Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Video: Tofu Legends

This is an interesting video showcasing a grandmother in rural China making tofu for the spring festival. They also show her fetching water, using several old style tools for pounding chilies and rice, cooking delicious looking meals and farming. It’s incredible that people still use some medieval technologies - and how effective they are.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Book Review: Good Guys by Steven Brust

Pros: interesting characters, good investigation

Cons: not immersive, lots of intuitive leaps the reader can’t always follow

Donovan, Marci and Susan work minimum wage for the Foundation’s North American division of Investigations and Enforcement. Their job is to keep the public from learning about the existence of magic by tracking down sorcerers who use magic to commit crimes. When members of their opposition organization, the Mystici, start dying in a mix of what might be magical or mundane means, the three investigate. But if the killer is going after horrible people, does stopping the murders really make them the good guys?

While I loved the premise, I found the execution disappointing. What interested me about the story was the dramatic recruitment story of Donovan, told on the dust jacket and the moral complexities of stopping a killer whose targets you agree should probably die. Instead of starting with a prologue of Donovan’s recruitment or showing it in a first person flashback, the author simply plops it into a rather dry conversation, stripping it of all emotion and impact. And when Donovan questions early on if what they’re doing makes them the good guys, you don’t know the characters well enough or understand the full context of the case, or the history of the Foundation, to even begin to have an opinion. Considering how much about the Foundation and the people working there that Donovan learns about during this case, it seems he doesn’t even know enough about who he’s working for to know if he’s on the right side (which to me sound like the kinds of things to question/learn about before you agree to work for them).

I know I’m getting older because I have a lot of trouble keeping names straight in books nowadays. And having most people go by first names until the end of the book when someone randomly used their last names, threw me. I had to look everyone’s full name to figure out who was being addressed.

The investigation was good though I found myself in that awkward position of sometimes feeling really smart - because I understood Donovan’s cryptic explanations - and sometimes feeling really dumb - because at times Donovan’s explanations jumped some steps that I couldn’t follow.

The characters were all interesting. Donovan’s really clever and I liked seeing him make intuitive leaps (even if I couldn’t always follow them). Seeing how he navigates a racist world was also interesting. I did question his decision to bring suspects to his apartment for interrogation and then just let them go. Seemed a stupid thing to do. Susan was probably my favourite character, being skilled at martial arts and otherwise kind of quirky. Marci felt a bit overpowered as a sorceress, though she does have a refraction period she has to wait between casting more powerful spells.

The world-building was ok. I didn’t quite understand the split between the Foundation and the Mystici, though I did grasp that their philosophy was different. I didn’t understand why slipwalks would cost so much after the initial preparation for the space. I also didn’t believe the accounting error could be found so quickly. 

The ending left me feeling disappointed. There’s a climactic battle that’s completely skipped over, a death that isn’t properly felt, and a resolution with consequences that don’t fit the crimes committed.

The book sounded great, but I wasn’t a fan of the execution.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Movie Review: Radius

Directed by Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard

Pros: interesting premise, good acting, good pacing

Cons: limited answers

Liam wakes up from a car crash with no memory. As he walks towards town he notices people and animals mysteriously dying and fears he’s in a plague zone. But the truth he discovers is much worse.

I went into this movie knowing nothing about it and I enjoyed it a lot. The SF elements are minor but important, and add to the mystery of what’s happening.

It’s heavily character driven, with Liam (Diego Klattenhoff) trying to figure out what’s going on and then realizing that Jane (Charlotte Sullivan) is just as deeply involved. You can feel their frustration and fear as they struggle to get help while not getting caught by the police. The pacing is good, letting them learn/remember enough to keep things interesting.

My husband and I were left with some questions about how Liam’s … powers… worked, which I’ll mention a bit more in the spoiler section below.

The film kept me guessing and had a satisfying ending. 

*** SPOILERS ***

I wondered whether Liam’s powers were tied to him being alive or whether his body would have the same effect. My husband went a step further and asked if parts of his body would have the same effect as the whole. Could his nail clippings hurt someone? A severed finger? If so, would the range be the same or smaller due to the smaller size of the item? Obviously the film assumed that once he died the power died too (even though hair and nails keep growing for a while after death). This could have had an amazing horror ending by showing people drop dead as Rose got further away from him. But I was satisfied with the ending they used.

I found the ending to be a great twist because you really start to like Liam, so the reveals come as a kick to the gut.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Shout-Out: A Tracker's Tale by Karen Avizur

Welcome to the strange and perilous world of Katherine Colebrook: FBI special agent, Los Angeles… Trackers Division.

In Katherine’s world, werewolves, vampires, púcas, and other parasapien species – forced for centuries by human fear and prejudice to live at the fringes of society – have finally come out of hiding to demand their rightful place alongside us. It’s a fragile co-existence, fraught with mutual distrust: a new social contract for which the rules are still evolving. And when those rules break down – usually when a parasapien begins preying on humans – that’s when the Trackers step in. It’s their job to hunt them down and stop them by any means necessary. 
Within this elite unit, Katherine Colebrook is one of the best. Her psychic abilities made her a natural for the Trackers Division, allowing her to move between the parasapien and human worlds in ways that no other agent could. But Katherine’s calling hasn’t come without struggle and losses along the way. As a single mother, she must contend with her teenage daughter, Alexandra, who not only shares Katherine’s psychic abilities, but seems determined to follow the same dangerous path as her mother. 
And so, when Katherine’s latest assignment threatens to bring that danger too close home, she finds herself faced with the toughest challenge of her career: Can she protect her daughter’s life, while battling a ruthless adversary who’ll stop at nothing to destroy her?

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Pros: emotional complexity, fascinating characters, lots of twists, interesting setting

Cons: some issues with the timeline/distances travelled towards the end

When the terrorized daughter of the king witnesses one outrage too many, she steals an artifact that can open diviners to their magical heritage. While escaping, she runs into a young diviner who’s still angry and traumatized by her mother’s execution during the king’s Raid 11 years ago, when magic first disappeared. Together they learn that magic can be returned to the land. But the King sends his son and his general to hunt them down.

There are some great characters in this book. While I didn’t always agree with their choices (especially those of the hot tempered Zélie), I thought their decisions made sense based on their personalities, traumas, and the challenges they faced. I was impressed at the complexity of their emotions and how the author actually dealt with their emotions rather than simply letting the story brush trauma and consequences aside. The book deals with the aftermath of torture, of killing for the first time, of personal failure, of so many harsh emotions and conditions. I really understood the prince’s fear of magic and his desire to please his father, even as he realized what a monster the man was. I felt sorry for him. I also I loved seeing his sister’s growth throughout the book. I also liked how Zélie and Amari slowly learn to trust each other and become friends.

There were quite a few twists and turns, both in terms of the quest, but also in terms of people learning who they are in the face of various trials.

The setting was pretty cool and seemed to draw inspiration from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, particularly the language. Though the country in the book is called Orïsha, I don’t believe the maji religion takes any influence from the Yoruba’s religious practices of the same name (but please correct me if I’m wrong, wikipedia isn’t the best place to get information like this. And as an aside, I enjoyed looking up some of the unfamiliar words to see if they had real world significance. This isn’t necessary to enjoy the book, but why not learn some real culture/history too?). I loved the idea that people capable of magic were physically marked with white hair. The practice of magic itself required a mixture of innate ability and incantations, so it didn’t seem overpowered. I did like that various people questioned the wisdom of bringing magic back, of the problems that could arise if someone evil could wield offensive magic like fire. It treated magic like the dangerous weapon it could be in the wrong hands - or even the right ones.

The world feels very lived in and real. It was quite different from anything I’ve read before and I loved that. I really liked the ryders and wish I could have one. The geography became problematic towards the end, in terms of how quickly people could suddenly travel far distances, which I’ll discuss more in the spoiler section. Though, that’s possibly due to the map being out of scale from the distances the author envisioned.

While they’re not marked as an appendix, after the text comes an author’s note, a ‘behind the scenes’ annotated chapter 57 from the book, and a list of the Maji clans with their powers and the names of their gods. 

While the book wasn’t perfect, it’s unique setting and characters make it worth the read. There’s some romance and a good amount of action, particularly the fight scenes at the end. If you’re looking for a different kind of fantasy, give this a go.

*** SPOILERS ***

Don’t look at the map too closely when following their journey as some of the distances and features don’t make sense. Maps aren’t usually done by the author and tend to be more artistic than accurate, so consider it a rough guide rather than an absolute if, like me, you’re trying to figure out their route.

In terms of the timeline, I can accept that Inan rides like the wind to catch up to the others after leaving his guards behind in Chândomblé, but I was surprised by how willing he and Zélie were to waste a night before going in to rescue their friends at the bandit camp, and that they didn’t even consider sneaking in and avoiding the guards at the gate altogether. And once they befriended the bandits, they decide to stay an extra day for a party, even though they’ve only got 5 days to get to the island? Ignoring the fact that they’re celebrating prematurely, they justify this decision saying that getting a boat in Zaria cuts their travel time in half. Getting a boat in Zaria was always the plan, and it doesn’t cut their travel time down at all, as most of the distance they need to cover is over land. Now, if they took a boat down the river to Jemeta, I’d agree that that would cut down on travel time as land travel is slower and Jimeta would leave them much closer to the island (they do end up taking this route, but overland not by river boat). They’re also ignoring any travel time they’ll need once they get to the island, as the temple isn’t on the coastline on the map. There’s also the problem of how Inan’s men managed to find Zélie’s father and transport him from wherever he was hiding to the island in one day. (Even if you assume the dad was in custody already, he likely wasn’t being held on the East coast, ready to board a boat.) 

On a different note, It seemed a little too convenient for the organizers of the killing theatre in Ibeji to make the winnings so high that they went bankrupt upon someone’s winning the competition. I’m sure they would have kept some of that gold for themselves, enough to create a new cash grab entertainment show. It’s an instance where I thought the book ignored the complexities of life, which was unfortunate as it dealt so well with this in other areas.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Video: Children of the Middle Ages

A lot of fantasy novels seem to ignore children, despite the fact that there would have been a lot of them. With high infant mortality rates (you have several children in the hopes that a few make it to adulthood) and limited birth control methods, families tended to be on the large side.

This documentary shows some of the evidence left behind by children and how historians read between the lines to find out what life was like for them, from the games they played to the work they did.