Sunday, August 31, 2014

Godzilla/Mothra Blu-Ray Contest

I'm not really one to hawk sweepstakes and the like, but this one is near and dear to my heart (plus, I really want to win).

Head on over to SciFi Japan's site, and check out this contest:

There's a lot of great stuff to be won in this contest:

"This second wave features Toho films previously unavailable on Blu-ray in North America. The stand-alone title GODZILLA 2000 (1999) presents both the U.S. version of the film along with — for the first time in America — the original Japanese version. The Godzilla Double Feature contains GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001) and GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002), and the REBIRTH OF MOTHRA TRILOGY features REBIRTH OF MOTHRA (1996) plus REBIRTH OF MOTHRA II (1997) and REBIRTH OF MOTHRA III (1998), marking the first ever home entertainment release of REBIRTH OF MOTHRA III in North America. Each 2-Disc set will be available from retailers on September 9th (SRP: $19.99 each), but here is your chance to win all four for free!"

Check it out, and good luck to all!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Cheese Stealer's Handbook

The Cheese Stealer's Handbook by Shoshaku Jushaku. Originally published by Pretati Press, February 2014. Approx. 112 pages.

HachiSnax Note: I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. And here it is....

The Cheese Stealer's Handbook is by and far one of the more unique things I have ever read. Darkly acidic humor that in the end burns through your heart, you may not give this novella repeat readings but I think everyone should give it a look at least once.

How to describe this work? The Cheese Stealer's Handbook reads less like a journal than it does a drugged-up Catcher in the Rye with elements of Rodney Dangerfield. Our narrator quips, bitches, gets tripped out of his head, eviscerates the banalities of everyday life, and burns bridges.

We follow our drug-addict/alcoholic narrator as he more than efficiently lives up to his namesake (roughly translated as a life succession of mistake after mistake). He lives a sort of bohemian lifestyle, stumbling from fix to fix, planning to write a great novel, but having no idea how to do it. The book starts after one ugly breakup, and halfway through, he enters into another relationship, with a woman way too good for him, and that it is a foregone conclusion he will royally screw up.

In theory, you think to yourself, what's the point of all this? Why would I want to read about this unlikable, seemingly irredeemable, perpetually wasted young man?

And, as it starts, you don't like him. You can laugh at his quips (although some of the humor/situations seem a bit forced), sure, but you wonder why you should even care. Especially when you know that he will ultimately do nothing but harm those that would do good for him.

The thing is, as the book progresses, you see the tragedy of the narrator, of perhaps most addicts, most directionless people. The square pegs. The self-saboteurs.

Whenever the narrator even half-heartedly tries to pull himself up, his demons happily yank him down. After a while, there seems no motivation to make himself "normal". What is normal anyway? It was never a term that applied to him anyway. Trying to work on his dream, his novel, puts him back in the throes of his vices, as he cannot effectively put his emotions into prose. Having something great, something he indeed loves, but knows full well he'll never be what it needs? Back to coke. And beer. And whatever else is in reach.

And then you realize: all the a$$hole-ish humor, it's just a coping mechanism. What else can you do when you have good qualities but just don't belong? Obviously the narrator has charm and intellect. This allows himself to always find a subsidizer/enabler. Mutually destructive symbiosis. Or something along those lines.

Shoshaku Jushaku is a masterful writer in that he either is a drug addict that can write coherently, or, just a good writer that nailed a mindset. I've known people like the narrator. Their behavior gets to be paint-by-numbers after a while. Now I've seen inside their heads.

Credit goes to the author, also, for some insightful and well-placed quotes at the beginning of each chapter. The only other author who I've seen properly uses quotations by Paul Valery is Cormac McCarthy, and that's no small praise.

So yes, I recommend this story, but don't expect a feel-good piece. The narrator ultimately succeeds at one goal; his work does not entertain his audience, but it surely changes them.

Here's what it is:
A free trip inside the head of someone you may have looked down on, sneered at, or gotten annoyed by. A first-person view of the life of someone suffering addiction, and the soul-crushing effects of it.

Final Score: 


Cover Score:

Nice and simple cover for this short tale. Stark white cover. Font looks hand written and the illustration looks hand sketched. But the best part is the back cover, where you find the recipe for Jamie's fudge.

Gotta try that soon. Just a little reminder that there is some heart in this story, even though you might think at times that the narrator doesn't have one.

Cover Final Score:


Monday, August 18, 2014

Sticks And Stones

Sticks and Stones by Jonathan Green. A Warhammer Fantasy short story, originally published by The Black Library, June 2014 (Warhammer Week). Approx. 28 pages.

Even though only four of the seven offerings piqued my interest, I've been waiting to get around to the short stories from the recent Warhammer Week. I tried to start off with Bernheimer's Gun, but, even though it is written well, it is written with too light a touch for what I am in the mood for. Option two was Sticks and Stones, a short story focusing on a group of the Empire's Pistolkorps as they chase down an orc shaman and run afoul of something far worse.

Sticks and Stones kicks off right in the middle of a heated fray between the forces of the Empire and the foul greenskins. As we meet our protagonist, Rutger Erlang, he is polishing off an orc boar rider before being dispatched to kill an orc shaman which has made short work of one of his comrades. Along with his fellow pistoliers (other young nobles led by a lowborn sergeant), they ride off to the orc camp and come face to face with not only the powerful shaman, but also an all-powerful, animated effigy of Gork (or is it Mork?) himself.

Sticks and Stones is a quick, fun read. It is a true procedural, popcorn actioner. There are no boundaries being challenged here. All that is left to the author is making an interesting matchup of combatants, and making the writing palatable. Here's how it fares:

For combatants, we have the Pistolkorps versus the orc shaman and the living Gork statue. This is an interesting match, since it is a play in contrasts of the height of Imperial technology against crude, base greenskin magic. Great concept, and fair execution. I just wish that Green had really gotten into how utterly unnerving the abominable orcish sorcery must have been for even stout-hearted nobles of the Empire.

As for characters, Rutger is a likable enough lead. He is resourceful, skilled, and also lucky. He is not so pure of heart that some highborn snobbery doesn't come through. The secondary characters, however, are simply assigned one trait/characteristic each and written around that. I also would have liked to see a little more focus on the shaman as well.

The writing is strong enough, as Green employs a rich vocabulary. His best work in the story is detailing the landscape; so much so that I felt as if I was riding with the pistoliers. The pacing never slows or stalls, either.

Yet, there are a few things that keep this good story from being great. Since this story focuses on troops using pistols, I would have liked more detail about the stresses and challenges of using and loading flintlock pistols under extreme pressure and against a daunting foe. I know these guys are the best trained in the Empire, just give me something that shows it.

Also, the living statue of Gork should have been a bit more frightening in its description. And finally, there is a moment of treachery followed by some karma-based reprisal. The moment of betrayal should have stabbed a little harder so that the revenge would have tasted a tad sweeter.

All nit-picking aside, at just under 30 pages, this is a good story to sit and read on a (thankfully) cool August afternoon while enjoying your coffee. A nice little action piece, focusing on the rank and file, which is always a plus.

Here's what it is:
The noble pistoliers of the Empire meet their match in the form of an orcish abomination. Will a little strategy and a lot of luck be enough to save the day?

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Another great cover by Alex Boyd. I'm sure that the cover is from a rulebook or supplement, but it is a great choice for this story. It's just that there is something, I don't know, familiar about the pose of the pistolier.

Well, to be fair, it is a pretty standard action pose....

Cover Final Score:


Friday, August 15, 2014

The Circuit: Executor Rising

The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno. Originally published by Mundania Press, June 2014. Approx. 264 pages.

HachiSnax Note: I was given a copy of this story by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review, and I intend to do just that. This is a first for me, and I appreciate it and thank Mr. Bruno for the opportunity. I would also like to mention that the author also informed me that this version was in the process of going through a new editor, and I could expect to see some typos within. There are some, but since I was informed in advance, I am not taking off points for it.

The Circuit: Executor Rising is a solid debut novel by Rhett C. Bruno (not counting a fantasy series he self-published while still in high school) that blends dark sci-fi with cinematic storytelling. It is set in a deftly created world where mankind has left the desolated Earth for a conglomeration of civilized outposts along the galaxy (the titular Circuit). In this opening act, we follow a quartet of players as their lives become intertwined (and re-intertwined) as they are caught in the midst of a power upheaval.

Before getting into the characters and power plays which are the crux of the tale, it's a good idea to look at the civilization the Bruno has crafted. The smattering of territories form what is known as the Kepler Circuit, and now, 500 years into this system, there is a reigning dogmatic governmental structure known as the New Earth Tribunal (lorded over by four individual, supremely powerful Tribunes). There is also an outland on Ceres, where strong anti-Tribunal sentiment brews. And finally, the is the energy source which fuels the power struggles: Gravitum. Gravitum is a mineral that was first discovered within the Earth's mantle; and, in true human fashion, over-zealous digging to mine it caused the apocalypse which ravaged the Earth. It is still a fiercely-coveted commodity, so much so that recently freighters carrying it have been getting boarded and hijacked. Which brings us to the story.....

TC:ER opens with guns blazing, as a lethal android killing machine named ADIM takes control of another freighter bearing Gravitum. Seeing a robot in action is quite an anomaly in 500 KC; their manufacture and usage has been deemed blasphemous by the Tribunal. In fact, any remaining robotics are relegated to the most menial tasks in wastelands like Ceres. And yet, this ADIM droid works with pinpoint precision at the behest of his "Creator", one Cassius Vale. Vale is the most dynamic character in the book, a bitter and enraged former Tribune that has lost all that he ever held dear, and who is harboring a grand plan to make a clean slate. Vale is charged by the Tribune, and begrudgingly agrees, to help investigate and discover the source of these attacks. There is no love lost on either side between him and his former co-Tribunes. They fully suspect his involvement in the attacks, and he gleefully keeps them in the dark.

Before going on, I should point out the ADIM is, in fact, one of the four primary players in this book. Where Vale is the most dynamic, the android is easily the most sympathetic. Somehow, Vale imparted to him a sense of consciousness, and ADIM spends a good deal of his page time attempting to rationalize, and juggling the concepts of forming an independent identity as well as seeking to appease his Creator. I've heard it said that one of the most tired tropes in sci-fi is to have a Neon-Genesis (now where have I heard that term before....) story, where the final two characters are named Adam and Eve.  Bruno does it one better and plays on a God/Adam narrative, as Vale clearly sees beings like his android as the real future.

Now, reading up to this point, you might be wondering what is the "Executor Rising" portion of the title? Executors are operatives of the Tribune which possess "certain sets of skills" to allow them to handle the dirty work that allows a benevolent society to thrive. The Circuit focuses on one young Executor named Sage Volus, a red haired beauty with a murky past and a lethal, cybernetic arm. After a close call taking down a would be bombing strike by a Ceresian fanatic in the Mars colony of New Terrene, she is dispatched by Benjar Vakari, the most odious of the current Tribunes, to get to the bottom of the freighter heists. Sage adopts a deep cover identity and heads to Ceres to see what is going on.

While Ceres is populated mostly by society's outcasts, it of course falls onto someone to pull the strings. Out of the grasp of the Tribune, assorted banking cartels don that mantle in Ceresian society. A scion to one of these Houses tasks a former family bodyguard turned miner named Talon Rayne with conducting a dangerous mission. Talon, suffering from an affliction known as the Blue Death (caused by exposure to Gravitum), accepts, and fate arranges it so that Sage is in his party. From this point, all the characters' fates converge on the grand finale.

TC:ER is structured in a manner that the arcs primarily involving Vale and ADIM serve as bookends. The introductions of Sage and Talon, their mission, and other background information, comprises the bulk of the rest of the book. As mentioned before, the Vale/ADIM portions end up being the truly engaging ones.

The best thing about The Circuit is that Bruno has a definite vision of the world he has created: from the composition to the governmental factors, economics and day to day exchanges. He does his best to fill a lot of details into what is actually a compact, quick read. I will say this: make sure to read the blurb on either goodreads or Amazon, for it provides a good background primer. In my opinion, that info would have been better included as a page or two at the beginning of the book.

To say that the best thing is the world-building does not imply that it is the only good thing. TC:ER is, at heart, a character-driven book. And even though ADIM may be the most sympathetic character, you find yourself rooting for all the main characters, despite their flaws. Like I've said, the best scenes in the book go to Vale and ADIM, but there are solid foundations set for Sage and Talon. For reasons beyond her control, we do not get to see all there is to Sage in this introductory book, so that is another reason to look forward to Book 2. Talon, as well, doesn't get a full story arc either. We spend a lot of time getting to know him, feeling his pains and his frustrations, and then he is out of the picture. Sure to return, but we still feel left hanging a bit.

Bruno's bio says that he is pursuing writing for screenplays and video games. I would say that might be the perfect niche for him. I mentioned at the beginning that the book has a cinematic quality to it, and it is the truth. Every scene feels meticulously storyboarded, yielding some stellar fight scenes (especially those with ADIM). However, at times, there also seems to be an oversaturation of description. When characters are introduced, it is similar to stage directions. I don't mean this in a bad way, since I am glad to have a clear picture of who I am reading about.

Other than that, there are a few facets in which Bruno just needs a little more polish that more books will iron out. Towards the beginning of The Circuit, there are chunks where there are simply too many modifiers all around. As the author hones his craft, he'll learn to tap into the reader's mindset with well-placed words rather than a plethora of words. And again, it's better to have too much detail rather than no detail.

Just a final note, TC:ER pushes the limits of a PG-13 rating and borders on R territory. There is some adult language and adult situations, along with some real brutal violence (which is fine by me). Nothing gratuitous, and all well choreographed. Enjoy this book; I sure did!

Here's what it is:
The Circuit: Executor Rising is a well planned out opener to an exciting series populated by fully realized characters (no cardboard cutouts). Power plays and shadow games culminate in an explosive finale. 

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Nothing too special here, and at least it tries to incorporate elements from the storyline. The font and color scheme are nice enough. Let's be honest; it's word of mouth that will drive sales of this book, not the cover. However, if you want to see something that does justice to the content, head over to Bruno's website and check out the great pic of ADIM there. 

Cover Final Score:


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Death Mask

Death Mask by Cavan Scott. A Sanctus Reach short story, originally published by The Black Library, July 2014. Approx. 27 pages.

HachiSnax Note: The version of Death Mask that I am reviewing is the initial release, which was billed as a Sanctus Reach short story. This has more to do with the cover than anything else, since it now being sold as an "Imperial Assassins" story, with a different cover background color arrangement.

On the world of Ghul Jensen, within the Sanctus Reach, Hive Vinter has fallen to the underhab gangs. The old saying regarding "the animals having the keys to the zoo" comes to mind. A strange mould is forming and spreading along the out walls. And, until the constant harassment of burning acid rain, a company of Guardsmen hold a defensive ring around the Hive, waiting for the miscreants inside to starve and die out.

Out of the sky falls a pod, and from that pod a figure emerges. This figure is no Angel of Death, yet from his actions to his grim skull mask, he represents the epitome of death. With blinding speed, this warrior heads into the Hive, cutting a swathe through all the heretics that stand in his way.

Wait, heretics? I thought it was hive gangers that overtook Vinter? Well, actually it is both. In Death Mask, Cavan Scott introduces a heretic the like of which I have never seen; human worshipers of Gork (or is it Mork? No, it's definitely Gork). These wannabe orks have done their best to copy orky culture, from emulating speech patterns to filing their teeth, using the green mould like a narcotic (to get closer to Gork), and self-mutilating via green ink (the mould again?) tattoos to try and get the correct skin hue.

Cavan Scott seems to have a lot of fun writing for this heretical cult. Through the eyes of the tortured, deposed former Governor Vinter, we see the leader of the would-be greenskins, the hulking brute known as Big Bruvva. Scott also plays up the physicality of these cultists, and, injects a good amount of humor into the scenes involving them. You can't help but get a chuckle at the expense of this group. Orks in the 40K universe are a twisted parody of humankind, and these gangers are a parody of ork-kind.

Which makes them just pathetic enough to be on par with juggalos. I got a good laugh at that thought until I remembered how many juggalos live in my area. Then I wept inside.

It's a good thing that Scott has made the wannabes so much fun to read. This is because the central character of the story, the Eversor Assassin, is such a consummate killing machine that its word count is more dedicated to its lethality than its hopes and dreams. Scott does a commendable job on that front as well; stringing together some bonecrushing action pieces throughout the story. The author can really construct solid fight scenes. Tertiary characters like the Guard Captain and a female prisoner inside the hive make the most of their brief time as well.

All in all, Death Mask is an altogether enjoyable quick read with great action. There are no real surprises in this "Day of Reckoning", although there is a nice little reveal at the end. And, seriously, who doesn't love Eversor Assassins?

Here's one dispatching one of the Sororitas that hijacked the Faith & Fire review....

Here's what it is:
A very efficient assassin is sent to clean house in a hive saturated with ork wannabes. Some laughs and lots of blood ensue. Recommended.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

One of my favorite Black Library cover artists, Alex Boyd, is handling these Sanctus Reach covers, and I love it. As mentioned in the note above, The Black Library changed the color scheme to this:

For me, the green gives it an odd "jungle" vibe. I really prefer the white/red/black scheme of the other Sanctus Reach titles. As for the pic of the Eversor, I love it. Spot-on, great pose, nice graphic novel feel to it. Great job by Boyd.

Cover Final Score: