Tuesday 30 September 2014

Books Received in September 2014, part 2

These are the novels I received this month.

The Bloodline Feud: The Family Trade & The Hidden Family by Charles Stross - This omnibus contains the first two books of The Merchant Princes series.

The six families of the Clan rule the kingdom of Gruinmarkt from behind the scenes. They are a mixture of nobility and criminal conspirators whose power to walk between their world and ours makes them rich in both.
Miriam, a hip tech journalist from Boston, discovers her alternate-world relatives with explosive results that shake three worlds. Now, as the prodigal Countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, she finds herself ensnared in schemes and plots centuries in the making. She is surrounded by unlikely allies, lethal contraband, and-most dangerous of all-her family.
To avoid a slippery slope down to an unmarked grave, Miriam must build a power base of her own-with unexpected consequences for three different time lines, including the quasi-Victorian one exploited by the hidden family.

Severed Souls by Terry Goodkind - This is the latest book in the Sword of Truth series.  I have to admit, I read the first one and haven't had the desire to continue.

From the far reaches of the D'Haran Empire, Bishop Hannis Arc and the ancient Emperor Sulachan lead a vast horde of Shun-Tuk and other depraved "half-people" into the Empire's heart, raising an army of the dead in order to threaten the world of the living. Meanwhile, far from home, Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell must defend themselves and their followers from a series of terrifying threats, despite a magical sickness that depletes their strength and which, if not cured, will take their lives...sooner rather than later.

Assail by Ian Esslemont - Now this is a series, along with Steven Erikson's books, that I'd love to get into if I could find the time...

Tens of thousands of years of ice is melting, and the land of Assail, long a byword for menace and inaccessibility, is at last yielding its secrets. Tales of gold discovered in the region's north circulate in every waterfront dive and sailor's tavern and now countless adventurers and fortune-seekers have set sail in search of riches. All these adveturers have to guide them are legends and garbled tales of the dangers that lie in wait -- hostile coasts, fields of ice, impassable barriers and strange, terrifying creatures. But all accounts concur that the people of the north meet all trespassers with the sword. And beyond are rumoured to lurk Elder monsters out of history's very beginnings. Into this turmoil ventures the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard. Not drawn by contract, but by the promise of answers: answers to mysteries that Shimmer, second in command, wonders should even be sought. Arriving also, part of an uneasy alliance of Malazan fortune-hunters and Letherii soldiery, comes the bard Fisher kel Tath. And with him is a Tiste Andii who was found washed ashore and who cannot remember his past life, yet who commands far more power than he really should. Also venturing north is said to be a mighty champion, a man who once fought for the Malazans, the bearer of a sword that slays gods: Whiteblade.
And lastly, far to the south, a woman guards the shore awaiting both her allies and her enemies. Silverfox, newly incarnated Summoner of the undying army of the T''lan Imass, will do anything to stop the renewal of an ages-old crusade that could lay waste to the entire continent and beyond. Casting light on mysteries spanning the Malazan empire, and offering a glimpse of the storied and epic history that shaped it, Assail is the final chapter in the epic story of the Empire of Malaz.

Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger - This is the third, and concluding, book in Carriger's wildly fun Finishing School series.  I loved the previous two and can't wait to see what happens next.

Class is back in session...

Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style--with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what--or who--they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all.

Gather your poison, steel tipped quill, and the rest of your school supplies and join Mademoiselle Geraldine's proper young killing machines in the third rousing installment in the New York Times bestselling Finishing School Series by steampunk author, Gail Carriger.

The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko - I really enjoyed Lukyanenko's Night Watch series (even though I've yet to read the last 2 books) and I'm curious to see how he handles science fiction. Out in December.

Five months after the horrific accident that left him near death and worried that he'd never fly again, master-pilot Alex Romanov lands a new job: captaining the sleek passenger vessel Mirror. Alex is a spesh-a human who has been genetically modified to perform particular tasks. As a captain and pilot, Alex has a genetic imperative to care for passengers and crew-no matter what the cost.
His first mission aboard Mirror is to ferry two representatives of the alien race Zzygou on a tour of human worlds. His task will not be an easy one, for aboard the craft are several speshes who have reason to hate the Others. Dark pasts, deadly secrets, and a stolen gel-crystal worth more than Alex's entire ship combine to challenge him at every turn. And as the tension escalates, it becomes apparent that greater forces are at work to bring the captain's world crashing down.
The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley - The first book, The Emperor's Blades, helped me get over my fantasy fatigue, so I can't wait to see what happens next in the series. Out in January.

The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.
Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace is search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy.
Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire's most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.

Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

Books Received in September, 2014 Osprey Edition

With the news that Osprey Publishing has sold off several of its imprints, including Angry Robot Books, to focus on its history side and get more into gaming, I present the books they sent me earlier this month.

Myths and Legends: Sinbad the Sailor by Phil Masters - I really enjoy this series and have been reading up on medieval Egypt recently, so this should be a great read.  The books have a nice blend of storytelling and background information so you can set the stories in their historical contexts. Sinbad is the 11th book in the series.

Sinbad the Sailor presents a retelling of the stories of the most famous adventurer from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, with added information covering the history of the stories and the age in which they are set.
Stories say that in the age of the Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, in the port city of Basra, there lived a wealthy man named Sinbad the Sailor. Sinbad had great tales to tell, of the seven voyages on which he acquired his fortune, of the strangeness and terror he encountered along the way, of huge monsters and strange people, and of storms at sea and lands beyond the horizon.
This book retells the tales of those voyages and places them in context. It discusses not only the greater collection of stories known as One Thousand and One Arabian Nights within which Sinbad appears, but medieval Cairo where these tales were told, the historical Abbasid Dynasty which ruled Sinbad's home city, and the great Arabian voyages of exploration and trade which inspired these stories. It also looks at the modern incarnations of Sinbad that have appeared since his tales reached the West - including Sinbad as the swashbuckling hero of stage plays, stop-motion movies, and television fantasy.

Lion Rampant: Medieval Wargaming Rules by Daniel Mersey - I haven't done any tabletop gaming, so I can't judge the rules or gameplay presented, but there are a lot of colour photos showing the painted figures in play, detail notes and customization options.  It's a set of basic rules that you can modify and apply to numerous scenarios (several of which are presented at the end of the book). (64 pages)  

Lion Rampant is a set of rules designed for fighting historical or Hollywood battles in the medieval period from the Norman Conquest to the Hundred Years' War. This period is well suited to large skirmish gaming as played with Lion Rampant as it was a time of anarchy, feuds, robbery, and raiding. Become Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart, Gamelyn, William Wallace, Llewellyn the Last, or other legends and leaders from the colorful, dangerous medieval period.

Lion Rampant is ideal for players who wish to collect medieval miniatures without wanting to muster huge forces or spend time learning complex rules.
Gameplay is very simple, and requires the player to use units in the correct tactical way: knights are great at charging down enemies but less useful for guarding convoys, while spearmen are jacks of all trades and masters of none, and bowmen are to be feared at distance but easily cut down if you can get close enough. An army usually consists of 6-8 units comprised of 6-12 individually based figures (making it ideal for 15mm or 28mm games), and is led by a Leader, who may have some unique character traits that affect game play and provide some opportunity for role playing. The action, however, focuses very much on the small units involved in the battle rather than individual characters: each unit moves and fights independently, assuming that they follow your orders rather than just doing their own thing. Command and control is just as important on the battlefield as the power of a mounted knight.
Some army lists are provided, and guidance given for players seeking to create their own forces, but this game is not army list-heavy. The rules include a good number of scenarios, which are important to this style of gaming.

Bolt Action: Tank War: Wargames Rules by Ryan Miller, Rick Priestley and Alessio Cavatore - The book goes over platoons, scenarios and vehicle crew before giving biographical data on a number of 'legendary crew', real WWII tank crewmen and synopses of several real tank battles (and how you can play them).  There are a lot of pictures of models in formation as well as illustrations of tank battle to draw inspiration from.  There's also an A to Z of tanks and trivia scattered throughout the book, two appendixes with extra tank info, a third for useful vocabulary to get into the game mindset and a fourth with rules for a mini-game you can play.  While designed for gamers, this book has so many extras that even WWII and tank enthusiasts will find information of interest here.  (96 pages)

Tank War, the new supplement for Bolt Action, gives players the option to expand their games to a whole new level - armored warfare. Recreate such great engagements as the battle of Kursk with the scenarios, army options and special rules found in this book. Whether you want to add more armour to your existing armies or build an entirely armoured force, Tank War has you covered.

Monday 29 September 2014

Book Review: The Boost by Stephen Baker

Pros: thought provoking premise, interesting characters, quick paced

Cons: some world-building and logistical issues

Ten days before the national update for the boost, networked supercomputers implanted in people’s brains, Ralf Alvare, a software engineer, finds himself on the run after learning about an open surveillance gate in the program that would allow companies direct access to people’s thoughts and memories.  His own boost chip has been ripped out and, newly ‘wild’, he’s heading to see his brother in El Paso, across the border from the infamous drug lord run city of Juarez, where no one has boosts.  But John Vallinger, a lobbyist whose spent years working towards this chip update, sends one of his men after Ralf, intent on stopping whatever resistance the programmer can create.

I thought the story was very interesting, with a lot of good questions being asked about privacy vs access to information.  Would you put a chip in your head that allowed you to be smarter and access information anywhere, effortlessly, if it meant that someone could track your every move, see what you’re buying, etc.?  Would having a brain implant that can affect your thoughts make things better or worse?  In the book there’s an app that you can apply to make the tasteless protein they eat taste like anything you program in.  There were some great scenes where Ellen, for the first time without the use of her boost, gets to taste actual food and experience other sensations without recourse to a fantasy cover for it.  Her observations that some things are better natural while others are better in her imagination, were very interesting.

Ralf’s family’s drama was also pretty fun to read, with the stories getting deeper as more information is revealed.  I also liked that his family provided a grounding in how different people reacted to the Boost.  His dad rejected and fought against it, his mother helped bring it to the US but then regretted the role she played in making it a ubiquitous thing, his older brother constantly struggled to use it and he spent most of his time in it and is lost without it.

I wasn’t a big fan of Suzy.  Though she was a member of the Democratic Movement, she seemed unaware of security issues despite the domestic terrorism she could be accused of and made some odd decisions towards the end of the book, which I’ll mention in more detail in the spoiler section.

There’s a scene towards the end of the book that may cause trigger issues for some readers.  Though mostly off page, the scene is violent but necessary for the plot and the person attacked is shown as capable of defending themself earlier on.  There’s a bit of follow-up in the epilogue that briefly mentions some of the ethical issues surrounding what happened, which I thought was well done. 

As for the world-building, I did question, while I was reading the book, the idea that once a chip is damaged or removed that’s it, there’s no fixing or replacing it.  Considering the importance of the chips (you can’t pay for things or direct cars without one), and how easily brain injuries can occur that might damage chips, it seems like there should be some alternate options available.

After I finished the book a few other questions came to me about how the world worked.  For example, while it’s clear that Juarez isn’t easy to get to or leave, it’s unclear if the Amish wild area is equally blocked off, and if not, how the people there trade with their non-wild neighbours.  And does Juarez manufacture all of its needs or does it get a lot of goods through the black market?  And if it depends on contraband, how do its citizens pay for it when they don’t have chips and their money is worthless outside their city?  I was also surprised by how far money went in Juarez.  I would have thought fresh, tasteful food would be harder to grow/raise than the manufactured tasteless food the non-wilds ate.  It should therefore be more expensive as the market for things like spices would be non-existent outside of the wilds and are time consuming to make. 

The book is told in third person present tense (eg: Ellen blinks her eyes open.), rather than the more common past tense.  I personally found the jump between events narrated in past tense and the present tense of the main text jarring.  Most readers probably won’t have a problem with it.

This is a quick, entertaining read, and despite the complaints I had with aspects of it, the questions it raises - about letting a government and corporations have control over what information you can access - are relevant ones for our current world.

*** SPOILERS ***

I’m going to explicitly spoil the ending so consider yourself warned.

Suzy as a character baffled me.  She stupidly goes jogging even though she’s in hiding and knows her boost can be tracked.  When she’s brought to the interrogation centre she has to give her kidnappers directions so she’s not left driving around indefinitely even though she’s safer outside a guarded and locked facility than she is inside it.  She doesn’t seem to care that she’s been captured and goes so far as to sleep with her interrogator (who, granted, is treating her well).  I can understand her not pressing charges at the end of the book, though I was surprised that she never called the police or others (like a DM contact), who could help her, on her boost, when Dahl started torturing her.  I’d assumed her boost was blocked inside the building, but she was able to message Ralf, so obviously that wasn’t the case.

I didn’t quite believe that Vallinger’s secret service contact didn’t know what kind of car he drove or - failing that - that there wasn’t some sort of ownership marker they could access stating who owned the car.  I was also surprised they didn’t mention there were 2 people in the car and check who the second one was before they bombed it.

I was surprised that the group celebrated directly after Vallinger’s death, despite the fact that the update wouldn’t need his OK, as it’s something automatically scheduled.  Then again, the change of leadership would likely accompany a halt of the update (which is what happened).  Still, they could have waited until the follow-up reports that state what happened next and that the update had been postponed before their party.  

Sunday 28 September 2014

Mississauga Science Fiction Spectacular

If you're in the Toronto area, you might be interested in attending this day of SF fun.  I heard about this event via Lloyd Penny's Pubnites and other events email newsletter and copied the info from Robert Sawyer's website.

Mississauga Science Fiction Spectacular

Mississauga Central Library in the Noel Ryan Auditorium, 301 Burnhamthorpe Rd. West, adjacent to City Hall  Mississauga, Ontario
Saturday, October 18, 2014, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Free — but space is limited. Please register in advance with the Central Library's "Readers' Den" Department: Phone 905-615-3200, extension 3544.
In honour of Mississauga resident ROBERT J. SAWYER's receipt of the Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, the Mississauga Public Library is pleased to present a FREE one-day science-fiction festival.
Rob asked us to get his "dream team" to join him at this event, and we did. Speaking and reading will be:
• Marie Bilodeau, Aurora Award-nominated author of Destiny's Blood
• Tanya Huff, Aurora Award-winning author of The Silvered
• Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids
• Robert Charles Wilson, Hugo Award-winning author of Spin

10:00 a.m.: Keynote address by Robert J. Sawyer on "The Canadian Science-Fiction Experience"
11:00 a.m.: "Differences Between Writing Science Fiction and Writing Fantasy" — Marie Bilodeau and Tanya Huff in conversation
Noon: lunch break
1:00 p.m.: Author Readings #1: Marie Bilodeau and Robert Charles Wilson
2:00 p.m.: "Science Fiction and the Science of the Mind" — Robert J. Sawyer and Robert Charles Wilson in conversation
3:00 p.m.: Author Readings #2: Tanya Huff and Robert J. Sawyer
4:00 p.m.: "The Future of Science Fiction Publishing" — Marie Bilodeau, Tanya Huff, Robert J. Sawyer, and Robert Charles Wilson

 (subject to refinement as the date approaches)

Friday 26 September 2014

Movie Review: The Host (Gwoemul)

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong, 2006

Pros: a good mix of humour and horror, great performances, really good monster effects

Cons: a bit long

An american scientist forces his lab tech to dump toxic chemicals into the Han River.  Years later a monster emerges, attacking people and spreading a plague.  One of its victims, a high school girl, is part of a family of failures, who decide to get revenge on the monster.

The characters make this film.  They’re earnest people, but they each have major flaws.  The girl’s father can’t stay awake for long, always napping at his dad’s snack shop where he works.  Her aunt is a professional archer, who holds her shots too long.  Her uncle is an unemployed university graduate and her grandfather tries to keep them focused through cup noodle soups and love.

Interestingly, the dad, who seems like such a waste, comes across as a hero during the first appearance of the monster, trying to help people get away from the river and save who he can.  But he can’t save his own daughter, which causes him lots of anguish.

There’s a good mix of humour and horror as the characters deal with the government officials rounding up those exposed to the monster - which they believe is carrying a communicable disease.  The special effects used to create the monster were well done, making it seem real rather than cheesy.

I loved Hyun-seo (the daughter, played by Ah-sung Ko)’s attempts to escape from the monster.  She’s smart and tries so hard to get out of a bad situation.

The ending surprised me, both with how the family pulled together and with what ultimately happened.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Shout-Out: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.
To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they'll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Video: The Medieval One

My thanks to DelRey Spectra's facebook page that pointed out this fantastic gem of a short film by The Peloton yesterday.  If you've ever had trouble keeping all the names and clans in fantasy straight, these knights know how you feel.

The Peloton has a bunch of other great videos including The Dragon One, The Zorro One, and The Friend Zone One, And make sure you watch past their website address, as some of the videos continue after it.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Book Review: Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta

Pros: lyrical prose, philosophical, characters face difficult choices

Cons: slow

In a world where water is tightly controlled by the military, Noria Kaitio is training as her father’s apprentice to become a tea master.  Tea masters historically had a duty to preserve sacred springs, and her family has kept the knowledge of one in the fells behind their house secret for decades.  But Noria finds it hard to keep the secret as her best friend Sanja and their village suffer under harsher and harsher conditions. 

This is a novel about the importance of water and how people survive under challenging circumstances.  It’a a novel that questions motives and wonders who’s trustworthy in a world where helping others will get you killed.

There’s very little action and the story is unravelled slowly.  There’s foreshadowing of the ills to come and some gorgeous, lyrical prose.  There’s also a lot of contemplative passages, mostly about water, but also about being in the moment, noticing the little things that always escape notice.  It’s a novel about thinking deeply about life and appreciating the life you have, because life is always changing and you can never regain what you’ve lost.

Despite the slowness with which the plot unfolds, the novel is a quick read.  The characters and the situations they find themselves in are intensely interesting.

It’s a beautiful novel, and sad.  And while it contains hope, it acknowledges that sacrifices are required and that not everyone lives to see better days.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Shout-Out: Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin

Sarah starts a crazy battle for her life within the walls of her hospital-turned-prison when a procedure to eliminate her memory goes awry and she starts to remember snatches of her past. Was she an urban terrorist or vigilante? Has the procedure been her salvation or her destruction?
The answers lie trapped within her mind. To access them, she'll need the help of the teen computer hacker who's trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, and a pill that's blocked by an army of mercenary soldiers poised to eliminate her for good. If only she knew why . . .

Friday 19 September 2014

Video Game Review: Choice of the Deathless

I don’t normally play games, and so don’t review them often, but I saw last week that Max Gladstone had a text based game set in the world of his Craft Sequence novels and - since the game was really cheap ($2.99) - I bought myself a copy.

If you’re familiar with choose your own adventure novels you’ll understand how this particular text based game works.  There’s no music or illustrations, just words on a page and options for you to choose between.

You start the game in the middle of a fight.  There’s no context, but you’re quickly given a series of flash backs that allow you to build your character, its background, and play several years of your life that ultimately land you back at the opening fight.

You’re employed by the law firm Varkath Nebuchadnezzar Stone, examining contracts, working with and battling demons, opposing a goddess, and making decisions that not only shape your life, but what ending you get in the game.  

If you’re one of those people who read choose your own adventure novels by holding the pages with various fingers so you could quickly flip back and try the other option, you’ll find yourself playing the game several times, because there’s no going back, so if you want to check out the other options you have to play again.  There are a number of different options and I played the game 3 time with quite a few left unchosen.  

There are 32 achievements to unlock, the first of which is “Die: It’s easier than you expect.”  You can’t get them all in one play through as the various endings all land you a different achievement.  And based on your choices, some endings aren’t available to you and are greyed out when you get there.

There’s some great writing, like this paragraph describing a meal in the demon dimension:

“Dinner turns out to be something best described as a steak if they made steaks out of sex and hope and joy, accompanied by a red wine with notes of autumn childhood happiness and a light finish of your first kiss.”

I made my husband - who plays a lot more games than I do and who hasn’t read the books -  play it through to see what comments he’d have about the story and gameplay.  First up, he said it wasn’t hard to understand the story, even without the background the books give of the world, though he did feel a bit blindsided by some of the situations as there’s no lead in to the various story pieces (so, for example, the scenes with demons don’t mention that gods are interactable beings).  He did have some minor complaints about the game play.  He wished there were customizable options so he could change the text style to white on black instead of black on white, as he finds that easier to read on a computer screen.  He also wished there were keyboard shortcuts so he could have tabbed through the options rather than scrolling down and clicking on them with a mouse.  He also wished the game marked what previous choices you made so you’d have an easier time trying the other options (since you won’t necessarily remember what you picked between game plays).  His final point was one I shared, which is that you can’t save your stats by character.  Once you reset the game, your stats for the previous game are gone so there’s no way to compare your results.

The game takes between an hour and a half and two hours to play, which is good value considering the cost of it on Steam.  It’s available there for all major operating systems as well as at the Apple app store, Google Play and the Kindle.  You can find all the buy options here as well as play a demo.  Steam also has a trailer for the game.

If you liked the books you’ll love this game.  If you haven’t read the books but love choose your own adventures and/or the idea of being a lawyer who deals in magic, then give it a try.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Shout-Out: The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O’Brien

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success: every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the ridges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding-and what it truly means to dream there.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Video: If Disney Princes Were Real

In case you missed it, BuzzFeed did an awesome video showing what Disney princes would be like in the real world.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Book Review: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Pros: complex plot, interesting characters, fascinating world


Kavekana is an island with no gods of its own, where offshore interests can purchase an idol to store soulstuff.  When the priestess Kai jumps into the sacred pool to try to save her co-worker’s created idol, Seven Alpha, her actions have many unforeseen consequences.  

Izza is a thief.  When the Blue Lady she worships dies, she realizes it’s time to leave the island before her age makes her eligible for her crimes’ punishment: being placed inside one of the stone Penitents that guard the island.  But she’s soon pulled into the mystery surrounding a poet who’s lost his inspiration, and Kai’s investigation.

This is the third book published in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series.  While it stands alone, like the others, this one uses characters from the first two books and shows some aftermath from what’s come before.  It’s storytelling that doesn’t alienate newcomers while giving more depth to those who’ve read the other books.

The world-building, as with the previous books - is top notch.  Gladstone’s created a world of interconnected everything: trade, tourism, religion, law, war, history, etc.  There’s always the sense that there’s more to know, that each book is only scratching the surface, and with each book more of the world and its past and people are uncovered.  Because the protagonists are from very different social strata, we get to see a lot of the island - security, police, tourism, slums, offices, etc. 

The characters are interesting.  Kai and Izza are both challenged by what’s going on, attempting to solve several mysteries, if from different sides.  The Penitents are a chilling - if effective - punishment, that evolves into a police force that’s 100% loyal.  Even the poet has his moments.  

The plot weaves around and eventually comes to a satisfying conclusion, though one that takes place in a world that continues on after the book ends.

These are fantastic books that take place in a fantasy realm with all the complexity of the real world.  If you like well written fantasy with some mystery thrown in, and diverse characters, these are for you.

Monday 15 September 2014

Movie Trailer: Mockingjay Part 1

I loved the first two Hunger Games films - and the books - and this trailer rocks.  Can't wait to see it.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Shout-Out: Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

When your life is based on lies, how do you hunt down the truth?
Jerry Beche should be dead. Instead, he's rescued from a desolate Earth where he was the last man alive. He's then trained for the toughest conditions imaginable and placed with a crack team of specialists on an isolated island. Every one of them is a survivor, as each withstood the violent ending of their own alternate Earth. And their new specialism? To retrieve weapons and data in missions to other apocalyptic versions of our world.
But what is 'the Authority', the shadowy organization that rescued Beche and his fellow survivors? How does it access timelines to find other Earths? And why does it need these instruments of death?
As Jerry struggles to obey his new masters, he begins to distrust his new companions. A strange bunch, their motivations are less than clear, and accidents start plaguing their missions. Jerry suspects the Authority is feeding them lies, and team members are spying on him. As a dangerous situation spirals into catastrophe, is there anybody he can trust?

Friday 12 September 2014

Creature Feature: Joyboy

In this column I talk about some of the more unusual fantasy creatures and/or creatures it would be cool to see in books.

While flipping through my copy of The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were by Michael Page and Robert Ingpen, looking for a creature for today’s article, I stumbled upon this listing for Joyboy:

“The West Indian character who personifies the human need to dance, sing, and jubilate.” (p. 26)  He travelled to the Caribbean with West African slaves and has been cited as a source of inspiration by some jazz musicians. 

While he’s more of a god or a muse than a creature, it got me thinking that pantheons in the past used to be huge and often had a character whose job it was to inspire joy, revelry and - in cases of excess - chaos.  Probably the best known is Dionysus/Bacchus, the Greek/Roman god of grapes, wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre.

According to wikipedia Dionysus’ “wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful.” 

It seems like most fantasy books focus on the more modern, stern, repressive gods.  And even books that deal with Greek mythology don’t generally show the benefits or joys of following a god dedicated to letting things go.  The closest gods I can think of that do get used a fair bit are trickster gods, who, while having some similar attributes, aren’t quite the same thing. 

It would be cool to see a character like Joyboy used in a novel, a god that inspires dance and music - perhaps to excess, like the dancing mania that struck people in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries.  “It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children, who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion.” (source)  

But even just acknowledging that people need relaxation of some sort, joy, expressed in the form of a god, even excess in revelry, would be a nice addition to fantasy pantheons of the future.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Shout-Out: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.
Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.
All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.
So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing.
Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.
The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Video: A Sexual Experience by Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett's brilliant City of Stairs came out yesterday.  It's good.  Go read it.

On twitter, while mentioning the book, someone pointed out this video Bennett did a few years ago. So I watched it, and couldn't stop laughing.  It's a kind of book trailer.  Alas the book isn't real.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Pros: fun characters, interesting mystery, dry humour


For Parents: minor violence, kissing

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality makes course for London after picking up some gentlemen from Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique.  They’re to see the results of an experiment in navigating the aetherosphere, something that would greatly reduce travel times.  But not everyone wants the experiment to succeed.

In many ways this is a light-hearted Harry Potter, if Harry went to a school for spies in a dirigible set in a steampunk Victorian England, cared more about fashion and Hermione was the protagonist.  This is the second book of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, and it maintains the same level of propriety crossed with rule breaking as the first.  The humour is dry, the sort you acknowledge with a snort rather than a guffaw, despite how unbecoming either action would be in polite society. 

Sophronia and her gang of misfits are such fun characters, though due to exam results, she finds herself working alone more than she’d prefer, in this volume.  It was also nice to see her encounter real consequences for the kind of work she’s training to do, making her wonder if this really is what she wants.

The mystery involves several threads, some of which harken back to the events of the previous book.  There’s also the knowledge at the end that though things were resolved, there are still some questions to be answered.

If you haven’t read these books, you’re missing out.

Sunday 7 September 2014

Shout-Out: The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos

The Planet Thieves is the first thrilling installment of a new middle-grade series by Dan Krokos.

Two weeks ago, thirteen-year-old Mason Stark and seventeen of his fellow cadets from the Academy for Earth Space Command boarded the SS Egypt. The trip was supposed to be a short routine voyage to log their required spacetime for summer quarter.
But routine goes out the airlock when they're attacked by the Tremist, an alien race who have been at war with humanity for the last sixty years.
With the captain and crew dead, injured, or taken prisoner, Mason and the cadets are all that's left to warn the ESC. And soon they find out exactly why the Tremist chose this ship to attack: the Egypt is carrying a weapon that could change the war forever.
Now Mason will have to lead the cadets in a daring assault to take back the ship, rescue the survivors, and recover the weapon. Before there isn't a war left to fight.

Out September 9th.

Friday 5 September 2014

World-Building: Historical Stamps

Quite some time ago I scanned some of my stamps for blog posts and then forgot to do them all.  So here are some great stamps showing items of historical interest.

It's cool to see what's considered important enough by society to be made into stamps.  Above are some castles, a few medieval manuscript images (one of Hildegard of Bingen), some of scenes of life and historical boats.

I love series stamps, the ones that show progressions through history of something - like sailing ships.  They let you see how things change over time and how technology progresses.

History is full of complexities, and remembering the past - through mementos or specific references - is important to making the history in your fantasy novel feel real.  People have pasts, but so do places, technologies, 'old wives tales', mythologies, buildings, medicine, etc.  Everything comes from something, so a world that just plops down with no past doesn't feel grounded, doesn't feel real.  If you don't choose to map out thousands of years of history for your world, at least remember to add in a few tidbits of information about the past, and some mementos of that past lying around houses or pubs, or as scars on bodies.  Remind the reader that the ways things are done 'now' isn't how they were always done, or have changed and improved over time.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Shout-Out: Replica by Jack Heath

Whose body is that on the table?' I ask. She stares at me, as though the answer is obvious. 'It's yours,' she says. Before I have time to scream, she types a command on the keyboard. My consciousness whirls away like storm water down a drain.

Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her.

Who is she? And what does she want?

Chloe is running out of time to discover the truth. But she's in even more danger than she realizes, and nothing is as it seems . . .

Out September 7th.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Video: 5 Historical Misconceptions Rundown

CGP Grey has made a bunch of interesting videos discussing such things as Vatican city, the strange US/Canadian border, how many countries there are and more.  Here's one where he mentions some common misconceptions about history and refutes them.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Book Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Pros: intricate world-building, fascinating plot, diverse characters, thought provoking


Three hundred years ago the people of Saypur rebelled against the Continent, killing its Gods and enslaving the populace as they had been enslaved.  Continental history has been suppressed and any mention of the Gods and Their Miracles is considered a criminal act.  With tensions high in the ancient capital of Bulikov, it’s not surprising when a Saypuri professor is killed while studying the history of the Continent.  Shara Thivani, an intelligence officer with an unhealthy interest in said history, goes there to investigate, and finds more than a simple murder.

While the content and scope are decidedly different, the closest parallel to this book I can think of is Dune by Frank Herbert.  Instead of a distant planetary system in the future, City of Stairs deals with gods and an imperialistic past, but the weight of its history and the intricacy of the plots left me thinking, numerous times, of Dune.  This was likely helped by Bennett’s use of quotations from historical sources and politicians at the start of each chapter, something Dune employed to help disseminate information without resorting to info dumps.  If you want a more modern comparison, then Mad Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead comes to mind.

The book captures your attention with the troubling and thought provoking first quote from The Book of the Red Lotus, one of many holy books for one of the Continent’s 6 Divinities:

And Olvos said to them: “Why have you done this, my children?  Why is the sky wreathed with smoke?  Why have you made war in far places, and shed blood in strange lands?”
And they said to Her: “You blessed us as Your people, and we rejoiced, and were happy, and they were willful and ignorant of You.  They would not open their ears to Your songs, or lay Your words upon their tongues.  So we dashed them upon the rocks and threw down their houses and shed their blood and scattered them to the winds, and we were right to do so.  For we are Your people.  We carry Your blessings.  We are Yours, and so we are right.  Is this not what You said?”
And Olvos was silent.

The idea that the Continent’s people were chosen of the Gods is central to the book.  What does it mean when you’re backed by divine right?  And conversely, what does it mean to those you enslave, that they are not?  Turning the tables on their oppressors, the Saypuri have become what they once hated.  It’s clear that despite the time that has passed both sides are still heavily influenced by their past, even if the people no longer have a proper understanding of their history.  Old tensions and hatreds cloud modern judgement and ensure that the people of Saypuri keep those on the Continent in poverty, rather than letting them rebuild and start over.

But that’s not the only thought provoking issue the book goes into.  It’s hard to read this book and not compare the philosophies it espouses to the conflict in Gaza*, though the book would have been finished long before the fighting there started up again.  My original thoughts were that the book drew on experiences from the British occupation of India, though I don’t know enough about that to know if any specifics were cribbed.  The book has a ‘what if India managed to rebel earlier and ended up subjugating England’ feel to it.  Saypuri character names sounded Indian to me, which helped this impression.  Though the Continental names sound Russian, so Bennett may have been cribbing from several real world occupations, rather than just one.  Or none at all.  Regardless, I love fantasy that makes me think about the real world and its history.  I’ve not studied colonialism in any detail so this book was fantastic in that it helped me understand more of the complexities surrounding it including the underlying resentments, the hold the past has on you and the inability descendants have with moving on.    

Though the core cast of the book is fairly small, there’s a large enough supporting cast to give the book a grand, epic, feel.  The cast is nicely diverse, with several people having visible disabilities (a limp, a missing eye, a facial scar), there’s a prominent homosexual who must hide what he is in the still ultra-conservative Bulikov, and the people of Saypur, we are told, are a dark skinned people.  The Saypuri are an equal opportunity country with women in numerous positions of power, though the protagonist is still referred to as ‘my girl’ by an older gentleman of her nation, showing that not everyone there is progressive.  

The book did a remarkable job of showing world building through subtleties rather than overt references or gratuitous scenes.  For example, rather than have someone raped, the protagonist is quietly asked if a particular official’s female servant is pregnant, implying both that the official was one to use his position of authority to get sex, but also that women of the subjugated race face these kinds of dangers/pressures.  

This is a brilliant novel, the kind of book aspiring authors should read over and over again to see how Bennett made his characters and places come alive.  If you like intense world-building of the style used in Frank Herbert’s Dune or Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, pick this up.  If you’ve been looking for diverse characters, pick this up.  Seriously, pick this book up.  You won’t regret it.

* Since not everyone’s familiar with the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, the Israelite people were promised a land (modern day Israel) as long as they were righteous.  To claim the land they first had to remove the people inhabiting it.  Over time the country was conquered by successive groups and the majority relocated and eventually scattered.  While none of that directly contributes to the current conflict, there’s a lot of religious underpinnings that indirectly affect things (Zionism being just one of them).

Monday 1 September 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy Coming in October, 2014

Before the World's Biggest Bookstore closed, one of my co-workers predicted that we'd start seeing fewer mass market original releases (where the book is released in mass market without a hardcover or trade paperback edition first) and more ebooks and trade paperback originals.  Either October's a slow month for mass markets, or her prediction's coming true faster than I anticipated because there are very few new mass market books coming out that month, and not many reprints of other formats either.  This list was compiled from Amazon's Canadian website, and while I try to make it as comprehensive as I can, I'm sure some books have been missed.  Several of E. R. Eddison (a contemporary of Tolkien and Lewis)'s books are being reprinted, as well as two by John Wyndham.  And anyone anxiously awaiting the follow up to the Hugo and Nebula Award winning Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie, the wait is almost over.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Nearly Definitive Edition – Douglas Adams
Heraclix & Pomp – Forrest Aguirre
A Vision of Fire – Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin
Doctor Who Official Annual 2015 – BBC
War Dogs – Greg Bear
The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliah – Ishbelle Bee
The Shotgun Arcana – R.S. Belcher
Hawk – Steven Brust
The Lesser Dead – Christopher Buehlman
The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword – Jack Campbell
Poison Fruit – Jacqueline Carey
Silverblind – Tina Connolly
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy Box Set – Ian Doescher 
Star Trek: Ships of the Line – Doug Drexler & Margaret Clark
Chasing Power – Sarah Beth Durst
Fire in the Blood – Erin Evans
Of Bone and Thunder – Chris Evans
Chaos – Sarah Fine
The Peripheral – William Gibson
Warhammer: Gotrek & Felix: Kinslayer – David Guymer
Scarlet Tides – David Hair
The Abyss Beyond Dreams – Peter Hamilton
Spark – John Twelve Hawks
The Incorruptibles – John Hornor Jacobs
Seventh Grave and No Body – Darynda Jones
A Mountain Walked – S.T. Joshi, Ed.
New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft – Leslie Klinger & Alan Moore, Ed.
Closer to Home – Mercedes Lackey
The Collected Short Stories of R.A Lafferty v2 – R.A. Lafferty
Lady Paranorma – Vincent Marcone
The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin, Elio Garcia & Linda Antonsson
Poison – Sarah Pinborough
The Drawing of the Dark – Tim Powers
The Tales of Victor Coachman – Bimey Reed
Prince Lestat – Anne Rice
Doctor Who: The Secret Lives of Monsters – Justin Richards
Bete – Adam Roberts
Death by Paradox – R.M. Robinson
Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss
Wizards: The Myths, Legends, and Lore – Aubrey Sherman
Daydreams for Night – John Southworth & David Ouimet
Fish Tails – Sheri Tepper
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Steampunk User’s Manual – Jeff Vandermeer & Desirina Boskovich
Star Wars: Imperial Handbook Deluxe Edition – Daniel Wallace
A Call to Duty – David Weber & Timothy Zahn
The Fire Artist – Daisy Whitney

Trade Paperback:

The Secrets of Life and Death – Rebecca Alexander
The Devil Lancer – Astrid Amara
TimeBomb – Scott Andrews
Five Portraits – Piers Anthony
Line War – Neal Asher
Burn – Julianna Baggott
The Time Roads – Beth Bernobich
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
Touch of Evil – Cathy Clamp & C.T. Adams
A Floating Life – Tad Crawford
Hello Devilfish! – Ron Dakron
Blood of Gods – David Dalglish & Robert Duperre
The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen – Ellen Datlow, Ed.
The Baen Big Book of Monsters – Hank Davis, Ed.
A Fish Dinner in Memison – E. R. Eddison (reprint)
The Mezentian Gate – E. R. Eddison (reprint)
Mistress of Mistresses – E. R. Eddison (reprint)
The Worm Ouroboros – E. R. Eddison (reprint)
Quarantine – Greg Egan (reprint)
Midkemia: The Chronicles of Pug – Raymond E. Feist & Stephen Abrams
The Shattered Crown – Richard Ford
Paraside – Mira Grant
Time Travel: Recent Trips – Paula Guran, Ed.
Facial Justice – L.P. Hartley (reprint)
Beyond This Horizon – Robert Heinlein (reprint)
The Madness of Cthulhu – S.T. Joshi, Ed.
Dead Set – Richard Kadrey
Devil Said Bang – Richard Kadrey
The Grand Hotel – Scott Kenemore
The Last Rite – Jasper Kent
Falling Sky – Rajan Khanna
Black Dog – Caitlin Kittredge
The Last Book Ever Written: by Victor Vale – Jonah Kruvant
Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
Haunting of Heck House – Lesley Livingston
The Last Man Standing – Davide Longo
Cyberstorm – Matthew Mather
An Exchange of Gifts – Anne McCaffrey (reprint)
Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets – David Thomas Moore, Ed.
The Wolves of London – Mark Morris
Apex – Ramez Naam
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North
Tales from High Hallack v3 – Andre Norton
Living Language: Dothraki – David Peterson
A Brief History of the Hobbit – John Rateliff
The Tone Poet – Mark Rickert
The Path of Anger – Antoine Rouaud
The Free – Brian Ruckley
Lost Cantos of the Ouroboros Caves – Maggie Schein
The Blood of Angels – Johanna Sinisalo
The Age of Scorpio – Gavin Smith
We Are Not Good People – Jeff Somers
Shovel Ready – Adam Sternbergh
Fearsome Magics – Jonathan Strahan, Ed.
Darker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance – Mitzi Szereto, Ed.
Warhammer: The Doom of Dragonback – Gav Thorpe
The Chaplain’s War – Brad Torgersen
A Taste for Poison – Aleksandr Voinov
The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures – Sean Wallace, Ed.
The Dark Blood of Poppies – Freda Warrington
The Wayward Eight: A Contract to Die For – Robert Waters
The Ninth Talisman – Lawrence Watt-Evans
The Martian – Andy Weir
Warhammer 40K: Angels of Death – C.L. Werner & Christian Dunn
Prophecies, Libels & Dreams – Ysabeau Wilce
Knife Sworn – Mazarkis Williams
Consider her Ways – John Wyndham (reprint)
The Seeds of Time – John Wyndham (reprint)
A Night in the Lonesome October – Roger Zelazny

Mass Market Paperback:

Esrever Doom – Piers Anthony
Otherworld Nights – Kelley Armstrong
Penumbra – Keri Arthur
Autumn Bones – Jacqueline Carey
Forgotten Realms: The Sentinel – Troy Denning
The Tess Noncoire Chronicles – P.R. Frost
Reckoning – S.J. Harper
Black Spring – Christina Henry
Blood of Dragons – Robin Hobb
Broken Soul – Faith Hunter
Riding the Unicorn – Paul Kearney
Bastion – Mercedes Lackey
Revolution – Mercades Lackey, Cody Martin, Dennis Lee & Veronica Giguere
Star Trek: Section 31: Disavowed – David Mack
Dangerous Women 2 – George Martin & Gardner Dozois, Ed.
Drawn Blades – Kelly McCullough
Starhawk – Jack McDevitt
The Undead Hordes of Kan-Gul – Jon Merz
Nevermore – James Patterson
Rising Steam – Terry Pratchett
Kris Longknife: Tenacious – Mike Shepherd
Dream Stalkers – Tim Waggoner
Star Wars: Razor’s Edge – Martha Wells
Unbinding – Eileen Wilks
Binding – Carol Wolf
Scars – Chris Wraight


Seasons’ Beginnings – Sandra Lubrich Almazan
Archivist – Corryn Anderson
Earth Angel – Alex Apostol
Liberation – Andrew Beery
Surrogate – David Bernstein
Tears of a Heart – Chase Blackwood
A Forest of Dreams – Roy Booth, Ed.
The Curioius Case of Miss Amelia Vernet – Dana Cameron
A Legend of the Future – Augustin de Rojas
Doorways Home – Jacqueline Dooley & Judith Krongard
The Protectors – Trey Dowell
The Splicing Project – Heather Dowell & A.S. Oren
Demon’s Vow – Jocelynn Drake
Cipher – Aileen Erin
Herakles and Geryon – Eric Feka
The Ambition of a Man – Francisco Figueira
The Judgment – Francisco Figueira
Cloudstalker – J.J. Gadd
Knight of the Sword – A.J. Gallant
New Vegas – Michael Beardsley, Renee George & Emma Ray Garrett
The Faerie Queen – Kiki Hamilton
City of Endless Night – Milo Hastings (reprint)
Into the Shadows – Amber Haupt
The Crossover Gene – Brian Jarrett
Flower’s Fang – Madison Keller
Cybersaurus: The Awakening – Nicholas Kory
Return to Emerald City – Allyson Lindt & Sofia Grey
Dante’s Heart – Stant Litore
Unlucky Number Four – T.J. Loveless
Beyond the Gloaming – Brendan Murphy
Ennara and the Book of Shadows – Angela Myron
In the Void – Sheryl Nantus
Spirit Blade – M.A. Niles
The Twin Prophecies: Origins – Nina Perez
The Body Electric – Beth Revis
Frontier Resistance – Leonie Rogers
The Elementalists – C. Sharp
The Turquoise Tower – Travis Simmons
Stranded – Nicholas Sansbury Smith
The Changing of the Sun – Lesley Smith
Wishes and Sorrows – Cindy Lynn Speer
Silence is Golden – Robert Stanek
Eden, Noon – Archer Swift
Taste of Treason – April Taylor
Joe Devlin: In the Moon’s Shadow – James Thomas
The Younger Gods – Michael Underwood
Crown of Flames – Mara Valderran
The Death: A Post-Apocalyptic Novel – John Vance
Storm Chaser – Angela Wallace
The Minus Faction: Crossfire – Rick Wayne

Warden of Time – Sarah Woodbury