Reviews

Review: BrainWeb

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Review: BrainWeb

The events of MindsEye left Nick Hall with brain implants that allow him to access the Internet from anywhere, and also with a little unintentional side effect of being able to read minds. Both abilities make him a prize to any number of organizations – the US government being just the most obvious – so he’s doing his best to stay under the radar now that most of the world believes he’s dead. A terrorist attack on the Academy Awards ceremony forces Nick into the open; now there are powerful figures hunting him down, and they’re willing to target those closest to him to get what they want.

Author Douglas E. Richards uses his experience as a biotech executive and his research on thought-controlled Web surfing to weave existing and theoretical technology together into a combination sci-fi action novel/military thriller. The story doesn’t quite work for me, but the concepts he uses are fascinating and thought-provoking.

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Review: Axiom Verge

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Review: Axiom Verge

When it comes to action-platformers with gated progression (a.k.a. metroidvania) style games, 2015 has been good to us. PS4 owners got their hands on Apotheon earlier this year, then came Ori and the Blind Forest on Xbox One and PC, and now PS4 owners also get Axiom Verge.

Created and developed by Thomas Haap, a one-man development team, Axiom Verge takes elements from classic action platformers such as Contra, Bionic Command, and Metroid to create a game that looks and feels as though the three gave birth to a weird hybrid. The game visually takes multiple queues from the Metroid series, from its dark and lonely atmosphere, to its haunting and, at times, jarring soundtrack. It has the shooting mechanics and various weapons that reminded me of Contra. And it literally gives you a bio-organic arm to use to swing around with, (cough) Bionic Commando (cough). Though I’m sure the gun isn’t made from anyone’s loved one.

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Review: Comrade Grandmother, and Other Stories

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Review: Comrade Grandmother, and Other Stories

“Caroline says that fairy godmothers don’t have wings anymore,” I said. “Because of underground nuclear testing.”

My subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction lapsed a while ago, but finding a back issue from 2014 is making me want to start it up again. I’m always looking for new authors to read, and the magazine is a great way to get exposure to a whole range of different writers and styles, all within the F&SF genre.

A good example of one of those authors is Naomi Kritzer, who’s story “Containment Zone” – part of a series of tales set in the floating island nation of Seastead – appeared in the May 2014 issue. Kritzer has created such a detailed world in Seastead, and such an appealing character in teenager Beck Garrison, that I wanted to find more of her writing, and maybe see what she can do when she’s able to create a world and then expand it into a full-length novel.

So of course the very first thing I decided to try was not a novel. Instead I picked up a copy of Comrade Grandmother, and Other Stories. What can I say, my love of short-story collections is pretty much out of control.

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Movie Issues: Furious 7

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Movie Issues: Furious 7

At this point, how does one review a Fast and Furious movie? I mean, you already know what you’re going to get. There’s pretty much nothing left to say about these films, now entering its seventh in the franchise. If you’re a fan of the series, you have already bought your ticket, and have already decided it’s the best one of the seven. If you’re not a fan of the series, you’re not gonna start by watching this one. If you are the former, then you’re in for one hell of a high-octane ride of craziness. Still delightful and exhilarating using the same old set pieces that you’ve come to expect.

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Review: Lesser Creatures

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Review: Lesser Creatures

The zombie apocalypse has already taken place, and now the rest of the world is trying to deal with the fallout. Thousands of the dead have risen, and every month thousands more crawl out of their graves. Shambling, mostly mindless and completely harmless, the risen dead still need food and shelter, straining the world’s economy as countries are burdened with more and more mouths to feed. And anyone who tries to kill a Second Lifer (the PC term) is killed horribly by a force as mysterious as the one that reanimates the dead in the first place.

Sounds like a pretty fascinating idea for a book, doesn’t it? Well too bad, because all of that is just background noise to a completely different story. Lesser Creatures tells us of a doomed love drawn out by a magical power that’s annoyingly unexplained. The main character is a bored advertising executive who comes across as instantly unlikable, and yet who we’re supposed to sympathize with for most of the book. Eric Cooper jumps from a near mid-life crisis to a kind of reawakening, followed by a shock that makes him almost hit rock bottom, just before he and his mother rediscover their compassion for Eric’s deceased father in time for Eric to bond with a zombie-who’s-more-than-a-zombie for reasons that are never clarified. There’s also a two-dimensional scheming CEO and a priest who’s operating under the best intentions but who may be completely unhinged. Other than the very beginning, the very ending, and a couple of bit parts, the risen dead are no more of an element here than a bad thunderstorm taking place in another city. There were times when I wanted to shake the characters and yell, “Damn you, what did you do with my zombie story?!”

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Review: The Moon and the Sun

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Review: The Moon and the Sun

This book came up in an list of “Books To Read This Year Before The Movie Comes Out”. Vonda McIntyre already has high marks from me for her Star Wars novel “The Crystal Star” (which I really enjoyed) and her novelization of the movie “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” (which, don’t laugh, is one of the few books I’ve read that was so heartbreaking it make me cry). So to have a chance to read a fantasy novel with an upcoming movie that won’t be the start of another trilogy? I’m sold.

Father Yves de la Croix arrives at King Louis XIV Chateau in Versailles bearing gifts for his monarch: two sea creatures, and the promise of immortality. It will be Yves’s job to dissect the dead male creature he tried and failed to bring back alive. Yves’s sister, just released from a miserable five years in a convent, is assigned to care for and train the female specimen until it can be served up in a banquet once it’s been harvested of whatever it is that can give the king eternal life. It’s a hard enough for Marie-Josephe to bond with the gargoyle-like mermaid, but it becomes that much harder to do her job when she slowly realizes that the monster – which she’s teaching to leap for visitors and eat from her hand and eventually be eaten itself – is intelligent, and just wants to return to her family in the ocean.

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Review: Doctor Who, The Eleventh Doctor – After Life

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Review: Doctor Who, The Eleventh Doctor – After Life

We already knew that the Doctor kept himself busy in the two hundred or so years he spent wandering after he dropped off Amy and Rory from their honeymoon. Quite a lot of stories can fit inside that time. Coming out later this month, the first volume of Titan Comics’ Doctor Who, The  Eleventh Doctor collects together the first five issues of these stories, featuring the Eleventh Doctor and his newest companion, Alice.

Life has become cold and dreary for Alice Obiefune after the death of her beloved mother. The forty-something library assistant can’t seem to drag herself out of a fog of grief, and things just get worse when she loses her job to cutbacks and her comfy apartment is scheduled for demolition to make way for a block of luxury flats. Everything is quite grey…until in a burst of obviously Oz-inspired technicolor she’s confronted by huge rainbow-colored alien dog being chased by a madman with a blue box.

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Movie Issues: Cinderella

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Movie Issues: Cinderella

Disney has made a career of taking fairy tales from around the world and turning them into giant buckets of money. Well, get ready Disney fans because they are about to do it once more with the release of their live-action film, Cinderella. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and based on the 1950 animated masterpiece, Disney’s Cinderella. Which, of course, is based on the many versions of the story that have been told since 1634. Each version of the story changes for every new generation it touches, and like so many other versions of this classic story, this new adaptation will go down as being just as beautiful as its animated predecessor.

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Review – The Just City

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Review – The Just City

The Just City, by Jo Walton, is such an odd little book, I had a hard time making my mind up about it. It’s fantasy with a smidge of sci-fi and a lot of Greek Mythology, so it has a lot to appeal to me. But the story wandered around so much it was a little disconcerting at times.

In the end I decided I liked it. The writing is very straightforward and easy to read, but the concepts behind it are extremely intellectual. It gives you characters you understand, even if you dislike some of them, and a plot that makes sense, while at the same time introducing you to Plato and a concept that’s fascinated scholars for over two thousand years.

I liked the story, and I felt smarter after reading it. Frustrated sometimes, but smarter.

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