Friday, 14 December 2018

Movie Review: Wolfhound (Volkodav)


Directed by Nikolay Lebedev, 2006

Pros: good acting, decent special effects, entertaining

Cons: cliche plot

A former slave goes after the men who destroyed his village. He becomes a guard for a princess who’s been targeted by the man who killed his parents. 

I heard about this film via Ross from the youtube channel Accursed Farms. He did a Ross’s Game Dungeon’s review of Requital, a game featuring Wolfhound. When Ross said you should watch the movie if you own a sword, well… who doesn’t?

If you’ve seen Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja or a number of other sword and sorcery based films you’ll know what’s about to happen in this Russian film when men attack the young protagonist’s village. As soon as I saw his pregnant mother I knew this would be a revenge plot. And it is. It’s significantly better - and more interesting - than the 80s films I mentioned though, which is important as it’s over 2 hours long. 

Wolfhound has a pet bat that helps him out a few times, which reminded me of The Beastmaster. I’m curious how they got it to act the way it did, and hope no bats were killed or maimed to get the footage they needed (it starts the film with a torn wing so it can’t fly).

As a character, Wolfhound has a lot of compassion for his fellow men, going out of his way at times to help others, which I enjoyed seeing. Often these heroes are only in it for themselves. In fact, there’s a whole undertone of ‘love will save the world’ that seems hokey considering the violence that rules this place. So I loved that his actions were repaid at the end.

The princess was well played. She’s kind of feisty, doesn’t want to be coddled, but also recognizes her duty to marry an enemy to forge peace. She’s practical in the face of her destiny. I thought the slow romance between her and Wolfhound was really well handled.

The sets and costumes were fantastic. 

At the beginning I thought it strange that they didn’t explain how Wolfhound escaped from the mines, but it’s brought in as backstory at a point where it doesn’t slow the plot, which made me happy.

The special effects at the end are decent. They kept them to a minimum, which probably helped. 

Like Ross, I can recommend this to anyone who has a sword hanging on their wall or next to their bed. ;)

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Shout-Out: Retrograde by Peter Cawdron

Mankind has long dreamed of reaching out to live on other planets, and with the establishment of the Mars Endeavour colony, that dream has become reality. The fledgling colony consists of 120 scientists, astronauts, medical staff, and engineers. Buried deep underground, they're protected from the harsh radiation that sterilizes the surface of the planet. The colony is prepared for every eventuality except one - what happens when disaster strikes Earth?

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Video: Editing is Everything Harry Potter but in 7 Different Genres

My last year of high school I had a group music assignment to take a film clip and change the mood by changing the music. That's the idea behind Editing is Everything. She sometimes uses similar 'genres' (like noir, crime, thriller) where the mood doesn't change that much, but it's still fascinating seeing the different ways music affects films and how different movie trailers are cut.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

No review today


Sorry for the lack of book review today. This will be the second week I’ve missed this year. With the postal strike in Canada and several other factors I’ve had to get a lot of my holiday preparations (making Christmas cards, chocolates, ornaments, food schedules, etc.) done earlier than usual, which hasn’t left me much time or concentration for reading. I did try to read a few books but just couldn’t get into them. I do have a review prepared for next week and other content for this week. 

’Tis the season to be busy.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Movie Review: Death Race 2000

Directed by Paul Bartel, 1975
IMDb listing

Pros: surprisingly still applicable social commentary

Cons: some gore, some nudity

In a dystopian future USA, the masses love this deadly transcontinental race whose scoring system is determined by what innocents the drivers kill along the way. But on its 20th anniversary, a small group of revolutionaries want to end it for good.

This was my first time seeing this movie and I was surprised by how much I liked it and how much the social commentary still applies.

One of the five racers talks about the master race and her symbol is the nazi flag. When Machine Gun Joe is introduced to jeers from Frankenstein’s fans, he takes out a machine gun and shoots into the air. No one bats an eye. Similarly, when the ‘wrong’ targets are hit in a few instances, people just laugh off the unexpected violence as being simply part of the race.

The movie addresses all of this, and while it doesn’t beat you over the head with the moralistic ramifications, they are clear in the visuals and reporter dialogue.

I was surprised that the revolutionary subplot brought not only some tension into the race, but also some worldbuilding, showing that not everyone’s happy with how things have turned out. The world isn’t very fleshed out, but that works to the film’s advantage, as you’re allowed to imagine what could have allowed things to get this bad. And given the plot, more back story would have just slowed the pace.

There’s some gore, though less than I expected given the scoring system. There’s also some nudity, which I’m not a fan of.

The racing scenes appear to be sped up footage, which makes them appear kind of cheesy at times. Beyond that there are some explosions, but not much in the way of special effects.

I understand why Frankenstein wore a mask, but the cape seemed an odd choice for a racer. I suspect it’s part of the satire, that a caped crusader who’s murdering innocents is the new hero of the USA.

David Carradine is fantastic as Frankenstein. He’s very taciturn and you’re not sure what he wants beyond winning the race. I didn’t realize Sylvester Stallone was in this, so seeing him as the main antagonist was a pleasant surprise. I appreciated that two of the five drivers were women, and three of the navigators were as well. Unfortunately* I don’t think there were any people of colour in the film at all.

I’m not sure I believe things would turn out the way they do here at the end (I suspect there would be more pushback from other people in power), but I can see why this film’s become a cult hit.

This definitely isn’t a film for everyone. But if you like dystopian worlds, this one’s pretty well done.



*While I say it’s unfortunate, given the storyline of people randomly killing others, maybe it’s best that all the victims were as white as the drivers.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Shout-Out: Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

The future is curious.

STRONGER

Today our bodies define us. We color our hair; tattoo our skin; pierce our ears, brows, noses. We lift weights, run miles, break records. We are flesh and blood and bone.

FASTER

Tomorrow has different rules. The future is no longer about who we are--it's about who we want to be. If you can dream it, you can be it. Science will make us smarter, healthier, flawless in every way. Our future is boundless.

MORE BEAUTIFUL

This is a story that begins tomorrow. It's a story about us. It's a story about who comes after us. And it's a story about perfection. Because perfection has a way of getting ugly.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Video: What the Ancients Knew

I'm not sure what the legalities of this are, but someone's posted 6 episodes of the show What the Ancients Knew. A friend pointed me to episode 2, China.

I’ve only seen the one episode so far but it was fascinating. I learned a lot from it. While I knew the Chinese discovered gunpowder quite early and used it for fireworks, I didn’t realize they had rocket arrows (with a pocket of gunpowder to propel them further). Nor did I realize they used the North Pole as an axis point when examining the heavens and created armillary spheres significantly earlier than European scientists. They also had a mechanical waterclock, crossbows, steel… Very interesting video. Can’t wait to watch the rest of this series.

There is a scene where an old Chinese emperor examines a cob of corn, which is anachronistic. I’m really confused over why they did that. But that reenactment scene aside, the show seemed quite accurate.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Book Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland


Pros: interesting characters, excellent worldbuilding, fast paced

Cons:

Jane McKeene is in her final year at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls. At 17 she’s trained to become an Attendant, to protect a white young lady from shamblers - the undead - and protect her modesty from amorous young men. But what she really wants is to return home to Rose Hill and her plantation owning Momma.

Though the war between the North and South was set aside to deal with the undead as they rose, racial tensions haven’t eased, and some people believe the shamblers are God’s punishment for trying to make all men equal. These men build communities behind walls. But can walls really keep the monsters of the world out?

When a friend of Jane’s asks for help finding his missing sister, Jane stumbles into trouble even her combat training hasn’t prepared her for.

I absolutely loved Jane and was astonished at how self-aware she was for a seventeen year old. She recognizes that she lies a lot and acknowledges her other faults, even as she often revels in rule breaking. She’s impulsive and often later regrets her actions but can’t stop herself from acting first and thinking later, a trait that actually saves her life on occasion. She’s also really smart, though realizes that there’s often safety in appearing to be less intelligent than she is.

Katherine was also great. I liked that her animosity with Jane was due to superficial things, so it didn’t feel manufactured when they started becoming friends.

As a Canadian, I don’t know much about the American Civil War or it’s immediate aftermath, so I don’t know to what extent things have been twisted here, though I did recognize the names of a few of the Generals referenced. There’s an author afterward talking about the Indian residential schools that come up in the book and how she used them as a template for her training schools.

I thought the author incorporated the zombies into the history quite well. Due to the period in which the book is set, some offensive language is used. The ’n’ word is not, but other slurs do appear. This made parts of the book uncomfortable to read, but it’s the discomfort of how horribly some people treated others.

This is a brilliant book and I highly recommend it.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Books Received in October and November, 2018

Turns out when I took my unscheduled break last month I forgot to do my books received post. Sorry about that.

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson - This is the second book in The Masquerade series, and I've already reviewed it here. The series is quite intense and brilliantly written.

Her world was shattered by the Empire of Masks.
For the power to shatter the Masquerade,
She betrayed everyone she loved.

The traitor Baru Cormorant is now the cryptarch Agonist - a secret lord of the empire she's vowed to destroy.
Hunted by a mutinous admiral, haunted by the wound which has split her mind in two, Baru leads her dearest foes on an expedition for the secret of immortality. It's her chance to trigger a war that will consume the Masquerade.
But Baru's heart is broken, and she fears she can no longer tell justice from revenge...or her own desires from the will of the man who remade her.



FTL Y'all: Tales From the Age of the $200 Warp Drive Edited by Amanda Lafrenais - My review of this graphic novel collection will come out mid December. I loved the diversity of the creators and characters, though found the artwork a mixed bag (artwork is very subjective). This was a kickstarted collection.

Six months from now, detailed schematics anonymously uploaded to the Internet will describe, with absolute precision, how to build a faster-than-light engine for $200 in easily-available parts. Space travel will be instantly—and chaotically—democratized. The entire cosmos is suddenly within reach of all humankind, without organization, authority, or limitation.

This comics anthology is about what happens next.
The concept for FTL, Y’all! was inspired by a 12-year-old RPG.net thread, which was in turn inspired by the work of Jerry Oltion. 
With 25 stories and over 350 pages of comics, FTL, Y'all! is one of Iron Circus Comics' biggest anthologies ever.



The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi - This is the sequel to The Collapsing Fire, which came out last year.

The Interdependency-humanity's interstellar empire-is on the verge of collapse. The extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible is disappearing, leaving entire systems and human civilizations stranded.
Emperox Grayland II of the Interdependency is ready to take desperate measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth-or at the very least an opportunity to an ascension to power.
While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are prepare for a civil war. A war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will between spaceships and battlefields.
The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, as are her enemies. Nothing about this will be easy... and all of humanity will be caught in its consuming fire.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Shout-Out: Stealing Life by Antony Johnston

It was just another job, right?

Nicco Salarum is a thief, and a good one. In the rough-and-tumble city of Azbatha, where every street hustler has an enchantment in his back pocket, Nicco prides himself on using his skills – and the best technology money can buy – to get him into the houses and boardrooms of the wealthy.

But Nicco’s last job went sour, leaving him in debt to a powerful gang boss, and deep in trouble. When a foreign wizard offers him a vast sum for a visiting diplomat’s trinket, he leaps at the opportunity.

But nothing happens in a vacuum. Caught in a game where the futures of whole nations are at stake, Nicco finds himself racing against time to right his wrongs… and save his own skin.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Video: Aliens the Ride

Planet Coaster is a video game that allows you to make simulated roller coaster rides and theme parks. Hin Nya has used it to create a virtual ride for the movie Aliens, incorporating sets, sounds, and movie clips. This is a ride I'd wait hours to go on. There's a making of video for it as well.


Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Book Review: The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell

Pros: lots of action, fast paced, compelling characters, interesting setting

Cons: romance felt somewhat out of place

Flynn is an engineer framed for murder, being sent to the most dangerous prison planet that exists: the Razor. Half of the planet is frozen, the other half boiling, and in the middle, there is a small strip of liveable ground. The planet is home to the purest form of Xytrilium in the galaxy, and whoever controls that power source, controls the galaxy. So when a strange beam lights up the sky and all the guards evacuate, Flynn knows something bad is happening. He’ll have to team up with a group of dangerous misfits if he wants to survive, and get off the planet before it’s too late.

The book opens with Flynn’s arrival on the planet and while it take several chapters before things start to go wrong, the characters and setting are quite fascinating and carry the book easily. Short chapters and a lot of action makes this a quick read.

The characters are an interesting mix. Flynn is book smart but that won’t save him in with the general population of inmates. Key is street smart but feels the weight of the people she’s let down, and tends to cover her fear with bravado. Maddox is an ex guard, turned prisoner, who faces a rough welcome from his previous squad members. He’s also got a guilt complex for the people he couldn’t save. Raelyn is a doctor who made some bad decisions and is living with the consequences. Zane was probably my favourite character, a man who was experimented on and is now super strong, with the ability to absorb metal.

The romance between Maddox and Raelyn made a kind of sense, with him using saving her as motivation for living. It still seemed somewhat out of place considering the severity of what was happening. The romance between Key and Flynn felt like something that might burn hot and die out quickly as they have nothing in common to keep them interested in each other after the adrenaline rush of staying alive is over. It also seemed a bit odd that all the main characters paired up. I did like that neither pairing felt rushed. They both developed fairly slowly and organically.

The Razor is a fun read with good set-up for the sequel.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Video Game Review: HUE

Hue lives in a world made of up black, white, and grey. His mother researched colours and one day disappeared. When he finds a light blue square, he learns she’s lost in the colours. To save her, he must finish the colour wheel and go to the university where she once worked.

This is a puzzle game, where you have to manipulate the colours on the wheel to get through and over coloured blocks. In some puzzles you have to move them onto pressure plates, others have jumping components, etc. Each level adds a new component. Every door you pass through is a save point, so while some of the puzzles are difficult, if you die you only lose progress from that room.

There are hidden potions to find, some of which are obvious and some of which a quite hard (one required replaying the full level three times before we found the hidden passageway).

The controls were easy, though there were times when I swore I was on one colour but when I left the colour wheel I was actually on a different colour (not sure if that was the controller, the game itself, or if we had our sensitivity too high). Also, some of the colours were so similar it was easy to mess up (like the pink and purple, and yellow was very close to the orange on one side and green on the other). This seemed deliberate, as it would have been easy to get hues that weren't confusing.

The story was interesting - talking about the mother’s time at the university and why she thought researching colours was so important. It’s fairly short, but it felt complete.

A few puzzles were frustrating, but on the whole the game was a lot of fun.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Shout-Out: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr's power comes to the attention of the Emperor's most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance...

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Video: Hyperlight

A fantastic short film by Nguyen-Ahn Nguyen.

Two elite astronauts wake up in the abyss of space; they return to their stranded ship and discover the surprising reason behind their mission's catastrophic failure.

Hyperlight [4K] from Nguyen-Anh Nguyen on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Book Review: City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender

Pros: unique magic and monster system, interesting characters

Cons: pacing issues, slow opening

The city of Amicae is built as a 6 tiered structure with an outer wall. It citizens believe the wall keeps magical infestations at bay but that’s a lie. Infestations from broken or improperly cared for amulets happen all the time, and when they do the cops call in the experts: the Sinclair Sweepers.

Laura is Clae Sinclair’s only apprentice in the dangerous work. She wants to prove she has worth as a person in a society that sees her as more of a walking womb. When they acquire a second apprentice and infestations start to increase, she gets her chance.

It took me a while to get into this. First because the world started out feeling very medieval fantasy despite its bicycles and robots. The worldbuilding was alternately slow and full of info dumps in the opening chapters.

Clae is acerbic and rude and while I liked him, he takes some getting used to. For the most part I liked Larua, though I was surprised by her age when it was finally revealed, as I ended up picturing her younger given how she treats Okane.

As a master teaching a trade, Clae’s a mixed bag. On one hand he does teach weapons and technique, but I was astonished by how little Laura knew about kin and its creation. As the main weapon against infestations, I would have thought learning how to make kin would be vital to a sweeper’s job.

I loved the monsters and how the sweepers fight them. It’s very original. I also liked that another city is visited and there’s some information on how the various cities operate and that sweepers use different tactics and that they share ideas through meetings and letters.

The last half of the book was quite fun and the pacing was much better as the tension worked up to the climax.

While it’s a bit uneven, it’s a good debut and I’m curious to see what’s next.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Box Theatre Kit: Country Notes

I got the itch to do another model a few weeks ago and pulled out a kit I bought off the internet. It comes with all the stuff you need (though I did add a few things from my craft stash). Here's the box with all the bags of parts. I love these kits as they're not only fully set up for you, they also teach you some cool tricks for making things like trees out of paper rope, thatch out of twine, pots & pans out of metal pieces.


 Here I've papered the insides of the tin and wired lights along the ceiling and put in the floor and battery cover.

 The house mostly constructed with some of the furniture ready to go in it.

 And the finished piece + the two bunny inhabitants (the only things not glued down).

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Shout-Out: Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

The definitive English language translation of the internationally acclaimed Russian novel—a brilliant dark fantasy combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief . . .

Sasha Samokhina has been accepted to the Institute of Special Technologies.

Or, more precisely, she’s been chosen.

Situated in a tiny village, she finds the students are bizarre, and the curriculum even more so. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, it is their families that pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

[Translated by Julia Meitov Hersey]

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

David Attenborough’s Life That Glows Documentary

Attenborough examines different kinds of bio-luminescent life, from fireflies to deep sea creatures. My favourite creatures showed up at the 38:50 min mark: larvae of a kind of gnat that live on ceiling of caves. They lower strands of silk sticky with drops of saliva and light in their tails act as lures for other insects at night. The deep sea creatures were also fascinating to see.

It was interesting that there are a variety of reasons for why creatures developed bio-luminescence: defence, attraction, mating. In some cases (like a certain type of earth worm in France) scientists still don’t know why creatures employ it.

It’s a cool documentary, if you’re looking for some interesting glowing creatures to add to a story, or if you’re simply interested in some of the cool critters on planet Earth.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Book Review: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

This is book 2, click here for my review of The Traitor Baru Cormorant.


Pros: political intrigue, interesting characters, fantastic worldbuilding

Cons:

Baru Cormorant’s actions on Aurdwynn have numerous consequences. She is now Agonist, a cryptarch, one of the secret lords of the Imperial Throne of the Imperial Republic of Falcrest. She has also made a lot of enemies, one of whom is a navy admiral, who decides to mutiny in order to bring Baru to a form of justice.

Baru believes she’s one step further towards destroying Falcrest and freeing her homeland, but cryptarch rivals Hesychest and Itinerant have a job for her and two of their other proteges.

This book picks up immediately where the previous one ended, and if you don’t remember all of the characters and subplots of the first book, I’d highly recommend giving it a quick reread. I was very happy that an issue I had with that book’s ending was dealt with pretty heavily in this one.

There are plots within plots, and two main points of view, that of Baru (told in third person) and Xate Yawa (told in first person). The switch was a bit jarring at times, but insured you didn’t mistake who’s thoughts you were observing. There are also flashbacks to a previous war from the viewpoint of Tau-indi, a prince of the Oriati Mbo, which gives cultural and historical information for the continent and for the war of ideas between the cryptarchs.

The worldbuilding is incredibly intricate. Everything is connected and the language recognizes differences from our own world - like ‘matronizingly’ instead of ’patronizingly’, because some cultures have a matriarchy as a system of rule. I loved the attention to detail.

While Baru is often - though not always - able to avoid personal consequences for her actions, once again it’s clear how she causes serious fallout in her wake, particularly with regards to trade and the economics of some of the islands she visits. Very serious consequences, for what seems like limited gains on her part. This makes her an increasingly hard character to like or sympathize with. Which I believe is the point.

A lot of the action is set-up for the next book, so the plot here feels scattered at times. Having said that, the level of intrigue is high and I never felt bored.

Be prepared to remember a lot of names and get lost in intrigue. If you like morally dubious characters, this book is for you.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Not a Review - Nier: Automata

Pros: great characters, interesting story, wonderful soundtrack, lots of action, variety in locations and battles

Cons: lots of unanswered questions at the end, some questionable content

Thousands of years ago aliens invaded the Earth and used machines to wipe out most of mankind. Now the remnants live on the moon and have created androids to help them retake their home world. YoRHa sends combat unit 2B and scanner unit 9S to Earth for reconnaissance and to help the resistance wipe out the machines. But they discover a new type of machine, one that looks human.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a gamer, and while I’ve played a good number of games, starting with the old Atari, Commodore 64, and original Nintendo Entertainment System, I’m terrible at them. I do love watching my husband play games though, especially ones with interesting stories. So when my husband got me to play the first level of Nier: Automata I didn’t expect to spend over 100 hours finishing the game.

First off, I played it on easy mode. This meant there were times when the game quite literally played itself (though, for the record, one of the 2 times I died was because I didn’t realize I could turn off the auto-fire system, which forced me to stay in an arena with constantly spawning enemies 20+ levels higher than me).

This was also my first time playing an RPG and I was shocked at how much fun I found all the levelling up battles - otherwise known as the grind. I thought that would be boring, but I enjoyed exploring the world and seeing (and killing) the wide variety of machines.

The game play automatically switches from regular mode to side scroller at times, with additional switches to air ship mode. Some of the side scroller switches were annoying (moving to the left suddenly changes to moving forward - a real pain when there’s a chest or something you need to get that’s just before the screen change and the game flickers you between modes). For the most part, it was cool seeing the different modes and the first chapter models all three (which is why my husband insisted I try it).

The reason I kept going after that first chapter was the story and characters. You start the game by playing as 2B. She’s mostly unemotional and her dialogue plays well with 9Ss complaints about their workload (side quests as well as official missions). The voice actors are absolutely incredible. Kira Buckland as 2B and Kyle McCarley as 9S especially deserve a lot of credit for making me care about the characters. They’re so expressive and made the characters fell alive.

I’m not sure if this has been done in a video game before - and it’s kind of a SPOILER - so if you don’t want to know what happens later in the game, skip to the next paragraph but… there comes a point where you get to the end and … the game starts again. Only this time you’re playing as 9S. The first time through you don’t really know what’s going on and there are so many side quests (some you can only do a certain points in the game) so getting a second chance to do some of those and to see the world before things change again, was really cool. Playing as 9S also comes with a new ability - hacking. And hacking allows you to find information about the old world. I also loved that you learn the back stories of some of the antagonists during this play through, and start to feel bad about killing the machines.

The world-building was mostly well done. The final boss battles left me with questions and exposed some holes in their backstory, which was unfortunate.

The world is fun and there were several hidden areas to explore off the regular map (that is, the sections you’re officially sent to for missions). I found the variety nice. There’s a desert, a ruined city, an amusement park, a factory, a forest with a castle, and a sunken city. 

You fight a nice variety of machines, which are modified for their environments. The boss battles are all unique, with side stories.

The soundtrack was wonderful. Each section has its own themes and there are some really haunting vocals. 

We didn’t know there was a previous game until I started looking up hints late in game play. It’s fairly clear there are a lot of callbacks to the original Nier, though I don’t know the full extent.

The game did have some problematic elements. Like when my husband was finishing off the achievements, we learned there was one for looking up 2Bs skirt 10 times, and another for playing as 9S without pants for an hour. I liked 2B and 9Ss main outfits, but couldn't stand the torn clothing they gave A2. We had a DLC that added battle arenas that gave each playable character a new outfit. I immediately switched A2 to the nice fully clothed hunter style outfit, but refused to use the skimpy lingerie 2B got and I really don't know what to say about the... apron thing for 9S.

Towards the end I was getting burned out. The game goes on for quite a while, and if you do all the side quests and fishing and everything, well, it's a LOT. While I enjoyed playing as a new character for the final sections of the game, I was unhappy over why that character was necessary.

On the whole I really enjoyed the game.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Shout-Out: Illusions by Madeline Reynolds

Dear Thomas,

I know you're angry. It's true, I was sent to expose your mentor as a fraud illusionist, and instead I have put your secret in jeopardy. I fear I have even put your life in jeopardy. For that I can only beg your forgiveness. I've fallen for you. You know I have. And I never wanted to create a rift between us, but if it means protecting you from those who wish you dead-I'll do it. I'll do anything to keep you safe, whatever the sacrifice. Please forgive me for all I've done and what I'm about to do next. I promise, it's one magic trick no one will ever see coming.

Love,
Saverio

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Video: Toil Sweat Owkwa O2

A while back I saw this video by Animaphonics, posted on the Escapist channel. It's a tribute song for the TV show (and novels) The Expanse. The language is belter speak, a co-mingling of several tongues where a different sort of nationality is practiced. The official description is:
You take kowlting, we say no more; In honour of The Expanse and it's last minute rescue, Animaphonics looks back at the inciting incident of the UN-MCR war to create a song of rebellion for the opressed Belters.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Book Review: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth

Pros: fascinating premise

Cons: dry text, little explanation of how these evolutions work within the framework of other biological data, illustrations don’t progress far enough

This is a scholarly work giving a brief biography of the brilliant but ultimately misguided Dr. Black and reprinting his lost manuscript, the Codex Extinct Animalia.

The book does a good job of sounding appropriately scholarly in regards to the fictitious Dr. Black. A little too good, as it’s quite dry and often boring even as it describes what should be fascinating: a man whose conviction that mythological creatures were based on real human and/or animal evolutions, and that people and animals with strange medical conditions and physical abnormalities are recovering that genetic heritage.

The problem is that the text never really goes into how such a variety of creatures could have evolved or why they then devolved. Take Cerebus - Canis Hades in the text - the three headed dog. If it was a creature that evolved to have 3 heads, why did two heads die out? Where are the examples of 2 headed dogs in mythology? Did both excessive heads disappear at the same time? We’re given to believe the doctor pondered such issues but the text’s author doesn’t seem to care about them, and for me at least, this is the more interesting side of what’s being examined.

The codex itself has some wonderful illustrations of what the skeletal and musculature of such creatures would look like (including the Sphinx, Ganesha, Pegasus). Alas, here too the information is scant and the descriptions lacking. The Pegasus for example is conjectured to have air bladders that help with flight, but air bladders are neither bone nor muscle and so they don’t show up on the illustrations. The only item that’s thoroughly done is the harpy, for which the illustrations go into more layers, so the flight bladders there are shown. I was also disappointed that there was no discussion of how other major physical changes worked, like Ganesha’s two pairs of arms. The skeleton shows there’s a sort of flap extending out the back that holds the extra shoulders, but there’s no discussion of how two sets of arms work in practice (is one shoulder in front of the other? Do the arms interfere with each other? Is there an evolutionary advantage to having four arms?).

I did appreciate that there were some non-Eurocentric creatures included in the Codex.

On the whole it was a quick read but I probably wouldn’t read it again.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Odyssey Online Winter Writing Workshops

If you're working on your NaNoWriMo novel this month and decide you want more instruction on certain aspects of the process, Odyssey Online has released their winter writing workshop schedule. If you're interested, application deadlines are in December.

Here's their emailed press release:


ODYSSEY ONLINE OFFERS LIVE, INTENSIVE, INTERACTIVE CLASSES THAT MAKE A MAJOR DIFFERENCE FOR WRITERS

“The class definitely blew away my expectations! It was fascinating, rigorous, and I had to work hard to keep up, which was exactly what I wanted. I would recommend Odyssey Online to anyone serious about improving their writing.”
—Andrew Alford

Since its founding in 1996, the Odyssey Writing Workshop has become one of the most highly respected and effective programs for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror in the world. In 2010, to further Odyssey’s nonprofit mission of helping developing writers of the fantastic, we adapted the techniques that are so effective at the in-person workshop to create online classes. We’ve worked very hard to ensure that our online classes are of the same caliber as our in-person workshop and that they deserve to carry the name of Odyssey.

In live class meetings, students learn specific, invaluable techniques, ask questions, and participate in discussions. Between meetings, they interact with each other and the instructor in a discussion group, complete demanding assignments, and give and receive in-depth feedback. Each student also has a one-on-one meeting with the instructor.

Odyssey Online offers only three online classes each year and admits only fourteen students per class, to keep quality high and ensure each student receives individual attention.

Application deadlines are in early December, and courses are held in January and February. While Odyssey’s nonprofit mission is to help writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, writers of any genre of fiction are welcome to apply. Courses will also cover issues relevant to writers of adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction.

Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate
Course Meets: January 10 – February 7, 2019
Instructor: Award-winning editor and publisher Scott H. Andrews
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 12, 2018

Instructor Scott H. Andrews is the editor-in-chief and publisher of the fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a six-time Hugo Award finalist and winner of the World Fantasy Award. When asked the most common weakness in the submissions he receives, Scott says, “Most writers fail to convey character emotions in a powerful way.”

How do you convey a character’s emotion? You might just tell readers what the character is feeling (“He was afraid”), which can convey that information clearly but fail to make the emotion real and immediate. You might try an internal life sign (“His heart pounded”), which can be more immediate but often feels clichéd. Or you might try an external action (“His eyes widened”), but this can sometimes feel like overacting, or if we’re in the character’s point of view, it can feel like we’ve jumped to a point of view outside the character.

Scott will explain the most effective techniques to convey character emotions realistically and powerfully on the page, so that moment by moment, you can create an authentic and evocative experience. He’ll show you which techniques work best for point-of-view characters, and which work best for non-point-of-view characters. He’ll also discuss how to handle multiple emotions, conflicting emotions, and complex emotions, because that’s when stories get really interesting.

More than that, the course will cover strategies for developing situations and stories with strong potential for emotional resonance, and how to use character emotions to make every page a gripping read. You’ll dig deep into your own emotional reservoir to find that emotional truth that will give readers an authentic, powerful, involving experience.

“Scott has put together a treasure chest of ideas and exercises to help bridge the gap between ‘good’ and ‘great’ in speculative fiction. Although I feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of what it takes to excel in writing, Scott’s course has definitely helped me on my way. The subject matter is ambitious, but all the more valuable as a result. Overall, a very positive experience.”
—Derrick Boden

Riveting Descriptions: Bringing Your Story to Life in the Reader’s Mind
Course Meets: January 3 – 31, 2019
Instructor: Award-winnng author and editor Lucy A. Snyder
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Application Deadline: December 5, 2018

For most writers, crafting strong, effective description is a major struggle. Some avoid description, fearing they’ll lose the reader’s attention, and instead they leave the reader lost in a vast, white nothingness. Some embrace description, drowning the reader in details so important ones are lost and unimportant ones create expectations that will never be fulfilled. Some use a hit or miss approach, throwing in a detail here or there and hoping they’ve magically made the right choices.

You don’t need to guess or struggle anymore. Award-winning fiction writer, poet, and editor Lucy A. Snyder will guide you through this critical and often-avoided subject. You’ll learn how to identify the key details that will immerse readers in your world, allow them to feel they know your characters, and put them in the middle of the action. Lucy will explain the qualities of strong description, how to know how much description is enough, which details to include, and where in the scene to include them. You’ll also learn how to use subtext so your description suggests deeper meanings, and how to write description with emotional impact.

More than that, this course will explore the role of point of view in description. How a character sees and describes his world can deepen personality, convey motivation, increase tension, and drive plot. Lucy will also discuss how to use poetic techniques in your description, and how to avoid common descriptive pitfalls. You’ll finish this course feeling much more assured about your description and knowing how to use description to make your story more impactful.

“After six weeks of hard work, I feel a bit reborn as a writer. Top notch workshop. Top notch instructor. No matter what our genre or what the level of our proficiency was beforehand, in just five weeks of hard work, all of us were much more skilled writers. I can’t recommend it highly enough.”
—Gigi Vernon

Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel
Course Meets: January 2 – February 13, 2019
Instructor: Award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford
Level: Intermediate
Application Deadline: December 4, 2018

In response to many requests, we’re bringing back this course, one of our most highly rated. There are few things more difficult than revising a novel. You’ve worked on it for months, or years, and you’re so immersed in it you can’t step back and see the big picture. You might polish the draft and make minor changes, but you don’t really know what to change to turn that rough draft into a powerful, unified novel. And chances are, major changes are necessary. In this course, Barbara Ashford, one of our most popular instructors, will guide you in a deep examination of the “big picture” elements of your novel–premise, promise, theme, world, character, plot. Analyzing each of these building blocks and how well they are working together can give you new perspective on your novel, reveal weaknesses, and provide direction for major changes that will help you to maximize your novel’s potential.

Whether you’ve already completed your first draft, are still working on it, or are struggling with revisions, this course will provide invaluable insights into your novel through the lectures, assignments, and critiques. Barbara’s feedback on assignments has been widely praised for its depth and helpfulness.

Barbara’s course will be longer than the standard Odyssey online class, with four class meetings rather than our usual three, so you’ll be able to fully process and incorporate the important concepts discussed. If you’re participating in #NaNoWriMo, this course can show you the path from rough draft to completed novel.

“Getting the Big Picture helped me focus in on the true nature of my story, what lies at its heart. The class has given me the tools to improve both plot and characters and tie the two more strongly into the theme. These are the most useful class sessions I have ever attended.”

—Scott T. Barnes

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Shout-Out: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

Teodora di Sangro is used to hiding her magical ability to transform enemies into music boxes and mirrors. Nobody knows she’s a strega—and she aims to keep it that way.

The she meets Cielo—and everything changes.

A strega who can switch outward form as effortlessly as turning a page in a book, Cielo shows Teodora what her life could be like if she masters the power she’s been keeping secret. And not a moment too soon: the ruler of Vinalia has poisoned the patriarchs of the country’s five controlling families, including Teodora’s father, and demands that each family send a son to the palace.

If she wants to save her family, Teodora must travel to the capital—not disguised as a boy, but transformed into one. But the road to the capital, and to bridling her powers, is full of enemies and complications, including the one she least expects: falling in love.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Video: Honest Trailers - Batman The Animated Series

Screen Junkies has made an honest trailer for a fantastic cartoon. Most of what I know about Batman came from watching this show. I'm kind of surprised they didn't point out that Mark Hamill voiced the Joker.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Book Review: The Bone Mother by David Demchuk

Pros: delightfully creepy and/or unsettling vignettes, real photographs, fascinating mythologies

Con: no frame story to bring the disparate bits together

The publisher describes the book better than I can, so I’m using their synopsis here:

Three neighbouring 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:

• The Rusalka, the beautiful vengeful water spirit who lives in lakes and ponds and lures men and children to their deaths;

• The Vovkulaka, who changes from her human form into that of a wolf and hides with her kind deep in the densest forests;

• The Strigoi, a revenant who feasts on blood and twists the minds of those who love, serve and shelter him;

• The Dvoynik, an apparition that impersonates its victim and draws him into a web of evil in order to free itself;

• And the Bone Mother, a skeletal crone with iron teeth who lurks in her house in the heart of the woods, and cooks and eats those who fail her vexing challenges.

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.

This is a collection of vignettes by people who have had supernatural experiences of some sort or are themselves supernatural creatures. Each story shows a snippet of life. There’s little description or detail, but it’s not required. I enjoyed piecing some of the stories together as the collection went on, though there’s no frame story giving them the feeling of being a cohesive whole. The publisher’s synopsis for the book is basically the frame story the book itself lacks and needs in order to give a sense of cohesion to the collection. I read this in ebook format and hadn’t read the synopsis in months, so wasn’t able to benefit from the information it gave. At the very least there should have been a wrap up story that tied things together better.

Most of the stories are fronted by a real photograph from the Costica Acsinte Archive. A few stories have hand drawn illustrations instead.

While I was familiar with a few of the creatures described, most of them were new and quite fascinating. It would have been cool to get more details about them, but again, the stories are more about ambiance and the feeling of dread than about describing things in detail. In this way, not knowing what the creatures were in some ways enhanced the horror based on the limited descriptions that were given.

Several of the stories are by people who grew up and lived in the three Eastern European villages, the rest are by their descendants. At least one story took place in Canada, and another in the United States.

On the whole I enjoyed the collection. A few of the stories were genuinely terrifying, while most were joyfully creepy. I would have liked a proper conclusion or frame story tying everything together better, but it’s definitely worth picking up.

Friday, 26 October 2018

TV Show Review: Colony, Season 1


First aired: 2016

Pros: fascinating premise, interesting characters, difficult choices, fairly diverse supporting cast

Cons: 

No one was prepared for the Arrival, when aliens came and separated the US into small colonies. Now, dissidents are sent to the factories, never to be seen again. When Will Bowman’s attempt to cross into another colony to find his missing son fails, he’s forced to work for the occupation, hunting down a resistance group. He doesn’t realize his wife is part of that group, and he’s just become a huge source of inside information for them.

I love that the focus of the show is on a loving couple and their struggles to survive in this new and horrible world. They’re caring for their two children and both hurting from the fact that they are unable to even look for their missing third.

The show is full of difficult decisions, from finding insulin now that the aliens have decreed that  such medicines should no longer be made so only the strong survive, to who’s worth saving from a resistance standpoint.

Katie Bowman (Sarah Wayne Callies) has to be clever - and dishonest - in order to keep her husband from discovering she’s helping the resistance, which causes a lot of tension in the story, and in their relationship.

The supporting cast is excellent and wonderfully diverse. I was a bit sad that some characters disappear for a while as the focus remains firmly on the Bowman family, but it is nice seeing several POC actors in different roles.

Season 1 kept me guessing and I am really looking forward to jumping into season 2. 

Note, there are 3 seasons and the show has been cancelled.


Thursday, 25 October 2018

Shout-Out: A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland

Arrested on accusations of witchcraft and treason, Chant finds himself trapped in a cold, filthy jail cell in a foreign land. With only his advocate, the unhelpful and uninterested Consanza, he quickly finds himself cast as a bargaining chip in a brewing battle between the five rulers of this small, backwards, and petty nation.

Or, at least, that's how he would tell the story.

In truth, Chant has little idea of what is happening outside the walls of his cell, but he must quickly start to unravel the puzzle of his imprisonment before they execute him for his alleged crimes. But Chant is no witch—he is a member of a rare and obscure order of wandering storytellers. With no country to call his home, and no people to claim as his own, all Chant has is his wits and his apprentice, a lad more interested in wooing handsome shepherds than learning the ways of the world.

And yet, he has one great power: his stories in the ears of the rulers determined to prosecute him for betraying a nation he knows next to nothing about. The tales he tells will topple the Queens of Nuryevet and just maybe, save his life.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Video: Weta Workshop Sculptor's Talbletop Miniature World


Adam Savage visits Weta Workshop sculptor Johnny Fraser-Allen’s tabletop model labyrinth, swamp, forest, and village. Each piece is modular and so can be moved and built up to create new configurations. The kickstarter campaign for the first set of miniatures, Hagglethorn Hollow, is up and almost over.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Pros: told through images and text, some tense moments, fun characters, fast read

Cons: most of the conflict is due to Hugo keeping secrets

Hugo Cabret lives in the Timekeeper’s room inside a Parisian train station. When an elderly toy maker catches him stealing a toy mouse, the man takes a notebook Hugo received from his deceased father. The notebook contains images of an automaton Hugo’s trying to fix, images that cause a startling reaction from the old man.

The book follows Hugo as he tries to get the notebook back and interacts with the man and his goddaughter, Isabelle. There are old movies, magic, clocks, thefts, and lies. The best part of the book is that the movies and automata discussed are all real.

This is a fun - and fast - read. Some sections are told through full page illustrations rather than text, giving the book the feeling of a movie. The immediacy of the action and Hugo’s point of view narrative enhance that feeling.

There are some tense moments, especially towards the end of the book.

While I can understand Hugo’s fear of being taken from his current home and his fear of what would happen to him, it has to be said that most of the problems he encounters throughout the book are due to his inability to trust others, even after they’ve been proved trustworthy and his compulsive need to keep secrets. Things would have resolved much faster had he told Georges why the notebook was so important to him.

Though it’s a thick book (due to the images) it really is an easy read, perfect for readers of all ages.

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

Cons:

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.