05.25.13

Brief Review of Timothy Zahn’s “Quadrail” Series

Posted in Reviews at 7:45 PM by Maurice Alvarez

One of the benefits of my new commute is that I get to read a lot again. I always missed that when i started driving to work 12 years ago.

On the current reading list is the sci-fi “Quadrail” series by Timothy Zahn. It was recommended by a friend, and being familiar with Zahn, I figured I’d give it a shot. He paces his stories very well and has interesting characters in complex plots. However, sometimes he has the characters make some intuitive leaps that leave you scratching your head. And the explanations for these leaps don’t always make sense. Still, it almost hearkens back to Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler who often had their characters do the same. Despite that, the stories were fun to read. The same is true of Zahn.

I’m still on the 4th book of 5, so we’ll see how the last one goes.

03.12.12

Review of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” 2012

Posted in Reviews at 3:28 PM by Maurice Alvarez

I first saw the 1973 Norman Jewison production of Jesus Christ Superstar in my sophomore year of high school.  Its “on-location” setting and rock-opera irreverence appealed immensely to my impressionable teen brain.  The songs were frequent earworms (long before that term was coined), some even becoming favorite catch-phrases (Hey! What’s the buzz?).

For those not familiar with the story, it is more or less a retelling of the last six days of the life of Jesus Christ from the point of view of Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene.

My wife and I are not much for Broadway shows.  Our last show was either Les Miserables or Miss Saigon, not counting the few times we saw Patrick Stewart’s Christmas Carol.  But we check from time to time in case some gem pops up that we might like.  And so it was that my wonderful wife found that a Jesus Christ Superstar revival had successfully played in California and would be in preview on Broadway through the end of March.  Knowing my fondness for the play, she purchased tickets for Saturday, March 10th.

I must admit, I was a little apprehensive.  Never having seen the original play, I had only the movie as my frame of reference.  I wondered how the set designs would live up to those in the movie.  Walking into the Neil Simon Theater, I cringed slightly as I saw the austere black set with steel ladders and catwalk.  What kind of reinterpretation would this be?  I read the libretto from cover to cover to distract myself, including the interview with the “currently unemployed” Mr. Webber.  I wish I was as unemployed as he is. 😉

The lights dimmed, and the actors appeared through a stage trick of lighting and curtains.  The fellow next to me said, “Whoa!”  A large movie screen displayed the year, 2012, and counted down to 33 as then the actors advanced to the edge of the stage.  They dispersed and my second cringe-moment followed as what I assumed were Roman soldiers appeared.  Only their costumes looked more like the props I had seen in the fictitious Atlantis excavation in the Bahamas.  I imagined the upcoming 2 hours would be chock full of strange costumes and oddly twisted versions of the songs I knew so well.

But I was not to be disappointed so.  The Atlantean soldiers disappeared and the rest of the musical was nothing short of fantastic.  And not even the American Idol contestant nearby, who had to sing aloud to nearly every one of the songs during the first half, could dampen my enjoyment.

The set design turned out to be genius in its austerity, not distracting from the lively choreography and singing that was as good as it was nostalgic.

The music was spruced up with a more of an 80s rock flair, losing none of its earwormy charm in the process.

Perhaps because I am so used to the movie version and subsequent CD tracks, I found the pacing a bit rushed.  My wife commented to me later that she had sensed the same, and possibly for the same reasons.  There were a few very minor glitches that will likely be ironed out by the end of the preview period, and these were very minor indeed.

Overall, I highly recommend this production.  Preview ends on March 22nd after which ticket prices go up.

–MXA

09.30.11

Review of “Freedom’s Sword” by J.R. Tomlin

Posted in Reviews at 3:22 PM by Maurice Alvarez

Reading this book was a very unique experience.  On the one hand, I really enjoyed the story.  The characters are interesting.  The setting is rich with such detail that I had no doubt Ms. Tomlin had not just done her research but had thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s very obvious when an author has done research simply for the sake of showing it off to the reader versus when an author take the time to weave their knowledge delicately into the fabric of their tale.  Ms. Tomlin definitely falls into the latter category with Freedom’s Sword.

[** Ammended below **  It was therefore very surprising to find a phenomenal number of typographical if not orthographical errors.  Chapter breaks were occasionally abrupt leaving me thinking that perhaps I had a bad copy of the book in which pages were dropped.  I contacted Ms. Tomlin about this and she was kind enough to reply that the abrupt breaks were intentional, although she has received similar feedback from others.  While she did not comment on the other errors, I read an interview where Ms. Tomlin says that she had professional editing done as well as beta reader critiquing.  This continues to make me believe that I must have an early purchase and that perhaps if I re-download the ebook, all the errors will be gone.

I found the story compelling enough to overlook the errors and finish reading it.  I just couldn’t get immersed in it, and so it took me longer than usual to read it.  While I would like to give the book 4/5 stars, I would have to be sure that there are newer versions with the plethora of errors fixed.  As it is, I can only give it 3 or 3.5 at best.  If I hear from others that the errors are fixed, I will gladly raise my rating. **]

*** 10-1-11 – I was pleased to find out that I indeed had the first release version of the ebook and that there have been several revisions afterward that have corrected the errors I first found. I have therefore raised my rating to 4 stars.

08.01.11

Review of “Meridian’s Shadow” by Dan Moore

Posted in Reviews at 9:17 PM by Maurice Alvarez

I was sold on this book when I read the synopsis.  I had no idea how much better the story would be than the synopsis could portray.  I love complex epic tales where “the little guy” has his life thrown into chaos by some mega-sized entity, where there are many characters that all play a role and have such distinct personalities that you have no trouble remembering who is whom.  The last epic of this caliber that I read was “The Gap Series” by Stephen R. Donaldson.  “Meridian’s Shadow” is that kind of epic tale.

The tale begins slowly as the myriad characters are introduced and their relationships are developed.  We meet the Logans and their team of scientists who have created nanomachines that can be programmed to clean pollution and other environmental contaminants.  But prior to programming, they are indiscriminate destroyers.  This is merely a temporary state to the scientists, but it has much more potential as a weapon to Amos Cross, the ruthless CEO of the mega-sized Meridian Corporation.  Cross will stop at nothing to get his hands on the nanomachines.  At the same time, another powerful and equally ruthless entity sees the machines as an unnatural abomination that must be destroyed at all costs.  The well-intentioned Logans and their team are caught in the power struggle.  Their only hope is to find a way to stop the nanomachines.  But can they do it as everything falls apart around them?

Dan Moore apologizes at the beginning for any spoofed science, but he does a wonderful job keeping the science real.  I particularly liked that space felt “big”, with spacecraft taking months to reach the asteroid belt.  There was also a feeling of being in the midst of technological progress as the first space elevator goes into operation during the story and there is mention that technology had not yet been able to place singularity-based communications aboard spacecraft.

All the players in this story have such an amazing depth of character that they jump right out of the page and easily become real people in the reader’s mind.  Much like in real life, they all have flaws and quirks that drive their motivations and, more often than not, the twists and turns of the plot.  Hunter Logan with his implicit trust; Robert Hastings’s overwhelming despair over the death of his wife and son; Jo Smith and Tyson Edwards and their devotion to family; Susanne Frost and her need to please men.  All unforgettable characters.

“Meridian’s Shadow” delivers suspense right to the end.  Yet a single thread is left hanging leaving a path open for a sequel.  And that’s a sequel I’ll be sure to read!

For more information including a list of the rest of the upcoming books in series, check out the “Meridian’s Shadow” page here or visit Dan Moore’s page for more about the author and his other works.

07.11.11

Review of K.C. May’s “The Venom of Vipers”

Posted in Reviews at 5:40 PM by Maurice Alvarez

This was a very enjoyable tale that had me hooked from the start.

The characters are written very well, each with very unique personalities and agendas that play into the twists and turns of the plot.

While the idea of creating a new subspecies of humans as a means of saving us might seem a stretch, K.C. does a fine job of making it seem like a natural course of action.  After a while you almost forget the implausibility of it. But the saphers are great characters, and Ryder Stone’s vibrant energy is a perfect counterpoint to Katie Marsh’s subtler, though no less driven, persona.

Where she excels is in creating a world stricken by an incurable virus, with its nearly empty neighborhoods.  And despite it all, the slowly vanishing humans continue with their petty special interests.  While a simpler story than A Canticle For Leibowitz, I still couldn’t fail to draw that parallel between K.C.’s humanity and Walter Miller’s; humans will be humans until the end of their days.

The story flows smoothly and makes for quick reading.

I look forward to reading more of K.C. May’s work in the future.

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06.15.11

Review of David H. Burton’s “Broken”

Posted in Reviews at 7:28 AM by Maurice Alvarez

I am not new to David H. Burton’s tales, having read “Scourge” and “Simian’s Lair” to my children and the online chapters of “Billy Bones”.  So I was not surprised by the easy flow of David’s prose in his latest work, “Broken”, a paranormal romance.

The well-paced story is engaging from the start as the reader follows Katherine through her struggle to make heads or tails of the mysterious curse that has been dropped in her lap.  And Katherine does not disappoint.  She is written very well with a wittiness and spunkiness that you can’t help but connect with.

Broken is an entertaining read that keeps you guessing to the riveting conclusion.

 

David’s website: Random Musings

05.24.11

Review of Christian Cantrell’s “Containment”

Posted in Reviews at 9:20 AM by Maurice Alvarez

Containment is not for all sci-fi fans.  If you enjoy paragraphs of technical details on the workings of possible future technology and chapters devoted to ancillary background narrative, then this book is for you.  I might have been persuaded to look past all that, after all it was very successfully handled by Stephen R. Donaldson in his Gap series.  But all this exposition often comes at the expense of story flow.  Even at the end, when the protagonist’s great plan is about to be sprung, the story breaks into a multi-paragraph technical explanation of how the colony’s transportation system works, for no reason.  It’s great that the author had all this in mind as he wrote it; an author should have an in-depth familiarity with his setting.  But a reader does not require all this detail unless it applies to the plot and if it is inserted seamlessly.

To make matters worse, the over-exposition interspersed with very confusing shifts back and forth in time throughout the first half of the book.  I often found it difficult to tell if I was reading about Arik in the present or if it was his past until some detail 2-3 pages into the chapter clarified the setting.  A more chronological approach in flashback would have worked well and not changed the effect of the story at all.

It isn’t until 3/4 of the way through the book that the past catches up with the present and the plot twist is revealed.  And it’s a great plot twist, if somewhat implausible.  While it might be difficult to believe that these young scientists are unaware of the true nature of their environment, one can imagine a situation in which external input is so carefully controlled that they remain sheltered from the truth until they get into the truly hardcore experiments.  So this implausibility can be overlooked.

More difficult to overlook is the lack of connection with the characters.  Despite an account of their youth through several flashback chapters, there was little to make me like/dislike Cam, Zaire, Cadie or any of the Gen 5 kids.  Only Arik’s struggle to recover from brain surgery elicited any sympathy from me.  Everyone including Arik is written in such a way as to seem almost emotionally destitute; even Arik’s reactions to life-threatening situations are handled with cold logic.  V1 might just as well have been a colony of Vulcans straight out of Star Trek.

The ending is abrupt, which I had expected and did not mind at all.

Containment is a decent story wrapped up in a package that doesn’t allow it to reach its potential.

04.13.11

Review of B.V. Larson’s “Swarm”

Posted in Reviews at 10:09 PM by Maurice Alvarez

Swarm CoverThis was my exposure to B.V. Larson’s writing, and I was riveted from the start. I read Swarm in two sessions; I just did not want to put it down until I found out how it ended.

The plot is simple, much like the E.E. Smith “Lensman” novels: forces try to one-up each other in a series of combat scenarios, either by tech or tactics while an alien device assists our side. But the first person POV of main protagonist Kyle Riggs works marvelously to get the story to that point, as the reader is dropped in right beside Riggs as he struggles to figure out what is going on. Sights, sounds, feelings and smells create detailed settings throughout.

Characterizations are very rich; I connected with Kyle and Sandra immediately, and even Crow. However, Riggs’s command successes sometimes seem uncharacteristic or perhaps unlikely for his background.

There weren’t a glaring number of typos or grammatical errors, but just enough that they can’t escape mention. I don’t feel that this detracts from the reading experience much.

Based on my enjoyment of Swarm, I will try one of Larson’s other books.

This review was also posted on Amazon.com.

03.22.11

Review of Guido Henkel’s “Demon’s Night”

Posted in Reviews at 10:41 AM by Maurice Alvarez

Deomons Night Cover

I’ll start by saying that I have never been a fan of modern horror in any form of media, be it book, film or other.  I do enjoy a few of the horror movies of old, those that were more psychological thrillers with a monster as the antagonist instead of a human.  One could easily swap the monster out with a very evil human and you’d have just as good a movie.  In fact, some of those old movies had just that, as in The Wax Museum starring Vincent Price.

With that out of the way, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first book in the Jason dark series, Demon’s Night, by Guido Henkel.  The book is described as “gothic horror”, which originally turned me off.  But after reading some of the reviews, I started getting the feeling that there was more to these stories.  I purchased Demon’s Night and read it in one sitting.

I would categorize this as a paranormal thriller.  It’s like Sherlock Holmes with demons.  And that is a genre I do enjoy.

What hooked me most was the richness of the setting.  Guido does a fine job of dropping the reader into late 19th century London.  Considering the length of the story, the characters are nicely developed as are their relationships, all of which add to the richness of the “period” of the story.

There are no chapters, and sometimes the breaks seem to interrupt the flow of the story, though the events always tie back in.

The story is short and entertaining, and I was left wanting to know more about the characters and their world.  I will definitely be picking up book two, “Theater of Vampires”, to see how the tale of Jason Dark continues.