Tag Archives: space opera

Review of INDIE EBOOK Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick #Brainfluffbookreview #Ascendingbookreview

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Himself picked this one up – and recommended that I read it. After trudging through a couple of hefty fantasy reads, I was yearning for a sci fi space opera adventure and reached for this one…

Twenty-five years ago the Vardeshi came to Earth. Then they vanished without a trace. Graduate student Avery Alcott always knew they would return. When they do, she’s the only one who can speak their language. She’s quickly recruited to join the crew of an 11-man starship on a one-year mission into the depths of space.

What an impressive debut! I loved the character of Avery – bookish, quiet and introverted, which doesn’t stop her being driven and single-minded with hidden resources. Which she certainly needs… She is a linguistic student selected by a brilliant college professor to learn the Vardeshi language just in case they return. And then they do – and she is the only person of an eligible age who can speak their language.

The preparation for a mission where she will be travelling on a Vardeshi ship as a member of their crew as part of the cultural exchange is so very well depicted. I found this book hard to put down as Avery finds herself tackling hand to hand combat, learning how to send secret messages and cooking her own meals on portable equipment as no one knew whether alien foodstuffs would be poisonous to humans, or vice versa. I also loved her struggles to acclimatise – finding the lighting, slight gravity differences, the fact that everything around her isn’t designed for a human body – an issue that she has to cope with.

When things begin to escalate, I’ll admit my heart sank for a while, as I had a horrible feeling this was going to slide into a Hollywood scenario where the whole situation would become overblown and unrealistic, after it had started so strongly. Fortunately, I think Pechenick manages to avoid that one – the nightmarish situation Avery finds herself in is, after all, believable – as is the fallout.

I tore through this one, unable to put it down until I reached the end – when I was adrift with longing for more… I’m really looking forward to reading the next book in this series, Bright Shards which is coming out on 1st August – and we’ve pre-ordered it. Very highly recommended for fans of well written first contact adventures.
9/10

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Review of ARC Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow by Jennifer Lee Rossman #Brainfluffbookreview #JackJetstarksIntergalacticFreakshow

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At some stage I downloaded this arc in return for an honest review – and then forgot to transfer it from my computer file onto my Kindle. Thank goodness I’ve now found it, because I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky offering by Lee Rossman, whose writing I have already enjoyed in her novella Anachronism – see my review here.

Jack Jetstark travels the universe to seek out the descendants of superpowered freaks created long ago by VesCorp scientists. The vibrations encoded in a particular song transform the members of Jack’s crew into a firebreather and an angel, a wildman and telepathic conjoined triplets, so they hide the truth of who they really are with the theatrics of a carnival. The song plays every night through the receptor Jack carries with them, but when one night it has a different ending and their temporary powers become permanent, Jack believes the change is a signal from the woman who sent him on this quest in the first place. He and his freaks must navigate a universe at war to protect the love of his life. But does the ruler of VesCorp really need protecting?

This entertaining read is something of a mash-up – one of those where the science fiction explanation works well, but nonetheless has more than a slight fantasy feel. I thoroughly enjoyed the first person protagonist, Jack Jetstark, who is a sympathetic character with a lethal skillset, but nonetheless comes across as emotionally vulnerable. I enjoyed his steadfast love for his childhood sweetheart that could come across as naïve, but because of the pledge they’d made – he completely trusted her. I also like the care he demonstrates for the disparate family of genetic ‘freaks’ he travels with.

However, their constant journeying from one backward planet to another, putting on their small show comes to an abrupt end when the music changes and with it, so does everything else. From that moment on, this adventure changes gear and the pace picks up whirling us into an action adventure that buckets forward full tilt.

At this stage it would have been easy for the characters to become thinner as they become caught up in events, but Lee Rossman keeps a firm grip on the pacing and her main players, to the extent that I found that my thoughts were often with the antagonist and her motivations. Is she necessarily wrong in her approach? Will Jetstark’s intervention make a bad situation worse? I think this is the mark of an accomplished writer to be able to raise those important questions while all the mayhem is kicking off.

Highly recommended for fans of space opera adventure featuring strong characters.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 2nd July, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow by Jennifer Lee Rossman

69% Merulo and I exchanged a glance. Could we leave people behind? Could we live with ourselves after, even if we prevented anyone else from experiencing that misery and torture again?
A sadness came into his eyes, and he pleaded with me. “Not saving is killing.”
I sighed, knowing I would have made the choice eventually. Best to plan for it in advance rather than scrambling during the siege. “You heard him,” I called into the back. “We’re saving ‘em all, so find the time.”

BLURB: Jack Jetstark travels the universe to seek out the descendants of superpowered freaks created long ago by VesCorp scientists. The vibrations encoded in a particular song transform the members of Jack’s crew into a firebreather and an angel, a wildman and telepathic conjoined triplets, so they hide the truth of who they really are with the theatrics of a carnival.

The song plays every night through the receptor Jack carries with them, but when one night it has a different ending and their temporary powers become permanent, Jack believes the change is a signal from the woman who sent him on this quest in the first place. He and his freaks must navigate a universe at war to protect the love of his life.

But does the ruler of VesCorp really need protecting?

I was horrified to find this arc nestling on my list in Calibre – at some stage I had downloaded it and then promptly forgot it was there. Apologies to the author – especially as it is a quirky read that I am thoroughly enjoying. Review to follow!

Review of INDIE Ebook The Lost Gunboat Captain – Book 1 of the Jolo Vargas Space Opera series by J.D. Oppenheim #Brainfluffbookreview #TheLostGunboatCaptainbookreview

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This is one of the books Himself snagged when looking for yet more enthralling space opera adventures that we are both addicted to…

Alone in the cold black with 36 hours of oxygen. Jolo Vargas, Federation Gunboat Captain, is trapped in a runaway escape pod zooming towards Federation space. But will he be dead before he gets there? He’s in a tight spot. But he’s a war hero, just the type of man who could work his way out of this jam. But there’s just one little problem. He doesn’t remember who he is.

The beginning of this book rocks – I absolutely loved it as a confused protagonist tries to work out exactly where he is, who he is and what is going on. There was some debate as to whether he is actually alive… It gradually transforms into a more conventional space opera foot-to-the-floor adventure with an unusual protagonist – a protagonist who isn’t what he initially seems to be. Haunted by visions of a beautiful young crew member that he knows is in danger and that he needs to save, yet not sure of who he is, this protagonist only gradually begins to realise what is happening around him. However it soon transpires that whoever he is, he is certainly a disaster magnet and mayhem ensues wherever he goes as he continually dodges overwhelming odds in the form of unpleasant aliens and their pliant human allies. Fortunately, these aliens tend to rely far too much on their heavily armoured suits that protect their soft wormlike bodies and are unaccustomed to the kind of defiance they are suddenly facing.

I found the protagonist in this multi-viewpoint adventure an interesting mix – necessarily we need to bond with him, but there are aspects of his personality that we cannot know about so there is also a bit of necessary distance between the reader and the main character. Oppenheim deals with this tension very effectively as the story unspools towards an unexpected development surrounding that beautiful young woman that fills his thoughts. It’s nicely done and I enjoyed the world with the satisfyingly nasty aliens. I’m hoping to continue with this series during 2019.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn #Brainfluffbookreview #AcrosstheVoidbookreview

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I was so excited about this one – the premise looked amazing and the opening scene absolutely hooked me. What a fabulous beginning…

Commander Maryam “May” Knox awakes from a medically induced coma alone, adrift in space on a rapidly failing ship, with little to no memory of who she is or why she’s there. Slowly, she pieces together that she’s the captain of the ship, Hawking II; that she was bound for Europa—one of Jupiter’s moons—on a research mission; and that she’s the only survivor of either an accident—or worse, a deliberate massacre—that has decimated her entire crew. With resources running low, and her physical strength severely compromised, May must rely on someone back home to help her. The problem is: everyone thinks she’s dead.

First, the good news. The first half of the book is riveting – that opening sequence where May surfaces on a failing ship, struggling to work out what is going on with a badly glitched AI and memory issues, worked extremely well. The science aspect was entirely believable and the character development and backstory were effective and well written. I was drawn into her life, despite not liking her very much.

I also liked the fact that May was black, with a successful black mother who had helped and supported her. So it was a real shame that I never really warmed to May – in fact as the story wore on, I found myself disliking her selfish behaviour more and more. For me, the dealbreaker was the disgraceful manner in which she neglected her mother as she became old and ill – and then made a huge scene on her death, where we’re all supposed to feel very sorry for her grief. Hm – not me. By this point, I was sick and tired of May’s self absorbed behaviour, just hoping that poor old Stephen would see the light and run away in the opposite direction from her as fast as possible.

Because if you’re sensing a BUT, you’re right… this is a book of two halves. The first half drew me in and absolutely had me hooked, but about the halfway stage, I had a ‘Whoa!’ moment. The storyline lurched into the utterly unbelievable – setting up camp in Fantasyland, where it firmly stayed. I continued reading, hoping that somehow, at some stage, this would stop reading like the script of a really silly sci fi movie, and dial back to what started out as a thoroughly engrossing, strong story. It didn’t. The silliness wore on into the outright ridiculous.

It’s a shame. The characters were well depicted, so that even if I hated the main protagonist, it didn’t stop her being well portrayed, warts and all. The story could so easily have continued to be a gripping, well written thriller with plenty of heft, instead of lapsing into lazy Hollywoodesque clichés that I saw coming on encountering the opening sequences. Frequent comparisons with The Martian demean both the film (which did get a tad daft at the end) and certainly the book, which is far better crafted and more realistic than this effort.

Apparently, the tortured romantic element is being touted as sci-cry – and it’s certainly a crying shame that a better editor didn’t rein in the author(s) in this promising, yet horribly flawed effort. Not recommended for anyone who enjoys believable sci fi.

While I obtained an arc of Across the Void from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
4/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook In Evil Times – Book 2 of the Imperials series by Melinda Snodgrass #Brainfluffbookreview #InEvilTimesbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The High Ground – see my review here – which I read in response to Sci Fi Month and as we had the second book already, I tucked in.

Thracius Tracy Belmanor and the Infanta Mercedes de Arango have graduated from The High Ground and have become officers in the Orden de la Estrella. Tracy’s posting aboard a battleship leads him to further doubt the intentions of the Solar League, as he and his comrades are required to assimilate the settlers of a Hidden World. Meanwhile, Mercedes’ own posting and her difficult marriage to Beauregard Boho Cullen, made to assure her succession of the throne, divides her loyalties. In a society where most humans and all aliens are second-class citizens, the two young officers have difficult choices to make…

As in the first book, the storyline focuses on these two young people who became very close during the first book, even though it was clear their relationship would never be able to go any further. I had sort of assumed that during this book, love would somehow find a way – because that’s what happens in amongst the action and mayhem in most space opera. So I was more than a tad gobsmacked when events took a completely different turn.

I had become very attached to both characters in the first book, but found Tracy harder to like this time around. He is eaten up with anger and bitterness, making no attempt to compromise and foster friendships in amongst the other young officers. That said, even though there were times when I wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled, I admired his gritted courage and his determination to do the right thing. His tactical ability and leadership skills are not utilised sufficiently, but when he is called upon to act, he does so with flair.

However, my favourite character by a long country mile is Mercedes. Her life is allll about compromise – she marries the man who she likes rather than loves to secure her family’s grip on the imperial throne. She fills the role of Infanta, rather than continue her career as a fighter pilot, even though she is exceptionally good at it – and all without becoming embittered and angry, in stark contrast to Tracy’s attitude.

The action in the book highlights some of the trickier moral actions the underpin the social structure. When a human colony is discovered illegally operating outside the Imperial League, the consequences are shocking. Its economy is hi-jacked and resources given over to the League, the population brought under control – and all the children under ten years old are taken away to be adopted or fostered by loyal families on other worlds, which means the population are assimilated within a generation. This issue is explored within the story in a manner that had me wondering both about the justification and the long-term effects.

The entitled nobility, who advance by dint of their birth rather than their ability, have a casually dismissive attitude towards the rest of the human population, which is the attitude typifying the huge majority of humans towards all the alien species who are employed as servants or indentured labourers. I really enjoyed this interesting exploration of the society through the lens of two major protagonists, while finding the unexpected plot twists prevented me from putting this one down. I read it in two greedy gulps and surfaced wanting more, so immediately went looking for the third book, The Hidden World – something I hardly ever do.

Recommended for fans of grown-up space opera that takes the characters and story arc outside the confines of the usual genre conventions.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Day 115 on an Alien Planet – Book 1 of the Settler Chronicles series by Jeanette Bedard #Brainfluffbookreview #Day115onanAlienPlanetbookreview

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It was the cover that caught my eye on this one – and the very nifty title. It didn’t hurt that the author is an indie writer, as I know what a struggle it is to gain sufficient reviews to garner any kind of attention in the ocean that is Amazon.

A dishonourable discharge left Margo unable to find honest work on Earth. Signing onto a colonizing mission heading to a new world promised a fresh start. Or at least that’s what she’d thought. Strapped into a crashing colony ship, she realized how wrong she’d been. They hit the ground and the straight forward colonizing mission becomes a scramble for survival.

As you gather from the slightly shortened blurb, this is a colony world adventure where said colonisation plans have gone very badly wrong from the word go. I’m a sucker for these kinds of tales of survival – basically because it gives the author so much scope to take the story in all sorts of interesting directions. Bedard doesn’t disappoint with her vivid evocation of this bleak, airless environment, which nonetheless has been selected as suitable for this plucky group of pioneers to establish a foothold for humanity. The description and world building is believable and effective in producing a strong sense of reality without holding up the pace.

I really liked Margo as a protagonist. While having a troubled and eventful background, she is not too full of angst to be able to respond effectively in the challenging circumstances around her. There was a particular event that happened about a third of the way into the book that absolutely floored me – to the extent that I nearly stopped reading. However, I had an instinct that if I did, so I’d always wonder what happened next and I’m glad I continued. In the interests of providing a spoiler-free review. I’m not going to say more than that, but if you do happen to pick this one up, do be mindful that this is not the place to stop reading in disgust.

Any niggles? Well, there is just one. Part of the story is told through Margo’s journals, which I found more than a bit confusing because at no time did the viewpoint switch to 1st person and she isn’t the sort of character who would talk or think of herself in the third person. This did bother me for a while but as the tale was so genuinely engrossing and the stakes continued to become ever higher, it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Of course, the difficulty in raising said stakes is that the climax has to give the reader sufficient reward or having stuck by the story in the expectation that the denouement is going to be worth it. I’m glad to say that Bedard managed to pull it off. This one has stayed with me since I finished reading it and I am keen to return to this isolated outpost of humanity to find out what happens next. So I shall certainly be tracking down the second book in the series. Recommended for fans of science fiction murder mysteries in dangerous settings. While I obtained an arc of Day 115 on an Alien Planet from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Star Carrier – Book 3 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #StarCarrierbookreview

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I read the first book in this series, following the exploits of William Sparhawk in Battle Cruiser here for Sci Fi Month and I was hooked. In short order, I read Dreadnaught and now need to know what happens next…

The greatest warships ever constructed in known space rise up one by one, soon dominating our skies. They strike fear into the hearts of every citizen and rebel colonist alike. Captain William Sparhawk, the very man who convinced the secretive Council to build this terrifying fleet, now has doubts about the project. What is their exact mission? How could anyone have built these huge ships so quickly? And most puzzling of all, what’s happening out at the isolated laboratory complex on Phobos, Mars’ lop-sided moon?

I very much like William, which is important as this trilogy is told in first person viewpoint throughout through his point of view. Rather unbending and more than a bit socially awkward, William is partly cloned from his father’s genes, not that it means they get on – they don’t. And due to what happens during this event-filled foray, as William sets off on a mission he isn’t sure he’ll return from, he discovers the chilling reason why his father is so closed off.

There are plenty of ingredients vital to the success of a cracking series – a likeable protagonist with several character flaws that endear me to him; lots of action that has me turning the pages, providing plenty of excitement; sufficient worldbuilding that means I care about the stakes and situation putting the protagonist in peril and sufficient variety in the way in which our plucky character struggles so that it doesn’t become repetitive.

But what sets apart other series – including this one – is that as it progresses, situations and issues the character and reader thought were fact become something else. There are other layers underneath the apparent structure, which gives a completely different angle to what is actually going on. As a result, this is a series you really must read in the right order to get the very best out of it – and for my money, the best is very, very good.

I loved the dynamic that continued playing out at the end of Dreadnaught and continues on into this book that provides strong answers to all sorts of questions, such as – why is the political situation on Earth quite so stagnant? Why doesn’t the power structure morph and change into something else? Some of those answers are shocking.

I found it hard to put this one down as I was driven to discover how this plays out, hoping that the ending wouldn’t be a disappointment, after all the tension and adventure. I was enormously relieved – and sad – when Larson successfully tied up all the loose ends and brought the book and trilogy to a triumphant conclusion. Highly recommended.
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Dreadnought – Book 2 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #Dreadnoughtbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining series, Battle Cruiser, and was keen to read the second book, hoping that it would be as good…

Captain William Sparhawk flies Earth’s single starship on a voyage of exploration. His crew of veteran spacers begins the mission with high hopes and the best of intentions, but the universe has other plans. Instead of space merchants and potential allies, they discover Earth’s impending doom. Sparhawk must decide whether to hunt down enemy scouts to keep Earth’s new starship a secret, or to head home to warn Star Guard of the danger. Either way, he’s ignited an interstellar war.

I really enjoy William Sparhawk’s first person narration of his amazing adventures – his rather stiff-necked approach in the first book has significantly loosened up during this book. He continues his command of Defiant and after his escapades in the first book, I did wonder if Larson could sustain the level of risk, along with the skin-of-his-teeth vibe and the bounciness and regular shafts of humour that run through the book. And the answer is – he can.

On this crucial mission, William is taking the Defiant on a historic voyage of discovery to colonies that were cut off over one hundred and fifty years ago. In the face of a lethal threat discovered out among the stars, Earth now desperately needs powerful allies to help from being invaded. Can William’s mission find those allies?
The catch is that William’s mission is also being overseen by political forces on Earth as they are unwilling to allow him free rein – and to his utter dismay, the person they have nominated to act as ambassador, outranking him on the diplomatic side of his mission, is his very elderly aunt, the Lady Grantholm.

This twist in the story meant that throughout this demanding voyage, William continually finds himself not only having to deal with a range of dangerous columnists, none of whom have any fond feelings towards Earth, but also his aunt, who regularly appears on the bridge at the most inconvenient moments. This nicely ups the stakes as well as providing some humour.

And the other source of amusement are William’s occasional romantic attachments. I thought they were hilarious, especially when he becomes entangled with crew members. Larson provides a nicely nuanced hero, playing on the typical lantern-jawed version we are all familiar with, yet also giving our brave protagonist, one or two wrinkles that the likes of Captain Picard doesn’t possess. That said, I’ve become very fond of William Sparhawk and I’m delighted to note that this is part of a trilogy – so there is more Sparhawk goodness to enjoy with Star Carrier. Recommended for fans of character-led military science fiction.
9/10

Review of PAPERBACK Nimbus – Book 3 of the Psi-Tech series by Jacey Bedford #Brainfluffbookreview #Nimbusbookreview

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This is the third book in the Psi-Tech series, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. See my review of Empire of Dust and Crossways.

In a galaxy where the super-powers are the megacorporations, and ambitious executives play fast and loose with ethics in order to secure resources, where can good people turn for help? The megacorps control the jump gates and trade routes. They use psi-techs, implant-enhanced operatives with psionic abilities, who are bound by unbreakable contracts.

But something alien is stirring in the depths of foldspace. Something bigger than the squabbles between megacorporations and independents. Foldspace visions are supposed to be a figment of the imagination. At least, that’s what they teach in flight school. Ben Benjamin knows it’s not true. Meeting a void dragon was bad enough, but now there’s the Nimbus to contend with. Are the two connected? Why do some ships transit the Folds safely and others disappear without a trace?

Space opera needs some kind of faster-than-light propulsion system to make it work – something that makes all those huge distances workable. Many fans will give authors a pass if they choose not to focus on that aspect – after all, how many air passengers actually know the engineering theory behind the jet engines that carry them around the world? But there are a group of writers in the genre who meet the problem of ftl travel head-on and create a world where the manner of travel is actually part of the story. I very much enjoyed this aspect of Bedford’s world. The existence of foldspace, where pilots navigate by their implant-enhanced visualisation of access points via jump gates, such as the one close to Space Station Crossways, makes vast distances and interstellar trading feasible.

The two main protagonists in this story – Cara and Ben, are once again confronting what happens in foldspace. Ben’s whole life has been shaped by this issue, as he was a young boy when his parents disappeared without a trace on a passenger liner – while his older brother vowed never to go into space and stayed dirtside as a farmer, Ben resolved to face down his fears and go into space. Perhaps there might even be a chance that he might discover what happened to his parents… However the steady stream of mysterious disappearances are sharply increasing to a point that the megacorps can no longer keep it quiet. While Ben is constantly plagued by terrible nightmares after his encounter with the Nimbus.

I very much enjoyed this final slice in Cara and Ben’s adventures. There is the usual action and adventure I’ve come to expect from Bedford, featuring her likeable, sympathetic protagonists, while I also appreciated the ongoing changes in the cast of characters. I particularly liked that people who have been through harrowing experiences go on struggling – no Teflon-coated heroes here. The denouement and climax satisfactorily wraps up not only this book, but also the whole series.

Highly recommended for fans of character-led space opera.
8/10