various “spaces” was also hugely interesting to me. I’ve always liked alternate dimensions (and various powers), and other worlds, near-space, real-space, and various abilities to manipulate things was a lot of fun. The technology levels also make an intriguing contrast to most of the lost-in-another-world stories I’ve read, and there are some interesting conflicts as Cassandra works through its implications for her personally.

MINOR SPOILERS:

Also: psychic space ninjas. Which is funny in all sorts of ways.  I liked the military feel, and the organization, and how Cassandra both fits into their daily routines and completely interrupts them. And I’m impressed that the book doesn’t cheat and try to ignore most of the squad members, even though it will probably take me a dozen readings before I can truly recognize them all. The major ones have enough personality to recognize right away. I really like Maze, or how Zan’s friendship comes out in all these understated ways.

END SPOILERS.

Overall this was a very good read. I am fond of stories about humans transported to another world, and this one really nailed a lot of the practical issues. At the same time, it’s a fascinating new world, and I’m interested to see where it goes next. I rate this book Recommended.

Bounders (Bounders #1)

Title: Bounders

Author: Monica Tesler

Series: Bounders #1

Jasper has spent his whole life keeping the secret of his birth. He’s a Bounder, a specially-bred human crafted to make quantum leaps across galaxies. Even if most of the time he feels like a spaced-out klutz, he’s got that program to look forward to. A place where he’ll finally be with other kids like himself. But when he enters the program, he finds there’s more going on than just another type of school. And once he knows, he has to figure out what he’s going to do about it.

I liked this. It’s got a huge cast of characters for a rather short book, but everyone is distinct enough that telling them apart isn’t much of a problem. Jasper narrates, but the reader can easily pick up on a few things he’s too young (or too distracted) to see for himself, like the reason everyone in his pod gravitates towards him as a leader.

The technology is a lot of fun, too. The quantum ships, the tube transports, and the Civilization-type game that everyone finds so addicting are all nicely detailed. And I liked how the technology brought questions as well as answers, as in the case of genetic engineering. Humanity decided to excise “bad” genes, only to find some of those undesirable parts actually had benefits as well.

Overall this is a fast, fun read. The kids are a likeable bunch, and the plot never slows. I rate this book Recommended.