Thursday 30 June 2016

Shout-Out: Seneca Rebel by Rayya Deeb

What if your one chance to change the world means you have to leave everything you love behind?

In the not-too-distant future, math genius Doro Campbell is introduced to the Seneca Society: a secretive, technologically-advanced subterranean utopia dedicated to inventing and perfecting the most effective ways to benefit our planet.

But there’s a hitch. Like all that have come before her, Doro is given the ultimatum: Stay in Seneca forever, or leave now with no memory of the place, its goals, and its inhabitants.

She stays.

Her ideals are shattered when, together with biotechnology whiz, Dominic Ambrosia, Doro uncovers profound deceptions beneath the surface of this all too-perfect community.

Will one teenage girl have what it takes to go up against swarms of drones, psychological manipulation and biological attacks, to uncover the truth and change the trajectory of the world?

Google Hangout with James Dashner - Tonight!

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Video: Building a Medieval Castle

This video by Great Big Story looks at the Guédelon castle construction project - to build a medieval castle using period tools and techniques.

It's a remarkable achievement.  I just wish it had easier public transit so as to be more accessible...

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Book Review: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Pros: great premise, interesting characters, mostly set in Hawaii, creative use of mythologies

Cons: drags a bit

Nix has lived her 16 years on the Temptation, sailing to any map - real or imagined - using her father’s special navigation abilities.  Slate is looking for a map that will allow them to travel back to the time just before the death of Nix’s mother. But Nix is afraid that saving her mother will un-write her own life. 

The characters are all somewhat conflicted in their desires. This makes them feel like real people, with their own hopes and fears, clashing with others.  I loved that the characters were all from different backgrounds too.  Nix is half Chines and half American, Kashmir is from a Persian map, etc. 

Hawaii before the American takeover is a fascinating setting, and I was impressed at how closely the author kept to the history of the period (as relayed in the author’s note).  it was also wonderful learning about some Hawaiian myths.  

The use of mythology was pretty clever.  I loved the premise of the book and how belief is the most important factor in how the ‘magic’ works.

I did find that the book dragged a bit.  When they first land in Hawaii it took a while for things to get going.

This is a fun book, with a unique perspective. 

Sunday 26 June 2016

Shout-Out: Steeplejack by A. J. Hartley

Thoughtfully imaginative and action-packed, Steeplejack is New York Times bestselling A. J. Hartley's YA debut set in a 19th-century South African fantasy world.

Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of the city of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside each other. The white Feldish command the nation's higher echelons of society. The native Mahweni are divided between city life and the savannah. And then there's Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated over generations ago as servants and now mostly live in poverty on Bar-Selehm's edges.

When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice Berrit, she finds him dead. That same night, the Beacon, an invaluable historical icon, is stolen. The Beacon's theft commands the headlines, yet no one seems to care about Berrit's murder-except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician. When he offers her a job investigating his death, she plunges headlong into new and unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, crowds gather in protests over the city's mounting troubles. Rumors surrounding the Beacon's theft grow. More suspicious deaths occur. With no one to help Ang except Josiah's haughty younger sister, a savvy newspaper girl, and a kindhearted herder, Ang must rely on her intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city descends into chaos.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Shout-Out: The Shadowed Path by Gail Martin

These are the untold tales of Jonmarc Vahanian, hero of Gail Z. Martin’s best-selling Chronicles of the Necromancer series.
Jonmarc Vahanian was just a blacksmith’s son in a small fishing village before raiders killed his family. Wounded and left for dead in the attack, Jonmarc tries to rebuild his life. But when a dangerous bargain with a shadowy stranger goes wrong, Jonmarc finds himself on the run, with nothing ahead but vengeance, and nothing behind him but blood.
Soldier. Fight slave. Smuggler. Warrior. Brigand lord. If you’ve met Jonmarc Vahanian in the Chronicles of the Necromancer and Fallen Kings Cycle books, you don’t really know him until you walk in his footsteps. This is the first segment of his journey.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Video: The Girl With All the Gifts Trailer

Loved this book and its unique take on zombies. Really looking forward to this film.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Book Review: Transgalactic by James Gunn

Pros: interesting new aliens, excellent world-building, utopic Earth

Cons: frustrating, somewhat boring, limited plot

Having gone through the transcendental machine, Riley and Asha find themselves separated, on far flung worlds. They must use their new skills to get back to Federation space and find each other.

This is very much a middle book, working specifically to get the two protagonists from one place to another. Along the way they each meet an important figure from their past - which was the most interesting part of the book, as those scenes touched on the events of the first book and brought one of the mysteries of that book forward.

The world-building is top notch, with several new alien races introduced.  Gunn’s aliens are all unique, and have histories as well as cultures.  Similarly, he extrapolates a future for Earth that encompasses AI protection, a future that has a lot of utopic qualities (though, naturally, not everyone is happy with the status quo).

Having said that, I personally found this book fairly boring. While the aliens Riley and Asha encounter are interesting, the first third of the book felt like it had no relevance to the rest of the story.  I also found the ending anti-climactic and confusing.

There’s a 2 page afterward that narrates some fascinating events that sound like they would have made for a very interesting novel, which I’m hoping play a big part in the next book.

There’s enough of interest here for me to at least check out the third book, as I am curious to learn what comes next. But I’m hoping it’s got more plot and less wandering than this book.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Shout-Out: Stranger King by Nadia Hutton

They came. They conquered. We few survived.

Lena Greenwood is known as a "Daywalker", a select type of mercenary who has adapted to working in the deadly radiation of post-war British Columbia, Canada. When her city is invaded by the Mokai, a hostile alien race, she and her company escape into the Canadian Rockies. Her last hope is to survive the harsh realities of a shattered world while the rest of humanity is culled or enslaved.

Thegn, a Mokai priest and a representative of the inter-species council who sanctions the Mokai, is captured and held hostage by a still free group of humans hiding in the Canadian Rockies. It is his task to document and study the human species who he believes is sentient and worth protecting. When his interactions with the humans bring to light similarities Thegn must face the reality that to save those he learns to love he may have to go against everything he once believed.

Stranger King is a story of love and conquest, of the patterns that emerge through the passions of love and war. It is the story of survival.

Friday 17 June 2016

Making Lego Gummies

There are several videos and recipes for making Lego gummies.  I saw them and really wanted to make these. So I bought the supplies, including 3 moulds from ebay. 

I didn't want my candies to be gummies though.  I wanted a cross between jello and gummies - solid enough so they wouldn't fall apart when picked up, but easy to chew.  So instead of using 1 package of flavoured gelatin + 2 packages of unflavoured gelatin, as most recipes state, I used a 1 to 1 ratio.  I 

My results weren't perfect - I had some trouble getting them out of the moulds without losing corners and whatnot, so you may want to tweak this somewhat.

1 flavoured gelatin package (I used Jell-o, and No Name brands)
1 unflavored gelatin package (knox)
1 cup cold water
(some recipes add corn syrup as a sweetener, but I find the flavoured gelatin is sweet enough; others add crushed vitamin C tablets, which is supposed to make the candies tart and healthier)

- mix the ingredients into a small pot.  It's important that the water be cold or it will clump.
- lightly grease the moulds so the candies come out easier (they'll stick if you don't grease them, but don't use too much oil or you'll have to wash the candies off)
- boil the liquid so the gelatin dissolves.
- pour the liquid into the moulds (I alternated using a small measuring cup and a squeeze bottle.  The bottle is more exact, getting into smaller places and avoiding spills, but you've got to let the liquid cool a bit before using it.  After a while I just used the measuring cup, as it was easy enough and required less effort/clean-up.)
- cool (you want them to harden properly, so don't rush this step. If you put them in the fridge they'll harden faster. I found that putting them in the freezer for 5-15 minutes at the end helped me remove them better from the moulds)

It's a time consuming activity, especially if you're doing multiple colours.  One batch of liquid perfectly filled my 3 moulds, but if you've only got one mould, factor in the extra remelting and cooling times.

One of the 'how to' videos mentioned getting cloudy candies and reboiling the liquid after letting it harden and cutting off the foam.  I didn't have any problems with foam, and while I did get a few bubbles, tap the moulds once they're filled and/or use a tooth pick to pop any bubbles.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Shout-Out: Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black

We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it—until we discovered we could wield the power too.
Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.
But the enemy’s tactics are changing, and Earth’s defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.
Coming September 6th.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Video: Epic Unboxing

Rocketjump has created this awesome Epic Unboxing video. This youtuber’s just scored some epic loot, but watch out for the finale (some gore). Be sure to watch the credits, for more unboxing goodness.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Pros: wonderful concept, interesting world, fun characters

Cons: minor quibbles

Irene works for the Invisible Library, an edifice that stands outside of time and space, with access to numerous worlds, each with different levels of chaos and order, magic and technology.  Librarians enter theses different worlds and secure unique volumes of fiction in order to advance knowledge and prevent loss.  Irene and her new trainee, Kai, are sent to London in a magic-dominant alternate with a high chaos infestation to retrieve a particular Grimm manuscript.

When they arrive, they find the manuscript has been stolen, and numerous interested parties are looking for it.

While you don’t learn as much about the library in this book as I’d have liked, you do get some idea of how it and the librarians work.  The magic surrounding the Language is pretty cool.  The idea that words have power and names show truth is an old one, and used to advantage here.  I really liked the idea that there are factions in the library, and you can’t always be sure you’re being told everything you need to know before a mission.  

The world they’re sent to has an interesting mix of fae, vampires, and zeppelins.  I liked how magic effects how technology works, so that different worlds are forced to evolve in different ways.

The plot is pretty straight forward, with several mysteries introduced and events propelling the characters from one event to the next.  There’s enough downtime to get to know Irene and Kai a bit.  You don’t learn much backstory for them, the book stays pretty centered on the immediacy of the action.

I did find the antagonist a bit on the talkative side in a Bond villain kind of way.  I also thought Irene gets a bit too lucky with regards to leads on the case and the experimental use of the language.  Minor quibbles, though.

On the whole this was a fun romp with a great mystery that will keep you guessing about who you can trust and why everyone wants this book.  

Friday 10 June 2016

History Book Review: The History of Hell by Alice Turner

Pros: overview covers pre and post Christian ideas of Hell, several pages of colour illustrations

Cons: overview of some sections is cursory, no endnotes 

This is an interesting look at the development of the idea of an underworld, how it morphed through Christianity into a realm of punishment, and how that idea has evolved into the modern era.

The first few chapters give the barest explanations of mythologies that predate Christianity, but from which Christianity borrowed some ideas, and how they viewed the afterlife.  These chapters help show how ideas developed over time.  In some cases, like Egypt, from whose mythology Christianity borrowed quite heavily, more detailed information would have been appreciated. 

The middle focuses on the Christian development of Hell, which is fascinating.  Several pages of colour photographs help illustrate how the view of Hell changed over the centuries.

The end again covers aspects of history that don’t include Hell but show how other things, like philosophy and horror, began to replace the idea of a place of punishment after death.

Turner mentions several texts that deal with Hell, more influential ones, like Dante’s Inferno, in more detail than others. 

There are no endnotes which makes checking her sources for clarifying information difficult to impossible.  In the chapter on the Roman empire, for example, she states,  “Mithra also gave us… the Chi-Rho sign which Christians appropriated…” (p.36).  Considering that Cho and Rho are the first two letters in the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Kristos), it seems unlikely that it came from an outside source.  Perhaps she meant that the idea of using a symbol that practitioners could use identify each other and their place of worship came from the similarly underground cult of Mithras, but that’s not what her text explicitly states.  And with no endnote, it’s impossible to know which source she took the idea from or, if this was her own idea, why she believes this to be the case.   

While it didn’t go as in depth in some areas as I would have liked, on the whole this is an excellent primer on where the belief in Hell came from and why it had such a prominent place in religion for so long. 

Thursday 9 June 2016

Shout-Out: Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick

This is an older title that's being republished. Sounds fascinating.

Jane is trapped as a changeling in an industrialized Faerie ruled by aristocratic high elves and populated by ogres, dwarves, night-gaunts, and hags. She is the only human in a factory where underage forced labor builds cybernetic, magical dragons that are weaponized and sent off to war. When the damaged dragon Melanchthon tempts Jane with promises of freedom, the stage is set for a daring escape that will shake the foundations of existence.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Video: RAIN

This is a fan film about the X-Men's Storm, though to avoid problems they've blurred some boundaries.  It's got adult content, and I'm adding a trigger warning for assault.

RAIN is a 23-minute original short fan film created by Maya Glick, directed by Zane Rutledge and Jeff Stolhand, and produced by Matt Joyce. Inspired by the “punk” incarnation of the Marvel superhero Storm of the X-Men.
Influenced by the more dystopian stories of the X-Men franchise as well as the seminal comic LifeDeath by Chris Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith, this original story takes a broken mutant hero “Rain” from the lowest depths of despair into the darker recesses of her own shattered memory. If she is to survive, she must discover a new identity and somehow rediscover her lost power.

RAIN from RAIN Fan Film on Vimeo.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Book Review: Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

Pros: introverted protagonist, man vs himself plot, awkward situational and dry humour, minor romance elements

Cons: I wondered where Maksim got his money 

The death of Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother affects her life in numerous ways.  She has to take up her duties as a kodun’ia, a Russian witch, and her stepsister, whom she barely knows and who knows nothing of witchcraft, shows up unexpectedly to help out.  The death also affects Maksim Volkov, a member of the kin who’s had his violent nature tamed with a spell.  When the spell breaks he inadvertently infects a young man with his condition.  Now Maksim needs Lissa’s help getting his violent nature back under control.  He also needs to find the newly made kin, before he kills someone with his enhanced strength and increasingly violent restlessness.

It’s not common to find books that revolve around people dealing with their own problems, and their consequences - rather than outside physical foes - so I found this book rather refreshing.  Similarly, it’s nice to see an urban fantasy novel that doesn’t rely on the female protagonist physically fighting the bad guys.  And while there is fighting in the book - it’s mostly mutual, as a way of holding the violence of the kin in check (and done amongst themselves, since they can handle each other’s enhanced abilities). 

Lissa is an introvert with minimal social skills.  Her stepsister, Stella, is an extrovert who’s more into feminine things.  The two clash in a number of ways.  I loved Lissa as a character.  She has a lot of the same quirks - and therefore problems - that I have.  She’s awkward when a guy flirts with her.  She’s uncomfortable with attention.  She has trouble trusting others and telling them truths she’d rather keep to herself.  I found myself laughing out loud a few times, just because I sympathized so much with her situation.  Other times I laughed because Stella made pointed observations that were just the right kind of dry for my sense of humour.

Maksim’s got some issues, which makes him interesting, though he doesn’t do much in the book beyond trying to hold his demons at bay.  Gus, another kin, has an interesting past and I found her snark fun to read.  Nick was a little annoying, but he’s got the excuse that his body is changing without his knowledge, making him edgy and violent and kind of a jerk.

I liked that the kin are portrayed as the truth behind myths of vampires and werewolves.  There’s just enough Russian mythology mentioned to whet the appetite, but not enough to quench it.  Similarly the magic Lissa performs is interesting to read about, but sounds kind of tedious to perform.

There’s a hint of romance, but it’s a minor point and not between the character’s you’d expect.

I did find myself wondering how Maksim has so much money.  Yes, he owns a gym and trains fighters, but he always seems to have ready cash to hand out to Gus.  And while I’m sure being a soldier paid something, I’m not sure it accounts for the amount of cash he has in flashback scenes.  It’s possible he saves well and his poor living conditions imply that he doesn’t spend much on food, housing or clothing, so maybe it’s a matter of priorities and good budgeting.

Along the same lines, while Lissa works at a printing shop, it’s only mentioned a few times and she seems to have no problem staying up until 3 am and/or sleeping in late a lot.  Though, she is in her early 20s, which might account for her ability to go without proper sleep, I was starting to wonder if she was missing shifts.

If you’re looking for an urban fantasy that does some new and interesting things, this is a quick, fun read.

Out June 14th.

Friday 3 June 2016

XKCD: Map Age Guide

XKCD's Map Age Guide is awesome.  Follow the different lines to discover some actual map dating information, as well as why you should avoid going to Colorado in 2022.  To see the original (which zooms in) check out the original.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Shout-Out: Ordination by Daniel Ford

For generations, warlords fought bitterly for dominance in a land without a king, leaving a fractured, war-torn country plagued by thieves, slavers, and the servants of dark gods and darker magic. Allystaire Coldbourne travels a treacherous path toward his Ordination as a holy knight of legend, a Paladin, a savior of the people. But to fulfill this role, he—and the unexpected allies he finds along the way—must face the demonic, sorcerous evil that stalks the land, the wrath of gods and men, and his own dark past.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Book Review: The Conjurers by David Waid

Pros: interesting characters, simple but effective plot, great climax, standalone

Cons: journal entries too narrative

Every few hundred years a child is born with immeasurable power and the ability to use it without teaching or artifice.  A group of sorcerers discover that a boy in Ireland is the one they’ve been seeking.  They head to the island to capture him and steal his power for themselves.

There are two alternating storylines: Eamon and his family who are fleeing a bandit attack on their village only to run into wolves on the road, and Teresa, a Genoese nobleman’s daughter, whose brother has apprenticed with a well known alchemist and sorcerer in the city.  You learn a lot about these characters as well as the dangers they face (including the various sorcerers hunting them).

I really liked the maestro’s introduction in Genoa.  I loved how you learn about him from various sources before finally meeting the man.  It built tension and expectation.  All of the villains are suitably evil, but not in an artificial way.  Sairshee for example, wants to go further in her apprenticeship but is afraid of the horrific consequences of failing the spell she needs to cast in order to progress.  She’s portrayed as self-assured, but also recognizes that a lot of her security and power is due to the backing of the king.  The sorcerers are all ruthless, and delightfully - and terrifyingly - so.

The chapters are all short, helping to create a tense book whose pages turn quickly, rushing you towards the end.  The plot isn’t that complex, but it’s executed well, and leaves you guessing in a few places.  While it’s a standalone novel, it does have sequel potential.

While set in the real world, the book doesn’t touch on any historic events, though the black death and hanseatic league are mentioned.  Though the author doesn’t go into the magic in much detail, it seems to be based on circle magic found in actual grimoires (like the Key of Solomon).  And as the real world magic it’s portraying, there’s a mix of scientific exploration and blood.

There’s a section of the book that’s supposed to be the diary entries of a teenage boy, but are written in a narrative style that didn’t feel authentic as journal entries.  It’s unfortunate, because while the segments get a lot of detail across, the immediacy of journal entries could have added a bit more punch to those sections had the author focused less on descriptive detail and more on the events that happened (so, instead of describing the rooms and whatnot, the teen’s interest in the lodestone could have been played up more, and his hopes/fears for what’s happening).

I really enjoyed this book.  It was cool watching the different teens deal with their individual challenges, learning on the fly and doing their best to stay alive despite some pretty harsh obstacles.  The antagonists get pretty brutal at times, leading to a pulse pounding climax.