Thursday, 30 July 2015

Shout-Out: The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka

A quantum physicist shocks the world with a startling experiment, igniting a struggle between science and theology, free will and fate, and antagonizing forces not known to exist
Eric Argus is a washout. His prodigious early work clouded his reputation and strained his sanity. But an old friend gives him another chance, an opportunity to step back into the light.
With three months to produce new research, Eric replicates the paradoxical double-slit experiment to see for himself the mysterious dual nature of light and matter. A simple but unprecedented inference blooms into a staggering discovery about human consciousness and the structure of the universe.
His findings are celebrated and condemned in equal measure. But no one can predict where the truth will lead. And as Eric seeks to understand the unfolding revelations, he must evade shadowy pursuers who believe he knows entirely too much already.

I've had my eye on Kosmatka since his first book, The Games, came out a few years ago:

 Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.
The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic.

Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.

His second book, Prophet of Bones, sounds pretty interesting too:

A high-concept thriller set in an alternate world where radiometric dating proved the earth is only five thousand years old, yet the fossil record is the same as our own. The key to unlocking a terrifying secret lies in the hands of one man.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Fantasy Artist: Brian Richardson

I was looking through 3D printer designs recently and stumbled across one of Richardson's pieces.  I immediately looked for more.  He's created skeletons for a series of mythological creatures, including a dragon, mermaid, pegasus, jackalope, and Cthulhu.

From the about page: 

Mythic Articulations was created in late 2013 with one goal in mind ― to create what nature won't. More specifically, to create the skeletons and skulls of mythical creatures and cryptids. We offer a growing variety of replica osteological specimens of animals that you just can't get anywhere else, because they don't exist (or haven't been proven to exist). Be it the elusive Bare-Fronted Hoodwink, the mighty Wolpertinger, or something else that you might have actually heard of, we'll do our best to make it real. We use state of the art 3D Printing techniques to create each replica.
Check out his website, Mythic Articulations, for his designs, which are 3D printed to order and mailed to you via Shapeways (where I found his work) or his Etsy shop.  He also does prints and some poseable skeletons.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Book Review: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Pros: interesting characters, brilliant world-building, some clever plot twists

Cons: tension lost if read previous novels, ending of final battle is a let down 

Forty years ago the King in Red, Elayne Kevarian and Temoc Almotil met in battle in the Gods’ War.  Now Elayne is back in Dresediel Lex, a Craftswoman and consultant for the King in Red on a contract to fix the Skittersill, the old temple slave’s quarter.  But the people of the Skittersill haven’t been included in the deal, and their massed discontent could break the world.  So Elayne goes to meet with its various representatives, including Temoc, the last Eagle Knight and priest of the old Gods, in hopes of resolving the tension peacefully.  Temoc meanwhile struggles with the different demands of priesthood and fatherhood in this time of crisis. 

This is the fourth published novel in the Craft Sequence, but the first chronologically.  This book takes place in the same city, with many of the same characters (only younger) as the second published book, Two Serpents Rise (which I reviewed here).  Having read that book, some of the narrative tension of this one is lost, as I already knew certain characters would survive.  Similarly, though I don’t remember that book as well as I’d like, I had to reevaluate the relationships I remembered with the new, ‘prior’ relationships of this book.  When the books are all out I look forward to reading them in order to see how well they follow each other, and how characters develop across the books.

The characters are fascinating and the world-building sound, as usual with Gladstone’s books.  And that’s good, because there’s less judicial mystery in this story, with the centre being more character than plot focused.  Both Elayne and the King in Red perform some interesting Craft, and you see the power of the defeated Gods in play at the end.

The big battle is quite apocalyptic, but ends somewhat disappointingly.  It felt like the author’s hands were tied, needing certain people to survive for book two, and couldn’t quite figure out how to end the battle well as a result.  There are some clever plot twists in the book, including the final battle, that were great though.

Despite its few faults it’s a great book and this is a wonderful series. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Shout-Out: Tracer by Bob Boffard

Imagine The Bourne Identity meets Gravity and you'll get TRACER, the most exciting action thriller set in space you'll ever read.

A huge space station orbits the Earth, holding the last of humanity. It's broken, rusted, falling apart. We've wrecked our planet, and now we have to live with the consequences: a new home that's dirty, overcrowded and inescapable.
What's more, there's a madman hiding on the station. He's about to unleash chaos. And when he does, there'll be nowhere left to run.
In space, every second counts. Who said nobody could hear you scream?

Friday, 24 July 2015

Blast From the Past: Transformation by Carol Berg

Before I started reviewing books online I loved rereading my favourite SF/Fantasy books.  Since I don’t have time to do that anymore, this column is a trip down memory lane, where I’ll rave about books I love to read.  And then read again.  These aren’t reviews, as I won’t necessarily mention criticisms, they’re my chance to fan girl about books I love and hopefully garner some interest in some older titles.

Carol Berg is an author I've mentioned a few times as being highly underread and underappreciated. When I was growing up I developed this certainty that authors only wrote one series I'd like, and once I found that series it wasn't worth reading anything else by that author.  Carol Berg blew that idea away.  While some fantasy authors create one fully realized world that they play in long after they've runt out of original plot ideas to fill the world with, Carol Berg has created new, intricate worlds for each series she's written.  I haven't had the chance to read her Collegia Magica novels or the the Sanctuary Duet, but I've loved every other book she's written.  That's really unusual for me.

The first book I read by her is the stand alone novel, Song of the Beast.  It showed me how
thoroughly she's willing to torture her protagonists, and how she's not going to give you an ending with all loose ends tied up, because life doesn't do that.  She is however, going to give you a wild ride, fantastic characters, and an ending that fits the story and leaves you satisfied.

The second book I read is the one that's remained my favourite, Transformation, the first book she wrote and the first in the Rai-kirah trilogy.  Generally her books can be read as stand alones, in that she typically doesn't leave cliffhangers (though I know the Lighthouse Duet duology breaks this pattern), and Transformation is the same.  

The protagonist, Seyonne, has been a slave for 18 years and at the beginning of the book is purchased by the arrogant, selfish, hedonistic heir to the Derzhi Empire.  When the prince's life is threatened by magics Seyonne was trained to fight in his youth, before he was enslaved, he must decide if the young man's life is worth saving.

The unlikely friendship that develops between Seyonne and Prince Aleksander is fantastic, as is the surprising humour that permeates the otherwise sad, and often horrific, story.  If you like seeing characters go through the wringer to the point that you question how they're able to go on, this is the book for you.  Berg is able to play on your emotions, showing you the worst that can happen and then breaking the tension by making you laugh out loud.  In this book at least.  The other books I've read by her don't have as much humour, which is probably why I love Transformation so much.  

Berg is an author whose world is so immersive, and whose characters Bridge of D'Arnath series each work day was a countdown until I could read again, and my days off were me, perched on a chair, racing through the books as fast as I could turn the pages.
are so compelling, you'll be reaching for the next book as soon as you finish.  Indeed, when I read the four books of her

I cannot recommend her work strongly enough.  If you love fantasy, do yourself a favour and pick up her books.  

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Shout-Out: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But pursuit by battleship is the least of their worries. Their fleet’s artificial intelligence—which should be protecting them—may actually be an enemy. And a plague is slowly ravaging the fleet with terrifying consequences. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking in search of the truth, she realizes that there’s only one boy who can help her bring everything to light . . . and of course, it’s her ex-boyfriend, Ezra.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—ILLUMINAE is a ground-breaking, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that will draw teen and adult readers of James Dashner, Rick Yancey, and Veronica Roth yet stands on its own with Kaufman and Kristoff’s unique storytelling.
This is the first of a trilogy and comes out on October 20th and has a pretty cool marketing campaign going on right now whereby the website unlocks new content each month around the 20th.  Currently they've got civilian intake forms for the two protagonists, a few teaser videos (one of which I've embedded below, and the just released spaceship schematics.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Video: Ancient Hairdressing by Janet Stephens

Medieval POC mentioned Janet Stephens on twitter recently and I've been watching her videos and reading the paper she did on ancient Roman hairdressing (link goes to a pdf of the article) and it's very interesting stuff.  She also did an interview on The History Blog, where she explains how she, a trained hairdresser, got into doing recreations of ancient hairstyles.

It's cool to see someone do actual ancient hairstyles on modern people using ancient techniques and tools.  It's also interesting - from a writing perspective - to consider how different hairstyles reflect the type of hair people in the past had in particular regions of the world (you can't put all hair up in the same styles - length, thickness, wave/curliness, etc. all factor in).  A friend and I were discussing this and she pointed out that climate can play a role in hairstyles as well as humidity and temperature can affect hair (humidity can cause frizziness, for example).  Similarly, the complexity of the style determines status: poor people dress their own hair while rich people have servants do theirs.