Friday 28 April 2017

Books Received in April 2017

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

Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele - I've not read any of Edmond Hamilton's Captain Future stories, but I have read some pulp SF, so this may be a lot of fun.

Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret after the murder of Curt's parents.
Curt's innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition and assassinate the president. There's only one way to uncover the evil mastermind-Curt must become Captain Future.
With the permission of the Edmond Hamilton estate, Allen Steele revives the exciting adventures of Captain Future.

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland - I've already read this graphic novel, and my review of it will be up on May 2nd, the day it's published. While the artwork isn't quite to my liking, the book is very atmospheric and sets up several intriguing mysteries.
Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone.
The Spill claimed Addison's parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn't spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone's twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death-or worse.
When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits-and it seems to be calling Addison's name.

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett - This is a debut novel and sounds like a slow burn philosophical SF novel. I'm looking forward to it. Out June 13.

All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit...
Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.

Soon Jamie finds other survivors, and their ragtag group will travel through the vast reaches of space, drawn to the promise of a new beginning on Earth. But their dream will pit them against those desperately clinging to the old ways. And Jamie’s own journey home will help her close the distance between who she has become and who she is meant to be...

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi - This novel sounds very interesting.

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible-until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.
Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It's a hedge against interstellar war-and, for the empire's rulers, a system of control.
The Flow is eternal-but it's not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it's discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals-a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency-must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan - I absolutely loved book one of this series, The Waking Fire, so I'm really looking forward to this. Out June 27.

For centuries, the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood—and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed—to fuel and protect its empire. But now, a fearsome power has arisen—a drake so mighty that the world will tremble before it.
Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and ironship captain Corrick Hilemore embark upon perilous quests to chase down clues that offer faint hopes of salvation. As the world burns around them, and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few are the last hope for the empire and for all of civilization.

Thursday 27 April 2017

Shout-Out: The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

Translated from Russian by Yuri Machkasov

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Video: ROSA

This is an amazing short film by Jesús Orellana.

ROSA is an epic sci-fi short film that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where all natural life has disappeared. From the destruction awakes Rosa, a cyborg deployed from the Kernel project, mankind’s last attempt to restore the earth’s ecosystem. Rosa will soon learn that she is not the only entity that has awakened and must fight for her survival.

ROSA from Jesús Orellana on Vimeo.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Book Review: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Pros: emotional punch, multi-layered plot, great characters


It’s been thirteen years since Sigrud last saw Shara Komayd, but the news of her assassination still hits him hard. When he goes looking for those who killed her, he stumbles into a series of plots started years past.  He also has to locate and protect her adopted daughter, Tatyana, from Shara’s enemies.

This is the third book in the Divine Cities trilogy. While it was possible to read book two of this series as a standalone, the personal connections and plot twists of book three require having read at least the first book, though I’d recommend reading both before starting this one. Knowing the close connection between Sigrud and Shara is what propels the first half of this book, with Mulaghesh making an appearance and Signe’s name showing up several times. But it’s Shara’s presence that infuses the story, and Sigrud’s regrets regarding his treatment of the women in his life that completes it.

In many ways this book takes the plot of City of Stairs and brings it full circle, explaining some of the mysteries that book left open as well as some of the mysteries surrounding Sigrud himself. 

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Sigrud as the main point of view character considering how straightforward he is. But he’s quite fascinating once you get into his mind. And while he isn’t the planner that Shara was, he’s quite intelligent and figures things out pretty fast.

It would have been nice to get to know Tatyana better, but I loved Ivanya. It’s strange seeing the future of a fantasy world, and seeing how people affected by the great events in one book pick up the pieces of their lives - or transform themselves completely - because of them. Ivanya is cool under pressure, having prepared for years for what’s coming. 

The plot has several layers to it, some of them get pulled back quickly, while others take a while to be revealed. 

This is a brilliant end to a brilliant series, and I’m not ashamed to say that it had me in tears several times.

Out May 2

Friday 21 April 2017

Artist Spotlight: Gregory and Olga Grozos

The Grozos' are a couple living on Cyprus who own a shop called Micro (as well as an Etsy shop where you can buy some of their amazing creations).

They work in a micro scale, making tiny steampunk and other inspired jewelry. Here's a tiny sample from Gregory Grozos' facebook page:

Thursday 20 April 2017

Shout-Out: Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

In a near-future London, Millie Dack places her hand on her belly to feel her baby kick, resolute in her decision to be a single parent. Across town, her closest friend—a hungover Toni Munroe—steps into the shower and places her hand on a medic console. The diagnosis is devastating.

In this stunning, bittersweet family saga, Millie and Toni experience the aftershocks of human progress as their children and grandchildren embrace new ways of making babies. When infertility is a thing of the past, a man can create a child without a woman, a woman can create a child without a man, and artificial wombs eliminate the struggles of pregnancy. But what does it mean to be a parent? A child? A family?

Through a series of interconnected vignettes that spans five generations and three continents, this emotionally taut story explores the anxieties that arise when the science of fertility claims to deliver all the answers.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Video: BBC's Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams

This is a wonderful video about the automata created in the 1700s and the technological advances made by clockmakers and other artisans and how they changed the Western world. The presenter is Professor Simon Schaffer.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Book Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Pros: excellent characters, great world-building, variety of fights


Pyrre has reached the final test for becoming a priestess of Ananshael. She must kill seven people in fourteen days. But her final target must be someone she loves above all others, and Pyrre has never known love. So she returns to the city of her birth and the man she once knew, hoping he’ll be The One.

Pyrre appears as a side character in Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. This is a stand-alone novel where she - and her worship of the god of death - are in the forefront. While the previous books aren’t necessary to enjoy this one, there are descriptions of Rassambur, the assassin’s home base, in book three, Last Mortal Bond, which flesh out the city and the practice of Ananshael’s priests.

Witnessing her trial are two priests, Kossal, an older man who speaks truth and has few cares for the world, and Ela, the woman he loves, who loves everybody and who’s as graceful as she is deadly. Ela tries to teach Pyrre what love is, a conversation that involves as many knives as you’d expect from a duo of professional assassins.

There’s a surprising amount of banter considering the premise of the book. I enjoyed Pyrre’s attempts to understand her own emotions as she alternates between getting closer and further away from Ruc Lan Lac. Her plan is overly convoluted but has some fascinating consequences. I especially enjoyed the chapters dealing with the delta and life there.

The world-building was top notch, expanding an unexplored area of the world but tying it and its history into that of the previous books. The delta felt vibrant and the dangers - and how to deal with them - realistic. The local religion also had weight to it, practiced differently by the city folk and the delta people.

As expected, there are some fabulous fight scenes, against a surprising variety of people and things.

This was an excellent book.

Out April 25th.

Saturday 15 April 2017

Miniature Books

As part of my diorama plans, I've been learning how to make miniature books. I posted a video on how to make them a while back, and I've now made a few myself.

The first two I made are larger and include the only open book I've done so far. For the open book I wrote stuff on a few pages (writing less on pages that won't fully show, getting only the edges for the last few pages) and used thread to bind the pages together, then glued them to a piece of fake leather. The closed book is groupings of folded pages, glued together, then I laid a small piece of coffee filter to the spine to add strength before gluing the fake leather backing on. I used a gold pen for the markings on the cover.

The next batch of three mini books (at a slightly smaller scale), are all closed. As with the closed book above, I aligned the edges of the folded pages and glued them together to form the spine, reinforced it with the filter paper, then glued on thin cardboard for the binding. The first two were coloured brown with a marker, the third with brass coloured nail polish (so it's shiny). The marker soaked through the cardboard making it fairly brittle, so I scuffed up one to make it look older.

The final batch I did on an even smaller scale. I had to use clamps to hold the pages together. Getting them into the clamp and lined up wasn't easy (especially as I hadn't trimmed my nails in a while). I didn't use the filter paper on these as they're too small.

Here are all the books lined up, one of the clamps, and some of the prepared backing papers. I'll have to make a few open spell books at the smallest scale for my egg dioramas. 

Thursday 13 April 2017

Shout-Out: The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah Wolf

In the heart of the singing desert, the people are fading from the world. Mothers bear few live children, the warriors and wardens are hard-pressed to protect those who remain, and the vash’ai—the great cats who have called the people kithren for as long as there have been stories—bond with fewer humans each year. High above, the Sun Dragon sings a song of life and love while far below, the Earth Dragon slumbers as she has since the beginning of time. Her sleep is fitful, and from the darkness of her dreams come whispers of war… and death. 
Sulema is a newly minted warrior of the people and a true Ja'Akari—a daughter of the unforgiving desert. When a mysterious young man appears in her home of Aish Kalumm, she learns that the Dragon King is dying in distant Atualon. As the king fades, so does the magic that sings the Earth Dragon to sleep.

There are those who wish to keep the dragon trapped in endless slumber. Others would tap her power to claim it for their own. And there are those who would have her wake, so they might laugh as the world burns.

Out April 18th.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Video: Obstacle Run in Armour

Ever wondered how a medieval knight in full armour would fare against a modern soldier or a firefighter? Well, Daniel Jaquet made a video where three men run an obstacle course - once without armour, and once fully geared up.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Magazine Review: Lightspeed 48 (May 2014) Edited by John Joseph Adams

This is the first issue of Lightspeed magazine I’ve read and I was very impressed, both by its length and by the diversity of content. The quality of the stories was high, as expected, with several SF and fantasy. I read this over several months (I use magazines as commute material and don’t commute much anymore) so there was a disconnect between the stories and the spotlights (which go into the background of the stories). 

Science Fiction
“A Tank Only Fears Four Things” by Seth Dickinson
**** Tereshkova has trouble overcoming her fear after the war. - A great story about how fears are pervasive but facing them with others can help.

“Selfie” by Sandra McDonald
**** Susan orders a selfie to stand in for her on a vacation with her dad. - An interesting story about memory and identity.

“Zero Temptation” by Sean Williams
**** A trip to the beach backfires when the d-mat that brought her there breaks down. - Interesting characters with a bit of romance.

“Deep End” by Nisi Shawl
**** A prison ship with personalities downloaded into clones, finally reaches its destination planet. - Neat premise, well executed.

“Willful Weapon” by Fred Van Lente
*** The prideful Cellach of Clan mac Roth is sent to America in disgrace. Robbed of his name and pampered position, he must pay off his debts by being an enforcer. - Though well written, I didn’t find the story that interesting.

“The Ba of Phalloon” by Matthew Hughes
*** Obron has defeated Phalloon and taken over his castle. Now his security guard Kaslo must secure it against refugees. - This is part of a serial, so it starts in media res and ends with more to come. There was a quick introductory paragraph summing up the basics, but the story proper had to explain a fair bit too. I felt kind of lost reading this, as the explanations seemed to be lacking some important information, but I expect the earlier stories explained more about the crisis and how things used to be. This segment of the story dealt with building a village and a trip to the underworld. It was interesting, but definitely felt like a chapter out of a larger story rather than a standalone story.

“Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt” by Rachel Pollack
****1/2 Joseph of the Coat of Many Colours reflects back on his history as a reader of dreams, and what the future holds for his people. - It’s an interesting look at what it means to see how your actions will effect the future. People unfamiliar with the Biblical story might find it hard to follow as it jumps to different scenes in Joseph’s life and his visions of Moses.

“Second Hand” by Rajan Khanna
***** Two men who’ve learned the magic of Cards, find an older Card Sharp willing to teach them new tricks. - Great premise, well executed.

Shiva in Shadow by Nancy Kress
**** Two male scientists and their female captain examine an anomaly surrounding the supermassive black whole Sagittarius A*, both in physical form and as analogues on a probe sent towards its center. The two crews experience their discovery differently. - I was a little annoyed that one of the captain’s duties is to keep the two men sexually satisfied, though it did work for the story, allowing her to diffuse tensions and keep the mission on track. It was fascinating how the two crews diverged, and what minor changes created large tensions.

I skipped the three novel excerpts (Defenders by Will McIntosh, The Silk Map by Chris Willrich, and Babel-17 by Samuel Delany) because if I start reading a book I want the immediate option of finishing it. 

The nonfiction section, interviews with Jeff Vandermeer and Michio Kaku, were quite good. I skipped a little bit of Vandermeer’s interview for fear of spoilers but both pieces left me wanting to read their works. The artist gallery and spotlight on Peter Mohrbacher was also interesting. I’ve not heard of him and seeing examples of his artwork was cool. 

The author spotlights are quick Q and As with the story authors, going into why they wrote the stories they did, their inspirations and future projects. In future I’d want to read these immediately after the stories and find it odd that they’re not positioned next to them in the magazine.

The magazine ended with a short essay by Sofia Samatar called The Myth of Everyman, in response to why the cast of the film Noah was all white.

Friday 7 April 2017

Movie Review: Warlock

Directed by Steve Miner, 1989
IMDb listing 

Pros: atmospheric, some good special effects, minimal gore/blood 

Cons: one bad special effect, some scenes don’t age well

In 1691 a condemned warlock escapes justice in a demonic wind, ending up in the present day (’80s) and sent to find the grand grimoire, a satanic text that will unravel the world. The man who caught him in the past follows him to the future, and sets out to catch him again with the help of a young woman whom the warlock has cursed.

I have vague recollections of seeing this on TV in the early 90s. Certain aspects of the film do not date well. There’s a gay man who, we are told, is gay but not queer (after insinuations that he might have been a pedophile). I was impressed that he wasn’t the 80s stereotypical flamboyant figure. It actually took me a few minutes to realize he was gay. The ‘hero’ (maybe anti-hero?) slaps Kassandra as she tries to get away from him, she tries to hit him back but I can’t remember if she connects or not.

The warlock is well played by Julian Sands, who looks suitably evil. There’s little blood and gore but a fair bit of suggestive horrors going on (some just barely off screen). The film is quite atmospheric, using lighting and music to good effect, creating some good jump scares.

The special effects around the hand spells and the make-up for Kassandra’s curse are well done, though the flying scenes are on the cheesy side.

While a few scenes caused me to cringe, on the whole it was a decent movie, keeping in mind when it was made.

Thursday 6 April 2017

Shout-Out: Brimstone by Cherie Priest

In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomás Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy—for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomás dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake....
Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife’s spirit.
But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomás and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself....

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Video: Miniature Dollhouse Castle

I've started making miniature scenes and trying to learn some of the techniques needed to do a good job. Some people are simply incredible and make this look so easy. People like Celine at AkameruKawaii who has several tutorials, including this one for a 1:144 scale castle.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Book Review: The Last Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Pros: great characters, interesting mystery, some new spells and creatures 


Three years after the events of The Twilight Watch Anton Gorodetsky is sent to Scotland to help investigate the murder of the human son of a potential Russian other, by what appears to have been a vampire. It’s quickly apparent that more’s going on than murder, and that whoever’s behind the murder isn’t afraid to use humans as canon fodder.

This book refers fairly often to the events in the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t read them if a while, a quick skim is in order. 

As with the previous books this one is separated into three sections. It was cool seeing Anton work in different locales and dealing with new members of the watches. He’s an interesting character and the supporting cast grows a bit in this book while bringing back several characters from the previous books.

The mystery surrounding the hole in the twilight and Merlin’s spell kept me guessing even as other new spells were explained and used, and some new creatures - specifically different types of golems - show up. The book also had some Others using more technology with their magic, which was cool to see.

I enjoyed the book. This is my favourite urban fantasy series and I’m glad to be reading it again.

Monday 3 April 2017

Books Received in March 2017

Many thanks as always to the publishers who gave me review books last month.

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer - This is the sequel to last year's Too Like the Lightning. There are (I believe) 2 more books in the series. Here's my review of book 1 and 2.
In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war.a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end.
For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed locations, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction can ever dominate, and the balance holds. And yet the balance is beginning to give way.
Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe in service to all, knows more about this conspiracy the than he can ever admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has secrets as well, and they burden Carlyle beyond description. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life.

Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis - Sounds interesting.

A young man plagued by the ability to see ghosts races to save the mythological land of Tara from a terrible fate in Erika Lewis's stunning debut, Game of Shadows.
Thousands of years ago in Ireland, an ancient race fought a world-changing battle-and lost. Their land overrun, the Celtic gods and goddesses fled, while the mythical races and magical druids sailed to an uncharted continent, cloaked so mankind could never find it. This new homeland was named Tara.

In modern day Los Angeles, Ethan Makkai struggles with an overprotective mother who never lets him out of her sight, and a terrifying secret: he can see ghosts. Desperate for a taste of freedom, he leaves his apartment by himself for the first time-only to find his life changed forever. After being attacked by dive-bombing birds, he races home to find the place trashed and his mother gone.

With the help of a captain from Tara who has been secretly watching the Makkais for a long time, Ethan sets out to save his mother; a journey that leads him to the hidden lands, and straight into the arms of a vicious sorcerer who will stop at nothing until he controls Tara.With new-found allies including Christian, the cousin he never knew he had, and Lily, the sword-slinging healer who'd rather fight than mend bones, Ethan travels an arduous road-dodging imprisonment, battling beasts he thought only existed in nightmares, and accepting help from the beings he's always sought to avoid: ghosts. This L.A. teen must garner strength from his gift and embrace his destiny if he's going to save his mother, the fearless girl he's fallen for, and all the people of Tara.

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley - This is a stand-alone book set in the same universe as his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. I'm half way through and really enjoying it.

Pyrre Lakatur is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer-she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial.

The problem isn't the killing. The problem, rather, is love. For to complete her trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the seven people enumerated in an ancient song, including "the one who made your mind and body sing with love / who will not come again."

Pyrre isn't sure she's ever been in love. And if she fails to find someone who can draw such passion from her, or fails to kill that someone, her order will give her to their god, the God of Death. Pyrre's not afraid to die, but she hates to fail, and so, as her trial is set to begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love . . . and ending it on the edge of her sword.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge - This sounds creepy and cool.

In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the
darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell's expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . .