Friday, 28 December 2018

Books Received in December 2018

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

The Librarians and the Pot of Gold by Greg Cox - This is a novel based on The Librarians TV show. I haven't seen the show, but the plot of this novel sounds fun.

For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora's Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil. 

There is truth to every story...
Hundreds of years ago, the fate of the world rested upon the shoulders of a clever priest and a cleverer librarian. On that day the pair drove the remnants of the Serpent Brotherhood from Irelands's shore - that is, until the grave of an ancient sorceress is dug up and her remains removed.
Now, Baird and her team of plucky Librarians find themselves on a collision course with their longtime foes as they race to find a leprechaun's lost gold and prevent the Brotherhood's dark designs from coming to fruition.


Vessel by Lisa Nichols - I loved the comparison titles for this book and am really excited about reading it. Vessel is out in May, 2019.

An astronaut returns to Earth after losing her entire crew to an inexplicable disaster, but is her version of what happened in space the truth? Or is there more to the story…. A tense, psychological thriller perfect for fans of Dark Matter and The Martian.

After Catherine Wells’s ship experiences a deadly incident in deep space and loses contact with NASA, the entire world believes her dead. Miraculously—and mysteriously—she survived, but with little memory of what happened. Her reentry after a decade away is a turbulent one: her husband has moved on with another woman and the young daughter she left behind has grown into a teenager she barely recognizes. Catherine, too, is different. The long years alone changed her, and as she readjusts to being home, sometimes she feels disconnected and even, at times, deep rage toward her family and colleagues. There are periods of time she can’t account for, too, and she begins waking up in increasingly strange and worrisome locations, like restricted areas of NASA. Suddenly she’s questioning everything that happened up in space: how her crewmates died, how she survived, and now, what’s happening to her back on Earth.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Shout-Out: Endsville by Clay Sanger

Welcome to Los Angeles—where the secret worlds of the criminal and supernatural collide. Crime and black magic pay. In the City of Angels, no one does it better than Gabriel St. John and the House of the Crow…

ENDSVILLE introduces readers to the House of the Crow. Led by their enigmatic street captain Gabriel, the Crows are a secret coven of high-rolling occult gangsters operating out of Los Angeles. A gangland king by the name of Dante Washington enlists their aid to recover 34 million dollars in cash—stolen from him by what appears to be a hostile sorcerer.

The Crows battle through a vicious cycle of betrayal, violence, and black magic while on the hunt for Mr. Washington’s missing money. In the end, allies prove to be enemies, and there are much greater things at stake than covering up a multi-million dollar gangland heist.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The Best Books I Read in 2018

This is a list of the best books I read in 2018. Most, but not all of them came out this year. They're listed in the order I read them, rather than ranked by how much I liked them. Title links are to my reviews of each book. There were a lot of great books I heard of but didn't have time for. So if I've missed your favourites, tell me about them and maybe they'll make next year's list!

An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King - A dystopian novel about China dealing with its increasing unbalance between the number of men and women. Not the easiest read at times, but a fascinating one.

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum - This book is much lighter fare than the others on the list. It's a clever romance novel with some fun worldbuilding.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire - I loved the turns of phrase in this book and the stark recognition of how parents can twist their children into being things they're not. And how that messes them up.

Medusa Uploaded by Emily Davenport - A great science fiction novel about assassination on a generation ship. Can't wait for the sequels.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett - The worldbuilding here is brilliant and I loved that the magic system was wholly different from anything I've read before.

The Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan - The final volume of the Draconis Memoria trilogy, and it was a blast. (My review of book 1, The Waking Fire.)

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang - A fairly brutal debut set in an Asian inspired fantasy world in a perpetual state of war.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland - Different from my norm, in that I don't normally read US based alternate history, but I loved the protagonist and the clever integration of zombies into the Civil War era.

So, what were some of your favourite books this year?

Monday, 24 December 2018

Video: Christmas Elves vs Fantasy Elves

College Humor has a great video wherein a Tolkien style high elf visits his parents who work for Santa Claus. This is one of their sponsored videos.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Movie Review: Gremlins


Directed by Joe Dante, 1984

Pros: decent special effects

Cons: cheesy acting, limited plot

Billy Peltzer’s early Christmas present is a pet his dad got in Chinatown. There are three rules, and as the days pass and rules are broken, the cute furry mogwai turn into horrible gremlins.

I saw this movie - once - as a child and loved it. I had a stuffed Gizmo and action figures of Gizmo and Stripe. So I was somewhat apprehensive about watching it as an adult. As with some other films, it was surprising what I remembered and what I didn’t.

The special effects work on the mogwai and gremlins is surprisingly good. There are a few moments when they look fake (especially when the gremlins are jumping), but for the most part they’re very convincing as living animals.

Some of the music is fantastic, especially the ending theme song that sticks with you.

Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) has nerves of steel. She probably gives the best performance. I loved her side-eying her husband’s inventions that never work (which she keeps using because she wants to support him) and I loved her dealing with some of the first gremlins that show up.

I’m not sure what to make of the Chinatown scene and the grandfather. It’s definitely a stereotype, but not a caricature. And his words at the end retain their bite.

There’s very little plot beyond kid messes up rules and havoc ensues once the gremlins get loose. Having said that, it is entertaining. There’s a measure of gore but the mix of humour and horror work well. 

One thing I did remember was the story of what happened to Kate’s father, though I was kind of shocked by how little attention Billy paid her as she told this traumatic story.

I’m glad I watched it again for the sake of nostalgia. Not sure I can recommend it otherwise.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Shout-Out: The Tomb by S.A.Bodeen

Nothing is as it seems.

These are the first words Kiva's best friend Seth says, after three years of silence.

Kiva thought she was growing up in ancient Alexandria. That's what she and all her classmates had been led to believe by their parents. It turns out she was living in virtual reality, in a sleep chamber in deep space, and three years ago, Seth woke up. Now it's her turn to join him.

Together, Kiva and Seth must take an escape shuttle to search for the engine part their home ship needs to keep running. But it's been a long time since the Krakatoa has communicated with any of the other three ships harboring human civilization. Kiva and Seth are not sure what they'll find if and when they finally make contact.

Danger, romance and twists you'll never see coming abound in this high-stakes science fiction adventure.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Graphic Novel Review: FTL, Y’all! : Tales From the Age of the $200 Warp Drive edited by Amanda Lafrenais


Out December 25th

Pros: wide variety of stories, some excellent artwork, inclusive stories 

Cons: often abrupt endings, not hard SF, some artwork I didn’t care for

First off, reviews are subjective. Everyone likes different things. This is even more apparent when it comes to artwork. So while some of the stories and some of the artwork didn’t appeal to me, that won’t be true for everyone. There’s quite a variety of both stories and artwork here, and the ones that didn’t work for me might turn out to be your favourites.

I was surprised by how many stories had retrofitted cars as spaceships. In fact, don’t think too much about the science in most of the stories as they generally don’t deal with the practicalities of space (like oxygen, radiation shielding, gravity, food, water, waste). The few that did, stood out, and I really enjoyed them.

There are 21 stories in this collection, and some of them are very short, almost more vignettes than full short stories. Some of them end abruptly, which I didn’t like. 

The black and white artwork was varied. Some of the stories were gorgeous, some had artwork I couldn’t stand.

I loved the inclusive nature of the stories. There was a variety of characters from different racial backgrounds and sexual identities.

On the whole the collection is a good mix. There are some real knockout stories and some I personally didn’t care for, but it’s worth the read.

“M.S.P.I.P.S.P” by Kay Rossbach 
**** Louanne Davis navigates the spaceport with her daughter before their flight to Mars to reunite with her wife. - I enjoyed the artwork. Anyone’s who’s flown will sympathize with Louanne’s plight as one thing after another goes wrong.

“Lia” by Alexxander Dovelin 
**** A woman’s life work is used to capture experiences of space as viewed by androids. - The artwork seemed a little more realistic in style. I liked the story. It’s about finding people who believe in you, as you navigate a world where profit is everything.

“Microwave” by Jay Eaton 
**** Rowan’s on her way to use a warp pod to travel to Seatle, but her uncles are driving her nuts with their talk of safety issues. - Not my favourite art style, but an interesting short story about being prepared to act when things go wrong.

“Cabbage Island” by Mulele Jarvis 
**** Yu’s dream is to build a car that can warp through space in the hopes of finding a new planet to live on, as the world gets worse and worse. - I liked the artwork and the story was engaging. Not sure when Hondo had time to bake the cookies, and the ending wasn’t to my taste.

“Passing Through” by Jamie Kaye and Sunny 
** Two friends chat about what they’re up to now. - There were a few panels (the ones in the bar) where I wasn’t sure what was going on. I do love the idea of having a personal transporter though, and being able to tour the world/galaxy. I was left wondering how the phone didn’t cut out each time the man teleported.

“Last Exit” by Christine Williamson and M. Kennedy 
* Mary runs away from home to space and gets caught by the predatory bureaucracy. - I was not a fan of the artwork. I found the small script crowded and hard to read. Changing the engine’s not enough to make a car space worthy and she was woefully unprepared for the trip considering she left when she did out of pique rather than need.

“Ignition” by Iris Jay and Skolli Rubedo
* Rhea and Imogen are a salvage team hired by a fascist leader to recover the Discovery shuttle. - I didn’t like the artwork for this story and the story left me with a several questions. 

“Wayhome” by Evan Dahm 
*** A family makes a home in a new place, leaving the city behind. But isolation breeds paranoia. - I liked aspects of this story. The artwork was interesting and there’s a great paranoia reaction at one point. The ending was strange. 

“Space to Grow” by N.N. Chan 
***** A young astrobiologist blogging about her first solo assignment is beset by internet trolls. - I liked the artwork. I also appreciated that it depicts a common problem for internet creators. Negative comments can really bring you down, even if you’re doing what you love.

“Soft Physics” by Blue Delliquanti 
*** People in disparate communities await packets of info, some of which contain the exploits of Phoney and Mandy. - The artwork wasn’t quite my style. The story was interesting but didn’t have much of a conclusion.

“Brilliant + Handsome” by C.B. Webb 
*** Two boys build ships to go to Mars, one in a car, the other in a washing machine. - Didn’t like the artwork. I had to read the ending twice to understand what happened, but really liked it once I got it.

“Failsafe” by Rachel Ordway 
** A pilot tries to commit suicide via black hole. - More of a vignette than a story, it does portray frustrated despair very well.

“I Want to Be Alone” by Seren Krakens 
* Fed up with life among slobs, the protagonist takes off alone to find the perfect planet where they can be alone. - I found the artwork very confusing and had a difficult time understanding what was going on.

“Finders Keepers” by Ahueonao 
***** Three friends attempt to loot an abandoned luxury space station whose AI killed the previous guests and crew. - Loved the artwork and the story was a lot of fun. 

“Prodigal Sunset” by Sara Duvall and James F. Wright
*** A group of teens from various planets try to find a cure for the strange illness they share. - Nice artwork. I was left with a lot of questions.

“Words From the Dead” by Jonathon Dalton 
**** Two archaeologist study the remains of the long dead Taucetian society. - I appreciated that the author paid some attention to science in this story. The artwork was ok. Loved the story’s ending. 

“Story of a Rescue” by Nathaniel Wilson 
*** Two kids and their pilot are heading out to find their dead beat step-dad. - The kids told a lot of back story, which seemed a bit odd as the pilot was older than them and I’d have expected him to have a better sense of current affairs. Loved the ending.

“Solitary” by David Andry and Paul Schultz 
**** A prisoner’s sentence is commuted provided he sign on to a new program. - Interesting story that was well executed.

“Graddad’s Second Wife” by Cheez Hayama and Earl T. Roske 
**** Sergio’s granddad needs help keeping his new wife - an alien - from ICE. - The alien was kind of disturbing, but the story was otherwise fun.

“The Senior Project” by Maia Kobabe 
**** While other kids work on FTL thesis projects, Willow cultivates a fast-growing crop of Adzuki beans. - I liked the relationship that formed between Willow and Kai, as they both worked on their projects. I also liked the practical applications for Kai’s teleporter.

“My Stars and Garters” by Ainsley Seago 
**** A couple builds a spaceship so they can live their most authentic Victorian lives away from people who find them strange. - I suspect people who live differently would be among the first to leave Earth should an FTL drive become cheaply available. An enjoyable end to the collection.

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.