Sunday, January 21, 2018

New Series Announcement: Steampunk Fantastica

Hey folks,

Because I don't have nearly enough on my plate as is, I'm announcing a new series which will be set in the same universe as my WRAITH KNIGHT books but set about three hundred years later. STEAMPUNK FANTASTICA is a novel trilogy which will follow the adventures of a group of misfits in a 19th century themed high fantasy world where magic and technology have mixed to produce steam-powered wonders. The first volume, THE DIVINE SOURCE, is set to be released in March of 2018. The sequels, THE LEGACY OF THE KEY and THE FALL OF THE LAWGIVER will follow roughly six months afterward.


It has been centuries since the days when the old gods fought against the new with armies of elves, humans, and orcs. Magic has steadily weakened since that time with steam-powered devices having begun an age of airships, trains, and firearms. Class divisions have placed top hat wearing elves and elitist humans above the coal-shoveling orcs and ogres at the bottom. With the end of the Aether War devastating half the continent, the old ways have begun making a comeback with the Grand Temple proclaiming the return of their god and the apocalyptic end of the world.

Louise Theresa, the girl prophetess who predicted this, has run away from the Grand Temple's control. She the secret which could expose the temple's claims as cover up for all-too-human evil. An archaeologist, a spy, a scientist, a chambermaid, and an engineer may be the only things that keep her alive. Alive long enough to find out the secret of the Divine Source and what new world it might bring about. Will it be a world of science or sorcery or both?


Check it out soon!

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Guns Above (Signal Airship #1) by Robyn Bennis review


    THE GUNS ABOVE is an excellent steampunk novel which manages to include a lot of the tropes of the genre while combining them with an action movie. The book has its flaws: it tends to take the view of the aristocracy as a complete bunch of mouth-breathing incompetents and the heroine is unlikable at times. On the other hand, there's a lot of entertaining bits and a surprising bit of character development from one of the antagonists.

    The premise of the book is Josette Dupre, Auxiliary Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, oversteps her rank after the death of her captain to command her ship in battle. This results in a resounding victory and her position as the first female airship captain. Unfortunately, her victory also humiliates the head of the Garnian military. Assigned an experimental airship which may fall out of the sky at any time, she's ready and willing to prove herself in action against the invading army of Vinzhalia. Unfortunately, she's been assigned a spy in the foppish Lord Bernat who has the job of digging up dirt to ruin her career before it's even begun.

    Josette is a hard nosed character and deeply bitter about her position. Having worked incredibly hard to move through her position, the fact she's being held down because of her sex is less galling than the fact the people doing so barely remember doing so. Her contempt for the nobility and the society she fights for is oftentimes fascinating but also a bit depressing. It's hard to root for Garnia when they're a nation of such jackasses. The only real thing they have over Vinzhalia is they're probably no worse.

    Lord Bernat is an intriguing character as while he starts as a gross parody of a nobleman: spoiled, lazy, not terribly bright, and addicted to older women--he's also a master rifleman. Gradually, we get a good deal of insight that provides him with a chance to grow and expand. While not a big fan of "the military will straighten out a character", I think it was believable here. I also like his and Josette's "not relationship" that I hope turns into something more.

    Much attention is paid to the specifics of flight and how battles between airships might be waged. I enjoyed these technical aspects and how the various things which might go wrong actually do go wrong. The action scenes are quite memorable and exciting as well as terrible. I also like how the dark side of them is also treated. Our protagonists winning isn't all glory and honor since the people they're killing are just like them. They also suffer casualties which can be horribly brutal like individuals losing their hands.

    In conclusion, I really enjoyed this novel and am definitely going to pick up the sequel. Josette may not be the most likable protagonist and Bernat is a bit of a page hog but the world of Signal Airship is fascinating. I want to see the villains punished and the heroes succeed--which is more than most books can claim.

8/10

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

AGENT G: SABOTEUR and LUCIFER'S NEBULA now available

I'm pleased to say I've got two new releases. These are the sequels to my extremely popular AGENT G: INFILTRATOR and LUCIFER'S STAR novels. Both novels are some of my best work and I hope their sequels, AGENT G: SABOTUR and LUCIFER'S NEBULA are every bit as enjoyable as well as enlightening.

AGENT G: SABOTEUR


FROM THE BEST SELLING AUTHOR OF THE SUPERVILLAINY SAGA COMES THE SEQUEL TO AGENT G: INFILTRATOR

Agent G has left the service of the International Refugee Society, the world's biggest provider of murder for hire, in order to work for the United States government. Unfortunately, they are sending him after his former employers and they know him as well as he knows them. The clock is ticking, though, until the Society's remaining leadership starts eliminating their opponents and attempts to seize control of the Presidency. A traitor is also providing them with all the information they need to survive until their puppet is in power. Will G and his allies survive the purge?

Sometimes, it doesn't pay to be a cyborg spy.


Available from Amazon.com here


LUCIFER'S NEBULA


From the bestselling author of The Rules of Supervillainy: Captain Cassius Mass can only run so far from his problems and the galaxy isn't big enough to hide from those pursuing him. Cassius soon finds himself blackmailed into a mission that will clear him of all charges as well as protect him from future persecution: bring an end to the civil war currently racking the galaxy. Accompanied by a new set of untrustworthy allies, the crew of the Melampus, and the A.I duplicate of his dead wife—Cassius needs to figure out how to not only deal with his target but also his employers.

Because the entire universe is at stake.


Available from Amazon.com 

Friday, January 5, 2018

It Takes a Thief to Start A Fire (It Takes a Thief 2#) review


    I very much enjoyed IT TAKES A THIEF TO CATCH A SUNRISE, which was the story of two con artists in a bad situation who had to figure out how to extricate them. It also took place in a fantasy version of Regency England and Imperial France with airships, alchemy, and numerous fun con games. So, when the sequel was available, I immediately picked up a copy to read. So, is it as good as the original? Eh, not quite.

    The sequel begins with Jacques Revou and Isabel de Rosier starting their new lives in Great Turlain after accidentally getting themselves made enemies of the state in their homeland. Unfortunately, their plans to steal the Elemental Stones from a museum end badly when a group of Elementals (basically people who can control one form of magic or another) get there first. They are then blackmailed by the country's secret police in getting them back, only to find they like the thieves more. Revolution and rights for Elementals brews in the background as our pair of thieves have to figure out what to steal next.


    My main issue with the book is I'm not sure why the Elementals are revolting and how the situation got to the point armed conflict was the only resolve. The Elementals are the only reason Great Turlan has any chance at all in war, so you would think they'd hold a somewhat privileged position in society. While I can understand people being uncomfortable with being dragooned into the military at birth, I also think they would probably have more loyalists than dissenters.  

    The group of Elemental thieves which Isabel and Jacques befriend are an entertaining bunch and I also appreciated how they were, at least initially, just a group of pranksters who got way in over their heads. As much as I love Jacques and Isabel's interaction, they're a little too comfortable with one another and we don't see much in the way of conflict. I felt the Emperor was a bit too nice about things and would have appreciated a bit more viciousness from the antagonists.

    If I were to describe the books in short, it'd be they're kind of a Gentleman Bastards-lite. They're funny heist capers about a husband and wife pair which live in a world of steampunk magic and alchemy. The books are a bit on the light side and could use a bit more stakes and drama but are otherwise extremely entertaining.
 
    Honestly, I'm not sure what to say about this book other than its a fun and enjoyable ride from beginning to end. It's definitely on the light and breezy side with things being a little too easily resolved but the characters are likable as well as the heists entertaining. I strongly recommend this for people who want a light fun read with plenty of dry humor.


8/10

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise (It Takes a Thief 1#) review

   

    I'm a huge fan of Rob J. Hayes' writing. His The Ties That Bind and Best Laid Plans series are some of the best grimdark fantasy which has come out in the past few years. So, when I heard he was working on a steampunk series, I was intrigued and immediately picked up a copy.

    The setting of the novel was surprising as it's a fantasy version of Regency Europe. It avoids the usual Medieval fantasy setting as well as the Hyborian Age mish-mash so common in fantasy but is also a good century or two before steampunk is usually popularized. England and France-like nations are set against one another with airships on one side as well as spellcasters on the others. The spellcasters, unfortunately, have the advantage and it's kept Sassaile (England) from conquering its neighbor Arkland (France).

    Jacques Revou and Isabel de Rosier are a pair of extraordinarily skilled con men and cart burglars who possess Lupin the Third levels of ability to bullshit their way out of situations. Jacques is a alchemist of no small skill and capable of creating any number of devices or effects to assist their cons while Isabel is a master of disguise as long as said disguise is someone gorgeous. They're deeply in love and play off each other in a hilarious style, even as they're nearing retirement despite being in the prime of their lives.

    The lovers-in-crime hit a brick wall, though, when Sassaile's spymaster proceeds to confiscate their accumulated fortune and dragoons them into the secret service. The protagonists HATE this even as they're forced to become spies in the Arkland court with the knowledge they're probably going to be executed no matter how well they do. What follows is a complicated story about the couple trying to play their masters against the nation they're spying on which wants to execute them while looking for an out. It all ends with an amazing airship story, frustrated love, and a bunch of humorous twists.

    The book is not remotely like his other series, lacking the gruesome murder of moral ambiguity which made that story so good. Indeed, it may be a little too much on the lighthearted side for me. Despite this, I enjoyed it as an adventure story and the humor kept it a breezy read from start to finish. I would have appreciated some more moral ambiguity and, honestly, I was on Renard's side against the Queen but that didn't reduce my enjoyment factor one bit.


    Isabel and Jacques have great chemistry that makes you genuinely want to root for the couple. Indeed, it's kind of depressing to realize they may be one of five happily married couples in all of fantasy which continue to adventure rather than existing as a "happily ever after." I like the fact neither of them have an advantage over the other in the common sense department and have both distinct areas of expertise that play off the other. Very few authors get this sort of proper party balance, so to speak, which makes one character usually tower over the other. These two play off one another well and it makes them interesting. They're also prone to making mistakes and having to deal with the consequences in a manner that is usually more fun than their if their already hilarious plans had gone off without a hitch.

    This is a good novel for anyone who wants to enter into the steampunk setting and works well as a non-traditional fantasy novel. It's certainly well-worth the money and I'm surprised to see such range in any author as normally you wouldn't expect someone who did such dark fiction as The Colour of Vengeance to do something as relentlessly cheerful. I think the books are something akin to a brighter Gentleman Bastards and would recommend them to fans of Scott Lynch. In fact, I may like these two more than the Gentleman Bastards because not only is there a bit more estrogen in the group but they aren't as super-competent as Locke and Jean.

    In conclusion, I recommend this book all round and don't have any real complaints about it. I've bought the second book in the series and hope to get to it immediately. It may not be the best book I've ever read but it's simply FUN and that goes a long way. Would the series be a bit better if the stakes were higher and written darker? I don't know but I will say that I absolutely love the work as is.

9/10


Available for Purchase Here

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Bright (2017) review


    Screw the critics, Bright is awesome. It is also a terrible movie but it is a great terrible movie. I basically liken it one of my all time favorites in Johnny Mnemonic. Johnny Mnemonic is a terrible movie with horrible acting, huge plot holes, and an utterly silly script but I watch it continuously. I feel much the same way about Bright and have already watched it twice. This is a movie which I think is bound to be a cult classic unless it becomes an actual hit due to the fact Netflix seems to be understanding their audience a lot better than the critics. It helps I'm a fan of Shadowrun and urban fantasy where supernatural races live in (dis)harmony.

Two thousand years after The Lord of the Rings.
    The premise of the movie is Ward (Will Smith) is a black cop living in a fantasy version of Los Angeles. Ward has has been assigned the first orc cop in the nation, Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), as his partner. Jakoby is both eager to please as well as hated by the police as as well as his own people. It's basically a darker and edgier take on Zootopia. Ward and Jakoby are already at odds because the former was shot during a routine call with Jakoby failing to catch the perpetrator. Things go from bad to worse when the pair discover a wand, effectively a wish granting machine for whoever can wield them, as well as a bunch of elvish terrorists who intend to bring back a long dead Sauron-esque figure.

    I understand completely why critics don't get this movie because it pretty much is made by gamers for gamers. Roger Ebert said he had a similar revelation with the original X-men movie. He was initially horrified when he saw it was using the Holocaust as Magneto's supervillain origin before he realized the people around him were treating it as if it was a deeply moving story akin to Shakespeare. Tackling classicism, racism, police brutality, and other hot topics in America with a bunch of fantasy characters in a hard R-rated movie is so out of their wheelhouse that I can't imagine them believing it's respectful.

This movie works great with these three.
    It's not, either, because this isn't The Heat of the Night. This movie has a lot more in common with Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon. The racism element is a backdrop for a fairly bog standard urban fantasy story about an evil cult's plot to rule the world. There's also some incredibly tone deaf writing like, "Fairy lives don't matter." However, even that is just meant to establish the fact Ward has some internalized some of the nastiest elements of the LAPD and is not entirely unaware of it. At one point, he asks like many black cops have been asked, whether Jakoby will side with the police or "his people."

    The first third of the movie is arguably it's most interesting with the set up that orcs are the lowest of the low on the totem pole of society with elves being on top. As someone made an analogy, "orcs are black with a little black added while elves are white with a little white added." The movie makes a smart choice in not pretending racism has gone away. Black and Latino characters both still suffer prejudice in this world and if we rewrote history so they didn't then the whole of America would be a very different place indeed. The justification for this racism is 2000 years ago, orcs were the soldiers of the Dark Lord who remains the ultimate figure of evil to this day. Basically, it takes the premise The Lord of the Rings (or something very similar) happened and people are still treating it as relevant.

Elves own this town.
    One thing I've heard from geek circles is this is a bad idea because it gives a reason for racism as blacks were never the soldiers of the Dark Lord. This is where I think the audience is dumb rather than the movie. The parallels to the treatment of Jews for being "Christ killers" (and the fact we find out the setting's equivalent to Aragorn was an orc in this setting makes it obvious) as well as the 9/11 treatment of Muslims comes to mind. Racists will make up reasons to hate people and just because they have "reasons" doesn't mean they're anything other than self-justifying B.S. There's a moment where a guy talks about how his ancestors fought against the orcs and it reminded me of many Southern pride proclamations.

    Honestly, my biggest complaint isn't the world-building or even the fact the quest for the wand is less interesting than something related to the movie's central theme: say, I dunno, a elvish plan to kill all the orcs in L.A. with a superflu or just gentrify them out of the city. No, my biggest complaint is the criminal underuse of Noomi Rapace as the central villain. She's a gorgeous charismatic actress and her lack of appearance in the Prometheus sequel was why I didn't like that film. Even so, I did love what I did see and also the supporting role of Lucy Fry as Tikki, who plays a bit like Leelo from The Fifth Element. An odd choice but one I'm not going to complain about. We need more Targaryen looking characters in film.

Lucy Fry does a great job with a demanding role.
    The best moments of the movie are related to the initial premise of racism and corruption in the fantasy version of Los Angeles. My favorite moment is when our heroes end up face-down with an orchish gang boss after an epic shoot out. Said boss describes, in detail, how he's been trying to negotiate peace between the gangs and races in his neighborhood for years until the two cops ended up reminding everyone of the danger.

    There's a few other moments, particularly in terms of bonding between Ward and Jakoby, which are very strong. There's some great character building moments where Will Smith doesn't play the usual flawless hero but someone deeply conflicted about his new partner. Jakoby isn't flawless himself as he has internalized some of society's racism against orcs. Both go through a character arc that makes them realize they don't have to choose the police versus orcs but work against the system which makes them choose. Well, somewhat, but you don't deal with the system in one movie.
Will Smith humanizes the supernatural.

    There's lots of decent action in the movie with it mostly falling into the typical buddy cop level of gunfights in public places as well as explosions. The use of magic in the movie is actually quite good with a genuine sense of awe from the people involved. Despite living in a world where its demonstrably real, people are stunned as well as awed by its use. Also, the people who use magic are the most powerful in society and have their own gated communities. You know, how it should be.

     In conclusion, Bright is an incredibly entertaining movie. Not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination but a FUN movie. There's some great moments, some terrible moments, and a lot of fun. It is a world which I found quite fascinating and I'm glad they've already announced the sequel. There's a lot of room to explore the dynamics of elves, orcs, humans, and how they all live together in a world where magic was displaced by science. It feels a bit like Alien Nation and that was a great television series. Really, I think it could have been a television series but I hope it'll be a decent series of movies.

7/10

The Punisher: Season One review


    There's an argument the genre of superheroes is inherently fascist. It's a line which is frequently trotted out when someone wants to look smarter and put down popular culture. The argument basically depends on the idea that individuals taking the law into their own hands and vigilantism are inherently reactionary Far Right attitudes. This is a very American attitude which ignores the fact uprisings of workers in coal mining towns and with unions are a part of our history.

    Also, it weirdly believes authoritative groups like the police and government should be the only ones to wield violence that would get you laughed at in most Third World governments. Which, fine argument, but it's a weird argument from a revolutionary anti-fascist perspective given tyrannies usually move to take control of such. It's also an argument which falls apart immediately when you mention the X-men. However, the Punisher tends to get a bit more argument weight than most since he's based on the character of Mack Bolan and tends to advocate the death of all criminals with unlimited military force.

The Punisher is never in a good mood.
    Even the Punisher is a lot more nuanced character than people give him credit for, especially under Garth Ennis who interpreted the Punisher as the kind of guy who is a serial killer like Dexter but has great contempt for systemic evils of society. He's a monster but a monster who has a clear vision of society's evils from slavers to the Military Industrial Complex. However, no one has quite given him the kind of makeover which Netflix has.

    Daredevil's season 2 gave a lighter and softer interpretation of the Punisher which showed Frank Castle as manifestly NOT Garth Ennis' serial killer of criminals. He's a man who hates the criminals who murdered his family and kills them but is obviously neither mentally ill or who enjoys killing. Instead, it is a simple revenge tale about a man who was wronged by the system and went on his own way. The Punisher Season One takes the lighter and softer approach of that season and expands on it to make a surprisingly left-leaning anti-Establishment version of Frank Castle who arguably has more in common with the Nomad version of Captain America than he does than his comic book inspiration. This Frank Castle is actually capable of retiring from his war against crime and trying to live a normal life (albeit failing miserably because evil knows where Castle lives).

I found the idea of crusading Homeland Security agents funny.
    The first thing to note about this season is it doesn't really take place in the Marvel universe, cinematic or otherwise. While Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) shows up for several memorable scenes, the series removes any and all references to the other series. It's squarely a show about the long-term effects of the War on Terror and the aftermath on everyone from the government to the public to the soldiers who have returned from it. A war which, seventeen years later, is still going strong.

    Now if this is not the longest, most drawn out introduction to a review, please note it's a necessary one as I feel like The Punisher feels very much like a show for people who wanted the anti-24 (which admittedly is the Bourne Identity so let's say the OTHER anti-24). It's an anti-establishment thriller where the villains are the Military Industrial complex, Right Wing domestic terrorists, corrupt government officials, PMCs, and CIA black bag men instead of Frank Castle's usual foes. I don't mind this but I do think it's not the most absolutely necessary re-envisioning ever done. I mean, it's not like the Zeta cartel, Russian Mob, or ISIS are suddenly not awful people. But, still, is this a good series?

    Absolutely. This is easily the best of the Netflix series. I put it up over Jessica Jones, Daredevil's two seasons, and yes Luke Cage as well as Iron Fist. It's a fantastic character piece with the normally one-note Frank Castle showing a myriad range of emotions as he bonds with multiple characters. He's a man who is emotionally guarded but dead, not by a long shot. I especially liked his interaction with Micro's family.

Micro is a great foil for Frank.
    Supporting cast members Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), and Curtis Hoyle (Paul Schulze) do an amazing job playing off the various sides to Castle. I especially loved the Department of Homeland Security plot. Dinah is an Iranian immigrant couple's child determined to prove herself a patriotic American but ends up mirred in an investigation everyone wants to go away. She researches into the activities of Castle's old military unit under the erroneous belief justice is not a complicated ever shifting thing on the battlefield. She could easily have been the star of her own program and it helps Amber Rose Revah is a gorgeous woman.

    Strangely, my favorite storyline isn't any of the conspiracies, government corruption, abuse, and the lone crusading heroine against them (plus, you know, Frank Castle). It was actually the tale of Afghanistan veteran Lewis. Lewis comes back incomplete from the war and does his best to find an outlet for his anger from extremely well-played veteran's support therapist Curtis but gets drawn in by reactionary ideology by a fake veteran named O'Connor. His story spirals from there and it draws a fascinating parallel to Frank who explains, in no uncertain terms, as not only is he different from Lewis but Lewis is a disgrace to every other veteran who has suffered. 

I really like Dinah's character and hope she sticks around.
     While it would also be easy to say this is the Left Wing Punisher, I will say the liberals of America get plenty of shots as well. At one point, Karen Page is put up against a United States Senator who has decided the entirety of the recent violence as well as rampages are a result of insufficient gun control. Even for people who support it, it's a capitalization on tragedy for political points with nothing to actually say about the motives of the people engaged in the shooting spree. It's a blue collar Punisher more of the Bruce Springstein type than any sort of bleeding heart interpretation of the character.

    In conclusion, I really recommend this season for those who enjoy spy thrillers and Post-War on Terror fiction. Frank Castle doesn't do nearly enough Punishing and doesn't get to face many ordinary criminals to the point this almost feels like a Jack Reacher series over a Frank Castle one but I very much enjoyed it. Certainly, it gives them ample room to navigate the character that isn't always the case in the Punisher.

10/10