Thursday, 11 February 2016

Shout-Out: Caretaker by Josi Russell

Fifty years in space—alone.

Ethan Bryant was supposed to fall asleep on a ship leaving Earth and wake up fifty years later with his family on the planet Minea. Instead, after the ship’s caretaker—the lone human in charge of monitoring the ship’s vital systems—suddenly died, the ship’s computer locked Ethan out of his stasis chamber and gave him the job. That was five years ago. Five years of checking to make sure everything runs smoothly on a ship Ethan knows almost nothing about.

Who wouldn’t dread the years ahead? Who wouldn’t long for their once-bright future now stolen away?

Ethan is resigned to his fate, until the ship suddenly wakes up another passenger: a beautiful engineer who, along with Ethan, soon discovers a horrible secret—a navigation room hidden from even the ship’s computer. The ship is not bound for Minea—but to somewhere far more dangerous.

With the ship nearing its sinister destination, Ethan soon learns he is the only one who holds the key to saving all 4,000 passengers from a highly-advanced, hostile alien race.

Book 2, Guardians, is out today.

After fifty years in stasis, Caretaker Ethan Bryant and his passengers have finally arrived
on Minea. But life on the new planet isn’t the utopia that the shiny brochures back on Earth promised. Freed from the mind shackles of the Others of Beta Alora, the colonists are now enslaved by the dusty Yynium mining industry that sustains the new civilization.

When a mysterious shadow passes across the face of the planet Lucidus, it brings with it an ominous threat. Before he can find out the extent of the danger, Ethan is plunged into the vast cave system under the blue karst mountains outside the city of Coriol. There he finds evidence that his greatest fear may be realized: Humans are not alone on Minea.

Aria, a crop geneticist and Ethan’s wife, struggles to find him and to solve a deadly epidemic that is sweeping the population. Kaia, the beautiful engineer who awakened early on Ethan’s stasis ship, and her father, Admiral Phillip Reagan, prepare for a battle with a species they know nothing about. The colonists must call upon their unique gifts and work together. Human survival depends on these guardians of Minea.

The publisher is hosting a giveaway for the books. currently has Guardians on sale for 0.99.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Kickstarter Projcet: BLACK

I finally got around to backing the POC Destroy Science Fiction kickstarter (which is funded but has 9 days left), and the site recommended some other projects I might be interested in.  Turns out it was right and I am interested in BLACK, a graphic novel kickstarted by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph.

The premise:

In a world that already fears and hates them – what if only Black people had superpowers?

Here's the longer synopsis:

After miraculously surviving being gunned down by police, a young man learns that he is part of the biggest lie in history. Now he must decide whether it's safer to keep it a secret or if the truth will set him free.

The $10 mark gets you the 6 issues of the first volume of the comic.  $25+ shipping for the physical book.  It's already funded and working towards the stretch goals.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Book Review: Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!: A Memoir by Harry Harrison

Pros: fascinating story, engaging

Cons: ending feels abrupt

This memoir is split into two parts.  The first details the surprisingly fascinating life of science fiction author Harry Harrison.  The second part is a series of essays that were meant to be incorporated into the main text but the author, unfortunately, passed away before that could be completed.  As the essays contain some overlapping information, it was decided to keep them separate from the main text.  These essays provide more in depth information into aspects of Harrison’s life that were otherwise skipped over or barely touched on in the book: his friendship with John Campbell, turning Make Room! Make Room! into the film Soylent Green, how he played with some of his writing ideas to make book series out of them, etc.

I haven’t read many memoirs.  Most people - frankly - don’t live particularly interesting lives.  Interesting, I mean to say, to people other than themselves.  Harry Harrison, who was born in 1925 and passed away in 2012 just days after completing this book, lived a fascinating life.  He served in World War II (in the US), he lived in Mexico, England, Italy, Denmark, and Ireland.  He knew a lot of the early movers and shakers of the SF world, and participated (sometimes ran) conventions around the world.  

The text is pretty engaging, keeping me reading long past the parts I thought I’d find interesting (his WWII service, living overseas after the war).  He keeps the book upbeat, mentioning that things were bad at certain times but not dwelling on the details.  While the story is told in a linear fashion, he does jump ahead at times.  So, for example, the same paragraph that introduces the woman he married - and spent 50+ years with - also explains how and when she died.

The essays provide a lot of interesting side information, though the repetition of things from the text and the lack of narrative momentum given the rest of the text made the last few harder to get through.  The ending feels a bit abrupt as a result.  While the main text has a nice conclusion, the essays - not meant to stand alone - don’t.  Having a short conclusion by someone else would have fixed this.  By pure accident I read the acknowledgements after the book (I must have skipped the page by mistake), and it actually forms a nice conclusion, with some remarks by Harrison’s daughter. 

While this isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own (I was sent a copy for review a while back), I’m glad I gave it a chance.  And having enjoyed Harrison’s writing style, I may need to expand my reading of his works beyond Make Room! Make Room!.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Shout-Out: Graft by Matt Hill

Manchester, 2025. Local mechanic Sol steals old vehicles to meet the demand for spares. But when Sol’s partner impulsively jacks a luxury model, Sol finds himself caught up in a nightmarish trans-dimensional human trafficking conspiracy.

Hidden in the stolen car is a voiceless, three-armed woman called Y. She’s had her memory removed and undertaken a harrowing journey into a world she only vaguely recognises. And someone waiting in the UK expects her delivery at all costs.

Now Sol and Y are on the run from both Y’s traffickers and the organisation’s faithful products. With the help of a dangerous triggerman and Sol’s ex, they must uncover the true, terrifying extent of the trafficking operation, or it’s all over.

Not that there was much hope to start with.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Sarah, Please Keep Doing Special Needs in Strange Worlds

I don’t normally comment on controversial issues in SFF, but sometimes you can’t stay silent.

SF Signal posted a Special Needs in Strange Worlds entry titled, “We are all disabled” that has caused a lot of hurt. (The post has been removed from the site but @eilatan took this screenshot of the post and asked that it only be shared with a TRIGGER WARNING)  While I was not personally affected by it (I found it more confusing than anything, and didn’t agree with the premise), I understand that many in our community were.  

I have learned a lot from the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column.  I have also learned a lot from the responses I’ve read about this particular post - responses that explained why it was insensitive to post, offensive, how it fed into stereotypes associated with autism.  How it hurt to read on such a well respected site as SF Signal.

SF Signal messed up.  Sarah messed up.  

I was taught that three things are necessary when you make a mistake:
1. Apologize 

2. Make restitution 
You have to somehow make up for what you’ve done.  First, they removed the post.  Good start.  Some other possibilities to help in this instance could be to post on SF Signal one or two responses to the original post, explaining why it was offensive and different ways negative stereotypes hurt.  Several posts by autistic people, showing different viewpoints, would be wonderful - to get more voices out there and counteract the inaccuracies of the offending piece.

3. Try to do better / Don’t make the same mistake again
I’m sure Sarah will be more careful going ahead - assuming she decides to go ahead with the column.  Maybe a panel would be more appropriate for screening responses for this column than one individual, and some people will volunteer to help her with it.  Maybe more people will send her their experiences to post in the column so it’s more representational.

Criticism is good.  We need to be able to point it out when people do things wrong.  But if we go too far and push people out of the genre for making mistakes, we’ll soon be in a very small, very empty room.  Because we all make mistakes.  All of us.  We can all do better.

And education is one way of doing better.  Education that this column usually provides.

I NEED this column.  I want to learn more about others, about what makes us different, and similar.  I want to know more about people’s experiences with disabilities so I can better understand my fellow man.  But like most people, I’m lazy.  I’ve stumbled across the occasional other post on this topic, but I don’t go out of my way looking for them.  We need posts about representation, about difference, about disability on sites like SF Signal that get a lot of genre traffic.  Because I’m not the only one who needs to learn about these things who won’t go looking for them.  

They need to be front and centre in genre if we want change, they need to be on the sites that get traffic, views, discussion.  

Mistakes hurt.  Sometimes they hurt a lot.  But if we don’t pick ourselves up and try again, if we give up, then we learn nothing from the mistakes.  And the mistakes simply repeat themselves in different venues at different times, with different people.  

Sarah, you made a mistake.  But I respect you.  I respect your work on the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column.  I’ve learned so much from you and that column.  This genre needs you.  Please, please keep doing it.  Don’t let this mistake be the end of this wonderful work you’ve done.

ETA: I've just read this enlightening post on Flat Out which explains more of what was offensive about the original SF Signal post.  It's worth checking out.

And here's a response by Foz Meadows, which dissects the post, again pointing out some of the problematic language.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Shout-Out: Winterwood by Jacey Bedford

It's 1800. Mad King George is on the British throne, and Bonaparte is hammering at the door. Magic is strictly controlled by the Mysterium, but despite severe penalties, not all magic users have registered.

Ross Tremayne, widowed, cross-dressing privateer captain and unregistered witch, likes her life on the high seas, accompanied by a boatload of swashbuckling pirates and the possessive ghost of her late husband, Will. When she pays a bitter deathbed visit to her long-estranged mother she inherits a half brother she didn't know about and a task she doesn't want: open the magical winterwood box and right an ancient wrong—if she can.

Enter Corwen. He's handsome, sexy, clever, and capable, and Ross doesn't really like him; neither does Will's ghost. Can he be trusted? Whose side is he on?

Unable to chart a course to her future until she's unraveled the mysteries of the past, she has to evade a ruthless government agent who fights magic with darker magic, torture, and murder; and brave the hitherto hidden Fae. Only then can she hope to open the magical winterwood box and right her ancestor's wrongdoing. Unfortunately, success may prove fatal to both Ross and her new brother, and desastrous for the country. By righting a wrong, is Ross going to unleash a terrible evil? Is her enemy the real hero and Ross the villain?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Video: Americapox - The Missing Plague

This video by CGP Grey answers several questions I never knew I had. The question this video deals with is: Why, when the Spanish arrived in the 'new world' and spread plagues, did no 'new world' plagues spread through Europe?  The answer is quite interesting, and goes over where plagues come from. (And part 2 isn't out yet.)