Book Review: Greek Key by K.B. Spangler

 

GK Cover

Buy it HERE from K.B.’S A Girl and Her Fed Store (I imagine she gets more for it here).

Buy it HERE on Amazon (Because sometimes it is simply easier)

So, I have talked about the A Girl and Her Fed universe before. If you read any of my reviews about the Rachel Peng books, then you will be running into some familiar faces here.

We have Speedy and Hope as the primary protagonists this time around. Rachel’s not the focus here and we are, instead, introduced to the universe through Hope’s eyes and seeing her try to solve a mystery that has a lot more to do with the origins of how OACET and the ghosts work in the A Girl and Her Fed universe.

I’m not spoiling much in this review, but if you haven’t read A Girl and Her Fed yet, you might want to back out and go read it before you read on because some of this will go into spoilage as to how the rules of the Universe there work.

SPOILER TAG

SPOILER TAG

SPOILER TAG

The main mystery revolves around an artifact, a piece of the Antikythera mechanism, that is commented on in both the comic and in the Peng novels. They have a piece of a machine that is out of place and out of time for the development of the period. Hope, Speedy, and the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin (I’m not sure if that’s a title or not…maybe I’ll tweet the author to ask) have been discussing the limits of how a ghost can work and how time flows in the A Girl And Her Fed (AGAHF for short) universe.

It boils down to this: ghosts can move backward and forward in time. However, this requires a great deal of power. A ghost gets its power from his/her effect on the world. Also, a ghosts power appears to be limited to the culture in which it was created. This means that most ghosts are quite limited in their power.  Benjamin Franklin’s ghost is very powerful in the United States (as are the other ghosts of the Founding Fathers. And Lincoln…oh dear lord, Lincoln). However, when Hope travels outside of the U.S., Franklin can’t follow / can’t manifest  (side-note: given his years in Europe, I wonder if he can manifest there as well…).

We already know from AGAHF that Franklin can time travel. He did it to help Hope play the stock market so she didn’t have to focus on gaining money and could instead prepare for the coming of OACET and Sparky and a few other slightly more world shattering elements coming to the U.S. (and the world) than whether or not she could pay the bills.  Of course she originally thought he was a drug induced hallucination, but that would be getting off topic and into AGAHF rather than Greek Key.

Panel Post
I’ll just leave this here as an explanation Image is Copyright (C) K.B. Spangler

 

The point being, his power lets him jump forward in time and, unlike many ghosts, he can bring back elements of what he finds in the future. In the comic, he brings back a ring that is linked to OACET so she can call in help from Sparky whenever she needs it. This takes a tremendous amount of power and the ring is only a small thing.

The mechanism piece? It’s a bit bigger. Which means a lot more power would be needed. Not only that, but we’re looking at a time jump that would make Doc Brown jealous.

And without a DeLorean.

Or a Flux Capacitor.

This machine piece that they have found, however, appears to have come from someone a bit more…universal. Think mathematics. Like Universal mathematics.

It’s Archimedes. Yes, that Archimedes.

I told you it was Universal Mathematics.

This has everyone baffled and a bit worried as it was found in a stash that was being supervised by the main antagonist of AGAHF.

Hope, being one of the few who knows the ghost connection in OACET, decides to investigate and she takes along Mike. The pair are psychic and are able to use that ability to tap into the ghost spectrum – though neither is particularly good at it. You do what you can with what you have.

Then we run into an archaeologist, Atlas, (who’s probably not on the up-and-up) and his sister, Darling (who’s definitely not on the up-and-up) and they get involved in examining the mystery as well.

Helen of Troy also ends up entangled.

It’s…complicated.

The story is also a lot of fun. As a fan of AGAHF, I got a lot of satisfaction out of reading the story. Hope is a fun character and Speedy is a highlight as well. They play their typical roles, but those roles are written quite well.

Hope is a strong protagonist. It is immediately obvious that she is in charge of herself and her choices; there’s no damsel in distress here. No one is ‘letting’ her do the things that she does. She is doing them through her action and through her conscious choice. It’s a good message and one that shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m pointing it out because that message is often lost in other media and stories. Hope’s a character that is strong on her own and she happens to be female.

Speedy is still a hyper-intelligent Koala. I don’t really feel the need to elaborate there, but he is enjoyable. However, I’m a Speedy fan and I hear there are those that disagree with him. That’s your choice – I can assure you that he doesn’t care in the slightest.

The mystery of Archimedes’ machine is the central plot of the story and its practically a character in and of itself. The jumping and shifting of ideas and ‘OK, that didn’t work, next plan’ is a lot of fun.

For me this book had a lot to tell. It establishes quite a bit of the rules for the AGAHF universe. The world building is fascinating and I enjoyed those elements a lot.

My major complaint comes from only two elements. My first is Hope’s attraction to Atlas. It seems overplayed and not especially relevant to the plot. I get that it is part of the character of Hope to be easily distracted, but I just did not like the Atlas bit at all. It’s a personal element, but I feel it detracts from Hope’s character to have that be a focus of her distractions. The rest of her jumps, however, are hilarious and/or plot related and I enjoyed them, but the Atlas ones didn’t ping right for me. Maybe it’s my sense of humor.

Which brings me to Atlas himself. As a character and an antagonist (I won’t go far enough to call him a villain) he’s in the gray area. It could be argued that he’s not even really an antagonist so much as a stumbling point. He’s a pretty face and something for Hope to get distracted by given his amazing Mediterranean body and that’s pretty much it. There is some effort at characterization by having him have a rivalry with his sister, but it doesn’t come off as particularly effective. His reveal and subsequent plot related items come off as convenient and/or out of place when reading and that appeared to defeat the purpose of having him in play. He helps the plot along and gives Hope a few things to think about, but it doesn’t really bring out anything new or interesting in the characters and so he falls flat.

On the whole, though, Greek Key is a strong novel with an interesting mystery. Hope, Mike, and Speedy make up for the lack of a traditional antagonist by fighting with the mystery surrounding the Archimedes device. The solution is a fascinating twist and turn as Spangler develops her world and reveals new and fascinating bits about how the world works in her universe of ghosts and government. For AGAHF fans, this will be a lot of fun. For inductees and those new to the universe, it will be an exciting adventure with a strong protagonist and companions that will lead you into a complex and fun world.

Characters: 4.0 / 5
Plot: 5 / 5
Action: 4 / 5
Value: 5 / 5
Writing: 5 / 5

Overall: 4.2 / 5

 

 

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What Will You Write Challenge #1 – Neptune

For details on the contest, see here. The prompt provided comes from this post. I thought I’d give it a shot.

Here we go – the prompt is in italics:

Conrad opened his eyes to a view of a massive blue globe. He jerked back and twisted around in the microgravity. He touched something solid in front of him. A window.

He pushed against the window and turned around. Conrad scanned the small room, no larger than a public bathroom stall, and empty except for an EV spacesuit and door. He studied the view through the window. Neptune, he thought. How did I get here?
“You were brought here to facilitate understanding,” A sultry voice filled the air around him. “This habitat should be suitable to our needs.”

Conrad liked the emphasis the voice placed on needs – but who was speaking?

“I am Translocation Initiation Neurointerface Automaton. You, handsome, may call me Tina.”

“Neuro-wha?” Conrad questioned. As nice as it was to be called handsome, the familiarity, and mind reading, was a bit disconcerting . “There’s nothing like that…”

“On earth,” the voice corrected soothingly. “I know. But this isn’t Earth.”
“How do you speak English then?”

“I don’t. I’m speaking my native tongue. I’m very talented with it,” the voice replied,”I’ve just put the ability to translate it in to your mind.”

“Huh?”

“I’ve almost got my interface ready. Then there won’t be any barriers between us.”
The emphasis on barrier removal gave Conrad more images to go with the voice, “Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, Tina, but I’m a little confused. How did I get to…Neptune. And what’s with all the compliments? And the suit.”

“Translocation. A simple procedure your people haven’t figured out yet,” Tina replied. “The compliments are here to help you relax. And the suit? Well, that’s for protection.”

“Protection? From what?”

“Every girl should have protection when she meets a guy. Speaking of, my interface is ready. The question is – are you?” The challenge in that tone helped Conrad recognize what he was ready for. “One moment.”

Conrad watched in astonishment as the window began to peel itself away, a layer of the thick glass melting in to a pool on the floor. As he continued to watch, the glass began to re-shape itself. In less than five minutes a beautiful woman crafted of crystal was standing before him. He watched, stunned, as the glass took on the colors of the planet – a shifting sea of blues with lighter highlights. The occasional trace of white accented her, emphasizing her eyes and shapely form, “Does this please you?” the voice that had filled his mind now spoke from the construct.

Conrad could not deny how beautiful the woman looked. Her colors made her exotic and her shape made her desirable, yet he could not entirely admit to it being pleasant, “You’re made of glass…I can’t touch you.”

“Touch me, Conrad. I insist.” Tina held out an arm.

Conrad touched it and was shocked to discover that, despite the appearance of glass, Tina felt as if she were made of flesh. She was warm and soft to his touch. She leaned over and whispered in to his ear, “I’m real everywhere.

Conrad didn’t need to hear that twice. Tina’s lips were real, her legs were real, her warmth was real, her promises of pleasure were real. It did not take them long, and the suit went unused. In the end, though, as they lay on the floor, Conrad finally gathered enough of his wits to probe with questions rather than other bits of him, “What was that about?”

“Protection,” Tina replied, “Now that I have a sample of human DNA, my people can be immune to your diseases and poisons. We don’t really want to die to bacterium and other microorganisms.”

“YWait…what? You’re coming to our planet? What are you doing, invading?” None of the movies he had watched mentioned beautiful crystal women taking over.

“Peacekeeping, actually,” Tina continued, her voice still causing all kinds of stirring in Conrad. “We’re making sure that you’ll be safe and so will we. We’re very protective of our possessions.” Tina smiled, “You’ll be my favorite. You’re very good at pleasing me. Would you like to go for a walk now?” The crystal clear woman stood up and gestured to the EV suit, “I’ve got something your familiar with for now. Until we can adopt something better for you.”

Conrad peered at the suit and considered his options. Given what Tina had been capable of so far, being with her didn’t seem so bad. He smiled, “All right. Give me a few minutes.” Then a thought occurred to him, “Say, Tina? What about those that don’t want to be peacekept?”

“Oh, they will, Conrad. We can be very persuasive.” Tina’s hips wiggled as she came to stand next to him, “Very.”

Book Review – Raptor Red

Cover Image - I don't know that I'd quite draw it to Jurassic Park...
Cover Image – I don’t know that I’d quite draw it to Jurassic Park…

Click HERE to buy the book from Amazon.com

Disclaimer: My Wife really likes this book and asked me to read it. Insisted, really.

Raptor Red is an unsual book for me to read.

I’m not super big in toanthropomorphism . I don’t really understand the appeal or get why we would want to read adventures told from the point of view of animals. That’s just me, however, and it might be right up the someone else’s alley. So, I figured I would give the book a shot.

The story is a fairly simple one and is told from the point of view of a Raptor. Specifically a Utahraptor. We’re in the Cretaceous period and there is a land bridge that has allowed the Utahraptor to cross over in to what is, today, Utah (imagine that). The story is not so much an adventure as it is a series of life events for the raptor and its reactions to them.

Raptor Red, the title’s raptor, is our main protagonist that we follow. Bakker, a Paleontologist as well as the author of the book, puts in many behaviors and reasoning from the point of view of Raptor Red. Red is not a human protagonist, but an animal with specific needs and purposes. She (Red is female) goes through several trying events and Bakker explains the reasoning for her decisions with patient calm and almost clinical detachment. I would surmise that many of the explanations are Bakker’s own theories and models or the ones that applied, in general, to the field at the time.

At times the story is dry. Red has very little ‘emotion’ to it and instead tends to focus on events, reactions, and pseudo-reactions. The science of the book is married well with the reasoning and it makes sense. The book is very patient in those explanations. I’m somewhat curious about the explanations and how many have been disproven or questioned since the book was written. Mr. Bakker is a professional in his field, but that does not mean he cannot be wrong.

Other than the dryness, it’s a good story and a decent read. I enjoyed it simply because it was simple and quick – there are no loose ends anywhere in the book. Bakker is careful to make sure that any kind of conflict within the novel is resolved then and there – Raptors don’t hold on to vengeance after all. The thing to remember while reading the book is it is an animal telling the story (even if it is from the 3rd person) and those animal traits are what define the thought processes and narrative. As long as that is kept in mind and separated, it can be an entertaining read.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Characterization: 4/5
Setting: 4/5
Story: 1/5
Flow: 3/5
Value: 3.5 /5 ($7.19 for Mass Market Paperback. Other options available as low as $.01 with shipping costs).

Book Review – Wild-born (Book 1 in the Psionic Pentology)

Wild-born (Book 1 in the Psionic Pentology)
WildBorn
Click HERE to purchase the Book from Amazon

There are a lot of mysteries to the mind, but not all of them are easily observable or easy to explain. Most of the mysteries of the mind that I deal with have to do with my students and how they have gotten to be where they are. Sometimes, vaguely, I wonder if their minds are connected to what they are doing. That is about the extent of my knowledge of mental powers.

Well, that and what I’ve read about for shows like Stargate SG-1 and the X-Files and in the X-Men books.

Anyway, I saw this one available for free when I was searching the Sci-Fi section of the Kindle store. Given the price (FREE!) and the cover (nice art), I thought I would give it a try. It was different than most of the items I normally read on my kindle (and Sci-Fi in general) so, it was worth it.

The story is pretty straight forward – a tween named Adrian begins to develop peculiar psychic powers. He’s the equivalent of a blaster – his powers center around telekinesis and telekinetic damage. Naturally this is pretty awesome for Adrian until his powers attract the attention of other psionics, resulting in the death of his family and the disappearance of his sister. Adrian is introduced to several different groups of psionics running around each with their own agenda and motif. Some of the significant players aren’t even psionic themselves but represent places like the US Government. All of them are interested in any psychic development and almost all psionics are somehow affiliated with one (or more) groups.

Anyhow, through a series of events, Adrian eventually ends up with a psychic older woman and her adopted psionic daughter. For the first time Adrian has a few moments of peace and some real character building before that collapses due to him being a typical tween. Regrets follow but not before he is captured by one of the competing factions. More troubles ensue culminating in a battle with a powerful whacko.

The story is nothing particularly new and it moves along at a steady, if predictable, pace. This isn’t a horrible thing, but some shifts and differences occasionally would be nice for the reader. The many groups featured in the novel are only touched upon – something that the rest of the series is certain to flesh out – which can make it feel arbitrary to have an individual member of the cast appear and declare their affiliation to said group. Given that there are no significant differences featured in the actions of the various groups (they are mentioned when those groups are introduced but we don’t see those actions featured in any of the characters), these differentiated groups seem pointless. Given that this is a first in a series, I would not be surprised if this is fixed in later books. It would, however, have been nice to see those differences introduced a little better.

The main cast is fairly well done. Adrian makes interesting claims and follows up on those claims fairly well. He is a typical ‘Tween boy, if a bit adult minded compared to most of the twelve year olds that I have worked with. As the main character his perspective colors many of the other characters in specific ways. Sometimes these contrasts of characterization are interesting and sometimes they are merely distracting; the author doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what way he wants to go in making these contrasts.

The psychic powers are handled well. Unfortunately, like the different psionic groups, the powers feel arbitrary and the combinations that define individuals seem to have no system or sequence to it. There is little to explain why X character has Y powers other than ‘that’s the way it is.’ I like a little more structure to my power systems and characters than that. It makes it too easy for characters to have new or undiscovered powers at plot convenient moments – something that would be easy to do given the loose nature of the powers as explained in this book. However, it is the first in a series and so the author has the rest of the books to clearly define them and I hold out hope that he does.

On the whole, the book is a good introduction that was worth reading at the free price. I’m considering picking up the next two in the series just to see how things are handled, but I have some other gifted reading to finish first. On a whole, grab it while it is free, but don’t worry to much if it takes you time to get around to reading the story.

Overall Rating: 3.2/5
Writing: 3/5
Characterization: 3.5/5
Setting: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Flow: 3/5
Value: 5/5 (Free), 2/5 (Standard Listing)

Book Review: Day Soldiers

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I grabbed this book while it was free on Amazon for my Kindle App. It had some good reviews and discussed the fact that the monsters of the book – the vampires and werewolves – are not Twilight copies. These are monsters and they act like monsters. This is probably the highlight of the novel.

The rest of the characters, however, are nothing special. The protagonist of the novel, Lily, is the most developed of all of the characters, and she is, at best, 2.5 of 3 dimensions of a character. We are very rarely given insight in to her thinking process or emotional state. There are few, if any, ramifications psychologically to her actions.

As a for instance – At the start of the novel, Lily kills her father (who has been turned in to a Vampire). She shoots him in cold blood, rationalizing that there is nothing of her father left. Makes sense. The only problem with this is that, immediately prior, Lilly talks about how valuable her father is to her and how much she loves him.

All right, fine, she has a moment of regret following it, but there’s never any real resolution to her. She doesn’t feel guilty, she doesn’t feel regret, she doesn’t even really reflect on her actions. This is in conflict with her previously established characterization – however brief. The incident is brought up several more times throughout the novel, and each time it’s merely reflected on and reminded of. Other than that, there is little, to no, consequence to Lily from her actions or her thoughts. She doesn’t really react to anything and, more or less, moves on to the next conflict.

The rest of the characters are one-shots. There is a lot of POTENTIAL in many of the characters – one gets injured and replaced with implants, their trainer is a Nun, the overall leader of the `Day Soldiers’ is a friendly Werewolf who happens to be against his kind. All of these are opportunities for fantastic characterization, but they are missed in favor of having one or two palette traits. There could be a LOT more to these characters – they have tremendous narrative potential – but those developments are simply not there.

As to conflicts – there are a LOT of conflicts. The villains here don’t, in general, grab the Idiot ball. They are monsters and it shows. This is a good thing, even if it keeps the villains as two-dimensional characters. They behave like Monsters and don’t just `wait for the hero’ to bring up their weapons – they attack. Many of the attacks are intelligent as well – the author has checked through the tropes and made sure to avoid a large number of the common errors that authors have.

The action moves with the speed and determination of a typical spy thriller – we bounce from conflict to conflict and battle to battle like a cat with a short attention span. It moves extremely quickly, pausing only for a breath here and there. In that way, the novel is a lot like a James Patterson novel – lots of quick and easy scenes. Unlike a Patterson novel, however, this breathing room isn’t really used to develop the characters but is, instead, used to develop the world setting.

There is a lot of World Building to the novel and *sometimes* it is done well. The majority of the time, however, it is thrown in with a comment that is the authorial equivalent of `because that’s the way it is.’ The creation of the military organization that Lily works for, for instance, is one of the former development moments – it is explained and justified fairly well and with some roundedness. The individual `units’ within the organization, however, are examples of the latter. There’s no reason for a military organization to identify themselves the way these units are identified. It doesn’t make tactical sense, nor does it make organizational sense. It does sound cool and simple, but that’s not enough to make it feel/sound authentic. Unfortunately, most of the world building falls in to that category rather than the first.

On the whole, this novel is OK. There are parts of it that really shine, but getting to those parts can be….a test of patience and credulity. I am hoping that the sequels are better – with all of the World Building taken care of in this first novel, the author can focus on his characters and conflict better in the sequels. For the price of free, this novel is worth it, but I would not follow that with the suggested retail price.

Overall ratings – 3.2/5
Writing – 3/5
Characterization – 2/5
Setting – 3/5
Story – 3/5
Flow – 2.5/5
Value – 5/5 (At FREE), 1/5 (At Standard Listing)

Book Review: The Russians Came Knocking: A Josh Glassman Novel

Cover from Amazon for "The Russians Came Knocking"
Cover from Amazon for “The Russians Came Knocking”

I’m a big fan of “A Girl and Her Fed” – the webcomic universe that this book is based in, so don’t pretend that this is entirely unbiased.

The story is a pretty simple afair. Without too many spoilers – someone is trying kill a tenant in Josh Glassman’s building. He has a few problems with his condo, but puts them aside to aide the tenant. Josh offers protection and things go from there in a series of interesting plot twists and turns. The book, if it was a website, would be rated NSFW for a few of the chapters that are included.

Overall, this is a good story and it fits well in the universe. It doesn’t feel quite as polished or developed as “Digital Divide”, the first novel effort by Ms. Spangler. The writing is a little more generic and not as exciting. The sex chapters, which fit extremely well with the character of Josh, feel a bit forced. I know it was a big part of the draw according to the previews posted on the website and they are fun to read. Much better than a number of other scenes of a similar nature that I have read. It is only their insertion that feels forced.

On the whole, I strongly recommend this as a purchase. It’s a good read and completely and totally worth the price especially for fans of Ms. Spangler’s universe and A Girl and Her Fed. Go ahead and click here to purchase it from Amazon.

Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 5/5
Plot: 4/5
Flow: 4/5
Value: 5/5

Total rating: 4.5/5

An Old Story Hook….

Been doing a lot of work and I happened to find this old story premise floating around on my back up drive. I thought I would share it with the world – don’t know precisely where I was going with it, but it’s got some potential; once you get beyond the stereotypes:

 

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“Hello and welcome to Aberon News at Six. I’m Alex Chin and these are today’s headlines on this, the eve of the celebration of the birth if these United States. Fourth of July festivities were interrupted earlier this afternoon when an Intellicon, the latest model in the wave of Zeta Company’s efforts to create an artificial human, went rogue and has barricaded itself in the home of its creator. We go live now to Erika Summers, on the scene.”

 

“Thanks Alex,” the sing song voice of a blonde woman said as the camera for the Aberon News cut to a scene of what would have been domestic tranquility, excepting the dozen or so police cruisers weren’t grouped outside of a renovated Victorian home, ‘The scene was chaos today when Intellicon prototype seven took hostage the family of Richard Light inside his Aberon Hills home at about three this afternoon.” She smiled, a row of perfectly capped and even teeth showed for a moment before the camera panned out to show the entire house and surrounding police cruisers, “Shortly after this, a call was put in to Zeta Company’s main switchboard where the android attempted to make contact with…”

 

“Ms. Summers! Ms Summers!” A uniformed police officer was running up pushing his way through the layers of armed men and women in uniform. Years of excessive desk work had yielded him two things; a gut and a mustache. Both were getting in his way as he attempted to maneuver through the spaces between the cruisers.

 

“We’ll talk to you later. Back to you in the studio, Alex.” As soon as the cameraman had flashed that the connection had been cut, the false smile fled from Erika’s face, “What is it Officer?,” she glared at the offending name badge, “Andrews.”

 

The officer, his massive girth creating a space between the two of more than the standard two feet huffed several times, “I’m going to have to ask you not to broadcast any of this. We have a secure situation and the android may be monitoring all the major networks. We don’t want it getting word of any strategy we might be developing.”

 

“Any strategy you might be developing?” Erika asked incredulously, her smile returning in the form of a sneer, “Officer, do you realize what you are saying? That thing in there is an Intellicon. You know, the artificial intelligence that’s been being developed that can store, recall, and process information faster than any conventional human brain. The ones that,” she swept her arm in the direction of the police cruisers, “your department has slowly been integrating into its forces for more than three years in order to manage dangerous situations just like this. I count thirty of the artificial officers out there Officer Andrews, and that one in there is superior to all of them. This Intellicon was supposed to be a part of your division as well, as a co-ordinator of the intellicon division. There is nothing you can do to outsmart him.”

 

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Just something different I thought I would share. Looking for any kind of comments or feedback or general well-wishes. 🙂