Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Book Review: Volk: A Novel of Radiant Abomination by David Nickle

Pros: interesting setting, fascinating story, complex depictions of and around black and gay characters

Cons: not particularly scary

Jason Thorn (aka Thistledown) flew planes over the trenches in WWI. After some bad times, he’s landed a job flying post in Africa. But the flight there is diverted to Bavaria, Germany, where an experiment has gone wrong. An experiment with a creature Jason has faced - and survived - in the past.

This is a direct continuation of Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, picking up 20 or so years after that one ends. All of the survivors show up and play major roles in the book. It’s interesting seeing how their lives have progressed, but also sad, as some of them don’t recover from their ordeal as well as others.

It’s very interesting learning more about the jukes and their parasitic nature. Unlike with the first book, when you knew when the characters were under the creature’s influence, in this book characters often reexamine their memories to discover they’ve forgotten things or were completely unaware of them. It make most of them unreliable narrators, but imparts their feelings of confusion and hesitancy very well.

The plot is pretty interesting, trying to figure out what happened to Jason, who and what Orlok is, and whether the Nazi’s will get their ubermensch.

Several of the newly introduced characters are gay, which was handled well considering the location and period the book takes place (Germany and France in the 1930s). One of the gay characters considered it a disease and was looking for a cure, while others were more comfortable with who they were. For the most part the principle characters around them were supportive or, at least, not derogatory regarding them.

Race, obviously comes up given Doctor Waggoner is black and married to a white woman. Again, I was impressed with how that was handled, especially entering Germany. The introduction of the jazz band and the treatment of its members was well done, showing racism in a more individualistic rather than stereotypical manner.

I didn’t find the book particularly terrifying (unlike with the eugenics of the first one) despite the presence of Nazis and some horrible things going on. There are some uncomfortable scenes and the ending was unsettling.


It is a good sequel. It answers a lot of questions raised in the previous book and shows what happens to everyone. It also shows that however much you run, sometimes you can’t escape your past.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Movie Review: What Happened to Monday

Directed by Tommy Wirkola, 2017

Pros: great acting, chilling story, antagonists have realistic motivations, thought provoking, action packed

Cons: a little hard to keep the sisters straight

In a future with gross overcrowding, a law is passed stating only one child per couple is allowed. Any siblings born are frozen, to be brought back when the population is under control. When Terrence Settman’s daughter dies birthing septuplets, he takes the girls and raises them - named after the days of the week - to be Karen Settman on their day. When Monday doesn’t come home one day, the others fear they’ve been discovered by the Child Allocation Bureau.

I’ve always been impressed by actors who can play multiple interacting rolls in a film. Noomi Rapace, playing 7 characters, does a brilliant job. She gives each sister a slightly different behaviour, which, combined with costuming, helps keep them straight. Having said that, I still had some trouble with this when there was a group of them together.

The setting was chilling, and chillingly realistic as a possible future. While Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close)’s one child policy seems heartless, it’s an unfortunate truth that over population is a problem and it’s difficult to come up with humane solutions. I suspect if this sort of policy becomes necessary globally, other social changes would have to come with it (religions would need to de-emphasize large families, social safety nets would need to be improved to help the elderly so they don’t need several adult children to support them, etc.). The film’s dependence on a single policy, without further societal pressures, is untenable.

I loved that the antagonists have realistic motivations for what they’re doing. While the majority of CAB officers are just doing their jobs, Cayman knows what she’s doing, and that it’s an unfortunate necessity. Similarly, when you finally discover why the siblings have been targeted, it does make sense, even if you consider other options may have worked better.

There’s a surprising amount of action - and a diversity of it. There’s a chase scene, explosions, even a bit of romance.


This is a great, thought-provoking film.   

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shout-Out: The Dark Intercept by Julia Kelier

When the state controls your emotions, how hard will you fight to feel free?
In a radiant world of endless summer, the Intercept keeps the peace. Violet Crowley, the sixteen-year-old daughter of New Earth's Founding Father, has spent her life in comfort and safety. Her days are easy thanks to the Intercept, a crime-prevention device that monitors emotion. But when her long-time crush, Danny Mayhew, gets into a dangerous altercation on Old Earth, Violet launches a secret investigation to find out what he's hiding. An investigation that will lead her to question everything she's ever known about Danny, her father, and the power of the Intercept.

Much like the device itself, The Dark Intercept will get under your skin.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Video: Stranger Things Honest Trailer

With the excellent season 2 of Stranger Things now out, Screen Junkies has done an honest trailer for season 1. It's full of spoilers, so consider yourself warned.



And as a bonus video, if you're old enough to remember Perfect Strangers, Jummy Kimmel brought the actors back and paired them with the Demigorgon from Stranger Things in a pretty awesome mash-up.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Pros: excellent creature building, diverse cast, some tense moments

Cons: several minor items made me lose immersion, minor inconsistencies

Seven years ago the entertainment company Imagine’s ship Atargatis was lost in the Mariana Trench. Video, called a hoax by most, showed mermaid like creatures attacking the ship. Now, a new ship is being sent to find out what really happened.

There’s a great diverse cast. It was interesting seeing the hearing impaired twins interact with and without their translator (though I was surprised more people didn’t consider handwriting or typing notes to communicate with them). I really liked Victoria, and seeing her determination to discover what happened to her sister on the Atargatis. The book had some great friend duos between Victoria and Luis and Olivia and Ray. It’s not common to see close and supportive male/female friendships so it was great seeing those. While I didn’t particularly like Dr. Toth, I loved her mixture of curiosity and fatalism when it came to the mermaids.

The mermaids, or sirens as Dr. Toth preferred to call them, were incredible. They’re both alien and based on deep ocean creatures, beautiful and terrifying. I was impressed that the author makes it clear how they became objects of myth while also being quite different from the stories they inspired. I loved the hypotheses regarding aspects of their biology, mannerisms, and communication. The creature building was brilliantly done. 

I appreciated that the romantic elements came with a healthy dose of communication and a lack of manufactured drama. It came up quickly but felt organic to the story. 

There were several conversations and minor issues that kept bumping me out of the story. This ruined my immersion and lessened the tension. For example, when scientists start boarding the ship Ray and Olivia point people out to each other. Ray sees Luis Martines and knows a surprising amount of information about his life and field of study. He’s even read one of Luis’ academic papers. While I’ll accept that Olivia and Ray were given a crew manifest, he definitely knows more than a cursory search would bring up, even if Martines’ wealth makes him an intriguing subject. But then he doesn’t know who Dr. Toth is, which makes no sense if he studied the crew, considering she’s more famous and important as a subject for their work. 

Another scene with Olivia made me pause when she thought about her family: conservative father, liberal mother. Apparently her mother doesn’t think she should ever have sex due to her ‘condition’, which doesn’t seem ‘liberal’ to me. Had Olivia framed her thought explaining that her mother believed she was liberal but her words to Olivia proved otherwise, it would have made more sense.

I noticed several minor inconsistencies. I’m not sure if other readers will find these as distracting as I did, but I’ll discuss them in the spoiler section below. Thankfully the last hundred pages or so didn’t include any of these so I was able to really get into the action and feel the suspense and horror of the ending.

The book wasn’t perfect but it has some great creatures and the ending is excellent.


***SPOILERS***







At the beginning of the book Victoria remembers her recent break-up, where her ex brought a box of her things to the cafe where they were meeting. While she walked out first, I had assumed that by bringing the box her ex signalled that things were over. But later in the book she thinks about the two reasons she dumped him, Luis comments that she was the one who broke things off, and the ex is shown bitter and vengeful about her leaving him.


A second instance happens with Blackwell. Early in the book he has a phone conversation with Golden, who is unhappy that Blackwell insists on going on the voyage personally. He’s so important Golden would prefer he send someone else. But we see a memo later where Golden tells Blackwell he’s sending him on the ship in part to prove his loyalty to Golden. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Movie Review: The Faculty

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, 1998

Pros: good acting, some good jump scares

Cons: some gore

A group of high school students notice odd things happening and discover evidence that aliens are taking over people, starting with the faculty.

I was surprised that this horror movie had some remarkably good acting (and actors). Elijah Wood (Frodo from Lord of the Rings) plays the picked on nerd, Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith from Cheers) is the principal, Robert Patrick (T1000 from Terminator 2) is the football coach, and Jon Stewart (formerly host of the Daily Show) is a science teacher.

There were some really good jump scares and the monster special effects were quite good. There was also some gore, which I’m not a fan of but was kept fairly minimal.

I felt terrible for Casey, the stereotypical nerd who gets very aggressively bullied at school. The film is full of stereotypes (the jock, the head cheerleader, the drug dealer/slacker, the new girl). I will say that seeing the hot chick convert into a nerd was unique, it usually goes the other way. 

There’s also a scene with attempted sexual assault (well, one of the characters assumes that’s what’s happening, though the audience knows otherwise) and some sexual harassment between a male student and a female teacher (the resolution of which creeped me out). I would also say that I found Stokley’s character problematic (she told people she was a lesbian so they would leave her alone - gay rights have come a long way, though the abuse she gets is unfortunately probably still realistic).


I figured out who the main bad guy was but on the whole I was impressed with the film. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Publisher Spotlight: Fiery Seas Publishing

Fiery Seas Publishing was founded in 2014 and

is looking for well-written manuscripts that have been polished to shine. We want wonderfully written manuscripts that grab the reader and will not let go, with a strong hook and plot that merge together flawlessly and characters we never want to leave behind. We are looking for anything from romance to edge-of-your-seat suspense.
  They publish novel and novella length fiction in several genres, including science fiction and fantasy in ebook and print formats. Their website doesn't give any contract information.

Here are a few of their published titles:

Incompetent Gods by Gabriele Russo - The first two books in the series are already out, with the third being released in December.

In a dimension created by the ancient gods, most are now stuck working at Gods Incorporated. CEO Queen Louhi Pohjola, a mortal demigoddess turned vampire (on a diet), holds the planet in the palm of her hand and while she cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a nice person, there’s worse lurking in her shadow.

Goblin, a bitter hybrid with childhood issues and shape-shifting abilities, has a grudge against the world. First on his to-do list is getting rid of the Queen and take her place by forcing the titan Ba’al to devour her.

As her friends and allies fall one-by-one into Goblin’s traps, the Queen’s fate seems inevitable. With no one left to fight, will Ba’al’s friends, a bunch of over-the-hill incompetent gods, be enough to stop Goblin from turning the world into hell?

Kinglet by Donna Migliaccio - Book 2 of the series, Fiskur, just came out on November 7th, and the third will be out in February.

Kristan Gemeta has lost everything: his crown, his kingdom, his courage – even his name.

In the vast wilderness of the Exilwald, he's known to the other outcasts as Kinglet. As long as Kristan stays hidden, he can elude the bounty hunters, brutal soldiers and terrifying spells of Daazna, the Wichelord who killed his father and destroyed his life.
But when a new band of pursuers comes looking for him, Kristan's wariness gives way to intrigue. For bounty hunters they're oddly inept, and a young woman in their company is leaving enigmatic drawings wherever they go. As they plunge deeper into the Exilwald, Kristan follows. He discovers the drawings symbolize the Gemeta Stone, an ancient family talisman seized by Daazna but now in the little band's possession.

With the Stone's protection, Kristan might stand a chance against Daazna. He could regain his birthright and his honor. But to obtain the Stone, he must reveal his true identity and risk the one thing he has left...his life.

Knight Errant by Paul Barrett and Steve Murphy

Warriors…Scoundrels…Mercenaries….

The Knights of the Flaming Star are the most feared and respected Special Operations teams in the known universe. There’s no assignment they can’t handle. No job they can’t complete. As a team, they’re unstoppable.

Then a rescue mission gone awry finds them betrayed by a ghost from their past. Bent on vengeance their nemesis has laid a trap designed to grind their reputation into the dirt and ultimately destroy them.

The pursuit of their enemy will take them from planets run by corporate oligarchies—to a world entrenched in medieval technology and shrouded in magic. They’ll need every ounce of their will, prowess and cunning to turn the tables, salvage their reputation, and save the universe from apocalyptic destruction.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Video: The Soup Robot

I've seen a couple of Simone Giertz's videos in the past and they're all rather crazy/hilarious. Basically she makes robots that do stuff, and they don't generally do that stuff particularly well. In this video she's made a robot that serves her soup...

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Book Review: Valiant Dust by Richard Baker

Pros: interesting characters, high attention to detail, diverse cast, nuanced politics

Cons: more military minutiae than I personally like though less space battle action than military SF fans may be looking for

His Highness Lieutenant Sikander Singh North, Nawabzada of Ishar, is assigned to the Aquilan Commonwealth starship Hector as its new gunnery officer. Well aware that few Kashmiris serve in the Commonwealth officer corps, he must prove himself to his new crew members who look down on the colonial system of his birth. 

Amira Ranya Meriem el-Nasir, niece to Sultan Rashid and Crown Princess of Gadira is concerned by the politics of her home world. As a colony of the Republic of Montreal, Gadira has made great strides in modernizing. This has increased the power of the Beys, but many of her people have lost jobs, and religious insurgents fearing for the traditions of their people are becoming more powerful.

With tensions mounting, the Hector is sent to Gadira to protect the commonwealth’s consulate and commercial interests even as another major power works to destabilize the planet’s government.

There’s a lot going on in this book, predominantly the examination of pre-WWI style colonization. We see this from Sikander’s view, as someone whose country is modernizing but still has economic and political issues, as well as with Ranya, whose country is caught in a clash of colonial interests. Aside from insurgents, we’re not shown much of how big events impact ‘little’ people, but it’s quite interesting seeing the various power plays at higher levels. It’s easy to see who the players are with regards to their historic influences, though I’m not sure to what extent the details of the book are influenced by real history.

There’s a lot of nuance with regards to how Sikander is treated and how he reacts to those around him. He’s constantly aware of who he is and what that means in the larger picture of his service, his home world, and himself. But the book doesn’t harp on issues, it examines them and shows the reality of the different situations, then moves on as time passes and conditions change.

There are three point of view characters, and I really enjoyed seeing the two mentioned above (the third isn’t a character we’re meant to like). The characters must deal with a variety of issues, which keeps them feeling fresh and fully realized.

There’s a high attention to detail - much of it military in nature. Personally I found it a bit much though I suspect military history buffs will enjoy learning more about the ships, armaments, tanks, etc. being mentioned. Fans of military SF may find that there’s less military minutiae and action than they’d like, as the main focus of the book is on the politics and character based drama rather than military strategizing. The book uses generally realistic physics for its one space battle, which was fun to read. 

While they were sometimes hard to follow I enjoyed the variety of titles used (I found it fascinating that titles often changed depending on the speaker as well as the location).

This book has a high amount of world-building and politicking and minimal military action, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Odyssey Writing Workshops - Winter Online Courses

From the press release:

The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit known for offering some of the best programs in the world for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, is offering three live, intensive online classes this winter.

Odyssey's online classes are unique among writing programs. Live class meetings allow you to see and interact with the instructor, ask questions, and contribute ideas. Challenging homework assignments help you to understand and incorporate new techniques into your writing process. In-depth feedback from the instructor and your classmates provides insights into your work and your use of the new techniques. Each student has a one-on-one meeting with the instructor to allow for private discussion. With class size limited to 14, each student receives personal attention in a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment.

Interested writers should apply in December for the courses, which are held in January and February. While Odyssey's nonprofit mission is to help writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, most of Odyssey's programs can help writers in any genre, and writers of all genres are welcome to apply.
The courses being offered this winter are:

Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark
Course Meets: January 11- February 8, 2018
Instructor: Scott H. Andrews
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 15, 2017

One major struggle for writers is having their work stand out from the hundreds of submissions editors and agents receive. Every day, writers submit well-crafted, engaging stories and novels only to have them rejected. Scott H. Andrews, editor-in-chief and publisher of the fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a five-time Hugo Award finalist, discussed this at the Odyssey workshop last summer, and his insights were so fascinating that we asked him to teach an online course. Scott receives far too many well-crafted, engaging stories each month to publish. For him to publish a story, it needs to be special; it needs to have that crucial spark. What exactly is a "spark"? In Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark, Scott will describe various ways to create a spark--with a fascinating concept or thematic impact or emotional resonance or potent voice. Students will study examples and then work to add a spark to their own work. For intermediate to advanced authors, having that spark can make the difference between personalized rejections and sales. If you want to write works that are more than competent, that captivate or enthrall or delight, this course is for you.

Saying the Unsayable: Building Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext
Course Meets: January 4 - February 1, 2018
Instructor: Donna Glee Williams
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 8, 2017

The most common request made by Odyssey Online students has been for a course on subtext. One of the most insightful approaches to subtext has been developed by author Donna Glee Williams. Donna Glee has been teaching highly praised writing seminars for years, so Odyssey is honored to have her as an instructor for Saying the Unsayable: Building Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext. Writers spend most of their time focused on the text, the words on the page. But often the part of the story that most engages readers is the subtext, the layer of meaning below the surface of the words. Readers respond strongly to what is not on the page, elements that are implied, evoked, suggested, but unsaid. For a story to engage and move readers, whether they are adults, young adults, or middle-grade readers, the author must create both text and subtext. Donna Glee will explain how subtext can be generated in almost any part of a story using three key strategies, and students will study these strategies and work to incorporate them into their own work. For intermediate to advanced writers, this course will offer invaluable techniques to engage readers in the line-by-line flow of the story and make them deeply invested in the characters and outcomes.

One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes
Course Meets: January 3-January 31, 2018
Instructor: Barbara Ashford
Level: Intermediate
Application Deadline: December 7, 2017

One of Odyssey's most highly rated instructors, award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford, has agreed to bring back her course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes. Stories and novels are made up of scenes, so if your scenes are weak, your story has little chance of success. Writers often have strong ideas, fresh worlds, and interesting characters, but their scenes do not do justice to these elements. A compelling scene engages readers intellectually and emotionally, changes something of significance to the story, and leaves readers eager to turn the page to find out what happens next. Barbara will explain how to design your scenes, how to track and develop the emotional beats in a scene to create strong impact, and how to diagnose and fix problems in scenes. Students will study effective scenes and weak scenes, discover the special needs of opening and ending scenes, and learn how to make sure all the scenes work together to create a powerful story or novel. These skills are invaluable for intermediate students seeking to take their work to the next level, so Odyssey is offering it again for those who were unable to take the course in 2015. Students of Barbara's classes regularly praise her insightful lectures, her effective instruction, and her incredible, in-depth critiques. This course will help you shape each scene into a powerful, memorable experience for the reader.

The courses are US $239 each and are non-refundable, so make sure you have the proper computer and time requirements before applying. For more information, here's their website (link goes to the online course page). Their website also contains free content, like podcasts by authors (the most recent are talks by E. C. Ambrose, Mary Robinette Kowal, and N. K. Jemisin), a blog, and writing/publishing tips.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Shout-Out: The Complete Circuit Trilogy by Rhett Bruno

Diversion Publishing has released a box set of the Circuit trilogy, consisting of Circuit: Executor Rising, Progeny of Vale, and Earthfall.

Perfect for fans of The Expanse! The complete Circuit Trilogy features more than 750 pages of heart-pounding space-opera action and intrigue.
Earth is a dying planet. To survive, humanity founds the Circuit, a string of colonies across the solar system, dedicated to mining resources vital to preserving what remains of mankind.
The New Earth Tribunal, a powerful religious faction, rises to rule the Circuit. They believe a Spirit within the Earth will one day appear and welcome humanity back home. But following a string of seemingly random attacks, the Tribunal suspects its mortal enemy, the Ceresians, have rallied to once again challenge their absolute rule.

Join an unlikely band of would-be saviors--the Tribunal's best spy, a roguish Ceresian mercenary, a subservient android and a disgraced general--as they are drawn into a conspiracy destined to change the Circuit forever. 
A new, sinister threat has arisen--and it plans to bring down the Tribunal once and for all.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Books Received in October 2017

Many thanks as always to the publishers who have sent me books for review this past month.

Steal the Stars by Nat Cassidy - This is the novelization of the Tor Labs podcast by Mac Rogers.

Dakota "Dak" Prentiss guards the biggest secret in the world.
They call it "Moss." It's your standard grey alien from innumerable abduction stories. It still sits at the controls of the spaceship it crash-landed eleven years ago. A secret military base was built around the crash site to study both Moss and the dangerous technology it brought to Earth.
The day Matt Salem joins her security team, Dak's whole world changes.
It's love at first sight-which is a problem, since they both signed ironclad contracts vowing not to fraternize with other military personnel. If they run, they'll be hunted for what they know. Dak and Matt have only way to be together: do the impossible. Steal Moss and sell the secret of its existence.
And they can't afford a single mistake.

Vallista by Stephen Brust - This is the fifteenth Vlad Taltos novel.

Full of swordplay, peril, and swashbuckling flair, Steven Brust's Vallista is a treat for longtime fans of this popular fantasy series, a deep dive into the mysteries of Dragaera and all within it.
Vlad Taltos is an Easterner-an underprivileged human in an Empire of tall, powerful, long-lived Dragaerans. He made a career for himself in House Jhereg, the Dragaeran clan in charge of the Empire's organized crime. But the day came when the Jhereg wanted Vlad dead, and he's been on the run ever since. He has plenty of friends among the Dragaeran highborn, including an undead wizard and a god or two. But as long as the Jhereg have a price on his head, Vlad's life is.messy.
Meanwhile, for years, Vlad's path has been repeatedly crossed by Devera, a small Dragaeran girl of indeterminate powers who turns up at the oddest moments in his life.
Now Devera has appeared again-to lead Vlad into a mysterious, seemingly empty manor overlooking the Great Sea. Inside this structure are corridors that double back on themselves, rooms that look out over other worlds, and-just maybe-answers to some of Vlad's long-asked questions about his world and his place in it. If only Devera can be persuaded to stop disappearing in the middle of his conversations with her.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant - Out November 14, this is the first of a series that stands perfectly on its own. If you've always wanted a horror novel about mermaids, this is for you. I've finished it and will post my review on its release date.

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a "mockumentary" bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they're not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life's work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.
But the secrets of the deep come with a price.




Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci - Out January 2nd, this novel sounds like a lot of fun.


In the tradition of Star Wars, a galaxy-hopping space adventure about a galactic kingdom bent on control and the young misfit who must find the power within before it's too late.
Cade Sura holds the future of the galaxy in his hands: the ultimate weapon that will bring total peace. He didn't ask for it, he doesn't want it, and there's no worse choice to wield it in all of space, but if he doesn't, everyone's totally screwed. The evil Praxis kingdom is on the cusp of having every star system under its control, and if that happens, there'll be no contesting their cruel reign. Especially if its fanatical overlord, Ga Halle, manages to capture Cade and snag the all-powerful weapon for herself.
Cade can't hide from Praxis, and he can't run from the destiny that's been shoved into his hands. So he only has one option:
He has to fight.
Cade's not going to let destiny send him on a suicide run, though. With some help from his friends-rebels and scoundrels alike-Cade's going to use this weapon to chart a new destiny for the galaxy, and for himself.
He just has to do so before everyone around him discovers that he's a complete and total fraud.

Night of the Victorian Dead by Amber Michelle Cook - Coming out in the spring of 2018, this is a reprint of a self-published title. The publicist that contacted me about it said it was a gothic tale "in which Downton Abbey meets Night of the Living Dead". Sounds interesting.

The unwitting attendees of a country ball are all too busy striving to hide secrets and make matches to see what’s going on around them until it’s almost too late!
Among the green and rolling hills of Old England, the fields lie ripe for reaping under a blighted Harvest Moon. While tenants and servants fear the eerie light, Mr. Dorchester invites several families of his acquaintance to his estate—for a visit culminating in a ball to celebrate his ward’s engagement to a most eligible neighbor. Amid all the usual hopes and anticipation such an event inevitably excites.

All the while, signs of the dead rising are increasing until the entire household wakes in the middle of the night to a gut-wrenching scream inside the house.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Book Review: Another by Yukito Ayatsuji

Translated by Karen McGillicuddy

Pros: tense, makes you second guess what’s going on, fascinating characters

Cons: repetition, some gore

Fifteen year old Koichi Sakakibara moves in with his grandparents at the beginning of his third year of middle school. A collapsed lung keeps him from attending the first week of class and he finds things… odd when he does start school. Everyone seems tense and there’s a girl who sits at the back that no one seems to acknowledge is there. He slowly learns of the third-year Class 3 curse, a phenomenon that leaves members of Class 3 and their immediate family dead.

I loved the two main protagonists, Koichi Sakakibara and Mei Misaki (note, following Japanese custom most characters are called by their last names, so I’ll be doing that in my review). It was interesting seeing Sakakibara’s illness, his hesitation when joining the class, trying to figure out what was happening, his consideration of and compassion towards Misaki, his gratitude towards his grandparents. He’s a highly sympathetic character going through difficult times. Misaki is equally interesting, and quite different, being standoffish and mysterious. Seeing their friendship bloom was great.

The book has a very tense atmosphere. You’re just as in the dark about what’s going on as Sakakibara and it makes for an eerie first half of the book, wondering what’s up with Misaki, wondering what the curse is. When things start going wrong it’s quite terrifying. There are a number of twists to the story, making you question and re-question what’s happening.  

The translation doesn’t clarify any social or cultural Japanese aspects of the book (aside from explicitly pointing out the meanings of the written characters (kanji) used for various people and place names. This doesn’t affect understanding of the story, though knowing some of this myself did add to my enjoyment of the book. 

I did notice there was a fair amount of repetition with regards to conversations and plot points. The afterward to the paperback edition (printed at the back of the English edition) mentions that the book was originally serialized, which probably accounts for that. 

There is some gore as several deaths are described. It’s a little graphic at times.

One thing that annoyed me was that the ending turned on a fact that the narrator (ie Sakakibara) knows, but you - the reader - do not. So it’s possible for him to figure out the final twist but much harder for you to do so.


On the whole, if you’re looking for a creepy read, this is a good choice.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Image Scan LED strip

After seeing the Photon Gallery 3.0 exhibit at Nuit Blanche a few weeks back, my husband decided to make his own image scan LED strip (the LED line that turned into hearts when you wave your head back and forth).

He did a couple designs before settling on the jack-o-lantern. The images themselves are blurry, due to low resolution, but in person you're seeing the picture so quickly (and more out of the corner of your eye than directly) you can't see that (but the camera could).

To the right is the strip (you can see hints of the yellow and orange that makes up the jack-o-lantern). Below are a few of the designs he tried.



Friday, 27 October 2017

Guillermo Del Toro Exhibit: At Home With Monsters


A few weeks ago I went to see the Guillermo Del Toro exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Filled with items from Bleak House, one of Del Toro's homes in Los Angeles. His personal collection is quite remarkable, and huge. This exhibit represents a sampling and it's quite remarkable.

There are a lot of wax figures, many of characters from his movies (like the pale man from Pan's Labyrinth pictured below), though some are from other films or actual people. In a few cases there are blank forms showing off costumes, as with some of the dresses from Crimson Peak.



There are a lot of pictures and paintings and small sculptures. Two of my favourites were this miniature, "The Captain's Bed" by Teri Hardin, and reproductions of two of the skeleton warriors Ray Harryhausen created for Jason and the Argonauts.  




While I've not seen The Strain, I greatly enjoyed seeing the inspiration pieces, some props, and the gorgeous angel of death.


One of the last rooms has a couple of Frankenstein wax figures, along with more creepy artwork.


If you like monsters, the macabre, movie props/memorabilia, or Del Toro's work it's a fantastic exhibit. It took me over two hours to go through (though I was taking a lot of photographs). There's a wide variety of objects to see and an interesting glimpse into a director's mind.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Shout-Out: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled -- taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.
Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.
But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Video: Battlegrounds The Movie

This is a faux trailer by Ryan Higa for a movie adaptation of the online video game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (aka PUBG). I've never played the game myself, but I do enjoy watching some of my favourite youtubers play. From what I've seen, this movie trailer incorporates a lot of the stuff that happens in real games.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Book Review: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Pros: some interesting twists, great characters

Cons: somewhat predictable

Antonina Beaulieu is a rich 19 year old from the country, joining her cousin and his wife, Valerie, in the city of Loisail for the Grand Season. Quick to speak her mind and unable to remember proper city etiquette or the names of important society members, Nina also has telekinetic abilities, her poor control of which has caused her problems in the past. When she meets the telekinetic performer Hector Auvray at a party, they quickly grow closer and her dreams of a romantic marriage seem assured.

But Hector has a past with Valerie, the beautiful woman who criticizes Antonina’s failings at every turn. And his attentions towards Nina aren’t what they seem.

For the most part the book’s plot follows the traditional category romance beats. Set in a fantasy world that mimics the late 1800s/early 1900s, it reminded me at times of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and at others of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey.

The characters were wonderful. I started off the book liking everyone, even people I probably wasn’t supposed to. Though I knew Hector’s initial interest in Nina wasn’t real, I still liked him and thought that having your heart broken by a ‘good’ guy is better than some alternatives. I even felt some pity for Valerie, forced to marry someone for money to help her family despite having met the love of her life. The personal motivations and actions of the characters felt honest and the fallout of their decisions, earned.

While telekinesis isn’t a major part of the story, it does come up fairly often and it’s great seeing Nina learn more control over her abilities.

I really enjoyed this.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Coffin Vampire Hunter Kit

Last year I saw an article about vampire hunter kits in museums and thought they were super cool. Then I read other articles about how they're fake (like this one).

Fake or not, they're still cool, so when I was perusing the dollar store just after Halloween and came across a small wooden coffin, I thought I'd make my own.

I found one again today, so it's still a craft you can put together before Halloween depending on the pieces you use (mine took a while as I bought some items from China to flesh it out).

Now, to save time I decided not to remove the metal clasp and hinges. If I did this again I would definitely remove them as they cause complications when painting, but you can do this the 'lazy' way too.
 Step one is to paint your coffin. I primed mine first with gesso (it's a base for paintings that makes the wood/canvas not soak up as much paint). I then painted the outside and the inner walls with black acrylic paint. Once it was dry, I used a spray on varnish (this protects the paint so it doesn't chip off easily). Make sure not to close the coffin until the varnish is completely dry. I ended up chipping my paint by closing it early and had to do some touch ups.

To line the inside bottom and top of the coffin I cut out red velvet paper and glued it down. Felt or craft foam would work just as well for this.


I wanted a vial of 'holy water' and so took a small glass craft jar and filled it with water. I used regular wax to seal the cork and - because I wanted to be fancy - I tied a piece of cord around the jar and used red sealing wax to hold it in place. I carved a small seal out of stamping material and pressed it into the wax, but that's not really necessary (though it does look cool). If you want to do something similar potatoes make good temporary stamps. I'm sorry about the poor photo quality. The seal has a cross with some letters next to it (it's an old Medieval design I found online). Remember that if you carve something similar, any letters need to be backwards so they'll emboss the right way around.



 For the stake, I took a stick and whittled one end into a point. I sanded it smooth and then blended some black, red, and brown paint (to look like dried blood) and smeared it on the tip.











When my pieces from China arrived, I added a mini Bible and a silver cross to the case.

And here it is, my finished Vampire Hunter Kit, ready for this Halloween.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Shout-Out: The Innocence Treatment by Ari Goelman

You may believe the government protects you, but only one girl knows how they use you.

Lauren has a disorder that makes her believe everything her friends tell her-and she believes everyone is her friend. Her innocence puts her at constant risk, so when she gets the opportunity to have an operation to correct her condition, she seizes it. But after the surgery, Lauren is changed. Is she a paranoid lunatic with violent tendencies? Or a clear-eyed observer of the world who does what needs to be done?

Told in journal entries and therapy session transcripts, Ari Goelman's The Innocence Treatment is a collection of Lauren's papers, annotated by her sister long after the events of the novel. A compelling YA debut thriller that is part speculative fiction and part shocking tell-all of genetic engineering and government secrets, Lauren's story is ultimately an electrifying, propulsive, and spine-tingling read.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Video: Black Panther trailer

I'll admit that most of what I know about the Black Panther comes from the comic's intersection with X-Men 10 or so years ago. But this trailer looks incredible. I can't wait to see this film.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

History Book Review: African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia by Marilyn Heldman

Pros: deals with an under researched topic, lots of high quality images, excellent supporting information for catalogue items

Cons: parts are very dry and academic, a few catalogue items have no images, out of print

The book consists of the following chapters: 1) Introduction, 2) Dreaming of Jerusalem, 3) Ethiopia Revealed: Merchants, Travellers, and Scholars, 4) Church and State: 16th to 18th Centuries, 5) Ethiopic Literature, 6) Ethiopian Manuscripts and Paleography, 7) Linear Decoration in Ethiopian Manuscripts. 
After dealing with the background information, it continues with the Catalogue, consisting of 8) Maryam Seyon: Mary of Zion, 9) Aksumite Coinage, 10) the Heritage of Late Antiquity, 11) the Zagwe Dynasty: 1137-1270, 12) the Early Solomonic Period: 1270-1527, 13) the Late Solomaic Period: 1540-1769.

I found the introduction to be quite dry and academic. While the information was interesting, the delivery was such that I had trouble paying attention. This is followed by a section on Ethiopian contact with the outside world, that is, writings about Ethiopia by outsiders, which was quite interesting and engaging. Then follows several slightly more in depth chapters dealing with the Christian church in Ethiopia through the centuries. These give a bit more grounding in the monarchy and how it used the church to maintain cohesion and power. There’s a tiny bit of information on conflicts with Muslims and contact with Europe (and Jesuits) in later centuries. The chapters on literature and manuscripts were both very interesting. I was amazed by how many Ethiopian manuscripts have been preserved via microfilm and digitization, mainly by the HMML (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library). [If you’d like to see their collection, viewing manuscripts online requires a free account. Your application is reviewed by one of their librarians before being granted.] The final chapter before looking at the manuscripts themselves gives a cursory examination of harag decoration. Similar to Celtic knotwork in appearance, harag are “a type of illumination made of bands of colored lines interlaced in a geometrical pattern and used to frame the pages of Ethiopian manuscripts” (p.63). The artwork changed over the centuries.

The catalogue begins with a discussion of the importance of Mary, the mother of God, in Ethiopian devotion, and comprises numerous images of her. There are some comparison images that give local context for some of the elements (for example, a photo showing the entrance to a holy sanctuary with a checkered design around it that explains the checkered background for an icon of Mary). 

The second chapter of the catalogue goes over Aksumite coinage. I didn’t expect it to be as interesting as it was. It’s a great example of how historians must glean information from minimal sources. In this case, the Aksumite kingdom has left little trace, so much of what is known about their kings is due to their names on coins. The coins are shown to scale, which makes the images quite small and it’s sometimes hard to see details.

Most of the catalogue images are shown in colour on black backgrounds. The rest are inset with the descriptive text in black and white. In some cases more than one image of an object is used (both sides of a processional cross, several manuscript pages) but not always. With manuscripts, all of the miniatures are mentioned, even if only a few pages are displayed. Similarly, in cases where only one side of a double sided object is shown, the other side is described in the text. I love how some entries have supplementary images to help show how different aspects of art influence each other. Unfortunately, in a few cases images of the catalogue items themselves are omitted.

While there are a few things I disliked about this volume, on the whole it’s an exceptional collection of Ethiopian sacred artworks. It’s a real shame that this book, created for a specific exhibition, is now out of print, because it’s a much needed look at a rarely studied country. Ethiopia doesn’t get much mention in medieval (my focus) or other history textbooks, so this is a brilliant addition for anyone wanting to expand their understanding about the rich history and artistic traditions of this amazing country, if - like me - you can find it used.


Monday, 16 October 2017

2017 Sunburst Award Winners

Congratulations to this year's winners of the Sunburst Awards for excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic. The winner of each category is in bold, followed by the other nominees. This information comes from their press release.

Adult Fiction Award
Young Adult Fiction Award
Short Story Award
This year's jury consisted of: Nancy Baker, Michel Basilières, Rebecca Bradley, Dominick Grace, and Sean Moreland

Friday, 13 October 2017

Movie Review: Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon)

Directed by Fritz Lang, 1929

Pros: good science fiction

Cons: slow, overly expressive acting

Professor Manfeldt’s theory that mountains on the moon are made of gold prompts a group of powerful businessmen to hijack the moon mission planned by Wolf Helius.

This is a long (two hours and fifty minutes!) and slow moving film. The first hour deals with the theft of Helius’ plans and the insinuation of a new member on the mission. The flight to the moon is interesting, showing the first countdown to launch and a few scenes in zero gravity (while they show the need to hold on and a few people floating around, they didn’t have small items - like items in the mouse cage, aside from the mouse - float), as well as a two stage rocket. The scenes on the moon were entertaining, if in no way scientifically accurate.

The sets were pretty good. And while the rocket ship doesn’t look much like what actually took people to space (inside or outside), it’s a decent attempt at guessing the future.

As a silent film the actors made up for the lack of explanation through dialogue by using overly expressive hand and facial gestures. At times this worked, while at others the actions seemed to contradict the text cards.

The music on the Kino Classics edition was excellent and really heightened tension in some areas of the film.

I wasn’t really sold on the romance. Wolf Helius obviously likes Friede Velten and his jealousy over her choosing Hans Windegger makes him avoid their engagement party. There are hints that Friede likes Wolf more than Hans, though Hans is - at first - more inclined to let her follow her dreams. When Hans later falls apart, I didn’t like him as much, though I’m not sure Wolf fares much better with his stern demeanor.

 Given how little time is spent on the moon compared to the rest of the film, I’m surprised by the title. “Mission Moon” or some such (recognizing it would be in German) would have been more accurate. 


It’s a great film if you’re interested in the history of science fiction or silent films. It’s more involved than I’d expected, and kept my attention despite its length.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Shout-Out: The Last Amazon Kickstarter

I got an email about this kickstarter project for a near future post-apocalyptic photo realistic graphic novel. It's written by Jamison Stone and illustrated by David Granjo.

Synopsis:
In a near future, World War 3 lasted only three minutes. The world was ravaged by the fallout with two major opposing factions rising from the chaos: The Denver Denizens and The Azureus Islands.
Danni Winters was chosen to live on The Azureus Islands, a place advertised as the last oasis on our war torn planet. At first Danni was ecstatic about moving away from the troubles of the world, but she wasn’t selected by chance. Danni soon discovers she has mysterious powers and abilities which can tip the balance of power in this precarious post-apocalyptic world.
After a terrible event, Danni’s new life is destroyed, pushing her to use her newfound strength to face a brutal encounter with the “Amazons,” an army of killer robots created to not only protect Azureus Islands, but become the next generation of military force upon planet Earth. Only through determination, power, and trust in her new abilities will Danni have what it takes to uncover the truth of her past and defeat The Last Amazon.

You don't get the book until the $30 hardcover pledge (and oddly enough there's no PDF only tier).

There's more artwork and a video on the website if you're interested in learning more.


Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Video: Historical Body Mechanics: Walk Medieval

Roland Warzecha from the History Park Bärnau in Bavaria, Germany, talks about differences between how we walk now (with thick heeled shoes on paved roads) vs how people walked in the past (ball to heel in thin leather shoes). He also mentions what that means for posture.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review: The Core by Peter Brett

Pros: lots of action, character development, satisfying series ending

Cons: at a disadvantage if haven’t read the novellas

This is the fifth and final volume of the Demon Cycle. A lot has happened as Arlen and Jardir finally take their party down to the core. Their captured mind demon alerts them that the hive is close to swarm, but it’s too late for them to help their friends and loved ones who are about to be overrun at the new moon. All they can do as they journey below is hope they’ve prepared those they leave behind well enough to survive on their own.

There are a lot of point of view characters, some for the first time. This allows the reader to see events all over Thesa as the demons attack. And they attack hard. The book does a fantastic job of consolidating all of the people and places that have been visited in the series. 

Having said that, I was surprised that the people and events of some of the novellas were referenced without preamble. Derek from Brayan’s Gold shows up with no introduction and I’m assuming the novella Messenger’s Legacy (which I haven’t read) explains why Ragen and Elissa aren’t in Miln when The Core begins. While I felt Briar was properly introduced in The Skull Throne, when Regan and Elissa showed up it felt like I’d missed a chapter, as there’s no explanation of what they’ve been doing though there are a few cryptic hints that they were in Laktown looking for Briar. Once they were back in Miln I found their political situation quite interesting.

There is a lot of action both with the defenders up top and those penetrating the deeps. The battles are varied, as the mind demons fight dirty. Once or twice we’re shown the after effects of a scene rather than a scene itself, which lessened the impact of some tragedies. But on the whole it’s a whirlwind of battles intercut with preparations for surviving the next battle. 

I liked that Arlen and Jardir continue to develop as people. Seeing Jardir start to question his beliefs as he learns more about Kaji’s own descent while Arlen starts to realize there may in fact be a Creator after all, was kind of neat. I thought that the birth of Leesha’s child and the politics surrounding its identity were handled well.

There are a number of touching, heartfelt moments in the book. I particularly liked when Jardir says his goodbyes.

The final battle was hard fought and gave a very satisfying ending for the series.


Friday, 6 October 2017

Nuit Blanche 2017

In addition to the Netflix Red Forest installation, here are some other things my husband and I saw at this year's Nuit Blanche in Toronto. This year's theme was "Many Possible Futures" so there was a definite SF twist to some of the exhibits.

The first one we went to was the Nature Deficit Disorder Clinic. After meeting with reception we got to look at the various posters explaining the dangers of this future where interacting with nature is at a destructive minimum. Brought into the first treatment room, we watched a short video that led to us deciding if we were best served by interacting with a tree, water, or rock. We could see other treatment rooms where some people were given a second 'treatment' with those items, but were told we didn't require immediate treatment and were sent on our way.


On the left is  Manitowapow,
speaking to the moon, an exhibit with dome tents lit up with nature scenes instide.

On the right is Laxa’ine’ gigukwdzikasi’ gigukwas Hayałiligase’, The Many Large Houses of the Ghosts, a light display on Old City Hall's clock tower.
At City Hall we found the Hendrick's Gin hot air balloon, giving rides to people who won golden tickets. This is where we lined up for 2+ hours for the Red Forest, after which we didn't feel much like waiting in another line. Which is why I only have an outside photo of the Monument to the Century of Revolution - an installation made up of several shipping crates that discussed specific revolutions as well as aspects of revolution (printing flyers, feminism, prisons, etc). 


The final installation we saw was Photon Gallery 3.0. 

There were several cool things to see here, like an audio modulated gas fire display (more base = higher fire).


Nuit Blanche: Photon Gallery 3.0 fire from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

They also had a strobe powered falling water display.

Nuit Blanche: Photon Gallery 3.0 water from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

And this really cool artwork by Alex Poutiainen.