Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Books Received in September 2014, part 2

These are the novels I received this month.

The Bloodline Feud: The Family Trade & The Hidden Family by Charles Stross - This omnibus contains the first two books of The Merchant Princes series.

The six families of the Clan rule the kingdom of Gruinmarkt from behind the scenes. They are a mixture of nobility and criminal conspirators whose power to walk between their world and ours makes them rich in both.
Miriam, a hip tech journalist from Boston, discovers her alternate-world relatives with explosive results that shake three worlds. Now, as the prodigal Countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, she finds herself ensnared in schemes and plots centuries in the making. She is surrounded by unlikely allies, lethal contraband, and-most dangerous of all-her family.
To avoid a slippery slope down to an unmarked grave, Miriam must build a power base of her own-with unexpected consequences for three different time lines, including the quasi-Victorian one exploited by the hidden family.

Severed Souls by Terry Goodkind - This is the latest book in the Sword of Truth series.  I have to admit, I read the first one and haven't had the desire to continue.

From the far reaches of the D'Haran Empire, Bishop Hannis Arc and the ancient Emperor Sulachan lead a vast horde of Shun-Tuk and other depraved "half-people" into the Empire's heart, raising an army of the dead in order to threaten the world of the living. Meanwhile, far from home, Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell must defend themselves and their followers from a series of terrifying threats, despite a magical sickness that depletes their strength and which, if not cured, will take their lives...sooner rather than later.

Assail by Ian Esslemont - Now this is a series, along with Steven Erikson's books, that I'd love to get into if I could find the time...

Tens of thousands of years of ice is melting, and the land of Assail, long a byword for menace and inaccessibility, is at last yielding its secrets. Tales of gold discovered in the region's north circulate in every waterfront dive and sailor's tavern and now countless adventurers and fortune-seekers have set sail in search of riches. All these adveturers have to guide them are legends and garbled tales of the dangers that lie in wait -- hostile coasts, fields of ice, impassable barriers and strange, terrifying creatures. But all accounts concur that the people of the north meet all trespassers with the sword. And beyond are rumoured to lurk Elder monsters out of history's very beginnings. Into this turmoil ventures the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard. Not drawn by contract, but by the promise of answers: answers to mysteries that Shimmer, second in command, wonders should even be sought. Arriving also, part of an uneasy alliance of Malazan fortune-hunters and Letherii soldiery, comes the bard Fisher kel Tath. And with him is a Tiste Andii who was found washed ashore and who cannot remember his past life, yet who commands far more power than he really should. Also venturing north is said to be a mighty champion, a man who once fought for the Malazans, the bearer of a sword that slays gods: Whiteblade.
And lastly, far to the south, a woman guards the shore awaiting both her allies and her enemies. Silverfox, newly incarnated Summoner of the undying army of the T''lan Imass, will do anything to stop the renewal of an ages-old crusade that could lay waste to the entire continent and beyond. Casting light on mysteries spanning the Malazan empire, and offering a glimpse of the storied and epic history that shaped it, Assail is the final chapter in the epic story of the Empire of Malaz.

Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger - This is the third, and concluding, book in Carriger's wildly fun Finishing School series.  I loved the previous two and can't wait to see what happens next.

Class is back in session...

Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style--with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what--or who--they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all.

Gather your poison, steel tipped quill, and the rest of your school supplies and join Mademoiselle Geraldine's proper young killing machines in the third rousing installment in the New York Times bestselling Finishing School Series by steampunk author, Gail Carriger.

The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko - I really enjoyed Lukyanenko's Night Watch series (even though I've yet to read the last 2 books) and I'm curious to see how he handles science fiction. Out in December.

Five months after the horrific accident that left him near death and worried that he'd never fly again, master-pilot Alex Romanov lands a new job: captaining the sleek passenger vessel Mirror. Alex is a spesh-a human who has been genetically modified to perform particular tasks. As a captain and pilot, Alex has a genetic imperative to care for passengers and crew-no matter what the cost.
His first mission aboard Mirror is to ferry two representatives of the alien race Zzygou on a tour of human worlds. His task will not be an easy one, for aboard the craft are several speshes who have reason to hate the Others. Dark pasts, deadly secrets, and a stolen gel-crystal worth more than Alex's entire ship combine to challenge him at every turn. And as the tension escalates, it becomes apparent that greater forces are at work to bring the captain's world crashing down.
The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley - The first book, The Emperor's Blades, helped me get over my fantasy fatigue, so I can't wait to see what happens next in the series. Out in January.

The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.
Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace is search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy.
Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire's most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.

Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

Books Received in September, 2014 Osprey Edition

With the news that Osprey Publishing has sold off several of its imprints, including Angry Robot Books, to focus on its history side and get more into gaming, I present the books they sent me earlier this month.

Myths and Legends: Sinbad the Sailor by Phil Masters - I really enjoy this series and have been reading up on medieval Egypt recently, so this should be a great read.  The books have a nice blend of storytelling and background information so you can set the stories in their historical contexts. Sinbad is the 11th book in the series.

Sinbad the Sailor presents a retelling of the stories of the most famous adventurer from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, with added information covering the history of the stories and the age in which they are set.
Stories say that in the age of the Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, in the port city of Basra, there lived a wealthy man named Sinbad the Sailor. Sinbad had great tales to tell, of the seven voyages on which he acquired his fortune, of the strangeness and terror he encountered along the way, of huge monsters and strange people, and of storms at sea and lands beyond the horizon.
This book retells the tales of those voyages and places them in context. It discusses not only the greater collection of stories known as One Thousand and One Arabian Nights within which Sinbad appears, but medieval Cairo where these tales were told, the historical Abbasid Dynasty which ruled Sinbad's home city, and the great Arabian voyages of exploration and trade which inspired these stories. It also looks at the modern incarnations of Sinbad that have appeared since his tales reached the West - including Sinbad as the swashbuckling hero of stage plays, stop-motion movies, and television fantasy.

Lion Rampant: Medieval Wargaming Rules by Daniel Mersey - I haven't done any tabletop gaming, so I can't judge the rules or gameplay presented, but there are a lot of colour photos showing the painted figures in play, detail notes and customization options.  It's a set of basic rules that you can modify and apply to numerous scenarios (several of which are presented at the end of the book). (64 pages)  

Lion Rampant is a set of rules designed for fighting historical or Hollywood battles in the medieval period from the Norman Conquest to the Hundred Years' War. This period is well suited to large skirmish gaming as played with Lion Rampant as it was a time of anarchy, feuds, robbery, and raiding. Become Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart, Gamelyn, William Wallace, Llewellyn the Last, or other legends and leaders from the colorful, dangerous medieval period.

Lion Rampant is ideal for players who wish to collect medieval miniatures without wanting to muster huge forces or spend time learning complex rules.
Gameplay is very simple, and requires the player to use units in the correct tactical way: knights are great at charging down enemies but less useful for guarding convoys, while spearmen are jacks of all trades and masters of none, and bowmen are to be feared at distance but easily cut down if you can get close enough. An army usually consists of 6-8 units comprised of 6-12 individually based figures (making it ideal for 15mm or 28mm games), and is led by a Leader, who may have some unique character traits that affect game play and provide some opportunity for role playing. The action, however, focuses very much on the small units involved in the battle rather than individual characters: each unit moves and fights independently, assuming that they follow your orders rather than just doing their own thing. Command and control is just as important on the battlefield as the power of a mounted knight.
Some army lists are provided, and guidance given for players seeking to create their own forces, but this game is not army list-heavy. The rules include a good number of scenarios, which are important to this style of gaming.

Bolt Action: Tank War: Wargames Rules by Ryan Miller, Rick Priestley and Alessio Cavatore - The book goes over platoons, scenarios and vehicle crew before giving biographical data on a number of 'legendary crew', real WWII tank crewmen and synopses of several real tank battles (and how you can play them).  There are a lot of pictures of models in formation as well as illustrations of tank battle to draw inspiration from.  There's also an A to Z of tanks and trivia scattered throughout the book, two appendixes with extra tank info, a third for useful vocabulary to get into the game mindset and a fourth with rules for a mini-game you can play.  While designed for gamers, this book has so many extras that even WWII and tank enthusiasts will find information of interest here.  (96 pages)

Tank War, the new supplement for Bolt Action, gives players the option to expand their games to a whole new level - armored warfare. Recreate such great engagements as the battle of Kursk with the scenarios, army options and special rules found in this book. Whether you want to add more armour to your existing armies or build an entirely armoured force, Tank War has you covered.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Book Review: The Boost by Stephen Baker

Pros: thought provoking premise, interesting characters, quick paced

Cons: some world-building and logistical issues

Ten days before the national update for the boost, networked supercomputers implanted in people’s brains, Ralf Alvare, a software engineer, finds himself on the run after learning about an open surveillance gate in the program that would allow companies direct access to people’s thoughts and memories.  His own boost chip has been ripped out and, newly ‘wild’, he’s heading to see his brother in El Paso, across the border from the infamous drug lord run city of Juarez, where no one has boosts.  But John Vallinger, a lobbyist whose spent years working towards this chip update, sends one of his men after Ralf, intent on stopping whatever resistance the programmer can create.

I thought the story was very interesting, with a lot of good questions being asked about privacy vs access to information.  Would you put a chip in your head that allowed you to be smarter and access information anywhere, effortlessly, if it meant that someone could track your every move, see what you’re buying, etc.?  Would having a brain implant that can affect your thoughts make things better or worse?  In the book there’s an app that you can apply to make the tasteless protein they eat taste like anything you program in.  There were some great scenes where Ellen, for the first time without the use of her boost, gets to taste actual food and experience other sensations without recourse to a fantasy cover for it.  Her observations that some things are better natural while others are better in her imagination, were very interesting.

Ralf’s family’s drama was also pretty fun to read, with the stories getting deeper as more information is revealed.  I also liked that his family provided a grounding in how different people reacted to the Boost.  His dad rejected and fought against it, his mother helped bring it to the US but then regretted the role she played in making it a ubiquitous thing, his older brother constantly struggled to use it and he spent most of his time in it and is lost without it.

I wasn’t a big fan of Suzy.  Though she was a member of the Democratic Movement, she seemed unaware of security issues despite the domestic terrorism she could be accused of and made some odd decisions towards the end of the book, which I’ll mention in more detail in the spoiler section.

There’s a scene towards the end of the book that may cause trigger issues for some readers.  Though mostly off page, the scene is violent but necessary for the plot and the person attacked is shown as capable of defending themself earlier on.  There’s a bit of follow-up in the epilogue that briefly mentions some of the ethical issues surrounding what happened, which I thought was well done. 

As for the world-building, I did question, while I was reading the book, the idea that once a chip is damaged or removed that’s it, there’s no fixing or replacing it.  Considering the importance of the chips (you can’t pay for things or direct cars without one), and how easily brain injuries can occur that might damage chips, it seems like there should be some alternate options available.

After I finished the book a few other questions came to me about how the world worked.  For example, while it’s clear that Juarez isn’t easy to get to or leave, it’s unclear if the Amish wild area is equally blocked off, and if not, how the people there trade with their non-wild neighbours.  And does Juarez manufacture all of its needs or does it get a lot of goods through the black market?  And if it depends on contraband, how do its citizens pay for it when they don’t have chips and their money is worthless outside their city?  I was also surprised by how far money went in Juarez.  I would have thought fresh, tasteful food would be harder to grow/raise than the manufactured tasteless food the non-wilds ate.  It should therefore be more expensive as the market for things like spices would be non-existent outside of the wilds and are time consuming to make. 

The book is told in third person present tense (eg: Ellen blinks her eyes open.), rather than the more common past tense.  I personally found the jump between events narrated in past tense and the present tense of the main text jarring.  Most readers probably won’t have a problem with it.

This is a quick, entertaining read, and despite the complaints I had with aspects of it, the questions it raises - about letting a government and corporations have control over what information you can access - are relevant ones for our current world.

*** SPOILERS ***

I’m going to explicitly spoil the ending so consider yourself warned.

Suzy as a character baffled me.  She stupidly goes jogging even though she’s in hiding and knows her boost can be tracked.  When she’s brought to the interrogation centre she has to give her kidnappers directions so she’s not left driving around indefinitely even though she’s safer outside a guarded and locked facility than she is inside it.  She doesn’t seem to care that she’s been captured and goes so far as to sleep with her interrogator (who, granted, is treating her well).  I can understand her not pressing charges at the end of the book, though I was surprised that she never called the police or others (like a DM contact), who could help her, on her boost, when Dahl started torturing her.  I’d assumed her boost was blocked inside the building, but she was able to message Ralf, so obviously that wasn’t the case.

I didn’t quite believe that Vallinger’s secret service contact didn’t know what kind of car he drove or - failing that - that there wasn’t some sort of ownership marker they could access stating who owned the car.  I was also surprised they didn’t mention there were 2 people in the car and check who the second one was before they bombed it.

I was surprised that the group celebrated directly after Vallinger’s death, despite the fact that the update wouldn’t need his OK, as it’s something automatically scheduled.  Then again, the change of leadership would likely accompany a halt of the update (which is what happened).  Still, they could have waited until the follow-up reports that state what happened next and that the update had been postponed before their party.  

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Mississauga Science Fiction Spectacular

If you're in the Toronto area, you might be interested in attending this day of SF fun.  I heard about this event via Lloyd Penny's Pubnites and other events email newsletter and copied the info from Robert Sawyer's website.

Mississauga Science Fiction Spectacular

Mississauga Central Library in the Noel Ryan Auditorium, 301 Burnhamthorpe Rd. West, adjacent to City Hall  Mississauga, Ontario
Saturday, October 18, 2014, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Free — but space is limited. Please register in advance with the Central Library's "Readers' Den" Department: Phone 905-615-3200, extension 3544.
In honour of Mississauga resident ROBERT J. SAWYER's receipt of the Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, the Mississauga Public Library is pleased to present a FREE one-day science-fiction festival.
Rob asked us to get his "dream team" to join him at this event, and we did. Speaking and reading will be:
• Marie Bilodeau, Aurora Award-nominated author of Destiny's Blood
• Tanya Huff, Aurora Award-winning author of The Silvered
• Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids
• Robert Charles Wilson, Hugo Award-winning author of Spin

10:00 a.m.: Keynote address by Robert J. Sawyer on "The Canadian Science-Fiction Experience"
11:00 a.m.: "Differences Between Writing Science Fiction and Writing Fantasy" — Marie Bilodeau and Tanya Huff in conversation
Noon: lunch break
1:00 p.m.: Author Readings #1: Marie Bilodeau and Robert Charles Wilson
2:00 p.m.: "Science Fiction and the Science of the Mind" — Robert J. Sawyer and Robert Charles Wilson in conversation
3:00 p.m.: Author Readings #2: Tanya Huff and Robert J. Sawyer
4:00 p.m.: "The Future of Science Fiction Publishing" — Marie Bilodeau, Tanya Huff, Robert J. Sawyer, and Robert Charles Wilson

 (subject to refinement as the date approaches)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Movie Review: The Host (Gwoemul)

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong, 2006

Pros: a good mix of humour and horror, great performances, really good monster effects

Cons: a bit long

An american scientist forces his lab tech to dump toxic chemicals into the Han River.  Years later a monster emerges, attacking people and spreading a plague.  One of its victims, a high school girl, is part of a family of failures, who decide to get revenge on the monster.

The characters make this film.  They’re earnest people, but they each have major flaws.  The girl’s father can’t stay awake for long, always napping at his dad’s snack shop where he works.  Her aunt is a professional archer, who holds her shots too long.  Her uncle is an unemployed university graduate and her grandfather tries to keep them focused through cup noodle soups and love.

Interestingly, the dad, who seems like such a waste, comes across as a hero during the first appearance of the monster, trying to help people get away from the river and save who he can.  But he can’t save his own daughter, which causes him lots of anguish.

There’s a good mix of humour and horror as the characters deal with the government officials rounding up those exposed to the monster - which they believe is carrying a communicable disease.  The special effects used to create the monster were well done, making it seem real rather than cheesy.

I loved Hyun-seo (the daughter, played by Ah-sung Ko)’s attempts to escape from the monster.  She’s smart and tries so hard to get out of a bad situation.

The ending surprised me, both with how the family pulled together and with what ultimately happened.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Shout-Out: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.
To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they'll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Video: The Medieval One

My thanks to DelRey Spectra's facebook page that pointed out this fantastic gem of a short film by The Peloton yesterday.  If you've ever had trouble keeping all the names and clans in fantasy straight, these knights know how you feel.

The Peloton has a bunch of other great videos including The Dragon One, The Zorro One, and The Friend Zone One, And make sure you watch past their website address, as some of the videos continue after it.