Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Shout-Out: Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic

All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.

But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?

Wicked Like a Wildfire is the first in a two-book series. Readers will be rapt with anticipation for the sequel.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Book Review: Infinite by Jodi Meadows

This is the third book in the NewSoul trilogy, so this review contains spoilers for the previous books.

Pros: some good twists; complex language

Cons: Ana angered, frustrated, and annoyed me; lots of major and minor irritants towards the end of the book

Severe earthquakes hit Heart and free Deborl and his followers. Ana and Sam call a group together and decide to escape the city and see if they can end Janan and the threat of Soul Night.

The book is quite exciting, with the characters finally meeting several more of the dangerous creatures living around Range. You also learn the answers to more of Ana’s questions about the temple books, sylph, and Janan.

I thought the complexity of the language in the temple books was great. I appreciated that each symbol could mean several things, creating a number of possible interpretations. 

I didn’t like Ana as much in this book. She had a streak of selfishness (thinking of her own emotional needs and ignoring those of others) in the previous books, that stemmed from her emotional abuse at Li’s hands. As the books progressed she seemed to slowly learn how to open up and give emotional support as well as take it. But in this book she makes several decisions that cause deep pain in others later on simply because they help her avoid temporary pain in the moment. She ends up with an overinflated sense of her own importance and stops the reciprocal empathy that friendships and relationships require. I really wanted her to ask the others for advice, to help them through the guilt and sorrow they felt at things she reveals about their past. Basically, I wanted her to show them the love and support they’d given her, welcoming her into their lives, teaching her, guiding her. I mention more about this in the spoiler section below.

While the ending had a lot of twists and turns, by that point I was so frustrated by Ana and so many of the things that were happening that I didn’t really feel emotionally invested anymore. 


Half way through the book, after following her for weeks through snow to find dragons for Ana’s insane plan, Ana leaves her friends behind with only a passive aggressive note telling them how they used to believe in her and now she’s going off on her own, for them to find when they wake up. There’s no acknowledgment of the sacrifices they’ve made or the fact that they FOLLOWED her all that way because they BELIEVED in her. Because it’s all about her at this point. Bare paragraphs later she comments on how the sylph give her the feeling of companionship the others didn’t anymore (because she wasn’t asking for or accepting advice, because she was hiding things from them, because she didn’t want to be burdened with their sorrow or guilt or help them work through it, etc). She strangely comes to the conclusion that she can succeed simply by believing in herself. She doesn’t NEED other people to believe in her, despite that feeling coming because she felt the COMPANIONSHIP of the sylph! Despite the fact that the sylph continue to help her by melting snow and ice so she can walk easier. She ignores the aid her friends gave her to get her to this point, including the large amount of help and protection the sylph provided. It’s only after she cheers herself up that she realizes that the sylph have also felt lonely, and determines she won’t ignore them again. But what about the friends she’s just left? What about their needs and the fact that they’ll wake up and feel even worse because after all their sacrifices for her it wasn’t enough? How much are they expected to give just to make her feel better about herself? When do they get something from this relationship? 

When the group gets back together, once again it’s up to Sam to reconcile things. Which made me think that perhaps his friends are right and having a relationship with Ana’s not the right move. She’s obviously not ready for a romantic relationship. Maybe the best thing to do would be to give her a few years to find herself, grow up a little, see how other - healthy - relationships work and then try again if they both still want to. Going from an abusive mother to an overly loving and caring psudo-boyfriend may be too much of an extreme for her to dealt with.

The last half of the book contained so many irritating things. If the dragons could communicate with humans, why didn’t they? Did Sam use his song against them at some point creating that enmity or were they just unreasonably afraid of him? How big were everyone’s packs? (Apparently they had blankets in addition to their sleeping bags, books, enough clothes for Ana to wear 3 hats, etc when flying.) Why did they wait until Soul Night to attack? Couldn’t they have tried to kill Janan BEFORE the eruptions, etc? (There didn’t seem to be a reason to wait. That’s when Janan would be at his most powerful. And I would have thought stopping the eruptions would be just as important as killing Janan. If he’s dead, then Soul Night isn’t a problem. And if they fail, they have more time to figure something out before Soul Night.) How did Sarit forget why she and Stef left Sam and Ana alone when they hadn’t been gone that long? Why did Stef make the distraction explosions have separate detonation devices instead of tying that into their SEDs (like cellphone triggers)? Why didn’t Sam want his burns treated before they had sex? (It would have made him more comfortable.) How could they have sex at such a time, after such personal tragedies? (They’d have a lot of distracting thoughts, given what they had to do later that night and having just watched their friends die. I’d think it would be hard to get in the mood under such conditions.) Did everyone’s last reincarnation push other newsouls out of the way again? Why did Ana wait until she was in her teens to let Sam know she’d been reborn? (Ok, I know the answer to this one, selfishness. She wanted him to prove he could find her in her new body, like the Masquerade. Because she needed him to prove that he could pick her out of a crowd, or else how would she know he really loved her?). What ultimately happened to Janan? He gave them all one last reincarnation and then … leaves? He spent 1000 years in a prison to become a god and then lets his followers all abandon him?

Sunday, 20 August 2017

3D Metal Puzzle: Airship

I've been doing these metal 3D puzzles for a while now and while they're difficult at times I really enjoy putting them together. They also look fabulous when done.

I bought this airship model off the internet and spent several hours yesterday building it.

First off, the set itself was great, shiny metal with etched details on one side. While the instructions were in Chinese, I've got English ones that I could compare them to to figure out the important notes (which side should be etched, folding the tab over or twisting it). So that was fine.

The first problem came in when I realized that just getting some of the pieces off the sheets was going to be difficult without breaking them. Well, I broke... quite a few pieces. I've had one or two breaks in the past, usually fixed with some crazy glue. Not this time. While some of the breaks aren't really noticeable the others... also aren't noticeable because you don't have a reference photo to compare it to when you're displaying it. Keeping that in mind kept me from becoming too frustrated while making this. In fact, I came up with the narrative that it had just been in a space battle to excuse the parts you could notice didn't look quite right.

Here are some shots of the build in progress.

 Towards the end things got... rather impossible. The front has 2 layers of overlapped metal. To get the front base piece in I'd have had to push down one of those layers to uncover the slot, while somehow slotting the base inside and around to get the tabs into place. There aren't many safe handholds, so this was a challenge. I gave up when the base broke in half. Well, actually I thought I could glue that break and while I was prepping it for glue it broke along another line. Who looks at the underside of a model anyway?

A few pieces broke or broke off and had to be repaired/glued into place. Two side pieces were so impossible to place that I just didn't bother. And attaching the top side layers meant damaging upper work as I tried to crimp the tabs into place.

Definitely a pain in the neck to build and by far the worst in terms of things breaking and fitting together properly. (You can see some of the broken/unused pieces in the photos below.)


Doesn't it look gorgeous? Sometimes we aim for perfection and miss the beauty of what's actually there.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Shout-Out: At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets Agent Carter meets X-Men in this classic British espionage story where a young woman must go undercover and use her superpowers to discover a secret Nazi plot and stop an invasion of England. 
In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War. The research to weaponize these abilities in England has lagged behind Germany, but now it’s underway at an ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall. 
Kim Tavistock, a woman with the talent of the spill—drawing out truths that people most wish to hide—is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy. 
As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England. No one believes an invasion of the island nation is possible, not Whitehall, not even England’s Secret Intelligence Service. Unfortunately, they are wrong, and only one woman, without connections or training, wielding her talent of the spill and her gift for espionage, can stop it.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book Review: Asunder by Jodi Meadows

Pros: interesting plot, fun characters

Cons: relationship waffling

This is book two of the Incarnate series, and as such this review contains spoilers for book one.

Some time has passed since Templedark consigned dozens of souls to a permanent death. Sam and Ana rest away from Heart for a time. A new gift and Menehem’s notebooks indicate that Sylphs may be more intelligent than previously believed. Meanwhile, back in Heart, fears of more newsoul births and an inability to punish Menehem for his actions turns popular anger towards Ana. 

I really enjoyed the plot in this book and the fact that things went in directions I did not predict. You learn answers to some of Ana’s questions, which was great.

The ‘will they won’t they’ aspect of their relationship got frustrating, as after a year of being together Ana seemed to still get defensive a lot and misconstrue things easily, regardless of how open and loving Sam was. While I appreciated the question of whether it’s appropriate for a 5000 year old soul to have a relationship with an 18 year old soul, that’s a question that should have been addressed by Sam much, much earlier. 

Despite their relationship woes, I love Sam and Ana. Ana remains passionate about helping other newsouls and discovering more about how she came to be. 

As with the first book, it was a very quick and enjoyable read.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017
IMDb listing

Pros: gorgeous cinematography, excellent creature effects, interesting characters

Cons: characters make too much noise in the jungle, minor irritants

A team of scientists, accompanied by a squad of Vietnam helicopter pilots, travel to Skull Island for a land survey. But what they find corroborates the crackpot theories of a small government organization: monsters exist.

First off, the cinematography is gorgeous. There are a large number of simply gorgeous shots in this film. The colours are vivid and the scenery lush.

There’s enough set-up for the characters for you to care for them when they reach the island, but not so much (given their number) that you mourn them when some die. I really liked a few of the characters and thought the acting all around was well done.

The creature effects were excellent, with Kong and the other monsters looking real for CGI creations.

The natives seemed to be treated more respectfully than these films generally do, which impressed me. The scene where they first appear is quite impressive and I loved the paintings in their sacred space.

A few minor things bugged me about the film. They make a surprising amount of noise walking through the jungle and on the boat, noise that could attract monster to them. There’s also a scene where the ground is combustable, where it felt like there should have been more explosions and/or fire given what’s going on.


There’s a scene at the end of the film where one of the characters makes the ultimate sacrifice. He takes out a grenade and waits for the monster to eat him, so he can heroically kill it through his own death. But the monster bashes him away and the man dies in a futile gesture. It made me think how war is generally portrayed - heroes, laying down their lives to save their families and countries. But the truth of the matter is that most combatants aren’t doing anything more than throwing their lives away. Yes, there are people and battles that were hugely important in gaining rights and freedoms (Vimy Ridge comes to mind), but I think modern audiences are no longer as enamoured by the fantasy of the war hero and glorifying sacrifices in war.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Shout-Out: The Rift by Nina Allan

Selena and Julie are sisters. As children they were closest companions, but as they grow towards maturity, a rift develops between them.
There are greater rifts, however. Julie goes missing at the age of seventeen. It will be twenty years before Selena sees her again. When Julie reappears, she tells Selena an incredible story about how she has spent time on another planet. Selena has an impossible choice to make: does she dismiss her sister as a damaged person, the victim of delusions, or believe her, and risk her own sanity in the process? Is Julie really who she says she is, and if she isn’t, what does she have to gain by claiming her sister’s identity?
The Rift is a novel about the illusion we call reality, the memories shared between people and the places where those memories diverge, a story about what might happen when the assumptions we make about the world and our place in it are called into question.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Video - Kapture: Fluke

This is a short computer animated film by Oats Studios (youtube) about two scientists demonstrating their latest invention. Oats Studios is Neil Blomkamp's studio, which seems to be making a bunch of short SF related films.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Book Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

Pros: interesting characters, great premise, highly passionate characters

Cons: minimal world-building, highly passionate characters

The people of Heart have been reincarnated hundreds of times, some believe by the will of Janan. When Li and Menehem’s child was not the reincarnation of Ciana, people feared what it meant for them. Eighteen years later, Ana wants to leave the cottage she was raised as a nosoul by her hateful mother and find answers regarding her birth in Heart. After a terrible night, she’s rescued by Sam, who becomes her friend with the possibility of more.

I really liked Ana. I liked how conflicted she was, uncertain of the world after the physical and mental abuse she suffered under her mother. I liked that she constantly questioned Sam’s motivations, constantly waiting for things to go bad. It showed real, persistent, trauma. I also liked that Sam’s previous deaths bring their own form of trauma for him to overcome later in the book.

The premise, of people who all know each other because they’ve been reborn together over and over again, was great. Throw in the possibility that they could die and not return, and their fear of Ana and what she represents is understandable.

The characters - Ana in particular - were often very passionate about life. Towards the end this got to be a bit much for me. It’s understandable in Ana, but the others are all old enough to be past the vagaries of first youth. While Sam’s age (and subsequent hormones) could account for some of his issues, he should have had an easier time coming to a decision about what sort of relationship he wanted with Ana.

The world was pretty interesting, but not developed very much. The author lists several creatures that live in the world, but you only actually see two of them. And the way they’re mentioned, always as a list, makes them feel more like window dressing than actual inhabitants of the world. Having said that, I greatly enjoyed what I learned but hope the later books explain more of the wider world.

This was a very quick read that kept me turning pages. And while the book ended up going in wildly different directions from what I’d expected, I really enjoyed it. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Movie Review: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie

Pros: excellent world-building, unique costumes, car chase

Cons: over the top acting, meanders, soundtrack 

After being robbed of all his possessions in post-apocalyptic Australia, Max walks into Bartertown intending to get them back. But with nothing to barter but his skills, he agrees to take down Masterblaster in a death match in the Thunderdome.

First, let me say that while I know I saw this as a child, I didn’t remember anything about the film. I know it’s considered a terrible movie, so I wasn’t expecting much from it.

The world-building is surprisingly good. Using pig farmed methane as a fuel for electricity and gas is quite brilliant. I was also impressed that the kids had a slightly shifted language and had created a mythology for their past.

I was impressed by the number of women in the film, both in positions of power and as background dressing (guards, etc).

One of the failures of world-building was having Master, ‘the brain’, speak with a more degenerate form of speech than his underlings. It didn’t fit with the moniker of him being smarter than everyone else. 

Max has lost the leg brace he wore in the last film, though he does wear a bandanna on one leg starting at the halfway point. Another oddity was that the actor who played the pilot was in the last film but he and Max don’t recognize each other, making me wonder if he was supposed to be a new character in this film (who just also happens to be a pilot).

The costumes were pretty… unique. I liked that different groups were dressed differently. Lots of mowhawk wigs and feathers for the guards. The townsfolk are all fairly shabbily dressed. The oasis kids wear skins. Antie Entity wore an outfit with the 80s giant shoulders and big hair.

There’s only one car chase, but it’s a pretty good one. Not as crazy as the one in The Road Warrior, but fun, nonetheless.

The story meanders a fair bit, with the plot at the beginning of the film disappearing entirely as the setting changes to the desert. They do eventually return to Bartertown, making the section with the kids, while interesting in some ways, feel rather out of place.

Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” is a fantastic song, and I’d completely forgotten that it’s the theme of this film. While a few other songs fit the film, for the most part the soundtrack is overbearing.

The acting tends to be a little over the top, which makes it feel a bit more campy than it should. It was rated PG-13, and it shows. There’s a lot less violence than the other films.

On the whole, it was entertaining and better than I was expecting. But don’t go in expecting much.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Dark Tower Movie Trailer and Book Synopsis

The Dark Tower movie opens tomorrow, based on a series of novels by Stephen King. I read the first two books in the series (The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three) about 15 years ago. I was living in Japan at the time and there was a small English language book library where I borrowed them. I wasn't that keen on the first one - too western for my tastes and the ending rubbed me the wrong way - but thought the second was well written, if rather bizarre. I'm really curious to see how they've adapted the first novel. Apparently after finishing the series King went back and revised The Gunslinger to be in line with the final ending.

To King, The Gunslinger demanded revision because once the series was complete it became obvious that "the beginning was out of sync with the ending." While the revision adds only 35 pages, Dark Tower purists will notice the changes to Allie's fate and Roland's interaction with Cort, Jake, and the Man in Black--all stellar scenes that will reignite the hunger for the rest of the series. Newcomers will appreciate the details and insight into Roland's life. The revised Roland of Gilead (nee Deschain) is embodied with more humanity--he loves, he pities, he regrets. What DT fans might miss is the same ambiguity and mystery of the original that gave the original its pulpy underground feel (back when King himself awaited word from Roland's world). --Daphne Durham (source)
Given the changes, I might like the book better now...

If you haven't read the books, here's the Goodreads listing (the best 'back cover' I could find) for The Gunslinger:

Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King's epic work of fantasy -- what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus -- has spanned a quarter of a century.
Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King's most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement. 
Book I
In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake. 
This new edition of The Gunslinger has been revised and expanded throughout by King, with new story material, in addition to a new introduction and foreword. It also includes four full-color illustrations in the hardcover and trade paperback formats.
The Books in the series in order are:
The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Waste Lands
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Podcast: Get to Work Hurley

If you haven't heard about it, Kameron Hurley, author of The Stars Are Legion, The Mirror Empire, God's War, etc. as well as the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, is doing a podcast. And it is brilliant. In the 4th episode (the most recent) she converses with her agent (warning, there are some TV/movie spoilers in this episode). If you're interested in the writing life I highly recommend these.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Book Review: Halls of Law by V. M. Escalada

Pros: excellent world-building, great characters, interesting plot 

Cons: a few points drag

Kerida Nast was born into a powerful military family, so she’s not happy when it’s discovered that she has the Talent and must leave her family and join the Halls of Law. Flashing objects and people allows Talents to know truth in matters of judgement. Just as she comes to terms with her fate, a foreign invasion takes place, upending her life and forcing her to flee or die. She joins up with some defending soldiers and along the way uncovers a prophecy and a people long believed to be myths.

The world-building is excellent. I loved how the Talent and jewels work. It’s very creepy how the jewels can be used to twist people’s beliefs, emphasizing certain truths at the expense of others. There are a fair number of terms to learn, but you come to them organically and they make the world feel expansive. I loved that women were so prominent in the power structure of the Faraman Polity. Seeing the invading force’s attempts to subjugate the native customs to fit their own belief system was terrifying.

Kerida’s a great protagonist. I loved that she learns a lot through the book. She’s practical and makes hard decisions about her own survival, leaving her feeling ashamed by her lack of heroism. She has a lot of responsibility placed on her and does a remarkable job, despite not being fully trained. I thought the supporting cast was great, especially the archer Wynn. Seeing some of them jeweled was tough because I liked all of them.

The story’s pretty interesting, with a lot of unanswered questions to take up in the next book. I’m hoping the griffin has a larger role.

There are a few points where the story drags a bit as the characters travel a lot over the same territory.

On the whole I really enjoyed this and eagerly await the sequel.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Books Received in July 2017

This month I requested a graphic novel on Netgalley. This series has some exquisite artwork and I'm really enjoying it. It comes out in September, which is when my review will be posted.

Lady Mechanika v4: La Dama de la Muerte
 by Joe Benitez and M. M. Chen

After suffering a tragic loss, Lady Mechanika takes a trip to a smallMexican village just in time for their Día de los Muertos celebration. But the festivities turn truly deadly after the arrival of the Jinetes del Infierno, the mythical Hell Riders. Collects the complete Lady Mechanika Day of the Dead special, La Dama de la Muerte.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Google Cultural Institute - Research Gem

I recently stumbled across this Quartz article about how Google has created a digital archive of 3000 years of world fashion.

Intrigued, I did some digging and discovered Google's Cultural Institute:

Founded in 2011, the Google Cultural Institute is a not-for-profit initiative that partners with cultural organizations to bring the world's cultural heritage online. We build free tools and technologies for the cultural sector to showcase and share their gems, making them more widely accessible to a global audience.

The mass of information here is frankly stunning. Here's a link that will sink hours and hours of your life away learning about all sorts of cultural things: historic lives, ancient sites, museum collections,...

My favourite feature so far is the ability to use street view to 'walk around' landmarks. Want to tour the international space station, Machu Picchu,  Fontevraud Abbey France,  the Monastery of Saint Mina Egypt, the Colosseum Italy... now you can!

(Maybe I'm an idiot, but it took me a while to figure out why simply clicking the photos didn't do anything. To use the streetview feature, click on the map, then - when you're at the map - drag the little man on the bottom right of the screen to the area with the arrow. It will switch to the 3D view of the building/street/site you've picked.)

Annoyingly, you have to scroll through the site to find what you're looking for. I'd have expected a company with a famous search engine would be able to make something easily searchable. And yes, if you know what you want to see, you can just go to google maps and access the locations that way. Things with 3D view come up with a blue line when you're dragging the man.

Researching - or virtual visiting - is so much easier than it was in the past. It doesn't quite match going in person to see things, but as you can't go everywhere and do everything, it's a good second.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Story Submission call for Fantastic Trains Anthology

I got the following press release from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing:

Fantastic Trains:
An anthology of Phantasmagorical Engines and Rail Riders

Now open to submissions.

The submission period for Fantastic Trains: An anthology of Phantasmagorical Engines and Rail Riders officially opens, July 27, 2017. Submissions will be accepted until Midnight September 30, 2017.

Edited by Jerome Stueart and Neil Enock, the anthology focuses on speculative fiction stories of trains—fantasy, steampunk, science fiction, horror, slipstream, urban fantasy, apocalyptic, set in any time, any place—and will be released by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing in the spring of 2018.

“This book will appeal to both lovers of the fantastic, and train aficionados,” says Jerome Stueart, co-editor.

“Ultimately, we’re looking for great stories. Check out the official call for submissions,” says Neil Enock, co-editor.

Stories must be previously unpublished, in English, between 1,000-5,000 words.

Submissions are open to all writers. The editors will accept stories previously published in a language other than English, but they must first be translated into English before submission.

Submissions should be e-mailed to: (CLICK). The e-mail must contain the word "submission" in the subject line. Submissions must be sent as an attachment: in .DOCX, DOC. or .RTF format.

Authors are invited to structurally play with some 'locomotifs' that will add interesting connections to these disparate and individual stories.

For more information, check out the call for submissions:

Shout-Out: The Bone Mother by David Demchuk

Three neighboring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.
Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Oldest Known Hymn in the World

I stumbled across this Vintage News article about the h.6 stone tablet a while back, along with one of several interpretations of how the hymn might have sounded. The article has more info, so if you like the music, check it out.

The Hurrian songs are a group of stone tablets with music inscribed in the cuneiform writing system. These were unearthed from the ancient Amorite city of Ugarit and date to approximately 1400 BC.
One of these tablets (h.6), contains the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal, making it the earliest markedly entire piece of composed music in the world. On some of the broken pieces, the composers’ names are inscribed, but h.6 is an anonymous work.
The lyrics of the h.6 tablet are a hymn to Nikkal, a Semitic goddess of orchards. It also contains inscribed directions for a singer playing a nine-stringed sammûm, a type of harp or, more likely, a lyre. Instructions for how to tune the harp are also contained on some of the tablets.
The hymn is played by Michael Levy on the lyre.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Book Review: Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Pros: fun characters, interesting story, quick read

Cons: repetition

Greta Helsing is a modern day human doctor who treats the supernatural. When she’s called to a vampire’s house for an emergency, she discovers that a mysterious group is hunting ‘creatures of evil’, a group that might be connected to the ‘rosary ripper’ murders plaguing London.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The characters were quirky and entertaining. I liked that a few of them were familiar from older literary works. The mythologies for the different creatures were a mixture of common folklore with a few twists to make them different and fresh. I particularly liked the interpretation of angels and demons presented. The author did a fantastic job of making the ‘monsters’ feel very human and empathetic.

There’s a particular scene with Greta that I absolutely loved. Most urban fantasy novels have literal kickass female characters, so it was nice reading a book with a female protagonist who doesn’t know any martial arts, who’s terrified by horrific situations, but who manages her fear and is able to act despite it. It was wonderful reading about a woman who didn’t beat anyone up and who relied on her friends to help her when things got tough.

I was somewhat surprised that the core protagonists didn’t warn the supernatural community of their danger, specifically Greta’s patients and employees. I also found it strange that everyone in the group seemed to learn the same information separately - at different times - rather than pooling what they’d learned (or asking more questions of the group that had encountered the antagonists). 

There’s a fair amount of repetition. Several conversations simply repeated information learned earlier. 

On the whole, this was a fun, fast read. I’m very curious to see what adventure Greta has next.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Movie Reveiw: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Directed by George Miller, 1981

Pros: lots of action, great chase scenes 

Cons: limited plot

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, scavengers fight over scarce resources, and gasoline is the new gold. Max is a loner who learns of a compound where oil is still being mined and refined. But the compound is under attack from a gang of bandits.

The film begins with a several minute voiceover explaining how the world fell into anarchy, followed by a very quick synopsis of the salient points of the original Mad Max film. Then the action starts, with a car chase and the iconic souped up cars and dune buggies driven by men in fetish gear. 

I was impressed by the number of supporting women in the film, including a few fighters.

The costumes were pretty good (I still love Max’s leather get up), and there was a lot of action and a couple of great chase scenes.

Max sports a leg brace in recognition of a wound he received at the end of the original film, which I thought was cool. Another character has his legs bound, making me believe he was paraplegic. Neither is treated as invalids, in fact, if I’m right, the minor character has a role tailor made to get around his disability.

The story is pretty basic, and most of the twists are pretty obvious.

As with the first film, there’s an off screen rape, though this one has more nudity associated with it and so can be triggering.

As an action film, this holds up pretty well. It’s entertaining and atmospheric, so it’s not hard to see why the franchise is being reborn.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Shout-out: Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard

Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too.

That’s the slogan. The product: a junky contraption that tattoos personalized revelations on its users’ forearms. It’s an old con, playing on the fear that we are obvious to everybody except ourselves. This particular one’s been circulating New York since the 1960s. The ad works. And, oddly enough, so might the device...

A small stream of city dwellers buy into this cult of the epiphany machine, including Venter Lowood’s parents. This stigma follows them when they move upstate, where Venter can’t avoid the whispers of teachers and neighbors any more than he can ignore the machine’s accurate predictions: his mother’s abandonment and his father’s disinterest. So when Venter’s grandmother finally asks him to confront the epiphany machine and inoculate himself against his family’s mistakes, he’s only too happy to oblige.

Like his parents before him, Venter is quick to fall under the spell of the device’s sweat-stained, profane, and surprisingly charming operator, Adam Lyons. But unlike them, Venter gets close enough to Adam to learn a dark secret. There’s an undeniable pattern between specific epiphanies and violent crimes. And Adam won’t jeopardize the privacy of his customers by alerting the police.

It may be a hoax, but that doesn’t mean what Adam is selling isn’t also spot-on. And in this sprawling, snarling tragicomedy about accountability in contemporary America, the greater danger is that Adam Lyon’s apparatus may just be right about us all.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Video: Movies with Mikey: Logan

Movies with Mikey is a youtube series by Mikey Neumann on Chainsawsuit Original that analyzes films. I find them pretty interesting. They go in depth, so it's better if you've seen the films he's talking about. Recently he's done Amelie, Guardians of the Galaxy, Arrival, and Logan:

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Book Review: Sovereign by April Daniels

Pros: great characters, interesting plot, complex issues

Cons: some interactions annoyed me, a bit heavy handed at times

Note: This review contains spoilers for Dreadnought, the first book in this series.

Nine months have passed since the events of Dreadnought, and Danielle has a contract to protect New Port City. She’s begun to love the feeling of power being a superhero provides, beating supervillians into submission in ways that Doc Impossible finds worrisome. Her relationship with Calamity has soured, though she’s not sure why, and multiple work and family issues occupy her thoughts. Soon after she hears news that Nemesis, the asteroid that creates quantum instabilities, is nearing Earth, a new supervillian emerges with a plan to harness its power for nefarious purposes.

I have mixed feelings about this book. There were several opening scenes that annoyed and/or made me uneasy. While some of these were dealt with in detail and worked out later on, others didn’t get much attention beyond the initial mentions.

In the first book Danielle was predominately characterized by optimism. Though her life was pretty terrible, when things got tough she constantly believed they would get better again. Dreadnought focused very specifically on Danielle’s concerns as a young woman coming of age in challenging circumstances. Sovereign broadens the outlook to show that most issues in life are complex and people can’t always be characterized as simply good or evil. Her sudden liking of violence and her enjoyment of beating people up was a little scary to read. While she’s in the pay of the government, she goes outside that purview on more than one occasion. The idea that might makes right is not ok, even if you’re the hero. Some would say, especially then. The book does deal with this, and I was happy with how the ending focused on the fact that emotional trauma doesn’t just go away with time. 

I was impressed with how the author handled Sarah and Danielle’s relationship. I loved seeing young people talk frankly about their feelings and fears instead of drawing out the misunderstandings.  

I enjoyed Kinetiq’s group work, but her first interaction with Danielle in the book kind of annoyed me. While I understand Kinetiq’s annoyance/anger that Dreadnought took credit for a group fight, their lack of consideration for Dreadnought’s age or current circumstances and insistence that she use every public appearance to push the transgender agenda ignores the fact that Dreadnought, as an acknowledged transgender superhero, already pushes that agenda.  

Graywytch was an even more horrible character in this book than the last, though she doesn’t spout slurs this time. Reading about a TERF (Trans-exclusionary radical feminist) was painful. I find it hard to attach the label ‘feminist’ to women who believe transwomen aren’t ‘real’ women, as if there’s only one experience of womanhood and all ‘real’ women share it. But it’s good to face it in fiction, as it’s often through fiction (and other types of media) that people learn empathy and compassion, and that society collectively becomes more socially aware.

I didn’t think the book dealt with the Magma and Doc issue well. Both characters have valid complaints about what happened to the Legion, and sometimes there’s no right answer that pleases everyone. While Doc was under outside control and therefore wasn’t personally responsible for the murders her body committed, Magma does have the right be angry that Doc’s lies left the Legion at a disadvantage, and feel betrayed that she never shared who her mother was. The book takes Danielle’s POV that Doc wasn’t to blame and Magma should just get over it. But this ignores that he and Chlorophyll were left permanently disabled because of that attack. I think it’s understandable that they don’t want anything to do with Doc anymore.

In terms of world-building, the author mentions several of the laws that govern superhero work. Things like the ability to buy bystander insurance and that there are legal work limits for superhero minors. One issue that wasn’t mentioned, that I’d be curious to learn the answer to, is whether superheroes have to pay for property damage incurred during their legally sanctioned missions. 

The book has a lot of excellent fight scenes, in a variety of settings. They propel the plot along and keep the pacing quick.

The plot itself was quite interesting. There’s a lot of different super powered people in this one, on all sides of the fence, and it was fun learning their different powers and where they land on the varied political spectrums.

While I didn’t like this book as fully as I did the first one, I was impressed that the author dealt with some difficult issues that many superhero books ignore. I thought Danielle’s development made sense given her life experiences, and am curious to see what the next book has in store for her.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Downplaying Romance in SFF

An article came out recently about the Bechdel test and how it’s unrealistic to expect good movies to conform to arbitrary guidelines. I won’t be commenting on the author’s complete misunderstanding of what the Bechdel test is for, instead I’ll be dealing with the conversations that have arisen from its final paragraph.

…women tend to write movies about relationships, and men tend to write movies about aliens and shootouts. Have a wander through the sci-fi and fantasy section of your local bookstore: How many of these books’ authors are female? Yet these are where the big movie ideas come from. If a woman wants the next Lord of the Rings–style franchise to pass the Bechdel Test, then a woman should come up with a story with as much earning potential as J. R. R. Tolkien’s.

As a former bookseller I can safely say that this author's not looked at the SFF section of a bookstore in a long time because there are a TON of women writing all kinds of science fiction and fantasy. He's also ignoring the fact that a woman (J. K. Rowling) has already written a fantasy series that's as big of a commercial success as The Lord of the Rings in both book and film.

But I’m not going to be talking about that either. Years ago I did a reading list for female science fiction authors (maybe I should update that list and do another one for fantasy authors). No, what I want to write about here is a response I’ve seen in reply to this article.

Barnes & Noble did a twitter post showing the spines of several books by women. A female commenter had an interesting response:

If you can't read it, she's complaining that the books all look like either young adult or romance - based on the spines (that is, based on the fact that the authors are women).

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of Signal to Noise, Certain Dark Things and the forthcoming The Beautiful Ones, took exception to the fact that her books are often called YA and then dismissed as not being worth reading. She tweeted the following (note, I edited the feed so it reads top to bottom and removed a few tweets due to length).

I understand Moreno-Garcia's point, that having a romance sub/plot or writing YA shouldn't make things inferior. My concern is that if we downplay romance then we feed into the belief that romance is shameful/wrong/unworthy. And I don't like that.

Instead, reviewers should start pointing out the romantic plots/subplots in books written by men. Make it clear that men also write touchy feely scenes. Point out when their romances feel realistic and natural. Mention when they’re written for the male gaze (women are only there as eye candy - eg: the sexy scientist who does yoga to maintain her flexibility - wink wink). If we bring attention to the fact that books by men also have romantic subplots, then it will become harder to dismiss women's writing because they do the same thing.

Writing good romance/sex scenes is HARD. Which is why I used to believe I hated romance in books.

Then I read some great SFF with well written romance and realized I actually enjoy it.

Here are some examples of fantasy books with excellent romantic sub-plots by women: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, Poison Study by Maria Snyder.

And some by men: Lamentation by Ken Scholes, The Bands of Mourning & Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson, The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks, Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams.

Note, these aren’t all ‘category romance’, by which I mean, they don’t all end happily ever after the way category romance must. I’m not keen on books where the main plot is two people coming together (for several reasons, often they involve a lot of lying and they fall in love too fast to be believable, but mainly because I like plot driven rather than character driven novels), but I like a good relationship that’s built up over several books and feels organic and real. I especially like good relationships that include some fun banter (one of the best I’ve read for this is Dhampir and Thief of Lives by Barb and J. C. Hendee - though the later books lose the banter and my enjoyment of the series declined).

The Tomb may have been the first book by a man where the romance is what got me interested in continuing the story. The opening scenes show a very visceral longing Jack has for the girlfriend who recently left him. I wanted them to get back together so badly, even knowing why she left.

And speaking of Tokien, the romance between Faramir and Eowyn was one of my favourite parts of Return of the King. I loved that this fierce, determined, capable woman found a man who admired those aspects of her nature. I felt that he truly respected her as a person. Was it a major part of the story? No, but it tied up her segment of the story nicely.

Society has this strange idea than women love romance and relationships and men don’t. Aside from the fact that most men want to be in loving relationships, sex and love are fundamentals to human existence. Most novels mention them to some extent, regardless of who they're written by. No, romance doesn't have to be the focus, but to state that books written by women only deal with romance and books written by men don’t deal with it at all ignores reality. It also ignores a lot of male authors who - though they often try to deny it - write romance novels.

But since not everything is for every reader, here are some fantasy novels by women that have little to no romance in them at all: The Sleeping God by Violette Malan, Transformation by Carol Berg, The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan, Resenting the Hero by Moira Moore (this series develops a romance as time goes on, but the first two books basically just have some great flirty banter), The Summoner by Gail Martin (a rather good romance develops in the second book).

And some books where the romance takes center stage: Lord of the Fading Lands by C. L. Wilson, Archangel by Sharon Shinn, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, The Death House by Sarah Pinborough.

I'm only using fantasy novels as examples here (without bringing in urban fantasy), as that's what the original posts I'm responding to seemed to criticize. If I went into science fiction or other forms of fantasy, steampunk, etc. I could have even more examples. I also only used books that I remember clearly enough to know what level of romance they have (which, unfortunately, means these suggestions are very white).

So, where do you stand? Do you think romance is good in novels - as plots, subplots? Do you notice when men write good romance storylines? Do you wish romance would just stay out of books? What are your favourite romances in SFF books?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Shout-Out: Voiceless by E. G. Wilson

Adelaide Te Ngawai was thirteen when Maunga Richards stole her voice. 
Addy is plunged into silence when a high school bully inflicts her with an incurable disease that leaves her unable to speak, write, or create. Vox Pox—a man-made malady that’s been terrorizing the city for months. Resilient, Addy fights to survive. To not be silenced. But then her brother, Theo, is infected as well. 
Desperate for any information that might help cure Theo, Addy follows Maunga into a newly developed virtual psychoreality simulator and discovers a conspiracy deeper than she’d ever imagined. How far will she go to save her brother?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Gun powder artist

I saw this on facebook a while back and thought it was pretty incredible. Dino Tomic (youtube, instagram) is a tattoo artist from Norway who uses gun powder to create amazing works of art, some of which you can buy. He also makes salt pictures, like this one of Daenerys from Game of Thrones.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Book Review: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder

Pros: excellent worldbuilding, deftly woven alternate history, fun characters

Cons: lot of explanations of steampunk vehicles, antagonist gives an expository speech, albino antagonist

A major assassination has changed the world of 1860s Britain into one with mechanical flying and driving machines and genetically modified bird and dog messengers. Sir Richard Burton, the famous explorer, is called by the prime minister to become an agent of the crown and investigate two cases: werewolves kidnapping chimneysweeps and appearances of an entity called Spring Heeled Jack. 

The melding of history and fantasy in this book is fantastic. The book ends with short biographies of the principle characters, but further research showed just how much research went into this book. I loved how the world has changed - adding both biological and mechanical developments. The use of language - especially given Spring Heeled Jack’s unintelligible (to them) speech - and how they interpret his pronouncements, was quite convincing.

The ‘characters’ were all pretty fun, and surprisingly bizarre considering they’re mostly based on real people (which just shows that truth is stranger than fiction).

I personally found the longer descriptions of the steampunk technology kind of boring, but your mileage may vary.

There’s a long section where you finally learn all about Spring Heeled Jack by way of the main antagonist telling it to a group of peers in a place where Burton can overhear it. Seems to me this story would have been told long ago, like when everyone joined together in the first place. In the author’s defence, I’m not sure how else all of this information could have been relayed to Burton, though he seemed to figure out enough of what was going on that a full reveal to him wasn’t really necessary, and readers could have kept the flashback scenes from ‘Jack’s’ point of view.

One of the antagonists is called an albino, though he isn’t really one once you learn his background. It’s annoying just in that albinos are often made into bad guys for no reason other than their looks.

On the whole this was an entertaining novel with a decent mystery. It’s a cool period of history to examine and it’s fascinating the changes one death can make.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Reading List: Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Authors

Most of these are Canadian authors living in Canada. A few of them live outside of Canada, and a few authors listed here (the ones with * next to their name) are not Canadian citizens but either live or lived - and write/wrote - in Canada long enough for us to claim them. A few of the authors listed only write in French and haven't been translated into English. In other cases I used one of their English titles.

Most of this list was compiled several years ago when I was still working at the World's Biggest Bookstore (back then I did an endcap with Ontario Speculative Fiction Authors, and posted a reading list). I did a few google searches to flesh out authors I didn't know about or had forgotten. While it's a long list, it's not comprehensive. I try to know a lot but I can't know every everything, so if you know someone who's been missed or someone who was added and shouldn't have been, please tell me in the comments.

Below the Line - Scott Albert
The Stoneholding - James Anderson and Mark Sebanc
The Masked Truth - Kelley Armstrong
vN - Madeline Ashby
Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
What We Salvage - David Baillie
The Night Inside - Nancy Baker
The White-Luck Warrior - R. Scott Bakker
The Binding Stone - Don Bassingthwaite
Deadwalk - Stephanie Bedwell-Grime
The Lake and the Library - Samantha Beiko
Destiny's Blood - Marie Bilodeau
Above - Leah Bobet
Nexus: Ascension - Robert Boyczuk
L'Oiseau de Feu - Jacques Brossard (French)
Small Magics - Erik Buchanan

Les crabes de Venus regardent vers le ciel - Alain Bergeron (French)
Pontypool Changes Everything - Tony Burgess
The Red Knight - Miles Cameron
Genesis - Paul Chafe
The Dragon’s Eye - Joel Champetier
The Good Brother - E. L. Chen
Appleseed - John Clute
The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved - Joey Comeau 
Neptune’s Children - Michael Coney *
A Turn of Light - Julie Czerneda
Angel of Death - Karen Dales
Sarah Court - Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter/Patrick Lestewka)
Against a Darkening Sky - Lauren Davis
Under My Skin - Charles de Lint
Indigo Springs - A. M. Dellamonica 
The Bone Mother - David Demchuk
Maleficium - Martine Desjardins
The Dragon and the George - Gordon Dickson
Makers - Cory Doctorow *
Black Wine - Candas Jane Dorsey 
Alchemist’s Apprentice - Dave Duncan
The Honey Month - Amal El-Mohtar
Gardens of the Moon - Steve Erikson
Shrinking the Heroes - Minister Faust 
Book of Tongues - Gemma Files
Shadowplay - Nigel Findley *
Halcyon - Catherine Fitzsimmons
Triptych - J. M. Frey
Hunted - James Alan Gardner
Stuff of Legends - Ian Gibson
Spook Country - William Gibson
The Old Die Rich - H. L. Gold
Mindworld - Phillis Gotlieb
Hopeful Monsters - Hiromi Goto *
Sailing Time’s Ocean - Terence Green
Elminster Enraged - Ed Greenwood
Venus on Orbis - P. J. Haarsma
Lament for the Afterlife - Lisa Hannett
Filaria - Brent Hayward *
Gamification - Keith Hollihan
The New Moon's Arms - Nalo Hopkinson

The Wild Ways - Tanya Huff
Fools Errant - Matthew Hughes *
The Keeper of the Isis Light - Monica Hughes *
Spells of Blood and Kin - Claire Humphrey
Northern Frights - Don Hutchison
Blackdog - K. V. Johansen
Fall From Earth - Matthew Johnson
River of Stars - Guy Gavriel Kay
The Skids - Ian Donald Keeling
Ouroboros - Michael Kelly
The Snow Queen - Eileen Kernaghan
Revenge of the Vampire King - Nancy Kilpatrick
The Moon Goddess and the Son - Donald Kingsbury *
Alex and the Ironic Gentleman - Adrienne Kress
Objects of Worship - Claude Lalumiere
Once Every Never - Lesley Livingston
Gaslight Dogs - Karin Lowachee
Running on Instinct - Nicole Luiken (aka N.M. Luiken)
The Moon Under Her Feet - Derwin Mak
The Mirror Prince - Violette Malan (aka V. M. Escalada)
The Prince of the Golden Cage - Nathalie Mallet
Sporeville - Paul Marlowe
Hair Side, Flesh Side - Helen Marshall
Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies - James Marshall
Darwin’s Paradox - Nina Marteanu
The City Underground - Suzanne Martel
The Delphi Room - Melia McClure
Angels and Exiles - Yves Meynard
The Thirteen - Susie Moloney
Temps Mort - Charles Montpetit (French)
Resenting the Hero - Moira Moore
Certain Dark Things - Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Everyone in Silico - Joe Munroe
Napier’s Bones - Derryl Murphy
Blaze of Glory - Sheryl Nantus
Eutopia - David Nickle
Technicolor Ultra Mall - Ryan Oakley
Janus - John Park *
The Silver Lake - Fiona Patton
Nelle de Vilveq - Francine Pelletier (French)
At the Edge of Waking - Holly Phillips
Sins of the Angels - Linda Poitevin
The Raven's Warrior - Vincent Pratchett
The Demonologist - Andrew Pyper

Dark Matter - Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Telempath - Spider Robinson *
The Shell - Esther Rochon
Every House is Haunted - Ian Rogers
The Mona Lisa Sacrifice - Peter Roman
Enter, Night - Michael Rowe
Paradise Tales - Geoff Ryman
Silence - Michelle Sagara (aka Michelle Sagara West)
Red Planet Blues - Robert J. Sawyer
Virga: Cities of the Air - Karl Schroeder
Chronoreg - Daniel Sernine (French)
Sacrifice of the Widow - Lisa Smedman
Chimerascope - Douglas Smith
Moonfall - Heather Spears
Bloodlight Chronicles: Reconciliation - Steve Stanton
The Prince of Outcasts - S. M. Stirling *
Dead Girls Don’t - Mags Storey
Nobody's Son - Sean Stewart
The Angels of our Better Beers - Jerome Stueart
Ink - Amanda Sun
Frozen Blood - Joel A. Sutherland
The Pattern Scars - Caitlin Sweet
Take Us To Your Chief and Other Stories - Drew Hayden Taylor
Run With the Wolves: The Pack - T. C. Tombs
Defining Diana - Hayden Trenholm
Night Runner - Max Turner
Battle Dragon - Edo van Belkon
Slan - A. E. Van Vogt
In the Mother’s Land - Elisabeth Vonarburg *
Among Others - Jo Walton *
Meatheads - Noah Wareness
Blind Sight - Peter Watts
Station Gehenna - Andrew Weiner *
The World More Full of Weeping - Robert Wiersema
Lost in Translation - Edward Willett
The Courtesan Prince - Lynda Williams
Spin - Robert Charles Wilson
Westlake Soul - Rio Youers

Major Karnage - Gord Zajac