“The Sudden Appearance of Hope” by Claire North

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Despite falling under the broad genre of “speculative fiction”, it’s different in many ways from my usual fare.

The protagonist of the book is Hope, a woman who cannot be remembered for more than 60 seconds unless you’re in an active conversation with her. She ends up using her “ability” to become a thief and a con-artist, but longs for normal human relationships. She’s doing pretty good with the strict rules she sets for herself, but she makes a mistake when a woman she enjoys spending time with commits suicide. She steals from people she would ordinarily have avoided, and that has serious consequences – she can’t just count on her abilities to hide her anymore, she has to figure out who she wants to be.

I don’t think I did justice to the book with that summary, it’s also a story about the logical extreme of our culture of conformity and oversharing – the app Perfection which ingests every piece of data about your life and gives you rewards if you fit its definition of what a human should be. Hope is one of the players in this story, and it doesn’t matter that she’s forgettable, except to her own personal arc.

I’m usually skeptical of media that features software or hacking as a major plot point; I’m a software engineer, and books and movies get it so wrong usually. I couldn’t really find fault with The Sudden Appearance of Hope, though – the description of connecting to the “darknet” via Tor, the details of how an app like Perfection would work, etc. It’s not perfect, but it was good enough that it didn’t draw me out of the story because it seemed implausible. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a huge compliment.

Anyway, I really liked this book. Hope is unique, of course – she is always alone in the most awful of ways, and and pulls you into her worldview with surprising ease. The supporting characters are compelling almost because of the nature of the story, they have to be idealistic enough find ways to interact with Hope in a meaningful way. The book explores lots of interesting ideas about the nature of identity, the dangers (and benefits) of surveillance, and humanity’s inexorable attraction to conformity, while managing to tell both a tight personal story about Hope, and a broader one about the effect of technology on the world.


The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
Redhook, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Weekly Movie Reviews: Feb 12-18, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge is based on the real-life story of Desmond Doss, an American combat medic who served in World War II and was the first conscientious objector awarded the Medal of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty. He single-handedly saved around 75 soldiers in the aftermath of a battle when almost everyone else had retreated.

Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, and he’s fantastic. He comes off as naive and almost cute, but he’s also stubborn enough about his convictions to put up with constant harassment during boot camp and stand his ground. Everyone else in the movie does a great job too – it was hard for me to buy Hugo Weaving (Elrond in The Lord of the Rings movies) as a potbellied drunk, but he was good enough that I suspended my disbelief quickly. I’m a fan of Mel Gibson’s direction from the movie Apocalpyto, and from what I see here, I need to keep watching his movies. The confusion and terror of war is portrayed very well, it ranks up there with Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan.

I thought Doss’ story was amazing; I didn’t know the army allowed conscientious objectors to serve in combat, and that there were actually some decorated for bravery! After the movie, I read about Doss, and it turns out that he’s even more heroic in real life  – not all his exploits and injuries were depicted in the movie.

Other Movies Watched

Hell or High Water (2016)

This movie follows two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), who rob a series of Texas banks in order to save their family ranch. Jeff Bridges plays the Texas Ranger that is on their case, and he’s outstanding in the role. I thought the style of this movie was interesting, Wikipedia calls it a “neo-western”, which I didn’t realize was a genre. It does seem a lot like a Western, but it’s set in modern Texas. Hell or High Water isn’t exactly a happy movie, but it’s thoughtful, the characters are well-developed, and it strikes balanced notes of hope and realism at the end. Highly recommended.

Queen of Katwe (2016)

I’m a big fan of Mira Nair, and I was pretty excited to see her latest movie (based on a true story) about Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the slums of Katwe in Uganda who becomes a chess profigy. I love underdog stories, and chess is a particularly great example of it since you just need your mind to play well. Nair throws you into the sights and sounds of Katwe without much explanation, and it works really well. The actors seem like they’re mostly unknown, although we do have Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mom and David Oyelowo as Phiona’s chess coach. This is simply a good movie – all the details are right, we get a vivid sense of where Phiona comes from and her story is truly inspiring.

Doctor Strange (2016)

I think this was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in a few years that we didn’t see in theaters – we’re getting superhero fatigue. Doctor Strange is actually pretty good, though. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the arrogant genius (of course) neurosurgeon Stephen Strange who loses function in his hands after an accident. Seeking the use of his hands again, he ends up being the student of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches him to be a powerful sorcerer. As he learns the use of his new powers, he has to stop being selfish and save the Earth from the Ancient One’s misguided former student (Mads Mikkelsen, who’s great, but absolutely wasted as a generic villain.) Cumberbatch is great is this role, he tempers Strange’s hubris with genuine sadness. For once, the end of the movie didn’t involve wanton property damage either.

Wyatt Earp (1994)

Wyatt Earp came out the year after Tombstone, which both Joseph and I really enjoyed, and I was skeptical of this movie since I thought it would cover the same story. Fortunately, it’s a pretty different movie – it’s more of a traditional biopic of Wyatt Earp and the events in Tombstone are just a part of the narrative. Kevin Costner’s Earp is a pretty flawed and relatable character, but you can see where the myths surrounding him came from. Dennis Quaid is almost unrecognizable (and very good) as Earp’s equally legendary friend, Doc Holliday. The movie seemed a little unfocused at times, but it was still pretty good.

 Allied (2016)

This movie stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as two Allied spies that fall in love on a mission and try to build a life together. I almost loved this movie, it’s gorgeous, and the acting is wonderful. Unfortunately the plot doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the movie, the characters don’t seem consistent with their later actions (I can’t go into details because it would spoil the movie), and some parts of the movie were quite melodramatic. I also noticed a couple of major plotholes that pulled me out of the story a bit. The first act of the movie with the mission in Casablanca was really immersive, though.

Dragonfly (2002)

Dragonfly is a weird movie starring Kevin Costner as a doctor who believes his recently deceased wife is talking to him via patients with near-death experiences. I wasn’t really looking forward to watching this movie, but we’re slowly making our way through Kevin Costner’s entire catalogue, and we had to get to this at some point. I’m not a big fan of horror, and this movie definitely has horror tones, although it tries to imply that the things that are happening are also magical and desirable at the same time. Only M. Night Shyamalan can pull off the creepy/hopeful aesthetic with any degree of success, this movie just seemed like a bad knockoff. Watch The Sixth Sense or Signs instead.

“Discount Armageddon” by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon is the first book of the InCryptid urban fantasy series by Seanan McGuire. We follow Verity Price, a member of a family that has dedicated their lives to protecting the cryptid (monster) community (which also includes hunting the cryptids that become a threat to humans.) Verity has moved to New York City to try and decide between her two burgeoning careers – ballroom dance and cryptozoology, but her life becomes more complicated when a member of the Covenant (a rival society that takes a more hardline attitude towards cryptids) arrives in town, and then cryptids start disappearing mysteriously.

Urban fantasy is not my favorite genre – perhaps because cities and sexy clothes/hairdos and nightclubs and so on don’t really appeal to me, even as wish fulfillment. I did enjoy Jacqueline Carey’s Agent of Hel series, but that was more small-town fantasy than urban fantasy. But I’ve heard great things about Seanan McGuire, so I wanted to give this series a go.

As far as urban fantasy goes, Discount Armageddon was pretty good. Verity is a fun protagonist, she’s your typical sexy badass girl who carries a lot of weapons and knows how to use them while looking fabulous all the time (although she does get covered in blood and sewer-juice fairly often.) The central adventure was okay, although I felt like it was a little anticlimactic because the villains were all faceless and we didn’t get to know their motivations very well.

I really didn’t understand Verity’s relationship with her love interest, Dominic, who is supposed to be this cultish killer, but instead ends up being hot, interested in her, and willing to sacrifice all his beliefs that he’s grown up with pretty much instantly. Also, I found the character of Sarah somewhat inconsistent, she’s constantly described as an awkward mathematician, but nothing she said seemed that awkward or nerdy or mathematical to me (other than the one reference to Babylon 5, which I appreciated.) I mean, I know urban fantasy is supposed to be dumb fun, so maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Speaking of reading too much into things, I had so many questions about the world that were not satisfactorily answered. Why are certain animals classified as cryptids but others are just normal animals? – sapience doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. How do cryptids keep themselves secret if there are so many different species of them? Why doesn’t the Covenant have a permanent presence in the U.S.? Why is this book called Discount Armageddon, other than it being a cool name? And so on…

It’s a good thing that I have questions because it means that I’m into the series enough to think about it. I’ll probably read the next book in the series fairly soon.


Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire (InCryptid, #1)
DAW Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Weekly Movie Reviews: Feb 5-11, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Ordinary People (1980)

Ordinary People is the directorial debut of Robert Redford, and won the Best Picture Oscar the year it came out. It is about a family dealing with the loss of their older son in a boating accident. Conrad, the younger son, has just returned from a four month stay at a psychiatric hospital, and his parents have very different reactions to the situation.

I thought this was a fantastic movie. Timothy Hutton and Mary Tyler Moore picked up major awards for their performances as Conrad and his mother Beth, and the other actors are great too – Donald Sutherland (playing someone who is not evil and/or crazy, for a change) is lovable as Conrad’s father Calvin, and Judd Hirsch plays the curmudgeonly psychiatrist to perfection. The story is subtly told, and the characters react to things like real people. That does mean they’re not always nice – Conrad’s mother Beth, for example, is selfish, emotionally distant, and overly concerned with appearances.

Ordinary People is fundamentally a happy movie – we see characters come to terms with themselves and the world around them. Unlike other movies (I’m looking at you, Captain Fantastic), that doesn’t mean a tidy ending where everything is tied up in a bow. and instead it takes the characters’ behavior to its logical conclusion. This really sealed the deal for me and catapulted the movie to one of my favorites.

Other Movies Watched

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Billy Lynn is an Iraqi war hero who is being paraded around the country with the rest of his squad for publicity before being redeployed. At the final stop on his tour, a halftime show for a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game, he contemplates his life and choices. I was pretty excited to see this movie because it’s directed by Ang Lee, who is amazing, and Chris Tucker is in it, and he’s rarely in movies these days.

I thought this movie was really good. The way the shots are framed can get uncomfortable at times, and it’s shot at 120 frames per second (movies are usually shot at 24 fps, the Hobbit movies were notable for being shot at 48 fps), which adds to the sense of discomfort. It was a good choice, though, because Billy is uncomfortable and it makes the audience feel more connected to his story. The acting and casting was great – newcomer Joe Alwyn as Billy, Vin Diesel as Billy’s staff sergeant that he gets a medal for trying to protect, Garrett Hedlund as the wry leader of Billy’s squad, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin, Kristen Stewart, pretty much everyone. The movie was also constantly self-referential, which I enjoyed – Billy’s squad is performing in a show while trying to get a movie made about their story, so there’s plenty of opportunity for meta dialogue.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)

We watched the other two Hobbit movies last week, but I was most excited about this one because I hadn’t seen it before. It’s a great conclusion to the series, and as the title suggests, it’s basically one huge battle. Bilbo, as always, is the best character. Martin Freeman has a lot on his shoulders, and carries it beautifully. I was not a big fan of the interpersonal drama involving Tauriel, Legolas, and Kili – it seems like a cheap emotional ploy to get the audience to care about characters. I also thought Thranduil’s motivations could have been explained a little bit better, he seemed to do whatever was convenient to the plot. That being said, it was great to see the how the alliance of men, elves, and dwarves came together.

Titanic (1997)

I always think of Titanic as defining my generation. It was the first English movie that I remember being a huge deal in India. I only saw Titanic once, but I can sing The Heart Will Go On pretty much from memory, and I’m terrible at remembering lyrics. I hadn’t seen it for about fifteen years, though, so I was looking forward to seeing it from a fresh perspective. And… it’s pretty good, but it also has flaws.

James Cameron is the master of making formulaic movies that are made so well that you almost don’t notice the predictability, and Titanic is probably his masterpiece. The attention to detail is astounding – the sets are gorgeous and immersive, and the people walk, talk, and act differently from the way they do these days. They even filmed at the real Titanic wreck twelve times! But it is formulaic, and the characters are mostly just archetypes, and that’s okay – not every movie has to have well-rounded characters. Jack is only likeable because he’s everything Rose needs him to be, and isn’t really a character otherwise, and Cal seems to do whatever the plot needs him to do to be a villain.

Arrival (2016)

I was really excited about Arrival, I love sci-fi movies, and I’ve seen it reviewed with titles like “sci-fi masterpiece of a generation.” Well, it’s a good sci-fi movie, but it has too many flaws to be a masterpiece. We follow Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is chosen to try and communicate with newly arrived aliens. Her attempts to decipher the alien language are interspersed of shots of the story of her daughter. I loved the atmosphere of this movie, it takes a slow and contemplative approach to telling the story (a little like Interstellar.) However, the science depicted is the movie is terrible (the learning/teaching of the language scenes don’t account for so many variables and are almost painful to watch), and the movie eventually turns into a generic save-the-world-before-time-runs-out plot. A lot of movies get science wrong, so it’s not that big of a deal, and the movie was still enjoyable because it was well-made.

Mad Max (1979)

In a post-apocalyptic future, Max Rockatansky is one of the best cops to police the roads. When a gang of criminal bikers hurt his partner and then his family, Max seeks revenge. I didn’t enjoy this movie very much, although Joseph loves the sequel and says it is very different, so we’ll keep watching the series. The movie throws you right into the world without explanation, and it takes a while to figure out what’s going on. The way it’s shot and the action scenes are compelling, especially on such a low budget. I didn’t like the pacing, for most of the movie, things happen, but don’t seem to matter at all, and so it’s boring. Max only does something in in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. The other part I didn’t like was that we just keep hearing about how Max is the best, but it seemed entirely like telling, not showing.

Backdraft (1991)

I’ve liked several of Ron Howard’s movies (Apollo 13, Willow, A Beautiful Mind), so I was expecting Backdraft to be pretty good, but unfortunately, it’s terrible. It’s two different movies fused together – one is about finding a dangerous arsonist that’s been murdering people, the other is about two firefighters/brothers who can’t get along learning to trust each other. The arson investigation is actually pretty great – Robert De Niro plays the curmudgeonly investigator who has all the best lines in the movie, Donald Sutherland plays a delightfully crazed imprisoned arsonist – and if the movie only focused on that, it would be terrific. Unfortunately, it’s main focus is a badly-written and over-sentimental “family” plot, and it just doesn’t work.

“Six Wakes” by Mur Lafferty

I haven’t read any good sci-fi in a while, so I was looking forward to reading Six Wakes. I’ve enjoyed Mur Lafferty’s other works (The Shambling Guides series), and I’ve even interviewed her on this blog.

Six Wakes is about a crew of a generation ship who wake up in clone bodies to a scene of carnage – their previous bodies are all dead or dying, and the last twenty five years of their memories are missing. As they try to reconstruct what happened and figure out who among them is a murderer, we learn more about their past lives and the politics of cloning.

The real star of this book is the concept of cloning. The author really delves into what our world would evolve into in a few hundred years if cloning and mindmapping was commonplace. I don’t agree with some of the predictions, but they’re consistent and fit the story well. First, we see what “normal” clones are like, and then we are slowly exposed to some of the bizarre (but completely understandable) ways that the technologies could be used.

The characters are good, but they’re a little flat, and I didn’t feel like I was able to connect with them. This could be because of expectations – the author’s Shambling Guides books are urban fantasy, and it’s a staple of the genre to show exactly what the protagonists are feeling and thinking. This is a very different kind of books, everyone on board has secrets they are hiding from each other and from the reader, so they’re pretty tightly buttoned up. I felt like that made the reveals a little awkward, because every member of the crew is also a point of view character at some point, but even though we know their immediate feelings, they never think about their secrets until after they are revealed. I understand that that kept the tension in the story, but I couldn’t help feeling like some of the revelations seemed to come from nowhere.

Sometimes I felt like the book had too much human drama, but the conclusion of the story is satisfying – the technology is cool throughout, but in the end, everything comes down to human decisions.


Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Orbit Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Heir of Novron” by Michael J. Sullivan

I’m going to keep this review very short because it’s an omnibus edition of books five and six of The Riyria Revelations, which means I’ve read and liked the rest of the series. And it’s a reread, which means I like the series enough to reread it. So there’s not a lot to say here. For my previous reviews of books set in the world of Elan, see Age of Myth, The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn, The Death of Dulgath, Theft of Swords, and Rise of Empire.

The first book in the omnibus is Wintertide, and it’s a pretty standard penultimate book – our heroes conquer the immediate threat only to realize there is a much larger threat looming. Conquering the immediate threat is very satisfying, though, and Hadrian is especially great in this book. Arista does some morally questionable things under torture (condemning an innocent person to execution), and I would have liked her to have given it some thought afterwards, but it doesn’t get addressed at all. That’s a minor quibble, though.

The final book is Percepliquis, where humanity has to figure out how to deal with an invasion by the vastly superior elves, and the only hope lies in finding an ancient artifact in the lost city of Percepliquis. This is probably my least favorite book of the series because it’s basically a dungeon crawl for most of it, and I found that pretty boring. The ending is great, but it leaves me really curious to find out what happens next. Michael J. Sullivan has said he will not write an immediate sequel series, but I hope he changes his mind.


Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #3)
Orbit Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Interview & Giveaway: “Martians Abroad” by Carrie Vaughn

I’m a fan of Carrie Vaughn, and I enjoyed her latest book Martians Abroad (see my review here) which came out in January. I was thrilled when Tor Books offered me a chance to interview her and give away a copy of Martians Abroad! I hope you enjoy this interview – I was pretty excited to discover that Carrie is as much of a Vorkosigan fan as I am.

For instructions on how to enter the giveaway, please see the bottom of this post.


The Interview

Hi Carrie! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.

You’re welcome!

I haven’t read your Kitty Norville series, but I’ve read your Golden Age books as well as Discord’s Apple, and they’re pretty different from each other. And Martians Abroad is a completely new direction, too. Could you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write that particular story?

I’m inspired by lots of different ideas, and they take me to some pretty far-out places. Martians Abroad came from thinking back to some of the old-school science fiction books my mother gave me to read when I was a kid — books that she had read as a kid in the early 60’s.  I wanted to write that kind of story — an optimistic, maybe even idealistic, futuristic space adventure, but one that takes into account all the recent research, discoveries, and technological advances of the last couple of decades.  We know so much more about Mars now than we did even ten years ago.  I also wanted a teen girl to be the main character and hero of the story.  So I folded all that into my own version of this kind of story.

Will there be any more stories featuring Polly and Charles? I enjoyed Martians Abroad, but I thought it ended right as Polly was coming into her own. I really want to read more about her. And Charles is a mystery that I desperately want unraveled!

That’s great to hear!  I do have more ideas for Polly and Charles, but right now I have deadlines for other projects that I’m going to have to work on first.  But never say never — I’ll just have to see what happens.

I was impressed with how well you portrayed Polly’s reaction to Earth as someone who has grown up on Mars – not just the physical adjustment, but her reactions to minor details. What kind of research (if any) did you do to get that right?

Part of it is just looking at Earth through new eyes — think about what it might be like to grow up in an environmentally sealed colony situation, and then find ones self on a big wide planet. Reading up on what life is like on the ISS is helpful for that, as is reading about how other SF writers handle the situation.  I also drew on some of my own experiences of moving around a lot as a kid, and not always feeling at home — my father was military, and every couple of years we lived in a brand-new region.  Some of it is extrapolating those experiences to the science fictional situation.

I read in your Reddit AMA that you like writing stories about girls having adventures without acquiring a boyfriend by the end. I love this about your work! What made you have that mission?

I was something of a late bloomer — I went through high school not really interested in dating and not understanding what all the excitement was about.  (My second year of college — that’s when it all hit with a vengeance.)  I’m absolutely certain there are a lot of teenage girls out there who were like me — not yet interested in dating, making lots of other plans for what they want to do with their lives, and frustrated at how inundated we get with messaging about romance and dating and all the rest, as if it’s the only thing we can do.  I’m writing about the kind of girl I was, and for girls who might be like that too.

When you are writing a story, do you avoid similar books so that you don’t end up copying, or do you seek them out for maximum inspiration?

A little of both?  I do like to see how other authors handle similar problems — I have a few favorite stand-bys I go to.  For space stories, that’s Lois McMaster Bujold and C.J. Cherryh.  But I also read as widely as I can because I’m always looking to learn new things about writing, and to encounter something I’m not at all expecting.

What parts of writing do you find the easiest/hardest and most fun/tedious?

The most fun is probably right at the start, the brainstorming, the first chapters when I start zeroing in on the main characters and the voice of the story, when the ideas are fast and furious and I’m still working to tie them all together.  The hardest may be at the end, when I need to revise, take all those pieces and make sure they make sense, when I’m on the second or third draft and still finding changes and improvements that require reworking the entire thing yet again.  And then copy editing, and proofreading — by that time I’ve read the whole thing maybe a dozen times and I’m super tired of it but I have to pay just as much attention to make sure it all hangs together.  At that point I have to remember how much fun it was at the start, to motivate me to keep going.

If you could go back and edit or re-do a particular scene in something that you’ve already published, what would you change?

I actually try not to think about this question too much, because if I did, I’m afraid I’d want to change everything and that would drive me insane.

Which character that you have created ended up surprising you the most because of the decisions they made?

I’d have to say Kitty, not necessarily for anything she did — she was a very vivid character for me and pretty much everything she did made sense to me.  But it was exactly that vividness that was surprising.  I’d heard writers talk about channeling their characters, but Kitty was the first time that happened for me, and it was a wonderful feeling.

What are you most challenged by these days?

That’s a big question!  I’m always trying to stretch myself — I’m currently trying to learn about writing mysteries, since that’s a genre I haven’t had much experience with.  I’m always trying to write better, and figuring out what that means.  I try to give myself a challenge with every writing project, to try to do something new and better. And continuing to make a living at writing without letting the rough parts of the business get me down too much.

And now for some fun questions…

What writer would you most wish to hear has always wanted to meet you?

I don’t know!  That’s also kind of a scary question!  My favorite writer is Robin McKinley, and I would love to meet her, especially if she also wants to meet me.  But if Ursula Le Guin wants to meet me I’ll get on in airplane right now to make that happen.

What was it like, to see for the first time a book with your name on the side, sitting on a shelf in between other books?

Surreal?  Like, I’d dreamed of it for so long, it was hard to take in, the first time.  I used to go into book stores and look at that spot between Varley and Verne and just dream, so finally seeing it took a while to sink in.

If you had to go on a date with one deity from any mythology (terrestrial or otherwise), who would it be, where would you go, and what are the chances that the date would end in pillow talk?

Not sure about this one…how are we defining deity?  Does Tom Hiddleston’s Loki count?  Though that date would probably not end well.  As a friend of mine pointed out, however much Loki needs a hug, his hugs often end in stabbing…

If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why? (Please feel free to describe your weapon of choice as well.)

I’ve always felt I was a Tolkienian Elf in a past life.  As a teen, The Silmarillion was my favorite because it was mostly Elves and no Hobbits.

If you could have Polly team up with a fictional character from another universe, who would it be and why?

Oh man.  Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan?  Polly could learn a lot from Cordelia, and Cordelia might actually be able to harness some of Polly’s manic energy.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nope!  This has been fun, thank you!

Thank you for your time again! And thanks to /r/Fantasy for coming up with some of these questions!


The Giveaway

To enter, please email me at kriti@justaworldaway.com with subject “Martians Abroad” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until Feb 15, 2017.

Please make sure to include your full mailing address, I cannot consider you for the giveaway without it.

Edited to add: I will not be using your email address or mailing address for any purpose other than this specific giveaway. If you win, your mailing address will be forwarded to the book’s publisher (Tor Books, in this case) so that they can mail you a copy, but they won’t ever see your email address.


Abandoned: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer

I’ve never reviewed a book I didn’t finish, but I figured I should start doing it because it’s still useful information for readers. So here’s the first one – Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer.

Crossroads of Canopy is set in Canopy, a treetop city divided into thirteen niches, each the home of a god. Souls enter the body of its inhabitants at birth, and anyone could end up being the reincarnation of a god. In order to escape her parents plan to sell her into slavery, Unar, a young girl from a destitute family, volunteers to serve at the Garden of Audblayin, the goddess of growth and fertility. She has high hopes for her future, but as they are repeatedly dashed, she is forced to venture outside Canopy to seek glory.

I really thought I would like this book – it has a unique fantasy world and a female protagonist coming of age, and it took me a while (and reading another review) to figure out why I didn’t. Unar is unlikeable – she’s selfish, ambitious, and impetuous, but she’s played straight as the hero. Her constant sexual fantasizing about someone who is literally incapable of returning her desires skeeved me out too. I didn’t care about any of the other characters either, and so I didn’t care what happened to them. I stopped reading about halfway through, and there was still no larger plot established, it just seemed like The Adventures of Unar Seeking Fame.

Maybe Unar gets better in the second half of the book, and maybe she learns more about herself and becomes a better person – I’m not sure. I did skip ahead and read a little bit of the end, and it seemed like she did learn something. I was already disinvested and frustrated by that point, though.

I feel bad writing this review – Crossroads of Canopy is definitely not badly written or executed.  I’ve disliked a few other recent books that many other people have loved (A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, Updraft and Cloudbound by Fran Wilde), and this book reminded me of those, although I’m still struggling to articulate what they all have in common. If you liked one of those books, maybe you’ll like this one more than me.


Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer (Titan's Forest, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 29-Feb 4, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a young man in New York City in the 50s, is struggling to get by on small jobs. He is given the opportunity to travel to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf, a wealthy industrialist’s son, to come back home and take on some responsibility. When he gets to Italy, he falls in love with Dickie’s lifestyle, and ends up taking extreme measures to ensure that he doesn’t lose it.

I absolutely love this movie, and it’s probably Matt Damon’s best performance ever. You can see echoes of his character in The Good Shepherd, The Informant! and even Interstellar, but none of those roles beat Tom Ripley. He’s clearly a monster, but you can’t help but sympathize with him, especially given Dickie’s cavalier attitude towards the feelings of other people (Jude Law does a brilliant job of being an absolute cad) and the casual attitude that Ripley’s acquaintances have towards their privilege. Matt Damon makes Ripley seem tragic, not despicable – how could you hate someone so consumed, but only looking to preserve themselves?

The ending of this movie is brutal, but it’s the only ending that makes sense. I highly recommend this movie.

Other Movies Watched

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve watched this movie (although not all of them have been the extended edition like this one was.) It’s a big time investment – it’s over four hours long, but it’s amazing.

This is the Gondor movie, it’s where we first see Minas Tirith, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields happens. There are some seriously good moments – Eowyn battling the Witch-King of Angmar, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli descending upon the Corsairs with the Army of the Dead, Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom, Aragorn’s response to the hobbits bowing to him, and so on. I’m always a tiny bit miffed that the Scouring of the Shire didn’t make it to film, but given how long the ending of this movie is, I understand why they cut it. I love this movie!

The Insider (1999)

The real-life story of Jeffrey Wigand, a former top executive at a tobacco company turned whistleblower, and Lowell Bergman, the producer at 60 Minutes who helped him tell his story despite enormous pressure not to. This is an excellent movie, and Russell Crowe and Al Pacino do an excellent job as the leads. It’s directed by Michael Mann (who did Heat) and I don’t think he can make a bad movie – he pays meticulous attention to every detail. The first half of the movie has the feel of a thriller (as the tobacco company tries to silence Wigand), which is not usual for biopics, but apparently all the details of the story are real.

The Beaver (2011)

A quirky movie about a severely depressed man, Walter (Mel Gibson), who discovers that he can turn his life around by inventing an alternate persona using a talking beaver puppet. I thought this would be just another fluffy movie, but it takes on the realities of mental illness straight on, which takes it to some dark places, although the ending is upbeat. It’s directed by and stars Jodie Foster, and she’s great in everything she does. Walter’s son’s story is probably the weakest part of the movie, although Anton Yelchin does an excellent job. It was weird to see Jennifer Lawrence playing an average high school girl, I’m used to her playing an outlier.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

For a Star Trek fan, I’m ashamed that I haven’t seen all the movies yet (well, maybe not Star Trek V), so I’m glad we’re starting to watch them. After watching this one, I just have Star Trek III and Star Trek V to go, although we will be watching the movies in order and rewatching the ones I’ve already seen. I’d heard bad things about this movie, but it’s actually pretty good. It’s definitely slow, and feels more like a high-budget and long episode of the show (in terms of plot), but it’s good. It’s filmed like it’s trying to be a serious science fiction film, and not just a Star Trek movie, and I thought that was cool. I wish the most recent Star Trek film series would take some cues from this and be more thoughtful.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

We’ve only watched the first two movies of this series, and only the theatrical editions, but we recently bought the extended edition set, and now that we’ve finished rewatching Lord of the Rings, we’re watching through The Hobbit.

I wish they had made the tone of these movies similar to the tone of the book (a more light hearted adventure), but once I got past that feeling, this is a pretty good movie. After all, Bilbo and the dwarves’ actions do hobble Sauron for a while, and Sauron is a pretty fearsome enemy, so I guess the epic tone makes sense. The first movie tells the story of the dwarves’ quest to reclaim Erebor from the Shire to when they finally arrive within sight of Erebor, with some flashbacks along the way.

I thought it was a little too fast paced (it is three hours long, but it seems like they’re constantly running from danger with no pauses.) It’s also really hard to tell most of the dwarves apart – I wish there had been more of an introduction to each character. It was great to see Frodo and Gollum again, though… and Galadriel and Saruman and Elrond and old Bilbo, and even Lindir (Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, who became a meme in the early days of internet memes.) And Martin Freeman is really great as Bilbo.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The second movie in The Hobbit series, this tells the story of the dwarves quest until Smaug leaves the mountain to destroy Esgaroth (Lake-town.)  I liked this movie more than the first one because it slows down a little. The wood elves of Mirkwood have a completely different temperament than the nice elves of Rivendell and Lothlórien, and Lee Pace plays King Thranduil (who happens to be the father of Legolas) chillingly. Legolas is in this movie quite a bit too, and he isn’t quite the friendly and laid back elf we know so well from The Lord of the Rings.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo continues to be marvelous – he’s really the heart of this series, everyone else is only interested in their own concerns. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the voice of Smaug (and the Necromancer) too, you can tell he’s having fun hamming it up. I’m really looking forward to the third movie because I haven’t seen it yet, and because I’m curious to see how it all turns out since it needs to lay the groundwork for The Lord of the Rings. Everyone in this movie is entirely too suspicious and skeptical of each other – I don’t see how a fellowship of different races could have even come together in the political climate depicted in these movies.

Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 22-28, 2017

This week has been very much about binging – I’ve been reading only Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books, and I’ve been watching mostly Vin Diesel movies (The Fast and the Furious series, but also Riddick.)

Favorite Movie of the Week

Kundun (1997)

This is Martin Scorcese’s biopic of the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama, telling his story from when he was his discovered as a child to when he was forced to leave Tibet for his own safety a few years after he assumed his full powers.

The acting is very good – none of the actors are professional, and the adult Dalai Lama is actually played by a relative of the real life Dalai Lama. The sets and atmosphere are full of painstaking detail, and it makes for a thoroughly immersive experience. The writing is subtle, but has a powerful impact. The scenes with the Dalai Lama meeting Mao stood out to me (just because it made me angry), but the entire movie is vivid and compelling. And of course it’s Martin Scorsese – he can’t make a bad movie as far as I can tell.

The focus is very much on the political struggle between Tibet and China, but it’s told entirely from the Dalai Lama’s point of view. Since he doesn’t often leave his palace, this means most of the dramatic scenes are people bringing news to him about what’s happening in the world, which I found a little boring at times. However, it makes a great companion movie to Seven Years in Tibet, which covers the Dalai Lama during the same period of time, but focuses on entirely different details.

Other Movies Watched

Riddick (2013)

I’m a fan of Vin Diesel’s space opera Riddick series, and so I was pretty excited to see the newest one, also titled Riddick. This one is more like the first one of the series (Pitch Black), since it’s about survival on a planet where the native animals are not friendly (to put it lightly.) I enjoyed it, although I wished it had more space opera elements like The Chronicles of Riddick. I enjoy Riddick’s unapologetic competence, even though I usually find flawless characters somewhat annoying. I’m glad they’re filming a new movie in this series this year.

Fast & Furious (2009)

The fourth movie in The Fast and the Furious franchise – Letty has been murdered, and FBI agent Brian (Paul Walker) and his old quarry Dom (Vin Diesel) are both after the drug dealer who she was working for. We’ve been excited about this movie since it unites Brian and Dom again after the first movie, and it was actually pretty great. Yes, it has a lot of action, but the characters and their relationships are fairly heartfelt. In fact, it was so good that it caused us to binge on the rest of the movies as you’ll see below.

Fast Five (2011)

This movie reunites all the best characters of the first four movies into a single crew. Brian, who makes a pretty shitty cop, has finally embraced his criminal side by breaking Dom out of prison, and ends up on the run from the authorities (represented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) in Brazil. When they end up on the wrong side of a nefarious businessman, they call in all their old friends (including Roman and Tej from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Han from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Gisele from Fast & Furious) for a $100 million dollar retirement heist. This was the first movie to focus on a heist, and it was pretty fun, as most heist movies are. The main draw for me is the characters, and they continue to be great.

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

This is where the series starts getting bad again, in my opinion. Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom and his crew from their retirement to stop a crew of experienced drivers from stealing the parts for some secret defense project (the details don’t matter, it’s a MacGuffin.) In exchange, their crimes will be pardoned and they can live in the US again. The plot was okay, but they’re up against criminals of a higher caliber than they have dealt with in the past, and so it makes their exploits look increasingly ridiculous. The characters have gone from being ordinary but skilled people to near superheroes, since the stakes keep getting higher. Also, I wasn’t happy with how a character death was handled, there was barely any focus on it.

Furious 7 (2015)

This movie is just terrible, except for the very end where there’s a moving tribute to Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Conner (since Paul Walker died during the filming of the movie.) Jason Statham plays the antagonist Deckard Shaw, a disavowed British special forces assassin with a vendetta against the crew. And since he’s so overpowered, our crew gets their own spy backer (Kurt Russell playing Mr. Nobody, I mean I love Kurt Russell, but still) who provides them with crazy gadgets so that they can rescue a hacker and her futuristic surveillance technology. This is supposed help them find Deckard Shaw – except that he seems to possess a magical ability to know exactly where and when their missions are going to be, and he’s always right there anyway. I don’t know why they decided to make a movie in this franchise about hackers, it removed everything unique about the series and turned it into a not-as-good Mission Impossible clone.

Kuffs (1992)

This action-comedy stars Christian Slater as George Kuffs, a lazy drifter who inherits his brother’s police station (a quirk of San Francisco’s policing system) after he is murdered. He decides to actually try and clean up the neighborhood in memory of his brother, and hilarity ensues. I didn’t enjoy this movie very much, although Joseph liked it more. I thought it couldn’t decide on a tone – it went from slapstick to serious to slapstick again, and I couldn’t invest in the characters. Some parts of it were pretty funny, though, and Bruce Boxleitner as Kuffs’ brother was great (I’d probably do a lot to avenge him too.)