Sygillis of Metatron - Ren Garcia
Review: This was a totally kickass book. And "sci-fi" isn't 100% accurate as the book certainly felt like high fantasy at some points. But there are enough starships and space battles to put the review in sci-fi. At first, I was a little discouraged because the start was a bit slow, the book is hugely long, and there was a bit of romance subplot that I wasn't sure I liked. Then, probably around 20% through the novel, I really fell in love with it. Honestly, the romance subplot ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the novel. A crazy magic assassin, dubbed a 'Black Hat Hammer,’ falls in love with a starship captain, but the book is so much more than that. The world building is massive, the Great Houses are really cool, and the names for everything never failed to bring a smile as I read. Until 3am. Several nights in a row...
Score: 9.5 / 10 - This was really close to a perfect book for me. There are a decent number of typos that sometimes hijacked me, but by no means does that make it a bad book.
Tales of a Dying Star - David Kristoph
Review: Tales of a Dying Star is split into three installments, each of which looks at the same conflict from a different perspective. The Sentinel, part 1 of the series, shows the life of a soldier serving the Empire and enforcing a blockade of the planet Praetar. While it can be slow moving at times, the characters are very realistic and The Sentinel sets up the conflict beautifully. Part 2, The Mother, is where Kristoph really shows his skills. The world of Praetar, wonderfully reminiscent of Frank Herbert's Dune, is full of rich characters and hyper-realistic strife that makes the Empire's oppression feel a little too real. The Snake, the third novella, concludes the series from the perspective of a slum lord gangster balancing political corruption in one hand and fleeting hope in the other. Kristoph excels at realistic character creation that vividly brings the conflicts to life in a very personal manner. The exposition and background set up feels slightly sluggish at times, but the twists and turns of parts 2 and 3 are masterfully written.
Score: 9.1 / 10 - Part 1 might move a little slowly for some tastes, but parts 2 and 3 are certain to blow you away. Any fan of Dune will love Tales of a Dying Star - highly recommended.
Iron Warrior - Jay Noel
Review: A fantastic conclusion to a wonderful series. I loved the Mechanica Wars from start to finish. In my opinion, book 3 was better than 2, but not as good as 1. Minor Spoiler Alert: Zen finally gets to do the ass-kicking I wanted him to do in book 2. A few things felt contrived, namely the relationship between Enapay and McMillan came out of nowhere, but overall, I loved the book. I don't want to give away too much on the series (check out my other reviews for more on books 1 and 2), so all I will say is this: every fan of steampunk needs to read this series. Period.
Score: 9 / 10 - As the series concluded, I didn't feel like anything was missing.
Redemption - Seth M. Baker
Review: Alright, I’m a huge fan of government conspiracies and cover-ups—all that kind of stuff. I haven’t read many books that attempt to delve into the crazy knot of the conspiracy world simply because most of those books aren’t terribly good. They aren’t believable. What sets Redemption apart from the rest of the apocalypse-yet-government-still-trying-to-work novels is the level of reasonableness—for lack of a better word—that Baker has managed to work into the pages. Without giving too much away: the different groups vying for power and control operate like you would expect, and writing all that in a manner that really flows without becoming several thousand pages is a difficult task. Even the government fiscal expenditures were believable. As with volume one, the writing was spot on, tightly constructed, and highly polished. My only complaints really stem from personal preferences in sci-fi—just a handful of plot points I wanted to go in different directions.
Score: 8.95 / 10 - Better than the first book, and that says a lot.
A Crowd of Stars - Dave Creek
Review: This one caught me be surprise! I didn't really know anything about the book at all, and I loved it. I'm a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica, and A Crowd of Stars captured the same feel with sweeping battles, treachery and deceit, and lots of interesting characters. My only qualm is that it was too short. I read the whole thing in a night (which is rare for me), and I wanted about another 300 pages or so to keep me going. With grand-scale sci-fi, immersive details about the world and events are what make it great. Some scenes were just over too quickly.
Score: 8.9 / 10 - It could use a little copy editing and some details sprinkled into some scenes, but the overall story is there.
Reaction - Seth M. Baker
Review: This one caught me off guard. I wasn’t really a fan of the beginning. The main character, Amadeus, is rather weird, and his family situation is a little unexplained and hard to follow. Then, before I really felt like I was familiar with the characters and setting, the action took off at a break-neck pace. From there, it never let up. Slightly confusing lack of background aside, the relentless action is what I liked most about the novel. There were twists and turns I really didn’t see coming. Lots of them. The action was well written, the science explanations were simple (and interesting) enough for a non-science guy like me to follow, and the writing was overall rather good. A few line editing errors crept in every now and then, but nothing too serious, usually some missing punctuation here and there. At the end of the day, Reaction was one of the best indie sci-fi novels I’ve read.
Score: 8.85 / 10 - A really solid novel. If you’re after action and surprises, this one is for you.
The Hazards of the Old Ones - Ren Garcia
Review: The second installment in the League of Elder series, and this one really ramps up the stakes. A lot more dramatic tension (in a great way), more twists and turns than the first installment, and still the same awesome characters that keep me coming back. Overall, the plot was a lot better than the first one—a lot more complex—and that was great. Sadly, I think the editing was worse than in the first book, which means it is rough. Typos, some absolutely nonsensical commas, and a few other issues occasionally made it difficult to read. Had I not been invested in the series and characters, a few of the errors would have made me stop reading. If anything, that’s a ringing endorsement of how good the plot is!
Score: 8.8 / 10 - It desperately needs a line edit, but I still love following Dav and Syg all around the universe.
The Battle of Earth - Ian James
Review: This was a really good read. The characters are believable, the main character, Anahita, is really fun to read, and the plot moves at a breakneck pace. The best aspects are certainly the dialogue interactions, and my only complaint comes from a couple political jabs that felt out of place in the beginning - but they still worked for the characters. Overall, this was a solid sci-fi romp that I certainly recommend.
Score: 8.75 / 10 - Give it a whirl. You won't be disappointed.
The Farthest City - Daniel P. Swenson
Review: This is hard core sci-fi as it is meant to be written. Follow Kellen, a member of the Four, a group prophesied to be the salvation of Earth. He and his compatriots search the depths of a city made by chines, a sentient alien species created by humanity a long time ago, in order to figure out how to reach the Chine home planet. Earth is under siege by the brutal Hexi, and the chines may be the only ones who can save humanity. In another concurrent plot line, Sheemi, a soldier sent into space to find a military answer to Earth's problem, goes on a wild journey through space wrought with deception, discovery, treachery, and genocide.
Swenson's writing really stands out as something fantastic. The plot and characters are well thought out, but Swenson could have written anything and come out with a beautiful product. Though the book was quite long, the action never felt dull or contrived. Every page was full of beautiful prose, succinct descriptions, and dialogue that never felt stilted. My only complaint would be that the ending seemed to wander a bit and felt slightly rushed, but this book is still one of my new favorites.
Score: 8.5 / 10 - If you like Orson Scott Card's Xenocide and Speaker for the Dead, you'll love The Farthest City. You won't find deep philosophical meaning in this book, but you won't be bored either. I'm eager to read more from Swenson - I hope he keeps up the good work.
Dragonfly Warrior - Jay Noel
Review: Nihon is on the brink of war. A powerful kingdom is conquering everything in their path and Nihon must reunite the beligerent factions of the Sun Nation in order to survive. Kanze Zenjiro, the prince of Nihon, is sent on an epic quest to recover an ancient artifact that can bring his people together and end the external threat. Dragonfly Warrior is so much more than a steampunk adventure. Breaking from the stereotypical British / Victorian tropes that ruin most steampunk novels, Dragonfly Warrior follows a samurai across the globe through several cultures. The action is fantastic, the characters are wonderfully crafted, and there is a subtle humor laced throughout everything that really brings life to the plot. I just picked up the second novel in the series, Shadow Warrior, and can't wait to start it.
Score: 8.49 / 10 - I loved the action and steampunk atmosphere. Any fan of the genre would be selling themself short by not picking up this series.
Forged by Battle - Patrick J. Loller
Review: Wow. I picked this up after hearing the basic premise: sci-fi world clashes with medieval fantasy world. That's all it took. Honestly, I started with a healthy dose of skepticism. I really didn't expect much and the first 10% didn't do much to impress me. After a few weeks of letting the novel sit on my Kindle, I decided to revisit the title. I'm really glad that I did. After a bit of boring exposition and background that didn't hold my attention, Forged by Battle really came to life. The story follows a Battlestar Galactica-style space fighter pilot and his Battlestar Galactica-style Battlestar to a research planet where a portal has emerged. What's on the other side of the portal? A medieval fantasy kingdom replete with elves! Loller blends high-tech science with classic magic effortlessly. While reading, I couldn't help but think of Warhammer 40,000 being speckled with the beautiful space combat of BSG and the primal fury of Conan the Barbarian. The plot is rather straightforward with only a few twists and turns, but it certainly doesn't disappoint.
Score: 7.5 / 10 - It could use a final round of polishing by a professional editor, but don't let that get in your way. Forged by Battle might just be the first combination of sci-fi and magical fantasy to do it right. Highly Recommended.
Shadow Warrior - Jay Noel
Review: This is the second book in the Mechanica Wars series. For that reason, the review might have some spoilers. You've been warned. Picking up exactly where book one left off, Zen is in full-blown despair. His sacred ancestral quest turned out to be a sham (although I have suspicions...) and he has forsaken his homeland. With nowhere left to turn, he travels to the mysterious home of the Shadows to do some much needed soul searching. Without giving too much away, Shadow Warrior is basically a tale of personal discovery and epic revenge. While I loved the plot and direction of Shadow Warrior, the writing was noticeably worse than book 1, Dragonfly Warrior. The reunion of the group felt very contrived and convenient and several instances of bad editing jarred me out of the story and back to the page. Perhaps Shadow Warrior could have used one more round of polishing. I will certainly be reading book 3 when it comes out, but I hope the quality of editing returns to that of Dragonfly Warrior.
Score: 7.2 / 10 - Still the best steampunk series I've read, but not the outstanding quality I expected after reading book 1.
Gears of Golgotha - Rebekah McAuliffe
Review: Erin Luciani lives in a world divided into two distinct groups. Mages, fantasy-style magic users, and chemists, those who commit their lives to science. Naturally, the two groups hate each other. To the point of death. When Erin is recruited to the Golgotha Project that essentially rules all mankind, she must learn to deal with the fact that she might not fit snugly into one of the strict class divisions. Gears of Golgotha is an intriguing read. For those interested in dystopian or steampunk literature, McAuliffe certainly delivers. The historical development and world creation that sets up Gears of Golgotha is extremely well done. The plot takes a while to get moving, but is relentless once begun. Some scenes felt slightly forced and inorganic, but the characters were incredibly real. The characters were well planned, fully developed, and very personable, which made for a gripping read. The ending felt a bit abrupt and left me longing to read more - both a good and a bad thing, since I've found no hints at a book 2.
Score: 7 / 10 - A quick and entertaining read. It will occasionally leave you scratching you head, but most of those scratches are the good kind.
Minutement 2041 - Chris Momb
Review: The premise was pretty sweet. Aliens have burrowed under the ground, and they can pop up to wreck communities seemingly at random. Everyone has to be prepared 100% of the time. Kids carry rifles to class, everyone has been conscripted, and there’s even a well concocted sub-culture revolving around military fashion and the economic implications of different gear purchases. I’ve read a ton of sci-fi, and I’ve never read a world quite like that one. Cool premise aside, there were some things I didn’t really enjoy. The dialogue was a bit stilted and trite (even for teenagers), and their relationships felt pretty forced or at least unexplained. At the end of the day, I had a pretty good time, but the writing was far from perfect. Perhaps a good editor could bring a needed perspective to take the novel from above average to fantastic.
Score: 6.99 / 10 - Really amazing ideas with writing that could use some work.
Pretty Bird - Eli Nixon
Review: All the animals of the world have died. The climate is harsh and arid, even in the pacific northwest. Set in the future, Pretty Bird follows a drug addict who receives a caged parrot mysteriously on his doorstep. Following the instructions of the parrot and a strange humanoid character that randomly shows up without explanation, the protagonist is ordered to execute five people involved in a major corporation. From there, the plot thickens a bit into a decent suspense mystery that kept me guessing. Overall, the plot certainly has holes and bits that left me questioning, but the writing was solid. Nixon has some pretty descriptive metaphors that really drew me into the writing and the plot was fast enough to keep me reading until I finished it in one sitting. I'm still rather confused about the ending and who / what the bad guy Lazarus is, but I enjoyed Pretty Bird and recommend it to fans of Sci-Fi looking for an afternoon read.
Score: 6.9 / 10 - I personally can't stand books that focus on drug use and that aspect of Pretty Bird was boring. The plot had some holes and confusing bits, but the writing was stellar. For $2.99, you'll have an enjoyable afternoon with this mysterious dystopian thriller. Give it a try.
Trojan - Craig Anderson
Review: What a fun premise! I really enjoyed the hacker / cyber-thriller feel, but a few things really didn’t click with me as a reader. Firstly, the romantic relationship was so forced and one-dimensional that it got in the way of the story. Secondly, a good line editor needs to work through the manuscript before Trojan is ready for publication. There were mistakes galore, and huge swaths of the writing just fell incredibly flat and really took away from the great thriller atmosphere the plot tried so hard to establish.
Score: 6.8 / 10 - I liked reading it, but a good editor could really take the story from decent to fantastic.
Covfefe Syndrome - J. J. Mainor
Review: I saw this come across my feed on Smashwords and decided that for $3, I'd throw away a few hours of my life in hopes for some funny political nonsense. Sadly, I didn't get it. Do yourself a favor and read the blurb (which I didn't do) so you know what kind of book you're buying before you grab a copy. Regardless, I wasn't disappointed by what I actually found. Covfefe Syndrome is a pretty solid space opera in the vein of Battlestar Galactica. It tells the story of a starship captain developing a medical condition that makes him lose his memories, and thereby he loses his personality too. The characters are a little bland, but the plot held my interest all the way to the end. Sadly, Covfefe Syndrome loses a huge chunk of points for lack of copy editing. The typos and poor word choice are insane. Pretty much every single page had some sort of glaring error. Ouch.
Score: 6.7 / 10 - This book would probably have a high placement if it had ever seen an editor. Look elsewhere, you can find better sci-fi.
Soldiers of Misfortune: Forerunners - Kyle Aho
Review: Soldiers of Misfortune is a series of novellas set in a sci-fi universe very reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka's 1949 manga Metropolis and Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film of the same name. Humanity lives on a vast number of planets that are segregated into vertical levels with the lowest sections reserved for the poor and degenerate. The first novella, perhaps the strongest writing of the set, follows a movie star attempting to balance life as a family man and celebrity with a dark side as a vigilante that roams the lower levels of the hive in search of criminals to punish. Sadly, before any conflict could arise between the protagonist's two identities, the story concluded and remained untouched. Overall, Soldiers of Misfortune is full of interesting and dynamic characters, an intriguing setting that any fan of classic sci-fi should adore, and enough combat to keep most readers entertained. Unfortunately, Soldiers of Misfortune is plagued by a myriad of 'show me - don't tell me' lines that mercilessly destroy the flow of the action and emotion. Instead of vivid dialogue leading the reader to possible conclusions, Aho frequently tells the emotions and reactions of characters with simplistic lines such as 'he was surprised at this' which, needless to say, is a distracting practice. The eBook version was beset with verb tense errors and a few typos, but that is not entirely disparaging. Soldiers of Misfortune could certainly become an amazing sci-fi universe with a wealth of well-written stories.
Score: 5.6 / 10 - There is serious potential here for something fantastic. As it stands, it feels more like a rough draft than a finished product ready for bookstore shelves. After vigorous editing, Soldiers of Misfortune would become as epic and entrancing as it is trying to be.
The Forest - James Gill
Review: The book isn’t ready for publication. It isn’t really close. There’s a complete lack of editing, the style was really hard to embrace, and the word choice was so verbose it was like trying to read a baroque painting. I think there’s a core concept that could be drawn out to something really fascinating, especially with all the cool parallels to draw between the futuristic setting and the past, but right now the book is simply in such a state that I couldn’t finish it. Especially throughout the first half, I felt like the book was written more as a vocabulary flex than a novel, leaving it too inaccessible to facilitate immersion. Exceedingly lofty writing works well in certain circumstances, but when paired with poor (non-existent) editing, it comes off as arrogant and cheesy. I will say that the glimmer of hope for the novel going forward would be the realism of the premise. It reminded me a little of The Giver by Lois Lowry in the way that the futuristic world was simply and beautifully believable. The futuristic world building kept me reading until about 75% when the grammar and style finally made me stop.
Score: 5.2 / 10 - A couple passes by talented editors would do wonders.
Morning, the Third Day - Yev Bukovinsky
Review: I couldn’t really get into this one. I felt like the concepts were pretty cool, kind of like a mix of Battlestar Galactica (especially with the religious / cult themes) and some of the epic fantasy I like to read. Sadly, the characters and locations just weren’t fleshed out enough—especially in the very confusing beginning of the book—for me to hold on all the way through with a high level of interest. Furthermore, the writing needs a serious amount of line editing. Poor dialogue formatting, repeated words, etc., plagued every single chapter. I feel like there’s probably a cool world in there waiting to be explored, but right now the novel is a first draft unready for release.
Score: 5 / 10 - Once this book sees a talented editor, it’ll be solid. Right now it just needs too much repair.