Saturday, 31 January 2015

Books Received in January, 2015

Many thanks to the publishers who sent me books this month.

The Martian by Andy Weir - I've already read and reviewed this book.  It was awesome.  Go read it.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won''t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment.

Nexus by Ramez Naam - This book has been on my radar ever since it came out in 2012.

Mankind gets an upgrade
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.

The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock - This is Moorcock's first non-series book in years and sounds really interesting.

In 1253, Henry III granted a parcel in the heat of London to refugees from the Holy Land, the Carmelite friars.  Their garb gave the district its name: Whitefriars.  Later, when designated a sanctuary, it gained another: Alsacia.  Outside the law, the quarter became a haven for criminals, debtors, adventurers, and misfits.  Judging none, welcoming all, the brothers' only concern was to escape history's notice and its troubles.
So Alsacia did not suffer like the rest of the world.  No plague infected it.  No Great Fire consumed it.  No Blitz demolished it.  Within its walls, the friars persisted down the centuries, quietly keeping the secret of their true nature and purpose, guarding truths of cosmic import and a nameless treasure.  
But in the years after World War II, a young Londoner named Michael stumbles into Alsacia, stunned to discover and impossible place where reality and romance, life and death, fiction and history coexist  Neither Michael nor Alsacia will ever be the same again.

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley - I received an advance reading copy of this book.  I'm really enjoying this series.  You can read my review for The Emperor's Blades and The Providence of Fire.  I'm including the synopsis for The Emperor's Blades, book one in the series, as things start to get spoilery quickly.

The emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing--and risk everything--to see that justice is meted out.

The Turnip Princess And Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales Collected by Franz Xavier von Schönwerth; translated by Maria Tatar; edited by Erika Eichenseer - I love fairytales so I'm excited by the chance to read all these tales that have been lost for over a hundred years.

With this volume, the holy trinity of tellers of fairy tales—the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen—becomes a quartet. In the 1850s, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth traversed the depths of the Black Forest and scaled the heights of the Bavarian Alps to record fairy tales, gaining the admiration of even the Brothers Grimm. Most of Schönwerth’s work was lost—until a few years ago, when a researcher unearthed thirty boxes of manuscripts in a municipal archive in Germany.
Now, for the first time, Schönwerth’s lost fairy tales are available in English. Violent, dark, and full of action, and upending the relationship between damsels in distress and their dragon-slaying heroes, they bring us closer than ever to the unadorned oral tradition in which fairy tales are rooted, revolutionizing our understanding of a hallowed genre.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Shout-Out: Ourselves by S. G. Redling

They have always been among us.

An ancient, enigmatic race, the Nahan have protected their secret world by cultivating the myths of fanged, bloodsucking monsters that haunt legends. Yet they walk through our world as our coworkers and our neighbors, hiding in plain sight and coexisting in peace. They survive…and they prosper.

A shy young dreamer, Tomas wanders through his life with help from his good friends and influential family on the ruling Council. Now, he’s decided his future lies with the Nahan’s most elite class: the mysterious Storytellers. But his family is troubled by his new choice—and by his new girlfriend, Stell, a wild, beautiful, and deadly outcast from a fanatical Nahan sect.

As Tomas descends into the dark wonders of the Nahan’s most powerful culture, Stell answers her own calling as an exceptional assassin. But when a lethal conspiracy threatens their destinies, Tomas and Stell must unite their remarkable talents against the strongest—and most sinister—of their kind.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Video: Movie Mash: Gremlins and Taken

The fine people who do the How it Should Have Ended videos have started a new series where they feature other content creators and their interesting videos.  They recently released one by Hank and Jed called Movie Mash: Gremlins and Taken, where they mashed aspects of the two movies together.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Comic Review: Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever, The Original Screenplay

by Harlan Elison, Scott Tipton and David Tipton
Illustrated by J. K. Woodward
cover by Juan Ortiz and Paul Shipper

Pros: great artwork, interesting story, thought provoking messages

Cons: story drags a bit in the middle, some unnecessary characters

A drug dealer on the Enterprise teleports to a planet that has been making the chronometers on the ship count backwards.  When an away team follows, the fugitive passes through a portal to Earth in the 1930s.  A change there affects the present, forcing Kirk and Spock to go after him.

The story has Kirk fall for a woman who’s making things better for those living in the depression era, but Spock discovers that she’s fated to die and saving her life is what changed the timeline.  

There are a lot of differences between the original screen play and the episode that aired under this name.  Several characters are removed entirely or condensed, making the plot tighter.  The guardian is the same in essence but not in execution.  I thought some of the changes made the story stronger but others changed its ultimate message.  I’ll detail my thoughts on this in the spoiler section.

The artwork is in a realistic style that I enjoyed.  The shading is done in such a way that each panel looks more like an oil painting than a comic book page.  Expressions are clear and give added emotion to the story.  Even full pages of dialogue have interesting backgrounds and character motion.

Ultimately, I preferred the TV episode to the screenplay, but I think the screenplay has a lot to offer and this comic rendition of it is beautifully done.  It’s an excellent story and a wonderful tribute to Star Trek fans to make it available.

[There are conflicting publishing dates for this comic, with Amazon showing February 17th and Indigo February 10th.  The publisher, IDW,'s site doesn't show a date at all and Netgalley, where I got the review copy, says the 3rd.] 

*** Spoilers ***

When it comes to the aired episode I found that there was more connection for the other characters - and the viewers - having McCoy be the one to go back in time rather than an unknown crew member.  I thought making Edith the one who finds Spock and Kirk and offers them a job made the story cleaner and less complicated.  Having the Enterprise simply not be there made more sense than having an alternate ship just happen to be at the planet, at that exact time with the same transporter and communications technology as the Enterprise.  I preferred Spock’s discovery of Edith’s importance and how history changes to the guardian’s predictions and Spock’s guesswork that are used in the screenplay.  The episode’s discoveries come as more of a shock than the screenplay’s and knowing how things change helps mitigate the ending in a way that the character’s educated guesses just don’t accomplish.

With regards to the screenplay, I thought its handling of the Verdun soldier’s character was much better.  While the idea that some people matter in the greater scheme of things and others don’t may not be the nicest message, having the character die in the episode, with no one even knowing about it and no commentary about it, seemed like a waste.  

It’s also unfortunate that Yeoman Rand’s scenes were cut, as it would have been cool to see a woman shooting a door open in the episode.

The screenplay builds Kirk and Edith’s relationship better than the episode.  In the show, when he says he loves her you question it, as they’ve only known each other a short time.  In the screenplay there’s the idea that more time has passed and you see Spock warn the captain off, already seeing what’s happening.  

The end moral of the screenplay, that sometimes good comes from evil and evil from good is lost in the episode as you’re only left with the ‘evil from good’ half.  It’s the one reason using Beckwith would have been better as the antagonist than McCoy.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Shout-Out: A Fold in the Tent of the Sky by Michael Hale

Struggling actor Peter Abbott is about to land the biggest role of his life. His audition for Calliope Associates-a clandestine private investigation firm made up of men and women with highly developed psychic abilities-requires only proof of Peter's psychic skills, no dramatic monologue.

Business is booming until members of the group begin disappearing at the hands of fellow psychic Simon Haywood. His genius is matched only by Peter's, but Simon alone discovers a unique way to use his extrasensory skills to travel back in time, committing crimes without any trace. Simon's mind grows warped and paranoid as the universe strains against his tinkering. Terrified that his extracurricular voyages will be curtailed, he plans to "erase" his colleagues. But Simon's methods are not exactly cold-blooded; instead he goes back to the moment of his victims' conception and prevents them from being created. Because no one in the present day recalls he or she ever existed, he's not caught . . . until Peter realizes what's happening. Now time is running out as Simon's sociopathic travels are disrupting the universe, folding and twisting the constraints of matter to a near-breaking point and threatening to spin the entire cosmos out of control.

A Fold in the Tent of the Sky takes murder into a new dimension as it races toward its electrifying, time-twisting climax.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Medieval Plants: Common Yarrow

A column looking at medieval plants and what they were use for. (Archive)

By O. Pichard source
Latin name: Achillea millefolium
aka: nosebleed plant, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, bad man’s plaything, soldier’s woundwort, bloodwort, allheal, millefolium,, milfoil, old man’s mustard, stanchweed, field hops, etc.

The Latin name for this bitter plant is said to come from a legend from the Trojan war.  Achilles, having been taught by the centaur Chiron, used this plant to stop the bleeding of his comrades on the battlefield.  The second half of its name comes from the feathery leaves that have mille folium, a “thousand leaf” form.  The English name, yarrow, comes from the Saxon, gearwe, which means healer (Ricola).

From ancient times up through the American civil war the plant was used to treat wounds on battlefields.  Crushed, it could be inserted into the nostrils to stop nosebleeds.  (Kowalchik, p.516-518).  

Hildegard von Bingen suggested using yarrow cooked with fennel as an aid for insomnia (when squeezed out and wrapped around the head) (93).  She added fresh dill to it in her nosebleed recipe, advising that the herbs be put around the forehead, temples and chest (97).  Drunk, it could help heal internal injuries and bring down tertian fever (141).  Yarrow was also added to mixtures that helped women with their menses (138).

In addition to the usual use for treating wounds, Pliny says the plant could also help with bladder issues, asthma and toothache (v5, p61).  

According to wikipedia, it was part of an herbal mixture known as gruit, used in the flavouring of beer before hops.

Given all the healing information I found about the plant I was a bit surprised it made the magic bed of the garden rather than the medicinal bed.  The only information I’d found for its use in magic was an offhand comment that it was supposedly used by witches in incantations (Kowalchick).  So I googled yarrow and witchcraft and came across the Witchipedia website, where I got the following information.  The plant was said to assist both in the summoning and driving away the devil.  In fact, yarrow was used in Christian exorcism rituals.  It was also used as a protective herb, hanging over cradles to protect babies, strewn across the threshold of a house to prevent unhelpful spirits from entering and put in Saxon amulets.

I’m sticking to the medieval European uses of the plant as that’s where my interest lies, but the plant has been known and used in China for over a thousand years.  Native Americans also used it for medicinal purposes.


Hildegard von Bingen. Physica: The Complete English Translation of her Classic Work on Health and Healing. Trans. Priscilla Throop. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2011. 

Kowalchick, Claire and William Hylton, Ed. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1998.

Pliny. Natural History v. 1-6. Trans. John Bostock and H. T. Riley. London: Henry Bohn, 1851.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Shout-Out: When by Victoria Laurie

Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers, but it takes her father's premature death for Maddie and her family to realize that these mysterious digits are actually deathdates, and just like birthdays, everyone has one.
Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching deathdate of one client's young son, but because her ability only allows her to see the when and not the how, she's unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie.
Soon, Maddie is entangled in a homicide investigation, and more young people disappear and are later found murdered. A suspect for the investigation, a target for the murderer, and attracting the attentions of a mysterious young admirer who may be connected to it all, Maddie's whole existence is about to be turned upside down. Can she right things before it's too late?