Friday, 26 May 2017

Movie Review: Get Out

Directed by Jordan peele

Pros: great acting, shows systemic racism, psychological horror


Rose Armitage is bringing her new African American boyfriend, Chris, home to meet her caucasian family. They seem nice, if overeager to prove they’re not racist, but as the weekend progresses, something just feels more and more off to Chris.

I remember a few years ago Cabin in the Woods got a lot of praise for taking horror movie tropes and turning them upside down. Get Out ignores the tropes completely and creates a subtle atmosphere of unease and a truly horrifying reveal. I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about this film, as its reversal of stereotypes makes it unique.

There’s very little blood and gore, depending instead almost entirely on creeping you out in a more psychological way.

I thought the performances were excellent. Daniel Kaluuya as Chris really sold what was going on and his own confusion and uneasiness over seemingly benign encounters. Allison Williams as Rose was also great, especially in the second half of the film. Marcus Henderson (Walter) and Betty Gabriel (Georgina) were amazing. They had to show no emotion for most of the film and the moment when Georgina cries was heart-wrenching.

There’s an underpinning of subtle racism that adds to the horror. Seeing situations from Chris’s point of view it’s hard to ignore the subtext of what’s being said and done, from the cop asking to see his ID to the guests at the party bringing up their ‘black’ connections.

As someone who prefers psychological horror over body/slasher horror, this was terrifying and provocative. It’s highly worth seeing. 

If you have seen the film and want a fantastic breakdown of what's going on, Wisecrack's got you covered.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Shout-Out: The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

London burned for three weeks. And then it got worse...
Young, naive Lalla has grown up in near-isolation in her parents' apartment, sheltered from the chaos of their collapsed civilization. But things are getting more dangerous outside. People are killing each other for husks of bread, and the police are detaining anyone without an identification card. On her sixteenth birthday, Lalla's father decides it's time to use their escape route--a ship he's built that is only big enough to save five hundred people.
But the utopia her father has created isn't everything it appears. There's more food than anyone can eat, but nothing grows; more clothes than anyone can wear, but no way to mend them; and no-one can tell her where they are going.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Video: How Falconry Shaped the English Language

This is a fascinating short explanation of some English phrases that came from falconry by Great Big Story. It's easy to forget how trades, sports, and other activities affect language.

English has so many idioms and I'm always happy when reading SF and aliens call humans out for using expressions that don't make sense or for explanations of strange saying. But I don't think I've ever read a fantasy novel where language was evolving or where the expression is only used in one trade (or class) and someone had to explain it. Which is interesting as most jobs today have specialized vocabulary that outsiders won't necessarily get. When I started working at the bookstore I had to learn 'shrink', 'shelf-talker', 'remainders', 'end cap', etc. meant in this context (or meant at all). Similarly, back when I was a trade show exhibitor, I learned 'pitch', 'draw tip', and several other terms specific to that job.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika volume 3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey by M.M. Chen

Pencils by Joe Benitez and Martin Montiel
(collects issues 1-2 of Lady Mechanika: The Lost Boys of West Abbey)

Pros: beautiful artwork, interesting story, great characters

Cons: short

Lady Mechanika hears of a strange murder case where kidnapped urchin boys were found murdered next to mechanical parts. She starts investigating, wondering if this case could lead to information about her own origins.

As with the previous volumes, this one stands alone, though there is a quick, non spoilery callback for the events of volume 2. It’s only two issues, so the story is much shorter than those of the earlier graphic novels (and the price reflects that).

Once more the artwork is gorgeous. The characters have a fun mix of Victorian and steampunk fashions.The cast is widened with the addition of a detective inspector, who I suspect will show up in later volumes.

The cover gallery at the end has some nice pieces. 

I’m loving this series.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Warded Man Still Life

Peter V. Brett's fifth and final Demon Cycle book has a name (The Core), covers (with an interesting creation story for how the US and UK covers were designed), and a release date (October 3, 2017 - pushed back from August).

When I worked at the World's Biggest Bookstore, I often went to publisher run bookseller events. SFF wasn't often represented, outside of YA. The Warded Man was the first adult Random House title I was mailed outside of an event, because I specialized in SFF at the store and they wanted to promote the book. So it has a special place in my heart beyond simply being an incredible debut. In 2009, a few months after it came out in the US/Canada I interviewed Mr. Brett, asking questions about the writer life. A few years later, while handselling book two, The Desert Spear, I opened the book and realized my review of it was quoted in the front! For some reason publishers don't notify reviewers when they do this so it was a complete surprise and only one of two instances (that I know of) that this has happened to me.

About a month ago I noticed that Peter V. Brett was hosting a still life contest on his blog. I'd intended to enter and then completely forgot about it. Well, yesterday I saw a twitter post with some of the entries and decided to do it anyway, even though the contest is over now.

Here's what I came up with:

I think the first shot is better, as it shows the scales and other objects closer and at an angle, but I like that you can see that the cloth is a cloak in the second shot. My idea behind this was that Leesha had just entered her hut, thrown her cloak down and was frantically preparing an herbal remedy for a patient (hence the knocked over bottles).

This second scene isn't as detailed (and yes, the hora should be bone not crystal, and warded to boot), but I wanted to do something to honour Inevera, one of my all time favourite characters.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika Volume 2: The Tablet of Destinies by M.M. Chen

Pencils by Joe Benitez and Martin Montiel
(collects issues 1-6 of Lady Mechanika: The Tablet of Destinies)

Pros: gorgeous artwork, fast paced story, lots of women


Lady Mechanika returns to London in time to witness the kidnapping of Lewis’ niece. Seems the girl’s grandfather is part of an African expedition uncovering a long lost underground city. And within that city is the tablet of destinies, rumoured to be a powerful weapon.

Once again the artwork is incredible. It’s lush and detailed.

The story’s fast paced, going from one crisis or revelation to another. I enjoyed that this book had several diverse locations, and peoples.

Lady Mechanika’s a fantastic protagonist. I’m impressed with the number of women the series has introduced, and the great costumes they wear (some sexy, others practical).

I’m loving this series.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Shout-Out: Forever On by Rob Reid

The definitive novel of today’s Silicon Valley, Forever On flash-captures our cultural and technological moment with up-to-the-instant savvy. Matters of privacy and government intrusion, post-Tinder romance, nihilistic terrorism, artificial consciousness, synthetic biology, and much more are tackled with authority and brash playfulness by New York Times bestselling author Rob Reid.

Meet Phluttr—a diabolically addictive new social network and a villainess, heroine, enemy, and/or bestie to millions. Phluttr has ingested every fact and message ever sent to, from, or about her innumerable users. Her capabilities astound her makers—and they don’t even know the tenth of it.

But what’s the purpose of this stunning creation? Is it a front for something even darker and more powerful than the NSA? A bid to create a trillion-dollar market by becoming “The UberX of Sex”? Or a reckless experiment that could spawn the digital equivalent of a middle-school mean girl with enough charisma, dirt, and cunning to bend the entire planet to her will?

Phluttr has it in her to become the greatest gossip, flirt, or matchmaker in history. Or she could cure cancer, bring back Seinfeld, then start a nuclear war. Whatever she does, it’s not up to us. But a motley band of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and engineers might be able to influence her.

Forever On achieves the literary singularity—fusing speculative satire and astonishing reality into a sharp-witted, ferociously believable, IMAX-wide view of our digital age.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Kameron Hurley Podcast

If you haven't heard, Kameron Hurley (The Stars are Legion, The Mirror Empire, God's War) has started a podcast. While it's funded by her patreon, it's free to listen to online. She's got 2 episodes up and they're really good, with some writing advice as well as ways to cope with the insanity that is the current world. Be aware, there is some profanity.
  • EPISODE ONE: The Business is Writing, The Business is Death. Chat about broken stairs in the publishing world, multiple income streams, writing and entitlement. With bonus apocalypse Q&A.
  • EPISODE TWO: How to Get to Work When the World Wants to Get You Down. Chat about how to create and promote work during tough times, how to balance caring for your sanity and health with being a good, active citizen, and why you should tell everyone to f*ck themselves and just write what you want!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika volume 1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benitez

(collects Lady Mechanika issues 0-5)

Pros: gorgeous artwork, interesting characters, good story


Issue 0 is a prequel story that takes place about a year before the main comic. It features Lady Mechanika hunting a ‘demon’ that’s been killing children.

Issues 1-5 comprises a story about a young woman, found dead in a train station, who has similar mechanical arms to Lady Mechanika.

I LOVED the artwork. The colours are rich and bold, the backgrounds lush, and the characters vibrant.

Lady Mechanika is portrayed in a sexy fashion without showing much (or sometimes any) skin. I loved her costumes (particularly her Victorian style dresses), and the occasional steampunk elements of it. She’s intelligent, no nonsense, and kickass.

The supporting cast are also well dressed and appropriately quirky. I enjoyed the fact that there’s history between Lady Mechanika and the two lead antagonists.

The story was pretty interesting, though there was one scene where the antagonists had an expository conversation meant for the reader rather than each other.

This volume is self-contained, with a quick mention of what will begin the next volume.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Movie Review: The Mummy (1932)

Directed by Karl Freund

Pros: interesting story, good effects

Cons: mediocre acting 

In 1922 an archaeological expedition in Egypt dug up the unusual mummy of Imhotep and a strange box containing a scroll. Both disappear. Ten years later, a new expedition discovers the untouched tomb of a priestess of Isis, whose spirit, Imhotep discovers, is possessing a modern young woman.  

My understanding of this film was that it consisted of a mummy in torn and tattered bandages, roaming around killing people. So I found the film quite surprising. The mummy I expected only shows up in the first few minutes of the film, after which Imhotep (well played by Boris Karloff) appears as a wizened man.

Imhotep isn’t awakened via a spoken spell, so he was either alive in some form this whole time, the spell was uttered inaudibly, or writing out a small portion of it is enough to enact it. I actually found the magic spells Imhotep uses later in the film interesting, though not likely authentic (in terms of language or how ancient Egyptians thought of magic). The make-up and costumes were excellent. The film used white actors for the important Egyptians, and black ‘Nubians’ as servants, though Ancient Egyptians would not necessarily look like their modern inhabitants (Egypt was conquered and settled by several nations in ancient and medieval times).

Helen’s ‘illness’ reminded me of Lucy (and later Mina) from Dracula, something that was supernaturally called by the antagonist that saw her wasting away due to her attempts to avoid the summons. 

There’s a rather sudden romance, which felt kind of out of place given what’s going on and how little the characters know of each other. The fact that Helen (Zita Johann) even points this out, just made it worse as Frank ignores her concerns.  David Manners as Frank Whemple didn’t impress me much as the love interest (there was no chemistry between the couple and no time to develop any relationship), nor did the wise doctor Muller, played by Edward Van Sloan. Both were fairly wooden, and the doctor’s constant expositionary leaps of logic as to what’s going on were kind of annoying.

It’s an interesting film, more for its place in history and how inaccurately it’s remembered than because it’s great cinema.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Shout-Out: Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Having stumbled onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica, former espionage agent, Desmond Coke, finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari.
Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone.
Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Video: Horseback Archery

This is a cool video about a couple who do and teach archery on horseback in the UK.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Book Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Pros: fascinating world-building, interesting characters, twisting plot


Neverfell was found around the age of five in the tunnels of Cheesemaster Grandible. Seven years later, a series of errors has her emerging into the wider world of Caverna and the mysterious Court that rules it. For in a world where Faces must be learned and lying is a fact of life, Neverfell’s face can change expression with her emotions, and lying is beyond her skill.

The world of Caverna is fascinating. You’re introduced to it - and all of its various workings - slowly, through Neverfell’s eyes and experiences. While she’s told early on that everyone lies and manipulates, her own trusting and trustworthy natures make it hard for her to protect herself from the plots of others. As the book progresses, you learn more about the world and the darknesses it’s based on.

The plot takes a lot of turns I wasn’t expecting, which was a real joy. Neverfell’s a great character and her constant curiosity has her acting in unpredictable ways. She starts off hopelessly naive, but over the course of the book learns what society is like, and that not everyone she meets has her best interests in mind. The Kleptomancer is really fun, and I’d have loved seeing more of him and of the brilliantly insane cryptomancers.

This is a fun book, one that briefly touches on numerous discussion points, so it would make a great book club novel.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Free Comic Book Day Mini Comic Reviews

These are little reviews of the comics I picked up yesterday on free comic day.

Malika: Warrior Queen by Roye Okupe, Young EK Studios
 - Strong opening with a mother observing her daughter’s attempts at martial arts. There’s set-up and a battle and the hint of more war to come. Gorgeous artwork.

Spill Night by Scott Westerfeld, First Second Books
- A short prequel comic showing a bit of what the younger sister went through the night of the spill. It ends with a few pages from Spill Zone. It’s got some tension going on and a lot of action, and more snarky conversation from Vespertine

Catalyst Prime: The Event by Priest and Joseph Phillip Illidge, Lion Forge
- The setting and time changed every few pages making this rather confusing and hard to follow. By the end things settled into a ‘just before the event’ segment that was very interesting, and the ending was a huge surprise. Not sure I’d continue this though.

Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez, Benitez Productions
- This volume consists of 3 excerpts, one from each of the current graphic novels. I read and enjoyed the first story. Since I bought the first two graphic novels I decided not to read the other excerpts. I love the artwork and Mechanika’s an amazing character so far.

Doctor Who 2016 
- This was a collection of 4 short stories featuring different doctors. They were too short to have much development and so I didn’t find them that interesting.

Doctor Who 2017

- I enjoyed this story. It’s a single story that involves several doctors (but not at the same time) and how they interacted with a particular alien over the years.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Free Comic Book Day

For what might be the first time ever, I went to my local comic book store on 'free comic book day' and picked up some free comics (and a couple of not free graphic novels).

I went specifically for the Spill Night comic (prequel to the Spill Zone graphic novel I reviewed recently). I've heard of Lady Mechanika and like the artwork, and was curious about the Doctor Who stories (I got last year's as well as this year's). Catalist Prime: The Event and Malika: Warrior Queen were cool finds I picked up on a whim.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Manjar blanco vs dulche de leche

I picked up a container of manjar blanco in Peru and wanted to see how it compared (or if it was the same as) the dulche de leche I got at the local grocery store. Online sources tell me that both are made by boiling milk and adding sugar, so my expectation is that they’ll be pretty similar. 

Opening the packages, it’s clear they’re not the same stuff. Dulche de leche smells like the caramel you get when you heat sweetened condensed milk (which, I learned when I looked it up, is how recipes suggest making it). Manjar blanco smells more like the caramel you get as an ice cream topping. 

The manjar blanco spreads more like peanut butter and is matt, while the dulche de leche is shiny and spreads thinner, more like jelly.

The taste was like the smell, with one having a more milk flavour and the other a richer caramel taste. It's strange that foods that are so similar can turn out so different.

So why am I mentioning this on my SFF blog? Because it's easy to forget when creating new worlds just how many minute differences between communities there are. There's this idea that everyone in your city or country or planet speaks the same, eats the same, worships the same. A great way to make your world feel real is to have characters point out that the food isn't quite the way they do it back home - spicier, richer tasting, more watery, fewer ingredients, etc. 

Food is a comfort. It reminds us of home and - hopefully - safety and love. And people complain about it all they time. They also praise it when it's exceptional and comment on it when it's unexpected. New foods when travelling can be an adventure all they're own, and when we're done travelling, they can also remind us of the places we've been, the things we've done and the people we've met. As such, it could be a great way to start a sequel, having a protagonist eating a dish that reminds them of the events of the previous book. The meal doesn't have to go uninterrupted of course. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Shout-Out: Hero Lost: Mysteries of Life and Death by Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Can a lost hero find redemption?
What if Death himself wanted to die? Can deliverance be found on a bloody battlefield? Could the gift of silvering become a prison for those who possessed it? Will an ancient warrior be forever the caretaker of a house of mystery?
Delving into the depths of the tortured hero, twelve authors explore the realms of fantasy in this enthralling and thought-provoking collection. Featuring the talents of Jen Chandler, L. Nahay, Renee Cheung, Roland Yeomans, Elizabeth Seckman, Olga Godim, Yvonne Ventresca, Ellen Jacobson, Sean McLachlan, Erika Beebe, Tyrean Martinson, and Sarah Foster.
Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these twelve tales will take you into the heart of heroes who have fallen from grace. Join the journey and discover a hero’s redemption!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Video: Fear of the Known

I got an email about this short video on H.P. Lovecraft's influence on art and why his works have endured. It's by Articulate, which is syndicated on PBS.

I didn't realize Lovecraft's work had inspired musicians as well as artists and authors. Pretty interesting.

Articulate with Jim Cotter is an Emmy Award winning magazine show that examines the human condition as expressed through culture and creativity. From ballet to busking, and grand opera to gaming, Articulate invites viewers to engage with the unfamiliar to discover truths common to us all.  

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

Illustrated by Alex Puvilland
Pros: atmospheric, interesting characters, intriguing story

Cons: a little slow

No one knows what caused the Spill Zone, but its dangers are numerous. Addison supports herself and her younger sister by sneaking into her old hometown, now a quarantine zone, and selling the pictures she takes. She stays safe by obeying a set of rules. Now she’s offered a large sum of money to bring something back from the zone, but it means breaking the rules…

This is the first volume and so mostly sets up the spill zone and the characters. It’s a bit slow, but that’s due to the many panelled atmospheric nature of the artwork. While the artwork wasn’t entirely to my liking, it does embody the post-apocalyptic feel of the city and the creepy stuff going on inside it. It’s also highly expressive, showing a lot of motion and emotion.

Addison’s pretty interesting as a protagonist, gutsy if not terribly business savvy. Her obvious love for her sister shines through. I have to admit, I’m most intrigued by Vespertine, her sister’s telepathic, snarky doll.

The story ends with several mysteries introduced and I’m very curious to see what happens next.

Monday, 1 May 2017

TOR Books Announces “TOR LABS” Dramatic Podcast Imprint

Got this intriguing press release this morning:

Tor Books, a leading global publisher of science fiction and fantasy, announced today that it is launching TOR LABS, a new imprint emphasizing experimental approaches to genre publishing, beginning with original dramatic podcasts.

Helmed by Senior Editor Marco Palmieri and Editor Jennifer Gunnels, Tor Labs will debut this summer with Steal the Stars, a science fiction audio drama which will be produced in partnership with Gideon Media and written by Mac Rogers, the award-winning writer of the global hit podcast thrillers, The Message and LifeAfter.

Steal the Stars is the story of Dakota Prentiss and Matt Salem, two government employees guarding the biggest secret in the world: a crashed UFO. Despite being forbidden to fraternize, Dak and Matt fall in love and decide to escape to a better life on the wings of an incredibly dangerous plan: They're going to steal the alien body they've been guarding and sell the secret of its existence.

Steal the Stars is a noir science fiction thriller in 14 episodes, airing weekly from August 2 – November 1, 2017, and available worldwide on all major podcast distributors through the Macmillan Podcast Network. It will be followed immediately by a novelization of the entire serial from Tor Books, as well as an ads-free audio book of the podcast from Macmillan Audio.

In a joint statement, Gunnels and Palmieri said, "There's a little mad science in every new publishing experiment, and we're tremendously excited about the creative possibilities of Tor Labs. We're especially thrilled to be partnering with Gideon Media on Steal the Stars, and bringing their phenomenal work to a wide audience."

"I was intrigued by the idea of a science fiction heist thriller told in the classic noir tradition of James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith," said writer Mac Rogers. "I've always loved those stories of illicit lovers trying to pull off one nearly impossible crime in order to be together. As forces close in on them from all sides, they're pushed to greater extremes than they ever imagined."

Friday, 28 April 2017

Books Received in April 2017

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

Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele - I've not read any of Edmond Hamilton's Captain Future stories, but I have read some pulp SF, so this may be a lot of fun.

Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret after the murder of Curt's parents.
Curt's innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition and assassinate the president. There's only one way to uncover the evil mastermind-Curt must become Captain Future.
With the permission of the Edmond Hamilton estate, Allen Steele revives the exciting adventures of Captain Future.

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland - I've already read this graphic novel, and my review of it will be up on May 2nd, the day it's published. While the artwork isn't quite to my liking, the book is very atmospheric and sets up several intriguing mysteries.
Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone.
The Spill claimed Addison's parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn't spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone's twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death-or worse.
When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits-and it seems to be calling Addison's name.

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett - This is a debut novel and sounds like a slow burn philosophical SF novel. I'm looking forward to it. Out June 13.

All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit...
Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.

Soon Jamie finds other survivors, and their ragtag group will travel through the vast reaches of space, drawn to the promise of a new beginning on Earth. But their dream will pit them against those desperately clinging to the old ways. And Jamie’s own journey home will help her close the distance between who she has become and who she is meant to be...

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi - This novel sounds very interesting.

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible-until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.
Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It's a hedge against interstellar war-and, for the empire's rulers, a system of control.
The Flow is eternal-but it's not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it's discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals-a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency-must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan - I absolutely loved book one of this series, The Waking Fire, so I'm really looking forward to this. Out June 27.

For centuries, the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood—and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed—to fuel and protect its empire. But now, a fearsome power has arisen—a drake so mighty that the world will tremble before it.
Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and ironship captain Corrick Hilemore embark upon perilous quests to chase down clues that offer faint hopes of salvation. As the world burns around them, and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few are the last hope for the empire and for all of civilization.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Shout-Out: The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

Translated from Russian by Yuri Machkasov

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Video: ROSA

This is an amazing short film by Jesús Orellana.

ROSA is an epic sci-fi short film that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where all natural life has disappeared. From the destruction awakes Rosa, a cyborg deployed from the Kernel project, mankind’s last attempt to restore the earth’s ecosystem. Rosa will soon learn that she is not the only entity that has awakened and must fight for her survival.

ROSA from Jesús Orellana on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Book Review: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Pros: emotional punch, multi-layered plot, great characters


It’s been thirteen years since Sigrud last saw Shara Komayd, but the news of her assassination still hits him hard. When he goes looking for those who killed her, he stumbles into a series of plots started years past.  He also has to locate and protect her adopted daughter, Tatyana, from Shara’s enemies.

This is the third book in the Divine Cities trilogy. While it was possible to read book two of this series as a standalone, the personal connections and plot twists of book three require having read at least the first book, though I’d recommend reading both before starting this one. Knowing the close connection between Sigrud and Shara is what propels the first half of this book, with Mulaghesh making an appearance and Signe’s name showing up several times. But it’s Shara’s presence that infuses the story, and Sigrud’s regrets regarding his treatment of the women in his life that completes it.

In many ways this book takes the plot of City of Stairs and brings it full circle, explaining some of the mysteries that book left open as well as some of the mysteries surrounding Sigrud himself. 

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Sigrud as the main point of view character considering how straightforward he is. But he’s quite fascinating once you get into his mind. And while he isn’t the planner that Shara was, he’s quite intelligent and figures things out pretty fast.

It would have been nice to get to know Tatyana better, but I loved Ivanya. It’s strange seeing the future of a fantasy world, and seeing how people affected by the great events in one book pick up the pieces of their lives - or transform themselves completely - because of them. Ivanya is cool under pressure, having prepared for years for what’s coming. 

The plot has several layers to it, some of them get pulled back quickly, while others take a while to be revealed. 

This is a brilliant end to a brilliant series, and I’m not ashamed to say that it had me in tears several times.

Out May 2

Friday, 21 April 2017

Artist Spotlight: Gregory and Olga Grozos

The Grozos' are a couple living on Cyprus who own a shop called Micro (as well as an Etsy shop where you can buy some of their amazing creations).

They work in a micro scale, making tiny steampunk and other inspired jewelry. Here's a tiny sample from Gregory Grozos' facebook page:

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Shout-Out: Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

In a near-future London, Millie Dack places her hand on her belly to feel her baby kick, resolute in her decision to be a single parent. Across town, her closest friend—a hungover Toni Munroe—steps into the shower and places her hand on a medic console. The diagnosis is devastating.

In this stunning, bittersweet family saga, Millie and Toni experience the aftershocks of human progress as their children and grandchildren embrace new ways of making babies. When infertility is a thing of the past, a man can create a child without a woman, a woman can create a child without a man, and artificial wombs eliminate the struggles of pregnancy. But what does it mean to be a parent? A child? A family?

Through a series of interconnected vignettes that spans five generations and three continents, this emotionally taut story explores the anxieties that arise when the science of fertility claims to deliver all the answers.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Video: BBC's Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams

This is a wonderful video about the automata created in the 1700s and the technological advances made by clockmakers and other artisans and how they changed the Western world. The presenter is Professor Simon Schaffer.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Book Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Pros: excellent characters, great world-building, variety of fights


Pyrre has reached the final test for becoming a priestess of Ananshael. She must kill seven people in fourteen days. But her final target must be someone she loves above all others, and Pyrre has never known love. So she returns to the city of her birth and the man she once knew, hoping he’ll be The One.

Pyrre appears as a side character in Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. This is a stand-alone novel where she - and her worship of the god of death - are in the forefront. While the previous books aren’t necessary to enjoy this one, there are descriptions of Rassambur, the assassin’s home base, in book three, Last Mortal Bond, which flesh out the city and the practice of Ananshael’s priests.

Witnessing her trial are two priests, Kossal, an older man who speaks truth and has few cares for the world, and Ela, the woman he loves, who loves everybody and who’s as graceful as she is deadly. Ela tries to teach Pyrre what love is, a conversation that involves as many knives as you’d expect from a duo of professional assassins.

There’s a surprising amount of banter considering the premise of the book. I enjoyed Pyrre’s attempts to understand her own emotions as she alternates between getting closer and further away from Ruc Lan Lac. Her plan is overly convoluted but has some fascinating consequences. I especially enjoyed the chapters dealing with the delta and life there.

The world-building was top notch, expanding an unexplored area of the world but tying it and its history into that of the previous books. The delta felt vibrant and the dangers - and how to deal with them - realistic. The local religion also had weight to it, practiced differently by the city folk and the delta people.

As expected, there are some fabulous fight scenes, against a surprising variety of people and things.

This was an excellent book.

Out April 25th.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Miniature Books

As part of my diorama plans, I've been learning how to make miniature books. I posted a video on how to make them a while back, and I've now made a few myself.

The first two I made are larger and include the only open book I've done so far. For the open book I wrote stuff on a few pages (writing less on pages that won't fully show, getting only the edges for the last few pages) and used thread to bind the pages together, then glued them to a piece of fake leather. The closed book is groupings of folded pages, glued together, then I laid a small piece of coffee filter to the spine to add strength before gluing the fake leather backing on. I used a gold pen for the markings on the cover.

The next batch of three mini books (at a slightly smaller scale), are all closed. As with the closed book above, I aligned the edges of the folded pages and glued them together to form the spine, reinforced it with the filter paper, then glued on thin cardboard for the binding. The first two were coloured brown with a marker, the third with brass coloured nail polish (so it's shiny). The marker soaked through the cardboard making it fairly brittle, so I scuffed up one to make it look older.

The final batch I did on an even smaller scale. I had to use clamps to hold the pages together. Getting them into the clamp and lined up wasn't easy (especially as I hadn't trimmed my nails in a while). I didn't use the filter paper on these as they're too small.

Here are all the books lined up, one of the clamps, and some of the prepared backing papers. I'll have to make a few open spell books at the smallest scale for my egg dioramas. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Shout-Out: The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah Wolf

In the heart of the singing desert, the people are fading from the world. Mothers bear few live children, the warriors and wardens are hard-pressed to protect those who remain, and the vash’ai—the great cats who have called the people kithren for as long as there have been stories—bond with fewer humans each year. High above, the Sun Dragon sings a song of life and love while far below, the Earth Dragon slumbers as she has since the beginning of time. Her sleep is fitful, and from the darkness of her dreams come whispers of war… and death. 
Sulema is a newly minted warrior of the people and a true Ja'Akari—a daughter of the unforgiving desert. When a mysterious young man appears in her home of Aish Kalumm, she learns that the Dragon King is dying in distant Atualon. As the king fades, so does the magic that sings the Earth Dragon to sleep.

There are those who wish to keep the dragon trapped in endless slumber. Others would tap her power to claim it for their own. And there are those who would have her wake, so they might laugh as the world burns.

Out April 18th.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Video: Obstacle Run in Armour

Ever wondered how a medieval knight in full armour would fare against a modern soldier or a firefighter? Well, Daniel Jaquet made a video where three men run an obstacle course - once without armour, and once fully geared up.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Magazine Review: Lightspeed 48 (May 2014) Edited by John Joseph Adams

This is the first issue of Lightspeed magazine I’ve read and I was very impressed, both by its length and by the diversity of content. The quality of the stories was high, as expected, with several SF and fantasy. I read this over several months (I use magazines as commute material and don’t commute much anymore) so there was a disconnect between the stories and the spotlights (which go into the background of the stories). 

Science Fiction
“A Tank Only Fears Four Things” by Seth Dickinson
**** Tereshkova has trouble overcoming her fear after the war. - A great story about how fears are pervasive but facing them with others can help.

“Selfie” by Sandra McDonald
**** Susan orders a selfie to stand in for her on a vacation with her dad. - An interesting story about memory and identity.

“Zero Temptation” by Sean Williams
**** A trip to the beach backfires when the d-mat that brought her there breaks down. - Interesting characters with a bit of romance.

“Deep End” by Nisi Shawl
**** A prison ship with personalities downloaded into clones, finally reaches its destination planet. - Neat premise, well executed.

“Willful Weapon” by Fred Van Lente
*** The prideful Cellach of Clan mac Roth is sent to America in disgrace. Robbed of his name and pampered position, he must pay off his debts by being an enforcer. - Though well written, I didn’t find the story that interesting.

“The Ba of Phalloon” by Matthew Hughes
*** Obron has defeated Phalloon and taken over his castle. Now his security guard Kaslo must secure it against refugees. - This is part of a serial, so it starts in media res and ends with more to come. There was a quick introductory paragraph summing up the basics, but the story proper had to explain a fair bit too. I felt kind of lost reading this, as the explanations seemed to be lacking some important information, but I expect the earlier stories explained more about the crisis and how things used to be. This segment of the story dealt with building a village and a trip to the underworld. It was interesting, but definitely felt like a chapter out of a larger story rather than a standalone story.

“Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt” by Rachel Pollack
****1/2 Joseph of the Coat of Many Colours reflects back on his history as a reader of dreams, and what the future holds for his people. - It’s an interesting look at what it means to see how your actions will effect the future. People unfamiliar with the Biblical story might find it hard to follow as it jumps to different scenes in Joseph’s life and his visions of Moses.

“Second Hand” by Rajan Khanna
***** Two men who’ve learned the magic of Cards, find an older Card Sharp willing to teach them new tricks. - Great premise, well executed.

Shiva in Shadow by Nancy Kress
**** Two male scientists and their female captain examine an anomaly surrounding the supermassive black whole Sagittarius A*, both in physical form and as analogues on a probe sent towards its center. The two crews experience their discovery differently. - I was a little annoyed that one of the captain’s duties is to keep the two men sexually satisfied, though it did work for the story, allowing her to diffuse tensions and keep the mission on track. It was fascinating how the two crews diverged, and what minor changes created large tensions.

I skipped the three novel excerpts (Defenders by Will McIntosh, The Silk Map by Chris Willrich, and Babel-17 by Samuel Delany) because if I start reading a book I want the immediate option of finishing it. 

The nonfiction section, interviews with Jeff Vandermeer and Michio Kaku, were quite good. I skipped a little bit of Vandermeer’s interview for fear of spoilers but both pieces left me wanting to read their works. The artist gallery and spotlight on Peter Mohrbacher was also interesting. I’ve not heard of him and seeing examples of his artwork was cool. 

The author spotlights are quick Q and As with the story authors, going into why they wrote the stories they did, their inspirations and future projects. In future I’d want to read these immediately after the stories and find it odd that they’re not positioned next to them in the magazine.

The magazine ended with a short essay by Sofia Samatar called The Myth of Everyman, in response to why the cast of the film Noah was all white.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Movie Review: Warlock

Directed by Steve Miner, 1989
IMDb listing 

Pros: atmospheric, some good special effects, minimal gore/blood 

Cons: one bad special effect, some scenes don’t age well

In 1691 a condemned warlock escapes justice in a demonic wind, ending up in the present day (’80s) and sent to find the grand grimoire, a satanic text that will unravel the world. The man who caught him in the past follows him to the future, and sets out to catch him again with the help of a young woman whom the warlock has cursed.

I have vague recollections of seeing this on TV in the early 90s. Certain aspects of the film do not date well. There’s a gay man who, we are told, is gay but not queer (after insinuations that he might have been a pedophile). I was impressed that he wasn’t the 80s stereotypical flamboyant figure. It actually took me a few minutes to realize he was gay. The ‘hero’ (maybe anti-hero?) slaps Kassandra as she tries to get away from him, she tries to hit him back but I can’t remember if she connects or not.

The warlock is well played by Julian Sands, who looks suitably evil. There’s little blood and gore but a fair bit of suggestive horrors going on (some just barely off screen). The film is quite atmospheric, using lighting and music to good effect, creating some good jump scares.

The special effects around the hand spells and the make-up for Kassandra’s curse are well done, though the flying scenes are on the cheesy side.

While a few scenes caused me to cringe, on the whole it was a decent movie, keeping in mind when it was made.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Shout-Out: Brimstone by Cherie Priest

In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomás Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy—for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomás dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake....
Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife’s spirit.
But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomás and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself....

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Video: Miniature Dollhouse Castle

I've started making miniature scenes and trying to learn some of the techniques needed to do a good job. Some people are simply incredible and make this look so easy. People like Celine at AkameruKawaii who has several tutorials, including this one for a 1:144 scale castle.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Book Review: The Last Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Pros: great characters, interesting mystery, some new spells and creatures 


Three years after the events of The Twilight Watch Anton Gorodetsky is sent to Scotland to help investigate the murder of the human son of a potential Russian other, by what appears to have been a vampire. It’s quickly apparent that more’s going on than murder, and that whoever’s behind the murder isn’t afraid to use humans as canon fodder.

This book refers fairly often to the events in the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t read them if a while, a quick skim is in order. 

As with the previous books this one is separated into three sections. It was cool seeing Anton work in different locales and dealing with new members of the watches. He’s an interesting character and the supporting cast grows a bit in this book while bringing back several characters from the previous books.

The mystery surrounding the hole in the twilight and Merlin’s spell kept me guessing even as other new spells were explained and used, and some new creatures - specifically different types of golems - show up. The book also had some Others using more technology with their magic, which was cool to see.

I enjoyed the book. This is my favourite urban fantasy series and I’m glad to be reading it again.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Books Received in March 2017

Many thanks as always to the publishers who gave me review books last month.

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer - This is the sequel to last year's Too Like the Lightning. There are (I believe) 2 more books in the series. Here's my review of book 1 and 2.
In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war.a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end.
For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed locations, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction can ever dominate, and the balance holds. And yet the balance is beginning to give way.
Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe in service to all, knows more about this conspiracy the than he can ever admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has secrets as well, and they burden Carlyle beyond description. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life.

Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis - Sounds interesting.

A young man plagued by the ability to see ghosts races to save the mythological land of Tara from a terrible fate in Erika Lewis's stunning debut, Game of Shadows.
Thousands of years ago in Ireland, an ancient race fought a world-changing battle-and lost. Their land overrun, the Celtic gods and goddesses fled, while the mythical races and magical druids sailed to an uncharted continent, cloaked so mankind could never find it. This new homeland was named Tara.

In modern day Los Angeles, Ethan Makkai struggles with an overprotective mother who never lets him out of her sight, and a terrifying secret: he can see ghosts. Desperate for a taste of freedom, he leaves his apartment by himself for the first time-only to find his life changed forever. After being attacked by dive-bombing birds, he races home to find the place trashed and his mother gone.

With the help of a captain from Tara who has been secretly watching the Makkais for a long time, Ethan sets out to save his mother; a journey that leads him to the hidden lands, and straight into the arms of a vicious sorcerer who will stop at nothing until he controls Tara.With new-found allies including Christian, the cousin he never knew he had, and Lily, the sword-slinging healer who'd rather fight than mend bones, Ethan travels an arduous road-dodging imprisonment, battling beasts he thought only existed in nightmares, and accepting help from the beings he's always sought to avoid: ghosts. This L.A. teen must garner strength from his gift and embrace his destiny if he's going to save his mother, the fearless girl he's fallen for, and all the people of Tara.

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley - This is a stand-alone book set in the same universe as his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. I'm half way through and really enjoying it.

Pyrre Lakatur is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer-she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial.

The problem isn't the killing. The problem, rather, is love. For to complete her trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the seven people enumerated in an ancient song, including "the one who made your mind and body sing with love / who will not come again."

Pyrre isn't sure she's ever been in love. And if she fails to find someone who can draw such passion from her, or fails to kill that someone, her order will give her to their god, the God of Death. Pyrre's not afraid to die, but she hates to fail, and so, as her trial is set to begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love . . . and ending it on the edge of her sword.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge - This sounds creepy and cool.

In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the
darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell's expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . .

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Shout-Out: Chalk by Paul Cornell

Andrew Waggoner has always hung around with his fellow losers at school, desperately hoping each day that the school bullies - led by Drake - will pass him by in search of other prey. But one day they force him into the woods, and the bullying escalates into something more; something unforgivable; something unthinkable.

Broken, both physically and emotionally, something dies in Waggoner, and something else is born in its place.

In the hills of the West Country a chalk horse stands vigil over a site of ancient power, and there Waggoner finds in himself a reflection of rage and vengeance, a power and persona to topple those who would bring him low.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Video: Evolution III - The Human Player Type

Casually Explained has a video up for an MMO (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) that sounds kind of familiar. I think I've played some of this... As the video says, "... make the most of your playtime."

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Book Review: The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

Pros: some great world-building, fun characters 

Cons: pacing issues, unsatisfying ending

The future cannot be changed by time travelling. Spens is a Tri-Millennium Travel rep, escorting tourists from the 24th Century around in the 21st. The resort’s records from the future do not show that anything happened, but a tourist’s disappearance greatly effects their own time.

Unfortunately I found the book disappointing. I liked the characters and thought the racism (? not sure that’s the right word) directed against the people of the future by the people of the present is unfortunately realistic and well portrayed. There was a real complexity in the world-building around language and expressions, which I enjoyed. I also liked that there were protocols governing time travel that determined what you were allowed to know/tell others about the future/past depending on where they are in the timeline. This is important as some characters meet each other outside of sequential time. I also liked the idea that for some people knowing their future could be burdensome, in that it created an obligation to fulfill the future, while for others it was comforting.

I found the pacing uneven in that a lot is happening but you don’t seem to learn much of importance. Each new revelation just confused me more, until I wasn’t sure what was actually important (or relevant) for the plot. Half way through the book I considered stopping because the mystery didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

As a result, I found the ending wholly unsatisfying. I was left with a lot of questions and some confusion. Either someone was lied to about their future, or the future was, in fact, changed, something that we’re told early on is impossible. It also annoyed me that a major plot arch depended on a paradox, with no discussion of how paradoxes work within this world. 


I was really pissed that we never learn what’s in the box. We’re left assuming they were instructions, but when Adorna (for the sake of ease I’ll use that name) goes back into the past the second time, she doesn’t give him any new instructions. Which makes me wonder why she was sent back the first time at all. Was Delrosso supposed to start bobby trapping the metal caches? The fact that the box kept turning up left me expecting it would eventually be opened and its contents revealed to be important (maybe they’d learn the sabotage plans and stop the NEE or something - but then I’m reminded that the future can’t be changed…).

But that ignores a larger question: Adorna was a complete peon the first time she went back, apparently unable to form independent thoughts or act without instructions. How did she morph into the woman who goes back as En Varney? As En, she starts a highly sophisticated effort in sabotage. We’re meant to believe she’s suddenly self-motivated and comfortable dealing with people enough to hold down her job as well as make the underworld connections she does without new training? 

The paradox of her doing things at the instructions of her older self - who’s present in the same time despite some vague comments that that’s bad - was annoying. I’d have liked some discussion of how paradoxes work, and, for that matter, why being in the same place twice is bad (because nothing happens to her, despite being in fairly close proximity to her other self).

A smaller question I have is what exactly about his extraction mission convinces Riemann to waste 15 years of his life to meet Adorna again? Was it watching Spens die? Was it really just to talk to Adorna again? Because if it was, he didn’t say much of worth. Yeah, he told her some stuff about her past and future, but without any proof I’m not sure why he thought she’d believe him and change what she was doing. He doesn’t try to appeal to her humanity in any way - explain the deaths her sabotage will cause in any graphic sense. It just seemed kind of useless.

And I’m left assuming Spens’ future facts are all lies, since he’s obviously meant to die at the end, out of time and place of where he was told he would die. 

Friday, 24 March 2017

Humble Bundle: Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy

If you're looking for some great SF & F titles by women, Humble Bundle's got you covered with books published by Open Road Media. As with their other bundles, pay a certain amount to unlock DRM free ebooks in multiple formats.

At $1+ you get Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand, Jaran by Kate Elliott, and Path of Fate by Diana Pharaoh Francis.

Pay $8+ and you also get Parable of the Talents and Wild Seed (Octavia Butler), Sunshine (Robin McKinley), Black Light and Saffron and Brimstone (Elizabeth Hand), Skeen's Leap (Jo Clayton) , Lammas Night (Katherine Kurtz), and Skin Folk (Nalo Hopkinson).

Finally, for $15+ you get all the above plus Octavia Butler's Unexpected Stories, Robin McKinley's Beauty and The Hero and the Crown, Katherine Kurtz's Camber of Culdi, Pamela Sargent's The Shore of Women and Jane Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark.

Want to learn more? Check out the site.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Shout-Out: Orbital Cloud by Taiyo Fujii

The global war on terror has a new front—the very edge of outer space. 
In the year 2020, Kazumi Kimura, proprietor of shooting star forecast website Meteor News, notices some orbiting space debris moving suspiciously. Rumors spread online that the debris is actually an orbital weapon targeting the International Space Station. Halfway across the world, at NORAD, Staff Sergeant Darryl Freeman begins his investigation of the debris. At the same time, billionaire entrepreneur Ronnie Smark and his journalist daughter prepare to check into an orbital hotel as part of a stunt promoting private space tourism. Then Kazumi receives highly sensitive information from a source claiming to be an Iranian scientist. And so begins an unprecedented international battle against space-based terror that will soon involve the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NORAD, and the CIA.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Video: South Korea's giant manned robot

Even wanted to be a Gundam pilot? Well, South Korea's got your covered. Back in December, Hankook Mirae Technology's manned robot, "Method-2" took some of its first steps.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Book Review: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Pros: brilliantly plotted, amazing world-building, excellent pacing, thought provoking

Cons: fundamentally disagreed with some of the philosophy, ending left me disappointed

Picking up immediately where Too Like the Lightning left off, Seven Surrenders details more of the actions of the heads of the seven hives, reveals the thief behind the seven-ten list, deals with the fall-out of the revelations that ended the first book, and paves the way for potential war.

I loved all of the politics, manipulation, and unclear morality of this book. This book has a LOT of political maneuvering and backroom dealings. It made me think about a lot of issues, even if my conclusions were different from those the book came to.

Mycroft remains an unreliable narrator at times, not always telling the truth and keeping certain things hidden until later. this helps with the pacing of the book, which I thought was great. The revelations come fast and hard, but enough is saved for the end to keep the reader guessing and turning pages quickly.

If the mix of sensual language and politics from the first book disturbed you, there are a few uncomfortable scenes in this book as well, mostly at the beginning.

One character is gendered as ‘it’, which may upset readers. We are told the character chose that pronoun, but in addition to being a gender neutral term, it’s also a term that reduces the person’s humanity. Given the nature of the character, both of those may have been intentional repercussions of that choice.

There’s a speech towards the end of the novel about gender that kind of irritated me. While I agreed with the ultimate point (or, at least understood where the character was going with the discussion), I’d understood this future to have done away with gendered pronouns as well as gendered clothing and expectations. And yet, this speech implied that children were still raised with the ideas that boys were more aggressive and girls more caring, etc, something I didn’t get from the books themselves. But what annoyed me was the assertion that some traits code ‘female’ and others ‘male’ and if you get rid of those terms, it just makes everyone more ‘masculine’ as if men aren’t inherently capable of being kind or considerate despite the book’s clear proof to the contrary (Carlyle, Bridger, etc. are men who obviously care about humanity, notwithstanding their being male).

The ending left me feeling unsatisfied. Yes, there are more books in the series which may overturn this, but with so many revelations I was expecting more resolution.

*** SPOILERS ***

These are major plot spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The character referred to as ‘it’ is Sniper. It’s revealed that they’re *intersex, possessing both male and female lower genitals. The revelatory paragraph is from their perspective, and explains how they wanted to be a human doll for their fans, and not disappoint fans of any gender. It’s left unclear if surgery was involved. Later on, as we learn more about the O.C. and what Sniper’s bash has been doing, it’s also clear that they’re not the most moral person, making the reader question their humanity in terms of principle as well as physicality. That two of their dolls are animated at the end - actual ‘its’, greatly effecting world events, makes me think the use of ‘it’ for Sniper was to get readers to think more about gender and pronouns, especially in a world where he and she are not supposed to be in use anymore.   

I was surprised by the lack of panic over using the transit network after the assassinations by the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash were revealed. Yes, the bash was replaced (though how quickly would the public be aware of this?), but I’d still be wary of getting in a car driven by someone else knowing they’ve been put to such use in the past and might be again.

Regarding the ending, it really annoyed me that Madame avoided acknowledging that the coming war was in large part due to her manipulations. I also thought Saladin should face some punishment for his part in the deaths 13 years prior. How they’ve allowed him to keep Apollo’s cloak, granting him invisibility, is beyond me. But these consequences may occur in the forthcoming books.

I also don’t share everyone’s assertion that J.E.D.D. Mason will be a good leader. The man believes he’s God. He doesn’t understand or care about the concerns of everyday people. And now he doesn’t believe life is sacred either. He’s going to be a monster. And even if he weren’t. Having one benevolent ruler doesn’t mean his successor will be as good as he is. Alexander’s empire collapsed upon his death and Rome had a number of horrible Caesars after Augustus. Madame’s insistence that he be named the next Emperor also confused me, as the reason he was named porphyrogene was because that made him legally ineligible to become Emperor. 

I found the final conversation around Jehovah’s bedside to be more emotionally impacting than the final chapter with Bridger. Because he factors into the story so little, I didn’t have the emotional connection to Bridger that this chapter depends on for impact. I also don’t think Mycroft had thought through the implications of immortality and resurrection on the world at large - population control, birth, etc. would have to be renegotiated on a global scale if no one ever dies and the dead are brought back to life. None of these issues are ever brought up and discussed, and I would have expected them to be, considering these are things Mycroft feels Bridger should be doing with his power.

* My apologies. I originally used the term 'hermaphrodite', which I now understand is stigmatizing.