Wednesday 31 July 2013

Books Received in July, 2013

The synopses here are mostly from the Indigo website.  The exceptions are Time Splash, which is from the author's site and Her Ladyship's Curse, which is from Goodreads.

The Goliath Stone by Larry Niven & Matthew Joseph Harrington

Doctor Toby Glyer has effected miracle cures with the use of nanotechnology. But Glyer's controversial nanites are more than just the latest technological advance, they are a new form of life--and they have more uses than just medical. Glyer's nanites also have the potential to make everyone on Earth rich from the wealth of asteroids.
Twenty-five years ago, the Briareus mission took nanomachinery out to divert an Earth-crossing asteroid and bring it back to be mined, only to drop out of contact as soon as it reached its target. The project was shut down and the technology was forcibly suppressed.
Now, a much, much larger asteroid is on a collision course with Earth--and the Briareus nanites may be responsible. While the government scrambles to find a solution, Glyer knows that their only hope of avoiding Armageddon lies in the nanites themselves. On the run, Glyer must track down his old partner, William Connors, and find a way to make contact with their wayward children.
As every parent learns, when you produce a new thinking being, the plans it makes are not necessarily your plans. But with a two-hundred-gigaton asteroid that rivals the rock that felled the dinosaurs hurtling toward Earth, Glyer and Connors don't have time to argue.
Will Glyer's nanites be Earth's salvation or destruction?

Timesplash by Graham Storrs

It started out as something underground, edgy and cool. Then Sniper took it all too far and timesplashing became the ultimate terrorist weapon.
Scarred by their experiences in the time traveling party scene, Jay and Sandra are thrown together in what becomes the biggest manhunt in history: the search for Sniper, Sandra's ex-boyfriend and a would-be mass murderer.
Set in the near future, Timesplash is a fast-paced action thriller. Filled with great characters, a sprinkling of romance, and a new and intriguing take on time travel, Timesplash is ultimately a very human tale about finding bravery through fear, and never giving up.

Storm Riders by Margaret Weis & Robert Krammes.  This is the follow-up to Shadow Raiders.

In a world where magic is intrinsic to the fabric of everyday life, two kingdoms, centuries-long enemies, have long sought a powerful magical weapon that will win them lasting dominance. But neither realm is ready when they are both attacked by the Bottom-Dwellers, a bitter people whose own land was destroyed, and who now live only to take vengeance on those they blame for a wretched life in the storm-tossed abyss they inhabit. Using contramagic strengthened by blood sacrifice to attack the world above, they threaten to bring down whole cities, or even the island kingdoms themselves. Freya and Rosia are forced to put aside their age-old conflict to defend themselves, or risk losing everything.
As the Bottom-Dwellers' contramagic eats away at the magic of the dragons that helps protect the world above, a former dragon-riding hero gathers a ragtag group to form a new dragon brigade, the one desperate hope of the two kingdoms to defeat the fiends who threaten their world. As the effects of contramagic bring the world ever closer to disaster, the new dragon brigade fight the vengeful adversary. Their high-flying heroics will be to no avail, though, unless they can somehow uncover forbidden knowledge, long hidden by the Church, without which they will never be able to prevent the world's destruction.

Her Ladyship's Curse by Lynn Viehl

In a steampunk version of America that lost the Revolutionary War, Charmian (Kit) Kittredge makes her living investigating magic crimes and exposing the frauds behind them. While Kit tries to avoid the nobs of high society, as the proprietor of Disenchanted & Co. she follows mysteries wherever they lead.
Lady Diana Walsh calls on Kit to investigate and dispel the curse she believes responsible for carving hateful words into her own flesh as she sleeps. While Kit doesn’t believe in magic herself, she can’t refuse to help a woman subjected nightly to such vicious assaults. As Kit investigates the Walsh family, she becomes convinced that the attacks on Diana are part of a larger, more ominous plot—one that may involve the lady’s obnoxious husband.
Sleuthing in the city of Rumsen is difficult enough, but soon Kit must also skirt the unwanted attentions of nefarious deathmage Lucien Dredmore and the unwelcome scrutiny of police Chief Inspector Thomas Doyle. Unwilling to surrender to either man’s passion for her, Kit struggles to remain independent as she draws closer to the heart of the mystery. Yet as she learns the truth behind her ladyship’s curse, Kit also uncovers a massive conspiracy that promises to ruin her life—and turn Rumsen into a supernatural battleground from which no one will escape alive.

The World of the End by Ofir Touche Gafla.  I finished this fascinating book dealing with the afterlife earlier this week.  You can read my review of it here.

As an epilogist, Ben Mendelssohn appreciates an unexpected ending. But when that denouement is the untimely demise of his beloved wife, Ben is incapable of coping. Marian was more than his life partner; she was the fiber that held together all that he is. And Ben is willing to do anything, even enter the unknown beyond, if it means a chance to be with her again.
One bullet to the brain later, Ben is in the Other World, where he discovers a vast and curiously secular existence utterly unlike anything he could have imagined: a realm of sprawling cities where the deceased of every age live an eternal second life, and where forests of family trees are tended by mysterious humans who never lived in the previous world. But Ben cannot find Marian.
Desperate for a reunion, he enlists an unconventional afterlife investigator to track her down, little knowing that his search is entangled in events that continue to unfold in the world of the living. It is a search that confronts Ben with one heart-rending shock after another; with the best and worst of human nature; with the resilience and fragility of love; and with truths that will haunt him through eternity.

Short Film: The Final Moments of Karl Brant

I saw a teaser for this film a few days ago on the website and yesterday the short film went up.  It's a great noir murder mystery with a strong SF slant.

From their youtube listing:

Set in the near future where experimental technology allows two detectives to bring a murder victim back to life in a digital state in order to question him about his final moments.

Written and directed by M. Francis Wilson
Starring Paul Reubens, Janina Gavankar, Fay Masterson, Jon Sklaroff and Pete Chekvala
For more Final Moments of Karl Brant head to:

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Book Review: The World of the End by Ofir Touche Gafla

Translated by: Mitch Ginsburg

Pros: fascinating world of the after life, complex plot, lyrical writing, interesting and diverse characters

Cons: one plot point revolves around assault

Ben Mendelssohn is a righter of endings, an epilogist.  A year after his wife's unexpected death he kills himself, expecting a touching reunion on the other side.  But while he's correct that there's life after death, he's not expecting the complexity or strangeness of the otherworld.  And he's definitely not expecting that his wife is nowhere to be found.

The novel alternates between chapters of Ben's life/afterlife with those of seemingly random side characters.  As the novel progresses and the various side stories merge you start to realize how lives intersect and affect each other in the most bizarre ways.  

The alternating chapters ramp up the suspense as each chapter with Ben ends with him discovering something on his quest to find his wife.  But you don't find out what it is until his next chapter, propelling you through the book at a breakneck pace.

While I liked Ben, some of the side characters were harder to relate to.  For example, while I pitied Ann's childhood, her attitude as an adult, based on adult decisions, was in many ways reprehensible.  And yet, her part of the story was so interesting it was hard to stop reading. 

As a work in translation (from Hebrew no less) word choice becomes important.  There were two decisions that I wondered about.  The first was Ben's career as a righter (as opposed to writer).  I'm not sure if there was meant to be a deeper meaning to the choice that I simply didn't get (which I'm willing to accept as one chapter dealt with the writings of Salmon Rushdie, an author I've not read, and I'm sure it contained allusions I therefore missed).  Along the same lines I'm not sure if the Babel chip the citizens of the Other World get is just a reference to the Biblical story or if I was supposed to think of the Babel fish in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well.  

The second word choice that surprised me was the use of the term 'midget' as opposed to the more politically correct 'little people' to describe two of the characters.  I do applaud the author for including not one but two little people in important supporting roles.  The only question I had here was that at one point one of them hosts someone at their home and I was left wondering if the furniture was sized for her, thereby potentially harder to use by her guest?

The world of the afterlife was fascinating.  I don't want to spoil anything, as the author slowly brings different aspects of the world into focus, but he really did flesh out the world well.  I did wonder why orientation didn't explain several things - particularly about the aliases - which would have been very helpful for the protagonist (and presumably countless others) to know.

One of the plot points revolves around an assault, which may be triggering for some readers though there is no gratuitous description.  Similarly, one character is revealed as a pedophile, though one who doesn't abuse children.  

I found the ending itself a touch anti-climactic, though it did fit the book perfectly. 

Ultimately this is a great book with a compelling mystery, discourses on death - and what, if anything, it means - some romance and a unique cast of characters.  You'll go through a gambit of emotions reading it as you race to the end.  

Saturday 27 July 2013

Stranger Than Fiction: Columbus and the Globe + Medievalizing the Modern World

I saw this video on  The site reports on academic papers, videos, conferences etc.

Both talks, part of a conference at the British Academy, touch on how the 19th century's views of the Middle Ages have warped our own education and thought processes.

Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame and author of Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of the Medieval Mercenary) talks about how the people of the past did not believe the world was flat, and Christopher Columbus was not trying to prove that point when he 'discovered' America.  He also describes more of what Columbus was actually like.

The second talk (starting around the 30 minute mark) is by Patrick Geary, a professor of history at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton and author of The Myth of Nations.  He talks on how modern nations look to a single point in their medieval past in order to create a unified nation in the present, without considering the changes that took place before and after that moment.

Please be aware that there is a minor amount of disturbing imagery in the talks with regards to slavery and war.

The last 20 or so minutes are a Q and A with the audience.  I particularly liked the question that comes at 1:07:41 on how people in the Middle Ages saw themselves with regards to their pieces of land and their political status (vs our own view of nationality).  Geary's answer is fantastic.

Friday 26 July 2013

Reading Recommendations by Professionals: Introduction

This is the first post of my new series for SF Signal: Reading Recommendations by Professionals!  So if this looks familiar, that's where you saw it.

In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven't received the recognition they deserve.

I'm hoping this series will highlight some under-appreciated authors on a biweekly schedule, dependent of course on the responses I get.  I do have several posts lined up already, but I'm looking for more.  If you're a professional and you'd like to participate, please contact me at jessica (dot) strider (at) with "Recommendations" as the subject.

To get us started, here are some of my recommendations:

  1. Carol Berg - I normally like one or two series by an author and can't get interested in other things they write.  Not so with Carol Berg.  She's got several series, all different lengths (from a stand alone to a 4 book series) set in different worlds with different magic systems, types of characters, etc.  And despite coming up with new worlds and everything, she still manages to publish a book a year!  I have loved every book by her that I've read (and I've read all but her most recent 3, and that's just because I haven't had time to pick them up and read them all together - because hers are the kinds of books where you NEED to read the next  one immediately).  My only complaint with her work is that by the end of a series she's punished her protagonists so much I'm not sure how they're still alive and optimistic enough to keep going.  My favourite book is Transformation, as it's got just enough humour to make the abuse the protagonist goes through not seem so grim.  But all of her books are fantastic.
  2. James Knapp wrote the brilliant Revivors trilogy.  His new novel, under the pseudonym James Decker, Burn Zone, features an asian female protagonist and truly alien aliens.  His writing is tight and fast-paced and you've got to pay attention because things mentioned offhandedly in the novel come back as important clues later on.  If you want to give him a try, I'd start with State of Decay.
  3. Violette Malan has written 6 books, two involving contemporary Toronto and the realm of faery (starting with The Mirror Prince), and four secondary world fantasy novels (starting with The Sleeping God).  If you like books with strong paired male and female protagonists, I can't recommend her work enough.
Stay tuned for the next post where we learn who Brandon Sanderson thinks we should be reading more of!

Thursday 25 July 2013

Space Stamps

I've wanted to post this for a while but just got around to doing the footwork for it.  One of my relatives used to collect stamps and my grandmother would buy sets of 500 or more for them, organized either by country or subject.  When she died, my parents brought some of these unwanted - and unopened - stamp sets home and they've recently come into my possession.

One of the stamp sets dealt with space.  It's interesting to see how many different countries created commemorative stamps for space associated achievements.  I do apologize for the upside down stamps. I kept forgetting which way to put them on the scanner.  And for some reason, though the stamps weren't near the edges, the scanner chose to cut off part of the edge of the second picture.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

"Get Loki" by The Avengers ("Get Lucky" Parody)

I saw this over on SF Signal and thought it was hilarious.  They not only got the rhythm to fit the song, they also managed to tell the plot of the Avengers movie.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Book Review: Play or Die by Jen Cole

Pros: intelligent protagonist, interesting premise, several plot threads that merge, learn about the future people watching the game, plausible future

Cons: ending gets preachy, one stilted conversation, one info dump conversation

I received this book free during a promotion mentioned on SF Signal's daily Free SF, Fantasy and Horror feature.  There's a prejudice in the book industry against vanity presses that hasn't quite left me even though these books are now called 'self-published' or 'indie'.  While I've been trying to slowly break down my own snobbery, a few bad experiences with self-published books in the past have made me extremely wary of taking on such books for review.  Having said that, I have had some positive experiences lately that convinced me it's time to read one of the free Kindle books I've gotten over the last year.   The book blurb from Amazon for Play or Die was intriguing, so I decided to give this one a try.

Ready to play the game of your life?
Could you stay ahead of a sociopathic hunter being sent your co-ordinates every three hours? Jo Warrington is about to live this nightmare. On a Melbourne city street she is plunged into a game devised by people from the future. Her choices - play or die.
As Jo flees a remorseless Hunter, her watching audience places bets on how long she will survive and awards points for ingenuity. The points allow her to ask questions, but when the answer to one reveals her father's recent death to have been no accident, she resolves to play the game on her own terms. 
Desperately searching for clues as the assassin closes in, Jo is tempted when her father’s sexy equipment salesman turns up asking her to trust him, but Richard seems to have his own agenda.
Can Jo track down her father’s murderers before she herself is killed? And what of her viewers from the future? Will they be satisfied with anything less than her death?
A lot can happen in five days.

The premise, that there's a future game show based on watching a hunter kill human prey, isn't unique.  A while back I read a short story by Robert Sheckley called "The Prize of Peril" with that exact premise.  (The story came out in 1960 and is available free online.)  There is, of course, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Running Man (which I've yet to read) by Stephen King and others.  (And I should mention that while teens killing teens is the premise of Battle Royale, the 'game' in that book isn't televised so all the public learns is who the winner is at the end, so it's not quite the same thing.) 

What Play or Die does differently is add two new elements.  First, in addition to being hunted, Jo learns that her father's recent death was murder, giving her something to investigate even as she's running from the hunter.  She uses Fitani to gain information about the murder, which is pretty gutsy given her position.  The second addition is information about those watching the game.  Normally these stories focus on the game itself with little, if any, information about how such shows became popular and what sorts of people enjoy watching them.  Jo asks about the people of the future, giving the reader a decent amount of information about how they live and why they're out for her blood. Later in the book there are more chapters that take place in the future fleshing out their world even more.

And the future Cole creates is quite plausible, given human nature.

Jo is a fantastic protagonist.  She's a highly intelligent 18 year old, who comes up with some very clever means of staying ahead of the hunter.  She does make several mistakes, which is only natural given her situation and the number of people who end up looking for her.  She feels real - trying to stay ahead, but aware that it's only a matter of time before she slips up and is caught.

I loved that the different plot threads eventually merged at the end, creating a cohesive whole.  

Since the book is self-published and it's usually my first question I'll mention that I did notice a few typos and 2 or 3 minor grammatical errors.  On the whole the editing in this book was very well done. 

My main complaints with the book were that there's one chapter towards the end of the book where two characters in the future are talking that's really an info dump for the reader.  While Cole avoids the telltale 'as you know', the characters do a weird 'tell me what you remember about X' conversation that feels off.  It's surprising because Cole otherwise was quite clever in how she gave information about the past, making this scene feel very out of place.

Also I got the feeling towards the end that the author didn't believe readers would get her message that it's bad how giant corporations are taking over small businesses because she has a conversation in which she gets downright preachy about it.  It's only one conversation but it's a stilted conversation as again, the characters are forced into an unnatural conversation style.  It's also unfortunate because the hammering home of the message is completely unnecessary.

All in all, it was a highly enjoyable read.  If you like dystopian fiction with some great chills and a few surprises, a touch of romance and social issues, then you'll like this book.

Friday 19 July 2013

Publisher Spotlight: Flux

There are so many presses now it's hard to remember which ones I do and don't know.  I thought this was new, until I did a bit of research on them and discovered I have a few of their books on my shelf, namely Maggie Stiefvater's Lament and Ballad.  I've heard about some of their other books, including Shadow Walkers, which I've included below.  They've got some great cover art.  

So what kind of publisher is Flux?  From their website

Flux is an imprint dedicated to fiction for teens, where young adult is a point of view, not a reading level. You won't find condescension or simplification here. You will find comedy, tragedy, ecstasy, pain, discovery - everything you're likely to find in real life. Welcome to

Their website has category searches for SF, F, Romance, General Fiction, Social Issues and also the gender of the protagonist, which is interesting.

Here's a sample of what they publish:

Insomnia by J. R. Johansson

Her eyes saved his life. Her dreams released his darkness.

After four years of sleeplessness, high school junior Parker Chipp can’t take much more. Every night, instead of sleeping, he enters the dreams of the last person he’s made eye contact with. If he doesn’t sleep soon, Parker will die.

Then he meets Mia. Her dreams, calm and beautifully uncomplicated, allow him blissful rest that’s utterly addictive. But what starts out as a chance meeting turns into an obsession; Parker’s furious desire for what he needs pushes him to extremes he never thought he’d go. And when someone begins terrorizing Mia with twisted death threats, Parker’s memory blackouts leave him doubting his own innocence.

Innocent Darkness by Suzanne Lazear

A hoverboard appeared in her rearview mirror. “This is the Los Angeles Air Patrol,” a voice boomed. “I command you to land your vehicle in the name of the law.”

Noli Braddock and her best friend V’s incident with a flying auto have landed them in a heap of trouble. And when Noli is sent to a spirit-squelching reform school in San Francisco, she’s sure that her rebellious adventures are over.

Meanwhile, Kevighn Silver has been ordered by the Faerie Queen to bring a mortal girl back to the Otherworld. The magic requires a blood sacrifice every seven years, and only a mortal girl who shines with the Spark—a girl like Noli—will keep the Otherworld from complete destruction.

When an ill-timed wish sends Noli tumbling into the Otherworld, she’s more homesick than ever . . . until V arrives to save her from an untimely demise. But who exactly is V? And if he helps Noli escape, who will save the realm of Faerie from utter annihilation?

Shadow Walkers by Brent Hartinger

Zach lives with his grandparents on a remote island in Puget Sound in Washington State. With only his little brother, Gilbert, to keep him company, Zach feels cut off from the world. But when Gilbert is kidnapped, Zach tries the only thing he can think of to find him: astral projection. Soon, his spirit is soaring through the strange and boundless astral realm—a shadow place. While searching for his brother, Zach meets a boy named Emory, another astral traveler who's intriguing (and cute).

As Zach and Emory track the kidnappers from the astral realm, their bond grows—but each moment could be Gilbert's last. Even worse, there's a menacing, centuries-old creature in their midst that devours souls and possesses physical bodies. And it's hungry for Zach.

Thursday 18 July 2013

2013 Starburst Award Shortlist Announced

From their email:

The short-listed works in the adult category are:

Finton Moon by Gerard Collins (Killick Press)
Maleficium by Martine Desjardins; translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel (Talonbooks)
Over the Darkened Landscape by Derryl Murphy (Fairwood Press)
The Blondes by Emily Schultz (Doubleday Canada)
Westlake Soul by Rio Youers (ChiZine Publications)
The short-listed works in the young adult category are:

Bright’s Light by Susan Juby (HarperCollins)
Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen)
The Green Man by Michael Bedard (Tundra Books)
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Doubleday Canada)
Rebel Heart by Moira Young (Doubleday Canada)

The awards will be presented in the fall of 2013.

The jurors for the 2013 award are: Rebecca Bradley, Tony Burgess, Shari Lapeña, Barbara Roden and Leon Rooke.


The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is an annual award celebrating the best in Canadian fantastic literature published during the previous calendar year.

The winners receive a cash prize of $1,000 as well as a hand-crafted medallion which incorporates the Sunburst logo. 

The Sunburst Award takes its name from the debut novel of the late Phyllis Gotlieb, one of the first published authors of contemporary Canadian speculative fiction.

For additional information about the Sunburst Award, the nominees and jurors, as well as previous awards, eligibility and the selection process, please visit the website at

[All links go to the Indigo website except for Over the Darkened Landscape, which goes to Amazon Canada.]

Wednesday 17 July 2013

The Art of Steampunk Revised Edition by Art Donovan

Whoops, I'd meant to post this for its release on July 1st.  I read and reviewed the first edition of this book when it came out 2 years ago.

The book originally detailed the work of steampunk artists displayed at an exhibition at The Museum of History of Science at the University of Oxford, UK.  For the second edition, the author has followed how Steampunk has grown as a movement, adding more artist profiles and more than fifty new photos. They've also changed the cover art, which you can see below in a side-by-side comparison.

Video Game High School Season 2 Trailer

If you haven't seen season 1 of VGHS, then I highly recommend you do.  The story's fun and the second season will be starting July 25th.  You can see the first season here.

Don't know what the series is about?  IGN has a great synopsis:

It's the near future: You're dead. Your kids are probably dead. Your grandkids (if they're alive) are playing video games. Why? Because professional gaming is the biggest sport on earth. Around the world, millions of players duke it out in fighters, RTS's, First Person Shooters and more. To the victors go the spoils: glory, clan contracts and million dollar endorsements. The best young gamers are recruited by elite boarding schools to sharpen their skills. The best of the best go to VGHS: VIDEO GAME HIGH SCHOOL.
VGHS is a feature-length action/comedy web series about best friends, first loves, and landing that perfect head shot. It follows Brian, a young FPS player stuck in a town where he doesn't belong. His fortunes change when he scores a massive kill against the world's top amateur player: VGHS senior "The Law." Brian rockets into the national spotlight and lands an invite into the hallowed halls of VGHS. There his skills will be tested as he fights to fit in with the most talented gamers alive. Along the way he’ll make unlikely friends, fall in love with no-nonsense FPS hot shot, Jenny Matrix, and face powerful enemies – namely The Law, who vows to destroy Brian for good. Will Brian’s dreams end before they’ve even started? Or will he pull it together and become the gamer he was born to be?
VGHS is co-created by Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch and Matt Arnold. In addition to acting as showrunner, Matt is also a writer, along with Will Campos and Brian Firenzi (founder of It is based on a concept by Will Campos and Chris Pappavaselio.

And if you have seen the first season, here's the trailer for the second:

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Book Review: Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys

Pros: interesting premise

Cons: tells more than shows, little is done with the interesting premise, dislikable characters

A structure is found on the moon and Dr. Hawks is in charge of the program to discover what it is.  Towards this end, he's created a machine that duplicates volunteers in such a way as when the copy on the moon dies - as it inevitably does - the one on Earth can explain what happened.  Unfortunately, all of the Earth copies go insane upon death.  Hawks decides to look for a new type of volunteer, one who doesn't fear death.  Which brings him to Al Barker.

The premise sounds cool, doesn't it?  Humans being duplicated, exploring an alien structure whose purpose and creators are unknown.  But the book is less about the structure on the moon and more about the interrelationships between Hawks, Barker and the people around them, as they try to manipulate each other into fitting their personal world views.  Including their views on death.  While you do, at the end, get to see the structure on the moon, it's almost shown as an after thought.

Meanwhile, the psychological thrust of the story might have been interesting if 1) the author had chosen to show how each of the principle characters believed things differently instead of simply having them tell each other how they believe the others see the world and 2) if the characters were likeable.  There was little depth or development to the characters due to being told everything about them instead of seeing how they react to each other over time.  Everyone also passes quick judgements that are inevitably true - despite making these pronouncements, in some cases, based on short aquaintnce or solely on the information of others. Indeed, on a few occasions characters told stories about themselves that seemed to have no relevance to the plot at all.

I have to say I found the book disappointing.  It didn't deliver the SF plot I was expecting and several of the conversations and personal developments seemed to go nowhere or make judgements I couldn't follow.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Stranger Than Fiction: Çatalhöyük

A column dedicated to pointing out interesting tidbits of history, some of which would be cool to see in a fantasy novel or two.

(Note: someone suggested the title 'History Bites' for this historical tidbits column, but while I loved the name, the tidbits I've collected so far are less about how horrible history was and more about some of the cool things people in the past achieved.  That's why I've decided on the title 'stranger than fiction', because in many ways fiction authors can't even come close to what actual people have done - for good or ill.  If you are interested in the horrible side of history, there's a great UK series of kids books by Terry Deary called Horrible Histories, that are just fantastic.  There's also the Canadian TV show, History Bites, from the late 90s by Rick Green, which asks the question, "What if television had been around for the past 5,000 years?"  Now, on with today's column.)

Çatalhöyük (also spelled Çatal Höyük and Çatal Hüyük) "was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic proto-city settlement in southern Anatolia [in Turkey], which existed from approximately 7500 B.C. to 5700 B.C. It is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. In July 2012, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site." - Wikipedia

The city is unique in that it had no streets or lower level doors.  People walked across rooftops in order to get inside houses or around the city.

Again from Wikipedia:

The population of the eastern mound has been estimated at up to 10,000 people, but population likely varied over the community’s history. An average population of between 5,000 to 8,000 is a reasonable estimate. The inhabitants lived in mud-brick houses that were crammed together in an agglutinative manner. No footpaths or streets were used between the dwellings, which were clustered in a honeycomb-like maze. Most were accessed by holes in the ceiling, with doors reached by ladders and stairs. The rooftops were effectively streets. The ceiling openings also served as the only source of ventilation, allowing smoke from the houses' open hearths and ovens to escape.

In some ways it reminds me of the city of Highcastle in Raymond E. Feist's A Darkness at Sethanon, where as a last line of defence each house has a flat roof where archers running between rooftops via ladders can shoot at an attacking army in the streets.

It's hard to imagine a city without streets, which is why seeing something like this in a fantasy novel would feel so new and strange.

I remember learning about this city in my high school ancient civilizations class.  I didn't remember anything other than the name, so it was cool to come across it in one of the courses I'm doing (it's a Great Courses course called The Other Side of History, talking about daily life and what the non-famous people throughout western history were doing.  So far it's fantastic, and I'm learning a LOT.  Please note, this isn't a plug for them (hence why there's not link).  I've wanted to study history again for years, and doing these courses is not only getting me to read history books, it's getting me studying periods of history I haven't looked at since high school, and then not very thoroughly).  

Friday 12 July 2013

New Author Spotlight: Liesel Schwarz

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 Liesel Schwarz!

Her debut novel is:

Here's the cover copy for A Conspiracy of Alchemists:

In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly among us, a deadly game of Alchemists and Warlocks has begun. When an unusual cargo drags airship-pilot Elle Chance into the affairs of the mysterious Mr Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse. Combining the best elements of nineteenth century gothic fiction with contemporary Steampunk, adventure, romance and the supernatural, Liesel Schwarz has crafted a truly exceptional debut, the first book in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow trilogy.

The second book in the series, A Clockwork Heart, comes out August 13th.

Check out her books if you enjoyed any of the following:

The Falling Machine by Andrew Mayer (PYR Books)
Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Foglio (Night Shade Books)
The Doomsday Vault by Stephen Harper (Roc)
Soulless by Gail Carriger (Orbit)

CyberStorm optioned for film

Congratulations to Matthew Mather, whose book, CyberStorm, has been optioned for film.  From the press release:

July 12th, 2013 - New York City20th Century Fox has acquired CyberStorm, a self-published book by Matthew Mather, with Chernin Entertainment taking on the role as producer. 
Described as a frighteningly realistic depiction of what would happen in the event of a global digital meltdown from an organized attack, the book follows a New York man and his family as they try and survive the crash isolated in Manhattan with millions of scared and confused people around him. 
The original e-book has caught on fast since it came out in March, and is now up there with the likes of the World War Z, Ender's Game and Game Of Thrones e-books in Amazon sales. It is the current #1 best-seller in the science fiction and tech-thriller categories on Amazon.
CyberStorm can be found here on Amazon:
Mather, a cybersecurity expert and author who started out his career working at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines, is now exploring a traditional print publishing deal after inking rights pacts for Turkey, Spain and Germany. The Fox deal was made by Sean Daily at Hotchkiss and Associates with Paul Lucas at Janklow & Nesbit Associates.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Shout-Out: Reviver by Seth Patrick

I came across this in the general fiction section of the store on Monday.  As it sounded cool and I've heard nothing about it, I decided it deserved a shout-out on my blog.

CSI meets The Sixth Sense in this compelling horror/thriller that has already been optioned by the producers of The Dark Knight Returns.

Jonah Miller is a Reviver, able to temporarily revive the dead so they can say goodbye to their loved ones--or tell the police who killed them.

Jonah works in a department of forensics created specifically for Revivers, and he's the best in the business. For every high-profile corpse pushing daisies, it's Jonah's job to find justice for them. But while reviving the victim of a brutal murder, he encounters a terrifying presence. Something is on the other side watching. Waiting. His superiors tell him it's only in his mind, a product of stress. Jonah isn't so certain.

Then Daniel Harker, the first journalist to bring revival to public attention, is murdered. Jonah finds himself getting dragged into the hunt for answers. Working with Harker's daughter Annabel, he becomes determined to find those responsible and bring them to justice. Soon they uncover long-hidden truths that call into doubt everything Jonah stands for, and reveal a sinister force that threatens us all.

Putting the paranormal in the police department, first-time author Seth Patrick blends genre lines with this edgy crime thriller. The first novel in the Reviver trilogy, Reviver is sure to appeal to fans of Dean Koontz and Justin Cronin.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

SF Tidbits

1) Ian Sales has put together a list of 100 great science fiction stories written by women starting from 1927.  Looks like some of them are available online.  I recognize a lot of the names though I've never been a big short story/novella fan.  Still, I may check some of these out.

2) Are you a Back to the Future fan?  David Guy Levy and Jeffrey Spokes have created a comic, Back to Back to the Future, exploring what might have happened had Eric Stoltz not been replaced by Michael J. Fox in the role of Marty McFly.

From IGN's article:
But it's not just an alternate "what if" tale; in the story, the filmmakers of Back to the Future go back in time to make sure that Stoltz never lost the role. The series has been made to raise money for the Young Storytellers Foundation, and organization that uses one-on-one mentoring to help underprivileged kids develop literacy through the art and craft of telling stories.
The first three issues are free, with the last three issues costing $2 each, with the proceeds being donated to the Young Storytellers Foundation.  The free issues are all live, and you can find PDFs of issues 1 and 2 here, here and the MTV Geek website with issue 3 here.  Or, you can just go to Mr. Levy's website where all 6 issues are available.

3) Finally, Brad Beaulieu posted this video on Google +.  It's by Not Literally.  The video's got spoilers for season one, great singing and some fantastic costumes (especially Arya and Cersci).

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Book Review: Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

Pros: creepy premise, realistic characters, fantastic world-building  

Cons: little action, all but one plot revolves around interpersonal relationships

When Rob kills Winter West in a car accident after a bad break-up with his girlfriend Lorelei, she's sent to Cryomed's 'bridesicle' facility, where she has the chance to attract a rich man willing to pay for her revival.  

The book is built around the award winning novella, "Bridesicle".  Scenes dealing with Mira, the oldest woman in the bridesicle program, are interspersed with the actions of the other characters.  It never feels out of place, and as the story progresses, the novella is actively pulled into the larger narrative. 

This is a book about the complexity of relationships - between friends, family and lovers.  It's a book about people and how they act and react to different situations.  It's about death and bringing someone back to life - how that act changes them, changes you.

McIntosh has created a cast of characters that feel like people you know in real life.  From the attention hog Lorelei, to the utterly depressed and despondent Rob, doing all he can to keep a promise.  Veronika, who knows she's not glamourous enough for the guy she loves, and Lycan, a super shy genius, who has trouble talking to women.  And the bridesicles, Mira and Winter, trapped in a living death, desperate to get out, not knowing when or if they'll be revived again.  These are all people, unhappy with life and unsure of how to make things better.  As their stories weave together they grow, change and learn.  And their stories touch you.

The world-building is top notch, taking into account all of the little things that are there but we don't always notice.  For example, there's no current day slang, it all pertains to recent tech in the Minus Eighty world.  Similarly, one of Lorelei's boyfriends takes on her speech patterns in an effort to impress her.  The tech itself is dependant on your status/wealth, with the characters occasionally passing through areas of the city (futuristic NY) that are poorer than others so you get a real feel for the entirety of the world of this future.  Even the cryogenics facility is class based, with the rich getting in and only the most beautiful of those uninsured women making the bridesicle program. 

This is a brilliant, heart-wrenching story set into one of the most realistically portrayed futuristic worlds I've read.  If you want a lot of action and adventure this isn't for you.  If you want a book about how humans treat each other, and why, then I highly recommend this.

And as a side note, the cover is beautiful.  Pictures don't do it justice.  Half of the image is on the book jacket, the other half on the vellum slipcover, giving the book an ethereal feel.  Here's a post on how it was made.

Tu Books: Tankborn and Awakening on Sale

Got an email from Tu Books.  They've currently got Tankborn and Awakening on sale in ebook form in several formats.  I really enjoyed the books, and you can read my reviews of them here and here.

From the email:

For a limited time, catch Tankborn, the first book in Karen Sandler's dystopian trilogy, for just $1.99 in e-book form. Don't miss the book that School Library Journal has called "both chilling and thought provoking," and which SF Signal called "very fast-paced and brilliantly executed."

Want more? The sequel, Awakening, will also be on sale for $4.99 as an e-book.

Both books will be available for Kindle, Nook, iTunes and Google Play until Friday, July 19th so catch them while you can,

$1.99 e-book

When Kayla and Mishalla, two genetically engineered non-human slaves (GENs) on planet Loka, develop friendships with
higher status boys, they must learn who to trust and what it means to be human.

Buy for: 

$4.99 e-book 

The Tankborn story continues with higher stakes as Kayla resumes her fight for the GEN community's freedom. 

Buy for: 


Friday 5 July 2013

Author Interview: Will McIntosh

Soft Apocalypse
Love Minus Eighty
* Defenders (forthcoming from Orbit and optioned for film)

Short Stories: way too many to mention, but you can find them listed here


> What is Love Minus Eighty about? 

It’s about a cryogenic dating center, where young, beautiful, dead women try to convince wealthy men to pay a massive fee to give them a second chance at life.  It’s about Rob, a poor young man who runs over Winter, a beautiful young woman, then sells everything he owns to visit her at the cryogenic dating center to apologize for what he’s done, only to fall in love with her.  It’s about love and dating, one hundred years in the future.

> Why did you decide to expand your 2010 Hugo Award Winning story, "Bridesicle" into the full length novel Love Minus Eighty?

When I finished the story, I thought I was finished with the Bridesicle world, then an idea came to me: What if you accidentally killed someone, and she ended up in the bridesicle dating center, and you felt compelled to visit her to apologize?  I thought that was a scenario worth exploring.  The novel grew from there.

> Would you say that having a psychology degree has helped you as a writer? 

 Probably not as much as it might seem.  My degree is in Social Psychology.  I was an experimental psychologist, so I didn’t see clients.  I conducted research and analyzed data (and, of course, taught classes).  Sometimes some of the things I learned as a psychologist--about the nature of memory, or characteristics of successful romantic relationships, or the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder--come in handy.  But a degree in experimental psychology doesn’t really prepare you to delve into the psyche of one particular individual, real or fictional.

> What made you want to be a writer?

It grew slowly.  It started on a lark, grew into a hobby, and I loved it so much that when it became feasible to write for a living, I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable and fulfilling vocation.

> In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why? 

I’d have to say it’s Deirdre, the manic, extremely damaged love interest of the protagonist in my first novel, Soft Apocalypse.  She turned out so much more strange and compelling than I’d intended.  After the novel was published, a young aspiring actress emailed to say if the book ever became a movie, she absolutely wanted to play Deirdre.

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

I can’t think of one of my characters who hasn’t had a hard life.  Some of them are dead and frozen (in Love Minus Eighty), some were possessed by their dead friends or relatives (in Hitchers), and many lived (or didn’t live) through an apocalypse (in Soft Apocalypse).  I wouldn’t trade my relatively trauma-free existence, or my pleasant life as a writer, with any of theirs.

> As an author who's been writing short stories for years and has recently started publishing books, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

I can write a 100,000 word novel more quickly than I can write 100,000 words of short stories, because you only need one central idea, one setting, and one set of characters for the novel.  But novels take more out of me, because it’s hard to build such a big story with a consistent pace and voice, and to keep track of all the details of what happened when.

> How long did it take you to write your first novel?

About two years.  Not counting the year I set it aside, because it was badly broken.  When I went back to it, I rewrote about two-thirds of it.

> When and where do you write?

Since I quit my position as a psychology professor last year, I write nine to five, Monday to Friday, minus an hour for lunch/exercise.  I write in a recliner, with my laptop on a lap bench  (I have back problems, so sitting at a desk seven hours a day is uncomfortable).  The recliner faces a big window that looks out at  woods and a hiking trail that runs close to our house.  Music is always playing, loudly, while I write.

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

The best thing is the creative side.  Coming up with ideas, inventing characters, figuring out what will happen, what the world will look like.  Getting a flash of inspiration about a terrific plot twist or a powerful, emotional confrontation between two characters.

The worst part is the uncertainty.  Writing is a very uncertain way to make a living.  Once you finish a novel, copies are printed, your book is placed on shelves with a million other books, and you have no idea if it will do well, or tons of copies will be sent back to the publisher to be pulped.  If it’s the latter, you’re not going to make a living as a writer for very much longer.  You have to hope people will notice your book, buy it, enjoy it, and tell others about it, because that’s how a book becomes successful.

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

That the author has very little say about what will be on the cover.  I consider myself the luckiest writer in the world that the cover of Love Minus Eighty is as beautiful as it is.  I had absolutely nothing to do with it--it just appeared as an attachment on an email message from my editor one day.  Here’s an interesting exercise: walk around the bookstore and look at the art on the covers, and imagine how you would feel if you’d written the book, and this was the art that would represent it.  You can feel elated or crushed looking at that cover for the first time.  I was elated.  My agent said when he first saw it, he printed it out and ran through his office showing it to everyone. 

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write a lot.  Write as much as you can, and at first don’t worry too much about whether you publish what you write.  Seek feedback from writers who are a little farther along than you are, and ask them to be honest.  Crave their criticism more than their praise, because the criticism will help you improve more quickly than the praise, and that’s all you want—you want to get better.

> Any tips against writers block?

If you get stuck, either switch to another writing project, or skip ahead and work on another part of the story you’re writing.  Usually you have to step away from the block, give it some space, try not to force the next scene to come.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

It’s the other way around for me.  I have to discipline myself to stop.  I love to write.  If I sit down in the morning and know that I have seven hours of writing ahead, I’m in my glory.  I know many writers struggle to get their butts in the chair and get some words on the page, but I’ve never, ever had that experience.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Upcoming Features

I've got two new columns I'm currently working on adding to the blog.  The first, my Author Recommendations (I'm trying to think of a snappier name), is well into the planning stages.  I've contacted and heard back from several people, so I'm just waiting for a few recommendations to come in before I start that up.

And the posts won't just be on my blog, I've arranged to have them also post on SF Signal!  I'm very excited about this, not least because I miss contributing to that excellent site.  I felt that authors - both those recommending and being recommended - deserved a larger audience than my site provides.  They'll still post here on specific Fridays.  I want Fridays to be the DAY to check out my blog if you don't follow me regularly.  It's when I put up my author interviews and new author spotlights, reading lists, etc.

The other column I'm working on is called Historical Tidbits.  I've been reading more history books and watching more of The Great Courses courses (their "The Other Side of History" about how regular people lived in the past is fantastic so far).  This column would be for small tidbits I learn that I think are interesting, might be neat to see in works of fantasy, are weirder than fiction, etc.

Things like this on ancient pregnancy tests:

The ancient Egyptians invented a ... method of testing for pregnancy.  It is described in a papyrus of the thirteenth century B.C., ... According to this, a woman wanting to know if she was pregnant would be asked to urinate daily on bags containing grains of wheat and barley.  The papyrus states that the urine would accelerate the growth of the grain if the subject was pregnant.
Remarkably enough the method works, due to the action of a particular hormone present in the urine of pregnant women, of which modern science only became aware in 1927.  A series of tests carried out from the 1930s onward has shown that in 40 percent of cases the hormones in the urine of a pregnant woman accelerate the growth of cereals, while the urine of a woman who is not pregnant (or a man) will retard growth.

Ancient Inventions by Peter James and Nick Thorpe, p. 192

I'm really excited about these new columns and hope to have them up and running soon.  And tune in tomorrow for an interview with Will McIntosh, author of Soft Apocalypse, Hitchers and Love Minus Eighty.