Monday, 30 March 2015

Books Received in March 2015

Many thanks, as always, to the publishers who send me books for review. 

The Revolution Trade by Charles Stross - This is the third 2-book omnibus edition of the Merchant Princes series and consists of The Revolution Business and Trade of Queens.

Miriam Beckstein has said good-bye to her comfort zone. The transition from journalist to captive in an alternative timeline was challenging to say the least, she discovered that her long-lost family, the Clan, were world-skipping assassins. Now, while civil war rages in her adopted home, she's pregnant with the heir to their throne and a splinter group want her on their side of a desperate power struggle. But as a leader or figurehead?
Meanwhile, unknown to the Clan, the US government is on to them and preparing to exploit this knowledge. But it hadn't foreseen a dissident Clan faction carrying nuclear devices between worlds—with the US president in their sights. The War on Terror is about to go transdimensional. But Mike Fleming, CIA agent, knows the most terrifying secret of all: His government's true intentions.


Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan - I've already read and reviewed this title, which is the third book of Isabella, Lady Trent's memoirs as a female dragon researcher from Scirland.  As with the previous volumes, the book's got a fair amount of adventure.  This time she's on a ship and visiting numerous locations, rather than just one, like she did in the others.  It's a fun and quick read.

Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella's in ways both professional and personal.
Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella's life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.

The Exile by C. T. Adams - A new urban fantasy from one of the authors who writes the Cat Adams novels.
Brianna Hai runs an occult shop that sells useless trinkets to tourists--and real magic supplies to witches and warlocks. The magical painting that hangs in Brianna''s apartment is the last portal between the fae and human worlds.

A shocking magical assault on her home reveals to Brianna that her father, High King Liu of the Fae, is under attack. With the help of her gargoyle, Pug, her friend David, and Angelo, a police detective who doesn't believe in magic, Brianna recovers what was stolen from her and becomes an unwilling potential heir to the throne.

A suspenseful urban fantasy with a hint of romance, The Exile is the first solo novel by C. T. Adams, who is half of USA Today bestselling author Cat Adams. Like the Cat Adams Blood Singer novels, The Exile is set in a world where magic is real and contains Adams's trademark blend of suspense, action, humor, and strongly emotional writing.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Shout-Out: The Void by Timothy Johnston

2403 AD

It would be easier to kill him than to trust him.

Transporting a serial killer might seem like a simple job for CCF Homicide Investigator Kyle Tanner. After spending years apprehending murderers, he's ready to hang up his pistol. Babysitting a prisoner will bring him to Alpha Centauri, where he can search for a way to escape the CCF forever.

If he makes it.

When his ship breaks down in deep space and a CCF research vessel comes to his aid, Tanner realizes he's in terrible danger: the scientists on board have blocked his distress call. And when Tanner's prisoner escapes, he begins to suspect that the proximity of the research vessel had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the CCF's relentless reach.

Facing near-certain death by his own organization, Tanner must unravel a tangled skein of vengeance, duplicity and murder in deep space. But he's being held at the will of master puppeteers, and if he can't cut the strings, he'll dance straight to a gruesome, excruciating death.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Movie Review: Predestination

Diercted by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

Pros: great acting, thought provoking, self-contained plot

Cons: plot depends on an impossible paradox

A man walks into a bar and, on a bet, tells the bartender the unusual story of his life, beginning with when he was a little girl.  But the bartender’s story is even more unusual, because he is a temporal agent, travelling through time to catch a terrorist bomber.

Based on the short story “All You Zombies” by Robert Heinlein, this is a difficult movie to review because the entire plot revolves around a series of revelations that would spoil the film to mention.  Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook give amazing performances in their roles.  Sarah has to play both a woman and a man, which she does very well, though it’s obvious when he appears in the bar that it’s a woman transitioning.

This is a movie that will make you think.  The premise revolves around the belief that it’s possible to change events in time, even as the characters find themselves acting out their lives as if following a script.  The question becomes whether they actually have agency or if their lives really are predestined, as the title suggests.  The storytelling isn’t entirely linear so don’t be surprised if there are aspects of the plot that don’t seem to make sense right away.  When you get to the end you’ll find yourself thinking and rethinking about the plot of the film, putting the pieces into place and realizing the genius of the movie.

The downside is that the film depends on a paradox that doesn’t actually work, even if it’s an interesting, if creepy, idea.

I did wonder how Sarah’s character didn’t get an idea of what was coming, based on her changed appearance, but that’s a minor quibble.

Ultimately, this is an unsettling but interesting film that will stay with you after the credits end. 



Thursday, 26 March 2015

Shout-Out: The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Book 1: Phoenix Rising
Evil is most assuredly afoot-and Britain's fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade . . . and a librarian.
These are dark days indeed in Victoria's England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences-the Crown's clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling-will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest . . . and she's prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.

For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun-he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices-must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . . or see England fall to the Phoenix!
Book 2: The Janus Affair

Evildoers beware! Retribution is at hand, thanks to Britain''s best-kept secret agents!!

Certainly no strangers to peculiar occurrences, agents Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are nonetheless stunned to observe a fellow passenger aboard Britain''s latest hypersteam train suddenly vanish in a dazzling bolt of lightning. They soon discover this is not the only such disappearance . . . with each case going inexplicably unexamined by the Crown.

The fate of England is once again in the hands of an ingenious archivist paired with a beautiful, fearless lady of adventure. And though their foe be fiendishly clever, so then is Mr. Books . . . and Miss Braun still has a number of useful and unusual devices hidden beneath her petticoats.

Book 3: Dawn's Early Light

Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…
After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.
Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…

Book 4: The Diamond Conspiracy
For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment…
Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun’s emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun’s street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately.
But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro’s dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself...

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Video: Princess Rap Battle

Whitney Avalon's been making some awesome Princess Rap Battle videos, similar to the Epic Rap Battles of History videos, only there's a clear winner at the end.  There's swearing, so they're not kid friendly.  So far she's got Snow White vs Elsa, Galadriel vs Leia, Mrs. Claus vs Mary Poppins, and Cinderella vs Belle.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Pros: excellent world-building, fun protagonist, quick read

Cons: ending felt rushed

This is the third volume of Isabella, Lady Trent’s memoirs and deals with the 2 year research voyage she took on the RSS Basilik.  With her she brings Tom, who accompanied her on previous journeys, her nine year old son, Jake, and his governess, Abby.

As with the other books in this series, this is a character driven fantasy novel, following the extraordinary adventures of a female dragon researcher from Scirland.  While the previous books focused on one area for her excursions, this one covers several locations where she researches various types of dragons in an effort to create a proper taxonomy for the species.

I love the degree of detail Brennan adds to these book, particularly the background tidbits that don’t strictly need to be there but show the amount of behind the scenes thought that goes into the stories.  For example, it doesn’t really matter to the story that this trip took 2 years or more to plan (besides aging the characters), but it acknowledges that such travel in the past was not only expensive but also difficult to arrange.  I also appreciated the occasional bureaucratic, medical, and cultural problems they encountered.

The world expands greatly as the ship stops at numerous ports, sometimes leaving Isabella’s group behind for a month or more to do research, sometimes carrying on immediately to the next location.  Once again the world-building is excellent.  It’s possible at times to see what real world cultures she’s adapting for her book, but each society is very different from the others and there’s a wide variety of characters and customs that show up.

I’m not generally a fan of character driven fantasy but Isabella is such an interesting person that I race through these volumes.  Part way through this book they encounter another researcher, who helps them out.  Suhail was just as fun and interesting as Isabella, and I have my suspicions about his hidden last name.

While it’s possible to read this volume on its own, there are several allusions to the events of the previous books, and a few spoilerish conversations.

The ending feels a little rushed.  There’s a climactic event, after which events are narrated rather quickly through the denouement.  It works for the structure of a novel but would be somewhat unusual for the memoir this purports to be.


These are lighthearted books that don’t take long to read and are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by Todd Lockwood.  It’s a series I highly recommend.

Out March 31st.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Shout-Out: The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers - Mike Ashley, Ed.

Featuring hard-to-find short stories published between 1873 and 1930, this original anthology spotlights a variety of important sci-fi pioneers, including Ethel Watts Mumford, Edith Nesbit, and Clare Winger Harris. Imaginative scenarios include a feminist society in another dimension, the east/west division of the United States with men and women on opposite sides, a man who converts himself into a cyborg, a drug that confers superhuman qualities, and many other curious situations.

Editor Mike Ashley provides an informative introduction to the stories. Highlights include "When Time Turned" (1901), which centers on a grieving widower who contrives to relive his life backwards; "The Painter of Dead Women" (1910), the tale of a woman in thrall to a Svengali-like character who promises to preserve her beauty forever; "The Automaton Ear" (1876), in which an inventor struggles to create a machine to detect sounds from the distant past; "Ely's Automatic Housemaid" (1899), a lighthearted fable concerning a robot housemaid; and ten other captivating tales.