Friday, 21 July 2017

Movie Reveiw: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Directed by George Miller, 1981

Pros: lots of action, great chase scenes 

Cons: limited plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Shout-out: Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Video: Movies with Mikey: Logan

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Book Review: Sovereign by April Daniels

Pros: great characters, interesting plot, complex issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 July 2017

Downplaying Romance in SFF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Shout-Out: Voiceless by E. G. Wilson

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

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Gun powder artist

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

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 July 2017

Reading List: Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Karnage - Gord Zajac

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Shout-Out: Void Star by Zachary Mason

A riveting, beautifully written, fugue-like novel of AIs, memory, violence, and mortality.

Not far in the future the seas have risen and the central latitudes are emptying, but it’s still a good time to be rich in San Francisco, where weapons drones patrol the skies to keep out the multitudinous poor. Irina isn’t rich, not quite, but she does have an artificial memory that gives her perfect recall and lets her act as a medium between her various employers and their AIs, which are complex to the point of opacity. It’s a good gig, paying enough for the annual visits to the Mayo Clinic that keep her from aging.

Kern has no such access; he’s one of the many refugees in the sprawling drone-built favelas on the city’s periphery, where he lives like a monk, training relentlessly in martial arts, scraping by as a thief and an enforcer. Thales is from a different world entirely—the mathematically inclined scion of a Brazilian political clan, he’s fled to L.A. after the attack that left him crippled and his father dead.

A ragged stranger accosts Thales and demands to know how much he can remember. Kern flees for his life after robbing the wrong mark. Irina finds a secret in the reflection of a laptop’s screen in her employer’s eyeglasses. None are safe as they’re pushed together by subtle forces that stay just out of sight.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Aurora Award StoryBundle 2

Douglas Smith has curated a second book bundle for the Canadian SFF prize, the Prix Aurora Award. As usual, the books are DRM free, pay what you want (with minimum amounts of $5 or $15).

Here are the books:

The initial titles in the Aurora Bundle 2 (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
  • Destiny's Blood by Marie Bilodea
  • Drowning in Amber by E.C. Bell
  • Impossibilia by Douglas Smith
  • Out of Time by D.G. Laderoute
  • Druids by Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus five more!
  • Golden Fleece by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall
  • Defining Diana by Hayden Trenholm
  • Marseguro by Edward Willett
  • The Cursed by Dave Duncan

Here's the site if you want more information.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Pros: interesting protagonist, interesting takes on mythology 

Cons: very slow, some graphic sex scenes, large caste with numerous names

Shadow is days away from being released from prison when bad news lets him out early. A seemingly chance encounter on an airplane with a strange old man leads him to an unexpected job where he meets gods and other creatures of legend, brought over from far lands long, long ago and left stranded in America without believers, without power. A war is brewing between the gods. And Shadow’s become a focal point.

I really liked Shadow as a protagonist. Which is good, because half way through the book I was still wondering what the actual plot was. Shadow was interesting enough to me to push through segments of the book that were kind of boring. I liked his pragmatism. I liked that nothing fazed him.

I enjoyed that the mythology mentioned was earthy, brutal, realistic. These are not your sanitized gods. They live off of blood and sacrifice. And yet I found myself liking a lot of them. I feel very conflicted about that.

The story seems slow because a lot of what’s interesting is happening to Wednesday off page. There’s a section in the middle where Shadow’s just living life while Wednesday is making deals, which, while not boring, wasn’t particularly exciting either. It was filled with interesting characters, and so I kept reading where I otherwise might have given up.

I don’t mind romance in novels or sex scenes, but the ones here were particularly graphic, which isn’t to my liking.

Pay close attention because most characters have more than one name. On several occasions smaller characters returned later in the book and I had to look them up to remember who they were.

I didn’t love this book but I didn’t hate it either. It was interesting enough to keep me reading overall, and there were some interesting takes on mythology that I liked. But I’m not sure I can recommend it to others.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Books Received in June 2017

Many thanks to Tor for sending me Transformation.

 by James Gunn - This is book 3 of Gunn's Transcendental Machine series.

Riley and Asha have traveled across the galaxy, found the Transcendental Machine, and been translated into something more than human. They've returned to Earth and won over the artificial intelligence which once tried to destroy the Transcendental Machine.
Now they must save the fringes of the Federation.

Planets at the edge of the Federation have fallen silent. The arrogant Federation bureaucracy grudgingly send Riley and Asha to investigate. They join forces with a planetary A.I., a paranoid Federation watchdog, and a member of a splinter group who vows to destroy the A.I. No one trusts anyone or their motives.

They need to find common ground and the answer in order to confront an enemy more ancient and powerful than the Transcendentals.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Shout-Out: More of Me by Kathryn Evans

Teva goes to school, studies for her exams, and spends time with her friends. To the rest of the world, she’s a normal teenager. But when she goes home, she’s anything but normal. Due to a genetic abnormality, Teva unwillingly clones herself every year. And lately, home has become a battleground. When boys are at stake, friends are lost, and lives are snatched away, Teva has a fight on her hands—a fight with herself. As her birthday rolls around, Teva is all too aware that time is running out. She knows that the next clone will soon seize everything she holds dear. Desperate to hang on to her life, Teva decides to find out more about her past . . . and uncovers lies that could either destroy her or set her free.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Book Review: The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan

Pros: excellent world-building, great characters, well paced, exciting

Cons: cliffhanger ending 

Refugees flock to Feros, where Lizanne Lethridge, aka Miss Blood, is given the first of a new and even more dangerous series of missions to perform in the Corvantine Empire. Clay has convinced Hillmore to sail South, hoping to find something that will help them defeat the white dragon. Meanwhile, the white is gathering its army of spoiled, training them to overrun the world.

This book starts off with little reminder of the events of The Waking Fire (my review), so it’s worth rereading it. One of the characters thought dead returns as a point of view character, giving insight into the actions of the white dragon’s army.

The world-building continues to be excellent. You learn more about various governments and see how the drakes interact from a different point of view from the first book. Clay’s mission provides a lot of questions, which I’m hoping will be answered in the next book.

There are two appendices, one for dramatis personae, which is helpful as several names are similar and the cast is large, and a second with the rules for the card game Pastazch.

Lizanne is probably my favourite character, making difficult decisions and still being influenced more by her emotions than a good operative should. I was surprised by where her choices lead her. Clay seems to grow as the book progresses, which I appreciated. I was disappointed that Tekela wasn’t in this book much, considering how she’d grown in the previous book. I was hoping to see more of her development. Loriabeth gets a good amount of page time, which was nice. Her skills have improved a lot and she’s a solid supporting character.

The pacing was wonderful, with a lot of action and cliffhanger chapter endings, propelling you through the book at a rapid pace. There’s little wrap up here, with the final chapters leaving several characters in difficult positions. This is only a negative in that since the next book isn’t out yet, I can’t immediately find out what happens to them.

I’m really looking forward to book 3.

Friday, 23 June 2017

History Book Review: Illuminating Women in the Medieval World by Christine Sciacca

Pros: lots of colour illustrations, good explanations


This is an examination of medieval women as depicted in illuminated manuscripts. There’s a short forward by Timothy Potts, the Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, followed by the Introduction. There are four chapters: Medieval Ideals of Womanhood, Warnings to Medieval Women, Medieval Women in Daily Life and Medieval Women in the Arts. At the end there’s a short epilogue and some suggestions for further reading. The book is 120 pages, and there are 100 illustrations.

The chapters start with a short explanation followed by a large number of illustrations. Each image has a good descriptive explanation that often gives context and/or insights into the medieval mind. I was impressed to see an Ethiopian and a Persian image in the Ideals of Womanhood chapter, as well as a few Hebrew manuscripts represented. The images depict a wide variety of women from a good mix of sources. There are saints, Biblical scenes, scenes of romance, giving birth, patrons praying, etc. Some of the sources are book of hours, prayer books, hymnals, medical and history texts, a book of law codes, etc.

The Warnings chapter opens with a brief foray into nude female imagery and the male readership for whom those images were generally commissioned, something I had never considered before. There are several other interesting tidbits that give greater depth to the people who made and used the manuscripts.

I found this a wonderful read. It’s an introductory volume and so accessible to anyone interested in learning more about the middle ages and the role of women.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Shout-Out: Soleri by Michael Johnston

Michael Johnston brings you the first in a new epic fantasy series inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear.

The ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power longer than even the calendars that stretch back 2,826 years. Those records tell a history of conquest and domination by a people descended from gods, older than anything in the known world. No living person has seen them for centuries, yet their grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tighter than ever.

On the day of the annual eclipse, the Harkan king, Arko-Hark Wadi, sets off on a hunt and shirks his duty rather than bow to the emperor. Ren, his son and heir, is a prisoner in the capital, while his daughters struggle against their own chains. Merit, the eldest, has found a way to stand against imperial law and marry the man she desires, but needs her sister's help, and Kepi has her own ideas.

Meanwhile, Sarra Amunet, Mother Priestess of the sun god's cult, holds the keys to the end of an empire and a past betrayal that could shatter her family.

Detailed and historical, vast in scope and intricate in conception, Soleri bristles with primal magic and unexpected violence. It is a world of ancient and elaborate rites, of unseen power and kingdoms ravaged by war, where victory comes with a price, and every truth conceals a deeper secret.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Video: Honest Trailer for Aliens

I've been watching Honest Trailers, by Screen Junkies, for years. They're entertaining, spoilery examinations of movies. Aliens is my favourite film and their analysis is spot on.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Book Review: Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

Pros: diverse cast, interesting plot

Cons: minimal world-building

Carina is a zeal addict, living her life plugged into her dreams where she slowly kills virtual people. When a former co-worker uploads coded packets of information into her brain that will help take down her previous employer, she’s not sure she’s capable of sobering up and not becoming a monster in the real world.

This book is set in the same world as the author’s previous novel, False Hearts. While some characters overlap, Shattered Minds works perfectly on its own. 

Carina’s a fascinating character. Having information tied to her memories was a clever idea, and allowed for some great development. I was surprised by how much I liked her considering she had very little emotion, had constant urges to kill, and spent the first part of the book heavily addicted. But then, I also enjoyed seeing the world from Roz’s point of view, and she’s a pretty terrible person. Her scenes didn’t make me relate to her at all, but sometime’s its nice to read about bad guys who are truly evil.

The cast is pretty diverse with one character a native american trans man, which isn’t something you read often. Dax was probably my favourite character, considerate, competent, cool under pressure.

I had mixed feelings about the romantic elements of the book. I liked the pairing, and the text makes it clear that the two find each other attractive. But given Carina’s inability to feel anything other than pleasure at the thought of killing, I didn’t really get the gut feeling that she was even capable of any kind of intimate relationship. I appreciated that things moved slowly, but there was one scene that felt like it happened too early and so didn’t give the emotional satisfaction that it should have. At this point they knew each other better but still didn’t have the emotional connection such a scene requires. Oddly enough, had the author waited a bit, there was a place where I think that would have fit better (see more on this in the spoiler section).  

While I felt the author knew how this world worked, there were times when it would have helped to understand more of what makes Pacifica tick. Towards the end of the book there’s a throwaway comment about the potential consequences of taking down Sudice, of how society could unravel because the company’s tied into so many things. This would have been good to bring up earlier. In fact, the comment states that the group has discussed this issue, though the reader never sees any of these discussions. It’s a failure of world-building because as a readier I didn’t realize the full import of the company they want to bring down and that the Trust’s actions might not be as black and white as they’re being portrayed. Knowing what Sudice does, and how the world would be impacted would have added more depth and complexity to the characters, and the show how difficult the decision they’re making really is.

The book is paced well so there’s a good mix of action and down time. The mystery of what Roz is doing and how the Trust can take her down is quite entertaining, and there are a good number of twists to keep things interesting.

On the whole I enjoyed the book.


I think Carina and Dax slept together too early. While you get scenes from his point of view, you never see him question the wisdom of starting a relationship with a woman who has urges to kill and how he (or they) would deal with this. The scene at the end I refer to in my review is after Carina has Roz at her mercy and chooses not to kill her. The two talk about where things are headed between them. Given that Dax now knows she can control her negative urges better, this felt like a more natural place for their first sexual encounter. As a reader, this is also where I felt they connected better on an emotional level.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Short Story Review: Darkness Upon the Deep by Hristo Goshev

Aurora Wolf Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6

Philip Carter is a Valkyrie pilot on the interstellar destroyer Bastion. When a surprise attack and emergency jump leave his best friend behind - certainly dead - and the crew stranded in some unknown space, morale breaks down and Phil has to confront some unpleasant truths about himself.

It’s an interesting science fiction story with a clear underlying sense of dread. You really feel for Phil, for his loss, and even his desire to redeem himself. You learn just enough about the enemy they’re fighting to make their pre-jump situation dire, and enough about their new situation to understand why things are falling apart. It’s quite engaging.

You can read it online here.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Movie Review: Mad Max

Directed by George Miller, 1979

Pros: great costumes, shows soft-apocalypse, good world-building

Cons: slow, limited plot, sometimes boring

A few years into the future, Australia is slowly falling into anarchy. Max is a cop in a world where the law has little power. When a car chase leads to the death of an important gang member, the gang starts going after the police and eventually draw Max’s ire.

I never saw this growing up, though I did see the other films. I didn’t remember much of them though, so I had certain expectations that were shattered watching this. The first surprise of the film was that it wasn’t the post-apocalyptic setting of the later films. Society still exists in some recognizable ways, though it’s quickly crumbing as police become more brutal and courts have less power. It reminded me of Octavia Butler’s collapsing world in Parable of the Sower

The second surprise was how long it took for Max to go on his rampage. The precipitating event wasn’t hard to guess, but it kept getting deferred, which I must say created more tension than I suspect was intended. 

I loved the costumes, particularly the cops’ leather uniforms. The world-building was pretty good too. I liked that there were still institutions, but that their power was lessened. The bureaucracy shows up once when it comes to buying new police equipment and the costs involved. I was surprised at how willing Max’s wife was to go off on her own, which implied that things had deteriorated at a rate that meant people still felt relatively safe, despite the roving gangs. There are hints of the future wars over gasoline, and some good car chases.

While the slow pacing allowed the viewer to get to know the characters, there were several parts of the film that were kind of boring. I really expected the action to start sooner and the ‘hunt’ to take longer.

I was horrified by the treatment of the couple’s son. When he’s first shown, the toddler is sitting on the floor playing with Max’s gun. Seat belts weren’t really a concern when the film was made, but even so, in one scene he’s kind of tossed into the back trunk area of their station wagon. Then, after a traumatic experience, the wife (girlfriend?) take a good ten minutes to remember he exists and goes looking for him. 

As a content warning, the film is rated R, with some nudity and a heavily implied rape scene.

I can understand why it’s not considered one of the better Mad Max films, but I’m glad I finally saw it.  

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Shout-Out: Want by Cindy Pon

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.
With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.
Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Video: Bach's "Gott ist mein Konig" in St. Mary's Church, Muhlhausen

A friend posted this on my facebook wall and I thought it was awesome, so I'm sharing it here. This is performed by the Michaelstein Telemann Chamber Orchestra in Saint Mary's Church, Muhlhausen Germany. Doing a bit of research on the church, it's 14th - 15th century, made from local limestone.

This cantata, "Gott ist mein Konig" (God is my King) was written to mark the Council Election, and premiered at this church in 1708.

The singing and playing are beautiful, and there's some great camera work highlighing the church. If you want to see more, part 2 is here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Book Review: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Pros: conflicted characters, good world-building

Cons: not hard SF

Earth spent years forcing thousands of people to emigrate to other inhabitable worlds as the population grew out of control. Jamie Allenby was living on Soltaire, at the edge of inhabited space, when the plague came through. The survival rate of zero point zero zero zero one percent haunts her as she makes her way to the space port in hopes of finding other survivors. As others emerge, they head towards Earth, unsure of what they’re looking for or how life will carry on. 

I found Jamie an interesting character. In many ways she reminded me of Millicent, the protagonist in Mishell Baker’s Borderline. She’s not particularly likeable, but because you’re seeing her thoughts and feelings (and occasional flashbacks), you understand why she’s making the decisions she is, and why she has trouble letting people get close. Jamie slowly comes to understand what she’s looking for, but I suspect some readers will find her constant questioning herself and where she’s going with her life frustrating. I felt this frustration myself a time or two towards the end of the book, especially when she’s trying to get others to join their group despite making it clear that she thinks people should do what they want and joining the group isn’t what those people want to do. 

Most of the supporting characters are conflicted too, not sure what this new world holds, whether it’s better to return to the old way of doing things or hope for something new. Rena annoyed me, but I think she was supposed to. I appreciated the author including an autistic young man in with the main group of survivors. 

I liked that different views of how the world should continue were offered by different groups. It didn’t surprise me that societal classes would survive the apocalypse. One of the groups they encountered did surprise me though, with their adherence to an even older age. 

Some sections of the book are designed to get you to think deeply about life: what it means, where humanity is headed, etc. This was undercut by Jamie’s constant waffling though, never sure of what she wanted and feeling at one with the universe for a moment and then doubting the emotion the next.

The world-building was pretty good. Callan’s history especially grounded the world for me, in all its cruelty. 

This isn’t hard SF. While there are lags for communication transmissions, there’s no time dilation affecting space travel and it only takes a day or two to get between worlds, with no explanation of how the ship is navigating the distances so quickly. Because Jamie was constantly questioning her decisions, it made me wonder how things would have changed for her if moving from one planet to the next meant years or decades would have passed for those she left behind, so that there was no going back, no reconciliation. How would things have changed for her if these decisions were permanent once she left? Would she have been happier? Would she have stayed on Earth? On Alegria? Would she have found the personal space she needed some other way? Or would she still have ended up on Soltaire, conflicted about the decisions she’d made with her life? 

It was an interesting debut. It posed some good questions and while it wasn’t perfect, it kept me turning pages.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Polychromy in Classical and Gothic Art

A few days ago I read a really good article by Sarah Bond on why it's important we start seeing Classical artwork the way it originally was - in colour. The article points out that the Renaissance looked at classical art - what was by their time uncoloured marble - and found its aesthetic ideal. They did not know (unlike us) that originally these white marble statues were vibrantly (even gaudily) painted.

From Wikimedia Commons: Istanbul Archaeological Museum - A modern reconstruction of the polychromy of troyan archer of the Temple of Aphaia, ca. 485–480 BC. On a loan from the Glyptotek in Munich, for the Bunte Götter exhibition. Picture by: Giovanni Dall'Orto May 28 2006.

What the article did not point out, much to my surprise (probably due to space constraints), was that this turn towards Classical art was a response to - and rejection of - the current art style, what they termed 'Gothic'.

'Gothic' is named after the Visigoths, a 'barbarian' tribe that invaded what is now Italy, sacking Rome twice and bringing the final end to the Roman Empire in the West.

Its easy to forget when looking at cathedrals today that Gothic sculpture was also fully painted. The clean marble we admire, would have looked just as garish to modern (and Renaissance) viewers as Classical sculpture when it was first made. But the Renaissance artists didn't realize that.

Every generation tends to reject what came before in some way or another. Sometimes it's a complete backlash that vilifies the previous era. Sometimes it's more subtle. Consider, would you want a house decorated in 60s style?

While it's strange to see fully painted Classical artwork, we need to accept that our aesthetic ideal isn't the same as that of people from the past. And looking at a fully painted church - the restored and recently cleaned Saint Chapelle royal chapel in Paris - excessive painting can look beautiful under the right conditions. Here are some photos I took when I visited in 2015.

The first picture shows the lower chapel. Both it and the upper chapel in photo 2 share a blue painted ceiling with gold fleur-de-lis, but the upper chapel photo is too dark to properly see it. The stained glass means the entire upper chapel is bathed in coloured light.

The statuary along the walls is vibrantly coloured, and rather than looking gaudy, the whole together is quite magnificently beautiful. It perfectly captures the Gothic art goals of coming to God through light and colour.

While I wouldn't advocate painting all the sculpture in Cathedrals and museums, I do think it would be helpful to see more artists renditions of what they would have looked like. I'd love to see the same for Classical artworks.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Shout-Out: The Moon and the Other by John Kessel

In the middle of the twenty-second century, over three million people live in underground cities below the moon's surface. One city-state, the Society of Cousins, is matriarchy, where men are supported in any career choice, and can have all the sex they want, but no right to vote-and tensions are beginning to flare as outside political intrigues increase. After participating in a rebellion that caused his mother's death, Erno has been exiled from the Society of Cousins. Now, he is living in the Society's rival colony, Persepolis, when he meets and marries Amestris, the defiant daughter of the richest man on the moon. Mira, a rebellious loner in the Society, creates graffiti videos that challenge the Society's political domination. She is hopelessly in love with Carey, the exemplar of male privilege. An Olympic champion in low-gravity martial arts and known as the most popular bedmate in the Society, Carey's more suited to being a boyfriend than a parent, even as he tries to gain custody of his teenage son. When the Organization of Lunar States sends a team to investigate the condition of men in the Society, Erno sees an opportunity to get rich, Amestris senses an opportunity to escape from her family, Mira has a chance for social change, and Carey can finally become independent of the matriarchy that considers him a perpetual adolescent. But when Society secrets are revealed, the first moon war erupts, and everyone must decide what is truly worth fighting for.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

LGBT+ StoryBundle

Story Bundle has their new DRM free ebook bundle up, and it's full of LGBT+ goodness for Pride Month. The curator of this bundle, Melissa Scott, has this to say about the offerings:
First, no novels in which being queer means you're evil, nor any in which it's a doomed and tragic fate. There are places for the latter, but this is June and Pride Month, and I want to share books that celebrate queerness. I've also decided to focus on small press offerings, as they are more likely to be overlooked than books from the mainstream houses. I've tried to pick newer novels, and to reintroduce some older writers, and in general to include books and writers who you might not have seen yet.

Here's what you can get (copied from the email), learn more about each book on the website.

The initial titles in the LGBT+ Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
  • The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles
  • Wonder City Stories by Jude McLaughlin
  • The Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones
  • Riley Parra Season One by Geonn Cannon
  • Out of This World by Catherine Lundoff

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus seven more!
  • The Marshal's Lover by Jo Graham
  • Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
  • Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Death by Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold
  • The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories by A.C. Wise
  • Trafalgar and Boone in the Drowned Necropolis by Geonn Cannon
  • Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff
They still have 2 other bundles up for sale, Moonscapes and Military SF.