Reviews

Reality of Souls

Cosplay in KW — Ryan Consell

[Please enjoy a guest post by Ryan Consell on a subject about which I know little -james davis nicoll-]


Ryan Consell is a costumer, author, blogger, and educator. He is best known for his metalwork, genderbend cosplays, and opinions on armour. He can be found posing on Instagram as @studentofwhim, hitting things with hammers on YouTube, and writing at madartlab.com

I’m a cosplayer and have been my whole adult life. I make costumes and dress up at comic, gaming, sci-fi conventions. A lot of people who share my hobby do so in relative isolation. I had the good fortune, though, to land in a region that is rife with people like me.

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Nobody Knows What We Saw Inside There

Weaver’s Lament — Emma Newman
Industrial Magic, book 2

2017’s Weaver’s Lament is the second volume in Emma Newman’s Industrial Magic series. The first instalment, Brother’s Ruin, was reviewed here.

Responding to a mysterious summons from her brother Ben, Charlotte Gunn ventures north to Manchester. Does he need magical assistance? After all, he passed the academy entrance exam with flying colours only because Charlotte used her considerably superior levels of magic to cheat for him. He made it through the course, but now he must be facing real life challenges.

Charlotte finds Ben wrestling with what he insists must be a den of trade unionists and socialists infesting the textile factory where he has been assigned to provide magical support. Unless Charlotte and Ben can expose the rascals, Ben’s advancement up the ranks of the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts may come to an abrupt halt.

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The Place Where Light and Darkness Meet

Hitoshi Ashinano
Kabu no Isaki, book 5

The fifth volume of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Kabu no Isaki was published in 2012.

In volume four, Isaki, Kajika, and Sayori braved the Tate Road to get a better look at Mount Fuji. Having arrived at their destination, they discovered that proximity does not guarantee a good view of the thirty-eight-kilometre-tall mountain. What next?

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By the Light of That Ship in the Sky

In the Ocean of Night — Gregory Benford
Galactic Centre, book 1

The 1978 fix-up In the Ocean of Night is the first volume in Gregory Benford’s Galactic Centre series1.

In the far-off year of 1999, British-American astronaut Nigel Walmsley is part of a two-man team sent by NASA to the asteroid Icarus. Unexplained out-gassing has transformed a body remarkable only for its eccentric orbit into an impending Earth-impacter. Nigel and Len’s mission is to determine how much, if any, of Icarus remains. If enough material is left to present a significant risk to the Earth, they are to destroy or divert Icarus with the Egg, a fifty-megaton fusion bomb.

The hope was that nothing would remain after the Egg had been used. The expectation was that a chunk of rock and iron might head for Bengal. The reality was a surprise: the large mass that had survived the out-gassing was an alien spaceship.

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The Bond Between the Hopeful and the Damned

Heroine Worship — Sarah Kuhn
Heroine Complex, book 2

2017’s Heroine Worship is the second instalment in Sarah Kuhn’s comedic superhero Heroine Complex  series.

In Heroine Complex ( reviewed here ) superheroes Annie “Aveda Jupiter” Chang and Evie “No Cool Superhero Name” Tanaka vanquished the Demon Queen and closed a gate to the Otherworld. Since the Demon Queen’s shenanigans were the primary source of superhero-level threats to San Francisco, life has been pretty quiet since that battle.

That is a big problem for Aveda, because her self-image is tied up in being San Francisco’s premier saviour. She cannot save that which is not being threatened. Even if a threat did materialize, she’d have to share the spotlight with Evie, and Evie’s recently revealed pyrokinesis is much flashier than Aveda’s acrobatic martial arts. Not that Aveda is jealous of Evie, exactly; she’s just used to having the spotlight.

Many superheroes in Aveda’s position would resort to creating a robotic villain only they can defeat 1. Happily for Aveda, fate is going to hand her a challenge worthy of her talents.

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I See the Diamond But You Only See the Rock

The Occasional Diamond Thief — J. A. McLachlan
The Unintentional Adventures of Kia and Agatha, book 1

From her Goodreads entry:

J. A. McLachlan is the author of a short story collection, CONNECTIONS (Pandora Press) and two College texts on Professional Ethics (Pearson-Prentice Hall). But science fiction is her first love, a genre she’s been reading all her life. Walls of Wind was her first published SF novel. She has two young adult science fiction novels, The Occasional Diamond Thief and The Salarian Desert Game (EDGE SF&F Publishing).

2015’s The Occasional Diamond Thief is the first book in J. A. McLachlan’s The Unintentional Adventures of Kia and Agatha  series.

Her father’s death after a long illness gives Akhié Ugiagbe the chance to escape her hostile family. Adopting a new name—Kia—she reinvents herself as a linguistics student far from home.

Of course, her family didn’t see fit to provide for her continuing education. Kia has to do that herself, with one little jewel theft that she assumes will have no repercussions for her future. Ha!

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Follow, Follow, Follow Me

Hitoshi Ashinano
Kabu no Isaki, book 4

The fourth volume of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Kabu no Isaki was published in 2011. There has been no officially sanctioned English edition so far as I know.

When last we saw our characters, Isaki was on his way towards Mt. Fuji, with the package he is delivering for boss Shiro. The package is a mere pretext for the trip. Kajika and Sayori are using the fact that Shiro mistakenly gave Isaki the wrong package as yet another pretext, for following Isaki.

In a world mysteriously ten times larger than in our time, what could go wrong?

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You Better Stop The Thing You’re Doin’

Spells of Blood and Kin — Claire Humphrey

2016’s standalone urban fantasy Spells of Blood and Kin is Claire Humphrey’s debut novel.

Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother dies and leaves her three legacies: intense grief, a large and mostly empty house, and a clientele that expects her to assume her grandmother’s role as koldun’ia (witch). Lissa is one of the few (perhaps the only) Russian-style witches in all Toronto.

One of grandmother’s spells stopped working when she died. This has some severe consequences for the beneficiary, Maksim Volkov. And incidentally for a student named Nick.

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Ain’t No Sunshine

Justice, Inc. — Paul Ernst
Avenger, book 1

Justice, Inc. is the first volume of Paul Ernst’s The Avenger pulp series, which was published in 1939 by Smith and Street under the Kenneth Robeson house name.

Desperate to reach Montreal before his mother-in-law dies, millionaire Richard Benson forces a plane leaving Buffalo to allow Benson, Alicia and their daughter Alice to occupy three empty seats. Once the plane is in the air, fastidiousness sends Benson to the lavatory to wash his almost clean hands. When he emerges, Alicia and Alice are nowhere to be seen. The flight crew and passengers all agree that Benson boarded the plane alone.

The altercation that follows ends when someone knocks Benson cold with a fire extinguisher. He languishes unconscious for three weeks. When he awakes, he is a man transformed.

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Tonight There’ll Be But Three

The Scorpion Rules — Erin Bow
Prisoners of Peace, book 1

The Scorpion Rules is the first volume in Erin Bow’s Prisoners of Peace series.

The children of the Precepture school live under the gaze of watchful cameras monitored by a powerful AI (Artificial Intelligence). The students are there to make their own small contributions to world peace. Each child at the school is the child of a national ruler. Each is hostage for their parent’s good behaviour. Nations can choose to go to war if they feel the national interest demands it, but if they do … the child hostages of all warring states involved will be immediately removed from class and killed. It’s a harsh system but it has worked as planned. Wars have been short and total casualties limited to a few thousand per year, despite the immense challenges encountered during four centuries of catastrophic climate change.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princes of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is one of the hostages. She hopes to live until she reaches the ripe old age of eighteen, at which point she will be released from the school. Failing that, she hopes to die with dignity. She does not consider escape. The AI will surely prevent that.

Then the teenage boy with bound hands arrives at school.

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Still Waiting For Tomorrow

The Ships of Air — Martha Wells
The Fall of Ile-Rien, book 2

2004’s The Ships of Air is the second volume in Martha Wells’ The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. It follows immediately on The Wizard Hunters, which I reviewed here.

The book begins on a high note (the same one on which the previous volume ended): Tremaine and her friends have captured a Gardier outpost! Victory is surely theirs, because that is how it works at the beginning of the second book in a trilogy.

There are just two small problems: Firstly, Tremaine and her friends are in a parallel universe. Secondly, they have no means to get home.

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I’ll Fly Away

Hitoshi Ashinano
Kabu no Isaki, book 3

The third volume of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Kabu no Isaki was published in 2010. There has been no officially sanctioned English edition of which I am aware.

Just as in volumes one and two, the world is filled with marvelous things, many of them everyday items magnified tenfold. Isaki is still trying to make a living flying a Piper Cub that belongs to semi-retired celebrity pilot Shiro. The world may be transformed into something rich and strange, but planes are still cool.

People familiar with volumes one and two may be thinking “Finally! Answers to all the mysteries!” Hahahaha! Dream on.

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Love is Our Resistance

Rogue Queen — L. Sprague de Camp

L. Sprague de Camp’s 1951 standalone Rogue Queen takes place in de Camp’s Viagens Interplanetarias setting.

Our protagonist, Iroedh, is a member of the worker-caste in the Avtiny community. Her group faces an existential threat: invasion and enslavement by its more aggressive and larger Arsuuni neighbours. Iroedh, as a scholar and antiquarian, seems to be of no use in the struggle. She is looked down on by her fellow Avtiny.

Then comes word of the visitors from the stars.

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A Man of Means by No Means

Storm of Dust — Neil Randall
Crossroads Adventures, book 2

Neil Randall is an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, perhaps the finest university in Waterloo west of Philip Street1. To quote his UW bio:

I am a long-time faculty member in the English department at the University of Waterloo, Canada, and the director of the Games Institute (uwaterloo.ca/games-institute).

I confess I did not look closely at Randall’s 1987 book Storm of Dust when I bought it last year, except to note that:

  • it was by a local author whom I knew back in the 1980s and 1990s;
  • it was related to one of my favourite David Drake books.

What I was to discover is that Storm of Dust is an interesting artifact of ancient times, an artifact based on effectively obsolete tech. Who would have thought that interactive game books would ever die?

If you are younger than twenty or so, you may be wondering: what the heck are those?

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Like a Bird in a Foreign Sky

A Small Charred Face — Kazuki Sakuraba

2017’s A Small Charred Face is the American edition of Kazuki Sakuraba’s 2014 book Honto no Hana Wo Mise Ni Kita.

The English-language translation is by Jocelyn Allen. A Small Charred Face contains three novellas about the Bamboo, or as others call them, vampires.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Paranoia — James Wallis, Grant Howe, Paul Dean

Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, and Eric Goldberg’s dark-comedy roleplaying game Paranoia was first published in 1984. The most recent edition, by James Wallis, Grant Howe, and Paul Dean, was released in March 2017, just in time for the Reds Under the Bed review series. How providential!

Life in Alpha Complex is pretty sweet. Most citizens (the NPCs) have all the mood-numbing drugs and meaningless drudgery they want, as well as enough carefully vetted entertainment to fill any empty hours. Their every need is fulfilled by the all-wise, all-seeing Computer. Indeed, it is against the rules for them to notice anything that might disturb them.

Player characters are not as lucky.

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When the Darkness Comes

The Black Cloud — Fred Hoyle

1957’s The Black Cloud was Sir Fred Hoyle’s first novel.

A young astronomer working a blink comparator gets a career-making break when he notices that a small black region on two photographic plates grew measurably in the month between exposures. After a hurried consultation, the discoverer and his colleagues conclude:

  • The dark spot is an interstellar cloud.
  • Its apparent growth is because it is headed towards the Solar System.
  • The lack of transverse motion means that it is headed directly at the Solar System.
  • It will arrive in about two years.

Exciting times to be an astronomer! Very exciting, because if the cloud passes between the Earth and the Sun it is dense enough to blot out sunlight entirely 1, dooming us all to a slow lingering death.

Well, the discoverer can enjoy his enhanced career for the two years he has left.

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Here in My Garden of Shadows

Point of Hopes — Melissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett
Astreiant, book 1

1995’s Point of Hopes is the first novel in Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett’s Astreiant series.

The great and powerful of Chenedolle are distracted by matters of state: the childless queen has yet to settle on a designated heir. The people of the great city of Astreiant have a far more down-to-Earth concern.

Someone is stealing their children.

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Ashes! Ashes! We All Fall Down!

The Ruined Empire — Anna Kreider

To quote the bio from Anna Krieder’s Go Make Me a Sandwich:

In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

Anna Kreider’s 2014’s The Ruined Empire answers a question many game designers must ponder: what does a designer do when due to nobody’s fault the product they worked on is no longer slated for release?

In many cases, the work is work-for-hire, the publisher owns it outright, and the work vanishes, never to be seen again.

In the case of The Ruined Empire…

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Through Night and Day

The Red Threads of Fortune — JY Yang
Tensorate, book 2

JY Yang’s The Red Threads of Fortune is the second of two upcoming novellas set in Yang’s Tensorate setting.

Four years ago, tragedy drove Mokoya away from friends and family and out into the Gusai Desert. Now she uses her Tensor skills to hunt rogue nagas. She has lost her ability to look into the future. She is depressed and often lashes out at those around her 1. She had hoped that time and distance would heal her wounds, but they still fester.

An emergency jolts her out of her wretched rut. There is something new and terrible out in the desert.

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Mommy Dearest

The Black Tides of Heaven — JY Yang
Tensorate, book 1

The Black Tides of Heaven is the first of two Tensorate novellas by JY Yang.

The Protectorate rules because it commands the magic of Slack1—or rather, the Tensors who can bend Slack to their will. Tensors are ruled in turn by the Protector, who in this generation is a woman of power, intellect, and ruthless determination. Previous generations lost much of their empire; this Protector, Sanao Hekate, has reconquered most of it.

Drought leads to civil disorder, disorder that the Protector’s Tensors cannot put down unassisted. Sanao turns to the great monastery, where pugilists (read martial artists) train. She promises Head Abbot Sung one of her children in exchange for his help. The Abbot expects to get the youngest child, a promising daughter. The Protector, determined not to lose that child, finds a way out of the promise. A new pregnancy. Twins.

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Woke Up Screaming Aloud

Roses and Rot — Kat Howard

2016’s Roses and Rot is Kat Howard’s debut novel.

Imogen and Marin have a nasty mother, an insidiously spiteful mother, a mother worse than an evil step-mom. Imogen escapes domestic torture by enrolling at a distant school that is so prestigious that her status-conscious mother cannot bring herself to cut off that escape. But Marin does not have the option (much to Imogen’s distress; she does not want to abandon her sister). Marin has to escape on her own, which she does indeed manage. She becomes a dancer.

Years later, both sisters win fellowships to an artists’ colony, Melete. It’s a chance to reconnect. It also turns out to be an encounter with fairy danger.

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I’m Goin’ Up a Hill Rollin’ a Boulder

A Different Light — Elizabeth A. Lynn

1978’s standalone novel A Different Light was written by Elizabeth A. Lynn. She is an author I enjoy..

Jimson Alleca has the bad luck (a one in a billion chance) to be an adult cancer patient in a galaxy where cancer is unknown. Modern medicine may have failed him, but it can at least offer him good odds of surviving until his fifties. Provided he is lucky. Provided his doctors can keep finding new treatments faster than the cancer can kill him. Provided he never, ever tries to leave his homeworld; the stress of travel through hyperspace would reduce his remaining years from twenty to one.

Living to be safe may be extending his life but it’s killing his soul. Others may still applaud his art, but he can tell his development has stalled. When Russell, a former lover who left Jimson years ago, sends an enigmatic message, Jimson cannot resist the lure of mystery and escape. Better one year of glory than decades of stagnation.

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May All Your Rambling Bring You Joy

Thick as Thieves — Megan Whalen Turner
Queen's Thief, book 5

2017’s Thick as Thieves is the fifth volume in Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. Previous books in the series were reviewed here, here, here, and here.

Kamet’s fate is tied to that of his owner, Nahuseresh. For much of his life, his owner’s power and prosperity have served Kamet well. He is educated, owns a handful of possessions, and enjoys considerable power as his owner’s public voice. Of late, however, Nahuseresh has suffered setback after setback. All thanks to Eugenides, former Thief of Eddis turned King of Attolia. Nahuseresh’s setbacks are Kamet’s as well.

Even so, Eugenides’ offer, relayed by his intermediary Costis, of sanctuary and freedom from his master is laughable. Why would Kamet give up all he has for life in a backward, foreign land filled with illiterate barbarians?

Escaping death is a good reason.

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Game Design in Kitchener-Waterloo

Anna Kreider

Waterloo Region has had a gaming community for as long as I’ve been aware of gaming and probably longer. Unsurprisingly, this extends to the creative side of things as well. Local gaming companies have included firms like RAFM and Guardians of Order. Waterloo Region adjacent creators have included Jose Garcia, Dave Okum, and Ed Greenwood (if memory series). There are many others. I’ve been out of the field for 16 years, so I didn’t feel comfortable writing up the local gaming scene. Instead I turned to Anna Kreider of Peach Pants Press to write a piece about her work and the work of others in the region.

By complete coincidence (I first spoke to Anna about the possibility of her writing an essay for me months ago), two of her games are featured in this week’s Bundle of Holding!

Game Design in Kitchener-Waterloo

When I first moved to Kitchener-Waterloo, I had trouble connecting with the local tabletop gaming scene and felt very disconnected from the hobby. It wasn’t until several years later that I was connected by chance to a thriving local gaming scene, which has only grown more vibrant since the opening of local board game cafes like The Adventurers’ Guild, Crossroads, and Games On Tap. And while designing games isn’t quite as popular a hobby as playing them is, Kitchener has several local game designers doing interesting work.

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