Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review - Origins (Spinward Fringe)

My rating: 4/5

This is some pretty cool space opera.  I enjoyed it a lot.  It's not perfect, and it's not terribly deep, but it's lots of fun and undeniably cool.  Plus, it's clearly the work of an author who takes his craft seriously and puts real thought into what he's doing.  I'll be reading more of this series.

There are quite a few books in Randolph Lalonde's Spinward Fringe series.  Origins is a trilogy of three novellas, the origin story for some of his characters and situations.  And it's free, from Smashwords or Amazon, so you can check the series out at no cost.

It's the far future and much of the galaxy is groaning under the oppressive heel of large corporations.  It's a disturbingly plausible premise, and it feels more authentic than the usual galactic empire type of stuff.  

Freeground Station is a vast space station deep in the middle of nowhere, a bastion of liberty and democracy, home of a free society, and under siege from the corporations.  It's all-out interstellar war, with Freeground fighting just to survive.

Captain Jonas Valent takes a ship called the First Light out into the galaxy on a mission of discovery and diplomacy, looking for alliances and technology that can help the station.  He's a heroic commander in the Captain Kirk mold, a born leader whose biggest burden is a lack of experience.

The premise of the story seems ridiculous at first glance.  Valent and his friends have been hacking into the military's training simulator to play games.  And they've been kicking butt, beating the military's best and brightest.  They make such an impression that they get recruited, assigned a ship, and sent on their mission.

It's not quite as silly as it sounds.  Valent is ex-military, and most of the crew are ex- or current military.  It feels reasonably plausible, and frankly, it's such a cool premise that I'm willing to suspend a bit of extra disbelief.

Many parts of the story are quite excellent.  It's straightforward high adventure in an interesting galaxy.  There's ship-to-ship combat, the exploration of new planets and space stations, hand-to-hand combat as they are stalked by bounty hunters, and psychological warfare when key crew members are captured by ruthless, amoral corporate officers.

The science is fairly interesting and reasonably plausible without being ground-breaking or particularly deep.  It's primarily a story of adventure, not science, but Lalonde doesn't botch the science anywhere that I noticed.  Well, there's some spray-on clothing that I had a bit of trouble swallowing, but overall the science feels solid.  He put a decent amount of thought into it without letting it take over the story.

Characterization is not as deep as it could be.  I would say that it's adequate to make the story interesting, but the characterization is definitely not a particular strength of the book.  There's nothing wrong, it's just not all that it could be.  Pretty much every crew member on the First Light is noble and brave, there are no significant interpersonal conflicts within the crew, and if anyone has an internal conflict, it's along the lines of, "Am I good enough to come through when all my crewmates are relying on me?"

The writing is reasonably good.  There are no serious problems with Lalonde's prose, although there is room for improvement.  Now, bear in mind that I'm picky about phrasing.  Lalonde is pretty decent, all things considered.  His writing has no serious problems, it's just not quite free of nits for me to pick.

For example, in many places, there will be three or four lines of dialogue, ending with "Oz whispered."  So you have to read a fairly big block of dialogue before you find out who's speaking.  And people whisper to each other on the bridge a lot.  

Origins is well worth checking out.  It's a fun, fairly light story with likeable characters, interesting situations, and plenty of excitement.  It's also a chance to get a free introduction to an author who's worth watching.  I suspect I'll see the stories and characters getting deeper and the quality of the writing improving as the series progresses.  It's already good.  I look forward to seeing if it becomes fantastic.

Check out Origins at Smashwords

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review - Color Me Grey

My rating: 2.5 / 5

I'm afraid this one's a bit of a stinker.  I generally try to focus on books I like here, and to be honest there were things I liked, but man, there is a LOT wrong with this poor book.

Now, I have to point out in the book's defence that I did read all the way to the end, so it must have had something going for it.  I don't believe in continuing to read books that suck.  I did eventually get pulled into the story, and although I nearly closed it a dozen times, I never quite stopped reading.  I won't read any more in the series, though.

There is a really cool concept behind the book.  A young woman answers a mysterious help-wanted ad and gets recruited into a freelance spy agency.  After that it's non-stop action as she trains, goes on missions, faces setbacks and learns to overcome them.  There are some really cool elements.

But that ad she sees, the one that puts the story in motion?  It happens a dozen pages into the book.  Everything, every last thing, in the first dozen pages is backstory, and it's DULL.  I skimmed page after page after page, until I came to the ad.  And I had no problem following things from that point on.  Hey, Phelps, cut the first ten pages!  Completely!

The rest of the chapter plunges into moronic backstory, but eventually she goes to apply for the job, and things pick up nicely.  She gushes a lot about how sexy the men are, which gets old fast, but there's an air of mystery and menace as she gets through the evaluation process.  

She recruits a talented friend to help her out, and they compete with another applicant in some pretty cool ways.  From there the stakes keep rising, and there's always something new around the next corner.  In many ways it's a fun potboiler of a book.

But it's also unintentionally hilarious.  Comma errors?  They happen to everyone.  Rappel vs. repel?  Anyone can make that mistake.  But "a vile of liquid?"  It's not a typo, either.  She calls it a "vile" twice.  

There is some good, solid storytelling, paired with writing that varies between adequate and incompetent.  I suspect that, ten years from now, Phelps will be a pretty good writer, and she'll look back on this book with keen embarrassment.  

But at least the price is right.  Color Me Grey is free, so you can check it out and see if the writing bugs you enough to ruin the story.  I recommend starting at Chapter 2.  If the premise (and it's a really good premise) really appeals to you, give the book a chance.  At the very least you can enjoy a feminist James Bond fantasy with plenty of unintentional laughs.

Free at Amazon:

Free at Smashwords:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Shanghai Steam is Coming

I sold a story this year to a very cool anthology called Shanghai Steam.  The anthology is a mashup of Steampunk and Wuxia (essentially Kung-Fu heroics).  I had a blast writing a bunch of stories, submitting the best ones, and finally selling one.  I think the anthology is going to be crazy good, and I can't wait to get my sweaty hands on a copy.  

The official launch is at the World Fantasy convention in Toronto at the start of November.  In the meantime, the talented Laurel Anne Hill has made a trailer and crammed it full of awesomeness.  Check it out.


Friday, October 5, 2012

This Brilliant Darkness - Free Today

This Brilliant Darkness, a dark fantasy novel by the talented Red Tash, is free at the moment (Amazon only) but likely not for much longer.  It's a dark, somewhat disturbing tale, with mystery elements and well-crafted, engaging characters.  It's also quite unlike the standard urban fantasy fare, and well worth checking out.  You can see my review here.