Friday, 23 June 2017

History Book Review: Illuminating Women in the Medieval World by Christine Sciacca

Pros: lots of colour illustrations, good explanations


This is an examination of medieval women as depicted in illuminated manuscripts. There’s a short forward by Timothy Potts, the Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, followed by the Introduction. There are four chapters: Medieval Ideals of Womanhood, Warnings to Medieval Women, Medieval Women in Daily Life and Medieval Women in the Arts. At the end there’s a short epilogue and some suggestions for further reading. The book is 120 pages, and there are 100 illustrations.

The chapters start with a short explanation followed by a large number of illustrations. Each image has a good descriptive explanation that often gives context and/or insights into the medieval mind. I was impressed to see an Ethiopian and a Persian image in the Ideals of Womanhood chapter, as well as a few Hebrew manuscripts represented. The images depict a wide variety of women from a good mix of sources. There are saints, Biblical scenes, scenes of romance, giving birth, patrons praying, etc. Some of the sources are book of hours, prayer books, hymnals, medical and history texts, a book of law codes, etc.

The Warnings chapter opens with a brief foray into nude female imagery and the male readership for whom those images were generally commissioned, something I had never considered before. There are several other interesting tidbits that give greater depth to the people who made and used the manuscripts.

I found this a wonderful read. It’s an introductory volume and so accessible to anyone interested in learning more about the middle ages and the role of women.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Shout-Out: Soleri by Michael Johnston

Michael Johnston brings you the first in a new epic fantasy series inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear.

The ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power longer than even the calendars that stretch back 2,826 years. Those records tell a history of conquest and domination by a people descended from gods, older than anything in the known world. No living person has seen them for centuries, yet their grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tighter than ever.

On the day of the annual eclipse, the Harkan king, Arko-Hark Wadi, sets off on a hunt and shirks his duty rather than bow to the emperor. Ren, his son and heir, is a prisoner in the capital, while his daughters struggle against their own chains. Merit, the eldest, has found a way to stand against imperial law and marry the man she desires, but needs her sister's help, and Kepi has her own ideas.

Meanwhile, Sarra Amunet, Mother Priestess of the sun god's cult, holds the keys to the end of an empire and a past betrayal that could shatter her family.

Detailed and historical, vast in scope and intricate in conception, Soleri bristles with primal magic and unexpected violence. It is a world of ancient and elaborate rites, of unseen power and kingdoms ravaged by war, where victory comes with a price, and every truth conceals a deeper secret.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Video: Honest Trailer for Aliens

I've been watching Honest Trailers, by Screen Junkies, for years. They're entertaining, spoilery examinations of movies. Aliens is my favourite film and their analysis is spot on.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Book Review: Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

Pros: diverse cast, interesting plot

Cons: minimal world-building

Carina is a zeal addict, living her life plugged into her dreams where she slowly kills virtual people. When a former co-worker uploads coded packets of information into her brain that will help take down her previous employer, she’s not sure she’s capable of sobering up and not becoming a monster in the real world.

This book is set in the same world as the author’s previous novel, False Hearts. While some characters overlap, Shattered Minds works perfectly on its own. 

Carina’s a fascinating character. Having information tied to her memories was a clever idea, and allowed for some great development. I was surprised by how much I liked her considering she had very little emotion, had constant urges to kill, and spent the first part of the book heavily addicted. But then, I also enjoyed seeing the world from Roz’s point of view, and she’s a pretty terrible person. Her scenes didn’t make me relate to her at all, but sometime’s its nice to read about bad guys who are truly evil.

The cast is pretty diverse with one character a native american trans man, which isn’t something you read often. Dax was probably my favourite character, considerate, competent, cool under pressure.

I had mixed feelings about the romantic elements of the book. I liked the pairing, and the text makes it clear that the two find each other attractive. But given Carina’s inability to feel anything other than pleasure at the thought of killing, I didn’t really get the gut feeling that she was even capable of any kind of intimate relationship. I appreciated that things moved slowly, but there was one scene that felt like it happened too early and so didn’t give the emotional satisfaction that it should have. At this point they knew each other better but still didn’t have the emotional connection such a scene requires. Oddly enough, had the author waited a bit, there was a place where I think that would have fit better (see more on this in the spoiler section).  

While I felt the author knew how this world worked, there were times when it would have helped to understand more of what makes Pacifica tick. Towards the end of the book there’s a throwaway comment about the potential consequences of taking down Sudice, of how society could unravel because the company’s tied into so many things. This would have been good to bring up earlier. In fact, the comment states that the group has discussed this issue, though the reader never sees any of these discussions. It’s a failure of world-building because as a readier I didn’t realize the full import of the company they want to bring down and that the Trust’s actions might not be as black and white as they’re being portrayed. Knowing what Sudice does, and how the world would be impacted would have added more depth and complexity to the characters, and the show how difficult the decision they’re making really is.

The book is paced well so there’s a good mix of action and down time. The mystery of what Roz is doing and how the Trust can take her down is quite entertaining, and there are a good number of twists to keep things interesting.

On the whole I enjoyed the book.


I think Carina and Dax slept together too early. While you get scenes from his point of view, you never see him question the wisdom of starting a relationship with a woman who has urges to kill and how he (or they) would deal with this. The scene at the end I refer to in my review is after Carina has Roz at her mercy and chooses not to kill her. The two talk about where things are headed between them. Given that Dax now knows she can control her negative urges better, this felt like a more natural place for their first sexual encounter. As a reader, this is also where I felt they connected better on an emotional level.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Short Story Review: Darkness Upon the Deep by Hristo Goshev

Aurora Wolf Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6

Philip Carter is a Valkyrie pilot on the interstellar destroyer Bastion. When a surprise attack and emergency jump leave his best friend behind - certainly dead - and the crew stranded in some unknown space, morale breaks down and Phil has to confront some unpleasant truths about himself.

It’s an interesting science fiction story with a clear underlying sense of dread. You really feel for Phil, for his loss, and even his desire to redeem himself. You learn just enough about the enemy they’re fighting to make their pre-jump situation dire, and enough about their new situation to understand why things are falling apart. It’s quite engaging.

You can read it online here.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Movie Review: Mad Max

Directed by George Miller, 1979

Pros: great costumes, shows soft-apocalypse, good world-building

Cons: slow, limited plot, sometimes boring

A few years into the future, Australia is slowly falling into anarchy. Max is a cop in a world where the law has little power. When a car chase leads to the death of an important gang member, the gang starts going after the police and eventually draw Max’s ire.

I never saw this growing up, though I did see the other films. I didn’t remember much of them though, so I had certain expectations that were shattered watching this. The first surprise of the film was that it wasn’t the post-apocalyptic setting of the later films. Society still exists in some recognizable ways, though it’s quickly crumbing as police become more brutal and courts have less power. It reminded me of Octavia Butler’s collapsing world in Parable of the Sower

The second surprise was how long it took for Max to go on his rampage. The precipitating event wasn’t hard to guess, but it kept getting deferred, which I must say created more tension than I suspect was intended. 

I loved the costumes, particularly the cops’ leather uniforms. The world-building was pretty good too. I liked that there were still institutions, but that their power was lessened. The bureaucracy shows up once when it comes to buying new police equipment and the costs involved. I was surprised at how willing Max’s wife was to go off on her own, which implied that things had deteriorated at a rate that meant people still felt relatively safe, despite the roving gangs. There are hints of the future wars over gasoline, and some good car chases.

While the slow pacing allowed the viewer to get to know the characters, there were several parts of the film that were kind of boring. I really expected the action to start sooner and the ‘hunt’ to take longer.

I was horrified by the treatment of the couple’s son. When he’s first shown, the toddler is sitting on the floor playing with Max’s gun. Seat belts weren’t really a concern when the film was made, but even so, in one scene he’s kind of tossed into the back trunk area of their station wagon. Then, after a traumatic experience, the wife (girlfriend?) take a good ten minutes to remember he exists and goes looking for him. 

As a content warning, the film is rated R, with some nudity and a heavily implied rape scene.

I can understand why it’s not considered one of the better Mad Max films, but I’m glad I finally saw it.  

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Shout-Out: Want by Cindy Pon

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.
With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.
Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Video: Bach's "Gott ist mein Konig" in St. Mary's Church, Muhlhausen

A friend posted this on my facebook wall and I thought it was awesome, so I'm sharing it here. This is performed by the Michaelstein Telemann Chamber Orchestra in Saint Mary's Church, Muhlhausen Germany. Doing a bit of research on the church, it's 14th - 15th century, made from local limestone.

This cantata, "Gott ist mein Konig" (God is my King) was written to mark the Council Election, and premiered at this church in 1708.

The singing and playing are beautiful, and there's some great camera work highlighing the church. If you want to see more, part 2 is here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Book Review: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

Pros: conflicted characters, good world-building

Cons: not hard SF

Earth spent years forcing thousands of people to emigrate to other inhabitable worlds as the population grew out of control. Jamie Allenby was living on Soltaire, at the edge of inhabited space, when the plague came through. The survival rate of zero point zero zero zero one percent haunts her as she makes her way to the space port in hopes of finding other survivors. As others emerge, they head towards Earth, unsure of what they’re looking for or how life will carry on. 

I found Jamie an interesting character. In many ways she reminded me of Millicent, the protagonist in Mishell Baker’s Borderline. She’s not particularly likeable, but because you’re seeing her thoughts and feelings (and occasional flashbacks), you understand why she’s making the decisions she is, and why she has trouble letting people get close. Jamie slowly comes to understand what she’s looking for, but I suspect some readers will find her constant questioning herself and where she’s going with her life frustrating. I felt this frustration myself a time or two towards the end of the book, especially when she’s trying to get others to join their group despite making it clear that she thinks people should do what they want and joining the group isn’t what those people want to do. 

Most of the supporting characters are conflicted too, not sure what this new world holds, whether it’s better to return to the old way of doing things or hope for something new. Rena annoyed me, but I think she was supposed to. I appreciated the author including an autistic young man in with the main group of survivors. 

I liked that different views of how the world should continue were offered by different groups. It didn’t surprise me that societal classes would survive the apocalypse. One of the groups they encountered did surprise me though, with their adherence to an even older age. 

Some sections of the book are designed to get you to think deeply about life: what it means, where humanity is headed, etc. This was undercut by Jamie’s constant waffling though, never sure of what she wanted and feeling at one with the universe for a moment and then doubting the emotion the next.

The world-building was pretty good. Callan’s history especially grounded the world for me, in all its cruelty. 

This isn’t hard SF. While there are lags for communication transmissions, there’s no time dilation affecting space travel and it only takes a day or two to get between worlds, with no explanation of how the ship is navigating the distances so quickly. Because Jamie was constantly questioning her decisions, it made me wonder how things would have changed for her if moving from one planet to the next meant years or decades would have passed for those she left behind, so that there was no going back, no reconciliation. How would things have changed for her if these decisions were permanent once she left? Would she have been happier? Would she have stayed on Earth? On Alegria? Would she have found the personal space she needed some other way? Or would she still have ended up on Soltaire, conflicted about the decisions she’d made with her life? 

It was an interesting debut. It posed some good questions and while it wasn’t perfect, it kept me turning pages.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Polychromy in Classical and Gothic Art

A few days ago I read a really good article by Sarah Bond on why it's important we start seeing Classical artwork the way it originally was - in colour. The article points out that the Renaissance looked at classical art - what was by their time uncoloured marble - and found its aesthetic ideal. They did not know (unlike us) that originally these white marble statues were vibrantly (even gaudily) painted.

From Wikimedia Commons: Istanbul Archaeological Museum - A modern reconstruction of the polychromy of troyan archer of the Temple of Aphaia, ca. 485–480 BC. On a loan from the Glyptotek in Munich, for the Bunte Götter exhibition. Picture by: Giovanni Dall'Orto May 28 2006.

What the article did not point out, much to my surprise (probably due to space constraints), was that this turn towards Classical art was a response to - and rejection of - the current art style, what they termed 'Gothic'.

'Gothic' is named after the Visigoths, a 'barbarian' tribe that invaded what is now Italy, sacking Rome twice and bringing the final end to the Roman Empire in the West.

Its easy to forget when looking at cathedrals today that Gothic sculpture was also fully painted. The clean marble we admire, would have looked just as garish to modern (and Renaissance) viewers as Classical sculpture when it was first made. But the Renaissance artists didn't realize that.

Every generation tends to reject what came before in some way or another. Sometimes it's a complete backlash that vilifies the previous era. Sometimes it's more subtle. Consider, would you want a house decorated in 60s style?

While it's strange to see fully painted Classical artwork, we need to accept that our aesthetic ideal isn't the same as that of people from the past. And looking at a fully painted church - the restored and recently cleaned Saint Chapelle royal chapel in Paris - excessive painting can look beautiful under the right conditions. Here are some photos I took when I visited in 2015.

The first picture shows the lower chapel. Both it and the upper chapel in photo 2 share a blue painted ceiling with gold fleur-de-lis, but the upper chapel photo is too dark to properly see it. The stained glass means the entire upper chapel is bathed in coloured light.

The statuary along the walls is vibrantly coloured, and rather than looking gaudy, the whole together is quite magnificently beautiful. It perfectly captures the Gothic art goals of coming to God through light and colour.

While I wouldn't advocate painting all the sculpture in Cathedrals and museums, I do think it would be helpful to see more artists renditions of what they would have looked like. I'd love to see the same for Classical artworks.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Shout-Out: The Moon and the Other by John Kessel

In the middle of the twenty-second century, over three million people live in underground cities below the moon's surface. One city-state, the Society of Cousins, is matriarchy, where men are supported in any career choice, and can have all the sex they want, but no right to vote-and tensions are beginning to flare as outside political intrigues increase. After participating in a rebellion that caused his mother's death, Erno has been exiled from the Society of Cousins. Now, he is living in the Society's rival colony, Persepolis, when he meets and marries Amestris, the defiant daughter of the richest man on the moon. Mira, a rebellious loner in the Society, creates graffiti videos that challenge the Society's political domination. She is hopelessly in love with Carey, the exemplar of male privilege. An Olympic champion in low-gravity martial arts and known as the most popular bedmate in the Society, Carey's more suited to being a boyfriend than a parent, even as he tries to gain custody of his teenage son. When the Organization of Lunar States sends a team to investigate the condition of men in the Society, Erno sees an opportunity to get rich, Amestris senses an opportunity to escape from her family, Mira has a chance for social change, and Carey can finally become independent of the matriarchy that considers him a perpetual adolescent. But when Society secrets are revealed, the first moon war erupts, and everyone must decide what is truly worth fighting for.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

LGBT+ StoryBundle

Story Bundle has their new DRM free ebook bundle up, and it's full of LGBT+ goodness for Pride Month. The curator of this bundle, Melissa Scott, has this to say about the offerings:
First, no novels in which being queer means you're evil, nor any in which it's a doomed and tragic fate. There are places for the latter, but this is June and Pride Month, and I want to share books that celebrate queerness. I've also decided to focus on small press offerings, as they are more likely to be overlooked than books from the mainstream houses. I've tried to pick newer novels, and to reintroduce some older writers, and in general to include books and writers who you might not have seen yet.

Here's what you can get (copied from the email), learn more about each book on the website.

The initial titles in the LGBT+ Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
  • The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles
  • Wonder City Stories by Jude McLaughlin
  • The Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones
  • Riley Parra Season One by Geonn Cannon
  • Out of This World by Catherine Lundoff

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus seven more!
  • The Marshal's Lover by Jo Graham
  • Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
  • Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Death by Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold
  • The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories by A.C. Wise
  • Trafalgar and Boone in the Drowned Necropolis by Geonn Cannon
  • Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff
They still have 2 other bundles up for sale, Moonscapes and Military SF.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Book Review: Firebrand by A. J. Hartley

Pros: excellent world-building, interconnected plot, great characters


Grappoli is invading more native territory, sending refugees fleeing to the city of their enemy, Bar-Selehm. But Bar-Selehm’s politicians aren’t sympathetic to the refugees’ plight, and some believe the time to unite with their white brothers of Grappoli, at the expense of the black and brown lower classes of their own city, has arrived. When important military papers are stolen, a clue sends Anglet Sutonga to an exclusive club, where she investigates the connections of its members.

This is the second book set in this faux 19th Century South Africa. While you can read this without having read Steeplejack, characters are reintroduced without preamble, so you may find yourself confused by some of the relationships. The plot is self-contained and while the politics carry on from the previous book, it’s easy to figure out what’s happening in that respect. Some of the world-building assumes you’ve read Steeplejack, so there’s little explanation of the Drowning and the racial divisions of the city, though those come up a lot in the story.  

The world-building on the whole is excellent. Again, there’s very little of the book happening outside the city, but the city itself affords lots of conflict. I’m impressed by how detailed and realistic the interconnectedness of everything is in the book.

I really like Anglet. She’s young, passionate, and tries to do the right thing, even when knowing what the right thing to do is difficult. And with the racial and political tensions running through this book, she’s often left unsure of why she feels like she does and whether her work for Willinghouse is achieving any good. I especially liked her confusion over how to best help the refugees, and why she felt a connection to their sorrows despite their differing circumstances.

I appreciated the introduction of a deaf character and the chance to see more of Bar-Selehm’s society (high and otherwise). I liked the fact that characters had differing opinions on the political situation of the city. 

Unfortunately I read the book in a disjointed manner, which made it hard for me to recollect who some of the players were. There are certain scenes that require a careful reading, as the cast is fairly large and some seemingly minor details become important later on.

The plot went in several disjointed directions as Anglet slowly figured out what was going on, pulling together for the climax. 

I really enjoyed this book, and its discussion of racism, refugees, and colonialism is topical.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Movie Review: Escape From New York

Directed by: John Carpenter, 1981

Pros: great sets

Cons: poor world-building

Set in 1997, super high crime rates required turning Manhattan Island into a walled prison. When Air Force One crashes inside its boundary, ex-soldier and recent convict Snake Plissken is given a chance at a pardon. To get it, he has to go in and bring the president out alive.

This is one of those influential ‘80s films that I somehow missed growing up. 

I suspect the acclaim for the film is due to nostalgia, because it’s quite a boring film to watch. The light techno music was an odd touch for the opening credits, with the theme sounding much like Halloween’s at times (which isn’t surprising when you note that both were composed by John Carpenter). Given the theme of the film I was expecting something more heavy metal.

The acting was decent, though the story left a lot to be desired. There were so many world-building questions left unanswered. Questions like: Why does everyone know who Plissken is? Why did he rob a bank? What’s on the tape? Does the ending mean there’s going to be another war (or renewed war? I believe the summit was to end the current war with China and Russia).

The sets were amazing. The building where Plissken gives the woman a smoke was creepy, and contained the only 2 scares in the whole movie. I loved the old library turned Brain’s base, and the Duke’s subway hideout.

The action was ok. Having only recently seen They Live for the first time too, I’m guessing Carpenter was enamoured of the WWF (both films have a protracted fight scene, I also remember the WWF being huge when I was a kid, and knowing all the major fighters).

Snake Plissken was a surprise. I was expecting someone like other 80s heroes (or anti-heroes). Brash, noisy, in your face. So his soft voice and complete lack of interest in the mission was interesting. I wish the film explained more of his past, as he sounded like an interesting person.

I have to admit, this isn’t a movie I’d watch again.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Shout-Out: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Coloring Book by Paul Kidby

Paul Kidby, Sir Terry Pratchett's artist of choice, designed the UK covers for the Discworld novels since 2002 and is the author of the definitive portfolio volume The Art of Discworld. Containing black-and-white line drawings based on his hugely popular artwork with original pieces created exclusively for this book, Terry Pratchett's Discworld Coloring Book features iconic Discworld personalities including Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Archchancellor Ridcully, Rincewind, Tiffany Aching, and, of course, Death. This is the coloring book that all Discworld fans need!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Books Received in May 2017 Part 2

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

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis - Sounds like an exciting debut.

THE GUNS ABOVE is an adventurous military fantasy debut about a nation's first female airship captain.
They say it's not the fall that kills you.

For Josette Dupre, the Corps' first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.

On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat's own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision.

So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?

Illuminating Women in the Medieval World by Christine Sciacca - I'm part way through this. The illustrations are as excellent as you'd expect and I'm impressed at how much information is packed into the short descriptions for them.

When one thinks of women in the Middle Ages, the images that often come to mind are those of damsels in distress, mystics in convents, female laborers in the field, and even women of ill repute. In reality, however, medieval conceptions of womanhood were multifaceted, and women’s roles were varied and nuanced. Female stereotypes existed in the medieval world, but so too did women of power and influence. The pages of illuminated manuscripts reveal to us the many facets of medieval womanhood and slices of medieval life—from preoccupations with biblical heroines and saints to courtship, childbirth, and motherhood. While men dominated artistic production, this volume demonstrates the ways in which female artists, authors, and patrons were instrumental in the creation of illuminated manuscripts.
Featuring over one hundred illuminations depicting medieval women from England to Ethiopia, this book provides a lively and accessible introduction to the lives of women in the medieval world.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw - This book just sounds awesome.

Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead. Keeping the supernatural community not-alive and well in London has been her family's specialty for generations.
Greta Helsing inherited the family's highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills - vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's been groomed for since childhood.
Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Sovereign by April Daniels - This is the sequel to Dreadnought, a superhero novel with a transgender protagonist, which I enjoyed a lot last year.

Only nine months after her debut as the superhero Dreadnought, Danny Tozer is already a scarred veteran. Protecting a city the size of New Port is a team-sized job and she's doing it alone. Between her newfound celebrity and her demanding cape duties, Dreadnought is stretched thin, and it's only going to get worse.

When she crosses a newly discovered billionaire supervillain, Dreadnought comes under attack from all quarters. From her troubled family life to her disintegrating friendship with Calamity, there's no lever too cruel for this villain to use against her.

She might be hard to kill, but there's more than one way to destroy a hero. Before the war is over, Dreadnought will be forced to confront parts of herself she never wanted to acknowledge.

And behind it all, an old enemy waits in the wings, ready to unleash a plot that will scar the world forever.

Halls of Law by V. M. Escalada - This is the pseudonym of Violette Malan, whose fantasy novels I enjoy a lot. I'm looking forward to this book, out August 1.

The Faraman Polity was created by the first Luqs, and has been ruled for generations by those of the Luqs bloodline. It is a burgeoning empire maintained by the combined efforts of the standing military force and the Talents of the Halls of Law. While the military preserves and protects, it is the Halls’ Talents—those gifted from birth with magical abilities—who serve as the agents and judges of the Law. For no one can successfully lie to a Talent. Not only can they read people by the briefest of physical contacts, but they can also read objects, able to find information about anyone who has ever come into direct contact with that object. Thanks to the Talents and the career military, the Polity has long remained a stable and successful society. But all that is about to change.

Seventeen-year-old Kerida Nast has always wanted a career in the military, just like the rest of her family. So when her Talent is discovered, and she knows she'll have to spend the rest of her life as a psychic for the Halls of Law, Ker isn't happy about it. Anyone entering the Halls must give up all personal connection with the outside world, losing their family and friends permanently. Just as Kerida is beginning to reconcile herself to her new role, the Polity is invaded by strangers from Halia, who begin a systematic campaign of destruction against the Halls, killing every last Talent they can find.

Kerida manages to escape, falling in with Tel Cursar, a young soldier fleeing the battle, which saw the deaths of the royal family. Having no obvious heir to the throne, no new ruler to rally behind, the military leaders will be divided, unable to act quickly enough to save the empire. And with the Halls being burned to the ground, and the Talents slaughtered, the Rule of Law will be shattered.

To avoid the invaders, Kerida and Tel are forced to enter old mining tunnels in a desperate attempt to carry word of the invaders to Halls and military posts that have not yet been attacked. But the tunnels hide a dangerous secret, a long-hidden colony of Feelers—paranormal outcasts shut away from the world for so long they are considered mythical. These traditional enemies of the Halls of Law welcome Kerida, believing she fulfills a Prophecy they were given centuries before by the lost race of griffins. With the help of these new allies, Kerida and Tel stand a chance of outdistancing the invaders and reaching their own troops. However, that is only the start of what will become a frantic mission to learn whether any heir to the throne remains, no matter how distant in the bloodline. Should they discover such a person, they will have to find the heir before the Halian invaders do. For if the Halians capture the future Luqs, it will spell the end of the Faraman Polity and the Rule of Law.

Books Received in May 2017 Part 1

Many thanks to the publishers that have sent me review copies this past month.

Firebrand by A.J. Hartley - I really enjoyed this sequel to last year's Steeplejack. My review will go up on the release date, June 6.

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.
Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow - I have to admit I tried reading this and found there was too many descriptions of bodily functions for my taste. Love the premise though.

Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza-known to his friends as Hubert, Etc-was too old to be at that Communist party.

But after watching the breakdown of modern society, he really has no where left to be-except amongst the dregs of disaffected youth who party all night and heap scorn on the sheep they see on the morning commute. After falling in with Natalie, an ultra-rich heiress trying to escape the clutches of her repressive father, the two decide to give up fully on formal society-and walk away.

After all, now that anyone can design and print the basic necessities of life-food, clothing, shelter-from a computer, there seems to be little reason to toil within the system.

It's still a dangerous world out there, the empty lands wrecked by climate change, dead cities hollowed out by industrial flight, shadows hiding predators animal and human alike. Still, when the initial pioneer walkaways flourish, more people join them. Then the walkaways discover the one thing the ultra-rich have never been able to buy: how to beat death. Now it's war - a war that will turn the world upside down.

Fascinating, moving, and darkly humorous, Walkaway is a multi-generation SF thriller about the wrenching changes of the next hundred years.and the very human people who will live their consequences.

Pawn by Timothy Zahn - I haven't had the chance to look at this yet, but it sounds pretty interesting.

Nicole Lee's life is going nowhere. No family, no money, and stuck in a relationship with a thug named Bungie. But, after one of Bungie's "deals" goes south, he and Nicole are whisked away by a mysterious moth-like humanoid to a strange ship called the Fyrantha.
Once aboard, life on the ship seems too good to be true. All she has to do is work on one of the ship's many maintenance crews. However, she learned long ago that nothing comes without a catch. When she's told to keep quiet and stop asking questions, she knows she is on to something.

Nicole soon discovers that many different factions are vying for control of the Fyrantha, and she and her friends are merely pawns in a game beyond their control. But, she is tired of being used, and now Nicole is going to fight.

Shattered Minds by Laura Lam - Set in the same world as False Hearts, this can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. I really enjoyed it. My review will go up on June 20th, it's release date.

Carina used to be one of the best biohackers in Pacifica. But when she worked for Sudice and saw what the company's experiments on brain recording were doing to their subjects, it disturbed her-especially because she found herself enjoying giving pain and contemplating murder. She quit and soon grew addicted to the drug Zeal, spending most of her waking moments in a horror-filled dream world where she could act out her depraved fantasies without actually hurting anyone.

One of her trips is interrupted by strange flashing images and the brutal murder of a young girl. Even in her drug-addicted state, Carina knows it isn't anything she created in the Zealscape. On her next trip, she discovers that an old coworker from Sudice, Max, sent her these images before he was killed by the company. Encrypted within the images are the clues to his murder, plus information strong enough to take down the international corporation.

Carina's next choice will transform herself, San Francisco, and possibly the world itself.

Lady Mechanika v3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey by Marcia Chen - I absolutely love the artwork for this series. My review of this is already up.

Lady Mechanika's investigation into the murders of"undesirable" children in Mechanika City triggers an unexpected reaction from her subconscious self. But are they truly lost memories finally surfacing after so many years, or just simple nightmares? And what connection does the killer have to Lady Mechanika's past?

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Book Review: Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Pros: great characters, good attention to detail

Cons: limited fantasy elements 

When Helen Young is given the news that her death is near, she performs a final duty for an old friend. In 1940 San Francisco, Loretta Haskel, an artist for lurid pulp covers, falls in love with another woman. Their lifestyle is illegal and complicated, and vibrant.

The characters are brilliant. They acknowledge some of the racial and sexual challenges of the day, focusing on Asian and lesbian. The women are all living their lives, trying to get by without getting into trouble with the law for being who they are. They’re each quite different, though most of them are artists of some sort.

San Francisco is a wonderful setting. The book allows you to experience several parts of the city. There’s a day at the World’s Fair, Chinatown, various eateries, the fabulous view. The book also mentions the war a few times, and how that affects people. It’s far enough away that the influence is minor, but it helped make the book feel grounded in history. I was impressed with the level of detail - enough so you can fully picture the city, but not so much you get bogged down in descriptions.

There’s a faint inkling of magic in the book. It’s used a few times in minor ways. If you’re hoping for a lot of fantasy elements, this isn’t for you. I was left with a few questions about the final piece of magic, but nothing that detracted from my enjoyment of the story as a whole. 

I loved that the cover of the book is the final picture Haskel paints, and annoyed that it took me so long to figure that out. 

One plot twist was fairly obvious, but on the whole I thought the book was beautifully written and evocative. As a novella it is on the short side, but it’s the perfect length for the story being told. If you like historical fiction, San Francisco, or books that explore more diverse lifestyles, give it a go.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Sunburst Award Longlist

Congratulations to the authors who find themselves on the 2017 longlist for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.

From their press release:



Learn more about the award on their website.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Movie Review: Get Out

Directed by Jordan peele

Pros: great acting, shows systemic racism, psychological horror


Rose Armitage is bringing her new African American boyfriend, Chris, home to meet her caucasian family. They seem nice, if overeager to prove they’re not racist, but as the weekend progresses, something just feels more and more off to Chris.

I remember a few years ago Cabin in the Woods got a lot of praise for taking horror movie tropes and turning them upside down. Get Out ignores the tropes completely and creates a subtle atmosphere of unease and a truly horrifying reveal. I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about this film, as its reversal of stereotypes makes it unique.

There’s very little blood and gore, depending instead almost entirely on creeping you out in a more psychological way.

I thought the performances were excellent. Daniel Kaluuya as Chris really sold what was going on and his own confusion and uneasiness over seemingly benign encounters. Allison Williams as Rose was also great, especially in the second half of the film. Marcus Henderson (Walter) and Betty Gabriel (Georgina) were amazing. They had to show no emotion for most of the film and the moment when Georgina cries was heart-wrenching.

There’s an underpinning of subtle racism that adds to the horror. Seeing situations from Chris’s point of view it’s hard to ignore the subtext of what’s being said and done, from the cop asking to see his ID to the guests at the party bringing up their ‘black’ connections.

As someone who prefers psychological horror over body/slasher horror, this was terrifying and provocative. It’s highly worth seeing. 

If you have seen the film and want a fantastic breakdown of what's going on, Wisecrack's got you covered.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Shout-Out: The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

London burned for three weeks. And then it got worse...
Young, naive Lalla has grown up in near-isolation in her parents' apartment, sheltered from the chaos of their collapsed civilization. But things are getting more dangerous outside. People are killing each other for husks of bread, and the police are detaining anyone without an identification card. On her sixteenth birthday, Lalla's father decides it's time to use their escape route--a ship he's built that is only big enough to save five hundred people.
But the utopia her father has created isn't everything it appears. There's more food than anyone can eat, but nothing grows; more clothes than anyone can wear, but no way to mend them; and no-one can tell her where they are going.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Video: How Falconry Shaped the English Language

This is a fascinating short explanation of some English phrases that came from falconry by Great Big Story. It's easy to forget how trades, sports, and other activities affect language.

English has so many idioms and I'm always happy when reading SF and aliens call humans out for using expressions that don't make sense or for explanations of strange saying. But I don't think I've ever read a fantasy novel where language was evolving or where the expression is only used in one trade (or class) and someone had to explain it. Which is interesting as most jobs today have specialized vocabulary that outsiders won't necessarily get. When I started working at the bookstore I had to learn 'shrink', 'shelf-talker', 'remainders', 'end cap', etc. meant in this context (or meant at all). Similarly, back when I was a trade show exhibitor, I learned 'pitch', 'draw tip', and several other terms specific to that job.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika volume 3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey by M.M. Chen

Pencils by Joe Benitez and Martin Montiel
(collects issues 1-2 of Lady Mechanika: The Lost Boys of West Abbey)

Pros: beautiful artwork, interesting story, great characters

Cons: short

Lady Mechanika hears of a strange murder case where kidnapped urchin boys were found murdered next to mechanical parts. She starts investigating, wondering if this case could lead to information about her own origins.

As with the previous volumes, this one stands alone, though there is a quick, non spoilery callback for the events of volume 2. It’s only two issues, so the story is much shorter than those of the earlier graphic novels (and the price reflects that).

Once more the artwork is gorgeous. The characters have a fun mix of Victorian and steampunk fashions.The cast is widened with the addition of a detective inspector, who I suspect will show up in later volumes.

The cover gallery at the end has some nice pieces. 

I’m loving this series.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Warded Man Still Life

Peter V. Brett's fifth and final Demon Cycle book has a name (The Core), covers (with an interesting creation story for how the US and UK covers were designed), and a release date (October 3, 2017 - pushed back from August).

When I worked at the World's Biggest Bookstore, I often went to publisher run bookseller events. SFF wasn't often represented, outside of YA. The Warded Man was the first adult Random House title I was mailed outside of an event, because I specialized in SFF at the store and they wanted to promote the book. So it has a special place in my heart beyond simply being an incredible debut. In 2009, a few months after it came out in the US/Canada I interviewed Mr. Brett, asking questions about the writer life. A few years later, while handselling book two, The Desert Spear, I opened the book and realized my review of it was quoted in the front! For some reason publishers don't notify reviewers when they do this so it was a complete surprise and only one of two instances (that I know of) that this has happened to me.

About a month ago I noticed that Peter V. Brett was hosting a still life contest on his blog. I'd intended to enter and then completely forgot about it. Well, yesterday I saw a twitter post with some of the entries and decided to do it anyway, even though the contest is over now.

Here's what I came up with:

I think the first shot is better, as it shows the scales and other objects closer and at an angle, but I like that you can see that the cloth is a cloak in the second shot. My idea behind this was that Leesha had just entered her hut, thrown her cloak down and was frantically preparing an herbal remedy for a patient (hence the knocked over bottles).

This second scene isn't as detailed (and yes, the hora should be bone not crystal, and warded to boot), but I wanted to do something to honour Inevera, one of my all time favourite characters.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika Volume 2: The Tablet of Destinies by M.M. Chen

Pencils by Joe Benitez and Martin Montiel
(collects issues 1-6 of Lady Mechanika: The Tablet of Destinies)

Pros: gorgeous artwork, fast paced story, lots of women


Lady Mechanika returns to London in time to witness the kidnapping of Lewis’ niece. Seems the girl’s grandfather is part of an African expedition uncovering a long lost underground city. And within that city is the tablet of destinies, rumoured to be a powerful weapon.

Once again the artwork is incredible. It’s lush and detailed.

The story’s fast paced, going from one crisis or revelation to another. I enjoyed that this book had several diverse locations, and peoples.

Lady Mechanika’s a fantastic protagonist. I’m impressed with the number of women the series has introduced, and the great costumes they wear (some sexy, others practical).

I’m loving this series.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Shout-Out: Forever On by Rob Reid

The definitive novel of today’s Silicon Valley, Forever On flash-captures our cultural and technological moment with up-to-the-instant savvy. Matters of privacy and government intrusion, post-Tinder romance, nihilistic terrorism, artificial consciousness, synthetic biology, and much more are tackled with authority and brash playfulness by New York Times bestselling author Rob Reid.

Meet Phluttr—a diabolically addictive new social network and a villainess, heroine, enemy, and/or bestie to millions. Phluttr has ingested every fact and message ever sent to, from, or about her innumerable users. Her capabilities astound her makers—and they don’t even know the tenth of it.

But what’s the purpose of this stunning creation? Is it a front for something even darker and more powerful than the NSA? A bid to create a trillion-dollar market by becoming “The UberX of Sex”? Or a reckless experiment that could spawn the digital equivalent of a middle-school mean girl with enough charisma, dirt, and cunning to bend the entire planet to her will?

Phluttr has it in her to become the greatest gossip, flirt, or matchmaker in history. Or she could cure cancer, bring back Seinfeld, then start a nuclear war. Whatever she does, it’s not up to us. But a motley band of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and engineers might be able to influence her.

Forever On achieves the literary singularity—fusing speculative satire and astonishing reality into a sharp-witted, ferociously believable, IMAX-wide view of our digital age.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Kameron Hurley Podcast

If you haven't heard, Kameron Hurley (The Stars are Legion, The Mirror Empire, God's War) has started a podcast. While it's funded by her patreon, it's free to listen to online. She's got 2 episodes up and they're really good, with some writing advice as well as ways to cope with the insanity that is the current world. Be aware, there is some profanity.
  • EPISODE ONE: The Business is Writing, The Business is Death. Chat about broken stairs in the publishing world, multiple income streams, writing and entitlement. With bonus apocalypse Q&A.
  • EPISODE TWO: How to Get to Work When the World Wants to Get You Down. Chat about how to create and promote work during tough times, how to balance caring for your sanity and health with being a good, active citizen, and why you should tell everyone to f*ck themselves and just write what you want!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika volume 1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benitez

(collects Lady Mechanika issues 0-5)

Pros: gorgeous artwork, interesting characters, good story


Issue 0 is a prequel story that takes place about a year before the main comic. It features Lady Mechanika hunting a ‘demon’ that’s been killing children.

Issues 1-5 comprises a story about a young woman, found dead in a train station, who has similar mechanical arms to Lady Mechanika.

I LOVED the artwork. The colours are rich and bold, the backgrounds lush, and the characters vibrant.

Lady Mechanika is portrayed in a sexy fashion without showing much (or sometimes any) skin. I loved her costumes (particularly her Victorian style dresses), and the occasional steampunk elements of it. She’s intelligent, no nonsense, and kickass.

The supporting cast are also well dressed and appropriately quirky. I enjoyed the fact that there’s history between Lady Mechanika and the two lead antagonists.

The story was pretty interesting, though there was one scene where the antagonists had an expository conversation meant for the reader rather than each other.

This volume is self-contained, with a quick mention of what will begin the next volume.