Favorite albums of the year, part II

The year isn’t even over yet, but so far I’ve found more wonderful music that inspires me and keeps me forging ahead in life.

Seventh Wonder – Tiara

Lovers of prog metal, rejoice! Seventh Wonder are back. Science fiction story, virtuosic passages, non-standard time signatures, amazing vocals…it’s fantastic either because there aren’t any surprises or in spite of it. If you like outer space, apocalypse scenarios, or fantastic vocals, you’re in for a treat.

 

Between the Buried and Me – Automata I and II

Between the Buried and Me are a different kind of prog metal than anyone else I can think of. They use swing elements. Or anything they can think of. It feels like the kitchen sink, but it also just works. This year they released two parts of Automata and it’s way too big to fit into my head.

 

Kobra and the Lotus – Prevail II


Just plain good fun heavy metal. Sing along and rock along. Kobra and the Lotus make music that makes me happy and ready to take on tasks I don’t want to.

 

Amaranthe – Helix

Warning: video contains blood. Like a lady in a tub full of it, and then she vamps. A lot. Pun possibly intended.
Poppy metal with dubstep in it. There isn’t anything I find deep in Amaranthe‘s music, but it’s good schlocky fun. Good music for programming when I’ve already had my caffeine for the day.

 

Some humans can’t work with music on. I find it difficult to work without! Maybe someday I’ll write music again.

Favorite albums of the year, part I

I whine about there being many books and little time quite a lot. But it’s also true that there’s a ton of wonderful music (okay, mostly metal) I listen to every year. This year brought me some anticipated progressive metal releases and some pleasant surprises.

Kamelot – The Shadow Theory

Okay, to me this album sounded like a second pressing of Haven– which is my favorite Kamelot album, but I didn’t feel like I learned anything new in The Shadow Theory. The compression in the production is a bit much. But there’s amazing guitar work, synths, and the vocals are fantastic. Add in the cool science fiction story and it’s worth a listen if you’re already a Kamelot fan.

 

Chthonic – Battlefields of Asura

I discovered the band this year, and they already have a special place in my heart. The frontman is my grandmother’s congressperson. Weird and awesome, right? Chthonic show the world the tumultuous 20th century history on the island of Taiwan and that the struggle for democracy is something recent and special. This album makes me hopeful for the future. Also, the music. It doesn’t quite sound like any other band. Worth a listen for anyone interested in traditional Taiwanese music or any kind of metal. Also deserves some distinction for the lone woman in the band not being the singer.

 

Light the Torch – Revival

Howard Jones got eaten by stress and diabetes. Being a vocalist has its own perils because of all the touring, and that the instrument is so delicate. So in the past six years, Jones has apparently gotten control of his blood sugar and is back with Light the Torch. Revival is their third effort (this band was previously known as Devil You Know and changed its name when it changed some personnel). I enjoyed the elements of metalcore, prog, catchy choruses, and of course Jones’s amazing big voice.

 

Angra – Omni

Angra offer something other power metal bands generally don’t: awesome South American folk elements. Bittencourt and co.’s latest offering holds together better than most of their other albums. The band tries a little of everything while still making a cohesive listen.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Without a Front – The Warrior’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey

The time and place

This book picks up right where Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge ends. Read that book first.

The suspension of disbelief

See Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge.

The quick summary

Andira Tal is recovering from an attempt on her life with her new love by her side when the machinations against her finally bear fruit. Her resources are depleted, and she has very little time to counter the threat. Can she get out of this mess with her job, her family, and her life intact?

My squees

DeLancey has given a ton of attention to detail in the world and plot. I felt Alsea as very real and cohesive, and the plot is complex but not difficult to understand. The action scenes are easy to follow, and so are the foreign-to-me celebrations and traditions we see.

The love story has some credible conflict and two incredible women, and the familial and friendship relationships are rich and believable. Andira’s lady shows incredible resolve and strength while remaining human. She grows to assert herself even more in this book, and that makes Andira grow and change for the better in response.

My grumbles

The idea of someone (divine or technological) selecting soul mates for each other doesn’t grab me. As TV Tropes says, your mileage may vary.

Some of the issues highlighted in the first book felt like a distant memory here. I wanted to know the status of the named asylum seekers and troubled veterans, since I’d grown to care about them and I thought they were situations that still needed more addressing. Perhaps that will come up in further books.

Read if you

  • Can handle many twisty plot threads
  • Want many strong characters to sigh over

Skip if you

  • Can’t deal with a little nonhuman biology (think Star Trek aliens)
  • Need a quick, light read
  • Are creeped out by empaths

Final thoughts

I received a review copy, but also borrowed this book from the library for the time it took me to read it. Almost everything gets wrapped up in this novel, after three long books! The couple and memorable secondary characters each get their deserved resolution or at least a break after so many exhausting trials. I’m curious to know what will be next for the world of Alsea- I look forward to reading about the further adventures of several intriguing characters. I’m no television buff, but I believe that these books would translate well to a miniseries. Someone pick up that option!

Resources: Author siteGoodreads / Amazon / Kobo / Ylva Publishing

Book Review: Jumper’s Hope by Carol Van Natta

Jumper's Hope cover art

The time and place

About a thousand years from now. Action takes place on fairly backwater planet Branimir, on the passenger-freighter Faraon Azul, and in the city of Ridderth on planet Mabingion, the site of a brutal city riot several years before the book begins.

The suspension of disbelief

Humans have colonized many planets and developed space travel. Some humans have psychic powers, referred to as “minder talents.” These talents include mind control, healing, telekinetics, detection of other powers, and plenty more. Those who have them are often pressed into the Minder Corps of Citizen Protection Services: essentially the galactic police.

The quick summary

Retired pilot Kerzanna crashes on the planet Jess has retired to. It’s no simple accident—someone wants her dead. Jess finds and rescues her, to both their confusion, as they were each convinced the other died several years ago. The two try to lay low and make their escape, but somebody has a tempting offer for them that could give them a chance of a future together. All they need to do is deliver some information. Easier said than done when the baddies are still after Kerzanna.

My squees

Kerzanna is one of the most interesting cyborgs I’ve read about in SFR. Cybernetics aren’t all sunshine and roses while we still have flesh. Like prosthetics now, they cause stress on other systems and need constant tweaking. I like how the CPS deactivated some of her capabilities and there was a side market for restoring them, it felt very punk. Kerzanna and Jess are mature adults who use their experience wisely during the course of the story. Though he’s retired, he has problems due to some mismanagement by his workplace. There’s a bit of upside to that oversight, but of course there is also a price for taking advantage of that. It makes me think hard about how organizations treat their employees.

The villainous troupe is entertaining. Davidro is an easy fellow to understand, and watching the way he tries to handle his underlings keeps making me snicker. I felt sympathy for Vahan, who may be cold-blooded and callous, but has to deal with a difficult job. Renner the electric talent has gotten more interesting through the series, and Georgie the forecaster and the others are memorable. Those who slip Davidro’s leash still have parts to play, even if they pay vividly terrible prices.

There’s a battle in space, and it’s exciting. Keeping track of the minor characters involved there is easy. Van Natta is good at making them distinctive and choosing interesting names.

My grumbles

I had a lot of trouble visualizing the layout of the passenger-freighter ship. That could just be my own spatial reasoning problems. What’s a nav pod, and why can it do what it does in the story?

There are several time jumps near the end of the book. Sometimes it felt like events were skipped over a bit abruptly, which made keeping track of them a little difficult for me.

Read if you

  • Enjoy a tale of reunited lovers
  • Like an interesting stable of villains
  • Are really into competent cyborg heroines

Skip if you

  • Want your heat level higher than sweet
  • Shy away from violence
  • Prefer a primary focus on the love story

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received an advance reader copy for review purposes.

Don’t read this book on its own. Earlier books introduced these villains and their motives, and that makes the experience much richer. The leads get their happy ending, but there’s a twist for some characters which makes me very excited to read the next book. The way the characters have been built over time makes me curious about where some of them will end up.

Each entry in the Central Galactic Concordance is a bit different in tone. This one felt most like Overload Flux, with some spaceboard and plenty of hand-to-hand action. If you’re curious about other books in the series, I also reviewed Minder Rising and Pico’s Crush.

Author site: http://author.carolvannatta.com/

Resources: Kobo / Goodreads / Amazon / Google Play / iBooks / aRE

Book Review: Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge by Fletcher Delancey

The time and place

The time is the far future. On Planet Alsea the inhabitants are humanoids with empathic powers. Most of the events take place in Blacksun, the capital, and the landholdings of the Opah family, called Hol-Opah.

The suspension of disbelief

Empathic humanoids with forehead and pelvic ridges developed on another planet. In the previous book, we learned that the ancient human settlers here might have tinkered a bit with fish people to produce the Alseans. An alien spaceship crashed on Alsea not long ago, and with it Alsea had to fight off some technologically advanced aliens. Now that Alsea has contacted greater galactic civilization, its populace must figure out how to handle all the new technology they have access to.

The quick summary

After repelling an alien invasion, Alsea’s leader Andira Tal now has the really hard work to deal with. Plenty of veterans and other civilians question her methods used to defend Alsea. She has squabbling castes who have differing views on what to do with the matter printers Alsea now has access to. How and when should they be introduced into the economy? The producers are afraid it will destroy their livelihoods. One such producer issues a challenge to Tal to live as a field hand for a month. Tal agrees, and finds new respect for the producers, and a chance at a life-changing love. However, a villain conspires to control Tal, and is just waiting for her to fall into his trap.

My squees

Delancey does an amazing job of describing landscapes and pageantry. The reader experiences so many aspects of society: farming, politics, the prison system, how castes work, and ceremonial swordfighting. Everything feels like it’s been carefully thought out: Alsea is a complete and detailed world, and its struggles felt convincing to me.

The romance builds slowly, and the relationship between Tal and her belle is a slow build from grudging respect to love as they interact with each other more and see beyond their preconceptions of who the other is. Tal’s lady is more than a match for the leader of Alsea- according to Tal herself! Speaking of Tal’s lady, so many characters have awesome and original names. They’re pleasant sounds in my mind.

Early on, Delancey handles questions of prisoners of war, euthanasia, and the unexpected victims of warfare. There’s a lot to consider here, given the events of The Caphenon, and all the consequences of war and alien contact are given due consideration.

My grumbles

I’m somewhat allergic to the ‘soul mates’ trope. Although Delancey handles the relationship well, with the women figuring out they would have bonded without divine intervention, it’s something that tweaks me in any circumstance.

This book is long and ends on a cliffhanger. The pace is slowed down by occasional vignettes about Tal’s adversary. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much to latch on about the villain. He’s vague about his machinations and his motivations seem pretty simple. I would have liked some more details (like his pet rabbit or something) about him to make him more intriguing to me.

Read if you

  • Are starved for f/f romances in science fiction
  • Want to read about mature and thoughtful adults trying to do right by those who care for them
  • Love rich details about worlds and societies

Skip if you

  • Need a quick or R-rated read
  • Hate talk about planetary politics

Final thoughts

Read The Caphenon before reading this. It will make the issues surrounding the Voloth and Tal’s despondence at the beginning of the book much clearer. I’ll definitely read Without a Front II: The Warrior’s Challenge.

Resources

Author site: Chronicles of Alsea

Goodreads / Ylva Publishing / Amazon / Amazon UK / Kobo