Thursday, 31 January 2013

Books Received January 2013

These are books that publishers/authors have either sent me or let me download eARCs for during the month of January.

The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian

Twenty-four-year-old Natasha Wiley lives in America-Five-a high-tech, underground, utopian settlement where hunger and money do not exist, everyone has a job, and all basic needs are met. But when her mentor and colleague, Jeffrey, selects her to join a special team to venture Outside for the first time, Natasha's allegiances to home, society, and above all to Jeffrey are tested. She is forced to make a choice that may put the people she loves most in grave danger and change the world as she knows it. 

The Daylight War by Peter Brett
The synopsis for this book contains spoilers for the previous two books, so I'm giving the synopsis for the first book in the series, The Warded Man instead.  I've finished reading The Daylight War and it was fantastic.  I'll be posting my review of the book February 5th and it will be in stores on the 12th.  Don't you just love that cover?

As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise-demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards-symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.

What Happened in Witches Wood by Steve Henning
I read Henning's first book, A Class Apart, and really enjoyed it, so when he offered me the second I jumped at the chance.  Now to make room in my schedule to read it...

In 1987, 16-year-old Katie Blake died in mysterious circumstances in a stream in Witches Wood.
In 2009, a teenage couple enter the wood one hot, summer night and encounter her ghost.
In 2011, James and Samantha Blake are staying at their grandparents’ farmhouse, close to Witches Wood, while they come to terms with their new superpowers.

Those powers are soon put to the test. James comes face-to-face with the ghost of Katie Blake – his long-dead aunt – and discovers that she may be responsible for a number of grisly deaths that have occurred in the wood. Meanwhile, Sam foils an armed robbery in a nearby village and sets in motion a chain of terrible events that threatens the whole family.

Sir Michael Rosewood, owner of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firm, knows the secret of their superpowers and has taken a keen interest in the Blake family. But is he friend or foe?

Luck of the Draw by Piers Anthony
I haven't read a Xanth novel in years, but the plot of this one interests me, and doesn't seem to require having read the umpteen previous books.

Bryce is summoned to Xanth as part of a wager between the Demons Earth and Xanth. To his surprise, he has left behind his home and family and eighty-year-old body forever, in exchange for youth and magic….and a quest. He must court and marry Princess Harmony, who is anything but willing to be courted! 

The Death Cure by James Dashner
I read and reviewed this book, the third in the Maze Runner series, when it came out in hardcover.  It's a good series, though I wanted to learn more about Thomas's past than was revealed.

Thomas knows that WICKED can't be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they''ve collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. To complete the blueprint for the cure to the Flare.

What Wicked doesn't know is that something's happened that no Trial or Variable could have foreseen. Thomas has remembered far more than they think. And he knows that he can't believe a word of what WICKED says.

The time for lies is over. But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine. 

The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright

Continuing from Count to a Trillion, Menelaus Illation Montrose-Texas gunslinger, idealist, and posthuman genius-has gone into cryo-suspension following the discovery that, in 8,000 years, a powerful alien intelligence will reach Earth to assess humanity's value as slaves. Montrose intends to be alive to meet that threat, but he is awakened repeatedly throughout the centuries to confront the woes of an ever-changing and violent world, witnessing millennia of change compressed into a few years of subjective time. The result is a breathtaking vision of future history like nothing before imagined: sweeping, tumultuous, and evermore alien, as Montrose's immortal enemies and former shipmates from the starship Hermetic harness the forces of evolution and social engineering to continuously reshape the Earth in their image, seeking to create a version of man the approaching slavers will find worthy.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Video Game Review: Journey

Pros: esthetically gorgeous, easy game play

Cons: limited story, only available on the PS3

I'm not usually one to review video games, namely because I don't play them often (though I enjoy watching my husband play them, provided there's a good story).  But this game is so beautiful and unique I thought I'd mention it here in case there are people who'd be interested who otherwise wouldn't hear about it (it has won several game awards but I only heard of it recently).

You're a red robed character in a desert.  Walking (or sliding) through the sand to stone ruins, you sing to unlock swirls of magic that allow you to fly for short periods of time.  Your goal, told only through images, is to get to a split mountain top.  Along the way you're given a friend (another player on the playstation network) who can help by keeing your magic charged via proximity.  If you get separated from your friend, you may get connected with other players as you continue on but only one at a time.

The game play is easy, using only the two analog sticks (one to move and one to control the camera - which is what tripped me up the most) and two buttons (one to sing and one to fly).  You can also tilt the controller to look around, though using the sticks was easier for me.  In a lot of situations the computer seemed to put me where I needed to go, though finer control is needed towards the end where you fly to and walk over thin platforms.

On two levels of the game mechanical monsters attack.  If they hit you they take your magic tail, decreasing your flying abilities.  Beyond that, the game is about exploring the beautiful scenery and following the mostly linear path to the mountain peak.  If you get a good friend, you can use each other to keep flying higher and higher without needing an outside magic replenishment source.

Unfortunately it's only available on the PS3.  It's around $10 to buy and only takes 2 hours or so to play (depending on how much exploring you do), but it is a beautiful game and something a new player (or hesitant player) can master quickly.  So if your significant other isn't into games and you want to share your hobby, this is a good one to try.  It's also got soothing, almost meditative music. 

Here's the game trailer.  It starts 30 seconds in.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Kickstarter: Cities in the Sky

I got an email from the director of the science fiction documentary kickstarter project, Cities in the Sky: Science Fiction's Forgotten Visionaries.  The project sounds interesting, with the production team "recreating little segments of the original sci-fi stories through art and animation" (quote from the email).  Here's the video explaining the project.

So far they've only named three of the authors they want to showcase: Lucian, Edward Page Mitchell, and Vladimir Odoevsky.

What do you think?  Sound interesting?

Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Pros: fun, quirky characters, quick moving plot, historical tidbits added, good inclusion of a dark skinned supporting cast member that kept to historical conventions without being racist

Cons: the ending is too sudden (and too soon!)

For Parents: minor violence

Sophronia's antics have given cause for her to be sent to a finishing school.  But what her proper mother doesn't realize is that Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy teaches more than just which spoon to use for soup.  It also teaches skills in espionage.  And Sophronia's first lesson comes when the carriage she and two fellow students are taking to the school is attacked by flywaymen looking for a prototype in the possession of one of the passengers...

The book is a fun romp, with quirky characters and a quick plot.  The school is located in an unusual place that makes for a wonderful setting and the mischief Sophronia and her classmates get into trying to figure out what the prototype is and where it's been hidden, is great.

I was a bit concerned by the opening as Sophronia is VERY over the top, but the plot quickly requires it and she never got on my nerves.  Nor did any of the other quirky characters.

It was impressive how the author added Phineas B. Crow, aka Soap, to the cast.  Sophronia knows it's improper for her to associate with someone of a lower class - and a boy to boot, but she doesn't care about that, or the dark colour of his skin.  She's simply curious about him and the world at large.

The ending came too suddenly, and much too soon, for me.  I can't wait to see what other adventures Sophronia and her friends get up to.

Etiquette and Espionage hits stores February 5th.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Artist Spotlight: Hontor

I realize I haven't done an artist spotlight in months.  I'm hoping to post them more regularly going forward.

Eugene Hontor is a Russian artist you can find on Deviant ArtEtsy and his website (in Russian) who does paintings and sculptures.

Here are a few examples of his work:
Mahaons Dance

Dragon-Rabbit Jackalope


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Book Review: Blaze of Glory by Sheryl Nantus

Pros: very interesting premise, fun characters, partly set in Toronto 

Cons: characters learn things remarkably fast (eg: new aspects of their powers), don't study the NYC attack to learn about the aliens, just try same techniques

When Jo Tanis, aka Surf, and her sidekick Metal Mike, are called by the Agency to help fight aliens over New York City they know something is wrong.  First, they weren't scheduled for a fight today and second, A-List supers are dying.  This isn't a staged fight but Jo heads out because defying the Agency would force Mike, who's also her Guardian, to detonate the bomb in the back of her neck. 

One of the few survivors of the battle, Jo heads home to Toronto and forms an underground team of supers to take care of the aliens and stop the Agency's control of supers around the world.

The story is told from Jo's point of view, with occasional flashbacks to explain her relationship with Metal Mike.  She's a feisty woman with the power to control electromagnetic waves, giving her the ability to fly and shoot lightning bolts.  

The team she puts together is formed of those who answer her call for aid and consists of one villain who can melt things, a telepath, a guardian with inside Agency information and a guy who can control animals.  It's impressive what the team accomplishes considering their powers aren't formidable.  The animal talker especially surprised me, showing significantly more versatility than expected from such a 'lame' power.

The characters have incompatible personalities, making for some fun dialogue and scenes.  Their villain likes porn and coarse language, the telepath doesn't like crass behaviour.  And Jo's stuck in the middle trying to make things work.

Jo's a strong character, who shows weaknesses at the appropriate times (ie, when her team can't see her break down).  She's not given time to mourn the loss of those who die in the NYC attack and given little time to rest before getting right back out there.  This made her feel genuine.  She asks for help when she needs it but maintains control of the group through tough talk and leadership skills.

I loved the set-up that the superhero battles were all manufactured for TV, with the populace believing they're real.  I can definitely see a government agency contacting people who develop superpowers and not giving them the chance to say no to joining the program.  This also causes Jo problems as she has to explain to her former friends what happened to her, what the battles really were and why she couldn't contact them after her powers developed.

There's a minor romantic thread running through the book.  I was afraid the author would take things too fast, given the events in Jo's recent past, but she didn't, which I was thankful for.  I suspect the romance elements will be stronger in the second book of the series.

As for the problems the book has, the alien plot gets solved rather... easily all things considered.  There are some good fight scenes, but the ultimate resolution is pretty cliche.  

Jo, who had just started training how to carry someone when flying, manages to carry 4 people, without any practice.  Her jump in skill is testament to her determination, but also felt somewhat fake given she's never managed to carry 1 person before, let alone more.

I'd expected them to research the NYC battle before facing the aliens again, trying to learn what the other supers did and what powers / defences the aliens have.  Nope.  They just ran back into battle with the aliens, trying a lot of the same things and hoping they'd work this time.

Ultimately, I loved seeing Toronto featured in a science fiction book and thought the story was a lot of fun, flaws notwithstanding.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Amazing Stories Magazine's Site is Open to the Public

From the press release:

The Experimenter Publishing Company is pleased to announce the  reintroduction of the world's most recognizable science fiction magazine – AMAZING STORIES!

Following the completion of a successful Beta Test begun on January 2nd, 2013, Amazing Stories is now open to the public.  Fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror are invited to join and encouraged to participate in helping to bring back a cherished icon of the field.

For the past several weeks nearly sixty fans, authors, artists, editors and bloggers have been producing articles on your favorite subjects – the literature of SF/F/H, its presentations in media such as television, film, poetry, literature, games, comics and much more.

All contents of Amazing Stories are free to the general public. 

Membership is also free – and entitles members to participate in the discussion, share information and engage in many other familiar social networking activities.

Membership also represents a stake in helping Amazing Stories return to publication.  The more members the site acquires, the faster Amazing Stories can become a paying market for short fiction.

Every genre fan now has a chance to help support the creation of a new market for the stories, artwork and articles they all love so much.

You can check out the new Amazing Stories Magazine site here.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Guest Post: The Science behind the Fiction

Today I welcome Paul Byers to my blog, author of Arctic Fire, Catalyst and the new short story collection, Act of God.

As a writer, I enjoy the freedom that comes from writing science fiction. If I want to make the sky green, then it’s green. If I want to have a massive alien fleet of robotic creatures who want to attack earth because they need our oil, so be it. 

Today’s audience is much more sophisticated and educated, most having grown up on such sci-fi staples as Star Trek and Star Wars. Nowadays, a writer can take a lot for granted when telling their story. Everybody has heard of hyperspace or warp drive, phasers, lasers and photon cannons and the concept of faster-than-light travel and beaming is no big deal and doesn’t need to be explained.

But just because today’s audience is savvy, doesn’t mean you can create a sub-space oscillating flux capacitor relay system bent on disrupting the resonating harmonic frequencies governing the tectonic plating grid system surrounding the magnetic fields shielding the earth from the electromagnetic and gamma radiation associated with a mark 12 solar flare eruptions. Deep breath, in others words, do your research!

Even though you have certain freedoms with sci-fi, good fiction is based off of good facts. And as a writer, I sometimes struggle with the amount of facts to include in the story. While doing research, I come across one interesting fact that leads to another, then another and soon all these interesting tidbits are too much and overflow like the sentence above full of $2 words. It’s a balancing act between what I think is really cool and what the reader needs to know about the story.

In the short story, Shooting Star from Act of God, the Saturn V rocket used to launch the Apollo Moon Missions and also our hero, Captain Grant, weighs in at 5-6 million pounds. The original Wright Brothers Flyer topped the scales at around 625 pounds. Another interesting fact is that it takes the space shuttle about 90 minutes to orbit the earth. The astronauts would see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. Important to the story, no, but interesting, yes.

Sometimes the lack of facts is what makes the more interesting story. In my thriller, Arctic Fire, part of the story includes the sinking of the Titanic. With the 100th anniversary of the sinking just past, you think you’ve heard all there is to hear about the loss of the great ship, guess again.

There is some evidence that points to the fact that it wasn’t the Titanic that sank, but her identical twin sister ship, the Olympic, and that the two were switched in a grand insurance scam. A more intriguing theory is one taken right out of a Dan Brown novel with agents of the Catholic Church sinking the ship in an elaborate plot to achieve their own political ends.

My personal favorite is the theory that it wasn’t an iceberg that sank the luxury liner at all, but the curse of the mummy!

In The Journal, from Act of God, several “unsolved” mysteries are brought up by the characters in the book. In 1590, Sir Walter Raleigh started a colony in the New World at Roanoke, Virginia. Today it’s known as ‘The Lost Colony’ because 118 men, women and children just vanished without a trace. Some say they were attacked by neighboring Indians, some say they were assimilated by them and others think they tried to relocate and simply all died. But what really happened?

In 1908 there was a huge crash / explosion in Siberia, leveling over 800 square miles of forest. The official explanation of what happened was an air burst of a meteor, but was it?

To fly off and boldly go… using facts and combining fiction and imagination together is the corner stone to good science fiction. But using facts and “missing” facts to build your stories upon can be just as “fascinating,” as some would say.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from one of the great forerunners of today’s science fiction, Flash Gordon.

Emperor Ming: Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror.
Klytus: Most effective, Your Majesty. Will you destroy this Earth? 
Emperor Ming: Later. I like to play with things a while before annihilation.

About the Author:

Paul grew up in Oregon on the shores of the mighty and mysterious Columbia River, and spent endless hours daydreaming on the beach in front of his house, making up stories about the ships from exotic ports all over the world that steamed up the river – what secret cargo might they be carrying; did they harbor spies who were on dark and exciting missions?

Later in adult life, he moved to another mysterious and provocative city – Las Vegas, just outside the famous Nellis Air Force base. After work he would sit on his porch and watch the fighters take off and land, igniting his imagination with visions of secret missions and rich speculation about what could possibly be hidden at Area 51.

After moving back to his native Pacific Northwest, Paul worked for the Navy and took every opportunity he could to speak with veterans from WWII to the Gulf War, listening to them swap stories and relate the experiences of a lifetime.

So it is this combination of a passionate love of history, a vivid “what if” imagination, and a philosophy of life that boils down to the belief that – there are few things in life that a bigger hammer won’t fix – that led Paul to become a writer of exciting, fact-based action-thrillers. His greatest joy is leaving his readers wondering where the facts end and the fiction begins.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

If I Had ALL the Time in the World - Christmas Discoveries Edition 1

There are so many books I'd love to read, both old and new.  Since I won't actually get to read them all, I figure I could showcase some.  Maybe other people will read them and tell me what I'm missing. :)  Here is the first batch of books I 'discovered' while working overtime at the bookstore this Christmas season.  Because I was working all over the place, rather than just in fiction, it's a more eclectic list than usual.  All synopses are from the Indigo website.

The Law of Superheroes by James Daily and Ryan Davidson

An intriguing and entertaining look at how America's legal system would work using the world of comic books.

The dynamic duo behind the popular website breaks down even the most advanced legal concepts for every self-proclaimed nerd.

James Daily and Ryan Davidson-attorneys by day and comic enthusiasts all of the time-have clearly found their vocation, exploring the hypothetical legal ramifications of comic book tropes, characters, and powers down to the most deliciously trivial detail.

The Law of Superheroes asks and answers crucial speculative questions about everything from constitutional law and criminal procedure to taxation, intellectual property, and torts, including:
  • Could Superman sue if someone exposed his true identity as Clark Kent?
  • Are members of the Legion of Doom vulnerable to prosecution under RICO?
  • Do the heirs of a superhero who comes back from the dead get to keep their inherited property after their loved one is resurrected?
  • Does it constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" to sentence an immortal like Apocalypse to life in prison without the possibility of parole?
Engaging, accessible, and teaching readers about the law through fun hypotheticals, The Law of Superheroes is a must-have for legal experts, comic nerds, and anyone who will ever be called upon to practice law in the comic multiverse.

The Science of Superheroes by Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg

The truth about superpowers . . . science fact or science fiction?

Superman, Batman, The X-Men, Flash, Spider Man . . . they protect us from evildoers, defend truth and justice, and, occasionally, save our planet from certain doom. Yet, how much do we understand about their powers?

In this engaging yet serious work, Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg attempt to answer that question once and for all. From X-ray vision to psychokinesis, invisibility to lightspeed locomotion, they take a hard, scientific look at the powers possessed by all of our most revered superheroes, and a few of the lesser ones, in an attempt to sort fact from fantasy. In the process, they unearth some shocking truths that will unsettle, alarm, and even terrify all but the most fiendish of supervillains.

Ancient Inventions by Peter James and Nick Thorpe (which I'm currently reading and is very interesting)

We in the twentieth century tend to assume that our era has a monopoly on the inventions of clever machines, labor-saving devices, feats of engineering, and advanced technology. But as the authors of this fascinating and eye-opening book reveal, some of humankind''s most important and most amazing inventions actually date back thousands of years. 

Historian Peter James and archaeologist Nick Thorpe have pooled their expertise in amassing this compendium of human ingenuity through the ages. Together they conclusively prove that our ancestors, however long ago they lived and whatever part of the globe they occupied, were brilliant problem-solvers. Written with the pure joy of discovery, Ancient Inventions reveals that:
* Medieval Baghdad had an efficient postal service, banks, and a paper mill.
* Rudimentary calendars were being used in France as early as 13,000 B.C.
* Apartment condominiums rose in deserts of the American Southwest a 
thousand years ago.
* The ancient Greeks used an early form of computer.
* Plastic surgery was being performed in India by the first century B.C.
* The Egyptians knew about effective contraceptives.
* Flamethrowers were used in battles waged in tenth-century China.

Brimming with odd facts and entertaining curiosities, written with zest and humor, comprehensive and fun to read, Ancient Inventions is a wonderful celebration of the endless inventiveness of the human mind.

2030: The real story of what happens to America byAlbert Brooks

Is this what the future holds?

June 12, 2030 started out like any other day in memory-and by then, memories were long.  Since cancer had been cured fifteen years earlier, America's population was aging rapidly.  That sounds like good news, but consider this: millions of baby boomers, with a big natural predator picked off, were sucking dry benefits and resources that were never meant to hold them into their eighties and beyond.  Young people around the country simmered with resentment toward "the olds" and anger at the treadmill they could never get off of just to maintain their parents' entitlement programs.

But on that June 12th, everything changed: a massive earthquake devastated Los Angeles, and the government, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, was unable to respond. 

The fallout from the earthquake sets in motion a sweeping novel of ideas that pits national hope for the future against assurances from the past and is peopled by a memorable cast of refugees and billionaires, presidents and revolutionaries, all struggling to find their way.  In 2030, the author's all-too-believable imagining of where today's challenges could lead us tomorrow makes gripping and thought-provoking reading.

Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy

Originally published in 1888, Looking Backward is Edward Bellamy's most famous work. The story revolves around Julian West, a man who falls asleep near the end of the 19th century and wakes up in the year 2000. During the time he slept, the United States became a socialist utopia. The majority of the book is a vehicle for Bellamy to expound upon his ideas about societal improvement. Americans in his year 2000 work fewer hours, retire early, and receive all they need from the government. Entertaining and oddly prophetic in some ways, Bellamy''s vision of the future from the perspective of the late 19th century is highly engaging.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Think Geek Star Trek Giveaway

Thanks to on facebook, I found out about this giveaway today.  Think Geek is giving away at Star Trek themed 'Away Team Kit (and that's a signed copy of Scalzi's Redshirts):
Click here for more details and to enter.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Book Review: The Bridge by Jane Higgins

Pros: thought-provoking, characters are three dimensional, shows war for what it is

Cons: Southside people accept Nik's story too readily, some names are mentioned without context so when they're mentioned again it's hard to remember who the person was

For Parents: minor swearing, violence (not excessive, but it's a war situation, so: assassination, bombs, beatings, minor torture etc.), no sexual content

Seventeen year old Nik's brown skin marks him as a Southsider, though he's attended school on Cityside since he was 5.  His intelligence has him earmarked for the Internal Security and Intelligence Services (ISIS), so no one understands why they pass on recuiting him.  When the school is bombed he's suspected by ISIS of collaborating with the enemy.  In an attempt to leave the city with friends from school, one of them is kidnapped by Southsiders and Nik and a girl team up to get him back.  Knowing only the language and anti-Southside propoganda, the two have no idea what they're walking into.

The story focuses on their search for the boy in Southside.  There are elements here that are hard to believe at first, as the two are obviously unaware of local customs and the girl's language skills are minimal (I'm calling her 'the girl' to avoid spoiling the first 75 pages of the book more than necessary).  Nik lands in a position where he's privy to sensitive information, something that's hard to credit given his refusal to give more than his name and place of origin (one real, the other a lie).  When his high intelligence is revealed, the characters start to question how a barely educated teen (as would be the case if his story were true) broke encrypted codes and then just accept his information with only a little hesitation.

That issue aside though, the book is brilliant.  The pacing is fast, though the characters don't know how to go about looking for the boy, enough is happening with regards to Southside politics that the book never drags.  Soon enough the teens learn information of value and events spiral out of their control as they're drawn deeper into a faction war among the Southsiders.

The political manuverings and history of the war are interesting, though the history isn't dealt with in as much detail as this reviewer would have like.  Higgins' world-building is solid, with a bloody past, religious rituals, class and economic troubles, etc.  It's obvious she's considered aspects of society that are never fully mentioned, but season the story nonetheless.

The characters are all three dimensional, with often tragic pasts, reasons for their actions and motivations, and difficult decisions to make.  Though the book is from Nik's point of view, there are several strong female characters, and several characters of colour (including him).  Discussion of race doesn't come into the book much, beyond Nik's fitting in better - with regards to looks - on Southside than his companion.  But it is somewhat problematic as Citysiders are described as being predominantly white, while Southsiders are mixed (easterners being white and southsiders being black).  This reviewer would have liked learning more about where the Southsiders came from (it's explained that they're refugees coming up from the South and East but Nik doesn't know more than that).  Instead, class distinction is used for the reason for the hostilities between Southside and Cityside.  And when it comes to positions of power, men and women are treated equally - on both sides.

The only problem with the characters, beyond the Southsider's easy acceptance of Nik, was that a few of them, like Commander Vega, are occasionally referred to by their first names rather than their titles.  It's realistic, but the extra names were hard to remember.  Similarly there were a few times when a character was mentioned briefly by name and then mentioned again a few chapters later and it was hard to remember who they were referring to.  

While many teen dystopian books take a sort of Stockholm syndrome approach, with the protagonist learning that their way is wrong and the other side's better, this one does something different, and more realistic.  It shows how both sides in war use propoganda to control their people.  It brings home how ideology, fanaticism and the belief in one's cause can blind people to the reality of war - that people are dying.  War is horrifying and no amount of 'an eye for an eye' will bring it to an end.  The book is about how regular people - children even - get dragged into the fighting, as the war kills their loved ones, destroys their homes, limits food and medicine, and leaves them with nothing but ashes.  It's about the choice every person in a war torn area makes, to continue the fighting in an attempt to utterly defeat the enemy or to try to work towards peace.

This theme, that both sides in a conflict can be evil, was used in Mockingjay (by Suzanne Collins).  In that book, the rebel leadership is shown to be just a bad as the learders of Panem.  Putting them in charge would not have changed anything but whose kids competed in the Hunger Games.

We're used to having one good side and one evil side when we think of war.  The idea that both sides do evil things is something we prefer to hide and forget.  Everyone knows that the Axis in World War II did horrible things.  But how many attrocities did the Allies commit?  There were internment camps, boats full of Jews turned back at North American ports, with nowhere left to go but back to Germany.  There was rioting and rape.  Horrific bombs were dropped not only on Hiroshima, but also on Nagasaki.  This novel acknowledges that by the end of hostilities, neither side in war is 'right', regardless of who started it and why.  It's a bold position to take and the message of the book really hits home.  War is evil and there has to be a better way.

It's a powerful, moving story.  And this reviewer can't recommend it enough.

Friday, 11 January 2013

New Author Spotlight: Lee Collins

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with up to 3 books in the different SF/F subgenres.

Today's spotlight shines on Lee Collins!

His debut novel is
  • Dead of Winter published by Angry Robot books
Here's the cover copy...
Cora and her husband hunt things - things that shouldn''t exist. When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious deaths, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible, but if Cora is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, she must first confront her own tragic past as well as her present.
Check out his book if you like western fantasy novels, like these:
  • Bloodlands by Christine Cody (Ace)
  • Blood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin (Harper Voyager)
  • A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Lego Harry Potter Castle

New Year's Day my husband and I worked on a fun project, putting together lego sets!  I loved lego as a kid but I've never done one of the big sets before.  Here's the kit I did.  When I opened the box there were... a lot of bags inside with lego.

I couldn't believe how intricate the set was.  There were so many small details, many of which were buried under other pieces of lego (there are items hidden in the cupboards in Dumbledore's room, for example, that you can't access without taking the things apart).  The kit came with a ton of characters (including 2 dementors, Scabbers, and Crookshanks), hanging snakes for the Slitherin common room, Sirius' face in the fire in the Griffendor common room, an issue of the Quibbler, owls for the owlry, potions bottles, a library with a locked book cabinet and more.

It was so much fun to put together, and now I have to be careful with it, as it's got so many tiny pieces that are trying to fall off.  Next time, I'm going to sit at a table, rather than the floor, because it took several hours to put together and I was hurting by the end of it.  

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Book Review: The Kassa Gambit by M. C. Planck

Pros: great characterization including savant navigator, some philosophically interesting sections, plot has some good twists, vocab shifts to indicate future

Cons: romance is heavy handed, League is never properly explained, use of Earth words that others don't recognize, ending felt rushed

Prudence Falling, captain of a tramp freighter, is first on the scene after an alien attack on the rural planet Kassa.  When the Altair Prime fleet ship Launceston arrives hours later, information about the attack is still sketchy.  A League officer, Kyle Daspar, on the ship who's actually an anti-league operative working undercover, commandeers her ship while the Launceston goes for help.  Prudence, her crew and Kyle discover a downed alien craft while rescuing people from an arctic station.

After leaving Kassa, both Prudence and Kyle dig deeper into the mystery and discover that more's going on then just the discovery of aliens.

I requested this book from the publisher not realizing it was going to be a romance novel.  I expected a story about first alien contact either like Embassytown (dealing with an alien culture) or Forever War (where humans and aliens stay at war for decades).  What I got was a romance with a mystery side plot.

Now, while I'm not a fan of romance novels (where the focus is on the romance) I like romance as a plot thread in my novels, as long as it's handled well, being integral to the plot and an organic response to the character's actions.  The romance here was too heavy handed for my taste.  There were scenes when the characters thought about each other when other concerns should have been more important.

For example, after being on the ship together for an undocumented 16 hours helping people on Kassa, they discover the alien craft.  They're examining it when the following scene occurs.  It's important to know that though humans have travelled the universe for generations and populated numerous planets, this is the first alien contact.  Ever.  To set the scene, Prudence has put her hand inside the shattered cockpit and made a discovery.  She wants to see if Kyle comes to the same conclusion.

"What do you not feel?" she asked.

Dumbly, he shook his head.  What he wanted to feel was her hand in his, her warmth and smoothness.  But through the insulation of the suit, he couldn't feel anything at all.

"That's right.  No grav field." (p. 59)

All I could think when reading this was, you're the first humans to see an alien spaceship and you're thinking about touching her hand?!?  WTF?

The romance is strong at the beginning of the book, vanishes for quite a while and reappears towards the end.

The other thing that bothered me about the book was Kyle's paranoia.  Because he's an officer of the hated League while at the same time being secretly anti-league, he's always second guessing why people act as they do and if someone's out to kill him.  This becomes tedious to read in the opening chapters but quickly gets toned down as the plot picks up.  

One reason his constant waffling is annoying is because the League is never properly explained.  As the book progresses you discover it's not the government, nor is it an inter planetary trade alliance (both guesses I had).  It's obvious that the League has a lot of power, but it's not obvious what the power is from.  Since it impacts so much of the story, this is an important lapse.
So, what did the book do well?  Characters.  Romance aside, the characters were great.  Prudence is a strong woman who knows what she wants and makes difficult decisions.  Her crew is eclectic, and her navigator, Jorgun, is an idiot savant.  Jorgun quickly became my favourite character.  Prudence cares for him like a mother, but she also puts him in sunglasses and uses him for intimidation when going to dangerous ports (even though she knows it's an act and he's not capable of violence).

My one complaint about Prudence is that she's pretty full of herself when it comes to her attractiveness.  At one point, while thinking of Kyle, she thinks, "She'd never been around a man, single, married, or homosexual, that hadn't risked at least one bantering comment for her approval." (p. 68).  She's also pretty negative/dismissive towards two of the women she saves in the arctic, calling them 'the blond' and 'the smart one'.  

The setting and early action regarding the space mine were all done without info dumps, using character quirks to explain things to the reader without being reduced to 'as you know' sentences.  And while this definitely isn't hard SF, the science sounds plausible to a non-scientist reader.

The plot really picks up after they leave Kassa.  From that point it becomes an action/mystery novel, with both Kyle and Prudence discovering things about the aliens and politics on Altair.  I greatly enjoyed this part of the novel, and when the romance reentered the book at the end, it didn't bother me as much, though there were a few eye rolling moments.

The middle to end of the book I started underlining sections that I thought were philosophically interesting.  The idea of tech-ten, for example, was pretty cool.  I used to collect quotes from novels all the time and haven't found much of interest in the past few years.  So it was fun coming across so many thought provoking quotes.

The author used interesting vocabulary shifts to show how language changed over time.  I thought that added a touch of varitas to show that certain words were misunderstood or no longer understood at all.  However, there were several times when one character mentioned something, a pumpkin for example, and someone else wondered what it was.  It made me wonder why some words/expressions were still used if the objects weren't understood/no longer existed.  While it's possible one character is from a world that still grows pumpkins and the others aren't, it still felt like an oddity after the scenario happened several times.  Similarly, foreign words are used at times and understood though it appears all the worlds speak English.

Ultimately, it wasn't my kind of book though it was a quick read and there were several things I really enjoyed about the book.  The ending felt rushed but things were tied up well, with the mystery fully explained.  I loved Jorgun, and for his character alone I'd recommend the book, provided you like romance. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Author Interview: Christopher Farnsworth

Blood Oath
The President's Vampire
Red, White & Blood


> What is the Nathaniel Cade series about? 

Nathaniel Cade is the President's Vampire. Turned into a blood-drinking abomination in 1867, he was bound by a special blood oath to serve and protect the President of the United States. For almost 150 years, he has served as the first response and last line of defense against the supernatural evils that lurk in the dark. He's partnered with a human handler, who deals with the daylight world for him. Right now, this is Zach Barrows, a young political operative who's yanked out of a promising career in the White House to work with Cade. Together, they face undying evil and shadowy conspiracies -- and sometimes, the scariest monsters are the ones that are human.

> The character Nathaniel Cade is based on an actual sailor who reportedly turned to vampirism in the late 1800s.  How did you hear about this story and why did you decide to write novels about him?

I read the original story in a book called THE PRESIDENT'S VAMPIRE by Robert Damon Schneck. According to some newspaper accounts, President Andrew Johnson pardoned a man who allegedly killed two of his crew mates on a whaling vessel and drank their blood. He was sent to an asylum for the criminally insane, and no one really knows why Johnson spared him. But I kept wondering, what if that were just the cover story? What if the man really was a vampire? What would the President of the United States do with his own vampire? And the first book took off from there.

> What were some of your other literary and/or historical influences for Blood Oath?
I've always been fascinated by tales of the paranormal and the strange, so I got to use a lot of the weird lore I read as a kid: books by John A. Keel, Loren Coleman, and the father of high weirdness in America, Charles Fort. I also looked for inspiration from Stephen King, Mike Mignola (author of HELLBOY), and Trevanian, the author of what I still believe is the best spy novel written, SHIBUMI. And of course, comic books. I learned a lot at an early age from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

> What made you want to be a writer?
Honestly, I have no other marketable skills. I knew I wanted to write when I was five years old, and most of my life since then has been one long attempt to figure out how to do that. I got a job as a reporter, and worked in journalism for years, then managed to sell a script, and finally turned one of my ideas into a novel. I'm an extremely lucky guy.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
Not a chance. Cade and Zach live in a world where the monsters are real, and there are very hungry things in the dark just waiting for their chance at us. They're burdened with the responsibility of keeping everyone else safe from unspeakable evil. They fight the War on Horror every day. It's not an easy job, and I wouldn't want it.

> Was Blood Oath the first novel you wrote and how long did it take to write it?
BLOOD OATH was actually my fifth novel, but my first published. I wrote a terrible novel for my undergraduate degree, then tried to write a few more thrillers and sell them before I had any success with Cade. It took me about eight months to write, but I had some distractions in between, like buying a house and the birth of my first daughter.

> When and where do you write?
I try my best to treat writing just like any other job I've held. So I go to an office within walking distance of my home and sit at a desk for up to eight hours a day. Sometimes I don't accomplish anything more than Facebook updates. Other days, I can get twenty or thirty pages done. But I always put in the time. A friend of mine once said, "The only way to write it is to write it."

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?
The best thing: when the words are just flowing, and everything is falling into place. It makes me feel as if I'm fluent and smart and actually good at this job. The worst: when that's not happening, and every thought I have seems like it should be handled with disinfectant and rubber gloves.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?
My experience had been in journalism and screenwriting, so I was pleasantly surprised to find how seriously the author is still taken in publishing. People listened to my opinions about my own work. That hadn't happened much before. In Hollywood or at a newspaper, the writer is just the first part of the process, then everyone else gets to tear up the story. In my experience, at least, my editors and publishers allowed me to decide how it would look in the final draft.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?
I've said this before, but never be ashamed of your enthusiasms. I spent a lot of time writing what I thought other people wanted to read, and I only sold a book when I started writing what I wanted to read -- a completely insane story about a vampire secret agent working for the White House. Listen when people tell you things about your craft, about how you're telling the story, about presentation and plot and narrative devices. That criticism is valuable and important. But if someone tells you that no one else will ever want to read about your favorite thing -- well, they're wrong. If you love it, keep writing it until you find someone else who does, too.

> Any tips against writers block?
Don't let the blank screen terrify you. Find one detail and start from there. Just fill the page as best you can, and go back and dump whatever doesn't work later. But sit down and write, no matter what.
> How do you discipline yourself to write?
It's still fun. Even when it's work. And, as I said, I don't know what else I would do.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel?
Dozens. I can remember walking to my mailbox every day, finding the rejections, and then trudging back to my apartment. It was important and useful. I learned how to take disappointment. It took me a while to realize that failure is the only way to learn. You have to try, over and over, and fall down a lot, on your way. It was not an easy lesson, and I still don't like repeating it. But it still holds true. As Salman Rushdie once wrote, you have to try again, and fail better the next time.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Blog Resolutions for 2013

My blog's going to undergo some changes this year.  I'm not sure of the extent of the changes yet, I figure I'll play things by ear.

The first real change is that I won't be contributing to SF Signal this year.  It's been a blast but I felt I needed to pare down my internet responsibilities.  I've got 2 blogs and I don't want to burn out the way other bloggers seem to be doing.  As a consequence of this, I'll only be doing one New Author Spotlight post a month, and it's going to be more relaxed in future (meaning I'll be able to post about authors for whom I've been unable to come up with comparison books - for example Kameron Hurley, whose Bel Dame series is so unique).  Depending on how things go, I may only do 1 author interview a month going forward as well.  We'll see about that.

In terms of reading, I've wanted to do this for a while and have not managed it yet but it's a new year so...  I'd like to read more non-fiction, specifically Medieval history books (with some Greek, Roman, Byzantine, etc. thrown in for fun).  I've started realizing just how much of my university education I've forgotten and I want to get back into my major.  And I've a few bookshelves of new and used history books I've picked up over the years that I haven't had time to read.  Last year I got a DVD course for Christmas called The Terror of History.  Being the procrastinator I am, I only opened it up in December, having just enough time to realize this was fantastic before I had to stop watching due to my work schedule.  Well, I bought a few more courses, since they're on sale, focusing on things I didn't study in school (as 30 minute lectures aren't in depth enough to teach me things I don't know already when it comes to my major).  Once I'm done with The Terror - and have read up on Hildegard von Bingen, Francis of Assisi, heretics and other topics of interests, I'll be starting The Other Side of History, which focuses on how the non-rich majority of people lived.  In other words, the sick, the poor, slaves, women, children, the old, etc. got by in several periods of ancient history up until - and including - the Middle Ages.  Depending on the interest of you - my readers - I'd love to share some of the things I learn from my studies here on the blog.  I may do a few historical posts and see how they're received.  I've got a ton of photos from historical sights I've visited that I could post about too...

I'd also like to continue catching up on older SF classics and broadening my knowledge base in that genre.  Looking at my stats from yesterday, I should add more horror and urban fantasy back into the mix too.

Since I've so many books I'd like to read, I won't be accepting any new book review requests this year. I may request a few from publishers (so you should get a few advanced reviews for new titles) but I'll be keeping those to an absolute minimum so I can catch up on sequels and backlist books.

Last year I managed more than a book a week.  While it was fun, it was also a lot of work and I want to have more time for creative endeavours (and housecleaning) so I'll likely pare that down as well.  I'm thinking one review every two weeks.  We'll see.  I'd planned the same thing last year and ended up reading about the same.

In terms of new content, I'm hoping to do more artist spotlights, maybe more small press spotlights and start commenting more on what's happening around the interwebs.  We shall see.

What reading resolutions do you have?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Looking Back - Recapping 2012

I've started keeping a list of all the books I read, so it's easier to reflect on the past year.  Note, not all the books I've read have had their reviews posted yet (I've got 6 rough draft/complete reviews on my laptop right now).

So, in 2012 I read 59 books, 2 of which were novellas, 2 'other' (a history book and a psychology book), and 3 collections.  While I did read some graphic novels, apparently I didn't record those so I'm not sure how many I actually read.

Here's the breakdown of the novels:

Science fiction 26
Fantasy 13
Urban Fantasy 3 (though I'll admit I was a bit loose with this category, I'll have to read more of them next year)
Horror 1 (huh, I will have to do better with that next year as well)
Teen 12
    (broken down as 8 SF, 2 F, 1 Horror and 1 other - so once you add the teen books I read 34 SF, 15 fantasy, and 2 horror)
Other 1 (historical fiction)

Gender wise, I read 34 33* books by men, 19 20 books by women and 4 books by a mix (3 collections and one novel with 2 authors)
(*I discovered an author I thought was male is really female.  Pseudonyms, got to love them.)

I read a lot of great books last year, making a top 10 list difficult, but I'll try one.  Here they are in the order in which I read them (as it's easier than trying to rank them by preference).  The links go to my reviews.

Mind Storm - K. M. Ruiz
The Man From Primrose Lane - James Renner
Alchemist of Souls - Anne Lyle
Partials - Dan Wells
Erebos - Ursula Poznanski
Forever War - Joe Haldeman
The Rook - Daniel O'Malley
The Death of Grass - John Christopher
Three Parts Dead - Max Gladstone
Reposession Mambo (aka Repo Man) - Eric Garcia
Kop - Warren Hammond
Knife Sworn - Mazarkis Williams
The Bridge - Jane Higgins (link goes to Indigo website as my review hasn't been published yet)

And you got 3 bonus books (because I don't feel like trying to weed 3 out).

All in all I fulfilled my goal to read more SF, specifically classic SF.  Tomorrow I'll post my reading/blog resolutions for 2013.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels Coming in January, 2013

Once again, these listings come from the Indigo Books website and reflect Canadian release dates, with the exception of the Carina books, which are from their site.


Farside – Ben Bova
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent – Marie Brennan
The Daylight War – Peter V. Brett
Cry Wolf – Patricia Briggs
Dreams and Shadows – C. R. Cargill
Trinity Rising – Elspeth Cooper
The Arena Man – Steve Englehart
Necessity's Child – Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The Best of All Possible Worlds – Karen Lord
Firebrand – Gillian Philip
Elsewhens – Melanie Rawn
Sword Bound – Jennifer Roberson

Trade Paperback:

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination – John Joseph Adams, Ed.
Countess Dracula – Guy Adams
Warhammer 40K: The Death of Antagonis – David Annandale
THe Departure – Neal Asher
Existence – David Brin
The Lord of Castle Black – Steven Brust
How Dark the World Becomes – Frank Chadwick
Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction and Popular Cinema – James Chapman
Ex-Heroes – Peter Clines
Warhammer: Van Horstmann – Ben Counter
Darkest Light – Hiromi Goto
Take Back Plenty – Colin Greenland
Six Heirs – Pierre Grimbert
The Inner City – Karen Heuler
Blood Therapy – Lynda Hilburn
Superheroes – Rich Horton, Ed.
Dead Space – Antony Johnston
Extinction Point – Paul Antony Jones
Froggy Style – J. A. Kazimer
The Apes of Wrath – Richard Klaw
The Human Front – Ken Macleod
Very Best of Barry N. Malzberg – Barry Malzberg
Warriors – George R. R. Martin
Emperor Mollust Versus the Sinister Brain – A. Lee Martinez
The Ship Who Searched – Anne McCaffrey & Mercedes Lackey
Between Two Thorns – Emma Newman
Yamanda Monogatari: Demon Hunter – Richard Parks
A Rising Thunder – David Weber
Fireblood – Jeff Wheeler
Amped – Daniel Wilson

Mass Market Paperback:

The Isis Collar – Cat Adams
Gideon's Angel – Clifford Beal
The Golden Age of Death – Amber Benson
Angels of Vengeance – John Birmingham
Dead Things – Stephen Blackmoore
Blackveil – Kristen Britain
Wards of Faerie – Terry Brooks
Forgotten Realms: Prophet of the Dead – Richard Lee Byers
Warhammer 40K: Path of the Incubus – Andy Chambers
Guardian of Night – Tony Daniel
Star Trek: Devil's Bargain – Tony Daniel
The Order of the Scales – Stephen Deas
The Burn Zone – James Decker
Mortal – Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee
The Road of Danger – David Drake
A Crown Imperiled – Raymond E. Feist 
Black City – Christina Henry
Hell To Pay – Matthew Hughes
Secrets of the Fire Sea – Stephen Hunt
Dragon Fate – E. E. Knight
Age of Voodoo – James Lovegrove
The Forerunner Factor – Andre Norton
Shadow Blizzard – Alexey Pehov
The Silent Dragon – Irene Radford
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Michael Reaves
Dead Letter Day – Eileen Rendahl
Charon's Claw – R. A. Salvatore
Heart of Brass – Liesel Schwarz
Trickster – Jeff Somers
Black and Magic – James R. Tuck

Carina Press E-books:

Golden Triangle – David Bridger
Savage Angel – Stacy Gail
How Beauty Saved the Beast – Jax Garren
Dark Secrets – Shona Husk
Time Dancer – Inez Kelley
The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf – Tia Nevitt
Journey of Awakening – Shawna Thomas
Drynn – Steve Vera