Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Review - Mass Effect: Revelation

After finishing two books last week required for blog tours, I chilled this weekend with a book of my own choosing (well, I also choose the ones I review, but yanno, I mean no deadline here).

One of my hobbies is playing video games. I got an Xbox 360 last year for my birthday, mainly so I could play Mass Effect, the latest role-playing game from powerhouse developer Bioware when it released last November. I got the game the day it came out (I know, sad), and played through it over the holidays. I wasn't disappointed. The gameplay was unique, the story and characters were engrossing, and it was one of the best video game experiences I've had. The game earns its "M" for Mature rating, and a little of the content is disappointing, but overall I really got into the original sci-fi universe that Bioware created.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up Mass Effect: Revelation. The book is written by Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for the game and also for my favorite all-time game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (lets hear it for KotOR!). He has also written other sci-fi novels, including Star Wars spin-offs, so he has novel writing experience. I mentioned above that the writing for the game Mass Effect was excellent.

I found out that getting a novel based off a video game is...what it is. The book starts 20 years prior to the game. Humanity is a new race to the galactic population. An ancient race called the Protheans have left technology scattered across the galaxy, allowing interstellar transport. Humans find buried ruins on Mars, then realize that the Plutonian moon Charon is actually a dormant mass effect relay, allowing us to join the star-faring races.

This isn't Star Trek however, where Earthlings are the main force. Humanity is a new player, catching up with other established races like the turians and asaris, and sometimes acting like the little kid at the table scrambling to be heard. It makes for an interesting take on a sci-fi setting.

The book covers a mission from Lt. David Anderson, a secondary character in the game. He is charged with finding a missing scientist who suspiciously went missing prior to her whole research unit being wiped out. Anderson must contend with Saren, a turian Spectre (elite agent of the galactic Council) who is hostile toward humanity and concerned with his own agenda, and the krogran mercenary Skaar. When Anderson gets a chance to show humanity's potential by being considered for the Spectres, will he succeed in proving humanity's ability, or will he fall against his alien contenders?

The book will appeal to fans of the game only. The author does a fine job explaining the universe, but I don't know that it could stand on its own. I enjoyed as far as it re-immersed me into the Mass Effect universe, but overall it is only a mediocre read. The characterization is flat throughout, and the writing comes across as fairly stock, cliche sci-fi. The pacing is good, and it is a quick, easy read. If someone really wants to dive more into the ME universe, it is not an expensive purchase. However, I think the big climax was more succinctly explained with more tension in 5 minutes of game conversation rather than in the book. It also seems to set up the story of the game too perfectly - I would've preferred to see less of a blatant set-up for the game.

That's my out of left field review for the week. If you have a 360, don't miss out on Mass Effect. The novel, on the other hand, is optional.

Friday, May 23, 2008

CFBA Tour - Broken Angel

This was a busy week for me with blog tours. Two Christian Fiction Blog Alliance reviews and the Christian Sci/Fi Fantasy tour highlighting Mindflights webzine. Phew.

Today the CFBA tour features Broken Angel, the latest book from author Sigmund Brouwer. He is the author of eighteen best-selling novels for children and adults. His last book was Fuse of Armageddon and his novel The Last Disciple was featured in Time magazine and on ABC’s Good Morning America. A champion of literacy, he teaches writing workshops for students in schools from the Arctic Circle to inner city Los Angeles. Sigmund is married to Christian recording artist Cindy Morgan, and they and their two daughters divide their time between homes in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and Nashville, Tennessee.

Broken Angel has a very intriguing premise. In the near future there are two nations carved from the United States: Appalachia, where religious people resettled en masse to live in a "godly" land, led by the enigmatic Bar Elohim, and the "Outside", a land that the Appalachians fled to live according to their beliefs. Appalachia is strictly controlled. Even though most people appear happy and satisfied, the occasional but inevitable malcontents pay their debt to society by working in the factories. The truly wicked are stoned to death. Some try to escape to the Outside, but they have to face the mysterious Clan, rumored to kill any who enter their territory and the enemy of Bar Elohim.

Caitlyn is a 15 year old girl carrying a terrible burden in her disfigured body. Hiding in the cover of Appalachia, she lives with her father quietly until the day that they are forced to run for their lives. When her father is taken from her before he can fully reveal painful secrets, she must use all she's been taught to survive bounty hunters, the wilderness, and the Clan.

Broken Angel is a book of strengths and weaknesses. The various characters are memorable and stand out from each other. Brouwer creates an insanely fast paced thriller. It is not a long book, and there is hardly a moment to relax, as each character faces trials and trouble in trying to accomplish their goals - from the expert bounty hunter tracking Caitlyn, to the Sheriff and the agent from Outside trailing both of them.

Unfortunately, the book suffers at times from the fast pace. Characters are introduced fast and furious initially, making it hard to keep them straight. The futuristic scenario is interesting but thinly developed. The premise has a lot of potential, but it is skimmed with the pace and shortness of the book.

Overall, it is an easy, entertaining read. I haven't read any of Brouwer's books before, and he is definitely talented. I wonder if the scope of the story was hampered due to size restraints. I liked the book, but I'm left wanting more. However, if you are looking for a fast-paced escapist summer read, this book would fit the bill.

If you would like to read the first chapter, go HERE.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

CSFF Tour - Mindflights Webzine

This month's Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy blog tour is focusing on the webzine Mindflights.

It is a new magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction brought to you by Double-Edged Publishing. We've recently combined two award-winning magazines - Dragons, Knights, and Angels and The Sword Review - into one frequently-updated, high-quality magazine.

I have to be careful with my internet usage at work anymore, so I have a lot less discretional time online. I haven't poked around a lot on Mindflights. They seem to have an impressive collection of stories and articles for the aspiring writer as well. On the main page currently there is a beautiful photo manipulation, but I couldn't find an easy link to art work, which I would like to see.

The Dragons, Knights, and Angels magazine was featured in the CSFF tour a couple of years ago. You can find my write up on that here. I liked something I said there I want to repeat here:
I'll bet that a lot of people out there think they don't like the sci-fi or fantasy, but if I mention movies like Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Star Wars, those same people would say they enjoyed them. So don't overlook sci-fi and fantasy as reading choices, because you may be surprised. And a good, FREE place to start reading some quality short stories to get into CSFF is at [Mindflights].

Be sure to check out my fellow tourmates below.

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Kameron M. Franklin
Beth Goddard
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Michael Heald
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Terri Main
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Pamela Morrisson
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Rachelle Sperling
Stuart Stockton
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Linda Wichman
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

CFBA Tour - Embrace Me

The CFBA Tour today features award-winning author Lisa Samson and her latest book, Embrace Me.

The back cover copy reads, "When a 'lizard woman', a self-mutilating preacher, a tattooed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster…and improbably close to grace."

That sums up the book very succinctly. Embrace Me is a character-driven novel, a story designed to explore the depths that forgiveness and redemption can reach. The plot revolves around mega-church pastor Drew Parrish confessing his sin to a Catholic priest in 2003, while freak show attraction Valentine winters in between carnival seasons in the quiet town of Mount Oak in 2008. The story bounces back between their timelines, as they battle their internal demons. Val may hide her burned face under a scarf, but both wounded souls have a true face they are hiding.

The plotline is a little convoluted and incredible at times, but the characterization and themes of Embrace Me keep this book an engaging read. The darkness that both Drew and Valentine struggle with are all too real and the interesting supporting cast draw the two wounded people toward grace. It is hard not to enjoy Lella the armless-legless woman, Augustine the tattooed and dreadlocked monk, and Rick the contortionist.

The book isn't afraid to ask hard questions about true faith, and the glossy side of Christianity is strongly challenged. The Way is not easy, and it is hard to love the unlovable. Even when their cry is to "embrace me," just the way they are.

If you would like to read the first chapter, go HERE

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Aid for Myanmar (Burma)

For those who want to donate to help the people suffering from the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma), but are concerned about the way the governing junta seems to be hoarding relief supplies, I have a suggestion. The relief agency World Vision has been in the country for 40 years, and has staff and logistics on the ground to help people.

Of course, we need to pray for the people in need and for freedom from the corrupt dictatorship of the generals as well.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Christian Pop Culture

I came across an article on Slate entitled "Pop Goes Christianity" discussing a book from Daniel Radosh entitled Rapture Ready! : Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. It is an interesting indictment on the subject of the sub-culture created by American Evangelicals. I think it raises some interesting issues on one hand, and dismisses or misunderstands other ideas mentioned.

How about an inflammatory quote taken out of context?

For faith, the results can be dangerous. A young Christian can get the idea that her religion is a tinny, desperate thing that can't compete with the secular culture. A Christian friend who'd grown up totally sheltered once wrote to me that the first time he heard a Top 40 station he was horrified, and not because of the racy lyrics: "Suddenly, my lifelong suspicions became crystal clear," he wrote. "Christian subculture was nothing but a commercialized rip-off of the mainstream, done with wretched quality and an apocryphal insistence on the sanitization of reality."

I think this article touches on things that this blog and many other of my friends have addressed. There is a problem in how Christian culture is promoting itself, and if we look like a "parallel universe," it is not to our credit. However, the article doesn't understand some of the topics it is talking about either.

Read the article, and I'll talk about it more this weekend.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Some Comments on Christian Fiction

I had a very interesting comment on my post "The Begotten - Final Questions." I can't verify it, because the Blogger profile attached to it is listed as "not shown", but it is labeled as being from one Anne Rice.

Thanks for your kind mention of my novels on Christ the Lord. ---- And I enjoyed your comments on fiction in general. My vocation is to write realistic novels that are about Our Blessed Lord as both Human and Divine, and to keep the probable reality within the truth of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I believe this is not only valid but imperative for me now as a Christian. In my childhood, we had those big novels, The Robe, Ben Hur, Quo Vadis. We need a new Christian realism I think for this generation, and I'm trying to provide my take on it. Again, Thanks, Anne.

I thought this would be good food for thought over the next few days as I'm away from the computer. If this was really Anne, (and I believe it is), then thank you very much for taking time to stop by and comment!