Tuesday, 30 June 2015

History Book Review: The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe by E. M. Rose

Pros: fascinating interpretation, lots of endnotes and explanation

Cons: highly academic 

The accusation that the Jews of the city of Norwich murdered the apprentice William in a mockery of the crucifixion, and the Life of St William that was later written, set the stage for similar accusations in the future, accusations that eventually saw Jews burned at the stake and expelled from the cities they called home.

This is a highly academic book that goes over a wide variety of background information (family trees, identities of various players - and their relations to others who may have had influence, the second crusade, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, etc.).  As Rose is using very limited sources with regards to the actual blood libel cases, there’s a sometimes circuitous route from the background information to how it ties into the cases.  It’s quite a fascinating piece of deductive reasoning, putting minor clues together to form a cohesive and intelligent narrative, - even if it’s admittedly based on numerous suppositions.  

Rose is obviously aware of all of the scholarship that’s been done on this topic and refutes a lot of theories.  For example, there’s the idea that all blood libel cases involved rioting and executions or expulsions, which may be the case for later centuries, but when the cases first appeared any negative consequences generally followed years later, and tended to have political and/or economic reasons behind them (from forcing the Jews to ransom themselves so their captor could pay bills to acquiring their land and assets).  While a lot of Rose’s conclusions are based on thin information, there’s enough supporting evidence to show that - though they can’t be proved conclusively -they are plausible.

Rose proves that the murdered children themselves (assuming there’s even a body) are secondary to the economic and political concerns of those citing the accusation.  Though nominated for sainthood the boys hardly ever appear in liturgical calendars, prayers, artwork, etc.  

I found the earlier chapters very intense, and had to pay close attention in order to not get lost in the various strings being woven into the narrative.  Later chapters (particularly the ones in part 2), were much more linear and easier to follow.

Some of the background information was fascinating in its own right, like the extreme financial cost of going on crusade, the raids done by both sides during the civil war and how knights forced churches and civilians to ransom themselves to pay the costs of war (and/or for booty).  It also brought out the financial problems some nobles and churches had, and how unpalatable some of the clients were from the point of view of the moneylenders (both Christian and Jewish).  

Though the book is highly academic, Rose gave enough background information to allow me - a relative newcomer to the case - to follow along easily.  Not only that, the book revealed a lot about the state of research on these cases and how previous historians have interpreted the data.  It’s a fascinating history that examines numerous sides of the origins of the blood libel and how the story may have originally spread.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Shout-Out: Beyond Redemption by Michael Fletcher

A darkly imaginative writer in the tradition of Joe Abercrombie, Peter V. Brett, and Neil Gaiman conjures a gritty mind-bending fantasy, set in a world where delusion becomes reality . . . and the fulfillment of humanity’s desires may well prove to be its undoing.

When belief defines reality, those with the strongest convictions—the crazy, the obsessive, the delusional—have the power to shape the world.

And someone is just mad enough to believe he can create a god . . .

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geistrekranken—men and women whose delusions manifest. Sustained by their own belief—and the beliefs of those around them—they can manipulate their surroundings. For the High Priest Konig, that means creating order out of the chaos in his city-state, leading his believers to focus on one thing: helping a young man, Morgen, ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

Trouble is, there are many who would see a god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own doppelgangers, a Slaver no one can resist, and three slaves led by possibly the only sane man left.

As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. Because as the delusions become more powerful, the also become harder to control. The fate of the Geistrekranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is:

Who will rule there?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Medieval Cathedrals: Basilica-Cathedral of Saint Denis

[I'll be using a lot of architectural terms in this series of posts, and in the interests of not doing work that's already been done, instead of making my own glossary I'm linking to this excellent one by Athena Review.  With one noted exception, all photos used in this post are mine, and can be used by others provided you post a link to this page and credit me.]

Built on what was believed to be the resting place of Saint Denis (whom I'm planning a post for for next Friday), this basilica (which only became a cathedral in 1966) was the centre of worship for a benedictine abbey.  It was patroned by kings, and served as their mausoleum.  It was also used to house their war standard, the Oriflamme.  Before they went to war the kings would go to the abbey for a blessing and to retrieve their flag.

A copy of the Oriflamme is seen in the same area
as effigies for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Bourbon tombs in the crypt.

In the 12th century Abbot Suger, having read the works of Pseudo-Dionysius about the esthetics and symbolism of light as a way of seeking God and Heaven, wanted to allow more light into the church. The building style that came out of his ideas - vaulted roofs that put pressure on buttresses rather than the whole wall and allowed holes to be cut into the sides of the building to put in windows, the tripartate structure of the inside (of aisle arcade, gallery or triforium (in a few cases both), and clerestory) as well as the tripartite structure of the new west facade (with three portals for entering the church), became widespread and led to what we now call Gothic architecture.

Suger wrote two works that have come down to us, one on how he raised money for the rebuilding and one on some of the commissioned works that adorned it, including some stained glass scenes - featuring him - that have survived.  (The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a book you can download for free on his works.)  He was also the first to commission a stained glass window depicting the Tree of Jesse (some panels of which still exist).
Abbot Suger presenting the Tree of Jesse window to the right of the reclining King Jesse.
Abbot Suger at the feet of Mary in the Annunciation panel.
Rather unusually, Suger started his renovations with the west end of the church from 1135-40, creating the first three portaled west facade.

The facade is currently undergoing renovations and is boarded up, so I'm including a photo from wikimedia taken by Ordifana75.
Basilica-Cathedral St Denis, June 2015
Photo by Ordifana75, 2010
A few things to note are the three portals, the circular rose window(which now has clock hands) with the symbols of the evangelists/beasts of Revelation in the 4 corners around it, and the crenelations along the top of the building, giving it the look of a castle.

The central portal depicts the Last Judgement.  Here is a photo of the door - with a mini Suger at the bottom left of the last supper image (right side, two down) - and the stone portal above it, with an image of Christ in Majesty, hands outflung as if hanging on the cross, that I took in 2003. (The other two doorways, both of which depict scenes of St. Denis' life, have been heavily restored.  The left portal is flanked by stone sculpture of the signs of the zodiac, while the right is flanked by a calendar of work done during each month.  Both of these are used by later cathedrals.)

The east end of the church (choir and chevet) was rebuilt next, from 1140-44.  This included lots of stained glass (the entire upper level of which was melted down for its lead and so contains modern glass).  He also had a double ambulatory constructed, so large numbers of pilgrims could walk around the chapels without disturbing the monks at worship.

The chevet
Ambulatory and radiating chapels

The nave, connecting Suger's two projects, was rebuilt starting in 1231 by Abbot Odo Clement, in the Rayonnant Gothic style, with thin walls and lots of windows.  The triforium level, usually backed by stone, was instead filled with stained glass, in addition to the windows in the aisle and clerestory, almost creating a wall of glass.

Elevation of the nave
The north transept sculpture (as well as the entire east end of the church, inner transept arms and crypt) is only visible if you pay to see the east end (normally Eur 8.50, but reduced to 6.50 when I was there due to the renovation work), is mostly broken archivolt sculpture.  There are traces on the bottom left of what may have been annunciation and visitation scenes, while the right shows definite signs of some sort of hell scene.  The stone tympanum has been replaced with wood.

The south transept has been restored and shows scenes of the life of St. Denis in the tympanum, with kings in the archivolts and on the jambs and a Virgin and Child trumeau.

For my trip I created a one page layout of the cathedral and all of its sculpture.  I was a little too rushed to use it properly, but I've updated it (based on what I learned on my trip) and present it here for anyone wishing to use it for their own trip or research.  If you use this for a website or school paper, please credit me as the creator and/or link back to this post.  The map of the tombs and the dates of those resting in them comes from this UK Tourism 93 website.  

[I'm not sure how to upload them as pdfs so I've converted them to jpgs.  They're printable, but the text is a bit blurry.  If you want the pdf files, email me and I'll send them to you.]

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Shout-Out: Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones

The X-Men meets Ocean's Eleven in this edge-of-your-seat sci-fi adventure about a band of "super" criminals.

When the deadly MK virus swept across the planet, a vaccine was created to stop the epidemic, but it came with some unexpected side effects. A small percentage of the population developed superhero-like powers, and Americans suffering from these so-called adverse effects were given an ultimatum: Serve the country or be declared a traitor.

Some people chose a third option: live a life of crime.

Seventeen-year-old Ciere Giba has the handy ability to change her appearance at will. She's what's known as an illusionist. She's also a thief. After crossing a gang of mobsters, Ciere must team up with a group of fellow super powered criminals on a job that most would have considered impossible: a hunt for the formula that gave them their abilities. It was supposedly destroyed years ago--but what if it wasn't?

Government agents are hot on their trail, and the lines between good and bad, us and them, and freedom and entrapment are blurred as Ciere and the rest of her crew become embroiled in a deadly race that could cost them their lives.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Publisher Spotlight: Bad Dream Entertainment

Bad Dream Entertainment:

...is an independent online publisher of horror, science fiction, dark fantasy, and literary oddities, founded in 2013 by author and editor Brett Reistroffer. The imprint was established as a home for ‘fringe fiction’ writers and creators of story and character driven dark fiction from around the world. Starting in late 2014, BDE is expanding into the world of print, releasing our first mass market title, Birney Reed’s short fiction collection ‘The Tales of Victor Coachman’, and future plans include further expansion into poetry, graphic novels, and ongoing comic book series.

While BDE keeps horror at its heart, it is the home of any story that falls outside the boundaries of safe conventions; dark fantasy, suspense, science fiction, the macabre, and any gritty tale that deserves to be read on printed page or digital screen. While we do focus on a generalized segment of the genre spectrum, our goal is to publish fiction that is worth reading for story and substance, not style and gimmick. You will never find a lovesick vampire or a horde of the undead in our books, instead you will find contemporary fiction that challenges and disturbs the reader, not for its graphic visuals, but for the story, characters, and events that tell a tale rather than a tag line.
They've currently got two print releases, in addition to online short story publications.

Usu by Jayde Ver Elst

Humans are gone and bloody good riddance to the lot of them. The planet, left barren and lifeless by the long extinct species, has since been inherited by their own creations. Now all that roams the hollow cities and landscapes of man are the various machinations left bestowed with intelligent (or in some cases barely functional) programming, including the likes of janitorial robots, violently affectionate androids, and one very unfortunate stuffed rabbit.

Separated by distance and time, two unlikely soul mates, Usu and Rain have been rekindled by fate only to struggle once again to hold onto their fragile union. To save a friendship that has stretched across lifetimes they must trek across a land as exotic as it is unforgiving, joined in their adventure by cleaning droids, cannibal robots, and holograms from an era long past. Fighting against time, forgotten memories, and their own design at the hands of their former creators, they will find a way to be together forever, at any cost.
Usu is a heartwarming sci-fi humor adventure [in novella format] from the mind of South African writer Jayde Ver Elst that tells the tale of two very dear friends; a stuffed rabbit and his android girl.

The Tales of Victor Coachman by Birney Reed

In this ‘meta collection’ of dark contemporary fantasy, a series of loosely tied tales of dark fiction and supernatural encounters are strung together as the work of fictional writer Victor Coachman. But it is not just his stories themselves that are presented in this book, but their consequences for both the writer and his fate.
The Tales of Victor Coachman is a single author collection presenting 13 original stories of modern fantasy, horror, and the supernatural from Columbus Ohio author Birney Reed, collected in print for the first time.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Book Review: The Hanged Man by P. N. Elrod

Pros: great protagonist, interesting mystery, subtle romance


Alexandrina Pendelbury is goddaughter of Queen Victoria and a member of Her Majesty’s psychic service.  On Christmas eve she’s called in to do a Reading for a suicide, but the emotions surrounding the crime scene are strange, and the identity of the victim propels her into investigating a series of mysteries.

In many ways this book reminded me of Jaime Lee Moyer’s book, Delia’s Shadow.  Though this one takes place further in the past and in England, rather than San Francisco, there’s a similar feel to the books, with their minimalistic paranormal elements and light romances (The Hanged Man’s being very subtle and unobtrusive).

I loved Alex.  She’s intelligent, no nonsense, and prefers fight to flight.  Her difficult family relationships add a touch of sympathy and edginess to her character.  She’s not afraid of breaking the rules if it gets her closer to her end goal and she knows how to compartmentalize tragedy, dealing with it at appropriate times.

The mystery was entertaining and had several good twists, including the surprising inclusion of a rare paranormal creature that was a joy to see in a book again.

It’s a quick read and the start of a new series that I will definitely be following.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Shout-Out: Spelled by Betsy Schow

Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day. Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks-like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the not-so-charming prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future. Talk about unhappily ever after. Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called "Kansas." Now it's up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse, before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

Friday, 19 June 2015

More Medieval Posts Coming

In 2003 I did a four month trip through Western Europe, taking photos (which I've now digitized) and gathering information about medieval sites.  More recently I've returned to some of those sites (I just got back from 10 days in Paris), and new ones, taking copious more photos than my film camera - and pocketbook - could support 12 years ago.  I've now got a pretty sizeable collection of photos and info for a variety of sites in numerous countries, and I'd like to start using that information in my Friday blog posts.

A few years ago I took an extra university course, for which I did an essay on Notre-Dame de Amiens in France.  The point of the essay was to prove that the sculpture on the West facade was used to teach Biblical stories to the illiterate.  It's not a revolutionary idea, in fact, John Ruskin wrote a book called The Bible of Amiens that says that very thing in 1885, which you can read online.  To illustrate my essay, I did a diagram showing the entire West facade's sculptural program.  When planning my recent trip I dug that diagram up and decided to digitize and expand on it.  I added the sculpture from the transcepts and then did another page with the floor plan and interior features of interest (marking medieval stained glass, sculptures, etc.).  I ended up with a single page that contained all the major sculpture and features of the cathedral.  I then did this for the other major churches I visited (Cathedrals in Paris, Chartres, Laon and Reims as well as the royal chapel Sainte-Chapelle and the Basilica-Cathedral Saint Denis).  My trip showed some errors and omissions which I'll be addressing, but I intend to upload my finished copies to my blog for anyone interested in travelling to those sites or looking at images of them on the internet.

I'll likely be using a lot of specific architectural terms when talking about the cathedrals.  Originally I was going to write up a glossary on my blog, but I found this excellent one by Athena Review and figured I would just send people there to learn the vocabulary.

Earlier this year I started a column on medieval plants, which my research for France halted.  I'll be starting that up again soon.  I also want to do posts on the cathedrals I visited last week, and possible some others I've visited in the past.  I may or may not do sculptural and floor plan sheets for those.  It will really depend on time and source material.  For the French cathedrals I either had guide books that contained a lot of the information I was looking for or was able to find similar guidebooks either online or at the library to help me out.  That may not be the case for the other cathedrals I've got detailed pictures of.

Before the trip I also had the idea of doing posts about saints.  It doesn't help to know that a particular sculpture is of Saint George if you don't know anything about his life (or more often in the case of the older saints, death).  Even the Apostles were often illustrated using stories not found in the Bible, making them harder to identify if those stories are unknown.  I'll be using the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, which has been translated into English in a two volume edition by William Granger Ryan, as my source for saints lives.  Compiled in the mid 1200s it was roughly contemporary with the building of the Gothic cathedrals.  I'll be illustrating those posts using photos of sculpture, fine arts, and stained glass.  Many saints will be familiar (like St. Nicholaus) and were/are still widely popular, others are local to the areas in question (like St. Remi).

If there's interest, I may also do comparative posts on how specific stories were illustrated on Gothic cathedrals or how stories were illustrated over various media.  The Last Judgement is a particular fascination of mine so I've got quite a collection of imagery for it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Shout-Out: Slabscape by S. Spencer Baker

Slabscape: Reset

Louie Drago had been born into a broken world during the closing moments of the twentieth century.
Seventy-five years later, he was pornographically wealthy, had travelled to all the parts of the Earth he had any desire to visit, had experienced as many risky and thrilling experiences as he could reasonably endure and had variously drunk, eaten or inhaled as many legal, semi-legal or wildly illegal substances as his robust constitution could tolerate.  He’d been there, seen it and done it and stubbornly refused to buy any t-shirts, postcards or anything that would ever require dusting.  He was also terminally bored.
They were building a spaceship.  A huge interstellar spaceship.  They needed two things: young, healthy volunteers and a lot of money.  He bought himself a guaranteed place, but because the ship wouldn’t be ready for at last another thirty years and Louie had no guarantee of living that long, he had his entire personality digitised.  On his eightieth birthday he held a party that people talked about for years afterwards and, while the Bacchanalian festivities were at their peak, had his body ceremonially placed into cryonic suspension. 
As far as Louie was concerned, that was the last time that anything had gone according to plan.

Slabspace: Dammit

Somebody’s slung a stop sign over a solar system and Slab is heading straight for it. 
Stopping is not an option. Slab is over a thousand kilometres long, travelling at near-lightspeed and the thirty-two million humans, NAHs, avatars and irritating minorities who inhabit the Slabscape are on a mission; they’re going Home and wouldn’t stop even if they could. The humancontiguation of the SlabCouncil, having long suspected that Slab would eventually cross paths with someone or something who got in their way, had a policy regarding alien interventions: ignore them.
Louie Drago is not a happy hologram. He lets the council interns know exactly what he thinks of their plan and implements one of his own.

Dielle, a reset who remembers nothing of his previous life on Earth, is trying hard to forget one of the few things he does know: that before he was frozen for over three-hundred years, he used to be Louie Drago. After a bizarre offer from Slab’s preeminent gamer he’s forcibly liberated from the care and protection of the SlabWide Integrated System.

Meanwhile, the Cosmic Tit delivers an exiled version of Louie to the site of a four-hundred-year-old Earth mystery.

It’s only when parts of a local solar system start disappearing that council is forced to do something the interns will deny until the end of the universe (or tea-time, depending on your asynchronology).

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Video: Deleted Scenes of Women in Disaster Movies Written by Men

Ever wonder how women in disaster movies always have perfect hair, shaved legs, and never have to deal with 'feminine issues'?  Well, here are some of the 'deleted scenes' that cover all of that in a video by daralaine.  The crack about wearing high heels so she's closer to the vampire's eyes is awesome.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Paris Trip

I've been busier than usual lately because I was spending a lot of time planning a trip to Paris. Yesterday I returned from an awesome trip where I got to see, and photography in detail, a couple of amazing cathedrals and other sites.  I'll be doing some detailed posts about some of the places I saw on my trip in the upcoming weeks.  Oddly enough I didn't read anything on my trip, but I have a few reviews lined up from before I left.  I didn't check email while away, so I'll be going through those as well in the next few days.

In the meantime, here's the 'best bits' photo album of my trip.
Paris Trip 2015

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Shout-Out: Points of Departure: Liavek Stories by Patricia Wrede & Pamela Dean

Liavek is a hot, busy trade city, situated on the southern shore of the Sea of Luck at the mouth of the Cat River. In Liavek, magic is based on one’s “birth luck” and the length of time one’s mother was in labor. Everyone has luck, but using it is another matter. Luck, or magic, must be invested annually in some object outside oneself; only then can it be used to power spells. And investing one’s magic is difficult and dangerous. Prospective magicians who fail find their magic draining away, and with it, their life.
From that mad and wonderful seed, Wrede and Dean create an enthralling set of stories, where a god is trapped in the body of a chipmunk, where a play has the potential to incite a riot and change a nation, and where a family is coming apart at the seams, and going to enormous lengths to stitch itself back together.
All of the stories are tied together by the unforgettable character of Granny, Ka’Riatha―the one the Book of Curses calls the Guardian of the S’Rian Gods. Granny moves through each story, casting spells and bringing her tart brand of wisdom to a world come undone.

Friday, 12 June 2015

History Book Review: The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century by Emile Male

Illustrated Edition, Translated by Dora Nussey from the third French edition, published in 1913; 1958

Pros: tons of information packed into 400 pages, goes over all the main sources and stories depicted on French Gothic cathedrals, lots of great illustrations  

Cons: can be dry in parts, occasionally expresses prejudices

I read this in university for one of my Medieval Studies courses and was lucky enough to find a used edition.  The book is now out of copyright and can be read for free via Archive.org (available in black and white and with off white pages.  As a side note, always download the pdf version of old books if possible.  The ebook version tends to get messy when there are page headings and footnotes, and become difficult if not impossible to read).

Though old, this is still one of the best studies of 13th Century French cathedral art and its interpretation written.  In contract to some of his contemporaries and predecessors, M. Male attempted to explain the figures in sculpture and stained glass using texts produced by the middle ages.  By doing so, he clarifies and corrects several misinterpretations of characters and stories.

He writes the book using the organizational style taken from Vincent de Beauvais’ Speculum Maius (The Great Mirror), which explained how everything from history to nature was a type for Christ and spiritual things.  It is separated into four parts: the mirror of nature, the mirror of instruction (or doctrine), the mirror of morals, and the mirror of history.  The final book is further subdivided by Male into the Old Testament, the Gospels, Apocryphal stories, Saints, secular history, and the end of times.  Through these categories, the whole of the cathedrals is laid bare for the reader.

Male assumes a familiarity with the stories of the Bible, though he does detail the stories enough that even those unfamiliar with it should be able to follow along.  The wealth of information contained here is incredible, and if you go in not knowing Bible characters or Christian saints, you’ll leave knowing a lot about them.

There are a lot of great illustrations and photos, though their placement leaves a little to be desired, as you sometimes have to flip ahead or backwards to find the photo of what he’s talking about.

The book mentions some of the renovations that had been done by his time and lamented the damage done to the monuments in the past during the iconoclasm and French Revolution, but of course he had no way to anticipate the even worse damages to come with World War II and acid rain.  So the book preserves some images of things that were already gone by his time (he reproduces some illustrations from older works) and that are now gone or reproduced today.  In a few instances the names he attributes to people aren’t what they’re deemed now, either due to more research or to misinformation.  In a few other instances, he has information about windows and sculptures that no longer exist (as with two black windows in Chartres that he attributes to particular saints).  

The book can be a bit dry and academic at times, but it’s worth pushing through those parts.  And if you’re worried you won’t be able to, skip ahead to the chapter on the Saints and the one on the end of the world, as both were fascinating.

The author on a few occasions expressed some of his own prejudices against peoples of the past.  These aren’t obvious, but there are a couple of disparaging remarks (I specifically remember one about Ethiopia and one about India). 

My other complaint is that he references books that still haven’t been translated into English, meaning if you don’t read Latin you have no way of reading these works yourself.  I’d dearly love to read some of his sources, especially the Speculum Maius, Glossa Ordinaria by Walafrid Strabo, the sermons of Honorius of Autun, Traditiones Teratologiques by Berger de Xivrey, and more.  Perhaps because of this, there are a few places where Male quotes an ancient text and it’s left in the original language with no footnote telling you what it means.   

Despite the age of the book and the few complaints, it really is an amazing book and highly recommended for anyone interested in art history, the middle ages, and saints.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Shout-Out: When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.

A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.

However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Video: Ultron Funk by Screen Team

I really enjoy Screen Team's music parodies and this one's better than most, with some great lyrics.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Book Review: The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

Pros: interesting premise, interesting characters, political intrigue

Cons: some confusing aspects, one story dragged a bit

In an alternate reality where Eire (Ireland) rebelled against and conquered Anglia (England) to become a powerful empire, a young Queen supports the efforts of a scientist to examine temporal fissures.

Told through 4 interconnected stories, starting with the Queen and her scientist, this book examines the difficulties that arise when time is not static.

This is a book best read with few interruptions and a lot of attention, as certain parts can be confusing (as events in history are changed - thereby changing the memories of those involved).  It’s easy, at those moments, to lose track of what’s happening.  Though the book covers several years worth of events, from 1897 to 1914, the ending pulls the different threads together in a satisfying way.

There are three narrators.  The Queen of Eire, Aine, who takes the throne unexpectedly at a young age, and sets the plot in motion by supporting the investigation in to the time arts tells the first story.  We see her viewpoint again in the fourth story, later in her reign, as a ruler with few people she can trust and a lot of political intrigue to manage.  In both stories she’s portrayed as someone who listens to the advice of her advisors but who is willing and able to make the difficult decisions of rule necessary of her.  She’s able to compartmentalize her thoughts and feelings from the outward persona of Queen that needs to be maintained at all times outside her private rooms.  She’s an interesting character who makes tough choices.

Siomon Madoc, the second narrator, had an interesting story, but I didn’t connect with him as well as I did with Aine.  I also found his story the most confusing, and I’m not sure I really understood how it ended.

I really liked Aidrean O Deaghaidh, the third narrator.  He’s got an interesting way of seeing the world by this stage, which I found fun.  The story itself dragged a bit, but ended with a fair amount of action.

It’s always cool to see a book pull various threads together into a cohesive whole, and Bernobich does an excellent job of that here.  While I didn’t understand everything that happened - unfortunately I had to take a few longer breaks during my read - I closed the book with a sense of contentment.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Shout-Out: Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions For a Better Future Edited by Ed Finn & Kathryn Cramer

Inspired byNew York Times bestselling author Neal Stephenson, some of today's leading writers, thinkers, and visionaries have come together in this anthology of stories, set in the near future, that reignites the iconic and optimistic visions of the golden age of science fiction

Born of an initiative at the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, this remarkable collection unites a diverse group of celebrated authors, prominent scientists, and creative visionaries-among them Cory Doctorow, Gregory Benford, Charlie Jane Anders, David Brin, and Neal Stephenson-who contributed works of "techno-optimism" that challenge us to imagine fully, think broadly, and do Big Stuff.

Inside this volume you will find marvels of imagination and possibility, including a steel tower so tall that the stratosphere is just an elevator ride away . . . a drone-powered Internet . . . crowdfunded robots descending on the moon . . . cities that work like a single cell of algae powered entirely by the sun . . .and much more.

Engaging, mind-bending, provocative, and imaginative, Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future offers a forward-thinking approach to the intersection of art and technology that has the power to change our world.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Stranger Than Fiction: Cribbing From History

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

Cribbing from history can be an excellent way to get some great plot and character ideas (you can't make up some of the things people have actually done).

This is a Ted-Ed video by Alex Gendler about the plot similarities between George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books and the British War of the Roses.  Obviously the books don't follow the history exactly - where would the fun in that be? - but it does show how alliances changed quickly and often nonsensically, and how dangerous politics and kingmaking can be.

History is full of interesting periods that would make the great start to a fantasy (or other) series.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Shout-Out: The Fold by Peter Clines


The folks in Mike Erikson's small New England town would say he's just your average, everyday guy. And that's exactly how Mike likes it. Sure, the life he's chosen isn’t much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but he’s content with his quiet and peaceful existence.

That is, until an old friend presents him with an irresistible mystery, one that Mike is uniquely qualified to solve: far out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to “fold” dimensions, it shrinks distances so that a traveler can travel hundreds of feet with a single step.

The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, traveling through the Door is completely safe.

Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems—and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret.

As his investigations draw him deeper into the puzzle, Mike begins to fear there’s only one answer that makes sense. And if he’s right, it may only be a matter of time before the project destroys…everything.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Video: Kung Fury

You've probably seen this already, but in case you haven't, it's hilarious.  There's a lot of violence and blood, so if you're squeamish, you may want to give it a pass.  What's it about?

Kung Fury is an over-the-top 80’s action comedy that was crowd funded through Kickstarter. It features Kung Fury, a Kung Fu renegade cop who travels back in time to kill his Nemesis, Hitler. The film features nazis, dinosaurs, vikings and cheesy one-liners.
Written and directed by David Sandberg, the film was made by LaserUnicorns and features a song (and an appearance) by David Hasselhoff.  This really has the feel of an 80s movie, complete with VRC tracking lines at a few points.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Book Review: Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs

Pros: believable and entertaining characters, believable action, romantic elements, female friendship, quick read

Cons: limited world building, repetitive

Kenna Swift’s superhero father died when she was a child.  Her mother is now a lead scientist for the heroes.  To help keep her daughter safe, her mom created an illicit serum that gives her immunity to hero and villain powers.  Kenna is working late in her mom’s lab, copying notes and keeping track of her own unauthorized experiments to give herself superpowers when a group of villains attack.  Their claims of looking for a kidnapped villain - supposedly held somewhere in the building and being tortured by heroes - sound crazy, until she does some investigating and discovers that the world isn’t as black and white as she’s always believed. 

Kenna is a great protagonist.  She’s got some issues from seeing her dad die and feeling like she’s powerless in a society of powered people.  She resents the idea that she has to be protected - by her mother’s serum and by the powered individuals around her - even as she realizes that those protections are necessary.  Because this is such a quick read, and because she - realistically - dwells on those thoughts a lot (as her need for protection keeps coming up), they become a bit repetitious by the end of the book.  She’s very much a no nonsense woman, who speaks up for herself and uses her analytical abilities to keep calm in extreme circumstances and come up with plans for what to do next when things go wrong.  She also takes responsibility for her actions and realizes that she’s better off solving the problem and making amends than wallowing in pity.  She’s also, for the most part, quick on the uptake, which is such a pleasure to read, as it seems a lot of teen protagonists tend to miss important clues.

The romance elements were understated, with Kenna often realizing that the time and/or place wasn’t right.  It allowed things to develop more slowly and in the down time between action sequences.

It was great seeing a female friendship that was positive and showed how friends resolve things, even when one of them has betrayed a trust.  And speaking of Rebel, I wondered if that was a nickname or her real name.  If it was the latter, than her parents only have themselves to blame for her attitude.

The guys were pretty kickass, even if they did bicker and fight a lot.  I was a bit surprised by why they thought Kenna needed so much protecting, considering their powers wouldn’t save them from the dangers they faced, so how could they protect her from those dangers?

I was left with a lot of questions about the world that I hope the next book answers.  There’s very limited world building, and in some cases I think knowing more about the world would have been helpful.  For example, there are hints that villains and heroes have different powers, which made me wonder if that’s what decided a hero vs villain status.  Similarly, I’d have liked to know more about the hero/villain tattoos, given one of the later scenes in the book shows there’s more to them than I expected.  Since Kenna’s so immersed in the hero world it was a surprise later on for me to discover that apparently other normals don’t even know super powered people exist.  Which raised a lot of other questions about the world.  It had no bearing on the plot, but was a piece of world building that probably should have been clearer earlier on.

While it was nice to find bad guys who don’t explain their evil plot to the protagonists, it would have been nice if something of their motives had been explained.  Similarly, I was surprised by Mr Malone’s lack of concern for his children (see the spoiler section for more on that).  

The plot - like Kenna’s internal debates - got repetitive towards the end, so it’s a good thing it was a quick read.  It’s easy to gloss over that when you’re steamrolling through the book.  A lot of things are left unresolved by the ending and I’m really looking forward to picking up the next volume.

*** SPOILERS ***

Mr Malone doesn’t seem to care that his daughter disappears for a few days and then sends people to shoot up Riley’s apartment, despite the fact that Riley’s power of flight won’t protect him from bullets.  He had no reason to believe Riley would side with the others - and indeed he doesn’t until he’s forced to flee with them to avoid all the ammunition.  

I’m really not sure what to think of Draven’s revelation at the end of the book as that came entirely from left field.  The next book has a lot of questions to answer.