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Beyond the Horizon

Beyond the Horizon (Beyond Saga Book 2) by [Spry, Greg]

Greg Spry’s Beyond the Horizon is the second in his Beyond series. The focus of the plot is split equally between Maya Davis’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore interstellar space over a period of three years and her aunt Brooke Davis-Sommerfield’s inner turmoil regarding a past she would rather forget. Maya, an extraordinary student in her own right, has just graduated second in the Interstellar Expeditionary Force Academy class of 2265 and is one of the fortunate citizens boarding New Horizons. Maya’s fate as an integral part of the success of the mission of New Horizons, strangely enough, seems dependent upon the decisions of Brooke as she battles the Vril in Maya’s absence.

Greg Spry has created some truly memorable characters within a phenomenal setting years in the future. One of the most striking aspects of Spry’s work is the effort he has put into describing the technological advancements he envisions. The ease and speed with which travel takes place and the vessels used are quite amazing. The author’s descriptions are more than adequate to effectively draw in the reader. In fact, I became more than fascinated with the many uses of the “i-cite,” a device which takes the capabilities of a smartphone and magnifies it by thousands.

Spry has outfitted his group of futuristic characters with the means to alter themselves in an instant. Perhaps one of my favorite scenes involved Brooke avoiding discovery by spontaneously changing both the length and color of her hair while she walks amid passengers on a ship. This, one of many other details, set Spry’s work apart from the science fiction tales I have read recently. The ability to instantaneously alter one’s appearance takes the story to another level within its genre.

In addition to the incredible devices used and the modes of travel detailed by Spry, I was enthralled by the description of New Horizons, an entire community created for a three year space journey. Self-sufficient and immense in size, the vessel was almost too imposing to comprehend. Spry breaks barriers within science fiction with settings filled with incredible planets, ships, and astonishingly advanced day-to-day living.

Somewhat surprisingly, neither Maya nor Brooke were standout characters for me. Both women are strong, determined, and remarkably intelligent. Their struggles are typical for books steeped in action and suspense. I felt Brooke revealed much more of the struggle within herself than Maya, though both were faced with demons–real and imagined. Brooke has taken the trauma of Maya’s youth on herself, and it is evident throughout her plotline. My chosen character–the one I looked forward to within each section dedicated to Brooke–is Zeke. His combination of innocence and the ability to manipulate thoughts was intriguing. The explanation for Zeke’s fast-paced growth fits well with the plot and the fear surrounding his abilities.

Greg Spry draws out a complicated plot and satisfies readers of all types with relatable characters, amazing images of the future, and action sequences which are spaced effectively throughout the book. I recommend Beyond the Horizon to fans of the science fiction genre and anyone seeking to explore the genre. Spry is an author who, without a doubt, delivers a punch.

Pages: 366 | ASIN: B01BBIA9DC

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Data Pilots

Data Pilots by [Wall, W.H.]4 Stars

Data Pilots takes the classic “secret level” lore from video games – finding the secret level grants the player an elite, secret status – and uses it to transport the hero, Tom Howard, into a world where his brain is seamlessly integrated into an exclusive development playground. Neuralverse is an open-source database environment set aside for a few privileged thinkers where literally anything they can think of is rendered in immersive virtual reality.

Tom is something of a prodigy. He’s able to master Neuralverse controls almost immediately, makes a basic UI change and is rewarded with praise from the best data pilots in the system. He also discovers the darker side, full of hackers and profiteers. What he does with his power can either secure or topple this virtual world, and he doesn’t know who to trust.

A lot of this story hearkens back to the early days of the cyberpunk genre, like the integration of computing with the human brain, visualizing computerized data as an immersive experience, even holodecks. The author uses a lot of ideas from the past and blends them all together to build this world. I enjoyed the way that music takes an important role in the story, but can’t say too much – you’ll have to read it to find out. There’s also a neat time dilation in the Neuralverse. Since everything happens at the speed of thought, four hours spent on one project inside is more like four minutes in the real world.

Tom comes across as almost too talented, even for a teen prodigy. Everything is easy for him, and he masters complex skills in a very short time. Most (but not all) obstacles provide more than a moment’s annoyance. His skill earns him great praise from the other data pilots in the system. However, Tom does have humanizing flaws that he must overcome. He has a selective memory and does things like ignoring EULA notices as well as disregarding advice to keep his overworked brain from exhaustion.

My biggest problem with the book is that the author kills any suspense or tension built up during a scene by disclosing the bad guys’ identity and intent. The book is full of, “unbeknownst to Tom…” and “Little did he know…” moments that telegraph a critical plot twist long before it happens. The book needs some editing tweaks. The most common problem is putting dialogue from two or more speakers on the same line, without a paragraph break. In some scenes, it’s difficult to tell exactly who is speaking since it all runs together.

Data Pilots is a fast-paced novel for younger readers, immersing them into a race-against-time climax to unlock memories and data in order to protect a unique, collaborative environment from destruction. I’d suggest this for ages 12-18 because I think teen readers will find a lot to like here, especially if they are also interested in programming and designing virtual worlds.

Pages: 130 | ASIN: B01MSI7LL1

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Sprk.It

New Megiddo Rising

New Megiddo Rising (The Apostates #0)4 Stars

New Megiddo Rising is a prequel novella to The Apostates series. The prologue sets the stage in 19th-century Mexico. The Governor of Coahuila y Tejas visits a settlement headed by a polygamous preacher named Brigham Wainwright. The preacher lies to the governor, assuring him that he will contact the American government and discourage the flow of illegal white settlers to Mexican territory. He then reveals to his captain that his plan is to do exactly the opposite with the aim of overthrowing the Mexican government. The story then shifts to an undetermined time in the future, where people have neural implants and live in a dystopian America shattered by war and climate change. The main characters are: Ayane Inoguchi, who lives in a church-run orphanage; Prescott, a Prelate of the church of New Megiddo; Kate Schrubb, daughter of the President, who is next in line to inherit the office; Inquisitor Rodrigo of the Law of Virtue Enforcement (LOVE); and Evan, an “apostate” teen living in the slums of Los Angeles.

Each character has their own story to tell, but there is no overall plot tie all these stories together. Instead, the narrative follows six characters through their lives, and telling us how much they’ve changed (or not changed) by the end of their story. Each person is different, but all are controlled by the Church of New Megiddo. The church controls everything and has no regard for quality of life or personal freedom. Anyone the church doesn’t like is called an “apostate” even high-ranking individuals who become inconvenient. There’s also a drug called database that causes hallucinations and addiction.

The author does a great job of describing how absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Church of Megiddo and the Schrubb regime display every classic symptom of corrupt leadership: assassinations to remove dissent, laws that don’t apply to the elite, Orwellian doublespeak and mind control, just to name a few. It’s a setup that can only result in rebellion and civil war, and this worldbuilding is the best part of the book.

Evan is the most sympathetic character, and it’s hard not to like him. He’s young and living in the slums, but when he is rescued by a martial arts teacher, his skills ultimately get him off the street and into the ranks of the enforcers of church law.

New Megiddo Rising is a collection of origin stories of important characters in the novels, which explains why none of the stories overlap: none of the characters have met yet. This makes it a great piece of bonus material for fans of The Apostates series. Readers who are already familiar with their favorite characters can fill in the gaps in their stories with what they know from the novels. Unfortunately, despite the good world-building and setup of this evil empire, there are too many gaps in the character backstories to make it a cohesive novella for new readers.

Pages: 121 | ASIN: B015DS2FN8

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Game Over

Game Over (A Series of Ends Book 1)4 StarsGame Over begins inside a virtual world created by Sybil, an AI that rules over the virtual world of Elysium. Ekko Everlasting spawns into what seems to be a video game, armed and ready to fight, although he has no memory of who he is or why he’s there. He knows only his name and his innate ability to survive in a kill-or-be-killed environment. This skill helps him win his first match in No-Life, the most popular game in Elysium.

Flush from his win and mobbed by fans, he’s saved from an imposing cyberman—and potential deletion—by Ridley Scott, who tells him that Ekko is an important asset to the resistance. Ridley and his boss Dadgar recruit Ekko for their mission to find the central core of the Sybil system and free what’s left of humanity on Earth. Dadgar tells Ekko that Elysium was created to solve humanity’s problems, including illness and death, so millions of people were uploaded into the system. If humans in Elysium don’t live up to Sybil’s standards, embodied by the No-Life game, they are reprogrammed or deleted by the cybermen. Deletion brings death in the real world.

There’s a lot to like in this novel. The stakes are as high as they get: life or death for not only Ekko but humanity itself. The games he plays, No-Life, Myth and Magic, and The Test, bring the kind of exciting combat and split-second decision making that will keep you on the edge of your seat. His adversaries and allies are experts at the game, and the scenarios Sybil pits them against are both elegant and deadly.

There’s also a throwback to the “choose your own adventure” books that were popular in the late 1970’s and 80’s. At several points in the story, readers are given a choice for Ekko’s next action, and the wrong choice can lead to the words: Game Over! If you follow the right choices, it leads to a surprising conclusion with an interesting twist on Ekko’s mission—and his identity. His journey through the different levels of the game reveals the lengths that the elite will go in their quest for power. In this case, literal power measured in watts instead of mere credits.

A few things didn’t go over well. Every scene that ends with a choice of adventure has an obvious “opt out” spoiler, so it’s too easy to avoid the “game over” choice. I was also a little confused about the cyberman, Naraku Carbon. The author gives him an entire chapter and backstory, but after that chapter, he vanishes completely. His only contributions to Ekko’s story were brief encounters that could have been fulfilled by any anonymous security drone.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy gaming, tense action scenes, and life or death adventure. Though it borrows a few concepts from popular movies like Battle Royale and The Matrix, Game Over offers an interesting take on what might happen if life really is a simulation.

Pages: 268 | ASIN: B01KNJ8WB6

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Interview – Gary A. Ballard

Gary A. BallardThe Monster learns a new word, pastiche, and talks cyberpunk inspiration with Gary Ballard author of, Under the Amoral Bridge.

 

 

 

 

Under the Amoral bridge is a cyberpunk novel set in the future. What draws you to the cyberpunk genre?

“As someone very interested in both history and politics, I’ve long thought that cyberpunk is the perfect expression of class warfare. It’s the post-apocalypse of capitalism – the capitalists have won, the every man is buried and as a result, the whole world has gone to shit for the proletariat and the underclasses. The protagonist no longer is at best an everyman just trying to survive. Plus, the cyberpunk genre fits so perfectly with film noir style drama, something that’s always appealed to me.”

Bridge is a humorous character whose intelligence is exhibited through his dialogue. What was your inspiration for his character and did you pull anything from personal experience?

“Bridge is kind of a pastiche of a number of characters. Lenny Nero from the great film Strange Days was a huge inspiration in terms of the job. A friend of mine played a very similar character to Nero’s in a Cyberpunk 2020 campaign that I ran for a few years, and I gained some inspiration from him as well. As the character’s inception, I had a few rules. He wasn’t going to be an action hero – he wouldn’t be the type that would try to punch or shoot his way out of a situation and if he had to, it would end up being a colossal failure. He would be more akin to the Peter Lorrie characters from the Maltese Falcon than say Bogart’s character. He’s the type of character Bogart would beat up to get information. The humor and wit was mostly me letting my cynicism run rampant, the kind of black, biting humor from comedians like Dennis Leary.”

The book focuses on political corruption. Were you influenced by today’s political climate or was there a different source of inspiration?

“The political climate of the Bridge Chronicles started from the premise that corporations would be allowed to purchase cities, counties and entire states and run them as city-state type fiefdoms. They’d still be marginally accountable to a federal government and would be required to at least maintain a veneer of democratic governance. What would that world be like, politically? And behind the front, what would be the end game of that sort of system? Over the four books in the Bridge Chronicles series, there has been an evolution of the political system that is headed somewhere. That somewhere hasn’t been revealed but when I get back to the Bridge universe, I’ll be revealing a lot more about what is going on that even Bridge hasn’t been able to discover yet.”

I could swear that there was some World of Warcraft references in your book. Do you spend any time playing video games? Or was I just imagining the references?

“I play video games a lot more than I should. I wouldn’t say it was World of Warcraft references so much as Everquest references, though not really specific to either game. I’ve been a long time player of MMOG’s like WoW, as well as doing a stint on a video game/MMOG commentary site for a few years. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what makes a good MMOG as well as where the medium could and should go in the future. The existence of worlds like the Bottle City from the 3rd Bridge book or Ars-Perthnia is directly based on those ideas. Before Under, Bridge was involved in creating those types of virtual worlds and they are a vital part of the hacker culture in that world.”

What else are you working on?

“I’ve taken a temporary hiatus from the Bridge Chronicles series to write a series of cosmic horror novellas in the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s called The Stepping Stone Cycle, and I’ve just released the second book in the series. The first is called First Stone; the second is The Metal Black. They are written as novellas with the idea that each novella would be like an episode of a T.V. series with an overarching plot for the entire season. I’m writing the 3rd book now, and I expect the first “season” to be 6 novellas in all.”

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