Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Best 10 Books I Read in 2014

I'm always a little wary of doing a 'best books' post as I haven't read everything that's come out (including several high profile and much lauded titles), and so much of reading is subjective, but here's a list of the best books I read in 2014.  I'll post my book stats for the year in a few days.

Indeed, 2014 was a great year for amazing books.  It seemed every book I picked up was of a higher caliber.  I’ve listed my top 10 in the order in which I read them.  I’ve also added 2 bonus books that I read this year but which were published in previous years.  The links go to my reviews of the books.

May 2015 be another amazing book year, with even more high caliber stuff.

Tin Star - Cecil Cuccilli
The Emperor's Blades - Brian Staveley
Rebellion - Karen Sandler
The Tropic of Serpents - Marie Brennan
Gemsigns - Stephanie Saulter
A Barricade in Hell - Jaime Lee Moyer
City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett
Full Fathom Five - Max Gladstone
Memory of Water - Emmi Itaranta 

The Lost Girl - Sangu Mandanna

Curtsies and Conspiracies - Gail Carriger

Wishing you all an awesome New Year's.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Books Received in December 2014, part 2

These books are all coming out in February, so there's some fun stuff to look forward to.

Touch by Claire North - This book reminds me of the premise behind Hopscotch by Kevin Anderson (which I haven't read but sounds pretty neat) and Every Day by David Levithan, which I loved. 

He tried to take my life. Instead, I took his.

It happened so long ago, I've forgotten the details. But he was desperate, hungry enough to kill. As I died, my hand touched his. That's when my first switch took place.

I looked through the eyes of my killer in time to see my own body die.

Now switching is easy. I can jump from body to body, have any life, be anyone.

All it takes is a touch.

Seeker by Arwyn Elis Dayton - This YA title's already been optioned for film.  It sounds pretty awesome.

The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor.
As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world.
And she'll be with the boy she loves--who's also her best friend.
But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes.
Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.
And now it's too late to walk away.

Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison - A graphic novel of the iconic Star Trek episode.

For the first time ever, a visual presentation of the much-discussed, unrevised, unadulterated version of Harlan Ellison''s award-winning Star Trek teleplay script, "The City on the Edge of Forever!" See the story as Mr. Ellison originally intended!

Monday 29 December 2014

Books Received in December 2014, part 1

Many thanks to the amazing publishers who send me books for review.  My reading dropped off a lot in December, due to the holidays, but I'm hoping to catch up on several books in January.

Willful Child by Steven Erikson - I'm really looking forward to this book.  I grew up on the original Star Trek (in reruns), and this parody looks like a lot of fun.

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the...
And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’
The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

Wild Cards: Lowball Edited by George Martin and Melinda Snodgrass - This is a short story series I've been meaning to read for a while.  I love superhero fiction.

Decades after an alien virus changed the course of history, the surviving population of Manhattan still struggles to understand the new world left in its wake. Natural humans share the rough city with those given extraordinary—and sometimes terrifying—traits. While most manage to coexist in an uneasy peace, not everyone is willing to adapt. Down in the seedy underbelly of Jokertown, residents are going missing. The authorities are unwilling to investigate, except for a fresh lieutenant looking to prove himself and a collection of unlikely jokers forced to take matters into their own hands—or tentacles. The deeper into the kidnapping case these misfits and miscreants get, the higher the stakes are raised.

Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and acclaimed author Melinda M. Snodgrass,Lowball is the latest mosaic novel in the acclaimed Wild Cards universe, featuring original fiction by Carrie Vaughn, Ian Tregillis, David Anthony Durham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Mary Anne Mohanraj, David D. Levine, Michael Cassutt, and Walter John Williams.
Perfect for old fans and new readers alike, Lowball delves deeper into the world of aces, jokers, and the hard-boiled men and women of the Fort Freak police precinct in a pulpy, page-turning novel of superheroics and mystery.

Hawk by Steven Brust - I haven't read any of the Vlad Taltos books, but this one sound really interesting.
Years ago, Vlad Taltos came from the East, to make his way as a human amidst the impossibly tall, fantastically long-lived natives of the Dragaeran Empire. He joined the Jhereg, the Dragaeran House (of which there are seventeen) that handles the Empire's vices: gambling, rackets, organized crime. He became a professional assassin. He was good at it.
But that was then, before Vlad and the Jhereg became mortal enemies.
For years, Vlad has run from one end of the Empire to the other, avoiding the Jhereg assassins who pursue him. Now, finally, he's back in the imperial capital where his family and friends are. He means to stay there this time. Whatever happens. And whatever it takes.

Myths and Legends: The Knights of the Round Table by Daniel Mersey - I just love these myths and legends books.  They're great primers for specific myths, with lots of awesome pictures and good background information for the stories.

The Knights of the Round Table were the original knights in shining armour, and this book is for anyone who is interested in fantastical tales of bravery or the actual history behind the stories. In medieval Arthurian tradition, Arthur often takes a back seat in the most exciting stories: he appears at the beginning and end of each to set the scene and conclude the tale. The central character is instead one of the Knights of the Round Table, each of whom is confronted with a wide variety of challenges and quests ranging from fighting monstrous creatures and rescuing damsels in distress to coping with courtly love and intrigue. Although Arthur is the most well-known character from these stories his key knights - including Lancelot, Gawain, Perceval, and Tristan - are almost equally well known This volume provides a collection of the most famous and interesting tales of the Knights of the Round Table, including the historical and literary background to the stories.

Sunday 28 December 2014

Shout-Out: Archtype by M. D. Waters

Introducing a breathtakingly inventive futuristic suspense novel about one woman who rebels against everything she is told to believe.
Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.
Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.
In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which. . . . 

Thursday 25 December 2014

Hope Your Holidays...

are out of this world.  :D  To those of you who celebrate Christmas, have an awesome one, and to those of you who don't, Happy Holidays and All the Best in 2015.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Video: Unveiling the Birdbox Christmas Card

Hope you enjoy this amazing animated card by Birdbox Studio.  The ending's pretty awesome. (via Gizmodo)

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Book Review: Copperhead by Tina Connolly

Pros: Helen’s a complex character, interesting plot

Cons: Alastair’s mistreatment of Helen is more told than shown

Helen Huntingdon’s husband is part of Copperhead, an organization that aims to rid the city of the fae - and the dwarvven.  Under his direction she replaced her normal face with a fae one, an act that now leaves her in peril of being overtaken by the fae and having her own existence wiped out.  She’s not alone, almost 100 other influential women in the city have had the same operation.  

Helen brings her sister Jane to a Copperhead meeting in order to remove the fae mask of the host’s wife, but when the host turns on their new weapon against the fae, something goes horribly wrong.  The wife is left in a fae trance while Jane, accused of murdering the woman, has disappeared.  Helen must convince the rest of the 100 fae faced women to have the operation to return their original faces while she searches for her missing sister, because it sounds like the fae are gearing up for another attack.

Helen is a great character.  While Jane, the protagonist of the first book, and her older sister, is direct and often tactless with her sense of right and wrong, Helen has learned to manipulate the people around her into thinking she’s a bit empty-headed and have them do things for her when she smiles and flirts.  She feels guilty that she wasn’t brave enough to join the fae war like Jane, and resentful that Jane left her - at 13 - to watch their mother die of a slow illness afterwards.  Helen doesn’t want to responsibility that’s left with her when Jane disappears.  She wants to be shallow, discussing fashion with other socialite women, dancing, and flirting.  She wants to find Jane so she can hand over the fate of the 100.  But when push comes to shove - again and again and again - she knuckles down and does when she has to.  Indeed, as the book progresses you discover how much of her flirtatious attitude masks insecurity and how capable she really is when she trusts herself.  We learn what she actually did after the war - how she helped and what decisions she made that trapped her in the present, with a husband who isn’t who she thought he was.  It’s fascinating seeing the different sides of her, and watching her decide who she wants to be moving forward.  It’s a story about seeing yourself as you truly are and accepting the good and bad in you.  It’s a story about growth.

The Copperhead plot was pretty interesting, as was the mystery of what happened to Jane and the danger facing the city.  There’s a touch of romance that develops organically from the story.  In addition to Helen there are a number of other interesting women who play a large part of the story.  It’s cool to see female friendships and interactions in a fantasy setting.

I felt that Helen and Alastair’s relationship wasn’t as well defined in the book as it could have been.  There’s more telling than showing to indicate that their relationship is bad.  Early on he takes her mask - the only thing that keeps her safe from being taken over by the fae when outside.  He sees it as a way of protecting her.  She sees it as a way of controlling her.  Without other interactions it’s hard to know if she is being unreasonably restricted by him (I’d argue she isn’t considering how easy it is for her to sneak out).  Only later in the book do we see his darker side, but even then, some of the revelations about him at the climax still came as something of a shock to me.

As much as I enjoyed Ironskin I have to admit I liked Copperhead more.  Perhaps it was because the story was more original, perhaps it was because Helen was such a delightful character to get to know.  I’m really enjoying this series and look forward to finishing it off in Silverblind.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Shout-Out: A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Deep in the heart of history's most infamous concentration camp, a man lies dreaming. His name is Shomer, and before the war he was a pulp fiction author. Now, to escape the brutal reality of life in Auschwitz, Shomer spends his nights imagining another world - a world where a disgraced former dictator now known only as Wolf ekes out a miserable existence as a low-rent PI in London's grimiest streets.

Friday 19 December 2014

Blast From the Past: The Dark Elf Trilogy by R. A. Salvatore

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.

After reading the Shannara books at 13, I found I had a real passion for fantasy books and started combing through my brothers’ collections to see what else was out there.  I read R. A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy and enjoyed it a lot.  Then I saw that there was a prequel trilogy about Drizzt Do’Urden’s life.

I LOVED the Dark Elf trilogy, especially Homeland.  Drizzt’s childhood and his skill with swords fascinated me.  I loved reading about Menzoberranzan and the conflict between his parents, a powerful follower of the Spider Queen and her contentious weapon’s master.

Exile and its descriptions of the Underdark and what happened to those who gave him a chance was also fascinating.  Watching him try to retain his humanity in the face of the horrors that live there, as well as the family hunting him, was gripping.

Sojourn was my least favourite of the books, probably because Drizzt heads for the surface, so the interesting underground society was left behind.  Still, seeing him try to make a place for himself and prove that he wasn’t evil, when the rules of the world stated that if you were ‘x’ race, you’re good and if you’re ‘y’ race you’re evil, was very interesting.

I did notice a few inconsistencies between the original books and the prequels, but I’m willing to bet Drizzt’s got a few fuzzy memories, considering his long lifespan.

The books were rereleased a few years ago with gorgeous new covers.  (In fact, I liked the new cover of Homeland so much I bought a copy of the image from Todd Lockwood's website.)   I’m not as keen on some of the reformatting of the text, but ah well, that’s why I’ve got my original copies.

If you like action and adventure and gut wrenchingly horrible family dynamics, then this is the series for you.  Indeed, I read a bunch of Forgotten Realms books (and you don’t have to be familiar with the series to jump into most of the books), and enjoyed a lot of them.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Shout-Out: Court of Nightfall by Karpov Kinrade

I've spent my life in shades of grey. It wasn't until I died that my world filled with color.

That night, I still lived in black and white. There was a full moon. Full and looking as if it had been rolled in powdered sugar then plopped back into the sky, so that a white dusting shone around it like a halo.

I've never believed in monsters, or any of that nonsense. Never believed that the dark could be scary. Until that night. Now I know the truth, but it is shrouded with lies. Now I can see the world in color, but it is covered in shadows. Now, I must find the monster that killed my parents. And when I do, I will use my new powers to seek vengeance. A life for the lives that beast stole from me. I am no longer just Scarlett Night, the color-blind girl who dreams of flying.

Now, I am Nightfall—a fallen angel with a lust for blood. And I shall have my revenge.

This is volume 1 of 5 in Court of Nightfall. Each volume is approx. 200 pages. Be warned of cliffhangers.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Video: Terry Brooks, Why I Write About Elves

This is a great talk by Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series, about why he writes fantasy books.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Directed by Doug Liman, 2014

Pros: some great action sequences, excellent special effects, interesting concept and characters

Cons: plot issues

Five years ago an asteroid carrying an alien life form hit Earth.  Humans have faced defeat at all but one battle since then, at Verdun.  Now the army has a major offensive planned that will end the war.  Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is a smooth talking publicity liaison for the army who’s never seen battle.  But a bad decision lands him in the front lines of the offensive, of what for him is a suicide mission.  When he’s killed he unexpectedly wakes up at the start of his personal nightmare, about to repeat the day.

This is an adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill.  While time travel loops are pretty common in SF, it’s done very well here.  You’re given enough repetition to know what’s going on but not enough for it to be irritating.  At times you’re not sure if it’s Cage’s first or 100th time doing each scenario.

The special effects are top notch and there are a number of great action sequences.  The aliens are fast and well designed.  The characters are pretty interesting, with a male and female leads.  Emily Brunt does a great job as Cage’s trainer, while seeing Cage’s transformation from cowardly, untrained prick to badass is both realistic and often gut-wrenching.

The plot's got some issues, but honestly, what movie doesn't.  Turn off parts of your brain, sit back and enjoy the ride.

The film really made me want to read the book.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Shout-Out: Time Bomb by Scott Andrews

New York City, 2141: Yojana Patel throws herself off a skyscraper, but never hits the ground.
Cornwall, 1640: gentle young Dora Predennick, newly come to Sweetclover Hall to work, discovers a badly-burnt woman at the bottom of a flight of stairs. When she reaches out to comfort the dying woman, she''s flung through time.
On a rainy night in present-day Cornwall: seventeen-year-old Kaz Cecka sneaks into the long-abandoned Sweetclover Hall, in search of a dry place to sleep. Instead he finds a frightened housemaid who believes Charles I is king and an angry girl who claims to come from the future.
Thrust into the centre of a war that spans millennia, Dora, Kaz and Jana must learn to harness powers they barely understand to escape not only villainous Lord Sweetclover but the forces of a fanatical army . . . all the while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman known only as Quil.

Friday 12 December 2014

Movie Review: Maleficent

Directed by: Robert Stromberg, 2014

Pros: beautiful cinematography, great special effects, interesting characters

Cons: predictable

After being betrayed by a human she loved, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) curses the man’s daughter.  But as the years pass, she comes to regret her decision.

This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the evil fairy’s point of view.  Angelina Jolie does a brilliant job as Maleficent.  She’s got perfectly chisteled cheekbones and great poise in the role.  I loved her wings and the fight scene towards the beginning of the film where she uses them offensively.  Her story arc, while simplistic, made sense, and it’s cool to see her slowly realize the princess didn’t deserve her anger and that maybe she reacted badly to what Stefan had done.

The cinematography on the whole was magnificent.  The sets, costumes, special effects, etc. were all wonderful.  There’s a slight muted quality to the human world, with things taking on a yellowed tinge - except Maleficent’s bold red lipstick.  Contrasted with the brightly coloured fairy land, the human world was pretty plain and boring.

I also enjoyed the performances by the 3 pixies, one of whom was played by Imelda Staunton, whom viewers will recognize from her role of Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter.  Here, she’s part of the comic relief team and does a wonderful job.  I wasn’t sure why the king would entrust 3 pixies who don’t know how to feed a baby with his infant daughter when he’s at war with the fairy kingdom, but oh well.

The transforming crow was a cool touch.  The effect was awesome and his character interesting.  I kind of wanted to see him try the ‘true love’s kiss’ at the end.

I had a few minor complaints about the film, the most obvious being that - as a well known fairy tale - it’s predictable.  My other complaints consist of spoilers and will be detailed below.

Ultimately I enjoyed this film.  The effects alone make it worth watching and there’s just enough action to maintain interest.

*** SPOILERS ***

The kiss that wakes Aurora would have had more effect if Frozen hadn’t used the exact same idea last year.  Similarly, it doesn’t make much sense that Aurora would become known as sleeping beauty (the way her epilogue states) when she’s only in the enchanted sleep for an hour or two.  I also didn’t think it was fair to the fairy folk that Maleficent makes up for her error by making Aurora queen of the fairies.  We’re told at the beginning of the film that the fairies have no ruler, and Maleficent’s time as their ruler has obviously had a negative effect on the land.  Sure, Aurora may be sweet and just, but there’s nothing to show that her descendants will have those qualities too - unless the fairies bless them that way (they way they did Aurora…).  

Thursday 11 December 2014

Shout-Out: Player vs Player by Amelia Gormley

Pushing for change can be dangerous when change starts pushing back....

Video game writer Niles River loves the work he does at Third Wave Studios: creating games with mass appeal that feature women, people of color, and LGBTQ characters. To make his job even better, his best friend is his boss, and his twin brother works beside him. And they mostly agree that being on the forefront of social change is worth dealing with trollish vitriol—Niles is more worried about his clingy ex and their closeted intern’s crush on his brother than he is about internet harassment.

But now the bodies on the ground are no longer virtual, and someone’s started hand-delivering threats to Niles’s door. The vendetta against Third Wave has escalated, and to make matters worse, the investigating detective is an old flame who left Niles heartbroken for a life in the closet.

No change happens without pain, but can Niles justify continuing on with Third Wave when the cost is the blood of others? If he does, the last scene he writes may be his own death.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Video: Invisible Universe Documentary

M. Asli Dukan is making a documentary called Invisible Universe: a history of Blackness in Speculative Fiction.

Invisible Universe trailer (Documentary feature work-in-progress) from Mizan Media Productions on Vimeo.

From the website:

From the origins of the genres, images of Black people in fantasy, horror and science fiction or speculative fiction (SF) books and movies have been inauthentic at best in the imaginations of white creators. And although there were a few attempts by some white writers to use the genres for social commentary, these efforts were few and far in between.
There is however a significant output of SF work by Black creators. In the 1800’s, Black writers wrote Utopian and Lost World novels imagining better futures for Black people. During the canonization of the SF writing, Black voices were excluded, but Black writers outside the genre utilized the genre to tell relevant stories. Beginning in the 1940’s, Black filmmakers created low budget films exploring the effects of science and fantastical religious beliefs on the Black imagination. Black SF writers formally engaged the genre during the social changes of the 1960s. In the 1970s, Blaxploitation films enabled Black anti-heroes the uses of science and the supernatural to secure Black justice. In the 1990’s and re-emerging in 2010’s the term “Afrofuturism” signaled the arrival of a critical mass of creators, academics and fans, interested in exploring the intersection of science fiction, technology, art and Afrocentricity.
Brought to life via interviews, film clips, archival footage, text, graphics, music, narration and framed via the first-person SF memories of the filmmaker, this documentary will ultimately reveal a canon of work by Black creators in the SF genres, who have been consciously creating their own universe.

This project sounds really cool.  I wish I'd heard of the project in June when they had their Indigogo campaign, but you can still donate to help with post-production costs at Fractured Atlas. (via SF Signal)

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Book Review: ACID by Emma Pass

Pros: quick paced, interesting protagonist, several plot twists, minor romantic elements

Cons: elements of the ending were problematic

For Parents: kissing, violence, nothing graphic 

Seventeen year old Jenna Strong has spent the last 2 years in prison for the murder of her parents, agents of ACID (Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense), because she didn’t like the boy they’d picked to be her LifePartner.  Sprung by a mysterious organization for reasons she doesn’t understand, her life outside quickly goes downhill.

Jenna’s an interesting character in that she’s sympathetic for readers, but apparently quite prickly to people around her in the book.  She’s standoffish and quickly alienates several of the people trying to help her, though in her defense, she’s given little reason to trust the people helping her.  She’s pretty street smart, though she does make some decisions that cause her serious problems. 

While I saw a few plot twists coming the book goes in a lot of directions I did not anticipate, making it a fun book to read.

There are minor romantic elements that enhance what’s happening with Jenna without becoming the focus of the story.  And while there is some kissing, there’s no other sexual content.

There’s a variety of violence in the book (which involves some prison scenes, an interrogation, bombing and more) nothing is graphically described. 

Part of the ending required Jenna to be an angry teen who doesn’t care that the adults around her know more about what’s happening than she does and are better prepared than she is, just that they’re not doing what she wants, which was kind of annoying.  It also depended on an adult making some very stupid decisions, which I questioned while I was reading.  Having said that, I did like the ultimate resolution.

It’s a quick paced book with some very tense moments.  

Sunday 7 December 2014

Shout-Out: Yamada Monogatari by Richard Parks

In an ancient Japan where the incursions of gods, ghosts, and demons into the living world is an everyday event, an impoverished nobleman named Yamada no Goji makes his living as a demon hunter for hire. With the occasional assistance of the reprobate exorcist Kenji, whatever the difficulty - ogres, demons, fox-spirits - for a price Yamada will do what needs to be done, even and especially if the solution to the problem isn't as simple as the edge of a sword. Yet, no matter how many monsters he has to face, or how powerful and terrible they may be, the demons Yamada fears the most are his own!

Yamada no Goji is a minor nobleman of ancient Japan who has lost everything - except a single purpose: keep a promise to the woman he loved. In order to fulfill his vow, all he has to do is fight a horde of demons and monsters, bargain with a few ghosts, outwit the sinister schemers of the emperor's court, find a way to defeat an assassin who cannot be seen, heard, or touched - and change the course of history. Fortunately, Yamada specializes in achieving the seemingly impossible, so he is sure in some way to succeed...if he doesn't drink himself into oblivion first.

Friday 5 December 2014

Stranger Than Fiction: Climate Change

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

I recently finished reading The Third Horseman by William Rosen.  The premise of the book is that a good deal of the problems that arose at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th Century in Northern Europe, was caused by 2 great climate changes.  The first, which occurred 400 years before this, made temperatures warmer, allowing for increased crop yields and a population explosion, requiring expansion to find more land to cultivate in order to feed the ever increasing population.  This kicked off the Viking raids, which colonized Iceland, Greenland, made it to Nova Scotia and terrorized the coast of England and more.

The second major climate shift, which the book deals with directly, decreased the amount of sunlight while increasing the amount of rain, involved colder, longer winters and destroyed several years worth of crops in the summer through flooding, followed - perversely - by destroying crops through drought (because the topsoil had all washed away).

The book has a few dry spots, where the science of weather is detailed, but for the most part, it's a highly accessible story of war - between England and Scotland (it's the time of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace), England and France, and France and Flanders, and how those wars exacerbated the problems brought about by the weather to create famines that decimated Northern Europe.  The war between England and Scotland - and its constant draw on resources and destruction of arable land and crops along the border - increased hardship for villagers.  And when food prices rose in the towns, the people - who had no ability to grow their own, unlike the hard hit villagers - died in larger numbers than the villagers.  There are also two amazing chapters, one on the famine that spread and the trickle down effect it had on the people and population, one on the economic factors that hit when sheep started to get sick and die.

I didn't realize the extent to which animals - specifically sheep - were crucial to the English economy.  I knew wool was important, but not how important.  Consider this aspect of climate change: sheep don't lamb well when it's too cold.  In addition to the cold, the famines meant there wasn't much stored food to feed the animals, and flooding meant grazing them was more and more of a challenge.  Assuming the herd didn't catch one of the diseases going around requiring the animals be put down the wool they sheered was sent to Flanders to be made into cloth, which was then reimported to England.  Wool was the collateral used by the kings to get loans to finance their wars, and was taxed at the ports.  Edward II, desperate to reclaim Scotland, increased the taxes, which raised the price of cloth while decreasing the trade surplus those in the cities needed in order to afford food.

The book on the whole is worth reading, but if you're strapped for time, chapters 7 and 9 are brilliant, and terrifying.  I took notes of those chapters, there was so much interesting information.  Here's a sample of what you'll learn from this book:

- rye is hardier than other grains, able to survive in wet, cold lands; only disadvantage was vulnerability to mold that causes ergotism (hallucinogenic ingredient in LSD)

- seed grains for bread & beer the most common crop in Europe (word Lord derived from Old English hlaford = keeper of the bread & lady from hlaefdigge = kneader of the dough

- during the rains & flooding salt became harder to get, which pushed up prices of foods that needed salting to preserve, like fish and cheese

- ale was cheap (traditionally 3 gallons for a penny in England) and safer than water to drink, it was typically served fresh as it soured quickly, peasant brews were weaker in both flavour & alcohol than what nobility produced  

- diets were deficient in calories, lipids, calcium & vitamins A, C, & D

- diet contained so much fibre it blocked absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium & zinc (which was bad for women of childbearing age)

- for perspective, the death toll in a modern city is 8/1000; the pre-crisis death toll was roughly 27/1000, during the crisis (and remember, this was BEFORE the Black Death) the death toll reached 50/1000; in towns it was closer to 100/1000 

The author has also written Justinian's Flea, about the first pandemic the world encountered, when the Black Death struck Constantinople.

If you're mentioning a war in your fantasy novel, remember that they eat up resources, both in terms of what the army needs, but also with regards to the lands they ruin (burning fields so your opponent can't use the grain is a common tactic).  Also remember that other factors affect the lives of peasantry and citizenry, and that food production and weather can have huge impacts on the wider world.  Also remember that your country's economics are probably intertwined with those of their neighbours, and shifts in production can impact their prosperity too.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Shout-Out: Rise of the Spider Goddess: An Annotated Novel by Jim C. Hines

In 2006, DAW Books published Jim C. Hines’ debut novel Goblin Quest. But before Jig the goblin, before fairy tale princesses and magic librarians and spunky fire-spiders, there was Nakor the Purple, an elf who wanted nothing more than to stand around watching lovingly overdescribed sunrises with his pet owl Flame, who might actually be a falcon, depending on which chapter you’re reading.

This is Nakor’s story, written in 1995 and never before shared with the world. (For reasons that will soon be painfully clear.) Together with an angsty vampire, a pair of pixies, and a feisty young thief, Nakor must find a way to stop an Ancient Evil before she destroys the world. (Though, considering the relatively shallow worldbuilding, it’s not like there’s much to destroy...)

With more than 5000 words of bonus annotation and smart-ass commentary, this is a book that proves every author had to start somewhere, and most of the time, that place wasn’t very pretty.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Video: Eclectic Method - Aliens

Eclectic Method is a video remix DJ, who splices video clips together to create new beat heavy songs.  He's done some great stuff, including one on robots, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ghostbusters, Doctor Who, and lots more.  He also made this aliens video, taking clips from a bunch of different movies:

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Myths and Legends: Thor, Viking God of Thunder by Graeme Davis

Pros: thorough, entertaining, educational, lots of illustrations

Cons: mentions religious reconstruction using archaeology but doesn’t give much information about what’s been discovered, drawings of some Viking artefacts rather than photographs

This is a great introduction to Norse mythology on the whole and an excellent one if you’re interested in Thor in particular.  There’s a one page rundown of important characters and another with places.  The source materials of the myths are briefly discussed, specifically the Poetic and Prose Edda, and during the retellings the author often pauses to explain cultural and situational material necessary for understanding what’s going on.

The stories themselves are quite entertaining, though while Thor’s exploits against the giants are referred to, there’s little description of those battles.  

There are a good number of newly commissioned and older artworks illustrating the stories.  I would have liked to see some photographs of archaeological finds rather than drawings though.  

The author mentions that the sources are light when it comes to how the Norse gods were worshiped but that archaeology has started shedding light on this issue, but doesn’t mention any of the finds or what we’ve learned about their religious practices from them.  The author does, however, mention information about religious practices that have survived in written form (eg. Tacitus).

The final chapter deals with how myths of Thor have been used in modern times, like how they were co-opted by the Nazi party when trying to create a sense of nationalism for Germany after World War I.  It also goes into Thor’s portrayal in comics and movies.

If you don’t know much about Norse mythology or Thor, this is an excellent book to get you up to speed.

Monday 1 December 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in Januaray, 2015

Once again, this list was compiled using Amazon's Canadian site and thereby shows Canadian release dates.  If you know a book that's missing, please mention it in the comments and I'll add it in.  Of note, is publishing an ebook of some of the best stories they've had on their site.  Amazon currently lists it as free.


Forsaken – Kelley Armstrong
Dark Intelligence – Neal Asher
Unbreakable – W. C. Bauers
Doctor Who: Official Guide on How to be a Time Lord – BBC
Golden Son – Pierce Brown
Spell Blind – David Coe
SF Gateway Omnibus: Mirror Image, Charisma, Brontomek – Michael Coney
The Deep – Nick Cutter
Traitor’s Blade – Sebastien de Castell
Tales From the Nightside – Simon Green
A Fold in the Tent of the Sky – Michael Hale (reprint)
First and Last Sorcerer – Barb Hendee & J. C. Hendee
Unbound – Jim Hines
The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
Saint Odd – Dean Koontz
Blood Will Follow – Snorri Kristijansson
Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (reprint)
Emissary – Thomas Locke
Burned – Karen Marie Moning
The Whispering Swarm – Michael Moorcock
Inside a Silver Box – Walter Mosley
The Boy Who Wept Blood – Den Patrick
Agatha H and the Voice of the Castle – Phil & Kaja Foglio
Jacaranda – Cherie Priest
Morte – Robert Repino
Doctor Who: The Secret Lives of Monsters – Justin Richards
Strands of Sorrow – John Ringo
The Mime Order – Samantha Shannon
The Providence of Fire – Brian Staveley
Daughter of Time Trilogy – Erec Stebbins
A Trail Through Time – Jodi Taylor
The Guard – Peter Terrin
Pacific Fire – Greg van Eekhout
The Just City – Jo Walton

Trade Paperback:

Half a King – Joe Abercrombie
The Technician – Neal Asher
Shattered Pillars – Elizabeth Bear
The Witches of Echo Park – Amber Benson
Beware of Greeks – Michael Bradley
Crystal Rain – Tobias Buckell (reprint)
Eternal Life Inc. – James Burkard
Black Moon – Kenneth Calhoun
Kushiel’s Dart – Jacqueline Carey (reprint)
Queen of the Dark Things – Robert Cargill
Owl and the Japanese Circus – Kristi Charish
Rocket Age Lure of Venus – Cubicle 7
Warhammer 40K: Pandorax – C. Z. Dunn
The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders – Lord Dunsany
Diaspora – Greg Egan
Distress – Greg Egan
Marked – Sarah Fine
Pillar to the Sky – William Forstchen
Warhammer 40K: Ahriman: Sorcerer – John French
End of Empires – Toby Frost
Wild West Exodus: The Jesse James Archives – Craig Gallant
Metro 2034 – Dmitry Glukhovsky
Gideon – Alex Gordon
Liberty and Other Stories – Alexis Hall
Wolves – Simon Ings
Surya – Yegan Kander
Swords of Good Men – Snorri Kristijansson
The Dagger’s Path – Glenda Larke
Carousel Seas – Sharon Lee
The Galaxy Game – Karen Lord
Evensong – John Love
Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad – George Martin, Ed.
The Crimson Campaign – Brian McClellan
Myths & Legends: The Knights of the Round Table – Daniel Mersey
Slavers of the Savage Catacombs – Jon Merz
Angels & Exiles – Yves Meynard
The Dragon in the Sword – Michael Moorcock
The Forest of Shades – Aderyn Y Mor
The Dark Defiles – Richard Morgan
Nature’s Confession – J. L. Morin
King of the Cracksmen – Dennis O’Flaherty
American Day Dream – Margot Pepper
The Flight of the Silvers – Daniel Price
The Stargods Trilogy – Irene Radford
Ourselves – S. G. Redling
The Wild West Exodus Anthology – Brandon Respond, Ed.
The Path – Peter Riva
Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea – Adam Roberts
The Dead Hamlets – Peter Roman
Incident in Mona Passage – Douglas Savage
The Glass Lady – Douglas Savage
Vicious – V. E. Schwab
The ABLES – Jeremy Scott
Originator – Joel Shepherd
Omaha Stakes – Mark Everett Stone
The Revolution Trade: A Merchant Princes Omnibus – Charles Stross
The City Stained Red – Sam Sykes
Salome’s Daughters – Jane Tatem
The Yellow Wood – Melanie Tem
California Bones – Greg van Eekhout
Three Princes – Ramona Wheeler
Consider Her Ways and Others – John Wyndham (reprint)
The Seeds of Time – John Wyndham (reprint)
The Judge of Ages – John Wright

Mass Market Paperback:

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse – John Joseph Adams, Ed.
Rogue Angel: Death Mask – Alex Archer
Deathlands: Hive Invasion – James Axler
Night Broken – Patricia Briggs
Gemini Cell – Myke Cole
Deadeye – William Dietz
The Sea Without a Shore – David Drake
Dreamwalker – C. S. Friedman
Iron Age – Steven Harper
A Wind in the Night – Barb Hendee & J. C. Hendee
Come and Take Them – Tom Kratman
WhipStitch – Marjorie Liu
Warhammer 40K: Vengeful Spirit – Graham McNeill
Star Trek The Next Generation: Takedown – John Jackson Miller
Master Sergeant – Mel Odom
Half-resurrection Blues – Daniel Jose Older
The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown – Joe Schreiber
The Dragon Conspiracy – Lisa Shearin


Foxglove Summer – Ben Aaronovitch
Brave Men Die – Dan Adams
Ren of Atikala – David Adams
His Robot Girlfriend: Charity – Wesley Allison
Binding Magic – Nikki Bollman
Ansel’s Remorse – David Brown
The Seventh Key – E. B. Brown
Into the Knight – Randy Chase
The Broken Sword – Molly Cochran & Warren Murphy
The Third Magic – Molly Cochran
Transmuted – Karina Cooper
The Colbana Files – J. C. Daniels
Starblind – D. T. Dyllin
Heir of the Dog – Hailey Edwards
Spy Night on Union Station – E. M. Foner
Across the Bridge of Ice – Ruth Fox
Champion Standing – Mark Gardner
An Assassin for the Slave – M. Garnet
Gallow: The Anvil – Nathan Hawke
When the Guns Come Out – Tony Healey
A Girl Called Random – Valentina Hepburn
Hooded Destiny – Zachery Hines
Paragon – Autumn Kalquist
The Warrior and the Governor – Susan Kelley
Project Gideon – Brian Knack
Constellation – Peter Kostadinov
Adam – Edward Lange
Rise of the Flame – K. N. Lee
Return to Honor – Brian McClellan
The Bone Flower Queen – T. L. Morganfield
Soul Ink – J. C. Nelson
The Barbarian Prince – Kaitlyn O’Connor
Orphan Brigade – Henry O’Neil
Amaskan’s Blood – Raven Oak
The Waelcyrie Murders – Anthony Pacheco
Silver – M. J. Porter
The White Death – Daniel Rafferty
A Murder of Clones – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Palladium – Renee Sebastian
Earths in Space – Daniel Sherrier
Inked – Eric Smith
No Ordinary Villain – Dee Stone
This is Your Destiny – Denise Grover Swank
Ossard’s Shadow – Colin Taber
Dangerous Reflections – Karla Tipton
Some of the Best from 2014 –, Ed.
The Defiant – John Vance
Fire Water – Jaye Wells
Onyx Javelin – Steve Wheeler
Burning Giants – Timothy Winstanley