Thursday, 3 September 2015

Shout-Out: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley Beaulieu

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings -- cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. 
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings' laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings' mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings' power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don't find her first.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Video: Why babies in medieval paintings look like ugly old men

I found this video by Vox, who "spoke to Matthew Averett, an art history professor at Creighton University who edited the anthology The Early Modern Child in Art and History" about why babies in medieval pictures don't look like babies, very interesting.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Book Review: Bots: Emergent Behavior by Nicole Taylor

Pros: quick, easy read, engaging, thought-provoking

Cons: limited world-building

For Parents: some swearing, mentions of prostitution and sex slavery

Edmond West is inspired by a story of human cruelty to create a new form of slave - robots.  But his single-minded focus has blinded him to the potential consequences of creating robots with fully human characteristics.

This is the first of a six book series.  It’s a quick read (only took me a few hours to whip through it) that introduces the protagonist and the plot scenario for the following books.  There’s a lot of character development as Edmond works on his project through the years, with some great thought-provoking moments as he confronts the realities of his magnum opus.  The ending of this book is fast paced and leaves you wanting more.

Edmond is highly intelligent and often abrasive, though his social skills are good enough that he avoids being unpleasant.  While I didn’t love him as a character, I didn’t hate him either.  The author did a great job making him aware enough of his faults to redeem him.     

The book is highly focused on Edmond and his purpose, so there’s little world-building or other distractions.  You get to know his co-worker well enough, and hear how Edward’s work is utilized by his employers, but there’s no in depth exploration of the process of building the robots or of the world in general of this future.  Hart is the only other character who you really get a good feel for, and that’s entirely through Edmond’s eyes.  

The moment Edmond brings his creation to life, and the epiphany he undergoes because of it, were wonderful to read.

It’s a great start and I’m curious to see where the series goes.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Summer Books Received, 2015

Summer's a pretty quiet time for review copies, which is great as it gives me time to get some of the backlog out of the way.  I didn't start that until August, unfortunately, but I'm well on my way to reading through these new releases.  Many thanks again to the publishers and authors who offer me books for review.  I recognize how privileged I am and only wish I had time to read everything.

Artemis Invaded by Jane Lindskold - I recently finished the first book in this series, Artemis Awakening, which I enjoyed more than I expected to (I thought it was going to be a straight up SF romance, which isn't my favourite subgenre, but the romance elements were very limited and the protagonists were well fleshed out and fun to read).  To avoid spoilers, I'm giving the synopsis for Artemis Awakening here.

The distant world Artemis is a pleasure planet created out of bare rock by a technologically advanced human empire that provided its richest citizens with a veritable Eden to play in. All tech was concealed and the animals (and the humans brought to live there) were bioengineered to help the guests enjoy their stay.but there was always the possibility of danger so that visitors could brag that they had "bested" the environment.
The Empire was shattered in a horrific war; centuries later humanity has lost much of the advanced technology and Artemis is a fable told to children. Until young archeologist Griffin Dane finds intriguing hints that send him on a quest to find the lost world. Stranded on Artemis after crashing his ship, he encounters the Huntress Adara and her psych-linked companion, the puma Sand Shadow. Their journey with her will lead Dane to discover the planet's secrets.and perhaps provide a key to give unimagined power back to mankind.

Bots: Emergent Behavior by Nicole Taylor - I've already finished this book and my review of it will go up tomorrow.  It's the first of a 6 book series from the new Epic Press imprint.

A robotics genius, Edmond West has developed a plan to create the world's first Artificial Intelligence truly indistinguishable from a human being. His Bots will eradicate global slavery and allow humanity to channel its darkest impulses safely, harming only these soulless machines. His greatest success, however, may also be his undoing. He's finally created the perfect humanoid robot; perfectly intuitive, perfectly emotive… and perfectly unpredictable.

The Godforsaken by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro - I'm almost done this book and... wow.  It starts slow, but builds such a layer of dread that my shoulders keep tensing up when I read the book.  I'm so close to the end...

In the dark days of the Inquisition, a cursed Spanish prince must wrestle with the ravenous demon that lives inside him
At the height of Europe’s bloody 16th century, as Spain suffers under the iron cruelty of the Inquisition, a different sort of horror plagues the royal house of King Alonzo. A witch’s curse directed at the heartless liege has borne bitter fruit, damning the innocent offspring of el rey. The brooding and sensitive son and heir to the throne, Don Rolon, wanders the great halls of the ancestral home carrying the weight of his unloving father’s crimes in his bones and blood. Torn between his deeply felt religious beliefs and a gnawing hunger, he must somehow deal with a looming threat far more powerful than his murderously jealous brother and the manipulations of a corrupt and self-serving officer of a malevolent church. For when the full moon rises, Don Rolon will be forced to surrender to his unholy needs as the beast within him is unleashed once more.

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein - This book sounds pretty interesting.  John Sandford is a well known thriller writer, trying his hand at science fiction for the first time.  Ctein is a photographer with degrees from Caltech in English and physics.

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.
A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.
The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Shout-Out: Way Down Dark by James Smythe

There's one truth on Australia.

You fight or you die.

Usually both.

Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape.

Seventeen-year-old Chan's ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

This is a hell where no one can hide.

The only life that Chan's ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

This is a ship of death, of murderers and cults and gangs.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness - a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

This is Australia.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery - a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Video: Our Greatest Adventure

I really enjoyed The Martian by Andy Weir, and can't wait for the film to hit theatres in October. Though I know the story, I'm trying to avoid the trailers because I want as much of the movie to be a 'surprise' as possible (for a story I've read).

But this background video of the Ares mission on "Star Talk" by Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Saints Lives: Saint Theodore (of Amasea/Tyro)

Restored jamb statue
from Laon Cathedral
His feast day is November 9th and he is a patron of lost things.

The following account comes from The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, translated by William Granger Ryan (volume II). Princeton University Press, 1995. pp 291. 

Saint Theodore was a Roman soldier serving in the city of Marmanites during the reign of Diocletian and Maximian.  Theodore refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, claiming that he was a soldier in the service of his God and of his Son Jesus Christ.  The judge asked if it was possible to know the son of his god, he said yes and was given time to prepare to offer his sacrifice.

Theodore used the time to enter the temple of the Mother of the Gods at night and set fire to it, burning it to the ground.  A witness accused him and he was put in jail.

Temple on fire, detail of Laon Cathedral
jamb statue
Martyrdom of St Theodore as depicted on
a pillar at Chartres Cathedral (N. transept)

While in prison he was visited by “a throng of men in white robes”, even though the doors were all locked.  The guards saw this and ran away in fear.

When he was asked again to sacrifice, he said no.  The judge then had him hung from a limb and his flanks torn with iron hooks so that his ribs were exposed.  When asked if he’d rather be on Earth or with Christ, he said with Christ.  So they lit a fire under him and though the fire didn’t burn his body, he expired there.

A sweet odour spread from his body and a voice was heard that said, “Come, my beloved, enter into the joy of your Lord!” as the heavens opened to receive him.  This happened in AD 287.


Interestingly, his story is fairly different when looked up on Wikipedia and religious websites.  His death date is later (AD 306, under Emperor Galerius) and the location Amasea in modern Turkey.  The church he’s said to have burned is that of Cybele, who was the local mother-goddess, so that’s consistent.

He’s called Theodore of Amasea (for the place) or Theodore Tyro (also spelled Tyron, Tiron and Tiro) as ‘tiro’ is a classical Latin word that describes a soldier who has recently enlisted.  He is therefore also known as Theodore the Recruit.  His story and that of the slightly later Saint Theodore Stratelates are now considered to relate to the same person.

The Orthodox Church in America website also recounts a further story, that 50 years after Saint Theodore's death, the Emperor Julian ordered the commander of Constantinople to sprinkle all the food in the marketplace with blood offered to idols during the first week of Great Lent.  Saint Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxius and told him to warn the people to only eat cooked wheat with honey and not buy anything from the market.

Because of this miracle, the Orthodox Church celebrates him on the first Saturday of Great Lent.