Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Video: SAND a Star Wars Story

Schmoyoho's probably best known for their songify the news videos, but they've got some funny songify the movies videos too. If you're not into Star Wars, they've just done The Incredibles and they did one for Loki from the Thor/Avengers films.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Book Review: Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

Pros: fleshed-out characters, interesting world, fast paced

Cons: pay close attention or you’ll get lost quickly, some aspects not explained well

This book is pretty complicated so I’m using the synopsis from the book instead of trying to come up with my own:

Loss is a thing of the past. Murder is obsolete. Death is just the beginning.
In 1938, death is no longer feared but exploited. Since the discovery of the afterlife, the British Empire has extended its reach into Summerland, a metropolis for the recently deceased.
Yet Britain isn't the only contender for power in this life and the next. The Soviets have spies in Summerland, and the technology to build their own god.
When SIS agent Rachel White gets a lead on one of the Soviet moles, blowing the whistle puts her hard-earned career at risk. The spy has friends in high places, and she will have to go rogue to bring him in.
But how do you catch a man who's already dead?

Pay very close attention to the first few chapters of the book as you’re dumped into the action with no background information beyond what you can gleam from conversations. Once you’ve got a feel for the players, the world, and the stakes, sit back and enjoy the fast paced ride.

The story is told through mostly alternating chapters from the points of view of Rachel White and Peter Bloom. Note that their timelines don’t match up right away (his story starts a few days after hers). I was impressed at the amount of background detail you eventually learn about the pair, and how that makes you care about them, even while they’re making choices that are hard to sympathize with. I especially liked the difficult relationship Rachel has with her husband. It was great seeing a married woman as a protagonist that took into account the prejudices she faced as well as the sacrifices she made to reach her position.

The worldbuilding is well done and takes into consideration how the discovery of a literal afterlife affects the living. Summerland itself is a little hard to picture (understandably as it’s got a 4th dimension that isn’t time) but adheres to a particular set of rules. I would have liked more information on how the ectotanks and flyers worked, because they sounded terrifyingly awesome.

This is a unique spy thriller that’s worth picking up.

Out June 26th.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Growing Crystals

For Christmas last year I got a crystal growing kit by National Geographic. A few months ago I started making crystals and I'm really impressed with this set.

The kit I got had 10 different coloured seed crystals and crystal packets, 4 silicon containers for growing the crystals, a booklet about crystal formation in nature, and a few real crystals/gemstones. I bought a stainless steel bowl I could use as a double boiler to heat the water and crystals (so I wouldn't ruin a cooking bowl). My first batch was pink and dark green (colours I didn't care about if I messed up somewhere).

I let them grow for a little longer than the 10 days because I wanted larger crystals. Getting the rounded seed crystal out was harder than I expected. I eventually learned that the crystal formations at the base are smaller and softer, and it's easier to just break off that layer entirely than to try and gently pry the seed out. You still have the upper large crystals. I also learned to not wash off the crystals, as it just removes the colour.

I kept all the leftover crystal bits and actually grew several crystals from each packet (one large display crystal plus a few smaller flat layer crystals for future craft uses.

The display base has LED lights (hence why you need to remove the seed crystal, which is rounded (so the finished crystals can hide the LED inside and because it's opaque). I modified the stand by rubbing some gelatos (sort of a cross between crayons and pastels) so it would look a bit more natural and less plastic. 

And here they are all lit up (plus a few of the 'spares').

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Shout-Out: The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

She believed in the mission with all her heart. But that was sixty million years ago. How do you stage a mutiny when you're only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what's best for you? Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Book Review: Guardian by A. J. Hartley

Pros: lots of politics, complex race relations 


When Willinghouse is framed for murder, Anglet Sutonga, former steeplejack and spy, tries to clear his name. But the white government starts enacting racist policies that disenfranchise the native black Mahweni and brown Lani populations. Meanwhile a mysterious illness strikes the Drowning, where Ang’s sister lives. As tensions in the city increase, Ang starts to wonder if the city she loves can survive.

This book refers often to actions and people from the previous books in the series, so be sure to read them before starting this one.

While Ang isn’t involved with politics herself, the book depends very heavily on the city’s new policies and how people of different races are treated. I loved seeing a variety of leaders from different groups come together at different points trying to create peace and protest the government’s actions.

The book deals very heavily with race relations, showing clear racist actions on the part of the white men in charge. There are peaceful rallies with some frankly brilliant speeches that wouldn’t be out of place at a Black Lives Matter event. The ending is fantastic in this regard, leaving you with a sense of hope that’s desperately needed in today’s political climate.

Ang goes through several emotional upheavals during the book. She’s able to repress her emotions so she can focus on a number of problems, but I liked how the book addressed some of her feelings at the end, once she has time to deal with them.

I really enjoyed this series and while the book deals with heavy subject matter - especially in today’s political climate - its ending of hope really makes it a worthwhile read.

Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic Longlist

From the press release email:

The Sunburst Award Committee is pleased to announce the 2018 longlist for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. This year’s lists are comprised of a mixture of established authors, talented newcomers, and several past nominees.  Below are the longlisted works, with links where available:

Adult Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Short Story Fiction  

The Sunburst Award official shortlist will be announced in late June. Sunburst Award winners will be announced in Fall 2018.

Novel Jury: Megan Crewe, Kate Heartfield, Dominik Parisien, Halli Villegas, and Heather Wood.

Short Story Jury: Candas Jane Dorsey, Emily Pohl-Weary, and Alexandra Renwick

Friday, 8 June 2018

Kracie Food Kit: Taiyaki and Odango

I've done a few Poppin' Cookin' kits in the past and saw this Kracie one and decided to try it out. It was definitely my favourite. It's a sample set of traditional Japanese desserts/snacks: taiyaki (a soft fish shaped biscuit with chocolate pudding like spread in the middle), ichigo daifuku (sweet rice flour dough with a strawberry filling), ramune (soft drink), and mitarashi dango (dango are sweet rice flour balls and in this style they're covered in a salty sweet sauce - you can also get dango with other sauces of which my favourite is black sesame).

The kit consists of a series of powders you mix with water in different combinations in the plastic insert (it also contains the fish pattern you microwave for the biscuit). You also cut apart the back of the packaging for size measurements and presentation aids. My Japanese isn't what it used to be (and it used to be fairly poor anyway) so I had to watch a video to get the microwave time and some other details correct.

 The finished product not only looked amazing it tasted fantastic (some of the other kits didn't taste that great). It was a fun kit to do and as they're expensive imports, I'm glad this one was worth eating. ;)

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Shout-Out: Adrift by Rob Boffard

Sigma Station. The ultimate luxury hotel, in the far reaches of space.
For one small group, a tour of the Horsehead Nebula is meant to be a short but stunning highlight in the trip of a lifetime.
But when a mysterious ship destroys Sigma Station and everyone on it, suddenly their tourist shuttle is stranded.
They have no weapons. No food. No water. No one back home knows they're alive.
And the mysterious ship is hunting them.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Video: Victorian Realities - How did they use the toilet?

This is outside my usual era, but I found this video quite interesting in terms of understanding a necessary practice given changes in fashion we're no longer used to. The Prior Attire channel has other videos on Victorian dress, as well as some on Medieval dress and fashion.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Book Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Pros: interesting settings, fun characters


When Rini falls out of the sky at  Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children she’s shocked to learn that her mother has died. Several students help her bring her mother back, knowing that if they fail than Rini will be erased from existence. 

This is the third novella in the Wayward Children series and returns - for a time at least - to the setting of the first book. In addition to the school and the students there, you also see Nancy again. 

Rini is from a nonsense world, Confection, the world her mother, Sumi, went to and was hoping to return to one day. There’s another new character, Cora, an overweight girl who loved the underwater worlds where she was a beautiful mermaid. She’s the main point of view character, which allows the reader to understand her feelings around weight and self-confidence (and the attempts by others to use the first to undermine the second). It was interesting seeing her interactions with Christopher, who went to a world of skeletons and who therefore as unconventional ideas about flesh and weight.

The plot is fairly linear and takes the group to several locations. There are some dangers they face, though not always physical ones.

I thought the mythology of Confection was kind of cool and really fit the kind of world it was - giving it a weird sort of logic despite its nonsense overlay.

It’s a quick, fun read.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity

A few weeks back when I was in Toronto for the Kameron Hurley signing, I went to the Toronto Reference Library to do some research. The library currently has an exhibit on called Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity, ending July 29. It's a fairly small exhibit and only took me a half hour or so to go through, but it's got some cool display pieces, like the bone and adamantium claw props used for the X-Men's Wolverine in the standalone Wolverine movies.

Some of the comics/characters on display I'd heard of (Scott Pilgrim, Captain Canuck), others I hadn't.

And while you're there, I recently discovered that there's an Arthur Conan Doyle room on the 5th floor.