Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nova, Volume 1 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

This wonderful omnibus collects the first two volumes of Nova, and presents them as one continuous story. This works well, as the events of Annihilation—Conquest and Knowhere are very much two halves of the longer story. It is a fun introduction to the cosmic universe for those who missed Annihilation, and what seems to be a very handy prologue and companion to Annihilation: Conquest. The action and adventure is non-stop, but it never loses sight of the story or the characters. Based on this, and knowing Abnett and Lanning are heading up Annihilation: Conquest, I will make sure not to miss that event, or the continued tales of Nova in his own series, which picks up after Annihilation: Conquest in Nova, Volume 3: Secret Invasion. Take a look at the new series that is getting rave reviews from every comic reviewer out there.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Nova, Volume 2: Knowhere by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

After the explosive start to the Nova collection, Nova, Volume 1, I dove right into the second half, previously published as Nova, Volume 2: Knowhere, containing issues 8-12 and the first annual. After the wrap up of Nova, Volume 1: Annihilation—Conquest, we dive immediately back into the story.

Trying to escape from the villainous alien race Phalanx, Nova goes too far and reaches the very edges of the universe, and among time storms and faults in the fabric of space, he finds Knowhere, an interdimensional meeting grounds between hosts of alien species, and now the site of an almost haunted house-like tale of darkness and the undead. Along with Cosmo, the talking dog, Nova has to stop the evil, or face the end of the universe. However, pursuers are right on Nova’s tail, and between travelling across the universe and fighting the infection ravaging his body, he barely makes it to the home planet of the species that created the Phalanx, in the hopes of finding a cure and a way to stop them.

Abnett and Lanning continue to create a very exciting and entertaining ongoing series that both fills in the gaps between Marvel’s first two new cosmic epics, Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest, but also leads right into the second event, playing pivotal roles in the outcome. This volume ends with Nova’s events right up to the climax and conclusion of Annihilation: Conquest, making it a solid lead in to the second saga. Each of the stories presented here work on their own, while tying into the main story arc that builds from the first volume and on through the second. Nova continues to be a well developed and engaging character, and the settings are outlandish yet well-fleshed out. The plot is wonderfully inventive, throwing out problems from every direction and giving Nova a story in the universe-wide struggle to come. Another solid addition to Marvel’s new efforts in their cosmic universe.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nova, Volume 1: Annihilation—Conquest by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

After I so thoroughly enjoyed all three volumes of Annihilation, I knew I wanted to keep reading the story being fleshed out in the cosmic Marvel universe. The next major ‘event’ is Annihilation: Conquest, but in between the two major sagas the ongoing series Nova cropped up, written by the duo responsible for writing Annihilation: Nova, Nova’s part in the original story. The new ongoing series follows Nova as he travels throughout the universe in an attempt to save it. The first 12 issues and the first annual are collected in Nova, Volume 1 (not to be confused with Nova, Volume 1: Annihilation—Conquest, which is only the first 7 issues), which covers everything from the end of the original Annihilation War up through Nova’s participation in the Second Annihilation War. Excited about the omnibus edition, I picked it up and dove in.

Nova, Volume 1: Annihilation—Conquest picks up after Annihilation, Book 3. Nova is now the sole member of the Nova Corps, a group of intergalactic peacekeepers and police officers. He overworks himself, seeking to stop all of the universes problems on his own, and returns to his home on Earth to recuperate. However, nothing is as it used to be. Finding himself no longer fitting in with his family, friends, or society, he has a final confrontation with Iron Man, and has to make a series of hard choices about his future. Nova heads off to help out a planet, and steps right into the path of the new Annihilation Wave, fighting both friendly and antagonistic forces in a struggle to stay alive, and avoid being infected by the alien Phalanx.

Abnett and Lanning have created a space opera that mixes both a solid science fictional background with a plot that stays true to both the character and the universe he lives in. Never does this come across as a “superhero story in space,” but as a story of a man deeply ingrained in his space-based ideals, who struggles to do what is right, finds he can’t go home again, and sets himself on the edge of a threat far too large for him to handle alone. The depth of character is well-wrought and fleshed out without taking away from the action, while the plot is rich, using said action to enrich it, rather than dominate or replace it.

This book is very accessible, not relying too heavily on the necessity of reading the three Annihilation books, although having read those will enrich your reading of this book. The cliffhanger ending sets things up for the next cosmic event, which is told both in the two Annihilation: Conquest books, as well as in Nova, Volume 2: Knowhere. I won’t be missing either of those.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Infinity Beach by Jack McDevitt

I really have been in the mood for some strong science fiction lately, and I hoped to fill that void with Haldeman’s Marsbound. I enjoyed the novel, but I wanted more. I had been sitting on some McDevitt novels for a few years now, seeing them on my bookshelves but not reading them, and decided to take the plunge. Rather than reading The Engines of God or A Talent for War and starting a series, I went with one of his standalones, Infinity Beach.

Dr. Kimberly Brandywine lives on the planet Greenway many hundreds of years in the future. In her role as a fundraiser for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), she has to convince people that, after hundreds of years spent fruitlessly searching for intelligent life, there is still hope for finding some out there. However, it isn’t until she starts to unravel the mystery of her sister’s disappearance after the final manned SETI mission that she discovers that there might be more possibilities, and more at stake, than she ever dreamed.

McDevitt creates a novel that is just about as entertaining and excellent as it can be. All of our characters, from Kim, to the host of secondary characters, are all fully fleshed out and fully humanized. The setting is perfect, from the new world of Greenway to the times spent stuck in the ship in interstellar space. The plot tears along, weaving the complex mystery at the heart of the tale with strong science fiction concepts, even hints of horror, and deep suspense.

This is science fiction at its best. Do not miss this novel.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

As a fan of science fiction, there are certain authors I just should have read. The list is gradually getting longer, but it includes names like Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. LeGuin, Larry Niven, etc. The list is rather large. But near the top of it should come Joe Haldeman, famed author of The Forever War, Forever Peace, “For White Hill,” and a number of others. Yet, somehow, I had never read anything by him. Not one sentence. So, having been in a space opera/hard science fiction mood lately, one of his newer novels, Marsbound, looked like a perfect introduction.

Carmen Dula is heading to Mars with her family and a small group of scientists and families. After all of the work she put into preparing to go, she is beginning to have reservations about the whole thing. Her knack for getting into trouble and an overbearing leader make for a stressful environment for Carmen, and she snaps, heading out on her own. But when she leaves herself in mortal danger, her rescuer is not quite what she expected.

Haldeman does a great job of creating an environment for his story that feels very real. He grounds everything in scientific detail, without making you feel like you are reading a textbook, simply incorporating it into the daily life of our characters and making the scientific marvels of tomorrow ho-hum devices that spark no surprise in our protagonist. He also manages to pull off some very well-rounded characters that feel human in all the right ways.

The novel isn’t perfect, however. Carmen gets in trouble a lot, as I mentioned before. At first, it seems like it’s just an endearing personality trait, but eventually it does reach the point of being unrealistic. An otherwise smart girl can only make so many extremely stupid choices before it all feels too coincidental. The novel also feels a little disjointed at times. There are three distinct sections to the novel, and the almost feel like three separate stories, interconnected but not of the same immediate tale. This can make for tough transitions.

That only detracts a little, however, from what is otherwise a very fun story. While it would seem this isn’t Haldeman’s best, it was more than good enough to have me looking for the sequel. A fun, short novel with engaging characters and an exciting plot.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Crossroads by L. Ron Hubbard

NOTE: The Crossroads was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Galaxy Press.

Galaxy Press continues its series of reprints of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp stories, this time with a new collection of fantasy tales. Below are short bits on each story:

“The Crossroads”: A farmer decides to make a stand against the government’s policies and take his surplus food to town to sell. However, he reaches a unique crossroads, one that takes him to other dimensions. This light tale of a man in over his head, and who should be careful what he wishes for, is entertaining, with a humorous undertone that builds upon the increasing absurdity of the farmer’s predicament.

“Borrowed Glory”: A story I had come across previously (in Galaxy Press’ release of Fear by L. Ron Hubbard), I remembered enjoying it. I sat down wondering how this tale of an angel’s pulling of strings in one woman’s life would proceed on a second read. As it turned out, “Borrowed Glory” was just as much fun, and remains in my mind as my favorite of the Hubbard stories I have read.

“The Devil’s Rescue”: A man on the verge of death, afloat in the middle of the ocean, seeks salvation on a passing ship. However, there is a very dark history for the passing boat, and the desperate sailor may be farther from safety than ever before. This one wasn’t quite as engaging as the first two tales in this volume, although it does an interesting job of trying to wrap together a few of the genres Hubbard was fond of writing in, those being sea adventures, fantasy, and horror.

All-in-all, this new collection of Hubbard’s works is a mostly solid book. The first two tales, in particular, show Hubbard at some of his pulp fantasy best, and are, beyond anything else, simply fun to read. The Crossroads is a very short addition to one’s library, but it is a very fun one.


Monday, May 17, 2010

The Specific Gravity of Grief by Jay Lake

NOTE: The Specific Gravity of Grief was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

While Luke Reviews generally focuses on books geared mainly for entertainment, occasionally a much more serious work comes along that I just can’t pass up.  When a copy of The Specific Gravity of Grief by Jay Lake came to my mailbox, I was really looking forward to it.  I hadn’t had the pleasure of working with Fairwood Press in a while, and that is always a positive experience.  Jay Lake was an author I had heard wonderful things about, but had never had the opportunity of reading before.  And I like novellas, especially after a series a longer books, or in this case final exam week.  Jay Lake has been having his own battle with cancer, and so this semi-autobiographical work was very intriguing to dive into.

As a man, who shares a name with this work’s author, struggles with the onslaughts life has thrown at him, he explores his repeated fights with cancer, his daughter’s similar battle, and his marriage, along with his floundering writing career.  This novella doesn’t contain elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, or the other normal genres seen here at Luke Reviews, but is very much about an author of those works, and of people, which is what infuses all great works, genre or not.

Lake’s novella taps into the harshness of cancer, yet expresses it in beautiful prose, that is both gorgeously phrase and imminently readable.  The collage he creates, mixing present events with those of his characters past, and long streams of internal monologue, makes a brilliant picture of grief, pain, and eventually, hope.  It is hard to say much more about the story, as it is intricately woven and fits together tightly, thus giving one piece would reduce the impact of the rest, but this is a wonderful novella that reaches to depths not often explored in such a manner.  Lake achieves all of that by writing a short novella that wastes no words, but gets to the point without excessive riffraff and hundreds of extra pages.

This one is coming out in a very limited edition, only 250 copies, and is likely the top novella I have read from 2010 so far.  Don’t mess around, and get on top of ordering this one, because it shouldn’t be missed, and won’t be around long.  This is a wonderful, powerful story.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rage of the Behemoth edited by Jason M. Waltz

NOTE: Rage of the Behemoth was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Rogue Blades Entertainment.

Sword and Sorcery is a subgenre of fantasy that seems to be on the periphery nowadays.  Robert E. Howard helped us to define it, and Fritz Lieber, C.L. Moore, and David Gemmell took what Howard gave us and made it into what we have today, but it seems to have become a shrinking art form.  I stumbled upon Black Gate not too long ago, and rejoiced at a magazine that is devoted to adventure fantasy, including a number of Sword and Sorcery pieces, but it also had a number of non-S&S pieces.  There is nothing wrong with that, but it still only partially filled the void.  So when I discovered Rogue Blades Entertainment, a publisher devoted to Sword and Sorcery, I knew I needed to give this a try.

Rage of the Behemoth is an anthology devoted, as the title implies, to beasts and the men who encounter them.  Twenty-one stories of Sword and Sorcery are on the buffet, prefaced by a forward by Mark Finn and an introduction by Black Gate’s John O’Neill.  Below are thoughts on each:

“Under Red Skies” by Frederick Tor: A story of Kaimer by RBE’s house author.  Kaimer is captured and imprisoned, and only learns the truth of his situation when an egg larger than he is appears in the cell with him.  Tor introduces a new series character, starting him off in a fast-paced, well-written story that will have me looking for more Kaimer tales in future anthologies.

“Portrait of a Behemoth” by Richard K. Lyon and Andrew J. Offut: A story of Tiana Highrider, first introduced in the War of Wizards trilogy.  This tale is also the first of four in the section on “Depthless Seas.”  Tiana, in the middle of a heist of historic proportions, is right in the middle of a war between two wizards, and has to fight to survive, all while making sure she escapes with at least some of the treasure.  This is a very fun story.  I thought the ending was a little corny, but it was still a good story overall, with plenty of excitement.

“Black Water” by Sean T.M. Stiennon: A tale of Shabak.  Shabak sets out to save his kidnapped son, and finds an ancient enemy is behind the abduction.  Stiennon has worked into his tale both plenty of action and a complex plotline that works wonderfully.  A very rich story.

“Passion of the Stormlord” by Robert A. Mancebo: Asad al Din meets an insane sailor who leaves him with a gift that is very much a double edged blade.  Can al Din and his crew survive the wrath of the djinn?  A brief, fun tale, although lacking in some of the complexities of the earlier tales.

“The Beast in the Lake” by Kevin Lumley: A story of Crow Thiefmaster.  A beast is killing all of a king’s heirs, and Crow sets out to kill this beast and repay a debt of honor he owes the king at the same time.  An okay story, but not the most engaging of the volume.

“Serpents beneath the Ice” by Carl Walmsley: The first story in the “Frozen Wastes” section, this PEN Award nominated tale follows a wizard who is seeking to return to his home to conquer the beast that first forced him out.  Entertaining, but not a stand-out from the anthology.  However, in an anthology such as this, even the non-stand outs are very high quality.

“The Wolf of Winter” by Bill Ward: A bit of a change from some of the earlier stories, this tale is much more introspective, with a man seeking to meet his destiny in the frozen deserts, and exact revenge for the losses he has met with in life.  A very solid tale, with a lot of depth.

“Nothing Left of the Man” by Jeff Stewart: A tale of Sigurd Grimbrow, this tale matches engaging characters with a fast-paced plot about a ton besieged by a ferocious bear, and riddled with a dark, violent incident in its past.  An excellent story.

“Blood Ice” by Mary Rosenblum: Rosenblum rarely disappoints, and this tale of the Cold Rim continues that trend.  A story of an ostracized young man and a royal family in need of his help flies through its plot, exploring a very deep setting with plenty of open areas for further exploration by Rosenblum, and wraps up with a crushing ending that is abundant with bittersweetness.  Great story.

“Black Diamond Sands” by Lois Tilton: This first story from the “Scalding Sands” section follows one man who sets out into slavery and toil in the diamond mines to try and save his sister’s life.  Further exploration of the world this was set in would have been nice, and plenty of hints are dropped but not much hard information, but it created a mood that worked well with this story.

“The Hunter of Rhim” by Martin Turton: Another story with a dark twist for an ending, this one follows Hunter Jon as he sets out to track and kill a species of monsters that is wiping out humanity.  However, his last hunt looks to be more difficulty and more costly than ever before.  Intriguing behemoths and a well-wrought environment help this story fly along.

“As from His Lair, the Wild Beast” by Michael Ehart: A tale of the Servant of the Manthycore, as first introduced in the author’s novel The Servant of the Manthycore.  A woman and her mother try to escape an army that is searching for them, but do so through a swamp that is the home grounds for an ancient, gigantic beast.  An okay tale, although not as engaging as many of the others in this anthology.

“Stalker of the Blood-Red Sands” by A. Kiwi Courters: When a beast in the desert is slaughtering people and threatening villages, a group, led by their new princess, set out to stop it.  But can even the might of the Elephantine warriors stop the mythic beast?  An entertaining tale, it had strong characterization for some and weak for others, but all-in-all was entertaining.

“Poisonous Redemption” by Kate Martin: The first story from the section on “Mysterious Jungles,” this is a tale of Rica.  When Rica sets out to find redemption, it comes at the cost of facing down a ferocious beast hiding in the middle of a dense jungle.  But she must kill it in order to reclaim her identity.  An average story, not great, but not bad.

“Yaggoth-Voor” by Bruce Durham: The best story in the anthology, a tale of Mortlock the Footman, this one focuses on a wrecked ship, an injured little girl, and a beast that seems to be toying with the crew.  Wonderful dialogue, spot-on characterization, and a fast-paced plot, all wrapped up with a style that works perfectly for this type of story, makes this a true gem, and one of the best fantasy shorts I have read this year.

“Runner of the Hidden Ways” by Jason E. Thummel: A story of a man seeking revenge for the death of his people, but finds something far different.

“Beyond the Reach of His Gods” by Brian Ruckley: A tale of Rhuan the Exile.  A group seeking treasure finds that, instead of using the guide, it may be the guide using them.

“The Rotten Bones Rattle” by C.L. Werner: The first piece in the section on “Ageless Mountains,” and a tale of Shintaro Oba, follows the Conan-of-Japan style Shintaro Oba as he seeks to fight off ninjas, save his liege, and crush a hidden mining operation. 

“Vasily and the Beast Gods” by Daniel R. Robichaud: A tale of Voyvodin, in this one Robichaud brings not one, but two beasts to the fray in a zinger of a tale, mixing evil magic and ferocious action.

“Thunder Canyon” by Jeff Draper: This tale of redemption follows a man seeking near-suicidal revenge, and who finds that what he needs is in fact far different.  A bit of a change from the straight up action of the anthology, but not out of place.

“Where the Shadows Fall” by T.N. Williams: A tale of John Humble, and one which I didn’t quite get to (see below).

It should be noted that the last couple stories in “Ageless Mountains” didn’t get quite the focus that the first 19 did, as I was in the middle of moving, and that is always a hectic time.  However, giving one a skim, and looking forward to reading the other, I can still make a fair assessment of the whole of the anthology, being only one story shy.

What editor Jason M. Waltz has done in Rage of the Behemoth is what I hope is the beginning of a revolution in heroic adventure fantasy.  Rage of the Behemoth is a well-rounded anthology that captures a huge variety of settings, gathers a collection of strong characters, and then explodes with action and tight plots.  From the better known authors to those who were new to me (most of them), there wasn’t a true dud in the mix.  With a lot of content, both large in quantity and quality, Rage of the Behemoth isn’t just a solid heroic adventure fantasy anthology, but an excellent anthology of fantasy without the sub-genre trappings, and worth a look even for the non-fantasy fans among us.  This is one of the best anthologies I have read in a long time.  After really enjoying Death & Dishonour out from Black Library, I was wondering how this one would hold up.  There is no question that Waltz has created the far superior anthology. 

I wondered whether the wide variety of stories following series characters (as noted in the individual story notes) would be problematic and difficult to get into, but far from that, there were no problems, and I will now be looking out for a number of these authors in the future, especially Durham and Stewart and a couple others.  Don’t hesitate; go get a copy of this book now, and then keep checking back for the next anthology from Rogue Blades Entertainment and editor Waltz to be released.  If it lives up to this one, it is a guaranteed winner.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Book of Blood edited by Christian Dunn

The Black Library just last month put out their new Print on Demand line of books.  Releasing at least one new book each month, the total now stands at four.  I wanted to take a look at how this worked out, and so I bought a copy of their new reprint anthology, The Book of Blood, an anthology of Blood Angels stories, and dove in.  This is a very large book with a lot of content.  A look at all it contains:

Bloodquest: The Eye of Terror Trilogy by Gordon Rennie: The complete trilogy following a group of exiled Blood Angels as they seek to redeem their honor.  The complete series contents:

Bloodquest: Book One follows Leonatos as he recounts his last struggle against the orks, and the disgrace he found there in losing an ancient relic.  Leonatos and a small group of loyal marines set out to track down the ork warlord who has the sword, in the hopes of recapturing it and regaining Leonatos’ honor.

Bloodquest: Into the Eye of Terror continues immediately from the previous book, as Leonatos and company head into the Eye of Terror and face down a host of demonic fiends in their quest for the sword.

Bloodquest: The Daemon’s Mark finishes the trilogy.  Cloten and Lysander head back to the Eye of Terror to find their lost captain, Leonatos.  Yet, when the track down the army that captured him, they find that the enemy may not be quite as foreign as they expect.

“Bloodquest: Red Secrets” caps the saga with a prequel that looks into Cloten’s history before the fateful quest began.

The saga is very engaging.  You are quickly drawn into the story, which mixes the action with plot and characterization very well, and flows by.  The art is well done as well, especially in the second two sections.  The reproduction into this book format and into black and white was well done (although I had a couple of pages that weren’t well done, two that were shrunk and had ridiculously tiny font, and two that were blown up and extremely wavy, rendering them unreadable; this al occurred in the first book, and things were fine thereafter).

Space Hulk: The Novel by Gav Thorpe: Despite the title, this is a novella, based on the Space Hulk game.  Blood Angels Space Marines enter a space hulk and try to destroy the genestealers, aliens who have overrun the facility.  Very fast-paced, although a little lacking in characterization.  Much better than the other Warhammer 40,000 “game novel” I read, Assault on Black Reach: The Novel.  An engaging thriller.

“Crimson Night” by James Swallow: First appeared in the magazine Inferno!  We follow a group of marines trying to solve the mystery of what is going on with the planet’s population, and discover a dark secret that may implicate a fellow chapter.  Swallow creates an interesting tale that works in mystery and suspense, along with the usual action.

“The Blood of Angels” by C.S. Goto: First appeared in the magazine Inferno!  This story of a marine who goes too far, didn’t grip me, and I ended up skipping the last few pages.  Not the best of the book.

“Heart of Rage” by James Swallow: The prose version of the Heart of Rage audio drama. 

“At Gaius Point” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden:  From the upcoming anthology, Legends of the Space Marines, also edited by Christian Dunn. 

“Blood Debt” by James Swallow: From The Blood Angels Omnibus. 

I didn’t read the last three stories.  The Book of Blood is a large book, and while it is enjoyable, a don’t find the Warhammer 40,000 short stories quite as engaging as the novels.  Maybe I just haven’t been in a short story mood lately.  Regardless, I want to get to them sooner or later, and will be hitting “At Gaius Point” when I read Legends of the Space Marines, so keep an eye out.  All that said, I didn’t need to read the last hundred pages or so to know that this is a solid collection of space marines fiction.  You get a lot of content, and only one piece of it was lacking.  The print-on-demand format is a little more expensive, but it is worth it for this title.


Monday, May 10, 2010

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

I enjoyed the Harry Potter series.  I thought that, as the series went on, it never achieved the greatness of the earlier books, but I still read them all and enjoyed them.  So I knew that eventually I wanted to read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, where Rowling has created a book from her fictional universe.  It is a book of fairy tales, a fascination of mine, so I finally picked it up and gave it a look.  The tales, with brief comments about them:

“The Wizard and the Hopping Pot”: When a kindly wizard who helps his neighbors dies, the neighbors discover that his son is not quite as kind-hearted.  However, it seems that the late wizard planned for this eventuality.  A rendition of the story of an external conscience that makes a bad character good, but a rendition that adds nothing to that thematic lineage, and is rather dry and unoriginal.

“The Fountain of Fair Fortune”: Four strangers seek a magical fountain that will more-or-less give them what they want/need.  Three witches and a knight all set out, meet obstacles along the way, and arrive at the fountain, only to find they may not need it as much as they thought.  The “surprise” denouement at the end was extremely predictable, and the story perpetually unsurprising.

“The Warlock’s Hairy Heart”: The best story of the collection, this tale of a man who wants to stop himself from going silly with love, and who learns the price of this, has a very dark ending that didn’t seem to fit the rest of the stories.  Hearts torn out of chests and pools of blood didn’t seem to jive with the other, very PG stories.

“Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump”: A magic-obsessed king seeks to learn its ways, and a liar pretends to teach him.  However, when an actual witch gets involved, things go awry.  Very much a tale of “be careful what you wish for,” and very much forgettable.

“The Tale of the Three Brothers”: A story of outwitting death that is basically verbatim from the final book of the Harry Potter series, this story loses much of its power when it stands on its own, rather than as part of the final novel’s plot.

Each story is concluded with remarks from Albus Dumbledore, which sadly don’t feel much like the Dumbledore you come to know throughout the series.  They are sometimes better than the stories themselves, but not by much.

This collection of fairy tales from the world of Harry Potter fails substantially to live up to the rest of the series.  The other two ancillary texts in the series, the two textbooks, managed to keep the feel of the series, the magic and the style.  The Tales of Beedle the Bard fails in that respect.  It feels nothing like the series.  The book has gigantic margins and spacing, making its scant 110-or-so pages carry even less text than it would seem.  Die-hard fans may enjoy this one, and at less than an hour’s reading time it won’t be unengaging for long, but this is one you will forget about very quickly.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars by Gregor Hutton

NOTE: 3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Cubicle Seven Entertainment.

Frequently the target of both adoration and derision, with die-hards on both sides, there is one thing that no one can deny:  Dungeons & Dragons, and the roleplaying game explosion it caused, revolutionized the science fiction and fantasy genre.  Ever since, roleplaying games have been a pivotal aspect of the genre.  Wanting to explore this side of the genre a bit, I took a look at Chaosium’s Basic RolePlaying, one popular game system.  However, I didn’t get to delve too much more into it, as prices can be prohibitively high at times.  But that means it is even more important that you know what you are getting, and that it is worth it, before you lay down all your hard-earned cash.  So Luke Reviews will be featuring a number of Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s titles, giving you a broad range of genres and choices.  I started off 3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars, a military science fiction game.

In the world of the far future, humanity has moved past Earth, and is continually expanding.  However, this also means running into aliens.  These non-humans may not be friendly, so to save time and protect the species, groups of soldiers are sent out to take over the planets and clear them for human life.  It is up to you to protect the species while you move up (and down) in the ranks, gaining greater and greater responsibility.

With the stereotype (that once again was created by Dungeons & Dragons, its influence continues) of fantasy roleplaying games, I was excited to get the chance to look at a thoroughly military science fiction one.  The core rule book for 3:16 is very short, making it an easy one day read, and one go through is all you need to get started.  The rules system is very simple, in a way that lets you get into the game, but doesn’t prohibit more advanced play.  Without constant referencing of stats, you can get into the gist of the story.  The book has all you need to play, and includes a sample mission that helps to clarify any of the rules that may not have quite clicked for you. 

It isn’t perfect.  The story is very simple (and while I can understand the author suggesting just giving in to the violence of the setting, it still felt like it could have been given a little more depth), and it occasionally felt like Warhammer 40,000-lite.  Seeing that Hutton pulled inspiration from Warhammer 40,000 didn’t surprise me one bit.  It also would have been nice to have a couple of ready-made scenarios or missions in the book, letting you test-drive the setting before creating your own.

However, at the very small size, you get all of the rules without a huge price.  And when you are looking for a game that you can jump right into and can be explained quickly, it is an excellent choice.  It won’t have the most depth you have ever gotten out of a roleplaying game, but if you want some high-octane action and violence without the need to think too deeply, this game is perfect for you.  Fans of military science fiction, and those who enjoy Warhammer 40,000, should give this book a look.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Courage and Honour by Graham McNeill (paperback edition)

NOTE: Courage and Honour was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by the Black Library.

One of the first books that was reviewed here at Luke Reviews when I started out was the original hardcover edition of Graham McNeill’s fifth Ultramarines novel, Courage and Honour. It went on to be one of Luke Reviews’ Top 15 Books of 2009. With the paperback edition coming out in about a month, I thought a retrospective look might be nice. Below I have appended the original review, as well as McNeill’s comments on being a Top 15 book.


After my mixed review of the previous book in Graham McNeill's Ultramarines series, I was both hesitant and eager to see how his next journey into the saga would be. Would it be more of the action that dominated the last two-thirds of the book, or more of the slow, drawn out beginning? I am more than happy to report that it worked out wonderfully in this volume, mixing action with the plot better than The Killing Ground did.
After leaving the Eye of Terror, Uriel and Pasanius traveled to Salinas, where they fought the planets dark, twisted past. After a run-in with some higher powers in the Empire of Man, they returned, and finally headed back to the homeworld of the Ultramarines, heading for what they hoped would be a warm welcome.
That is where Courage and Honour picks up, with Uriel and Pasanius arriving home. After arriving there, the two space marines discover that they aren't as safe as they thought, with their chapter requiring them to undergo numerous tests to prove that they are without taint (even though this was also seemingly done last book as well). After these tests, Pasanius requires to do penance, and sits out the rest of the novel. Uriel leads the 4th Company back to a planet that had already conquered, in a desperate bid to protect the planet from invading Tau.
While I was disappointed about Pasanius' removal from the book, as I felt his interaction with Uriel was truly one of the best parts of the former novel, another sergeant, Learchus, does an okay job replacing him as a sidekick, flagging only in that the close history isn't there. The action in the novel never flags, and in this novel McNeill does a magnificent job of starting things off with lots of action, while using flashbacks to build the backstory, all done in clumps that are short and intriguing. The novel contains many secondary characters, including other space marines, imperial guard soldiers, as well as members of the Planetary Defence Force, that all feel very well fleshed out, that act believably, and can create emotional attachments.
I must say that, far from how I was after The Killing Ground, I absolutely cannot wait for the next Ultramarines novel. His books are getting better and better.


This was a fun book to write, as it was a chance to get back to basics with the Ultramarines. I'd taken them off to the Eye of Terror in Dead Sky, Black Sun and left them there for a while, as I went off and did other projects, but they were always itching to get back to Ultramar. I knew right away that I couldn't just have them turn up at the gates of their Chapter Monastery and say, 'Hi, we're home...' so that entailed The Killing Ground, a novel about the steps on the way home. Like DS, BS, it was a novel that took the Space Marines out of their comfort zone and had them doing very un-Space Marine-like things, so with Courage and Honour, it was time to rectify that.
I wanted this to be the book that reminds the reader why Space Marines are the premier fighting force in the galaxy. The Imperial Guard may number in the millions, but it's the Space Marines that do the really hard work, the missions that absolutely cannot be allowed to fail. This was going to be a war novel, a book that had the Space Marines doing what they did best, killing their foes with complete and utter dedication and professionalism. I wanted Courage and Honour to be a simple story, and when I say that I don't mean without complexity, I mean that is showed the Ultramarines--and Uriel--in the most classic Space Marine light possible.
These weren't Space Marines operating outside the Codex Astartes, these were warriors who fought with their Primarch's holy tome as their guide, and were winning with it at their side. Of course, I wanted elements that weren't exactly codex, which is what led to Learchus going behind enemy lines and learning what had driven Uriel to make the choices he made. It's a book with plenty of action, from all levels of the conflict, and I hope shows the brutality of warfare in the 40K universe, while also highlighting the heroism and horror that can come out of such desperate conflicts.
It's an honour to write about such an illustrious Chapter, and to have Courage and Honour chosen as one of the fifteen top books of 2009 by Luke gives me the pleasant thought that I did something right. Let's just hope that the follow up book, The Chapter's Due is similarly well received.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One Year (May 3rd)

As of May 3rd, 2010 (a few days ago), Luke Reviews officially hit its one year anniversary. To celebrate, I hope you all will take a look back at some of the many reviews that have gone up since I first began this site, and give me advice on where you want the future of the site to go. Tell me your thoughts! I hope you enjoyed the first year of Luke Reviews, and are ready to dive in for more!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Interview with L.M. Preston

Not too long ago, Luke Reviews took a look at L.M. Preston’s debut novel, Explorer X – Alpha, an enjoyable new YA science fiction novel. With her next book, The Pack, on the way, I decided to sit down and ask her a few questions.

Hello, L. M. Thank you for doing an interview for us here at Luke Reviews!

To start things off with, you have a new novel coming out right at the beginning of August. Can you tell us a little bit more about The Pack? Is it the start of a new series or stand-alone? Is it aimed for the same group of readers that Explorer X - Alpha is?

There were several things that influenced the idea of The Pack. I had originally planned for this character to be a male. I had told my beta team (my kids and husband) about this idea I had about a blind vigilante that organizes a group of misfit kids to fight against a major crime organization on Mars.

My daughter told me that she wanted me to write about a female main character. That it would be cool to have a girl in the role. I smiled and Shamira’s face appeared in my mind’s eye.

I decided that her mission would be to save missing kids, because I wanted to write about missing kids escaping from captivity. Every day at my job, I passed a board of missing children. My heart went out to them, and I always hurt for their loss. Once a former colleague who’d been a police officer told me of a horrible case where he had located missing kids that were captured and being used in despicable ways by their captors who had enslaved them for years before disposing of them. These sad facts were the makings of The Pack.

It is a two-book series that I truly enjoyed writing. It’s aimed at kids 14yrs and up. It has adventure, twist and romance all in one. The true adventure is the building of trust and true friendship that empowers Shamira to become the champion she was meant to be. The Explorer X series was aimed at kids 12yrs old and up.

You have another novel, Bandits, due out next spring. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Bandits, the first in a two book series, is about a teenaged boy who was raised as a thief and mercenary by his renowned father. His relationship with his father was strained due to his father’s refusal to continue his role as a leader of the Zukar. With his father’s murder, he discovers that his father snatched then hid a treasure that is not only worth killing for – but holds a power beyond mortal control. He sets out with his brother and friends to find the treasure before his father’s murderer does. His time is running out as the killer closes in, and the price to stop the inevitable destruction of his world becomes higher than he could ever pay.

Your first novel, Explorer X - Alpha, just came out a few months ago, and I have been hearing nothing but good things with it (and really liked it myself!). Congratulations! Since you said you are wrapping up the sequel, Explorer X - Beta, can you tell us a little bit about the sequel, and where the series is headed? Do you know how long the series will end up being?

Lol! Explorer X-Beta is the second book in the Explorer X series and will be full of surprises. The world I created for this book has me excited. This will ultimately be a four book series that will come to a climatic end that is so unpredictable yet powerful. I can’t wait. I’ve outlined the entire series and am finishing up the first draft of Explorer X-Beta, which is scheduled to come out Fall of 2011. In Explorer X-Beta, Aadi realizes that it’s okay to make mistakes, that leaning on your friends make you stronger, and that people are not always what they seem. I’ll give you a hint, he’s on his way to save Dakota and Carter, but in doing so, unveils something about the species in which he and the others were created from. The depth of the deception of TECRC becomes more obvious, and the burgeoning power of each character comes to the surface.

What authors/books/non-authors/books have most influenced your writing?

I’ve always loved reading horror, adventure, science fiction, true crime and romance. There’s not much I haven’t read. However, I love the style of James Patterson. He never, ever bores me. I also loved Dean Koontz’s earlier novels. I realized that in order for me to finish a book, I personally have to be excited about writing it.

You write YA science fiction. What do you think of the state of the genre?

I believe YA science fiction is a growing genre. Funny thing is, when I was younger, I skipped the books focused on my age group and read adult novels. Now though, times have changed and adults are seeking out YA novels because they are fast-paced.

What is in the future for L. M. Preston? Beyond your first four novels, what comes next? Do you think you will ever write outside the YA science fiction area, or have you found your home their?

Well, to be honest I have at least ten more series that I’m dying to write. This year though, I’ll be finishing up The Pack (Retribution) and Bandits. Next year I’ll be able to delve into my growing list of book ideas. As far as YA Science Fiction – I’m definitely home.

You write for Phenomenal One Press. Their goal is to write fiction that empowers teens and helps them get through difficult times, which I thinks is a wonderful goal. Is Phenomenal One Press your brainchild, or a publisher you just stumbled upon? What is it like working for them?

Phenomenal One Press, is the brainchild of my husband. I went through several months – okay almost a year – of sending out queries and getting rejected. I take rejection well for the most part, because engineers always have to work then rework an idea that has been critiqued. However, I must be honest - I was getting frustrated. I still didn’t give up and got an offer from a small publisher. I was this publisher’s only young adult author. After receiving the contract, and looking at some of the proposals they made regarding representing my work, I regretfully declined their offer. I knew that my book was part of a four book series. I would write many more books for this publisher, but I didn’t want to give my work away to someone that wasn’t going to properly promote it.

Then I discussed this frustration with my husband. I told him that now I have the writing bug, I can’t stop. That my one and only desire was to share my books with others, and making money doing it would just be gravy. He'd been an owner of several business before and stated that he would be a better publisher to me than one I declined. At that point on, knowing him as I do, I told him sure.

The benefits of working with Phenomenal One Press, a Small Press “Indie” publisher is that I get to have a voice. My hands, feet and body get dirty as I work with my publisher on every aspect of the business. I also get to see the future possibilities of my work that I'd never even considered as an author who'd just started this journey. When I look over any contract regarding the publishing business, I now have the ability to negotiate with the full knowledge of what I'm asking for and what the publisher will and can do for me. I understand the true cost of their investment and what that investment will gain me beyond the vision of my first book. With a small 'indie' publisher, if they don’t agree with the author's proposed changes, they usually state why. I have input in the cover design, marketing, event planning and every aspect of the promotion of my book. For me, a control freak, who was also a business major in school - this was wonderful!

This year my publisher is running a contest for authors that will allow their short stories to be placed in Bandits. It’s the beginning of growth for Phenomenal One Press and I can’t wait to see what the future has to offer. The company has an event coordinator, editor and interns who desire to learn the business. The goal being to teach, educate and empower not only our readers but writers who want to be a part of Phenomenal One Press.

Before we go, any final words?

I want my readers to know, that as a young person you have your entire life in front of you. Even when things look bad, you still have the ability to fight through to make it better. Always blaze your own path and never get discouraged while you are becoming stronger through the battles of life. Imagine yourself as the hero that you are, and you will do amazing things despite your challenges. How do I know this? Well, because I have and I know you can too.

Thank you once again for the interview, L. M. Good luck with your future endeavors!