Friday, 25 May 2018

Book Review: New Worlds, Year One: A Writer's Guide to the Art of Worldbuilding by Marie Brennan

Pros: lots of great information, short chapters

Cons: usefulness will depend on how much you already know about worldbuilding

This is a book of essays Brennan wrote for her Patreon backers. It consists of 51 short (1-3 page) essays on a range of topics useful for worldbuilding. As an anthropologist with an undergraduate degree in archaeology and folklore and several fantasy novels under he belt, she’s uniquely qualified to write this. And this book covers a wide variety, from the basics of the world (mountains, rivers, deserts), to food (including where it comes from and where it’s prepared), names, folk magic, stages of life, money and more. She’s also written an introduction and conclusion to tie the book together.

The essays are designed to get you to think outside the box by first showing you the box is there. She often asks questions about why we do things a certain way and points out that people in other cultures and periods do/did things differently. Some of what she mentions is obvious in hindsight, but you often need things like this pointed out if you’ve only got one frame of reference. I learned several fascinating tidbits and it was interesting to see the examples from other cultures she used.

The essays are quite short making it easy to get through the book and get back to writing. If you’re commuting and want something short, this is perfect. I read it as a novel, but it’s equally easy to read just the segments you need at a given time. 

This is a great resource if you’re new to worldbuilding or haven’t learned to question why people act they way they do in all aspects of life. The essays are varied and, though short, contain a lot of information. If you want your secondary world to feel real, there’s a lot of good pointers here.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Shout-Out: Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield

In 1328, Bruges is under siege by the Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras-humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.
Margriet de Vos learns she's a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn't come back for her. The revenant who was her husband pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards and goes back through the mouth of the beast called Hell.
Margriet killed her first soldier when she was 11. She's buried six of her seven children. She'll do anything for her daughter, even if it means raiding Hell itself to get her inheritance back.
Margriet's daughter is haunted by a dead husband of her own, and blessed, or cursed, with an enchanted distaff that allows her to control the revenants and see the future. Together with a transgender man-at-arms who has unfinished business with the Chatelaine, a traumatized widow with a giant waterpowered forgehammer at her disposal, and a wealthy alderman's wife who escapes Bruges with her children, Margriet and Beatrix forge a raiding party like Hell has never seen.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Video: Boston Dynamics - Atlas Escapes

Boston Dynamics is a real robotics company that's been making some incredible robots. Auralnauts is a youtube group that remixes some of Boston Dynamics' videos to show those robots becoming sentient, and somewhat horrifying. In this episode, one of the robots - Atlas - is trying to escape.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Book Review: Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars by Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola

Pros: some excellent twists, interesting world 


At the end of a disturbing case involving red fever, a disease only found on Mars that makes its sufferers go violently insane, Denver Moon receives a message from her grandfather asking her to find him. But her grandfather’s been dead for twenty years.

I’m impressed by the amount of world-building the authors managed to squeeze into this novella. While not bogged down by exposition, you learn about the early settlers, the project to terraform Mars, the Church of Mars, the red tunnel, the red fever, and more. It makes the city feel lived in, old in some ways but still a risky venture in others.

Denver’s an interesting character with a past that’s hinted at in relationships and cases, and her transforming gun that’s had her grandfather’s memories uploaded into it. I liked that Nigel is shown as more than just a sexbot. While Navya comes into the story late, I thought she was a good addition to Denver’s skill set, and while they had to make up, it was nice seeing female friends.

There is a graphic novel prequel to this that you don’t have to read to understand this, though it does flesh out one bit of history that’s referenced in this novella. The story it is based on, “Metamorphosis”, is included at the back of the novella, so if you want, you can read it first. I have to admit I’m not sure how I feel about the ending of “Metamorphosis” as it references a marginalized community. Denver’s also quite racist (I’m not sure that’s the right word) towards the botsies. She doesn’t seem to have quite the same attitude towards them in the novella, so maybe she’s learned a few things between the stories.

After the short story, there is also a short preview of the next book in the series.

While I did figure out a few aspects of the mystery, I was completely blindsided by several others. The ending packed a punch.

Mars seems to be a hot topic in SF at the moment, and this one goes in a different direction, so it’s worth picking up.

Out June 5.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Kameron Hurley Signing at Bakka Phoenix Books

Yesterday I headed to downtown Toronto to see Kameron Hurley, author of, among other things, God's War, The Mirror Empire, and The Stars are Legion.

I wasn't sure if she was doing a reading so I got there a few minutes late. So I missed the opening of the passage she read from her upcoming novel, The Light Brigade. The book sounds awesome.

After the reading she took questions and then signed copies of her books. Her novels aren't for everyone (they're pretty brutal), but she writes fantastic essays and does a podcast that details the writing life - and its many trials. 

It was a fun event. I've missed going to things like this.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Movie Review: Downsizing

Directed by Alexander Payne, 2017

Pros: good acting, interesting concept

Cons: asked some great questions that it didn’t want to answer, meanders

A Norwegian scientist discovers a way to shrink people as a means of reducing humanity’s impact on the planet. Paul Safranek’s life changes drastically when he undergoes the procedure.

I thought the premise of the film was good. Apparently the writers weren’t sure what to do with the shrinking idea though. The first section of the film concerns the idea of shrinking. Then it’s like a different movie started once Safranek took the plunge. Suddenly it focused on Safranek’s aimlessness and potential love affairs.

The first section posed a lot of interesting questions about what humans are doing to the earth and whether/how this solution might help. I thought the film would go into more discussion about the different options - especially when something goes wrong with Safranek’s shrinking plan - but it didn’t. The film just carries on like none of those concerns matter any more once he’s small. Until the very end when suddenly those concerns are apparently very important again, but only for one group of people. I was also concerned that a new friend of Safranek literally states that his business model requires that he exploit small people in poorer countries, and that’s never addressed. Similarly, while people show mild horror at some of the exploitation and abuses involved with shrinking (prisoners forcefully undergoing the procedure for example) this is largely ignored by the film once it’s mentioned.

My husband pointed out a lot of the physics problems concerning the shrinking process itself - and not just the obvious one that you can’t shrink humans that much without causing major internal issues. Things like - shaving off hair won’t help if bits of hair are still left in the follicles (you’d have to do a full body wax). 

I was rather disappointed that we didn’t see more of how things worked in practice. Some people complained about the economics for those left behind and whether small people deserved equal voting rights. These are fascinating questions and they’re brushed aside as unimportant. 

I enjoyed the first part of the film and thought the rest was a boring meander through stuff Safranek does to pass the time and feel good about himself. 

Not recommended.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Shout-Out: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist’s uncanny dystopian novel envisions a society in the not-so-distant future, where women over fifty and men over sixty who are unmarried and childless are sent to a retirement community called the Unit. They’re given lavish apartments set amongst beautiful gardens and state-of-the-art facilities; they’re fed elaborate gourmet meals, surrounded by others just like them. It’s an idyllic place, but there’s a catch: the residents—known as dispensables—must donate their organs, one by one, until the final donation. When Dorrit Weger arrives at the Unit, she resigns herself to this fate, seeking only peace in her final days. But she soon falls in love, and this unexpected, improbable happiness throws the future into doubt.

Clinical and haunting, The Unit is a modern-day classic and a chilling cautionary tale about the value of human life.