Scanning Mummies… That’s new

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To be honest, I requested Egyptian Enigma from NetGalley on a whim. I like mysteries and I like Ancient Egypt, so this sounded interesting, and the cover was cool. I guess I was thinking I’d be getting something like the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters (who is much missed).

I did not get what I was expecting, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead of a historical setting, like Amelia Peabody, it’s actually set in the now, with all the technology that goes with a contemporary setting. I also didn’t realize that this was the third book in a series, but while it clearly builds on previous books in the evolving relationships between characters, it does a good job of establishing the people in the story and their backgrounds.

The book starts off with Elizabeth Pimms and her net friend (but not lover, despite my expectations when he was introduced) Henry vacationing in Egypt. Elizabeth is an archaeologist and librarian whose career got side-tracked by her father’s death (presumably in book one), pulling her back to Australia to help support her family. They’re having a great trip, other than an incident with a thief breaking into Elizabeth’s hotel room to steal… a journal?

From that opening, Elizabeth returns home to Australia where she works in a library, is revising academic papers based on her first two mysteries, and is running her first tutoring session at the university. She’s dealing with getting her archaeology career back on track, and dealing with a crazy family that includes a Welsh grandfather, a French grandmere, and a Chinese grandmother, as well as a recently discovered illegitimate half-sister who is still adjusting to the family.

Having been fascinated by an exhibit on The Golden Tomb in Egypt, she gets together with friends (Rhoz, Nathan, Llew, and Henry via Skype) to see if they can’t figure out whose tomb it is. The surprising method used involves 3D printing of the scans of skeletons for all of the mummies found in the tomb, and using physical commonalities to try to pin the relationship between the mummies, and to other known mummies, looking for familial traits, as well as to figure out who was the right size to be in the sarcophagus.

Between scientific investigations and family drama, there is also historical chapters, actually detailing who the people in the tomb are, and how they ended up there.

My only big objection to the book was that it ended on a cliffhanger that was so abrupt that I thought maybe my copy was missing a couple of chapters, but a quick check found other people commenting on the cliffhanger as well.

Still, it was good enough that I have bought the first two books in the series, and I definitely plan to buy the fourth book when it comes out to find out why a body was found in the library with the journal that was stolen in Egypt. A solid, and fun, read.

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The Game is Afoot (again and again and again)

39078951Ah, Sherlock Holmes. The little black dress of mystery books.

For those who are unfamiliar with fanfiction, ‘little black dress’ is a term that refers to a fandom where either the characters can be translated into a variety of scenarios, or a scenario that can be applied to any number of fandoms (the scenario of the television show The Sentinel from the 90s continues to be applied to all sorts of fandoms and characters from other shows, and the next round of Rough Trade next month is going to be a Sentinel one. It’s being applied to everything from Harry Potter to The Avengers to Star Trek, and a lot of weird choices in between).

Sherlock Holmes is a concept that has been translated in all sorts of ways, mainly by moving the characters to different environments. The most recent examples are the BBC Sherlock, and CBS’s Elementary. Both take the characters and move them to contemporary times, one of them also doing a gender switch on Dr Watson. I did find it ironic that for the show Sherlock, they didn’t even have to change Watson’s background; he is still a military doctor injured in Afghanistan.

And here comes Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot, a collection that makes me want to run out and buy the first one.

This collection delightfully takes Holmes and Watson into all sorts of directions. There’s the SF stories, the fantasy stories, the contemporary stories, and the historical stories. Want to see Holmes go to the other side as a killer? You’re covered. Want to see them as coffee shop owners in Australia (yes, rather specific)? It’s there. Want a Sherlock who *knows* he’s a fictional character? You’ve got it. Female versions of both characters are there. Or Sherlock and Watson as home AIs? Yep.

There’s even a story where they are married, as members of an alien race that have no gender until they want to procreate, and are fighting a Moriarty who is from a shape-shifting race.

When I look back, I can’t think of a single story that disappointed me. I highly recommend this collection to any Holmes fans.

Travelling the Silk Road… or not

35576093I’ve been reading more and more non-fiction lately, and current affairs is an area where I am trying to expand my knowledge, so when I saw this book on NetGalley, I put in my request immediately, and was happy to get a change to read it.

Still, The Return of Marco Polo’s World was a book I felt a little conflicted by.

First off, the essays that made up the middle of the book, originally published in The Atlantic, are based around a number of subjects. There are articles about various thinkers and advisers who tried to guide US foreign policy in a very pragmatic direction. Following high morals just does not work, since what works in North America and Europe isn’t necessarily going to work in other parts of the work, and trying to force Western-style democracy on the middle east or Asia is likely to cause even more chaos than is already there. The author, and the subjects of his essays, push a more pragmatic stance of looking at possible interventions and making choices based on whether it will be good for the security of the US, not whether it is the ‘moral’ thing to do.

The essays on the morass of the middle-east follow similar thought paths — only step in if it will, in some way, make things better for the US. And I am not foolish enough to claim that what is good for the US is not good for Canada.

It’s a somewhat cynical, and very pragmatic, look at foreign policy, and where its focus should be. As someone who is pretty left-wing (in a country that is also very left-wing), I found myself heavily agreeing with him there. I’m left-wing at home, but feel that we should let other countries work out their problems. Provide aid where they need it, but not try to police them. Iraq under Hussein was not good, but is it really any better now? Or further back, the US interfered in Afghanistan in the cold war days, and while they knocked the USSR out of the country, the result was the Taliban, and later Al-Qaeda, filling the power vacuum when the US declared job done and walked away.

Unfortunately, the opening and closing pieces, written (or heavily revised) for the book are less successful. The opening attempts to tie Marco Polo’s era into the present, travelling along the corridor that China wants to develop with high-speed travel as a modern version of the Silk Road. To be honest, that piece dragged, and the sentence structure was so tortured that I had to keep rereading paragraphs to make sure of what he was saying. As well, he periodically threw in words that I had to look up. I consider myself well-read with a large vocabulary, but in several places I came across words that I couldn’t even figure out from the context. Thankfully, my Kobo has a word lookup dictionary.

The closing piece, on China, was shorter, but again went for the overdone language. It made me wish that those two pieces had the same editor(s) as the magazine essays.

In the end, the book’s contents had little to do with the title, although the subtitle was a more clear description of the contents. I just wished that it had been billed more as an essay collection than trying to force in a theme that only really showed up in the opening that was, to me, superfluous.

But looking at only the magazine essays, this is a book well worth reading.

It’s Readathon Time (April 2018)

8am

The Dewey 24 hour Readathon is starting in a minute. This time, I have less time, since my family is having a brunch get together today, so that’s a several hours break in the middle.

Outside of that, I plan on binging on Tor.com novellas, an essay collection, and an audio book. First up, Dusk of Dark or Dawn or Day, by Seanan Mcguire. The lives of ghosts in New York City.

9:30 am

Time to head over to Dad’s. Since I will be driving, I am switching to River of Teeth, bu Sarah Bailey. Hippos in the American South, and a cowboy historical. Can you get sillier than that?

1:45 pm

Home from a delicious brunch, and resisting the urge to take a nap. I’m 25% of the way through River of Teeth, but now I’m switching back to the McGuire.

3 pm

I’m now 90% through the McGuire (and it’s a fantastic read), but brunch is weighing down my eyelids, so I’m going to crawl into bed for a couple of hours. I’ll see how much of the Gailey I can listen to without losing track of the story.

5 pm

The nap helped. I am now halfway through River of Teeth. Time to finish Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, then into the next novella.

6 pm

Seanan McGuire made me cry. Not for the first time, and I doubt for the last. I then moved on to Cry Murder! in a Small Voice, by Greer Gilman. It’s a short chapbook mystery with William Shakespeare, but Gilman’s beautiful prose makes it a leisurely read. I’m only 25% into it so far.

7 pm

I’m at 55% in Cry Murder. The book is only 62 pages, but the language deserves to be read slowly and with great attention.

8 pm

85% done. I’m almost to the end of Cry Murder. Then I’ll go back to River of Teeth. I want to finish it before tackling the next book.

9 pm

I finished Cry Murder! In a Small Voice, and am now 67% through River of Teeth. I will finish it before I consider bed.

10 pm

I finished River of Teeth, and was tempted to jump straight into the sequel, but instead I decided that after dark fantasy, historical mystery, and alternative history it is time for an SF book, so I am now 12% into Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.

11 pm

I am 58% of the way through Binti, and my Kobo has 11% battery left. My eyes are getting tired, so I figure I’ll go to bed either when I finish the book, or when I have to p,ug in to recharge.

11:40 pm

I just finished Binti as my Kobo started complaining about low battery. That, plus the burning eyes, are my cue to go to bed. Ill set the alarm early enough to get up and read some more before time runs out at 8 am. I had that long break for the family outing, but still I’ve read 405 pages in the Readathon so far.

6 am

Time for the last push. I’m going to try to finish one last Tor.com novella, Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal. The length is one I should be able to finish in two hours.

7 am

One hour left to go, and I’m 62% through, so I will definitely finish this last novella. It’s an interesting little mystery story set in the future, one where everyone is connected to something like the internet, but there are (mostly) wild spaces. While the narrator is in danger, the world she lives in seems quite hopefull.

8 am (well not quite)

I finished Forest of Memory, and now I want to go to Audible and buy all the METAtropolis shared world anthologies that it’s a part of. I didn’t realize what it was a part of going into the novella.

Now I’m going to end off the 24 hour period with a little fan fiction reading, then go back to bed for a few hours.

Trying to understand the right

36354146As part of my reading goals for the year, I added an additional goal of trying to understand people I fundamentally disagree with. I started by listening to the audiobook version of Anne Coulter’s In Trump We Trust, which just left me wanting to throttle her (Note: she narrates her own book). Mind you, I will freely admit to being pretty darned lefty, even for a Canadian, and my two best friends are an Argentinian and an Indian (Asian, that is) who both immigrated to Canada as children and became citizens, so Coulter’s constant arguments about immigrants (both those who came through legal means and illegal means) being the root of everything bad in the US made me wonder about her sanity.

A better choice for reading was Everything You Love Will Burn, by Vegas Tenold. The author is a journalist, born in raised in Norway, so his point of view was easier to get into. He decided to look into the state of white nationalist organisations. He started long before Trump was even being talked about as a candidate for the 2016 presidential race. His way in was a then fairly minor nationalist, Matthew Heimbach, who helped him with contacting other groups, always openly as a journalist trying to understand them. Heimbach has grown in prominence over the years, as Tenold followed him around from time to time.

He also gets into the history of white supremacist organisations, such as the KKK, and looks at modern variations of the KKK and skinheads and neo-nazis, and other organisations that run the gamut from get rid of non-whites in… permanent ways, to whites should control everything, and finally calling for the complete separation of the races into different countries (much like the post-civil war push to get freed slave to chose to go back to Africa, resulting in the country Liberia).

Heimbach falls into the last category. He doesn’t spout white supremacy, but he thinks that whites should have their own nation, while the other races should be somewhere else (where isn’t really defined). He actually comes across as a pretty easy going kind of guy. Reasonable, at least until he decides to start talking about why the Holocaust couldn’t possibly have happened.

One thing that really stands out in the book is the comparison of the difference from the white supremacists and nationalist organization of the early to mid-twentieth century, which was their heyday, to where they are today. Today, by the end of the book, seemed pretty… sad. And pathetic. Despite the events in Charlottesville, where a woman was killed, and Trump refused to denounce the alt-right protesters whose actions led to her death, it appears that white nationalists have trouble getting any real numbers showing up for protests, and the ones who usually do show up are ones that just wanted a fight.

Basically, my takeaway from the book was that despite the occasional resurgence from people like Matthew Heimbach and Richard Spence, these organizations seem to be slowly fading away, since that majority of the generation coming up don’t agree with their attitudes.

And even those new faces of the movement are running into problems. Richard Spencer thinks that antifa makes college appearances no fun, and he can’t find a lawyer for a suit brought against him over the Charlottesville incident. And Matthew Heimbach was recently arrested for domestic violence, after a fight with the co-founder of his organisation over Heimbach’s affair with the man’s wife, which turned into an attack on his own wife.

If these people are the future of white nationalism, I would expect to see them continue to fade.

 

 

Ararat by Christopher Golden

32307807I missed posting last week, but I’m going to blame it on the fact that I was reading/listening to four books at the same time (a thriller, a horror novel, non-fiction, and a fantasy novel). With that many books on the go, I didn’t finish any of them, and due to work, I just didn’t have the energy to write up something on a past read. But I finished a book today, and I will be finishing a second tomorrow, since I now have a bit more time and energy to read.

The book I just finished is Ararat, by Christopher Golden. Golden is a writer I’ve seen a lot of, since he writes tv tie-ins and comic books, but I’ve actually only read one of his books previously, Snowblind. Snowblind and Ararat have a lot in common, when you examine them. Both involve people trapped by winter weather, dealing with dark forces that possess people and make them do awful, violent things.

In Ararat, the scenario is that an avalanche on Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark supposedly came to land, has uncovered… a very large boat. It’s never positively identified as Noah’s ark, but it is certainly inferred. And the expedition that reaches it first, led by Adam, a Jew, and his fiancée Meryem, a Muslim, finds not just a boat with remains on board, there is also a box sealed with bitumen, and when the box is opened, they find a skeleton inside.

A skeleton with horns.

A last group joins the expedition — a DARPA scientist in disguise, a UN representative, and a Catholic priest — just as a blizzard cuts them off, far from any form of help. Everyone is on edge due to the implications of the skeleton, and conflicts seem amplified, until people first start disappearing, and then murdering each other. At this point, it becomes a fight for survival, where the only way to escape is to climb down a treacherous mountain in bad weather.

I really enjoyed this book. Like Snowblind before it, it builds the tension masterfully until the horror beaks out. A few things were a little too on the nose, like having a Jew and a Muslim couple, as well as the priest, present, making sure that all major religions in the region represented. Still, I can forgive that, since all three are well-drawn, sympathetic characters with faults.

I look forward to seeing what Christopher Golden does next. I just really hope that it’s set someplace tropical.

Now I just need to finish the rest of the three books on the go, and try not to get so overloaded again. I should be finishing the next book in the next couple of days. But I also have a reserved book at the library that needs to be picked  up by Tuesday.

So many books, so little time.

The Return of Captain Nemo

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Nemo Rising popped up at me on NetGalley, since I’ve seen various versions of Nemo and the Nautilus through the years, and I thought a new version of a sequel focused on the US would be interesting. This one turned out to be a double-dose of Verne, although I didn’t realize it when I was reading that it was a cross-over with another Verne anti-hero. When the villain revealed his real name, I had the feeling that I should know who he was, but it wasn’t until the author’s notes at the end that I figured out who he was. Mind you, he comes from some of Verne’s lesser known works. Seriously, everyone knows 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Those three in particular have been adapted for film and television many times over the years.

But Robur the Conqueror? That was one I’d never heard of.

Basic plot of the book is that strange sea creatures are attacking ships in the Atlantic, and the world is blaming the US, recently out of their civil war. President Ulysses S Grant finally decides to go with a dangerous plan to prove that his country is not behind the attacks: Nemo is in a US prison, and his aide’s daughter has been repairing the Nautilus. They release Nemo from prison, and with the daughter, Sarah, as part of the crew, they send Nemo to find out who is behind the attacks, and prove the US innocent.

While Nemo and a possibly not very loyal crew head out to fulfill their side of the bargain, with Sarah tasked with killing Nemo if he strays, Grant and Duncan (Sarah’s father) work the diplomatic side, despite sabotage and assassination attempts.

From the description, you might expect a book full of action and thrills, and I had high hopes, but unfortunately the end product didn’t entirely deliver. There was action, and there was thrills in places, but the events were so muddled that I had trouble figuring out the overall plot. The ideas were great, but the end result was a bit of a muddled mess.

I might recommend this to a Jules Verne enthusiast, but definitely not to the general reader with only a vague knowledge of the man’s writings.

On the other hand, I might take a look at Robur the Conqueror, if I can find a copy.

I love my ereaders

20180202_105652.jpgI’m going to throw something different out here: Instead of reviewing a book, I am going to review an ereader. Specifically, my brand new (since Christmas) Kobo Aura One.

I have a long history with ereaders, since I am an avid reader, and when travelling on vacation, the weight of the books I take with me is ridiculous. For example, when I graduated from University, my father and I went to Jamaica for a week. I took twelve books with me for the week (including one large hardcover), and I was reading the last book on the flight home. So, when the earliest ereaders came along, I was all for it.

My first ereader was the first dedicated ereader: the second generation Rocket eBook. I ordered it by mail from the US shortly before NuvoMedia (the parent company) was bought by Gemstart-TV. A couple of years later, it went out of production. I didn’t buy many books from them, but I did buy from Baen Books (their ebook sales from the beginning could be downloaded in all sorts of formats, which became helpful later). I also loaded lots of fanfiction onto it for reading. That device cost me about $500 dollars. It was a little bulky, due to the battery of the time, and the screen was a glowing green screen with black letters (check online and you’ll find lots of screenshots).

Then, about four years later, I bought a Sony eReader, after the arrival of eInk. I loved it. It was more like reading paper, and the battery lasted more than a week. Plus, I could load library ebooks onto it. And handy enough, I could go back and re-download all my Baen purchases in the new format. At first, Sony had their own format for files, but eventually they moved over to the more standard epub. I bought most of my book from Kobo, though, since the prices were in Canadian dollars, and I could download them and transfer them to my Sony. This device cost me $400, and I was more than happy to pay that.

And about four years after that, I decided to upgrade again. This time I went to the Kobo HD. It had a larger screen, higher resolution, and the battery would generally last about three weeks. And when I configured it, it promptly downloaded all the books I had previously bought. It was fantastic. Okay, I quickly ran out of space, but it also allowed for a memory card to expand the space. This was one of their higher-end ereaders, and cost $175. After that, I also bought a Kobo Mini for my niece (who wanted one, but rarely uses it)

But four years later (notice a trend here?), Kobo tempted me to upgrade again. Last year, they came out with the Kobo Aura One, which is their highest priced ereader ($250), but offered a feature I really appreciated it: a tie-in to the Overdrive account for your library. When you search the Kobo store on the device, you can also check to see if the book is available from your library, right from the results, and check it out or reserve it. And if you check the book out through the library’s web page, all you have to do is sync your Kobo, and it will download to the ereader. This feature is only available on this edition of the Kobo, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become standard. It’s the best new feature I could hope for.

It’s also a waterproof ereader (one review I read talked about submerging it in a bowl of water for an hour and a half, and their only problem is that the touch screen didn’t work under water), so I finally have an ereader that I am willing to read in the bathtub, since if I drop it, it’s not going to be destroyed. It still took a lot of convincing myself before I did that the first time.

And with the amount of reading I do, even with periodically connecting to WiFi to download material, one battery charge has lasted almost four weeks for me. Without turning on the WiFi, it would probably last me a full month, and I do a lot of reading. I’ve also reached the point in my life where my back can be a little twitchy, and where once upon a time I would have always had three books in my bag at any time, now I just have the ereader, which weighs less that most trade paperbacks, and it currently has 1459 books on it (yes, it does. Those daily deals are impossible to resist, and I keep telling myself I’ll read them all. Eventually).

I’ve seen lots of articles about how ebook sales are falling, and ereaders are boring. Everyone reads on their phones, they say. Well, I now buy more ebooks than paper (sorry, space and weight requires it). And as for reading on my phone, it makes my eyes ache, staring at a backlit screen for long periods of time. Honestly, if they told me that production of all eInk ereaders would be coming to an end, I would probably run out and spend a thousand dollars to buy a bunch of backups, and keep them in the back of my closet.

In short, I love eInk-based eReaders, and of the dedicated eReaders I have owned over the last decade and more, the Kobo Aura One is as close to perfect as I can imagine.

Until the next time they come up with an improvement I can’t do without.

When guilty pleasures disappoint

36262498I have a weakness for monster stories. They are a guilty pleasure of mine. For example, I went (by myself) to see Godzilla in the theatre. Come on, giant monsters stomping cities? Definitely a fun couple of hours, despite the plot holes, because I really like the characters.

So, when I saw Arachnosaur on NetGalley, I thought that would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, some guilty pleasures turn out not to be pleasures, and this was one of those.

Basically, two soldiers are the only survivors in an attempt to take out a terrorist group in the middle east. They are recruited to figure out how the terrorist group became so dangerous, especially since the senior survivor swears he saw another soldier blow up from the inside out.

The answer, of course, is giant primordial spiders found by the terrorists, who are trying to turn the effects of the spider webs (that’s what makes people go boom) into a weapon that they apparently want to sell for reasons never stated.

Along the way, the two soldiers pick up a pilot named ‘Speedy’ Gonzales, a doctor who is both female and Arab (and can whip up a serum that does something pretty ridiculous to save the lead at the end), a prostitute who name keeps changing from Lailani to Leilani and back (sloppy editing there). There’s also a captain who is a good guy but turns into an antagonist later, and a retired general who recruits them in the end for a ‘we fight the monsters no one believes in’ type organization. (preview chapters from the sequel appear at the end of the book)

I could have taken the plot falling apart and the ridiculous science at the end if the characters were likeable, but unfortunately, Daniels made me want to throw my ereader at a wall. He’s crude and sex-obsessed, likes to sleep with lots of prostitutes around the world (not sure why he isn’t in palliative care from all the STIs he must have), and his idea of good sex is being a jackhammer (seriously, no foreplay at all?). He also uses drugged condoms to take out a woman twice in the books (seriously?).

Then there’s the prostitute whose name keeps changing spelling. Supposedly, she finds Daniels’ confidence appealing, and his jackhammer imitation to be good. When the whorehouse is attacked (for no apparent reason), she jumps on his back, and he just runs around with her, and when confronting attackers without a weapon of his own, he plucks her off his back and throws her at the attacker like an angry cat. Sigh. And after that, she comes with them and helps? Oh yeah, and it turns out that one of her jobs is going to Abu Dhabi and working as a dominatrix. I kid you not.

Add all of this to soldiers in the middle east who have never heard of The Empty Quarter (hell, even *I* know what that is, at least in general).

Finally, the climactic scene had me going ‘ew’, and not in a good way.

All in all, I really can’t recommend this book to just about anybody. And yet, the preview chapters for the next book in the series kind of appealed. But only if there’s nothing better to read at the time.

Space Janitors can be Bad-Ass

31363503Jim C Hines strikes me as a very funny guy. Even if you haven’t read his books, you might have heard of his game, a few years back, where he reproduced the back-breaking poses from the covers of popular paranormal romances (making the point that men on covers have reasonable poses, while women are put into poses that implies they are contortionists — apparently his chiropractor got a lot of business out of the exercise).

His novels are often just as tongue in cheek. For example, his Princess series take fairy tale princesses, and puts them together as action heroines.

Terminal Alliance, the first book in the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse trilogy, does a similar thing of taking a ridiculous concept, and then puts it in a serious scenario. It’s hard to take it too serious, and yet the plot gets very much so.

In this world, Earth was infected with a virus that turned humans into feral animals. Not zombies, but maybe a 28 Days Later sort of effect. Amazingly, they still survived until the kindly Krakau came by. They came up with a cure, and start restoring a number of humans at a time. Those humans are strong, near impossible to kill, and have no memories. Of course they go to work for the Krakau.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is the head janitor on the Pufferfish, an Earth Mercenary Corps ship commanded by a bridge crew of Krakau. When coming to the rescue of another ship, a new virus infects the Pufferfish, reverting to the human members of the crew to feral state. The command crew is dead, and the only unaffected humans are Mops and her team, who were in suits at the time for a repair.

Along with Doc, an AI, they get control of the ship and call the Krakau for help. Unfortunately, the Krakau plan to ‘put down’ the affected crew. Not willing to accept that, Mops and her team take the Pufferfish on a hunt to find the aliens who created this new virus, and find a cure for their fellow crew, despite being instantly named as rogues with a price on their head. And along the way, find out the truth of what originally infected their planet.

The universe is an interesting one, populated by relatable aliens, and others that are so alien that they can barely be understood. The various characters are engaging, including the extremely competent Mops, the gleefully violent Wolf, Monroe with his glitchy mechanical eye, the sarcastic AI Doc (who is part of a monocle that Mops wears), the very juvenile alien Azure, the sympathetic Krakau Admiral.

And while the world and the plot are very serious, I giggled my way through large parts of the book. The humour was perfectly balanced for my taste. It will be interesting to see what happens in the second part of the trilogy.

Life on the Moon isn’t as glamorous as you might think

34928122Second novels can be tricky, especially when the first novel was a hit. People who loved the first book expect the second to be just as good, but where the author might have had years to refine their first novel, they often get a contract that gives them a lot less time to finish the second.

When The Martian – Andy Weir’s wildly successful first novel, which was originally self-published – came out, I read it and loved it. I gave my father a copy for his Christmas book (everyone on my Christmas list gets a book as part of their gift), and he loved it. We saw the movie together in the theatres and really enjoyed it (even if they did throw out a good portion of the second half of the novel).

As a result, I approached Artemis with a lot of trepidation. There was no way it was going to measure up to The Martian, but I hoped that it would still be a good read.

Thankfully, it was.

Artemis takes place on the first city on the moon, where the locals live in cramped spaces (for the most part), and tourism is a large part of the economy, as the rich and powerful come to see where Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon.

Jazz moved to the moon with her father, a welder, when she was a child. Now estranged, she works as a runner, and as a smuggler. She’s trying to earn a very set amount of money that we don’t find out the reason for that amount until nearly the end of the story. Among other things, she smuggles contraband combustables (ie, cigars) for a businessman who moved to the moon to make things easier for his disabled daughter.

But then her client hires her to sabotage a business rival, offering an insane amount of money. But of course things go wrong, and Jazz finds herself on the run from the organized crime backers of the rival. She feels she has no choice but to to try to follow through on her promise.

The plot moved along nicely, and I enjoyed the planning and the action, but unfortunately the characters didn’t work as well as they could have. It seemed like Weir was checking off the diversity list. The main character is an Arab woman whose father is a devout Muslim. The on-Earth smuggling partner is in Africa, and presumabley black. Jazz has to work with a male former friend who stole her boyfriend. Another ally is the awkward geek. The cop is actually a former Mountie (who should not still be wearing the uniform). The bad guys are Brazilian. The city administrator is Kenyan. The daughter of the employer is in a wheelchair. After all that, you basically have a full Bingo card.

Still, Jazz was likeable, and you definitely get the feel that she had a life before and after the novel.

So, while Artemis is nowhere near as successful as The Martian, I would recommend it to fans of hard sf. I just don’t think it was be as big a breakout as The Martian was, outside of the SF fandom.

Goals for 2018

Welcome to 2018! Okay, we’re almost at the end of the first week of the year, but still, welcome.

It’s been nearly a year since I started this blog, and I was pretty scattershot with my reading last year. I will read just about anything that is words on a page (hence the blog name), but I didn’t direct my reading in any way.

So, now that it’s a new year, and I’m finishing the books I started over the Christmas holidays soon, I thought I’d set myself a few goals for this year. I’ve read people talking about how they were going to read classics, or only female authors, or only diverse authors. I’m not willing to limit my reading, but I have been trying to expand my reading.

For example, last year, one of my quiet goals was to read more poetry, and I did in fact read more poetry than I have since my school days (and lord, I hated the poetry they made us read then). Did I read a *lot* of poetry? No, but I might not have read any poetry at all otherwise. I even found one poet that made me all fangirly, and I now follow her on Instagram, because she is awsome.

Still, goals for this year. I want to eat better. I want to walk more. I want to sleep more. The usual sort of shit.

But for reading, I’ve settled on a few goals.

First of all, I want to read more short stories. Short fiction has never been one of my interests, although I’ve read some great ones. I did read four anthologies last year, all in the SF/F field, but this year I want to tackle some of the collections I have on my shelves. Helen Oyeyemi, Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell are some of the short story writers who I have collections of on my TBR shelves, and I want to try and get through those.

Second, I want to read more books in translation. My reading has been very North American focused (and occasionally a book from the UK). Some of those writers may have been born abroad, but I’d like to try to get more books read that are translated from other languages.

Third, I have a trilogy (The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett) that I picked up each book as they came out, and now I want to actually read them. These can be my bathtub reads as soon as I finish the four book Lian Hearn series that I am in the middle of book three for.

Fourth, I love history, but I tend to focus on certain eras, certain countries (mainly the Ancient Mediterranean, such as Egypt, Classical Greece, Roman Empire). I want to read a history book about a time and area that I don’t tend to pay much attention to.

Five, I want to tackle Bookriot’s Read Harder challenge for this year. I did the 2016 challenge, but I don’t think I got anywhere with 2017’s list. But the list of categories for 2018 look appealing.

And reading adjacent, I want to publish a blog post every week. I think I can make sure to post at least once a week (not including any ‘what am I reading’ posts).

So, goals. Hopefully I’ll actually succeed with a few of them. Certainly, I’ve got enough goals to keep me busy.

First to come: A review of Artemis, by Andy Weir.