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.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Movie Review: The Mummy (1932)

Directed by Karl Freund

Pros: interesting story, good effects

Cons: mediocre acting 

In 1922 an archaeological expedition in Egypt dug up the unusual mummy of Imhotep and a strange box containing a scroll. Both disappear. Ten years later, a new expedition discovers the untouched tomb of a priestess of Isis, whose spirit, Imhotep discovers, is possessing a modern young woman.  

My understanding of this film was that it consisted of a mummy in torn and tattered bandages, roaming around killing people. So I found the film quite surprising. The mummy I expected only shows up in the first few minutes of the film, after which Imhotep (well played by Boris Karloff) appears as a wizened man.

Imhotep isn’t awakened via a spoken spell, so he was either alive in some form this whole time, the spell was uttered inaudibly, or writing out a small portion of it is enough to enact it. I actually found the magic spells Imhotep uses later in the film interesting, though not likely authentic (in terms of language or how ancient Egyptians thought of magic). The make-up and costumes were excellent. The film used white actors for the important Egyptians, and black ‘Nubians’ as servants, though Ancient Egyptians would not necessarily look like their modern inhabitants (Egypt was conquered and settled by several nations in ancient and medieval times).

Helen’s ‘illness’ reminded me of Lucy (and later Mina) from Dracula, something that was supernaturally called by the antagonist that saw her wasting away due to her attempts to avoid the summons. 

There’s a rather sudden romance, which felt kind of out of place given what’s going on and how little the characters know of each other. The fact that Helen (Zita Johann) even points this out, just made it worse as Frank ignores her concerns.  David Manners as Frank Whemple didn’t impress me much as the love interest (there was no chemistry between the couple and no time to develop any relationship), nor did the wise doctor Muller, played by Edward Van Sloan. Both were fairly wooden, and the doctor’s constant expositionary leaps of logic as to what’s going on were kind of annoying.

It’s an interesting film, more for its place in history and how inaccurately it’s remembered than because it’s great cinema.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Shout-Out: Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Having stumbled onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica, former espionage agent, Desmond Coke, finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari.
Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone.
Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Video: Horseback Archery

This is a cool video about a couple who do and teach archery on horseback in the UK.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Book Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Pros: fascinating world-building, interesting characters, twisting plot


Neverfell was found around the age of five in the tunnels of Cheesemaster Grandible. Seven years later, a series of errors has her emerging into the wider world of Caverna and the mysterious Court that rules it. For in a world where Faces must be learned and lying is a fact of life, Neverfell’s face can change expression with her emotions, and lying is beyond her skill.

The world of Caverna is fascinating. You’re introduced to it - and all of its various workings - slowly, through Neverfell’s eyes and experiences. While she’s told early on that everyone lies and manipulates, her own trusting and trustworthy natures make it hard for her to protect herself from the plots of others. As the book progresses, you learn more about the world and the darknesses it’s based on.

The plot takes a lot of turns I wasn’t expecting, which was a real joy. Neverfell’s a great character and her constant curiosity has her acting in unpredictable ways. She starts off hopelessly naive, but over the course of the book learns what society is like, and that not everyone she meets has her best interests in mind. The Kleptomancer is really fun, and I’d have loved seeing more of him and of the brilliantly insane cryptomancers.

This is a fun book, one that briefly touches on numerous discussion points, so it would make a great book club novel.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Free Comic Book Day Mini Comic Reviews

These are little reviews of the comics I picked up yesterday on free comic day.

Malika: Warrior Queen by Roye Okupe, Young EK Studios
 - Strong opening with a mother observing her daughter’s attempts at martial arts. There’s set-up and a battle and the hint of more war to come. Gorgeous artwork.

Spill Night by Scott Westerfeld, First Second Books
- A short prequel comic showing a bit of what the younger sister went through the night of the spill. It ends with a few pages from Spill Zone. It’s got some tension going on and a lot of action, and more snarky conversation from Vespertine

Catalyst Prime: The Event by Priest and Joseph Phillip Illidge, Lion Forge
- The setting and time changed every few pages making this rather confusing and hard to follow. By the end things settled into a ‘just before the event’ segment that was very interesting, and the ending was a huge surprise. Not sure I’d continue this though.

Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez, Benitez Productions
- This volume consists of 3 excerpts, one from each of the current graphic novels. I read and enjoyed the first story. Since I bought the first two graphic novels I decided not to read the other excerpts. I love the artwork and Mechanika’s an amazing character so far.

Doctor Who 2016 
- This was a collection of 4 short stories featuring different doctors. They were too short to have much development and so I didn’t find them that interesting.

Doctor Who 2017

- I enjoyed this story. It’s a single story that involves several doctors (but not at the same time) and how they interacted with a particular alien over the years.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Free Comic Book Day

For what might be the first time ever, I went to my local comic book store on 'free comic book day' and picked up some free comics (and a couple of not free graphic novels).

I went specifically for the Spill Night comic (prequel to the Spill Zone graphic novel I reviewed recently). I've heard of Lady Mechanika and like the artwork, and was curious about the Doctor Who stories (I got last year's as well as this year's). Catalist Prime: The Event and Malika: Warrior Queen were cool finds I picked up on a whim.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Manjar blanco vs dulche de leche

I picked up a container of manjar blanco in Peru and wanted to see how it compared (or if it was the same as) the dulche de leche I got at the local grocery store. Online sources tell me that both are made by boiling milk and adding sugar, so my expectation is that they’ll be pretty similar. 

Opening the packages, it’s clear they’re not the same stuff. Dulche de leche smells like the caramel you get when you heat sweetened condensed milk (which, I learned when I looked it up, is how recipes suggest making it). Manjar blanco smells more like the caramel you get as an ice cream topping. 

The manjar blanco spreads more like peanut butter and is matt, while the dulche de leche is shiny and spreads thinner, more like jelly.

The taste was like the smell, with one having a more milk flavour and the other a richer caramel taste. It's strange that foods that are so similar can turn out so different.

So why am I mentioning this on my SFF blog? Because it's easy to forget when creating new worlds just how many minute differences between communities there are. There's this idea that everyone in your city or country or planet speaks the same, eats the same, worships the same. A great way to make your world feel real is to have characters point out that the food isn't quite the way they do it back home - spicier, richer tasting, more watery, fewer ingredients, etc. 

Food is a comfort. It reminds us of home and - hopefully - safety and love. And people complain about it all they time. They also praise it when it's exceptional and comment on it when it's unexpected. New foods when travelling can be an adventure all they're own, and when we're done travelling, they can also remind us of the places we've been, the things we've done and the people we've met. As such, it could be a great way to start a sequel, having a protagonist eating a dish that reminds them of the events of the previous book. The meal doesn't have to go uninterrupted of course. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Shout-Out: Hero Lost: Mysteries of Life and Death by Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Can a lost hero find redemption?
What if Death himself wanted to die? Can deliverance be found on a bloody battlefield? Could the gift of silvering become a prison for those who possessed it? Will an ancient warrior be forever the caretaker of a house of mystery?
Delving into the depths of the tortured hero, twelve authors explore the realms of fantasy in this enthralling and thought-provoking collection. Featuring the talents of Jen Chandler, L. Nahay, Renee Cheung, Roland Yeomans, Elizabeth Seckman, Olga Godim, Yvonne Ventresca, Ellen Jacobson, Sean McLachlan, Erika Beebe, Tyrean Martinson, and Sarah Foster.
Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these twelve tales will take you into the heart of heroes who have fallen from grace. Join the journey and discover a hero’s redemption!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Video: Fear of the Known

I got an email about this short video on H.P. Lovecraft's influence on art and why his works have endured. It's by Articulate, which is syndicated on PBS.

I didn't realize Lovecraft's work had inspired musicians as well as artists and authors. Pretty interesting.

Articulate with Jim Cotter is an Emmy Award winning magazine show that examines the human condition as expressed through culture and creativity. From ballet to busking, and grand opera to gaming, Articulate invites viewers to engage with the unfamiliar to discover truths common to us all.  

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

Illustrated by Alex Puvilland
Pros: atmospheric, interesting characters, intriguing story

Cons: a little slow

No one knows what caused the Spill Zone, but its dangers are numerous. Addison supports herself and her younger sister by sneaking into her old hometown, now a quarantine zone, and selling the pictures she takes. She stays safe by obeying a set of rules. Now she’s offered a large sum of money to bring something back from the zone, but it means breaking the rules…

This is the first volume and so mostly sets up the spill zone and the characters. It’s a bit slow, but that’s due to the many panelled atmospheric nature of the artwork. While the artwork wasn’t entirely to my liking, it does embody the post-apocalyptic feel of the city and the creepy stuff going on inside it. It’s also highly expressive, showing a lot of motion and emotion.

Addison’s pretty interesting as a protagonist, gutsy if not terribly business savvy. Her obvious love for her sister shines through. I have to admit, I’m most intrigued by Vespertine, her sister’s telepathic, snarky doll.

The story ends with several mysteries introduced and I’m very curious to see what happens next.

Monday, 1 May 2017

TOR Books Announces “TOR LABS” Dramatic Podcast Imprint

Got this intriguing press release this morning:

Tor Books, a leading global publisher of science fiction and fantasy, announced today that it is launching TOR LABS, a new imprint emphasizing experimental approaches to genre publishing, beginning with original dramatic podcasts.

Helmed by Senior Editor Marco Palmieri and Editor Jennifer Gunnels, Tor Labs will debut this summer with Steal the Stars, a science fiction audio drama which will be produced in partnership with Gideon Media and written by Mac Rogers, the award-winning writer of the global hit podcast thrillers, The Message and LifeAfter.

Steal the Stars is the story of Dakota Prentiss and Matt Salem, two government employees guarding the biggest secret in the world: a crashed UFO. Despite being forbidden to fraternize, Dak and Matt fall in love and decide to escape to a better life on the wings of an incredibly dangerous plan: They're going to steal the alien body they've been guarding and sell the secret of its existence.

Steal the Stars is a noir science fiction thriller in 14 episodes, airing weekly from August 2 – November 1, 2017, and available worldwide on all major podcast distributors through the Macmillan Podcast Network. It will be followed immediately by a novelization of the entire serial from Tor Books, as well as an ads-free audio book of the podcast from Macmillan Audio.

In a joint statement, Gunnels and Palmieri said, "There's a little mad science in every new publishing experiment, and we're tremendously excited about the creative possibilities of Tor Labs. We're especially thrilled to be partnering with Gideon Media on Steal the Stars, and bringing their phenomenal work to a wide audience."

"I was intrigued by the idea of a science fiction heist thriller told in the classic noir tradition of James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith," said writer Mac Rogers. "I've always loved those stories of illicit lovers trying to pull off one nearly impossible crime in order to be together. As forces close in on them from all sides, they're pushed to greater extremes than they ever imagined."