Saturday, 31 May 2014

Books Received in May, 2014

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory - Sounds intriguing and starts in Toronto. :)

It begins in Toronto, in the years after the smart drug revolution. Any high school student with a chemjet and internet connection can download recipes and print drugs, or invent them. A seventeen-year-old street girl finds God through a new brain-altering drug called Numinous, used as a sacrament by a new Church that preys on the underclass. But she is arrested and put into detention, and without the drug, commits suicide.
Lyda Rose, another patient in that detention facility, has a dark secret: she was one of the original scientists who developed the drug. With the help of an ex-government agent and an imaginary, drug-induced doctor, Lyda sets out to find the other three survivors of the five who made the Numinous in a quest to set things right.

Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson - I've heard mixed things about this book, so I'm curious how I'll like it.

A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city's survival.

Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic--or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy--now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.
In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it.

London Belongs to the Alchemist by Stephen Henning - This is book 4 in the Class Heroes series.  I've enjoyed the previous books and am looking forward to it.  Unfortunately there's no synopsis or cover available yet.  It's a self published title and is due out in July.

The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet - One of ChiZine Publication's new ChiTeen books, I'm almost done this one and it's quite compelling. 

Lost in time, shrouded in dark myths of blood and magic, The Door in the Mountain leads to the world of ancient Crete: a place where a beautiful, bitter young princess named Ariadne schemes to imprison her godmarked half-brother deep in the heart of a mountain maze, where a boy named Icarus tries, and fails, to fly—and where a slave girl changes the paths of all their lives forever.

Thornlost by Melanie Rawn - This is the third book in the series, following Touchstone and Elsewhens.

Cayden is part Elf, part Fae, part human Wizard--and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high-society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he's good, very good. He's a tregetour--a wizard who is both playwright and magicwielder. It is Cade's power that creates the magic, but a tregetour is useless without a glisker--an elf who can spin out the magic onto the stage, to enchant the audience. And Cade's glisker, Mieka, is something special too. So is their fettler, Rafe, who controls the magic and keeps them and the audience safe. And their masker, Jeska, who speaks all the lines, is every young girl's dream.
They are reaching for the highest reaches of society and power, but not the way Cade's mother thinks they should. They'll change their world, or die trying.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett - I just love the cover of this book and it sounds SO interesting.

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions-until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world''s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself-first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it-stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country's most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem-and that Bulikov's cruel reign may not yet be over.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Recommended Reading by Professionals with Dru Pagliassotti

In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven't received the recognition they deserve.

Today's recommendations are by Dru Pagliassotti, whose first novel, Clockwork Heart, won the Romantic Times Book Reviews’ Best Small Press Contemporary Futuristic Novel award for 2008. Book two, Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind was released in March of this year and book three, Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire is out this September. She’s written numerous short stories, a horror novel (An Agreement with Hell), and edited several works, including a scholarly book on Japanese yaoi, or boy’s love manga.

Self-publishing has taken off over the last few years, but there are so many self-published books available, of such wildly varying quality, that it’s difficult to figure out what’s worth the effort and what isn’t. Here are a few self-published novels I’ve enjoyed recently — each contains romantic elements, so I’ve tried to provide a little something for everyone.
  1. Lindsay Buroker: In the steampunkish fantasy Emperor’s Edge series, Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is ordered to hunt down the infamous assassin Sicarius. However, common political enemies and goals soon throw them together to create a band of misfit vigilantes dedicated to saving the empire. The Emperor’s Edge novels combine politics, humor, m/f romantic tension, and high adventure in a consistently engaging manner. (Emperor’s Edge [this book can be downloaded for free], Dark Currents, Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Blood and Betrayal, Beneath the Surface, Forged in Blood I & II, plus misc. short stories).
  2. Catherine M. Wilson: When Women Were Warriors is a Bronze-Age-themed fantasy trilogy and coming-of-age story that follows young Tamras as she leaves her mother’s household to enter the local ruling matriarch’s, where she will train to become a warrior. Along the way, she heals the shunned warrior Maara, who becomes her mentor and counselor. The novels are a thoughtfully written, woman-centered contemplation on the nature of responsibility, maturity, love, and courage. I found the series’ f/f romance and world of mutually respectful gender equality to be a quietly refreshing change from the fantasy-fiction norm. (The Warrior’s Path [this book can be downloaded for free], A Journey of the Heart, A Hero’s Tale).
  3. Jordan L. Hawk: The Whyborne & Griffin series offers a combination of steamy m/m romance and unearthly Lovecraftian horror. While I doubt HPL would have approved of the relationship between the scholarly linguist Percival Endicott Whyborne and the haunted ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty, I expect he would have appreciated the damnable tomes, deadly labyrinthine caverns, and unsavory ancient artifacts that pepper this occult-mystery series set in the late 19th century. (Widdershins, Threshold, Stormhaven, Necropolis).

Due to time constraints and other factors this will be my last Recommended Reading post.  Kristin from My Bookish Ways will be taking over the column for SF Signal. So if you'd like to see more recommendations by professionals posts, you'll have to head over there.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Book Review: Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

Note: I picked up this book because Sharon Shinn mentioned in in her Recommended Reading post.

Pros: brilliant premise, real consequences for actions, realistic viewpoints for the 3 cultures, thought provoking

Cons: Elana’s a bit irritating

Elana is in training to become a member of the Federation’s Anthropological Service when her spaceship is diverted to Andrecia for a crisis.  Her father, the most senior member of the service on board is ordered to deal with the situation along with her intended and another member of the service.  After sneaking onto the landing shuttle, Elana becomes a central part of their plan when disaster hits.

Jarel is an apprentice medical officer in the Imperial Exploration Corps, helping with the clearing of land for a new base before the take over of Andrecia and the removal of its native population to a reservation.  But he wonders if the natives whom they have captured are human, like him, rather than subhuman as he’s been taught.

Georyn is a native of Andrecia.  While on the way to ask the king for permission to attack the dragon that’s been ravaging a nearby forest, he and his brothers pass the Enchanted forest and meet an Enchantress.  She warns them that defeating the dragon will be dangerous and advises them to return if they need her help.  Georyn and one brother do return to her and learn magic that will help them free their world from danger.

This is a fantastic story about how point of view differs depending on culture and technological (and other) advancements.  It’s based on the premise that sufficiently advanced technology appears like magic to those of less advanced societies.

This is also a coming of age story for the three protagonists, though more time is spent from Elana’s point of view, as her technology is the highest level, and so her viewpoint is the most expansive.

I found Elana a little irritating at the beginning, as she’s still in training and therefore doesn’t understand what’s really going on on the planet, thinking of their stop as an adventure.  She’s faced with a number of humbling experiences that cause her to question the service’s methods and realize that primitive technological ability does not equal a lack of intelligence.  She faces real consequences for the knowledge she gains.

Jarel’s point of view is difficult, or rather, uncomfortable to read.  As a colonizer, even one who questions what they’re doing to the natives, he still believes in the natural inferiority and inherent inhumanity of those whose technology isn’t equal to theirs.  Though he foreshadow the ending in ways that don’t quite feel natural given his position and narrative, the author does specifically point out these moments, showing she was aware of this and making a point with them.

I loved Georyn’s point of view.  Seeing magic in Elana’s actions and performing quests like those from fairy tales, was really cool.  I loved that he often figured out what was happening with regards to his training on his own and that he’d manufacture explanations for Elana’s actions that fit with his beliefs about her and her purpose.

The book on the whole is quite thought provoking.  Originally published in 1970 and reprinted in 2001, this is a book that deserves to be more widely read.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

My Tribute to the World's Biggest Bookstore

I worked at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto from February 2004 until it closed in April 2014. While the job had its ups and downs, I loved working there.  The people were great and the selection was incredible.  For the past 7 years I was allowed to do pretty much anything I wanted with the science fiction and fantasy section, which means I was constantly making themed endcaps (many of which ended up here as themed reading lists), I started a paper 'Sci-Fi Fan Letter' handout for customers with upcoming SFF releases and reviews of books and videos by staff.  And, when customers started complaining about the price of books, I started interviewing authors and displaying the interviews on endcaps so readers would remember that behind the words in all those books were real live people, who'd worked hard to write them.

I worked with a lot of people who'd been at the store for 20-25 years, people who remembered when Coles owned the store, then Chapters, and finally Indigo.  For them, the glory days were long ago, hence the title of my video, The Decline and Fall of the World's Biggest Bookstore.

This, then, is my tribute to the WBB.  The video begins a year ago - when we first got inklings that the store's lease might not be renewed, showing normal levels of stock and our variety of sections - and continuing through to the store's close and beyond.  Note, some sections got better coverage than others as I hadn't planned on making this video when I did the 'before' shots.  Also below is a slide show of some of the SFF events and endcaps the store hosted, for those not lucky enough to visit the store and see them in person.

Oh, and my apologies for the last few photos in the video which were, unfortunately, overexposed.

RIP WBB, you will be missed.

The Decline and Fall of the World's Biggest Bookstore from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.
The song playing is "The Ghosts of Bate Island", Written & Performed by: Derek R. Audette.

Click the slideshow for a larger view of the photos.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Book Review: Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner

Pros: interesting mystery, interesting mythology/world-building

Cons: climax involves antagonists explaining their plan

Audra Hawthorne works for the Shadow Watch, an organization that helps keep the living nightmares, or incubi, created by human ideators, in Nod, and away from regular humans.  When the capture of an incubus assassin on Earth goes awry, in several ways, she and her partner are taken off the case.  But Audra doesn’t take orders well, and neither does her partner, the homicidal clown, and incubus, Mr. Jinx.

This is an urban fantasy novel with a pretty neat premise, that some people can be terrorized by their nightmares to the point of making them real.  And then sometimes partnering with them.  There’s more to the world building than that, of course, and Nod, the incubus realm, has some pretty interesting goings on considering that the populace is stronger than humans, heals faster than humans and is significantly more insane then the human one.  One thing I appreciated was that though there’s a lot of violence, a good portion of the blood and guts is left to the reader’s imagination, rather than graphically described (though, there are some creepy scenes).

I liked Audra and Jinx’s interactions, and while more explanation of how she got over her fear of him once he became real would have been nice, I did like that their relationship was complicated.  And as this is the start of a series, there’s time for explanation later on.

Written in first person singular, there are periodic asides to the reader that make it feel like you’re reading Audra’s diary.  There’s a dry humour to these that I loved.

The mystery was suitably complex and involved several subplots that were all pretty much resolved by the end of the book.  

The book felt cartoony at times, due to Jinx’s hijinks and the high level of violence contained in certain scenes.  This is most noticeable during the climax when the antagonists stop fighting in order to explain their plan to the protagonists.  I can’t help but think this information could have been parcelled out in a more organic way, but it did fit the tone of the book.

Ultimately it was a fun, quick read, though if you’re scared of clowns this book won’t help you get over that.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Shout-Out: Ghost Hand by Ripley Patton

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Black has a rare birth defect known as Psyche Sans Soma, or PSS. Instead of a right hand made of flesh and blood, she was born with a hand made of ethereal energy.
How does Olivia handle being the girl with the ghost hand? Well, she's a little bit morbid and a whole lot snarky.

Her mother thinks her obsession with death, black clothing, and the local cemetery is a bid for attention. But when Marcus, the new guy in Olivia's calculus class, stares at her like she's a freak, Olivia doesn't like it. And when her hand goes rogue, doing things she never imagined possible, Olivia finds herself running for her life with Marcus from a group of men bent on taking the power of her hand for their own nefarious purposes.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Movie: Ape Evolution

This is an interesting video showing side by side video capture/ape special effects for the new Planet of the Apes movie.

Movie Review: The People Under the Stairs

Directed by: Wes Craven, 1991

Pros: little gore, great story, terrifying situation but not very scary execution

Cons: some bad special effects

Fool’s just turned 13 and his family’s being evicted by money grubbing landlords.  When a burglar friend suggests he joins him robbing the landlord’s gold collection, he reluctantly agrees.  But the house contains some terrifying secrets.

I remember liking this movie as a teen and recently rewatched it.  I was impressed by how well it held up, probably because Craven spends some time setting up a realistic scenario in which this boy would help break into the landlord’s house.

Once they’re in the house, things go crazy.  Another aspect I loved was that though the scenario is pretty terrifying, the movie itself isn’t that scary.  There are a few jump scares but little gore and more potential terror than actual horror.  

The film’s format is also different from most horror films in that there’s a calm at the three quarter mark where the protagonist makes a fateful decision.

While the bad guys aren’t that well defined (just crazy), they’re fun to watch in action and remarkably intelligent in that they’re able to deflect the police that show up at one point.

Some of the special effects are cheesy - any scenes with falling are done at a higher speed, which makes them look fake.

If you like gore and terrifying movies, give this a pass, if you like lighthearted horror, this one’s pretty good.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Video: X-Men Back to the Future Past

If you've never seen Barely Political's parodies, you're in for a treat.  Just be aware that there's adult content in a lot of their videos.  I also like their Gravity 2 trailer, and Hunger Games: Catching Fire video (where Katniss sings about whether she wants Gale or Peeta).

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Book Review: Jade Sky by Patrick Frievald

Pros: lots of action, realistic relationships 

Cons: a few plot points were problematic, esoteric slant might put off some readers, gory descriptions, some name confusion

ICAP agent Matt Rowley is given a small team of fellow augmented agents and tasked with taking down the Jade drug king pin Dawkins.  But a lot of smaller problems must be dealt with before getting to the big one, and Matt starts to realize that not everything he believes about his crew, the augmentations they’re using, the drug, and ICAP itself is true.

This is a high octane action adventure story with lots of blood, guts and gore.  The first half of the book focuses on the drugs and augmentations (including bonks - people whose augmentations have made them go insane), giving it a military SF feel.  The second half of the book becomes more of a cat and mouse chase with an esoteric plot element eventually taking the fore.  There’s still a lot of action, but readers looking for a full on military style near future SF story might be thrown by the more religious and relationship elements that crop up.

I loved that the relationships in the book were portrayed so realistically.  The ICAP crew had communications and personality clashes, while still working well as a team.  Meanwhile Matt and his wife, with her complicated pregnancy and fear of another miscarriage, helped ground the second half of the book.  Matt’s motivations are solid and believable throughout the novel.

I did question a few of the plot points in the last quarter of the book, which I’ll mention in the spoiler section below.  

I’m not a fan of excessive gore, but the book’s use of it wasn’t gratuitous, and it did emphasize the difficulty in killing augmented people.  The esoteric antagonist had some pretty cool powers, making it a worthy bad guy for the team.

Several characters were introduced together by first and last name.  After that, they were sometimes called by first name, and sometimes by last - often by different people as part of the same conversation.  I personally found this confusing and it took me a while to get all the names and people straight.

While not perfect, this is an entertaining read that will keep you guessing.


I couldn’t understand how Janet was still employed by ICAP - and in such a high security position - when Dawkins was her brother.  Sure Dawkins split off 10 years prior to this novel, but someone at the company  must have known their connection and would have removed her.  The fact that the book never addresses this issue is a problem as I constantly wondered when ICAP would attack her house, especially once Dawkins was freed from prison.

The second plot point I had trouble with also occurred at the end of the book and comes in two parts.  One, how and when did Blossom get the augments she used?  And two, after reading that Matt felt sick after getting his own augments and that they took a day or two to surface, how did he inject himself during the final battle and have almost instantaneous use of his powers without any nausea or other negative side-effects?  That directly contradicts what we’re told only a few chapters earlier.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Shout-Out: Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

One day, the children die. Three days later, they come back.
And ask for blood.
With blood, they stop being dead. They become the children they once were.
But only for a short time. Too soon, they die again.
And need more blood to live …
The average body holds ten pints of blood.
How far would you go for someone you love?

Our May 20th.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Recommended Reading by Professionals... with Sharon Shinn

In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven't received the recognition they deserve.

Today's recommendations are by Sharon Shinn. Sharon Shinn has published 24 novels, one collection, and assorted pieces of short fiction since her first book came out in 1995. Among her books are the Twelve Houses series (Mystic and Rider and its sequels), the Samaria series (Archangel and its sequels), the Shifting Circle series, and the Elemental Blessings series. In 2010, the Romantic Times gave her the Career Achievement Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category, and in 2012, Publisher’s Weekly magazine named The Shape of Desire one of the best science fiction/fantasy books of the year. Three of her novels have been named to the ALA’s lists of Best Books for Young Adults (now Best Fiction for Young Adults). Her newest Shifting Circle book, The Turning Season, will be published in November.

These are all books I read between the ages of ten and fifteen, and that I have read many times since, and that have stayed with me my whole life. So of course I think everyone should read them.
  1. The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall

    In the serene Land Between the Mountains, all the small people known as Minnipins are pressured to conform, particularly as the twelve villages compete with each other to win the prestigious Gammage Cup given out to the most perfect village. But five quirky individuals in Slipper-on-the-Water refuse to dress in boring colors or stop speaking in silly rhymes, so they’re banished while the competition is under way. It’s while they’re out in the wild, trying to survive on their own, that they spot the evil Mushrooms trying to breach the mountains and invade the valley. Relying on their courage and their friendship, they defeat the Mushrooms and save the Land Between the Mountains—and win the trophy for their village.

    This was my first exposure to the trope of a band of misfits who take on great evil and save the world, and I never got over it.

  2. The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton

    Edward and Eleanor live with their eccentric aunt and uncle in a wonderful old house in Massachusetts. They discover a hidden room high in a turret, and they learn that, long ago, two children disappeared one night while sleeping in this very room. There’s a poem etched into the window glass, and when they start spending the night in the tower, the events of their dreams match the verses of the poem. They soon realize they aren’t dreaming after all, but chasing after those missing children and having real adventures—which put them in real danger. If they don’t solve all the clues in the poem, they too could disappear.

    In one chapter, Eleanor and Edward are trapped inside a giant nautilus shell on a beach as the tide starts coming in. They make their way from the smallest chamber to the next biggest one and the next biggest one, but each time the door between chambers only opens when they do something worthy. Tell a riddle, solve a math puzzle. Their accomplishments must get bigger each time a chamber gets bigger. They’re finally in the very largest chamber—but they can’t think of anything momentous enough to free themselves. And then a wave comes in and lifts the shell and almost carries it out to sea…

    I will never forget my fear and excitement the first time I read that scene. To me, this book is about the potential for magic all around us, all the time. I’ve never stopped looking for my own poem full of clues and mysteries.

  3. Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

    A spaceship full of operatives from an advanced civilization makes a stealthy approach to the primitive world of Andrecia—which has just been invaded by a third civilization not quite as advanced as the first one. Elana is on the first spaceship with two other team members, and their goal is to save Andrecia from the invaders, without letting the inhabitants know that extraterrestrials actually exist. Elana lands on Andrecia and takes the role of an enchantress who devises nearly impossible quests for the bravest of men, and when they succeed, she gives them magical devices to help them slay the “dragon” that has started to destroy their world. Of course, the devices are really high-tech tools and the “dragon” is really giant machinery brought by the invading forces.

    The book alternates between the self-aware science fiction narrative of Elana’s voice, and the fairy-tale style of Georyn, a brave Andrecian who wins magic from the enchantress’s hands. "At the edge of the Enchanted Forest there lived a poor woodcutter who had four sons…"

    I read this book before I ever watched an episode of “Star Trek,” so this is where I learned the basic tenets of the Prime Directive. It made me think differently about fairy tales, history, and space exploration, and introduced me to the idea that two different people will have vastly different takes on the same events. And it’s a love story. It has so many elements that have stuck with me forever.

Stay tuned for the next post where we get more reading recommendations!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Mockingjay - Motion Poster

There's a really cool motion poster for Mockingjay - part 1, which comes out this November.  The pin and fire icon from the first movie slowly morphs into the one for the second and then third film.  The film also has an interactive website with stills, an interview with Julianne Moore (President Coin), a filmmaker roundtable and more.

Movie Review: Timecrimes

Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, 2007

Pros: time travel done well

Cons: protagonist is stupid and sadistic, slow pacing

Hector, checking out something odd on a forested hill near his new house, is attacked and ends up hiding in what turns out to be a time machine.

Hector isn’t very smart.  After the time machine’s inventor explains what happened, he starts doing really stupid, and then sadistic, things.  Even though he knows the ‘him’ that’s at his house is him in the past, he decides to do some horrible things to himself.

I liked that there was one timeline and that Hector couldn’t change what had happened, could only enact different parts of his own past - no matter how sadistic those things looked from an outsider’s perspective.

I felt very sorry for the girl in the forest who’s terrorized throughout this film.  

The pacing is fairly slow considering how quickly you figure out what’s happening with Hector.

Ultimately, I'm glad I saw it, but I wouldn’t watch it again.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Music Video: Shatter Me

I'm a bit behind on watching my youtube subscriptions, so I've just come across this amazing video by Lindsey Stirling and Lzzy Hale (from Halestorm).  In addition to some great singing and violin, there's also fantasy and stempunk elements.  Check it out:

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Book Review: Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Pros: fun, witty storytelling; engaging and diverse characters, interesting politics, Todd Lockwood artwork


This is the second volume of Lady Isabella Trent’s memoir regarding the study of dragons.  Despite the dangerous political situation in the Talu Union, she requests permission for herself and two companions to visit Bayembe and the Mouleen swamps in order to study the various dragon species found there.

These ‘memoirs’ are such a joy to read.  This is a character driven novel, told from a lady’s point of view.  And that lady refuses to adhere to society’s norms when it comes to what women are and are not allowed to do in scholarly pursuits.  But this isn’t a simple story.  There’s a lot of character development as she’s forced to adapt to the customs of the different peoples she meets and come to terms with things in her past.  

This series takes place in an imaginary world that has similarities to Earth in the 1800s.  While the three protagonists are Scirling (analogous to colonial Britain), there are several natives of different tribes (patterned after African tribes) who play important roles in the book.  Each tribe has different political goals, religious beliefs, customs, clothing, skin tones and languages.  They all feel intrinsically real.  I especially loved that the king of Bayembe had prosthesis that allowed him to walk and was seen as a powerful figure, whose ‘iron’ legs made him more than human. 

There’s a decent amount of politics involved, and while it’s not dwelt on heavily, it’s necessary as the climax hinges on what the wider world is up to while her party is trying not to die of malaria and yellow fever in the swamps.  Even beyond the military and economic politics are the more subtle politics of life, for example, Isabella isn’t allowed to join a scientific symposium because of her gender while one of her companions on the trek is barred from the same symposium because he’s not of a high enough social class.  Similarly, her second companion on the trip has to defy her father, who wants her to stay home and get married rather than ruin herself on this expedition.   

In addition to the cover, Todd Lockwood has a series of illustrations peppering the novel itself.  These are done sketchbook style and really add to the atmosphere of the book as well as your ability to visualise what’s happening.  

If you like fun, witty storytelling that’s quick to read and thoughtful about representing diversity, then pick this up.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Shout-Out: Bloodwitch by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Vance Ehecatl was raised with every luxury he could imagine in a beautiful greenhouse within the powerful empire of Midnight. Vampires are the only guardians Vance has ever known since he was abandoned by his shapeshifter family as a baby quetzal, and he is grateful to them for generously providing for all of his needs. When an act of violence forces Vance from his sheltered home, he is startled to meet Malachi Obsidian, a fellow shapeshifter with conflicting ideas about Midnight and its leader, Mistress Jeshickah.

Malachi claims Vance is a bloodwitch, who Jeshickah and her trainers, Jaguar and Taro, are trying to control. Vance doesn't know anything about the rare and destructive magic Malachi says he possesses, and he can't believe Jeshickah would use it to hurt others. But when his friends begin falling ill, Vance starts to realize his perfect world may not be as flawless as it seems. Now Vance must decide who to trust-the vampires he's always relied upon, or the shapeshifters who despise them.

Out May 13

Friday, 9 May 2014

Stranger Than Fiction: Platonic Solids

A column dedicated to pointing out interesting tidbits of history, some of which would be cool to see in a fantasy novel or two.
One of the things I've been studying this past year is the History of Science: Antiquity to 1700 course by Great Courses.  It's amazing how much ancient peoples discovered about the world, and how many ancient practices we still adhere to, even if we don't realize it.  For example the Babylonians chose a mathematical base of 60 for their calculations, which is where we get 60 seconds in a minute.

One of the most fascinating lectures was on Plato.  I avoided the medieval philosophy courses in university because I thought they'd be dry and boring.  Boy was I wrong.  (And yes, I understand Plato isn't a Medieval philosopher, but I suspect you can't study Medieval philosophy without studying the Greek philosophers, as they formed the basis of later works).  

What really caught my interest was Plato's 4 Element Theory.  I've heard variations on this (medieval medicine was based on the 4 humours that draw heavily on this), but never the full theory with a real understanding of it.

Basically Plato believed that there were 4 elements that made up the world and everything on it, when combined.  He also believed that each element had a shape that defined its role.

This is a chart about the elements I made up using information I got from the fascinating Alchemy of Paint: Art, Science and Secrets From the Middle Ages by Spike Bucklow.  If you want to get a decent understanding of Alchemy and the complexity of medieval thought, read that book.


The first thing that occurred to me when I thought about the different shapes was that they seemed familiar...

That's right, D&D dice.  Though, of course, there are a few more dice in the game than Platonic solids.

Now, I like to show how these stranger than fiction posts can be useful in world-building when it comes to making up fantasy worlds.  First, it's good to remember that your people may not be as 'primitive' as you think.  Nor are modern ways of thinking necessarily the best way to deal with the past when it comes to how your people relate to the world around them.

Of course, the easiest way to use the Platonic Solids is to do what Peter V. Brett did in his Demon Cycle books, use them (ok, use D&D dice) as augury bones.

And in case you think that's the artist's interpretation, here's an illustration from his website of what the bones the priestesses cast look like:

While Plato had 4 elements in mind, others felt that 4 was one short.  The human hand has 5 fingers. From a mathematical standpoint, 5 is the hypotenuse of a triangle (when you take the first plane number (3) and the first solid number (4) as the lengths of 2 sides).  Five is the number of regular solids.  there were 5 visible planets (sun, moon, mercury, venus and mars - the Greek word 'planet' means 'wanderer') and the belief was that the macrocosm was analogous to the microcosm.  Therefore, shouldn't there be 5 elements?  Thus came the quest for quintessence, the 5th Element (a 12 sided shape - in the centre of the elements), the one meant to show the attributes of heaven, the spiritual, the perfect, the pure. (This information comes from another interesting read, Medieval Number Symbolism by Vincent Foster Hopper, pp 35-36.)

As a side note, since it kind of deals with the D&D dice up above and I think it's cool, Lou Anders pointed out this post about the oldest 20 sided die in the world.  Carved sometime during the 2nd to 4th centuries  A.D., this die from the Ptolemaic era of Egypt has both Greek and Coptic letters on it.  It's currently housed at the Met.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Book Review: Reviver by Seth Patrick

Pros: interesting characters, carefully realized reviver process and reactions to it

Pros/con: lots of flashbacks and info dumps

Cons: little narrative tension

Twelve years ago Daniel Harker broke the story on revivers, people who could revive the dead and let them physically speak.  Now the process is considered routine for forensic work and many people have insurance offering them the chance to say a final good-bye.  

Jonah Miller has been a reviver since the accident that took his Mom’s life when he was 14.  With higher abilities than many of his colleagues, he works for a forensic office and is given tough cases.  At the end of a routine revival, something - unexpected - happens.  For a few moments the subject is possessed by a malevolent force.  Told the incident was a hallucination, more and more things happen to convince Jonah that maybe overwork wasn’t the cause.

This is a slow-moving but interesting story.  The author gives you a good grounding of how revival works and how the revelation that there’s something after this life affected the world, from the protesting afterlifers to insurance brokers arranging for final meetings.

I personally found the numerous info dumps and flashbacks interesting, because they offered firm grounding in the world and the protagonists.  For the sake of variety, it might have been nice to learn some of this information more organically, via conversations, etc. 

The characters were very interesting.  Jonah’s the protagonist, whose sense of morality is strong even as his mind is taken over by remnants of his recent revivals.  Then there’s Noah, a revival technician who keeps Jonah company and Annabel Harper, a journalist like her father, who’s investigating a crime and gets Jonah’s help.

Because the story is so slow moving, there’s little narrative tension.  A few scenes were creepy but I never really felt Jonah was in danger of insanity, though I did fear for his life towards the end of the book, but not on a level that I’d expected to.

It’s an interesting story with good world-building, smart characters, some interesting speculative elements and a lot of mystery.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Video: Harry Potter vs Star Wars

This is a hilarious video I saw a few days ago by RackaRacka.  The special effects are really good and these guys completely trash their living room for the video.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Book Review: The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

Pros: highly descriptive writing, lots of interesting characters, complicated plots, cool monsters, decent world building

Cons: several info dump chapters in a row

When a tied up girl is ’sold’ to ‘the jew’ of London’s Wellclose Square, several plots are set into motion.  Because that’s the safe house of the last remaining hand of the Oversight, a group of people with supranatural abilities who keep the ordinary people of England safe from the creatures that go bump in the night. 

There’s a large cast of characters, but the author’s attention to detail makes it easy to remember who’s who.  And the various protagonists and antagonists are all distinct enough to keep them separate along with their varied plots, worries and actions.  I loved that there’s a mixture of rich, poor, beautiful, horrible people, able-bodied and not, in the book.  There are several female characters in major roles, allowing for a large variety here too, in terms of temperament and actions.

The descriptive writing does make the opening a bit slow but it really helps to ground you for when the plots start to multiply.  Indeed, the necessity of paying close attention for the first few chapters pays off as the book continues, as it becomes very easy to remember what’s happening to whom, and where.

I loved the monsters in the book, the Slaugh and the Alp.  Both were suitably horrifying, as befit faery-style creatures.

There’s a lot of information you need to know in order to understand this alternate Victorian England.  Unfortunately, this required several information dumps.  While the author tried to vary these by working them into different conversations, the fact that these take place one after the other in successive chapters makes them feel contrived.  The first one especially felt contrived, as it has a member of the Oversight explaining what the organization is to one of the creatures it oversees, a creature who should (and you discover does) already know what the Oversight is.  Some of the other conversations would have sounded natural, had there not been so many other info dumps around them.  

The ending is good, with several plot points being tied up while others are left open for the forthcoming sequels.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Shout-Out: Acid by Emma Pass

The year is 2113. In Jenna Strong's world, ACID-the most brutal controlling police force in history-rule supreme. No throwaway comment or whispered dissent goes unnoticed-or unpunished. And it was ACID agents who locked Jenna away for life, for a horrendous crime she struggles to remember. But Jenna's violent prison time has taught her how to survive by any means necessary. When a mysterious rebel group breaks her out, she must use her strength, speed, and skill to stay one step ahead of ACID, and try to uncover the truth about what really happened on that terrible night two years ago. They have taken her life, her freedom, and her true memories away from her. How can she reclaim anything when she doesn't know who to trust?

Friday, 2 May 2014

ChiZine Publications Launches Teen Imprint

The weird is coming to teens with ChiZine's new YA imprint, ChiTeen.  The company plans to start by publishing 4 titles a year.

ChiTeen books will be geared for a variety of ages. The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet, which will be published in May in Canada, is for older teens and “may veer into the new adult arena,” according to [Sandra] Kasturi [co-publisher of ChiZine Publications]. The other spring title The Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly by P.T. Jones, will likely appeal to younger teens 13 to 15, or even tweens, she added. Both of those titles will publish in October in the U.S. A third, Dead Girls Don’t by Mags Storey, will be released in October in Canada but as a spring book for the U.S.

You can read more about the launch, and their new ebook press, CZPebook, which will be publishing older, out of print titles, over on Publisher's Weekly.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in June, 2014

Yesterday was my last day employed by Indigo Books and Music.  As of today, I am no longer a bookseller.  I will miss working at the World's Biggest Bookstore, and miss browsing our huge selection of books on, well, everything.  These past few months as the store closed I really came to appreciate how difficult it is to find new books online.  I couldn't believe, when I worked a shift at another store, how many SFF books came out that I hadn't heard of, even doing these monthly lists and being active in the online SFF community.  There's just so much being published and no way to hear about everything.  And once a book's been out for a while, it becomes even harder to find.

This is one of the reasons why I've been doing more shout-out posts lately, to bring awareness to books that sound cool that I don't see mentioned elsewhere.

Once again, this list is compiled from and reflects Canadian release dates.  I apologize in advance for any errors.  I accidentally went through the July listings for a while before realizing my mistake.  I believe I caught the later titles, but if you find one, please mention it in the comments and I'll fix it.


The Dark Between the Stars – Kevin Anderson
The Adventure of the Ring of Stones – James Blaylock
Rescue Mode – Ben Bova & Les Johnson
Earth Awakens – Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston
The Girl With All the Gifts – M. R. Carey
Cibola Burn – James Corey
Child of a Hidden Sea – A. M. Dellamonica
1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Eric Flint & Charles Gannon
Property of a Lady Faire – Simon Green
The Merchant Emperor – Elizabeth Haydon
Shattered – Kevin Hearne
Memory of Water – Emmi Itaranta
Rebels: City of Indra – Kendall & Kylie Jenner
Flight of the Golden Harpy – Susan Klaus
Blood Red – Mercedes Lackey
The Man Who Made Models : The Collected Short Fiction, Vol 2 – R. A. Lafferty
Prince of Fools – Mark Lawrence
Rogues – George Martin & Gardner Dozois, Ed.
The Immortal Crown – Richelle Mead
A Barricade in Hell – Jaime Lee Moyer
Chasers of the Wind – Alexey Pehov
Veil of the Deserters – Jeff Salyards
Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: the novelization – A. C. H. Smith & Brian Froud
Shovel Ready – Adam Sternbergh
California Bones – Greg von Eekhout
Archetype – M. D. Waters
Robogenesis – Daniel Wilson

Trade Paperback:

Omens – Kelley Armstrong
The Voyage of the Sable Keech – Neal Asher
Terra – Mitch Benn
Star Trek Voyager: Fusion – Kirsten Beyer
The Demon Code – Adam Blake
Pat Cadigan SF Gateway Omnibus – Pat Cadigan
D. G. Compton SF Gateway Omnibus – D. G. Compton
Tithe of the Saviours – A. J. Dalton
The Best Horror of the Year, vol 6 – Ellen Datlow
Over My Head – Charles de Lint
Warhammer 40K: Night Lords – Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Vintage Visions: Essays on Early Science Fiction – Arthur Evans
The World of the End – Ofir Touche Gafla
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
Alien Shores – Vaughn Heppner
Warhammer: Orion; The Council of Beasts – Darius Hinks
The Sea of Time – P. C. Hodgell
Haxan – Kenneth Mark Hoover
The Source – J. D. Horn
The Silent History – Eli Horowitz
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014 – Rich Horton, Ed.
Night Shifters – Sarah Hoyt
Blood Pact – Tanya Huff (reprint)
In Dark Service – Stephen Hunt
Knight’s Dawn – Kim Hunter (reprint)
The Last Page – Anthony Huso
Headlong – Simon Ings
Justice – Ian Irvine
Star Trek Voyager: Her Klingon Soul – Michael Jan
The Leopard – K. V. Johansen
Irregular Verbs – Matthew Johnson
Crossroads of Twilight – Robert Jordan (reprint)
The Year of the Ladybird – Graham Joyce
The Shadow Lamp – Stephen Lawhead
Red as Blood: Tales from the Sister Grimmer (expanded edition) – Tanith Lee
If England Were Invaded – William Le Queux (reprint)
The Fires of Man – Dan Levinson
The Disestablishment of Paradise – Phillip Mann
Spell or High Water – Scott Meyer
The Madonna and the Startship – James Morrow
Fate of Worlds – Larry Niven & Edward Lerner (reprint)
Tales from High Hallack, vol 2 – Andre Norton
Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor
Chernobyl – Frederik Pohl 
Shadowlands – Sarah Read
The Demi-Monde: Summer – Rod Rees
The Wolves of Midwinter – Anne Rice
Shaman – Kim Stanley Robinson
Allegiance – Susannah Sandlin
Baptism of Fire – Andrzej Sapkowski
Koko Takes a Holiday – Kieran Shea
Reflections & Refractions – Robert Silverberg
The Girl with the Scar – William Stadler
Hard to Be a God – Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
Just One Damned Thing After Another – Jodi Taylor
Mermaid in Chelsea Creek – Michelle Tea
Two Fronts – Harry Turtledove
Shield and Crocus – Michael Underwood
Barricade – Jon Wallace
Ecko Burning – Danie Ware

Mass Market Paperback:

Elisha Barber – E. C. Ambrose
Dragons Deal – Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye
The Golden City – J. Kathleen Cheney
The Shadow Master – Craig Cormick
The 400 lb Gorilla – D. C. Farmer
Casino Infernale – Simon Green
Crater Trueblood and the Lunar Rescue Company – Homer Hickam
Thieves’ Quarry – D. B. Jackson
Born of Fire – Sherrilyn Kenyon
Born of Ice – Sherrilyn Kenyon
Born of Night – Sherrilyn Kenyon
Steadfast – Mercedes Lackey
Star Trek TNG: The Light Fantastic – Jeffrey Lang
Deadly Curiosities – Gail Martin
Gameboard of the Gods – Richelle Mead
Tin Swift: The Age of Steam – Devon Monk
The Blasted Lands – James Moore
The Goliath Stone – Larry Niven & Matthew Joseph Harrington
Blood for the Sun – Errick Nunnally
Bloodstone – Gillian Philip
Copper Ravens – Jannifer Allis Provost
The White Towers – Andy Remic
Under a Graveyard Sky – John Ringo
The Heir of Khored – Deborah Ross
Blood Song – Anthony Ryan
Vicky Peterwald: Target – Mike Shepherd
Neptune’s Brood – Charles Stross
Cobra Slave – Timothy Zahn


Hellsband Hereafter – Paige Cuccaro
Lunation – Jessica Gadd
Hunted – T. A. Grey
Rise of the Dragon King – M. R. Mathias
Fractured Dream – K. M. Randall

YA Fiction:

Night Witches – L. J. Adlington
Deadwood – kell Andrews
Lux: Beginnings – Jennifer Armentrout
Lux: Consequences – Jennifer Armentrout
Siege and Storm – Leigh Bardugo
Dance of Shadows – Yelena Black
The Book of Kindly Deaths – Eldritch Black
Born of Deception – Teri Brown
This Strange and Familiar Place – Rachel Carter
Graduation Day – Joelle Charbonneau
Poison – Molly Cochran
Dark Metropolis – Jaclyn Dolamore
The Girl Who Never Was – Skylar Dorset
Chasing Stars – Helen Douglas
Otherbound – Corinne Duyvis
The Lost Sun – Tessa Gratton
The Strange Maid – Tessa Gratton
Cuckoo Song – Francis Hardinge
The Monster Within – Kelly Hashway
The Dragonfly Pool – Eva Ibbotson
Freak – Marie Jones
The Wicked Within – Kelly Keaton
The Garden of Darkness – Gillian Murray Kendall
The Feros – Wesley King
Hexed – Michaelle Krys
Ashes on the Waves – Mary Lindsey
Guardian – Alex London
In the End – Demitria Lunetta
Deviants – Maureen McGowan
Future Flash – Kita Helmetag Murdock
My Last Kiss – Bethany Neal
Valkyrie: The Runaway – Kate O’Hearn
Essence – Lisa Ann O’Kane
Dark Days – Kate Ormand
Lightfinder – Aaron Paquette
Earthbound – Aprilynne Pike
Summoned – Anne Pillsworth
Don’t You Forget About Me – Kate Karyus Quinn
The Art of Wishing – Lindsay Ribar
Phoenix – Elizabeth Richards
Wings – Elizabeth Richards
Take Back the Skies – Lucy Saxon
Push – Eve Silver
Cinderella’s Dress – Shonna Slayton
Dark Summer – Ali Sparkes
Hungry – H. A. Swain

Neptune’s Tears – Susan Waggoner