Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Graphic Novel Review: Meso Volume 1: Rise of the Tzalekuhl written by Tyler Chin-Tanner

Illustrated by Josh Zingerman and Val Rodrigues
Pros: good artwork, interesting set-up, interesting characters

Cons: /

Still angry that as child refugees they received no aid from their neighbours, the now adult Children of Tzalekuhl go to war determined to make the Huax’kin submit to their rule - or wipe them out.

This is a fantasy graphic novel inspired by Mesoamerican history and mythology, in particular that of the Maya and Aztecs.

I loved the artwork and how the various tribes look distinctly different, with their own hairstyles, clothing and adornments (jewelry, piercings, body art), weaponry, etc.

This is an opening act, so there’s mostly some character introductions, set-up for the various conflicts, and some background on how the various groups ended up where they are. It starts with a battle, so that’s not to say there’s no action. I found the different protagonists compelling. I felt conflicted about Roden, who seemed like a decent guy doing things to protect his family and home. But some of those things are kind of horrible when seen from the other side.

I was curious how much of the story was based on actual history (if any) and so was overjoyed the author included a ‘historical notes’ section at the end going over this, including a few book recommendations for those wishing to learn more.

This is an era of history that isn’t often used for fantasy storytelling so I found it fascinating and would love to read more.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Book Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes

Pros: interesting mythology, sympathetic protagonist

Cons:

Yetu is the Historian of the wajinru, sea dwelling descendants of pregnant slave women cast overboard. The memories of the ancestors overwhelm and pain Yetu, so they conceive a plan to leave the memories behind.

The Afterward mentions that the idea behind the wajinru comes from the mythology written by the music group Drexciya (James Stinson and Gerald Donald). Another music group, Clipping (rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes) wrote the song “The Deep” (nominated for a Hugo award in 2018) based on that mythology. The narrative of Basha, one of the ancestors whose story is told in this novella, incorporates the war with the two-legs that “The Deep” speaks of.

The mythology of the story is strangely poetic as it takes something horrifying and turns it into something beautiful. And while the story is fairly short, there’s a lot to take in. There’s a real weight to it, a depth that makes the underwater world feel real and lived in.

The idea of a singular memory keeper reminded me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, but I much preferred the ultimate solution the protagonist comes up with here for how to deal with memories as a population that wishes to forget the past while having it accessible, without having a singular member of the group subsumed by those memories. I appreciated that Yetu had anxiety and this caused the memories to weigh on them even more than on past historians.

It’s a sad, touching, and ultimately hopeful story that’s definitely worth the read.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Book Review: Salvaged by Madeleine Roux

Pros: great characters, interesting story

Cons:

On the run from her past, Rosalyn Devar took a job with Merchantia, cleaning up ships when missions go bad. Excessive drinking means this next mission is her last chance. But the Brigantine’s not the dead, drifting ship the company believes. To survive, she’ll have to face her past and a new alien threat.

If you like the claustrophobia of Alien and the mysterious alien element from The Expanse, you’ll love this book. My only complaint was that the holidays cut into my reading time so the paranoia had time to wear off between reading sessions. Otherwise, it gets very intense.

The characters were all quirky and interesting. The storytelling tight and focused. I did figure out one aspect of the mystery a lot sooner than the characters. The ending is a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Book Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Pros: interesting aliens, thought provoking

Cons: hard to sympathize with Tao’s POV

When Tao’s host is killed during a mission the alien entity must find a new host fast. Roan Tan is unsuitable in every way but beggars can’t be choosers. Now Tao has months to get him up to speed as an agent in the war between the Genjix and the Prophus because the enemy is up to something and Tao’s skills are needed.

I found this a challenging read in that I know enough history to understand that both alien sides of this war have done horrific things to humans and question the humans’ insistence that their side is doing things ‘for the betterment of humankind’. I’m sorry, causing a plague to make the war you started end faster isn’t helping the humans who will die either way. I therefore had a lot of difficulty sympathizing with Tao’s viewpoint.

If you can divorce yourself from the larger issues involved in the story (like the lack of human consent to becoming a host and having your life hijacked by a cause you can’t fully understand as these aliens have been waring on earth since their cashed spaceship killed the dinosaurs) it’s a fun romp. The story is basically a long training montage as Roen goes from an unhealthy lifestyle to becoming a decent agent (there’s still room for improvement in later books).

The book does - towards the end especially - deal with some of the above issues I had and I found the book quite thought provoking in several ways.

I loved the underpinning of the aliens. It’s horrifying and clever to show that they’ve manipulated the largest events in human history. I’d have liked learning more about Tao’s past, though the story gives enough to understand how things got to this point.

I didn’t find it the most engaging read. Roan grew on me but wasn’t someone I wanted to spend a lot of time with. While the pacing was ok, there was a lot of downtime, especially around the training when I found the book kind of dull. It does give the ending more punch but this isn’t a book I’d reread.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Shout-Out: Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

The start of a fierce fantasy duology about three maidens who are chosen for their land's greatest honor...and one girl determined to save her sister from the grave.

In the walled city-state of Alu, Kammani wants nothing more than to become the accomplished healer her father used to be before her family was cast out of their privileged life in shame.

When Alu's ruler falls deathly ill, Kammani’s beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of three sacred maidens to join him in the afterlife. It’s an honor. A tradition. And Nanaea believes it is her chance to live an even grander life than the one that was stolen from her.

But Kammani sees the selection for what it really is—a death sentence.

Desperate to save her sister, Kammani schemes her way into the palace to heal the ruler. There she discovers more danger lurking in the sand-stone corridors than she could have ever imagined and that her own life—and heart—are at stake. But Kammani will stop at nothing to dig up the palace’s buried secrets even if it means sacrificing everything…including herself.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Aga Khan Museum: Caravans of Gold Exhibit

Last week I was able to make it up to the Aga Khan Museum's Caravans of Gold exhibit (there until February 23rd).

Photos aren't allowed in their exhibits so I can only share my notes. The museum does some fantastic information plaques to accompany their displays. I'm using point form with my comments in brackets.

The exhibit deals specifically with trade across the Sahara desert and the medieval kingdom of Mali, which was one of the richest nations in history due to high quantities of gold and salt (necessary for preserving food).

- glass weights were used for measuring gold (I've not seen glass used as a measurement weight before, so this was cool. I'm used to seeing metal weights in European contexts)
- salt from Mali was tastier than other salt due to the number of minerals it contained, giving it a higher nutrient count as well
- lustreware was an ingenious innovation of Arab potters; it was highly prized in Europe for its reflective 'gold like' qualities, which were achieved by mixing silver sulfides and copper oxides into the paint before firing the item a second time
- Arabic manuscripts in west Africa were usually loose pages kept in a leather pouch (I'm curious if these were read one page at a time or if the reader would take out a small stack at once, or if these were more for meditative study rather than quick reading)
- Islamic religious writings were used as amulets (for example the text of the Qur'an was written on a tunic for protection when hunting)
- ivory was purchased by weight so the amount of it removed when carving sculptures/religious icons indicated a lavish expense
- by the 14th century increasing supply of ivory meant lower prices so more domestic items were made out of it (before this it was mainly used in religious icons, after this you find ivory combs, boxes, etc.)
- cowrie shells from the Indian ocean were used as currency in parts of medieval west Africa (I'm guessing their scarcity made them valuable and sought after)
- many ceramic canteens were left unglazed so as to cool the contents through evaporation
- Saharan nomads consider the tent to be a woman's property; mothers collect and sew together goat hides during their daughters' childhoods and then gift them a tent when they marry; this gives women more independence as if they divorce they still have a place to live
- nomads also use a lot of milk products; they put milk in portable containers when they travel and the motion of the camel churns it into butter (what a good use for motion, it also frees the person to do other tasks)

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Books Received in November 2019

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me the new Star Trek Discovery tie-in novel.

Star Trek Discovery: Dead Endless by Dave Galanter - I had mixed feelings regarding the first season of the show (haven't had the chance to see the second season yet). I really loved Stamets' character though. This sounds pretty interesting.

The U.S.S. Discovery’s specialty is using its spore-based hub drive to jump great distances faster than any warp-faring vessel in Starfleet. To do this, Lieutenant Paul Stamets navigates the ship through the recently revealed mycelial network, a subspace domain Discovery can briefly transit but in which it cannot remain. After responding to a startling distress call originating from within the network, the Discovery crew find themselves trapped in an inescapable realm where they will surely perish unless their missing mycelial fuel is found or restored. Is the seemingly human man found alone and alive inside the network the Starfleet officer he claims to be, or an impostor created by alien intruders who hope to extract themselves from the mycelial plane at the expense of all lives aboard Discovery?