27 May, 2013

Review - The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War #2) by John Scalzi

Warning: Spoilers for Old Man's War (review) book one in the Old Man's War sequence.

A secret is discovered and war is looming. Former enemies are allied against the Colonial Union and it's up to the Special Forces, the Ghost Brigades, to stop them. They only take the dirtiest jobs and this is no exception.

The Ghost Brigades [US] [UK] deals almost exclusively with the Special Forces who have been nicknamed the Ghost Brigades on account of their entire Forces using the bodies of people who did not enter the military, but for whom a clone body was created, for new consciences.

Two things stand out right away. One, there's no first-person narrative here and two, John Perry (our protagonist from OMW) is nowhere in sight. In fact, he's mentioned in passing about once or twice, but that's it.

Other than that, The Ghost Brigades is a typical Scalzi effort - a fast pace, some witty (and non-witty) banter, and cool concepts that keep the pages turning.

The Ghost Brigades is definitely a step down from Old Man's War. OMW really hit the spot when I read it a number of years ago, the surprise at what these elderly folks were getting themselves into when they signed up for the military at the end of their lives was a great one and the action was non-stop for the rest of the book.

Here, things felt a little more forced, even though I had a good time reading from start to finish. I enjoyed it, but there were a few things that niggled where that didn't happen before (one instance is the "why don't we go up in the trees" plan if you can call it that). I'll admit it's been a few years (and a few kids) so it could also very much be me.

Some of the banter, as I mentioned above, was also a bit awkward this time instead of remotely funny. There's a part toward the end where they "don't" talk about secretive matters that just made my eyes roll. Too many eye rolls begins to make those stars start shedding.

Although it sounds bad, I really did enjoy The Ghost Brigades and I'm looking forward to The Last Colony. It's fun and exciting and hard to put down even, there were just some parts that put this below OMW even though the rest of the book was on par.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended)

Note: I make fun of a quote on the back of this book that really makes no sense here.

Old Man's War Universe (Read in red)
1) Old Man's War (review - if you can call it that)
2) The Ghost Brigades
3) The Last Colony
Zoe's Tale
The Human Division

The Sagan Diary ($2.99)
Questions for a Soldier ($0.99)
After the Coup ($0.99)

25 May, 2013

Giveaway: SF/F Variety Pack #2 - Sanderson, Card, Modesitt, ect!

Hear ye, hear ye! This Variety Pack Giveaway #2 is open to all US contestants until June 5, 2013. Just fill out the form below and you are good to go. Winner take all!

As usual, sharing the post or writing some good snark will net you a bonus entry. Good luck!

24 May, 2013

Interview - Wesley Chu, Author of The Lives of Tao

Wesley Chu is the debut author of The Lives of Tao (review) from Angry Robot. Aliens have been stranded on earth millennia ago and influence some of humanity's greatest people and events in their attempt to make it back to their home. The Lives of Tao deals with one of those aliens and his human host, Roen Tan. This book is a great ride from page one and comes highly recommended.

Wesley was nice enough to answer a couple questions and even give a little of the backstory of how the history of his world has developed, but I have to warn you this is the interview lacking the Banzai Chef. :) And seriously, check out The Lives of Tao, it will only make you happier.


OTBSFF: What made you want to become an author and when did you first start writing?

I’ve always been a huge reader. One of my favorite memories in grade school was when they handed out those little catalogues for the students to buy books. I nearly impoverished my parents buying every damn book on the list. I eventually burned through all stuff I wanted to read and had to venture into Judy Blume territory.

I think my writing career started sometime between second and fourth grade. The exact date is a little fuzzy. I wrote a story about how all the planets in our solar system used to run into each other and got into fights which caused all the pock marks on their surfaces. Eventually, the King Sun got annoyed and enforced gravity on them. My English Professor father read it and told me that it wasn’t terrible. And thus a lowly writing career was born.

OTBSFF: What has been your favorite part of releasing your debut novel?

I’ve had so many highs that depending on what day you ask me, the answer to my favorite part of the release would change. The most recent high was my release party on Saturday May 4th. It was held at NV Penthouse Lounge in downtown Chicago and The Book Cellar was kind enough to do offsite sales. The bookstore had ordered 127 books and sold all but 4.

Originally, I had guestimated that I’d have between 75 to 100 guests and the party would go on for three hours. I ended up having 250+ guests and the party went on until well past 1 AM. It was a pretty surreal night. Imagine if you took your entire life and condensed it to one room. It was like an episode of This is Your Life!

I had my writing friends, my Kung Fu friends, my Asian friends, my old colleagues, and assorted people I haven’t seen in a decade all there. In a way, it felt like a retirement party. I think at one point, I had 6 of my old managers from different jobs talking to me.

OTBSFF: History is such an important part to the story and the lives of the Quasing and it quickly begins to feel like the Quasing influenced everything. Is there any part of human history that the Quasing did not influence?

The Quasing definitely played a significant role in humanity’s history, but they couldn’t be everywhere at once, could they? There were definitely parts of history, some great, some bungled, that humanity did all on its lonesome.

Warren G Harding winning the presidency is a fine example of human ineptitude. The Pig War of 1859 was another wonderful all-human event. And who can forget Coca Cola’s decision not to buy Pepsi Co for a couple of pennies and a sponge bath. Basically, there were thousands of famous and not-so famous blunders that can be attributed to sheer human stupidity.

On the other hand, there were several great events that humans are credit for accomplishing on their own as well. The invention of paper was probably the most significant contribution humans ever made without Quasing assistance. The creation and signing of the Magna Carta was another. The Quasings’ influence, though large, wasn’t absolute. Back during the times leading up to the Spanish Inquisition, they were against any significant peace treaty that would promote stability within the world. During the modern era, certain inventions like choosing VHS over Beta had supporters from both Quasing factions (due to investments), but in the end, it was the porn industry that made the choice for them.

OTBSFF: Are you a history buff and could I easily guess which country’s history you are most fascinated with?

I am a huge history buff, and I’m pretty sure you couldn’t guess which country’s history I’m most fascinated with because I’m not sure myself.

Historical events, to me, are like scotches. What I like and what I’m interested in changes depending on the day of the month. I remember spending two weeks once reading everything I could get my hands on about all the pontiffs between 800 AD to 1600 AD. Then there was a three day period where I researched everything I could on the meat packing industry from 1900s to 1930s. And then there was this one time I spent a few days correlating the sales of men’s underwear to the American economy.

Psst... By the way, my entire investment strategy is based on the Underwear Index. No joke.

OTBSFF: The Lives of Tao deals largely with espionage, from the boring stuff like staking out a mailbox to tracking down secret weapons and killing targets. Are you secretly a spy? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul)

Do you know the pay scale of the people in covert ops? The market value for covert operations is totally wacked. First of all, no one takes into consideration the collateral risk and damage a spy needs to endure, not to mention the fact that whoever this dude dates starts the entire relationship with a lie. That means I’ll never get a girlfriend, and I can’t live without that. Oh wait, I’m married already. Well, same thing.

And let’s be honest, I’m too much like the meerkat in The Lion King. Hakuna Matata, bro. And I guess while we’re at it; I have a very low pain threshold. If I get an ingrown toenail, I’m bedridden for weeks. Me? A spy. Child please! 

You believe me, right? Right? Of course you believe me. In fact, I was never here.

OTBSFF: I’ve heard you are a man of many talents including being an actor and stuntman. What would you say has influenced your writing the most?

To be perfectly honest, neither influenced my writing that much. If I was to answer honestly, I’d have to go lame and say reading has influenced my writing the most.

However, I will admit that martial arts played a huge part in how I visualize fight scenes. I took pride in knowing that I could re-enact every fight scene in The Lives of Tao. That’s all past tense because I’m just not so limber anymore.

Acting has also helped with the dialogues in The Lives of Tao. The craft of acting has always been less about the words and more about the timings and emotions that stems from a scene. That’s the same approach I take when I write my characters chatting it up.

OTBSFF: Are there any literary influences that have really had an impact on your writing?

This is such a loaded question because there have been so many literary influences over the years. That’s why I always default to Piers Anthony and Lawrence Watt-Evans.

They were the authors of the first two fantasy novels I’ve ever read. My English professor father took me to the literary section of a bookstore and told me I could pick out any books I wanted to read. I’m pretty sure he wanted me to choose Tom Sawyer or Macbeth or Thomas Moore. I made a beeline toward the fantasy section and chose the shiny picture of the floating sword and the picture of the goofy lion with wings that had a scorpion tail on it. And in case you can’t guess the books, they are The Misenchanted Sword and A Spell for Chameleon.

OTBSFF: I know authors are not their characters, but I can’t help imagining the author as either looking like a character on the cover of their book or the main protagonist’s description. Would you say you’re more like Roen toward the beginning or end of the book?

I would say I’m more Enzo. Oh wait; you don’t know who he is yet. Well, you’re about to find out come October. Stay tuned. =)

OTBSFF: Who was your favorite character to write outside of Tao?

Looking back, I’m going to have to say Sean. There’s something to be said about complex villains who are not only smart, but also suave and complex. A good villain is better than the hero in every way. He’s not only more powerful, but more intelligent, more suave, better dressed, and definitely better with the ladies. He should be better than the hero in practically everything. Okay, we’ll throw the hero a bone and give him more heart.

Too often in SFF, the quality of villain takes a back seat to the mindless zombies, savage orcs, or feral space blobs. Well, people, it’s time we demand a higher quality of villainy in our antagonists and evil doers. That baddie should be able to kick everyone’s ass and still look sharp doing it!

OTBSFF: Finish this sentence: If I were a Quasing…

I would pretend he doesn’t exist because as a writer, I already have the best job in the word. Lame; I know. Well, that and I have a very low tolerance to bullet wounds. Remember, the low pain threshold thing?

OTBSFF: Your debut just came out and the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, is already slated to come out toward the end of the year, how did you swing that?

Due to the great reception that The Lives of Tao received, the angry robot overlords have pushed up the release of the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, up to October 29th, 2013. 

In Deaths, several years have passed since the events of the first book. I’m not going to give too much away, but it’s safe to say that things have gone slightly downhill for the Prophus since the events of the first book.

17 May, 2013

(revisited) Review - Old Man's War (OMW #1) by John Scalzi

I read Old Man's War [US] [UK] a number of years ago, back in 2008 or 9 and I just now jumped back into the world with The Ghost Brigades. Before that period of time, I'd considered myself a fantasy/science fiction fan and I thought I was actually relatively well-read in the genre. I'd read Tolkien, Feist, Eddings, Card, Herbert, and a bunch more.

In 2008, I had a bit of a rude awakening when I started to become active (okay that's putting it lightly, "obsessive" is the word we want) in the genre and in online forums. I scoured "best of," "top 10," and even "top 100" lists and started a list of books that I found consistently on just about every list. Sffworld.com had (and still does) a great thread where everyone on the forum posted their top 10 favorite books so I did the same - I wrote down the books that commonly popped (almost wrote pooped :)) up.

Suddenly I was terribly underread and I wanted to read everything immediately. As some of you may have already discovered, it's not only an uphill battle, but just about impossible to read EVERYTHING there is (check out this article, it will make you feel better).

So my solution was to read one book of just about every series I could get my hands on just to get a feel and to be able to better participate in online discussions. In a way this solution backfired on me, since I now have about a million books to read and I've started so many series that I now have to reread books to figure out what's going on. But it also let me find out about some great authors who I wouldn't have tried otherwise.

I'm sure I would have read Scalzi eventually, but Old Man's War was one of these. Four years later, I finally got to the sequel and I plan on reading The Last Colony soon in preparation for The Human Division.

Anyway, this was a long way to introduce the short review I put up for Old Man's War on Goodreads all those years ago:
This book was quite the page-turner. It was really enjoyable, great premise, loved the ideas. I wasn't a huge fan of the cussing and that's why I put this book on my "Liked, not loved" shelf. It just didn't make sense to me. These are 75-year-olds. I just thought it wasn't very believable, but that's probably just me. Other than that, this was a very entertaining, quick-paced and fun book.
Hopefully my reviews have improved a bit, but probably not. I obviously hadn't heard of Sh*t My Dad Says at the time either.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Old Man's War Universe (Read in red)
1) Old Man's War 
2) The Ghost Brigades
3) The Last Colony
Zoe's Tale
The Human Division

The Sagan Diary ($2.99)
Questions for a Soldier ($0.99)
After the Coup ($0.99)

13 May, 2013

eBook Deals - Cooper, Novik, Clarke, Bledsoe, Vonnegut, Wells, and Carlson

Hope you've been meaning to catch up on your Arthur C. Clarke reading because that's the majority of the deals today. Also Vonnegut, which you should always have room on your shelf for.

[$0.99] The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper - One I'd been meaning to get for a while, patience paid off.
[$0.99] His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik
[$2.99] The Hammer of God by Arthur C. Clarke
[$2.99] Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke
[$2.99] The Ghost from the Grand Banks by Arthur C. Clarke
[$2.99] The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe
[$2.99] Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
[$2.99] Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut
[$2.99] Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
[$2.99] The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
[$2.99] The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

11 May, 2013

Review - The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The press release proclaims The 5th Wave [US] [UK] to be the next Hunger Games and though it may yet be so (only $750,000 is going into marketing!), I wasn't fully convinced. My thoughts on this book run the gamut of ratings. Here's why: (and there's no coincidence there are 5 waves and 5 stars)

5 Stars

Wow, great start. I just picked it up for a second to get a feel and 100 pages later, I was hooked. Aliens come to earth only to begin to wipe humanity out? Great, this hasn't been done for a while at least not this way.

The aliens, or Others, start killing off humanity through waves as you may have already guessed from the title. The first, they cut off the power. Next, they wipe out all the coastal cities through tidal waves since most large cities are situated near large bodies of water. Then, pestilence and disease and lastly silencers or assassins. Very cool, I want more!

I was even up all night that first night because my mind wouldn't let go of the concept. I was afraid for the aliens in my room one moment, trying to survive on my own in the wilderness the next. There's no way this book could let me down right? ...erm...

4 Stars

It's a brutal reality, people have to survive by whatever means necessary and we're told over and over - trust no one! It's a great tagline, but it begins to break down because when you, as a reader, don't trust anyone, it gets much harder to be surprised. I will say, I never saw what actually does happen coming.

3 Stars

Things are still going well, but suddenly, some unnecessary discussions of current topics pulled me out of the story. Both times, they got me thinking about things that didn't matter at all in the context of the story and really didn't need to be there.

Also, this says this book is for 12 and up, but you better believe I won't be letting my 12-year-olds read it with the language it has. I'm not so oblivious that I don't think they don't hear it all the time, but I disagree with the marketing that says this is for 12-year-olds when it barely makes the PG-13 standards. This is more a personal pet peeve and doesn't take much away from the book.

2 Stars

Something that might have been the reason this book didn't completely work for me, but was definitely was something I couldn't get over. You see, there are only so many people who survived the plague. Individuals were lucky to have their immune system overcome the plague, but it's rare and whole families surviving is almost unheard of. We're getting into spoiler territory so I'll warn you here:

spoiler: Our main protagonist, Cassie, and her father and brother all survive. All but their mother who succumbs to the plague. Almost a complete family and they almost all survive. Everyone else has to figure things out on their own, but they get to rely on each other and especially their father to help them survive.

Skipping over a couple parts, the father agrees to let the younger brother, Sam, who's five-years-old go with some military guys and stay behind because the guys have said they don't have enough room. The father has a hard time with it of course, be he eventually trusts them.

This just wouldn't happen. There's no way. It's rare enough that an almost-complete family could still be together, but for the military to require them to separate would be a huge enough sign that something fishy's going on.

And thus begins where I started to question if I am not the right market for this book. I have three kids and thinking of this situation from this perspective, makes this such an impossible choice it's not even funny. This is something I actually haven't had to think in any previous YA book I've read, especially The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, and I think that's a testament to why they did so well.

1 Star

The love story. Plain and simple, this fast-paced and entertaining novel gets bogged down for love. There are two rather lengthy sections (of 13) devoted to this and each time, all I wanted to do was read something else.

In addition, there's one big "show up" moment toward the end where everyone happens to be at the same place at the same time, but for which an explanation is sorely lacking. 


It's sad because The 5th Wave started out so well. Aliens take over and start wiping humanity out by waves. First the power, then tidal waves, then pestilence and disease, and then assassins. Now it's the fifth wave and what is it? A boring romance? That will definitely wipe this reader out.

3 out of 5 Stars (cutting it down the middle)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

07 May, 2013

Ender's Game Trailer

I don't show many trailers, but I've been waiting for this one for quite a while. I'm attempting to keep expectations reasonable, but I don't think that's reasonably possible.

eBook Deals

It's been a while since I last posted some eBook deals to the blog. I've had a few requests lately, although I'm pretty positive some of those are just spammers (really really good ones), so I thought I should post some. If you want to know my secret (that's not even a secret), I use BookBub for the most part and the rest I usually find doing a search through Amazon. Also, The Tattered Scroll has a list of eBook deals that is updated pretty regularly and I would never post deals that he finds ... never.

[$1.99] The Dreaming Void (Void Trilogy #1) by Peter F. Hamilton
[$2.99] The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
[$2.99] Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
[$2.99] Lamentation (Psalms of Isaak #1) by Ken Scholes
[$4.98] Ender's Game (Ender #1) by Orson Scott Card - Good time to start this one...hint hint
[$2.99] The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson - Yup, still this price. Great book.
[$2.99] Wide Open by Deborah Coates - Sarah seems to like it.
[$2.99] Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1) by Kevin Hearn
[$7.99] The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - Okay, not even close to a "deal" in the true sense of the word, but I consider "quite possibly the best reading experience of your life" to be one dang good deal for only 8 bucks.

EDIT: [$2.99] The Dragon's Path/Leviathan Wakes by Daniel Abraham/James S.A. Corey - This was just added today - May 7, 2013.

02 May, 2013

Review - The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Past:

Thousands if not millions of years ago aliens crashed to earth and wanted nothing more than to return. To make that happen, it became necessary to encourage technology growth in any way possible and when homo sapiens came around, they were the horse the Quasing (wraith-like aliens who can inhabit living bodies) bet on to make their return home a reality. 

The Present:

Split into two warring factions, the Prophus and the Genjix, the Quasing use humans in a network of spies not only to further their goals of returning home, but also to prevent their counterparts from their own ambitions.


Edward Blair is sold out by his own friend and now former Prophus agent. It's either surrender or get killed, but there's also another way to protect his Quasing, Tao from falling into the hands of the Genjix.

The Lives of Tao [US] [UK] jumps into the life of agent Edward Blair, but our time with Blair is a short one. After being betrayed, we see the first glimpse of what a Quasing is and what it can do. As explained above, they are aliens who can inhabit humans (among other living creatures) and who have lived through the entire history of humanity and longer. This presents an interesting device that allows the Quasing's host a wealth of knowledge at the drop of a hat and which reminded me a little of Brandon Sanderson's novella, Legion, at times. 

The Quasing, Tao, is forced to find a new host almost immediately in the book, and happens upon the main character of the book, Roen Tan - an out-of-shape computer engineer who is in no way prepared for a life of espionage. Instead of a short training montage, we go through the beginning of Roen's training, his workouts, his non-007 type jobs such as monitoring a mailbox, and his progression to missions with more responsibility and danger. 

I love a good training or schooling book and this one's no exception. Roen has to not only master his body, but learn to function with his symbiotic Quasing relationship.

While sometimes confusing, because it can sometimes be difficult to tell if Roen is talking to Tao inside his head or to another person, a fun dynamic develops between Roen and Tao as Tao sarcastically tries to get Roen in shape. Other people have Quasing too and luckily The Lives of Tao is told in third person limited so we don't get the back-and-forth from any other character but the one point of view.

This book is filled with great ideas, none of which are bogged down in exposition. The fast pace is kept up throughout the book and the way things are set up to train Roen really help that - lots of training mixed with action makes for a happy reader. One of those ideas, only hinted at above, essentially makes the Quasing the cause of pretty much every major (and probably minor) event in history.

Toa himself formerly invented Tai Chi and inhabited Genghis Khan among other famous historical people. This was a fun concept, but I did find it hard to take fully. It's not ever claimed, but it's made to seem that every single event was caused by the Quasing and if everything, then nothing caused by humanity. Then again, you can't complain too much about it because the concept works and it has to be thorough.
In the end, I had a great time with The Lives of Tao and will be checking in this October for the second installment in this series, The Deaths of Tao. Great ideas mixed with great action and a non-stop pace made this book extremely hard to put down. Bravo, Mr. Chu!

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended!)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.