Saturday, 28 December 2019

The Great 2020 Re-Read

Over the years I have compiled a not insubstantial library. There are over 200 books presently in my collection, and two thirds of those are science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction, a fraction mystery, and about a quarter are history books covering everything from the Crusades to a two part biography of John A. Macdonald, evened out by a smattering of poetry and philosophy books.

While most of my non-fiction books serve as reference books, occasional re-reading and useful guides, I have read many of the books in my library at least twice over the years, but not all of them. However, with so many books to go through I have decided I will probably be downsizing in 2020. To do that though, I have to reread a significant amount/decide how to dispose of them.

But I would be lying if I said this great re-read was really about downsizing.

In reality, much of this re-read is going to be going through series I love once again and enjoying them. It will be a huge roll down memory lane, looking to jump back into fandoms and various authors worlds. It is going to be probably my most ambitious reading project ever undertaken.

Now while I tell myself this will mean I won't buy any new books in 2020, I'm well aware that would make me a huge liar. But, the biggest focus for this coming year is going to be on re-reading some series I haven't picked up in earnest in a while. Allow me to give you a small sampling of the reading goals for 2020:

Finishing a re-read of the Wheel of Time series. This has actually been in the works since 2016, but with so many other books and some limitations on my reading time, I have worked hard to pack it in. As of 2019 I am nine books in, having finished Winter's Heart most recently. The goal is to reach the 14th book again by the end of 2020.

Revisiting the First Law universe. I originally read these books way back in, I think, 2014. I devoured them all in about a month, and only finished all the outrigger novels (not counting short stories) last year. I have started what promises to be an exciting new trilogy, and a going back means I will probably be able to refresh my memory on a lot of things from that series.

A Song of Ice and Fire is a world I have not revisited since 2015. I will be, starting in January 2020, diving back in to Westeros and re-familiarizing myself with that world, with a hopeful look towards 2021 for it to continue.

I will also be looking at The Stormlight Archive once again. I actually originally picked up that series at a dark time in my life, and it helped me through a serious case of both writers block and personal ambivalence. Doing a deep re-read of that series will really help me understand what will be happening for when the fourth book in the series premiers in 2020.

Similarly, I will also be again going through the Mistborn trilogy and its successor series as it currently stands. Those books have fond memories in my mind, and going through them again will be extremely fun.

Outside the realm of fantasy, I will also be re-reading The Expanse series starting in January. I have had a soft spot for this series since my brother introduced it to me while I visited Australia. It's one of the best science fiction series I have come across, and I really do want to dive further into it before the final book comes out.

These and other single novels will be my main focus for 2020. Some I may end up chucking, but others I will probably keep waiting to explore more of their settings or revisit them again in a few years time.

My goal is also to catch up on and finish some other series. The Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch and The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemsin along with The Dark Tower by Stephen King. These have been slow starts in the last half of 2019, not for lack of interest but a mere lack of time! Driving through these is hopefully going to help expose me to more author's styles and give me plenty of enjoyment at the start of the new decade.

So, in addition to pledging myself to writing over 100k words in the coming year, I am aiming to read numerous fat novels as well. Can I accomplish it all? Only time will tell and I hope you'll join me in this long journey through the new decade!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Warrior of the Altaii

I'm sadly a little late to the party proclaiming the awesome which is this book, but rest assured, it is wonderful to be reading a work that Robert Jordan wrote so long ago and I would say it is amazing that we are able to get our hands on it. How does a dead author publish a new book you ask? Simple! His loving wife and editor releases a novel he wrote which got tragically overlooked way back when!

This novel is Warrior of the Altaii!

Set in an unnamed fantasy world, we follow the story of Wulfgar, a lord of the Altaii people, who are by and large the masters of the Plains. They live a hard life, hunting, raiding and running slaves across the plains to the various trade cities. The most powerful of those is Lanta, a land of trade and slaves where the Altaii people often come to perform commerce. However, there is a plot now developing among the rulers of Lanta and a rival people of the Plains, the Morassa, and it is a plot aimed at destroying the Altaii.

Wulfgar must now trust a strange Wanderer, a woman from another world, and his Sister of Wisdom and her magics in order to try and save his people. But they are opposed by powerful magics themselves and even worse, the interference of the strange Most High who are like gods. Will he be able to save his people? Or will they be laid low by the machinations of their enemies?

Written in the first person, it follows the story of Wulfgar and tells it through his, and by extension, the culture of the Altaii's eyes. His people are mismash of Mongols, the Great Plains peoples of the Americas and the mounted hordes who terrorized the Roman Empire like the Huns. This makes for a very alien and sometimes unsettling culture. It is a wonderfully unique story to follow, and it has fun visuals and really shows how Robert Jordan was emerging as an author.

The story wears its love of history and fantasy (in particular, Conan the Barbarian) on its sleeve. There are numerous fascinating parallels to our own world, many strange plot elements and creatures, and even deep disturbing dungeons in which our hero must face his fears.

Now, I really don't want to say much to spoil the story for you, but I can say it is a fun and light read. At only 98,000 words you can breeze through it. Some pieces in it have not aged particularly well though, with some characterizations feeling a little cringey (particularly the different plots of the Queens of Lanta) and the very secondary nature of the female characters was sometimes a little eyebrow raising. Our aforementioned Wanderer gets little agency and could probably be replaced with a stuffed teddy bear and the story would change very little. The range of slavery, pillaging and executions may not run well with modern audiences either. However, overall you can really see how Jordan built his writing style from this, and he did an amazing job creating a rich setting where he could play out this drama of the people of the Plains versus the people of the cities.

What is perhaps the most fascinating thing about this novel though, is how one can recognize the bones of the Wheel of Time series in this single story.

Throughout, one can find numerous scattered echoes of what would become the setting for the Wheel of Time. The Altaii are pretty obvious inspiration for the Aiel from that series, with the harsh honor code, rough warrior lifestyle and their respect for men and women's laws - each distinct and separate from one another - which define daily life.

In the Sisters of Wisdom you have a template for the Aei Sedai, as they are women and only women may do magic. Men are not allowed, nor really capable, of doing so. The Most High, at a stretch, might be assumed to be stand ins for the Asha'man, but that is not incredibly likely. One big later plot point though, seems very much like the prototype for the all important ta'veren story element from the Wheel of Time, and it was kind of amazing to read.

The Backbone of the World, a great mountain chain separating the East from the West and the Spine of the World in the Wheel of Time are very similar, while the Plains and the Aiel Waste, serving the same function as toughening up the Plains people.

There are no one on one swaps for characters, and the story is its own unique piece of writing, very different from the later third person and multi character epic Wheel of Time would be.

However, what really drives my love of this piece is using it almost as a history book. Sifting through it I see the early forms of Jordan's writing and get some insight into how he began to weave the elements together which would end up forming the Wheel of Time. As a piece of research or wonderful way of examining the story telling in his world it is second to none. On its own it is enjoyable, but the extra layer of wonder for us fans of his magnum opus is just beneath the surface where we can see ideas and inspiration bubbling up which would drive some of the plot for the later work.

Definitely a worthwhile read for fans of the Wheel of Time and anyone who appreciates both modern and old fantasy at its finest!

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Writing Update 2019

Hello readers! I'm here to bring updates on my writing as of 2019.

This year has been only somewhat productive as it has been extremely busy. I have however, managed to jump onto a number of disparate projects as well as deciding on a few main projects. I'll be giving a short list of each project and listing them from primary to secondary.

Firstly, my novella Integration remains in the queue for the Tor novella pile from summer 2018, and so there it shall remain until I get feedback. Depending on the feedback, I will be shopping it around again after some editing. I will post any new updates as they come.

My goals from last year slipped by unfortunately. But I did make progress on a few works.

The first is, what I hope to be have finished by New Years, my first draft of the story Priests of the White God a nautical, fantasy, horror story which I'm hoping to self publish in 2020. Following that is another untitled horror story estimated to be around 7-10k words for publication hopefully in October 2020.

Another project, Finiphobia, unfortunately stalled out completely. The premise of two aspiring authors in a zombie apocalypse appeals to me, but managing the story has been a difficult task. I may come back to it, but for now it is firmly on hiatus.

Alongside those, I have two novella length works in the offing.

The first is a novella project I have been nipping at for a few years which I hope to polish off and complete. It is a science fiction project called The Virtue of Battle. Based somewhat on the events of the Chilean Civil War in space, it is meant to be a short military sci-fi piece to get some practice in at expanding characters and works up to novel length. Meant to be 50k words.

Another piece I'm working on is an alternate history novella, hesitantly titled A Road Not Taken. This work is based around the historical 1866 Battle of Ridgeway. The battle came about as the leader of the Canadian force, Colonel Booker, was meant to take one road to meet with another column coming down from Chippawa. However, he did not, and ended up meeting a Fenian party along Ridge Road and enduring a humiliating defeat. What if he went the way he was supposed to though? How would that have changed things? Also aimed at being 50k words, this one is slightly easier to write as it will be using a cast of historical characters and will be my first attempted foray into published alternate history.

In addition, I am still plugging away at my first full length fantasy novel with a current word count of 11,872, or roughly 10% towards its projected 100k word count. It's pretty well fleshed out, and I'm mostly happy with the story so far, but we will see how the year goes. This one has no set premier date, but is on the back burner.

Now, my goals for 2019 were very modest compared to these. In total, I'm working towards writing something like 120,000 words this coming year, and I'm hoping to have a decent amount of time to devote to it. First over Christmas, and then over the summer, with a personal goal of at least 500 words a day, working towards 1,000. It's an ambitious goal, but it is something to strive for in the new decade. 

I fully intend to keep people posted as this develops! Until next time!

Monday, 25 November 2019

Little People Big Guns

I've reviewed the work of Matthew Quinn before on this blog, and I'm pleased to announce I'm reviewing another great story of his! It's an...unconventional horror story to say the least. What happens when you combine mutant badgers with pissed off little people? You get Little People Big Guns!

I'd originally seen Mr. Quinn pitch this on his blog some time ago, and while the premise sounded interesting, needless to say, I was skeptical at first. However, he's done some great horror in the past managing to combine fascinating time periods and concepts pretty well. So of course I was going to read this!

Set in McTavish County Oklahoma, we follow members of the McTavish Little Person's Association as they mourn for their friend Gordon, killed by wild animals. President James is a very devout Catholic and is dealing with the loss while trying to keep everyone else calm in a trying time for the small community of little people in McTavish County. Former president Murphy thinks - not entirely wrongly - that the county won't be moved to action by this crisis and that they ought to take matters into their own hands. He sees the county as inefficient, and sincerely believes that the death of one of their members won't be taken seriously by the community at large. Both men arguably have the right of it in some way, and this little (no pun intended) clash of personalities adds some depth to each character.

The supporting cast includes other members of the Little Person's Association, members Marquise and Angela. Marquise is another outspoken member of the group who tries to get along in the world any way he can, being a delightfully sexually out there character. His lifestyle puts him in almost constant conflict with Murphy who is very outspoken in his views and doesn't really care who knows. Angela, the only woman of the group, is someone who suffers both from being the only woman (and so treated a little patronizingly by the men) and also with the many other problems faced by the little people in the area.

Put together, they won't take CRAP from anyone. Especially not any giant mutant badgers running amok.

This was a very fun book. I was laughing out loud when I read it, especially from the earnestness of the characters and the amazingly funny lines and terrifying situations they were in which were played absolutely straight. It was the characterization that made this work. James is a very strict Catholic characters, and the numerous asides in his head and discussions about religion beefed up his character. His determination to do right by everyone, even if that person is trying to kill him, puts him at odds with the more abrasive Murphy who is very much the type to go for the throat, even if its a little extra-legal. Murphy's determination to take action in their own hands makes him a powerful foil for James. I really enjoyed how the two played off of each other.

One thing which makes this story stand out is that it really makes you look at the world from the perspective of a little person. All the main characters are those who were born of very short stature or with dwarfism, or to use what is considered a pejorative among the community, midgets. This opens a whole new perspective on the world for readers which makes all their actions, from walking and running to getting attention from folks (big people) all the more interesting. Honestly, its a very fresh view on horror which made me think, something I like.

In doing so Quinn  had to write the action scenes under some interesting limitations. From firing guns to driving cars, you have different priorities. I liked how it brought these issues to the forefront and made me consider how the characters would solve various problems.

The monster badgers were a wonderful outside context problem. Who on Earth would think of using badgers as monstrous creatures? It is hilarious when you find out who the villains are. The rather comically extreme views had me laughing out loud while finishing the book.

One lovely improvement is how the author handles the female characters in this one. The character Jane gets a well rounded attitude, and some redeeming qualities, while not quite as well rounded as the male protagonists, she manages to be an engaging character who turned out amazingly well in the finale. Unfortunately, the character Angela, still came off feeling like the token woman on the hero side. She also played a part in the finale, but one would almost be forgiven for forgetting she exists in this work.

I genuinely enjoyed this story. It was funny, scary and well plotted, which made me just binge read it all the way through. For a short and fun read you can always count on Matthew Quinn.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Mandalorian: First Impressions

Having caved and gotten a trial for Disney+ I sat up and watched the first episode of The Mandalorian last night. It had some pretty awesome trailers, good looking effects and some exciting hype surrounding it. I've been hearing people rave about it on social media so I figured, let's check it out. I've been happy through social media before.

Is a lone Mandalorian bounty hunter worth the hype?

Because there are some SPOILERS ahead, you can read more below the cut.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Lovecraft Country

What could be scarier than a unknown entity stalking you across the cosmos? Being a person of color in 1950s America of course! Back then you didn't know whether the white man you saw on the corner would shout a racial slur, or whether he might summon a lynch mob to hang you for being in the wrong neighborhood. Against this backdrop, the specter of cosmological horrors from beyond space and time can only make things worse! How do you combine the two? You take a little trip to Lovecraft Country!

Written by Matt Ruff, I picked up this novel in 2018, and have given it a lot of thought in the last year. It's a very interesting work balancing the mundane fears of the African American community already present in the United States in the 1950s with the more esoteric panic of monsters from beyond the veil of time and space. Understandably our protagonists in this story are struggling against both the prejudice of the white community which wishes to 'put them in their place' and the monsters which want to put them in their stomachs.

Told in chapters from the perspectives of various characters it first takes up the mantle of Atticus Turner, a Korean War veteran who did his time fighting the communists for Washington. Sadly, that earns him very little respect from white veterans, and even less from the average white man in the North of the United States. He finds that his father has gone missing. Accompanied by his uncle, George who wrote The Safe Negro Travel Guide (based heavily on the Negro Motorist Green Book), they discover his father has been kidnapped by the mysterious Samuel Braithwhite of Ardham. To free him, he must travel to this remote and rural area to take part in some strange ritual which may cost him his life. There though, he may have an ally in the strange son of his tormentor, Caleb.

From here, the story explores the minutia of life in 1950s America for people of color. Of course, it adds to that by throwing in ghosts, monsters, curses and other sundry issues which would drive the average man mad.

It is a fascinating tale which almost reads like a series of interconnected TV episodes, which ironically is what it was originally opted as. It picks up with ghost stories, interplanetary travel, cursed dolls and even heist plots, all with an overarching battle between equally dangerous wizards in the background. It makes for, what is in effect, an engaging series of short stories wrapped up as a novel. They all tie together quite neatly, making for some very exciting reading.

Ruff tells a fascinating story. One which comes together and has creeps and spooks which could easily come from the real Lovecraft country. It is compelling at its heart because it isn't just a regular series of horror stories. It does its best to examine the challenges facing African Americans in the United States before the Civil Rights era, and uses these characters to tell a frankly fascinating story\ies which can be enjoyed from the comfort of your living room, and will hopefully make you think. For fun stories and some great ideas, I heavily encourage you to read it, and look forward to the series coming out in the future!

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Zombieland: Double Tap

A few nights ago I was thrilled to sit down and watch a film which comes ten years later as a sequel to one of my all time favorite movies. That film was the unexpected, but much appreciated Zombieland: Double Tap.

The original Zombieland was a surprise hit comedy, poking fun at both the early 2000s and the zombie genre in general. It had a cast of actors who were all up and coming (with the exception of Harrelson, as well as one enormously funny cameo) and has become a small cult classic in the zombie genre. Making over four times its budget it should well be considered a hit, and I still find it an uproariously funny movie to this day. It even spawned a short lived pilot for a television series in 2013 which sadly didn't get off the ground. Though, with the saturation of popular media with shows like Z Nation and The Walking Dead, maybe that isn't a bad thing.

The film is a surprise return to the big screen by some big name actors to a relatively niche production! Jessie Eisenburg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin all come back to pick up their roles as Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock respectively. It shouldn't need to be said that each of these actors has gone on to bigger and better things, that they would be willing to come back to such a strange film is perhaps a testament to how much they enjoyed the original.

Picking up ten years later, we follow our survivors as they traverse the zombie infested ruins of what was once America. We find that the zombies have evolved, the dopey and relatively unintelligent "Homers", the predatory and learning "Hawkings" who can find efficient ways to kill their prey and the "Ninjas" who are silent but deadly hunters. Setting up shop in the Oval Office, the foursome decide that they've found a place to hole up and lay low for a while. However, the strain of years begins to take its toll, Columbus and Wichita's relationship is fraying and the overbearing Tallahassee is starting to rub the all grown up Little Rock the wrong way. Finally having enough, Little Rock and Wichita run off, leaving the two men to each other's dubious company.

Soon though, the come across another survivor, the bubbly, blonde, pink (and somehow not terminally dumb) Madison (Zoey Deutch). Joining the gang, they set out to find the wayward girls, which is made more difficult by more evolved and vicious zombies. Across the wasteland again they drive, also looking for a new home and a clue maybe at the community called Babylon.

From there the film does deliver on some fun action scenes, great gore and hilarious comedy. The actors still have it and their chemistry is well put together. They feel like a family and good friends at least. The new additions to the film crank up the comedy in a lot of unexpected ways, and do a good job at engaging and subverting out expectations. Whether it is Nevada (Rosario Dawson) or Berkeley (Avan Jogia) you'll be pleasantly surprised by the characters who turn up.

Is it as good as the original though? Some minor spoilers below if you haven't seen either film!

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Meddling Kids

What happens when you combine the Cthullu mythos with Scooby Doo? You get a ragtag group of 70s kids growing up and returning home to fight horror on a spooky island! Here now is a prime example of some quirky and almost out to lunch Meddling Kids!

Written by Edgar Cantero in 2017 it tells the tale of the Blyton Summer Detective Gang (and their dog Sean) who solved the mystery of the Sleepy Lake Monster in 1977. Picking up thirteen years later, the gang is getting back together because their lives have, since that summer, fallen to pieces. The kids, Peter Manner, Kerri Hollis, Andrea "Andy" Rodriguez and Nate Rogers have aged. In 1990 they find themselves oddly drawn back to Sleepy Lake and the Deboen Mansion where they almost got caught by the machinations of a treasure hunter Thomas Wickley. In the end, he proved to be a goon in monster costume, but the night they caught him, they found themselves facing more than just a man in a mask.

Kerri is now an underachieving alcoholic, Andy is an Air Force drop out, Nate has checked himself into the mental ward and Peter has checked out of life thanks to a drug overdose. The original dog, Sean, has also passed on, leaving his legacy to his grandpup Tim. Has their old nemesis come back to haunt them? Or is something more sinister afoot at Sleep Lake in the Blyton Hills...

Monday, 30 September 2019

A Little Hatred

Once again we're looking at a book I have been excited for few months to read. Joe Abercrombie, perhaps best described as 'the Quentin Tarantino of fantasy' returns to his First Law world with the first installment of a wonderful new series. In the new book A Little Hatred, we kick off the Age of Madness!

Picking up thirty odd years after the original First Law trilogy, we are now viewing the world through the eyes of new characters, some the children of previous characters and others entirely new people populating this fascinating world! We have the self centered Crown Prince Orso, the unscrupulous daughter of the Grand Lector, Savine dan Glokta, an up and coming noble from the North in Angland, Leo dan Brock, daughter and potential witch Rikke, veteran and family man Broad, urchin and revolutionary Vick, and a named man of particular distinction working for the forces of the North, Clover.

This new cast has many connections to the old cast. Friends, children, and others who have come to the fore. They are in a new world, a new age. The chimneys of industry rise over the Union, the old Gurkish Empire is in shambles, and rising powers in the east and west, the Old Empire and the Kingdom of Styria, all strive to displace the Union as the foremost power of the world. But this is an unequal age, unrest is formenting in the Union as workers struggle to survive, the nobility is restless, and above all, war looms large in the North. All is restless in the Circle of the World.

Because I have not yet talked about the previous trilogy (which I will get around to reviewing in full in 2020) I will be making this review as spoiler free as possible. So no worries, I will not be giving anything away here. Pro-tip though, don't do what I did and go to the First Law Wiki and spoil some minor plot points!

For those familiar with the first trilogy (and the spin offs) you will be quite happy to know we come back to a world well versed in moral ambiguity and bloodshed. Some old faces are still around, some have gone back to the mud. You'll be quite happy if you've read all the books so far, and I can say without question that this keeps Abercrombie's signature style, as well as adding some whole new troubles and fun into the mix!

The cast is well rounded, and a particular new standout is Clover, something of a lazy, indolent layabout. He is new to this series, and he helps run Abercrombie's style from the moment he steps foot into the plot. To be clear, he is self-centered, amoral and very much willing to use violence to achieve his ends when absolutely necessary.

Each character has their own signature style and plot line, and they often intersect in quite interesting and often very surprising ways. I guarantee that readers will be kept guessing about the penultimate destinations (and fates) of so many of our 'heroes' to the very end of the story! Some people are genuinely heroic, others are wolves in sheep's clothing, and it is up to you to figure out which is which!

Blood soaks every page almost from the beginning of the story. It is so much more than that however, as complex stories about politics, economics, and even a smidge of philosophy gets thrown in. It is a fast paced read, with many twists and turns, and our cast will both surprise and horrify you to equal degree. If you aren't shocked and appalled at the end like I was, you really won't have been paying attention!

The themes of change and how it effects everyone are well addressed. On the cusp of an Industrial Revolution, much of the old order in the Union has been upended. The nobility still control much of the world, but are finding themselves squeezed by new taxes to pay for wars and industrialization. The working men are also squeezed by taxes, but greedy nobles and industrialists buy their land out and put them in miserable shanties to eke out a rough existence on the edge of death and poverty. What we read is almost Dickensian in nature, but it is still something just shy of the horrors and brutality of our own gilded age. Savine is a particular window into this world of squalor and nouveau riche mentality which keeps the wealth flowing upwards, and it is well examined all around. From the poor to the wealthy, things can go downhill quite quickly.

As usual, Abercrombie delivers on the action and the intrigue. Bayaz looms large over the plot, and you'll be happy to see he's back and just as bad. The story is well split with the characters, and even some with only a bit of screen time get fleshed out quite well in little asides that build the world and establish the madness of the times the characters are going through! The ending really does set us up for the sequels, and it makes me unable to wait for the next installments!

A definite must read for people who love the fantasy genre. It's an especially important read if you want to read dark fantasy done right. I love this author and I can't recommend him enough!

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Testaments

Three months ago I mentioned my excitement at seeing the long awaited, if somewhat surprising, sequel to the The Handmaid's Tale. When The Testaments dropped on September 10th in my city I was quick to pick a copy up. Sadly, I was not as quick to read it as I was working through my existing reading list at the time and didn't believe rushing things would bring me any benefit. However, I was finally able to get back in to the world Atwood crafted in 1985.

I will admit, I was a little trepidatious at first. I generally am not a fan of sequels published long after the fact, and see them as usually being far inferior to their progenitors. However, I was lucky enough to see an interview with Margaret Atwood hosted live from London at a local theater. In it, I heard  some excerpts read from the book, and an altogether too brief talk with the author about her work and her decisions for writing it after so many years.

Naturally of course, many of them had to do with the current politics in the United States, but they were also influenced by the advent of the Me Too movement, and campaigns for women's rights the world over. It was also because the Handmaid has become a surprisingly popular and effective method of protest. Showing up at pro-Choice rallies, and standing as a silent testament to the suffering women will endure when the rights to their bodies are taken away by men. In that case, how could she not write a sequel to explore more of the world of Gilead?

The Testaments is very different from the original. The original, which told the story through one narrator's view which often included hazy recollections, is now told through three distinct perspectives. They are alternatively called: The Ardua Hall Holograph, Witness 369A and Witness 369B. Each has their own names, but as with the case of identity in much of Atwood's work, those prove to be fluid and I won't spoil anything by using the various identities and pseudonyms characters operate under, save one.

Using three different perspectives to tell the story set in Gilead is, in my opinion, genius. Though only one of the narrators is an adult, all three convey a different set of ideas, cultural upbringings and motivations. Each is quite understandable, sympathetic, and ultimately engaging in keeping you interested in the outcome of these in-universe historical documents.

The one character whose name I will reveal, is that the Ardua Hall Holograph is one of the villains from the first book, the erstwhile leader of the Aunts, the women who control other women in Gilead, Aunt Lydia. Hers is a shocking story, one which shows an amazing insight into what creates an authoritarian regime, what one must do to survive in one, and how one can be brought down. In doing this Atwood effectively wields empathy like a cudgel, as no doubt those who had read the original book or watched the television series felt they could never like or sympathize with a woman who engaged in the wholesale abuse of other women. The story of Aunt Lydia shows this not to be true.

It is a fascinating tale of how indoctrination and reshaping a narrative is used to control and coerce subject populations in authoritarian regimes. We see the start of Gilead, and a great deal of the brutality used to begin the control of women as seen in The Handmaid's Tale. What is fascinating is that, other than the specific roles of Aunts, Handmaid's, Wives, ect, Atwood has drawn almost entirely on real historical precedent for how awful regimes are established and keep power.

As a small aside, this can almost be seen as a snub against those who insist "it can't happen here" or that the United States is somehow immune to the power of authoritarian instigators. Indeed, such an idea has been snubbed as far back as the 1930s in a very literal way. A good message to take from this book, and its predecessors then, are that our democratic rights must be guarded very carefully. Hence the powerful, silent symbolism of the Handmaid.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019


A month ago, I was mentioning a new book from Marko Kloos Aftershocks, the first book in his new series Palladium Wars. Kloos is fast becoming one of my favorite sci-fi authors, I had devoured his Frontlines series last year in some excited quick reads, so a new series by him seemed like a great thing to jump into. And so, when this book premiered, I was sure to buy it on Kindle the first chance I got.

Jumping in, I found myself in a rich new star system with a fascinating backstory. We come to a colonized star system which has, after years of  brutal war, finally found itself at peace. Enter Aden, a former language specialist in the elite and infamous Blackguard of the Gretian armed forces. The Gretians had just launched an offensive war against practically everyone else in the solar system, and then found themselves ground down to dust by attrition. Having spent the last five years as a prisoner of war, he finds himself about to be released and adrift in the world.

Indina, is a soldier from Palladium, a high gravity world where people eek out existences by carving land from the very mountains. She is with the Palladium Brigade as part of the Gretian occupation forces. She suddenly finds herself under attack from a deadly and unknown adversary, which culminates in the near destruction of her entire platoon. Her only thought now, is revenge.

Dunstan, of the Rhodian Navy and the frigate Minotaur is on what seems to be routine patrol duty protecting the former Gretian fleet which will be partitioned among the former allies and kept to ensure Gretia never industrializes to prevent a threat to the rest of the system again. However, as the time to partition the fleet up, it ends up destroyed in a spectacular, and what should be impossible fashion.

Finally we have Solveig, the heir apparent to a great Gretian business dynasty whose random luck at being born before an arbitrary time limit means that her families powerful corporation will remain in family hands. This unlike many powerful formerly family owned industries which were forcefully nationalized by the occupiers in order to strip power away from the native Gretians. However, she lives in the shadow of her powerful and dangerous father. His plans for the future may be radically different from her own.

With these character sketches here you get something of a brief sketch of the overall plot, and see some of what to expect.

All of the characters do get very well fleshed out, and pretty evenly developed, but one character who goes for ages without much development until the final part of the story is Solveig. She almost just exists in this story without a lot of purpose, and is actually entirely absent from the plot until very near the end. It's a little confusing really, but it does add up, in something of a limited way at the end.

The book is very much Aden's story, and perhaps that is the authors intention to focus on these core characters and each book will then focus on them and their development until things come together at the very end. That is at least, what I am hoping for, since things seem very confusing at the moment. But most of the action, character development, and story was dedicated to Aden finding his way home, and finding a home in general.

Don't get me wrong, this is still a good read, but unlike the tightly plotted narrative of Kloos Frontlines series, this plot is very much all over the place. We don't really have much of an arc for our characters, and I actually came away feeling that there wasn't really any resolution in the novel. Things just happen and they don't really tie together. We don't even get a proper introduction to what we're supposing are the shadowy forces gathering in the background to bring things into chaos. It's a little...odd.

For instance, much of the action in the book takes place in those character bios, is the majority of the action in  the books. Compared to Frontlines, there is a lot of sitting around talking and little shooting. It seems a little slow. Then you have action events that don't seem to tie together, from space pirates to bombs, but it never really adds up in a meaningful way. The book really just, well ends. I was left with many questions, but practically zero answers. It does make me feel like this book was accidentally cut in half and that the next book will give me more to work with.

Secondary characters pop in with very little development, and people who I thought would be important seem to blip in and out like fireflies. I can honestly say I remember maybe three of the supporting characters. There isn't really a strong secondary character presence.

Despite that, there are some good action sequences, some fun background events, and a few really intriguing ideas. You can tell the series is drawing on the Expanse (which may set the gold standard for sci-fi now) which is a good thing in my opinion, but in places you do feel that influence. Though, the characters are not yet quite as good as those from the Expanse, but they show promise for things to come.

I can't detail too much of the plot for spoilers, but also since the book just kind of ends, its hard to say much about it other than it left me a little unfulfilled. I would still encourage people to read it, but don't be expecting to be blown out of the water. Knowing that Kloos is a good writer, I would say that even if you are leery of this book, give the whole series a chance. It will hopefully surprise us.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019


I've been catching up on well deserved classics that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, so in the dual interests of the mystery genre and my love of alternate history, I delved into the 1992 novel Fatherland. Written by Robert Harris, it explores an alternate world where Hitler's Germany did not lose WWII. Now, the Nazi colossus sits from the Atlantic to the Urals, holding all Europe, save Switzerland, under its sway. Having corralled the formerly independent nations of the Continent into a sham 'European Community' as well as engaging in a forever war along the long eastern frontier at the A-A line. Victory in hand, Hitler then turned his attention to creating his ultimate victory city in a garish redesign of Berlin.

The year is 1964.

Our story begins in the new Berlin, a body has been found washed up along the Havel River, near the heart of where the Nazi Party elite live. Detective Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), and former U-boat sailor, is called to the scene of what at first seems to be the accidental death of an old Party member. Something of a recluse, the victim seems to have little connection to anyone other than being an original member of the Party. However, in an age of increasing terrorism at the heart of the German Reich, who can be sure?

The plot unfolds though as March, on a hunch, continues his investigations after the Gestapo claims jurisdiction over the case. He begins to unravel a disturbing conspiracy at the heart of the Nazi regime, one dating all the way back to the war and deals with the mysterious disappearances of all the Jews in Germany.

Along the way he meets American reporter Charlotte "Charlie" Maguire, while also dealing with numerous Nazi bigwigs and little men who are eager to dissuade his curiosity. But, he still has help in the form of his friend and partner Max Jaeger, who still aims to help him despite being a man not inclined to question the state.

Obviously, as this is a mystery thriller I won't be spoiling many details for you, but I think more than a few readers will be aware of the twist in this novel early on. I certainly was, but that did not mean I did not enjoy the book because of it.

While many fans of alternate history probably now find the idea of a Nazi victory story overdone, I still consider this to be a top rate novel. Rather than tell an exhaustive story of how the world got to where it was, the story is merely the setting for an intriguing thriller plot which uses that world as the background. It does of course, detail some of the alternate history leading to the Nazi control of Europe and the post-war Cold War with the United States.

Personally, what I found evocative of the novel was the setting. The premise is explained and partially justified but we are just told the story through these characters eyes as they live in this world. It is one where the Nazi Party reigns supreme over every aspect of German life, they remain constantly vigilant in attempting to police/purge the occupied territories of the East, while also struggling to catch up to a world where technology is moving quicker than men like Hitler and his cronies could anticipate. Terrorists are constantly targeting Germans, while the Germans themselves grow fat off the spoils of Occupied Europe, with Slavic laborers building their cities and English maids serving their tea.

March is a man who has grown up listening only to Party propaganda, and he still resents the Party despite the high standard of living he enjoys. Even with all that, his inquisitive nature makes him someone the Nazis would naturally be suspicious of. His interactions with Charlie, who has an outsiders perspective of Nazi Germany, are quite interesting. He uses this to ask questions he could never ask of another German person. He finds out about the horrible casualties incurred in the forever war on the frontier in the East against the Soviets and their partisans, and knows that much of the propaganda spouted against America is probably untrue, and even being toned down in light of the attempted detente with the United States.

These alternate 1960s are now defined by the interactions between the Reich and America. While we don't have as much of a global look as other stories might tell, the background to the story is fascinating and really establishes the characters and the world they exist in.

As for the plot, while many may see the twist coming, you are kept guessing as to whether anything will come of March's efforts to uncover the truth. He is constantly dodging a series of legal and lethal hurdles as the Gestapo seek to overcome any attempt to uncover the conspiracy at the heart of the Reich. It has all the good times of a spy thriller and a serial detective novel.

March himself is an engaging character. He has a policeman's sense of duty, constantly questioning and looking to solve crimes. He is also a former patriot. He loves Germany, and pursued a career in the navy because his father served in the Great War, but he has become disillusioned with what the Reich has grown in to. A man against his people as it were.

Charlie is a great sidekick, and as a kickass woman she deserves to be praised. An investigative journalist who is always looking for the next big scoop, she has German heritage and rebels against her family by carrying on in such a semi-dangerous career.

The somewhat forced attraction between the two leads felt, to me at least, as detrimental to the story. A love story (or lust story as the case may be) was not really necessary. Charlie would have been a stronger character without it, as there was not much chemistry between the two.

Fatherland though, is a deserved alternate history classic. Unlike the other stories I've reviewed, the spy thriller that was A Kill in the Morning and the war story which was Festung Europa, this one relies very much on its two leads to carry the story rather than increasing stakes or the drivers of history. It also shows you that stories set in one of the 'overdone' settings of alternate history, can, and most likely will, give you some great entertainment.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The Dead Don't Die

As a long time connoisseur of the zombie genre, I was pleased to discover a few months ago that we were supposed to be getting an ensemble, all star cast for a new zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die. Looking like a big homage to the tropes and fun of the best the zombie genre had to offer, its' trailer played well and had me hooked from the first time I saw it. Starring, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover and Selena Gomez, to name only a few! The cast is actually quite large and very likable, with what I thought were for sure going to be some stellar performances!

Did we get that? Well, we got something...

Set in the town of Centerville (A Nice Place) it follows the work of Sheriff Cliff Robertson (Murray), Ronnie (Driver) and Minerva "Mindy" (Sevigny) and others from the small town as they deal with some inexplicable changes caused by polar fracking. The day is longer, the moon emits a strange 'toxic' glow, and strange things are happening in the cemetery.

Robertson is first going after local Hermit Bob (Tom Waites) who Farmer Miller (Buscemi) has accused of stealing his chickens. We then have the the two policemen driving away and leaning very abruptly on the fourth wall when Ronnie comments that the song The Dead Don't Die, by Sturgill Simpson, is the theme song for the film after Robertson comments that it sounds very familiar. Get used to this song, this joke is gonna be overused a lot. There is a pretty cleverly done establishing shot done as the police cruiser goes by all the various locations we will be seeing as the film goes on.

We meet more of the town's denizens at a local diner, Hank (Glover), Farmer Miller, and a scene with some juvenile delinquents locked up in the county juvy center, Geronimo (Jahi Winston), Olivia (Taliyah Whitaker), and Stella (Maya Delmont). There's also local gas store/paraphernalia shop owner Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), motel owner Danny Perkins (Larry Fessenden) and travelling at the head of some 'city hipsters' is Selena Gomez as Zoe. Finally we have Tilda Swinton as the new local mortician, Zelda Winston.

The zombie weirdness begins one night as two 'coffee zombies' attack the diner and devour locals Fern and Lilly in a genuinely unsettling scene. It has some dark humor to it as the zombies recognize coffee and quit their mauling to ineptly swig some back before shuffling on. Now, these two zombies are played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, so you'd expect them to show up again. Other than a single scene where they are walking around with the coffee pots... they're kind of irrelevant.

Following this is an amusing sequence where we once again see some well done humor as a three part take with each police officer viewing the scene goes on. Then we finally get some delightful weirdness from Swinton's character Zelda as she wanders around in odd ways, speaks strangely (addressing people by their full names) and has jerky, almost planned moves when she isn't wielding her katana.

Next the zombies begin to follow in waves, and as the undead begin to slowly overwhelm the town. Madness ensues.

Something I should pause to praise is the zombies themselves. While they are the usual undead shamblers, the actors and extras who play them just dig into the roles and damn they do it well! And rather than big bloody sprays of gore, when the zombies are killed they instead shoot out these black dust clouds. It's a unique and very visually appealing touch that I think should be applauded.

From here we get intervening bits of well executed horror, some good bits of comedy, and a lot of flat jokes. Some of it is well executed, especially in the second act as I found myself laughing uproariously at Driver and Murray's banter with Sevigny, then Swinton just stole every scene she was in. But the first hour of the film tends to drag, with only a few well done jokes. Then the finale comes across as, well, confusing.

Now, past this cut there be spoilers, you have been warned. Sadly, it is almost impossible to do a good critique of the film without them.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part III

God alone knows how, but the producers managed to waste enough money to make three of these dumb movies. It took a small fortune to create these disasters, but it took them only an hour to drain my brain of any, even halfhearted, enthusiasm for watching this last film! As before, please check out the reviews of this film alongside my friend Andrew over at I Choose to Stand where he looks at all three like me!

After Part II bombed even more spectacularly than the first film, making less than a quarter of its stated budget back, the series seemed to be in some limbo for a while. There was even talk of optioning it for a musical (God wouldn't that have been annoying?) way back when. However, this fortunately (sadly?) did not come to pass and instead they did what they had done for the last two installments, scrapped the old cast and hired all new actors making things even more confusing for people.

In a now hilariously familiar story, the budget for this film was only half of its predecessors, with some 440,000$ of that being raised on Kickstarter. Really, this film should have been called Atlas Shrugged Part III: The Search For More Money. In should come as no surprise that from a budget of 5 million, the film made only 800,000$ back at the box office. Considering what this was, even in comparison to Part III of the book, there isn't any question of why it bombed even worse than it's predecessors.

Now as someone who had read the book I will admit full disclosure to being interested to seeing Part III of this film series. It was, in themes, set pieces and story, very different from the first two parts which can be very well described as "business people talking business" with some bland mystery coloring the background.

Part III of the novel however, had one large section of ideological screed, followed by some rather entertaining pulpy action bits and the close up examination of society collapsing. Trains stop running, harvests are left to rot, and sections of the country break into open civil war. It's actually rather gripping stuff as we see the United States collapse into anarchy as part of the plan by the megalomaniacs heroes of the story.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part II

So we come to Part II of this nonsense, and let me tell you it just gets sillier from here. If you have missed it, my friend and fellow blogger Andrew Cowie has also done a review for this film over on his blog I Choose to Stand and it is well worth reading!

After the first installment of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy bombed fantastically. The idiots Randian heroes who had made this film decided rather than let the free market do the talking as their own philosophy would compel them to do, they were going to double down on their idea and decided the world must learn of the brilliance of their prophet's ideology.

The only problem was that now, after making less than a quarter of their budget back from the first film, the plan of financing it with profits was no longer feasible. The strategy? Hire an all new cast because keeping actors is expensive! Well, there was also a massive debt sale in order to keep the film afloat, and a big investment of personal funds. Apparently this film, when you tally up marketing and everything, cost as much as the first one. If that was the case oh boy did it have problems.

It seems that the other portion of the plan was to stoke the public's expectations by keeping it from being screened by critics pre-release so everyone would have to be surprised and appalled at the same time. This fantastically misleading article from Fox News in 2012 has the producer John Aglialoro stating "The integrity of the critics are going off a cliff...Why should I give them the sword and they are just going to use to decapitate me with?" The article of course blames the 'Liberal Media' for casting the movie down, but as a National Post review of Part I by Peter Foster notes: "Still, if it sinks without trace, its backers should at least be proud that they lost their own money."

Turns out, the film wasn't proud with just losing its own money, it didn't even need to give anyone else the sword to decapitate itself! The film made even less money than the first, and received an even lower rating from critics and audiences alike!

Why might that be you ask?

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part I

Years and years ago, my teen self made a monumental mistake. I discovered a supposedly great work of fiction which, according to some people I knew, would change my life. To their credit, they weren't wrong. However, the book I read Atlas Shrugged did not change my life for the better. Instead, it left me knowing what true evil felt like. The magnum opus of philosopher madwoman (and Superman arch nemesis)  Ayn Rand, it was written explicitly to solidify her economic, philosophical and political codes. Essentially, this is the Bible of the weird philosophy of Objectivism.

This strange little philosophy has had a disproportionate effect on world economics and thinking, especially in the United States of America. It has influenced politicians, philosophers, gurus, and most significantly, the head of the United States Federal Reserve who oversaw the disastrous policies leading to the 2008 Financial Crisis. Some would say that isn't a coincidence. Reading its long drawn out piece was misery personified.

Imagine then, to my chagrin, discovering way back in 2015, that after years of simmering in development hell some fanatic acolyte far sighted visionary John Aglialoro, had finally decided to bring Ayn Rand's creation to the screen.

God Help Us

Now, for a quick cliff notes version of Objectivism. Essentially it is be selfish for selfishness sake. To use the fancier terms, pursue your own enlightened self interest (rational egoism) and that laissez-faire capitalism is the only system which can allow you to pursue this. There's more boring 'metaphysical' stuff about how true reality can be expressed through art or human will, but its dull as watching paint dry so Rand wrote a book. Atlas Shrugged is intended to showcase how this life is to be lived. For a normal, sane person, it's pretty awful stuff.

Unsurprisingly, it has largely been roundly rejected by the civilized world and people at large, but, also unsurprisingly, rich right leaning white people tend to love it overwhelmingly.

Discussion over a movie adaptation has been in the works for decades, near since Rand first wrote it. However, while she was alive Rand was uncompromising with her vision and always demanded strict control over any script, something no producer or Hollywood exec was going to give her. Even after she died Objectivists still hoarded the story lest its purity be 'spoiled' by Hollywood elites. Eventually Aglialoro bought the rights, but numerous conflicts with writers and executives stalled the film from going anywhere. In the 2000s, there was talk of a two part series directed by Vadim Perelman, with people like Angelina Jolie apparently being considered to star. Finally, with the rights running out, in 2011 Aglialoro basically poured 20 million into this new film trilogy so he wouldn't lose them.

So what is there to say about this film?

Friday, 28 June 2019

Book Releases I'm Excited For

Summer and Fall of 2019 are so far looking like a good time to be alive for a bookworm like me. Why you ask? Well allow me to share with you some exciting releases coming out soon!

First up one of my favorite fantasy authors is continuing his long running fantasy series with:

A Little Hatred

Joe Abercrombie returns to the Circle of the World, picking up his stories some time after the events of his first trilogy The First Law and it's various outrigger novels. Now this story picks up years later following a new cast, but with some familiar faces in the background.

Set as the first in a new trilogy, this piece will be taking us back to the places we all know and love from Abercrombie. The Union, seething with new industrial technology and unrest, The North, as chaotic and war torn as ever. These new characters will be navigating the world so changed from how it first appeared in The Blade Itself and dealing with both old, and new, problems.

To avoid spoilers for the previous novels I will not mention much more here. But if you love gritty fantasy and some awesome action and characters, these are begging to be checked out. I highly recommend it.

Expect it September 17th 2019!

The Testaments

Ever since Margaret Atwood first published The Handmaid's Tale in 1985, people have been asking, what happens next? Many questions are left frustratingly unanswered by this book, and the postscript raises even further questions! With the run away success of the streaming series, and arguably the modern political climate, Atwood it seems felt compelled to write the answers to these questions.

Now in The Testaments we will get some (but if I had to guess, not all) of the answers we have been waiting years for. Whether you've been waiting since 1985 or (like me) the 2010s, this book is a no brainer for your shelves in 2019.

I think that the hook speaks for itself:
When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her—freedom, prison or death.

With The Testaments, the wait is over.

Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.

"Dear Readers: Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we've been living in." —Margaret Atwood
Expect it September 10th 2019!


Marko Kloos returns with a new science fiction series, the Palladium Wars! Taking place in a new solar system far from Earth and with an exciting new cast of characters, it will be handling some tough stuff. Losing a war, occupation, and the aftermath of a brutal conflict. We have new characters like Aden, a POW who was part of the Gretian military forces and who is now going home finding himself facing a conflict he thought he had left behind.

While I myself have only read the first chapter from the preview (and only seen the character of Aden) there promise to be many more interesting characters to indulge in. As one reviewer on goodreads put it:
As the Expanse nears the conclusion of its nine book arc fans are going to need something to look forward to, and this more than fills the bill.
Unlike his long running Frontlines series, this one will be told from the third person perspective with multiple points of view, giving us numerous characters to see these fascinating new worlds through. Having been a huge fan of Kloos's previous work, I'm stoked to get my hands on this one as it promises to be just the thing I need to keep my sci-fi kick going this year!

Expect it on July 1st, Canada Day! On this one at least, you don't have long to wait!

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

We Already Had a Mad Queen

Something like 20 million people have not missed that this last weekend was an end of an era. The show, based on the best selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire, which had run for the last seven years, finally ended. Game of Thrones reached its conclusion.

Now there has been something of a consensus that the ending was awful, and many fans were disappointed. So disappointed in fact they started writing a petition demanding a redo. As silly (and unlikely) as that is, I'm not here to harp on the ending of the show, nor judge how the writing went or what the show runners did. No, I'm merely here to remind people of one salient fact.

Despite what many want to say/claim, Game of Thrones has had a Mad Queen since Season 1. That queen was Cersei Lannister.

Let me be clear here, Cersei has been a villain since the very start of the show. Whether acquiescing to the hurling of a small child out a window, plotting to kill her husband, being complacent in the beating and humiliation of Sansa Stark, or merely by undermining her own brother at every turn, she has - without a doubt - been one of the villains central to the series.

Sure, in the last few seasons she may have had to match wits with the Tyrells, suffered some reverses at the hands of the Faith of the Seven, but through all that she got a zombie bodyguard, a torturer in chief, and murdered hundreds of people. All while either allowing her children to die or driving them to suicide.

As a villain, she was pretty evil is all I'm saying.

So, with many discussing the end of the series, talking about what should or shouldn't have happened, I just want to write this reminder that, no matter what you may think, the show has always had a Mad Queen, and another one was never really necessary.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Game of Thrones, Arya Stark and Mary Sues

The most recent episode of the long running and cultural milestone fantasy series Game of Thrones has, for many good and bad reasons, drawn lots of criticisms from fans. Much ink has already been spilled trying to justify or point out the flaws in the most recent episode. I think there are valid reasons for criticisms and invalid ones as well. However, let me just do a brief commentary on the show as a whole before diving in.

In case it isn't obvious SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

Monday, 29 April 2019

Black Summer

If you have ever watched the fun/gory Z-Nation on television on Netflix, you'll be pleasantly surprised that the same team behind that have gotten together to put on a great little miniseries in a zombie filled world. However, this time we have a series which is not only terrifying, but an amazing testament to the zombie genre as a whole.

This is the eight episode series Black Summer

Set six weeks into the ongoing zombie apocalypse, we follow a diverse cast of characters who are struggling to survive and find somewhere safe to run. We are first shown a trio of people on the run, waiting for the end of a bombing run in order to be evacuated to a safe zone. On the way, we see many other refugees on the run, and get introduced to a colorful and diverse cast of characters.

Things quickly go to hell though as we discover one of the trio has been bitten. The military immediately bugs out and drives off, leaving a mother and father suddenly without their child. From there, we play catch up as other characters moments intersect and converge, with many unintended consequences and struggles. But as a warning, don't get too attached to any of these characters, the show plays for keeps.

From the cowardly survivor Lance, mysterious Spears, to the non-English speaking Sun, we have a great little cast of characters who are unique and clever. Though having little or no background they aren't completely well rounded. They're acted amazingly though, putting you in their situation rather than their story.

They're not prepared for the apocalypse, at all, and it shows. Rarely are the zombies killed easily, and often they cause lots of trouble and only fail to kill people by their limited intelligence. That the world seems to be in its death throes doesn't help, as soldiers are overwhelmed and it seems all civil government has essentially broken down.

With its short run time, it's an easy binge. Though, with how scary some episodes are you may find yourself not wanting to binge watch!

Each scene is well shot, usually from a close angle which puts you right in the characters head space. We see their facial expressions, and can really feel the terror they are undergoing. The subtle use of music and ambient sounds makes you cringe. Something as simple as the background noise of an air conditioner really got my heart pounding at one point as I just expected a zombie to come running out at the characters on screen!

The conservation of detail too, with characters facing only one or two zombies at a time early on, made it really terrifying. Even one monster was too much to handle for most, and was a totally life threatening situation, even when a character was armed!

One particularly jarring episode takes place in a high school, and let me just say, if you think children are innocent, you may not think so after watching this! The use of little details to perturb, scare, and crank up your expectations really pays off at the end. It culminates in bits of creeping fear and a series of non stop chases which keep you guessing at who will live or die until the very end.

All in all, there isn't too much overarching story beyond a mother looking for her daughter during the apocalypse. That allows for some scant meaningful plot and leaves very little in the way of meaningful details to be examined as the story goes on. It's meant as a short piece which will tug at your brain and leave you wondering when the zombies will show up, or who is or isn't going to make it out.

As a brief horror mini series, I'd happily recommend it. It has all the right scares and all the right tension. Worth a watch.

Friday, 19 April 2019

The Halifax Connection

Though I often talk about fantasy, contemporary politics, science fiction, and movies, I'm also going to review for you book from a genre that is close to my heart. That genre is historical fiction and the book is The Halifax Connection by Marie Jakober.

Set primarily in the city of Halifax, this story stretches from early 1862 to September 1864 and follows a colorful cast of fictional characters from all stations of life. Our main protagonist is Erryn Shaw, a disgraced aristocrat and former theater manager who has fallen on hard times. We also get a look into the life of a domestic servant Slyvie Bowen, with the supporting cast of Matt Claverly and Colonel Hawkins.

The backdrop of the novel of course, is the American Civil War. Not many know this but Canada was prime real-estate for Confederate spies and blockade runners. Halifax especially grew rich off the war as Confederate ships and blockade runners would often seek refuge there. Haloginians themselves came from a society which was fiercely loyal to the Mother Country and felt a certain kinship with the South at the time. To find men of high principles and ideals who would oppose them would have been a rare thing indeed.

That the novel chooses to do just that is very much to its credit.

Our story follows mainly Erryn and Sophie. Erryn is a failed theater manager (well, it burned down) who is falling on hard times while Sophie is a former factory worker emigrating to Canada to find work and a new life away from the horrors she has seen in the mill town of Rochdale.

The story kicks off when Erryn is asked by his best friend Matt, to spy for the Governor General. Halifax is full of Confederate agents and sympathizers, who wish nothing more than to involve Great Britain and her Empire in the war to hopefully tip the scales in favor of the cause of independence for the Southern states and their Confederacy. Sucked in to a vortex of lies, espionage, and mad schemes, Erryn finds himself on a twisting path of conflicting loyalties and friendships while publicly renouncing all his ties to his former life and friends who support the Union.

Slyvie meanwhile, is just crossing the Atlantic on the cheap when her ship is set upon by the Confederate raider Alabama. This gives her a lasting enmity for the Confederacy and all it stands for. However, she finds herself falling for a man she meets in Montreal, and that man is Erryn Shaw, who is playing host to the Confederate agents he can find.

Into this story we get something of a twisting love affair between two people who deeply care for one another, but who, ostensibly are on the opposite sides of an ideological divide.

I will admit that, as the piece goes on, it feels like more of a love story than a spy story. There is (to me at least) a decided effort by historical fiction authors to 'spice up' a piece by including a risque love story. Personally, I've never found that remotely necessary to engage with a piece of historical fiction. However, in this case we do at least get a very well written love story between two well fleshed out characters who portray life in the 1860s in pre-Confederation Canada quite well.

As a spy story I would argue the piece leaves much to be desired. Even though Jakober does her best to keep the spy drama going, I found the plot lacked an overall enemy, villain, or objective. Though it was true to life in the British authorities basically whacking Confederate schemes where they could be found, I might have felt more inclined to be hooked by an overarching adversary for the characters to be confronting. The story certainly had one set up in the person of an old enemy from Erryn's past!

That isn't to say though, that the book doesn't work well on its own merits. It does portray the events from Canada in the Civil War quite well, even making the Chesapeake Affair, a backdrop of one of the most pivotal scenes in the book.

Jakober has done her research, this much is clear. She understands life in Nova Scotia (Halifax specifically) quite well, and does a wonderful job portraying the divided opinions of the Canadian people in the 1860s. That she incorporates a number of real life events into the series is much to her credit, and she does it with a deft hand. Though her characters are fictional, she sets them up in real historical events and plots. She makes a very shocking revelation at the end which I simply cannot spoil for casual students of history or readers. You will be taken aback by it, all the more for that it is based on true events.

I liked the characters and I liked that Jakober did her absolute best to stay true to history. There is no embellishment on the side of action or drama, nothing which would necessarily conflict with history as we know it, and lots of emphasis placed on attitudes and ideals from the 1860s.

As historical fiction, I found this novel first rate. Definitely worth a read from fans of romance, historical fiction and Canadian and Civil War history buffs.

Monday, 15 April 2019

The Phoenix Empress

A few years ago I read the debut novel by K. Arsenault Rivera's The Tiger's Daughter and I discovered myself thoroughly enjoying it. Just this year I've read the sequel, the Phoenix Empress and found myself sucked into this world once more.

The story picks up shortly after the events of The Tiger's Daughter concluded. Shizuka has become the empress of Hokkaro, while her wife Shefali is struggling with her own affliction brought on by being infected with demonic blood. After eight years apart they have been reunited, but in those eight years much has changed with both of them.

Forgoing the original story's epistle format, it is told in the form of first and second person narration. Shefali is generally narrating her ongoing struggles with helping her wife cope with the problems she has come into while she was away, and Shizuka narrates her past eight years of struggle under her uncle's thumb when he was emperor.

In her story Shizuka narrates the terrible years she spent alone, while also having to deal with her uncle's mismanagement of the empire. Finally, he sends her off to war where she encounters horrors she could only imagine.

The novel started off very well in my opinion, seamlessly transitioning from the letter story style of the first book to a more first person and third person narrative which flowed quite nicely. There was more in depth description of the Hokkaran and Xia-lan societies than we received previously, and we got some better examination of the main villain of the series as a whole, the mighty demon known as The Traitor.

However, the pacing in this one suffered terribly.

I will admit that I was hoping for a more action packed epic, but in the beginning we get some good world building which was sorely lacking from the first installment, so this tided me over. This though, did drag on for a time introducing a new character who became vitally important at the end of the novel (though she has been called a dues ex machina, somewhat correctly) while also leading rather subtly into the things which are now terrifying Shizuka. But very little of note actually happens until roughly the half way point of the novel, but after that things pick up considerably.

Though the build up to the final reveals were nice and subtle, there were times where I got annoyed by the dancing around the issue, as well as Shefali not figuring things out as quickly.

We also see that, rather than be improved, much of Shizuka and Shefali's relationship is startlingly unequal. Shefali still puts Shizuka on a very much undeserved pedestal, and Shizuka still makes impulsive and selfish decisions for her own ends rather than consult with others about what might be the right decision since she just knows. Though this does improve somewhat by the end of the book, I felt very often like yelling at the characters since Shefali really needed to tell Shizuka off at least once, and many of Shizuka's decisions were terrible when you give them a good deal of thought.

This though, was Shizuka's book rather than Shefali's. In my previous review I griped that Shizuka was selfish, spoiled and arrogant, and while she remains spoiled and arrogant she manages to shed some of her selfishness by the end of this installment and go a long way towards earning the unconditional love her wife gives her. It was nice to see some legitimate character growth.

All that being said though, like the original novel overwrought declarations of love do come up and across far too often. The motivations and actions of other characters are often obscured through the cloud of almost teenage angst levels of inner monologues that pass for thoughts of love in this book. Grinding past that you found some fun reading, and a few clever twists in the plot as the story wore on.

Some things did bother me where the author had not done enough research (a naginata is not a stabbing weapon) while some characters still felt underdeveloped. Poor Shefali's brother was given the short shift throughout most of the story till near the end, even though he is earnestly trying to help.

All in all, it was a worthy sequel to the original novel. If you can stand some of the more eye rolling sections of the romance and power through to the well plotted reveals and surprises in the last half of the novel, you will see some great character growth and a promise of a good sequel in the future.

While this is not becoming one of my favorite fantasy novels any time soon, it is definitely one worth a read.