Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Book Review: Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom by Mary Anne Fitzgerald with Philip Marsden

Photography by: Nigel Pavitt, Frederic Courbet, Justus Mulinge, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher

Pros: gorgeous pictures, informative text

Cons: less information than expected, some sites get one or two photos while others get several

The book starts off with an introduction on the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, which differs in may respects from other Christian denominations both in practice and beliefs (their version of the Bible contains 81 books. Contrast this with the 66 books in the King James Version used by Protestants, the fewest number of books used by a Christian denomination). There’s also a short section on some of the important Ethiopian saints, whose images decorate the churches.

The churches themselves are separated by geography: Aksum and Tigray, Lalibela and Lasta, Gondar and Lake Tana. It covers 66 churches. There’s a short section with amazing photographs of the major religious festivals. The books ends with a useful glossary of terms and some notes (the notes on photography are interesting as they point out how challenging getting such complete and well lit photographs was).

This is a gorgeous coffee table book. It’s massive (10” x 13.5”, and 2” thick). There are 520 glossy pages full of photographs. There’s minimal text on each church, just enough information to introduce it. Some of the photo captions mention fascinating tidbits that are worth reading (like notes on when certain images started being portrayed in churches. For example, images of the Deposition of Christ (Christ being taken down from the Cross) only show up after the Jesuits started preached in the country in the late 1500s).

In a few cases I was disappointed by how few photos there were of a particular monument. Abba Garima, an important monastery and forbidden to women does not have a single image from inside the church, nor is there an explanation for this (like they were unable to enter/photograph it). In contrast, the monastery of Debre Damo, also off limits to women, has some excellent photographs of the buildings and ceiling.

The photos themselves are clear with a lot of detail. It’s obvious a lot of work went into them.

If you are interested in Ethiopia, the expanded Christian church, architecture or religious art, this book is worth the price.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Five Books That Would Summon Me

Yesterday I saw a post by Christina Orlando (@cxorlando) on twitter asking the following question: What five books would someone put in a pentagram to summon you?

My first reaction was to think of 5 books I love to read and reread. Should I say one per subgenre? Ones I’ve read the most and had a big impact on me growing up? And I started mentally listing books I could use.

Then it occurred to me. If you were summoning me with magic, 5 books I love wouldn’t be enough. They would have to be books that dealt with the core of who I am as a person, books that get at the essence of what makes me ‘me’.

1) The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. It’s a slow opening fantasy so it’s hard to recommend now, but it’s the first fantasy novel I really loved. It opened me up to the genre and to my love of reading in general.

2) The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were by Robert Ingpen. I loved mythology and supernatural creatures growing up and was thrilled to find this book in my public school library. It’s a meaty hardcover that goes over so many things (living and not). It’s the first book I special ordered and still sits by my chair.

3) Sailor Moon manga #2 by Naoko Takeuchi. One of the first anime I really watched was Sailor Moon. In university I started watching other shows and picked up some MIXX (now Tokyopop) manga, the first official translations. The second issue has a scene where Sailor Moon saves Tuxedo Mask and he marvels at how much she’s grown as a person since he first met her. One of my professors in university, when talking about the middle ages (my major) pointed out that most people were illiterate back then, just as many tourists learn how to speak foreign languages but never learn to read and write them. I loved the Japanese language and their music so I started teaching myself hiragana and katakana, the Japanese syllabaries. This came in handy a few years later when I moved to Japan. My language skills are pretty poor (despite a LOT of effort it seems I’m just not good at languages) but I still love the sounds and listen to Japanese music all the time.

4) Let’s Go Western Europe 2004 travel guide. After coming home from Japan I took some of the money I made and travelled around Europe. I figured I didn’t have an apartment, job, or significant other, so it was the perfect time to see the places I studied in school. It was an amazing trip and still inspires me. I LOVE travelling. The world is such a remarkable place. I love learning about new cultures, their history, traditions, food. I’m going to Ethiopia soon after learning about some of their natural and historic monuments.

5) I haven’t been able to finalize my choice for this book. I’ve considered a couple of things. High on that list is the Biblical Book of Revelations. I was very religious growing up and loved reading about the end of the world. (I was a weird kid.) When I left that church I stayed clear of all religious stuff for several years but I’ve started reading esoteric literature again (Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees). Not so much because I want to know how the world is going to end, but because it says so much about people of the past: how they thought about life, the afterlife, what’s considered ‘evil’. In fact, I’m enjoying studying Judaic legends and versions of Christianity and would like to get to Islam and some of its beliefs soon.

I could add a medieval history or art history book. Maybe one about cathedrals - my main focus, or illuminated manuscripts. Or maybe history ties in to travel, as most of the places I go are because I’ve learned about their history and want to see those things for myself.

A cookbook? I enjoy cooking though I don’t know that there’s a specific cookbook that’s influenced me more than others.

Some sort of craft book? Something about making cards or painting? Or drawing?

Maybe a comic book. I collected X-Men comics for several years and there were some highly influential storylines.

Ah! I have it. But I can’t tell you what it is. I don’t want to be summoned by a magic circle. Those sorts of spells always go poorly - for both parties.

It’s a fun question though. What are the five books that speak to your soul? You don’t have to answer publicly. Just ask yourself what books have the most meaning - true meaning - to you.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Movie Review: The Circle

Directed by James Ponsoldt, 2017
IMDb listing

Pros: interesting premise, some terrifying ideas

Cons: brings up issues but doesn’t examine them, ambiguous ending

Mae’s happy landing a job at The Circle, a social networking company bringing people together. But the corporate culture is very demanding. When she makes a bad decision she starts an experiment that changes the world.

Based on a book by Dave Eggers, this film delves into the question of how willing people should be to give up their privacy in return for safety and connectivity. It asked some great questions, but didn’t do such a great job of answering or even examining those questions.

Mae, played excellently by Emma Watson, agrees to wear a camera at all times, streaming her every action to the world. Let that sink in for a moment. Bathroom privacy aside (she can turn the camera off for 3 minutes) everything she does is open for public consumption. As an introvert I immediately balked at the lack of privacy inherent in this decision. The company implies that wanting to be alone is somehow wrong and anti-social. I liked that the film showed Mae’s lack of intimacy once she put the camera on: no one was willing to talk about their problems with her and she couldn’t really share her own. The film points out that when people know they’re being watched they tend to act better, but failed to address the fact that people generally stop being genuine. They ‘act’ for the camera. And while that’s fine in smaller doses - if you’re an extrovert - few people would want their more ‘negative’ emotions broadcast (depression, grief) not to mention those things everyone does to make life easier (gossip, gripe, complain about loved ones, friends, co-workers, bosses). Complaining about people is one of the social glues that allow people to function in society, but while it can be good for the complainer’s mental health, you wouldn’t want the subject of those conversations to know about them. Humans need outlets for frustration and anger, and the entire ending undercuts that. More cameras won’t solve those problems, they’ll just exacerbate them.

I feel as if the film didn’t do a very good job of showing what the company’s owners had done that was bad, that didn’t include the company as a whole. Yes, the policies were bad (from a privacy stand point), but getting rid of the owners wouldn’t change that policy, especially since Mae wanted even more cameras and privacy breaking to continue. The ending is propelled by a death caused by one of the programs she supported and yet it expands on the programs that caused the death in the first place. There was a great opportunity to talk about the power of mobs to do good and evil that the film completely ignored. I was shocked that the death didn’t make Mae realize just how bad mobs can be. Even with the previous search I expected a more negative outcome.

There were also some comments in the middle of the film that I questioned. At one point the idea came up for it to be mandatory for people to get accounts with this privately owned for-profit corporation and that membership would be how people were registered to vote and do other government affiliated things. I can’t imagine any government giving a private company such power. Not to mention the damage it could do if it got hacked or if the company decided to subvert democracy and change votes from the inside. None of which was brought up by the film.

The characters were all interesting. I loved the inclusion of Mae’s father having a chronic illness and how the need for health insurance affected her early decisions. The supporting cast was all brilliant: Karen Gillan as her friend, Bill Paxton as her father, Tom Hanks as one of the owners, and John Boyega as a concerned employee.

I liked the questions the movie asked but didn’t think it examined them with the necessary depth and found the ending unsatisfying. I find myself wanting to discuss it, so it would be great to watch with a group of friends.


Thursday, 5 September 2019

Shout-Out: Overdrawn by N. J. Crosskey

Henry Morris is watching his wife slip away from him. In an ageist society, where euthanasia is encouraged as a patriotic act, dementia is no longer tolerated.

Kaitlyn, a young waitress, is desperate for the funds to keep her brother's life support machine switched on.

When a chance encounter brings the two together, they embark on an unconventional business arrangement that will force them to confront their prejudices, as well as their deepest, darkest secrets.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Book Review: Towards a Global Middle Ages Edited by Bryan C. Keene

Pros: essays on a wide range of places and periods

Cons: dense prose, some essays a challenge to read

The book begins with a prologue followed by an introduction. The introduction starts with highly academic prose in its explanation of why it’s important to broaden the field of medieval studies into a global discussion, acknowledging that the field has centred heavily on Europe and ignored the many points of contact (via trade, religion, war, etc.) with nations outside Europe. The editor points out that the world has always been global, and at a time when nationalists and white supremacists are turning history into polemics on segregation it’s past time medievalists broadened their studies to show how interconnected peoples of the past truly were. He then gives short descriptions about manuscript traditions throughout the world during this period.

This is followed by a quick time line of the items mentioned in the essays to follow. The book is separated into four parts, each with an introductory essay: Glimpsing a Global Middle Ages (5 essays and 1 case study), The Intermediality of “the book”: Bound, Rolled, and Folded Textual Objects (3 essays and 2 case studies), Identity: Finding One’s Place in the Medieval World (3 essays and 3 case studies), and Itineraries from the Atlantic to the Pacific: Travel, Circulation, and Exchange (3 essays and 3 case studies). The book ends with an Epilogue that goes over the importance of museums in creating collections and exhibitions that foster a more global outlook.

This is a book for academics. While the case studies are accessible to a wider audience, most of the essays are not. I struggled through several of them due to dense prose. Having said that, the struggle was worth it as I learned quite a lot about the challenges of including certain areas of the world in a medieval discourse (like how most artifacts containing writing as well as wooden carvings in tropical climates have decomposed, making it difficult to study pre-modern eras). I loved that the essays spoke of wildly different areas including Ethiopia, China, India, and Mexico.

Several of the case studies mentioned a lot of interesting details and I finished the book with the intention of looking up several of the manuscripts mentioned (the end notes give web addresses if they’ve been digitized).

The standouts for me were the case study: “Traveling Medicine: Medieval Ethiopian Amulet Scrolls and Practitioners’ Handbooks” by Eyob Derillo and the essay by Sylvie Merian, “Reproducing the Resurrection: From European Prints to Armenian Manuscripts”, which both dealt with topics I find fascinating.

The globalization of medieval studies is important and it’s great seeing a collection that brings researchers from different disciplines together. This is a challenging book to read, but worth the effort you put in.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Books Received in August 2019

My thanks to Saga Press for sending me the following books.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone - An excellent time travel novella with a romantic underpinning. I reviewed it here.

In the ashes of a dying world, Red finds a letter marked “Burn before reading. Signed, Blue.”
So begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents in a war that stretches through the vast reaches of time and space.
Red belongs to the Agency, a post-singularity technotopia. Blue belongs to Garden, a single vast consciousness embedded in all organic matter. Their pasts are bloody and their futures mutually exclusive. They have nothing in common—save that they’re the best, and they’re alone.
Now what began as a battlefield boast grows into a dangerous game, one both Red and Blue are determined to win. Because winning’s what you do in war. Isn’t it?
A tour de force collaboration from two powerhouse writers that spans the whole of time and space.

Foe by Iain Reid - While I saw the twist coming, it's a great atmospheric read. My review of it is here.

A taut, psychological mind-bender from the bestselling author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things
We don’t get visitors. Not out here. We never have. 
Junior and Hen are a quiet married couple. They live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with surprising news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm...very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Hen won’t have a chance to miss him at all, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Hen will have company. Familiar company. 
Foe examines the nature of domestic relationships, self-determination, and what it means to be (or not to be) a person. An eerily entrancing page-turner, it churns with unease and suspense from the first words to its shocking finale.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Shout-Out: Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Remember your just-in-cases. Beware tall buildings. Always have your knives.

Raised in isolation by her mother and Maeve on a small island off the coast of a post-apocalyptic Ireland, Orpen’s life has revolved around training to fight a threat she’s never seen. More and more she feels the call of the mainland, and the prospect of finding other survivors.

But that is where danger lies, too, in the form of the flesh-eating menace known as the skrake.

Then disaster strikes. Alone, pushing an unconscious Maeve in a wheelbarrow, Orpen decides her last hope is abandoning the safety of the island and journeying across the country to reach the legendary banshees, the rumored all-female fighting force that battles the skrake.

But the skrake are not the only threat…

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Book Review: Foe by Iain Reid

Pros: atmospheric, interesting characters

Cons: somewhat predictable

Junior and Henrietta’s lives change the day Terrance shows up at their country house. Junior has been chosen by lottery to participate in the installation, meaning he’ll be away for an undetermined amount of time. But the company has decided that Henrietta won’t be left alone while he’s gone…

The book is very atmospheric. The chapters are short and punchy and leave you feeling unsettled. Junior asks Terrance questions and it’s fascinating how easily Terrance deflects the conversation or speaks a lot without saying anything. There’s a level of frustration you feel, along with Junior.

The first person perspective was a little peculiar, as both Junior’s thoughts and spoken words were done without italics or quotation marks. A few times I wasn’t sure if he’d said something out loud or just in his head.

I liked Junior and Henrietta. It was interesting seeing their lives. The book mostly takes place in their home, with only occasional jaunts to where they work or the fields outside their home. It gave the book a claustrophobic feeling.

The book is set in the near future but the world is largely ignored. There are a few SF elements but the book mostly feels like a suspense novel.

I figured out the ending around the half way point, but it was still interesting to see how the book would reveal what was really going on. It was also a quick read, which helped maintain the creepy mood.

If you like books with mystery and a touch of horror, this is a good read.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Shout-Out: Denizens of Distant Realms by Dawn Vogel

In Denizens of Distant Realms, fantastical things intertwine in half a dozen fantasy short stories. Dragons and witches fend off suitors by unconventional means, old pacts with demons are fixed with true love, dark magic threatens lives and livelihoods, and magical shoes and mermaids both offer young women new opportunities.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Book Review: The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Pros: interesting characters, fast paced, thought-provoking

Cons:

Gibson Wells, founder of the Cloud tech empire that dominates the US economy, is dying. After Cloud puts Paxton’s business under, he applies to work at one of their MotherCloud facilities, where people work and live. He expects this to be a temporary gig, to earn enough money so he can be his own boss again. Zinnia has been hired to infiltrate a Cloud facility and steal proprietary information.

Their paths collide inside the company in a novel that explores how far corporate America will go to ‘make the world a better place’.

The book takes place during the slow economic and environmental collapse of America. The world is not as apocalyptic as Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, but it’s getting there. With fewer and fewer options, more people are opting to work for Cloud, which has both caused many of the problems mentioned in the book even as it tries to (claims to) make things better.

At the start of the book I felt sympathy for Wells, but as I learned more about him, and saw the predatory nature behind his smiles and the abusive personality behind his policies I started to despise him. Though Zinnia is also manipulative I found I still liked her at the end of the book. She’s feisty and smart and I wanted her to be happy. I thought she and Paxton made a good couple and hoped they’d stay together, despite some of her choices towards the end. Paxton was a mixed bag. I liked him but he was easily manipulated by everyone around him, which made me feel less sympathetic towards him.

The book was surprisingly fast paced. Adult dystopian fiction generally drags a bit due to excess worldbuilding or political sentiment. The focus here really is on the characters so it was a quick read - and hard to put down towards the end.

That’s not to say there weren’t some poignant moments where you can see how our own world is heading in this direction. The company is obviously modelled after Amazon and Walmart and their practices of forcing producers to cut costs so they can sell products a the lowest price possible. It does end of a slightly more positive note than other dystopian books as well.

This is definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Shout-Out: The Echo Chamber by Rhett Evans

A Silicon Valley scandal sets off a chain of dystopian events in this topical and twist-laden thriller about virtual heists, social media, and second chances.
Mike is a Silicon Valley wunderkind who stood idly by while his company launched an addicting social media platform that made the world take a turn for the worse. He did nothing when an outrageous tech scandal pushed a polarized country to the brink of collapse. Then, after becoming trapped in a loop of his own memories, he is doomed to watch society fall apart over and over. Only by crossing paths with Charlotte Boone—once Hollywood’s up-and-coming royalty—does a kink appear in the pattern. With a daring heist in both the virtual and real worlds, Charlotte may hold the key to burning it all to the ground: the company, the lying pundits, and the echo chamber itself.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Book Review: The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

Pros: brilliant worldbuilding, interesting magic and mythology, interesting characters

Cons:

Two hundred cycles ago, Omehi refugees landed on the shores of Xidda and fought off the natives to claim a peninsula. They hold it through the force of their army and their Gifted. Tau Solarin is a High Common, nearing manhood and the test that will either let him train for his mandatory military service or force him to become a drudge. Neither future appeals to him, but a series of tragedies leaves him burning for revenge. Suddenly military training is the only future that matters.

The worldbuilding in this book is brilliant. There’s a lot of vocabulary to learn in the prologue and first chapter, but by chapter two I knew what everything meant. There is a glossary at the back of the book if you need it though. I’d heard online the book had African influences. After reading it I looked up some of the words and they are from the Xhosa language, though the meanings don’t all seem to translate to how they’re used in the book.

I loved the intricacies of how everything fit together: the military, the Chosen, the Gifted, the castes. There’s history on the peninsula as well as a mostly forgotten history of why they fled their homeland. A lot is left unsaid and I’m hoping some of that history will come up in the sequels. The world felt so real at times that I burned for the injustices felt by the Lessers and the often arbitrary justice the Noble castes could inflict on them.

Magic is sparingly used but I loved learning about it. I also liked that there are different beliefs in magic by the natives and invaders. There are limits to its use, which meant the stakes stayed high during battle. I also enjoyed learning about their underworld, the demons, etc.

The characters were all unique. Tau wasn’t the most likeable character. At times I felt sorry for him, at others I wanted to shake some sense into him. I loved some of the supporting cast members - especially the members in his core training group. I was impressed that the author introduced characters slowly, so you could really get to know them before adding more people to the group. It made it easy to remember who everyone was.

There’s a light romance. So light at the beginning of the novel that I expected the woman to disappear from the narrative entirely and was very happy that she not only came back in but had her own interests and goals (ie, wasn’t just the ‘love interest’) and played an important role at the end of the book.

Speaking of women, among the Omehi they are the rulers and Gifted (though have little import outside of those roles) while among the natives women are fully integrated into the military. It was cool to see some different social norms.

The book gets pretty brutal at times and very intense. Towards the end I needed a few breaks even though I wanted to know what would happen next. I’m not a huge fan of grimdark as I find the books can go too far in their attempts to be edgy and shocking, and so was happy there were no rape scenes in this (though there is mention that it does happen in the world).

If you’re looking for something different and like grimdark fantasy, give this a go.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Pros: intense, interesting characters

Cons:

Gyre Price lied on her application and took the caver job expecting to earn enough money to leave the planet and find the mother who abandoned her when she was a child. She didn’t know she would only have a single handler on the surface, one who can’t be trusted. Nor did she expect that spending so long in the darkness and isolation would make her see things… hear things…

I bought this book on the recommendation of some authors I follow and so never read the back cover to find out what the book was about. I assumed - from the cover and random comments - that it was about zombies on an alien planet. It’s not.

Once I realized what the book actually was, the story of what happens to a person when they are isolated and afraid, I settled in for a different kind of horror. Gyre’s paranoia ramps up when she realizes she can’t trust the only human link she has, kicking off an intense love-hate relationship with the only person who can save her life if things go bad. And things go bad.

In addition to the natural cave environment and the dangers it poses (climbing, falling, equipment failure, swimming, etc) there’s also a creature on the planet that can swim through rock. No one understands what calls the tunnelers, but calling one is usually a death sentence.

This is a very intense read. At times Gyre isn’t sure what’s real and what isn’t and waffles between rational decision making and pure paranoid outbursts. The ending is especially tense and I really wasn’t sure what would happen to her.

If you like survival stories, this is great.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Shout-Out: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth's last astronaut--and last hope--in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.

Sally Jansen was NASA's leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.

She's wrong.

A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.

Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it's the shot at redemption she always longed for.

But as the object slowly begins to reveal its secrets, one thing becomes horribly clear: the future of humanity lies in Jansen's hands.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Books Received in July 2019



Towards a Global Middle Ages: Encountering the World through Illuminated Manuscripts Edited by Bryan Keene - I requested this from Netgalley and am very excited to read this. Illuminated manuscripts are one of my favourite elements of medieval art. I have been reading up on Ethiopian history and art and was impressed that there are several essays on Ethiopia included. There are also essays on nations I'm not well versed in. Hoping to learn a lot from this book.

This important and overdue book examines illuminated manuscripts and other book arts of the Global Middle Ages. Illuminated manuscripts and illustrated or decorated books—like today’s museums—preserve a rich array of information about how premodern peoples conceived of and perceived the world, its many cultures, and everyone’s place in it. Often a Eurocentric field of study, manuscripts are prisms through which we can glimpse the interconnected global history of humanity.
Toward a Global Middle Ages is the first publication to examine decorated books produced across the globe during the period traditionally known as medieval. Through essays and case studies, the volume’s multidisciplinary contributors expand the historiography, chronology, and geography of manuscript studies to embrace a diversity of objects, individuals, narratives, and materials from Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the Americas—an approach that both engages with and contributes to the emerging field of scholarly inquiry known as the Global Middle Ages.
Featuring 160 color illustrations, this wide-ranging and provocative collection is intended for all who are interested in engaging in a dialogue about how books and other textual objects contributed to world-making strategies from about 400 to 1600.

Eridani's Crown by Alex Shvartsman - Not sure about this one, mainly because I'm currently burned out on fantasy, but I'll give it a go.

CURSED BY PROPHECY. CORRUPTED BY POWER.
When Eridani's parents are murdered and their kingdom is seized by a traitorous duke, she plans to run. After she suffers yet another unendurable loss, the lure of revenge pulls her back.
Eridani's brilliance as a strategist offers her a path to vengeance and the throne, but success may mean becoming everything she hates. To survive, she must sway religious zealots, outwit ambitious politicians, and confront bloodthirsty warlords, all with few allies and fewer resources. Yet the most menacing obstacle she must overcome is the prophecy uttered by a powerful sorceress:
Everyone you know and trust will come to betray you.




Starship Repo by Patrick Tomlinson - I have to admit, I tried his previous novel, Gate Crashers and it just wasn't for me. Humour is such a subjective thing.

Firstname Lastname is a no one with nowhere to go. With a name that is the result of an unfortunate clerical error and destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. That is until she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repomen (they are definitely not pirates).
Now she's traveling the galaxy "recovering" ships. What could go wrong?

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Book Review: Foundations of an African Civilization: Aksum and the Northern Horn 1000 BC - AD 1300 by David Phillipson

Pros: summarizes a large stretch of history, lots of detail in some areas

Cons: only a few black and white photo, some illustrations reproduced from earlier works, very dense

The book consists of 18 chapters starting with an introduction followed by 3 parts: 1) Before Aksum (2 chapters), 2) The Kingdom of Aksum (13 chapters), After Aksum (1 chapter) and an epilogue. There’s also an extensive bibliography.

In the introduction the author mentions that he wrote the book to be both a scholarly work and something accessible to every day Ethiopians wishing to know more about their past. He definitely achieved the former, while I’m not Ethiopian I had trouble with several sections that were quite dense. There’s a fair bit of repetition in sections where the author refers you to another chapter where a particular issue is dealt with in greater detail.

There are only a handful of photos, all of which are black and white. The author also used illustrations of floor plan/layouts, etc. from older books.

I was disappointed that the Zagwe dynasty only rated one chapter but the book did make me want to read what happens after 1300 when the Solomonic dynasty took over.

While I came away knowing more about the Aksumites, the writing is so dense that I can’t really recommend this book for casual readers interested in Ethiopian history.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Book Review: Medusa in the Graveyard by Emily Devenport

Pros: interesting new characters and settings, Oichi develops more as a person

Cons: lots of new players and it can be hard to keep them all straight

Oichi’s world has changed with the overthrow of the Executive class and the mass joining of medusa units. It’s time for the inhabitants of Olympia to engage with the outside world, starting with a messenger from the weapon’s clan ship that’s following them, and ending with meeting the three on the planet Graveyard. But how does someone who’s used to executing opponents learn to negotiate? And why doesn’t Medusa agree with her chosen path?

If it’s been a while since you read Medusa Uploaded, there’s so much going on that it’s worth giving that a reread before starting this one. Medusa in the Graveyard picks up roughly one year after the first novel ends, and there’s little recap.

Unfortunately I had a number of tasks I had to accomplish while reading this so it was a disjointed experience of a few pages here, a chapter or two there. This book requires some measure of concentration as there are a lot of new players that come in briefly and then don’t show up again until later. And it’s easy to forget who is who.

Having said that, I loved seeing the new groups the Olympians would have to trade/negotiate with and just how big their universe is. There are belters, aliens, a variety of ships on Graveyard created by vastly different intelligences. The actual trek to see the ships was quite interesting and a little trippy.

I liked that Oichi had to go through a lot of personal development. It makes sense that she’s not the best suited for negotiating given her past, and I thought the trials she went through as a result were realistic.

I’m not sure if there’s more to this series, but the book had a satisfying ending that wrapped up a lot.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Book Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Pros: interesting characters, quick paced, touching romance

Cons: limited worldbuilding

Red and Blue work for opposing sides of a war trying to make sure their particular futures come true. Their battles happen across the varieties of time and parallel universes. Their rivalry intensifies when Blue leaves Red a letter, beginning a correspondence that changes them both.

This is a longer novella, easily read in an afternoon. Which is good as it gets pretty intense towards the end and I’m not sure I could have put it down those last 50 pages.

The two protagonists were written by different authors, giving them distinct voices. The book follows the pattern of showing a scene from Red’s point of view, followed by a letter and the actions of a mysterious stranger, then shifts to Blue’s point of view and a letter she received. I was impressed by how much the characters changed over the course of the story given the brevity of the text.

With novellas I often feel the story could be fleshed out more, but this felt like the perfect length. The shortness even added to the tension.

The science is very hand-wavy so don’t expect the usual time travel rules to apply. The addition of multiple universes made me wonder how they could track the changes meant to bring about their futures, but none of that is explored or explained at all. The story is focused entirely on the two characters.

It’s a great, unique story.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Shout-Out: The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of superadvanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.

A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Movie Review: It Came From Outer Space (in 3D)

Directed by Jack Arnold, 1953

IMDb listing

Pros: excellent use of 3D technology, decent acting

Cons: slow moving,

Nobody believes amateur astronomer John Putnam when he claims to have seen an alien craft in the crater made by a falling meteor. But when strange things start happening he must prove it before it’s too late.

This is a 1950s made for 3D movie based on a Ray Bradbury short story.

Given the author of the source material it’s a bit surprising that the plot isn’t that great. It’s slow moving and the characters are kind of irritating - especially the sheriff who believes it’s his duty to look after his former boss’s adult daughter.

Barbara Rush does a decent job with the poor role she’s given of a woman who tags along with the protagonist and then gets kidnapped by aliens. She gets to scream 3 times, only one of which is warranted by the situation.

The alien looks suitably creepy if unconvincing as a natural creature. The xenophobia exhibited by the humans proves we’ve not advanced much, as aliens today would be met with the same desire to kill them on sight. I was impressed that the aliens realized this so quickly and so hid their true natures.

The 3D effects were excellent. There were foreground, middle ground and background elements to almost every frame. Rather than only a few shots of things hurling towards the viewer there were several, and the entire film felt like it was meant to be in 3D (which it was) rather than just a few scenes.

Can’t really recommend this one unless you’ve got a 3D TV to watch it on. And even then, it’s not a film I’ll watch again.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Shout-Out: Unraveling by Karen Lord

In this standalone fantasy novel by an award-winning author, the dark truth behind a string of unusual murders leads to an otherworldly exploration of spirits, myth, and memory, steeped in Caribbean storytelling.

Dr. Miranda Ecouvo, forensic therapist of the City, just helped put a serial killer behind bars. But she soon discovers that her investigation into seven unusual murders is not yet complete. A near-death experience throws her out of time and into a realm of labyrinths and spirits. There, she encounters brothers Chance and the Trickster, who have an otherworldly interest in the seemingly mundane crimes from her files.

It appears the true mastermind behind the murders is still on the loose, chasing a myth to achieve immortality. Together, Miranda, Chance, and the Trickster must travel through conjured mazes, following threads of memory to locate the shadowy killer. As they journey deeper, they discover even more questions that will take pain and patience to answer. What is the price of power? Where is the path to redemption? And how can they stop the man—or monster—who would kill the innocent to live forever?

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Books Received in June 2019

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for an advanced copy of this dystopian novel. I have a weird relationship with dystopian books in that intellectually I think I like them, but in practice I generally don't. I really enjoyed reading The Warehouse. The characters were really personable and it was a quick, compelling read. I'll be posting my review on its release date of August 20th.

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.
Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities.

But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering.

Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.

As the truth about Cloud unfolds, Zinnia must gamble everything on a desperate scheme—one that risks both their lives, even as it forces Paxton to question everything about the world he’s so carefully assembled here.

Together, they’ll learn just how far the company will go…to make the world a better place.

Set in the confines of a corporate panopticon that’s at once brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, The Warehouse is a near-future thriller about what happens when Big Brother meets Big Business--and who will pay the ultimate price.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Pros: brilliant world-building, interesting characters, challenging plot, thought provoking

Cons:

Dietz joins the Tene-Silvia Corporate Corps after the Blink wanting to be a hero, wanting to make the Martians pay. But military life is hard and the combat drops that break soldiers down into light molecules to transport them to mission locations… change some of them. Dietz doesn’t always land at the right location, or with the right people. Dietz’s jumps also reveal that the war isn’t what they’ve been told. Can one be a hero if no one knows what’s right anymore?

This is an absolutely brilliant novel and I can understand why Hurley had such trouble writing it. There were times as a reader that I got confused as to when Dietz was in the timeline, I can only imagine how difficult it was as the author keeping who knew what, when, straight.

The world-building it top notch. This is a future where mega corporations rule and there are layers of citizenship. Dietz began life as a ghoul, living outside the corporation, living off of refuse, and gained residency status through their parents. But full citizenship requires service. Throughout the book you see how ingrained the idea of earning citizenship is held by full citizens, even those born into it who did nothing to earn their place. There’s a lot of thought provoking commentary here.

The characters are great. I loved that the first person perspective cloaked Dietz’s gender (until the end, when you learn their first name), and that the protagonists all seem to be fairly fluid in their sexualities (or at least, fairly open about their partners). Dietz starts off as hot-headed, stubborn, and not the smartest in the group, but is forced to learn - and learn fast - when things get tough.

It’s a brilliant fast paced novel that will keep you on your toes.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Shout-Out: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Book Review: New Worlds, Year Two: More Essays on the Art of Worldbuilding by Marie Brennan

Pros: short essays are easy to read, covers a wide variety of topics

Cons: short essays don’t go into much detail

This is the second book of essays compiled from Brennan’s Patreon. There’s an introduction, 52 themed essays and an afterward. The themes from this book encompass weaponry, honor, cosmetics, clothing, wedding customs, literacy, time keeping, religious practices, superstitions, and some general worldbuilding tips.

I loved that there were a variety of topics, broken down into more specific essays. Each essay is only a few pages long so you can easy read one in a few minutes. Brennan gives several examples per essay showing how cultures differ, so as to get the reader thinking of applications beyond the common. The downside here is each essay is very basic and is more of a way to get you thinking about applications than showing you how to apply each aspect to your own world.

As with the first book, it’s a great collection and points out a lot of worthwhile tidbits for making your fictional worlds feel more lived in.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Shout-Out: Green Valley by Louis Greenberg

Chilling near-future SF for fans of Black Mirror and True Detective.

When Lucie Sterling's niece is abducted, she knows it won't be easy to find answers. Stanton is no ordinary city: invasive digital technology has been banned, by public vote. No surveillance state, no shadowy companies holding databases of information on private citizens, no phones tracking their every move.

Only one place stays firmly anchored in the bad old ways, in a huge bunker across town: Green Valley, where the inhabitants have retreated into the comfort of full-time virtual reality--personae non gratae to the outside world. And it's inside Green Valley, beyond the ideal virtual world it presents, that Lucie will have to go to find her missing niece.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Physiologus: A Medieval Book of Nature Lore Translated by Michael Curley

Pros: excellent introduction, full translation, lots of end notes

Cons: some quotes left untranslated

Translated in 1979 and reissued in 2009, this was the first full English translation of the Greek manuscript, Physiologus. The manuscript took stories of animals and gave them Christian allegorical meanings. These stories were used in later bestiary collections and by encyclopedists - with and without their allegories - greatly influencing the medieval mind.

The book begins with an introduction that gives background on the Physiologus and the questions surrounding when it was written and who it was written by. It is then followed by translations of the 51 chapters, most of which deal with animals though there are also a few plants and stones.

The information in the introduction is fantastic and really helps you place the Physiologus in history while not being too academic and dry. My only complain here - and also with the notes at the back of the volume - is that neither Greek nor Latin quotations are translated for those who can’t read them.

The manuscript itself is rather dry. More time is given to the moral than to describing the animal. If you’re unfamiliar with these types of works, you’ll be confused by a lot of the ‘natural’ behaviours described. Very little of this is true animal behaviours. Consider them more morality tales like Aesop’s fables rather than a treatise on natural history. However, remember that as many of the animals described were not native to the lands where the tales became popular, they did influence beliefs in mythological creatures and many in the past believed the stories depicted actual animal behaviours.

The book includes black and white woodcut images from the 1587 G. Ponce de Leon edition of the book. I had expected there to be an image per chapter but there were only 21 images in total and a few of the listings had more than one image (the serpent has a series of 4 images).

If you’re interested in medieval thought and art, the bestiary by way of the Physiologus was hugely influential. This book is a glimpse into the medieval mind, both with regards to how they saw the natural world and how they believed the natural and spiritual worlds overlapped.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Book Review: The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Pros: great fight scenes, real consequences, long odds

Cons:

The displaced villagers of Lutet now face the full wrath of the Order. They realize they need walls to protect them and decide to take over the nearby town of Lyse.

Picking up immediately where The Armored Saint left off, Queen of Crows starts with an ambush and ends with a siege.

There’s a good amount of fighting and some real internal conflicts for the villagers in general and Heloise in particular. They suffer real losses (again) in this book.

I enjoyed learning more about the travelling people and seeing their knife dancing and magic.

The first book was so good I was a little concerned this one wouldn’t hold up, but the author nailed the ending. I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Book Review: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole


Pros: feisty protagonist, interesting world-building

Cons:

Sixteen year old Heloise Factor’s world is upended when she and her father encounter members of the Order on the road. The Sojourner and his Pilgrims dragged the bodies of two female magicians behind their horses. Thus the Order keeps the people safe from the legions of Hell, which magicians unwittingly loose in their pride. But the Order has little consideration for the peasantry that feed them, and Heloise discovers that her fear must contend with anger at the mistreatment she and her father receive.

This character driven story is told from Heloise’s point of view as she learns that the world can be a terrifying place and that those who profess to do good are sometimes the most horrible. She’s a headstrong girl who can’t watch injustice without acting. This gets her - and others - into a lot of trouble. She’s also slowly discovering that she’s into girls, in a world where that’s not an acceptable option. There were a few moments where I wanted to yell at her for making poor decisions, but I can’t deny that Cole accurately tapped into a teen girl’s psyche, showing her fear, rage, and passion in equal measure.

The setting is medieval inspired with some minor steampunk style engines thrown in. I loved that there were quotations from various books of holy writ as well as her father’s journal from when he was in the war to give the narrative some historical grounding.

It’s very much a novel about family and what people will do for those they love. It’s also about communities that stick together, even when things get tough.

There’s a scene reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and it’s just as uncomfortable to read. It also contains the sole scene of graphic, somewhat gory, violence in the book. There’s a brilliant fight scene at the end that’s brutal, but not gory.

This is a quick read that really grips you (I missed a subway stop reading it).



Note: If you liked this but want a fantasy novel with an older heroine, pick up Armed In Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Books Received in May, 2019

As always, many thanks to the publishers who sent me books this month.

Lady Mechanika, Vol 5: La Belle Dame Sans Merci by M. M. Chen and Joe Benitez - I absolutely love the artwork in this series and the Victorian steampunk aesthetic.  I've reviewed it here.

Lady Mechanika's investigation into her forgotten past is overshadowed by concern for her associate Mr. Lewis when he becomes enamored of a beautiful and enigmatic young widow, whose own past seems disturbingly linked to the untimely deaths of several creative geniuses. Will Mr. Lewis be next?











New Worlds, Year 2: More Essays on the Art of Worldbuilding by Marie Brennan - This is the second collection of essays for Brennan's patreon worldbuilding perk. I read last year's ebook and they're great. Each one's short but goes over a good amount of information. I'm part way through this one and enjoying it.

Explore a world of your own . . .
Science fiction and fantasy are renowned for immersing their readers in rich, inventive settings. In this follow-up to the collection NEW WORLDS, YEAR ONE, award-winning fantasy author Marie Brennan guides you through new aspects of worldbuilding and how they can generate stories. From beauty to books, from tattoos to taboos, these essays delve into the complexity of different cultures, both real and imaginary, and provide invaluable advice on crafting a world of your very own.
This volume collects essays from the second year of the New Worlds Patreon.


This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone - I enjoyed Gladstone's Craft Sequence novels (though I still have to read the last 2 - there's just not enough time!) and am really excited about this collaboration.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Book Review: Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World Edited by Elizabeth Morrison with Larisa Grollemond

Pros: lots of gorgeous full colour illustrations, essays on a variety of topics, thorough discussion on the evolution of bestiaries

Cons: some of the essays are dense

This is the guide that accompanies the exhibition “Book of Beasts” at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit runs from May 14th to August 18th.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one is an introduction plus images and text for the 15 best known bestiary animals. Part two: Exploring the Bestiary is subdivided into The Bestiary in form and function (consisting of 6 essays and the first 28 catalogue listings) and The Bestiary Reimagined (two essays and 5 listings). Part three: Beyond the Bestiary is again subdivided, with catalogue listings after each essay. It’s sections are: Church and Court (3 essays) and Bestiaries and Natural History (4 essays). The epilogue is followed by the final catalogue listings and four appendices.

I found the first few essays of part 2 boring due to their dry and somewhat dense prose. There’s a fair amount of repetition in that most of these essays opened with similar background paragraphs on Bestiaries and their origins in the Greek book Physiologus. For me, the most interesting essay of this section was “Accommodating Antlers, Making Room for Hedgehogs, and Other Problems of Page Design in the Medieval Bestiary”. It was interesting learning how scribes and illustrators may have been working from different manuscripts and so their work didn’t always line up.

The later essays were much more interesting, both in style an content. There’s less minutiae about the manuscripts making them more accessible and I enjoyed learning new things about how bestiaries influenced other forms of art like maps and sculptures. I also appreciated that there were separate essays on Jewish and Muslim uses of animals in manuscripts. Those essays all felt too short, given the amount of information being discussed.

I liked that there are occasional ‘notes to the reader’ explaining some of the terms so that even those who haven’t studied manuscripts can understand the more scholarly language used. The notes for catalogue listings generally mentioned if a manuscript has been fully or partially digitized and is available online for further study. Unfortunately these notes are in such small text I’m afraid some readers will miss this information.

Catalogue images are all reproduced in colour and there was a good variety. I loved seeing the evolution of the genre and how the stories were reinterpreted in later works. I was surprised that some of the images were duplicated though. A page would be used to illustrate an essay and than that same page would be one of the images used to illustrated the catalogue listing for that manuscript. Given the fact that each manuscript only got one or two images, I would have expected different pages to be used each time in order to maximize the number of different images shown.

If you’re new to bestiaries this is an excellent primer, though you’ll have to work a bit to understand some of the terms. For those with some knowledge, it will increase it and suggest other works to examine. If you’re well versed in the subject the later essays don’t go far enough to suggest new avenues of study, though the earlier ones do an excellent job of showing what scholarship has been done and what still needs examination.

This looks like an excellent exhibit and I wish I could attend and see all of these manuscripts and artworks in person.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Video: Super-Hero-Bowl!

Ever wanted to see all your favourite superheroes battle it out to see who's the best? Toon Sandwich (part of ArtSpear Entertainment) has you covered.



Part 2, the Super-Villain-Bowl, is also fantastic.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Book Review: Vessel by Lisa Nichols

Pros: great depiction of trauma, compelling story, interesting characters

Cons: not sure I believe the ending

Acting Commander Catherine Wells is the sole survivor of the presumed lost Sagittarius mission to TRAPPIST-1f, a planetary system on the other side of a warp hole. Her sudden return to Earth means NASA can better prepare the soon to depart Sagittarius II crew. Or it would, if she could remember what happened on the alien planet.

This is a quick read. The characters are all interesting, with the majority of the story focusing on Catherine returning to a husband and daughter who believed she was dead the past 6 years. There’s a lot for the book to unpack and the author does an excellent job of showing Catherine’s trauma regarding memory loss, extreme isolation for an extended period of time, survivor’s guilt for being the only member of her crew to survive, as well as the guilt over having been away from her family for so long.

The current memory lapses she has makes for a compelling storyline and I found myself rushing ahead to find out what was going on. I loved the periodic flashbacks to what happened on the Sagittarius I mission.

Once I found out what was happening some of that compulsion to finish the book dissipated. The closer the book got to the ending the less I believed how the higher ups at NASA were acting. The final acts of the protagonists seemed highly implausible and I had trouble believing NASA would go along with it considering the cost and time involved in implementing their plan.

On the whole it was an entertaining read, with some interesting twists though a somewhat unsatisfying ending.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Shout-Out: Donovan Series by W. Michael Gear

Book three of W. Michael Gear's Donovan series is now out and the series sounds fascinating.

Book 1: Outpost


Donovan is a world of remarkable wealth, a habitable paradise of a planet. It sounds like a dream come true. But Donovan's wealth comes at a price.
When the ship Turalon arrives in orbit, Supervisor Kalico Aguila discovers a failing colony, its government overthrown and the few remaining colonists now gone wild. Donovan offers the chance of a lifetime, one that could leave her the most powerful woman in the solar system. Or dead.
Planetside, Talina Perez is one of three rulers of the Port Authority colony—the only law left in the one remaining town on Donovan. With the Corporate ship demanding answers about the things she's done in the name of survival, Perez could lose everything, including her life.
For Dan Wirth, Donovan is a last chance. A psychopath with a death sentence looming over his head, he can't wait to set foot on Port Authority. He will make one desperate play to grab a piece of the action—no matter who he has to corrupt, murder, or destroy.
Captain Max Taggart has been The Corporation's "go-to" guy when it comes to brutal enforcement. As the situation in Port Authority deteriorates, he'll be faced with tough choices to control the wild Donovanians. Only Talina Perez stands in his way.
Just as matters spiral out of control, a ghost ship, the Freelander, appears in orbit. Missing for two years, she arrives with a crew dead of old age, and reeks of a bizarre death-cult ritual that deters any ship from attempting a return journey. And in the meantime, a brutal killer is stalking all of them, for Donovan plays its own complex and deadly game. The secrets of which are hidden in Talina Perez's very blood.

Book 2: Abandoned


Supervisor Kalico Aguila has bet everything on a fragile settlement far south of Port Authority. There, she has carved a farm and mine out of wilderness. But Donovan is closing in. When conditions couldn't get worse, a murderous peril descends out of Donovan's sky--one that will leave Kalico bleeding and shattered.
Talina Perez gambles her life and reputation in a bid to atone for ruthlessly murdering a woman's husband years ago. Ironically, saving Dya Simonov may save them all.
Lieutenant Deb Spiro is losing it, and by killing a little girl's pet alien, she may have precipitated disaster for all. In the end, the only hope will lie with a "lost" colony, and the alien-infested reflexes possessed by Security Officer Talina Perez.
On Donovan, only human beings are more terrifying than the wildlife.

Book 3: Pariah


Corporate assassin Tamarland Benteen's last hope is the survey ship Vixen. With a load of scientists aboard under the supervision of Dr. Dortmund Weisbacher, Vixen is tasked with the first comprehensive survey of the newly discovered planet called Donovan. Given that back in Solar System, Boardmember Radcek would have Benteen's brain dissected, he's particularly motivated to make his escape.
The transition that should have taken Vixen years is instantaneous. Worse, a space ship is already orbiting Donovan, and, impossibly, human settlements have been established on the planet. For Dortmund Weisbacher, this is a violation of the most basic conservation tenets. Donovan is an ecological disaster.
Down on Donovan, Talina Perez takes refuge in the ruins of Mundo Base with the wild child, Kylee Simonov. But the quetzals are playing their own deadly game: one that forces Talina and Kylee to flee farther into the wilderness. Too bad they're stuck with Dortmund Weisbacher in the process.
Back in Port Authority, Dan Wirth discovers that he's not the meanest or deadliest man on the planet. Tamarland Benteen is making his play for control of PA. And in the final struggle, if Benteen can't have it, he'll destroy it all.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika Vol 5: La Belle Dame Sans Merci by M. M. Chen and Joe Benitez

Pros: gorgeous artwork, interesting story, great costumes

Cons: depressing ending

Lady Mechanika’s quest to discover her past is sidetracked when Mr Lewis’s depression suddenly dissipates and he announces his engagement to a mysterious woman.

This volume collects the three comics that make up this storyline. It references some of the earlier volumes, but as situations and people are given enough reference, you can follow along even if you haven’t read those.

As with the other volumes, the artwork is gorgeous with some great steampunk costumes and a Victorian style setting. There are a few fight scenes with good action and a new female bad guy.

I found myself conflicted by the depression plotline. On the one hand I think the team did a great job of showing that it can take a long time for people who have suffered lost to recover. On the other hand, Lady Mechanika seems to have reached a point where she’s tired of Mr Lewis’s grief and just wants him to go back to being her occasional sidekick. I could actually understand his choice for marriage at the end of the volume and felt that Lady Mechanika took something from him and then left him alone to deal with the fallout at a point when he clearly needs intervention. The idea that he’ll just recover on his own - given enough time - is unfortunately rarely true in real life, and it would have been nice to see this acknowledged in the comic, maybe by sending him to a convalescent home or giving him a pet to care for (it’s possible this will be addressed in the next issue). But that last page with him is very depressing to read.

On the whole though, I thought it was a great volume.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Spain part 4: Madrid

We didn’t have much time in Madrid. We finally got to see the tropical garden at Atocha train station (our 3rd time there). We spent several hours at the archaeology museum, which has a reproduction of part of the Altamira prehistoric cave paintings and the original Visigothic crowns (reproductions are at the Visigothic museum in Toledo). 




We took a stroll through El Retiro park in the evening.


Our last full day in Spain, we wandered the city, seeing some of its old squares, the palace gardens, and the Temple of Debod, an actual ancient Egyptian temple saved from destruction when the Aswan dam was created.




I visited a lot of smaller museums and churches and took TONS of pictures. If you're interested in hearing about some of those, or the larger sites in more detail, tell me and I'll do some deep dive posts.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Spain part 3: Toledo

I fell in love with Toledo when I was there in 2008. It’s a city on the hill, bordered on three sides by a river, and the fourth by a major highway. I wandered around for hours, happily getting lost. It was the end of my 3 week trip and I just couldn’t bring myself to see any of the major sights. So I knew I had to return. 

Toledo is a wonderful city, with its narrow streets and alleys, stairwells, old buildings, churches and museums every 2 feet. There are a number of gates still standing from when it was a Muslim city, as well as some rare remnants from its days as the Visigothic capital. It’s the perfect place to buy a sword or expensive knife, and monastic houses still make and sell sweets, including marzipan (almond paste). Marzipan can be made into sculptures that once graced medieval dessert tables, but now advertise for shops. 




A common way to enter the city is over the Alcantara bridge and gate, which funnels you through a switchback that was the first line of defence against attackers. 



The Jewish quarter has the remaining 2 synagogues in Spain, one of which is now part of the Sephardic museum (pictured below), the other was transformed into a Christian church and is now a museum. 


There’s also a Mosque that was converted into a church. The apse (rounded end) was added later, but the gorgeous ceiling and pillars are original. 



The Visigothic museum, housed in the painted San Roman church was worth a couple of hours. 


And the night views, both within and outside the city are incredible. The churches and castle are lit up and it looks awesome.