Book Review: “Shadow Ops: Control Point” by Myke Cole

Control PointI need to make a confession. I first heard about Myke Cole as a result of Twitter because another author I follow had linked to a particularly poignant blog post Myke had recently written about something I don’t remember at the moment. That was the first exposure I had to Myke Cole and I made a mental note that he was a writer as well and maybe I should look up his books and see if I might be interested. Then, some measure of time later, I started seeing my Twitter feed flooded with “Go read Myke Cole’s new book!” So, I went and looked up his first book and bought a copy, not thinking much of it other than, “I’ll get to this at some point because I have lots of stuff on my Kindle right now.” Besides, I felt confident the book couldn’t be too bad because all of my favorite authors I followed on Twitter were hyping the hell out of this Myke Cole guy and I trusted their judgment.

Many months later I was looking through my available options on my Kindle thinking, “I’ve been reading a lot of big fantasy stuff lately, let’s change it up and find a shorter military science fiction book to read next.” I found Shadow Ops: Control Point on the list and opened it up, ready to dive into spaceships and military squads, commanders and orders, and some good old-fashioned laser beams.

Guess what, did you know that Shadow Ops: Control Point is not military science fiction?

Rather, Shadow Ops: Control Point is military fantasy and I sure found that out in a hurry.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know such a sub-genre even existed!

I put the book down after reading the first few chapters (which I was in love with by the way) and wondered how in the world I had managed to think this book was military science fiction. Turns out, when you just buy a book on the recommendation of your favorite authors because they’ve been all over Twitter about the thing, and you never read the cover blurb, and only see the guy in military fatigues on the cover, you can put all sorts of silly ideas into your own head.

So, if Myke Cole ever doubts the power of the Twitterverse… he shouldn’t.

Myke Cole demonstrates at least two things with Shadow Ops: Control Point. First, he has written a leading character that readers can really, really connect with in ways that I don’t see very often in a lot of science fiction and fantasy books. Second, Myke Cole’s command of pacing in a story is some of the best I’ve ever seen. There are no “good” moments to put this book down. Just when you think you’ve arrived at a good place to stop and go make dinner, the last line of the chapter will force you to turn the page and keep going. I was a very busy guy at the time I was reading Shadow Ops: Control Point and I might have let a few things at work slide a little bit because I wanted to keep reading instead of coding.

Oscar Britton has been serving as a member of the Supernatural Operations Corps, helping to track down any citizens who manifested as having magical powers. Well, he was until he manifests his own unique abilities and finds himself on the run as a result. Ultimately Oscar is thrown in with a band of misfits so-to-speak as he is trained to use his unique skills in sorcery alongside several others who have manifested in ways that are rare or dangerous. Oscar and his new squad have an uphill battle to fight as they are frowned upon by the more common air, fire, and water sorcerers in their training camp. Trials have a tendency to create strong bonds between people though, and soon enough Oscar and his squad are doing some magnificent things.

Shadow Ops: Control Point features some really expertly woven themes of loyalty, duty, honor, and sacrifice. Oscar is required to make some tough choices about who he wants to be as a person as well as who he wants to be as a leader and friend. He struggles with those choices like a real person who had been thrown into seismic changes would and that’s a big reason he is so easy to relate to as a character.

The magic system Myke Cole has envisioned for this book is grounded in a few familiar tropes of earth, water, air, and fire forces, but he mixes in a few lesson common ideas like necromancy, the ability to manifest portals (teleportation), and a few others. I really enjoyed the battles between magic users as they always seemed to play well off of each other and the characters were allowed to grow into their powers over the course of the book rather than being experts right from the beginning.

I really did have no idea that “military fantasy” was an actual sub-genre, and even though I read Shadow Ops: Control Point months ago, I still haven’t found any other true examples of that kind of writing. It seems that Myke Cole is working in a relatively new and unique writing space, which compels me to keep reading his work in the future.

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An Update on the 100 Books Read Goal

A week or two ago I wrote a post that discussed whether or not I would actually manage to read 100 books this year. I laid down several statistics, a few arguments for and against my accomplishing the goal, and provided a list of the 28 books I had “planned” to read and get me to the finish line. I also mentioned that October was basically going to be the “make or break” month regarding my progress. I need to reach about 85 or 86 books read by the time November 1st rolls around because I have a full November and I promise I won’t have time to play catch up in December.

So, here is that list of 28 books I planned to read with the ones I’ve read so far crossed out as a way to show my progress:

  1. Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
  2. The Dresden Files: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
  3. The Dresden Files: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
  4. The Dresden Files: Death Masks by Jim Butcher
  5. The Dresden Files: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
  6. The Dresden Files: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
  7. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  8. The Trilisk Hunt by Michael McCloskey
  9. The Trilisk Revolution by Michael McCloskey
  10. Insidious by Michael McCloskey
  11. Industrious by Michael McCloskey
  12. Ingenious by Michael McCloskey
  13. Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
  14. Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos
  15. His Fair Assassin: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
  16. Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno
  17. iD by Madeline Ashby
  18. vN by Madeline Ashby
  19. Dragon Wing: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  20. Elven Star: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  21. Fire Sea: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  22. Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
  23. Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
  24. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
  25. Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  26. Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  27. The End is Nigh (Anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
  28. Autocorrect Stays by Holly Flanagan

As you can see, I’ve managed to cross 10 books off the list, leaving me with 18 remaining. I stand at 82 books completed as I write this post and hope to have at least 85 complete in the next nine days. I’ll be tackling the two Romulus Buckle books and then hope to have enough time left in the month to enjoy Ancillary Sword without having to rush.

It’s been a long month of reading for me in October, completing one book every 36 hours on average for the most part. That’s a very strange zone to be in I’ve discovered. However, if I get to that magic number of 85 books finished I’ll upgrade myself to an 80% chance of reaching my goal as planned.

Book Review: “The Trilisk Hunt” by Michael McCloskey

The Trilisk HuntFollowing the events of The Trilisk Supersedure it becomes clear to Telisa and Magnus that if they want to properly track down the Trilisk that ran away from them that they are going to need a bigger team because just the two of them supplemented by Shiny just isn’t going to be enough firepower to make things happen. In The Trilisk Hunt, they use their cover corporation of Parker Interstellar Travels to recruit several new members to their team in hopes that the right complement of skills will let them take the Trilisk down once they have found it again.

The new crew members on board the Clacker (Magnus and Telisa’s ship) are Caden, a virtual combat champion; Imanol, a mercenary; Maxsym, a xenobiologist; and Siobhan, a mechanical engineer and adrenaline junkie. All of them are required to undergo a gamut of training at the hands of Magnus and Telisa, training specifically designed to help equip them in combatting the Trilisk if they do manage to confront it once more. One of the best part about the training is that none of them have any idea about Shiny until they reach a certain point, and once his involvement is revealed all of them accept it with varying degrees of comfort. Some of them have no problem with Shiny while some of them really aren’t so sure about him, much like Magnus continues to have his own doubts.

One thing that changes the dynamic of the mission is that Shiny has devised a way for the crew members to create enhanced versions of themselves they can use in combat without having to put their original bodies in harm’s way. They can be stronger, faster, anything they need, but then they have to sync their memories back up with their original selves so that they don’t become two separate consciousness. Once they manage to find the Trilisk they take these new bodies into combat and try to capture it, but that does not go well when they realize that the Trilisk tubes that Shiny uses to make their new bodies have a built-in failsafe so that a Trilisk can override the bodies at any time. That means the crew has to go after the Trilisk a second time, but without their enhancements.

The end result is the Trilisks still escaping and several members of the crew winding up dead from the mission. Telisa also discovers that the Trilisks are heading to Earth in order to use humanity as a tool to bring about the resurrection of the Trilisk race. The fallout from the mission leaves Telisa is a rather fragile place psychologically and some of the other crew members wondering if they really want to continue with what they were recruited to do.

The Trilisk Hunt was a fairly decent entry into this series, but I did feel a little bit like the ending tied itself off a little too fast. The development of the new characters was strong as they were added to the cast, but in the closing pages of the book I felt like something was missing and that things were left a little too open-ended. I have one more book to go to finish the series, so we’ll see how things shape up in the end.

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Book Review: “Paradox Series: Heaven’s Queen” by Rachel Bach

Heaven's QueenThere is nothing better than a satisfying ending to a well-written and enjoyable science fiction trilogy. Heaven’s Queen is exactly that, and it finds a way to fulfill the story in a way I expected while still throwing in a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. Devi and Rupert continue to be wonderful, compelling characters, and Rachel Bach crafts an ending to a fantastic science fiction tale that can satisfy just about anyone if you ask me.

A lot happens in Heaven’s Queen as Devi continues on her mission to take down the Eye organization and stay one step ahead of everyone trying to track her down to capture her or kill her, whichever is more convenient for them at the time. Unlike in the previous two books, the reader is treated to Devi and Rupert on screen as the main focus for almost the entire book. A couple of times they get separated briefly, but they are a team now, a somewhat dysfunctional team at times, but a team nonetheless. I liked how their relationship manages to come full circle and return to being a romantic one while still showing that the two of them have grown and matured about the reality of their situation. Their romance still creates a few tough decisions and maybe they make the wrong decision a time or two in order to protect one another, but ultimately they know what has to be done even if they don’t like it all that much.

My favorite part of Heaven’s Queen is when Devi faces down the Lelgis queen and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that humanity will not tolerate being used as the Lelgis’ test subjects and/or guinea pigs any longer. The last portion of the book when Devi faces them down might have been some of the best writing in the entire series. I know that as I was reading those scenes I wasn’t convinced that Devi was actually going to pull things off in the end, but she does and I was pretty happy with the result.

I also really liked how Caldswell, despite knowing that Devi has actually managed to fix the underlying problem with the phantoms continues to see her as a traitor and somehow who took unnecessary risks to reach her end goal. He’s dedicated to the organization he is a part of and he does not want to admit that her approach was actually the better one.

However, the most satisfaction I got from Heaven’s Queen and from the entire Paradox Series on the whole was that it has a happy ending. If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you that I really have a hard time with sad or open-ended endings when I am reading a book or watching a television show or movie. I still find those things enjoyable even if the endings are satisfying to me, but I always like it when the endings have more sunshine and flowers than moral lessons and hardship. Heaven’s Queen ends in a way that kept me smiling all the way to the end of the last sentence and I can imagine the wonderful things that Rupert and Devi are going to accomplish together as they move on to the next stages of their lives, happy to be together, and happy they are alive.

To my knowledge this is the last book of the series, but I very well might be wrong about that in the end. Rachel Bach has tied things off nicely so that another book is not necessary, but at the same time it could be done. If I had my wish, I hope she leaves it where things stand at the moment, but I’ll readily admit that if a fourth book shows up someday I’m going to snatch it up right away and get to reading.

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Regarding the Five Star Rating System

Part of reading books is stacking them up against each other with each one you finish. Whether you then write a review for the book or not, it doesn’t matter. As soon as you finish reading the book you picked up from the library last week or the one you downloaded to your Kindle yesterday afternoon, you are going to rank that book in some fashion against the other books you’ve read recently. You may just say to yourself, “I liked that book more than anything I’ve read in the last few months,” or, maybe you’ll be more specific and think, “You know, that book is the strongest ending of a trilogy I’ve ever read.” It doesn’t matter how specific you are, but you really can’t stop yourself from grading everything you read in some fashion.

In the world of book blogging and reviewing, the five-star system is the general standard for rating books; five stars being the best and one star being the worst, with occasional use of zero stars for the truly terrible. Let me be clear in stating that there is nothing inherently wrong with the five-star rating system. The problem I have is oftentimes the five-star rating system is used incorrectly or in ways that dilute it in some fashion.

Here is a collection of examples of what I see happen more often than not:

  • Someone grabs a book by their previously established favorite author and reads it. Then, simply because that author is their favorite author, they give it five stars.
  • “For no other reason than I liked this book, I give it five stars.”
  • Someone reads a book recommended by another book blogger or friend who gave it five stars and gives it five stars as well so they don’t start a fight.
  • Someone reads a book by an author with a different political/social/moral viewpoint than their own and then proceeds give it zero stars.
  • Someone discovers a few punctuation or small grammar mistakes in a book and then gives it one star.
  • Reader: “I don’t like first person viewpoints.” Gives all first person viewpoint novels two stars regardless of anything else.

And my personal favorite:

  • Someone reads a book written by a family member, friend, or friend of a family member, and then gives it four or five stars so as not to give offense to someone they might actually have to talk to at a later date.

I feel very strongly that all of these listed usages of the five-star system are wrong. Not only do they show that the person giving the rating has no idea how a five-star rating system is supposed to work, but they also serve to make it impossible for someone trying to decide if a book is worth their time to get an accurate assessment.

When looking at a five-star rating system objectively, despite its inherent subjectivity, there are some things that can be established as benchmarks that assist in keeping most interpretations within acceptable boundaries.

First, in a system where you have five options, the middle option is the equivalent of “average.” That is to say, a three star rating means the book was average. It did not do anything wrong, and it did not do anything especially unique. A big problem with the use of the five-star rating in today’s world of book blogging and reviewing is that everyone feels giving something a three star rating means that the book was “bad” or “sub par.” In actuality, a three star rating means the book set out to do what it should: tell a story in a coherent, engaging manner without plot holes, flat characters, or any other large oversights. It could be argued that any book someone starts reading gets the benefit of the doubt of having a three star rating until it proves itself otherwise. I don’t think that happens very often, which is disappointing. I am of the opinion that 85-90% of books are worthy of a three star rating. No more, no less.

Second, the use of “half stars” between the delineated 1,2,3,4, and 5 star ratings serves no purpose but to dilute the system and turn it into a ten star rating system. If you think a book is truly deserving of three and a half stars, give it a three star rating or a four star rating and then explain yourself in more detail during your review. Do not use “half stars” as a crutch.

Third, it’s my feeling that ratings should be from one to five stars. No zero star ratings. I have yet to see a zero star rating where the reviewer was not just being petty and insulting for the sake of being so in an antagonistic manner. If you don’t find anything redeeming about the novel, give it one star and move along. There is no need to be disrespectful by slamming the author further into the ground for no reason but your own satisfaction.

By establishing these three ground rules, the five-star rating system begins to have a lot more structure and reviewers can help readers more accurately determine the worth of a book. Allowing your fanboy emotions for a particular author to grant higher ratings than a book is actually worth doesn’t help. Neither does slamming a book because of your personal prejudices.

Some might have noticed that I do not provide ratings, grades, or any other such system with my book reviews any longer. I had a grading system a while back and I’ve dabbled in the idea of using the five-star system a little bit, but I don’t trust that others will interpret my ratings for what they actually are: as objective as I can make them. Instead, I imagine those reading my blog, be they casual readers, other book bloggers, or authors, will see any three star ratings as some sort of insult. If I were an author, I’d be thrilled if a bulk of my ratings were three star ratings and any four or five-star ratings would just be icing on the cake.

For the sake of argument, and because I have been considering the use of the five-star rating system again in the near future for my own reviews, here are the guidelines I personally use when rating a book after having read it (with included examples of books I’ve read in the past year or so that fit within each rating level):

Five Star Rating: A book at this level has managed to tell me a coherent, engaging story that is free of major grammatical errors, large plot holes, undeveloped characters, and any other things that would take me out of the story. In addition they feature unique magic systems, plot devices, or character development that is not found anywhere else in their respective genre. I read these books very quickly; staying up all night to finish them or avoiding important responsibilities to keep reading. These are books I sincerely believe to be deserving of any and all literary awards they are eligible for at the time. I would recommend a five-star book to anyone at anytime regardless of their genre preferences.

Examples of books I consider worthy of a Five Star Rating:

  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
  • The Daedalus Incident by Michael J. Martinez
  • The Enceladus Crisis by Michael J. Martinez
  • Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Four Star Rating: A book at this level has managed to tell me a coherent, engaging story that is free of major grammatical errors, large plot holes, undeveloped characters, and any other things that would take me out of the story. In addition it utilizes common genre tropes in interesting new ways that keep them from being stale. I read these books rather quickly, possibly staying up an hour or two late, or ignoring smaller responsibilities to keep reading. I would recommend these books to anyone who is a fan of its respective genre as well as selected people who are not generally readers of that genre. These books would be deserving of at least consideration to be nominated for some literary awards.

Examples of books I consider worthy of a Four Star Rating:

  • Defenders by Will McIntosh
  • Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood
  • The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
  • Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole
  • The Stormlight Archive: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Three Star Rating: A book at this level has managed to tell me a coherent, engaging story that is free of major grammatical errors, large plot holes, undeveloped characters, and any other things that would take me out of the story. I tend to read books of this type over the course of a few days without avoiding other responsibilities or staying up late to keep reading. I would recommend a three star book to just about anyone that I know enjoys the genre it falls within.

Examples of books I consider worthy of a Three Star Rating:

  • The Iron Druid Chronicles: Hounded by Kevin Hearne
  • Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
  • Lock In by John Scalzi
  • Soulminder by Timothy Zahn
  • Paradox Series: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

Two Star Rating: A book at this level has managed to tell me a coherent story that may have a few plot holes or characters that are in need of better overall development. These books are free from any major grammatical errors, but may have a higher number of smaller errors than is ideal for a reading experience. I often find myself reading these books more slowly and sometimes reading a better book at the same time. I rarely stop reading these books in the middle, but I do have a hard time recommending them to others unless there is something very specific I feel that person will enjoy due to their personal tastes.

Examples of books I consider worthy of a Two Star Rating:

  • The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  • Moon College by Geoffrey Litwack

One Star Rating: A book at this level has most likely not managed to tell me a complete story. It suffers from major plot holes, unrealistic or unbelievable characters, significant grammatical or formatting errors, or failing to feel like a cohesive piece of literature. A book at this level may also be full of offensive material not suited for general consumption, or it may just be so confusing that a reader cannot follow the plot from point A to point B effectively. I make a point of not recommending one star books to others.

Examples of books I consider worthy of a One Star Rating:

  • Shattered Soul by David Bentley
  • Soulminder by Blake Walker

I’m not saying that my way is necessarily the right way, but I do believe it’s a lot closer to the correct way of using a five-star rating system than what I see happen on a lot of blogs and other review locations such as Amazon or Goodreads. Everyone loves getting a five-star rating on something they’ve written or otherwise created through hard work and determination, but I would much rather a five-star rating on something I’ve created be coming from a place of as much objectivity as possible rather than subjective whims.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much structure one tries to apply to any kind of rating system because the very nature of reading and enjoying a book means no system will be 100% objective because opinion by default cannot be applied 100% objectively. Take for example the fact that I think The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a lousy book when it is generally considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written. Enjoying a book is always going to have a subjective element to it, but that doesn’t mean the rating system preferred by most couldn’t be applied a little more consistently across the board.