Saturday, 24 February 2018

book review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Seanan McGuire.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones.
Tor. 2017

We first meet ‘identical’ twins Jack, apprentice to a mad scientist, and Jill, wannabe vampire, in Every Heart a Doorway. This is their backstory: their terrible life in Mundania, their escape to their own fantasy land, their training there and how it made and broke them, and why they returned back to their parents’ house (I cannot say to their home).

This is another novella, and so not much space to spare on inessentials. I suppose it is necessary to spend several chapters to show why their prior home life as Jacqueline and Jillian is so bad that the fantasy land is such a release. But I would have like to see more of Jack’s life in particular: apprentice to a mad scientist. We move very briskly from their arrival to their pitchfork-assisted departure, and get to understand very well why they end up as they do.

I’m very glad that Wayward Children has turned out to be a series.




For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Friday, 23 February 2018

book review: All Systems Red

Martha Wells.
All Systems Red.
Tor. 2017

Planetary survey missions must be accompanied by a Security Unit: a protection robot supplied by the lowest bidder. The current survey team don’t know that their SecUnit calls itself ‘Murderbot’, and has overridden its governor module. But when mysterious things start happening, they are going to be very glad it has.

This is a zippy little novella, just 150pp of snark as we listen to Murderbot narrate its story, and discover more about its background. There’s not time for a lot of character development other than the first person narrator, but we get an interesting world, an engaging protagonist, and the set-up for a lot more action and robot-soul-searching.

This makes a good contrast with that other recent ‘robot learning to live in a human world’ tale, A Closed and Common Orbit. They are quite different in feel, but both are thought-provoking.




For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

TV review: Arrow, season 4

My name is Oliver Queen. After five years in hell, I returned home with only one goal: to save my city. But my old approach wasn’t enough. I had to become someone else. I had to become something else. I had to become … the Green Arrow.
At the end of last season, Oliver and Felicity drove off into the sunset, leaving the Scooby Gang to keep Star City free of bad guys, while they tried to get over the way Oliver had deceived them all.

At the beginning of this season, Oliver and Felicity return, to help out with a new Big Bad. There’s lots of confusion and deception, as we discover who Damien Darhk is, where he gets his power from (including a nice parallel Island of Hell story), what Felicity’s codename is, whether Oliver will win the race for Mayor, who is going to get killed (not a spoiler, as we see Oliver crouching by a gravestone early on), and whether Oliver can go for a season without deceiving his friends about Important Facts in order to Protect Them (hint: he can’t).

The stakes are higher than ever: Darhk is after much more than the destruction of Star City. And with a cross-over episode with the Flash, and some weird time travel changing the past/future, Oliver manages to screw up his relationship with Felicity twice.

By the end of season, everyone has been put through the wringer. And many arrows have been shot.




For all my SF TV reviews, see my main website.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

book review: Witches of Lychford

Paul Cornell.
Witches of Lychford.
Tor. 2015

Judith is one of the few people in Lychford who can see the Truth: the proposed new supermarket will destroy the protection the town has against the beings that live on its borders. But no-one believes a mad old woman.

Lizzie, the local vicar, should have been briefed about the town’s needs when she took up her post. But the old ways are being lost, and she has not been brought up to date.

Autumn, Lizzie’s childhood friend, who became estranged when Lizzie joined the church, is a sceptical scientist, yet she runs the local magic shop. She would be a key part of the town’s defence, but she can’t bring herself to believe what happened to her in those lost years.

This is only 140pp long, so counts as a novella rather than a novel. But it packs a lot of content into its relatively few pages, and I found it to be a compelling story. We get to see the menace of the proposed new supermarket unfold through the eyes of three unlikely, and somewhat unwilling, allies. After an excellent build-up, things come to a head rather quickly, but with a satisfactory conclusion. Although this one disaster has been averted, I’m sure there is more trouble awaiting our trio around the corner.




For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

book review: Blood Engines

T. A. Pratt.
Blood Engines.
Bantam. 2007

Marla Mason is the witch in charge of Felport, but maybe not for much longer: a challenger is preparing a spell that could destroy her. So she’s gone to San Fransisco with her not-entirely-human sidekick Rondeau, to track down the one artefact that can help her. But her old friend who knows its location has been killed. Marla finds herself in a lot more trouble than just dodging a rival trying to take over her city: someone is trying to take over the whole world. And unless Marla can get her act together, he might just succeed.

This starts off with Marla being too much of an idiot. She’s supposed to be a reasonably competent witch, but she keeps arrogantly ignoring someone who just happens to pop into her life at key moments. But after a few chapters of ineffective running around, she eventually decides to notice the seer, and things start moving. It turns into a snappy and rather imaginative urban fantasy witch-against-the-big-bad tale, with an exciting denouement, an interesting resolution of her original problem, and some decisions that are going to come back to bite her later.

I’ll never look at hummingbirds in quite the same way again.




For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Monday, 19 February 2018

but presumably not with Gaul


For those of you who don’t know, the bloke in the picture is Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Brexiteer, and a potential contender for Leader of the Conservative party (and hence, Prime Minister).

Yes, really.

(For those in further doubt, the picture is real, but the quote is Private Eye’s.)

Thursday, 15 February 2018

it's not just dentistry...

I’ve been getting a lot of suspiciously similar spam requests from dentistry “journals”.  Today, I got one from a less specific journal, but it looks like it’s from a remarkably similar bot that doesn’t have English as a first language:
Dear Dr. Susan Stepney,

Hope all is well at your end.

We are happy to inform your that Juniper publishers have recently indexed in International Scientific Indexing (ISI) an another mile stone in publications that have been achieved by the support of eminent like you.

Hence, we are in shortfall of article for successful release of Volume 12, Issue 3. Is it possible for you to support us with your 2 page Opinion or Mini Review for this issue before 20th February?

Once again, I honestly request you to be a part in the success of our Journal.

Please acknowledge this email receipt within 24 hours.

Sincerely,
Denuelle Bennett
Current Trends in Biomedical Engineering & Biosciences (ISSN: 2572-1151)

I’m not sure what publishing apocalypse is happening on the oft-quoted 20 February, but it’s rapidly approaching!

Also, what’s with the “Hence”?  How does the shortfall follow from the indexing?  Or am I overthinking things again?


For the record, here’s a list of the spam-so-far: