M. Fan

Books

This member has not published any books.

Smashwords book reviews by M. Fan

  • Hollow Moon on July 01, 2012
    (no rating)
    Ravana O’Brien is a vivacious teenager living in a quiet life in a hollow asteroid on the fringes of humankind’s interstellar society. One day, while chasing her troublesome robotic pet cat, she witnesses the kidnapping of a young exiled prince, heir to a throne lightyears away. Meanwhile, on another world, a three-member high school band sets out to participate in a galactic music competition that is to take place at a peace conference intended to settle a decades-long civil war. The band members—Bellona, Philyra, and Endymion—stumble into the conflict when they come across an abandoned ship that had been used to kidnap the prince. Hollow Moon follows the antics and adventures of these four teenagers, plus Ravana’s brilliant and eccentric friend Zotz, who will stop at nothing to impress her, as they find themselves more and more entangled in the political machinations and corporate intrigue behind the kidnapping. As Ravana investigates these plots, she ends up learning secrets about her own past that her father, the starship pilot Quirinus, had kept from her The world-building in Hollow Moon is an impressive display of technological and societal conjecture. The mechanics of the main technologies—such as AI processors and artificial gravity—are described in detailed but understandable language. The futuristic society is similarly well thought-out. In this rendition of the 23rd century, China and India have become two of the more prominent interstellar superpowers, and thus many of the planets have Chinese names (such as Taotie and Daode) while the kidnapped prince belongs to an old-fashioned Indian monarchy that had been set up on one of these worlds. Although the story takes place in the future, the characters speak and behave in a contemporary (early 21st century) fashion, using variations of present-day colloquialisms in their dialogue. This makes them easy to relate to and sympathize with, as they come across as familiar and likable. Their witty chatter and everyday concerns keep the story light-hearted even as it delves into some of the darker subjects of bioethics and civil war. With its twists and reveals and colorful sense of humor, there is never a dull moment. The juxtaposition of a high school band competition against the backdrop of dangerous, change-the-world circumstances makes this an enjoyable and unique story with many memorable moments.
  • Shadow of the Wraith on Aug. 16, 2012

    Travis Archer is a freelance bounty hunter who accepts an official assignment to hunt down and destroy the Star Wraith, a powerful but apparently unmanned ship with the nasty habit of appearing out of nowhere and destroying ships. Although Travis and his crew are the focus of the story, the narrative cuts to other scenes in a cinematic fashion. The more fascinating scenes of these reveal glimpses of a shadowy villain called Baorshraak, whose goals and motivations remain shrouded in mystery even as he appears to be the one pulling the strings. Harrison writes with a distinct attitude that is very aware of the genre his story takes place in. References are made to the clichés of space opera, which he acknowledges and makes fun of even as he unapologetically takes advantage of them. Many ideas in this book are decidedly familiar--starfleets, space cowboys, humanoid aliens--but they are used well. There is a dry sense of humor that radiates not only from the characters but the narrative itself, as though it isn't taking itself too seriously. Although this attitude makes for entertaining commentary, there are a few moments where it seems somewhat intrusive--as though it's the author speaking and not the character. Nevertheless, it's what adds an extra bit of sparkle to the already dynamic plot, which carries the reader to unexpected corners of this galaxy. Overall, Shadow of the Wraith is a smartly plotted and entertaining space adventure that takes the reader on many twists and turns--the direction the story goes in is quite different from what is expected. But in the end, it's really the characters' voices--and Harrison's--that make it memorable. I ended up enjoying it so much that I suffered from two nights in a row of Star Wraith Insomnia--the inability to sleep due to the fact that I had to keep reading. [This is a condensed version of the full-length review on my blog: Zigzag Timeline]
  • Battle for the Cyberdomes on Sep. 03, 2012

    14-year-old Kyle Rivers, left paralyzed after an accident that killed his parents, is given an offer he can’t refuse: join the Directorate of Metanormal Defense and walk again. Via high-tech nanobots that work specifically with his DNA, Kyle not only regains use of his legs, but develops super-speed and the ability to read people’s danger levels. Along with his wacky best friend, Ollie, Kyle attends the DMD’s training program, hoping to one day become an agent who protects humans from dangers such as vampires and poltergeists. Not long after their arrival, a teenage girl called Leila, whose father had been killed by one of the DMD’s agents, attacks the compound. Leila is captured and placed in a virtual reality prison, where she must face demons generated by the minds of the other prisoners in order to survive and possibly escape. Cyberfreak Debt alternates between Kyle’s story and Leila’s chapter by chapter, with each chapter opening with an ominous countdown to “cyberdome activation.” The cyberdome causes the real and the virtual clash, sometimes bringing Kyle into the virtual world, sometimes sending Leila into the real one and bringing to life that which is imagined. Courageous, diligent, and good-natured, Kyle is an immediately likable protagonist who is easy to sympathize with, the kind of kid we all like to root for. He sparks with hero potential, following his do-the-right-thing instincts in a manner that is genuine and unpretentious. Wilson’s snappy and witty writing makes Cyberfreak Debt crackle with energy. Between the zingy dialogue and the vibrant action scenes interlaced with sound effects (Raka-taka-taka! Kabloom!), this book and its characters practically explode from the page. And yet he also takes the time to develop the characters, sometimes stepping back from the action to draw out poignant scenes that add a level of emotional depth to the story. But for the most part, Cyberfreak Debt is pure fun—thrilling, humorous, and rather ridiculous at times. Through the twists and turns of the plot, vividly imagined settings, and the lively character interactions, this book grabs you from the beginning and refuses to let go. [This is a condensed version of a full review on my blog, Zigzag Timeline]
  • Kira on Oct. 03, 2012

    Kira opens with its titular main character sprinting through the streets of New Haven, the seat of a totalitarian government’s power. Hunted by the police and government agents, Kira uses her own brand of fighting skills to make it back to her town in the Wastelands, one of the few bastions of freedom in a world where those who refuse the Government’s control struggle for survival. There, she reports her discoveries to the town Elders, who lead the ragtag resistance. Having previously read Harrison’s novel-length space opera, Shadow of the Wraith, I could tell immediately that Kira is a trophy case displaying all his strengths as a writer: heart-pounding action, detailed world-building, characters that don’t just spring from the page, they leap out and yell, “’ello there!” in your face. His descriptions, scattered through the action, subtly paint the world around the story, allowing one to easily visualize what’s going on. With the smaller canvas of a novella to work with, Harrison whittles down his writing to showcase only the best, making each sentence worthwhile and effective. Kira, a colorful young woman with a heavy Cockney accent, is the kind of protagonist who’s easy to love. Her strength and resilience are offset by a touch of insecurity—mentions of her troubled past make her uncomfortable, and she attempts to transition into proper English in the presence of a handsome young man and fellow member of the resistance—making her a realistic and relatable character. Her irreverence and wittiness make her third person limited narration a delight to read, adding a touch of humor to this otherwise tragic tale. Also of note is her teenage friend Flip, an odd yet adorable boy whom Harrison successfully brings to life in only a few paragraphs. Kira is a tightly written and fast-paced novella that’s easily read in one session. In a few short paragraphs, Harrison creates an immersive steampunk universe that’s easy to get lost in and leaves you craving more. The speculative future he sets up is at once bleak and scintillating—bleak in its post-apocalyptic setting, scintillating in its dynamic characters and captivating backdrop. The story is a perfectly angled snapshot of a vast, multi-faceted world, a wonderfully packaged stand-alone tale that leaves room for much, much more. Ross, if you’re reading this, can you please write a sequel? Or three? Or five?
  • Red Sand on Nov. 19, 2012

    The Princess Anne was just another cruise ship making its way across the ocean, ferrying people from all walks of life, each on board for his or her own purpose. Most are neither heroes nor villains, only ordinary human beings with ordinary problems. Then their ship goes down, and a few lucky survivors are fished out of the water by inhabitants of a nearby desert island. The inhabitants aren’t savage natives—they’re fellow Westerners, survivors of a previous shipwreck. Having lived on the island for years, they’ve developed a system to keep food in their bellies. The survivors of the Princess Anne are put to work fishing, farming, and otherwise maintaining operations necessary for subsistence. But it soon becomes clear that there’s more to the island—and its inhabitants—that meets the eye. One by one, the Princess Anne’s survivors vanish, picked off by both nature’s and man’s brutality. Red Sand is an ensemble show. Although some characters drive the plot more than others, Cray treats each one as if he or she is special, presenting the reader with lively backstories told from the characters’ points of views. He wants you to know them before he kills them. It’s a refreshing take on the genre—too many horror writers throw people away simply to illustrate the external dangers. But even though they are props in a bloody show, they’re nevertheless human beings, each with a story. Cray seems all too aware of this. His cast isn’t made of faceless redshirts; they’re living, breathing people, each with his or her own motivations, on the island for different reasons. There’s Howie, the formerly henpecked widower whose wife left him a cruise ticket—and another wife to henpeck him. And Lauren, the coupon-clipping con artist running away to her new life. And Mason, the lonely single man seeking adventure and companionship. Cray lets you know at the very beginning, in his Author’s Note, that no one will come out alive. But don’t be fooled by Cray’s seemingly innocuous backstories. Behind the developer of sympathetic characters lies an unapologetic sadist. The horror in Red Sand is more than gruesome—it’s the stomach-turning stuff of nightmares, largely thanks to Cray’s gift for description. Through vivid yet tight language, he brings each scene to life, whether it’s painting the setting or depicting a grisly death. The deaths are told from the close third perspectives of the victims, allowing a reader to feel their terror and hear their thoughts, which are often bizarrely incongruent with the circumstances. Cray’s writing also smacks of the philosophical at times, through dialogues discussing what it means to be cut off from civilization and internal ruminations on what was left behind. But even knowing the characters’ inevitable fates, I found myself caught up in the story’s suspense. Mysteries abound on the island. The motivations of the islands’ de facto colonizers, so rational at first, soon become garbled. They maintain a rigid hierarchy, keeping themselves behind a salt wall while the Princess Anne’s survivors are made to camp outside. What is it that they fear? What are they hiding from the survivors? And what are they hiding from each other? Tuk, the leader, seems so benevolent at first, but it’s soon revealed that there’s much more to him than a determined John Smith-like survivor. Red Sand is a fairly quick read. Cray’s vibrant writing makes it easy to get lost in the passages, whether it’s the colorfully told backstories or the intensely depicted scenes of violence. It’s more than just a gore fest—the plot and concepts are fascinating. All in all, a wonderfully entertaining—and sometimes scream-inducing—story.
  • Tormented on Nov. 23, 2012

    200 years ago, an attempt to create a super-vaccine turned ordinary humans into a vampire race. A group of specially trained vampire-fighers, called the Ultorum, keep them in check. Over the decades, they have developed an uneasy truce. The Ultorum keep the vampires in check, and the vampires keep from killing humans. Angelina Davis is a stand-out among the Ultorum. Her superior strength and speed are unmatched. Along with her friend Michael, also an exceptional Ultorum, she hopes to protect humanity from supernatural dangers. One day, her friend and fellow Ultorum is killed. The investigation into the death leads Angelina to discover that someone is killing vampires and Ultorum alike. In order to find out who or what is behind the bloodshed, Angelina agrees to go with a handsome vampire called Ethan into his world in an attempt to flush the killer out. In Tormented, Ann gives the popular paranormal romance genre her own spin. She takes all the staples of the genre—a relatable female lead, attractive and charming romantic interests, temptation, looming danger, suspense—and throws in her own mythology. What starts out as a seemingly straightforward tale of vampires versus humans soon expands in an unexpected manner, raising questions about Angelina’s own true nature. Why is she different from the other Ultorum? What do her strange recurring dreams mean? While Tormented is reminiscent of vampire series aimed at teenagers, such as Twilight, it is clearly intended for an older audience and takes a more mature tone. Some aspects of the atmosphere are more similar to Anne Rice’s vampire tales. The main players are in their twenties—young adults, but adults nonetheless. While a love triangle between Angelina, Michael, and Ethan does develop, the romantic tensions are woven into the fabric of the plot in a way that keeps them relevant to the primary story. Ann’s vivid writing brings each scene to life. The scenes in which Angelina enters and experiences Ethan’s underground world of vampires are especially well crafted, shining from the page in a manner only the book medium can capture. Ann takes you into the characters’ heads, letting you see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. It’s easy to get lost in Angelina’s head as you experience the story through her perspective. Ethan, while less prominent, is similarly well written, a character who is simultaneously sympathetic and a touch frightening. Tormented is one of those books that could easily be read in one sitting. The mysteries and thread of suspense running through each scene keep the story rolling forward at a relatively quick pace. Ann does a thorough job of developing her paranormal world, setting up systems and hierarchies for both sides with an impressive level of detail. The history between the vampires and the Ultorum feels familiar and original at the same time—familiar enough to draw in fans of the genre and original enough to keep them interested. Part romance and part heart-pounding suspense, Tormented will appeal to adult and teen readers alike.
  • Temple of the Sixth on Dec. 14, 2012

    Thardriik Jhunassi Kortlyn III, better known as Theak, is an ex-military pilot seeking his fortune as a private investigator, so when he receives an anonymous note basically saying, “meet me at this space station, and you’ll make vast amounts of money,” he immediately jumps onto ship and zooms over. What he finds when he reaches the station is a massacre. The next thing he knows, he’s pulled into an ancient conflict between godlike beings, forced to fight for the side of good when all he really wants is to get paid—and live to tell the tale. Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, Omar and Palitz, two City Guard secretaries, find their planet overrun by undead former citizens, surrounded by omens of the apocalypse. Temple of the Sixth takes its conflict to a grand, end-of-the-universe scale. The stakes could not be higher. If this mysterious, ancient evil is not stopped, everything will cease to be. But why are these godlike beings so bent on destruction? What can a mere batch of mortals—not all of them heroes—do to stop them? Therein lies the epic conflict that keeps the pages turning. Although it’s classified as “science fiction” due to the nature of its universe—spaceships, aliens, robots, laser guns, and the like—Temple of the Sixth reads more like fantasy, reminiscent of some of the more world-ending story lines featured in comic books such as X-Men. Psychic powers, out-of-dimension locations, higher levels of existence, possession—all is fair game. Bit by bit, Harrison reveals the mythology behind his universe. There’s something satisfying about opening a sequel and hearing familiar voices, reentering a familiar space. Harrison’s dry sense of humor illuminates the text with his unique style of storytelling. He once again shows off his strengths as a writer of thrilling action scenes and creator of immersive worlds. In Temple of the Sixth, he expands upon the concepts he set up in the first book and illustrates his universe from a different angle. It’s is really more of a spin-off to Shadow of the Wraith than a sequel. Travis Archer, the main character from the first book, doesn’t show up until more than halfway through the book and plays a supporting role to his buddy Theak. Other characters, such as Juni, have only brief cameos (for those of you who are wondering—yes, Arkuun-Marl makes an appearance). As such, it can be read as a stand-alone novel even if one hasn’t had a chance to read the first book yet. In Temple of the Sixth, Harrison tells his story from multiple angles in a rather cinematic fashion. While Theak is the thread that ties the novel together, he doesn’t drive the action—he reacts to it. Flashes to Omar and Palitz’s struggles, to the small man trying to recruit agents for the side of good, and to the perspective of the godlike Sixth herself give the reader a panoramic view of the universe and its conflict. But despite all the noise surrounding him, Theak nevertheless shines through as a memorable and likable character. Confident, cavalier, and a tad ridiculous at times, he’s not exactly the noble hero type and doesn’t even take himself too seriously. Nevertheless, he does what’s right, even if he’s somewhat annoyed that he has to. For those who read and enjoyed Shadow of the Wraith, Temple of the Sixth, while very different, is a welcome return to Harrison’s world of starships and ancient conflicts, robots and fantastical powers. Harrison’s writing is tighter and more understated than in his debut novel, and yet it retains its snarky sparkle. For those who haven’t—and why haven’t you?—the book stands on its own as a fascinating take on the age-old battle between Good and Evil. Clever, thrilling, and entertaining on all levels, Temple of the Sixth is a page-turning journey through a universe in chaos.
  • Tough Girl on Jan. 11, 2013

    11-year-old Reggie lives a dangerous life in an ordinary world. A resident of the impoverished Apartments and cared for only by a mentally ill mother, she faces constant bullying at school as well as the real-world dangers presented by poverty. She escapes this harsh reality via her imaginary alter ego, Tough Girl, who battles aliens in a faraway fanciful land. Tough Girl is told from Reggie’s point of view and follows her as she goes about her life. She never seems to catch a break—the big girl at school picks on her, the popular boy creeps on her, and then, to top it all off, her mother can’t feed her. Reggie’s quiet, introverted personality is a direct result of all that external trauma. She does her best to remain invisible, hiding away in the safety of her mind. Tough Girl is what Reggie aspires to be. Reggie spends much of her time detailing the world Tough Girl occupies, and the book switches between Reggie’s real world and Tough Girl’s imaginary one. Tough Girl is something straight out of a pulp sci-fi novel: a tough-as-nails fighter who doesn’t take crap from anyone. The contrast between real-world Reggie and Tough Girl highlights the character’s mental state. Reggie can’t cope with the harrowing reality she lives in, a reality she can’t defeat by kicking bad guys. Tough Girl’s world allows her a sense of triumph, even if it’s only in her own head. The harder Reggie’s life is, the more she relies on Tough Girl. She even incorporates elements from her life into her fantasies. For instance, after a distinctive new neighbor moves in, she turns him into a character for Tough Girl to tangle with. After Reggie’s mother disappears, she starts losing control of her fantasies. The imaginary beasts invade her real-world vision, and she can no longer control how Tough Girl’s story unravels. Confusion and bewilderment reign until the very end, which throws in a surprising twist. Heily’s writing mimics a child’s simple, innocent thoughts. The basic sentence structure and vocabulary reflect Reggie’s point of view. Hers is not a very complex mind—she sees things in a certain way and has a hard time understanding anything else. For instance, she knows to fear rape, but doesn’t even know what it really is. She doesn’t understand the advances of a boy at school. She also fears the foster care system, thinking that she’s better off alone with her mentally ill mother, even though living with her means starvation. Reggie is easy to sympathize with and even admire. Simplistic as her thoughts are, she always keeps her head on straight and deals with her situation face-on and with honesty. Fiercely independent, she handles the brutality of her situation with admirable strength, even though that strength is somewhat misplaced. Heily has done a superb job in depicting a child’s naiveté in a believable manner, making the story ring true. Tough Girl is a harsh, gritty tale that deals with disturbing themes both in Reggie’s reality and in Tough Girl’s imagined world. Its unapologetic and uncensored depictions can be hard to read, but ultimately rewarding.
  • New Dawn: Revelation on March 04, 2013

    New Dawn: Revelation, the sequel to James Butler’s sweeping space epic New Dawn: Deception, picks up where the first book left off. Revelation is a story told on many fronts, depicting different corners Butler’s dark and dangerous galaxy that crash into each other in unexpected ways. Butler depicts a nasty future in which crime syndicates hold most of the power. One of Revelation’s key story lines involves a space station struggling to maintain order and create a fair government in spite of the lawlessness surrounding it. Through this story line, Butler highlights some interesting ideas about the nature of democracy. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the galaxy, the newly risen leader of a pirate ship uses brute force to maintain her superiority over the various factions. Deception introduced the reader to a species of godlike aliens—luminous beings who mesmerize and entrance. By Revelation, Gennifer Altich, the woman who first encountered these beings, has set up a new religion around them, with herself as the equivalent of her religion’s pope. She and her followers believe these aliens to be ascended humans, through whom enlightenment can be achieved. Little do they know that the beings are actually predators who feed on the souls of intelligent beings. The few who realize the truth and dare to speak up are treated as heretics and persecuted. In yet another part of the galaxy, another conflict introduced in Deception continues. A race of sentient robots moves forward with its mission to eliminate organic life, whom they perceive as threats to their existence. An age-old conflict between the bots and the man who has pursued them continues. All that I have mentioned above is but the tip of the iceberg. There is so much going on in Revelation that it can be a little hard to keep track of, and it’s one of those books where you really have to pay attention to get the most out of the story. Butler deserves kudos for his imagination, which seems too expansive to contain in one or even two little books. The vastness and richness of his galaxy is truly epic, and his stories spark with creative energy. He writes with a descriptive yet efficient style that brings the narrative to life while moving the many, many stories forward. At times, Revelation feels like several books smashed into one, taking place at the same time in the same galaxy yet independent of each other. Every so often, a character from one story will cross over into another. Although Revelation isn’t the fastest of reads, considering how much a reader gets out of it by the end, it’s pretty rewarding. There’s enough material in Revelation to fill a bookshelf, and yet the author has stated that it’s the last of the New Dawn saga. By the end, all the stories have reached some form of conclusion. Some are tragic, some are triumphant, and some are ambiguous, much like real life. The galaxy isn’t saved—it’s still a brutish and violent place. The ending is open enough that Butler could easily carry on with the series. At the same time, the individual story lines that the reader has become invested in over the course of the two New Dawn books are given appropriate conclusions. Revelation has everything a sci-fi fan would want—space battles, powerful aliens, sentient bots, and then some. Smartly plotted and brilliantly imaginative, Revelation reads like a highlights album of the space opera genre, sprinkled with Butler’s unique style.
  • New Dawn: Revelation on March 04, 2013

    New Dawn: Revelation, the sequel to James Butler’s sweeping space epic New Dawn: Deception, picks up where the first book left off. Revelation is a story told on many fronts, depicting different corners Butler’s dark and dangerous galaxy that crash into each other in unexpected ways. Butler depicts a nasty future in which crime syndicates hold most of the power. One of Revelation’s key story lines involves a space station struggling to maintain order and create a fair government in spite of the lawlessness surrounding it. Through this story line, Butler highlights some interesting ideas about the nature of democracy. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the galaxy, the newly risen leader of a pirate ship uses brute force to maintain her superiority over the various factions. Deception introduced the reader to a species of godlike aliens—luminous beings who mesmerize and entrance. By Revelation, Gennifer Altich, the woman who first encountered these beings, has set up a new religion around them, with herself as the equivalent of her religion’s pope. She and her followers believe these aliens to be ascended humans, through whom enlightenment can be achieved. Little do they know that the beings are actually predators who feed on the souls of intelligent beings. The few who realize the truth and dare to speak up are treated as heretics and persecuted. In yet another part of the galaxy, another conflict introduced in Deception continues. A race of sentient robots moves forward with its mission to eliminate organic life, whom they perceive as threats to their existence. An age-old conflict between the bots and the man who has pursued them continues. All that I have mentioned above is but the tip of the iceberg. There is so much going on in Revelation that it can be a little hard to keep track of, and it’s one of those books where you really have to pay attention to get the most out of the story. Butler deserves kudos for his imagination, which seems too expansive to contain in one or even two little books. The vastness and richness of his galaxy is truly epic, and his stories spark with creative energy. He writes with a descriptive yet efficient style that brings the narrative to life while moving the many, many stories forward. At times, Revelation feels like several books smashed into one, taking place at the same time in the same galaxy yet independent of each other. Every so often, a character from one story will cross over into another. Although Revelation isn’t the fastest of reads, considering how much a reader gets out of it by the end, it’s pretty rewarding. There’s enough material in Revelation to fill a bookshelf, and yet the author has stated that it’s the last of the New Dawn saga. By the end, all the stories have reached some form of conclusion. Some are tragic, some are triumphant, and some are ambiguous, much like real life. The galaxy isn’t saved—it’s still a brutish and violent place. The ending is open enough that Butler could easily carry on with the series. At the same time, the individual story lines that the reader has become invested in over the course of the two New Dawn books are given appropriate conclusions. Revelation has everything a sci-fi fan would want—space battles, powerful aliens, sentient bots, and then some. Smartly plotted and brilliantly imaginative, Revelation reads like a highlights album of the space opera genre, sprinkled with Butler’s unique style.