Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Hope And Red by Jon Skovron

In continuation of our wednesday meme ( originally by hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.)

And this week, we shine our lights on Hope and Red, an epic fantasy adventure by Jon Skovron touted to be a mix of the Night Angel by Brent Weeks, Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and the brilliant characterizations of Brandon Sanderson. Does that get your antennas up? It damn well should!

In a fracturing empire spread across savage seas, two young people from different cultures find common purpose.

A nameless girl is the lone survivor when her village is massacred by biomancers, mystical servants of the emperor. Named after her lost village, Bleak Hope is secretly trained by a master Vinchen warrior as an instrument of vengeance.

A boy becomes an orphan on the squalid streets of New Laven after drugs and disease take the lives of his bohemian parents. He is adopted by one of the most notorious women of the criminal underworld, given the name Red, and trained as a thief and con artist.

When a ganglord named Deadface Drem strikes a bargain with the biomancers to consolidate and rule all the slums of New Laven, the worlds of Hope and Red come crashing together, and their unlikely alliance takes them further than either could have dreamed possible.


I am super excited by the premise and cannot wait for this action packed fantasy tale to kick off! Will be getting hands on this soon!

Rob Boffard - You the MAN. 64 Books, Three Minutes, Epic Shit

Rob Boffard breaks new ground with this epic rap song that features 64 SFF Books. LOVED IT.
Take a listen.

The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Disclaimer: This reading was my attempt to go back and claw through my towering pile to backed up TO_READ novels. Something about the book struck me and before long, I was being swept along in this pulpy action packed, almost cinematic thrill ride of a science fiction novel.

This book blew me away. I cannot believe this is the FIRST novel by Ted Kosmatka, the man who had won Nebula/Hugo for his shorter works, really creates a pitch-perfect science fiction thriller that is executed in the most stunning manner for his first book.

I was hooked right from page one - I was taking a break from my "newer" novels to be reviewed and bought this book as I've 'heard' great things. You know, SF is no longer my thing. But the way Ted writes, he'd got HUGE TALONS hooked deep into me, right from the first chapter on.

Olympic games that involves genetic monstrosities fighting each other ? Intriguing. In America, in 2044 where each country is out to prove its supremacy in this genetic engineering race, a errant genius creates a sentient AI that seeds the plan for the decimation of the human race worldwide. The plan is set in motion - and America's foremost geneticist Silas Williams, an unknown pawn in the play of things, creates a 'gladiator' as per the supercomputer's design. The genetic makeup of which is previously unheard of. He has his misgivings and they hire a 'xenobiologist', Vidonia Joao who could probably crack this puzzle. But this puzzle is a living thing, that has it's own mission that could prove to be terrifying.

The novel begins with this prologue that introduces us to Evan Chandler, the errant genius child and then switches over to Silas as the "gladiator" is born and goes through an astonishing pace of growth. There are not too many secondary characters other than Chandler or Williams - Ted keeps it pretty taut, rapidly unspooling into a bloody thriller - yielding to layers of horror, graphic and unrepentant as the scale of terror is finally revealed in the second half of the book.

This is a book that again dips into the folds of science fiction to give us a hard-hitting truth about unethical science that spills out because of man's greed for power. The head of Olympic Commission, Baskov is one face of the evil. This set up closely resembles Crichton's structure of writing a "scientific" thriller where the face of pure evil is science gone wrong but there are catalysts to the same in terms of human intervention. The novel posits wide-reaching sociological and philosophical questions on the future of humanity - there are some clever SF-nal touches to remind us that this is indeed, set in the future but nothing outrageous enough to take the focus away from the horror of genetics. Silas as the central character really is a pretty sympathetic character we can identify with - conflicted, upright and the moral compass through which the reader views the events unfold. Vidonia provides able support. The rest of them fade against the bloody backdrop of terror unsheathed as the Gladiator gets into form.

An entirely original novel, Ted Kosmatka announces his arrival to the genre pretty well. An entertaining SF thriller for all genre fans and readers outside who are in the mood for something original that rivals Crichton and Koontz. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Admiral by Sean Danker

I don't read much of SF. Definitely not the stuck-in-space-survival drama variety. Though I admit, The Martian was a tale I enjoyed. So I surprised myself when I picked up Admiral, the new SF-thriller by Sean Danker from ROC books.

Crashed spaceship on an unknown alien planet and an unreliable narrator who may or may not be who he claims to be - and the creeping sense of dread in the atmosphere ( or the lack thereof!) has just been dialed up all the way past eleven. Bang-up premise huh?

Admiral crash-lands us straight into alien territory ( uncharted planet !!) armed with nothing but our wits, paired up with an "Admiral" ( as is claimed by the sign above his cryosleep quarters and nothing else to verify it with!) and three green recruits straight from the academy. The war between the Empire and the Ganraen Commonwealth is at an uneasy truce and there is enough and more reasons for the recruits to suspect that the Admiral maybe the enemy. But these guys have to work with each other to get out of the sticky situation they are in - namely, an uncharted planet where their spaceship has crash-landed with the pilot(s) dead and possibly, unknown local hostiles.

The drama that unfolds in this first book in the Evagardian series introduces us to the shifty notoriously unreliable character of 'Admiral' in this world torn by this civil war between two different factions that has far-reaching consequences across the galaxy. Sean brutally thrusts  his characters into one sticky situation after the other as they rally around, overcome their misgivings and learn to trust and help each other out. It doesn't help that the first point of view, Admiral, an unreliable narrators at best - never gives away too much of what he is thinking. And of course, the eponymous 'hero' must win the confidence of his irate, tired and highly suspicious team to survive this crash. And to top things off, there is always the doubt that they may not be alone in the ship or the planet.

It's an extremely fast paced novel with one damn thing after the other being thrown at you as a reader. You never really settle in - just the same as the protagonists, groggy with a killer headache after a cryosleep and major trust-issues, you are never truly strapped in for this thrill-ride. For a lot of readers, it probably worked.

Unfortunately for me, Admiral as a narrative voice sadly never clicked. And therein lies the heart of the problems I had with the book. The pacing was fine but the characters never truly grew on me. The closest I came to liking - was Lieutenant Deilani, headstrong and suspicious who never truly lets her suspicions die or lets her guard down. The others, Private Salmagard and the techie Ensign Nils never struck a chord with me. Salmagard comes across as halfway between an ice-princess and a vulnerable girl trying to break stereotypes, her admiration for the "Admiral" and the reason as to why she didn't really 'rat' him out as soon as she sees/recognizes him is anyone's guess. Nils is restricted to the technical revamping of the vessel they are stuck in - and never truly gets any potential to grow. At times, when Admiral explains their "fucked-up" situation to the reader, the book does sound like The Martian. But the voice clearly lacks the chutzpah needed to carry out the odd mix of frustration and hope that should have been underlying the narrative voice. The level of tension never rises above the expected levels and that could have been another undoing of the book. This is a thrill-ride but as a reader, listening to the Admiral dole out info-dumps on the world as ruled by the Empire, the thrill quotient slowly fizzled out. Especially, the ending that seemed very rushed, as if Sean was eager to tie up the threads.

We still have unanswered questions and while this may not be a cliffhanger, the Admiral definitely has a lot more story left to tell. I am in for more but am really hoping that Sean gives us a little more stuff that I can sink my teeth into. Excuse me, while I stalk that guy.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Movie Review: Captain America - Civil War

The jury is still out on whether it's better to be on Team Cap or Team Iron Man - but hey, I am a huge Steven Rogers ( Chris Evans ) fan and will stick by my idol! So yesterday, we caught Captain America: Civil War first day first show - and I put my neck on the line when I say, this must be the most intense, emotionally-draining but nevertheless, spectacular Marvel Comics Universe movie made till date. There, I said it.

The movie franchise finally tackle the big question of collateral damage to the civilian life as our superheroes are locked in slugfests with aliens, ego-crazed robots and fanatic terrorists - Great Power comes with Great Responsibility ( And hell yeah - this is the like the perfect entry point for that superhero who came up with that maxim, Spiderman, into this franchise!! More on that in just a little while.)

The government factions want to lock down the "vigilantes" who do not "respect the sovereign borders" in their quest to do the "right" thing. After a mission led by Captain America ( one of those mindblowing opening sequences that sets the mood for the blistering frenetic action sequences that follow) in Lagos goes wrong resulting in civilian casualties. Fear and distrust seeds among the general public against the Avengers. And this is in the aftermath of the catastrophic events in Sokovia where Ultron wanted to decimate the living to cleanse the earth. So befittingly named the Sokovia Accord, the UN write up a set of regulations to rein the Avengers.

Which directly splits up the team into two factions: Steve Rogers is wary and naturally doesn't trust the accord which robs them of their right to "choose" - while Tony Stark, surprisingly "uncharacteristically non hyper-verbal" about the whole agreement, decides to sign up so to keep the Avengers alive. As the political maneuverings get to a heated head, a bombing of the UN sessions where the Accord was supposed to be signed, turns things down the road to bonkers-ville . Namely, sighting of a suspect who looks like Bucky Barnes ( Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier)

Captain immediately sets off in pursuit to save his friend while Tony is tasked with bringing the suspect in. This forms the basis for a rumbling animosity between the two factions - that slowly seethes up and reaches flash point by the mid of the movie. Unlike previous versions of Marvel movies, this time - there is no clear villain. There are two sides fighting for what they believe to be right. And hence, unlike the confusing mega-slugfest of Batman Versus Superman, this time the people are forced to take sides: for a clear reason that resonates with the audience. The action becomes emotionally charged and downright intense.

In more ways than one, this movie, Captain America: Civil War embodies the evolution that Marvel movies has gone through - that level of maturity in movie-making its embraced in giving us a movie that sticks true to the original elements like taut storytelling that progresses naturally and on hot-nitro turbo-boosters, building on the fandom and love that audience has built up for the two leading super-heroes over the last few movies and plays it off - making the audience care about the fight and the underlying ideology. The idea of vengeance that will consume everything - and of course, we need to exercise caution and responsibility when it comes to these super-powers.

The second point - is ably demonstrated by a fantastic cameo by Spiderman! Tom Holland plays the teenage coming-of-age Peter Parker, in awe of these Avengers and yet who knows his capabilities and his limits - and willingly accompanies Tony Stark to that fight. The fight ? Oh dear gods come alive, a lovely spectacular squaring-off on an airport tarmac where pretty much everybody on these two opposing teams use their individual superhero abilities to pummel and bash up the other. Punctuated by some really funny verbal gags that lighten up the mood a bit.

Robert Downey Jr, as Tony Stark is a bit muted and down-plays his usual razor-sharp witty charisma that lights up the screen - a man in pain and still dealing with issues that plague his personal life. Chris Evans is in scintillating form as the man who "believes in people and who for the most parts have not let him down", a leader you would die to follow to the depths of hell and beyond. Chdwick Bose as Black Panther, an african-american superhero from the fictional country of Wakanda was a welcome addition to the mix - a thoughtful, regal and intelligent hero. Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon gets the clever quip-lines and lets it rip - While Scarlett Johanssen, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle the Avengers regulars, all play their dutiful parts. Another cameo that is delightful and really puts that goofy comic spin to the serious underplay of heavy emotions that rule the screen is Paul Rudd's Ant-man who is on Team Cap. He is terrific in that bit-role and fully justifies as to why we need another solo outing by this guy.

Overall, this outing from Marvel is definitely much darker and more intense than previous versions with full marks to the director duo Russo brothers ( who had previously helmed the brilliant Winter Soldier) - Character dynamics that sizzle and pop like fireworks, this is the Marvel Movie that works off, not on individual heroics but group dynamism. Yet another manner in which this movie is different is the heart-rending finale - not a super blockbuster showdown but an intimate, personal and emotionally draining sequence that really had me tearing my hair out in frustration and tension.

Easily the best outing we've seen from Captain America and friends - a fitting crown to that trilogy of the First Avenger movies. One I loved the most. The very definition of summer entertainment, don't miss this one.