Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The War of the Worlds

Well readers I recently heard the CBC's presentation of the classic H.G Wells radio broadcast, War of the Worlds. I have to say that despite the medium of the message being the radio and the spoken word, it was thrilling! Contrary to flashy images on the screen, chiseled actors portraying grim heroes and big CGI budgets giving me a towering Martian tripod to stare at, my imagination proved to be a far more tantalizing mode for seeing the Martian invasion of the United States.

The narration, sound effects, and back and forth mode of depicting and showing the Martian attacks and landings in a narrative was fabulous! I could see B-17 bombers flying a doomed sortie at the Martian walkers, sat in horrified wonder as the brave artillery troops shot vainly at the advancing Martian war machines, felt the panic of the forlorn news caster in New York as the tripods arrived and the 'Black Smoke' descended upon the city choking thousands to death.

The vintage feel of the preformance didn't matter to me and made it all the more exciting! For a Halloween presentation I don't think you could have found something better! It was a wonderful treat to have on this pre-Halloween evening.

I can only imagine the shock and confusion some poor Americans must have felt when this first came over the radio and all the calls local police and civil service stations must have received as annoyed/panicked people called in to see if it was real or not!

This is a great historic repeat of the original broadcast long ago on October 30th 1938, made in a less jovial atmosphere as fears of a new war across the world spread, fears that would sadly be proven right. It was a scary thing for a new generation fueled by a new media source in the form of the radio.

I'm quite glad to have been able to listen to it and very pleased to have seen so many other versions of it, but I am even more pleased to say; now I've heard everything too!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Ottawa Geekcon 2013

Well readers other than being busy with school work and general research for my own pleasure I did manage to do one other thing which was a barrel of fun recently. That was going to visit Ottawa Geekcon at Carleton University the weekend before last.

While there I saw a number of amusing geek icons, got my photo taken with a Dalek, and picked up some awesome paraphernalia of fandom.

Shockingly this is actually my first fan convention activity. This partially due to a) living outside the United States and away from many of the best fan conventions like Dragoncon and Comicon, and b) having had a work schedule overlap with every Comicon and event held in Toronto for a solid five years.

So this being my first time being exposed to the larger fandom of the land (well more specifically the Ottawa area) I have to say it was an awesome time! Just seeing how many people close to me (and even amongst my friends) was incredibly uplifting since I have actually never seen first hand such a colorful and vibrant outpouring of fan love!

The booths all stocked great merchandise and wonderful items, not to mention a great array of fellow fans all engrossed in the same things I was seeing. To say it was just a fellowship of friends is like saying the Serenity is crewed only by acquaintances! It was a gathering of believers really! It felt so engrossed and accepted it was marvelous! I'm glad that I went and sincerely wish to repeat the experience!

Myself and my Dalek buddy.

My new companion

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Cerberus Rebellion

Well it's time for that long promised review. Now here I am going to reviewing another Kindle novel I purchased, and it's not just another short story either. No this work is full fledged novella comprising a whole cast of delightful characters and awesome battles, all revolving around a growing trend in modern fantasy, the idea of gun powder fantasy.

As a short aside so readers will understand, gunpowder fantasy is a fantasy setting which features gunpowder weapons, ranging from flintlocks to full fledged firearms. Much like Brandon Sanderson's Alloy of Law, Stephen King's Dark Tower series or  Brian McClellan's A Promise of Blood. However some books only feature guns to help differentiate them from epic fantasy, gunpowder fantasy is revolved around fitting magic into an advanced setting outside the middle ages. The Cerberus Rebellion by Joshua Johnson does just that.


The world of the Cerberus Rebellion is an interesting one, the Kingdom of Ansgar is ruled by a paranoid and brooding king, Eadric Garrard, who sees the rise of the Chisean Empire across the seas as a potential future threat to his own realm. Egged on by foreign diplomats and by his own advisers he decides to martial his armies and intervene in the conflict across the Vast Sea and safeguard his realm.

However, Eadric is not a well loved king, and not all his subjects are as eager to go to war as he. Then we have Magnus Jarmann, ruler of Kerberos, once a sovereign nation, now under the heel of the Asangari occupation. He is eager to win his realm's independence back, all he has to do is wait for the right moment. Finally we have Lord Raedan Clive, Baron of the Broken Plains who is a warrior first and foremost, a politician second.

This delightful cast of diverse main characters, each with competing interests and ideas, sets us up for a thrill ride through politics and war.

There are of course plenty of fun secondary characters in the series, like Raedan's brother Hadrian, and the king's advisers who all color the events of the novel depending on their own outlook. They serve as wonderful supporting characters who fill in the dynamics of the story and serve as windows into the upper crust of the world.

The story itself is not slow at all. From the get go we see things moving both militarily and politically. What helps this along of course is that it is in a setting where you don't rely on just men on horseback but telegrams and railroads which all speed along the important messages and allow for very little lag time. Here I have to applaud Johnson for his skillful mix of court intrigue and politics with the practical and often harsh realities of early industrial war and the nitty gritty of the battle field.

The resulting combination is something akin to Game of Thrones meets Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series.

It's an interesting world with politics that are distinctly feudal in their application (for instance landed aristocracy still holds an enormous amount of power compared to our world in a similar time) and one which is clearly influenced by such. It combines the appendages of a modern and centralized state with those of a late medieval one where the king controls all the armories with the best weapons and artillery, but the aristocracy can still call on a powerful military levy of its own.

It's even reflected brilliantly in some of the battle scenes! There is no national uniform for any of the armies so the infantry marches to war in their house colors, which causes immense confusion and disorder on the battlefield (similar to our own histories Napoleonic Wars with soldiers lack of standard uniforms leading to friendly fire incidents) and is something the characters comment on more than once.

Think this, only just a bit more confusing.

It's also a sort of fascinating look into a society where a medieval style of command and control still reigns with titles of aristocracy such as 'Knight Commander' sitting in the chain of command alongside more familiar ones like lieutenant and major. The lack of a true unified command structure in most cases too makes for some rather interesting, and in one or two cases unfortunate, situations.

The battles of course are superbly done with little confusion from the point of view of the characters, and we get what is, in my opinion, a good vague outline of the actual battlefield and course of the battle itself while dealing with what only the character on the ground sees and then once the battle is done do we see the full scope of the action and what has happened. From a narrative perspective it makes things more thrilling and tense as the characters don't fully grasp how they are affected in the thick of it, yet they tend to make great leaps and advances.

Of course they are not military fools and at a few points characters make great leaps which change the course of battle thanks to good foresight and clever maneuvering of their forces.

Now one criticism I would have is that of the roughly six battles we see in the book only two are presented in great detail to the end. Sometimes the author forms a wonderful and suspenseful buildup to a turning point in the battle, only for us to miss it completely and have the narrative skip straight to the aftermath. While it was a bit of a suspense killer it did hasten the events of the novel along and I won't say the story suffered greatly for it.

The character interaction too is fun and educational, giving us details about the world these characters live in. The sub-plot focusing around the potential marriage of Raedan in order to sire an heir and cement his claim the Broken Plains is fun and quite amusing since it shows off Raedan's personal strengths and weaknesses, alongside his magical abilities.

Another thing I would like to congratulate the author on is his inclusion of elves in the story without making it feel cliched or shoe-horned in to fit the necessary fantasy mold. The elves seem to be perfectly natural in the world and they insert themselves as individual characters and personalities alongside their human counterparts with their long lived and magical nature filling an important niche in noble politics.

The inclusion of magic too was well done, though at times it did seem like a secondary focus of the plot, but it played an important role in Raedan's story arc. The way magic is handled was interesting to me, especially how it plays into the nature of griffons and how one controls them.

All in all the book is a wonderful read with a climax which leaves you begging for more. Johnson shows off his stuff as a writer with great promise leaving us with a fascinating new fantasy world to explore. I say the book is worth a read as it is a nice long read at a very affordable price. I would say that you could do well to part with three dollars for more than three hours of entertainment.

On a related note Johnson has a wonderful website where he posts about his world, industrial fantasy in general, and updates on his writing projects. He also has a myriad of short stories available on Amazon. This is his Facebook page, if anything here has intrigued you, check him out!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Weekly Word #7

Well this will be a short Weekly Word readers, really only two things have happened this week worth great notice, along with a few interesting things on the web.

In international news, the American government has shut down after failing to reach an agreement on the details of expanding Medicare and all 'non-essential' government services have been shut down. This of course has spawned various debates on whose fault the shutdown is, when an agreement will be reached, whether Obama is a weak president for allowing this to happen, and of course, a loss of faith in the system by some.

Of course this also isn't the only time in recent memory the government has been shut down. In fact back in the 90s the Clinton administration suffered the same problem over near the exact same issue. The only good thing about that is that it was after the limit to raise the debt ceiling had been passed.

Now though, just like back in 2011, the US faces yet another game of brinkmanship over the raising of the debt ceiling in which the very real threat of the US defaulting on its loans rears its ugly head. Now if he really has to Obama can use his executive powers to force the raising of the ceiling, but if he somehow fails to do that then the resulting catastrophe would make the recession of 2008 look tame in comparison.

In other sad news Tom Clancy has passed away at the age of 66 this week. He was the father of the modern techno-thriller as we know it and he was really a brilliant man in many of his insights into military technology. In fact he once got in hot water for merely guessing what a US submarine would operate like (inadvertently guessing top-secret knowledge at the time!).

His books have made a number of best-selling movies, from The Hunt for Red October, to Sum of All Fears, and one of my personal favorite books for its sheer beautiful insight and techno-thrilling genius, Red Storm Rising, which alongside Red Army by Ralph Peters is one of the most amazing insights into the potential ground war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO and makes for an amazing read.

I simply hope we can find writers of his caliber to fill the void of the techno-thriller genre in the future.

In other news from around the web Korsgaard has done a wonderful review of the new film, Gravity which people really ought to check out. He really sells the film in this review, and he has decided for me the next film I am going to see!

In other-other news I have begun reading Steven Attewell's simply phenomenal Song of Ice and Fire political/story analysis blog,  Race for the Iron Throne. It's an amazing blog which seeks to do a chapter by chapter analysis of the entire series examining the political and cultural ideas that George R.R. Martin introduces to his world. He really digs into the series and helps show off some of the considerable world building Martin has done in creating Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms, comparing our history and Westeros and looking at the medieval world in which the characters reside.

It also appeals to me as a lover of the alternate history genre as it highlights the 'What if?' questions that A Song of Ice and Fire offers in abundance that really brings the world alive. In nearly every chapter we find details of how if even certain little events had changed they would have effected the outcome and trajectory of the story immensely! It's the little things like that which make the world so believable as well as spark literally hundreds of fan fictions putting forward different POD's for how the whole series could have gone differently!

Currently he's a little over halfway through A Game of Thrones so this project is going to be ongoing for many years if he does as detailed an analysis of every book as he does this one. Don't be too rough on him though, even if he did one chapter a week it would still take over a year for him to get through the first book!

I encourage readers who like that series, or even just history in general, to read his blog and support the project, it's truly a gargantuan undertaking!

Well that's all for this week readers! Stay tuned for my upcoming review!