Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Book Review: Antiphon by Ken Scholes

Pros: fascinating characters, lots of intrigue, several secrets are revealed

Cons: very slow moving

Antiphon begins six months after Canticle ends. When an attack rocks the confidence of Rudolfo to keep his lands safe, he and Jin Li Tam make a difficult decision. Winteria’s still stunned by the revelations of the last book and wonders if there’s any hope of returning her people to their former faith in their home-seeking. Neb discovers blood magicked runners in the wastes who don’t die after three days and tries to find out who they are. Meanwhile, the Antiphon requires and answer, and the metal men search for it in many places.

This is a fascinating series, with a lot of intrigue. Each book uncovers more layers underpinning the desolation of Windwir. There are plots upon plots and secrets within secrets. And just when you think you’ve gotten to the bottom of one mystery you discover there’s an entirely new side to it that reframes what you know.

The characters are all great. Winters grows a lot in this book, coming more into her own as she questions how to best help her people. It’s sad - but understandable - what happens with Rudolfo. It was great seeing Vlad Li Tam with an intrigue not worked through his children. 

It was nice getting some answers to questions, even if there may still be hidden nuances and twists to those story threads. I’d love to learn more of the history that’s been hinted at with Whym and the wizards. I happened upon a short story Scholes wrote about the love affair between Francisco and a mysterious woman (A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon), which factors into this novel nicely (you can read it on Tor.com’s website).

The book is very slow moving with characters mostly getting from point A to point B, both in terms of location as well as with understanding of the underlying purposes of what’s been happening these past two years since Windwir fell.


I am very interested in seeing where things go from here. The book left several characters in fascinating places.

Friday, 15 September 2017

The Joy of Rereading Books

When I was a teen and really got into reading fantasy, I loved to reread books. Every time a new book came out in a series I’d reread all the previous titles first. There are some books I read so often I can still remember everything that happens in vivid detail. I used to know characters like they were real world friends.

When I started reviewing books the amount of time I had for rereading got smaller. By this time I was working in the fiction section of the World’s Biggest Bookstore and had a better idea of just how many books there are that I’ve never read - with more and more coming out every year. Suddenly instead of rereading books I was just skimming them. Often I’d only skim the parts of books that I enjoyed the most - parts that made me laugh or cry. More recently I don’t even have time to do that.

For the past few years I’ve been posting 1 review a week on my blog, which means I have to read faster than life sometimes allows. In other words, I don’t have time to reread anything, and often don’t have time to skim before reading a sequel (if the book was very complex I’ll make time for a skim just so I’m not lost in the sequel). I’ve got a file on my computer with summaries I’ve started making for series books so I can just read my summary and jump into the sequel.

I’ve busted by butt reading this year so that I’d have a buffer of prepared reviews for this month. I’ve blocked off the entire month of September to reread Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle books. I’ve only read each book once, and that when they came out, so it’s been 9 years since I read The Warded Man. Book 5 comes out in October, and I’m currently on book 2, hoping to finish the fourth by The Core’s release date.

It’s weird rereading these after so much time. There are aspects of character that I don’t remember or that I’d modified in my mind. When I first read the books I liked Jardir, whereas now I can see what a dangerously extreme person he is. Part of this is likely due to my own growth as a person these last years, better able to recognize the evils of the world. But it’s a bit saddening, having to recognize that my friends have changed, that they’re not quite who I thought they were. It’s also neat, because while I remember the larger events, I don’t remember them with 100% accuracy, and some things I don’t remember at all. 

I love immersing myself in the world. It’s been so long since I’ve read several books in the same world at the same time. It’s great seeing characters grow as people across books. I really miss this, reconnecting with old ‘friends’. It’s like a homecoming. I may need to do this more often. :)


Do you like rereading books? 

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Shout-Out: Odd & True by Cat Winters

Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.
In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Video: Halo Top - Eat the Ice Cream

I don't normally post ads here, but Halo Top's Ice Cream commercial is terrifyingly good.




Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Book Review: Broadcast by Liam Brown

Pros: terrifying yet plausible premise

Cons: things go predictably badly

Vlogger David Callow meets with the creator of OptimiZer, Xan Brinkley, and is offered the staring role in a new entertainment program. The show is called MindCast and will broadcast what David’s thinking, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

David is a fairly apathetic character when the book starts. He doesn’t really care about anything other than the number of views and likes his videos get, barely paying attention during the meeting that changes his life. He’s not particularly satisfied with the way his life is going, though he projects an image for his fans of a life that is fun and glamorous. So it’s interesting seeing him come to a slow realization of what having his thoughts projected to the world means with regards to his privacy, his safety, and his sense of self.

I was shocked by how few questions David had about the program. While he doesn’t seem to care about his privacy in general, he never asks how things like going to the bathroom or having sex would be dealt with. David is oblivious to the potential downfalls of having everyone able to see his thoughts at all times, so the conversations that point out how this technology can be used or abused are interesting. Even more interesting are the early unexpected side-effects, some of which I hadn’t considered.

While the main plot of the book is fairly predictable, the book’s premise, that some people can be so enamoured of themselves that they’ll give up all privacy in return for fame, is believable. And the results of such an act, are as horrific as you can imagine. You feel a real sense of dread as the book progresses, for a variety of reasons.


It’s a fairly short book and is an entertaining cautionary story.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Forest House DIY Mini Dollhouse Kit

This is a kit I bought and put together sometime last year. I've bought a few more of them and really enjoy the work. Depending on the kit they take a few days to do, with all of the furniture and whatnot being built by you. The instructions for this one were in Chinese, but there were photos explaining what to do.

This kit includes pieces to build a gift box, which I choose not to do. Here's a photo of what comes with the kit (including bits of wood, grass, cloth, plastic flowers, etc).


Some of the built pieces for scale.

The finished front & back.

It comes with 3 LEDs, which make it look cool in the dark.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Shout-Out: Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better. 
Years later, Rapunzel’s guards knock at his door, and they say the words he hoped that he would never hear: Gothel has escaped. As he and Gretel take refuge inside Rapunzel’s castle in the eastern capitol of Hildebrand, Hansel is thrust back into everything he never wanted in the first place: his lies, his legend, and his lust. In the wake of it all, he knows that Gothel has escaped to finish what she started. She is out to make sure that the Sleeping Beauty never wakes, and that Grimm suffocates under her blanket of thorn and vine. In order to find Gothel and save the kingdom, Hansel and Gretel must look for fact in a land of fairy-tale by following a trail of grisly murders, a girl in a red cape, and a powerful little man who can’t stand the sound of his own name. 
As they search for answers, Hansel finds that he isn’t the only liar in Grimm, and that there may be a traitor among them of royal proportion.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Video: Altered book Alchemist's Workshop

I recently started a shadow box alchemy display and in searching for images and inspiration for it stumbled across this amazing blog: Artfully Musing. Laura Carson is an amazing artist and has a number of videos explaining how to recreate her works, including this altered book alchemist's workshop (the website has a list of supplies she used, though some of the items don't seem to be stocked by the store she mentions anymore). It's cool seeing how she takes different beads and bits and pieces and turns them into amazing things.


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by S. A. Corey

Pros: brilliant world-building, great characters, lots of plot twists, excellent pacing

Cons: 

James Holden is the XO of the ice harvester Canterbury. When the Cant encounters a distress beacon, they’re the closest ship and must send aid. Holden’s sent with a five man crew to check out the damaged ship. But something’s not right and things for Holden start to go very, very wrong. 

Miller is a cop on the asteroid Ceres. He’s given an off the book ‘kidnap’ job to send the daughter of a rich magnate home.  He becomes more invested in the case than he should, and uncovers more than he was supposed to. 

First off, if - like me - you’ve seen the show and were wondering if it’s worth reading the book, the answer is yes. It covers the entire first season (from the POVs mentioned above) and a fair bit of the second, but there’s enough new information, nuance, and divergence to keep you entertained. Most importantly, the pacing of the book is brilliant. While not all of the reveals will be a surprise, the novel propels you forward into the next crisis. 

The novel is told from two points of view. The opposing chapters help ramp up the tension as you’re often given hints that something has happened but switch POV to find out what that thing is.

The world building is brilliant. I love that belters shrug with their hands, because you can’t see shoulders move in a space suit. I loved the (unfortunate) realism of racism between belters, Earthers, and Martians. There’s a lot of nuance with language - how it’s changed and melded by having people from all over Earth living in close quarters outside of Earth. The fact that there’s low-brow belter slang and Martian accents was great. The physics were real, aside from the drive that makes interplanetary travel possible (which, while not currently real, is plausible). 

I found that some of the motivations and actions made more sense in the book than they did on the TV show (as much as I LOVE the show). It was nice seeing more nuance with character development and gaining a better grasp of who everyone is.

The characters were great. Holden can be a little to ‘righteous’ at times, but he firmly believes he’s in the right. I did like some of his interactions with Miller, where he’s forced to realize that his POV isn’t necessarily the right one and that the world isn’t as black and white as he seems to believe. The Rosi’s crew works together well. Naomi’s brilliant! I love her smarts, her intuition, her observations, her skill. I was impressed with how concentrating profanity to Amos’s character worked in terms of releasing tension and creating some comic relief. I’m not usually a fan of swearing but this was well handled.

I found the romance sub-plot slow moving enough to feel realistic. It was great when the couple finally got together.

I had high expectations going into this book and it exceeded them. If you like hard science fiction and space mysteries, this is for you.  

Friday, 1 September 2017

Review schedule for the rest of the year

I'll be taking a break from reviewing for September, as I'll be rereading Peter Brett's Demon Cycle books in preparation for the final book of the series, The Core's October release. You'll still be getting weekly reviews as I've been in reading overdrive the past few months preparing for this.

After the Demon Cycle books I've also been rereading and then reading the Psalms of Isaac novels by Ken Scholes, the final book of which (Hymn) drops early December. Expect to see reviews of books 3 & 4 probably spaced out in October and/or November.

I have a long (and growing) list of books I'd like to read before the end of the year, though reality states I won't be able to get to them all, especially with all of the other non-reading/blogging projects I'm working on.

All of which means I'm unlikely to accept any new review requests until next year.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Books Received in August, 2017

Many thanks as always to the publishers who sent me books or ok'd requests on Netgalley for review titles.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Written and Illustrated by Bradley Schenck - I've already reviewed this book and thought it was a lot of fun.

ROCKETS. ROBOTS. DEATH RAYS. MAD SCIENCE. THE FUTURE THAT NEVER WAS IS BACK.

If Fritz Lang's Metropolis somehow mated with Futurama, their mutant offspring might well be Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Inspired by the future imagined in the 1939 World Fair, this hilarious, beautifully illustrated adventure by writer and artist Bradley W. Schenck is utterly unlike anything else in science fiction: a gonzo, totally bonkers, gut-busting look at the World of Tomorrow, populated with dashing, bubble-helmeted heroes, faithful robot sidekicks, mad scientists, plucky rocket engineers, sassy switchboard operators, space pirates, and much, much more-enhanced throughout by two dozen astonishing illustrations.
After a surprise efficiency review, the switchboard operators of Retropolis are replaced by a mysterious system beyond their comprehension. Dash Kent, freelance adventurer and apartment manager, is hired to get to the bottom of it, and discovers that the replacement switchboard is only one element of a plan concocted by an insane civil engineer: a plan so vast that it reaches from Retropolis to the Moon. And no one-not the Space Patrol, nor the Fraternal League of Robotic Persons, nor the mad scientists of Experimental Research District, nor even the priests of the Temple of the Spider God, will know what hit them.

Twelve Days by Steven Barnes - This sounds really interesting.

Around the world, leaders and notorious criminals alike are mysteriously dying. A terrorist group promises a series of deaths within two months. And against the backdrop of the apocalypse, the lives of a small shattered family and a broken soldier are transformed in the bustling city of Atlanta.
Olympia Dorsey is a journalist and mother, with a cynical teenage daughter and an autistic son named Hannibal, all trying to heal from a personal tragedy. Across the street, Ex-Special Forces soldier Terry Nicolas and his wartime unit have reunited Stateside to carry out a risky heist that will not only right a terrible injustice, but also set them up for life-at the cost of their honor. Terry and the family's visit to an unusual martial arts exhibition brings them into contact with Madame Gupta, a teacher of singular skill who offers not just a way for Terry to tap into mastery beyond his dreams, but also for Hannibal to transcend the limits of his condition. But to see these promises realized, Terry will need to betray those with whom he fought and bled.
Meanwhile, as the death toll gains momentum and society itself teeters on the edge of collapse, Olympia's fragile clan is placed in jeopardy, and Terry comes to understand the terrible price he must pay to prevent catastrophe.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - I'm almost finished reading this and have enjoyed it a lot. It's out in October.

Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society in hopes of landing a suitable husband. But Antonina is telekinetic, and strange events in her past have made her the subject of malicious gossip and hardly a sought-after bride. Now, under the tutelage of her cousin's wife, she is finally ready to shed the past and learn the proper ways of society.
Antonina, who prefers her family's country home to the glamorous ballrooms of the wealthy, finds it increasingly difficult to conform to society's ideals for women, especially when she falls under the spell of the dazzling telekinetic performer Hector Auvray. As their romance blossoms, and he teaches her how to hone and control her telekinetic gift, she can't help but feel a marriage proposal is imminent.
Little does Antonina know that Hector and those closest to her are hiding a devastating secret that will crush her world and force her to confront who she really is and what she's willing to sacrifice.

Broadcast by Liam Brown -  I've read this already and will be posting my review of it soon. It's an interesting cautionary tale.

Inception meets Black Mirror for the YouTube generation. The idea behind MindCast is simple. We insert a small chip into your skull and then every thought, every feeling, every memory is streamed live, twenty-four hours a day. Trust me - within a few months you'll be the most talked about person on the planet. When David Callow is offered the lead role in a revolutionary new online show, he snatches at the opportunity. Rapidly becoming a viral sensation, David is propelled to stratospheric levels of celebrity. However, he soon realises the downside of sharing every secret with the world. A prisoner to both his fame and his own thoughts, David seeks to have the chip removed, only to discover the chilling secret lurking at the heart of MindCast, and the terrifying ambition the show's creator has for him.



Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais - Also out in October, this is a children's picture book with a different take on the Little Red Riding Hood story.

Lose yourself in in the dark forests of Amélie Fléchais' spectacular artwork. A young wolf, on a journey to bring his grandmother a rabbit, is charmed by the nice little girl who offers to help him.but nice is not the same as good. A haunting fairy tale for children and adults alike.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Shout-Out: Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

London, April 1812. On the eve of 18-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall's presentation to the Queen, one of her family's housemaids disappears--and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Book Review: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom Written and Illustrated by Bradley Schenck

Pros: great characters, nice extrapolation of 30s SF tech 

Cons: drags a bit

When Nola Gardner’s entire team of switchboard operators is laid off, she hires Kelvin ‘Dash’ Kent, a professional adventurer, to investigate who replaced them. Rusty, a unique robot person, is being followed when he uncovers a similarly unbranded, and therefore illegally made, robot. Abner Perkins has discovered some strange inefficiencies with the new Tube Transport system and decides to investigate.

I loved the characters in this. Dash is so much fun, and Nola’s got a good mix of spunk and intelligence. The Campbell kids are… something. They were both great and terrifying to follow. 

The world-building was great. The switchboard is sort of an internet, if history had taken a different path. The priests of the spider god were fun, and kept the old school pulp feel. The robot League and the interactions between robot and human people show a positive future that’s often lacking in modern SF and something I enjoyed seeing. 

The book manages to evoke a 1950s SF feel without relying on campiness. While the book isn’t laugh out loud funny, it did have me smiling and smirking quite often. There are some great comebacks. There are also some callbacks to authors and novels (like the Fraternal League of Robotic Persons being on Rue de Rur). While his role is quite small, I loved the writer Edward Bellin’s storyline.

Given the number of characters and storylines, it’s not surprising that the story drags a bit. There’s a lot to introduce and some of the mystery - being solved in fits and starts by several people - takes a while to turn up useful information.

The book is printed on very nice, high quality paper, likely due to the inclusion of several black and white illustrations by the author. These are great for giving a better feel of the actions, characters and locations. The author is highly skilled at drawing cityscapes and robots, though his human people sometimes look a little off. 

Dr. Krajnik confused me. Her plan to help out seemed needlessly wasteful and surely someone so brilliant could come up with a more constructive way to perform a search. It also prevented her from seeing how things turn out. It also took me a while to figure out that she was on a different time schedule from others in the book.

I felt a little sorry for the robots, waiting for the plumber to return…


On the whole this was a fun book, quirky and different and worth the read.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Wood Trebuchet Kit

For Christmas last year I asked for a wooden trebuchet or catapult kit. While I put it together months ago, I keep forgetting to post photos of it here.

It was a good kit, where you punch out the pre-cut wood pieces and then glue them together following the instructions.


The finished trebuchet actually works (quite well, too). While it's easy for me to understand how a catapult works, the trebuchet is a bit more complicated, so it's nice having a model where I can point to different parts and see what they do in practice.


For me, regardless of how good books and videos are, there's nothing better than being able to hold the real thing and examine it to find out how it works.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Shout-Out: Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic

All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.

But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?

Wicked Like a Wildfire is the first in a two-book series. Readers will be rapt with anticipation for the sequel.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Book Review: Infinite by Jodi Meadows

This is the third book in the NewSoul trilogy, so this review contains spoilers for the previous books.

Pros: some good twists; complex language

Cons: Ana angered, frustrated, and annoyed me; lots of major and minor irritants towards the end of the book

Severe earthquakes hit Heart and free Deborl and his followers. Ana and Sam call a group together and decide to escape the city and see if they can end Janan and the threat of Soul Night.

The book is quite exciting, with the characters finally meeting several more of the dangerous creatures living around Range. You also learn the answers to more of Ana’s questions about the temple books, sylph, and Janan.

I thought the complexity of the language in the temple books was great. I appreciated that each symbol could mean several things, creating a number of possible interpretations. 

I didn’t like Ana as much in this book. She had a streak of selfishness (thinking of her own emotional needs and ignoring those of others) in the previous books, that stemmed from her emotional abuse at Li’s hands. As the books progressed she seemed to slowly learn how to open up and give emotional support as well as take it. But in this book she makes several decisions that cause deep pain in others later on simply because they help her avoid temporary pain in the moment. She ends up with an overinflated sense of her own importance and stops the reciprocal empathy that friendships and relationships require. I really wanted her to ask the others for advice, to help them through the guilt and sorrow they felt at things she reveals about their past. Basically, I wanted her to show them the love and support they’d given her, welcoming her into their lives, teaching her, guiding her. I mention more about this in the spoiler section below.

While the ending had a lot of twists and turns, by that point I was so frustrated by Ana and so many of the things that were happening that I didn’t really feel emotionally invested anymore. 














***SPOILERS***


Half way through the book, after following her for weeks through snow to find dragons for Ana’s insane plan, Ana leaves her friends behind with only a passive aggressive note telling them how they used to believe in her and now she’s going off on her own, for them to find when they wake up. There’s no acknowledgment of the sacrifices they’ve made or the fact that they FOLLOWED her all that way because they BELIEVED in her. Because it’s all about her at this point. Bare paragraphs later she comments on how the sylph give her the feeling of companionship the others didn’t anymore (because she wasn’t asking for or accepting advice, because she was hiding things from them, because she didn’t want to be burdened with their sorrow or guilt or help them work through it, etc). She strangely comes to the conclusion that she can succeed simply by believing in herself. She doesn’t NEED other people to believe in her, despite that feeling coming because she felt the COMPANIONSHIP of the sylph! Despite the fact that the sylph continue to help her by melting snow and ice so she can walk easier. She ignores the aid her friends gave her to get her to this point, including the large amount of help and protection the sylph provided. It’s only after she cheers herself up that she realizes that the sylph have also felt lonely, and determines she won’t ignore them again. But what about the friends she’s just left? What about their needs and the fact that they’ll wake up and feel even worse because after all their sacrifices for her it wasn’t enough? How much are they expected to give just to make her feel better about herself? When do they get something from this relationship? 

When the group gets back together, once again it’s up to Sam to reconcile things. Which made me think that perhaps his friends are right and having a relationship with Ana’s not the right move. She’s obviously not ready for a romantic relationship. Maybe the best thing to do would be to give her a few years to find herself, grow up a little, see how other - healthy - relationships work and then try again if they both still want to. Going from an abusive mother to an overly loving and caring psudo-boyfriend may be too much of an extreme for her to dealt with.


The last half of the book contained so many irritating things. If the dragons could communicate with humans, why didn’t they? Did Sam use his song against them at some point creating that enmity or were they just unreasonably afraid of him? How big were everyone’s packs? (Apparently they had blankets in addition to their sleeping bags, books, enough clothes for Ana to wear 3 hats, etc when flying.) Why did they wait until Soul Night to attack? Couldn’t they have tried to kill Janan BEFORE the eruptions, etc? (There didn’t seem to be a reason to wait. That’s when Janan would be at his most powerful. And I would have thought stopping the eruptions would be just as important as killing Janan. If he’s dead, then Soul Night isn’t a problem. And if they fail, they have more time to figure something out before Soul Night.) How did Sarit forget why she and Stef left Sam and Ana alone when they hadn’t been gone that long? Why did Stef make the distraction explosions have separate detonation devices instead of tying that into their SEDs (like cellphone triggers)? Why didn’t Sam want his burns treated before they had sex? (It would have made him more comfortable.) How could they have sex at such a time, after such personal tragedies? (They’d have a lot of distracting thoughts, given what they had to do later that night and having just watched their friends die. I’d think it would be hard to get in the mood under such conditions.) Did everyone’s last reincarnation push other newsouls out of the way again? Why did Ana wait until she was in her teens to let Sam know she’d been reborn? (Ok, I know the answer to this one, selfishness. She wanted him to prove he could find her in her new body, like the Masquerade. Because she needed him to prove that he could pick her out of a crowd, or else how would she know he really loved her?). What ultimately happened to Janan? He gave them all one last reincarnation and then … leaves? He spent 1000 years in a prison to become a god and then lets his followers all abandon him?

Sunday, 20 August 2017

3D Metal Puzzle: Airship

I've been doing these metal 3D puzzles for a while now and while they're difficult at times I really enjoy putting them together. They also look fabulous when done.

I bought this airship model off the internet and spent several hours yesterday building it.

First off, the set itself was great, shiny metal with etched details on one side. While the instructions were in Chinese, I've got English ones that I could compare them to to figure out the important notes (which side should be etched, folding the tab over or twisting it). So that was fine.


The first problem came in when I realized that just getting some of the pieces off the sheets was going to be difficult without breaking them. Well, I broke... quite a few pieces. I've had one or two breaks in the past, usually fixed with some crazy glue. Not this time. While some of the breaks aren't really noticeable the others... also aren't noticeable because you don't have a reference photo to compare it to when you're displaying it. Keeping that in mind kept me from becoming too frustrated while making this. In fact, I came up with the narrative that it had just been in a space battle to excuse the parts you could notice didn't look quite right.

Here are some shots of the build in progress.



 Towards the end things got... rather impossible. The front has 2 layers of overlapped metal. To get the front base piece in I'd have had to push down one of those layers to uncover the slot, while somehow slotting the base inside and around to get the tabs into place. There aren't many safe handholds, so this was a challenge. I gave up when the base broke in half. Well, actually I thought I could glue that break and while I was prepping it for glue it broke along another line. Who looks at the underside of a model anyway?

A few pieces broke or broke off and had to be repaired/glued into place. Two side pieces were so impossible to place that I just didn't bother. And attaching the top side layers meant damaging upper work as I tried to crimp the tabs into place.

Definitely a pain in the neck to build and by far the worst in terms of things breaking and fitting together properly. (You can see some of the broken/unused pieces in the photos below.)

But...

Doesn't it look gorgeous? Sometimes we aim for perfection and miss the beauty of what's actually there.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Shout-Out: At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets Agent Carter meets X-Men in this classic British espionage story where a young woman must go undercover and use her superpowers to discover a secret Nazi plot and stop an invasion of England. 
In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War. The research to weaponize these abilities in England has lagged behind Germany, but now it’s underway at an ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall. 
Kim Tavistock, a woman with the talent of the spill—drawing out truths that people most wish to hide—is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy. 
As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England. No one believes an invasion of the island nation is possible, not Whitehall, not even England’s Secret Intelligence Service. Unfortunately, they are wrong, and only one woman, without connections or training, wielding her talent of the spill and her gift for espionage, can stop it.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book Review: Asunder by Jodi Meadows

Pros: interesting plot, fun characters

Cons: relationship waffling

This is book two of the Incarnate series, and as such this review contains spoilers for book one.

Some time has passed since Templedark consigned dozens of souls to a permanent death. Sam and Ana rest away from Heart for a time. A new gift and Menehem’s notebooks indicate that Sylphs may be more intelligent than previously believed. Meanwhile, back in Heart, fears of more newsoul births and an inability to punish Menehem for his actions turns popular anger towards Ana. 

I really enjoyed the plot in this book and the fact that things went in directions I did not predict. You learn answers to some of Ana’s questions, which was great.

The ‘will they won’t they’ aspect of their relationship got frustrating, as after a year of being together Ana seemed to still get defensive a lot and misconstrue things easily, regardless of how open and loving Sam was. While I appreciated the question of whether it’s appropriate for a 5000 year old soul to have a relationship with an 18 year old soul, that’s a question that should have been addressed by Sam much, much earlier. 

Despite their relationship woes, I love Sam and Ana. Ana remains passionate about helping other newsouls and discovering more about how she came to be. 


As with the first book, it was a very quick and enjoyable read.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017
IMDb listing

Pros: gorgeous cinematography, excellent creature effects, interesting characters

Cons: characters make too much noise in the jungle, minor irritants

A team of scientists, accompanied by a squad of Vietnam helicopter pilots, travel to Skull Island for a land survey. But what they find corroborates the crackpot theories of a small government organization: monsters exist.

First off, the cinematography is gorgeous. There are a large number of simply gorgeous shots in this film. The colours are vivid and the scenery lush.

There’s enough set-up for the characters for you to care for them when they reach the island, but not so much (given their number) that you mourn them when some die. I really liked a few of the characters and thought the acting all around was well done.

The creature effects were excellent, with Kong and the other monsters looking real for CGI creations.

The natives seemed to be treated more respectfully than these films generally do, which impressed me. The scene where they first appear is quite impressive and I loved the paintings in their sacred space.

A few minor things bugged me about the film. They make a surprising amount of noise walking through the jungle and on the boat, noise that could attract monster to them. There’s also a scene where the ground is combustable, where it felt like there should have been more explosions and/or fire given what’s going on.



***SPOILERS***










There’s a scene at the end of the film where one of the characters makes the ultimate sacrifice. He takes out a grenade and waits for the monster to eat him, so he can heroically kill it through his own death. But the monster bashes him away and the man dies in a futile gesture. It made me think how war is generally portrayed - heroes, laying down their lives to save their families and countries. But the truth of the matter is that most combatants aren’t doing anything more than throwing their lives away. Yes, there are people and battles that were hugely important in gaining rights and freedoms (Vimy Ridge comes to mind), but I think modern audiences are no longer as enamoured by the fantasy of the war hero and glorifying sacrifices in war.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Shout-Out: The Rift by Nina Allan

Selena and Julie are sisters. As children they were closest companions, but as they grow towards maturity, a rift develops between them.
There are greater rifts, however. Julie goes missing at the age of seventeen. It will be twenty years before Selena sees her again. When Julie reappears, she tells Selena an incredible story about how she has spent time on another planet. Selena has an impossible choice to make: does she dismiss her sister as a damaged person, the victim of delusions, or believe her, and risk her own sanity in the process? Is Julie really who she says she is, and if she isn’t, what does she have to gain by claiming her sister’s identity?
The Rift is a novel about the illusion we call reality, the memories shared between people and the places where those memories diverge, a story about what might happen when the assumptions we make about the world and our place in it are called into question.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Video - Kapture: Fluke

This is a short computer animated film by Oats Studios (youtube) about two scientists demonstrating their latest invention. Oats Studios is Neil Blomkamp's studio, which seems to be making a bunch of short SF related films.



Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Book Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

Pros: interesting characters, great premise, highly passionate characters

Cons: minimal world-building, highly passionate characters

The people of Heart have been reincarnated hundreds of times, some believe by the will of Janan. When Li and Menehem’s child was not the reincarnation of Ciana, people feared what it meant for them. Eighteen years later, Ana wants to leave the cottage she was raised as a nosoul by her hateful mother and find answers regarding her birth in Heart. After a terrible night, she’s rescued by Sam, who becomes her friend with the possibility of more.

I really liked Ana. I liked how conflicted she was, uncertain of the world after the physical and mental abuse she suffered under her mother. I liked that she constantly questioned Sam’s motivations, constantly waiting for things to go bad. It showed real, persistent, trauma. I also liked that Sam’s previous deaths bring their own form of trauma for him to overcome later in the book.

The premise, of people who all know each other because they’ve been reborn together over and over again, was great. Throw in the possibility that they could die and not return, and their fear of Ana and what she represents is understandable.

The characters - Ana in particular - were often very passionate about life. Towards the end this got to be a bit much for me. It’s understandable in Ana, but the others are all old enough to be past the vagaries of first youth. While Sam’s age (and subsequent hormones) could account for some of his issues, he should have had an easier time coming to a decision about what sort of relationship he wanted with Ana.

The world was pretty interesting, but not developed very much. The author lists several creatures that live in the world, but you only actually see two of them. And the way they’re mentioned, always as a list, makes them feel more like window dressing than actual inhabitants of the world. Having said that, I greatly enjoyed what I learned but hope the later books explain more of the wider world.


This was a very quick read that kept me turning pages. And while the book ended up going in wildly different directions from what I’d expected, I really enjoyed it. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Movie Review: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie


Pros: excellent world-building, unique costumes, car chase

Cons: over the top acting, meanders, soundtrack 

After being robbed of all his possessions in post-apocalyptic Australia, Max walks into Bartertown intending to get them back. But with nothing to barter but his skills, he agrees to take down Masterblaster in a death match in the Thunderdome.

First, let me say that while I know I saw this as a child, I didn’t remember anything about the film. I know it’s considered a terrible movie, so I wasn’t expecting much from it.

The world-building is surprisingly good. Using pig farmed methane as a fuel for electricity and gas is quite brilliant. I was also impressed that the kids had a slightly shifted language and had created a mythology for their past.

I was impressed by the number of women in the film, both in positions of power and as background dressing (guards, etc).

One of the failures of world-building was having Master, ‘the brain’, speak with a more degenerate form of speech than his underlings. It didn’t fit with the moniker of him being smarter than everyone else. 

Max has lost the leg brace he wore in the last film, though he does wear a bandanna on one leg starting at the halfway point. Another oddity was that the actor who played the pilot was in the last film but he and Max don’t recognize each other, making me wonder if he was supposed to be a new character in this film (who just also happens to be a pilot).

The costumes were pretty… unique. I liked that different groups were dressed differently. Lots of mowhawk wigs and feathers for the guards. The townsfolk are all fairly shabbily dressed. The oasis kids wear skins. Antie Entity wore an outfit with the 80s giant shoulders and big hair.

There’s only one car chase, but it’s a pretty good one. Not as crazy as the one in The Road Warrior, but fun, nonetheless.

The story meanders a fair bit, with the plot at the beginning of the film disappearing entirely as the setting changes to the desert. They do eventually return to Bartertown, making the section with the kids, while interesting in some ways, feel rather out of place.

Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” is a fantastic song, and I’d completely forgotten that it’s the theme of this film. While a few other songs fit the film, for the most part the soundtrack is overbearing.

The acting tends to be a little over the top, which makes it feel a bit more campy than it should. It was rated PG-13, and it shows. There’s a lot less violence than the other films.

On the whole, it was entertaining and better than I was expecting. But don’t go in expecting much.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Dark Tower Movie Trailer and Book Synopsis

The Dark Tower movie opens tomorrow, based on a series of novels by Stephen King. I read the first two books in the series (The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three) about 15 years ago. I was living in Japan at the time and there was a small English language book library where I borrowed them. I wasn't that keen on the first one - too western for my tastes and the ending rubbed me the wrong way - but thought the second was well written, if rather bizarre. I'm really curious to see how they've adapted the first novel. Apparently after finishing the series King went back and revised The Gunslinger to be in line with the final ending.

To King, The Gunslinger demanded revision because once the series was complete it became obvious that "the beginning was out of sync with the ending." While the revision adds only 35 pages, Dark Tower purists will notice the changes to Allie's fate and Roland's interaction with Cort, Jake, and the Man in Black--all stellar scenes that will reignite the hunger for the rest of the series. Newcomers will appreciate the details and insight into Roland's life. The revised Roland of Gilead (nee Deschain) is embodied with more humanity--he loves, he pities, he regrets. What DT fans might miss is the same ambiguity and mystery of the original that gave the original its pulpy underground feel (back when King himself awaited word from Roland's world). --Daphne Durham (source)
Given the changes, I might like the book better now...



If you haven't read the books, here's the Goodreads listing (the best 'back cover' I could find) for The Gunslinger:

Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King's epic work of fantasy -- what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus -- has spanned a quarter of a century.
Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King's most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement. 
Book I
In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake. 
This new edition of The Gunslinger has been revised and expanded throughout by King, with new story material, in addition to a new introduction and foreword. It also includes four full-color illustrations in the hardcover and trade paperback formats.
The Books in the series in order are:
The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Waste Lands
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Podcast: Get to Work Hurley

If you haven't heard about it, Kameron Hurley, author of The Stars Are Legion, The Mirror Empire, God's War, etc. as well as the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, is doing a podcast. And it is brilliant. In the 4th episode (the most recent) she converses with her agent (warning, there are some TV/movie spoilers in this episode). If you're interested in the writing life I highly recommend these.


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Book Review: Halls of Law by V. M. Escalada

Pros: excellent world-building, great characters, interesting plot 

Cons: a few points drag

Kerida Nast was born into a powerful military family, so she’s not happy when it’s discovered that she has the Talent and must leave her family and join the Halls of Law. Flashing objects and people allows Talents to know truth in matters of judgement. Just as she comes to terms with her fate, a foreign invasion takes place, upending her life and forcing her to flee or die. She joins up with some defending soldiers and along the way uncovers a prophecy and a people long believed to be myths.

The world-building is excellent. I loved how the Talent and jewels work. It’s very creepy how the jewels can be used to twist people’s beliefs, emphasizing certain truths at the expense of others. There are a fair number of terms to learn, but you come to them organically and they make the world feel expansive. I loved that women were so prominent in the power structure of the Faraman Polity. Seeing the invading force’s attempts to subjugate the native customs to fit their own belief system was terrifying.

Kerida’s a great protagonist. I loved that she learns a lot through the book. She’s practical and makes hard decisions about her own survival, leaving her feeling ashamed by her lack of heroism. She has a lot of responsibility placed on her and does a remarkable job, despite not being fully trained. I thought the supporting cast was great, especially the archer Wynn. Seeing some of them jeweled was tough because I liked all of them.

The story’s pretty interesting, with a lot of unanswered questions to take up in the next book. I’m hoping the griffin has a larger role.

There are a few points where the story drags a bit as the characters travel a lot over the same territory.

On the whole I really enjoyed this and eagerly await the sequel.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Books Received in July 2017

This month I requested a graphic novel on Netgalley. This series has some exquisite artwork and I'm really enjoying it. It comes out in September, which is when my review will be posted.

Lady Mechanika v4: La Dama de la Muerte
 by Joe Benitez and M. M. Chen

After suffering a tragic loss, Lady Mechanika takes a trip to a smallMexican village just in time for their Día de los Muertos celebration. But the festivities turn truly deadly after the arrival of the Jinetes del Infierno, the mythical Hell Riders. Collects the complete Lady Mechanika Day of the Dead special, La Dama de la Muerte.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Google Cultural Institute - Research Gem

I recently stumbled across this Quartz article about how Google has created a digital archive of 3000 years of world fashion.

Intrigued, I did some digging and discovered Google's Cultural Institute:

Founded in 2011, the Google Cultural Institute is a not-for-profit initiative that partners with cultural organizations to bring the world's cultural heritage online. We build free tools and technologies for the cultural sector to showcase and share their gems, making them more widely accessible to a global audience.

The mass of information here is frankly stunning. Here's a link that will sink hours and hours of your life away learning about all sorts of cultural things: historic lives, ancient sites, museum collections,...

My favourite feature so far is the ability to use street view to 'walk around' landmarks. Want to tour the international space station, Machu Picchu,  Fontevraud Abbey France,  the Monastery of Saint Mina Egypt, the Colosseum Italy... now you can!

(Maybe I'm an idiot, but it took me a while to figure out why simply clicking the photos didn't do anything. To use the streetview feature, click on the map, then - when you're at the map - drag the little man on the bottom right of the screen to the area with the arrow. It will switch to the 3D view of the building/street/site you've picked.)

Annoyingly, you have to scroll through the site to find what you're looking for. I'd have expected a company with a famous search engine would be able to make something easily searchable. And yes, if you know what you want to see, you can just go to google maps and access the locations that way. Things with 3D view come up with a blue line when you're dragging the man.

Researching - or virtual visiting - is so much easier than it was in the past. It doesn't quite match going in person to see things, but as you can't go everywhere and do everything, it's a good second.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Story Submission call for Fantastic Trains Anthology

I got the following press release from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing:

Fantastic Trains:
An anthology of Phantasmagorical Engines and Rail Riders


Now open to submissions.

The submission period for Fantastic Trains: An anthology of Phantasmagorical Engines and Rail Riders officially opens, July 27, 2017. Submissions will be accepted until Midnight September 30, 2017.

Edited by Jerome Stueart and Neil Enock, the anthology focuses on speculative fiction stories of trains—fantasy, steampunk, science fiction, horror, slipstream, urban fantasy, apocalyptic, set in any time, any place—and will be released by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing in the spring of 2018.

“This book will appeal to both lovers of the fantastic, and train aficionados,” says Jerome Stueart, co-editor.

“Ultimately, we’re looking for great stories. Check out the official call for submissions,” says Neil Enock, co-editor.

Stories must be previously unpublished, in English, between 1,000-5,000 words.

Submissions are open to all writers. The editors will accept stories previously published in a language other than English, but they must first be translated into English before submission.

Submissions should be e-mailed to: fantastictrains@gmail.com (CLICK). The e-mail must contain the word "submission" in the subject line. Submissions must be sent as an attachment: in .DOCX, DOC. or .RTF format.

Authors are invited to structurally play with some 'locomotifs' that will add interesting connections to these disparate and individual stories.

For more information, check out the call for submissions: http://tinyurl.com/fantastictrains

Shout-Out: The Bone Mother by David Demchuk

Three neighboring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.
Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Oldest Known Hymn in the World

I stumbled across this Vintage News article about the h.6 stone tablet a while back, along with one of several interpretations of how the hymn might have sounded. The article has more info, so if you like the music, check it out.

The Hurrian songs are a group of stone tablets with music inscribed in the cuneiform writing system. These were unearthed from the ancient Amorite city of Ugarit and date to approximately 1400 BC.
One of these tablets (h.6), contains the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal, making it the earliest markedly entire piece of composed music in the world. On some of the broken pieces, the composers’ names are inscribed, but h.6 is an anonymous work.
 ...
The lyrics of the h.6 tablet are a hymn to Nikkal, a Semitic goddess of orchards. It also contains inscribed directions for a singer playing a nine-stringed sammûm, a type of harp or, more likely, a lyre. Instructions for how to tune the harp are also contained on some of the tablets.
The hymn is played by Michael Levy on the lyre.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Book Review: Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Pros: fun characters, interesting story, quick read

Cons: repetition

Greta Helsing is a modern day human doctor who treats the supernatural. When she’s called to a vampire’s house for an emergency, she discovers that a mysterious group is hunting ‘creatures of evil’, a group that might be connected to the ‘rosary ripper’ murders plaguing London.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The characters were quirky and entertaining. I liked that a few of them were familiar from older literary works. The mythologies for the different creatures were a mixture of common folklore with a few twists to make them different and fresh. I particularly liked the interpretation of angels and demons presented. The author did a fantastic job of making the ‘monsters’ feel very human and empathetic.

There’s a particular scene with Greta that I absolutely loved. Most urban fantasy novels have literal kickass female characters, so it was nice reading a book with a female protagonist who doesn’t know any martial arts, who’s terrified by horrific situations, but who manages her fear and is able to act despite it. It was wonderful reading about a woman who didn’t beat anyone up and who relied on her friends to help her when things got tough.

I was somewhat surprised that the core protagonists didn’t warn the supernatural community of their danger, specifically Greta’s patients and employees. I also found it strange that everyone in the group seemed to learn the same information separately - at different times - rather than pooling what they’d learned (or asking more questions of the group that had encountered the antagonists). 

There’s a fair amount of repetition. Several conversations simply repeated information learned earlier. 


On the whole, this was a fun, fast read. I’m very curious to see what adventure Greta has next.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Movie Reveiw: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Directed by George Miller, 1981

Pros: lots of action, great chase scenes 

Cons: limited plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Shout-out: Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Video: Movies with Mikey: Logan

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Book Review: Sovereign by April Daniels

Pros: great characters, interesting plot, complex issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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