Thursday 30 March 2017

Shout-Out: Chalk by Paul Cornell

Andrew Waggoner has always hung around with his fellow losers at school, desperately hoping each day that the school bullies - led by Drake - will pass him by in search of other prey. But one day they force him into the woods, and the bullying escalates into something more; something unforgivable; something unthinkable.

Broken, both physically and emotionally, something dies in Waggoner, and something else is born in its place.

In the hills of the West Country a chalk horse stands vigil over a site of ancient power, and there Waggoner finds in himself a reflection of rage and vengeance, a power and persona to topple those who would bring him low.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Video: Evolution III - The Human Player Type

Casually Explained has a video up for an MMO (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) that sounds kind of familiar. I think I've played some of this... As the video says, "... make the most of your playtime."

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Book Review: The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

Pros: some great world-building, fun characters 

Cons: pacing issues, unsatisfying ending

The future cannot be changed by time travelling. Spens is a Tri-Millennium Travel rep, escorting tourists from the 24th Century around in the 21st. The resort’s records from the future do not show that anything happened, but a tourist’s disappearance greatly effects their own time.

Unfortunately I found the book disappointing. I liked the characters and thought the racism (? not sure that’s the right word) directed against the people of the future by the people of the present is unfortunately realistic and well portrayed. There was a real complexity in the world-building around language and expressions, which I enjoyed. I also liked that there were protocols governing time travel that determined what you were allowed to know/tell others about the future/past depending on where they are in the timeline. This is important as some characters meet each other outside of sequential time. I also liked the idea that for some people knowing their future could be burdensome, in that it created an obligation to fulfill the future, while for others it was comforting.

I found the pacing uneven in that a lot is happening but you don’t seem to learn much of importance. Each new revelation just confused me more, until I wasn’t sure what was actually important (or relevant) for the plot. Half way through the book I considered stopping because the mystery didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

As a result, I found the ending wholly unsatisfying. I was left with a lot of questions and some confusion. Either someone was lied to about their future, or the future was, in fact, changed, something that we’re told early on is impossible. It also annoyed me that a major plot arch depended on a paradox, with no discussion of how paradoxes work within this world. 


I was really pissed that we never learn what’s in the box. We’re left assuming they were instructions, but when Adorna (for the sake of ease I’ll use that name) goes back into the past the second time, she doesn’t give him any new instructions. Which makes me wonder why she was sent back the first time at all. Was Delrosso supposed to start bobby trapping the metal caches? The fact that the box kept turning up left me expecting it would eventually be opened and its contents revealed to be important (maybe they’d learn the sabotage plans and stop the NEE or something - but then I’m reminded that the future can’t be changed…).

But that ignores a larger question: Adorna was a complete peon the first time she went back, apparently unable to form independent thoughts or act without instructions. How did she morph into the woman who goes back as En Varney? As En, she starts a highly sophisticated effort in sabotage. We’re meant to believe she’s suddenly self-motivated and comfortable dealing with people enough to hold down her job as well as make the underworld connections she does without new training? 

The paradox of her doing things at the instructions of her older self - who’s present in the same time despite some vague comments that that’s bad - was annoying. I’d have liked some discussion of how paradoxes work, and, for that matter, why being in the same place twice is bad (because nothing happens to her, despite being in fairly close proximity to her other self).

A smaller question I have is what exactly about his extraction mission convinces Riemann to waste 15 years of his life to meet Adorna again? Was it watching Spens die? Was it really just to talk to Adorna again? Because if it was, he didn’t say much of worth. Yeah, he told her some stuff about her past and future, but without any proof I’m not sure why he thought she’d believe him and change what she was doing. He doesn’t try to appeal to her humanity in any way - explain the deaths her sabotage will cause in any graphic sense. It just seemed kind of useless.

And I’m left assuming Spens’ future facts are all lies, since he’s obviously meant to die at the end, out of time and place of where he was told he would die. 

Friday 24 March 2017

Humble Bundle: Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy

If you're looking for some great SF & F titles by women, Humble Bundle's got you covered with books published by Open Road Media. As with their other bundles, pay a certain amount to unlock DRM free ebooks in multiple formats.

At $1+ you get Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand, Jaran by Kate Elliott, and Path of Fate by Diana Pharaoh Francis.

Pay $8+ and you also get Parable of the Talents and Wild Seed (Octavia Butler), Sunshine (Robin McKinley), Black Light and Saffron and Brimstone (Elizabeth Hand), Skeen's Leap (Jo Clayton) , Lammas Night (Katherine Kurtz), and Skin Folk (Nalo Hopkinson).

Finally, for $15+ you get all the above plus Octavia Butler's Unexpected Stories, Robin McKinley's Beauty and The Hero and the Crown, Katherine Kurtz's Camber of Culdi, Pamela Sargent's The Shore of Women and Jane Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark.

Want to learn more? Check out the site.

Thursday 23 March 2017

Shout-Out: Orbital Cloud by Taiyo Fujii

The global war on terror has a new front—the very edge of outer space. 
In the year 2020, Kazumi Kimura, proprietor of shooting star forecast website Meteor News, notices some orbiting space debris moving suspiciously. Rumors spread online that the debris is actually an orbital weapon targeting the International Space Station. Halfway across the world, at NORAD, Staff Sergeant Darryl Freeman begins his investigation of the debris. At the same time, billionaire entrepreneur Ronnie Smark and his journalist daughter prepare to check into an orbital hotel as part of a stunt promoting private space tourism. Then Kazumi receives highly sensitive information from a source claiming to be an Iranian scientist. And so begins an unprecedented international battle against space-based terror that will soon involve the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NORAD, and the CIA.

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Video: South Korea's giant manned robot

Even wanted to be a Gundam pilot? Well, South Korea's got your covered. Back in December, Hankook Mirae Technology's manned robot, "Method-2" took some of its first steps.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Book Review: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Pros: brilliantly plotted, amazing world-building, excellent pacing, thought provoking

Cons: fundamentally disagreed with some of the philosophy, ending left me disappointed

Picking up immediately where Too Like the Lightning left off, Seven Surrenders details more of the actions of the heads of the seven hives, reveals the thief behind the seven-ten list, deals with the fall-out of the revelations that ended the first book, and paves the way for potential war.

I loved all of the politics, manipulation, and unclear morality of this book. This book has a LOT of political maneuvering and backroom dealings. It made me think about a lot of issues, even if my conclusions were different from those the book came to.

Mycroft remains an unreliable narrator at times, not always telling the truth and keeping certain things hidden until later. this helps with the pacing of the book, which I thought was great. The revelations come fast and hard, but enough is saved for the end to keep the reader guessing and turning pages quickly.

If the mix of sensual language and politics from the first book disturbed you, there are a few uncomfortable scenes in this book as well, mostly at the beginning.

One character is gendered as ‘it’, which may upset readers. We are told the character chose that pronoun, but in addition to being a gender neutral term, it’s also a term that reduces the person’s humanity. Given the nature of the character, both of those may have been intentional repercussions of that choice.

There’s a speech towards the end of the novel about gender that kind of irritated me. While I agreed with the ultimate point (or, at least understood where the character was going with the discussion), I’d understood this future to have done away with gendered pronouns as well as gendered clothing and expectations. And yet, this speech implied that children were still raised with the ideas that boys were more aggressive and girls more caring, etc, something I didn’t get from the books themselves. But what annoyed me was the assertion that some traits code ‘female’ and others ‘male’ and if you get rid of those terms, it just makes everyone more ‘masculine’ as if men aren’t inherently capable of being kind or considerate despite the book’s clear proof to the contrary (Carlyle, Bridger, etc. are men who obviously care about humanity, notwithstanding their being male).

The ending left me feeling unsatisfied. Yes, there are more books in the series which may overturn this, but with so many revelations I was expecting more resolution.

*** SPOILERS ***

These are major plot spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The character referred to as ‘it’ is Sniper. It’s revealed that they’re *intersex, possessing both male and female lower genitals. The revelatory paragraph is from their perspective, and explains how they wanted to be a human doll for their fans, and not disappoint fans of any gender. It’s left unclear if surgery was involved. Later on, as we learn more about the O.C. and what Sniper’s bash has been doing, it’s also clear that they’re not the most moral person, making the reader question their humanity in terms of principle as well as physicality. That two of their dolls are animated at the end - actual ‘its’, greatly effecting world events, makes me think the use of ‘it’ for Sniper was to get readers to think more about gender and pronouns, especially in a world where he and she are not supposed to be in use anymore.   

I was surprised by the lack of panic over using the transit network after the assassinations by the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash were revealed. Yes, the bash was replaced (though how quickly would the public be aware of this?), but I’d still be wary of getting in a car driven by someone else knowing they’ve been put to such use in the past and might be again.

Regarding the ending, it really annoyed me that Madame avoided acknowledging that the coming war was in large part due to her manipulations. I also thought Saladin should face some punishment for his part in the deaths 13 years prior. How they’ve allowed him to keep Apollo’s cloak, granting him invisibility, is beyond me. But these consequences may occur in the forthcoming books.

I also don’t share everyone’s assertion that J.E.D.D. Mason will be a good leader. The man believes he’s God. He doesn’t understand or care about the concerns of everyday people. And now he doesn’t believe life is sacred either. He’s going to be a monster. And even if he weren’t. Having one benevolent ruler doesn’t mean his successor will be as good as he is. Alexander’s empire collapsed upon his death and Rome had a number of horrible Caesars after Augustus. Madame’s insistence that he be named the next Emperor also confused me, as the reason he was named porphyrogene was because that made him legally ineligible to become Emperor. 

I found the final conversation around Jehovah’s bedside to be more emotionally impacting than the final chapter with Bridger. Because he factors into the story so little, I didn’t have the emotional connection to Bridger that this chapter depends on for impact. I also don’t think Mycroft had thought through the implications of immortality and resurrection on the world at large - population control, birth, etc. would have to be renegotiated on a global scale if no one ever dies and the dead are brought back to life. None of these issues are ever brought up and discussed, and I would have expected them to be, considering these are things Mycroft feels Bridger should be doing with his power.

* My apologies. I originally used the term 'hermaphrodite', which I now understand is stigmatizing. 

Friday 17 March 2017

Movie Review: The Seventh Sign

Directed by Carl Schultz, 1988

Pros: mixed Judaic and Christian end of the world traditions, down syndrome actor

Cons: melodramatic

A figure of a man breaks ancient seals, causing the destructions foretold by prophesy that will herald the end of the world. Abby Quinn (Demi Moore)’s pregnancy is nearing its end, but a previous miscarriage causes her to be overcautious. Her husband (Michael Biehn) is a lawyer trying to stop an execution. When they rent out an apartment to a quiet man, Abby starts to believe he’s planning to hurt her unborn child.

First off, it disturbed me, as a former renter, seeing Abby enter the apartment several times without permission or notice. The second time she even rummages around the guy’s belongings, which is illegal. She ends up being a stalker too, calling after him in the rain to see if he wants a ride and then following him down streets and into a building. And while it turns out she’s right to be wary of this man, it was uncomfortable watching at times.

I really liked how the film brought together Christian imagery of the Apocalypse by way of Revelations as well as the Jewish tradition of the Guf, something I’d never heard of but which wikipedia tells me is a real belief. I thought the depiction of the Jewish faith was handled well, especially the scene where the translator needs to find a Bible, as Revelations is not his Testament.

I appreciated that Jimmy’s character was played by a man with down syndrome, though I’m less keen on the crime he’s accused of. I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution of his story line and what it would mean for believers if his view of things and actions because of that view, were the correct actions in God’s mind. I’m also not sure how I feel about the inference that he has down syndrome because his parents were siblings (ie, due to incest).

The acting is on the melodramatic side, which I guess fits the atmosphere of the story.

The movie starts slow, but was pretty interesting once it got going.

Thursday 16 March 2017

Shout-Out: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

In an age of space exploration, we search to find ourselves.
In four years, aerospace giant Prime Space will put the first humans on Mars. Helen Kane, Yoshihiro Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov must prove they’re the crew for the historic voyage by spending seventeen months in the most realistic simulation ever created. Constantly observed by Prime Space’s team of "Obbers," Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei must appear ever in control. But as their surreal pantomime progresses, each soon realizes that the complications of inner space are no less fraught than those of outer space. The borders between what is real and unreal begin to blur, and each astronaut is forced to confront demons past and present, even as they struggle to navigate their increasingly claustrophobic quarters—and each other.

Astonishingly imaginative, tenderly comedic, and unerringly wise, The Wanderers explores the differences between those who go and those who stay, telling a story about the desire behind all exploration: the longing for discovery and the great search to understand the human heart.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Video: Boston Dynamics HANDLE

I love the Auralnauts. They've posted this video about Boston Dynamics' new robot, Handle. You might remember seeing the footage of Boston Dynamics' previous robot, Atlas - having boxes hit out of its grip and being pushed over by a human (starting around 1:30 into the video). Well, it seems the robots aren't keen on being tested this way.

The video was posted with the caption:

"Boston Dynamics went to great lengths to suppress this interview about Handle, their latest robot. What are they trying to hide?"

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Book Review: Halfhead by Stuart MacBride

Pros: interesting mystery, varied characters, good pacing

Cons: lots of gore & disturbing descriptions

In a future where convicted criminals are lobotomized and have half their jaw removed a convicted serial killer halfhead has regained a sense of herself, over the mutilated body of the man she’s just killed. Assistant Network Director William Hunter has nightmares about the last time he visited Sherman House, the multi-storied residence where he fought during the VR riots. He’s not happy returning to Sherman House now, to investigate the second gruesome murder in the building that week. Something’s not right with Sherman House, and Hunter’s digging threatens to expose something that powerful people want kept quiet. Something involving the work done by a certain halfhead killer.

If you’re squeamish, this is not the book for you. In many ways it reminded me of the original Robocop film, only without the black humour. There’s a lot of blood, guts, and some truly disturbing descriptions of violence. Though, I will say that you don’t get much graphic violence (ie, most of it is descriptions after the events have happened, rather than first person views of the violence itself). The characters all take quite a number of literal beatings. There’s also mention of torture, but no descriptions.

The mystery is interesting. The halfhead’s story is terrifying. William’s a great character, and I enjoyed seeing him break the rules to get to the bottom of what was going on. I really liked Jo as well. She’s spunky with a crazy fashion sense. Emily kept making me think of Emily Blunt, partly because of her name and partly because of her military kickass character in Edge of Tomorrow. Brian’s accent caused me some issues, but I liked seeing him helping William out as a friend. 

While I enjoyed aspects of the book, I don’t think I’d reread it, simply because I had to work hard not to let any of the visual imagery give me nightmares. A few scenes were quite disturbing and I wouldn’t want to revisit them. The ending alone was kind of terrifying. While this isn’t technically a military SF book, there’s enough military style action to please lovers of that sub-genre. Similarly if you like mysteries or serial killers, this might be for you.

Thursday 9 March 2017

Shout-Out: Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler

Sarah Calhoun is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Elector Andrew Calhoun, one of Appalachee’s military heroes and one of the electors who gets to decide who will next ascend as the Emperor of the New World. None of that matters to Sarah. She has a natural talent for hexing and one bad eye, and all she wants is to be left alone—especially by outsiders.
But Sarah’s world gets turned on its head at the Nashville Tobacco Fair when a Yankee wizard-priest tries to kidnap her. Sarah fights back with the aid of a mysterious monk named Thalanes, who is one of the not-quite-human Firstborn, the Moundbuilders of the Ohio. It is Thalanes who reveals to Sarah a secret heritage she never dreamed could be hers.
Now on a desperate quest with Thalanes to claim this heritage, she is hunted by the Emperor’s bodyguard of elite dragoons, as well as by darker things—shapeshifting Mockers and undead Lazars, and behind them a power more sinister still. If Sarah cannot claim her heritage, it may mean the end to her, her family—and to the world where she is just beginning to find her place.

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Video: Miniature Spell Books Tutorial

This is a tutorial by Maive Ferrando on how to make little spell books for dioramas, dollhouses, etc. I find it interesting how a lot of dollhouse miniatures are made using the same materials and techniques as the life sized versions.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Not a Review: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Not a Review looks at books I got a good way through before giving up on them. I’ll explain why I read so much and why I didn’t finish.  These are - by their nature - going to be predominately negative reviews.  They’ll also contain some amount of spoilers (though I’ll try not to give anything major away without a warning).

I read 221 pages out of 381.

Pros: great setting, shines light on horrific historical abuses

Cons: jumps in time, focus on sexual relationships over politics, limited steampunk

This is a Neo-Victorian alternative history novel focusing on the horrors of Belgium’s colonization of the Congo and what might have happened had the native population had access to air ships and the backing of some Europeans and Americans.

What I liked: the setting. This is a time and place I know nothing about and this book encouraged me to research some of what actually happened. And it is horrifying. The abuses in the book - lost limbs, families used as ransom to make the natives into rubber harvesting slaves. The book shows native religion and healing practices in a positive light, which was wonderful. It also showed how people of different races could band together to fight injustice. 

I also liked the unflinching look at racism from many sides. Even people who join the utopic society of Everfair find themselves unhappy with mixed marriages. Lisette’s black grandfather spoils her otherwise white European ancestry, causing problems for her when it’s revealed. These are sad reminders of reality, but reality all the same. And if we can’t look at it in fiction, we can’t see it in ourselves, and can’t help face it and deal with it in our daily lives.

The steampunk additions - aircanoes and metallic prosthetics - were cool but used very sparingly. They only enter the book 100 pages in, and while they are central to the book’s purpose (used in the war against Belgium in the Congo) they’re used more as window dressing, showing up for a paragraph here, a chapter there, but not feeling as important as they undoubtedly are.

The book jumps ahead in time by months and years making it hard to get to know more than the basics about the different characters. And while I didn’t have trouble remembering who anyone was, I also didn’t really care about anyone. The chapters are so short that you don’t get to learn much more about people than who they want to sleep with and why that’s bad (usually because of racist or age related reasons). Had there been more development of the different characters outside their romances, I might have cared more about those romances. As it was, I barely knew who anyone was and so didn’t really feel invested in their lives. There were also times when circumstances changed so drastically it was hard to understand how someone went from one place to another (like Wilson’s training in one of the native religions).

I was surprised by how little politics were in the book. The last chapter I read dealt with what I can only believe was an important political choice: should Everfair join with the German side or the French side of the coming conflict, but the reasoning behind the difference was lost on me. It sounded like both sides wanted the same things from Everfair, but it’s clear that Daisy’s on one side and Mattis is on the other, but I have no idea which side I should be on because I don’t understand the difference between them or what the ultimate stakes are for Everfair. The chapter dealt more with Lisette’s love life and a potential scandal (one that was obviously coming according to Lisette’s asides) than with the politics involved. 

Ultimately I was hoping for the book to go more into the politics of Everfair and the Congo and for there to be more steampunk gadgetry in the book. What I got was a fascinating primer on the problems in the Congo caused by Belgium in the late 1800s and early 1900s and a lot of romantic pairings I didn’t care much about.  

Friday 3 March 2017

3D Metal Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral

A few weekends ago I spent several hours putting together one of my Christmas presents, a 3D metal model of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. It was by far the most difficult model I've done, though they all have at least one hard part. Sorry for the poor quality of the photos. My room isn't well lit and I took them with my iPad rather than a real camera.

Here are the pieces: the two sheets of metal, the case, my pliers, and the instructions.

And a few unfolded flying buttresses pieces, with a measuring tape for scale. These were not fun to fold or install. Half way through I had to stop as my eyes were starting to hurt from the glare off the metal and trying to concentrate so hard to make sure each of the pieces 3 prongs went into the correct slots. 

I really love how detailed these sets are, and this one exceeded my expectations. The West Facade was made up of several parts, giving it a lot of depth. The portals (doors) were 3 layers deep! (Sorry the photo's blurry.)

 And here's the finished model from both sides. Yes, I did go back and straighten some of the buttresses.

I'm very happy with how the model turned out. It's quite large (for one of these), and it looks incredible.

Thursday 2 March 2017

Shout-Out: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilizations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives.

And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them...

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It's their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded by layers of protection - and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore's crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

Revenger is a science fiction adventure story set in the rubble of our solar system in the dark, distant future - a tale of space pirates, buried treasure, and phantom weapons, of unspeakable hazards and single-minded heroism... and of vengeance...

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Strange Fictions Press Launches New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Zine

The press release:

Science fiction and fantasy book imprint Strange Fictions Press is delighted to announce the official launch of their new webzine, Strange Fictions SciFi & Fantasy Zine. Strange Fictions Zine focuses on publishing speculative short fiction, nonfiction, art, and poetry twice a week for genre fans worldwide.

Strange Fictions is the latest project from the editors of The Battered Suitcase, launched in 2008. The editors add: “Working with a broad range of authors is just too addictive, and it’s exciting to be back to publishing short fiction again. We really missed the ability to reach new readers on a frequent basis.”
Vagabondage Press is not new to genre fiction, having previously launched their horror and dark fiction imprint, Dark Alley Press. Their roots are truly in genre fiction; raised on the classic pulp sci-fi magazines, and the company found itself gravitating more frequently to genre books ― science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Adding an online periodical seemed like a natural way to connect with other fans.
Strange Fictions SciFi & Fantasy Zine officially launches on Feb. 28 with “This Chicken Outfit,” by Pushcart nominated author, A.L. Sirois. Siriois’ short stories have appeared in Thema, Amazing Stories, and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. He has also contributed comic art for DC, Marvel, and Charlton.
New stories, poems, and essays will appear every Tuesday and Friday. Subscribers can sign up for email notifications whenever a new story is posted.
Strange Fictions SF&F Zine is open to submissions from both new and experienced genre writers, and details can be found at the website.

If you're interested in submitting, here are their pay rates from their website:

Text Pay Rates: For online Strange Fictions SF&F ‘Zine acquisitions, we offer a flat-rate payment for both digital publication and possible addition to our print anthologies. Authors of acquired pieces for Strange Fictions SF&F ‘Zine will receive a flat fee payment of $5 for stories, essays, poetry, and book reviews of 4,999 words and under and $10 for stories, essays, poetry, and book reviews of 5,000-10,000, words. Payment is made upon publication via PayPal.

Art Submissions: For art submissions, artists will be paid $2 per accepted 72dpi or 96dpi image for non-exclusive rights. Images at 300dpi for print publication can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis after digital publication. Previously shown or published works are acceptable.