Tuesday 30 October 2012

Books Received in October 2012

I had the privilege of attending two publisher previews this month (Harper Collins adult and Random House kids), which means I have more new books to read. :)

The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle.  I loved the first book and am very interested in seeing what happens next.

Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.

But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.

Mystic City by Theo Lawrence

Aria Rose, youngest scion of one of Mystic City's two ruling rival families, finds herself betrothed to Thomas Foster, the son of her parents' sworn enemies. The union of the two will end the generations-long political feud-and unite all those living in the Aeries, the privileged upper reaches of the city, against the banished mystics who dwell below in the Depths. But Aria doesn't remember falling in love with Thomas; in fact, she wakes one day with huge gaps in her memory. And she can't conceive why her parents would have agreed to unite with the Fosters in the first place. Only when Aria meets Hunter, a gorgeous rebel mystic from the Depths, does she start to have glimmers of recollection-and to understand that he holds the key to unlocking her past. The choices she makes can save or doom the city-including herself.

Bookweirdest by Paul Glennon.  I own the first book in this series, Bookweird, but it's one of those books I haven't had time to read.  I intend to rectify that in the coming year.  Here's the synopsis for Bookweird.

Norman Jespers-Vilnius is just an average eleven-year-old kid-until he absentmindedly nibbles on the edge of a page and wakes up inside his favourite book, the Undergrowth Series. Norman finds himself smack in the middle of an epic battle of animal kingdoms, where he forms a close friendship with young Malcolm, a future king. After joining Malcolm's fight he winds up back in his own bed, dirty and in torn pyjamas. But his adventures have only just started. It soon becomes clear that Norman has been caught by a mystifying force called "Bookweird"- Norman finds himself inside books his family is reading, mixing up plotlines. When he tries to undo an act of violence in his sister's horse novel, he has to explain the appearance of a pony to some disgruntled policemen at a crime scene in his mother's favourite thriller. Can Norman put all of the stories back on track and return these fictional worlds to normal? Or will Bookweird trap him in the pages forever?

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

A new vision of knights, dragons, and the fair maiden caught in between . . .

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered. While a sinister plot to destroy the peace is uncovered, Seraphina struggles to protect the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance will make a magical, indelible impression on its readers.

The Bridge by Jane Higgins

The City is divided. The bridges gated. In Southside, the hostiles live in squalor and desperation, waiting for a chance to overrun the residents of Cityside.

Nik is still in high school but is destined for a great career with the Internal Security and Intelligence Services, the brains behind the war. But when ISIS comes recruiting, everyone is shocked when he isn't chosen. There must be an explanation, but no one will talk about it. Then the school is bombed and the hostiles take the bridges. Buildings are burning, kids are dead, and the hostiles have kidnapped Sol. Now ISIS is hunting for Nik.

But Nik is on the run, with Sol's sister Fyffe and ISIS hot on their trail. They cross the bridge in search of Sol, and Nik finds answers to questions he had never dared to ask.

The Bridge is a gritty adventure set in a future world where fear of outsiders pervades everything. A heart-stopping novel about friendship, identity, and courage from an exciting new voice in young-adult fiction.

12.21 by Dustin Thomason

For decades, December 21, 2012, has been a touchstone for doomsayers worldwide. It is the date, they claim, when the ancient Maya calendar predicts the world will end.

In Los Angeles, two weeks before, all is calm. Dr. Gabriel Stanton takes his usual morning bike ride, drops off the dog with his ex-wife, and heads to the lab where he studies incurable prion diseases for the CDC. His first phone call is from a hospital resident who has an urgent case she thinks he needs to see. Meanwhile, Chel Manu, a Guatemalan American researcher at the Getty Museum, is interrupted by a desperate, unwelcome visitor from the black market antiquities trade who thrusts a duffel bag into her hands.

By the end of the day, Stanton, the foremost expert on some of the rarest infections in the world, is grappling with a patient whose every symptom confounds and terrifies him. And Chel, the brightest young star in the field of Maya studies, has possession of an illegal artifact that has miraculously survived the centuries intact: a priceless codex from a lost city of her ancestors. This extraordinary record, written in secret by a royal scribe, seems to hold the answer to her life's work and to one of history's great riddles: why the Maya kingdoms vanished overnight. Suddenly it seems that our own civilization might suffer this same fate.

With only days remaining until December 21, 2012, Stanton and Chel must join forces before time runs out.

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The end of the world was only the beginning.

In his internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed novel The Passage, Justin Cronin constructed an unforgettable world transformed by a government experiment gone horribly wrong. Now the scope widens and the intensity deepens as the epic story surges forward with . . .


In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child's arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as "Last Stand in Denver," has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned-and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind's salvation . . . unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man's extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Inhale. Exhale.
Breathe . . .
The world is dead.
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen rich air.

has been stealing for a long time. She's a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she's never been caught before. If she's careful, it'll be easy. If she's careful.

should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it's also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn't every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they'd planned a trip together, the two of them, and she'd hoped he'd discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days' worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco web-design drone, and serendipity, sheer curiosity and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey have landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead 'checking out' impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has embarked on a complex analysis of the customers' behaviour and roped his friends into helping him figure out just what's going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the secrets extend far beyond the walls of the bookstore.

Monday 29 October 2012

Book Review: The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin

Pros: fully realized dystopian world, thought provoking, interesting characters

Cons: problematic decisions by characters, black & white thinking

Justin was dying of cancer when he had himself cryogenically frozen in an abandoned mineshaft.  Woken 300 years later into a new, and very different world, he realizes that he cannot abide the necessity to incorporate - allowing others to buy and sell parts of him as stock.  He falls in love with his reanimation specialist - a serious moral crime, and is hounded by Hektor Sambianco on behalf of GCI - the reigning corporation - in whose facility he was reanimated.

This is a very slow read and a thought provoking one.  The first 100-150 pages are all character development and world building, as set up for the events later on.  Despite being a slow read, it is by no means a boring one.  The background information necessary for this book is given in realistic ways, rather than info dumps (with one later exception), and delves more heavily into history and socio-economics than most dystopian novels.  

The world is incredible.  It's intricate in all the ways dystopian fiction usually isn't.  Instead of using a corrupt government, the world is focused on corporations and people.  Incorporation means that at birth every citizen has 100 000 shares.  Parents get 20% and the government 5%.  The rest of the person's value is theirs to barter for services, starting with their education.  Saavy people can bargain for a better education at a smaller percentage of their future earnings.  The flip side of the system is that shareholders can dictate where you work, audit you if you make decisions they don't like, and have a say in your life.  People who want more control over their lives can buy back their own shares, gaining majority.  As pointed out by several characters, this system has the effect of making you care for others you have stock in (and anyone can buy stock of anyone else provided they have the cash for it).  You want to see those people succeed so their stock prices rise and you earn money from them.  The downside, and where Justin's problem comes in, is the lack of personal freedoms associated with the system.

Equality between the sexes (or lack thereof) is never mentioned, but there are a few lines that indicates sexual orientations of all sorts are acceptable and, if the names are anything to go by (since physical descriptions are minimal) there's little to no racism.

One of the issues I had with the book was that, like the future of This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, I actually thought it was pretty good.  There's still poverty (discussed/shown briefly later in the book), but the poor all have jobs and houses, are well fed and able to climb to greater things if they're lucky and/or work hard.  It's an issue because the majority of the book consists of Justin bucking society to not only remain unincorporated, but, as he's pushed over and over again by Hektor Sambianco to incorporate, becomes an advocate of unincorporation and freedom for everyone.  This decision creates problems Justin didn't foresee for the world around him.

It's very much a Western idea that things should change to suit the individual rather than society.  Perhaps it's because I lived in Japan for two years, but I actually believe the good of the many does outweigh the needs of the few.  Justin believes that he's right and there can be no compromise.  His point of view in the book that his way (so called freedom) is better than incorporation, especially given the reality of the world the Kollin brothers have created, is arrogant.  He simply doesn't understand enough about how this world works to make the determination that incorporation is wrong, a point which is pointed out to him by several of his friends later in the novel.  Indeed, his lack of understanding when it comes to 'the poor' of this new world (as he's rich and doesn't need to associate with them or live like them) just further removes him from reality.  And when things start going wrong in his name - well, all I could think of was Paul Atreides from Dune, who as Muad'Dib unleashed a war that he didn't want but couldn't stop.  Justin doesn't realize the consequences his actions will have on the system at large, consequences that he cannot stop, whether he wants them or not.

While I hated Hektor Sambianco as a person, there were times when he was the only one to see the consequences of Justin's actions beforehand, making his own actions sometimes understandable.  Having said that, he causes more problems than he solves by harrassing Justin.  He views the world in very black and white terms, much as Justin himself does.

It's a fascinating novel, and a great addition to the dystopian oeuvre.  If you're looking for action, look elsewhere.  If you want a book that will make you think about the way the world works, then pick this up.

Sunday 28 October 2012

StoryBundle's Halloween Bundle

News of HumbleBundle's first ebook bundle got around the internet fast.  Hopefully it's success means there will be others.  You may not have heard about StoryBundle.  It's the same idea, you pick the price you want to pay for the 6 books and what percentage of the money goes to the website and to the authors.  You can also choose to donate part of (or, I believe, all of) the money to a charity of their choice (they give 2 options), and if you pay above a certain amount ($9) you can unlock 2 extra books.

Their current bundle (which I bought despite knowing I probably won't get to the books for some time) is Halloween themed, meaning they're all horror novels.  They're DRM free and you get both epub and mobi files.

This bundle has a mix of professionally published and indie authors, which is pretty cool.  So, if you need more books to read, go check out their site.  Click on the books and you'll see a synopsis and excerpt.

I find these book bundles pretty cool.  How about you?

Friday 26 October 2012

New Author Spotlight: Gretchen McNeil

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with up to 3 books in the different SF/F subgenres.

Today's spotlight shines on Gretchen McNeil! Her books are:

  • Possess by Gretchen McNeil (Balzer + Bray)
  • Ten by Gretchen McNeil (Balzer + Bray)
Here's the cover copy for Ten:
Don't spread the word!
Three-day weekend. House party.
White Rock House on Henry Island.
You do not want to miss it.
It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives, three days on Henry Island at an exclusive house party. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their own reasons for wanting to be there, which involve their school's most eligible bachelor, T. J. Fletcher, and look forward to three glorious days of boys, bonding, and fun-filled luxury.
But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.
Suddenly, people are dying, and with a storm raging outside, the teens are cut off from the rest of the world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn't scheduled to return for three days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?
Check out these other books if you want some creepy serial killer tinged Halloween reading:

  • Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance (Square Fish)
  • Beyond by Graham McNamee (Wendy Lamb Books)
  • The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting (HarperCollins)

Thursday 25 October 2012

Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Director: Philip Kaufman

Pros: lots of famous - and terriffic - actors, several nods to the original film

Cons: overly dramatic music, bizarre camera angles

Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) discovers a new flower and brings a bloom home.  Her co-worker, and fellow health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donatld Sutherland) doesn't believe her when, the next day, she complains that her boyfriend isn't her boyfriend anymore.  He convinces her to attend his friend, a psychiatrist,'s book launch.  Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) has heard similar stories and discounts it, but Elizabeth and Matthew discover more and more evidence that something sinister is going on.

This film is both a sequel to and remake of the far superior 1956 film of the same name.  While the acting here is great, with several famous people (including Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright - from Alien).  Among the many nods to the original film is a brief appearance of Kevin McCarthy, the Doctor who discovers the pods in the 1956 version (it's this inclusion as well as the fact that it takes place in a city with obvious farms working at growing the pods, that make this feel like a sequel).

Where the film goes bad is with its overly dramatic soundtrack that's constatly bombarding you and the extreme use of bizarre camera shots - non-level shots, camera jiggle, seeing action via mirrors or through broken glass.  The pods are also more grotesque than in the original.

Several plot points that make perfect sense in the original don't here, because of the occupation changes.  It's natural to complain to a doctor in a small town who knows everyone that someone you love isn't right, not so natural to complain to the customer dropping off his dry cleaning.  Similarly, in the original, the changes between regular and pod people are so minor that only close relatives can tell the difference.  In this film the difference tends to be massive.  Take Elizabeth's boyfriend.  He starts out a die hard sports fan who'se very expressive.  The next day he's at work early, and couldn't care less about sports.  In other words, he changes in very easy to spot, unsubtle ways.  Unlike in the first film where the doctor talks to pod people and can't detect any difference, all Elizabeth should have needed to do here to convince Matthew she wasn't crazy was have him talk to her boyfriend.

The ending was pretty good, and different from that of both the earlier film and the novel.  Still, if you're interested in pod people, I'd highly recommend seeing the black and white 1956 version.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Book Review: Diverse Energies Edited by Tobias Buckell and Joe Monti

Pros: wide variety of dystopian worlds, protagonists of diverse races and sexual orientations

Cons: in several of the stories the characters are in lower class/servile roles to white people, 

For Parents: no language, minimal violence, one story hints at sex but there are no descriptions, three of the stories have positive GLTBQ content 

This is a great collection of stories.  Not only do they feature people of colour in lead roles, there are also several positive portrayals of gay/lesbian teens in worlds where their choices are normal and accepted by those around them as such.  Each of the dystopian worlds depicted is very different, with some ending with hope and others less optimistic.  I was a little disappointed that a few of the stories cast their coloured protagonists in subservient roles, as I expected this anthology to give a more hopeful viewpoint regarding race in the future (much as it does do for its GLTBQ characters).  But there's a lot to love about this collection, including the fact that a portion of the proceeds from the book are going to the Carl Brandon Society's Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund.  If you or your kids are into dystopian fiction, this is a must for your bookshelf.

***** "The Last Day" by Ellen Oh - It's the 15th year of the war between the East and the West and two 12 year old boys are working to help provide for their families in rural Japan.

This is a very powerful alternative history.  If you've read Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse or seen the Studio Gibli film Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka), you'll know where this story is headed.

*** "Freshee's Frogurt" by Daniel H. Wilson - A frozen yogurt worker gives a police report about the domestic robot that malfunctions and attacks him and his co-worker.

It's not mentioned in the collection, but this story comes from Wilson's Robopocalypse.  I was unable to finish that novel due to inconsistencies between the frame stories and the narratives they're retelling.  For example, this story is told after the fact, as a police report, yet for some reason the narrator is using present tense language which, I'll admit gives the story more immediacy, even though it makes no sense.  At one point the narrator says, "Man, I hope he's out of it" after watching his co-worker get injured.  The problem is, this happened sometime in the recent past, and no longer applies to where the narrator (or his co-worker) is now.  

The story itself is well written, if designed to be part of a larger narrative.

***** "The Uncertainty Principle" by K. Tempest Bradford - Iliana can tell when a change is coming, but she's the only one afterwards who recognizes that the world is different.

This story reminded me of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.  The writing is great and the story interesting.  The protagonist is feisty and proactive.  The world-building is necessarily limited.  I'd love to see this fleshed out as a novel, detailing what's changed as Iliana becomes old enough to know the history, etc. from previous timelines.

**** "Pattern Recognition" by Ken Liu - David and the other boys and girls at the Volpe Ness School are taught that the Outside world is a horrible, desolate place.  Inside the compound, the kids work on pattern games during the day, even as he wonders more and more about the outside world.

This premise - of a school of kids kept separate from a post-apocalyptic world - has been explored in several teen novels (Eve by Anna Carey comes immediately to mind), but it's the ending of this story that makes it unique.

**** "Gods of the Dimming Night" by Greg van Eekhout - It's the third winter without a summer in San Diego, and 17 year old Edward is out begging for work to help his family survive when he sees the flyer for a NorseCODE medical study that pays well.

Interesting use of Norse mythology.  I liked the author's definition of heroism at the end.

*** "Next Door" by Rahul Kanakia - Aakash's family squats in the garage of a family of strangers.  But unlike most of the strangers who wear implants, this father and son are aware of the hoards of street people around them.  When Aakash and his boyfriend see the son of his stranger family trying to break into the conservatory, they wonder if their dream of having their own pest free place to squat is finally within reach.

A very unique dystopian world, with gross overcrowding and a huge bedbug problem.  Definitely not a world I'd want to live in.  The story's a little bittersweet with an open ending.

*** "Good Girl" by Malinda Lo - Kyle looks pureborn despite her mixed blood, allowing her to live above ground.  She meets Nix in a basement leading to the tunnels to ask if her brother, who disappeared the previous year, lives there now, and finds something unexpected.

Another bittersweet story about forbidden love and survival in dangerous circumstances.  Well written but the ending's a little depressing.

*** "A Pocket Full of Dharma" by Paolo Bacigalupi - Wang Jun is a beggar boy in old Chengdu.  When he's witness to a murder, he ends up with an object that men will kill - and die - for.

Kind of long, the story moves around a lot, with Wang meeting up with various people, trying to figure out what to do with the object.  Very little is told about the interesting living architecture that is slowly growing over the city into luxury housing or the plague that crippled the boy.  Still, it has its moments.

*** "Blue Skies" by Cindy Pon - The unnamed narrator kidnaps a you girl for ransom.  You, the haves, live in helmeted suits, with purified oxygen, water and food.  This provides them longer lifespans than the rest of the human race.  

The story ends a bit abruptly, but I found the characters very interesting and the have/want conflict familiar, if taken to extremes.

**** "What Arms to Hold Us" by Rajan Khanna - Ravi drives a golly, a mechanical mining machine controlled via a crown powered by the mineral they're digging, primosite.  But Ravi dreams of someday moving on from the mines, like his older brother.

Minimal world building doesn't detract from the emotional punch of this story or the hopeful ending.

**** "Solitude" by Ursula K. Le Guin - Serenity's mother is a scientist who, when the inhabitants of Eleven-Soro prove to be enigmas to the previous Observers, decides to use her children as a means of learning how the society works.  Growing up as one of the natives, Serenity has more of a connection to her new home than her mother's people.

This is a great story about learning from other cultures and accepting that one people's way of seeing the world isn't every people's way of doing so.  It's a longer story and while it covers a lot of time, it's interesting for its characters and world building.  

Whoops, wrong Minecraft Gangnam Style Video

I was in quite a hurry yesterday when I posted the Mincraft Gangnam Style video and it seems I grabbed the wrong one.  Sorry about that.  Here's the video I'd intended to post, by CaptainSparklez.

Monday 22 October 2012

Minecraft Gangnam Style

Because I love Minecraft and because I still like Gangnam Style, despite it's being parodied by everyone, here's Chickenkeeper 24's clever Minecraft Gangnam Style.

Sorry, I put this up in a hurry and grabbed the wrong video.  This is the video I'd intended to post.

Friday 19 October 2012

Superpowers Reading List

A few years ago I did a Superheroes Reading List, with some literary and SF books.  Since books featuring people with superpowers, not just heroes in capes, have become very popular lately, consider this a revamp of that previous list (though I didn't add the books I've listed previously).  For ebooks, I've only added Carina's, because I happened to be on their site doing my 'upcoming books' post and noticed them, and Stephen Henning's A Class Apart, because I've read it and therefore know about it. Generally searching for ebooks is tough and I haven't figured out a good way of doing it yet, especially since there are so many platforms where ebooks can be published.

As with my other lists, this isn't meant to be comprehensive.  It's just to suggest books you might not have heard of.  Having said that, feel free to leave titles and authors in the comments of books you'd like to see added.

Masked - Lou Anders, Ed.
Only Superhuman - Christopher Bennett
Broken - Susan James Bigelow
Seven Wonders, Empire State - Adam Christopher
Shadow Ops: Control Point - Myke Cole
Soon I Will Be Invincible - Austin Grossman
The Damned Busters, Costume Not Included - Matthew Hughes
Firestarter - Stephen King
A Once Crowded Sky - Tom King
Wild Cards, Fort Freak, Aces High - George R. R. Martin, Ed.
Trance, Changeling - Kelly Meding
Crossfire - Miyuki Miyabe
Heroics - Brian Moll, Ed.
Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Blaze of Glory - Sheryl Nantus
The Rook - Daniel O'Malley
Mind Storm, Terminal Point - K. M. Ruiz
Prepare to Die! - Paul Tobin
After the Golden Age - Carrie Vaughn

The Superheroes Union: Dynama - Ruth Dias
How to Date a Henchman - Mari Fee 
A Class Apart - Stephen Henning 
Yesterdays Heroes - Heather Long

* And as with my other lists, this list was the basis for an endcap currently on display at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, Canada.  Adam Christopher is one of my interviewees for the month, so his books are displayed with his interview at the top.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Director: Don Siegel

Pros: brilliant use of light, shadows and sound, tight plot, tense storytelling, great acting

Cons: the studio enforced frame story 

Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns home early from a medical conference due to a high number of patients, but when he arrives only a few remain.  These people claim that family members aren't actually family members, despite looking identical and having that person's memories.  Over the course of two days, as he woos the also recently returned former love of his life Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), Miles slowly comes to realize that something nefarious is indeed happening in Santa Mira.

I studied this film in university, so I remember that the frame story, where Miles speaks to a doctor outside Santa Mira, wasn't originally supposed to be there.  Indeed, the ending is much more terrifying if you take that frame out.

On this rewatch, I saw the black and white version of the film.  The use of shadows and light to enhance suspense and add to the horror was masterfully done, as is the soundtrack.  In one scene in particular, the music clues you in to a major change before the actions of the actors.

The actors are fantastic, showing love and concern at the beginning, and fear and horror towards the end.  The story arc allows for character development despite the film's taking place within a short period of time.  I also learned that 'going to Reno'  used to be slang for getting a divorce, mentioned near the opening of the film.

Generally believed to be a commentary on McCarthyism, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic.  If you want a happy ending, read the book by Jack Finney that this was based on.  Want a brilliant science fiction movie, watch this film.  

(Note, I haven't seen the 1978 version, but I intend to soon.)

Wednesday 17 October 2012

If I Had ALL the Time in the World

First fantasy edition.

There are so many books I'd love to read, both old and new.  Since I won't actually get to read them all, I figure I could showcase some.  Maybe other people will read them and tell me what I'm missing. :)  I've actually managed to read a few of the books on my first list, and by closing my site to review requests I'm hoping to get to some of these in the next year.

The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel

Welcome to seventeenth-century Paris, where intrigue, duels, and spies are rife and Cardinal Richelieu's agents may be prevailed upon to risk life and limb in the name of France at a moment's notice. And with war on the horizon, the defense of the nation has never been more pressing.

Danger is rising from the south—an insidious plot that could end with a huge dragon-shaped shadow falling over France, a shadow cast by dragons quite unlike the pet dragonets that roam the cities like stray cats, or the tame wyverns men ride like horses, high over the Parisian rooftops. These dragons and their descendants are ancient, terrible, and powerful ... and their plans contain little room for the lives or freedom of puny humans.

Cardinal Richelieu has nowhere else to turn; Captain La Fargue and his elite group of agents, the Cardinal's Blades, must turn the tide. They must hold the deadly Black Claw cult at bay, root out traitors to the crown, rescue prisoners, and fulfill their mission for the Cardinal, for their country, but above all for themselves.

It's death or victory. And the victory has never been less certain...

The King of the Crags by Stephen Deas 

[I read book one of this series and loved it but haven't had time to pick up any of the later books (and I think it's up to 4 now).]

Now, as the Realms teeter on the brink of war, the fate of humanity rests in the survival of one majestic white dragon.

Prince Jehal has had his way-now his lover Zafir sits atop the Realms with hundreds of dragons and their riders at her beck and call. But Jehal''s plots are far from over, for he isn''t content to sit back and watch Zafir command the earth and sky. He wants that glory for himself- no matter who he must sacrifice to get it. The one thing Jehal fears is that the white dragon still lives-and if that is so, then blood will flow, on all sides...

The King's Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells (plus it's two sequels)

The Kingdom of Rolencia sleeps as rumours of new Affinity Seeps, places where the untamed power wells up. By royal decree all those afflicted with Affinity must serve the Abbey or face death. Sent to the Ab­bey, the King's youngest son, Fyn, trains to become a warrior monk. Elsewhere others are tainted with Affinity and must fight to survive. Political intrigue and magic combine in this explosive first book in an exciting new fantasy trilogy.

Beseiged also by Rowena Cory Daniells (and it's two sequels)

Sorne, the estranged son of a King on the verge of madness, is being raised as a weapon to wield against the mystical Wyrds. Half a continent away, his father is planning to lay siege to the Celestial City, the home of the T En, whose wyrd blood the mundane population have come to despise. Within the City, Imoshen, the only mystic to be raised by men, is desperately trying to hold her people together. A generations long feud between the men of the Brotherhoods and the women of the sacred Sisterhoods is about to come to a head. With war without and war within, can an entire race survive the hatred of a nation? Rowena Cory Daniells, the creator of the bestselling Chronicles of King Rolen s Kin, brings you a stunning new fantasy epic, steeped in magic and forged in war.

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum (and it's sequels)

Symir -- the Drowning City. home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government.

For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown. All she has to do is find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces of Symir. But she is torn between her new friends and her duties, and the longer she stays in this monsoon-drenched city, the more intrigue she uncovers -- even the dead are plotting. 

As the waters rise and the dams crack, Isyllt must choose between her mission and the city she came to save.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Canada Writes: A Sci-Fi Odyssey

CBC Books is hosting a Canadian science fiction odyssey with author Q&As, giveaways, writing tips and more.  This is all going on from now until Halloween.  From their site:

What awaits us on our maiden voyage into the sci-fi realm? Stay tuned! Over the next few weeks, we'll be posting:

* Daily writing tips from Canadian sci-fi and speculative fiction authors on how to keep the unreal both compelling and, well, real

* Our brand-new Canada Writes Magic 8 Q&A with a sci-fi bent (kicking it off? None other than Cory Doctorow)

* An exclusive blog by Canadian sci-fi guru Robert J. Sawyer

* Partnership with the wild and wonderful folks at SF Canada

* A 12-hour Twitter writing challenge on Wednesday, October 24 with a sci-fi theme, a celebrity judge, and great prizes (more details to come!)

* A special sci-fi-themed battle in our Literary Smackdown series with The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers on Monday, October 29. (Combatants: Peter Watts and Minister Faust!)

Book Review: Beyond by Graham McNamee

This is my second R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril VII) review, and the first book.  I'm not sure I'll be able to get a second book in as planned, but we'll see.  If you want to see what reviews others have written, check here.

Pros: great characters, fast paced, honest chills, no romance

Cons: too short!

For Parents: no content

The real reason behind Jane's numerous brushes with death is too crazy for anyone but her fellow 'creep sister' to believe.  So when she starts hearing voices and seeing things - in addition to her already extreme sleepwalking and migranes - she only tells her friend Lexi what's really going on.  Somehow, she's picked up a ghost.  One who wants her dead, and is able to use her own shadow - and body - to kill her.

This is a brilliantly written teen novel.  The chapters are short and punchy, making it very fast paced and quick to read.  The characters are fully fleshed: Jane's parents who love their daughter and want to help but don't know how.  Jane, who wants to explain but knows they won't believe her.  Lexi, whose father left when she was young, and who makes dark films in order to understand the world.

The story is explained through quick flashbacks to Jane's various deaths, her friendship with Lexi and dealing with the present.  There is a love interest, but it's kept low key and just barely factors into the plot.

The ghost is suitably terrifying, as is it's reasoning for wanting Jane.  There is some adult creepiness involved with the ghost's past that comes into play with Jane's present, but it's passed over with limited details.

It's a great book for younger teens to adults who want a decent - but not gory or too terrifying - scare.   And the author's Canadian. :)

Monday 15 October 2012

Movie Review: Frankenstein (1931)

I'm rather behind on my R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) picks, but here's my first.  If you want to see what else has been reviewed for R.I.P., go here.

Directed by: James Whale

Pros: great acting, classic horror motifs

Pro/Cons: major divergences from the novel

Helped by his hunchbacked assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) and witnessed by his fiancee (Mae Clarke), best friend (John Boles) and former professor (Edward Van Sloan), Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) plays God when he stitches body parts together and endows his creature with life. 

The movie diverges from the novel by Mary Shelley in several ways, not least of which is making the monster (Boris Karloff) unintelligent.  Switching Frankenstein's first name with that of his friend caused me a fair amount of confusion when watching the film.  Then again, this film is much more entertaining than the novel, with less of Frankenstein's woes.

This film has all the hallmarks of a good horror flick of its time: mad scientist, hunchbacked assisstant, scary monster, murder and mobs.  A few moments come close to being humerous, especially when viewed today.  Being in black and white really helps it keep the mood though.  The actors do such a great job, especially Karloff, whose Frankenstein has become the iconic image of that character. 

The monster is almost sympathetic, objecting to its mistreatment at the hands of Fritz and then Dr. Frankenstein.  It could be used as a cautionary tale of how bullying and abuse can create monsters, if the victim is pushed hard enough.

This movie has had such a huge influence on later films and it's worth the time to watch it.  And you can do so for free online.

Saturday 13 October 2012

New Author Spotlight: Warren Hammond

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with up to 3 books in the different SF/F subgenres.

Today's spotlight shines on Warren Hammond!

His books are:
  • KOP by Warren Hammond (Tor)
  • Ex-KOP by Warren Hammond (Tor)
  • KOP Killer by Warren Hammond (Tor)
Here's the cover copy for Kop:

Juno is a dirty cop with a difficult past and an uncertain future. When his family and thousands of others emigrated to the colony world of Lagarto, they were promised a bright future on a planet with a booming economy. But before the colonists arrived, everything changed. An opportunistic Earth-based company developed a way to produce a cheaper version of Lagarto's main export, thus effectively paupering the planet and all its inhabitants.  
Growing up on post-boom Lagarto, Juno is but one of the many who live in despair. Once he was a young cop in the police department of the capital city of Koba. That was before he started taking bribes from Koba's powerful organized crime syndicate. Yet despite his past sins, some small part of him has not given up hope. So he risks his life, his marriage and his job to expose a cabal that would enslave the planet for its own profit.  
But he's got more pressing problems, when he's confronted with a dead man, a short-list of leads, and the obligatory question: who done it? Set up for a fall, partnered with a beautiful young woman whose main job is to betray him, and caught in a squeeze between the police chief and the crooked mayor, Juno is a compelling, sympathetic hero on a world that has no heroes.  
An exciting science fiction adventure and a dark, gritty noir thriller told in taut, powerful prose, this is a remarkable debut novel.
Check out his books if you like SF noir or stories about cops on other planets, like these:
  • Bone Song by John Meaney (Spectra)
  • Hellhole by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson (Tor)
  • Up Against It by M.J. Locke (Tor)

Friday 12 October 2012

Movie Review: Haxan

Director: Benjamin Christensen, 1922

Pros: mix of photographs and cinematic depictions, realistic sets/costumes/situations

Cons: only minor critical analysis, some of his facts/analysis have since been disproved *

The version of this film that I saw was black and white with red - and occasionally blue - colour tinting.  It had no soundtrack, which made the film... interesting to watch.  The film is split into seven parts.  It's done in a documentary style, with the background history of superstition explained using historical images and models before dealing specifically with witchcraft as understood in the middle ages.  Each part tackles the next progression in witchcraft, from generally understood practices, to their capture, torture and confession, denouncing of other 'witches', and what in the present times (the 1920s) might have been considered witchcraft in the past.

The production values are pretty good, the sets and situations somewhat overemphasized to show the director's points but within realistic lines.  More recent scholarship has disproved the number of witches he claims were killed (8 million in 8000 years)*, with older scholarship removing hysteria (his explanation of why women might have been accused of witchcraft in the past) as a disease.

I liked how he pointed out - if briefly - that people of his day still held on to some superstitious beliefs (specifically the spiritualism of the day that dealt with Ouija boards and seances).  His main point, that people have never been entirely free of superstitions (and probably never will) was a cautionary word against creating new witch hunts when dealing with things that are unexplained, or as a way of getting rid of unwanted people.

It's an interesting film if you're into the history of witches and medieval justice, though if it's the justice you're after, know that he does make some minor errors there too and use the information in this film as a jumping off point for more research rather than end source material.

* Turns out I'm wrong here.  I know the high number of witches executed were lower than assumed during the Middle Ages, but it's significantly higher in the Renaissance than I believed.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Ghosts With S*it Jobs Movie Screening

Projection Booth Theater in Toronto (1035 Gerrard St. East) is screening Ghosts With S*it Jobs tomorrow night (Oct. 12) at 9 PM to help promote the Monsters and Martians Science Fiction Film Festival (Nov. 22-25).

Check out their website to see the trailer and find out more information about the film.  Tickets are $10.

Closed to Review Requests

I've been thinking of closing my site to review requests for a while.  The real impetus has been my 'All the time in the world' posts, where I list books I'd love to read - but don't have time to.  I've only posted 2 or 3 of those so far, but I've got some in the wings and more books keep getting added.

I'm the type of person who keeps book lists.  When I see a book I want to read I write it down.  I try to set up a reading schedule (always changing as new books pop up unexpectedly).  With all the review books I get, it's hard to read books I see elsewhere at all, let alone within a reasonable amount of time.  I take reviewing seriously.  I'm a bookseller by trade and enjoy promoting books.  But even more than that, I enjoy reading them.  And I've decided it's time to take back some of my reading time.

Here's the pile of books by my dining room table:
I think I've read a few of the books in it, maybe as many as 4.  Obviously more to go.  Here are my husband's bookshelves:
So far, I've read the first book of the first collection of the Lensman Chronicles.  He's also got a few Pratchett novels I read before I met him.  Aside from that, this is virgin territory.  I keep finding nifty books mentioned online that I'd like to read.  After checking out the library, my store and other sites without luck (as I'm getting into older SF), I take a browse through his bookshelves.  You wouldn't believe the number of books I've discovered he owns that I want to read.  Somehow, it's always a shock too, realizing I'd wasted all that time.  I need to start checking out his shelves first. :)

This is a neater pile I made for the purposes of photography.  It includes the books from the floor pile above that I haven't read, as well as some books from my living room shelves (but not my husband's).  It does not include any of the books I haven't read from my bookshelves upstairs or the piles on either side of the bed.  Or the ebooks on my various readers.

Most of these are from publishers because I'm a bookseller (from product previews, previous book expos (Book Expo Canada, Book Expo America), store mailings, etc).  Some (a significantly smaller number) are because of my blog.  Some I bought myself (note: books I buy go to the bottom of my reading pile as there's no 'deadline'.  In order to read books I want to own faster, I started borrowing them from work so that I'd have to return them.  This has the added benefit of making sure I like the books before I buy them.  But there are a few books that I bought before instituting this that have been waiting patiently for years - and in vain - for me to pick them up).

I feel bad when publishers send me books and I don't read them.  Sometimes it's because I'm not interested in the book.  Sometimes it's because other books have crowded it out of my reading schedule.  Sometimes it's because it's a sequel and I can't justify spending the time reading the previous books in the series.

I'm looking to change all of that by closing this site to reviews.  I'd like to take the next year (or more) to, if not read all the books currently in my house unread (by me), put a serious dent into the piles.  I'd like to read the sequels to books I enjoyed.  I'd like to read the previous books in series publishers have sent me the most recent books in.  I'd like to read outside the genre once in a while.  I've been thinking of starting some medieval book reviews (both primary and secondary sources).  I'd like to read all the backlist titles I've written down in my time as a bookseller and haven't had time to pick up.

I intend to keep an eye on NetGalley to see what's coming up, and to throw in the occasional new book review.  But I am so looking forward to being able to hear about a book or think about one and read it immediately.  This year, if there was a book I wanted to read it would take 3 months or more before I could pick it up, and that didn't necessarily mean I'd be able to finish it.  I've got the Brave New Worlds anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, started but unfinished next to me.  Ready Player One suffered the same fate, as did the short story collection of John W. Campbell's that I bought last year, all excited to be getting into SF short stories.  And often by the time I was able to pick a book up, I wasn't as interested/excited by it anymore (you have to be in the right mood for books).

There's so much to read, and I intend to read a lot of it.  But to do that, I need fewer obligations and more time to explore all the books out there.  This year I have (somehow) managed to read almost a book a week.  Even so, the piles keep getting higher.  It's time to stop letting the piles grow and start seeing them shrink a little.

So until further notice, Sci-Fi Fan Letter is closed to review requests.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Book Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Pros: fascinating and unique blend of technology, religion and magic; interesting and personable characters; subtle humour; self-contained novel; brilliant ending

Cons: *misuse of some big words

Tara Abernathy has been cast out by the Hidden Schools, but not before she graduated as a Craftswoman, able to use soulstuff to perform God-like tasks.  She's hired by Ms. Kevarian of the firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, to help with a delicate legal case.

In the city of Alt Coulumb the God, Kos Everburning, has died.  Ms. Kevarian, hired by the clergy to oversee his resurrection, must contend against her former associate, and Tara's former professor and the reason she was kicked out of school, Alexander Donovo.

Helping the two women in their investigation of why Kos died, is the last person to see Him alive, Novice Technician Abelard.  

This is a novel with a lot going on.  There are several interconnected plots set up by various people for various reasons.  They take place in a city that's a fascinating mix of technology, religion and magic.  The city, for example, has trains and elevators that run off steam produced by Kos.  The Craft is an attempt by humans to recreate the power of the Gods by using the stars and soulstuff, either their own or that stolen from others.  Use of the Craft is centered around dealing with legal contracts regarding the use of the power of the Gods for different purposes (like powering elevators) and for raising the dead. But it can also be used for protection and myriad other things.  It's never fully explained and while it has limits, the limits are not examined in much detail.

The book has been marketed as an urban fantasy novel, probably because it takes place in a city - though a fantasy one (a throwaway line in the book implies that this world is in an alternate dimension).  But the tone, feel and use of magic are all traditional fantasy, if fantasy with a heavy mystery slant.  The complex ending reminded me of James Knapp's Revivors books, with several seemingly unimportant details actually being crucial to the story.  And for those looking for fantasy novels that aren't parts of giant series, this book is entirely self-contained.  There's plenty of room for the author to continue the story, but readers get a finished plot arc in this volume. 

Tara's a great character, strong but still learning and always looking for approval from her Boss.  My only complaint with her is that she's quite smart and yet does something remarkably stupid at the beginning of the book.  She hides the fact that she's a Craftswoman, but then uses craft in a major way that was bound to cause trouble for her.  I liked that she was a dark-skinned character, though, beyond the occasional descriptions there was nothing that indicated she was different from the others (which could just be because this world doesn't have the same cultural/racial divisions our world has).  It was nice to see a POC protagonist without being a stereotype of one kind or another.  Tara was definitely her own woman.

All of the characters in this novel feel three dimensional.  They each have failings, though Ms. Kevarian is more of an enigma than the others up to the end.  I really liked Cat and her addiction, and how that played out in the novel at large.  

I really enjoyed Gladstone's writing style, with its occasional bouts of subtle humour and subversion of expectations.  It seems petty to mention, but there was one thing I noticed a few times which disturbed me a little.  He threw in 'big words' occasionally, not often enough to be irksome if you don't know what they mean, but he used two words (one I knew, one I had to look up) incorrectly.  It's fine if you want to sound erudite to throw in big words now and then, but if you're an author you've got to understand the words you're using.  Calling someone who's cutting up a cadaver a 'vivisectionist'* isn't going to impress those who know (or look up) the word.  Vivi means life, so she's only a vivisectionist if her subject is still alive when she starts cutting (thanks Island of Doctor Moreau).  Thankfully it only happened a few times, but readers do pick up on these things, and it doesn't look good for an author to have their words questioned.  I specifically looked up the next few big words I encountered, just to see if the author was using them correctly (one he didn't - caesura **, the other he did - palimpsest).

If you're not nitpicky, the big words are easy to pass over as their meanings (or, what the author intends them to mean) are easily gleaned from context.  This book is well worth reading for the plot and characters.  It has one of the most brilliantly tied up endings I've read in quite some time.  If you're looking for a different kind of fantasy, one with excellent world building and a complex mystery, here's your book.

[* I got an email from the author explaining that he knew vivisectionist was wrong, but used it because it's a prettier word than the alternatives.  I can understand that.
** He also mentioned that caesura can mean a pause in work - ie, that the character is putting the books down for now and picking them up again later.  The definition I saw only mentioned that it is "a complete pause in a line of poetry or in a musical composition".  I'm willing to accept that there is more than one definition of the word and that I found the wrong one.
As I said, these were nitpicky points and no dictionaries are needed to understand or enjoy the story.  On the plus side, I learned 2 new words. :)  ]

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Guest Post: Max Gladstone

Today I welcome to my blog Max Gladstone, author of Three Parts Dead, a new novel out from Tor Books. Check out his website and be back tomorrow for my review of his debut. Here's a little about him, in his own words:

Max has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia. Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese.

At six a.m. one morning in late August 2006, my friend Wyatt and I stepped off a train onto a broad cement plaza in front of the Huangshan City train station in southern China. A driver received us, and his small black car wound down twenty minutes of road out to Xiuning Middle School, where we spent the next two years teaching.

The Xiuning area has developed in intervening years, but at that time the school sat in miles of farms stretching back to green mountains. Wyatt and I set to learn what we could about this place that had become our home. A fellow teacher guided us through the grounds. The school library stood nearby, and facing its doors a statue of two girls, one standing, the other seated. Each woman's hands clasped a book.

Our guide told us the young women were former students, one of whom now worked as an economist for the UN; the other was a scientist, I believe. Two women who won their way out of the country into the wider world.

That night, Wyatt and I bought beers from a small store across the street and sat on the library steps and toasted one another and the statues. We drank to them, and with them, wondering how they'd felt when their lives led them past strange horizons. We felt an echo of that experience ourselves: far beyond the forests and oceans of our childhoods.

Those statues were our companions through the next two years. We met those women again and again—or, versions of them, kids from villages two hours' walk from the nearest road, who saw their parents once or twice a semester because there wasn't time for them to travel home. Kids who sat through twelve hours of class a day, woke at six in the morning and bent themselves again to their books. Kids who saw in education their chance for a life beyond the fields.

They were right: the Chinese education system revolves around a single test, the Gao Kao, administered at the end of high school. A student with a high score on the Gao Kao gets into the program of her choice at the school of her choice; a student with a low score on the Gao Kao may not be admitted to any school at all. For poor students, the test is a battlefield, and a door to a wider world.

I grew up in a small town in Tennessee, and I'd thought back in high school that I knew ambition. In their dedication, in their determination, in their grit, some of these fifteen-year-olds outclassed the most serious scholars I'd ever known. They worked as if there was a gun to their heads. In a way there was.

Without those students, those statues, my first novel, Three Parts Dead, would have been a very different book. The main character, Tara, is a young woman like many of my students: a girl from a small country town, hungry for the world beyond. That world, though, is bigger than she expected, and more dangerous; the book's beginning finds her reeling, and wondering what she's got herself into.
Writing Tara, I thought back to that first night in Xiuning, the beer and the moon and the statues, and the weight of choices. I tried to capture that tension between ambition and intimidation, that sense of excitement in spite of enemies and challengers. I tried to write something worth those statues. I hope I succeeded.

Friday 5 October 2012

Author Interview: Adam Christopher

Empire State
Seven Wonders

Short Stories: several, some of which you can read for free here

Website: www.adamchristopher.co.uk

> What is your new novel, Seven Wonders, about?  

Seven Wonders is an all-out, spandex-clad superhero adventure. It's set in the city of San Ventura, California, the home of the world's last superteam, the Seven Wonders, who are locked in an endless game of cat and mouse with the world's last supervillain, the Cowl. One day, an ordinary guy, Tony, wakes up with superpowers, and he decides he can finally do what the Seven Wonders have never been able to - take down the Cowl, once and for all. Only Tony soon discovers that the Seven Wonders aren't as grateful as he thought they'd be to have a new superhero in town...

> Your first novel, Empire State, also deals with super heroes, but in an alternate 20s New York.  How much research did you do on the prohibition era and what interested you in that period?
I've always been interested in the Prohibition and 1920s America - looking back, it's such a bizarre period, and it's amazing that the Eighteenth Amendment actually came to be. I remember a fascination with that period going right back to when I was about ten, I think! And looking ahead into the 1930s, you start to get the whole hardboiled detective thing, and the beginnings of what we'd recognise as modern comics, including superheroes. So it's an amazing and crazy period of history. And because of this, there has (fortunately) been plenty of research into the period. For Empire State, I leaned heavily on Dry Manhattan by Michael A. Lerner, which specifically deals with the impact of Prohibition in New York. The hardboiled/noir aspect of Empire State came from my love of Raymond Chandler and the great pulp writers - there is something very satisfying about writing those kind of characters, complete with trenchcoats and hats and that very dry sense of humour.

> What drew you to writing about superheroes?
I love superheroes, but I never grew up with comic books - when I was about seven, en route to our regular summer vacation, we stopped at a corner store and my dad bought me an issue of Batman, an issue of Iron Man, and one of those Marvel character compendium things (to shut me up in the car, I think - and in those days you could buy comics in corner stores!), and while I read each one cover-to-cover about a hundred times, I was more interested in the Marvel character encyclopedia. Years later, a friend at high school used to read 2000AD, the weekly British SF anthology comic, under his desk at the back of class, and I remember being fairly impressed with the stories, although after he moved away I kinda forgot about it.

Fast-forward again to about 2003, and I was browsing the magazine rack in a book store and saw 2000AD there. I picked it up on a whim, and was hooked immediately - for some reason, at the grand old age of 25, I'd discovered something that I felt was really for me. So after reading 2000AD for a while, I decided to go for broke and try some superhero comics, starting with Iron Man and Batman. And that was it - it was like a switch was turned on in my brain. I'd found my home, and since then superhero comics have been a burning passion.

So it made sense to write a superhero novel, to get it all out of my system, as it were! Seven Wonders was the second novel I wrote, and Empire State was next.

> If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Super-speed, like The Flash! I could get so much done! Although, when you think about it, it's a weird power, because The Flash's mental processes also accelerate to match his speed (they have to, obviously)... but that means if he runs to China, and it takes like one second in real time, for him it has still taken three months! So yeah, with super-speed I could write a novel a day... but from my point of view, that would still feel like 9-12 months! Hmm, on second thoughts...

> What made you want to be a writer?
I've always written - we wrote at school regularly, starting when I was seven - it was just something you did. This coincided with a huge repeat run of old Doctor Who on New Zealand television, which I became completely obsessed with, so most of what I was writing was my own interpretation of whatever episode had been on the previous week! As I got older, the creative writing was replaced with things like essays and assignments (I followed a science path, rather than something like English), but I kept my hand in with some Doctor Who fan fiction for TSV, the fanzine of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club (which I eventually ended up editing, and won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for in 2010).

Just as I was moving to the UK, a new SF publisher was being set up and they were open to unagented submissions, so I decided to give it a shot. I was rejected, of course, but it was an important moment, a real turning point. Because that made me realise that a) I really did want to be a writer, and b) if I was going to make it, it had to be the most important thing in my life. Having had that lightning bold realisation, I started listening to writing podcasts, not just for writing advice but to find the community. One of the first ones I came across was I Should Be Writing, by Mur Laffterty, which was a huge help and really set me on my path. And it worked! Which is still a constant source of wonder and surprise for me.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
Good grief, no way! The main character in Empire State, Rad, gets put through the wringer, and I'm not sure I'd want to go through the events of Seven Wonders myself! But that's the point of a good story - nobody comes out the other end unchanged. For some it is for the better, but for some it is definitely for the worse!

> What were your literary influences for Seven Wonders and Empire State?
Seven Wonders: a lot of comics, obviously - Astro City by Kurt Buseik was the biggest influence, but also the work of Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Paul Levtiz, and many others. Not forgetting the greats of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics - I've described Seven Wonders as my homage to the Silver Age, with a dose of Bronze Age angst and grit thrown in!

Empire State: Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep is one of my favourite novels - in fact, the idea for Empire State came about after reading that novel, and wondering what it would have been like if Chandler had written science fiction - which he famously hated), and a fascination I have with period superheroes .The Golden Age adventures of superheroes like the Green Lantern and Batman were frequently bizarre, and I've always thought that the film Batman Begins would have been brilliant if it had been set in 1939.

> You've had several stories nominated and longlisted for awards, and have posted the stories for free on your website.  Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?
Novels, absolutely. I don't particular enjoy reading or writing short fiction - the short fiction I have written only came about when the idea and plot arrived in my head complete from beginning to end, but I'd never actually sit down and say, right, I'm going to write a short story! Also, I think that old advice of starting on short fiction then graduating to novels is completely bogus - they are two different forms entirely, and writing one will not teach you anything about writing the other. You should write whatever you like, no matter if it is 1000 words or 100,000!

> What's the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?
The first novel I wrote is called Dark Heart, and it's sitting in a trunk somewhere. It was an important achievement, and it told me that yes, I can write a 100,000-word story. It's an occult steampunk novel, and while the plot is pretty solid (as far as I can remember), it needs a heck of a lot of work - like, a total rewrite - to bring it publishable quality. Maybe I'll dig it out and have a go, one day!

> When and where do you write?
I write in blocks of 1,000 words with breaks in between, and try to fit as many of those into a day as I can - which depends on my schedule, but the minimum is 2,000 words a day when I have other work to do, and around 3-4,000 words if I'm writing full time. For the first draft, I work on my laptop in a comfy chair in our library (really a converted dining room!), which is nice and relaxed, and then for the edits I shift upstairs to my office and sit at my desk, because that's a little more formal and business-like, and I have a big monitor so I can have multiple documents and notes open at once, which is handy for copying and pasting and rearranging stuff.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?
The best thing is being paid to make stuff up and write it down. I mean, come on, that's the best job in the world! The worst thing is knowing that I've got more ideas than I'll ever be able to write in one lifetime.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?
The whole thing has really been a learning experience and I find the publishing process fascinating - there is a reason it takes a year or more for a book to go from submission to the store shelf! Probably the biggest thing has been discovering how amazing and valuable good editors and good copyeditors are. My goodness, the magic they weave.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?
Keep writing. You learn by writing, and writing, and writing, and the more you write, the better you get. Write something, send it out, get rejected, write the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. Keep writing and keep getting rejected. I think there are four key factors to a career as an author - talent, skill, luck and perseverance. Talent is something those lucky few are born with, but for the rest of us you can skill up, learn things, get better. Getting published is a combination of hard work and good luck, but you can get yourself into the right situations where you might get lucky by persevering. Keep on trucking - that's my advice. Print that off and stick it on the wall above your desk!

> Any tips against writers block?
Write through it. Write total garbage, it doesn't matter, you can fix it later. And by writing garbage you might discover something new and unexpected. The most important thing is not to worry about it.  Re-outlining can help, just give yourself a few more tentpoles for the section you're working on.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?
Deadlines are a great motivator! But seriously, whether you have an actual contract deadline or whether you're unpublished and working on your craft, set yourself deadlines. Make them realistic, and assign a reward to each of them. If you plan everything out and schedule it - whether it's the work you need to do for your editor, or agent, or publisher, or what you want to achieve in your own work over the next year, you know where you are going and you can take charge of your time.