Saturday, 30 November 2013

Books Received in November 2013

These are the books I was sent this month.  They're all continuations of series, so instead of putting their descriptions here, I'm linking them to where you can find out what the first book is about.

 Allegiance by Beth Bernobich, the conclusion of the story from Passion Play and Queen's Hunt.

Copperhead by Tina Connolly, sequel to Ironskin.

Esrever Doom by Piers Anthony, latest in the Xanth series.  Here's its synopsis, since it won't spoil what's happened in the previous books:

Kody woke up in a hospital bed, not knowing how he got there. Before his questions could be answered, he was told that he was about to undergo surgery, and that there could be some side effects.... And then he woke up again, this time in Xanth.

Kody is the only person in Xanth who has not been affected by a dreadful spell that reverses how people see each other. What was adorable is now loathsome. What was ugly is now beautiful. What was loved is now hated. Kody has clearly arrived just in time Only he has any hope of reversing the spell, turning Esrever Doom into Reverse Mood.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Recommended Reading by Professionals... with Andrew Post

In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven't received the recognition they deserve.

Today's recommendations are by Andrew Post. Andrew Post has been writing science fiction and horror stories for years and has been published in several literary magazines. His first novel, Knuckleduster, came out last year. His second book, Fabrick, was released earlier this month.

  1. With Simon West-Bulford’s The Soul Consortium, readers are taken on an extraordinary journey beyond death with Salem Ben. While scouring through multiple lives, he discovers a terrifying recurring element—a malevolent entity who never seems to age who’s managed to sprinkle himself throughout time. Combining hard sci-fi with a dollop of horror, The Soul Consortium’s wondrous, lyrical prose and excellent pacing (a hard combination to achieve, any writer will tell you) make this an absolutely fantastic debut.
  2. Sam Thorton, hard-bitten protag of Chris F. Holm’s The Collector series (Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye, and The Big Reap), is one of the most engaging and interesting main characters I’ve come across in a long time. Mixing noir and horror may not be a completely fresh idea, but Holm, makes it feel like it’s never been done before—and with astoundingly page-turning results.
  3. In a city that’s been built up rather than out, pain mage Rojan Dizon accepts an assignment that’ll take him to a variety of depths. Fade to Black by Francis Knight is a rollicking steampunk-but-not-quite thriller that glows with fabulous characters, a speedy pace, and Knight’s unmatched world-building. Continuing with Before the Fall and Last to Rise (set to release later this month), readers will have plenty more adventures after Fade to Black with the likeable pain mage.

Stay tuned for the next post for more reading recommendations!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Movie Review: Ender’s Game

Directed by: Gavin Hood, 2013

Pros: great special effects, maintains tone of book, diverse cast

Cons: condensed timeline means less development of plot and characters than the movie deserved

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is recruited for battle school and training to be a general in Earth’s fight against the alien Formics.

I give the film kudos for not only keeping the tone of the book but squishing in all the major elements of the novel.  The main downside of this is that there isn’t time for the character development and relationships that made the book interesting.  I’d have loved seeing more of the battle school training battles, with Ender developing his leadership skills and bonding with his team over their triumphs. 

I felt that Harrison Ford did a fantastic job as Colonel Graff.  His character is cold, but there are hints that he understands what he’s doing to his young charges, and regrets it.  One of his scenes pretty much gives away the ending's twist, assuming you don't already know what's coming.

Butterfield is a great Ender, wanting affection but waffling between anger and compassion in how he deals with the trials he faces.  I don't know how they made him look 10 years old, considering the actor's 16, but they did and he looks suitably pathetic when necessary.

I loved that the cast was multi-racial, with people of all backgrounds - and genders - in all positions.  I also loved how Bonzo (Moises Arias), one of Ender’s commanders - and bullies - is shorter than him, if significantly more muscular.

The special effects were well done.  I loved the computer screens and their hand manipulation of them.  And the training room looked great, though it was underused.

This is a film that would have benefited from being an hour longer.  While it touches on all the major events of the book, there’s little time for the character development and friendships that the book depends on.  There's little of his relationship with Valentine and Peter, his siblings who - in the novel - shape Ender the most.  Similarly, there are some scenes that depend on your knowledge of the book for full understanding.  

Ultimately, I enjoyed the film and would definitely see it again.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Video: Rhys Darby's Reasons to be Scared of the Future

You might recognize Rhys Darby as Murray from the Flight of the Conchords TV show.  He's got a new show at where, from his fall out shelter, he details reasons to be scared of the future.  There are 3 episodes so far where he talks about Skynet (embedded below), insane computers, and jelly fish.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Book Review: The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

Pros: rolicking adventure, fun characters, brilliant antagonist, afterword include source materials for research

Cons: Sabirah’s character felt superfluous

A fortune teller’s prophecy and a theft at Jaffar’s palace, send Jaffar’s captain of the guard, Asim el Abbas, and his scholar, Dabir ibn Khalil, on a quest to retrieve a magical artifact.  

This book is a fun adventure story set in the eighth century Abbasid caliphate of Haroun al-Rashid.  Told from Asim’s point of view, there are several fights, kidnapping, magic, monsters, and more.  It’s a fast paced book with a highly intelligent antagonist, so things very often don’t go well for our heroes.

My only complaint with the book was that Sabirah, an intelligent woman with an eidetic memory, is only there as a student / accused love interest (though the latter isn’t a focus of the story, merely a complication for one of the protagonists) and kidnap victim.  She helps out with information on one occasion but is otherwise a tagalong on the quest.

Still, it’s a great book and the afterword explains some of the history vs fantasy as well as gives historical sources should you wish to learn more about this era and its people.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Shout-Out: The Eidolon by Libby McGugan

Here's another book that's come out recently that sounds interesting.

A contemporary SF thriller. The divide between science and the human spirit is the setting for a battle for the future.
When physicist Robert Strong loses his job at the Dark Matter research lab and his relationship falls apart, he returns home to Scotland. Then the dead start appearing to him, and Robert begins to question his own sanity. Victor Amos, an enigmatic businessman, arrives and recruits Robert to sabotage CERN'S Large Hadron Collider, convincing him the next step in the collider's research will bring about disaster. Everything Robert once understood about reality, and the boundaries between life and death, is about to change forever. And the biggest change will be to Robert himself... Mixing science, philosophy and espionage, Libby McGugan's stunning debut is a thriller like no other.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Author Interview: Ann Leckie

Novel: Ancillary Justice

Short Stories: Numerous.  Check out her bibliography.


> What is Ancillary Justice about? 

Ancillary Justice is about a starship that once had thousands of human bodies as part of itself. Treachery has destroyed all but one of those bodies, and she's out for revenge on those who destroyed her.

> Where did you get the idea to write about a warship trapped in a human body?

I started, long ago, with the idea of human bodies as avatars of artificial intelligences.  Of course, one could grow those bodies, but taking them over by force provides extra drama, so I played with that for a while. And then, of course, I began to wonder what would happen if all of such an entity was destroyed except one of those bodies. Who would it be who was left?

> What made you want to be a writer?

I'm one of those people who has wished to be a writer since childhood. This may be because my parents always encouraged it--they assumed I would be someday. My mother explained standard manuscript format to me when I was about eight, on the assumption that it was one of those things I would need to know. And it was helpful, actually--even though at the time everyone used typewriters, standard manuscript format has changed very little.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Probably not. First of all, I make their lives way too difficult--as difficult as possible. Because that's where stories are, right? But also, when I was in high school and thinking of what a failure I would surely be as an adult and how inadequate I was bound to be at life in general, I had a moment when I was looking in the mirror wishing I were someone else. And then, for some reason, suddenly I realized that if I were someone else, I wouldn't exist--and I found I didn't like that thought. That, whatever my problems, really I wanted to be me. It sounds foolish and adolescent because, you know, it totally was. But it was something that stuck with me, and I've had times when I've had to remind myself of it. 

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

That would be a massive spoiler! It's the scene where the thing happens that is the reason Breq is doing what she's doing. I knew that if I didn't get that moment right, if the reader didn't completely believe that scene, the whole book would collapse in a heap, because nothing Breq did, throughout the entire rest of the novel, would convince. There was a lot of staring at the monitor and pulling my hair and swearing and panicking, while I worked on it.

> As you write both, beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

I find novels much easier! If you're trying to write under a word limit, so much awesome has to go! And some of my favorite stuff, not just as a writer but as a reader, is that extra stuff. The cool worldbuilding details or whatever. And I find my ideas tend to be elaborate--cutting them down to short story size can be very frustrating.

I also find myself worrying about length when I'm trying to do short fiction, which adds another layer of anxiety to the process. With a novel there's enough room that I can feel comfortable stretching out and then going back later and paring down if I need to.

> When and where do you write?

I try to write daily--though I don't always succeed. I'm lucky enough to have the house to myself during most days, and I have an office in my basement that my awesome husband built for me. But distractions do arise, more often than I'd like.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing is that it's so darn fun. I mean, I get to make cool stuff up and put it down on paper! The worst is the uncertainty--there's no way to know if what I'm doing is going to ever be read by anyone else, whether it's going to sell, whether anyone else will like it at all. And the internal critic comes along with that, the little voice that keeps muttering about how I stink, I have no ability, what I'm working on is stupid, etc. I hate that.  

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

So, I actually knew a fair amount going in. My approach to things is generally pretty research-intensive, and so I'd spent some time talking to people and reading blogs and such, and already had a fair idea of the general process.  It's been the little details that have been a discovery for me--the way a certain amount of the advance gets paid at various stages of the process of publishing the book, the work my publisher's (fabulous and awesome) publicist does, the process of designing the cover, of getting to see that in various stages. It's been a lot of fun so far.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Yes! Don't worry too much about rules, or about whether what you're working on is salable.  Don't fret over, say, the fact that you've heard editors don't like narrators who are mushrooms, and your story is the first person adventures of Mable the Morel. Don't worry about that. Just make Mabel the best dang fungus that ever graced the written word, do the absolute best you can at what you're doing, and trust the universe for the rest. The universe may or may not come through--but you'll know you did your best, and over time I've found that's incredibly important.

Learn techniques, not rules. Look for effects various techniques have (or don't) and use them (or not) in your own work depending on the effects you want (or want to avoid). There are no rules, and worrying about rules and about superficial things editors may or may not like will only hamper you. Don't start out by limiting yourself. Be ambitious. Reach for the stars! If you fail, no biggie. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off and try again.  

> Any tips against writers block?

My approach, I've found, is idiosyncratic. But I'll offer it, in case anyone reading this may find it helpful. When I'm stuck, I read. Sometimes fiction, and often nonfiction. I go to the library and start scanning the shelves--usually history or anthropology, but sometimes other areas, sometimes at random--and pull out any book that seems to intrigue me. Usually, after I've read a bit, I find something that clicks, and then I can go forward. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Changes Ahead

From now until the end of December I’ll be working crazy hours at the store, so while I’m hoping to keep the blog running as normal, I won’t have much time for commenting or replying to emails.  You’ll probably see more reviews (for films as well as books) than usual, as well as Shout-out posts (as they’re fast to put together).  I do have a reading list queued up and will have at least one recommended reading post (I should have 2, but we’ll see if I get the responses back in time).

With the World's Biggest Bookstore closing next spring (and no, we don't have a firm closed to the public date yet, though we have to be out of the building by April 30th) there will also be some changes to the blog.  I’m not sure how much will change.  My original plan was to stop doing author interviews, as my interview style was designed for browsers at the store.  But a conversation with an author has made me question that decision.  More on that in January when I have time to consider my options and do a poll to see if you’d like me to continue doing author interviews.  I won’t have any interviews for December or January, as I don’t have time to set them up and, if I do continue them, I’ll have to rework my questions, which will take time as well.  But I do have an interview with Ann Leckie going up tomorrow, so please stop by for that.

Similarly I probably won’t do reading lists anymore (after December's If you like... try... list), as those are challenging enough with the books in front of me.  My new author spotlights are morphing into reading unbound, though I may keep those separate.  Again, I’ll have to consider this in January. 

I hope your holiday season isn't as insane as mine, and that you have some time to spend with your loved ones.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Stranger Than Fiction: Dispelling Medieval Armour Myths

A column dedicated to pointing out interesting tidbits of history, some of which would be cool to see in a fantasy novel or two.

Someone on facebook pointed me to this a while back.

Dispelling some myths about Medieval armour by Feadpool.

He's also got this album with more medieval armourthis one on the longbow, one on Sir William Marshall - a medieval fighter, and one on Gallowglass, professional soldiers in Ireland.

I haven't heard of some of these, so I'll have to read up on them myself. :D

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Book Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a 13 Year Old Boy With Autism by Naoki Higashida

[This isn't the kind of book I normally review here, but as autism is becoming more common, and more prevalent in SFF novels, it seemed like a good book to read to better understand the condition.]

Translated by: K. A. Yoshida and David Mitchell

Pros: Q&A format, includes some of his fiction

Cons: will possibly make you cry in public

This is a non-fiction book written by a 13 year old Japanese autistic boy, in which he answers questions he's been asked numerous times about why he does the things he does.  It's an amazing look inside autism.

This is a book that may well make you cry, so beware of reading it in public.  In David Mitchell's introduction, when talking about some of Higashida's included fiction and the accusation that autistic people have no empathy, he writes:

Like all storytelling mammals, Naoki is anticipating his audience's emotions and manipulating them.  That is empathy.  The conclusion is that both emotional poverty and an aversion to company are not symptoms of autism but consequences of autism, its harsh lockdown on self-expression and society's near-pristine ignorance about what's happening inside autistic heads.

Similarly in his answer to the question "Would you like to be 'normal'?" Higashida says that when he was younger he wanted to be normal but now,

I've learned that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness.  For us, you see, having autism is normal - so we can't know for sure what your "normal" is even like.  But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I'm not sure how much it matters whether we're normal or autistic.
While it's a short read, it's both inspiring and educational.  Understanding is the first step towards becoming better people with regards to how we interact with those who are autistic in our midst.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Shout-Out: Terra by Mitch Benn

This is another book I've heard nothing about that came in to the store recently.  It comes with an amazing recommendation by Neil Gaiman on the cover, "I found myself thinking of Roald Dahl, Douglas Adams & Terry Pratchett.  Wise, funny, and above all, human".

No one trusts humanity. No one can quite understand why we're intent on destroying the only place we have to live in the Universe. No one thinks we're worth a second thought. And certainly no one is about to let us get off Rrth. That would be a complete disaster. But one alien thinks Rrth is worth looking at. Not humanity, obviously, we're appalling, but until we manage to kill every other living thing on the planet there are some truly wonderful places on Rrth and some wonderful creatures living in them. Best take a look while they're still there. But on one trip to Rrth our alien biologist causes a horrendous accident. The occupants of a car travelling down a lonely road spot his ship (the sort of massive lemon colored, lemon-shaped starship that really shouldn't be hanging in the sky over a road). Understandably the Bradbury's crash (interrupting the latest in a constant procession of bitter rows). And in the wreckage of their car our alien discovers a baby girl. She needs rescuing. From the car. From Rrth. From her humanity. And now eleven years later a girl called Terra is about to go to school for the first time. It's a very alien experience...
"Terra" is a charming and hilarious satirical fable. A story about how odd and alien we are. And a story about how human odd aliens are. It tells the story of a girl who grows up in a very different world, who gains a unique perspective on our world and a unique perspective on her new home. A girl who can teach us and them a lot. A girl living in an extraordinary world that is spiralling into a terrible war.

Here's the book trailer, if you need more incentive.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

In Toronto? Come see Michael Rowe

Enter, Night author Michael Rowe's new book, Wild Fell, is coming out and he's doing some events for it.

Here's a synopsis for the book:

The crumbling summerhouse called Wild Fell, soaring above the desolate shores of Blackmore Island, has weathered the violence of the seasons for more than a century. Built for his family by a 19th-century politician of impeccable rectitude, the house has kept its terrible secrets and its darkness sealed within its walls. For a hundred years, the townspeople of Alvina have prayed that the darkness inside Wild Fell would stay there, locked away from the light.
Jameson Browning, a man well acquainted with suffering, has purchased Wild Fell with the intention of beginning a new life, of letting in the light. But what waits for him at the house is devoted to its darkness and guards it jealously. It has been waiting for Jameson his whole life . . . or even longer. and now, at long last, it has found him.
He's doing a signing at the World's Biggest Bookstore (20 Edward Street) on Sunday December 1st, from 12 - 3 PM.  He's also doing a book launch on Monday December 2nd at The Red Bull Lounge / Fly Nightclub (1 Gloucester Street) from 7 - 11 PM.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Recommended Reading by Professionals... with Gail Carriger

In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven't received the recognition they deserve.

Today's recommendations are by Gail CarrigerNew York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger writes comedic steampunk mixed with urbane fantasy. Her debut novel, Soulless, won the ALA's Alex Award. Her Parasol Protectorate books, their manga adaptations, and the first of her new YA series, Etiquette & Espionage, are all bestsellers. Her new book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, released November 5, 2013. She was once a professional archaeologist and is overly fond of tea.  

  1. Judith Tarr is a well known author within the SF/F community but I don't think she has ever quite attained the broader recognition her books deserve. My favorite of her work is Lord of the Two Lands, a fantastical alternate history of Alexander the Great moving into Egypt. The main character, an Egyptian priestess named Meriamon, is sent as a lure, omen, and diplomat into the heart of the invading Greek army. What makes Tarr brilliant is her writing style: she uses short, punchy, fragmentary sentences that nevertheless manage to convey eminence depth of meaning, emotion, and characterization. Everything she writes is precisely implemented, bladed and cutting, even when joyful. For example:

    After a long while she found another word. "Sekhmet?"
    Soft paw, prick of claws. Murmur of inquiry: "Mrrrrttt?"

    Trust me, in context, those few words will make you cry. The Lord of the Two Lands is as near to perfect as a book can get, filled with adventure, action, and tension yet also bittersweet and wildly romantic. It's one of those I return to again-and-again, and as an author I am always slightly disheartened knowing I myself could never write such clean sharp prose.
  2. Ann Maxwell [aka Elizabeth Lowell] is a prolific writer better known for her romance novels then her science fiction, of which her last was Timeshadow Rider in 1986.  (I still live in hope that she may finish the Firedancer series, three of which came out in the early 80s and ended on a cliffhanger). I can't fault her, since her romances afford her a living, we writers must eat. But if you can get ahold of some of her stand alone science fiction, you're in for a treat. Timeshadow Rider is my favorite. Where Tarr is a master of brevity, Maxwell dances with words. Her prose is lyrical, poetical, and flowing but not flowery. Her science fiction reads like some surreal myth about the future. Her aliens are precisely that, so alien I feel, as a reader, like they are almost beyond my comprehension, and yet I am eager to try to understand them all the more because of that. Each time I reread her books I feel like I am learning something different about her dream-like vision of the future. 
  3. Claudia J Edwards wrote four fantasy novels in the late 80s, one of which was the first in a planned series. Sadly, she died in 2010. That series might have been one of my favorites, but as it's unfinished, I'll focus on Taming the Forest King. I adore this book, it's one of the few I reread regularly and I know will always cheer me up. It's a straight up classic fantasy with a super tough female main character, military service, magical monsters, and one of the most perfectly executed love triangles ever written. This is one where I'm not going to comment on the writing style, because, frankly I'm too sucked into the story - every time - to be able to tell you anything about it. And that, in and of itself, is a major recommendation.

Stay tuned for the next post where we get reading recommendations from Andrew Post!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Rick Owns Fashion Show Uses Stepping

This is pretty amazing.  Instead of using conventional models, fashion designer Rick Owens used real women to model his new line of clothes by stepping (traditional dance) on the runway.

You can read more about this show, and the choreographer, in this article at Ms. Magazine.

And yes, I understand there's no real SFF connection to this, but sometimes - for writing and other purposes - it's good to think outside the norm.  This presentation may change how the fashion industry picks models.  Thinking outside the traditions of SFF may make your novel the next big thing.

via Janet Reid's blog

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

See Brandon Sandersin, James Dashner and Christopher Paolini talk in NYC - or online

If you're in New York City, there's an awesome YA author event coming up this Saturday.  Here are the details from the email I got:

Random House Children’s Books is pleased to announce that three of the biggest name authors in science fiction and fantasy are coming together for an afternoon panel hosted by the 92nd Street Y in New York City on November 16th. James Dashner (The Eye of Minds), Christopher Paolini (Eragon: 10th Anniversary Edition), and Brandon Sanderson (Steelheart) will entertain their fans via an interactive panel discussion moderated by Alexander Zalben of MTV News. One of the first YA events that the 92nd Street Y has hosted, the panel will be livestreamed to viewers across the globe who won’t be able to make it to the New York area to see the event in person. The link for the livestream will be found here:

Dashner, Paolini, and Sanderson are all forces to be reckoned with in the children’s literature world. Dashner, best known for his Maze Runner series, has sold over 2.4 million copies of his books in North America alone. Fall 2014 will see the feature film debut of The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox). With a loyal fanbase that has dubbed itself the “Dashner Army” (#DashnerArmy) as well as the publication of The Eye of Minds, the first book in his new Mortality Doctrine series, Dashner continues to gain in popularity amongst both teenagers and adults.

To purchase tickets to this one-of-a-kind event, visit A discounted ticket price is offered to attendees under 35 years of age. The authors’ newest titles—Eragon: 10th Anniversary Edition, Steelheart, and The Eye of Minds—will be available for purchase, and to be signed by the authors, at the event.

Here are all the important details for those who wish to attend in person:

Date: Sat, Nov 16, 2013, 3 pm
Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St
Venue: Buttenwieser Hall
Price: from $22.00

And remember, the free live webcast will be available here.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Book Review: Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski

Pros: diverse characters and creatures, storytelling magic, author's note

Cons: (*historical inaccuracies), characters bad at hiding their identities, uses common fantasy tropes

When Balthasar Infante is picked up by the Malleus Maleficarum he discovers that his uncle is correct and stories have power.  Turns out he's a Storyteller, a sorcerer able to pull items and creatures out of stories.  He quickly learns that his parentage isn't that of a converso Jew as he's always believed, but Muslim.  

Armed with a prophecy he wants to stop, and still running from the Malleus Maleficarum he joins the crew of the Santa Maria as Cristobal Colon's new translator, heading west to the Indies.

I loved the diversity of the characters.  Spain at this time was multiracial and though everyone either had to convert to Christianity or leave, the whole point of the Inquisition was to root out false converts, meaning there assuredly were some.

Balthasar's experiences being bullied for his heritage and his hero are realistic, making him a very sympathetic protagonist.  It's great watching him learn more about the world, questioning his beliefs as he must interpret the different stories to call on his magic.

I also appreciated that the stories came from different backgrounds: Jewish mythology, Arabic mythology, Greek mythology and fairy tales.  Storytelling itself was an awesome form of magic that I know I'd love to have.

* The difficulty in talking about this book is that several of the things that annoyed me in the story were either explained later in such a way that they became accurate (like Catalina's feminist reading of Sleeping Beauty), or were mentioned in the author's note (like her depiction of the Malleus Maleficarum).  I loved her author's note.  Having a detailed overview of what she manufactured vs what was historically accurate was awesome.  I'd love to see more authors do this at the ends of their books.

The biggest hurdle the book must face is the reader's knowledge (regardless of how accurate) of Columbas' journey.  I don't know much of what happened (which made her author's note all the more fascinating as I'd assumed she'd fabricated more than she had), but I do know that things don't end well for the natives.  There were times when it was hard not to get annoyed by Balthasar's naivete in the face of my knowledge of what's to come.

The biggest irritant in the book itself was that despite the fact that Balthasar and Jinni board the Santa Maria under assumed names, they continually scream each others real names out whenever something happens, in front of other people.  Yet no one questions this.

The book uses several common fantasy tropes.  On a few occasions they're subverted, making them feel fresh, but often they're not.  

But despite the book's problematic elements I appreciated that the author didn't shy away from the horrors of the real world.  And her use of characters and creatures outside the fantasy norm is much needed to revitalize the genre.

Monday, 11 November 2013

PokeRap - Gotta Name Them All...

College Humor has updated their PokeRap to include all 718 Pokemon.  There's some amusing commentary between the rap segments as the rapper's throat gets sore and he's forced to keep going.  It's quite a long song so you feel for the guy.

I wasn't a huge Pokemon fan, but I did watch the show for a while and did some fan art for my nephew.  I'm surprised by how many of the Pokemon I still know.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Shout-Out: The Cure by Douglas E. Richards

If only I could read everything ever published.  There are so many, many great books.  And here's one that deals with psychopaths, which is such a fascinating topic.  And then you bring up the idea of curing them...

Psychopaths cause untold misery. If you found the cure for this condition, just how far would you go to use it?
Erin Palmer had a devastating encounter with a psychopath as a child. Now a grad student and scientist, she's devoting her life to studying these monsters. When her research catches the attention of Hugh Raborn, a brilliant neuroscientist who claims to have isolated the genes responsible for psychopathic behavior, Erin realizes it may be possible to reverse the condition, restoring souls to psychopaths. But to do so, she'll not only have to operate outside the law, but violate her most cherished ethical principles.

As Erin becomes further involved with Raborn, she begins to suspect that he harbors dark secrets. Is he working for the good of society? Or is he intent on bringing humanity to its knees?
Hunted by powerful, shadowy forces, Erin teams up with another mysterious man, Kyle Hansen, to uncover the truth. The pair find themselves pawns in a global conspiracy-one capable of destroying everything Erin holds dear and forever altering the course of human history . . .

American society in the early twenty-first century seems to be experiencing a growing epidemic of psychopathic monsters. Douglas E Richards's The Cure explores this condition, and the surprisingly thorny ethical and moral dilemmas surrounding it, within an explosive, thought-provoking, roller-coaster-ride of a thriller that will have readers turning pages deep into the night.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Reading Unbound: Ramez Naam

One reader's adventure in the great sea of literature outside the comfort zone.

This is a new series I'm hoping to start on my blog.  Due to work I probably won't do too many of them before the new year, but I'd like to make this a regular feature when things settle down.

My plan with this column is to introduce authors from different backgrounds or authors with works that go beyond the 'norm'.  In other words, to get myself out of my comfort zone.  If there's someone you'd like to see me feature, please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Ramez Naam was born in Egypt though he grew up in the U.S..  He is a computer scientist, having worked at Microsoft and founded his own company, Apex NanoTechnologies, "the world’s first company devoted entirely to software tools to accelerate molecular design".  He has published four books.  The Infinite Resource and More Than Human are non-fiction science books, while Nexus and Crux are science fiction.

Here's the synopsis for Nexus:

Who decides what you can put in your brain? Who draws the line between human and non-human? How do we choose between liberty and security?
In a near future scarred by the mis-use of advanced technologies, government agencies and international treaties use extraordinary powers to suppress research that could lead to new horrors. In this world, the experimental and illegal nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, wirelessly connecting brain to brain. There are some who want to improve Nexus. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young and idealistic American scientist named Kade is caught improving Nexus, he’s blackmailed into spying on an eminent Chinese researcher who may or may not be weaponizing Nexus – turning it into a tool for coercion and political assassination. Bit by bit, Kade is thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – with more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power; from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai; from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok; from an international neuroscience conference to a remote Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is an exploration of the next step in human evolution, a scathing critique of the US War on Drugs and War on Terror, and a thrill ride through a world on the brink of explosion.

Want to learn more?  Here's his website, blog and twitter handle: @ramez.

You can see a fascinating talk he gave earlier this year on the science behind Nexus. (The talk ends at the 38 minute mark, after which there's a Q and A period.)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Random House Fall Children's Preview

I had the privilege last week of attending the Random House kids preview in Toronto.  A lot of the good genre books coming out are sequels to other books, like BZRK Reloaded by Michael Grant (follow-up to BZRK), Enders by Lissa Price (the conclusion of Starters) and Monsters, book 3 of the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa Bick.  And of course they mentioned Brandon Sanderson's teen novel Steelheart and James Dashner's new The Eye of Minds.

But there are some new series and standalones coming, so I'll be focusing on those.

Apparition by Gail Gallant

The last time seventeen-year-old Amelia Mackenzie saw her best friend Matthew alive, he broke her heart. When he is found the next day in an abandoned barn at the edge of town, an apparent suicide, Amelia''s whole world comes crashing down.
And then she sees him again. Because Amelia has a secret that even Matthew didn't know: sometimes, she sees ghosts.
When a local history columnist named Morris Dyson contacts Amelia after the funeral and tells her that he thinks the barn Matthew died in is haunted, and that Matthew wasn't its first victim, an unlikely partnership is born. With Amelia's gift for seeing ghosts, Morris''s radical theories on the supernatural, and a bit of help from Morris''s sexy but skeptical son, Kip, a mystery unfolds. One by one, the barn''s other ghostly residents are revealed: all innocent, love-struck young men who've died horrific deaths, seemingly by their own hands.
Life and death couldn't get more complicated as Amelia is torn between her devotion to the ghostly Matthew and her growing attraction to Kip, who may not believe in ghosts but can't help believing in Amelia. When she's confronted with a rivalry between the living and the dead, which side of the great divide will Amelia choose?
Apparition is a fast-paced supernatural mystery about memory and obsession, bodies and spirits, love and loss.

Shadows by Paula Weston - for all the angel lovers out there.

It's almost a year since Gaby Winters watched her twin brother die. In the sunshine of a new town her body has healed, but her grief is raw and constant. It doesn't help that every night in her dreams she fights and kills hell-beasts. And then Rafa comes to town. Not only does he look exactly like the guy who''s been appearing in Gaby's dreams, he tells her things about her brother and her life that cannot be true, things that are dangerous. Who is Rafa? Who are the Rephaim? And who is Gaby? The truth lies in the shadows of her nightmares.

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

What happens when you can't do the one thing that matters most? Twelve-year-old Hope Toriella lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb's Breath-the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs-than fail at yet another invention. When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year''s batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that's run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Hope and her friends-Aaron and Brock-might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb's Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. Inventing won't help her make it through alive, but with Aaron and Brock's help, the daring and recklessness that usually gets her into trouble might just save them all.
Indigo by Gina Linko

A gift? A curse? A moment that changes everything. . . . 
Caught in an unexpected spring squall, Corrine's first instinct is to protect her little sister Sophie after a nasty fall. But when Corrine reaches out to comfort her sister, the exact opposite occurs. Her touch--charged with an otherworldly force and bursting with blinding indigo color--surges violently from Corrine to her sister. In an instant, Sophie is dead. From that moment on, Corrine convinces herself that everyone would be better off if she simply withdrew from life.
When her family abruptly moves to New Orleans, Corrine's withdrawal is made all the easier. No friends. No connections. No chance of hurting anyone. But strange things continue to happen around her in this haunting, mystical city. And she realizes that her power cannot be ignored, especially when Rennick, a talented local artist with a bad-boy past, suggests another possibility: Corrine might have the touch. An ability to heal those around her. But knowing what happened to her sister, can Corrine trust her gift?

Of Beauty and Beast by Stacey Jay

In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city's vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city's Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan's enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra's sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

There are some great picture books for kids coming out.

Journey by Aaron Becker

Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination - and unexpected friendship.
A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart's desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.

Whimsy's Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis - I've flipped through this one, and the artwork is dark and rather appealing.

Whimsy's heavy things are weighing her down. She tries to sweep them under the rug, but she trips over them. She tries to put them in a tree, but they fall on her. She even tries to sail them out to sea, but they always come back. Eventually Whimsy decides to deal with the heavy things one at a time... and a surprising thing happens. With exquisite illustrations and delightfully simple text, Whimsy's Heavy Things is a sweet story about changing the things that weigh us down into the things that lift us up.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Gone Reading Update and Coupon Code

A while back I posted about a site called Gone Reading that sells bookish things and donates "100% of [their] after tax profits to provide funding for reading-related charities".

One of the charities they support is Ethiopia Reads, which, with the help of Gone Reading, has recently opened a library in Addis Adaba.  You can read about it here.

They still have t-shirts (I love "Take me to your Reader", "Read 'em and Weep" and "Paradise Found") and bookmarks (like this one: My Wizard can beat up your Vampire).  But they also have a few newer items.  Ever wanted an Oscar Wilde action figure?  Or a book shaped plate?  Or maybe Edgar Allen Poe word magnets for your fridge poetry?

With Christmas coming, now's a good time to check out their store.  And I've got a 20% off coupon for you.  Use the code: scifi20 before the end of the year to save some money while helping a good cause.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

Pros: interesting philosophy, some fun characters, heart-wrenching situations

Cons: somewhat open ended story

For Parents: some sexual content, gay content (nothing graphic), suicide, some violence, off screen bullying and abuse

When Seth Wearing drowns in the ocean he expects that to be the end.  So he's shocked when he wakes up outside the house in England where he lived as a child.  The house his family moved from quickly after the incident.   The incident that changed his younger brother.  

His new world is abandoned, overgrown with plants and empty of human life.  And Seth has no idea what's going on.  But he suspects this is Hell.

This is an interesting story that will keep you on your toes.  While I did see a few of the plot twists coming, others were complete surprises.  It's a tough novel to discuss without potentially spoiling some of the plot twists, but I'll try.

I love Seth as a character.  He's constantly doubting the new world he finds himself in, while at the same time reliving in dreams the best and worst times of his life.  I also love Thomasz, with his broken english and intelligent plans.  He really doesn't get the credit he deserves from the other characters.  Regine is also great as a feisty overweight black teen who understands more about Seth than Seth's willing to tell.  Seth's best friends are interesting too, and I was blown away when a particular relationship came to light.  It put the use of the friendly insult 'homo' they use in a different, and more positive, light.

Some of the characters have truly gut-wrenching moments to share.  There is some abuse and bullying mentioned, as well as other violence.  But as with the sexual content, there's nothing graphic.

It takes a while to discover what's really going on, and at times Seth's reticence to explain his past and inability to explain what he discovers about his present is frustrating as you want to know what he's learned/experienced.  The ending was fairly open to interpretation, which makes the book thought-provoking, though I'd have liked another chapter delivering more of a sense of closure.

This is a book about growing up.  About learning that everyone else is the centre of their universe just as you are the centre of yours.  While it's easy to take everything others do personally, not every action is meant as a reaction to you or what you've done.  Despite having some valuable life lessons this isn't a preachy novel and Seth doesn't come by these realizations easily.  But they are good, hopeful, lessons for teens.  And I hope a lot of teens - and adults - pick up this book.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Shout-Out: Masks by E. C. Blake

This book arrived at the store recently (even though it's officially out on November 5th) and as it looks cool, and I've not seen anything about it elsewhere, I thought I'd give it a shout-out.  The synopsis is from Penguin's site.  E. C. Blake is the pseudonym of Canadian author Edward Willett. 

Masks, the first novel in a mesmerizing new fantasy series, draws readers into a world in which cataclysmic events have left the Autarchy of Aygrima the one land blessed with magical resources cut off from its former trading partners across the waters, not knowing if any of those distant peoples still live. Yet under the rule of the Autarch, Aygrima survives. And thanks to the creation of the Masks and the vigilance of the Autarch s Watchers, no one can threaten the security of the empire.

In Aygrima, magic is a Gift possessed from birth by a very small percentage of the population, with the Autarch himself the most powerful magic worker of all. Only the long-vanquished Lady of Pain and Fire had been able to challenge his rule.

At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don the spell-infused Masks which denote both status and profession whenever they are in public. To maintain the secure rule of the kingdom, the Masks are magically crafted to reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions. And once such betrayals are exposed, the Watchers are there to enforce the law.

Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Autarch s Master Maskmaker, is fast approaching her fifteenth birthday and her all-important Masking ceremony. Her father himself has been working behind closed doors to create Mara s Mask. Once the ceremony is done, she will take her place as an adult, and Gifted with the same magical abilities as her father, she will also claim her rightful place as his apprentice.

But on the day of her Masking something goes horribly wrong, and instead of celebrating, Mara is torn away from her parents, imprisoned, and consigned to a wagon bound for the mines. Is it because she didn t turn the unMasked boy she discovered over to the Night Watchers? Or is it because she s lied about her Gift, claiming she can only see one color of magic, when in truth she can see them all, just as she could when she was a young child?

Whatever the reason, her Mask has labeled her a traitor and now she has lost everything, doomed to slavery in the mines until she dies. And not even her Gift can show Mara the future that awaits her a future that may see her freed to aid a rebel cause, forced to become a puppet of the Autarch, or transformed into a force as dangerous to her world as the legendary Lady of Pain and Fire.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Author Interview: Jaime Lee Moyer

Novel: Delia's Shadow

Short Fiction



> What is Delia's Shadow about?

Delia has always seen ghosts, but only as glimpses of faces watching from a corner, or faded haunts walking through walls. The ghost she discovers standing at the foot of her bed one morning is different. Shadow, as she comes to call this spirit, follows her relentlessly, invades her dreams, and demands things of Delia. This young woman died before Delia was born, the last victim of a brutal killer that terrorized San Francisco and then vanished. At the same time, Lieutenant Gabe Ryan finds himself investigating a series of murders that bear an uncanny resemblance to his father's thirty-year-old cases. Working together, Gabe and Delia race to discover the killer's identity before he claims more victims.

> Why did you decide to set your novel in 1915 San Francisco?

Choosing the time period was easy. The earthquake that had devastated San Francisco was nine years in the past and the city thought of itself as reborn. San Francisco hosted the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915, and invited the world to come see a rebuilt city. Setting the story in that year gave me a rich background for my story.

1915 really was at the beginning of what we think of as the modern age. Cars were becoming as common as horse drawn buggies and wagons. Women had already won the vote in California years before and were proud of their independence. Women's roles were changing, attitudes were changing, and the flapper era was just around the corner. It was an exciting time.

> How much research did you do on 19th century spiritualism for the novel?

Spiritualism flourished well into the 1920s and beyond. The belief in communication with the dead wasn't as strong by the time the 1930s rolled around, but it was still there. I think that the modern day paranormal investigators are what 19th and early 20th century spiritualism evolved into. It's not viewed as a religion now, but unexplained phenomena and a strong belief in ghosts are still at the heart of it all.

I read a great deal about the spiritualism movement. Spirit mediums were employed to  provide a point of contact between the living and the dead. Seances were very popular and viewed as the best method of formal communication with the afterlife.

Spirit photography flourished at the end of the 19th century as well. People really believed that the blurry images and half seen shapes in these photographs were the ghosts of loved ones who hadn't completely "passed on" into the afterlife. Those beliefs ran deep. Telling someone the photographs were faked and a trick elicited shock and anger.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I wrote my first story at the age of 11. It's not so much a matter of wanting to be a writer, as in making a conscious choice, as it is that writing is at the heart of who I am. I don't think I could stop writing.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

No, I don't think I would. I love these characters, but each of them has their own burdens to bear, their own pain and sorrows that haunt them. Fictional characters don't have an easy life, especially if they are my characters.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

There is a very emotional, pivotal scene that takes place on the 4th of July. I can't go into detail without spoiling the plot, but that scene was very difficult for me to write. People who've read the book will know the scene I mean.

> Since you write all three, beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories, poems or novels?

I'm a good poet and a better novelist. Novels seem to be a natural length for me and come more naturally. Much as I love writing short stories, I'm not nearly as good at those.

> When and where do you write?

It sounds very grand to say that I write in my office, but the office is really the second, unused bedroom. I have a desk and a computer and this is where I write.

I write around my day job, so there is no set time or schedule. In all the ways that count I have two full time jobs, three if you count real life.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing about writing is making a connection with a reader and knowing that someone, somewhere, gets what you were trying to do. That they love your story and your characters.
The worst thing is that the story on the page is never as grand and wonderful as the story in my head.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Practice, practice, write all you can, and hone your craft.

> Any tips against writers block?

I'm the wrong person to ask. If something I'm writing stalls, it's not because I'm "blocked" but because I took a wrong turn somewhere. I usually backtrack  a bit, figure out what I did wrong and keep going. 

I know that's not very helpful, but it's all I have. :)