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.

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."