Friday, 15 December 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Directed by Luc Besson, 2017

Pros: amazing special effects, great burlesque dance sequence

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

Be advised, this review contains spoilers for the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Video: The Star Wars Concept Trailer

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

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

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

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






Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Novella Review: Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Pros: interesting story, good character development

Cons: limited description

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, 8 December 2017

Movie Review: Final Destination

Directed by James Wong, 2000

Pros: decent acting, interesting premise, minimal gore

Cons: some melodramatic scenes

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

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

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


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


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Shout-Out: Version Control by Dexter Palmer

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

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Video: Ancient Egyptian Clap Bow Mouse Trap

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

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Book Review: Hymn by Ken Scholes

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

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

Cons: 

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, 1 December 2017

Books Received in December, 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Shout-Out: The Un-Discovered Islands by Malachy Tallack

In The Un-Discovered Islands, critically acclaimed author Malachy Tallack takes the reader on fascinating adventures to the mysterious and forgotten corners of the map. 
Be prepared to be captivated by the astounding tales of two dozen islands once believed to be real but no longer on the map. These are the products of the imagination, deception, and human error: an archipelago of ex-islands and forgotten lands. From the well-known story of Atlantis and the mysteries of frozen Thule to more obscure tales from around the globe, and from ancient history right up to the present day, this is an atlas of legend and wonder, with glorious illustrations by Katie Scott.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Book Review: Requiem by Ken Scholes

Psalms of Isaac Book 4

Pros: great story, lots of intrigue

Cons: 

Picking up immediately where Antiphon finished, Requiem follows everyone as the Y’Zir forces conquer the Named Lands. Jin has taken her son to the Y’Zirite capital, Ahm’s Glory, and met the Empress she’s supposed to kill. Rudolfo has been given a position of authority within the Empire that he doesn’t want but can’t refuse. Vlad Li Tam searches for the Wizard’s spellbook to go with the staff he carries. A strange mechanical has emerged, sharing dreams with Charles the Arch-Engineer of Mechanical Science and giving Winters hope that the Final Dream of her people has not been lost. And Neb is on the moon, unsure of what to do.

There’s no reintroduction of people or events so be sure to brush up on the previous books before starting this one. Though the book does contain a glossary at the end if there’s a character, etc. you don’t recognize.

There are a lot of great turns in the book and we’re finally getting more answers than twists as prophecies reach fulfillment. There’s still a lot of political intrigue and quiet action, and several things that happen at the end of this book imply a great number of twists for the final volume.


This is a fantastic series that interweaves a great many plots and really keeps you guessing.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Royal Ontario Museum's Viking Exhibit

Last weekend I went to see the new viking exhibit at the ROM in Toronto. It's amazing seeing real artifacts left behind by people who lived a thousand years ago...

Here are a few things I thought were very cool.

 Before you enter the museum proper, there's a side room with this reconstructed viking ship. Many of the items on display were reproductions, but there were a lot of real antiques, including the items pictured below which were discovered in Sweden.                   
In the exhibit itself, you'll find the rest of the items.

Probably my favourite was this folding comb with case, made out of bone. It is decorated with circle and line ornamentation. Alas, it's not a particularly good photo. 
 This is an urnes style brooch, made out of bronze.
A pendant crucifix made of silver. It is considered to be the oldest known crucifix in present day Sweden. 
 Bronze and leather rune sheet. The inscription reads, "Malevolent, Unne calls forth your destruction."

There were several plaques explaining magical practices and the various deities.

 Iron sword.
Textile tools: two pairs of iron scissors, an antler ironing board and glass polishing stone (bottom left), two weaving combs of antler (the one on the right is a reproduction and shows the teeth), and two needles, one of iron and one of bone. 

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Shout-Out: Barbary Station by R. E. Stearns

Two engineers hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates—only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew—and survive long enough to enjoy it.
Adda and Iridian are newly minted engineers, but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space.
But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system has gone mad, trying to kill all station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out.
Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence. The last engineer who went up against the AI met an untimely end, and the pirates are taking bets on how the newcomers will die. But Adda and Iridian plan to beat the odds.
There’s a glorious future in piracy…if only they can survive long enough.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Video: Justice League "Come Together"

I haven't seen the new Justice League movie, and from what I've heard about it, I'll probably wait until it's on video. This is a sponsored video by Todrick Hall that I really enjoyed. The film depicts his dream Justice League members while they sing a wonderful rendition of "Come Together". It's not often a video gives me chills.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Book Review: Volk: A Novel of Radiant Abomination by David Nickle

Pros: interesting setting, fascinating story, complex depictions of and around black and gay characters

Cons: not particularly scary

Jason Thorn (aka Thistledown) flew planes over the trenches in WWI. After some bad times, he’s landed a job flying post in Africa. But the flight there is diverted to Bavaria, Germany, where an experiment has gone wrong. An experiment with a creature Jason has faced - and survived - in the past.

This is a direct continuation of Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, picking up 20 or so years after that one ends. All of the survivors show up and play major roles in the book. It’s interesting seeing how their lives have progressed, but also sad, as some of them don’t recover from their ordeal as well as others.

It’s very interesting learning more about the jukes and their parasitic nature. Unlike with the first book, when you knew when the characters were under the creature’s influence, in this book characters often reexamine their memories to discover they’ve forgotten things or were completely unaware of them. It make most of them unreliable narrators, but imparts their feelings of confusion and hesitancy very well.

The plot is pretty interesting, trying to figure out what happened to Jason, who and what Orlok is, and whether the Nazi’s will get their ubermensch.

Several of the newly introduced characters are gay, which was handled well considering the location and period the book takes place (Germany and France in the 1930s). One of the gay characters considered it a disease and was looking for a cure, while others were more comfortable with who they were. For the most part the principle characters around them were supportive or, at least, not derogatory regarding them.

Race, obviously comes up given Doctor Waggoner is black and married to a white woman. Again, I was impressed with how that was handled, especially entering Germany. The introduction of the jazz band and the treatment of its members was well done, showing racism in a more individualistic rather than stereotypical manner.

I didn’t find the book particularly terrifying (unlike with the eugenics of the first one) despite the presence of Nazis and some horrible things going on. There are some uncomfortable scenes and the ending was unsettling.


It is a good sequel. It answers a lot of questions raised in the previous book and shows what happens to everyone. It also shows that however much you run, sometimes you can’t escape your past.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Movie Review: What Happened to Monday

Directed by Tommy Wirkola, 2017

Pros: great acting, chilling story, antagonists have realistic motivations, thought provoking, action packed

Cons: a little hard to keep the sisters straight

In a future with gross overcrowding, a law is passed stating only one child per couple is allowed. Any siblings born are frozen, to be brought back when the population is under control. When Terrence Settman’s daughter dies birthing septuplets, he takes the girls and raises them - named after the days of the week - to be Karen Settman on their day. When Monday doesn’t come home one day, the others fear they’ve been discovered by the Child Allocation Bureau.

I’ve always been impressed by actors who can play multiple interacting rolls in a film. Noomi Rapace, playing 7 characters, does a brilliant job. She gives each sister a slightly different behaviour, which, combined with costuming, helps keep them straight. Having said that, I still had some trouble with this when there was a group of them together.

The setting was chilling, and chillingly realistic as a possible future. While Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close)’s one child policy seems heartless, it’s an unfortunate truth that over population is a problem and it’s difficult to come up with humane solutions. I suspect if this sort of policy becomes necessary globally, other social changes would have to come with it (religions would need to de-emphasize large families, social safety nets would need to be improved to help the elderly so they don’t need several adult children to support them, etc.). The film’s dependence on a single policy, without further societal pressures, is untenable.

I loved that the antagonists have realistic motivations for what they’re doing. While the majority of CAB officers are just doing their jobs, Cayman knows what she’s doing, and that it’s an unfortunate necessity. Similarly, when you finally discover why the siblings have been targeted, it does make sense, even if you consider other options may have worked better.

There’s a surprising amount of action - and a diversity of it. There’s a chase scene, explosions, even a bit of romance.


This is a great, thought-provoking film.   

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shout-Out: The Dark Intercept by Julia Kelier

When the state controls your emotions, how hard will you fight to feel free?
In a radiant world of endless summer, the Intercept keeps the peace. Violet Crowley, the sixteen-year-old daughter of New Earth's Founding Father, has spent her life in comfort and safety. Her days are easy thanks to the Intercept, a crime-prevention device that monitors emotion. But when her long-time crush, Danny Mayhew, gets into a dangerous altercation on Old Earth, Violet launches a secret investigation to find out what he's hiding. An investigation that will lead her to question everything she's ever known about Danny, her father, and the power of the Intercept.

Much like the device itself, The Dark Intercept will get under your skin.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Video: Stranger Things Honest Trailer

With the excellent season 2 of Stranger Things now out, Screen Junkies has done an honest trailer for season 1. It's full of spoilers, so consider yourself warned.



And as a bonus video, if you're old enough to remember Perfect Strangers, Jummy Kimmel brought the actors back and paired them with the Demigorgon from Stranger Things in a pretty awesome mash-up.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Pros: excellent creature building, diverse cast, some tense moments

Cons: several minor items made me lose immersion, minor inconsistencies

Seven years ago the entertainment company Imagine’s ship Atargatis was lost in the Mariana Trench. Video, called a hoax by most, showed mermaid like creatures attacking the ship. Now, a new ship is being sent to find out what really happened.

There’s a great diverse cast. It was interesting seeing the hearing impaired twins interact with and without their translator (though I was surprised more people didn’t consider handwriting or typing notes to communicate with them). I really liked Victoria, and seeing her determination to discover what happened to her sister on the Atargatis. The book had some great friend duos between Victoria and Luis and Olivia and Ray. It’s not common to see close and supportive male/female friendships so it was great seeing those. While I didn’t particularly like Dr. Toth, I loved her mixture of curiosity and fatalism when it came to the mermaids.

The mermaids, or sirens as Dr. Toth preferred to call them, were incredible. They’re both alien and based on deep ocean creatures, beautiful and terrifying. I was impressed that the author makes it clear how they became objects of myth while also being quite different from the stories they inspired. I loved the hypotheses regarding aspects of their biology, mannerisms, and communication. The creature building was brilliantly done. 

I appreciated that the romantic elements came with a healthy dose of communication and a lack of manufactured drama. It came up quickly but felt organic to the story. 

There were several conversations and minor issues that kept bumping me out of the story. This ruined my immersion and lessened the tension. For example, when scientists start boarding the ship Ray and Olivia point people out to each other. Ray sees Luis Martines and knows a surprising amount of information about his life and field of study. He’s even read one of Luis’ academic papers. While I’ll accept that Olivia and Ray were given a crew manifest, he definitely knows more than a cursory search would bring up, even if Martines’ wealth makes him an intriguing subject. But then he doesn’t know who Dr. Toth is, which makes no sense if he studied the crew, considering she’s more famous and important as a subject for their work. 

Another scene with Olivia made me pause when she thought about her family: conservative father, liberal mother. Apparently her mother doesn’t think she should ever have sex due to her ‘condition’, which doesn’t seem ‘liberal’ to me. Had Olivia framed her thought explaining that her mother believed she was liberal but her words to Olivia proved otherwise, it would have made more sense.

I noticed several minor inconsistencies. I’m not sure if other readers will find these as distracting as I did, but I’ll discuss them in the spoiler section below. Thankfully the last hundred pages or so didn’t include any of these so I was able to really get into the action and feel the suspense and horror of the ending.

The book wasn’t perfect but it has some great creatures and the ending is excellent.


***SPOILERS***







At the beginning of the book Victoria remembers her recent break-up, where her ex brought a box of her things to the cafe where they were meeting. While she walked out first, I had assumed that by bringing the box her ex signalled that things were over. But later in the book she thinks about the two reasons she dumped him, Luis comments that she was the one who broke things off, and the ex is shown bitter and vengeful about her leaving him.


A second instance happens with Blackwell. Early in the book he has a phone conversation with Golden, who is unhappy that Blackwell insists on going on the voyage personally. He’s so important Golden would prefer he send someone else. But we see a memo later where Golden tells Blackwell he’s sending him on the ship in part to prove his loyalty to Golden. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Movie Review: The Faculty

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, 1998

Pros: good acting, some good jump scares

Cons: some gore

A group of high school students notice odd things happening and discover evidence that aliens are taking over people, starting with the faculty.

I was surprised that this horror movie had some remarkably good acting (and actors). Elijah Wood (Frodo from Lord of the Rings) plays the picked on nerd, Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith from Cheers) is the principal, Robert Patrick (T1000 from Terminator 2) is the football coach, and Jon Stewart (formerly host of the Daily Show) is a science teacher.

There were some really good jump scares and the monster special effects were quite good. There was also some gore, which I’m not a fan of but was kept fairly minimal.

I felt terrible for Casey, the stereotypical nerd who gets very aggressively bullied at school. The film is full of stereotypes (the jock, the head cheerleader, the drug dealer/slacker, the new girl). I will say that seeing the hot chick convert into a nerd was unique, it usually goes the other way. 

There’s also a scene with attempted sexual assault (well, one of the characters assumes that’s what’s happening, though the audience knows otherwise) and some sexual harassment between a male student and a female teacher (the resolution of which creeped me out). I would also say that I found Stokley’s character problematic (she told people she was a lesbian so they would leave her alone - gay rights have come a long way, though the abuse she gets is unfortunately probably still realistic).


I figured out who the main bad guy was but on the whole I was impressed with the film. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Publisher Spotlight: Fiery Seas Publishing

Fiery Seas Publishing was founded in 2014 and

is looking for well-written manuscripts that have been polished to shine. We want wonderfully written manuscripts that grab the reader and will not let go, with a strong hook and plot that merge together flawlessly and characters we never want to leave behind. We are looking for anything from romance to edge-of-your-seat suspense.
  They publish novel and novella length fiction in several genres, including science fiction and fantasy in ebook and print formats. Their website doesn't give any contract information.

Here are a few of their published titles:

Incompetent Gods by Gabriele Russo - The first two books in the series are already out, with the third being released in December.

In a dimension created by the ancient gods, most are now stuck working at Gods Incorporated. CEO Queen Louhi Pohjola, a mortal demigoddess turned vampire (on a diet), holds the planet in the palm of her hand and while she cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a nice person, there’s worse lurking in her shadow.

Goblin, a bitter hybrid with childhood issues and shape-shifting abilities, has a grudge against the world. First on his to-do list is getting rid of the Queen and take her place by forcing the titan Ba’al to devour her.

As her friends and allies fall one-by-one into Goblin’s traps, the Queen’s fate seems inevitable. With no one left to fight, will Ba’al’s friends, a bunch of over-the-hill incompetent gods, be enough to stop Goblin from turning the world into hell?

Kinglet by Donna Migliaccio - Book 2 of the series, Fiskur, just came out on November 7th, and the third will be out in February.

Kristan Gemeta has lost everything: his crown, his kingdom, his courage – even his name.

In the vast wilderness of the Exilwald, he's known to the other outcasts as Kinglet. As long as Kristan stays hidden, he can elude the bounty hunters, brutal soldiers and terrifying spells of Daazna, the Wichelord who killed his father and destroyed his life.
But when a new band of pursuers comes looking for him, Kristan's wariness gives way to intrigue. For bounty hunters they're oddly inept, and a young woman in their company is leaving enigmatic drawings wherever they go. As they plunge deeper into the Exilwald, Kristan follows. He discovers the drawings symbolize the Gemeta Stone, an ancient family talisman seized by Daazna but now in the little band's possession.

With the Stone's protection, Kristan might stand a chance against Daazna. He could regain his birthright and his honor. But to obtain the Stone, he must reveal his true identity and risk the one thing he has left...his life.

Knight Errant by Paul Barrett and Steve Murphy

Warriors…Scoundrels…Mercenaries….

The Knights of the Flaming Star are the most feared and respected Special Operations teams in the known universe. There’s no assignment they can’t handle. No job they can’t complete. As a team, they’re unstoppable.

Then a rescue mission gone awry finds them betrayed by a ghost from their past. Bent on vengeance their nemesis has laid a trap designed to grind their reputation into the dirt and ultimately destroy them.

The pursuit of their enemy will take them from planets run by corporate oligarchies—to a world entrenched in medieval technology and shrouded in magic. They’ll need every ounce of their will, prowess and cunning to turn the tables, salvage their reputation, and save the universe from apocalyptic destruction.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Video: The Soup Robot

I've seen a couple of Simone Giertz's videos in the past and they're all rather crazy/hilarious. Basically she makes robots that do stuff, and they don't generally do that stuff particularly well. In this video she's made a robot that serves her soup...

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Book Review: Valiant Dust by Richard Baker

Pros: interesting characters, high attention to detail, diverse cast, nuanced politics

Cons: more military minutiae than I personally like though less space battle action than military SF fans may be looking for

His Highness Lieutenant Sikander Singh North, Nawabzada of Ishar, is assigned to the Aquilan Commonwealth starship Hector as its new gunnery officer. Well aware that few Kashmiris serve in the Commonwealth officer corps, he must prove himself to his new crew members who look down on the colonial system of his birth. 

Amira Ranya Meriem el-Nasir, niece to Sultan Rashid and Crown Princess of Gadira is concerned by the politics of her home world. As a colony of the Republic of Montreal, Gadira has made great strides in modernizing. This has increased the power of the Beys, but many of her people have lost jobs, and religious insurgents fearing for the traditions of their people are becoming more powerful.

With tensions mounting, the Hector is sent to Gadira to protect the commonwealth’s consulate and commercial interests even as another major power works to destabilize the planet’s government.

There’s a lot going on in this book, predominantly the examination of pre-WWI style colonization. We see this from Sikander’s view, as someone whose country is modernizing but still has economic and political issues, as well as with Ranya, whose country is caught in a clash of colonial interests. Aside from insurgents, we’re not shown much of how big events impact ‘little’ people, but it’s quite interesting seeing the various power plays at higher levels. It’s easy to see who the players are with regards to their historic influences, though I’m not sure to what extent the details of the book are influenced by real history.

There’s a lot of nuance with regards to how Sikander is treated and how he reacts to those around him. He’s constantly aware of who he is and what that means in the larger picture of his service, his home world, and himself. But the book doesn’t harp on issues, it examines them and shows the reality of the different situations, then moves on as time passes and conditions change.

There are three point of view characters, and I really enjoyed seeing the two mentioned above (the third isn’t a character we’re meant to like). The characters must deal with a variety of issues, which keeps them feeling fresh and fully realized.

There’s a high attention to detail - much of it military in nature. Personally I found it a bit much though I suspect military history buffs will enjoy learning more about the ships, armaments, tanks, etc. being mentioned. Fans of military SF may find that there’s less military minutiae and action than they’d like, as the main focus of the book is on the politics and character based drama rather than military strategizing. The book uses generally realistic physics for its one space battle, which was fun to read. 

While they were sometimes hard to follow I enjoyed the variety of titles used (I found it fascinating that titles often changed depending on the speaker as well as the location).

This book has a high amount of world-building and politicking and minimal military action, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Odyssey Writing Workshops - Winter Online Courses

From the press release:

The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit known for offering some of the best programs in the world for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, is offering three live, intensive online classes this winter.

Odyssey's online classes are unique among writing programs. Live class meetings allow you to see and interact with the instructor, ask questions, and contribute ideas. Challenging homework assignments help you to understand and incorporate new techniques into your writing process. In-depth feedback from the instructor and your classmates provides insights into your work and your use of the new techniques. Each student has a one-on-one meeting with the instructor to allow for private discussion. With class size limited to 14, each student receives personal attention in a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment.

Interested writers should apply in December for the courses, which are held in January and February. While Odyssey's nonprofit mission is to help writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, most of Odyssey's programs can help writers in any genre, and writers of all genres are welcome to apply.
The courses being offered this winter are:

Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark
Course Meets: January 11- February 8, 2018
Instructor: Scott H. Andrews
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 15, 2017

One major struggle for writers is having their work stand out from the hundreds of submissions editors and agents receive. Every day, writers submit well-crafted, engaging stories and novels only to have them rejected. Scott H. Andrews, editor-in-chief and publisher of the fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a five-time Hugo Award finalist, discussed this at the Odyssey workshop last summer, and his insights were so fascinating that we asked him to teach an online course. Scott receives far too many well-crafted, engaging stories each month to publish. For him to publish a story, it needs to be special; it needs to have that crucial spark. What exactly is a "spark"? In Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark, Scott will describe various ways to create a spark--with a fascinating concept or thematic impact or emotional resonance or potent voice. Students will study examples and then work to add a spark to their own work. For intermediate to advanced authors, having that spark can make the difference between personalized rejections and sales. If you want to write works that are more than competent, that captivate or enthrall or delight, this course is for you.

Saying the Unsayable: Building Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext
Course Meets: January 4 - February 1, 2018
Instructor: Donna Glee Williams
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 8, 2017

The most common request made by Odyssey Online students has been for a course on subtext. One of the most insightful approaches to subtext has been developed by author Donna Glee Williams. Donna Glee has been teaching highly praised writing seminars for years, so Odyssey is honored to have her as an instructor for Saying the Unsayable: Building Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext. Writers spend most of their time focused on the text, the words on the page. But often the part of the story that most engages readers is the subtext, the layer of meaning below the surface of the words. Readers respond strongly to what is not on the page, elements that are implied, evoked, suggested, but unsaid. For a story to engage and move readers, whether they are adults, young adults, or middle-grade readers, the author must create both text and subtext. Donna Glee will explain how subtext can be generated in almost any part of a story using three key strategies, and students will study these strategies and work to incorporate them into their own work. For intermediate to advanced writers, this course will offer invaluable techniques to engage readers in the line-by-line flow of the story and make them deeply invested in the characters and outcomes.

One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes
Course Meets: January 3-January 31, 2018
Instructor: Barbara Ashford
Level: Intermediate
Application Deadline: December 7, 2017

One of Odyssey's most highly rated instructors, award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford, has agreed to bring back her course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes. Stories and novels are made up of scenes, so if your scenes are weak, your story has little chance of success. Writers often have strong ideas, fresh worlds, and interesting characters, but their scenes do not do justice to these elements. A compelling scene engages readers intellectually and emotionally, changes something of significance to the story, and leaves readers eager to turn the page to find out what happens next. Barbara will explain how to design your scenes, how to track and develop the emotional beats in a scene to create strong impact, and how to diagnose and fix problems in scenes. Students will study effective scenes and weak scenes, discover the special needs of opening and ending scenes, and learn how to make sure all the scenes work together to create a powerful story or novel. These skills are invaluable for intermediate students seeking to take their work to the next level, so Odyssey is offering it again for those who were unable to take the course in 2015. Students of Barbara's classes regularly praise her insightful lectures, her effective instruction, and her incredible, in-depth critiques. This course will help you shape each scene into a powerful, memorable experience for the reader.

The courses are US $239 each and are non-refundable, so make sure you have the proper computer and time requirements before applying. For more information, here's their website (link goes to the online course page). Their website also contains free content, like podcasts by authors (the most recent are talks by E. C. Ambrose, Mary Robinette Kowal, and N. K. Jemisin), a blog, and writing/publishing tips.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Shout-Out: The Complete Circuit Trilogy by Rhett Bruno

Diversion Publishing has released a box set of the Circuit trilogy, consisting of Circuit: Executor Rising, Progeny of Vale, and Earthfall.

Perfect for fans of The Expanse! The complete Circuit Trilogy features more than 750 pages of heart-pounding space-opera action and intrigue.
Earth is a dying planet. To survive, humanity founds the Circuit, a string of colonies across the solar system, dedicated to mining resources vital to preserving what remains of mankind.
The New Earth Tribunal, a powerful religious faction, rises to rule the Circuit. They believe a Spirit within the Earth will one day appear and welcome humanity back home. But following a string of seemingly random attacks, the Tribunal suspects its mortal enemy, the Ceresians, have rallied to once again challenge their absolute rule.

Join an unlikely band of would-be saviors--the Tribunal's best spy, a roguish Ceresian mercenary, a subservient android and a disgraced general--as they are drawn into a conspiracy destined to change the Circuit forever. 
A new, sinister threat has arisen--and it plans to bring down the Tribunal once and for all.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Books Received in October 2017

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

Steal the Stars by Nat Cassidy - This is the novelization of the Tor Labs podcast by Mac Rogers.

Dakota "Dak" Prentiss guards the biggest secret in the world.
They call it "Moss." It's your standard grey alien from innumerable abduction stories. It still sits at the controls of the spaceship it crash-landed eleven years ago. A secret military base was built around the crash site to study both Moss and the dangerous technology it brought to Earth.
The day Matt Salem joins her security team, Dak's whole world changes.
It's love at first sight-which is a problem, since they both signed ironclad contracts vowing not to fraternize with other military personnel. If they run, they'll be hunted for what they know. Dak and Matt have only way to be together: do the impossible. Steal Moss and sell the secret of its existence.
And they can't afford a single mistake.

Vallista by Stephen Brust - This is the fifteenth Vlad Taltos novel.

Full of swordplay, peril, and swashbuckling flair, Steven Brust's Vallista is a treat for longtime fans of this popular fantasy series, a deep dive into the mysteries of Dragaera and all within it.
Vlad Taltos is an Easterner-an underprivileged human in an Empire of tall, powerful, long-lived Dragaerans. He made a career for himself in House Jhereg, the Dragaeran clan in charge of the Empire's organized crime. But the day came when the Jhereg wanted Vlad dead, and he's been on the run ever since. He has plenty of friends among the Dragaeran highborn, including an undead wizard and a god or two. But as long as the Jhereg have a price on his head, Vlad's life is.messy.
Meanwhile, for years, Vlad's path has been repeatedly crossed by Devera, a small Dragaeran girl of indeterminate powers who turns up at the oddest moments in his life.
Now Devera has appeared again-to lead Vlad into a mysterious, seemingly empty manor overlooking the Great Sea. Inside this structure are corridors that double back on themselves, rooms that look out over other worlds, and-just maybe-answers to some of Vlad's long-asked questions about his world and his place in it. If only Devera can be persuaded to stop disappearing in the middle of his conversations with her.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant - Out November 14, this is the first of a series that stands perfectly on its own. If you've always wanted a horror novel about mermaids, this is for you. I've finished it and will post my review on its release date.

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a "mockumentary" bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they're not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life's work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.
But the secrets of the deep come with a price.




Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci - Out January 2nd, this novel sounds like a lot of fun.


In the tradition of Star Wars, a galaxy-hopping space adventure about a galactic kingdom bent on control and the young misfit who must find the power within before it's too late.
Cade Sura holds the future of the galaxy in his hands: the ultimate weapon that will bring total peace. He didn't ask for it, he doesn't want it, and there's no worse choice to wield it in all of space, but if he doesn't, everyone's totally screwed. The evil Praxis kingdom is on the cusp of having every star system under its control, and if that happens, there'll be no contesting their cruel reign. Especially if its fanatical overlord, Ga Halle, manages to capture Cade and snag the all-powerful weapon for herself.
Cade can't hide from Praxis, and he can't run from the destiny that's been shoved into his hands. So he only has one option:
He has to fight.
Cade's not going to let destiny send him on a suicide run, though. With some help from his friends-rebels and scoundrels alike-Cade's going to use this weapon to chart a new destiny for the galaxy, and for himself.
He just has to do so before everyone around him discovers that he's a complete and total fraud.

Night of the Victorian Dead by Amber Michelle Cook - Coming out in the spring of 2018, this is a reprint of a self-published title. The publicist that contacted me about it said it was a gothic tale "in which Downton Abbey meets Night of the Living Dead". Sounds interesting.

The unwitting attendees of a country ball are all too busy striving to hide secrets and make matches to see what’s going on around them until it’s almost too late!
Among the green and rolling hills of Old England, the fields lie ripe for reaping under a blighted Harvest Moon. While tenants and servants fear the eerie light, Mr. Dorchester invites several families of his acquaintance to his estate—for a visit culminating in a ball to celebrate his ward’s engagement to a most eligible neighbor. Amid all the usual hopes and anticipation such an event inevitably excites.

All the while, signs of the dead rising are increasing until the entire household wakes in the middle of the night to a gut-wrenching scream inside the house.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Book Review: Another by Yukito Ayatsuji

Translated by Karen McGillicuddy

Pros: tense, makes you second guess what’s going on, fascinating characters

Cons: repetition, some gore

Fifteen year old Koichi Sakakibara moves in with his grandparents at the beginning of his third year of middle school. A collapsed lung keeps him from attending the first week of class and he finds things… odd when he does start school. Everyone seems tense and there’s a girl who sits at the back that no one seems to acknowledge is there. He slowly learns of the third-year Class 3 curse, a phenomenon that leaves members of Class 3 and their immediate family dead.

I loved the two main protagonists, Koichi Sakakibara and Mei Misaki (note, following Japanese custom most characters are called by their last names, so I’ll be doing that in my review). It was interesting seeing Sakakibara’s illness, his hesitation when joining the class, trying to figure out what was happening, his consideration of and compassion towards Misaki, his gratitude towards his grandparents. He’s a highly sympathetic character going through difficult times. Misaki is equally interesting, and quite different, being standoffish and mysterious. Seeing their friendship bloom was great.

The book has a very tense atmosphere. You’re just as in the dark about what’s going on as Sakakibara and it makes for an eerie first half of the book, wondering what’s up with Misaki, wondering what the curse is. When things start going wrong it’s quite terrifying. There are a number of twists to the story, making you question and re-question what’s happening.  

The translation doesn’t clarify any social or cultural Japanese aspects of the book (aside from explicitly pointing out the meanings of the written characters (kanji) used for various people and place names. This doesn’t affect understanding of the story, though knowing some of this myself did add to my enjoyment of the book. 

I did notice there was a fair amount of repetition with regards to conversations and plot points. The afterward to the paperback edition (printed at the back of the English edition) mentions that the book was originally serialized, which probably accounts for that. 

There is some gore as several deaths are described. It’s a little graphic at times.

One thing that annoyed me was that the ending turned on a fact that the narrator (ie Sakakibara) knows, but you - the reader - do not. So it’s possible for him to figure out the final twist but much harder for you to do so.


On the whole, if you’re looking for a creepy read, this is a good choice.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Image Scan LED strip

After seeing the Photon Gallery 3.0 exhibit at Nuit Blanche a few weeks back, my husband decided to make his own image scan LED strip (the LED line that turned into hearts when you wave your head back and forth).

He did a couple designs before settling on the jack-o-lantern. The images themselves are blurry, due to low resolution, but in person you're seeing the picture so quickly (and more out of the corner of your eye than directly) you can't see that (but the camera could).

To the right is the strip (you can see hints of the yellow and orange that makes up the jack-o-lantern). Below are a few of the designs he tried.



Friday, 27 October 2017

Guillermo Del Toro Exhibit: At Home With Monsters


A few weeks ago I went to see the Guillermo Del Toro exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Filled with items from Bleak House, one of Del Toro's homes in Los Angeles. His personal collection is quite remarkable, and huge. This exhibit represents a sampling and it's quite remarkable.

There are a lot of wax figures, many of characters from his movies (like the pale man from Pan's Labyrinth pictured below), though some are from other films or actual people. In a few cases there are blank forms showing off costumes, as with some of the dresses from Crimson Peak.



There are a lot of pictures and paintings and small sculptures. Two of my favourites were this miniature, "The Captain's Bed" by Teri Hardin, and reproductions of two of the skeleton warriors Ray Harryhausen created for Jason and the Argonauts.  




While I've not seen The Strain, I greatly enjoyed seeing the inspiration pieces, some props, and the gorgeous angel of death.


One of the last rooms has a couple of Frankenstein wax figures, along with more creepy artwork.


If you like monsters, the macabre, movie props/memorabilia, or Del Toro's work it's a fantastic exhibit. It took me over two hours to go through (though I was taking a lot of photographs). There's a wide variety of objects to see and an interesting glimpse into a director's mind.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Shout-Out: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled -- taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.
Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.
But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.