Sunday 31 March 2013

Books Received in March, part 2

A Turn of Light - Julie Czerneda
Her first fantasy novel, this is a science fiction author I should have read ages ago.  I'll be reading and reviewing A Turn of Light in the next few weeks.  I've also got a Q&A with Czerneda that will be posted this coming Thursday.

The village of Marrowdell is an isolated pioneer community, but it is also the place where two worlds overlap, and at the turn of light--sunset--the world of magic known as the Verge can briefly be seen.
Jenn Nalynn belongs to both Verge and Marrowdell, but even she doesn't know how special she is--or that her invisible friend Wisp is actually a dragon sent to guard her... and keep her from leaving the valley. But Jenn longs to see the world, and thinking that a husband will help her reach this goal, she decides to create one using spells. Of course, everything goes awry, and suddenly her "invisible friend" has been transformed into a man. But he is not the only newcomer to Marrowdell, and far from the most dangerous of those who are suddenly finding their way to the valley...
Myths and Legends: Jason and the Argonauts - Neil Smith
Not my favourite myth, though the packaging is nice.  You can find my review of it here.

The voyage of Jason and the Argonauts and their hunt for the Golden Fleece is one of the most enduringly popular of all of the Ancient Greek heroic myths. Accepting the quest in order to regain his kingdom, Jason assembled a legendary crew including many of Greece''s greatest heroes such as Hercules, Orpheus, Atalanta, Telamon, and the twins Castor and Pollux. With this band of heroes and demi-gods, Jason set sail in the Argo on a journey across the known world. During their quest, the Argonauts faced numerous challenges including the harpies, the clashing rocks, the Sirens, Talos the bronze man, the sleepless dragon that guarded the fleece, and of course the fickle will of the gods of Olympus.
Dr. Neil Smith retells this classic myth, examining its origins, its history, and its continued popularity. The text is supported by numerous illustrations both classical and modern, including numerous artwork plates especially commissioned for this work.
Myths and Legends: Dragonslayers - Joseph McCullough
I really enjoyed this collection of stories.  You can find my review of the book here.

From legend and mythology to The Hobbit and A Game of Thrones, the dragon is a perennial favorite in the fantasy genre.
With its fiery breath, scaly armour, and baleful, malevolent stare, the dragon became the ultimate symbol of evil and corruption in European folklore and mythology. Often serving as a stand-in for Satan, or the power of evil gods, dragons spread death and hopelessness throughout the land. Only heroes of uncommon valour, courageousness, and purity could hope to battle these monsters and emerge victorious. Those that did became legends. They became dragonslayers. The list of dragonslayers is small, but it is filled with great and legendary names. Hercules, Beowulf, Cuchulain, Sigfried, Lancelot, and Saint George all battled to the death with dragons. Other heroes such as the Danish King Frotho, the French Saint Mercurialis, the Polish champion Krak, and the Russian warrior Dobrynya Nikitch might be less well known to western readers, but also fought and defeated dragons. This book will retell the greatest legends of this select group of warriors, while examining the myth of the dragonslayer in a historical, mythological, and even theological context.
The Condimental Op - Andrez Bergen
I heard of the author last year when 100 Years of Vicissitude came out, but I haven't had time to look at it yet.  Having lived in Japan, like the author, I'm curious to see what this new collection is.

A collection of noir, surreal stories, comic book asides, hardboiled moments, fantasy, dystopia, sci-fi, snapshots of Japanese culture, and the existentialism of contemporary experimental electronic music.
This is Bergen's baptismal short story collection, bringing together recent short stories, never-before-seen older material, new comic book art, and a range of incisive pop-culture articles written about music and Japan from 1999 to 2013.

Awakening - Karen Sandler
Book 2 in the Tankborn trilogy.  I finished it this morning and really enjoyed it.  I'll be posting my review soon.

Once a Chadi sector GEN girl terrified of her first Assignment, Kayla is now a member of the Kinship, a secret organization of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns. Kayla travels on Kinship business, collecting information to further the cause of GEN freedom.
Despite Kayla s relative freedom, she is still a slave to the trueborn ruling class. She rarely sees trueborn Devak, and any relationship between them is still strictly forbidden.
Kayla longs to be truly free, but other priorities have gotten in the way. A paradoxically deadly new virus has swept through GEN sectors a disease only GENs catch. And GEN warrens and warehouses are being bombed, with only a scrawled clue: F.H.E. Freedom, Humanity, Equality .
With the virus and the bombings decimating the GEN community, freedom and love are put on the back burner as Kayla and her friends find a way to stop the killing . . . before it s too late.
Omens - Kelley Armstrong
I've only read a few of her other books but really enjoyed them.  The plot of this book sounds really good, so I'm hoping to get to it soon.

Olivia Taylor Jones, 24, seems to have the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech-firm CEO with political ambitions. But Olivia''s world is shattered when she finds out that she''s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers, each still serving a life sentence.
The news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, and Olivia thinks the best thing she can do for herself and for them is run away from it all. She ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her decision to uncover the truth about her birth parents. Olivia decides to focus on the Larsens'' last crime, the one Pamela Larsen swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel Walsh, Pamela''s former lawyer, start investigating, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. There are dark secrets behind her new home, and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

Books Received in March, part 1

Given the number of books I was sent and asked to review during March I expect this to be a busy spring season for publishers.

CyberStorm by Matthew Mather
Sometimes the worst storms aren't from Mother Nature, and sometimes the worst nightmares aren't the ones in our heads.

Mike Mitchell, an average New Yorker already struggling to keep his family together, suddenly finds himself fighting just to keep them alive when an increasingly bizarre string of disasters start appearing on the world's news networks. As the world and cyberworld come crashing down, a monster snowstorm cuts New York off from the world, turning it into a wintry tomb where nothing is what it seems...

Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer
An interesting look at the influences behind Dracula. My review will be posted this Tuesday.
In more than a century of vampires in pop culture, only one lord of the night truly stands out: Dracula. Though the name may conjure up images of Bela Lugosi lurking about in a cape and white pancake makeup in the iconic 1931 film, the character of Dracula-a powerful, evil Transylvanian aristocrat who slaughters repressed Victorians on a trip to London-was created in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel of the same name, a work so popular it has spawned limitless reinventions in books and film.
But where did literature's undead icon come from? What sources inspired Stoker to craft a monster who would continue to haunt our dreams (and desires) for generations? Historian Jim Steinmeyer, who revealed the men behind the myths in The Last Greatest Magician in the World, explores a question that has long fascinated literary scholars and the reading public alike: Was there a real-life inspiration for Stoker's Count Dracula?
Hunting through archives and letters, literary and theatrical history, and the relationships and events that gave shape to Stoker's life, Steinmeyer reveals the people and stories behind the Transylvanian legend. In so doing, he shows how Stoker drew on material from the careers of literary contemporaries Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde; reviled personas such as Jack the Ripper and the infamous fifteenth-century prince Vlad Tepes, as well as little-known but significant figures, including Stoker's onetime boss, British stage star Henry Irving, and Theodore Roosevelt's uncle, Robert Roosevelt (thought to be a model for Van Helsing).
Along the way, Steinmeyer depicts Stoker's life in Dublin and London, his development as a writer, involvement with London's vibrant theater scene, and creation of one of horror's greatest masterpieces. Combining historical detective work with literary research, Steinmeyer's eagle eye provides an enthralling tour through Victorian culture and the extraordinary literary monster it produced.
Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper
The follow-up to Cooper's Songs of the Earth.

This sequel to Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper continues the story of a young man who has been sentenced to death, and then exiled, for his magical abilities.
As Gair struggles with grief over the loss of the only home he had known, and his beloved, he is walking into a conflict that's greater and more deadly than he or his mentor ever anticipated. A storm of unrest is spreading across the land and they are going to be caught up in it—at a moment when Gair's hold on his magic, his greatest defense and most valuable tool, is starting to slip….

Deep Down by Deborah Coates
The sequel to Wide Open.

Now that she's solved her sister's murder, Hallie Michaels has left the army and isn't sure what to do next. Her relationship with deputy Boyd Davies is tentative, there's still distance between her and her father, and she needs a job. The good news is, she hasn't seen a ghost in weeks.
All that changes when she gets a call asking her to help an elderly neighbor who is being stalked by black dogs, creatures from the underworld that are harbingers of death. When a black dog appears, Hallie learns, a reaper is sure to follow. And if the dark visions she's suddenly receiving are any indication, it looks like the reaper is now following her.
Meanwhile, strange events herald the arrival of ghosts from Boyd's past, ghosts the young deputy isn't ready to face. Refusing Hallie's help, Boyd takes off to deal with the problem on his own, only to find that he's facing something much larger and more frightening than he'd imagined.
Stalked by a reaper and plagued by dark visions, Hallie finds she must face her fears and travel into Death's own realm to save those she most loves.

Firebrand by Gillian Philip

At the end of the sixteenth century, religious upheaval brings fear, superstition, and doubt to the lives of mortals. Yet unbeknownst to them, another world lies just beyond the Veil: the realm of the Sithe, a fierce and beautiful people for whom a full-mortal life is but the blink of an eye. The Veil protects and hides their world…but it is fraying at the edges, and not all think it should be repaired.

Discarded by his mother and ignored by his father, sixteen-year-old Seth MacGregor has grown up half wild in his father’s fortress, with only his idolized older brother, Conal, for family. When Conal quarrels with the Sithe queen and is forced into exile in the full-mortal world, Seth volunteers to go with him.

But life beyond the Veil is even more dangerous than they expected, and Seth and Conal soon find themselves embroiled in a witch-hunt—in which they are the quarry. Trapped between the queen’s machinations at home and the superstitious violence of the otherworld, Seth must act before both of them are fed to the witch-hunters’ fires…

Friday 29 March 2013

New Author Spotlight: Kameron Hurley

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 Kameron Hurley!

She's written numerous short stories and the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy:

God's War won and was nominated for several awards, so if you haven't picked it up yet, maybe the synopsis will intrigue you:

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn t make any difference...
On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there's one thing everybody agrees on--
There's not a chance in hell of ending it.
Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx's ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war--but at what price?
The world is about to find out.

This is where I'd mention books similar to God's War so you know if it's a book that would interest you (beyond what the synopsis gives away).  Unfortunately, despite having read the book and wracking my brain for months, I can't come up with anything even remotely similar to compare it too.  The book is fascinating but brutal and based loosely on middle eastern culture.  It's science fiction with bug based magic.  It's got a seriously kick ass heroine who's been to war and back.  It's unique.

If you've read it, what did you think of it?  And if you know a comparison title, please share it in the comment section.

Thursday 28 March 2013

A Real Life Incorporated Man

Last year I read The Unincorporated Man, about a man from the past who's woken up in a future where people have become corporations, with their stocks bought and sold by others.  Their shareholders determine their lives, from what job they'll get to when they can take a vacation.

Apparently there's a real life Incorporated Man, and his name is Kenneth Michael Merrill.  You can read about him at Wired.  It's an interesting - and potentially terrifying - article.  Merrill incorporated in 2008 and has already given his investors the chance to decide what projects he works on and who he's allowed to date.

Book Review: Myths and Legends: Jason and the Argonauts by Neil Smith

Pros: faithful retelling of the story using several sources, decent introduction, good artwork

Cons: story is told in lifeless prose

Jason, raised by the centaur Cheiron, returns to the kingdom unjustly stolen from him.  The usurper promises that if Jason can return with the fabled Golden Fleece, he can have his kingdom back.  Jason gathers together a crew of heroes and sails with the blessings of the gods to fulfill this quest. 

While I've long been a fan of Greek mythology I have to admit that Jason and the Argonauts isn't a story I particularly like.  The heroes are all kind of whiny and depend on the gods too much to solve their problems.

So while I can appreciate the artwork that peppers this retelling, both that by Jose Daniel Cabrera for this edition and older works, the story itself didn't impress me.  The story was told as a narration, with no emotion and little tension, despite the fact that the crew face innumerable crises.  At no point did I feel the crew might fail in their quest (though they too often did) and I felt no sorrow for any deaths or betrayals along the way, nor any happiness or relief for their successes.

There is a decent introduction explaining the sources for the story and modern adaptations, but there was nothing on how this story would have been told by the Greeks, which I would have appreciated.  The story originated in an oral culture.  Was it told like medieval ballads, with different poets adding and changing verses to adapt it to the current audience?  Is that why some of the written versions contradict each other on some points, like the inclusion of Atlanta?

It's a thorough, if bare bones retelling of the story.  I'm still looking forward to other editions in this series, even though this particular one wasn't entirely to my liking.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Kid Snippets: Star Wars - the Rescue

I've been watching Bored Shorts TV's Kid Snippets for a while now.  If you haven't seen them, the group gets kids to tell stories, then acts them out with adults.  The dialogue tends to be hilarious, and the adult's deadpan deliveries are so much fun.  They also use a lot of great props.  One of my favourites is their Bank sketch.

Here's one of their recent videos, with a Star Wars theme.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Myths and Legends: Dragonslayers, From Beowulf to St. George by Joseph McCullough

Pros: interesting stories, historical grounding and commentary, gorgeous illustrations, necessary warnings with regards to reading historical documents and dealing with non-European stories about dragons

Cons: too short!

Myths and Legends is a new series by Osprey Publishing.  If you've never heard of them, they publish a lot of short, detailed military history series: Men at Arms, Fortress, Campaigns, etc.  Each volume is a crash course in a very specific aspect of history: Byzantine Imperial Guardsmen 925-1025, The Fall of English France 1449-53, M103 Heavy Tank 1950-74.  The Myths and Legends series is part of their Osprey Adventures books, 'where fact and fiction meet'.  The three volumes currently in print are: Jason and the Argonauts, Dragonslayers, and The War of Horus and Set.

Dragonslayers is specifically about the European tradition of serpentine monsters, how their legends evolved and who killed them.  The book starts with an explanation of what a dragon is, historically speaking, and how the image of the dragon evolved into the creature we think of today.  There are a lot of gorgeous illustrations throughout the book, both historical and ones commissioned for this book by Peter Dennis.  Unlike the older images, Dennis places his subjects in period appropriate clothing.  For example, Sigfried/Sigurd is often depicted in barbarian skins.  In this case, Dennis paints him in the armour of a 6th C. Germanic warrior.  Dennis also uses the actual descriptions of the dragons given by the texts for his images, rather than making up his own, as a lot of older artists did (so there are several sea serpents and crocodile-like creatures here).

I loved how McCullough placed each story in its historical context, explaining who the dragonslayers might have been and how each story has been modified and expanded upon.  He also cautions against using a European lens when dealing with 'dragons' from other cultures.  There are a few non-European stories mentioned at the end of the collection, but he emphasizes the fact that the dragonslayer is a European construct, though other cultures have similar creatures and heros (at least, when their stories are told by Europeans).

The stories are summarized concisely, which makes this a great introduction to European myths, even if it's not an in depth study.  Each chapter only shares a few stories - the most famous - out of the numerous available.  Some of the other stories are given boxed summaries, which helps flesh out the chapters.

Covered in the book are: Ancient, Norse, Holy, Medieval and Dragonslayers From Around the World.  It's a great jumping off point for reading the stories themselves, though historians like me might prefer longer synopses here.  My only real complaint with the book was its length.  It's much too short. :)  I was also surprised that the final chapter didn't mention Chinese dragons, which are famous.  The author has a brief explanation for this, wherein he states that Asian dragons are generally gods or benign creatures, and so don't need slaying that often, which I was unaware of.

If you're interested in old stories about dragons and dragonslayers then pick this up.  It's a fantastic introduction.

Friday 22 March 2013

Author Interview: Andrew Post

Novel: Knuckelduster


> What is Knuckleduster about? 

Knuckleduster is about friendship and the lengths we go to for the ones we love. That concept is enveloped in a near-future science fiction tale that’s steeped in throwback noir, gadgetry, a few laughs, a car chase, robots, and conspiracy-uncovering derring-do.

> Where did you get the idea for the eye implants that Brody gets in Knuckleduster?

Brody’s carotene lenses came about when I was looking back on the early sci-fi writers and how much of what they dreamed up is now a reality. (Robotics and Isaac Asimov, Google Earth and Neal Stephenson.) I considered if something I wrote were to get into the hands of someone far smarter than I, what dreamed-up thing would I want made into a reality? I know someone who is currently losing their sight. And I wish carotene lenses, or even the sonar device Brody wears when not using the lenses, were possible today.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I was in the backyard at four or five. I found this vaguely humanoid-looking twig, and just started coming up with a whole story for this little person. Out of some river rocks and pine cones, I made a house for him. A kitchen, living room, dining room; bowls from acorn caps, a leaf for a bed, etc. Once I had everything “figured out” about his life and an answer for every need he might have, I went and got my mom and told her all about this stick person’s life. She patiently listened. When I was through, she looked at me and said, “You’re going to be a writer.” I liked the sound of that, that I could “figure out lives” of characters and it’d be, as a grown-up, an actual thing I could do with my life. From that point on, that’s how I identified myself. Later on, when I started hearing in my head narration to the action sequences of movies as I watched them, I kind of thought I should probably start writing my own stories down or seek medication. A few dozen notebooks filled with stories later, passed around to friends on the bus, or later, emailed to a girl I wanted to impress, I started asking myself if I didn’t do this for a living, what else would I do? I didn’t have an answer. I had to do it.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

In my next novel, Fabrick, the bulk of the story takes place in Geyser. It’s this city that’s been built around this enormous . . . well, geyser, and it’s easily one of my favorite locations I’ve ever come up with. I dream about that city. And, if I could, I’d live there. Maybe as a shoe cobbler or an employee at one of the markets, or a travelling salesman with a cart selling wind chimes or something. A character that doesn’t even get named in the book, but is still a citizen of Geyser, the main character in his own life. Maybe not an adventurer, or even one of the “weavers,” but just some guy, doing a job, living a life. On another planet.

> You've had short stories published in several magazines including Underground Voices, Cannoli Pie, and The Legendary. Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

With short stories, the beginning-middle-end formula isn’t necessary. Which can be really fun. And a “hard” ending is easier to get away with. You can be ambiguous, hit the ground running in the middle of the scene, perhaps just give a slice-of-life story that could be a part of a novel someday. I’ve written a lot of short stories that I never even sent out because that was how I worked out a character, found the vibe for a novel to expand on. They’re great jumping-off points. Both Knuckleduster and Fabrick started out this way. I can’t really say I prefer one or the other, short stories or novels. Story is story, regardless of length or by what means it’s published. It all depends on what you want to say.

> 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 was about a hard-nosed space trucker who gets wrapped up in an intergalactic war. I want to say I got to about 150,000-200,000 words or so before realizing it wasn’t very good. With a heavy heart, I let it go. I wrote that over the course of three years, I think. It was good to do, even if it never got submitted anywhere because I think all writers have one bad novel they need to write, just as a means to learn. But a lot of the ideas I came up with in that novel I have since used in other places. The main character was remarkably similar to Brody from Knuckleduster, actually.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

There were a few times in Knuckleduster where characters are expressing how much they care about either one another or a loved one that’s not currently present—like Thorp when he’s talking about his sister. Talking about love, expressing it, letting someone you know you really care about them, is hard enough to do in life without sounding silly, but when doing it in fiction, it has to sound natural while still be interesting to read. In fiction, unlike real life, you can go back and tweak things, erase the stuff that might come off as awkward or redundant. But I try my best to leave most of that in, though, because in real life when someone expresses themselves, it is tough. It is awkward. There’s a lot of ‘ums’ being thrown around. And in fiction, if it’s true to the heart, it shouldn’t be any different. Finding that balance of realness and readability is a tight-rope sometimes.

> When and where do you write?

I tend to write in the morning, and cut myself off at midday. It’s when I’m at my best, I think, with a fresh cup of coffee and the radio on and the world isn’t quite awake yet. The morning, I believe, is when the good ideas are still floating around in the ether waiting to get snatched up. I tend to write in the same place I start a project at until it’s through. Geography is important, I think. Study the meteor where it landed, don’t haul it off to some new location to study. There might be some important pebbles that get left behind.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The best: going back over something you wrote a month ago and saying, “Hey, that was actually pretty good!” The worst: going back over something you wrote a month ago and saying, “What was I thinking?”

Seriously, though, the best thing is when you hear someone you’ve never met before say is they really enjoyed your book or story. We write to be read, and when someone does that, likes it, and tells you they liked it? So, so great. Warms the heart.

The worst thing is that the cursor of most word processors blink. Blink, blink, blink. It’s like that impatient person behind you in line at the ATM tapping their toe and sighing every three seconds. When I’m blocked or have written myself into a dead end, that ever-blinking cursor and I have a staring match. And he—always—wins. I keep going, grumbling at him, even if I feel what comes out might be wrong for the story at the time. But I remind myself it can be fixed or changed later. You can’t have a decent manuscript without getting through that first draft. It’s like cursor Morse code. Blink, blink, blink means “Keep. Writing. Keep. Writing.” A true love/hate relationship if I ever saw one.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

That so many people will be willing to help you if you just ask. The publishing industry is full of helpful people and so many are willing to send you a link or the office of an agency who might be interested in your work, or even a currently-seeking publisher—if you just ask.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

It’s an oldie but a goodie. Never give up. If you want to achieve something—whatever it may be—no one ever got anything by throwing in the towel. And even if you could, would you want it? No. You want to earn it, make it on your own work and perseverance. The brass tacks tough love version: No one remembers the quitters.

 Any tips against writers block?

I do have one that I use. When working on a manuscript, find a song that really fits the feeling of your story. One that makes the world come alive in your mind when you listen to it. One you could expect to hear in the background of all the major scenes. Listen to it when writing and when you’re just thinking about the story for a while. Let your story and the song develop a sort of symbiotic relationship. Once that’s established—and this is the important part—never listen to that song again unless you’re blocked. Using songs as “mind keys” is an absolutely essential practice for me. For every project I have one squirreled away.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

Before starting in, I tend to have a place in the plot I want to reach before the end of the day. I don’t outline the plots entirely, but I keep an idea of what I want the end to be and a few chapters ahead of where I currently am. If I flesh out the whole thing in outline, I get bored with it. If there’s no surprise in it for me as a writer, there sure won’t be one for a reader. Then, if I don’t manage to reach that projected plot point by the end of the day, I’m okay with it. I don’t beat myself up over it. But tomorrow, I darn well better get there.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

The first novel I was very serious about sending around, I think I was rejected by every single literary agent working at the time. If not all of them, then a solid majority. Rejection and harsh criticism will drive you insane if you’re not careful. It comes with the territory, everyone gets rejected. So laugh it off and press on. If you think the manuscript absolutely cannot be fixed, pluck out what you can use elsewhere and put the rest to bed. Try a new genre, try a different tense or perspective. Maybe that other work wasn’t really your voice and trying something new will bring it out. And never use phoenix metaphors like I almost did just now.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Do You Like My "Upcoming Books" Posts?

I've added a poll to the side of my blog asking the above question.  Indigo, the site I use for my upcoming books posts (here's one, if you don't know what posts I'm referring to), has change their site to the extent that it will be impossible for me to get the information I need from it.

I therefore have two options.  I can:
a) stop doing them
b) find a new source (Amazon?)

When I first started doing these posts I grabbed the info from each publisher's website.  Obviously that was both time consuming and created incomplete lists (as there would always be smaller presses I missed).  Using the Indigo site let me get Canadian releases for books, as well as catch a lot of the lesser known books I otherwise missed.  Of course, using Indigo, I still miss a lot of self-published and small press authors that Indigo doesn't deal with.  I'm not keen on Amazon as it's slowly eroding my career as a bookseller (as is progress in the form of ebooks, and big box stores like the one I work at, so I can't lay too much at their feet) - but it does make me less inclined to use them, though they're the most logical source to switch to.

So I ask you, do you like the posts?  Should I find an alternate way of getting the publication dates?  Or do you use SF Signal's list or one from another site?

Please vote on my poll and let me know if you find the posts useful or if I should retire them.

Book Review: Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley

Pros: very interesting and complex characters, city founder has a unique philosophy, slow apocalypse, references to the game are subtle, has a sense of closure so it works as a novel not just a game history 

Cons: don't learn as much about certain people/items from the game as I'd have liked, major spoilers for those who haven't played the game

Bioshock: Rapture is the prequel novel to the Bioshock video game franchise.  It explains the founding - and ultimate deterioration - of the undersea city, Rapture.  Andrew Ryan, the industrialist who designs and builds Rapture has a philosophy upon which his uotopia is based, summed up in the following quote from the game:

"I am Andrew Ryan and I’m here to ask you a question: Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow? No, says the man in Washington. It belongs to the poor. No, says the man in the Vatican. It belongs to God. No, says the man in Moscow. It belongs to everyone. I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose....Rapture. A city where the artist would not fear the censor. Where the scientist would not be bound by Petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small. And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well."

The book is a slow apocalypse taking place in an enclosed environment, with characters and quotes from the games scattered throughout.

The novel is told through several points of view, predominately those of Chief Sullivan, Bill McDonagh and Frank Gorland.  People familiar with the game will recognize - and probably read with more interest - scenes with Brigid Tanenbaum and Dr. Yi Suchong (the creators of ADAM and EVE), Frank Fontaine and others who get briefer attention.

There are two groups of people who would read this book, 1) those who have played the game and want to know more of the back story associated with the game and the people whose tape recorded messages you hear played throughout the game, and 2) those who haven't played the game, but who are interested in it or just want a decent soft apocalyptic / dystopian novel.

The book contains some major and minor spoilers for the game if you haven't played it yet.  Most notably it explains who Atlas, the man who guides you through the first game, is.  As a book independent of the games, the author did a good job of creating one narrative thread that extends beyond Rapture, giving the text a narrative arc with an element of closure.  Since the book otherwise ends where the first game begins, this helped give it closure independent of the games, for those who might be interested in an apocalyptic story but who otherwise aren't interested in playing the game.

As a lot of the character explanations in the game happen during fights, the book does a great job of explaining things - in sequential order.  The discovery of ADAM and the creation of EVE were very interesting, thought I'd have liked learning more about how the Big Daddies were made.

Because the book covers so much time, some characters, who get levels in the game, are barely touched on, like Dr. Steinman, Julie Langford and Sander Cohen.  And most of the events in general are glossed over.  Even with such fundamental aspects of the game as ADAM and EVE, the book doesn't go in depth, allowing the mystery of the various Plasmids (psychic powers obtained via taking ADAM) to survive.  Also, some common elements of the game are late additions to Rapture, like the Circus of Values vending machines, and so only show up at the end of the book.

As an apocalyptic novel it succeeds quite nicely.  The book doesn't depend on an immediate failure of everything as films like Jurassic Park and Westworld do, where one action (or several actions in one night) undermines everything quickly, Rapture faces a slow decline, but one heightened by the fact that the people living there are unable to leave when things start to go bad.  There are economic problems, ideological clashes led by those who don't like how things are run, Plasmid addictions (compounded by the lack of regulations on science, especially when it comes to testing new drugs), and more.  

I read the book fairly quickly between sessions of watching my husband play the first game, and enjoyed it a lot.  I would suggest, if you want to play the games, to play the first one before reading the book.  In fact, reading it between games gives you a good grasp of the history of the place (and many events from the first game) without spoiling the gameplay.  I did notice a few extremely minor contradictions between what the book said and what characters in the game say, but they're so hard to catch I found myself questioning my memory over them.  The writing is good and the story is quite interesting. 

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Luke's Change: An Inside Job

A very clever video showing how the destruction of the Death Star at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope must have been an inside job.  Done as a spoof of the 9/11 conspiracy film Loose Change, I have to admit, the commentator makes some good points here...

The 'about' tab on youtube doesn't give any credits (nor does the video), but I got it from Graham Putnam's page.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Book Review: Machine of Death Edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennarto and David Malki

I've got quite a back log of reviews building up - especially of books I read a while past or ones for pleasure (where there's no immediacy to publishing it).  So I finished this a few months ago.  Due to its length, it took a while to read (about a year, on various commutes, between novels).

I'll be posting reviews on Thursdays to help get rid of the back log.

Pros: interesting premise, wide variety of stories, varied interpretations of the theme

Cons: the first few stories plus and introduction and comic all explain the machines, which gets a bit tedious; several of the stories ignore the fact that there can be multiple interpretations to the predictions; towards the end of the collection the variety of story possibilities becomes exhausted and the stories become less interesting because of it; the stories vary in quality from fantastic to confusing

This was an interesting collection of stories, with a mix of qualities.  Some were brilliant and others unexceptional to bad.  The premise was fascinating though the number of stories that spent time explaining what the premise was grated after a while, since, as a reader, I knew the premise.  The stories were obviously not planned as a continuum since they contradicted each other, though that's not necessarily a bad thing as it allowed for a more varried interpretation of the theme.

I suspect my fatigue with the theme, more than the quality of the stories, led to lower star ratings the closer I got to the end.  The collection is 439 pages and consists of 34 stories, each preceeded by an illustration.  So you're definitely getting your money's worth.  And there were enough good to great stories here to make it worth the purchase.

Because it's easier than my other methods of grading stories, I decided to give each story a rating out of 5 stars.

**** "Flaming Marshmallow" by Camille Alexa - How you'll die is now the basis of high school cliques. Caroline is finally turning 16 and able to learn where she'll fit in.

This story takes a teenage viewpoint of learning how you'll die.  There's excitement as well as apprehension.  Similarly, the idea of where you'll sit and who your friends are as determined by the machine is a reasonable extrapolation of the importance of the Machine of Death.

*** "Fudge" by Kit Yona - A man contemplates if he wants to know his manner of death while waiting at the mall for his fiancee.  

A highly introspective story questioning whether it's worth knowing your manner of death and how the knowledge may change how you live your life.

** "Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions" by Jeffrey Wells - An insurance salesman regales customers with how he's going to be killed by lions.  He begins living his life in anticipation of the most exciting event in it - his death.  

Certainly a different outlook on how people react to the knowledge on the death cards.  Sort of an odd story.

***** "Despair" by K. M. Lawrence - A doctor must deal with the unusual cause of death card by her first patient of the night.

A look at how hospitals would have to opperate and how doctors would second guess their actions, based on the information on patients' cards.

**** "Suicide" David Michael Wharton - A man tries to prove the death cards wrong.

A very interesting story about fate and whether you can change yours.

***** "Almond" by John Chernega - The first death machine opperator writes a diary of his experiences, first when no one's interested in the machine up to when officials start requiring mandetory testing.

A chilling look at how corporations and governments could use the information on death cards to control and descriminate against people.

**** "Starvation" by M. Bennardo - Two soldiers survive a helicopter crash in a jungle in enemy territory and try to survive despite their death predictions.

A very tense story.  Like the protagonist, you think you know how this is going to end.

*** "Cancer" by Camron Miller - Curiosity causes the people in this story get their results one by one, despite seeing how knowing their cause of death destroys the lives of those who got the knowledge before them.

This is a story about human nature.  Even when you know something's bad for you, it's hard to resist doing it.  

** "Firing Squad" by Jack Unrau - Two old friends meet unexpectedly and eat together.  One of them shares adventures he's been on.

Tense story but a let down ending.

** "Vegetables" by Chris Cox - A man 'helps' his co-worker deal with his prediction of death.

This is a story of how a psychopath could use the information contained in death cards to his own advantage.  While well written (especially the very creepy protagonist), the opening was disgusting and I would have stopped reading had I not been reviewing the collection.

*** "Piano" by Rafa Franco - A story about a man who's at first incapacitated and then liberated by his cause of death.

Interesting story about how knowing how you'll die (and therefore how you won't die) can be liberating.

*** "HIV Infection From Machine of Death Needle" by Brian Quinlan

A short but clever story.

*** "Exploded" by Tom Francis - How the two inventors of the machine deal with the infamy of their creation and the riches they earn.

I really enjoyed this story but the confusing ending brought down the star rating.

**** "Not Waving But Drowning" by Erin McKean - A girl explains test day at her school, the first day of grade 9, and the results she gets.

An interesting narrative with a lot of information about how individuals and families cope with their predictions.  Also notable for the humour.

*** "Improperly Prepared Blowfish" by Gord Sellar - Two yakuza bring their boss a requested machine of death.

Some interesting characters and a decent ending.

** "Love Ad Nauseum" by Sherri Jacobsen - A woman's later life as told through her wanted ads.

A neat concept that ends so abruptly I turned the page looking for the rest of the story only to realize that it was over.

* "Murder And Suicide, Respectively" by Ryan North - A play about two scientists discussing a scientific theory.

I didn't understand how their theory would work in practice and there was too much unnecessary dialogue.

*** "Cancer" by David Malki - James' father has cancer and doesn't like how his mother drags him first to an inpirational speaker and the to a faith healer.

Shows how some people deal with their impending death, in this case frustration and a desire to cheat it through supernatural means.

***** "Aneurysm" by Alexander Danner - Norma has an unusual party game planned for her get together, and Sid, her ex-husband, who hates party games, has a plan.

A fun, interestingly morbid story with a satisfying ending.

***** "Exhaustion From Having Sex With a Minor" by Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw - The Prime Ministerial race hinges on the death predictions of the two candidates, one of whom has no desire to share his shameful method of death.

The story messes with your assumptions with several good twists.

*** "After Many Years, Stops Breathing, While Asleep, With Smile On Face" by William Grallo - Ricky gets an awesome prediction of death but what he wants is another man's fiancee.  So when she invites him to 'Toe Tag Night' at a club, he says yes.

Interesting story, especially the tag night of seeing how people will die as a means of hooking up.  Open ending.

***** "Killed By Daniel" by Julia Wainwright - A man whose marriage broke up due to his wife's prediction of death gets his own and discovers his son is destined to kill him.

How do you live normally with a horrific prediction hanging over your head?  The protagonist, having seen his wife deteriorate tries to avoid the same fate.  Partly centers on a gay relationship.

**** "Friendly Fire" by Douglas J. Lane - Tommy's anti-machine of death activist group, whose recent attack on mall machines went exceptionally well, is taking things to the next level.

Shows the consequences of getting predictions becoming the reasong youth become activists against the machines.

**** "Nothing" by Pelotard - A young woman confronts her grandfather about his age and prediction of death.

This story delves into what it means in the book's world to have a different or special prediction.

*** "Cocaine and Painkillers" by David Malki - Kelly's first informercial is a hit so her boss puts her on a mystery project for a device that may be a portable drug test, though that doesn't add up to what's written on most of the white slips coming out of the prototype.

A story about the social implications of salesmen who lie to sell a product.  The focus of the story is more on her previous assignment and how she feels about the job than on the prototype she's to sell next.

***** "Loss of Blood" by Jeff Stantz - In a horrifying future where predictions of death land citizens in different classes, with lower classes working and living in slums far from the upperclass Garden, Kevin and his wife have just received their death date from the ministry.

This is a brilliantly creepy story with a truly gut-wrenching ending.

*** "Prison Knife Fight" by Shaenon K. Garrity - A rick kid's future is put into question as prestigous kindergardens refuse him due to his ignoble cause of death.

An interesting premise with a good set-up but the ending wasn't the best.

**** "While Trying To Save Another" by Daliso Chaponda - A group of people who are given a time as well as method of death comfort each other.  A new member has the same death date as a regular, bringing them a sudden, unexpected closeness.

I liked the added dimension of the time of death, complicating an already difficult situation.  The story also shows that people don't always use their time wisely, even when they know the end is coming.

*** "Miscarriage" by James L. Sutter - A couple who have miscarried in the past have the fetus of their new pregnancy tested.

It explores the interesting idea of how testing for the cause of death can bring hope.

*** "Shot by Sniper" by Bartholomew von Klick - Nato troops in the middle east get pinned down by a sniper and the squad's knowledge of their commanding officer's cause of death paralizes them.

This is another story that subverts expectation with some minor character development.

**** "Heat Death of the Universe" by James Foreman - A smart teen ponders Stephen Hawking's writings on order vs chaos as he examines the results of his, and his girlfriend's, MOD readings and the reaction hers causes.

Smart story with an interesting message.

* "Drowning" by C. E. Guimont - Character who reads dreams for a living finds his world changing and his union benefits are scaled back as the machine of death is introduced to society.

Kind of a pointless story which I didn't really understand.  The guy's job is bizarre to say the least, and the machine is only tangenitally mentioned.  I also didn't understand why the machine's predictions would affect a union or this guy's dream reading.

* "?" by Randall Munroe - An angry young many thinks questions to the universe while lighting forest fires.

I can understand wanting answers and not liking how the machine's predictions are true, but I can't understand how lighting fires and burning down forests helps him or anyone else.

** "Cassandra" by T. J. Radcliffe - A woman working in the Insurance industry tries to understand why the technology of the Delphic Device failed at allowing predictions of death to be changed in an attempt to change her own.

The story has one bizarre contradiction.  It starts with a quote from the 1983 movie War Games, but the protagonist later doesn't know what a 'film' is.  I suppose the word film could go out of use in time, but it's still odd for her to know about the 80s and not know that term.  The Ignorance Theorem didn't make any sense to me, but I'm not the best with science.  It sounded like a philosophical problem I read once (Plato?), where if A=B and B=C than A=C, even if you know it doesn't. 

Friday 15 March 2013

Artist Spotlight: Ellen Jewett

Someone mentioned Creatures From El after my last artist spotlight post, and I must say, she does incredible sculptures.

From her Etsy profile:

Ellen was born in Markham Ontario and raised among mildew and snails. She took to shaping three dimensional forms naturally at a young age. To Ellen sculpting has always been about life, biological narratives and cultural statements. The tedious hours of labor act as the mysterious foundation from which each sculptures' personality springs forth.
In 2007 Ellen completed her post secondary education with a degree in Biological Anthropology and Art Critique from McMaster University. She had already started Creatures from El in 2005 and upon graduation plunged into it full time, never looking back.
When working in her studio Ellen enjoys the company of animals and listens to audio books and podcastes. She finds this immersion in thought and ideas helps create the depth of spontaneity in her sculptural narratives.

You can commission artwork from her and see her galleries on Etsy and Deviant Art.

Here are just two examples of her amazing work.
Dragon and White Tiger
Otter With Mechanical Wings

Thursday 14 March 2013

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Pros: brilliant concept, brilliant writing, compelling characters, thought provoking


For Parents: some sexual content, some swearing, very minor violence (two teens fight), mention of drug use

'A' wakes up in a new body every day. The only similarities are the age of A's hosts and their relative proximity to A's previous host. A has come up with a guideline for his/her life: don't mess with the host's life.

When A wakes up in Justin's body and meets Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon, his/her guideline changes to: spend as much time with Rhiannon as s/he can, often making his/her daily hosts act completely unlike themselves for one day.  This starts to cause problems, both for them and for A.

But A no longer cares. All A wants is for Rhiannon to reciprocate his/her love.

This novel is brilliant. The writing is amazing, the premise is bizarre but handled brilliantly, the characters are interesting, both A and Rhiannon. Similarly A's host bodies are varied by gender, sexuality, race, religion, social class, size, etc. Some are drug addicts, some are nice, some are definitely not nice - to themselves or others.

The premise allows for a lot of interesting social and cultural issues to be brought up - how we see ourselves and how we judge others - making this a really thought provoking book. A's acceptance of everyone as they are, and his/her eventual judgements regarding them as s/he starts to see his/her hosts the way Rhiannon does, with her social conditioning, is fascinating.

It's a brilliant novel and even if you're not a fan of romances, it's worth the read.

Ebook Launch: CyberStorm by Matthew Mather

Matthew Mather, author of the Atopia Chronicles, and contributor to the PhutureNews website, is launching his next book CyberStorm tomorrow, Friday March 15th.  He'll be posting on his facebook author page during the launch.  From his press release:

"I will report on all the mayhem hour-by-hour and how sales go on the first few days. I will also be sharing how I do press releases, tips and tricks that have worked for me...and will do this live as I do it all, and will report on how it all works."

The official release date is the 16th, at which point the book will be available on Amazon and other platforms for $4.99.  But if you buy it either today or tomorrow, you can get it at Amazon for the special pre-release price of 99 cents. :)

About the book:

Sometimes the worst storms aren't caused by Mother Nature, and sometimes the worst nightmares aren't in the ones in our heads...

Mike Mitchell is an average New Yorker thrust into extraordinary circumstances, suddenly finding himself in a desperate struggle to keep his family alive as the cyber and physical worlds collide over New York.

CyberStorm is a non-stop, pulse-racing thrill ride into the near-future for a new generation of techno-thriller fans. It is an exploration of the human condition as the cyberworld collides with our own.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

True Skin

This is a brilliant short SF film I found on Vimeo.  It's a N1ON production, written and directed by Stephen Zlotescu.  The special effects are incredible.  Note, there is a very short robotic prostitute scene (nothing happens, but it does make this NSFW).

Here's the synopsis from their website:

True Skin – A sci-fi short set in the not too distant future where augmentation is the way of life. For Kaye, still a natural, augmenting will help him keep pace in this now hyper-paced world. However, after acquiring an off-market prototype, Kaye quickly finds himself fighting not only for his own humanity, but something much larger.

TRUE SKIN from H1 on Vimeo.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Book Review: What Happened in Witches Wood by Stephen Henning

Pros: interesting characters, compelling story, quick pacing 

Cons: Stannard asks others to do illegal things

For Parents: no sexual content or swearing, a decent amount of violence (shootings, beatings, attacks using superpowers - deaths, when they happen, are off page)

What Happened in Witches Wood is the second book in the Class Heroes trilogy.  If you don't want spoilers, check out my review of book 1, A Class Apart.  The author has also done some creative news reports that act as a prequel for this book.  You can learn about ghost sightings in Witches Wood, and about earning money as a drug test subject for G-Netik.

Fourteen year old twins Sam and James are living with their mom at their Grandparent's farm after their hosptial stay in London.  Their dad's censure on using powers doesn't hold up under his absence and the twin's boredom, and so Sam uses her superpowers to run into town.  She witnesses a pair of men rob the post office and can't let them get away.  Her decision puts her in the path of Sir Michael Rosewood, millionnaire and CEO of G-Netik, a local genetics laboratory.  He's also the father of a creepy young woman named Lolly, whom the kids saw in London in connection to their bombed school bus.

Meanwhile, the woods outside their house plays host to various ghost hunters, looking for the ghost of their dead aunt.  A girl who looks a lot like Sam.

Told in a series of very short chapters, this book hooks you and never lets you go.  Jumping between viewpoints allows you to know what everyone's doing and thinking while making the plot speed by. 

The characters were interesting.  A few times I wished the twins would figure something out faster, but then I would remind myself that they're 14 and wouldn't necessarily see the connects the way an adult would.  And they solved Katie's mystery before me, so...  

I was amazed by the complexity of Sir Michael's opperation and how quickly he arranges things with the twins.  His powers were creepy, and make it understandable why those without powers would fear those with them.

There's a decent amount of violence in the book, mostly dealing with superpowers (people being beaten up, fire, telepathy).  While there are accounts of death, the death scene itself is always off page.

My only major complaint with the book was that Detective Inspector Stannard keeps asking other people to do dangerous and illegal things to further her investigation.  Considering she's supposed to be on the side of justice, her putting other people's lives on the line for evidence she can't even use (at least not in court) was surprising, and made me question her motives.

While tying up most of the loose ends, the book did leave a few things open for a third volume.

Friday 8 March 2013

Author Interview: Kerry Schafer

Novel: Between


> What is Between about?

Vivian's life is finally on track. She has a job she loves as an ER doctor and has just met – literally – the man of her dreams. But when her eccentric grandfather is murdered and designates her as his next of kin, she discovers that she is the last of a race of beings known as dreamshifters. It is her task to guard the doorways between waking and dreaming, which have already begun to unravel, spilling dangerous creatures from dream into the waking world. When she sets out to close the open doors and protect her town and the people she loves, Vivian confronts dragons, intrigue, and the dark secrets of her own family history. In the end, she comes face to face with a sorceress seeking eternal life and ultimate power. Vivian must find a way to stop her, or reality will be forever altered.
> Where did your idea for dreamshifters come from?

My main character, Vivian, came up with it. I'm not kidding! I had explored several different alternate realities for her. One night I was journaling in her voice, and came up with the words, "dreamworld, wakeworld, and between." And that's when I really figured out the idea of a dreamshifter. 

> You were a nurse and now work as a mental health counselor.  Did making your protagonist an ER doctor require any research?  If so, how much?

There was some research required, because most of my nursing experience was in Labor and Delivery, which wasn't exactly relevant. I spent a lot of time in the ER as a mental health crisis specialist, so I had a pretty good idea about the environment, but I had to research specific details related to the medical needs of my characters. I used Google for some things, and then found an experienced ER nurse who was willing to clarify details and check my work for accuracy. 
> What made you want to be a writer?

I fell in love with words - there was nothing else to be done. 

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Nope. Part of writing an interesting book means making life hard for your characters. My reality is a much safer place to be.
> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

Probably one of the ones I ended up cutting. As for the scenes in the book - maybe the dragon fight at the end. Action scenes are tricky, because you have to be able to do choreography in your head. I struggle with that.
> When and where do you write?

Wherever and whenever I can find the time. I have a laptop, and it travels around with me.  
> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

Best thing: when the story hands you things you could never have dreamed up for yourself. Worst thing: days when it feels like every word you write totally sucks

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Never give up on trying to get your work published, but while you're at it keep writing new (and better) things.

> Any tips against writers block?

Write anyway. If you truly can't get any work done on your current project, then switch to a journal. Write in your character's voice or your own. Write something. Write anything. If it's bad you can always throw it away later, but sometimes you have to write some really rotten stuff before getting to the gold.
> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I'm bad at self discipline, so I use other people. I'll throw something out on Twitter about my word goal and ask people to kick my butt if I keep wasting time. Or, better yet, I like to set up a sprint with friends. We choose a time to start and end, then write like crazy to see who can get the most words in. 

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel?

I lost count. Thirty maybe? There were a lot.