Saturday 31 January 2015

Books Received in January, 2015

Many thanks to the publishers who sent me books this month.

The Martian by Andy Weir - I've already read and reviewed this book.  It was awesome.  Go read it.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won''t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment.

Nexus by Ramez Naam - This book has been on my radar ever since it came out in 2012.

Mankind gets an upgrade
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.

The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock - This is Moorcock's first non-series book in years and sounds really interesting.

In 1253, Henry III granted a parcel in the heat of London to refugees from the Holy Land, the Carmelite friars.  Their garb gave the district its name: Whitefriars.  Later, when designated a sanctuary, it gained another: Alsacia.  Outside the law, the quarter became a haven for criminals, debtors, adventurers, and misfits.  Judging none, welcoming all, the brothers' only concern was to escape history's notice and its troubles.
So Alsacia did not suffer like the rest of the world.  No plague infected it.  No Great Fire consumed it.  No Blitz demolished it.  Within its walls, the friars persisted down the centuries, quietly keeping the secret of their true nature and purpose, guarding truths of cosmic import and a nameless treasure.  
But in the years after World War II, a young Londoner named Michael stumbles into Alsacia, stunned to discover and impossible place where reality and romance, life and death, fiction and history coexist  Neither Michael nor Alsacia will ever be the same again.

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley - I received an advance reading copy of this book.  I'm really enjoying this series.  You can read my review for The Emperor's Blades and The Providence of Fire.  I'm including the synopsis for The Emperor's Blades, book one in the series, as things start to get spoilery quickly.

The emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing--and risk everything--to see that justice is meted out.

The Turnip Princess And Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales Collected by Franz Xavier von Schönwerth; translated by Maria Tatar; edited by Erika Eichenseer - I love fairytales so I'm excited by the chance to read all these tales that have been lost for over a hundred years.

With this volume, the holy trinity of tellers of fairy tales—the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen—becomes a quartet. In the 1850s, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth traversed the depths of the Black Forest and scaled the heights of the Bavarian Alps to record fairy tales, gaining the admiration of even the Brothers Grimm. Most of Schönwerth’s work was lost—until a few years ago, when a researcher unearthed thirty boxes of manuscripts in a municipal archive in Germany.
Now, for the first time, Schönwerth’s lost fairy tales are available in English. Violent, dark, and full of action, and upending the relationship between damsels in distress and their dragon-slaying heroes, they bring us closer than ever to the unadorned oral tradition in which fairy tales are rooted, revolutionizing our understanding of a hallowed genre.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Shout-Out: Ourselves by S. G. Redling

They have always been among us.

An ancient, enigmatic race, the Nahan have protected their secret world by cultivating the myths of fanged, bloodsucking monsters that haunt legends. Yet they walk through our world as our coworkers and our neighbors, hiding in plain sight and coexisting in peace. They survive…and they prosper.

A shy young dreamer, Tomas wanders through his life with help from his good friends and influential family on the ruling Council. Now, he’s decided his future lies with the Nahan’s most elite class: the mysterious Storytellers. But his family is troubled by his new choice—and by his new girlfriend, Stell, a wild, beautiful, and deadly outcast from a fanatical Nahan sect.

As Tomas descends into the dark wonders of the Nahan’s most powerful culture, Stell answers her own calling as an exceptional assassin. But when a lethal conspiracy threatens their destinies, Tomas and Stell must unite their remarkable talents against the strongest—and most sinister—of their kind.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Video: Movie Mash: Gremlins and Taken

The fine people who do the How it Should Have Ended videos have started a new series where they feature other content creators and their interesting videos.  They recently released one by Hank and Jed called Movie Mash: Gremlins and Taken, where they mashed aspects of the two movies together.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Comic Review: Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever, The Original Screenplay

by Harlan Elison, Scott Tipton and David Tipton
Illustrated by J. K. Woodward
cover by Juan Ortiz and Paul Shipper

Pros: great artwork, interesting story, thought provoking messages

Cons: story drags a bit in the middle, some unnecessary characters

A drug dealer on the Enterprise teleports to a planet that has been making the chronometers on the ship count backwards.  When an away team follows, the fugitive passes through a portal to Earth in the 1930s.  A change there affects the present, forcing Kirk and Spock to go after him.

The story has Kirk fall for a woman who’s making things better for those living in the depression era, but Spock discovers that she’s fated to die and saving her life is what changed the timeline.  

There are a lot of differences between the original screen play and the episode that aired under this name.  Several characters are removed entirely or condensed, making the plot tighter.  The guardian is the same in essence but not in execution.  I thought some of the changes made the story stronger but others changed its ultimate message.  I’ll detail my thoughts on this in the spoiler section.

The artwork is in a realistic style that I enjoyed.  The shading is done in such a way that each panel looks more like an oil painting than a comic book page.  Expressions are clear and give added emotion to the story.  Even full pages of dialogue have interesting backgrounds and character motion.

Ultimately, I preferred the TV episode to the screenplay, but I think the screenplay has a lot to offer and this comic rendition of it is beautifully done.  It’s an excellent story and a wonderful tribute to Star Trek fans to make it available.

[There are conflicting publishing dates for this comic, with Amazon showing February 17th and Indigo February 10th.  The publisher, IDW,'s site doesn't show a date at all and Netgalley, where I got the review copy, says the 3rd.] 

*** Spoilers ***

When it comes to the aired episode I found that there was more connection for the other characters - and the viewers - having McCoy be the one to go back in time rather than an unknown crew member.  I thought making Edith the one who finds Spock and Kirk and offers them a job made the story cleaner and less complicated.  Having the Enterprise simply not be there made more sense than having an alternate ship just happen to be at the planet, at that exact time with the same transporter and communications technology as the Enterprise.  I preferred Spock’s discovery of Edith’s importance and how history changes to the guardian’s predictions and Spock’s guesswork that are used in the screenplay.  The episode’s discoveries come as more of a shock than the screenplay’s and knowing how things change helps mitigate the ending in a way that the character’s educated guesses just don’t accomplish.

With regards to the screenplay, I thought its handling of the Verdun soldier’s character was much better.  While the idea that some people matter in the greater scheme of things and others don’t may not be the nicest message, having the character die in the episode, with no one even knowing about it and no commentary about it, seemed like a waste.  

It’s also unfortunate that Yeoman Rand’s scenes were cut, as it would have been cool to see a woman shooting a door open in the episode.

The screenplay builds Kirk and Edith’s relationship better than the episode.  In the show, when he says he loves her you question it, as they’ve only known each other a short time.  In the screenplay there’s the idea that more time has passed and you see Spock warn the captain off, already seeing what’s happening.  

The end moral of the screenplay, that sometimes good comes from evil and evil from good is lost in the episode as you’re only left with the ‘evil from good’ half.  It’s the one reason using Beckwith would have been better as the antagonist than McCoy.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Shout-Out: A Fold in the Tent of the Sky by Michael Hale

Struggling actor Peter Abbott is about to land the biggest role of his life. His audition for Calliope Associates-a clandestine private investigation firm made up of men and women with highly developed psychic abilities-requires only proof of Peter's psychic skills, no dramatic monologue.

Business is booming until members of the group begin disappearing at the hands of fellow psychic Simon Haywood. His genius is matched only by Peter's, but Simon alone discovers a unique way to use his extrasensory skills to travel back in time, committing crimes without any trace. Simon's mind grows warped and paranoid as the universe strains against his tinkering. Terrified that his extracurricular voyages will be curtailed, he plans to "erase" his colleagues. But Simon's methods are not exactly cold-blooded; instead he goes back to the moment of his victims' conception and prevents them from being created. Because no one in the present day recalls he or she ever existed, he's not caught . . . until Peter realizes what's happening. Now time is running out as Simon's sociopathic travels are disrupting the universe, folding and twisting the constraints of matter to a near-breaking point and threatening to spin the entire cosmos out of control.

A Fold in the Tent of the Sky takes murder into a new dimension as it races toward its electrifying, time-twisting climax.

Friday 23 January 2015

Medieval Plants: Common Yarrow

A column looking at medieval plants and what they were use for. (Archive)

By O. Pichard source
Latin name: Achillea millefolium
aka: nosebleed plant, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, bad man’s plaything, soldier’s woundwort, bloodwort, allheal, millefolium,, milfoil, old man’s mustard, stanchweed, field hops, etc.

The Latin name for this bitter plant is said to come from a legend from the Trojan war.  Achilles, having been taught by the centaur Chiron, used this plant to stop the bleeding of his comrades on the battlefield.  The second half of its name comes from the feathery leaves that have mille folium, a “thousand leaf” form.  The English name, yarrow, comes from the Saxon, gearwe, which means healer (Ricola).

From ancient times up through the American civil war the plant was used to treat wounds on battlefields.  Crushed, it could be inserted into the nostrils to stop nosebleeds.  (Kowalchik, p.516-518).  

Hildegard von Bingen suggested using yarrow cooked with fennel as an aid for insomnia (when squeezed out and wrapped around the head) (93).  She added fresh dill to it in her nosebleed recipe, advising that the herbs be put around the forehead, temples and chest (97).  Drunk, it could help heal internal injuries and bring down tertian fever (141).  Yarrow was also added to mixtures that helped women with their menses (138).

In addition to the usual use for treating wounds, Pliny says the plant could also help with bladder issues, asthma and toothache (v5, p61).  

According to wikipedia, it was part of an herbal mixture known as gruit, used in the flavouring of beer before hops.

Given all the healing information I found about the plant I was a bit surprised it made the magic bed of the garden rather than the medicinal bed.  The only information I’d found for its use in magic was an offhand comment that it was supposedly used by witches in incantations (Kowalchick).  So I googled yarrow and witchcraft and came across the Witchipedia website, where I got the following information.  The plant was said to assist both in the summoning and driving away the devil.  In fact, yarrow was used in Christian exorcism rituals.  It was also used as a protective herb, hanging over cradles to protect babies, strewn across the threshold of a house to prevent unhelpful spirits from entering and put in Saxon amulets.

I’m sticking to the medieval European uses of the plant as that’s where my interest lies, but the plant has been known and used in China for over a thousand years.  Native Americans also used it for medicinal purposes.


Hildegard von Bingen. Physica: The Complete English Translation of her Classic Work on Health and Healing. Trans. Priscilla Throop. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2011. 

Kowalchick, Claire and William Hylton, Ed. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1998.

Pliny. Natural History v. 1-6. Trans. John Bostock and H. T. Riley. London: Henry Bohn, 1851.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Shout-Out: When by Victoria Laurie

Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers, but it takes her father's premature death for Maddie and her family to realize that these mysterious digits are actually deathdates, and just like birthdays, everyone has one.
Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching deathdate of one client's young son, but because her ability only allows her to see the when and not the how, she's unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie.
Soon, Maddie is entangled in a homicide investigation, and more young people disappear and are later found murdered. A suspect for the investigation, a target for the murderer, and attracting the attentions of a mysterious young admirer who may be connected to it all, Maddie's whole existence is about to be turned upside down. Can she right things before it's too late?

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Video: Ice City

The city of Harbin in Northern China hosts an ice festival every winter in which giant sculptures of buildings are built and lit up.  The video below, by Paul Tauger, shows activities that go on during the day and night.  The whole thing's pretty interesting, but if you only want to see the night shots jump to the 2:40 mark or check out some photos on Trip Adviser.

One thing I really liked about the video is the snapshot of how people in China celebrate winter.  The ice chairs(?) people were skating with, for example, and the different foods at the booths were cool to see.

I've been thinking lately how festivals were (and still are) a big part of life, and yet a lot of fantasy (and other) books fail to account for this.  Even if the festivals aren't shown, they'd still be talked about and anticipated by the people.  Perhaps they'd even be used as motivation for working hard.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Pros: tense, compelling, humerous, hard sf

Cons: swearing, some exposition

Mark Watney is presumed dead after being hit by flying debris and having his suit depressurize during the evacuation of the Ares 3 mission on Mars in a dust storm.  But hours after his crew departs on the only ship, Mark wakes up.  Now he’s alone on Mars with no way home and supplies only designed to last a crew of 6 for 31 days.

This is a novel of survival under extreme conditions.  It’s predominately told from Mark’s point of view via daily journal entries.  Mark is a resourceful man with a dry sense of humour, which helps keep the novel upbeat even though things are constantly dire.  It’s a compelling book that’s hard to put down with lots of tense moments.  

It’s also hard science fiction, meaning there’s a good amount of science explanation and mathmatics going on.  Most of the time it’s quick and engagingly told (often using humour).  Communications are reproduced with the time lag and flight times are dictated by real physics.  According to an interview I read by him the only scientifically inaccurate point in the book is the dust storm on Mars at the beginning of the book.

There’s a fair bit of swearing, which I’m not keen on, but a lot of it was understandable given the circumstances.  My only other complaint is that a lot of necessary information was given in conversations in ways that - though they worked in the text - would sound odd in real life.  So, for example, people would say things like “It’s nice to be back in Houston.”, rather than simply “It’s nice to be back.”, so the reader would know where the conversation was happening.  Similarly, people often explained things to coworkers that their coworkers should know, like how various scientific things work, or what they’re called, so that the reader would learn this information.  It’s a catch-22 in that the reader needs the information and there are only 2 ways to get it across, via dialogue or exposition.  Dialogue is the more interesting way of reading it, so he made the right choice.  And most people won’t notice he did this, they’ll just enjoy the fast paced story.

This is a fantastic book and I can understand why it made so many top 10 lists for 2014 and why it’s been optioned for film.

Monday 19 January 2015

Medieval Plants: Research Difficulties

Ok, I spent several hours going through numerous sources on the first 3 plants on my list.  I discovered a few things.  

First, plants go by many names and translators don’t always use the same name, or the latin name. I found this quote which sums up the problem nicely:

“Controversy exists concerning the exact identification of some plants that are mentioned in medieval literature and depicted in medieval art.  It is often extremely difficult to identify plants from the names given them by medieval writers, while plants in works of art are not always rendered with botanical accuracy.” (Bayard, 55)

So, for example, an alternate name for Yarrow is Woundwort.  Hildegard von Bingen has sections for both Yarrow (garwa) and Woundwort (wuntwurtz) in the Physica, showing that Woundwort may also  be used for a different plant entirely.  I'll therefore have to exercise caution when attributing information to a plant from a source that doesn't use the latin name.
I also discovered that it’s useful to go online and find out the alternate names for plants before go ing through all my physical books, so I don’t have to go through them multiple times.

Second, most of my sources don’t differentiate between periods regarding when plants were used for what.  In other words, it’s difficult for me to say that a particular plant was used for x in the middle ages.  I knew that a lot of classical lore would have been preserved, as well as a lot of pre-medieval local lore, I didn’t expect that there would be little differentiation in my sources with regards to when certain practices may have stopped (beyond the obvious ‘modern age’, as we’ve learned more about the efficacy of plants and can synthesize the beneficial elements).  

Third, the secondary sources that reference the middle ages specifically are pretty light on the details, meaning I’ll probably have to do more research online than I anticipated.  Having said that, I came across some great sites that will help me flesh out my posts.

So these aren’t going to be as focused as I’d intended.  I'm going to try posting one a month and take things from there.

Bayard, Tania. Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flowers: Medieval Gardens and the Gardens of the Cloisters. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Shout-Out: Wolves by Simon Ings

Augmented Reality uses computing power to overlay a digital imagined reality over the real world. Whether it be adverts or imagined buildings and imagined people, with Augmented Reality the world is no longer as it appears to you, it is as it is imagined by someone else.

Two friends are working at the cutting edge of this technology and when they are offered backing to take the idea and make it into the next global entertainment they realise that wolves hunt in this imagined world. And the wolves might be them.
A story about technology becomes a personal quest into a changed world and the pursuit of a secret from the past. A secret about a missing mother, a secret that could hide a murder. This is no dry analysis of how a technology might change us, it is a terrifying thriller, a picture of a dark tomorrow that is just around the corner. Ings takes the satire and mordant satirical view of J.G. Ballard and propels it into the 21st century.

Saturday 17 January 2015

Medieval Plants: Magic Bed

As I posted yesterday, I'll be starting this column by examining the plants listed as being in the magic bed of the Bonnefont Herb Garden at the Cloisters Museum in New York City (part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).  I've decided to tackle the list in order so I don't miss anything.

Here's the list:

Achillea millefolium                  Common yarrow
Aconitum napellus                     Aconite
Alchemilla vulgaris                   Lady’s mantle
Arum italicum                            Italian arum
Atropa belladonna                     Deadly nightshade
Bryonia dioica                           Red bryony
Carlina acaulis                          Stemless carline thistle
Carlina vulgaris                         Carline thistle
Catananche caerulea                 Cupid’s dart
Chrysanthemum coronarium     Crown daisy
Datura metel                              Horn of plenty, Downy thorn apple
Doronicum pardalianches         Great leopard’s bane
Dracunculus vulgaris                Dragon arum
Foeniculum vulgare                   Fennel
Geum urbanum                          Herb bennet
Glechoma hederacea                 Ground ivy
Hypericum perforatum              St. John’s wort
Leonurus cardiaca                    Motherwort
Mandragora autumnalis           Autumn mandrake
Mandragora officinarum          Mandrake
Paeonia officinalis                    Peony
Plantago lanceolata                  Ribgrass plantain
Plantago major                          Common plantain
Polygonum bistorta                   Bistort
Sempervivum tectorum              Houseleek
Solanum dulcamara                   Bittersweet
Stachys officinalis                      Betony

Verbena officinalis                    Vervain

Friday 16 January 2015

Medieval Plants: Introduction

I have a lot of interests, one of which is herbs.  On a trip through Europe umpteen years ago I visited a lot of medieval and other historic sites.  I photographed several medieval style gardens.  I really wanted to photograph each plant separately and find out all I could about it, but the limitations of film (yes, I was still using film at the time), the number of plants I'd have to photograph and a lack of time meant I never did it.  Even now that I have a digital camera, on a recent trip to New York City, I couldn’t bring myself to take the time - after carefully examining everything else at the Cloisters Museum - to photograph each individual plant in the various flower beds of their recreated medieval gardens.

Similarly, over the years I’ve collected several books on herbs and medieval gardens, but time’s never been on my side with regards to sitting down and reading through the books.  Hence this column.  My idea is to take a particular plant or herb that was used during the middle ages and research what it was used for.  I’m hoping to learn a lot about healing, cooking, brewing, and other subjects through this.

 While I was at the Cloisters I came across a list of all the plants included in their Bonnefont Herb Garden (pictured here) for the fall of 2014.  I’ll be using this list - with its Latin and English names - as the basis for my research.  The list is subdivided into several categories: Medicinal bed, Household bed, Vegetable bed, Salad bed, Magic bed, Love & Fertility bed, Arts & Crafts bed, and Brewing bed.  The list also has several beds that weren’t categorized by subject, which I’ll consider doing as well if this column gets that far.

Since I like magic and fantasy - and I want to engender some interest in this column - I’ll be starting off with the magic bed.

I expect this column will take a while to research, so I’m not sure how often these will be published.  I’ll be doing a few in advance today, which will give me an idea of what timeframe I’m looking at going forward.  I’ll have the first plant entry next Friday, then I’ll likely post some of my other columns.  If I enjoy this column and it gets some positive attention, I may consider moving these posts to another day (Monday perhaps) and post these every two weeks or so.  We’ll see. 

Below I’m including a list of source materials I’ll be referencing for this column (including some books on herbs that may turn out to not be useful - I’ll update the list if that turns out to be the case and add any new books I come across).  Note, my Latin’s terrible, so the primary sources are all in translation.  A few of these books are from (ie, they’re public domain due to their age).  I apologize if my citations aren’t in the correct format.  I’ve been out of academia for quite some time and couldn’t be bothered to look up the format beyond the basics.

Primary Sources:

Albertus Magnus. The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus of the Virtues of Herbs, Stones and Certain Beasts also a Book of the Marvels of the World. Edited by Michael Best and Frank Brightman. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Hildegard von Bingen. Physica: The Complete English Translation of her Classic Work on Health and Healing. Trans. Priscilla Throop. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2011. 

Isidore of Seville. Etymologies. Trans. Stephen Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Pliny. Natural History v. 1-6. Trans. John Bostock and H. T. Riley. London: Henry Bohn, 1851.

Secondary Sources:

Bayard, Tania. Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flowers: Medieval Gardens and the Gardens of the Cloisters. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985.

Fisher, Celia. The Medieval Flower Book. London: The British Library, 2013.

Freeman, Margaret. Herbs for the Mediaeval Household for Cooking, Healing and Divers Uses. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1943. 

Kowalchick, Claire and William Hylton, Ed. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1998.

Landsberg, Sylvia. The Medieval Garden. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.

Newdick, Jane. The Magic of Herbs. London: Salamander Books, 1991.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Shout-Out: Gideon by Alex Gordon

When Lauren's father dies, she makes a shocking discovery. The man she knew as John Reardon was once a completely different person, with a different name. Now she's determined to find out who he really was, even though her only clues are an old photograph and the name of a town: Gideon.
But someone-or something-doesn't want her to discover the truth. A strange man is stalking her, appearing everywhere she turns, and those who try to help her end up dead. Neither a shadowy enemy nor her own fear will prevent her from solving the mystery of her father-and unlocking the secrets of her own life.
Making her way to Gideon, Lauren finds herself more confused than ever. Nothing in this small midwestern town is what it seems, including time itself. Residents start going missing, and Lauren is threatened by almost everyone she encounters. Two hundred years ago, a witch was burned at the stake, but in Gideon the past feels all too chillingly present. . . .

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Video: Sailor Moon 2015 (no Pluto)

Animation Domination has a hilarious video about the new Sailor Moon, minus Pluto, because Pluto's not a planet anymore.  FYI there's some swearing.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Book Review: Myths & Legends: Knights of the Round Table by Daniel Mersey

Pros: quick summaries of notable stories, timeline of when stories were written, interesting text boxes with additional information, mentions alternate spellings/versions

Cons: as mentioned in the introduction there are too many knights and stories to cover them all

As with the other books in Osprey’s Myths and Legends series, this is a great introduction if you’re interested in Arthurian Legends.  The author, Daniel Mersey, wrote a volume on King Arthur, and this volume on the knights is meant to accompany it in fleshing out the legends.  

The book has entertaining synopses of several of the earliest legends about Arthur’s knights, told by Chretien de Troyes and his contemporaries in the late 12th Century.  There are several stories about Lancelot and Gawain, as well as Tristan and Isolde, Yvain, Erec, Balin and Beaumains.

If you don’t know much about the knights, this is a fantastic introduction, with text boxes breaking up the stories that have added information regarding where different characters were popular, alternate spellings, which ones potentially came first, etc.  The literary timeline’s also great, showing when the different stories were written.

It’s an attractive edition with reprints of several images that accompanied older editions of the stories as well as new illustrations by Alan Lathwell.

Of course, with such a slim volume a lot is going to be left out.  The author mentions that in his introduction and includes a supplementary reading and watching list (including preferred translations for the texts) for those who want to learn more.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Shout-Out: The Guard by Peter Terrin

In the near future, Harry and Michel live in the basement of a luxury apartment block, guarding the inhabitants. No one goes outside. The world might be at war, it might even have been plunged into nuclear winter. No one knows.
But one weekend, all of the residents leave the block, one by one. All but the man on floor 29. Harry and Michel stick to their posts. All they know, all they can hope for, is that if they are vigilant, the "Organization" will reward them with a promotion to an elite cadre of security officers. But what if there were no one left to guard?

Friday 9 January 2015

Blog Stats for 2014

I've been posting my reading statistics for the past few years (2012, 2013) as a way of seeing what I'm reading with regards to subgenres and genders.  Here are my stats for 2014.

It turns out I read fewer books this year than the past 2 years, though I did read more history books (which take more time than fiction).  I had a fairly even male/female ratio, though that was due less to effort and more because several authors I like had sequels out.  
Gender breakdown:
male 18
female 22
both 2 (one collection, one book by 2 authors)
unknown 1

Subgenre breakdown:
Science fiction  18
     adult    8
     YA       10
Fantasy   22
     epic/traditional   13
     urban   5
     YA   4
Horror   3 (including one collection)

Total: 43

I also read:
graphic novels   5
history books   10
poetry   1
biography   1

Overall total: 60

So many amazing books came out last year and I was only able to read a small portion of them.  I'm hoping to catch up on some of them, but realistically I'm not sure how many I'll get to since I'm sure there will be an equal number of amazing books out this year as well.  Overall I think I balanced things well, both with genre and gender.  I tried to read more lesser known (ie underhyped) books, which I'll try to do again this year.  It's always nice being the person recommending a book no one else has heard of (even as you decry the fact that no one's heard of this AMAZING book).  And yeah, expect more history posts in general this year.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Shout-Out: The ABLES by Jeremy Scott

Philip Sallinger has just been informed about his genetically-inherited telekinetic abilities, and has no idea how his blindness will affect them. Tomorrow, he starts his first day at a high school exclusively for empowered kids, but he'll face adversity right out of the gate, as he finds himself segregated and ignored with the other disabled students in a superhero version of a Special Education class. As the entire city of Freepoint faces a devastating threat, and the town leadership chooses bureaucratic infighting over actual preparation, Philip and his friends must find a way to work together to maximize their powers and overcome their disabilities. A mysterious figure has begun making unannounced visits to Freepoint, kidnapping key figures, digging up ancient artifacts, and taunting Phillip's group of friends with tantalizing clues and maddening riddles. Will Phillip and company decipher the clues and solve the mystery before a dark shadow falls over the entire town and threatens to cover the entire planet in a permanent darkness?

ETA: I posted this when I did because Amazon had a listing for the book showing a January 2015 release date.  I was surprised that I didn't hear anything more about the book (reviews, interviews, etc.) as the author does the Cinema Sins videos.  In February I saw a Cinema Sins video talking about the upcoming release, which now had a May 15th publication date.  I'm not sure what that January date was (placeholder maybe?).  Anyway, sorry for any confusion this caused.  The book is now available for preorder.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

2015 Blog Resolutions

So it's a new year again, a time for fresh starts and, well, let's be honest, doing the same old thing, because that's what we're used to doing.

I didn't get much reading done over the holidays so I'm currently catching up on some review books. I'll have those reviews up in the coming weeks, though I may not get a book a week this year the way I somehow managed for most of last year.

I did pretty well with the history reading last year, and I'm hoping to continue that this year while still reviewing a good number of new and old SFF titles.

I would like to bring back a column I tried to start... last year?, but that work and other things got in the way of called Reading Unbound.  The point of the column is to highlight authors outside the regular circles.  If I can get it up and running it's a bit time consuming so it wouldn't be a weekly thing, but I may throw it into my Friday circuit.

I've also wanted to do a series of pieces on medieval plants and what they were used for.  I've several books to research this in, but again, it would be time consuming, so I'll see if I get that going or not.

I'm going to keep doing the shout-out posts.  I like promoting things that otherwise fly under the radar.  And I really miss suggesting books to people.  It was one of the best aspects of being a bookseller.

If there's a column you love and want me to keep or if you have suggestions for my blogging, leave a comment. :)

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Book Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

Pros: lots of intrigue, lots of action, lots of unexpected plot twists, fascinating characters, brilliant writing

Cons: middle drags a bit, lots of swearing

Note: this is book two of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and as such both the synopsis and review contain spoilers for book one.  If you haven’t read The Emperor’s Blades, it’s a fantastic fantasy novel.

Picking up immediately where The Emperor’s Blades left off, the novel continues to follow the murdered Emperor Sunlitan’s children: Kaden, heir to the throne, is now able to enter the vaniate and use the Kenta gates built by the Csestriim; Valyn, is considered a traitor by the Ketral under whom he studied for the past 10 years, learning how to kill to protect the Empire; and Adare, who leaves the capital to find an army she can use to wrestle power from the general il Tornja.

There is so much going on in this book.  The characters all travel a lot to get closer to their various aims, discover those aims need to change, and in the course of the book change drastically as people.  It’s fantastic seeing characters react to situations based on limited and often faulty information, make decisions that affect their future - often very negatively - and watch them muddle through.  The book feels more like reading history than a structured work of writing.  Alliances change, trust is misplaced and/or broken, characters do things they regret and see things they’re helpless to stop.

Several battles pepper the book and the climax revolves around a war.  There’s a lot of action, blood and gore.  There’s also a lot of politicking, much of which went in directions I did not expect, especially in Kaden’s storyline.

The characters are varied in how they act, react and change.  They remain entertaining and engaging throughout the novel, though I did find that the middle of the book dragged a bit, especially around some of Adare’s arc.  The ending was fantastic though, and sets things up for what ought to be an amazing third book.

There is a lot of swearing, which fits the characters but isn’t something I’m particularly keen on.  I’d place this on the lighter side of grimdark, because most of the characters remain sympathetic, even as they often end up doing horrible things.  It feels like a cross between Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy and Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and the Coin series.

I really recommend this series.

Out January 13th.

Thursday 1 January 2015

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in February, 2015

Once again this list was compiled using Amazon's Canadian website and, as such, reflects Canadian release dates.  If you know a book that's missing, please mention it in the comments and I'll add it in.


Half the World – Joe Abercrombie
Dark Intelligence – Neal Asher
Impulse – Dave Bara
Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear
Falestian Legend – Clifford Boyer
The Catalyst – Helena Coggan
Empire – John Conolly & Jennifer Ridyard
Emissary – Betsy Dornbusch
Shadow – Will Elliott
Castaway Planet – Eric Flint & Ryk Spoor
Medusa’s Daughter – Jonathan Scott Fuqua
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances – Neil Gaiman
The Peripheral – William Gibson
Righteous Fury – Markus Heitz
Finn Fancy Necromancy – Randy Henderson
The Eterna Files – Leanna Renee Hieber
City of Savages – Lee Kelly
Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Gamses Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds – Joseph Laycock
The Glittering World – Robert Levy
Get in Trouble: Stories – Kelly Link
Fortune’s Blight – Evie Manieri
Something Coming Through – Paul McAuley
The Autumn Republic – Brian McClellan
The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman
Touch – Claire North
The Death House – Sarah Pinborough
Fields of Wrath – Mickey Zucker Reichert
A Darker Side of Magic – V. E. Schwab
The Mime Order – Samantha Shannon
Daydreams for Night – John Southworth
The Violent Century – Lavie Tidhar
Smith of Wootton Major – J. R. R. Tolkien
Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction – Judd Trichter
Warhammer: Deathblade: A Tale of Malus Darkblade – C. L. Werner
The Monstrumologist – Rick Yancey (reprint)

Trade Paperback:

Warhammer 40K: First and Only – Dan Abnett
Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse – John Joseph Adams
Humans Rising – Jared Angel
The Gabble and Other Stories – Neal Asher
Cannonbridge – Jonathan Barnes
Under Different Stars – Amy Bartol
Doctor Who: Amorality Tale – David Bishop
Triple Word Score – Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Tropic of Serpents – Marie Brennan
Daughter of Gods and Shadows – Jayde Brooks
The Girl in the Road – Monica Byrne
Phantoms: Collected Writings – Jack Cady
Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday – Italo Calvino
A Darkling Sea – James Cambias
The Diabolical Miss Hyde – Viola Carr
Conquest – John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard
The Way Into Darkness – Harry Connolly
Doctor Who: Human Nature – Paul Cornell
As Time Goes By – Hank Davis
The Last Revolution – Lord Dunsany
Schild’s Ladder – Greg Egan
The Black Wolves – Kate Elliott
The Pilgrims – Will Elliott
The Very Best of Kate Elliott – Kate Elliott
The Wide World’s End – James Enge
Echo 8 – Sharon Lynn Fisher
Lyra’s Silence – Rob Gullette
Billy Moon – Douglas Lain
The Three – Sarah Lotz
After the Sky Fell – Mike Lynch & Brandon Barr
Mage Wars: Nature of the Beast – Will McDermott
Wolves of the Northern Rift – Jon Messenger
An Unwelcome Quest – Scott Meyer
Defiance – Adrienne Monson
Jewel and Amulet: The Jewel in the Skull and The Mad God’s Amulet – Michael Moorcock
Signal to Noise – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Of Shadow and Stone – Michelle Muto
Unseen – Amber Lynn Natusch
Awakening – Andi O’Connor
The Karma Booth – Jeff Pearce
Truth of the Ninja – T. J. Perkins
The Odds: A Post-Apocalyptic Action-Comedy – Robert Peterson
Glimpses of Destiny – B. Pine
The Originals: The Rise – Julie Plec
The Runaway Robot – Lester Del Rey
Warhammer: The Return of Nagash – Josh Reynolds
Doctor Who: The Shadow in the Glass – Justin Richards & Steve Cole
A Teach Yourself Guide: Get Started Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy – Adam Roberts
Blood Song – Anthony Ryan
The Uncanny Reader: Stories From the Shadows – Marjorie Sandor
Dendera – Yuya Sato
Shadow Study – Maria Snyder
Jaye Wells – Deadly Spells
Robot Overlords – Mark Stay
The Seal of the Worm – Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Children of Hurin – J. R. R. Tolkien
Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology – Ann Vandermmer & Jeff Vandermeer, Ed.
Cauldron of Ghosts – David Weber & Eric Flint
Little Wars and Floor Games: The Foundations of Wargaming – H. G. Wells
Over Water – Brittany Westerberg
Poisonwell – Jeff Wheeler
The Tower Broken – Mazarkis Williams
The Thing About Great White Sharks and Other Stories – Rebecca Adams Wright
Cobra Outlaw – Timothy Zahn

Mass Market Paperback:

Magic Breaks – Ilona Andrews
Outlanders: Terminal White – James Axler
Murder of Crows – Anne Bishop
Soulbound – Kristen Callihan
Demon Child – Kylie Chan
1636: Seas of Fortune – Iver Cooper
Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves – James Corey
Monster Hunter Nemesis – Larry Correia
Star Trek TOS: Savage Trade – Tony Daniel
Haterz – James Goss
Mentats of Dune – Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson
Born of Fury – Sherrilyn Kenyon
The Detainee – Peter Liney
Beacon in the Dark – Marjorie Liu
The Thorn of Dentonhill – Marshall Ryan Maresca
The Remaining: Allegiance – D. J. Molles
Crown of Renewal – Elizabeth Moon
Armageddon Rules – J. C. Nelson
Thornlost – Melanie Rawn
Uprising – Jeremy Robinson (reprint of XOM-B)
Grave Matters – Lauren Roy
Touch – Michelle Sagara
Forgotten Realms: Rise of the King – R. A. Salvatore
Influx – Daniel Suarez
Master of Plagues – E. L. Tettensor
Cherry Bomb – Kathleen Tierney


First Contact – M. A. Abraham
Brave Men Die – Dan Adams
The Exodus Sequence: A Collection of Collected Science Fiction Novelettes – Susannah Bell
Then Frederick Ran – Nicholas Bugden
eMOTION: Surge Protector – C. Ryan Bymaster
Sarina, Sweetheart – Megan Carney
Edged Blade – J. C. Daniels
Coranox – Tony Gao & Brent Peckham
Gene.sys: Magigate Returns – Bill Gourgey
The Iron Ring – Auston Habershaw
AWOL – Traci Harding
The Becoming – Kay Ikejiani
Victory of Coins – Aiden James
Desolation – Megg Jensen
The Last Quarrel – Duncan Lay
Redemption of the Sacred Land – Mark Tyson A Time to Live - Jonas Lee
The Thin Veil Omnibus – Jodi McIsaac
Dorothy Parker Drank Here – Ellen Meister
Song of the Sea – Edwin Page
The Gatekeeper’s Key – A. Payne & N. D. Taylor
The Dark Quest – Robert Rumery
Search & Recovery – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories – Alex Shvartsman
The Shape of Temptation – Eleri Stone
Skin – Ilka Tampke
No Time Like the Past – Jodi Taylor
Ashes and Spirits – A. D. Trosper
InkStains: February – John Urbancik
The Chronothon – Nathan Van Coops
Lords of Space – Michael Wallace
Iluminati – P. J. Webb
Born to Magic – David Wind