Category Archives: Science Fiction

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

As a fan of anime that goes back decades to when I was a child and Macross was on Saturday morning cartoons as Robotech and moving with anime through the decades to so many other great series and films, I was very much looking forward to this film. In anticipation for it, I watched the original 1996 version. After watching the new live action version I have great appreciation for both version and found quite a lot to enjoy, unlike so many other reviewers.

[SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS ABOUND] Though the 1996 version has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (46 total reviews), there was a lot to not like. Like many anime, 1996 Ghost suffered from an issue that wasn’t very clear to Western viewers (why did it matter if the Master uploaded himself into the net and moved on from humanity in the end?) and from a conclusion that didn’t resolve much (so Kusanagi is now merged or something with the Puppet Master? Wait, what?) Even with the lack of clarity, it was a visual feast. The animation was outstanding and holds up well even today. (Most of the positive reviews focus on the animation and difficulty of the film, rather than the story.) Major’s story is compelling – is she human or AI? – and support characters like Bateau and Aramaki are interesting. What the story lacked in final conclusion, it did a good job of setting up several other films in the series with the Major and Bateau working for Section Nine and saving 2029 Tokyo.

The current version, which I will call 2017 Ghost to differentiate, has a lowly 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 218 reviewers. There seems to be somewhat of a switch in review criteria from the 1996 to 2017 versions as most reviewers recognize the amazing complexity of shots, animation or CGI and outstanding visual effects in both, but 2017 reviews no longer count that as positive or view worthy. Also, both films find the Major struggling with who she is and how human she is vs construct (especially when her memories can be deleted at will.) The ultimate questions and the look of both films are the same. (In fact, there were several scenes that were almost shot for shot exactly the same, which for fans like me were awesome to see.)

[SPOILERS] 2017 Ghost takes the story of the Major and expounds on her lack of knowing herself, highlights and focuses on how she got that way – government testing – and explains the Puppet Master as a previous test subject. I don’t like the easy road of making the two test subjects know each other, but the fact that the private company that built the Major’s body was taking children and young people for testing explains more the animosity between Section Nine and Section Six/ Industrial Complex (which isn’t explained well in either movie – is this the government or a company or a hybrid). [END SPOILERS]

If this were a movie without source material like the original anime or manga, then I think this would be more in line with Johansson’s Lucy (67% RT), where Johansson works with CGI and in a science fictionalized world in the future and dealing (lightly) with the complex issue of what it means to be human and the score may have been higher (especially considering Lucy was a significantly worse film than 2017 Ghost, but is currently 22% higher.) But this movie isn’t being judged by how good it really is on it’s own. I think it is being reviewed through the lens of the so-called “white-washing” controversy of casting Johansson in the role of the Major.

I say so-called because that’s exactly what it is. Scarlette Johansson looks exactly like the Major in the anime. So does Bateau (Pilou Asbæk). Exactly like them. Just like the setting, this film is incredibly faithful to the look of the characters and 1996 Ghost. And if anything there is more diversity in 2017 Ghost with several other races and skin colors showing up in supporting characters while everyone speaks English and Japanese interchangeably. I don’t know why expectations exist for films being adapted from stories in one culture should only employ actors of that culture. It isn’t how any culture has done it previously. The Magnificent Seven films (1960 and 2016) are based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and none feature Asian characters as in the original film. This works for movies adapted in either direction. Is it because it is set in future Tokyo or that the original body of Kusinagi was Japanese? Those shouldn’t matter either, as cyborg bodies can be whatever race the creators want them to be and Tokyo 2029 is a melting pot of cultures (like Blade Runner) and shouldn’t be expected to have only one culture or race. All this to say that there should be no controversy just as the original director of 1996 Ghost, Mamoru Oshii, said himself.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) was a dazzling trip down memory lane for me as a fan of the original. It was eye candy with a little existential questioning and a lot of action. I found it very enjoyable.

4/5 stars. Some language. Nudity on the cyborg bodies, but not sexualized. Some sensuality but no sex scenes. Drugs and drinking in several scenes. Lots of violence and gun fighting.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Humble Comics Bundle Doctor Who presented by Titan Comics


Humble Bundle – one of our favorite sites for PC and Android games, books, and comics where a portion of your payment (you choose the amount) goes to support charity – is hosting a new Doctor Who comic bundle! Go check it out while you have a chance!

This collection is in our opinion a must buy. We’ve purchased the bunch and found some favorites. One of them is the San Diego Comic Con 2015 exclusive story featuring several fan favorite Doctors.

We weren’t able to attend Comic Con in Sand Diego so getting our hands on this special was a bonus! It features the 12th Doctor and Clara visiting Comic Con to take selfies… actually to introduce the reader to the characters. We get a very Galaxy Quest-ish story about an enemy that shows up with the convention goers thinking its part of the show. (In another very short story we see the War Doctor on Marinus for another clipped intro to that under-developed character. It is only 6 pages.)

What we liked about this aren’t the stories, per se, but the fact that a whole new group of fans may be introduced to the Doctor in a couple iterations.

Get the whole set for a crazy good price – while you can.

The Humble Comics Bundle: Doctor Who presented by Titan Comics

Truly Dalek-table comics. It’s about time (lord) for the Doctor Who Comics Bundle to regenerate! This incarnation, it’s a multi-volume collection from our friends at Titan Comics. It’s only available for two weeks, so don’t blink and miss it!

Pay $1 or more for Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur #1-6, Doctor Who: Rippers Curse #1-3, Doctor Who: When Worlds Collide #1-3, Doctor Who: As Time Goes By #1-4, Doctor Who: Fugitive #1-4, Doctor Who: Through Time and Space #1-6, and Doctor Who: Body Snatched #1-2.

Pay $8 or more and you’ll also get Doctor Who: The Forgotten #1-6, The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who, Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Vol 1, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Vol 1, Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #1 (mini-series), Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #1, Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor #1, Doctor Who: SDCC Exclusive 2015, and Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #16.

Pay $15 or more for all of that plus Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Vol 2, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Vol 2, Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Vol 1, Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #1 (ongoing series), Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #11, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #11, Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #6, and Doctor Who: The Third Doctor #1.

Pay $1 or more. Together, these comics would cost over $209. Here at Humble Bundle, though, you name your price of $1 or more!

Read them anywhere. These comics are available in multiple formats including CBZ, PDF, and ePub, so they work on your computer, e-readers, iPads, cell phones, and a wide array of mobile devices! Instructions and a list of recommended reading programs can be found here.

Support charity. Choose where the money goes – between the publisher, Titan Comics, and BBC Children in Need. For details on how this works, click here. If you like what we do, you can leave us a Humble Tip too!

Wolves by Molles

wolvesHuxley along with his wife and young daughter survive the collapse of civilization by fleeing a city in California for the wilderness to the East. Everything seemed to be fine for nearly a decade. Then the slavers came.

Wolves
by D.J. Molles
Blackstone
August 2016

The slavers pillaged his commune, taking his daughter into slavery in the East. With her dying breath, his violated and soon to be murdered wife gave him a clue: the slaver who did this to them had a scorpion tattoo. With nothing else to live for, Huxley heads East across the desert to find the slaver and exact justice.

This book has all the best parts of a vengeance Western or Civil War Western plus a healthy dose of the post apocalyptic with just the right dash of redemption. It was a book I couldn’t put down because how Huxley’s sorry ending could go a variety of ways – all the way to the end of the book, which I found to be very satisfying.

This was my first novel by Molles but it wont be my last. I was very impressed with this tense, violent and ultimately fulfilling story.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Agent to the Stars by Scalzi

agentTom Stein is an agent about to make his first big splash, but it’s not when he gets an incredible contract for his beautiful, but ditzy beach blonde star Michelle. No. It’s when he becomes the exclusive agent to the Yherajk, space aliens who are intent on introducing themselves to the Earth via Hollywood.

Agent to the Stars
By John Scalzi
Read by Wil Wheaton
Tor / Audible
December 2010

The Yherajk have learned everything they know about Earth from television. So they know all about sitcoms, dramas, and comedies. They also know about science fiction, especially how aliens that aren’t bipedal humanoids are almost always bad guys. They don’t want to be bad guys or perceived as bad guys. Hence, Tom.

The biggest problems that the Yherajk have is their appearance – as see through blobs – and their incredibly foul smell – they communicate naturally through smell, not sight or speech. Tom’s job is to find a way to get the humans of Earth to accept the Yherajk in spite of the differences.

I won’t spoil this odd plot with the solution. It is solved, one way or another, but that’s not even the point of this story, which peters out and ends pretty quickly. The silliness and spoofiness of the story are what compels the reader, or listener, to continue and finish. It is fun!

This was my first book read of John Scalzi. It won’t be my last. While the plot wasn’t much more than a set up for an odd buddy adventure, the characters shine. Thomas Stein is well developed. His boss and secretary are both interesting. The main alien Joshua is sarcastic. The highest praise I can give this book is that it held my attention from start to finish. That’s high praise in a world with so many uninteresting books out there.

A NOTE ABOUT THE AUDIO VERSION: Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite readers. This is my second book with his narration and both have been very well done. He does a great job with fast paced, witty scripts. I’m not sure if he does anything outside of science fiction, but if he doesn’t I’ll be happy to continue to listen to him in just this genre. He makes it work.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Origins of a D-List Supervillain by Bernheimer

OriginsOfDListSupervillainSupervillainy was forced on Cal Stringel. Just ask him.

Origins of a D-List Supervillain
Written by Jim Bernheimer
Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer
Self Published
July 2014

Stringel is an engineer at Promethia Corporation, the home of Ultraweapon, an Iron Man like battle suit worn by the rich CEO. He becomes disgruntled when his work product is copyrighted by the corporation instead of giving him credit. (Never mind that the reason is actually pretty good: do you really want the bad guys to know you were the inventor of the weapons that stopped them?) Stringel decides he will quit Promethia and get another job where he is better recognized for his genius. The only problem is that Promethia has the ability to stop him from getting any job at any other company as an engineer. In fact, since so many engineers have left Promethia recently, the lawyers at the corporation decide to use Stringel as an example of what happens to quitters.

Blacklisted and ostracized from any good paying company in engineering, Stringel gets jobs wherever he can, like a strip club and a small auto shop. When the rich owner of a car he is working on dies, he decides that fate (and Promethia) have given him no choice. He will have to build his own suit of armor and get back at the evil (good guy) corporation. Never mind that he is an incredibly inept genius.

The rest of the novel is over the top hilarity, ala Mr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, where Stringel does his best to get back to Promethia while also trying to perfect his own battle suit. Bernheimer writes a very funny loveable loser and it can be very easy to forget that Stringel is the bad guy and to start to root for him. There are laugh out loud and also cringe worthy moments.

This book, Origins of a D-List Supervillain, is written after 2011’s first book, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, which would be the second in a trilogy, and before the newest entry, the third in the trilogy, 2015’s Secrets of a D-List Supervillain. Normally the first book written in a series works as a jump off point, but Origins is the right one to start with because Origins doesn’t so much as end as stop. Having not read Confessions I can only assume that it starts immediately after the cliff hanger ending.

In the end, I am definitely looking forward to the second and third books in the series. This is the second book I’ve read of Bernheimer’s, after Prime Suspects, and both have been very enjoyable reads. The narrator Kafer does an excellent job maneuvering between the silliness, melodrama and pomp of the characters in this book.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Prime Suspects by Bernheimer

primeA fun hard boiled whodunit with a protagonist who plays the part well while waiting to wake up from the nightmare he finds himself in: he’s a clone. The 42nd clone in his line. His “Prime” or the human who he and his brothers are cloned from has been killed. By one of his brothers. Since he was literally born today, he’s the only non-suspect among them.

Prime Suspects
A Clone Detective Mystery
EJB Networking
by Jim Bernheimer
read by Jeffrey Kafer
August 2012

While there is some interesting world building going on here, the main thing that sets this book apart from so many other sci fi novels is that it is fun! Not kitschy or corny fun. It’s solidly rooted in Maltese Falcon-esque detective stories but constant references to Hitchikers, in jokes and the extremely fast pace had me hooked from the start. I’m actually reading another science fiction suspense story by an author that I really enjoy – I’m enjoying that book as well – but when I had to make time for one of them I chose this one. In fact, I chose this one and listened to the whole audio in only a couple days.

I don’t know if there are other books in this series or world, but it is ripe for others. The clone economy is something I haven’t read before and was well done. I’ll definitely check out more books from this author.

A note about the audio version: Jeffrey Kafer was great! His quick, flat and sometimes monotone detective voice fit the mold of how I expected 42 to speak. The one thing I would have liked is a slightly longer pause when moving through a break. Chapter breaks were clear, but internal breaks (where you’d see a couple of blank lines in the text allowing the story to quickly progress or change to another location or character) weren’t. So occasionally, I’d find the story going in a new direction and not understand what was happening at first. One more beat of silence would have been perfect.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Emperor’s Railroad by Haley

emperorA slow moving novella that leaves the reader wanting more.

The Emperor’s Railroad
by Guy Haley
read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Macmillan Audio / Tor
April 2016

UPDATE: The previous version of this review was based on a copy where there were parts of the audio book missing from the recording. The whole fight with the [SPOILERS] dragon was MIA. [END SPOILERS] It turns out there was a glitch in the audio book format causing a large, important portion to be cut out. If you are missing the fight then delete and redownload your Audible book to fix. Trust me, this new (full) version makes a huge difference in the story and enjoyment thereof.

Without giving too much away, [BUT SPOILERS ARE POSSIBLE] this story starts out with Abney, our narrator, and his mother on the road fleeing their home city, which was overrun by the dead (zombies, but slightly different.) Their wagon hit a pothole, broke an axle and their driver, a postman, has broken his neck and passed away. Into this dire predicament rides Quinn, a knight of the “dreaming city of Atlantis.” Quinn agrees to take the two survivors to a settlement north of Charleston in the Kingdom of Virginia.

Along the way we run into a few zombies, a railroad with carts that are driven by teams of animals rather than steam, and a town with hydro-electricity. [CLEAR SPOILERS] At the end there is a battle with the dragon – who is the physical embodiment of punishment by the “angels.” We are left with a lot of questions in the end.

Where is Atlantis? What are “Angels?” What exactly is the dragon? How do the Angels control the dead and the dragons? Why are there knights with swords when guns exist? Very little is answered here. And in fact, this novella is one of two (later in 2016) intended, it seems, to whet the appetite of this new fantasy world centered on the exploits of Quinn. Like an old fashioned Western film, the hero rides off at the end, but unlike a Western, there is clearly more to this story. [END SPOILERS]

When I read the description of a post-apocalyptic world with zombies, angels, dragons and knights I was intrigued. It’s more than that though. It’s methodical, slow paced and at worst times prodding and at best wistful. We don’t know much about what happens prior to or after this story, but we get an interesting primer into what to expect going forward. As Abney says in his final words, “I know that out there Quinn carried on his search. What was he looking for? I don’t know. It bothered me for years that I never found out. I guess I made my peace with that. Maybe he found ’em. Maybe he didn’t. Whatever fortune did to Quinn, wherever he went and why I’m sure as the good lord is enthroned in Heaven that someone, somewhere knows what happened to Quinn next… if you find out, stop by my grave and whisper it to the earth when you come home. It will be much appreciated.”

Note about the reader (audio book version): Reynolds does an outstanding job on his Virginia drawl and slow, methodical narration. The complexity of his gravelly and at times gentile voice worked really well as the voice of an older Abney. Very easy to listen to.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Off to be the Wizard by Meyer

Martin was a completely normal geek. Until he found a hidden program and became a god.

Off to be the Wizard
Magic 2.0 #1
by Scott Meyer
narrated by Luke Daniels
Brilliance Audio
March 2014

The hidden file was on a hidden server and looked completely harmless. It seemed to contain random numbers and words, but Martin’s habit of searching for himself turned into the discovery of a lifetime. Or well, all life times. His name was there. And with some fidgeting and problem solving so was his age, weight and height, and – interestingly – his bank account balance. After thinking he was going crazy when messing with his height in the machine and seeming to actually change height, he changed the amount in there and checked. His bank reflected what the file said. In fact, everything in the file changed “reality.”

Quickly finding ways to shut down aging and making himself impervious to injury, he decides to make his life easy – way easy – by giving himself a lot of extra money. Of course, banks and the Fed have questions when bank accounts start getting money with no deposits. So they come a calling leaving Martin the option of trying to explain this to them or running to a safe place and time. He chooses England in the middle ages.

Thinking he would wow the residents of the first town he comes upon he quickly finds that he isn’t the only “wizard” who had the idea to go back and time and live like a king. He just happens to be the most recent hacker to find the file. Navigating friends from foes, keeping the “wizard” powers secret and living life as he wants to is going to be hard but with almost unlimited power, money and time, Martin looks forward to the challenge.

This very funny book, similar to Robert Asprin’s Myth books, with interesting comedic characters that exist mostly for the silliness of living in a Matrix-type world that they can control. Whether Martin defeats the evil [SPOILER] Merlin [END SPOILER} or not isn’t really the point. It’s the journey rather than the destination. And I enjoyed every minute of this laugh out loud journey.

A NOTE ABOUT THE AUDIO: Luke Daniels does a great job with differentiating voices, pacing of sentences, evenness of volume and – importantly – in comedic timing. His voice still comes into my head at times during the day, “Marrrtiiiin!” Excellent job.

The Eighth Day by John

eighthShawn Jaffe had just talked to the man staring with dead eyes at the ceiling with the bullet hole in his chest. He had said, “Nothing you know is real” (p2), which would have been easy to ignore if not for his sudden murder.

The Eighth Day
by Joseph John
Obsidian Dawn
April 2016

[SLIGHT SPOILERS] The events in the café set in motion a series of intriguing and frustrating attempts by Jaffe and Detective Harrington to figure out what was going on. Bodies disappear. Attempts are made on their lives. Lives are digitally erased. And then an unthinkable murder / suicide takes place and it all unravels even more. [END SPOILERS]

Part detective and part science fiction, John’s novel is the written equivalent of a Bruckheimer popcorn summer movie. It’s fast, moves faster, and includes lots of “on screen” violence. John does an excellent job keeping the reader guessing and even when we understand we are still engaged in the resolution – one that is highly satisfying in terms of pure aggression and excitement.

It is surprising to find a novel by a first time author that has the polish this one does. It’s slick and easy to read, deftly builds a world 25 years in the future, including future past events without being heavy handed about them. Some things may not fit exactly (will we still carry physical mobile phones in 25 years? Probably not) but it flows easily. There isn’t much work to imagine this world of the future, which allows the reader to enjoy the show without getting bogged down.

This is a very strong first novel. Science Fiction and action fans of summer blockbusters will definitely enjoy it.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Admiral by Danker

Admiral“Admiral?” I blinked, taken aback… “I’ll be damned,” I said gazing at it.”I’ve been promoted…”(p5* galley; subject to change).

Admiral
An Evagardian Novel
by Sean Danker
ROC
May 2016

The Admiral awakes on ship he shouldn’t be on, with a title he didn’t remember having, with three trainees who shouldn’t be there, somewhere they shouldn’t be in space and apparently alone. It looks like someone sabotaged things on the ship, and one of the trainees in particular thinks it is the “Admiral.” Not only does he need to figure out where they are, what they are doing there, and how they got there but also stave off the trainee and keep them all from panicking.

The frantic pace of this book takes the reader from problem to problem, from possible solution to another problem. It harkens back to the very best intentions of survival horror or apocalyptic stories where a small band of survivors try to save themselves with limited time and resources. Like the first few episodes of Stargate Universe, where the ship needed life supporting power, then water and food, then location and so on, this story moves from location to location and just when we think there is a solution, things change for the worst.

The general lack of understanding of the characters and who they are drives the story rather than hinders it. Especially the Admiral, who has secrets very early on but aren’t explained to the reader until the end. Unlike some survival stories that stick with a single genre this book moves from that genre to others in a universe that the author builds thoroughly and well. By the end readers are ready for a sequel that will be a much different type of book than this one, but with a hero they can get behind.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.