Category Archives: Science Fiction

Panga Online: Death and Axes by Rowland

I enjoyed Sentenced to Troll so I was happy to check out these two books. While I enjoyed this book the similarities to Ready Player One in plot and characters and even environments are really hard to miss. I’m showing this book came out six years later so which influenced which seems obvious.

Death and Axes

Pangea Online #1

By S.L. Rowland

Self-published

2017

But to be clear, a pastiche is a work that imitates not plagiarizes another work. So I am not saying that. And, I’m also not saying it’s a rehash. It just seems clear that this imitates RPO.

How? Both MCs grow up in the stacks/boxes. Both are super poor. Both have a best friend in the game they’ve never met. Both have a love interest met online. Both have a huge immersive MMORPG with many worlds, each having its own rules (science, magic, pirates, 3tc). Both have a huge contest with three phases and leaderboards showing standings. [SPOILERS] Both end with the MC becoming owner/part owner of the game. [END SPOILERS]

However, it was enjoyable. And unlike RPO, this is much more LitRPG with stats, spells and level ups. There also wasn’t an evil corporation trying to take over, so that was nice.

In the end, I enjoyed it like this author’s other work and will definitely read number two.

Enhancer by Kane

A loser every-guy works as a janitor and tech at a local club and has no hope for the future. Then two superpowered men fight to the death right in front of him, one of them with his dying words telling the lower to take a device from him and run. Ty does and joins the ranks of superpowered.

Enhancer
Enhancer Book 1
by Wyatt Kane
Grave Audio Productions
September 2018

The device snaps onto Ty’s arm and he is instantly transformed as nanobots enter his blood stream and analyze then enhance his DNA and capabilities. When he wakes from the initial transformation he finds his body is enhanced and he has a new skill based on his DNA – enhancing technology. Think Toby McGuire in Spider-Man. He’s an almost perfect version of himself. No longer a loser. No longer destined for cleaning toilets.

The setup is pretty standard fare, but the idea that he becomes a technology mastermind rather than an overpowered superman is interesting. His power works well in allowing him to support and enhance the other superheroes. Where this goes would have been interesting to find out. But the book has several key drawbacks, not the least of which is repetitive, low reading level writing and a completely unnecessary and gratuitous focus on sex.

As for writing, every couple of sentences it seemed that the author reworded what he just said. And the same things get repeated throughout the book. How many times did Ty think that the two female heroes were “perfect?” Apparently, every couple pages. How many times do we need to hear about how loathsome Bane is to Ty? Every time they think of each pother. We get it. A thesaurus and an editor who could help tighten this up and raise the reading level. “Some superhero you are!” and “Get them! Don’t let them get away!” and “You little insect!” (real quotes from Bane to Ty at the end of the book,) isn’t exactly The Killing Joke level banter. This isn’t a big deal though as most books that I’ve seen and read recently – especially small publishers or independents – suffer from this gap. It goes with the territory for books in genres like this.

The main reason I’ll not be finishing the series is the juvenile focus on sex. There are three sex scenes in the book. But the conversations and focus is throughout. Ty and other superheroes who have the same alignment (neutral good, Ty’s case) have an overwhelming attraction for each other. From the moment that Ty meets the two female supers all the book is about is how amazingly attractive they are. Tempest is the perfect blonde. Dina is a deer-kin (her body has been adjusted to have hooves, antlers, and mottled skin). The author obviously has some kinks that I don’t share. The first scene is pretty short and a fade to black type scene. Not so bad if they were all like that. The second is a threesome with some more details. The third comes after Dina is kidnapped and the two heroes are despondent about her capture and not sure how to survive so they take the few moments they have before the showdown to have some rough sex. The fourth and final is a full fade to black. To clarify: Ty has known Dina and Tempest for maybe 3 days and there were 4 sex scenes wrapped around a day at work for Ty and a final battle with Dina kidnapped. It’s all about sex, which doesn’t make sense if the story is the point. But since sex is the point, it makes total sense.

This should have been placed in erotica even though this is mild compared to some of that stuff. It isn’t a superhero book or a LitRPG book. As such, I have no time for a poorly written harem erotic book and don’t recommend it.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

8-Bit Bastards Level 2 by Mason

I’ve never zoned out so much during a book as I did with this.

8-bit Bastards Level 2
By Joshua Mason
Spectrum Audiobooks
December 2019

The idea of a retirement in virtual reality where you can do anything you want forever that gradually gets old is fascinating. The 8-bit Easter eggs and gaming mechanics is fun. But the characters were not interesting, IMO, and I never got to the point where I cared what was happening or if they succeeded. The story is not over in this collection and it ends abruptly.

Maybe this will get better as time goes on. I’m just not that interested in finding out.

The writing itself isn’t bad. The narrator does a good job. Production value is high and I loved the occasional sound effects.

 


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

I got this title as a giveaway, but not as a review copy.

Solaris by Lem

I had no idea what to expect here. the description seems to imply a love story and Very Serious Deep Thoughts. Man was I disappointed.

Solaris: The Definitive Edition
By Stanislaw Lem
Audible
1961

I’m going to tell you what I wish someone had told me [SPOILERS]: this is boring as heck. Not the charming slow moving classic SciFi with quaint science and thoughts on the future. No, this is an incredibly long winded story where long sections are nothing but back story on the planet. At first I thought it was interesting and wll thought out. After a time I just want to move on.

As for love, the way the main character treats the female lead is incredibly chauvinistic and demeaning. Very little actual love. In fact, he “falls in love” with the alien created version of his dead wife for almost no reason even though he loves her for not being his wife. Huh? If he doesn’t love her because she looks and acts like his wife what exactly is it he loves? Her lack of memory? Her charm? The fact that she a fake version of his dead wife? Makes no sense. But he does fall in love with his suicidal alien construct. Maybe. I don’t care. This story isn’t about love, it is about a man who longs for something he can’t have. That’s not romantic. It’s pathetic.

The alien (Ocean) is interesting. You’ll get no resolution here and that’s actually fine. But I’d prefer more time spent on the Ocean than on the constructs. A better solution is the main character recognizing that the Ocean is sentient and attempting to contact it, rather than longing for his dead wife/ dead construct to come back.

I powered through this but I don’t recommend it. There are simply too many better options.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Hell to Pay by Chmilenko

Book 2 of Ascend Online was very different than book 1. Unlike most series, it seems that Chmilenko is focused on the world of the game (and perhaps the battle between in-game sister “gods” Order and Chaos) rather than the players.

Hell To Pay
Ascend Online 2
by Luke Chmilenko
Ætherworld Productions
April 2017

In book 2, the setting changes to the nearby (three days away) large city briefly discussed in book 1, and the goings-on of one of the Thieves Guilds and two players in the guild. It’s also more of a mystery as the story begins with our anonymous hero waking up in a torture room with a new magical sigil on his chest and his guild master dead. He doesn’t remember anything from the point that he took on a quest called The Heist. How a human player could actually have their memory wiped by the game is confusing and scary – both to the players in the story and to the reader.

Interestingly, the characters in this book never interact with the characters in book 1 – and that’s fine with me. This thriller was significantly more than the normal introductory story, allowing book 1’s explanation of the game and the world to suffice so we could jump right in to the new characters.

A down side to this Ascend Online, in terms of LitRPG, is that it seems to make no effort to tell any part of the story outside the game. So it’s simply a fantasy book with gaming stats and some pseudo third wall breaking. Even though it is much better written than The Dark Herbalist series, I find the real lives of the players to add to the main story and avoiding any consideration of that part of our main characters is a weakness so far in Ascend Online. Still, the third book is in my queue and I’m excited to jump in to it.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

The Dark Herbalist series

Salvage Trouble by Morin

From the publisher: Carl Ramsey has a starship to run. Down on his luck, struggling to pay the cost of fuel, he’s just looking for some quick, easy cash. While looting the wreck of a passenger ship, they discover that one escape pod never ejected, and the passengers are still alive. A routine salvage job turns into a rescue mission, and a good deed never goes unpunished. With two refugees aboard, Captain Carl Ramsey finds that his ship, the Mobius, has a target painted on its hull. Someone is after the new passengers, and willing to stop at nothing to get them back.

Salvage Trouble
Black Ocean #1
by J. S. Morin
Magical Scrivener Press
October 2015

My take: Interestingly, Morin calls his books, “episodes” which makes a ton of sense because each story, really novella at about 150 pages or so, are very much like what you’d expect to see on TV, especially the golden age of SyFy’s in-house shows like Lexx, Dark Matter, and Farscape. Add magic to science fiction space ship based television and this is what you’d get. And it’s not bad, but it’s also not deep.

In this story, we meet the crew, especially Captain Ramsey, as they attempt to salvage a ship that had been attacked. They thought it was empty, but it turns out that there was one escape pod left on the ship with a Barbie doll-like priestess and a teenager who may not be who he seems to be. Turns out the priestess kidnapped the teen to save him and to shed light on the genetic experiments going on at their school. The normal obstacles come up – the galactic authorities board them, hirelings attack them, and so on – until an all too quick resolution involving magic, subterfuge and quick talking by the Captain. I said “of course” in my mind so many times during that sentence. This isn’t epic, or dark, or hard science fiction. But it’s fun. So I’ll keep reading the series and see if it develops more.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

A Trap for the Potentate by Atamanov

This is book 3 in the Dark Herbalist series with Amra, the goblin herbalist, and his plotline testers. Continuing after book 2, Amra has turned his sights to defeating the challenging quest to go to the end of the river Styx – a challenge that no group of players have yet won. Along the way, several plotholes open up very wide as Tim has to deal with real world enemies as a local gang takes out a hit on him and he loses his girlfriend early in the book when she completely disappears from the story. The ending – and so far there isn’t a fourth book, but it can’t possibly be done – is far too quick and leaves a lot to be desired.

A Trap for the Potentate
Dark Herbalist #3
by Michael Atamanov
Magic Dome Books
January 2018

Now that I’ve read three LitRPG books, all from Michael Atamanov, I’ve decided on two important conclusions: First, I really don’t think Atamanov is doing a good job writing a story. It’s completely possible that the fourth book will solve many of the outstanding issues, including, importantly, why Amra wins at everything. But I’m not sure that’s the case. He writes women like caricatures of Instagram models. They are there to be beautiful (every woman is) and interested in him (every woman is), while whining and complaining (every woman does) the whole time. There isn’t a three dimensional character in the book. Maybe his AI online girlfriend, Tiesha. Maybe.

Second, I like LitRPG and am totally feeling the itch to play RPGs. I’ve started another author’s LitRPG and am looking for others. There has to be a good LitRPG author and story. I’m a huge fan of Sword Art Online (season 1, especially), so I know this is possible.

If there is a fourth book, I’ll read it just to see if things wrap up. But I have low expectations right now.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Stay on the Wing by Atamanov

This is book 2 in the Dark Herbalist series with Amra, the goblin herbalist, and his plotline testers. This story picks up right where the first one ends with Tim (Amra’s player’s real name), his sister, his girlfriend and friends playing an online VR MMORPG.

Stay on the Wing
Dark Herbalist #2
by Michael Atamanov
Magic Dome Books
June 2017

In part two, other players who watch Amra’s video stream become upset that Amra, a small, weak new player, somehow gets a unique flying mount in the game so the game company decides to put the mount up for grabs to any player who can hunt and kill Amra. The majority of the book is the story of Amra running from the other players, including a large portion of the book where Amra becomes a pirate captain with an orc army. Like the first book, Amra continues his long trek towards awesomeness as just about everything works out for him.

The first book in this series was my first experience in LitRPG or GameLit a sub genere that tells a story through the perspective of a game player – usually a VR player in the near future. Books like Ready Player One or other books with VR as an integral plot device aren’t the same thing as LitRPG. The focus on LitRPG novels is the game playing and RPG leveling aspects. In fact, in this series, the plotline tester aspect of the books was all about the company showing people that playing a goblin herbalist was fun and worthy of their time. The story is constantly interrupted with skill updates, character leveling, experience, game notifications, and other aspects of RPG gaming that gamers know and appreciate. I’m not sure other readers will understand as well or appreciate things. The biggest thing that non-gamers need to know if that the vast majority of how this “game” goes is wrong. No one wins as much as Amra does. Nothing goes wrong for him. Nothing. Even when he makes a mistake the game somehow adapts what he did and makes it a win for him. Real games as grind, loss, playing, fun, loss, grind and loss.

I bought books 2 and 3 at the same time. Otherwise, I’d likely not finish these fun but vapid stories.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Extracted by Haywood

Imagine a time machine. Then imagine checking out the future and everything looks great. Then you look again and the world has ended. Why and how? You aren’t sure so you go back in time to the moment of death for three heroes who you plan to send in time to figure those things out. Of course, there is another group of shadowy, deadly people trying to stop you.

Extracted
by R.R. Haywood
47North
March 2017

It’s not exactly original, but it works in a way. The book drags in the middle and only at the end did I realize that this whole book was only the set up for a series. As much as this book had going against it, I’m inexplicably interested in the next one. Maybe I have unresolved questions or just want to see if anything happens. But I do. So that’s a positive.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

The Collapsing Empire by Scalzi

The Interdependency is a galaxy wide coalition of systems run by a central system where an Empero leads the government, trade guilds, and church. Each system is dependent on the others and not self sufficient – on purpose to ensure they work together. But when the Flow (which I couldn’t help but envision the East Australian Current from Finding Nemo,) that is used to travel to each of the systems because they are too far to get to otherwise, starts to collapse the new Empero faces the very real possibility of the extinction of humanity.

The Collapsing Empire
By John Scalzi
Tor Books
March 2017

The book is filled with interesting characters with varying goals and a ton of intrigue. Guild leaders focus on profits and power, the church focuses on control (of course,) and then the is the reluctant Empero who doesn’t want power but may be the best person in that role since she actually cares. The story is fast paced with a well developed Flow dependent universe. And since it’s the first book, the are quite a lot of unresolved issues to keep the reader intrigued.

Scalzi writes the humor that I expect from him. But unlike other books I’ve read, especially his amazing, award winning Redshirts, this book is chaulk full of cuss words and sex. The F word is in every sentence of some characters and at times overwhelming. The sexuality is common place and consequence free. Not really what I was expecting.

Will I read the next book? Maybe. If I do, it will definitely be on headphones.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.