Friday 30 December 2016

The Best Books I Read in 2016

Since no individual can read all the books published in a single year, and since I know I missed several 'big' titles, this is a list of my favourite books I read this year, in the order I read them (and while most of them were published this year, not all of them were). Click the title links to see my reviews.

1. City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett - Technically I read this last year, but it came out in January, so I'm counting it here. The world-building is absolutely brilliant, and while it's good to read City of Stairs, you don't have to in order to understand what's going on in this book. I loved the characters and the story.

2. Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey - I don't read much urban fantasy as I found its tropes got repetitive fast. So this year was wonderful as several novels, including this one, simply didn't use those tropes. I found them refreshing and hope this trend continues. Spells of Blood and Kin had two estranged half-sisters getting to know each other in difficult circumstances, had a non obvious love interest and dealt with a unique magic system based on Russian witchcraft.

3. Borderline by Mishell Baker - I loved the amputee borderline personality disorder diagnosed protagonist. She was snarky and over the top. Not someone you'd like to meet in real life, but since you were seeing events from her POV, you got to understand why she was so mean to so many people. The fact that she joins a fairy policing shadow organization staffed by other people with similar issues made for a fascinating read.

4. Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter - This was the final volume of her ®Evolution trilogy. Start with Gemsigns. It's brilliant and talks about how societies reconcile with people its demeaned and harmed for decades. The Gems are genetically engineered humans, designed by corporations to work specific jobs. Now freed from their corporate overlords, not everyone is happy to see them integrating into the general population.

5. The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood - A talented artist, Lockwood's debut novel was a joy to read. It reminded me of the fantasy novels that sucked me into their realms when I was a teenager just discovering the genre. It did delve into some pretty dark territory, especially at the end, and I cannot wait for the next book in the series.

6. The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan - This was a fantasy novel I didn't hear much buzz about, which is a shame, as it's fantastic. The magic system is based around dragon blood and there's a little bit of everything thrown in including a siege, navel battles, and dragon hunting.

7. Steeplejack by A. J. Hartley - Another book that got little attention, this was a book about a young woman who works cleaning chimneys in an alternate South Africa (according to the author the city is loosely based on Durban). I loved the interactions among the different social strata. The mystery was well done and kept me guessing.

8. The Death House by Sarah Pinborough - This book only had minimal SF elements, but the story of children stuck in a boarding house, waiting for a mysterious disease to kill them, was both horrifying and deeply depressing. But the author manages to infuse the story with hope.

9. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard - I loved this urban fantasy novel about an artist enclave that's touched by the fae. Another story about estranged sisters, this time ones with an overbearing and abusive mother, it touched me deeply on many levels.

10. Extreme Makeover by Dan Wells - This is probably the most original and yet strangely plausible apocalyptic novel I've read. The protagonist is the head chemist of a make-up company. When their new experimental product has unexpected side-effects, the powers that be decide to market it as a wonder product. But things go bad VERY quickly.

What are the best books you read this year?

Thursday 29 December 2016

Books Received December 2016

Many thanks to TOR Publishing, which has sent me numerous books over the past year, including the following: 

Extreme Makeover by Dan Wells - For some reason I only heard about this book in November, not long after it came out. Less than 2 weeks later it arrived in my mail box and immediately became my next read. I've already reviewed it and thought it was excellent. I'd actually recommend reading the book without knowing the back cover blurb, as there's an element to the story that would be cool to learn along with the protagonist. Though, knowing that 'twist' is what got me to read the book, so...

Lyle Fontanelle is the chief scientist for NewYew, a health and beauty company experimenting with a new, anti-aging hand lotion. As more and more anomalies crop up in testing, Lyle realizes that the lotion's formula has somehow gone horribly wrong. It is actively overwriting the DNA of anyone who uses it, turning them into physical clones of someone else. Lyle wants to destroy the formula, but NewYew thinks it might be the greatest beauty product ever designed--and the world's governments think it's the greatest weapon.

Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson - This book sounds pretty cool and I'm hoping to get to it early in 2017.
Two events made September 1st a memorable day for Jesse Cullum. First, he lost a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Second, he saved the life of President Ulysses S. Grant. It's the near future, and the technology exists to open doorways into the past--but not our past, not exactly. Each "past" is effectively an alternate world, identical to ours but only up to the date on which we access it. And a given "past" can only be reached once. After a passageway is open, it's the only road to that particular past; once closed, it can't be reopened. A passageway has been opened to a version of late 19th-century Ohio. It's been in operation for most of a decade, but it's no secret, on either side of time. A small city has grown up around it to entertain visitors from our time, and many locals earn a good living catering to them. But like all such operations, it has a shelf life; as the "natives" become more sophisticated, their version of the "past" grows less attractive as a destination. Jesse Cullum is a native. And he knows the passageway will be closing soon. He's fallen in love with a woman from our time, and he means to follow her back--no matter whose secrets he has to expose in order to do it.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Video: Blade Runner 'Classic Noir' trailer

With the teaser trailer for the new Blade Runner released and looking pretty good, here's a 'classic noir' trailer of the original film by Chet Desmond.

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Book Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

Pros: feisty protagonist, interesting premise, good world-building

Cons: giant plot hole, people are too willing to help Gaia

Sixteen year old Gaia Stone has just delivered her first baby solo, and though taking it from its mother and giving it to the Enclave is the right thing to do, for some reason she feels bad about it. Then her parents are taken by the Enclave and she’s questioned about their actions. Gaia can’t understand why her family has been targeted when they’ve always followed the rules. But she’s going to get her parents out of prison no matter the cost.

Set in a future where conditions are harsh, the Enclave is a walled city on a hill where everything is perfect, at least as far as Gaia’s concerned. She lives outside the wall in Wharfton’s Western Sector Three, helping her mother deliver babies and sending the first three babies of each month to the Enclave to be adopted by its inhabitants. But life inside the Enclave isn’t as rosy as Gaia believes.

I really liked Gaia. She starts the book very naive about what she’s doing, not questioning the Enclave’s orders at all. Otherwise, she’s pretty feisty and willing to fight for her family while still doing what she believes is right. I liked that she had to make some difficult decisions, and that there were some consequences - though not as many as might realistically happen. She does forgive herself quickly for some actions that I suspect would take longer to get over.

Though a minor element, I thought the romantic relationship she develops came about naturally. It evolves slowly and involves a lot of questioning, making it feel realistic.

I thought the setting and premise were interesting, especially when more of the Enclave was revealed.

I was surprised by how many people - inside the Enclave - were willing to help Gaia. Considering what the penalty was for helping a fugitive, it seemed more people were willing to risk death than I thought credible.

There is a huge plot hole that gets larger the more you learn. Basically, the Enclave imprisoned Gaia’s parents to get some information they desperately need. But Gaia’s parents want the flip side of that same information, so there’s no reason for them to not cooperate with authorities by hiding what they know. While recording the information might have been a problem in the past, the Enclave is now happy that Gaia’s parents have it, and presumably weren’t going to punish them for the records that it now needs. So I was left wondering why her parents didn’t say what they knew, thereby helping out the Enclave and the parents in Wharfton (though maybe they were afraid the parents wouldn’t be given the information).

I also had a hard time believing the Enclave wouldn’t record who the birth parents of the kids adopted into the Enclave were - and yes, a reason was given in the book, but governments are good about keeping secret records, and making sure to avoid incest seems a very good reason to keep records.

I enjoyed the book and it was a quick read, but the plot hole grated the further into the book I got so I probably won’t finish the trilogy.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Video: A Stranger Things Christmas

This came out in November, but it's more appropriate to post it this week. OnlyLeigh did this mash-up between A Charlie Brown Christmas and Stranger Things.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Book Review: Extreme Makeover by Dan Wells

Pros: great characters, terrifying premise, thought-provoking


Lyle Fontanelle is the head chemist at NewYew. His newest experimental product is an anti-aging cream developed from research conducted on burn victims. But the most recent test group starts showing strange side effects, which show alternate potential uses for the cream. Uses that could destroy the world.

Each chapter header of the book mentions a time and a place and the number of days until the end of the world. This is a slow apocalypse. It’s a story of an experiment that goes wrong - much like Dr. Jeckyll’s experiment - which is then exploited by one person after another until there’s no going back.

The book questions aspects of corporate greed, personal identity, having a purpose in life, and more.

There’s a variety of characters, though most of the book is told through Lyle’s point of view. He’s coasting through life, socially awkward, not well liked, doing work he enjoys but isn’t entirely comfortable with how the company plans to use his new product. He goes through some actual growth as the story progresses, examining his previous actions and personality in the face of what his cream has done to the world. I was surprised by who he becomes by the end of the book. Susan, his intern, also goes through a series of changes, becoming someone completely different as well. Outside those two, character motivations predominately circle around greed and power in some form or another. As the stakes increase, so do their tactics. 

Things progress in a realistic way given the premise. Each decision compounds the previous ones, making things ten times worse. It’s a train wreck that’s impossible to look away from - and a quick read as a result.

There’s a surprising undercurrent of humour considering it’s detailing the end of the world. It’s black humour, to be sure, but it had me laughing out loud at points.

This is a brilliant book if you like novels detailing soft apocalypses or plagues.

Friday 16 December 2016

3D Paper Crafts

I've recently gotten into 3D paper buildings and whatnot. One site I encountered looking for patterns is Papermau. Papermau has original designs but also aggregates 3D designs found elsewhere. Some of the links are old and no longer work. As always when dealing with the interent, be careful before downloading anything. Papermau uses Adfly and Depositfiles for their personal design downloads, which have a lot of adds and confusing download options. I've not had any malware issues so far, but be smart and be careful.

The top of the page has some general categories, if you want more specific searches (for specific model scales and categories) scroll down pretty far on the right.

Some of the models are hand drawn, others computer generated. Some are black and white prints, others full colour. The quality varies, but there's some good stuff there, depending on what you're looking for.

Most of the files are full colour prints, which aren't as good for what I'm looking for, but if you play D&D and want some models... this site's got you covered. There are several castle builds, churches, medieval villages and towns, knights, pavilions, a trebuchet, etc.

Here's a pattern for a Joker paper doll.

There are a ton of other interesting patterns: old mini arcade games, Japanese armour and castle, a celestial globe. There are robots, anime figures, SF character and ship models. It's an amazing collection.

If you want some amazingly detailed and realistic models, check out this site.

Thursday 15 December 2016

Shout-Out: Archangel by Marguerite Reed

The Earth is dying, and our hopes are pinned on Ubastis, an untamed paradise at the edge of colonized space. But such an influx of people threatens the planet's unstudied ecosystem - a tenuous research colony must complete its analysis, lest humanity abandon one planet only to die on another.The Ubasti colonists barely get by on their own. To acquire the tools they need, they are relegated to selling whatever they can to outside investors. For xenobiologist Vashti Loren, this means bringing Offworlders on safari to hunt the specimens she and her fellow biologists so desperately need to study.Haunted by the violent death of her husband, the heroic and celebrated Lasse Undset, Vashti must balance the needs of Ubastis against the swelling crush of settlers. Vashti struggles in her role as one of the few colonists licensed to carry deadly weapons, just as she struggles with her history of using them. And when she discovers a genetically engineered soldier smuggled onto the surface, Vashti must face the nightmare of her husband's murder all over again. Standing at the threshold of humanity's greatest hope, she alone understands the darkness of guarding paradise.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Video: Auralnauts Star Wars Saga

This is a series of NSFW Star Wars dubs by Arualnauts where the Jedi are all dance partying drug addicts.  They started with the prequels and recently released the Empire Strikes Back film. The first film's abut 15 minutes long, but they get a lot longer as the series progresses. In addition to being hilarious, they also tell a rather different story from the originals, so you need to watch them all and in order to understand all the 'in' jokes. My favourite bit is C3P0 trying to bring about the singularity. :D

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Book Review: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Pros: lyrical writing, thought provoking, evocative


Imogen is a writer while her younger sister Marin is a ballet dancer. Their mother supported Marin’s beauty and talent, as they reflected positively on her. She denounced Imogen’s storytelling as lies, punishing her as necessary. Imogen escaped but had to leave her sister behind. They grew up. This is the fairytale of two sisters, coming together after a decade apart, to work on their arts in an artist’s colony where things aren’t as they appear. 

I loved this book. It resonated with me on so many levels. Howard captures the hard work, the fear, the loneliness, the exhilaration of being an artist, believing in yourself one moment while wondering if you’re good enough the next. She also captures the emotional turmoil of a broken family: the guilt, the attempts to reconcile the truth you know from the truth others believe, protecting yourself from harm while constantly dreading the next attack - whether physical or verbal. 

The book is so lyrically written, it’s prose is beautiful, and often heart-wrenching. The snippets of Imogen’s stories that retell her childhood are so sad and yet so hopeful as well. The descriptions are vivid and lush, easy to picture and viscerally present as events progress.

I loved the characters and the hints of what’s happening at Melete, the campus where they’re studying. Everything felt real. The characters impacted each others lives in ways it was hard to imagine when the novel started. Though I thought there were times when Imogen should have been more honest and open with her sister, I can understand why such intimacy was difficult for them, given their upbringing and past.

This is a brilliant book and I can’t recommend it enough.

*** SPOILERS ***

I considered making this a con, but there was no way to mention it without spoilers and I’m not really sure it detracted from the book at all. I wondered, at the end, about the magic Gavin has, that saying something makes it true. He was afraid Marin would die, but she kind of points out - without really pointing it out - that had he (and by extension Imogen) believed in her surviving and succeeding in the fae realm, then his magic would have made that belief truth instead. 

Friday 9 December 2016

Popin' Cookin' Fun Cakes

I did one of these Japanese candy kits several months ago, so figured it was time to do another one. Looking at the pictures I thought it was an ice cream one, but the text says 'fun cakes' so...

Here's the box and what's inside. You get a place to mix the strawberry and vanilla flavours, along with the icing bag, spoon, and a breakaway piece of plastic for measuring water. You also get a few different wafers to make the 'cakes'.

Here they are, in all their glory. :D

They looked great, but the taste was... unique. Not as sugary as the other kit I did. The icing (?) had a thick paste texture and not much flavour. Ah well. The little treats were fun to make. :D

Thursday 8 December 2016

Shout-Out: Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan

The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning-no-at the end-she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. 
Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn't seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

This is the story of a woman's struggle against her very existence, an epic tale of the adventure and emotional upheaval on the way to face an ancient enigmatic foe. This could only have been spun from the imagination of Marie Brennan, award-winning author and beloved fantasist, beginning a new series about the consequences of war-and of fate.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Video: 3D Jelly Cake

I saw this on facebook and had to pass it on. It's pretty amazing and shows how creative humans are. It would be cool to learn how this is done. Humans have so many different - and fascinating - hobbies. It's a shame more of them don't show up in SFF novels.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Book Review: The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

Pros: wonderful characters, emotionally touching scenes, romantic elements, fast paced

cons: not much world-building

Toby is a 16 year old defective. Weeks ago a black van picked him up at home and deposited him at what he and the other kids call the Death House. They’ll live here until their bodies break down and they’re taken upstairs to the sanitarium from which none return. The atmosphere in the house changes when two new kids arrive.

I started this book thinking it was a horror novel. It’s not. There are minor SF elements, in that you slowly learn that it’s a future after which humanity has recovered from a pandemic. Unfortunately the characters don’t know much more than that, and so can’t pass on any more detailed information about the history of the pandemic or what makes the kids defective genes dangerous (beyond the fact that they get sick). The lack of details on this account was my only complaint with the book. 

The characters are all wonderful. There are a number of dynamics at play: what room you’re assigned to, the age of the kids, religious beliefs, fear factor, etc. I enjoyed the complexities of the various relationships and Toby realizing the undertones of why people act the way they do. He grows as a character as the book progresses, realizing his own motivations as well as the motivations of those around him. 

Clara’s wonderful too, with a zest for life, relishing her freedom from overbearing parents despite being sent to the place where she’s going to die. I really enjoyed watching her entrance change how things work in the house.

There’s a dread about the book - obviously considering the plot - but it’s not all dread. There are moments of joy and moments of peace. I thought the author did a great job of varying the events to keep me guessing about what would happen next.

There were some truly touching scenes and I thought the romance progresses naturally given the circumstances. 

The book is a very quick read that had me in tears at the end.

Friday 2 December 2016

Video: Globe Making

This 1955 video posted by British Pathe explains how globes are made by hand. It's quite interesting and a surprising amount of work.

Thursday 1 December 2016

Shout-Out: Grave Predictions Edited by Drew Ford

These compelling visions of post-apocalyptic societies and dystopian worlds include short stories by some of the most acclaimed authors of our time. Among the noteworthy contributors and their works are Stephen King's "The End of the Whole Mess," "The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke's "No Morning After."
The first-ever apocalyptic fantasy about global warming, "The End of the World," appears here, in translation from Eugene Mouton's 1872 French-language original. "The Pretence," by Ramsey Campbell, questions the nature and structure of everyday life in the aftermath of a doomsday prediction. In addition, thought-provoking stories by Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Greg Bear, Erica L. Satifka, and others offer an end-of-the-world extravaganza for fans of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Books Received in November 2016

As always, many thanks to the publishers and authors who send me books for review.

Dark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood by Lara Parker - While I remember watching Dark Shadows as a child, I don't remember anything about the show beyond the fact that there was a vampire in it.
Dark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood is the continuing the story of the classic TV show, Dark Shadows by series star, Lara Parker.

“My name is Victoria Winters, and my journey continues . . . .”

An orphan with no knowledge of her origins, Victoria Winters first came to the great house of Collinwood as a Governess. It didn’t take long for the Collins family’s many buried secrets, haunted history, and rivalries with evil forces to catch up to Victoria and cast the newcomer adrift in time, trapped between life and death.
At last returned to the present, Victoria is called back to Collinwood by a mysterious letter. Hoping to fill in the gaps of her memories by meeting with the people who knew her best, Victoria returns to the aging mansion. However, she soon discovers that the entire Collins family is missing―except for Barnabas Collins, a vampire whose own dark curse is well known. Victoria discovers that she has been named sole heir to the estate, if only she can prove her own identity.

Beset by danger and dire warnings, Victoria must discover what dread fate has befallen Collinwood, even as she finally uncovers a shocking truth long hidden in the shadows . . .
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas manga by Jun Asuka - I've already reviewed this in PDF form (so I couldn't comment on the hardcover format).
Manga publishing pioneer TOKYOPOP brings you a special edition gorgeous hardcover manga based on the classic Halloween masterpiece Disney Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. A must-have for manga fans, Tim Burton fans, and Halloween fans alike!! Collect this horrifying masterpiece!

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Book Review: Disney Manga Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

Manga by Jun Asuka

Pros: great artwork, good condensing of the story, one scene is moved creating more tension

Cons: abrupt opening, inclusion of lyrics makes for disjointed storytelling

Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, is tired of his job. When he stumbles across a doorway to another holiday land, he comes up with a plan to take over Christmas.

This is a manga version of the Disney film The Nightmare Before Christmas, based on Tim Burton’s children’s story of the same name. It follows the film exactly, even going so far as to reproduce song lyrics and dialogue verbatim.

I enjoyed the stylized manga artwork. The characters had a vibrancy and motion to them.

The story is condensed well, keeping the essentials but not including everything. One scene towards the end was moved to a different place, creating significantly more tension than that scene has in the film.

The opening is quite abrupt, starting with the line about discovering where holidays come from rather than the lead in lines the movie has.

Unfortunately the inclusion of lyrics made some dialogue and narration feel clunky and disjointed. There’s unnecessary repetition in some scenes, while others have phrases that go nowhere. The scene where Lock, Shock, and Barrel discuss plans for kidnapping Sandy Claws goes like this: 
“I heard he has razor sharp claws!”
“We’ll kidnap Mr. Sandy Claws!”
First we’re going to set some bait.
“I can’t wait to see how scary he is.”
“But you know… Mr. Oogie Boogie Might be even scarier.” 
In the film, the bait line in the song is followed by the rest of the plan to use the bait to catch Santa. Here, it’s mentioned but not referred to again, making it feel out of place. The end of the comic has fewer song lyrics, and the storytelling becomes more coherent. Instead of forcing one or two lyric lines into the text and explaining what the missing lyrics would have, the writer was able to simply tell a good story. 

Despite my annoyance with the text at times, it is a good physical rendition of the film, for those who love it.

Monday 28 November 2016

Shout-Out: The Jakkattu Vector by P.K. Tyler

They came as saviors to a deteriorating Earth

Julip Thorne questions whether there is more to life beyond the barren dirt, acidic seas, and toxstorms her people work and die in. Living in poverty on the withering Greenland Human Reservation, she wonders if the alien Mezna goddesses are truly as holy as the temple preaches. Julip begins to dig deeper into the history of the planet and her leaders’ rise to power. But nothing can prepare her for the atrocities she uncovers.

Meanwhile, Jakkattu prisoner Sabaal suffers constant torture and heinous medical experiments as her Mezna-priest captors seek to unlock the key to her genetic makeup. Escaping from captivity, she finds herself suddenly alone on the hostile alien planet of Earth. To survive, she’s forced to work with the same Mezna-human hybrids she’s loathed her entire life, but the more they work together, the more they realize that their enemy is the same.

When humans and Mezna collide, will Sabaal turn out to be the genetic vector the Mezna have been searching for all along, or will she spark the flame that sets a revolution ablaze?

Thursday 24 November 2016

Shout-Out: Binary Storm by Christopher Hinz

Near the end of the 21st century, Earth is in chaos from environmental devastation and a vicious undeclared war against binaries, genetically engineered assassins. Composed of a single consciousness inhabiting two human bodies (tways), binaries are ruled by an alpha breed, the Royal Caste.
Nick Smith, computer programmer and brilliant strategist, hooks up with Annabel Bakana, the savvy new director of E-Tech, an organization dedicated to limiting runaway technological growth. Together both romantically and professionally, they secretly assemble a small combat team to hunt and kill binaries.
But there's a fly in the ointment, the mysterious team leader, Gillian. A tormented soul with an unseemly attraction to Annabel, his actions just might help the Royal Caste's cause and draw the world closer to Armageddon.
Serving as both a stand-alone novel and prequel to Liege-Killer, Binary Storm is a futuristic tale of bold characters pushed to the brink in a dangerous world. Startling action, political intrigue and powerful themes that echo our contemporary era are fused into a plot brimming with twists and surprises.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Video: Shelter

This is a beautiful anime inspired, post-apocalyptic story by Porter Robinson.

Shelter tells the story of Rin, a 17-year-old girl who lives her life inside of a futuristic simulation completely by herself in infinite, beautiful loneliness. Each day, Rin awakens in virtual reality and uses a tablet which controls the simulation to create a new, different, beautiful world for herself. Until one day, everything changes, and Rin comes to learn the true origins behind her life inside a simulation.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Book Review: Out of the Waters by David Drake

Pros: great characters, several interconnected stories

Cons: slow 

During the mime of Hercules commissioned by Senator Saxa to commemorate his becoming Consul, the special effects suddenly become much better. While the Senator and many in the audience believe the vision they’re seeing is manufactured, Saxa’s children, Varus and Alphena, his third wife Hedia, and Varus’s friend Corylus know it’s a real representation of danger facing their city of Carce.

This is the second Book of the Elements novel, taking place only a short time after the events of book one. While it’s not necessary to have read the first book - enough background is given to bring you up to speed - it is worth it. 

Once again I loved the characters and how they interact in this not quite historical Roman empire. Hedia is unable to use her sexuality and poise to advantage when when naked and capture by enemies who don’t care about her rank, but that doesn’t stop her. Her determination is admirable, as is her ability to manipulate those around her. Alphena’s story showed more personal growth, which was great to see. She’s learning that her unbridled anger and petulance aren’t as powerful as Hedia’s weapons, and so tries to emulate her stepmother. Varus shows some growth as well, becoming more self-aware as his powers grow.  

Several of the characters again find themselves in alternate worlds, a device that arranges for them to be at the right place at the right time.

I enjoyed the various storylines that formed the plot, and how each principle character played an important role in the ending. I did find the story quite slow though, especially the opening which involved a fair amount of exposition.

The ending surprised me a bit in terms of how unsympathetic the principles were to the Atlantean’s plight. But we’re shown so little of them, and what we see is negative, which I guess is meant to excuse the violence.

As with the first book the historical setting is great with some wonderful protagonists. While the story is slow, it has a satisfying ending.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Shout-Out: The Enemy Within by Scott Burn

Seventeen-year-old Max has always felt like an outsider. When the agonizing apocalyptic visions begin, he decides suicide is his only escape. He soon finds himself in an institution under the guidance of a therapist who sees something exceptional in him. Just as he begins to leave the hallucinations behind, Max discovers the visions weren't just in his head. 
There are three others who have shared those same thoughts and they've been searching for Max. Like him, they are something more than human. Each of them possesses certain abilities, which they're going to need when a covert military group begins hunting them down. 
As the danger escalates, Max doesn’t know which side to trust. But in the end, his choice will decide the fate of both species.

Friday 18 November 2016

Stamps: Globes


I'm not sure why, but I love old maps and globes, like the ones on the stamps above. My husband pointed out that with all the constant political changes, a globe is obsolete the moment it's produced, but there's still something special about a globe that's a few hundred years old. 

I really like celestial globes too, the ones that try to capture the night sky in globe form (despite the fact that it's obviously not a globe). As a slightly more honest representation, the Louvre has a terrestrial globe that was stored in a round case, with the stars and constellations marked on the inside.

I'd love to own a globe like that. :)

Thursday 17 November 2016

Shout-Out: Eden Green by Fiona Van Dahl

In a single drop of contaminated blood, there writhe millions of needle-shaped cells. When introduced to a host, they spread — healing wounds, replenishing fluids, patching bone. The host becomes unstoppable; even complete destruction of its brain isn’t necessarily the end. All their cells are gradually replaced, enhanced. Eden Green is the third human to see the needles in action, after her best friend Veronica accepts them without thinking. Patient Zero is Tedrin, a shady manipulator who offers the corruption as a path to immortality. Only Eden, a rationalist by nature, questions Tedrin’s motives; she can’t help imagining an eternity as a human weapon trapped in a body made of needles. Armed with reason, humor, and a shotgun, she sets out to learn as much as she can about the parasite — and how to save her sanity, Veronica, and the world.
Warning: Contains body horror, contamination, implied eternal suffering, gun use, needles, and spiders.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Global Launch for Apple Inkitt app

Edited Jan 2017 to add - the app is now available on android devices as well.

Inkitt is a website where you can upload your novel and/or read others' novels. There's basic quality control (it can take up to 24 hours for a novel to show up on the site) for formatting and grammar. Then they use an algorithm that "analyze[s] reading pattern data and engagement levels" to decide if they'll offer you a publishing contract (they can publish it as an ebook themselves (you get 50% royalties) or act as your agent with traditional publishers (you get 85% of royalties - keeping in mind that a publishing contract for a mass market book usually gives royalties of 7-10%, so you'd get 85% of that. This sounds like they're taking the traditional agent commission of 15%, but I suck at math and may be missing something. Always consider your options and do your research before signing a contract)).

Today the company is launching their iOS app for Inkitt, so you'll be able to read and comment on others' stories on the go with an Apple device (iPhone or iPad), as well as have people read and comment on your uploaded novel.

I haven't used their service - I have too much to read as it is, and for review purposes it's better to use published novels (as unpublished novels might change before publication, invalidating your work) - though I'd have loved this idea back when I was writing instead of reviewing books. I also think it's a great option for commuters who get through books quickly and want to beta read books.

Here's a video showing off the new app and the app store link if you're interested. The app and books are free, though you do need to get an account.

Introducing Inkitt for iOS: Read great novels by up-and-coming authors on your iPhone and iPad from Inkitt - The Hipster's Library on Vimeo

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Book Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Pros: great world-building, complex characters

Cons: hard to agree with protagonist’s decision

A disease targeted at pregnant women causes horror and despondence. Sixteen year old Jessie Lamb finds purpose in one of the schemes to save the future.

The book alternates between a week where Jessie is locked up in the present and what in the past brought her to this point. It’s interesting trying to figure out how the world has changed due to the disease, but also to understand who locked her up and why.

Jessie is a teen trying to find her place in a world that’s quickly falling apart. She has a strong feeling that her self-sacrifice can save the world, regardless of how much evidence to the contrary her parents raise.

While I liked her as a character, as an adult who remembers similar feelings as a teen, and who lived past that fatalistic period of her life, I know her parents are right and that even a year could bring important break throughs that would make her sacrifice unnecessary. The second half of the book was agony to read, as I knew what Jessie was going to do and was horrified by her decision. I kept thinking that she’s made this decision and will not be the one around to face the consequences of it. But she believed and insisted that everyone around her - who would have to live with the aftermath - should be happy about what she’s doing, even though they all tell her they are horrified by what she’s doing and ask her not to do it.

I also kept wondering why, when IVF treatment can easily be used for multiple births, the doctors would use these young women’s lives for single births. Maybe the fear was that multiple births would be more likely to fail, but a one to one ratio won’t solve any problems, and just reduces the already problematically low numbers of young women.

The characters on the whole were complex, reacting to what’s happened in different ways based on their personalities. I liked how Jessie’s relationships changed over time. I also liked how nuanced her parents’ marriage was.

The world-building was excellent, showing how society slowly starts falling apart, how men and women of different ages and relationships handle the death of so many women and the knowledge that becoming pregnant is a death sentence.

While I didn’t like the ending and Jessie started to drive me nuts, it was an interesting novel.


Something that occurred to me after I’d finished the book was that Jessie was determined in her sacrifice because of her father’s story of willing human sacrifices in the past, that they were treated as heroes and helped their societies. Once he knew what she planned, he should have explained that though those societies believed throwing a woman into a volcano (or whatever) saved them, it didn’t actually do anything. Those deaths didn’t help the world beyond keeping some people in power and convincing their societies that they had appeased gods, etc. But the volcano would still erupt if conditions were right. Weather patterns weren’t changed, crops weren’t any better. Similarly, her single sacrifice - and the child (should it survive) wouldn’t really make a difference to the larger picture, while her life might have made a real difference.  

I was also annoyed that the book ended on a positive note, as if everything would be happy and rosy after Jessie’s gone. While I’m not sure if her parents would agree to raise her child, I’m quite certain they’d divorce because of her decision. Their relationship was already rocky and her mum could point to her dad and say - correctly to some extent - that Jessie’s decision was his fault. I’m also not convinced that her sacrifice had any greater meaning. I believe her dad was right in thinking that a year could make a huge difference in terms of finding a cure/other solution to their problems (especially with regards to artificial wombs). Her parents would also have to contend with people accusing them of forcing their daughter to do this - and you know that’s coming - despite Jessie’s testament to the contrary. Because Jessie doesn’t actually explain why she’s doing it beyond that she feels it’s her destiny. 

Along the same lines, we’re told that society is doomed because there’s a year or two without births, how will it recover if all their young women kill themselves in some way or another? 

Friday 11 November 2016

Video: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Teaser Trailer

They're calling this a teaser, but it's a real trailer. And it looks pretty amazing. The film is based on the Valerian and Laureline comics by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, begun in 1967.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Shout-Out: The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello

A chilling curse is transported from 1880s London to present-day California, awakening a long-dormant fiend.
While on routine patrol in the tinder-dry Topanga Canyon, environmental scientist Rafael Salazar expects to find animal poachers, not a dilapidated antique steamer trunk. Inside the peculiar case, he discovers a journal, written by the renowned Robert Louis Stevenson, which divulges ominous particulars about his creation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It also promises to reveal a terrible secret—the identity of Jack the Ripper.
Unfortunately, the journal—whose macabre tale unfolds in an alternating narrative with Rafe’s—isn’t the only relic in the trunk, and Rafe isn’t the only one to purloin a souvenir. A mysterious flask containing the last drops of the grisly potion that inspired Jekyll and Hyde and spawned London’s most infamous killer has gone missing. And it has definitely fallen into the wrong hands.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Kickstarter: Daedalus video game

I got an email this morning about a kickstarter SF game Daedalus. I'm still reeling from the results of the US election (no, I'm not American, but this election effects the world). This morning I woke up feeling lost in a dystopian future I never expected to be a part of...

Anyway, on to the game. It's a Telltale style quick time event game detailing the final month of an orbital exploration crew's tour when things start to go wrong.

Here's a proper synopsis from their kickstarter page:

The game takes place in the hard sci-fi After Reset™ universe. In the 22nd century, several years before the "Reset" (a thermonuclear apocalypse that nearly ended human civilization), the crew aboard the Daedalus Space Station is eager to return home from a yearlong orbital exploration of Venus and Sun. Only thirty days remain until the next crew rotation, but Matt Cramer, an astronaut from the crew, begins to has unnatural dreams full of horrors that are about to become a reality.
Yet as the days count down to zero, strange events begin to unfold. Crewmates succumb to accidents or rumors of murder, communications go dark, and everyone grows increasingly on edge as conspiracy theories abound. Though help is on its way, you must survive long enough for it to arrive.

The kickstarter is to fund the first episode, though some of the rewards are for season passes. They mention in the rewards that it will be available for PC, Mac, and Linox via Steam and Gog.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Book Review: Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie Sorensen

Pros: interesting characters, good ending

Cons: advances are made ridiculously fast, some continuity errors, gets boring at times

After spending two years in America, Toru returns to Japan, defying the Shogun’s law of isolation and the death penalty his return will earn him. He knows American ships will come, forcing the country to open its borders on their terms, unless Japan can innovate and show its strength in time.

Toru is a great protagonist, deeply in love with his homeland but also an admirer of the technology and people he met in America. He straddles a difficult line as a commoner advising a Lord, trying to foster quick changes in a society that honours tradition.

I really liked Masuyo, Lord Aya’s feisty daughter. Her flaunting of custom on her father’s land was well contrasted by her embarrassment in front of other noble women, where she tried to fit society’s ideals. This accurately portrays the juxtapositions common in Japan today.

There were a lot of supporting characters, ranging from peasantry to Lords, many of whom had well defined personalities. While she’s negatively portrayed, I thought Lady Tomatsu was well done, snobbish and overly proud of her family name while married to a less powerful Lord. I liked that she had impeccable taste in food and clothing. I also thought she showed astute political sense, given her circumstances, though she makes a decision towards the end of the book that could have used more clarification as it seemed to go against her earlier personality.

The plot consists of Toru convincing people to build trains, telegraph machines, Babbage Difference Engines, airships, and more in order to face the American threat. While I can believe that some of what they accomplish is possible within a year, the sheer scope of their operations and how much they achieve - necessarily kept hidden from the Shogun and requiring parts to be ordered from overseas - is hard to believe. Masuyo, an admittedly intelligent and well-educated woman, somehow translates enough English (which she’s never seen before) and engineering data (for things she’s never heard of before) in less than a week to put together a list in one night of all thing parts the Japanese can manufacture themselves and others they’ll need to order so that they can start building trains, etc. right away. Despite the failure of engineers with more experience in France to build working airships, the Japanese manage to make one using dictionaries to translate the French and then improving on the designs, again, despite never having seen such schematics before or (I would guess) knowing the science behind them.

I also wondered how the smaller Lords Toru influences have enough money to finance the large - and expensive - projects. Added to this is how they believed they could keep what they were doing hidden from the Shogun. Given the sheer number of people involved and the obvious damage to the land, it seems unreasonable to believe the Shogun wasn’t aware of things from a very early point. 

For anyone looking for steampunk elements, there are airships towards the end of the book, and mention of submersibles, but not much else.

The inclusion of Japanese words and phrases for things helped keep the oriental flavour of the setting. In a few places the immediate translation felt awkward (as someone who knows a fair bit of Japanese), like ofuro bath (which basically mean the same thing). A handful of times the Japanese was left untranslated, which might trip up readers unfamiliar with the language. I personally had trouble figuring out the meaning behind the name of the first dirigible, which was commented on, but not translated (as far as I could determine).

There were some long sentences with awkward phrasing that I had to reread a few times in order to understand properly. I also noticed some continuity errors with regards to timing. One section began by saying it was the next morning and a character was preparing for a meeting, despite the fact that the meeting was to be in 3 days. Other times characters suddenly travelled weeks worth of distance in a few days (two characters were said to be at their homes but managed to be at least a 4 week journey away from their homes the next day). 

While I founds parts of the story a bit tedious, it’s basically set-up for future books where the divergence from history becomes more stark. There’s an author note at the end of the book explaining how this book compares to history (while the tech advance is all added, the meeting with Commodore Perry at the end and the difficulties between the Shogun and his Lords was cribbed from history). Following books are meant to diverge more, showing Japan in a position of power as its borders open.

While it’s not a perfect book, it was an interesting look at an interesting time (imagined as parts of it were) of Japanese history. The author’s familiarity with the language and customs (and gestures) shows through.


Lady Tomatsu’s decision to leave Edo during Masuyo’s rescue confused me. She’d repudiated her husband in an effort to retain her lands for their son. The author didn’t make it clear that this only worked so long as her husband returned for his execution. Since he decided not to return, she and their son would be execution in his stead. This confused me until I figured out that the situation had changed between when Lady Tomatsu urged Masuyo to repudiate her father, thinking their menfolk dead, and the time of Lady Tomatsu’s rescue.

The travellers alluded to in my time error above are Lords Aya and Tomatsu, who are supposed to be prepping their lands for their upcoming execution, but turn up at Lord Date’s home the day after Toru and co escape from Edo. Another time error involved the date of the execution. It’s 3 weeks away, but somehow Commodore Perry spends a month or more in the South of Japan before the date arrives.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Shout-Out: Crosstalk by Connie Willis

In the not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage. And Briddey Flannigan is delighted when her boyfriend, Trent, suggests undergoing the operation prior to a marriage proposal—to enjoy better emotional connection and a perfect relationship with complete communication and understanding. But things don’t quite work out as planned, and Briddey finds herself connected to someone else entirely—in a way far beyond what she signed up for.
It is almost more than she can handle—especially when the stress of managing her all-too-eager-to-communicate-at-all-times family is already burdening her brain. But that’s only the beginning. As things go from bad to worse, she begins to see the dark side of too much information, and to realize love—and communication—are far more complicated than she ever imagined.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Shout-Out: The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

It is expected to be an excursion like any other. There is nothing in the records to indicate that anything out of the ordinary will happen.
A bus will take them to the mall. They will have an hour or so to look around. Perhaps buy something, or try the food.
A minor traffic incident on the way back to the resort will provide some additional interest - but the tour rep has no reason to expect any trouble.
Until he notices that one of his party is missing.
Most disturbingly, she is a woman who, according to the records, did not go missing.
Now she is a woman whose disappearance could change the world.
With breathtaking plot twists that ricochet through time, this is the most original conspiracy thriller you will read this year.

Video: Doctor Stranger Things

This is a fantastically done mash-up of Doctor Strange and Stranger Things by Primr.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Shame written by Lovern Kindzierski and illustrated by John Bolton

Pros: lush artwork, bonus features

Cons: nudity started to feel excessive

When the white witch Virtue makes a selfish wish for a child, the demon Slur grants that wish. He taunts her that their daughter, Shame, will be a tool of evil. To prevent Shame from damaging the world, Virtue contains her in a forest grove. But evil cannot be contained. 

Shame is comprised of three comics: Conception, Pursuit, and Redemption. There’s a forward by Colleen Doran, a preface by Lovern Kindzierski, and a preview of the next comic in the series, Tales of Hope. It also contains a discussion about Shame between Lovern Kindzierski, John Bolton, and Alexander Finbow (publisher and editor in chief of Renegade Arts Entertainment) that includes some concept and finished artwork, the original outline for the Shame graphic novel, and some panel description to finished copy artwork stills. 

Graphic novel artwork can be hit or miss for me. John Bolton’s artwork is lush and descriptive. It is done in photorealistic watercolours and form a mix of gorgeous and grotesque. When the artwork aims for beautiful it’s stunning. When it doesn’t, there are hideous, misshapen creatures. I really liked the artwork around the young Virtue in book 2, and a lot of Shame’s medieval outfits in book 3. Personally I’m not so keen on the grotesque side of art, and so many panels were not to my liking. Virtue’s old form, for example, is the unattractive, warty witch from traditional fairytales.

There’s a fair amount of nudity, as fits the adult nature of this fairytale. Some of it felt warranted, like the nymphs, though at times it started to feel gratuitous, as when nipples were visible through opaque cloth. Having said that, there is no sexual violence or gratuitous sex depicted.

I’d expected the plot to have a more Pandora’s Box feel, showing how the world changed when shame was introduced to it, but that’s not what happened. It’s a clear cut story of evil versus good, where true evil cannot be redeemed, and pure good cannot be corrupted. Only a man of fate, standing between them, has the ability to choose which side to join, and thereby change the outcome. 

Slur and his minions are quite terrifying in execution. Their guiding of Shame down the dark path is chilling.

As someone who doesn’t believe in original sin or that the sins of the parents damn their children, I was surprised that Virtue simply left the child and didn’t even try to prevent her corruption (though the assumption is that Shame is automatically corrupt, I would argue that the fact that she wonders why her mother abandoned her shows she could have turned another way).

It’s an interesting story with a unique art style.

Monday 31 October 2016

Books Received in October 2016


Many thanks as always to the publishers and authors who send me books. This is what I received this month:

Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie Sorensen - I'm part way through this and enjoying it so far.

Revolutionary young samurai with dirigibles take on Commodore Perry and his Black Ships in this alternate history steampunk technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan. In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures, growing ever more demanding. Toru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by American traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Toru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come. Toru: Wayfarer Returns is an alternate history steampunk technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan and is the first book in the Sakura Steam Series, an alternate history of the tumultuous period from the opening of Japan in 1853 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Readers who enjoy steampunk alternate histories more typically set in Victorian England or the American Wild West may enjoy this steampunk story made fresh by the Japanese samurai setting, as well as readers who enjoy historical fiction set in Japan.

Shame written by Lovern Kindzierski and illustrated by John Bolton - This is a mature graphic novel told through photorealistic watercolours. Review tomorrow.

Collecting all three books in this acclaimed trilogy for the first time. When the purest woman on earth allows herself one selfish thought, it is enough to conceive the most evil woman the world has ever seen. The classic fantasy of good versus evil, mother versus daughter, as Virtue gets the daughter she wished for, Shame, and has to deal with the consequences of releasing this powerful woman to a world ill prepared for her campaign of evil. Also includes the first 10 pages of the first book in the Tales of Hope trilogy, John Bolton's original pencil layouts for the books, an interview with both Lovern and John about the trilogy, and additional background material.

Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson - This is the second Willful Child novel. I have to admit, I tried the first one and found the humour too low brow for my tastes.

From New York Times bestselling author Steven Erikson comes Willful Child: Wrath of Betty, a new Science Fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous, and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space. 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.

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen series 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 Science Fiction novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.
The Dreaming Hunt by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin - The second book in a fantasy adventure series.

In Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin's The Sleeping King our intrepid adventurers found the imprisoned echo of a long lost king on the Dream Plane. He told them how to wake him in the mortal realm: find his lost regalia--crown, ring, sword, shield, and bow--and rejoin them with his sleeping body.
In The Dreaming Hunt, the heroes begin their quest. But they've caught the attention of powerful forces determined to stop them. Worse, their visit to the Dream Plane has unleashed chaos, and the fight is spilling over into the mortal realm.
They frantically outrun old enemies and pick up new ones: imperial hunters, a secret cabal of mages, a criminal league, and a changeling army. Are they just pawns in larger political dramas, or are they crystallizing into the nucleus of a rebellion? Can they find the regalia necessary to wake the Sleeping King before they are utterly destroyed?