Friday 29 December 2017

Books Received in December 2017

Many thanks to TOR for the following review copies.

The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer - Book three of the Terra Ignota series. I thought Too Like the Lightning was absolutely brilliant but had some issues with Seven Surrenders. The series is so involved that I might wait until the last book is out before reading this, as I'll have to reread or skim the previous books in order to get the most out of this.

The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end.
Peace and order are now figments of the past. Corruption, deception, and insurgency hum
within the once steadfast leadership of the Hives, nations without fixed location.
The heartbreaking truth is that for decades, even centuries, the leaders of the great Hives
bought the world's stability with a trickle of secret murders, mathematically planned. So
that no faction could ever dominate. So that the balance held.
The Hives' façade of solidity is the only hope they have for maintaining a semblance of
order, for preventing the public from succumbing to the savagery and bloodlust of wars
past. But as the great secret becomes more and more widely known, that façade is
slipping away.
Just days earlier, the world was a pinnacle of human civilization. Now everyone-Hives
and hiveless, Utopians and sensayers, emperors and the downtrodden, warriors and
saints-scrambles to prepare for the seemingly inevitable war.

Hymn by Ken Scholes - This is the final book in the fantastic Psalms of Isaac series. I've reviewed all of the books in the series (Lamentation, Canticle, Antiphon, Requiem, Hymn). The books have a lot of intrigue and blend science with magic. The series hasn't received nearly as much attention as it deserves. It does get heavy at times (book 2 has a lot of torture), but it's well worth it.

The battle for control of The Named Lands has captivated readers as they have learned, alongside the characters, the true nature of world called Lasthome.
Now the struggle between the Andro-Francine Order of the Named Lands and the Y'Zirite Empire has reached a terrible turning point. Believing that his son is dead, Rudolfo has pretended to join with the triumphant Y'zirite forces-but his plan is to destroy them all with a poison that is targeted only to the enemy.
In Y'Zir, Rudolfo's wife Jin Li Tam is fighting a war with her own father which will bring that Empire to ruin.
And on the Moon, Neb, revealed as one of the Younger Gods, takes the power of the Last Home Temple for his own.

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson - The Stormlight Archive book 3.

In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.
Dalinar Kholin's Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.
Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar's blood-soaked past and stand together-and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past-even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.

Thursday 28 December 2017

Shout-Out: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Since she was a baby, Aza Ray Boyle has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Wednesday 27 December 2017

Christmas Prezzies

Santa was very nice to me this year. I'm hoping he was just as good to all of you.  Here are some things you'll (hopefully) be hearing more of next year (when I put these together/read/watch them).

As a kid I was really into semi precious gems. I actually tried to find geodes at the beach one year (spoiler alert: I didn't find any - they don't form on beaches). I'm thinking of cutting the geodes open rather than smashing them with a hammer so I have display worthy pieces at the end (assuming of course some of the geodes look cool inside). I've also seen these crystal growing kits around and wanted to try one, so that's great.

I've been getting into these mini dollhouse DIY kits. You get all the component parts and put the diorama together. Once my homemade alchemy one is done I'll do a few of these.

Metal puzzles! They take a few hours - and a whole lot of patience - to put together, but they look incredible when done.

And it wouldn't be a holiday without some books! I got a Viking book and a DVD learning set. I got some other books as well, but as these themed, they made the blog post.

Did you get anything fun for Christmas this year?

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Book Review: Authority by Jeff Vandermeer

This is book two of the Southern Reach trilogy. 

Pros: interesting characters, interesting mystery

Cons: drawn out, boring at times

John Rodriguez, or Control, as he prefers to be called, is assigned as the new director of the Southern Reach project, the organization that oversees Area X. His assistant director, Grace, is openly hostile, while the remains of the science team are a helpful, if slightly unhinged bunch. Even his handler, the mysterious Voice, whom he phones reports in to daily, becomes antagonistic towards him as the days pass. Control isn’t sure how he’s supposed to bring the agency under control considering the opposition, especially when it becomes clear that secrets have been kept from him.

While it’s not essential to read book one in order to understand the majority of this book, the biologist does play a role and some information from Area X makes more sense if you have read that book.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed getting to know Control and seeing the inner workings of the Southern Reach. While I understood some of Grace’s resistence to his being there, her continued undermining of his job started to grate on my nerves. Indeed, about 200 pages into the book I began to realize that I didn’t like any of the characters and no longer cared if Control succeeded in his mission.

I really wanted to learn more about the organization and Area X, but the book’s more interested in the inner working of Control and how the various revelations affect his mental state. While the mystery was interesting, so little was uncovered by the 3/4 mark and in such roundabout ways (scenes intercut with other scenes, making it hard at time to piece together what was present and what was past) that I found myself getting bored and no longer caring what was going on. Things picked up in the last third of the book, getting first fascinating, and then kind of boring again. 

The book brings up a lot of new questions but doesn’t answer many. I’m wary of reading the third book for fear that no answers are coming.

Monday 25 December 2017

Friday 22 December 2017

Movie Review: The House on Haunted Hill

Directed by William Castle and Rosemary Horvath, 1959

Pros: melodramatic, some good acting, interesting story, some decent scares

Cons: melodramatic, some cheesy special effects

Millionaire Frederick Loren invites five strangers to join him and his wife for a party at a haunted house. If they survive the night, he’ll give them each $10 000. 

Nora Manning, a secretary who wants the payout to help support her family, starts seeing things first. As her hysteria mounts and more terrifying things happen, a body is found and one of them is a murderer. Unless it’s the ghosts Mr. Pritchard (the house’s owner) insists are growing restless.

The movie starts off in an unusual manner, with a floating head of Mr. Pritchard explaining that the house is haunted. You then see Mr. Loren (played masterfully by Vincent Price)’s floating head introducing the five guests and his wife’s… strange sense of humour. 

There are some genuinely tense moments, especially around Nora. Her screaming can get a bit unnerving, especially towards the end of the film.

The special effects are a bit on the cheesy side, which isn’t surprising given when the movie was made. The fake head was not very convincing.

On the whole I was impressed by this. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a fun horror film. 

Thursday 21 December 2017

Shout-Out: Inquisitor by Michael Hogan

Inquisitor Angel Xia, former mercenary turned detective, is used to being the hunter. But on another routine murder investigation the bodies begin to pile up, and Angel finds herself a target of sinister powers determined to conceal the truth.

The hunter has just become the hunted.

Betrayed by those she trusted most, and barely escaping assassination attempts, Angel receives a cryptic message from child begging for her help. Framed for horrific crimes, the only chance to clear her name is inextricably linked to a little girl.

Running for her life, Angel races to forgotten places at the edges of known space that hold the darkest secrets of humanity…and the greatest threat to its future.

And all will be determined by what she chooses to do next. That is…if she can stay alive.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Video: Lindsey Stirling's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Christmas is fast approaching, so it seems a good time to post some beautiful fairy inspired music. Lindsey Stirling adds a fantasy element to so many of her violin pieces.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Pros: interesting premise, strange

Cons: few answers

The Biologist is one of four women sent into Area X on the twelfth expedition to learn more about this mysterious region.

Written as a journal, the book details the expedition, their findings, and the strange occurrences of Area X. Events happen quickly and are very focused, so there isn’t time to learn much about anyone other than the Biologist. The Biologist herself is taciturn and secretive, though you do get flashback scenes that help flesh her out. She’s also not the most reliable narrator, as you sometimes learn that she hasn’t been entirely honest in this account.

The mystery is interesting, though don’t expect to fully understand what’s going on. The story does wrap up nicely.

It’s a quick, unsettling story.

Friday 15 December 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Directed by Luc Besson, 2017

Pros: amazing special effects, great burlesque dance sequence

Cons: no chemistry between protagonists despite shoehorned romance, actions have no consequences, lots of filler

Be advised, this review contains spoilers for the film.

Major Valerian and his partner Sergeant Laureline are sent to retrieve a stolen creature. Returning it, they are attacked and become embroiled in a mystery regarding a destroyed planet and the after effects of a terrible war.

I wanted to like this movie. In fact, I wanted to love it. But the first scene with Valerian and Laureline, where he tries to pressure her into having sex with him and she refuses - forcefully - several times - simply disgusted me. Because this is a Hollywood film, and I knew that they would end up together at the end. There is no character building scene where they show any tenderness for each other. There is no sharing of future goals or past hurts. There’s no emotional connection between them beyond their partnership. She explains at the beginning why she’s not interested in him: his ‘playlist’ of conquests and his obvious lack of interest in a woman once he’s ‘won her heart’. And nowhere does the film convince me that his desire for Laureline won’t end after they finally have sex. Yes, as the film goes on Laureline screams his name a lot, when she thinks he might be dead and when she needs rescue. But Valerian has more chemistry and connection with Bubble than he does with Laureline, even at the end of the film. And his sudden desire to marry her to prove he’s willing to commit makes no sense, especially when you realize he doesn’t even know what the marriage vows are.

The special effects were amazing. The creatures look great, the settings were cool. I didn’t understand how the space station worked having so many specialized living areas (water world, alien gas world, human gas world). Valerian damages quite a few areas of the station while chasing the Pearls (both in his suit and in his ships) but nothing seems to come of it, despite the fact that at least one area of the water world is left flooding another, non water filled section. 

In fact, there’s a weird lack of consequences for actions. Valerian sneaks into an alien section and proceeds to murder their emperor and several of his guards. No one cares. During the opening mission Valerian and Laureline simply abandon the men in the bus they were working with. No one cares that the entire crew dies. Both characters constantly refuse to follow orders (which makes Valerian’s comment at the end of the film that he’s a soldier first rather laughable). 

A lot of the middle of the film felt like filler designed to showcase the aliens and station. Considering they knew Valerian’s position when he crashed, I don’t understand why Laureline needed to find a psychic jellyfish to pinpoint him. While the burlesque dance by Bubble (played by Rihanna) was phenomenal (the costume and make-up changes were brilliantly done) the scene itself did nothing to advance the plot (except, perhaps, to show again that Valerian isn’t ready to commit the way he’s trying to convince Laureline he is). I don’t know how Valerian knew the butterflies were lures, considering he was passed out before Laureline showed up and just as new to the station as she was. And while I’m talking about that scene, what happened to her gun? How did she get captured so easily? And why was Bubble trying to protect her later when Laureline, not Bubble, was the one with combat training and experience? 

I’m frankly astonished at how far the Pearls have come. In 30 years they learned about space travel, ended up on a crashed shuttle, figured out how to fly it, landed on Alpha, figured out how to build their own spaceships, forgiven the commander (despite the fact that he’s still capturing and torturing their people), etc. Hard to believe, really.

Valerian makes several weird reversals when dealing with the Pearls at the end. He punches his commanding officer, tells them he’s going to make things right as he hands over the pearl, then he tries to stop Laureline from returning the converter (despite that being what would make things right). He argues that his oath of allegience means he can’t hand over government property. He also says he’s a soldier who plays by the rules. This is the same man who just punched his commanding officer and refused several direct orders throughout the movie? I’d also disagree with Laureline’s assertion that his refusal to go against his conscience means he doesn’t understand love. Oh, he doesn’t understand love, but that’s not the reason why. I’d even go so far as to say that Laureline’s the one who doesn’t understand love here. Because she wants him to change for her. You can’t force that kind of change. And if you try to force it, then you’re the one who doesn’t feel love.

I was left with a lot of questions: How did the Pearl mini ships work? And why were they building a giant ship when they had a big attack ship that could split off into mini ships? Since the opening montage showed that everyone in the universe is friendly, who was Earth fighting when Mul was destroyed? How did the humans get the Mul converter originally? They destroyed the planet and didn’t know it was inhabited. Did the writers realize that by saying Alpha station was 7 million miles from Earth it was just reaching Saturn? Doesn’t seem that far for 400 years worth of travel. Why send Alpha station away at all? Why not just push it into a higher, more stable orbit? Sending it away is a real waste of resources. If Bubble was a kind of liquid jelly being, why did she turn to dust when she died? 

I really wanted to like this movie but it was kind of a mess. It’s pretty to look at, but not much else.

Thursday 14 December 2017

Video: The Star Wars Concept Trailer

Some graduating students at The DAVE (Digital Animation & Visual Effects) School, have made a concept trailer based on Steve McQuarrie's original concept art for Star Wars. I knew that Luke's last name was originally Starkiller, I didn't know her first name was originally Luka.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away... we might have seen a version of Star Wars that featured a Han Solo with green skin and gills, Stormtroopers with lightsabers, and a female heroine named Luka Starkiller.
Many of these anomalies can be seen in concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie's early illustrations of the Star Wars universe. While looking back at these early paintings we can't help but wonder what Star Wars would have been like had it remained loyal to the concept art and early drafts of the script.

The Star Wars: Concept Trailer from The DAVE School on Vimeo.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Botnik Studios: Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash

Botnik Studios announced on twitter that it has "used predictive keyboards trained on all seven books to ghostwrite this spellbinding new Harry Potter chapter". According to Nat Towsen a writer/editor at Botnik Studios, "It's not automated! We have a team of writers who all use the Botnik predictive text keyboard. We trained keyboards on all 7 books and had a big writing jam. Then I took the best pieces of copy, arranged them into a narrative, and wrote some copy to fill in the gaps."

It's quite short and incredibly bizarre, but Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash is also probably the funniest thing you'll read today.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Novella Review: Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Pros: interesting story, good character development

Cons: limited description

Amelia dreams of heading to Mars, but she can’t afford the flight and doesn’t want to be an indentured servant, so she continues to eek out an existence in Mexico City, making ends meet by doing occasional jobs as a paid friend.

This is a novella funded by an IndieGoGo campaign, which I supported.

Amelia isn’t the most likeable character, as evidenced by her limited Friendrr clientele, but she is an honest one. A string of bad luck left her somewhat bitter and depressed as her dreams become harder and harder to achieve. As the story progresses she both becomes a better friend and person in some ways while also making bad decisions that could land her in an even worse position. By the end of the story, seeing her deal with difficult circumstances, I really liked her.

It is fairly short and while I’d have enjoyed more description the story works very well as is. It’s interesting hearing about life in Mexico City. The story doesn’t say what year this takes place, though given the dates that are mentioned it can’t be too far into the future.  

It’s a quick read if you’re looking for something a little different.

Friday 8 December 2017

Movie Review: Final Destination

Directed by James Wong, 2000

Pros: decent acting, interesting premise, minimal gore

Cons: some melodramatic scenes

After boarding a plane for their school trip to Paris, one student has a horrible premonition that the plane is going to blow up. He and six other people are kicked off the flight only to watch the plane explode. One by one, the survivors start dying in bizarrely convoluted ways.

While the opening scenes are fairly melodramatic - focusing on normal things and making them seem spooky - the rest of the film is quite good. The acting was pretty good and I was impressed at how little gore there was.

I knew the basic premise going in but still found it interesting. The creepiest part of the film was wondering which of the random things the camera focused on would actually cause the killing blow. 

This is not a film to watch if you’re scared of flying, but otherwise it was a fun time waster.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Shout-Out: Version Control by Dexter Palmer

Although Rebecca Wright has pieced her life back together after a major tragedy, she can’t shake a sense that the world around her feels off-kilter. Meanwhile, her husband’s dedication to his invention, “the causality violation device” (which he would greatly prefer you not call a time machine) has effectively stalled his career—but he may be closer to success than either of them can possibly imagine. Emotionally powerful and wickedly intelligent, Version Control is a stunningly prescient novel about the effects of science and technology on our lives, our friendships, and our sense of self that will alter the way you see the future—and the present.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Video: Ancient Egyptian Clap Bow Mouse Trap

A friend of mine posted this video to facebook and I thought it was worth sharing here. I've seen fantasy book where cats are used to keep rodent populations down, but I don't think I've ever seen one mention actual mouse traps. Shawn Woods has made this Egyptian clap bow trap out of wood and twine. If you're squeamish, stop watching around the 4 minute mark as he does use the trap to kill a mouse. The opening explains how to make the trap and how it works.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Book Review: Hymn by Ken Scholes

* This is the fifth and final Psalms of Isaak novel.

Pros: lots of twists and turns, great character moments, touching ending


Picking up immediately where Requiem left off, Neb still needs the staff that Vlad Li Tam is using to terrorize the Y’Zirite Empire. Amyle D’Anjite has disappeared with her kin-dragon, on a mission to oppose Neb and the work he and Patronus are doing on the moon. Orius, Lysias, and Rudolfo work towards clearing the Named Lands of Y’Zirite soldiers. In the aftermath of the Final Dream, Winteria Bat Mardic begins preaching again. And mysterious allies finally show themselves.

This is the fifth and final book in the Psalms of Isaac series. I’ve long since given up trying to figure out what’s going to happen next in these books. There are so many surprises and major twists. A new group shows up in this book that ends up playing major roles along the various storylines. 

While I sympathized with (and in some cases agreed with) a few of Vlad Li Tam’s actions, there hit a point where I agreed with other characters that he needed to be stopped. Jin Li Tam makes some surprising choices, and I was impressed with how Rudolfo dealt with his further losses.

At one point I was convinced that the author had forgotten about Lynnae, Jacob’s wet-nurse, and so was very happy that she turned up again.

The ending was fantastic. It came with more revelations about the people, and really tied off a lot of character threads. There were tears (in book and in person), and moments of joy.

If you like intrigue and haven’t picked these books up, you’re missing out.

Friday 1 December 2017

Books Received in December, 2017

Many thanks to Tor Books for sending me several books for review this month.

Joe Ledger: Unstoppable edited by Jonathan Maberry and Bryan Thomas Schmidt - This is an anthology based on Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger (as seen in: Patient Zero, Dragon Factory, etc.). The character sounds interesting and the author list on this is impressive.

Joe Ledger Fans Rejoice!
Everyone’s favorite snarky, dangerous, idealistic, relentless covert operative is back, and this time he’s brought friends. Joe Ledger: Unstoppable presents original short stories about Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences by some of New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry’s "friends in the industry." Buckle up for powerful, exciting, and nail-biting adventures by Seanan McGuire, Scott Sigler, Larry Correia, Weston Ochse, Steve Alten, David Farland, Aaron Rosenberg, James A. Moore, James Ray Tuck, Javier Grillo Marxuach, Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Jeremy Robinson, Joe McKinney, Jon McGoran, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Nicholas Seven, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, P.G. Charles, and Dana Fredsti!
Joe Ledger is a former Baltimore cop who was recruited into a secret government agency tasked with stopping terrorists who are using bleeding-edge science weapons. The stakes are always high. If you have to call Joe Ledger, it’s already hit the fan!

Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren - They're calling this young adult though it sounds like it would be great for the 9-12 crowd too.

When the unexpected moves in next door, anything can happen in Weave a Circle Round, Kari Maaren's debut in this YA-friendly fantasy adventure.
Freddy doesn’t want people to think she’s weird. Her family makes that difficult, though: her deaf stepbrother Roland’s a major geek, and her genius little sister Mel’s training to be the next Sherlock Holmes. All Freddy wants is to survive high school.
Then two extremely odd neighbors move in next door.
Cuerva Lachance and Josiah definitely aren't normal. Neither is their house, which defies the laws of physics. Neither is Freddy’s situation, when she suddenly finds herself stuck thousands of years in the past with her very, very weird neighbors. And that’s only the beginning.

After the End of the World by Jonathan Howard - This is the follow up novel to Howard's 2015 novel, Carter & Lovecraft about a reluctant detective faced with bizarre and impossible events.

After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard brings the H.P. Lovecraft mythos into the twenty-first century.
The Unfolded World is a bitter and unfriendly place for Daniel Carter and Emily Lovecraft. In this world, the Cold War never happened because the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1941. In this world the Nazi Großdeutschland is the premier superpower, and is not merely tolerated but indulged because, in this world, the Holocaust happened behind the ruins of the Iron Curtain and consumed only Bolsheviks, Communists, and others the West was glad to see gone. In this world, there are monsters, and not all of them are human.
But even in the Unfolded World, there are still bills to pay and jobs to do. Carter finds himself working for the German secret security service to uncover the truth behind a major scientific joint project that is going suspiciously well. The trail takes Lovecraft and him to a distant, abandoned island, and a conspiracy that threatens everything. To fight it, Lovecraft must walk a perilously narrow path between forbidden knowledge and soul-destroying insanity.
Fortunately, she also has a shotgun.

The Eterna Solution by Leanna Renee Hieber - This is the third Eterna Files novel.

It’s 1882 and two government divisions of paranormal investigators have completed a most harrowing task―stopping a demonic nobleman from taking over the British Parliament. Now the motley crew of psychics, scientists, scholars, and magicians must race across the ocean to Manhattan to protect it from evil forces they believe Moriel unleashed.
American Clara Templeton’s psychic powers have grown exponentially but she worries that defeating the sinister forces arrayed against them will cost her her life. Londoner Harold Spire, once a Scotland Yard detective, has had just about enough of the occult, though he has seen his team’s supernatural powers at work. Together, the American Eterna Commission and the British Omega Department hope to save New York City without destroying themselves.
In this climactic third installment of The Eterna Files series, Prism award-winning author Leanna Renee Hieber delivers a delightful Gaslamp fantasy set in 19th century New York and Washington D.C., rich with detail and embroidered with a cast of captivating characters.

Semiosis by Sue Burke - This debut SF sounds amazing. It's out in February.

Human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance in Semiosis, a character driven science fiction novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke.
Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches...and waits...
Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet's sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.