Sunday 30 November 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Received in November of 2014

Many thanks to Tor for sending me several books this month.

Silverblind by Tina Connolly - I recently read the first book in the series, Ironskin, an historical fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre that I enjoyed a lot.  I'm hoping to get to books 2 an 3 soon.  In order to avoid spoilers for book 3, I'm giving book 1's synopsis here.

Jane Eliot wears an iron mask. It's the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain--the ironskin. When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a "delicate situation"--a child born during the Great War--Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help. Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn't expect to fall for the girl's father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her scars and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio...and come out as beautiful as the fey. Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things are true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of a new life--and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones - I've only read Howl's Moving Castle and its sequel, Castle In the Air, by her, and both as an adult.  I've hear so many wonderful things about her books that it's high time I delve deeper into more of her fantastic stories.

All over the multiverse the Magids, powerful magicians, are at work to maintain the balance between positive and negative magic, for the good of all.

Rupert Venables is the junior Magid assigned to Earth and to the troublesome planets of the Koyrfonic Empire. When the Emperor dies without a known heir, Rupert is called into service to help prevent the descent of the Empire into chaos. At the same time, the senior Magid on Earth dies, making Rupert a new senior desperately in need of a junior. Rupert thinks his problems are partially solved when he discovers he can meet all five of the potential Magids on Earth by attending one SF convention in England. However, the convention hotel sits on a node, a nexus of the universes. Rupert soon finds that other forces, some of them completely out of control, are there too....

The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich - This book sounds very interesting.

A fantastical nineteenth century alternate historical steampunk romp from Beth Bernobich, the critically acclaimed author of the River of Souls trilogy.

Éire is one of the most powerful empires in the world. The Anglian Dependencies are a dusty backwater filled with resentful colonial subjects, Europe is a disjointed mess, and many look to Éire for stability and peace. In a series of braided stories, Beth Bernobich has created a tale about the brilliant Éireann scientists who have already bent the laws of nature for Man's benefit. And who now are striving to conquer the nature of time.

The Golden Octopus: Áine Lasairíona Devereaux, the young Queen of Éire, balances Court politics while pursing the Crown's goals of furthering scientific discovery. When those discoveries lead to the death and madness of those she loves, Áine must choose between her heart and her duty to her kingdom.

A Flight of Numbers Fantastique Strange: Síomón Madóc is desperately trying to discover who is killing the brightest of Éire's mathematicians. The key to saving lives lies in the future...and Síomón must figure out a way to get there.

Ars Memoriae: Éireann spymaster Aidrean Ó Deághaidh goes to the kingdom of Montenegro to investigate rumors of great unrest. But Ó Deághaidh is tormented by visions of a different timeline and suspects that someone in his own government is playing a double game….

The Time Roads: Éire stands on the brink of the modern age, but old troubles still plague the kingdom. An encounter with a mysterious stranger near death holds the clue to both the past and the future of the nation.

Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake - A collection of Lake's short stories.

Last Plane to Heaven is the final and definitive short story collection of award-winning SF author Jay Lake, author of Green, Endurance, and Kalimpura.

Long before he was a novelist, SF writer Jay Lake, was an acclaimed writer of short stories. In Last Plane to Heaven, Lake has assembled thirty-two of the best of them. Aliens and angels fill these pages, from the title story, a hard-edged and breathtaking look at how a real alien visitor might be received, to the savage truth of “The Cancer Catechisms.” Here are more than thirty short stories written by a master of the form, science fiction and fantasy both.

The Traders' War: The Clan Corporate and The Merchants' War by Charles Stross - This omnibus consists of books 3 and 4 of the series.

Miriam was an ambitious business journalist in Boston. Until she was fired—then discovered, to her shock, that her lost family comes from an alternate reality. And although some of them are trying to kill her, she won’t stop digging up secrets. Now that she knows she’s inherited the family ability to walk between worlds, there’s a new culture to explore.
Her alternate home seems located around the Middle Ages, making her world-hopping relatives top dogs when it comes to “importing” guns and other gadgets from modern-day America. Payment flows from their services to U.S. drug rings—after all, world-skipping drug runners make great traffickers. In a land where women are property, she struggles to remain independent. Yet her outsider ways won’t be tolerated, and a highly political arranged marriage is being brokered behind her back. If she can stay alive for long enough to protest.

Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!: A Memoir by Harry Harrison - The only book I've read by Harry Harrison is Make Room! Make Room! (the basis of the film Soylent Green) when Tor reprinted it a few years ago.  It was a different kind of dystopian novel from others I've read (and from the movie). I've heard good things about his Stainless Steel Rat books as well.

Recollections of one of the grand masters of science fiction, on his storied career as a celebrated author and on his relationships with other luminaries in the field. This memoir is filled with all the humor and irreverence Harry Harrison''s readers have come to expect from the New York Times bestselling author of the uproarious Stainless Steel Rat series. This also includes black and white photos spanning his sixty-year career.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Shout-Out: The House of War and Witness by Mike, Linda & Louise Carey

1740. With the whole of Europe balanced on the brink of war, an Austrian regiment is sent to the farthest frontier of the empire to hold the border against the might of Prussia. Their garrison, the ancient house called Pokoj. But Pokoj is already inhabited... by a company of ghosts from every age of the house's history. Only Drozde, the quartermaster's mistress, can see them, and terrifyingly they welcome her as a friend. As these ageless phantoms tell their stories, Drozde gets chilling glimpses not just of Pokoj's past but of a looming menace in its future. Meanwhile, the humourless lieutenant Klaes pursues another mystery. Why are the people of the neighbouring village so surly and withdrawn, so reluctant to welcome the soldiers who are there to protect them? What are they hiding? And what happened to the local militia unit that was stationed at Pokoj before the regiment arrived?

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Video: Reverse Halloween

CommunityChannel does some fun humerous videos and recently released a great reverse Halloween video, where witches and ghosts, etc., dress up as humans.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Cover Reveal: The Void by Timothy S. Johnston

A Tanner Sequence Novel

Transporting a serial killer might seem like a simple job for Homicide Investigator Kyle Tanner. But when his ship breaks down in interstellar space and another murderer starts carving a path through the people around him, Tanner realizes that he might be in over his head. Unfortunately there’s no one to call for help, and the days are ticking down to his probable death. He’s facing a mysterious threat in deep space, but he knows that if he can’t decipher the clues and capture the killer, he’ll at least die trying …

The Void is coming from Timothy S. Johnston and Carina Press on March 30, 2015. It is the third book in The Tanner Sequence, a series of standalone murder mysteries set in unique and claustrophobic environments. The first two are The Furnace (2013) and The Freezer (2014.)

Check out the author's website for more information and click here to preorder the book.

Monday 24 November 2014

Book Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Pros: interesting world-building, great protagonist

Cons: banter between Jane and Rochart didn’t quite match Jane and Rochester

Jane Eliot has worn an iron mask over half of her face since the end of the fae war 5 years ago, when she was cursed with rage.  The mask keeps the rage at bay, but marks her as an ironskin, a reminder of worse times, and shunned by society.  Upon the engagement of her sister to an aristocrat greatly above their station, she takes a post as governess to a young girl who’s… different.  Jane believes she knows how to reach the child, but Dorie is not an ironskin like Jane.  And as Jane starts to fall for her brooding new master, she wonders if she’s the right person to help Dorie after all.

This is a fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.  But while the plot remains largely the same, there are a lot of major and minor differences.  At times when she diverges from Jane Eyre, Connolly writes in a nod to the original.  For example, Jane in this one never went to a boarding school, but she did teach at one and comments that she’s glad she never had to attend it, given the horrible conditions the girls faced.  The ending is noticeably different, so don’t think that having read Jane Eyre will preclude your enjoying this book or remove all the plot surprises. 

I really enjoyed the fae aspects of the book, from the war to the curse to learning about the dwarvven and their interactions with the fae.  I liked that the fae had understandable reasons for the war (that you discover at the end of the book).  And I liked that the book kept much of the traditional view of fairy stories (the Irish and Welsh versions where someone who know someone was kidnapped by the fairies and later returned), rather than modern literary fairy tales.

Jane, as with her namesake, was a great protagonist.  Though young she’s determined and hard working, stubborn and loving.  I didn’t feel the same connection between her and Rochart as I did between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, their banter not hitting quite the same notes, but the relationship did grow naturally over time, which I appreciated.  Their ending surprised me as things got pretty bleak fast and I wasn’t sure how the author would be able to resolve things.

One of the main divergences from the original is the fact that Jane has a living sister with whom she has a complicated relationship.  Both of them envy and resent things about the other.  It was nice to see how things developed between them as well as Jane’s relationships with the other female members of the staff.  

This is the start of a series and I’m curious to see where the author will take things, as book two is from her sister’s point of view.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Shout-Out: Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne

Everybody in Chicago has a "superhero sighting" story. So when a villain attacks editorial assistant Gail Godwin and she's rescued by superhero Blaze, it's a great story, and nothing more. Until it happens again. And again. Now the media has dubbed her Hostage Girl, nobody remembers her real name, and people are convinced that Blaze is just her boyfriend, Jeremy, in disguise.

Gail's not so sure. All she knows is that when both Jeremy and Blaze leave town in the same week, she's probably doomed. Who will save her now?

Yet, miraculously, the villains lose interest. Gail is able to return to her life … until she wakes up strapped to a metal table by a mad scientist who hasn't read the news. After escaping—now more than human herself—she's drawn into a secret underground world of superheroes. She'll have to come to terms with her powers (and weaknesses) to make it in the new society, and it's not easy. After all, there's a new villain on the rise, and she has her sights set on the one and only Hostage Girl.

Friday 21 November 2014

Blast From the Past: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Before I started reviewing books online I loved rereading my favourite SF/Fantasy books.  Since I don’t have time to do that anymore, this column is a trip down memory lane, where I’ll rave about books I love to read.  And then read again.  These aren’t reviews, as I won’t necessarily mention criticisms, they’re my chance to fan girl about books I love and hopefully garner some interest in some older titles.

In retrospect it’s a bit odd that I picked up the Death Gate Cycle.  I’d read, and had a wildly negative reaction to, their Darksword trilogy and while I really enjoyed the Legends trilogy I thought the Dragonlance Chronicles were simply ok.

But I found myself in a Coles store at my local mall as a teen and they were having a buy 3 get 1 free promotion.  And there on the shelf were 4 books of the Death Gate Cycle.  I was tired of waiting years for follow-up books, so this was perfect.  I’d get all the books, one free, and not have to worry about waiting to read the end of the story.  

It turned out to be a good thing that I bought those books together because I enjoyed the first book, Dragon Wing, but didn’t love it, and found the second one, Elven Star, kind of boring.  What I liked about Dragon Wing was the banter between Alfred and Haplo, the two protagonists.  Well, they don’t meet up in book 2, in fact, Haplo’s the only character to carry over from book 1, so it didn’t feel like a continuation of the story.  But I’d bought all 4 books and I was going to read all 4 books, so I picked up Fire Sea.  

Fire Sea not only brought the protagonists back together it did so in the most interesting setting, a lava filled world of stone where in order to fix the depleted population, those remaining started resurrecting their dead.  With horrible, unforeseen consequences.

From that book on I loved the series.  I whipped through Fire Sea and Serpent Mage only to discover… that there would be more books in the series.  I didn’t even know how many books, just that the story wasn't done, because while Dragon Wing and Elven Star had decent wrap ups, both book 3 & 4 ended on cliffhangers.

So, I ended up waiting 3 years for the series to finish.  At the end I loved the complexity of the series, how things brought into books 1 and 2 became important in books 6 and 7.  I loved the interplay between Alfred and Haplo, the idea that you have to make decisions for your own life and then stand by them and accept the consequences, good or bad, for those decisions.  I liked that the bad guys had actual grievances and that the so called good guys didn’t necessarily have the best interests of others in mind.  The protagonists had to make some very difficult choices.  The world-building was pretty awesome too.

It’s a series I’ve reread numerous times and I’m still impressed by how the authors pulled it all together.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Shout-Out: Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.
Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Video: Game of Thrones Theme on Wine Glasses

I heard about Dan Newbie a little while ago when he did the Skyrim Elder Scrolls V theme on wine glasses.  It's fantastic.  He's done a bunch of wine glass music like Hedwig's theme from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Super Mario Bros and more.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Book Review: The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko

Pros: interesting & diverse characters, solid world-building, some thought provoking philosophy

Cons: several highly disturbing (though not graphic) scenes, Lolita style relationship

Five months after a devastating accident that physically cut him in half, Alexander Romanov is released from the hospital.  With little money and no plans, he encounters a young girl nearing her spesh metamorphosis and - due to the programming inherent in his pilot spesh - has to help her out.  He takes a job as a ship captain to help pay for the treatment she needs and, once she’s done her metamorphosis, assembles a crew for an unknown mission.

The book is split into three sections.  The first section introduces the characters, the second deals with the fallout of discovering their mission, and the third revolves around a mystery.  While I really enjoyed the first two parts, the third got irritating as two of the characters claim to have solved the mystery but refuse to explain what happened, presumably so the reader has time to put the clues together.  It felt artificial, though there is a reason given for their delay in the text.  The resolution was interesting as it referred back to several of the philosophical questions the book as a whole posed. 

The world-building in this book is solid.  There are four groups at play: 1. Natural, unmodified humans 2. Speshs, people whose parents decide before birth what specialized job their child should have, and are then genetically modified physically and psychologically to do the work and enjoy it.  3. Clones.  And 4. the Others, several alien races that have interactions with humans.  You’ll also encounter human politics, with a child Emperor, various religions (and religious extremism), numerous branches of racism, etc.  Different planets have different specialties, atmospheres, and customs, while travel between planets is done using hyper-tunnels and takes a surprisingly short amount of time.

For the most part I liked all the characters, at the beginning at least.  The captain’s a great POV character.  I love his demon tattoo (and what it does for him), and the way he analyses his world, questioning the way things are, even when he’s ok with the way things are.  Kim’s a great character, though I did have issues with her… relationship with the captain (and others, as her being 14 and having sex with people significantly older wasn’t something I’m comfortable with, even if the characters - for the most part - considered it normal, or at least, not unusual).  Her specializations made her self-assured, despite her lack of experience.  Janet was my favourite character until the half-way point when her upbringing came to the fore.  I liked that she’d taken charge of her life, getting several specializations and was willing to be a mentor for Kim.   

The one character I didn’t much like was Puck.  His antagonistic attitude and desire to prove that a natural human could be just as good as a spesh made him kind of irritating.  I did, however, appreciate that he was gay and that his being natural showed off the prejudices of his crewmates.

This is a book that makes you think, though some of the scenes that open the way to philosophical discussion are disturbing to say the least.  While nothing’s particularly graphic there are mentions of rape, slavery, and war.  I could easily see this being put on university reading lists and/or used for book clubs, as there are some very interesting essay and discussion topics brought up, particularly around genetic modifications and freedom.  So, for example, as disturbing as I found the hunting scene, I did appreciate the questions about class, ethics and humanity that the captain ruminated on that arose from it.

In addition to her relationships, I had a few issues with what happened to Kim at the end of the book (dealt with in the spoiler section).

I’m not sure I would want to read it again, but it was an interesting, if somewhat uncomfortable, book to read.

*** Spoilers***

I had a serious issue with one aspect of the ending, Kim’s rape by the murderer.  Apparently, based on a throw-away line by the geneticist, Alex determines that Kim has some sort of anti-rape mechanism that will help her incapacitate the murderer.  Ignoring the fact that this isn’t a deterrant, she has to be raped for this ‘ability’ to come into play, the fact that part of Alex’s plan depends on her being raped is horrific.  

I’m surprised that the detective would agree to sell a 14 year old girl a comatose body for unknown reasons.  She also seems pretty assured that her 2-3 days of employment entitle her to a decent severance package from her now bankrupt employer, and that the company will be able to pay it.

Monday 17 November 2014

Shout-Out: Rudolph!: He is the Reason for the Season by Mark Teppo

We've got our first snowfall sticking to the ground here, and I'm thinking about Christmas.  Which means it's the perfect time to do a shout-out for Mark Teppo's newly released novel.

Rudolph! is a first-person account of the behind-the-scenes workings at the North Pole. Narrated by Bernard Rosewood, one of the elves of the North Pole Consortium, the story begins with Santa's realization that a young girl's request to get her dad back for Christmas isn't going to happen. Dad, you see, died in a car accident on a snowy road shortly after Thanksgiving. The NPC can do a lot, but they can't do miracles. Enter Rudolph, who has been hairless, cranky, and perpetually irradiated since the unfortunate malfunction of the Nuclear Clock in 1964. Rudolph is a survivor of the worst accident in the 400-plus years of NPC delivery, and if there is anyone on staff who believes in miracles more than jolly Saint Nick, it's Rudolph. Bernie, in a valiant effort to keep Christmas from going off the rails, is swept up into a Heaven-storming, Hell-crusading, Night of Bad Musical Numbers adventure to ensure that every child wakes up with presents on Christmas morning.
Rudolph! is a funny and fast-paced reaction to fifty years of world-weary cynicism, technological advances, and post-millennial ennui since Rankin/Bass brought a stop motion reindeer into our living rooms.

Friday 14 November 2014

Space Scene Card

*** ETA  Whoops.  This is the problem with having 2 blogs, you sometimes forget to check which one you're posting on.  Luckily this post has an actual SF connection, so I'm leaving it up.  Card crafting is my biggest time sink after reading. ***

Since I posted a space card yesterday I figured I'd post another one today.  I made this card for a science fiction fan I know using Stampscape stamps and techniques.

I used a piece of glossy cardstock to stamp on, so I could blend the different inks.  I started off by stamping the astronaut, then I masked an area off to be the planet and stamped the satellite (so part of it would be behind the planet, making it look further away.

I stamped the astronaut and satellite again on scrap paper, which I fussy cut out and sprayed with repositional adhesive so I could use them as masks.

With the figures masked, I masked off the sky and started inking the planet using different shades of red and black.  I used a marker for the black spot.  I then masked the planet and sun and inked in my background space in shades of blue with black at the edges.

After removing the masks, I inked the sun and gave it an aura of yellow glitter glue and added some grey marker to the satellite and astronaut.  I then stamped in some meteorites to show that space isn't empty.

I mounted the card on black cardstock and added 2 mini spaceships die cut out of metallic cardstock.

Creature Feature: Yakka

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

Yakka, or yakseya, are Sri Lankan demons.  They’re ruled by a king who forbade the killing of humans and so they curse them with diseases instead.  Yakka can assume the form of any animal, including humans and are appointed a specific time of day in which they can afflict someone who enters their domain (generally a dark, inhospitable place, like a cave, hollow tree, or abandoned building).

Exorcism is required to cure the victim, or the demon can be appeased with numerous prayers from the victim’s family.
Mask of the demon Maha Sohona Yakka from Ambalangoda Masks Museum (Sri Lanka). It is used in the Tovil healing ritual (the taming of the demons). - Photo by Jan Benda via Wiki Commons.
For a more specific example, the mask above is of Maha Sohona, which Wikipedia states

is a demon (yaka or yakseya) in Sinhalese folklore, who is said to haunt cemeteries. The name Maha Sohona means "great graveyard demon" or "demon of the cemetery" in the Sinhala language. It is one of the most feared demons in Sri Lanka. Originally a giant who had been defeated in a duel, Maha Sohona has had his head replaced with that of a bear since he lost his head in the duel. He is believed to kill people and afflict them with illnesses. Traditional exorcism rituals are performed to repel the demon in such cases. Sri Lanka Army's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol units are popularly known as the "Maha Sohon Brigade", named after this demon.

I have to admit that the information I found on this creature is a bit contradictory depending on the source (I used the Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were (Michael Page & Robert Ingpen, p.84) and Wikipedia for the information at the top of this post).  I’d recommend further research if you wanted to use this creature, as you don’t want to misrepresent one culture’s beliefs in a fantasy novel.

The best use of demons I’ve seen recently is Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle books.  And while he hasn’t shown much of demon culture, how the humans have react to them - their fear, their precautions, the people who have to deal with wards and travelling without warded walls - is fascinating.  

It would be cool to see more types of demons used in fantasy books, not just the more common western ones associated with hell and Satan.  Demons are pretty universal, but not treated the same everywhere, nor do they look the same everywhere.  A shape shifting demon who passes along diseases… now that’s interesting.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Shout-Out: Prophecies, Libels & Dreams: Stories of Califa by Ysabeau Wilce

These inter-connected stories are set in an opulent quasi-historical world of magick and high manners called the Republic of Califa. The Republic is a strangely familiar place-a baroque approximation of Gold Rush era-California with an overlay of Aztec ceremony-yet the characters who populate it are true originals: rockstar magicians, murderous gloves, bouncing boy terrors, blue tinted butlers, sentient squids, and a three-year-old Little Tiny Doom and her vengeful pink plush pig. By turn whimsical and horrific (sometime in the same paragraph), Wilce's stories have been characterized as "screwball comedies for goths" but they could also be described as "historical fantasies" or "fanciful histories" for there are nuggets of historical fact hidden in them there lies.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Video: Forging the Phantom Blade from Assassin's Creed Unity

Man at Arms Reforged has been continuing the series, making more amazing fantasy and game weapons.  They recently released a video where they do a fully functioning version of the replica phantom blade Ubisoft released for Assassin's Creed Unity.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Book Review: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Pros: lots of political intrigue, culturally diverse, brilliant world-building, interesting story

Cons: some issues with genders, several protagonists became unlikeable

The dark star of Oma is rising, infusing power into blood magics that were lost for 2000 years.  Dhai on a dying world use that power to form gates to a mirror world they wish to conquer, one like theirs but where history went in a different direction, leaving the Dhai pacifists among more warlike neighbours.  But not everyone wants to see their reflections on this new world enslaved, and as more and more people on the imperilled world learn what’s happening, they start fighting back.

There’s a lot going on here and a ton of characters to keep track of, many of whom have similar sounding names.  There is a glossary of characters and terms at the back to help you if you forget who someone is.  The different nations are all distinct, with vastly different governments, attitudes, cultures, and languages.  It was fascinating reading about how each nation dealt with different problems.

The politics of the different nations, and how they interacted, was fascinating.  I enjoyed how Hurley brought in past battles and showed that various nations’ wars helped shape the current political climate.

There were a wide variety of characters the story followed (several men and women at different levels of power and skintone).  I started off liking most of them, though some of their choices as the book continued made me less sympathetic towards them.  In a few cases I ended up respecting what they achieved, even if I didn’t much like them as people anymore.

The magic system of drawing power from stars/satellites, was pretty cool.  I liked how that contrasted the satellite plus blood combination necessary for calling on Oma.  The deadly flora of the world was also cool to read about.

I did have some issues with the world building, mostly with how gender was used/defined.  The Dhai, we are told, use five genders: female-assertive, female-passive, male-assertive, male-passive, and ungendered.  I couldn’t understand how being passive vs assertive changed your gender.  I understand that you can have a linguistic marker of politeness or class (Japanese uses different pronouns to denote this), but again, how does it change gender?  That leaves 3 genders, which is what the Saiduan use, denoting male, female, and ataisa.  Why then does Roh, a Dhai, have trouble understanding which pronoun to use for the ataisa when his language has something similar (ungendered)?  Yes, the two languages use different words (ze vs hir), but that’s a linguistic difference, not, necessarily a gender difference.  I was left wondering if the ataisa and ungendered were in fact different genders, rather than different words for the same ‘doesn’t fit into male or female’ category.

I also disliked how the genders in Dorinah are basically swapped.  Women are larger, stronger, better educated, assertive, domineering etc. than men.  Men, meanwhile, are only around as possessions, useful for status, sex, and children.  They’re weaker and powerless over their own lives, fully submissive to the women who own them (their mothers and wives).  I was ok with the idea of gender swapping the country (making it matriarchal), but when you give the men all the stereotypical characteristics of women and all the women the stereotypical characteristics of men, you’re basically saying that traditionally female attributes are weak/useless and male ones are strong/worthwhile.  Rather than pitying Anavha, Zezili’s husband, I found myself reviling him, and felt bad about it considering he’s basically a stand in for an 18th century British woman (stereotypically speaking, of course).

I did enjoy the sexual politics of the different countries, how many husbands/wives different groups had and whether that was a matter of status or openness of their cultures.  Seeing the Dhai culture’s openness with regards to loving both genders freely was also refreshing.  I’d have like to learn more of how the Dhai deal with marriages, as I imagine genealogies would be hard to track with multiple husbands and wives in the same marriage (and an openness to affairs), as would preventing incest (assuming that’s not allowed there, which isn’t a given, considering Ahkio and Liaro are cousins).

Lilia’s actions towards the end of the book felt rushed.  While much of the book took time to thoroughly develop things, Lilia manages to take several important actions with little preparation or training, which didn’t seem as realistic as what happened earlier.

This was a slower read for me, mainly because so much was happening.  I needed to take my time with the book in order to keep track of everything.  It had some things I loved, some things I liked and some things that irritated me.  On the whole, it’s a fascinating story with some great in depth world-building and some intricate real world style politics.  I’ll be curious to see what happens next.

Sunday 9 November 2014

Shout-Out: Proxima by Stephen Baxter

The very far future: The Galaxy is a drifting wreck of black holes, neutron stars, chill white dwarfs. The age of star formation is long past. Yet there is life here, feeding off the energies of the stellar remnants, and there is mind, a tremendous Galaxy-spanning intelligence each of whose thoughts lasts a hundred thousand years. And this mind cradles memories of a long-gone age when a more compact universe was full of light...

The 27th century: Proxima Centauri, an undistinguished red dwarf star, is the nearest star to our sun - and (in this fiction), the nearest to host a world, Proxima IV, habitable by humans. But Proxima IV is unlike Earth in many ways. Huddling close to the warmth, orbiting in weeks, it keeps one face to its parent star at all times. The ''substellar point'', with the star forever overhead, is a blasted desert, and the ''antistellar point'' on the far side is under an ice cap in perpetual darkness. How would it be to live on such a world?

Yuri Jones, with 1,000 others, is about to find out...

PROXIMA tells the amazing tale of how we colonise a harsh new eden, and the secret we find there that will change our role in the Universe for ever.

Friday 7 November 2014

Stranger Than Fiction: The Medieval Cook by Bridget Ann Henisch

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

This isn't a proper book review, more of a quick pros/cons section with some point form notes of things I learned from this book.

Pros: lots of interesting tidbits, quick read, lots of examples, cautions on use of texts and trouble finding examples

Cons: some repetition, only 19 illustrations which are all black & white and all in chapter 6

The book consists of 6 chapters: 1 cook in context, 2 cottage cook, 3 fast food and catering, 4 comforts of home, 5 staging a feast and 6 the cook in art

It's quite amazing how much information the author managed to glean from the sources available, which are predominantly margin drawings from manuscripts.

- had to fetch water and fuel for fire, keep fire going through cooking (& heating), which took up a LOT of time
- had to grind grain at mill, often had to bake at baker’s (no oven at home but could bake in pan or on coals)
- wafers were popular
- could buy different foods from specialists
- had versions of ‘fast food’ for people in towns who had to work, students (no kitchen facilities)
- could bring filling to specialist who would make pie crust, could get it back cooked or uncooked (uncooked was cheaper but you’d need a way/place to cook it yourself), could also buy fully made pies
- high table at feasts got better food than regular tables, similarly higher ranked people got better/more food than lower ranked at high table
- couldn’t eat eggs or milk for lent, so pancake Tuesday (which was the day before lent started) was used to get rid of them (Calendar picture for February, book of hours, French, 2nd quarter of 16th C., Bodleian Library, MS Douce 135, fol. 2v)

- Tacuinum sanitatis (health handbooks) - group of manuscripts, show more kitchen details
- used white aprons without upper bib, use knotted strings to hold things on (no pockets)
- image of mobile oven, bringing pies to outdoor stall that also sells bretsels (Ulrich Richental, Richentalchronik, 1465. Rosgartenmuseum, Constance, MS Hsl, fol.23a)

Thursday 6 November 2014

Crowd Funding: Vultureman

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing The Hangman's Replacement: The Sprout of Disruption by Taona Dumisani Chiveneko.  The book had minor SF elements but an interesting mystery and fascinating setting (Zimbabwe).  Well, the author's doing a fundraising campaign on Pubslush to raise funds for editing, printing and promotional services for book 2, Vultureman, set to come out next summer.  For a $10 pledge you get ebook copies of the first 2 books.  Here's the cover blurb for book one.  You can read several pages on Amazon (which is what convinced me to review the book).

Zimbabwe’s last hangman retired in 2004. As the nation drifted towards abolition, no determined effort was launched to find a replacement. However, the discovery of carnivorous flame lilies at the Great Zimbabwe monument triggered a spirited search for a new executioner. Those who know why this discovery energized the recruitment effort refused to talk.

The frantic attempts to find a new hangman were impeded by the lack of suitable candidates. Well-placed sources confirmed that the fear of ngozi was a deterrent. According to this traditional belief, the spirit of a murdered person torments the killer and his family for generations. However, this is only half the story. Several promising applicants did come forward. None met the minimum requirements for the job. The selection criteria were designed to exclude the mentally ill, the vindictive, and the sadistic. However, they did not rule out the desperate.

And for those of you who have read the first book, here's the cover and synopsis for book two.  You can read an extract on his blog.

After Abel Muranda secured the job as Zimbabwe's newest hangman in Book 1 (Sprout of Disruption), his life is now in worse danger than the convicts he was hired to execute. While his faceless masters are eager to empty death row, Abel Muranda's recruitment has also stirred a contrariam force that is determined to ensure he does not live to attend his first day of work.

As human and animal predators stalk each other across the Zimbabwean landscape, the most fearsome is a creature that appears to belong in neither camp. A being that no one has ever seen but all had hoped did not exist: The Vultureman.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Video: Assassin's Kittens Unity

I'm not much of a video game player, but I love watching my husband play games with good stories and/or interesting graphics.  The Assassin's Creed games are on that list (I loved watching Ezio jump around the rooftops and streets of Florence and Constantinople).  So here's a kitty version of the soon to be released Assassin's Creed Unity by Mr. TV Cow.  It's adorable.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Pros: fascinating characters, interesting narrative approach, develops new world-building aspects

Cons: character driven

A week after the events of Ancillary Justice, Breq, now fleet captain and assigned to Mercy of Kalr, departs on Anaander Mianaai’s orders to Athoek to make sure the system stays safe.  In addition to her experienced lieutenants, Seivarden and Ekalu (of the Kalr), she has a new 17 year old one, Tisarwat, to train.  Once they arrive at the station, they find a suspicious captain, disturbed by the lack of communication after the attack on Omaugh Palace and the destruction of several gates, racial tensions, and minor issues covering larger problems that need to be addressed. 

As with the first book, the real aspect of interest is in how Breq sees the world.  You don’t get flash backs to when she was Justice of Toren, though that’s often in her thoughts, instead you get her trying to keep up with frequent run downs of the sort of information she would have have had instantaneously as a ship, sent to her by her ship, Mercy of Kalr.  It’s an interesting way of seeing things, and allows Breq to pretend she’s still one part of a larger whole while also being a narrative means of showing the reader what’s happening in places outside Breq’s physical sphere.  There is a plot, but in many ways this feels like a character driven novel because Breq’s presence is so overpowering.  If you don’t like her unique way of seeing the world, you won’t enjoy this book.

Breq comes across as a tough as nails captain.  Sometimes she’s too tough, pushing her crew beyond what she should, something I suspected would eventually cause her problems, but her extensive experience means she’s able to pull back at just the right moment.  Even knowing what Breq was trying to do, I thought she was too hard on Tisarwat at times.  Not only had the lieutenant been through a traumatic experience with little recovery time, she’s given little to no positive reinforcement when she does things right.  So while Tisarwat was an interesting character, seeing her through Breq’s eyes made her less sympathetic than she probably deserved to be.  It was fun seeing her grow up and mature.

I was a little surprised at the number of secrets she kept from her crew, her true identity as Justice of Toren and what happened with Tisarwat being the main ones, but it does make sense that the crew might balk at such things, so keeping them secret probably made sense.

There’s more information about how the military works and there’s a unique supporting cast.  I enjoyed learning more about the military and political politics, both between the ships but also how it applies to a station and planet once they get to Athoek.  I’m hoping we learn more about the Presger in the next book.  What little was revealed here merely whet the appetite.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Shout-Out: Facial Justice by L. P. Hartley

'The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy...'

Jael 97's good looks have been deemed a cause of discontent among other women, and she finds herself reporting to the Ministry of Facial Justice, where her face will be reconstructed to become 'beta' (second-grade). For she lives in a post-apocalyptic world, where society is based on a collective sense of guilt, where all citizens are labelled 'delinquents' and obliged to wear sackcloth and ashes. Individuality and privilege, which might arouse envy, are stamped out.

But Jael refuses to fit in. Forced to become 'beta', and thus exempt from envy, her self-respect and rebellious spirit cannot be suppressed so easily. Slowly, she begins the struggle to reassert the rights of the individual.

This is a reprint of a book that came out in 1960.  I've not heard of it before, so I'm glad it's being brought to attention again because it sounds really interesting.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in December 2014

As usual, this list was compiled from Amazon Canada's listings for the month.  I'd like to point out that Jim C. Hines has published in ebook format an annotated version of the first novel he ever wrote, Rise of the Spider Goddess.  There aren't that many reprints this month compared to the last few, but again we're seeing a rise in trade paperback and ebook formats and a real lessening in the number of mass market books coming out.


Books of the Dead – Annmarie Banks
Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction – Ben Bova & Eric Choi
Elite: Wanted – Gavin Deas
Andromeda’s War – William Dietz
Star Trek: Ships of the Line – Doug Drexler & Margaret Clark
The Top of the Volcano: The Award-Winning Stories of Harlan Ellison – Harlan Ellison
Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman – Christopher Golden, Hank Wagner & Stephen Bissette
The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman
Return of the Plumed Serpent – Graham Hancock
Spirit of the Wolves – Dorothy Hearst
The King’s Deryni – Katherine Kurtz
Collision – Mercedes Lackey, Dennis Lee, Veronica Giguere & Cody Martin
A Timely Dream – Fleur Lind & Lloyd Hopkins
Emissary – Thomas Locke
The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami
Beauty – Sarah Pinborough
Charm – Sarah Pinborough
Nobody’s Home – Tim Powers
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
The Immortals of Meluha – Amish Tripathi
Sustenance – Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Trade Paperback:

Time Bomb – Scott Andrews
Undercity – Catherine Asaro
Proxima – Stephen Baxter
Gods and Monsters: Mythbreaker – Stephen Blackmoore
Elysium – Jennifer Marie Brissett
Phoenix Island – John Dixon
The Observers – Chuck Downing
Tony Macaroni – Mark Elliot
Warhammer 40K: Ahriman: Sorcerer – John French
Blackthorn – Simon Hawk
Legacy of a Warrior Queen – Maria Herring
The Future is Ours – Edward Hoch
The Beating of His Wings – Paul Hoffman
Worlds in Chaos – James Hogan
Atlas 2 – Isaac Hooke
The Awakened Kingdom – N. K. Jemisin
The Inheritance Trilogy Omnibus – N. K. Jemisin
The Lady – K. V. Johnsen
21st Century Robot: The Dr. Simon Egerton Stories – Brian David Johnson 
Imaginarium 2014: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing – Sandra Kasturi & Helen Marshall
The Stag Lord – Darby Kaye
The Twelve Kingdoms – Jeffe Kennedy
Warhammer: Bane of Malekith – William King
The Maggot People – Henning Koch
Moth and Spark – Anne Leonard
Moon’s Artifice – Tom Lloyd
The James Lovegrove Collection vol 1 – James Lovegrove
The Genome – Sergei Lukyanenko
The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women – Alex Daily MacFarlane
The Vault – Emily McKay
The Occasional Diamond Thief – J. A. McLachlan
Phoenix in Obsidian – Michael Moorcock
On Her Majesty’s Behalf – Joseph Nassise
Retribution – Mark Charon Newton
The Wanderer’s Children – L. G. O’Connor
Dangerous Games – Jonathan Oliver
The Rose Cord – J. D. Oswald
City of Eternal Night – Kristen Painter
Myth and Magic: Queer Fairy Tales – Radclyffe & Stacia Seaman, Ed.
The Fortress in Orion – Mike Resnick
Into the Night – Suzanne Rigdon
The Wild West Exodus Anthology – Brandon Rospond, Ed.
Incident in Mona Passage – Douglas Savage
The Glass Lady – Douglas Savage
Infection and Containment: Alaskan Undead Apocalypse Books 1 & 2 – Sean Shubert
The Beautiful and the Wicked – Liv Spector
Paradigms Lost – Ryk Spoor
The Heads of Cerberus – Francis Stevens
A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar
Something More Than Night – Ian Tregillis
Prototype – M. D. Walters
Chaos Quarter – David Welch
Crystal Venum – Steve Wheeler
Journey Through the Mirror – T. R. Williams
Agony of the Gods – Tom Wolosz

Mass Market Paperback:

For a Few Souls More – Guy Adams
Darkness Fall – Keri Arthur
Working God’s Mischief – Glen Cook
The Queen’s Necklace – Teresa Edgerton
The Tess Noncoire Chronicles – P. R. Frost
Hot BLooded – Donna Grant
Forgotten Realms: The Herald – Ed Greenwood
Work Done for Hire – Joe Haldeman
Jason – Laurell Hamilton
Vacant – Alex Hughes
Revenant – Larissa Ione
Pathfinder Tales: Pirate’s Promise – Chris Jackson
Universal Alien – Gini Koch
No True Way – Mercedes Lackey
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing – Una McCormack
Reg Regis – L. E. Modesitt, Jr
Macaque Attack! – Gareth Powell
The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs – Mike Resnick & Robert Garcia, Ed.
Spheres of Influence – Ryk Spoor
V-S Day – Allen Steele
The Shadow’s Heart – K. J. Taylor
Halo: Mortal Dictata – Karen Traviss
Supervolcano: Things Fall Apart – Harry Turtledove
Low Midnight – Carrie Vaughn
Hunter of Sherwood – Toby Venables
Like a Mighty Army – David Weber


The Fall – Jay Allan
Alacrity – Alivia Anders
Star Chasers: Torn, Turn, Shattered – Emily Asimov
Under Different Stars – Amy Bartol
Rage of the Diamond’s Eye – Shawn Becker
Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: The Collectors – Christopher Bennett
The War of Alien Aggression – A. D. Bloom
Will – S. F. Burgess
eMOTION: False Positive – C. Ryan Bymaster
eMOTION: Hard Wired – C. Ryan Bymaster
Hard Vacuum 2 – Simon Cantan
Anamore – Jason Cooke & Tracey Cooke
Hellsbane Hereafter – Paige Cuccaro
Gateway to Prophecy – Duane D’Vein
Empathy for Andrew – W. J. Davies
Heroes Wanted – Allen Donnelly
Spellbound Souvenir – Beth Durkee
The Complete Zimiamvia – E. R. Eddison & Douglas Winter
Blades of Sorcery – Terah Edun
Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology – Jordan Ellinger & Richard Salter, Ed.
Naero’s Trial – Mason Elliott
The Creator’s Eye – R. N. Feldman
Eradicate – Corrie Garrett
Dilesios – Thomas Greanias
Dungeon Breakers – James Ivan Greco
Journey of Thieves – C. Greenwood
The ABACUS Protocol – Thea Gregory
Azimuth: Arc of Visibility – Elayne Griffith
Portals of Water and Wine – R. L. Haas
Tides of Maritinia – Warren Hammond
A Girl Called Random – Valentina Hepburn
Rise of the Spider Goddess: An Annotated Novel – Jim Hines
Living in Illusions – John Hope
The Lamtin Star – Larry Itejere
Mention My Name in Atlantis – John Jakes
The Lost Word of Khymera – Theresa James
Talon – C. J. Johnson
The Embers of Hope – Nick Jones
The City of the Moon – Walter Junior
Defect – Autumn Kalquist
Lady Macbeth: Daughter of Ravens – Melanie Karsak
The Fey Man – James Kelly
Slay Ride – Simon Kewin
Court of Nightfall – Karpov Kinrade
3000 Years After New Earth – Petar Kostadinov
Artificial Evolution – Joseph Lallo
The Gifted – Tamra Lassiter
Outskirts of Vision – Nir Levie
The Darkness Shines – Kieran Lowley
The Thief Who Knocked on Sorrow’s Gate – Michael McClung
The Last Prince – Kristy McCluskey
Solaris Seethes – Janet McNulty
Away Your Forfeit Life – A. K. Meek
Frend – Jonathan Miller
Erawan – Laura Montgomery
The Hades Contract – Ken Mooney
The Third Word – J. C. Nathans
The Sacrifice – A. J. Nuest
The Wanderer’s Children – L. G. O’Connor
Caretaker – John O’Riley 
Stonehill Downs – Sarah Remy
Mind the Gap – Tim Richards
The Adventures of Tarin Kowt – D. Ethan Richards
Emissary – Chris Rogers
A Land Overflowing – Peter Schnake
Soulwoven: Exile – Jeff Seymour
Latent Magic – Kate Shaw
Scrapplings – Amelia Smith
Tingermage – Kenny Soward
The Ghost of Sephera – J. D. Tew
A Passage to Asteria – Charles Underwood
Compile: Quest – Ronel van Tonder
List of the Dead – R. Curtis Venture
Frotwoot’s Faerie Tales – Charlie Ward
Heart of the South – C. J. Watterson
Mariposa – Kim Wells
Thunderlight – Adrienne Woods
Los Angeles: A. D. 2017 – Philip Wylie
The Murderer Invisible – Philip Wylie

Between Worlds Right Now – Chryse Wymer