Thursday, 18 October 2018

Shout-Out: Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire's capital--her fate to be burned alive for the entertainment of the masses. For the last five years, one small village's tithe has been the same woman. Gilene's sacrifice protects all the other young women of her village, and her secret to staying alive lies with the magic only she possesses.

But this year is different.

Azarion, the Empire's most famous gladiator, has somehow seen through her illusion--and is set on blackmailing Gilene into using her abilities to help him escape his life of slavery. Unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.

To protect her family and village, she will abandon everything to return to the Empire--and burn once more.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Video: Tasting Astronaut Food

Tested posted a video about tasting astronaut food a few years back. Most of the video is a short history of how astronaut food has developed over time, from tubes and cubes to the current use of tins (Russian) and MRE style bags (US).

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Book Review: Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

Pros: fun characters, great romance

Cons: minor issues

Aliza Bentaine’s life at Merybourne Manor changes when gryphons invade the nearby wood and kill her youngest sister. It changes again when the Riders they hired to hunt the gryphons show up and include the handsome but arrogant Alastair Daired. But more than gryphons stalk the land, and other mysteries darken Aliza’s world.

This is a close retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in a world where monsters roam and dragons fly. There’s no recycled dialogue and the motivations for why characters act as they do have been adjusted to fit the realities of this world. I found that Aliza’s reasons for disliking Daired were more substantial here, making their eventual reconciliation a bit harder to accept. The ending has several major deviations from the source material, which I enjoyed. I especially liked that Gwyn (Charlotte in the original)’s marriage is for different, more mysterious reasons and that their marriage seems better matched. I did wish the mystery regarding her father had received more of a resolution though.

The addition of a wide variety of monsters was fabulous. I didn’t always know what creatures were, but it was fun seeing new and lesser used beings intermixed with the more familiar gnomes, wyverns, and dragons. The use of monster heartstones as engagement/wedding tokens was interesting. I also liked that different creatures spoke different languages, and not all humans understood all languages. 

If you like Jane Austen and fantasy, it’s a fun retelling.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Sometimes you just need a break

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. It wasn’t intentional. We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving on Sunday and my husband was home Monday, which meant I did my grocery shopping Tuesday morning and then I had a dentist appointment Wednesday morning… It was Thursday before I even noticed I hadn’t posted anything this week.

I’ve also been feeling a bit of burnout. I haven’t read a book in the past few weeks. I’m half way through rereading one but can’t seem to get into it this time (too many other things going on in my life that need immediate attention). Yesterday I started a new book that’s interesting but… 

I'm planning some trips for next year and in addition to the research required for that, there's also a lot of non-fiction I want to read in preparation.

While movie reviews are an easy way to generate content, sometimes it's nice to watch stuff just for fun. I like writing reviews, but it's work and knowing you're going to review it makes it less relaxing. I've been watching more TV shows lately than movies as well (Colony, Caprica, Legion). While I may review the seasons, I have to finish one first.

I am not a gamer. I have played games but they’re often stressful for me as I’m not particularly good at them (and yes, I tried for several months one year to improve my skills before realizing I was wasting my time). I enjoy watching my husband play games with interesting stories or gorgeous worlds (Silent Hill, Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed). When he insisted I play the first level of a new game he’d bought, Nier: Automata, neither of us thought I’d continue without him. I’m part way through the 3rd main story and it’s fascinating. I will note that I am playing on easy mode - I’d have rage quit that first level otherwise. The last time I got into a game like this (playing it on my own) it was Minecraft. So far I’ve played over 60 hours in the past 3 weeks. Which tells you where my reading time has gone.

Anyway, this post is just to say sorry for missing my regularly scheduled content. Guess I just needed a break.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Stamps: Ceskoslovensko Icons

Visiting Peru a few years back it was fascinating seeing how they interpreted the Christian saints with regards to religious icons. While a lot of the elements carried over, there were definite adjustments to the figures. It's equally clear looking at Roman Catholic images of saints that their style of art differs from that of, say, Byzantine icons. Even the Czechoslovakian stamps above have their own style to them. I'm currently researching Ethiopia and its Christian history, and again, there's a very distinct style of art (which changes over the years).

Fantasy worlds tend to have different foods and clothing and customs between actual races (humans, dwarves, elves). Sometimes there are more than one sub-race (wood elves vs high elves) who also dress and act differently. But you don't always see that kind of variant between humans. Yes, humans from different continents and countries could be varied, but what about regional differences? People living by the coast will have a different diet from those living in deep forests and those in larger cities.

Religious differences in practice and art is something else that's often missed, even though the church militant comes up a lot. Where are the different militant orders? Where are the arguments over doctrine, the heretics who've been cast out for various practices? Where are the iconoclasts whitewashing church walls to get rid of icons even as others paint gorgeous frescoes of their god(s)?

There are a lot of opportunities for conflict here.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Shout-Out: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa are the Boneless Mercies-girls hired to kill quickly, quietly, and mercifully. But Frey is weary of the death trade and, having been raised on the heroic sagas of her people, dreams of a bigger life.

When she hears of an unstoppable monster ravaging a nearby town, Frey decides this is the Mercies' one chance out. The fame and fortune of bringing down such a beast would ensure a new future for all the Mercies. In fact, her actions may change the story arc of women everywhere.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Books Received in September 2018

Many thanks as always to the publishers who sent me books this month.

Girl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black - Seeing as Halloween's coming, it's the perfect time to pick up a gothic novel.

In Girl at the Grave, debut author Teri Bailey Black unearths the long-buried secrets of a small 1850s New England town in this richly atmospheric Gothic tale of murder, guilt, redemption, and finding love where least expected.
A mother hanged for murder.
A daughter left to pick up the pieces of their crumbling estate.
Can she clear her family's name if it means facing her own dark past?
Valentine has spent years trying to outrun her mother's legacy. But small towns have long memories, and when a new string of murders occurs, all signs point to the daughter of a murderer.
Only one person believes Valentine is innocent-Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed all those years ago. Valentine vows to find the real killer, but when she finally uncovers the horrifying truth, she must choose to face her own dark secrets, even if it means losing Rowan in the end.

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence Schoen - This is a sequel to Barsk: the Elephants' Graveyard, which I heard very good things about.

Pizlo, the lonely young outcast and physically-challenged Fant, is now a teenager. He still believes he hears voices from the planet's moons, imparting secret knowledge to him alone. And so embarks on a dangerous voyage to learn the truth behind the messages. His quest will catapult him offworld for second time in his short life, and reveal things the galaxy isn't yet ready to know.
Elsewhere, Barsk's Senator Jorl, who can speak with the dead, navigates galactic politics as Barsk's unwelcome representative, and digs even deeper into the past than ever before to discover new truths of his own.

The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell - Sounds like a fantastic SF survival story.

Brilliant engineer Marcus Flynn has been sentenced to 11-H37 alongside the galaxy's most dangerous criminals. A hard labor prison planet better known as the Razor, where life expectancy is short and all roads are dead ends.
At least until the Lost Prophet goes active.
In a few hours, prison guards and staff are evacuated, the prisoners are left to die, and dark mysteries begin to surface.
Only Flynn has the skills and knowledge to unravel them, but he will have to rely on the most unlikely of allies--killers, assassins, pirates and smugglers. If they can survive each other they just might survive the Razor.and claim it for their own.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Book Review: Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang

Pros: fast paced, protagonist is ‘good at math’, interesting characters


When Cas Russell takes the job to ‘retrieve’ Courtney Polk from a drug cartel, she assumes it will be a simple job. Because she’s VERY good at math, able to calculate vectors on the fly, making her dangerous in a fight. But she didn’t expect her mentor Rio to be working for the cartel. And when the woman who hired her turns out to be more than she seemed, Cas discovers she’s become a target of a mysterious organization, one with people who also have super powers.

This is a fast paced read that took me two days to get through. There are so many twists that it was hard to put down.

It’s an interesting cast of characters, as none of them are really ‘nice’ people. They’ve each got their good and bad qualities. Cas is a morally grey individual, who has no problem killing but also has some lines she won’t cross. Despite being a psychopath I mostly liked Rio. There’s a Dexter feel to him, as a man who’s using his baser urges for what he perceives is good. Arthur Tresting balances Rio on Cas’s other side, being mostly moral, but willing to bend the law when necessary and pretending he doesn’t know about or see most of Cas’s casual crimes.

I loved that Cas’s ‘superpower’ is that she’s just REALLY good at math. Like, so good she can do multiple calculations at once and so dodge bullets and make fancy trick kicks to take out opponents. The fight scenes are surprisingly entertaining.

I thought the rabbit hole of secret organizations was handled well, as was all the self doubt brought on by Dawna’s influence.

I really enjoyed the book.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Shout-Out: The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

In a remote village surrounded by vast forests on the border of Moldova and Ukraine, sisters Liba and Laya have been raised on the honeyed scent of their Mami's babka and the low rumble of their Tati's prayers. But when a troupe of mysterious men arrives, Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother's warning to be wary of strangers. And this is not the only danger lurking in the woods.

As dark forces close in on their village, Liba and Laya discover a family secret passed down through generations. Faced with a magical heritage they never knew existed, the sisters realize the old fairy tales are true...and could save them all.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Video: A Roman Soldier Prepares Dinner

Just discovered the Youtube channel Invicta, which has some great historical video series: Everyday Moments, How They Did It, Deadly Moments in History, Massive Battles and more.

As this video points out, when talking about armies we tend to think about the actual battles and logistics of why one side won/lost. But just as important (maybe even more important) was the logistics of feeding said army. This is a quick look at what a Roman legionary would have eaten and how the food was prepared.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Book Review: The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Pros: very unique world, interesting characters, intrigue

Cons: body horror

Years ago Zan and Jayd came up with a plot to save the worlds from their inevitable slow decline. When Zan wakes up from her most recent attempt to retake their neighbouring world, Mokshi, she has no memory of who she is. Again. Jayd’s manipulations are getting them closer to achieving their goal, but her betrayals are catching up to her and others aren’t playing their roles the way she expected.

This is a very unique novel. I have never read of a world, or rather a series of worlds, so… bizarre. They’re things of flesh, orbiting a sun and populated solely by women who birth the components the world (ships?) require. While each world is unique, the lords of some of the worlds discovered that they could prolong the lives of their worlds by sharing flesh, though this causes other problems. I was a little concerned going into the book as I heard it was body horror. While there’s some disturbing imagery around birth, cannibalism, flesh, etc., it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

The narrative is told from the viewpoints of Jayd, who knows what’s going on but isn’t very forthcoming, and Zan who’s trying to navigate situations she no longer understands. It’s clear that she can’t necessarily trust Jayd, though it’s also clear that she loved Jayd deeply at one point.

The plot is fairly straightforward, despite it’s being drawn out. The book itself is a quick read as you’re anxious to find out who Zan really is, what Jayd’s plan is, and why the Mokshi is so important.

If you’re looking for a good book outside the ordinary and you have a strong stomach, give this a try.

Friday, 21 September 2018

TV Show Review: Twin Peaks, Seasons 1 and 2

Pros: some great storylines, good representation, cultural impact

Cons: some hokey storylines, slow pacing, occasional over the top acting

When Twin Peaks aired on television in 1990 I was too young to have been watching and old enough to know what a phenomenon it was going to be. And it was a phenomenon. Most shows at that time were episodic, so if you missed one episode it didn’t matter (as they generally aired at one time on one day - and in reruns, if the show was popular enough and you could catch those episodes). So a show with a continuous storyline that required you see every episode, in order, was unusual. And then there was the hype around the tag line: Who killed Laura Palmer?  

Rewatching the show as an adult, it’s interesting what still worked, what didn’t, and what from the various storylines I remembered all these years later.

First off, I remember the show being quirky and mysterious. I did not remember it being a soap opera. And it most definitely is a soap opera.

Season 1 starts off with a 2 hour made for TV movie. It sets out the mystery of Laura’s death, the coming of FBI agent Dale Cooper to Twin Peaks to investigate the murder, and a decent number of the people who live in the town. That season ended on a cliff hanger when the season was riding high in the ratings. It’s surprisingly coherent in storytelling, with little jokes continuing from episode to episode (like the bizarre conferences going on at The Great Northern Hotel). As an adult, Agent Cooper’s mysticism didn’t work so well. If the FBI en mass actually worked the way he does in this show, no one would trust them to solve cases. While he does examine the evidence he’s got too much reliance on dreams and whatnot for me to believe any sheriff would follow his lead.

Season 2 solves the murder of Laura Palmer a third of the way through. The special feature on the DVD set I watched pointed out that solving the murder so soon was a mistake. Once Laura’s death was solved, the allure of the show vanished and all you were left with was the soap opera. And while the characters were interesting, the increasingly lurid storylines just weren’t compelling enough to get the show a third season. Until 25 years later.

A few things really impressed me about the show. As I said, the storytelling on the whole is impressive. There are a large number of storylines and quite a few of them are resolved. 

The DVD special mentioned that Josie Packard was originally written as an Italian woman, but they liked Joan Chen’s audition so much they rewrote the part so she was from Hong Kong instead. Deputy ‘Hawk’ was played by an actual Native American. I was also impressed by representations of disability, like Donna Hayward’s mother who’s in a wheelchair (and it’s never explained why) and Nadine Hurley’s missing eye. Season 2 has a trans woman (played by David Duchovny - X-Files started in 1993) and while her scenes can be awkward at times, it’s still impressive in terms of representation for its time (for our time too, to be honest).

Almost every character in the show has some quirk. And they’re pretty in your face obvious, like the log lady carrying a log that speaks to her and FBI Director Gordon Cole’s propensity to shout due to his difficulty hearing. On one hand it made some people feel like caricatures, while on the other, it made the town feel more realistic.

The music was great, offbeat and quirky to match the characters. We had the soundtrack so I still remember all the different character themes.

Watching it nowadays it’s a fairly slow moving, often boring show. There are a lot of panning shots and close-ups that last too long. Some of the storylines are just comically bad and some of the resolutions disappointing as they depend on mysticism of some kind. The acting is often over the top (especially Leland Palmer, whose scenes of grief are hard to watch - and make me wonder if Lynch was trying to show how callous people are in the face of others’ grief, expecting them to get over tragedy quickly as it’s hard to watch someone else break down).

The show had a huge impact at the time and still has its moments. I don’t think I could watch it again though.

I tried watching the more recent 3rd season and just couldn’t. It was so slow and several episodes in still had no plot. Some things are products of their time and there’s no going back.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Shout-Out: Paramnesia by Brian Wilkinson

Nora Edwards finally has everything she wants out of life, including the boy of her dreams, until one night that dream turns into a nightmare. On their way home from prom, Nora and Andrew are attacked by a supernatural creature called the Revenant that sucks the souls out of the living in order to feed itself. Nora manages to escape from the creature, but Andrew is not as fortunate. Although Nora suffers loss that night, she gains something as well: the ability to see the dead, including her recently deceased boyfriend. Whether the skill is a gift or a curse is yet to be determined, since those around her assume Nora's erratic behaviour is due to "paramnesia," a disorder in which a person confuses dreams with reality. She's also attracted the attention of the Revenant's masters, who need to preserve the secret of their supernatural existence and will stop at nothing to prevent her from talking. Nora, along with Andrew and her living and dead allies in the Deadish Society, quickly finds herself in a battle for her life--and the souls of her city.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Book Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Pros: interesting characters, great setting, unique mystery

Cons: more details of bodily functions than I needed

Kaaro’s criminal past and his abilities as a sensitive have trapped him in the role of government agent. His assignment is to live in Rosewater, a city surrounding a mysterious alien biodome that once a year heals those that stand within a certain area, and learn what he can about it. When the sensitives around him start getting sick, he realizes that change is coming, and tries to finally uncover the mystery of the alien, his abilities, and what they mean for the future.

The book mostly takes place in Nigeria in 2066, with flashbacks of Kaaro’s life, particularly around 2055, when he was first recruited by S45 and Rosewater was founded. I don’t know much about Nigeria, so it was great reading about how it might look in the future, with several chapters taking place in Lagos and neighbouring areas. There were food and religious references and translated lines in some of the regional languages.

Kaaro’s an interesting character. He starts out apathetic to what’s going on around him and slowly comes alive as he falls in love during the course of the book. He’s an avowed coward and thief, so he’s not the easiest protagonist to like, but his life is very different and so carries the book well.

While you don’t learn too much about the aliens they are unique and make the mystery compelling. Some early information doesn’t make much sense (like using anti-fungal cream to reduce psychic abilities) but they are explained in time. As the story progressed I found it harder to put the book down.

I could have done without some of the mentions and descriptions of bodily functions. While the sexual ones at least gave character information (even if I didn’t feel I needed to know about every erection he had), on a few occasions bowel movements were also mentioned.

If you’re looking for unique science fiction, pick this up.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Graphic Novel Review: Gravity Falls Lost Legends by Alex Hirsch

Pros: fun stories, good artwork


Schmebulock the gnome narrates four new stories of the Pines family in this graphic novel based on the TV show. In “Face It” Pacifica wants magical aid removing a wrinkle, “Comix Up” sees Stan trapped inside a comic book, “Don’t Dimension It” has Mabel lost in the multiverse, and “Pines Bros Mystery” is an adventure from when Stan and Ford were kids.

There are new journal pages and puzzles to solve, and the stories fit in nicely with the show. Be sure you’ve seen both seasons as one of the stories may be spoilery otherwise. There’s little character introduction, so if you haven’t seen the show you won’t know who anyone is or why they’re doing what they’re doing.

The artwork matches that of the show, though in some panels Ford and Stan’s heads are a bit too large for the bodies they’ve got.

Overall it’s a fun book with some cute additional stories.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Shout-Out: The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse

The only thing worse than being locked in is facing what you locked out.

Rett Ward knows how to hide. He's had six years of practice at Walling Home, the state-run boarding school where he learned how to keep his head down to survive.

But when Rett wakes up locked in a small depot with no memory of how he got there, he can't hide. Not from the stranger in the next room. Or from the fact that there's someone else's blood on his jumpsuit.

Worse, every time he tries to escape, he wakes up right back where he started. Same day, same stranger, same bloodstained jumpsuit.

As memories start to surface, Rett realizes that the logo on the walls is familiar, the stranger isn't a stranger, and the blood on his jumpsuit belongs to someone-or something-banging on the door to get in.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Book Review: Ash and Silver by Carol Berg

Pros: lots of plot twists, interesting characters

Cons: opening drags a bit, some questions of how the Order works in practice

Two years into his training to become a knight of the Order of the Equites Cinere, Greenshanks learns that his real name is Lucian de Remeni. His memory was wiped when his service began, and it quickly becomes clear that he left a lot of important things undone before he joined the Order. Now caught in numerous plots and unsure of who to trust, Lucian works to understand his past while saving the future of his world.

The two year gap and Lucian’s memory loss made it difficult for me to jump back into the story. It felt more like a new story rather than a continuation. Once hints of his past started to surface things began to pick up. The second half of the book was a whirlwind of action and I had trouble putting the book down as the plots within plots slowly unravelled.

There’s a lot of mystery and intrigue, more interesting because while the plots mostly overlap through Lucian, many of the players are unaware of each other. Seeing things purely from Lucian’s POV, it’s hard to know who he should trust and what actions he should take.

I loved all of the new characters, particularly the knights. Commander Inek and Fix were great.

I did have some questions about how the Order remained secret considering it’s populated by Purebloods, people under tight Registry regulation. Do the knights remove all trace of their past lives? That is, do they remove memories of them from their loved ones and removed their names from the registry so that they’re not considered runaways? Or are their deaths faked when they join? Lucian’s wasn’t so why aren’t people looking for all these missing Pureblood men?

There are quite a few major plot twists and my emotions were jerked around quite a bit the last few chapters. I liked that the ending ties some things up but leaves others open, with the world continuing on.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Uffizi Digitization Project

Open Culture recently had an article about the Uffizi Digitization Project. Basically, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, has been digitizing their collection of Greek and Roman sculpture and releasing the 3D images online. It's not done, but they've got a nice selection of statuary (altars, busts, statues, etc.) that you can click on and then view from all angles. I love that so many museums are digitizing their collections. And I'd love to see more museums put 3D images up so you can see the whole object, not just the 'front'.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Shout-Out: The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette

Three years ago, a spaceship landed in an open field in the quiet mill town of Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts. It never opened its doors, and for all that time, the townspeople have wondered why the ship landed there, and what-or who-could be inside.

Then one day a government operative-posing as a journalist-arrives in town, asking questions. He discovers sixteen-year-old Annie Collins, one of the ship's closest neighbors and a local fixture known throughout the town, who has some of the answers.

As a matter of fact, Annie Collins might be the most important person on the planet. She just doesn't know it.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Video: Tudor Monastery Farm

While it’s a little outside my usual period of study, this documentary goes over a lot of fascinating items, many of which overlap with the late middle ages. I loved seeing how a paintbrush was made, how a rush light was made and how much light it gave off, how a plow was managed, etc. The documentary starts in the spring and mentions the tight timeframe for things (peas needed to be planed in a small window so the seeds can germinate), the Easter holidays, and more. This is only the first of 3 episodes. It’s fascinating how versatile people in the past were and how cleverly they used the materials around them.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Book Review: Dust and Light by Carol Berg

Pros: several interesting mysteries, great characters, brilliant worldbuilding

Cons: so much bad stuff happens to Lucian it can feel pretty intense in parts

Lucian de Remeni-Masson was punished for his youthful indiscretion by having his magical history ‘bent’ burned out of him, leaving him only his ‘bent’ for art. He was also given a Registry contract, painting portraits of other Purebloods. When his extended family is all killed, save one younger sister, he thinks it’s nothing more than a Harrower attack. But when he’s suddenly contracted out to a common coroner he slowly begins to realize that the attacks on his family aren’t finished. His magic of seeing truth through art reveals that noble children are being killed, and the coroner wants to catch the culprit. But that same art may have revealed secrets those in power would prefer stayed hidden.

It’s been a few years since I’ve last read a novel by Carol Berg and I’ve missed the depth of feeling she evokes in her characters. I’d also forgotten just how much she tortures her protagonists. Her books tend to be very intense reads and the first book in this Sanctuary duology is no exception. There’s no graphic depictions, but you definitely feel Lucian’s despair at numerous points in the book. While it’s set in the same world as Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone, you don’t have to have read those in order to enjoy this one.

There’s a lot going on in this book, from the mystery surrounding Lucian’s family’s murder, the dead children, mythological danae, and what really happens when Lucian invokes his magical bent. There’s also a civil war and famine going on.

Berg’s worldbuilding is as brilliant as always. Her worlds always feel realistic, with complex social systems (here there’s commoners, royalty, clerics, the Cicerons and Pureblood magicians). I love how different characters all have realistic - and often opposing - priorities, making it hard for Lucian to know who to trust. I loved his relationship with Bastian, with the two of them constantly rewriting their roles and how they interact, based on what’s been happening. They slowly learn to trust one another, but it’s always a tentative thing, due to their different backgrounds and expectations.

The ending is such that you’ll want the next volume at hand when you finish.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Books Received in August, 2018

Many thanks to TOR for an advance copy of City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender, about a magical bomb squad. It sounds fantastic and comes out in November.

Five hundred years ago, magi created a weapon they couldn't control. An infestation that ate magic-and anything else it came into contact with. Enemies and allies were equally filling.
Only an elite team of non-magical humans, known as sweepers, can defuse and dispose of infestations before they spread. Most die before they finish training.
Laura, a new team member, has stayed alive longer than most. Now, she's the last-and only-sweeper standing between the city and a massive infestation.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Shout-Out: All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault by James Alan Gardner

Monsters are real.
But so are heroes.

Sparks are champions of weird science. Boasting capes and costumes and amazing super-powers that only make sense if you don't think about them too hard, they fight an eternal battle for truth and justice . . . mostly.

Darklings are creatures of myth and magic: ghosts, vampires, were-beasts, and the like. Their very presence warps reality. Doors creak at their approach. Cobwebs gather where they linger.

Kim Lam is an ordinary college student until a freak scientific accident (what else?) transforms Kim and three housemates into Sparks-and drafts them into the never-ending war between the Light and Dark. They struggle to master their new abilities-and (of course) to design cool costumes and come up with great hero-names.

Turns out that "accident" was just the first salvo in a Mad Genius's latest diabolical scheme. Now it's up to four newbie heroes to save the day, before they even have a chance to figure out what their team's name should be!

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Video: Weldon Gray's Ancient Instruments

This video by Caleb Drew is about Weldon Gray, a Canadian luthier, who makes medieval and renaissance instruments and specializes in lutes. He studies images and then recreates them. He's remarkably talented. In this video he demonstrates several instruments including the oud, hurdy-gurdy, organistrum, and lute. He makes custom instruments too.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Pros: very fast paced, emotional punch, thought-provoking

Cons: minor things, slightly rushed ending

A year ago life changed for 50% of the US population. Women were kicked out of the workforce and made to wear bracelets that counted their words. When they reached their cap of 100 words, they received an electric jolts of increasing intensity until they stopped talking. Members of the LGBT community were shipped off to ‘camps’.

A year ago Dr. Jean McClellan was a top cognitive linguist researching Wernicke’s aphasia, an ailment that makes it difficult to form coherent sentences. Now she’s a stay at home wife, slowly watching her marriage crumble, her daughter suffer under the word restrictions, and her oldest son become a misogynist.

When the President’s brother has an accident that affects the Wernicke area of the brain, she’s asked to help find a cure, little knowing that there’s another reason the government wants her work.

The book is very fast paced and only look me 2 days to whip through. It’s first person narrative makes the world immediate and the clever use of flashbacks fleshes out the characters and how the US changed so quickly.

Loss of freedom is always an interesting plot device, and this book touches on real fears American women have during the present political climate. The book joins other US dystopian novels that focus on how women could be repressed like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Veracity by Laura Bynum, and When She Woke by Hilary Jordan.

There are some powerfully emotional scenes, some of which were rage inducing, while others made me want to cry. While I often didn’t agree with Jean’s choices, I could understand why she made those decisions and sympathized with her plight.

While the book explained that Wernicke’s aphasia impairs the ability to speak coherently, it would have been good to point out that it doesn’t always impair cognitive abilities outside of communication. I was left wondering if people who had it would be able to function or if they would have to be put into care homes.

There were a few minor issues that annoyed me, like cookbooks being banned when you would expect they would be needed. You can’t remember every recipe or learn new ones without some sort of help. There’s also a scene where Jean had just under 40 words remaining in her day and she had to make a phone call. She prepared her message in advance but used her whole allotment, even though several of the words she used were unnecessary. What if she’d had to respond to a question afterwards? She’d have had to stay silent.

The ending felt a bit rushed in that I would have liked a more complete telling of what happened. I understand why it wasn’t comprehensive, but it felt like the author could have provided an alternate viewpoint or arranged to have a witness describe the event in more detail.

It’s hard to call a book that does so many horrible things a pleasant read, but it was. Normally dystopian novels leave me horrified by how things could go in the real world while this one left me feeling energized, and feeling that the resistance can succeed if good people fight for their rights.

Friday, 24 August 2018

TV Show Review: Gravity Falls

Pros: fun characters, siblings that fight and still love each other, intricate storytelling, great humour


Twins “Dipper” and Mable Pines are shipped to their great uncle’s place in the woods for the summer. Their grunkle Stan runs The Mystery Shack, a tourist attraction of bizarre made-up creatures and no refunds. When Dipper uncovers a mysterious journal he begins to see that there are real monsters and mystery in the town.

The show’s got a great supernatural overlay, making it feel like a kids version of X-Files paired with the weirdness and interconnected storytelling of Twin Peaks. There are hidden codes and astute viewers will see side characters pop up in strange places. It’s a great show for easter eggs and esoterica (if you don’t feel like solving all the mysteries yourself, you can find a lot answers/translated cryptograms online).

The characters are fantastic. I loved that the twins fight a lot but it’s clear that they also love each other and will do anything for each other. Quite a few episodes end with them working through their differences in order to save the day. The same goes for their friends and enemies. Each character has their own motivations, and work towards their own goals as the show progresses. As the two seasons are a continuous story, you really get to know everyone in town.

While it is a show for older kids, there’s a fair amount of adult humour. Not crassness, but jokes that will go over the heads of the kiddos that adults will enjoy. Most of these revolve around Stan’s being a con artist. So for example, in an early episode the kids are seen making counterfeit money as part of a family bonding activity. It’s also a show that gets better with each viewing. The first time through some of the characters/episodes annoyed me, but rewatching them I could see where the characters grew due to their interactions and how each story built into a larger whole. You’re also more aware of the various easter eggs and ongoing jokes peppered through the show.

Season one is basically monster of the day stories, while season two starts to tie the larger mysteries of the town together.

It’s great to find a show that’s so well written and brilliantly voice acted. The characters all seem real and the final episode really tugs on those heart strings. And when you finish watching, if you’d like more, there are some books that flesh out the world, including Journal 3. Gravity Falls is a wonderful rabbit hole to fall into.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Shout-Out: Annex by Rich Larson

When the aliens invade, all seems lost. The world as they know it is destroyed. Their friends are kidnapped. Their families are changed.

But with no adults left to run things, young trans-girl Violet and her new friend Bo realize that they are free. Free to do whatever they want. Free to be whoever they want to be.

Except the invaders won't leave them alone for long...

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Video: How music was made on a Super Nintendo

The Nerdwriter has made an excellent video about how video game composers wrote surprisingly complex music for a game system with very little memory or capacity for playing music.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Book Review: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Pros: unique magic system, intricate world-building, fascinating characters, interesting plot


Three years ago Sancia Grado was a slave. Now she’s a skilled thief, hired to pull off a very difficult job. The payout means she can finally get a physiquere to fix the scar on her head and remove the metal plate beneath it that was scrived to allow her to hear the thoughts of every object she touches. But the item she steals is connected to the Occidentals, also known as hierophants, those who became like gods, able to use scrivings to change reality itself. Suddenly the plate in her head’s the least of her worries.

This book was amazing. I’ve only mentioned Sancia’s plot thread, though there are several others that intersect with hers once the book gets going. She’s a thoroughly engaging protagonist, and while her scrived state makes her fairly powerful in some respects, that’s balanced by the pain speaking with objects causes her.

I absolutely loved Clef. He’s such a fun character, coming out with all the sarcastic, swearing, responses people would love to use but don’t because they want to be polite. The book does have quite a lot of swearing, which I sometimes found jarring and other times thought fit the situation nicely.

The worldbuilding was intricate and detailed, with several layers to it. The main setting is the city with it’s four campos and the commons, but other locations are mentioned. History comes mostly in the form of mythology - which different sources report in different ways.

The magic is unique and hard to describe in few words. It’s remarkably… logical, though it takes some time to wrap your brain around what the people are doing.

The plot is interesting, with several threads wrapping around each other. There is some downtime to get to know the characters and let them figure out their next moves, but the majority of the book is one daring break in or escape after another.

As I said, it’s an excellent book. If you’re looking for a unique fantasy novel, I highly recommend this.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Star Wars Trading Cards 2

In last week's trading card post I mentioned that some of the cards had character information. These are the cards for Luke and Leia from the The Empire Strikes Back set:

Notice their ages are different? While I recognize that it's not the film writers making the cards, the card manufacturer was obviously given the information by the production company. And this clearly shows that Luke and Leia were not believed to be twins at this point (the kiss in the film also indicates this).

The cards also show that not all the dialogue was finalized in the film when the cards went into production. I wonder if this is how the scene was originally written in the script.

The cards also show some behind the scenes images, for artwork and filming.

It's really cool that these were made.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Shout-Out: The Last Witness by K. J. Parker

When you need a memory to be wiped, call me.

Transferring unwanted memories to my own mind is the only form of magic I've ever mastered. But now, I'm holding so many memories I'm not always sure which ones are actually mine, any more.

Some of them are sensitive; all of them are private. And there are those who are willing to kill to access the secrets I'm trying to bury...

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Video: The White Room

Here's a funny Chris and Jack video, where one of them is being interviewed in the afterlife...

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Book Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Pros: excellent setting, interesting characters, realistic depiction of trauma, great magic system 

Cons: muddled ending with confusing motivations

Maggie Hoskie is of the Living Arrow clan, born for the Walks-Around clan. She is Dine, living inside the walled reservation grounds after the Big Water disaster killed much of the outside world. Her clan affiliations give her blood lust, which made her the perfect apprentice for Neizghani, a monsterslaying hero/god.

Abandoned by her mentor a year ago, she’s uninterested in being a monsterslayer, but when new creatures start attacking villages, the local medicine man suggests it’s the work of a witch. So he partners her with his in-training grandson, a man with clan powers of his own.

This is a cross between urban fantasy (monsters/magic in the present day) and post-apocalyptic fiction. I loved the reservation setting and the descriptions of the houses, food, etc. I also enjoyed the hints of what went on to bring about society’s collapse. There’s a good number of Navajo words, but most of it’s immediately translated, so they added a nice flavour to the text without creating any confusion.

Maggie isn’t a particularly likeable character, though she’s very sympathetic once you learn her back story. She’s very no nonsense and kickass, but is also clearly emotionally stunted and can’t abide being touched. Her standoffishness and antagonism is off-putting, but are clearly coping mechanisms for the traumas she’s suffered.

Kai, the grandson, is really fun. While I wasn’t a fan of his fashion sense I loved how positive and considerate he is. I was surprised it took Maggie so long to figure out his clan powers, as they both seemed pretty obvious early on.

The Goodacre twins were probably my favourite characters despite only showing up towards the end of the book. Clive was awesome.

I thought the clan magic was handled well. I loved that Maggie is very powerful but that she can’t entirely control herself while in the throes of power, and that there was a time frame for how long she could use her magic and immediate consequences for its use.

There were minor romance elements that were handled well. The author subverted my expectations here, and I was very happy about that. I rolled my eyes when Kai was introduced but everyone was so over the top about trying to push them together that I loved Maggie’s responses to the pressure. I liked that the characters didn’t jump into anything and that their relationship developed fairly naturally. I was impressed with the author’s handling of Maggie’s trauma and how it impacted her ability to feel friendship and love.

Maggie and Kai team up to find the witch but there’s little work on the actual mystery. That is, they only actively search out one clue, after that the witch storyline seems to disappear for a while until someone points them to the next thing they need to do.

The ending left me with a lot of questions with regards to character motivations and actions. I’ll speak more about this in the spoiler section below.

Ultimately I wish the ending had been tighter and less muddled as it left me feeling unsatisfied with the book, even though there were a quite a few positive elements.

*** SPOILERS ***

With regards to the romance storyline, I was glad things went slowly as Maggie’s not in a position - even at the end - where she could be in a healthy relationship. She’s got a lot of healing to do and while I think Kai is a decent person and would be able to help her learn how to trust (even with that ending), jumping into a sexual relationship would likely do her more harm than good.

For the ending, as I said, I was surprised that Maggie didn’t clue in on her own that Kai has the ability to manipulate people into liking him. That was clear to me during his first conversation with Longarm. While I can understand her anger at finding out the way she did, it shocked me how poorly she took the revelation when it’s equally clear that he didn’t manipulate HER. Yes, he had ulterior motivations for seeking her friendship, but most adult friendships do (even if they’re just ‘I want to monopolize your time so I don’t feel lonely’). She seemed almost angry that he hadn’t manipulated her feelings of friendship and love towards him, which confused me. If he HAD manipulated her feelings I could understand, unless the idea that she has feelings is what scared her.

Maggie lived with Neizghani for years. Why was she so willing to believe that he would become a witch and create monsters? He’s the monster *slayer* after all. If the idea here was that if she could become a monster, than so could he, it needed to be articulated better. As a god, I assumed his personality would be less changeable than a human’s. So at the end when it was clear that Ma’ii was behind the monsters and her grandmother’s death, I expected her to team up with Neizghani to defeat them. I certainly expected her to refuse to follow Ma’ii’s plan to kill Neizghani.

Finally, I didn’t understand why Neizghani wanted to kill Kai. The book implied it was partly over jealousy (even though Maggie hadn’t really done anything with him yet) and partly because Kai was powerful and COULD become evil one day. Maybe as a god Neizghani assumed a pre-emptive strike was the best way to solve the problem, but it seems to me that someone stylized as a hero should have to wait until the man’s actually evil before killing him. Again, the motivations here could have been clarified.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Star Wars + Trading Cards 1

One of my older sisters collected trading cards when we were kids. While I went on to get X-Men and other comic book based cards, she - several years older than me - collected movie cards. I recently dug up her old cards and am surprised by how many movies there were trading cards for. She had several sets of cards for Star Wars (all 3 films at the time), Raiders of the Lost Arc, E.T., even a few cards for movies you wouldn't expect to get cards, like Moonraker!

For the Star Wars cards, some had puzzle pictures on the back (you had to join 9 cards to make a larger picture) while others were stickers. While most of the cards had story elements on the back that applied to the front photos, some had movie facts.

The cards were also a great way to learn the names of random background characters and statistics about main characters.

Next week I'll post more about The Empire Strikes Back trading cards, which have some... unique information.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Shout-Out: Dreamfall by Amy Plum

A Nightmare on Elm Street meets Inception in this gripping psychological thriller from international bestselling author Amy Plum. Seven teenagers who suffer from debilitating insomnia agree to take part in an experimental new procedure to cure it because they think it can’t get any worse. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

When the lab equipment malfunctions, the patients are plunged into a terrifying dreamworld where their worst nightmares have come to life—and they have no memory of how they got there. Hunted by monsters from their darkest imaginations and tormented by secrets they’d rather keep buried, these seven strangers will be forced to band together to face their biggest fears. And if they can’t find a way to defeat their dreams, they will never wake up.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Video: Why did medieval buildings use jettying?

This is a video by Shadiversity explaining some of the reasons why medieval people used jettying (overhangs) on their buildings. It's a bit slow but does mention several factors involved both with regular houses and with castles.

There are so many things that influenced why people act the way they do. I don't know that I've ever seen a fantasy novel mention jettying or taxes on the ground floor square footage or... But these are fascinating aspects of life, and even if they're not cribbed exactly, it's the kind of stuff that makes a world feel real.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Book Review: A Gift of Griffins by V. M. Escalada

Note: This is the sequel to Halls of Law, so the review below contains spoilers for book one.

Pros: fun characters, interesting magic systems

Cons: ending felt rushed

It’s been roughly six months since the invading Halians conquered the Faraman Polity. Jerek Brightwing, hiding in the Serpents Teeth mountains, has been proclaimed Luqs by the Faro of Bears and her soldiers, and is desperate for aid. He sends Talent Karida Nast and a small group to contact nearby potential allies who can help them fulfill the prophecy and retake the throne. Meanwhile the Halian Princess Imperial travels to Farama the Capital for her arranged marriage with the new mage controlled Luqs, Jarek’s father.

This is the second book in the Faraman Polity duology. This series has a lot of fun characters. Kerida and Tel’s relationship was great. I enjoyed seeing Kerida meet up with her sisters, family reunions complicated by Kerida’s being a Talent and therefore ‘not of the world’.

There are three groups of magic users (four if you count the griffins). The Talents and Feelers are all Gifted, with a single innate ability. Talents can ‘flash’ people and objects to see the truth of them. Feelers are varied, with some being able to speak telepathically across distances, healing, lifting objects, etc. The third human group are the Halian Shekayrin who use red faceted crystals to perform spells. Kerida starts out as a Talent but through a Griffin gains an extra power. I thought the author did an excellent job of showing her slowly learn how to use and then master her new abilities. Her progression felt earned even though she mastered things quickly.

I would have loved to learn more about the griffins, especially their history with the Gifted. Considering the prophecy and the reverence griffins are held in by the Shekayrin it seemed an unfortunate oversight to not give more background about them.

I thought there was another book in the series so I was very surprised when things suddenly wrapped up at the end of this book. While there was a good climactic fight that made for a great novel ending, I was surprised by how little series wrap up there seemed to be. More on this in the spoiler section below.

Ultimately it was a good book though I’d have loved a third volume that went into the difficulties of returning society to what it was and dealt with more of the social aspects the first book introduced.


The more I thought about the ending, the more questions I had about how things would continue after the final page. There’s so much work left to be done and a lot of questions left unanswered. Similarly, it didn’t feel like the prophecy was properly fulfilled. Yes, a small group of Feelers, Talents, and one Shekayrin did come together, but I have trouble believing that other Talents and Shekayrin would follow suit considering their long held belief systems. The majority of people in the Faraman Polity don’t even know Feelers still exist, and given how Feelers have been demonized and mythologized over the years, I suspect there will be a measure of panic once non-gifted people learn Feelers are real. Also ignored are the male soldiers and citizens of the Polity who accepted Halian rule without coercion, something that the first book dealt with really well but was largely ignored in this one.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Book Review: Ancient Inventions by Peter James and Nick Thorpe

Pros: nice overview on a large number of topics 

Cons: only a few photographs, mostly hand drawn illustrations, dated information

The book is comprised of an introduction and chapters on medicine, transportation, high tech, sex life, military technology, personal effects, food, drink, and drugs, urban life, working the land, house and home, communications and sport and leisure. Each chapter is subdivided, so under personal effects there are sections on mirrors, makeup, tattooing, soap, razors, perfume, wigs, clothing and shoes, jewelry, spectacles, and umbrellas. They’re followed by a shortened list of sources, a bibliography and index. The book covers a surprisingly large range of topics, and a large range of locations. While the majority of ancient artifacts are from the Middle East/Mediterranean, the book covers a fair amount of Chinese discoveries as well. South and Central America, Japan, India, and other places are also mentioned to a lesser degree.

Modern society tends to look down on civilizations of the past as being lesser in many ways. This book shows that a lot of habits and tools we think are modern have been around for a long time. Sometimes they’re lost and rediscovered, sometimes they have a long continuous history. The ingenuity of our ancestors is incredible and it’s fascinating to see the variety of things they invented.

Most of the images are hand drawn illustrations, which is fine when showing cross sections but odd when they’re meant as reproductions of historical items. I’m guessing they were unable to secure the rights to photographs and so did the next best thing, but it really would have been better to have photographs. And what photos the book does have are all black and white.

The book came out in 1994, so the information is already dated. That’s not to say it’s all wrong, just that you have to accept that not all of the conclusions mentioned here are still agreed upon. I do think the authors did a fantastic job of both showing how archaeological conclusions shift over time as new finds are discovered/researched, and also explaining that some mysteries may have different solutions to the ones proposed in this volume.

While the book has some limitations, it’s a fantastic volume if you want a nice overview of the breadth of human achievement throughout ancient history.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Shout-Out: SuperMoon by H. A. Swain

Sol is the month between June and July on the thirteen-month Moon calendar. It's the only time teenagers have to themselves between rigorous scientific training and their ultimate lab assignments in their colony on the Moon. Their families emigrated from Earth to build better lives; but life on the Moon is far from perfect, as Uma learns on the eve of Sol.
Uma meets an Earthen girl who becomes a fast friend, and much more. What Uma doesn't know is that the girl is assigned to infect Uma with a plague that a rogue faction of Earthen scientists hope will wipe out Moon soldiers. Will Uma be the cause of a pandemic? Whom can she trust, and moreover, whom does she love?

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Books Received in July, 2018

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

City of Lies by Sam Hawke - I was really excited about this book as it sounded incredible, but in the end it wasn't for me. I loved the main characters and the between chapters info on poisons, but the way background information was revealed (first in tiny, tiny portions, and then in a giant info dump) frustrated me too much.

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me... 
Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor's charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor's family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.
But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.

Gate Crashers by Patrick Tomlinson - This sounds like a fun SF novel.

The only thing as infinite and expansive as the universe is humanity's unquestionable ability to make bad decisions.
Humankind ventures further into the galaxy than ever before. and immediately causes an intergalactic incident. In their infinite wisdom, the crew of the exploration vessel Magellan, or as she prefers "Maggie," decides to bring the alien structure they just found back to Earth. The only problem? The aliens are awfully fond of that structure.
A planet full of bumbling, highly evolved primates has just put itself on a collision course with a far wider, and more hostile, galaxy that is stranger than anyone can possibly imagine.

Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang - This book sounds amazing.

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she'll take any job for the right price.
As far as Cas knows, she's the only person around with a superpower...until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people's minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world's puppet master.
Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she's involved. There's only one problem...
She doesn't know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Book Review: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Pros: some interesting world-building/science

Cons: unsympathetic characters

Gulliver Foyle has spent months trapped in a room on a destroyed space ship. When the Vorga passes by and fails to pick him up, he’s filled with rage and determined to survive, if only to find and punish the Vorga for what it’s done.

Originally titled Tiger! Tiger!, after the William Blake poem, “The Tyger” this is a science fiction rewrite of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. There’s some interesting world-building going on, with people becoming able to teleport, or ‘jaunt’, and how that affects humanity. There’s also trouble brewing between the inner and outer planets (tired of being taken advantage of and seeing an economic downturn due to the ability to jaunt, which has reduced the need for the resources they mine).

For the most part I found Gully an unsympathetic and horrifying character. He’s so hell bent on his revenge that he ignores the fact that he’s survived horrors (in part because their ‘betrayal’ galvanized him into saving himself). In many ways he throws away years of his life and several opportunities he’s given to live for the future, in order to get his revenge. There’s no personal enmity towards Gully by the crew of the Vorga, so his quest feels excessive and unreasonable, especially when you learn what happened on the Vorga, and why they didn’t pick him up.

The female characters aren’t the greatest. There’s a bit of variety, though none of them felt particularly fleshed out. They all fall in love (and out of love) quickly and act in somewhat bizarre ways at times. Jisbella’s love/hate relationship with him annoyed me because she waffled so much I was never sure where she stood, and I was horrified by how he manipulates Robin into helping him, considering what he did to her. And for some reason, despite what he does to them, the women forgive him in the end. There’s also an off page rape that factors into the story later on.

I enjoyed the ending in that Gully finally seems to snap out of his mindless revenge kick and actually says a few profound things with regards to the potential war. But aside from his stint in prison (which was for the wrong reasons), he never seems to get any punishment for his actions beyond what he does to punish himself, which seemed unequal to what he did. On the whole I found reading this a bit of a slog, and as it’s not a long book, that’s saying something.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Movie Review: Creature From the Black Lagoon

Directed by Jack Arnold, 1954
IMDb listing

Pros: excellent pacing, some tense scenes, good music

Cons: Kay is useless, mostly natives die

When a scientist makes an amazing discovery in the Amazon jungle, a team returns to continue the dig. But instead of more fossils, they find something alive and deadly.

I was impressed by the music and its role in creating much of the tension in the film, especially during the well shot underwater scenes. One refrain has what might be the genesis of the JAWS theme (the pulsing 2 beat alteration). The pacing was great, with some down time between ‘scares’.

The plot, while simplistic, does what’s required in a horror film. The acting’s pretty good, though I wish Kay had more to do - as a scientist - than swim and look pretty and scream occasionally when things go wrong. In researching her rather distracting wardrobe for the film I learned that Madonna’s pointy bra was actually a throw back to 40s and 50s ‘bullet bra’ fashion. Huh.

While it’s not scary in today’s terms, I can imagine that it caused people to jump or scream in theatres back when it opened. The creature looks great considering it’s a rubber suit. I’m impressed that they thought to have it swim in a different way from humans to make it feel more alien. I also liked its open mouthed breathing on shore (though it wouldn’t surprise me to learn this had something to do with the make-up rather than as a creature ‘effect’).

It's mostly the natives helping the white scientists who die, which kind of annoyed me considering natives understand their land and its dangers better than the white scientists of the expedition. Several deaths happen off screen, and the ones that don’t aren’t gory.

The film holds up surprisingly well.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Shout-Out: Sanctuary by Caryn Lix

Kenzie holds one truth above all: the company is everything.
As a citizen of Omnistellar Concepts, the most powerful corporation in the solar system, Kenzie has trained her entire life for one goal: to become an elite guard on Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s space prison for superpowered teens too dangerous for Earth. As a junior guard, she’s excited to prove herself to her company—and that means sacrificing anything that won’t propel her forward.

But then a routine drill goes sideways and Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners.

At first, she’s confident her commanding officer—who also happens to be her mother—will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. Yet it soon becomes clear that her mother is more concerned with sticking to Omnistellar protocol than she is with getting Kenzie out safely.

As Kenzie forms her own plan to escape, she doesn’t realize there’s a more sinister threat looming, something ancient and evil that has clawed its way into Sanctuary from the vacuum of space. And Kenzie might have to team up with her captors to survive—all while beginning to suspect there’s a darker side to the Omnistellar she knows.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Video: Organistrum

Last week's hurdy-gurdy post had me uncover another medieval instrument, the organistrum. This was an early version of the hurdy-gurdy, played by two people, one who turned the crank while the other pulled keys upwards to change the pitch of the melody strings. This is the instrument being played by the figures above Christ's head in the portal of glory (central doorway) of the West facade at the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Photo by Jessica Strider.

I wasn't able to find a video describing its use in English, so here's one uploaded by tzenobite showing what it sounds like. And if you'd like to learn about it in French, here's a video by Groupe OC.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Book Review: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughan

Pros: good worldbuilding, interesting characters

Cons: middling mystery, little action

Decades ago the world fell apart in a slow apocalypse. Now, those that remain live in small communities, husbanding their resources. When things go wrong that the communities can’t solve, they call in Investigators.

Enid and Thomas are Investigators from Haven. There’s been a suspicious death that might be murder. The case turns up other infractions and a man from Enid’s past.

I thought the worldbuilding was well done. As the book goes on you learn more about how people survived the slow falling apart of civilization and how they rebuilt using a new social order. I really liked the ruins and what happened there, showing that not everyone ended up living the same way.

Enid was interesting in that she liked questioning things and learning about the world but used what she found to justify their way of life instead of wondering if things could be better if done differently. This makes her a decent Investigator but I found myself not liking some of her conclusions about the world. Her underlying anger is problematic for investigations but makes her a more interesting character.

The case is mostly straight forward and while there are a few twists the resolution is what I suspected early on. There’s little to no action and I found myself getting bored towards the end.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Shout-Out: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told.
This is not that fairy tale.

There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.

And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.

There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he’s bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there’s the Dark Lord, who wishes for the boy’s untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there’s a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar “happily ever after” that ever once-upon-a-timed.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Video: Hurdy-Gurdy

A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a link to a video explaining how to play a hurdy-gurdy, an old medieval instrument. I wondered why more fantasy books didn't include older instruments, and low and behold, the Sanctuary duology I'm currently reading by Carol Berg mentions one!

These two videos briefly go over the mechanics of a hurdy-gurdy and demonstrate how they're played.