Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Armada

Space Invaders. Galaga. Asteroids. Defender. Tempest. Missile Command. What do all of these things have in common? Many of us spent hours of our teenage years (and even into our twenties or beyond), playing these games in arcades and on home gaming systems. We tried to keep our initials in the list of top scores. We swapped tricks and tips with friends and tried to best each other's scores. And some of us secretly hoped that one day a recruiter would come and ask us to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada, just like Alex Rogan in "The Last Starfighter."

Obviously, Ernest Cline understands that mindset very well. In his latest book he creates a world very different from that of Ready, Player One. Rather than a future with dwindling resources and a populace spending every bit of free time in virtual reality, Armada is set in a present-day world. Teenagers still drive hand-me-down cars that seem held together by rust and memories. Bullies still throw spitwads behind the teacher's back. And kids (young and old), love video games - especially Terra Firma and Armada.

The two games share a common story arc and are complementary in nature; TF focuses on controlling battle machines (a bit like "Pacific Rim" or "Robot Jox"), while Armada players are piloting space ships against an enemy fleet. Both games are fighting the same alien invaders and players can earn ranks with their skills. Zack Lightman is one of the best Armada players in the world. He comes by it naturally, because both his parents were gamers in their day. But he thinks he is losing his mind when he spots a ship just like the one in the game outside the window of his high school. Maybe it's time to unplug for a little while, right?

Luckily for the world he lives in, and for us as readers, Zack does not give up his Armada habit. Because it seems that "The Last Starfighter" may have been a bit closer to reality than any of us thought. 

Just to be clear, so no one feels cheated - this is not a sequel to Ready, Player One. The characters, setting,  and plot are all very different. But the feeling of nostalgia and being immersed in pop culture from the mid-1970s and onward through more recent phenomena like X-Files is still there. Everything from the game patches on Xavier Lightman's jacket, to the songs on the "Raid the Arcade" mix tape, and even the movie quotes from "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters" will immerse you in sci-fi/fantasy geekdom nirvana. I highly recommend it.

For more information on how the author came to have such a keen grasp of all things nerdy and geeky, in the coolest possible way, check out his Author Bio. And you can find ordering information about the book on the Penguin Random House website.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

P.S. Just for comparison, here is the cover from the hardback edition, which is the first one that I read. It has more of the feel of the vintage arcade games featured in the books, but the paperback cover is more of a scene from the book itself. Preferences, anyone? 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 The Invisible Library


Take the idea of Noah Wyle's "The Librarians" TV series, then add in alternate realities, the forces of chaos versus order, the Fae, vampires, werewolves, steampunk, dragons... everything you can think of that might pop up in an alternate world, and there you will have the basic idea of <i>The Invisible Library</i>. The Library collects key books from each of the alternate worlds, sending out the librarians to procure them (much like the librarians bring artifacts back to their library in the TV show). So the librarians are part researchers, part secret agents, part adventurers, and all dedicated to saving books. It seems that by collecting these key books, the library anchors each particular alternate world to the library itself and thereby stabilizes that world allowing a balance between chaos and order to be reached.

There are some fun elements to this series (since this is only the first book of many). When librarians finish their training and are formally bound to the library, they take a use name.  Often this name has significance either to the librarian's taste in literature or to how they wish to be perceived. For instance, one of the senior librarians is named Kostchei, an archetypal figure from folklore who is often called "Kostchei the Deathless." (Ego much?) Another, who has replacement limbs that run by clockwork,  is called Coppelia (from the ballet with the lifelike dancing doll). Another cool element is the Language of the Library. When librarians use the words from the Language, they can command objects like "lock open" or "pipes burst." That is a handy ability to have when you are traveling into uncertain situations. There are field librarians who are sent out to retrieve books, as well as resident librarians who are stationed in the alternate worlds to maintain contact with the Library and assist field agents. (Sounds a lot like James Bond, doesn't it?)

This first adventure features Irene, a field librarian, and Kai, a trainee whom she is mentoring. They arrive in a world with a rather severe chaos infestation and see vampires and werewolves along with Fae and zeppelins, which reminded me a bit of the Parasol Protectorate books (except for the Fae). They meet a Fae lord, a detective named Vale who seems similar to Sherlock Holmes, and a police investigator named Singh. In this alternate London they visit the British Library, the Natural History Museum, and even a formal ball. Between the glamorous cat burglars, society blackmailers, secret organizations, and Fae - there is plenty of intrigue going on around their mission. Misdirection, double-crosses, cyborg alligators, midair zeppelin battles, it certainly isn't what folks generally picture when they hear the word librarian.

I can't wait for the next book so that I can catch up with the characters and see what new missions they will undertake. A great read for fans of the TV librarians, alternate worlds and steampunk devotees, and book lovers in general.

i read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Superman Volume 1: Before Truth

Superman blackmailed with the threat if his secret identity being revealed. Problems with a loss of his powers after he releases something similar to a solar flare (linked to his heat vision). Strange new weapons created on enormous 3-D printers. A secret organization known as HORDR. Creatures known as Quarmers capable of siphoning the energy off from Superman. General Lane armed with Kryptonite -loaded weapons. How bad a day can a superhero have?

Gene Luen Yang has created a story-line where everything that can go wrong seems to be doing just that for poor Clark Kent.  Clark struggles to deal with all the issues he has always feared - his secret identity made known, his friends and loved ones in danger, the public clamoring "Alien go home." It's a nightmare come to life. The mix of past foes coming out of the woodwork to exact their revenge and the new nemesis of HORDR keeps the danger pouring in from all sides.

Fans of Yang's other work will not be surprised by the quality of the story, nor will fans of Superman find this new arc disappointing. The artwork by continuing artists Romita and Janson is well done and captures the action and emotional weight of the story. Readers will be anxiously awaiting the next installment.

An added bonus is a collection of variant covers from Superman appearances from various comics.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2016 The Fold

Imagine that Mycroft Holmes were alive today and instead of running the British government from behind the scenes, he had chosen to become a high school English teacher in Maine. Hmm, a bit of a mental stretch, but you can do it. He has a friend who happens to run DARPA, and this friend sends him to observe a research group that has built something that looks a lot like a Star Gate (although they dislike the comparison). His friend, Reggie,  feels that something is a little off with the research group and the project, but can't figure out what is giving him that vibe.  Who better to look into things than an outsider who happens to be a super genius with an eidetic memory? Their device is supposed to fold dimensions to make enormous distances easy to travel with a single step, but there may be more to it than that and it could be dangerous, very dangerous.

If you enjoy shows like "Star Gate" that involve both geeky tech and action, shows like "Sherlock" that have a character with incredible mental abilities, or sci-fi/fantasy stories where people mess with the fabric of space-time and could cause an apocalyptic event - then this is a story you will probably have a hard time putting down. It helps that on top of all that appeal, the character of Mike (the observer), is said to look like a "young Severus Snape," the research team has named their device the Albuquerque  Door in honor of Bugs Bunny's famous line about taking a left turn at Albuquerque, and there are loads of other pop culture references. Let's see..."Johnny Mnemonic," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Star Trek, and Looney Tunes are just a few that come to mind. There is also a smidgen of office romance mixed in.

The story is well told, the revelations about the door and its repercussions are given at just the right points to maintain the suspense, the characters are interesting, and the writing just flows along. Once I started it, I couldn't stand putting it aside to finish the next day, so I stayed up past midnight and read it straight through. It was worth the effort. I would love to see a sequel with these characters (HINT, HINT, Mr. Clines).

You may visit the publisher's website for more info about the book or for the author bio.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

At last there is an explanation for why each city seems to have so many bars and taverns. They are strategically placed for maximum coverage of the population, so that the bartenders can serve and protect. Protect against what? Demonic beings called tremens that attack humans and feed on them are what the bartenders battle with the help of some carefully mixed cocktails. (This really does explain so much about urban life.) When Bailey Chen returns home with her newly completed business degree, she gets a temporary job at a bar owned by her best friend's family. She has no idea of the double life her friend Zane and the other bartenders lead, she just needs a paycheck while she is looking for the perfect career opportunity. The night she encounters a tremens on her way home from work, everything changes. Now Bailey, Zane, Bucket, and Mona are worried by the escalation in attacks as Halloween nears. Is it just the increase in partying and the number of inebriated humans that are luring more of the predators into the city, or is something else going on?

Readers who enjoy urban fantasy with some humor mixed in will have a great time with the Nightshade crew. The inclusion of the recipes for each of the cocktails used in the story and the details of their development helps to establish a background for the history of mixology. The mention of great bartenders of the past and the various ruling bodies around the globe are a nice piece of world-building which can be expanded on in later books. Fast-paced action, humor, and a bit of romantic tension all make this a book you will guzzle rather than sip.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.