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.

Description:
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

Cons: 

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

Cons: 

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.

Fantasy
“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.

Novella
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 

Cons: 

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. 

***SPOILERS***















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. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Movie Review: The Seventh Sign

Directed by Carl Schultz, 1988

Pros: mixed Judaic and Christian end of the world traditions, down syndrome actor

Cons: melodramatic

A figure of a man breaks ancient seals, causing the destructions foretold by prophesy that will herald the end of the world. Abby Quinn (Demi Moore)’s pregnancy is nearing its end, but a previous miscarriage causes her to be overcautious. Her husband (Michael Biehn) is a lawyer trying to stop an execution. When they rent out an apartment to a quiet man, Abby starts to believe he’s planning to hurt her unborn child.

First off, it disturbed me, as a former renter, seeing Abby enter the apartment several times without permission or notice. The second time she even rummages around the guy’s belongings, which is illegal. She ends up being a stalker too, calling after him in the rain to see if he wants a ride and then following him down streets and into a building. And while it turns out she’s right to be wary of this man, it was uncomfortable watching at times.

I really liked how the film brought together Christian imagery of the Apocalypse by way of Revelations as well as the Jewish tradition of the Guf, something I’d never heard of but which wikipedia tells me is a real belief. I thought the depiction of the Jewish faith was handled well, especially the scene where the translator needs to find a Bible, as Revelations is not his Testament.

I appreciated that Jimmy’s character was played by a man with down syndrome, though I’m less keen on the crime he’s accused of. I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution of his story line and what it would mean for believers if his view of things and actions because of that view, were the correct actions in God’s mind. I’m also not sure how I feel about the inference that he has down syndrome because his parents were siblings (ie, due to incest).

The acting is on the melodramatic side, which I guess fits the atmosphere of the story.

The movie starts slow, but was pretty interesting once it got going.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Shout-Out: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

In an age of space exploration, we search to find ourselves.
In four years, aerospace giant Prime Space will put the first humans on Mars. Helen Kane, Yoshihiro Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov must prove they’re the crew for the historic voyage by spending seventeen months in the most realistic simulation ever created. Constantly observed by Prime Space’s team of "Obbers," Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei must appear ever in control. But as their surreal pantomime progresses, each soon realizes that the complications of inner space are no less fraught than those of outer space. The borders between what is real and unreal begin to blur, and each astronaut is forced to confront demons past and present, even as they struggle to navigate their increasingly claustrophobic quarters—and each other.

Astonishingly imaginative, tenderly comedic, and unerringly wise, The Wanderers explores the differences between those who go and those who stay, telling a story about the desire behind all exploration: the longing for discovery and the great search to understand the human heart.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Video: Boston Dynamics HANDLE

I love the Auralnauts. They've posted this video about Boston Dynamics' new robot, Handle. You might remember seeing the footage of Boston Dynamics' previous robot, Atlas - having boxes hit out of its grip and being pushed over by a human (starting around 1:30 into the video). Well, it seems the robots aren't keen on being tested this way.

The video was posted with the caption:

"Boston Dynamics went to great lengths to suppress this interview about Handle, their latest robot. What are they trying to hide?"

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Book Review: Halfhead by Stuart MacBride

Pros: interesting mystery, varied characters, good pacing

Cons: lots of gore & disturbing descriptions

In a future where convicted criminals are lobotomized and have half their jaw removed a convicted serial killer halfhead has regained a sense of herself, over the mutilated body of the man she’s just killed. Assistant Network Director William Hunter has nightmares about the last time he visited Sherman House, the multi-storied residence where he fought during the VR riots. He’s not happy returning to Sherman House now, to investigate the second gruesome murder in the building that week. Something’s not right with Sherman House, and Hunter’s digging threatens to expose something that powerful people want kept quiet. Something involving the work done by a certain halfhead killer.

If you’re squeamish, this is not the book for you. In many ways it reminded me of the original Robocop film, only without the black humour. There’s a lot of blood, guts, and some truly disturbing descriptions of violence. Though, I will say that you don’t get much graphic violence (ie, most of it is descriptions after the events have happened, rather than first person views of the violence itself). The characters all take quite a number of literal beatings. There’s also mention of torture, but no descriptions.

The mystery is interesting. The halfhead’s story is terrifying. William’s a great character, and I enjoyed seeing him break the rules to get to the bottom of what was going on. I really liked Jo as well. She’s spunky with a crazy fashion sense. Emily kept making me think of Emily Blunt, partly because of her name and partly because of her military kickass character in Edge of Tomorrow. Brian’s accent caused me some issues, but I liked seeing him helping William out as a friend. 


While I enjoyed aspects of the book, I don’t think I’d reread it, simply because I had to work hard not to let any of the visual imagery give me nightmares. A few scenes were quite disturbing and I wouldn’t want to revisit them. The ending alone was kind of terrifying. While this isn’t technically a military SF book, there’s enough military style action to please lovers of that sub-genre. Similarly if you like mysteries or serial killers, this might be for you.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Shout-Out: Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler

Sarah Calhoun is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Elector Andrew Calhoun, one of Appalachee’s military heroes and one of the electors who gets to decide who will next ascend as the Emperor of the New World. None of that matters to Sarah. She has a natural talent for hexing and one bad eye, and all she wants is to be left alone—especially by outsiders.
But Sarah’s world gets turned on its head at the Nashville Tobacco Fair when a Yankee wizard-priest tries to kidnap her. Sarah fights back with the aid of a mysterious monk named Thalanes, who is one of the not-quite-human Firstborn, the Moundbuilders of the Ohio. It is Thalanes who reveals to Sarah a secret heritage she never dreamed could be hers.
Now on a desperate quest with Thalanes to claim this heritage, she is hunted by the Emperor’s bodyguard of elite dragoons, as well as by darker things—shapeshifting Mockers and undead Lazars, and behind them a power more sinister still. If Sarah cannot claim her heritage, it may mean the end to her, her family—and to the world where she is just beginning to find her place.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Video: Miniature Spell Books Tutorial

This is a tutorial by Maive Ferrando on how to make little spell books for dioramas, dollhouses, etc. I find it interesting how a lot of dollhouse miniatures are made using the same materials and techniques as the life sized versions.





Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Not a Review: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Not a Review looks at books I got a good way through before giving up on them. I’ll explain why I read so much and why I didn’t finish.  These are - by their nature - going to be predominately negative reviews.  They’ll also contain some amount of spoilers (though I’ll try not to give anything major away without a warning).

I read 221 pages out of 381.

Pros: great setting, shines light on horrific historical abuses

Cons: jumps in time, focus on sexual relationships over politics, limited steampunk

This is a Neo-Victorian alternative history novel focusing on the horrors of Belgium’s colonization of the Congo and what might have happened had the native population had access to air ships and the backing of some Europeans and Americans.

What I liked: the setting. This is a time and place I know nothing about and this book encouraged me to research some of what actually happened. And it is horrifying. The abuses in the book - lost limbs, families used as ransom to make the natives into rubber harvesting slaves. The book shows native religion and healing practices in a positive light, which was wonderful. It also showed how people of different races could band together to fight injustice. 

I also liked the unflinching look at racism from many sides. Even people who join the utopic society of Everfair find themselves unhappy with mixed marriages. Lisette’s black grandfather spoils her otherwise white European ancestry, causing problems for her when it’s revealed. These are sad reminders of reality, but reality all the same. And if we can’t look at it in fiction, we can’t see it in ourselves, and can’t help face it and deal with it in our daily lives.

The steampunk additions - aircanoes and metallic prosthetics - were cool but used very sparingly. They only enter the book 100 pages in, and while they are central to the book’s purpose (used in the war against Belgium in the Congo) they’re used more as window dressing, showing up for a paragraph here, a chapter there, but not feeling as important as they undoubtedly are.

The book jumps ahead in time by months and years making it hard to get to know more than the basics about the different characters. And while I didn’t have trouble remembering who anyone was, I also didn’t really care about anyone. The chapters are so short that you don’t get to learn much more about people than who they want to sleep with and why that’s bad (usually because of racist or age related reasons). Had there been more development of the different characters outside their romances, I might have cared more about those romances. As it was, I barely knew who anyone was and so didn’t really feel invested in their lives. There were also times when circumstances changed so drastically it was hard to understand how someone went from one place to another (like Wilson’s training in one of the native religions).

I was surprised by how little politics were in the book. The last chapter I read dealt with what I can only believe was an important political choice: should Everfair join with the German side or the French side of the coming conflict, but the reasoning behind the difference was lost on me. It sounded like both sides wanted the same things from Everfair, but it’s clear that Daisy’s on one side and Mattis is on the other, but I have no idea which side I should be on because I don’t understand the difference between them or what the ultimate stakes are for Everfair. The chapter dealt more with Lisette’s love life and a potential scandal (one that was obviously coming according to Lisette’s asides) than with the politics involved. 

Ultimately I was hoping for the book to go more into the politics of Everfair and the Congo and for there to be more steampunk gadgetry in the book. What I got was a fascinating primer on the problems in the Congo caused by Belgium in the late 1800s and early 1900s and a lot of romantic pairings I didn’t care much about.  

Friday, 3 March 2017

3D Metal Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral

A few weekends ago I spent several hours putting together one of my Christmas presents, a 3D metal model of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. It was by far the most difficult model I've done, though they all have at least one hard part. Sorry for the poor quality of the photos. My room isn't well lit and I took them with my iPad rather than a real camera.

Here are the pieces: the two sheets of metal, the case, my pliers, and the instructions.


And a few unfolded flying buttresses pieces, with a measuring tape for scale. These were not fun to fold or install. Half way through I had to stop as my eyes were starting to hurt from the glare off the metal and trying to concentrate so hard to make sure each of the pieces 3 prongs went into the correct slots. 

I really love how detailed these sets are, and this one exceeded my expectations. The West Facade was made up of several parts, giving it a lot of depth. The portals (doors) were 3 layers deep! (Sorry the photo's blurry.)

 And here's the finished model from both sides. Yes, I did go back and straighten some of the buttresses.

I'm very happy with how the model turned out. It's quite large (for one of these), and it looks incredible.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Shout-Out: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilizations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives.

And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them...

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It's their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded by layers of protection - and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore's crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

Revenger is a science fiction adventure story set in the rubble of our solar system in the dark, distant future - a tale of space pirates, buried treasure, and phantom weapons, of unspeakable hazards and single-minded heroism... and of vengeance...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Strange Fictions Press Launches New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Zine

The press release:

Science fiction and fantasy book imprint Strange Fictions Press is delighted to announce the official launch of their new webzine, Strange Fictions SciFi & Fantasy Zine. Strange Fictions Zine focuses on publishing speculative short fiction, nonfiction, art, and poetry twice a week for genre fans worldwide.

Strange Fictions is the latest project from the editors of The Battered Suitcase, launched in 2008. The editors add: “Working with a broad range of authors is just too addictive, and it’s exciting to be back to publishing short fiction again. We really missed the ability to reach new readers on a frequent basis.”
Vagabondage Press is not new to genre fiction, having previously launched their horror and dark fiction imprint, Dark Alley Press. Their roots are truly in genre fiction; raised on the classic pulp sci-fi magazines, and the company found itself gravitating more frequently to genre books ― science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Adding an online periodical seemed like a natural way to connect with other fans.
Strange Fictions SciFi & Fantasy Zine officially launches on Feb. 28 with “This Chicken Outfit,” by Pushcart nominated author, A.L. Sirois. Siriois’ short stories have appeared in Thema, Amazing Stories, and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. He has also contributed comic art for DC, Marvel, and Charlton.
New stories, poems, and essays will appear every Tuesday and Friday. Subscribers can sign up for email notifications whenever a new story is posted.
Strange Fictions SF&F Zine is open to submissions from both new and experienced genre writers, and details can be found at the website.

If you're interested in submitting, here are their pay rates from their website:

Text Pay Rates: For online Strange Fictions SF&F ‘Zine acquisitions, we offer a flat-rate payment for both digital publication and possible addition to our print anthologies. Authors of acquired pieces for Strange Fictions SF&F ‘Zine will receive a flat fee payment of $5 for stories, essays, poetry, and book reviews of 4,999 words and under and $10 for stories, essays, poetry, and book reviews of 5,000-10,000, words. Payment is made upon publication via PayPal.

Art Submissions: For art submissions, artists will be paid $2 per accepted 72dpi or 96dpi image for non-exclusive rights. Images at 300dpi for print publication can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis after digital publication. Previously shown or published works are acceptable.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Book Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Pros: fantastic mystery, suspenseful, interesting technology, diverse characters

Cons: a few continuity errors

When the six member crew of the starship Dormire all wake up in new clones, they’re shocked to find several of them were murdered. Unsure of who to trust, knowing they’re all convicted felons but not what each others’ crimes were, they try to find answers for what happened in the 25 years of memories they’ve lost.

You’re introduced to all six characters, plus their AI, all at once, so it’s impressive how Lafferty keeps their voices unique and their personalities distinct. You jump around to everyone’s POV, so this is important.

The story unfolds mostly linearly, with important historical background flashbacks as needed to forward the plot, learn more about the characters, and keep you guessing about what happened. I was impressed by how intricate the various stories were and how they eventually pulled together. The pacing is great, propelling you towards the ending.

I was also impressed by the treatment of Joanna’s character. She was born with withered legs and uses a wheelchair and 2 prosthetic legs in the book. Her choice to retain this disability comes up in the book, and is handled well.  

The technology and world-building were a lot of fun. There’s a series of codicils governing the creation of clones, riots, anti-cloning sentiment, the generation ship, AI, mind hacking, and more. 

I did notice two minor continuity errors, one where a character got up twice to program food, and another where two characters suddenly shift from talking in the theatre to talking in one of their rooms. Hiro got a little annoying at times, but even the characters in the book complained about that.


It’s a fast paced book that kept me guessing and glued to the pages. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Shout-Out: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

On the outer rim of the universe, a galactic war has been waged for centuries upon hundreds of world-ships. But these worlds will continue to die through decay and constant war unless a desperate plan succeeds. Anat, leader of the Katazyrna world-ship and the most fearsome raiding force on the Outer Rim, wants peace. To do so she offers the hand of her daughter, Jayd, to her rival. Jayd has dreamed about leading her mother's armies to victory her whole life-but she has a unique ability, and that makes her leverage, not a leader. As Anat convinces her to spend the rest of her life wed to her family's greatest enemy, it is up to Jayd's sister Zan-with no stomach for war-to lead the cast off warriors she has banded together to victory and rescue Jayd. But the war does not go at all as planned.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Video: R2D2 With a Voice: Star Wars - A New Hope

Auralnauts have turned R2D2's beeps and whistles into a voice for the first Star Wars film.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Book Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

Pros: excellent world-building, lots of action, complex characters and plot

Cons: minor irritants

Note: This is the third book in the series and as such my review contains spoilers for the earlier books. This is an excellent series. You can read my review of book 1 here.

It’s been several months since the events in The Providence of Fire. Adare remains with Il Tornja in the North, protecting Annur from the barbarian Urghul. When a messenger from Kaden’s republic arrives, asking for her to return to the capital as a puppet ruler, a series of events unfolds, allowing Il Tornja to pursue his true goal. Meanwhile the remains of Valyn’s wing return to the Eyrie to find out what’s happened there, while Kaden tries to untangle the mystery of gods walking the earth.

The first few chapters get you back up to speed with regards to what everyone’s been up to the past few months. It’s a bit disorienting, but things quickly get interesting as the intrigues pile up. There are a number of plots weaving around each other, getting ever more complicated as time goes on.

There’s a fair amount of action, with descriptions of war, torture (limited), and a LOT of one on one or small group battles. The action is varied and never dull. In between, there’s a fair bit of politics (mainly Adare) and philosophical questions (mainly Kaden). 

One scene greatly confused me for a few pages until I finally figured out what was happening. More on this in the spoiler section.

As with the other books the world-building is fantastic. We get to see more of the world, including learning more about the Skullsworn and their religious order. 

The motivations of the characters are as complex as the plot. People make, question, and regret decisions. They act in own best interests based on their information of what’s going on in the world. They lie to advantage and tell the truth when it suits them. They’re infuriating at times, and completely understandable.

It’s a great ending to an excellent series.


***SPOILERS***



























The scene I’m referring to above is the one where Valyn shows up again. The POV character is a boy named Valyn and at first I thought it was a flashback or a fever dream. I started to question those interpretations but it wasn’t until prince Valyn actually showed up that I fully realized my mistake. In the author’s defence, it does make sense that kids would be named after the royal family, and the descriptions clearly showed it wasn’t the prince, so the mistake is entirely my own.

I thought the end battles were surprisingly - restrained. At first I was a bit annoyed that we didn’t get to see the leach battle and get more details of some of the fights in the tower, but then I realized that by this point there’s been a lot of fighting and sometimes too much is worse than not enough. Balendin’s end was fully detailed and the struggle in the tower was heavily realized. At this point in the book, a quick resolution was really the best decision.

I would have loved a short scene at the end explaining if Gwenna and co intended (or were even able) to bring back the Kettral. With only one or two birds and a handful of people remaining I’m assuming not, but part of me was hoping they’d find a clutch of eggs and start training new recruits.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Shout-Out: Space Drifters - The Emerald Enigma by Paul Regnier


Captain Glint Starcrost is not having the carefree, adventurous life the space academy brochures promised star pilots.

Broke, with an unreliable star freighter and a bounty on his head, Glint is desperate enough to try anything. Even set out on a quest to find a fabled good luck charm, the Emerald Enigma.

Now for a crew. A passive aggressive ship computer, a peaceable alien warrior, and time-traveling teen from the past aren't what he had in mind. But they'll have to do.

The Emerald Enigma won't wait forever and neither will the bounty hunter tracking him.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Skyrim Skeletal Dragon Kit

For a while now I've wanted some sort of winged skeleton statue, whether it be a bat or a dragon, something that looked cool. Just before Christmas I found this Skyrim Skeletal Dragon kit on clearance (so the price was right too!).

The pieces came attached to a plastic frame. I wanted this to look good, so after snapping the pieces off the plastic I carefully scraped the attachment nubs off with an xacto knife.

Not all of the pieces wanted to fit together closely - one of the tail pieces and the jaw gave me some trouble - but the finished statue looks amazing.

Now to find a proper display space...


Thursday, 16 February 2017

Shout-Out: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction edited by Brian Stableford

Before the term "science fiction" was adopted in the 1920s, there were "scientific romances," tales of amazing journeys beyond the limits of the known world. Jules Verne's imaginative novels of the mid-nineteenth century met with international success, whetting the public's appetite for fantastic fiction rooted in actual fact — a craving that H. G. Wells satisfied with his visionary stories. 
This compilation presents more than two dozen early tales by Verne's and Wells's immediate predecessors, contemporaries, and descendants, focusing on the middle period, when the genre was at its most enterprising and exuberant. Originally published between 1835 and 1924, the stories offer early interpretations of the futuristic societies, rogue stars, rebellious machines, and other now-familiar themes of speculative fiction. Featured authors include Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ambrose Bierce, H. G. Wells, Jack London, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as lesser-known writers. Brian Stableford, a legendary science-fiction author and editor, selected the stories, for which he provides an informative Introduction and brief biographies for each author.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Steampunk Story Bundle

If you're looking for a batch of steampunk novels to read, Cat Rambo has curated the new Story Bundle. Sold DRM free in a pay what you want fashion (minimum $15 if you want the Bonus titles), it's a great way to check out new authors. (Book links are from the story bundle page.)

The main titles are:
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
The Bookmanby Lavie Tidhar
City of the Saintsby D.J. Butler
All the Paths of Shadowby Frank Tuttle

The bonus titles are:
The Emperor's Edge Series: Books 1-3by Lindsay Buroker
Ghost in the Cogsedited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski
Blood Tiesby Quincy J. Allen
Mechaniqueby Genevieve Valentine
The SEA Is Ours - Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asiaby Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng
Best of Penny Dread Talesedited by Kevin J. Anderson and Quincy J. Allen

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Book Review: Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap


Pros: diverse and multi-layered characters, great world-building, excellent storytelling

Cons: minor confusion at times

Five thirteen year old girls are chosen by the goddess to help fight the Grey, an entity created from terror, rage, and destruction. Now 25, Alex, Ria, Aiko, and Natalie help Selena prepare for her upcoming wedding. As the big day approaches, they reflect on their past as magical girls and wonder how long they’ll have to keep fighting.

Hurricane Heels is a a collection of 5 interconnected stories. Each one is told from the point of view of a different girl. 

This is a novel for adults who love magical girl stories like Sailor Moon, who are interested in what real life for such girls growing into women would look like. The author clearly explains why no one in the larger world knows what’s going on in the fight between good and evil and how the girls heal after their battles. But these are women who swear, drink, go to a strip club (it’s a bachelorette party), and hold day jobs around their monster battles.

I loved the juxtaposition of these young girls getting magical powers and being given decidedly earthy weapons. When you think of magical girls you think glittery magic weapons, light weight, deadly because of their magical attacks. But these girls get an ax, a chainsaw, double swords. There’s no way to avoid the solid brutality of these as weapons and the death and gore of their battles against the Grey.

Each chapter begins with a black and white illustration of the girl whose point of view that chapter is from. Unlike the Sailor Moon characters, these aren’t thin waifs. They’ve got some weight on them and some curves. They look like real women, chosen to do great things.

At one point I tried to see what the main thrust of each story was - love, power, etc. Each character has a colour, a different piece of transformation jewelry, and a primary weapon, surely they each have an attribute they embody as well. A few of them seem to on the surface, but when you consider each character - and each story - more carefully, these aren’t simplistic portrayals. These are multi-layered characters who are scared of their new responsibilities and powers in different ways. They also try to hide their frailties from their friends, not realizing that they all have similar doubts. They fight because they need to, because the world needs them to. It’s amazing how well you get to know each girl, despite how short the book is.

I did find the scene in Ria’s story where she moved from the Philippines to the US a bit confusing. I had to read it twice to realize that’s what happened. There was also a formatting issue in the first story. In two places necessary page breaks, showing where one scene ended and another began, were missing. Because each story jumps between places and times so often, the page breaks are needed to help the reader reorient themselves. It was very confusing going from the end of a fight scene to the girls grabbing a drink with no indication that the location or time had changed. It was even more confusing jumping from a post fight conversation to a strip club scene. 

This is a brilliant book. If you like magical girl anime - and even if you just enjoy well told stories about women trying to find their places in the world while battling evil to save it - this book is for you.