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.

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


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.