Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review: Space Junque by LK Rigel

Space Junque is a novella-length space opera type of story set in a post-apocalyptic future where eco-terrorism is slowly eroding the planet. The protagonist escapes into space and finds herself stranded there with her missing twin sister's boyfriend, and a shuttle pilot she has a thing for. Things escalate from there...

I don't usually read in this genre, aside from Star Trek novels, but I was intrigued by the sample and took a chance on this one, to mixed results. I enjoyed the human side of the story---Rigel nicely plays such details as the interpersonal vibe between Char and Mike (her identical twin is his girlfriend and his feelings for her are therefore bittersweet) and Char's small efforts to make life go on were similarly deftly drawn. The writing was good, definitely publishable quality.

However, as the story developed, I did find myself getting bogged down a little with the world-building, and this reminded me why I tend to not enjoy such stories. It's hard to work in the backstory needed for a future setting without veering into tireless exposition territory. Something like Dragonverse, which I recently reviewed, erred a little too far on the side of patient explaining. This one was definitely on the side of 'in media res' and I am not sure I am experienced enough with this genre to catch on as quickly and really enjoy that. If you are the type of reader who needs everything spelled out for you very explicitly, you might find yourself struggling a little to piece together the geo-politick at play in this short little book.

I am going to hold off on assigning a rating to this one. If this book is your sort of thing, you'll probably enjoy it. I can definitely say that on a purely functional level, the book is readable, polished and well-paced. Ultimately, it did turn out to be not my kind of story, but I think that is more a reflection on my personal reading tastes than on any issues with the book itself.

The author is currently running a contest to promote the book. So if you enjoy this sort of story, it might be a good time to check it out!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review: The Adventures of Whatley Tupper by Rudolf Kerkhoven & Daniel Pitts

I found The Adventures of Whatley Tupper via a recommendation on another blog; it was described as a contemporary, adult 'choose your own adventure' kind of book where at various points in the story, you are presented with choices and taken in different story directions depending on what you choose. You can read the book multiple times and it will be like a different story each time. I was intrigued; I read these types of books (the original Choose Your Own Adventure series) as a child, and the hyperlink functions of a well-designed ebook system are a natural fit for this type of story.

The main character is a janitor at a small university who has various outlandish adventures. The story I read involved a missing person and a wile goose chase after them. It was a very fun little read---the style is kind of cartoon-ish and very much leaning toward farce. If you are a fan of pulp-era dialogue ("“Uhh, I don’t know,” replied the young Vince, adjusting the curly dark locks of his mullet.") this is the story for you.

I tested the book on both iPad and Kindle. On the iPad, it was easy as pie to touch my choice when it came up and go at once to the next 'page' in my custom story. On the Kindle, there was some scrolling needed; it worked, but I will probably keep this on the iPad if I want to do further playing.

This was a very slick and well-done little experiment, but ultimately, it never did progress beyond 'experiment' and into the realm of actual book for me. There was the gimmick of the choose your own adventure thing, and the gimmick of the pulp-speak, and the gimmick of the utterly outlandish storylines (the blurb promises such options as "Will he travel into a parallel universe? Will he tame the troglodyte murderer living in the tunnels?") It was just too much cutesy 'look at how clever.' Fun to play around with for an hour or so, but not really a proper 'book' when all is said and done.

4/5, and most of the points are coming from the fun factor. It does not deserve that on literary merits alone.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: The Seventh Compass Point of Death by Richard Sanders

The Seventh Compass Point of Death is an engaging, quick-moving thriller from Richard Sanders. The main character is a journalist-cum-PI who gets involved in a group of wannabe terrorists at the behest of an old friend, who worries that her brother has become involved. I read through the book (it's a short one) in one sitting and overall enjoyed it.

However, on reflection, I found myself of two minds concerning this book. On the one had, the writing itself was excellent---a sort of noir-ish, brisk-paced style, but with some deft descriptive touches and lovely characterization (especially of love interest Shala and her conflicted, misguided brother Roozie). But treatment of several other key characters was less rich, less developed and overall, less realistic. The government flunky was downright cartoon-ish, and main character Quinn McShane was far more cardboard than he deserved to be. I questioned how realistic some of the events in the story would be.

I also found that, while Saunders' writing pedigree (he has worked for many years as a journalist) was apparent in his knowledge of New York City and the moments of witty description, his pedigree as the editor he claims to be in his author profile was less apparent. Even allowing for some of the characters not being native English speakers (and their dialogue justifiably reflecting this) there were errors in spelling and usage that jumped out at me. Off-hand, I can recall 'bit' where 'but' was clearly meant, 'al' where 'all' was obviously intended, and other such flaws creeping into an otherwise polished story. And the exciting opening sequence featuring a dead body in a car-jacked trunk turned out to have far less relevance---and prominence---than it should have considering the time devoted to it in that critical opening chapter. I do think it is details like this which make many readers feel that self-published books are inferior. It is a shame because I think a proper edit where these mistakes are fixed and some of the less credulous and/or less well-developed aspects of the book were fixed would make this a solid, commercial-quality adventure.

That said, there were some beautiful moments in the quieter scenes with some of the better-developed characters. The pacing, and overall writing was excellent. It is definitely a worthy read---more than a 3/5, certainly. It's Probably the number 2 book I have read so far from Smashwords. But---I can't give it a 4/5 either, given the careless mistakes (one of them in the very last line of the book!) and need for just a little more editing and more time spent on developing certain characters and scenes.

So...I don't know. I recommend it, certainly. But I can't help wishing it would get a tiny bit more polish before anybody takes me up on that recommendation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Dragonverse by Doug Farren

I don't usually read fantasy novels, so I was surprised to find myself drawn to the sample for Dragonverse by Doug Farren. In spite of its epic adventure aspirations, it's a fairly simple, sweet little story about a man who is left a house by his absentee uncle and learns that the man is not dead as he thought, but rather has moved permanently to a parallel world in which humans are psychically bound with dragons who spend their lives searching for their intended human half.

The protagonist Terry of course follows his uncle over to this other world and meets his intended dragon. From here, it gets a tad predictable. There is an evil uber-dragon threatening the world, and a prophecy about an uber-good dragon/man pairing who will defeat him. Three guesses who that turns out to be!

On the good, I appreciated seeing a fantasy world that had aged with the times. I think one of the reasons I don't usually read fantasy is the sameness of many of the stories. All the elves and dragons seem stuck in a perpetual Renaissance Faire that makes such books hard for me to distinguish from the other. The fantasy world in this book has cities with electricity and modern conveniences. When Terry applies his Lord of the Rings preconception filter to the world, he is quickly set straight about how elves have modernized too!

On the less good, I did find the story a tad predictable as I said. Certainly, anyone who has widely read in this genre will find it extremely derivative. There was also a fair chunk of time spent on exploratory exposition as Terry learned the mores of dragon world. I would expect to see the apparently intended sequel to be brisker-paced; if I were the author, I would make the sequel as fantastic as I could and then offer this establishing novel as a freebie to promote it.

I would also consider downgrading the ages of the protagonists. With its fairly g-rated action and coming of age type feel as Terry learns to work with his dragon in a new world, this would be a great YA novel. The grown-ups it is geared for now are likely to be wider-read in this genre and might find the story a bit too by-the-numbers.

That said, there were some fun parts---and really sweet moments---that elevated the story a bit for me. So, I'm going to say 3.5/5 for this one. Clean up some late-appearing typos, give me a bang-up sequel and work on your marketing plan a little and you'll have me for part 2, Mr. Farren!