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Category Archives: Science Fiction

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #2)Premise: The Rebellion seems to be gaining strength ever since Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star, but the base on Hoth is discovered by the Empire, so they must find refuge elsewhere. The rebels scatter and the Empire continues their pursuit of crushing the opposition. Luke seeks one of the last living Jedi in order to take up the mantle himself. It is in a remote swamp that Luke begins his Jedi training with the Jedi master Yoda.

Han, Leia, and crew go to Han’s scoundrel friend Lando for protection, but the Empire’s reach is long and they are found in the Cloud City and captured. Han is given over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and the rest are held as bait for Luke to rescue. Will Luke come to the rescue or will new revelations destroy any hope the Rebellion had for victory?

Themes: In The Empire Striketh Back, we begin to see the feelings between Leia and Han blossom through their tumultuous interactions. The romance builds as their feelings are laid bare for the reader but held close to themselves until they can no longer contain their feelings. But it isn’t until Han’s life is forfeit that Leia expresses her true feelings to him.

People can change, including the biggest scoundrels, but sometimes they fall into their old ways. When Han Solo falls in with the Rebellion, he does his best to put his past life as a rogue and a smuggler behind him. It manages to catch up to him when he trusts Lando Calrissian to protect him and his friends. Lando’s betrayal only enforces Han’s lifestyle choices, but perhaps at that point it is too late.

Temptation and confronting fears play a large role in The Empire Striketh Back. Luke faces his fears first in the swamps of Dagobah when tested by Yoda in becoming a Jedi. Luke learns the dangers of giving in to the dark side, but he learns the true temptation of the dark side when confronted by Darth Vader with the truth of his father.

Pros: Doescher continues showing his fine grasp of Shakespearean language in The Empire Striketh Back while making some interesting character choices through their dialogue. The choices that stand out are with making Boba Fett speak in prose instead of iambic pentameter to show his lower class and with Yoda speaking in haiku to show his different speaking style. Doescher infuses more emotion into Empire than he did with Star Wars, done so with a lot of monologue asides that aren’t really in the movie but I felt actually added to the story. This is especially true for Leia and Han but includes other characters like Lando of which we don’t get as much character development. The author also makes sure to include important lines, like Han’s famous response to Leia professing her love for him: “I know.”

Cons: I did catch a handful of times where the meter dropped or added an extra beat, which isn’t necessarily unheard of in Shakespeare’s work. Probably the most famous instance of this is “to be or not to be, that is the question” with its extra beat. My Shakespeare isn’t nearly as refined as it probably should be, but I know that he used this to express extra emphasis and emotion. Whether or not Doescher did this for the same reason, I’m unsure. I do know that it made my reading of Empire more difficult. While I appreciate the need to give each character their own representation, I didn’t think giving the Wampa a voice was entirely necessary. I also liked the space battle sequence in Verily, A New Hope better than how the battle was executed on Hoth. It felt more epic while keeping within the restraints of a play. Also, making the AT-ATs into characters just seemed silly.

Recommendations: One of the things I like most about The Empire Striketh Back is that Doescher manages to continue with the humor necessary to make something like this work while capturing the more tragic ending of the movie with Han being frozen in carbonite. Doescher makes more artistic choices in The Empire Striketh Back than he did with Star Wars, and they mostly pay off except for a couple I didn’t care for (see Wampa and AT-ATs). Still, The Empire Striketh Back continues the Star Wars trilogy in strong fashion, and in some ways mirrors the movies by being superior to Verily, A New Hope in that it is infused with more emotion, more peril, and more humanity. If you liked William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, don’t stop there or else you’ll miss out. While you can appreciate the book wearing a scholarly Shakespeare hat, keep in mind that these are supposed to be fun.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

The Burning DarkPremise: Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a war hero ready to retire. For his last assignment he has been sent to the remote U-Star Coast City, a space station being dismantled for decommission. It rests near the strange star known as Shadow, with eerie purple light that has incalculable effects on those who look at it. The remaining crew aboard the Coast City are less than friendly, and skeptical of the Fleet Medal Cleveland wears, especially once he discovers the mission where he saved an entire planet from being destroyed by spiders has been wiped from existence in the database.

Shadow causes all sorts of electrical malfunctions and interference with communication, but its light also causes the crew to hear and see things that may or may not really be there. When Cleveland picks up radio communications on the banned subspace channels, he discovers a message from far away and long ago. With creeping shadows and malfunctioning electronics, he and the rest of the crew begin to think they are seeing ghosts. Or perhaps it’s just the negative effects from the looming purple star.

Themes: Ida Cleveland does all he can to uphold honor and respect, especially with records of his heroics being wiped from all knowledge. Nobody on board the station believes he actually earned the prestigious Fleet Medal, and because of this he feels he must prove his own valor to the rest of the crew. As a retired captain, the other soldiers don’t pay him the same respect as if he were still an officer.

Friends are hard to come by in the remote space station, especially when Cleveland is new to the crew. He befriends a medic named Izanami, but sees her only occasionally on the large station. The established crew already have their allegiances, and nobody wants to give Cleveland a chance especially with there being no record of him earning his medal. Lacking any true friends, he spends most of his time alone in his cabin listening on his piecemeal radio.

Pros: The Burning Dark is creepy, and it gets progressively creepier. Christopher made some intense characters in The Burning Dark, with the space station and the nearby star gaining personalities of their own. Everything is suspect when it comes to trusting senses or how characters perceive their surroundings, including interactions with other people aboard the Coast City. I like that there are multiple dangers all around for everybody in the enemy spiders, churning shadows, and the ever-present star Shadow and its odd purple light, all within the vacuum of space.

Cons: Without giving a spoiler, I think it was about halfway through the book (before the author gives away one important secret) that I actually figured out one of the main secrets happening on this secluded station. It doesn’t make the story less creepy or intense, but it’s the angle the story later takes that I felt could have been left more ambiguous. Thankfully, I didn’t think it went off the rails at the end, but it left me with the feeling of being set up for another book.

Recommendations: I’ve read a couple other books from Adam Christopher that I’ve really enjoyed, but I’ll say this is probably my favorite of his I’ve read to date. In The Burning Dark, he’s done a thoughtful crossover between science fiction and horror that sits firmly in either genre. The story takes an unexpected turn at the end, but manages to keep the reader on their toes. While The Burning Dark stands on its own as a story, I would gladly read another set in this universe of cyborg insects and subspace ghosts. Read at your own risk. You might find yourself jumping at shadows and hearing voices in radio static.

Adam Christopher’s website
The Burning Dark on Goodreads
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Horror, Science Fiction

 

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Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Tin StarPremise: Tula Bane is on her way to colonize the planet Beta Granade with the rest of the Children of Earth when she is beaten and left for dead by the group’s leader, Brother Blue, on the Yertina Feray space station. Here she is the only Human, considered a Minor Species in the galaxy. It is on this remote station where Tula makes her life scrounging and trading favors since word of her ship, the Prairie Rose, did not make it to its destination. She must learn the ways of other beings in order to survive.

When news comes that Brother Blue is still alive, she uses all the favors available to her to plot and plan for finding him and exacting her revenge. The station’s security chief, Captain Tournour, is there every step of the way keeping the peace and making sure nothing illegal goes unpunished. It is the unlikeliest of alien friendships that keeps her going daily.

But then a ship carrying three more Humans crashes on the station causing her to rethink her alliances. Through her relationships with these aliens and Humans, Tula learns all about love and friendship, and she has to decide what is really important for love and survival.

Themes: Friendship comes to the forefront, especially in Tula’s dealings with the alien Heckleck. They become best friends as the only person she trusts is the alien with no emotions. Tula’s connection with other Humans makes her question if they should be friends because of their close affinity or because she actually trusts them.

Tula’s experiences with death and loss, with her family continuing to the settlement without her, leave her open to failure. When she learns that the ship didn’t make it to its destination, her hope is crushed by her family’s death. And when she loses more people in her life Tula could very easily fall into despair, but there are others there to support her and lift her up.

When more Humans step into her life, Tula has ample opportunities for love to grow. She even toys with the thoughts of romantic relationships and tests them, with mixed results. But the biggest surprise comes at the most important crossroads of her life when everything is at stake.

Pros: Cecil Castellucci does some things very well in Tin Star, like making you care about the friendship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a bug-like alien. The characters have an interesting interplay in the setting on the space station, leaving me feeling the claustrophobia of being stuck together in a place and not being able to go anywhere. There are some great emotional moments in the book, one right at the beginning, one in the middle, and another at the end. It’s almost like Castellucci spaced them out evenly on purpose.

Cons: Even with the good character development, I felt like from the moment they step onto the page each Human is not to be trusted, which made it difficult to care about any of them. My biggest gripe is the abrupt ending to a book that seemed to rocket by me, and now I have to wait for the second half of the story.

Recommendations: Tin Star has its ups and downs, but there’s a lot packed into this fast-paced book. I would have preferred a 400 page full combined version with the second book so I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the story, but also because of the chopped off feeling at the end. I still think it’s a good commentary on love and loss, especially for people who live a solitary life. Tin Star will make you think about the people around you in a different light, but maybe only because some people are stranger than the aliens in the book.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Tin Star on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New HopePremise: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a civil war happening between rebel fighters desperately trying to overthrow the reign of the evil galactic empire. Plans for the magnificent and terrible Death Star have been stolen with the hopes of getting them into the hands of the rebel leaders to destroy this menacing weapon.

Wielding the power of the Force, Darth Vader shows his immense power to destroy while Obi-Wan Kenobi is summoned to find the next Jedi knight. That knight might just be in the form of the boy Luke Skywalker.

The fighting comes to a head as opposing forces strike against each other in a battle for control. And all of this is done…in iambic pentameter.

Themes: Politics reign supreme in Star Wars as each player pushes and pulls others to engage the outcome they each desire. Whether it is subtle like the workings of R2D2 or overt like the powerful Darth Vader, each has their wishes and their part in this story.

Luke has a huge desire for adventure as he wishes to travel, see the galaxy, and to escape the drudgery of his uncle’s moisture farm. Meeting Old Ben Kenobi and two droids changes his life and gives him exactly what he wishes for, but at a great cost.

Pros: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars definitely reads like a Shakespearean play, down to the monologue asides and narrative descriptions of space battles. Everything is written expertly in iambic pentameter, lending to the feel of being written by Shakespeare himself. Star Wars reads humorously, especially the dialogue between C3PO and R2D2. Star Wars buffs should enjoy Doescher’s interpretation, especially since he does such a good job of telling the entire story in such short order without missing a beat. The cheeky illustrations also helped get me into the feel of the story.

Cons: Some readers might find the rhythm hard to capture, to which I might suggest reading aloud. Others might simply feel the iambic pentameter tiresome and get bored too quickly, especially if they’re not exactly fans of Shakespeare. The one thing I found difficult was reading R2D2’s beeps and boops in rhythm. The space battles aren’t exactly easy to do without on screen special effects, so forcing readers to use their imagination could be a stretch for some. My guess is most reading a book like this won’t have that problem.

Recommendations: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars can be appreciated at different levels, whether you’re a beginner or expert of all things Star Wars or Shakespeare. Doescher does such a good job telling the story it actually helped me catch a couple things I missed in my years of watching Star Wars. Reading this book also makes me want to pick up my complete volume of Shakespeare’s plays and read a few with a new appreciation for the art. Go get a copy whether you want something light to read or want to better appreciate the worlds of Star Wars or Shakespeare or both…verily.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope on Goodreads
Buy William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink Premise: Society has crumbled and the government has become a fragmented array of city-states, but the reason for this is a lack of resources. More specifically: there is a lack of water. For Lynn, it’s not as much of an issue, since she and her mother live on a rural farm with a pond. The biggest problems are outbreaks of cholera that require them to treat their water before they drink it, hunting for food that takes them away from their guard duties on the roof of their house, and now the signs of smoke that say that there are others nearby that are a threat to their supply. Shooting people who encroach on their land hasn’t been much of a question for Lynn and Mother; it’s a matter of life and death.

But when things go terribly wrong and with winter approaching, the neighbor that has never been a threat to them is now their closest ally. With strangers roaming close to their property, Lynn must make decisions that go against everything Mother taught her: giving away supplies to others will only lead you closer to death. But what if those people can’t fend for themselves?

Not a Drop to Drink examines the ability to survive with limited resources and the lengths to which people are willing to protect them. When someone is in dire need of help, who can you trust when there are thieves and killers about? A drink of water may be all someone is asking for, and it might just be the one thing that can keep them alive.

Themes: Survival is incredibly difficult when resources are limited. Even with their stockpile of water in the form of their pond, gathering, treating, and storing make everyday tasks become a burden. Imagine trying to survive without a store of water, food, weapons or shelter. Learning basic skills becomes essential, like making shelter, fire, hunting, treating wounds.

Mother has taught Lynn not to trust anybody, which has led Lynn to shoot people in defense of their water, even as a child. Lynn is so used to considering every single person a threat, overcoming what is ingrained in her to help others makes compassion an underdeveloped emotion for her. Even Stebbs, who has lived near them as far back as Lynn can remember, is really a stranger to her. When people enter her life that have no survival skills and are in dire need of help, the decision to help is incredibly difficult for Lynn.

When society has crumbled, what shreds of decency are left when those around us are in need? How much of our humanity are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival? Or does helping someone in need benefit us when we do so?

Pros: Not a Drop to Drink really highlights the difficulty and drudgery of survival without modern amenities. It brings out how the most common of minor injuries can be debilitating or even deadly without medical treatments available to us every day. Even with the grim subject matter in a free-for-all frontier full of scavenging, injury, sickness, and death, it is refreshing to be such a fairly clean young adult novel mostly free of sex and profanity. McGinnis manages to effectively describe terrible things with sparse language, merely hinting at humanity’s ugliness through the reality of survival. The characters are pretty realistic, even the one-dimensional “bad guys” we see later in the story. We get to watch some real change in heart for Lynn through different stages of the story.

Cons: It is interesting how quickly Lynn goes from never speaking to another human to cuddling in bed with a guy, especially with the limited amount of time she knows him. I thought the plot twist reveal toward the end was an attempt to up the stakes for Lynn, but it felt unnecessary for this story. I understand the philosophical implications of fighting your past and becoming a new person, but these things were already happening with how Lynn treated people compared to what Mother had ingrained in her. With limited action, some readers might find Not a Drop to Drink to be boring.

Recommendations: Not a Drop to Drink is a chilling, gut-wrenching vision of an all too realistic future with limited resources. It is a sad yet beautiful debut novel that makes the reader think about what they would willing to do when placed in a survival situation, while simultaneously examining how much they would be willing to help someone else in need. Be ready for some intense scenes that contain deeply real emotions. While not overly flashy and action-packed, Not a Drop to Drink pushes toward redemption for a broken world through small deeds by normal folks.

Mindy McGinnis’ website
Not a Drop to Drink on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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Like Mind by James T. Wood

Like MindPremise: Corey Tosh is a slacker in Portland, Oregon who gets by on just enough work to survive, making sure to put out minimal effort in everything he does. That is why he responds to a Craigslist ad looking for medical test subjects in exchange for fifty bucks. Of course things go terribly wrong when people begin following him and trying to kill him. But in the process he discovers he has an amazing new ability.

Thankfully, the cute redhead from the medical office is there to help him. Anka is the prettiest girl who has ever talked to him, but she’s not really a nurse. She works for the NSA. She also doesn’t really find Corey’s continual pop culture references to be incredibly endearing, at least not at first. But Corey’s understanding of women is about as obscure as his constant movie quotes are to Anka.

Now they must find the doctor who performed the experiment on Corey’s brain because whatever the doctor did is killing him. They also learn that, of all the people trying to kill or kidnap Corey, nobody can be trusted, not even Anka’s boss at the NSA.

Themes: How do you learn new things? Do you need to see them done first or do you work through trial and error? Corey is forced to learn new things instantly, and with it comes the shock of being able to do many new things without the understanding of why or how.

Meeting Anka not only makes Corey evaluate his own understanding of women, but it also makes him look at himself and his past romantic relationships, or lack thereof. Corey does some soul searching on why all his relationships failed and what part he played in making them fail. It also helps him to understand what it is that some women find attractive, especially when it comes to Anka.

Like Mind also touches on government conspiracies, international spying, and terrorism through intertwined plots that quickly spiral downward in a race for their lives. Corey and Anka discover that who they can trust might not be those they first expected.

Pros: Like Mind is laced with humor that helps to make an otherwise typical chased-by-the-governments-trying-to-kill-you story into something more unique and fun to read. This book is pretty short, so the pacing is quick and the character exchanges are crisp. And if you have never been to Portland, Oregon or driven up through Washington, Like Mind is spot on, giving references to local landmarks and places to see such as Powell’s Books, the hipster culture, even down to the terrible traffic on I-5 and I-84 (the Banfield). I’m glad I got most of the movie and television references because most of them add to the comedic tone of the story. The editing is actually very good, especially for a self-published book.

Cons: Some of the humor will be lost on many readers as obscure movie and television quotes are thrown out mercilessly. I am certain that few will get every pop culture reference in Like Mind and will perhaps even find themselves connecting with Anka more than Corey in her constant eyebrow raising at his lame jokes. With it being Anka’s first assignment her nervousness and questionable abilities make sense, but I figured her training would have made up for some of these things. The one thing I noticed most with the editing was some missing or misplaced comma usage. We don’t learn the protagonist’s name until the third chapter, which makes the front end seem clipped, like there is something missing. And being a short book might not be a positive for some readers.

Recommendations: Like Mind is a quick, fun romp through Portland, Oregon with a local slacker making light of a government trying to kill him. I thought of the television show Chuck as I read Like Mind, but instead of a database implanted into Corey’s brain it is the triggering of mirror neurons allowing him to imitate everything he sees. I only wish the story was a little longer with some more context into why Anka would be interested in someone like Corey in such a short period of time, even with the stressful things they go through together. Like Mind actually gave me some hope that not all self-published books are terrible. In fact, this one is actually pretty good.

James T. Wood’s website
Like Mind on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. We also used to be roommates.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction

 

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Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Premise: It is now seventy-seven days until an asteroid will collide with Earth, and society has continued to break down. Hank Palace is no longer a detective, now that the U.S. Department of Justice police state has been put into place anticipating the coming apocalypse. People continue to die or go missing, but for some strange reason Hank has agreed to go in search of Brett Cavatone, the husband of Hank’s old babysitter. Brett has disappeared and there is no way of knowing where he is. There are still people leaving behind everything they have in order to spend their last days however they want, and there are also those who want to see the end on their own terms.

With the aid of Nico, his sister, and his police friends still on the force, along with the unlikeliest of helpers, Hank learns where Brett might have gone, but it still doesn’t mean he is alive. Even if he is, does Brett want to go back? And as the impact date approaches, Hank learns of a plot to potentially change the outcome of the world. But there are those who would have it another way.

Themes: In a world facing the end of existence, Countdown City takes a sweeping look at how people respond to disaster, but in the context of living in a world with other people. It zooms in on various reactions to the circumstances as humanity copes with impending doom. Most importantly, it posits revealing shades of how people treat each other, especially in times of crisis.

Even though he is no longer a cop, Hank Palace continues to do what he knows when he agrees to attempt solving a mystery. He has no obligation to anyone at this point, yet he still is willing to use his last days risking his life and helping out someone from his past. If anything, it helps him keep his own identity and humanity as he does what he can to help others keep a shred of their own.

Pros: The outstanding part of Countdown City is the question it asks about human nature and how we treat each other. Hank Palace is a good guy in the truest sense of the word, while some of the characters he runs across are less than reputable, including some of those that help him. But even though Hank is a white hat in a world of black hats, he still flawed and makes mistakes that threaten his own life. I felt even more immediacy in this story than the first book, especially as the drop dead date approaches and society continues to crumble exponentially. Ben H. Winters again masterfully pieces together a mystery that leaves you guessing until the end.

Cons: Again, as in The Last Policeman, there is little to look forward to in the long term for these characters, as the end is nigh for all of them. As such, Countdown City contains plenty of language, violence, sex and drug use in a world left with no rules. When there are murmurs about how the crisis might be averted, I was reminded of cheesy Hollywood movies about asteroids heading toward Earth.

Recommendations: Countdown City does exactly what the first book did, giving us a spectrum of visceral human reactions to the end of existence. The majority of people act with haste and selfishness by going “bucket list” and doing whatever they want regardless of any potential repercussions, while some few continue to do what they always have: serving coffee at the cafe, keeping the peace, or, in Hank Palace’s case, solving mysteries. Search yourself as you encounter the different characters to see how you might react under the circumstance. Start the series with The Last Policeman, but don’t stop there. See the end of the world out to the end by continuing with Countdown City. The end could come quickly, or there might be more to come.

Ben H. Winters’ website
Countdown City on Goodreads
Buy Countdown City from Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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