Friday, August 31, 2018

This Week's Reviews on...

Cruiser Dreams

Following on from Dream Dancer, Cruiser Dreams explores the continuing story of Shebat – Earth brat, outsider, and adoptive daughter and heir to the Kerrion Empire – and of the ongoing struggle she endures in the face of familial backbiting, intergalactic political intrigue and cosmos spanning dynastic aspirations.

But as we soon discover, it’s also a story about perspective: about embracing change or welcoming stagnation; choosing right or wrong; promoting rejection or acceptance. It’s a story where what “is” needs to be recognized, while what “might be” must still be brought into being.

Cruiserkind is evolving into more – much more – than the sum of their component parts and supremely advanced AI. The addition of the human mind and its freedom to express itself in any way it desires adds a hitherto unknown dynamic to the greater holistic “self” enjoyed by/between the ships that draws them into an entirely new narrative. One that encompasses a symphonic unity ushering them toward a higher and more complete kind of “being” than ever before.

But how to tread the minefield of this dawning new age?

Employing richly descriptive and meaningful prose, Morris is able to encompass a depth of understanding and expression that allows the reader to explore – and then savor – the full nuance of the symbiosis experienced by those brave pilots risking insanity, and their increasingly sophisticated, near sentient ships, and how that burgeoning relationship almost brings an empire to its knees.
Ethical and philosophical dilemmas abound. Is loyalty and love enough to win the day?

Find out in a superbly entertaining space opera that is as astute in its insight as it is disturbing


Directed by Leigh Whannell, the screenwriter who co-created the Saw and Insidious, Upgrade is new science-fiction cyber-punk thriller about how to exact bloody revenge with cybernetic implants.

The premise:

Imagine an existence where everything – from people to houses - is fully integrated into an artificial intelligence run digital net. Enter Grey Trace, played by Logan Marshall Green, an unapologetic stick-in-the-mud who ekes out a living by repairing and restoring muscle cars for the rich and famous).  He’s the kinda guy who when his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) suggests they order a pizza, suggests they make it themselves from scratch instead.
Asha works for a company that makes advanced prosthetics for combat veterans. Their worlds are far apart, but she means the world to Grey. Or she does until the moment she’s shot in the head by a group of anonymous mercenaries who leave Trace paralyzed and without a clue as to their motive.
Three month after the attack, Grey goes home to an entirely different situation. This once proud “hands-on” man is incapable of doing anything for himself and is completely at the mercy of techno-nurses to cater to his every whim . . . a living nightmare. Especially as the police haven’t managed to get any further in the hunt for his wife’s killers.
However, it appears good fortune is about to shine on Grey’s gloomy world. It just so happens his last job was for a reclusive technological genius named Eron (Harrison Gilbertson). Eron has a brand new invention: STEM, a cybernetic implant capable of reconnecting the nerves in Grey’s spine and – as Grey is shocked to discover – can not only speak directly into his brain, but enhance his autonomous and motor functions as well.
Alas, Grey has to be careful. Nobody can know he got this technology inside him. And it’s here that Upgrade starts to turn dark. You see, Logan Marshall Green portrays a man who has sunk into a pit of despair remarkably well. You really do feel for him as he seethes in a pit of boiling rage at his helplessness to do anything to right a terrible wrong. It’s no wonder, then, that he succumbs to the lure of what Stem’s other enhancements can offer, by accepting its help to hunt his wife’s assailants.
The thing is, once activated, Stem is capable of acting independently of Grey’s will, and it goes on a martial arts ninja rampage while Grey – who is a decent guy – can only watch, aghast, as people are torn limb from limb in front of him by his own hands. Logan Marshall Green sells this aspect perfectly, with just the right balance of grim satisfaction at seeing the bad guys get it, and macabre repulsion at what he is capable of doing to another human being. And the one liners . . . ? Outstanding!
Inevitably, things start to snowball away from Grey and the noose tightens.

And that’s when Whannell plays his trump card. Upgrade has the ending of a quality whodunnit, concluding its narrative on a high, and catching you completely by surprise. I’m sure I’m not the only one to think, “Did I really just see that?”

Bravo – an upgrade of a move to what’s out there at the moment.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Take a Bite From This Week's Thoughts On. . .

New Moon Rising

I’ve been a fan of Samantha Moon for some years now. In an overused genre swamped with blood, J. R. Rain has managed to inject a fresh perspective into the world of vampires that carries a recognizable familiarity that appeals to us all. Samantha Moon is a devoted mom and wife; family means everything to her; her work as a Federal Agent at HUD is a somewhat humdrum affair, but hey, it brings in a steady income while her husband’s new business is finding its feet. She leads a normal life. One that’s instantly relatable. And if anything threatens the sanctity of that world, watch out, for she’s a kick-ass, pint-sized package if she has to be.

You could say, “life is good” for Samantha Moon. She’s on the track of a gang of criminals taking advantage of those in need; she survives being shot at twice within the space of a few days; everyone at work and at home has her back . . . It’s almost as if she has a guardian angel watching out for her to ensure life doesn’t get too hectic.

Well, here at last is the story describing the night her life – or is that unlife – was changed forever. Watch out underworld . . . of the criminal and paranormal variety. Things are about to get interesting.
An amusing, fast-paced little drama with bite!

Let Me In

Let Me In tells the story from the perspective of twelve-year old Owen, a boy who is relentlessly picked on at school and neglected at home as his parents are going through the process of a divorce. Desperately lonely, he spends his time plotting revenge on his middle school tormentors and during the evenings, spies on his neighbors living in nearby apartments.
A dark and moody film, Let Me In is disturbing as it portrays the very real rage and frustration youngsters can feel at being isolated. He’s easy bait for the bullies and compensates on this helplessness by shutting himself away in his room to stuff on candy and spy on the neighbors, living out a series of sadistic serial-killer fantasies in front of the mirror. In particular, he’ll brandish a knife at his reflection and hiss, “Are you scared little girl?”  (Which is what the thugs say to him in the locker rooms).

A poetic setting of the stage, for a little girl does arrive in Owen’s life: Abby – who moves in next door into an equally shabby apartment – with her single guardian.
Abby is eerily self-possessed, and despite the fact she initially tells him they can’t be friends, the two form a unique bond. When Abby's father disappears, she is left to fend for herself. Attracted to her circumstances, Owen offers to help and is still rebuffed, leading him to think she’s hiding an unthinkable secret.

She is, of course, and as the story continues, the two become allies, determined to protect each other at all costs. Trust is implicit . . . or so you think, for the film reveals Abby is a skilled manipulator – and  Own is letting himself in for a whole world of woe!

A mesmerizing performance by both youngsters, creating an intensity and sensitivity sorely lacking in other films of this genre.
In my opinion - One of the best Vampire films you will ever see!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

This week's Thoughts on:

In Smoke and Mirrors we’re treated to a collection of short stories Gaiman compiled at the behest of editors, literary agents, friends, and of course, the leadings of his own personal muse, inspired as it clearly is by various events from his life.

Having now read it, I can appreciate why he’s such a fountainhead of creativity.
The introduction near the beginning explaining how each story came about helps you appreciate the diversity and scope of his ingenuity. I mean, who else do you know of who could devise a witty and enchanting tale about the Holy Grail, triggered by an academic paper of feminist language theory and its comparison/contrast to chivalry? 


It’s like me phoning you up out of the blue and saying, “Write me a scary story about a light bulb.” Then the next day, “I want one about a sock that never smells of cheese.” Or “Give me something sexy on the subject of global warming.”

Somehow, Gaiman does this. He takes a smorgasbord of eclectic and incongruous subjects, and blends them together into a collection that reeks of mad scientist genius, while remaining quintessentially English enough that you can forgive his eccentricity. The whole book is a rollercoaster ride of the strangely ethereal; the repulsively perverse; the sadly melancholy; and the spine-tinglingly personal – “it’s behind you” noir déjà vu.

Bizarre. Scary. Humorous. Chilling. Smoke and Mirrors gives us a startling insight into the mind of a storytelling maestro. The perfect recipe for a spot of light reading.

As many people who know me understand, I’m a sci-fi/fantasy buff. I love the genre. It affords writers one of the broadest mediums in which to tell their story. And while it’s true there’s a lot of material out there I extend the benefit of the doubt in the name of all things geek, I still don’t like putting up with crap. Talking of crap . . . in recent years, I’ve started to get a gutful of the ever-expanding entity that is Marvel.

The world used to be simpler when I was a boy and our superheroes came in comic book form. You ought to have seen my mint condition library (Including both Marvel and DC): Superman. The X Men. The Fantastic 4. The Silver Surfer. Spiderman. Thor. The Green Lantern. The Hulk. Batman. The thing is, in those days, each hero could take on a life of their own and evolve. They had the time and the spectrum to establish their own unique footprints in a superhero crowded universe and stand out.

Nowadays, you can’t turn on a TV or go to the cinema without something Marvel–ous being thrown at you. And all that history gets condensed down into two and a half hours long force-feeding bonanza . . . with the statutory appearance by Stan Lee thrown in.
Needless to say, quality suffers–as evidenced by the countless reboots. So it’s put me off seeing some of the latest offerings–Infinity Wars included–for some time.
 At my son’s insistence, I finally got around to it, and . . . ?

We have to accept the Disney-Marvel combination for what it is. A behemoth engineered for variety and inclusiveness, within a set of very distinctive parameters. They aim to please everybody, and if we don’t like it . . . well, tough!
So, I tried to pick through that. I put up with the predictable ‘Bang – crash – wallop’ action scenes sprinkled with witty, politically correct dialogue and exposition, and tried to see why my son might think I’d enjoy this latest in a long line of outings.
As most of you know, the premise of the film centers on the character of Thanos, a guy who wants to wipe out half the life in the universe. 

Whoa! Hold your horses matey! Why on earth would anyone want to do that?

Well, there’s a lot of back story you won’t know. So take a deep breath . . . I shall be brief:
Thanos is a Titan, the son of the Eternals, Mentor and Sui-San. Due to his complex heritage, he carries what’s termed, the “Deviant gene’ within him, and during his adolescence, became fascinated by nihilism and death, actually falling in love with a physical embodiment of death, “Mistress Death.”
Basically – and this cuts a lot of history down – he wants to prove his love for death by the aforementioned mass culling, reasoning it will give the universe a fresh start. He holds an advantage in this regard, because he is able to augment his great physical strength and power through advanced scientific knowledge. He starts with his own race, wiping millions out, before expanding his conquest into the universe at large. To help him fulfill his quest, he needs to collect the infinity gems.

With me so far?

Of course, the Avengers and Co all set out to stop him, with the aforementioned “Bang – crash – wallop” I mentioned. (I’ll leave those aspects to you, the viewer, because the visual effects are stunning and stupendous to behold).
Don’t get me wrong, some of it is entertaining. I especially loved Thor’s dialogue / relationship with Rocket Raccoon who he insists on calling Rabbit. (Superb).
But the Avengers and friends have their work cut out.
If you knew the back-story, you’d know Thanos is virtually unstoppable. He not only possesses abilities common to the Eternals, they’re amplified to a higher degree through a combination of his mutant–Eternal heritage, bionic amplification, mysticism, and power bestowed by the abstract entity, Death. He has superhuman strength, speed, stamina, immortality and invulnerability, can absorb and project vast quantities of cosmic energy, and is capable of telekinesis and telepathy. He can manipulate matter and live indefinitely without food, air or water, cannot die of old age, is immune to all terrestrial diseases, and has high resistance to psychic assaults. Thanos is also an accomplished hand-to-hand combatant, having been trained in the art of war on Titan.
Basically, he’s a supergenius in virtually all known fields of advanced science and has created technology far exceeding that which is found on Earth.
But the Avenger’s and friends try and stop him anyway – and fail!
And THAT’s what really appealed to me about this film. Not only do our heroes get their asses handed to them on a plate, many of them die when they are effaced from existence. (Oh yes, did I say spoiler alert?) Here you go – SPOILER ALERT!
The thing is, Thanos doesn’t sing and dance about it. Oh no! At the end, we see him rest from his labors in an isolated, reflective and melancholy mood, for his victory has cost him dearly, at a profoundly deep and personal level. And that was one of the best ‘chill up the spine moments’ I’ve seen in a long time.

If only Marvel would incorporate that sort of intensity into their films more often, the superhero world would be a better place.

Of course, there’s still part 2 to come.

(A more in-depth review will follow soon in Amazing Stories)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

This Week
I Shall Mostly Be Reviewing...

Imagine living in a post apocalyptic world where nobody has ever touched another person. Never felt the wind in their hair or felt the warmth of the sun on their face. Imagine living in a sterile, computer controlled environment where everything you do is controlled by a schedule, and your only interaction with others is via a sophisticated TV screen.

How on earth is boy supposed to meet girl, fall in love and live happily ever after?

That’s the conundrum facing Jerome Cooper. For as he soon discovers, love finds a way. . . .

If you enjoy snacking on shorter reads, you really need to tuck into a slice of Reality Sandwich. It'll tickle your post-apocalyptic urban fantasy taste buds in just the right way. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am sure YOU will too.

I Kill Giants is an American comic book limited series published by Image Comics in 2008, featuring Barbara Thorson, a young girl struggling with the pressures in life by escaping into a fantasy world of magic and monsters.

I’ve got to say, I caught a trailer for this and was hooked. Barbara is obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons and keeping the town safe from what she believes are evil outside forces. Needless to say, she doesn’t have a lot of friends and is so geeky, she’s something of a social misfit who’s convinced only she can protect the townsfolk from harm by wielding a mythical hammer. 
(Get the ‘Thor-son’ reference now?)

Fantasy aspect apart, as the film progresses, you see she’s an incredibly loyal and brave little soul who rarely lets her guard down. Not surprising when you see what she has to contend with in the ‘real world.’

In a nutshell, I Kill Giants is a strange, compelling and darkly beautiful tale, and while it was made for youngsters, I’m sure the film will prove essential viewing for rundown world-weary adults who need to escape from their own realities every now and again.
Go on . . . treat yourself to something quirky J

Saturday, August 4, 2018

My Review of...

King of Ashes
Raymond E. Feist

The long anticipated return of Raymond E. Feist was well worth the wait!

A despot, hell-bent on extending his domain through tyranny and religious persecution. A hidden nation with a finger in every pie across the known land. Faceless killers focused on their own mysterious agenda. A lost heir to a shattered kingdom. And a secret order determined to see justice done.

With the main thread quickly established in retrospect at the beginning of the book, there are plenty of subplots and counter conspiracies to keep you entertained. Yes, all the ingredients are there for the beginning of what I’m sure will prove to be another epic saga, this time in the world of Garn.

I loved it, and can’t wait for the next installment.

Truly, a feast of Feist!

The IX Series

Have YOU availed yourself of the critically acclaimed and internationally bestselling IX Series?

The Story so far:

The IX

Roman legionaries, far from home, lost in the mists of Caledonia.

A US cavalry company, engaged on a special mission, vital to the peace treaty proposed by Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln.

A twenty-first century Special Forces unit, desperate to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.

From vastly different backgrounds, these soldiers are united when they are snatched away from Earth at the moment of their passing. Thinking they may have been granted a reprieve, imagine their horror when they discover they have been transported to a failing planet on the far side of the galaxy, where they are given a simple ultimatum. Fight or die. Against all odds, this group of misfits manages to turn the tide against a relentless foe, only to discover the true cost of victory might exact a price they are unwilling to pay.

How far would you be willing to go to stay alive?

The IX. 

Sometimes, death is only the beginning of the adventure.

Exordium of Tears

Fight or die.

A brutal tenet by which the refugees from Earth - including the lost 9th Legion of Rome, the 5th Company, 2nd Mounted Rifles, and the British Special Forces anti-terrorist team - were forced to endure while the Horde menace existed.

Thinking that the threat is over, the survivors long to settle down and reclaim the lives stolen from them. However, such aspirations remain beyond their reach, for a shadow looms on the rose-tinted horizon of new beginnings that not only threatens the future of Areden, but the universe too.

Worlds are torn asunder. Suns destroyed. Star systems obliterated.

Yes, tragedy is forged anew un a universe spanning conflict which proves once again that. . .

Death is just the beginning of the adventure.

Prelude to Sorrow

For the People of Earth & Arden

The task force dispatched from Arden to eradicate the Horde menace failed, and for those few left alive, the tenet by which they have survived for so long resounds as never before. . .

Fight or Die!

Now marooned, out of time and out of place, the survivors lick their wounds and struggle to recover while the Horde gather their strength for a final strike that will change the course of history forever. The fate of the galaxy – and more – hangs in the balance.
But fate, it seems, isn’t done with the Ninth, and our heroes find themselves forced to mount a last-ditch attempt to end the threat once and for all.

Will the darkness be vanquished, or will our heroes’ efforts finally signal the beginning of the end of their adventure?

Find out in – Prelude to Sorrow – the stunning conclusion to the IX saga.

The IX Series

Military science fiction as it should be!