Tuesday 28 February 2017

Book Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Pros: fantastic mystery, suspenseful, interesting technology, diverse characters

Cons: a few continuity errors

When the six member crew of the starship Dormire all wake up in new clones, they’re shocked to find several of them were murdered. Unsure of who to trust, knowing they’re all convicted felons but not what each others’ crimes were, they try to find answers for what happened in the 25 years of memories they’ve lost.

You’re introduced to all six characters, plus their AI, all at once, so it’s impressive how Lafferty keeps their voices unique and their personalities distinct. You jump around to everyone’s POV, so this is important.

The story unfolds mostly linearly, with important historical background flashbacks as needed to forward the plot, learn more about the characters, and keep you guessing about what happened. I was impressed by how intricate the various stories were and how they eventually pulled together. The pacing is great, propelling you towards the ending.

I was also impressed by the treatment of Joanna’s character. She was born with withered legs and uses a wheelchair and 2 prosthetic legs in the book. Her choice to retain this disability comes up in the book, and is handled well.  

The technology and world-building were a lot of fun. There’s a series of codicils governing the creation of clones, riots, anti-cloning sentiment, the generation ship, AI, mind hacking, and more. 

I did notice two minor continuity errors, one where a character got up twice to program food, and another where two characters suddenly shift from talking in the theatre to talking in one of their rooms. Hiro got a little annoying at times, but even the characters in the book complained about that.

It’s a fast paced book that kept me guessing and glued to the pages. Highly recommended.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Shout-Out: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

On the outer rim of the universe, a galactic war has been waged for centuries upon hundreds of world-ships. But these worlds will continue to die through decay and constant war unless a desperate plan succeeds. Anat, leader of the Katazyrna world-ship and the most fearsome raiding force on the Outer Rim, wants peace. To do so she offers the hand of her daughter, Jayd, to her rival. Jayd has dreamed about leading her mother's armies to victory her whole life-but she has a unique ability, and that makes her leverage, not a leader. As Anat convinces her to spend the rest of her life wed to her family's greatest enemy, it is up to Jayd's sister Zan-with no stomach for war-to lead the cast off warriors she has banded together to victory and rescue Jayd. But the war does not go at all as planned.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Video: R2D2 With a Voice: Star Wars - A New Hope

Auralnauts have turned R2D2's beeps and whistles into a voice for the first Star Wars film.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Book Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

Pros: excellent world-building, lots of action, complex characters and plot

Cons: minor irritants

Note: This is the third book in the series and as such my review contains spoilers for the earlier books. This is an excellent series. You can read my review of book 1 here.

It’s been several months since the events in The Providence of Fire. Adare remains with Il Tornja in the North, protecting Annur from the barbarian Urghul. When a messenger from Kaden’s republic arrives, asking for her to return to the capital as a puppet ruler, a series of events unfolds, allowing Il Tornja to pursue his true goal. Meanwhile the remains of Valyn’s wing return to the Eyrie to find out what’s happened there, while Kaden tries to untangle the mystery of gods walking the earth.

The first few chapters get you back up to speed with regards to what everyone’s been up to the past few months. It’s a bit disorienting, but things quickly get interesting as the intrigues pile up. There are a number of plots weaving around each other, getting ever more complicated as time goes on.

There’s a fair amount of action, with descriptions of war, torture (limited), and a LOT of one on one or small group battles. The action is varied and never dull. In between, there’s a fair bit of politics (mainly Adare) and philosophical questions (mainly Kaden). 

One scene greatly confused me for a few pages until I finally figured out what was happening. More on this in the spoiler section.

As with the other books the world-building is fantastic. We get to see more of the world, including learning more about the Skullsworn and their religious order. 

The motivations of the characters are as complex as the plot. People make, question, and regret decisions. They act in own best interests based on their information of what’s going on in the world. They lie to advantage and tell the truth when it suits them. They’re infuriating at times, and completely understandable.

It’s a great ending to an excellent series.


The scene I’m referring to above is the one where Valyn shows up again. The POV character is a boy named Valyn and at first I thought it was a flashback or a fever dream. I started to question those interpretations but it wasn’t until prince Valyn actually showed up that I fully realized my mistake. In the author’s defence, it does make sense that kids would be named after the royal family, and the descriptions clearly showed it wasn’t the prince, so the mistake is entirely my own.

I thought the end battles were surprisingly - restrained. At first I was a bit annoyed that we didn’t get to see the leach battle and get more details of some of the fights in the tower, but then I realized that by this point there’s been a lot of fighting and sometimes too much is worse than not enough. Balendin’s end was fully detailed and the struggle in the tower was heavily realized. At this point in the book, a quick resolution was really the best decision.

I would have loved a short scene at the end explaining if Gwenna and co intended (or were even able) to bring back the Kettral. With only one or two birds and a handful of people remaining I’m assuming not, but part of me was hoping they’d find a clutch of eggs and start training new recruits.

Sunday 19 February 2017

Shout-Out: Space Drifters - The Emerald Enigma by Paul Regnier

Captain Glint Starcrost is not having the carefree, adventurous life the space academy brochures promised star pilots.

Broke, with an unreliable star freighter and a bounty on his head, Glint is desperate enough to try anything. Even set out on a quest to find a fabled good luck charm, the Emerald Enigma.

Now for a crew. A passive aggressive ship computer, a peaceable alien warrior, and time-traveling teen from the past aren't what he had in mind. But they'll have to do.

The Emerald Enigma won't wait forever and neither will the bounty hunter tracking him.

Friday 17 February 2017

Skyrim Skeletal Dragon Kit

For a while now I've wanted some sort of winged skeleton statue, whether it be a bat or a dragon, something that looked cool. Just before Christmas I found this Skyrim Skeletal Dragon kit on clearance (so the price was right too!).

The pieces came attached to a plastic frame. I wanted this to look good, so after snapping the pieces off the plastic I carefully scraped the attachment nubs off with an xacto knife.

Not all of the pieces wanted to fit together closely - one of the tail pieces and the jaw gave me some trouble - but the finished statue looks amazing.

Now to find a proper display space...

Thursday 16 February 2017

Shout-Out: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction edited by Brian Stableford

Before the term "science fiction" was adopted in the 1920s, there were "scientific romances," tales of amazing journeys beyond the limits of the known world. Jules Verne's imaginative novels of the mid-nineteenth century met with international success, whetting the public's appetite for fantastic fiction rooted in actual fact — a craving that H. G. Wells satisfied with his visionary stories. 
This compilation presents more than two dozen early tales by Verne's and Wells's immediate predecessors, contemporaries, and descendants, focusing on the middle period, when the genre was at its most enterprising and exuberant. Originally published between 1835 and 1924, the stories offer early interpretations of the futuristic societies, rogue stars, rebellious machines, and other now-familiar themes of speculative fiction. Featured authors include Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ambrose Bierce, H. G. Wells, Jack London, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as lesser-known writers. Brian Stableford, a legendary science-fiction author and editor, selected the stories, for which he provides an informative Introduction and brief biographies for each author.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Steampunk Story Bundle

If you're looking for a batch of steampunk novels to read, Cat Rambo has curated the new Story Bundle. Sold DRM free in a pay what you want fashion (minimum $15 if you want the Bonus titles), it's a great way to check out new authors. (Book links are from the story bundle page.)

The main titles are:
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
The Bookmanby Lavie Tidhar
City of the Saintsby D.J. Butler
All the Paths of Shadowby Frank Tuttle

The bonus titles are:
The Emperor's Edge Series: Books 1-3by Lindsay Buroker
Ghost in the Cogsedited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski
Blood Tiesby Quincy J. Allen
Mechaniqueby Genevieve Valentine
The SEA Is Ours - Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asiaby Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng
Best of Penny Dread Talesedited by Kevin J. Anderson and Quincy J. Allen

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Book Review: Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap

Pros: diverse and multi-layered characters, great world-building, excellent storytelling

Cons: minor confusion at times

Five thirteen year old girls are chosen by the goddess to help fight the Grey, an entity created from terror, rage, and destruction. Now 25, Alex, Ria, Aiko, and Natalie help Selena prepare for her upcoming wedding. As the big day approaches, they reflect on their past as magical girls and wonder how long they’ll have to keep fighting.

Hurricane Heels is a a collection of 5 interconnected stories. Each one is told from the point of view of a different girl. 

This is a novel for adults who love magical girl stories like Sailor Moon, who are interested in what real life for such girls growing into women would look like. The author clearly explains why no one in the larger world knows what’s going on in the fight between good and evil and how the girls heal after their battles. But these are women who swear, drink, go to a strip club (it’s a bachelorette party), and hold day jobs around their monster battles.

I loved the juxtaposition of these young girls getting magical powers and being given decidedly earthy weapons. When you think of magical girls you think glittery magic weapons, light weight, deadly because of their magical attacks. But these girls get an ax, a chainsaw, double swords. There’s no way to avoid the solid brutality of these as weapons and the death and gore of their battles against the Grey.

Each chapter begins with a black and white illustration of the girl whose point of view that chapter is from. Unlike the Sailor Moon characters, these aren’t thin waifs. They’ve got some weight on them and some curves. They look like real women, chosen to do great things.

At one point I tried to see what the main thrust of each story was - love, power, etc. Each character has a colour, a different piece of transformation jewelry, and a primary weapon, surely they each have an attribute they embody as well. A few of them seem to on the surface, but when you consider each character - and each story - more carefully, these aren’t simplistic portrayals. These are multi-layered characters who are scared of their new responsibilities and powers in different ways. They also try to hide their frailties from their friends, not realizing that they all have similar doubts. They fight because they need to, because the world needs them to. It’s amazing how well you get to know each girl, despite how short the book is.

I did find the scene in Ria’s story where she moved from the Philippines to the US a bit confusing. I had to read it twice to realize that’s what happened. There was also a formatting issue in the first story. In two places necessary page breaks, showing where one scene ended and another began, were missing. Because each story jumps between places and times so often, the page breaks are needed to help the reader reorient themselves. It was very confusing going from the end of a fight scene to the girls grabbing a drink with no indication that the location or time had changed. It was even more confusing jumping from a post fight conversation to a strip club scene. 

This is a brilliant book. If you like magical girl anime - and even if you just enjoy well told stories about women trying to find their places in the world while battling evil to save it - this book is for you.

Sunday 12 February 2017

Shout-Out: A Perfect Machine by Brett Savory

Henry Kyllo is a Runner, a member of a secret society called the Inferne Cutis. Every day he is chased through the city by Hunters whose goal is to fill him with bullets. It is a secret war steeped in history, tradition, and mutual fear.

Rumours abound about what happens when a Runner achieves ascension, but it has supposedly never happened before, so no one knows for sure. Except that it has happened before. And it is happening again.

This time, to Henry Kyllo.

Friday 10 February 2017

Metropolitan Museum of Art's Open Access Policy

A few days ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City made their collection more accessible. They've organized it into two categories, that which they know falls into the public domain (which is now free to use for non commercial purposes) and that which may still be under copyright or other restrictions.

They've got a searchable database, where you can click 'Public Domain Artworks' as a search criteria, to be sure you're not finding images you can't use in your project. You must also attribute the work (the Met's website + artist).

I've been to the Met a few times and their collection is incredible. Looking through the images, they've also included works that are in the collection but not on view, which is pretty awesome. There's a search box for artworks on display but not, alas, artworks not on display.

Here's a nativity scene made from limestone by the circle of Antoine Le Moiturier c.1450.

Thursday 9 February 2017

Shout-Out: Her True Name by Ryan Elainska

She doesn’t have a name, because she never keeps one for very long. You’ve seen her face a thousand times, but it always wears a different mask. Her exploits are legendary, but no one has ever heard of her. She tries to be like everyone else, but she finds she can only ever be herself, over and over again.
What if many of the heroes of myth and folklore were all one immortal woman, who has been alive for millennia? These are a few fragments of this Unnamed Heroine's history—eight short stories, scattered throughout the centuries.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Video: Primitive Technology

We often greatly underestimate what our ancient forebears were capable of, which is why these videos, by an Australian making things using primitive techniques and technology, are so fascinating.

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Book Review: Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski

Pros: brilliant world-building, fascinating characters, thought-provoking


Chrysoberyl of Dolomoth is a pyroscape artist with the Seven Stars. In order to improve her financial and artistic positions she agrees to become a carrier. Carriers play host to sentient microbial symbionts, visible to the host via their optic neuroports. Chrys’ ‘people’, the Eleutherians, call her the God of Mercy, but they don’t always act in her best interests. And there are other strains of micros going around, ones that take over their hosts, turning them into vampires and drug addicts. These hosts eventually travel to the Slave World, a place no one ever returns from. 

You’re dropped into this complex world with no explanation, so it takes a few chapters to become familiar with all the terms, characters, and ideas. You do learn about the micros and how being a carrier works along with Chrys, but there’s a lot outside of that to take in: Chrys’ art, elves, sentients, simians, the Underworld, vampires, anti-simian groups, etc. The world is multi-layered and realistically complex.

The characters, both humanoid and micro, are quite fascinating. Chris must learn how to deal with the little people in her head and their demands on her time (for themselves and for the larger micro community as a whole) while also continuing with her own life (her art, lost friends, religious family, learning how to handle money, personal relationships).

The book does… meander a bit. While there are several linear plot threads, there are also a fair number of asides into complementary issues. The author examines different problems associated with being a host, and how different hosts treat their people. It also goes into how the hosts treat each other - both in the carrier community and outside of it. Then there’s the inter-racial problems: simians and physician sentients face discrimination, elves believe their society is perfect and so ignore the real threat one of their members poses everyone, should micros have the same rights as carriers, etc.

I really enjoyed the book. It’s fascinating seeing the different groups interact, and the micros are so much fun.   

Sunday 5 February 2017

Shout-Out: City of Endless Night by Milo Hastings

Written in 1919, City of Endless Night has recently been reprinted by Dover.  It's a public domain novel and also available for free through Project Gutenberg. I've read a fair number of dystopian novels, so I was delighted when I learned of this one. Though, given the current descent into dystopia I'm observing in the US, I may not read this for a while (I need things that don't remind me of the current state of the world).

In Berlin of 2041, millions of people live underground. The city is in a state of perpetual war with the rest of the world, its besieged population locked beneath an impenetrable dome. Strictly rationed food is available only to workers, Christianity is banned, and breeding is governed by eugenics. But a ray of hope descends into the underworld when a young American chemist manages to penetrate the subterranean society in an attempt to rally the demoralized citizens and spark a revolution.

Written toward the end of World War I and published in 1919, this gripping dystopian novel offers remarkably prescient views of Germany's resurgence and the rise of fascism. City of Endless Night's many anticipations of Nazi ideology include rigid governmental control of the press, promotion of eugenics, and the embrace of the concept of a master race. A landmark of science fiction, this pioneering novel was the precursor of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and other visionary tales.

Friday 3 February 2017

Video: Chicken Attack

The Gregory Brothers (AKA Schmoyoho) are touring the world and making... interesting music videos. Here's one they did in Japan with Takeo Ischi, the Chicken Yodeler.

Thursday 2 February 2017

Shout-Out: Resistance by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The Announcer calls my name, but she does not speak to me. This macabre spectacle has nothing to do with me. And everything to do with them. This is all for the thousands below – the compliant citizens of Otpor, the witnesses to my Execution, the silent and transfixed. This is their moment. Their reconditioning.

In a future post-apocalyptic Paris, a rebellion threatens to upset the city’s perfectly-structured balance and plunge its citizens into anarchy.

Two generations after the Execution of Kane 148 and Otpor’s return to Orthodoxy, forbidden murals are appearing on crumbling concrete walls – calling citizens to action. Calling for Resistance.

The murals will change the utopian lives of all citizens. But, for Anaiya 234, they will change who she is.

A Peacekeeper of the uncompromising Fire Element, Anaiya free-runs through city’s precincts to enforce the Orthodoxy without hesitation or mercy. Her selection for a high-risk mission gives Otpor’s Cooperative the chance it needs to eliminate the Heterodoxy and Anaiya the opportunity she craves to erase a shameful past.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Books Received in January, 2017

Many, many thanks as always to the amazing publishers that send me books for review. I can't read all of them, but I do try.

The City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett - This is the final book in the Divine Cities trilogy. I have loved every book in this series. This book is brilliant, and beautifully wraps things up. It's out in May, and my review (already written) will be published a week or two before it's release.
Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do—and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And—perhaps most daunting of all—finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

Big Buttes Book: Annotated Dyets Dry Dinner (1599), by Henry Buttes, with Elizabethan Recipes by Michelle Enzinas - I got this through a Library Thing giveaway, and it was pretty interesting. If you're interested in Elizabethan or medieval/renaissance cooking, it's got a fair number of recipes, information on humour theory, and more. You can read my review of it here.

From Ice to Ashes by Rhett Bruno - This kind of reminds me of The Expanse, the first book of which is sitting on my to be read pile.
A humble laborer is caught in the tensions between Earth and Titan, the now-colonized moon of Saturn, in a standalone novel set in the universe of Titanborn (“Sci-fi noir at its finest!”—David Simpson, author of the Post-Human series). 
Kale Drayton knows his place. As a Ringer born on Titan, he’s used to keeping his head down and his mouth shut—no matter how much the Earthers abuse him or his own kind berate him. So when he’s caught stealing from a wealthy merchant, he’s lucky to be sentenced to low-paying maintenance work on a gas-harvesting ship instead of life in a cell . . . or worse.

The Vindication of Man by John C. Wright - This is the fifth book in his Count to the Eschaton Sequence.

The Vindication of Man is the epic and mind-blowing continuation of John C. Wright's visionary space opera series surpasses all expectation. 
Menelaus Montrose, having renewed his enmity with his immortal adversary, Ximen del Azarchel, awaits the return of the posthuman princess Rania, their shared lost love. Rania brings with her the judgment of the Dominions ruling the known cosmos, which will determine the fate of humanity, once and for all. Vindication or destruction? And if it is somehow both, what manner of future awaits them?