Tuesday 26 May 2020

Video: Puppet History - The Dancing Plague

I came across this on youtube recently and it's fantastic. Set up as a kind of quiz show for two contestants, a puppet leads them through the Dancing Plague of Strasbourg in the 1500s. Warning: This is NOT a show for children. There is some swearing and the history itself gets quite dark.

The show appears to be a new series by the Watcher channel, they only have 4 episodes up so far.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Book Review: The Perfect Assassin by K. A. Doore

Pros: good worldbuilding, interesting setting and characters

Cons: opening felt a bit slow

When the newly trained assassin Amastan discovers a drum chief’s body hidden on a rooftop, he’s tasked with proving that his clan of assassins wasn’t responsible. But the unknown killer isn’t the only danger, as the unquieted jaani (souls) of the murdered are restless, not dissipating as they ought, and trying to possess new bodies. With few leads Amastan’s time is running out, even as he befriends the servant of the first victim and begins to feel love for the first time.

It took me a while to warm to Amastan. The first few chapters show how undecided and hesitant he is, trying to plan things to perfection. As his relationship with various characters grew, I started to like him a lot more. It was interesting seeing the assassin clan portrayed as merely helping the city get rid of bad people. It makes the concept and characters easier to sympathize with.

I was surprised Tamella, his trainer and head assassin, left him to solve the murder without any advice or consultation. I can understand that she couldn’t investigate things herself, but she had knowledge that would have aided Amastan. Instead she simply blamed him for not solving it fast enough despite his having no training in detective work.

The worldbuilding was really good. I did like that Amastan and the other assassin trainees had real jobs to pay bills and keep occupied around their secondary craft. I also liked that they actually worked at those jobs. Menna’s work with the elders, quieting jaani was interesting. The jaani themselves were cool and terrifying. I also liked seeing the healers dependent on water for their work, and how towards the end of the season that’s problematic as the desert city must ration it. Reading characters running across rooftops and down narrow alleys was entertaining.

While I figured out who the killer was fairly early, it was still interesting seeing the story unfold.

It was a fun, quick read.

This is the first book in a trilogy. The final volume, The Unconquered City, is out June 16th.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Video: Star Wars tribute

A few months ago Whitney Avalon, who does Princess Rap Battles among other videos on youtube, did a tribute to Carrie Fisher. It's a song about Star Wars to the tune of "Memory" from the musical CATS.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Movie Review: Vivarium

Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, 2019
IMDb listing

Pros: creepy, psychological horror

Cons: some annoying parts, very slow moving

A young couple are trapped in a strange subdivision and told they’ll be released once they raise a mysterious child.

I watched this film knowing nothing about it ahead of time and rather enjoyed it. It’s a slow moving horror film, with some great anxiety producing moments and a claustrophobic feel. There are also some science fiction elements.

After I finished I was surprised to find it advertised as a sci-fi triller. It’s not a thriller, by any stretch. It’s psychological horror dealing with the uncertainty of what’s going on and the growing horror that the child they’re raising isn’t human.

The cuckoo reference at the beginning was a bit heavy handed, but definitely primes you for the creepiness of what’s coming.

I think the film would have benefitted from having a bit more set up with the couple, perhaps seeing them check out another house together before getting trapped so we see more of how they interact when times are good. While I thought Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots did a great job over all of making things seem off, I didn’t feel they had much chemistry as a couple. I felt like their relationship was already falling apart before the film started so their drifting apart during the film didn’t impact me that much.

Senan Jennings, the actor who played the younger version of the boy, was brilliant. He’s unsettling and the right kind of slightly off in performing human actions to be creepy and alien. Though his screaming did get on my nerves and I couldn’t understand why the couple didn’t try to discipline him in some way to stop that. At the same time you can see that they’re trying to maintain a detached attitude towards the boy by only interacting with him as much as they have to.

The ending was a bit trippy and open to some interpretation.

Not sure I'd see it again but I'm glad I saw it.

Friday 1 May 2020

Books Received in April, 2020

Many thanks as always to the publishers that sent me books for review this past month.

The Perfect Assassin by K. A. Doore - I've already finished this and will be posting my review of it soon. Book 3, The Unconquered City, comes out June 16th.

Divine justice is written in blood.
Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.
Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.
Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.

First Sister by Linden Lewis - This debut novel sounds really interesting. Out August 4th.

Combining the social commentary of The Handmaid’s Tale with the white-knuckled thrills of Red Rising, this epic space opera follows a comfort woman as she claims her agency, a soldier questioning his allegiances, and a non-binary hero out to save the solar system.
First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.
Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.
A stunning and sweeping debut novel that explores the power of technology, colonization, race, and gender, The First Sister is perfect for fans of James S.A. Corey, Chuck Wendig, and Margaret Atwood.

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson - This is the third in a planned 4 book series. I have really enjoyed the previous two books and can't wait to dive into this. The release date has been moved from June to August 11th.

The hunt is over. After fifteen years of lies and sacrifice, Baru Cormorant has the power to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest that she pretends to serve. The secret society called the Cancrioth is real, and Baru is among them.
But the Cancrioth's weapon cannot distinguish the guilty from the innocent. If it escapes quarantine, the ancient hemorrhagic plague called the Kettling will kill hundreds of millions...not just in Falcrest, but all across the world. History will end in a black bloodstain.
Is that justice? Is this really what Tain Hu hoped for when she sacrificed herself?
Baru's enemies close in from all sides. Baru's own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path—a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world's riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize.
If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.