Strange Chemistry Books I COVET

As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve really enjoyed the few books I’ve read from the SFF Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry, which has now sadly been closed down.

Of course, I’m looking forward to the sequels that former Strange Chem authors will publish elsewhere, or maybe self-publish, as some have already started to discuss on twitter. When these books come out, I’ll buy them to support the authors, but in the meantime I want to talk about the wonderful-sounding Strange Chem books I haven’t read yet, and can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and Angry Robot Books have already announced that they will be supporting Strange Chemistry titles so that they remain available to buy. So y’ know, please consider buying them from your local independent bookshop. If you don’t have one, give the Big Green Bookshop a shout (on twitter, by email or at 020 8881 6767), they do free UK delivery.

And yes, I will shamelessly pimp my beloved local bookshop, because they are amazing and if anything, the closure of Strange Chemistry & Exhibit A shows us that if we like something we should put some monies towards it.

katyaKatya’s World, by Jonathan L. Howard

On a distant water world colonised by Russian migrants from Earth, Katya is making her first submarine voyage as crew. In the deep black waters of Russalka, she will encounter death, tragedy, pirates, war criminals and more.

I bought this because of the gorgeous cover art and because the Russian underwater world sounded fascinating, but haven’t started it yet.

shiftShift, by Kim Curran

When 16-year old Scott finds out he’s a ‘Shifter’, with the power to undo any decision he’s ever made, he thinks the power to shift is pretty cool. But as his world quickly starts to unravel around him he realises shifting might well get him killed.

I heard Kim read from her latest novel, Glaze, and loved her portrayal of teenagers and use of technology, so I really want to read this book. It has one sequel out, Control.

Pantomime, by Laura Lam

pantoRunaway Micah joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice while Gene, daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

I’ve heard so much praise about this book (specifically its portrayal of non-normative gender roles), I couldn’t keep it off my reading list. Plus I met Laura Lam briefly at a con and she was lovely to this convention noob.

The Woken Gods, by Gwenda Bond

wokenWhen rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods on her way back from school, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous relic. The Society of the Sun needs it, and they don’t care that she knows nothing about her father’s secrets.

This book was on the Reading Group’s menu a few months back when I couldn’t attend. I haven’t read it, but my ARRG co-conspirators liked it a lot, so it’s on the list!

emilieEmilie and the Sky World, by Martha Wells

When Emilie joins an expedition to investigate a strange and potentially deadly airship in the upper aether currents, she finds herself deep in personal entanglements. Not to mention a lost family of explorers, the strange landscapes of the upper air, and the deadly menace that inhabits the sky world.

Sequel to Emilie and the Hollow World. ‘NUFF SAID.

The Wizard’s Promise, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

wizardAll Hanna wants is to be a proper witch, but she’s stuck working for a grumpy fisherman. When their boat is blown wildly off course by a strange storm, Hanna finds herself further away from home than she’s ever been before. As she tries to get back, she learns there may be more to her apprentice master than she realized.

The ARRG discussed Clarke’s novel The Mad Scientist’s Daughter and loved her writing style, so I want to try her YA. Plus the gorgeous cover would have made me covet this book anyway.

Essence, by Lisa Ann O’Kane

essenceGrowing up in a cult, Autumn has always believed emotions drain your Essence, only questioning her faith after her younger brother’s passing. When she encounters a group of Outsiders, they take her to their free-spirited Community and introduce her to a life of adventure and freedom. But as she uncovers dark, she realizes how far she has to fall.

Maybe I’m just weird, but I really like stories about cults. They’re creepy as all get out, of course, but also kind of fascinating. Also my next writing project involves a space cult, so this would totally be research.


The Hugos: It’s About Time

The Hugo Nominations came out last week and I am pretty darn excited about most of them. But there were also some deeply problematic things on the ballot, and there has consequently been a lot of discussion about how to handle those.

Here’s my take on things:

Vox Day does not deserve my time

I’m not going to read that story. It might be all right, it might be offensive, I don’t really care. I know some people advocate judging the fiction separately from its author, but I just can’t do that. I already know that I won’t vote for Vox Day.

Look, I’ve paid money to be able to participate in a proud tradition of SFF fandom. I’m so giddy that I’ll be able to attend the Hugo ceremony this year. I’ll be damned if I’m going to facilitate a man who has voiced such loathsome opinions to get up on stage at the Hugos and open his mouth.

So if I know I won’t vote for him, no matter what, why should I bother reading his story? Life is too short to give a man like that the courtesy of my time.

Not sure Larry Correia does either?

I’ve heard Correia speak on various podcasts before and while he never came across as a particularly nasty piece of work, I did not appreciate the tone or content of his voting slate blog post. The fact that he recommended Vox Day’s story really does not ingratiate him to me. I also have absolutely nothing in common with his target audience of, as he puts it, ‘gun nuts’.

But with the Hugos, we’re voting for the stories, not the authors. Surely if I don’t object to him as strongly as to Vox Day, I should read his book and judge it fairly. Well maybe.

His nominated work is the third novel in a series – now, I’m the first to admit I have a chip on my shoulder about works that do not stand alone being nominated for Best Novel. I dislike those because they pose an ultimatum: read all the books that came before, or judge something out of context. Last year I attempted to read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance without having read any other in the series and it was such an unpleasant experience reading it out of context that it’s pretty much thrown me off of ever reading the Vorkosigan novels.

So I’m not sure I’ll read Correia’s novel. The odds are so small that I would like it at all, it hardly seems worth it. Particularly in a year where I am so enthused by the rest of the ballot: I want to read all the zines, the non-fiction writing, the non-Vox Day short fiction. I’m excited about finishing Parasite, reading Ancillary Justice and Neptune’s Brood. And if I decide to start on The Wheel of Time, goodness knows I won’t have a spare minute to give Warbound.

In short, Larry Correia’s attitude has pushed him to the bottom of the To Read pile, and we all know how often I get to the books stashed down there.

Time? What time? I have no time, I have to read these 14 door-stoppers

And so we come to the thorny question of The Wheel Of Time, which was nominated in its entirety in the Novel category. A lot of the complaints I’ve heard were that it’s a joke for a 14 book series to be nominated as one very, very long serialised story. But the rules are very clear that it is eligible; if it weren’t, the Hugo Committee would not have let it be on the ballot. They will strike things out if they are found to be ineligible.

Apparently there were also complaints about the quality of the work, but these seem simply unjustified to me. I personally think ‘The Name of The Doctor’ was pretty bad, but I’m not arguing that it shouldn’t be on the ballot. I just won’t vote for it. If we all agreed on what’s good, we wouldn’t need the awards at all.

My own complaint is more that it feels unfair to people who are not already fans of The Wheel Of Time. I have every sympathy for fans wanting to posthumously honour Robert Jordan by nominating the whole series rather than the latest instalment alone (written by Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen to complete the series after Jordan’s passing).

However, this means that where I could read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance as a stand-alone and judge it as such, I can’t do that with The Wheel Of Time. The whole story is nominated, so I’m being asked to have an opinion on 4, 410, 036 words. More than FOUR MILLION WORDS.


How do I do that in four months? Do I not read the other nominated works? Do I use a time turner? I make an effort to read a lot and I know I like at least Sanderson’s writing but even so, 14 books in 4 months is a tall order. Even if I bought all 14 audio books (which I won’t because that would be a ridiculous amount of money), it would still be 461 hours of narration.

What if I can’t do it? I can’t compare something I’ve read to something I’ve not read. I can’t have the same voting experience as someone who has already read all or most of the books. That is taking a choice away from me in this contest, it is disenfranchising me from this vote. It’s like saying ‘You haven’t already read The Wheel Of Time, therefore your opinion isn’t valid here.’

I work for an election provider, so from a professional standpoint I can say that disenfranchising voters from ballots they are eligible to vote in is officially really, really bad. From a personal standpoint, it feels like the old guard of fandom is telling me I’m not a part of their club because I’ve not read this one specific thing. Either way, it’s hurtful, unfair and plain annoying.

If you have any suggestions as to what I could or should do about The Wheel Of Time, I would love to hear them. Let me know in the comments or on twitter, because I think I might like it, if I didn’t feel so annoyed at it!


2014 Costuming Projects!

It’s the customary New Year’s post, and as most of my resolutions are the exact same as last year, I won’t bore you with that. Instead, I want to talk about my costuming projects for the upcoming convention & events season.

In 2013, I attended my first residential conventions, and one of my favourite things about Nine Worlds in particular was the amount of costuming there. I had a blast wearing a Steampunk outfit on the Saturday and my Sally Skellington cosplay on the Sunday. I even placed third in the cosplay contest! So, I’m really excited to be attending again. The post-con blues will even be delayed this time, as I’m going to WorldCon the weekend after NineWorlds!

Sidenote: I am SO EXCITED about WorldCon, it’s ridiculous. Expect to hear me talk your ear off about it, because I’m also volunteering with them and I’m really, really jazzed about working with the LonCon3 staff. Anyway, COSTUMES!

NineWorlds and LonCon together represent eight days of con goodness. I seriously wish I had the time to make eight outfits, but that would be way too much work. Instead, here are my plans, vague as they are so far:

Steampunk Costumes

One of my favourite things about steampunk outfits is that they allow so much freedom and creativity, and of course making a character is part of the fun. I want to build more things from scratch or from recuperated bits and bobs. The aim is to focus on a few bigger pieces (maybe a corset, a skirt and a pair of trousers). Adding various accessories to that should allow me to assemble different costumes from these – I’ve got lots of ideas and I’ll be posting about them in more details soon!

Xena Warrior Princess

A few years back, a friend of mine organised a lasertag birthday party where guests had to come dressed as princesses. So obviously I went for Xena because I had way too much time on my hands. I spent AGES making the costume out of pleather handbags from the charity shop and various other things I had lying around. Sadly, one intense session of lasertag absolutely ruined it (though we all had an AWESOME time), but I’d like to make a new one, including:

  • A corset – I actually tried to MAKE this last time and I only barely managed to get something that didn’t fall apart. For the long run, I definitely think buying a plain brown leather effect corset will be the best way to go. There will still be lots of customising to do though.
  • The skirt with the MANY flaps – This was long to make, but actually pretty good fun too, so I’m definitely making it again. The process I used worked pretty well, so I’ll do the same again and hopefully I can photograph or film it for interwebs posterity.
  • The ARMOURED BITS!! – This is honestly what I’m most excited about making. Xena wears a really nifty breastplate that ties around her back with many buckles, as well as armoured upper-arm bands and gauntlets, plus studded boots in some references. I failed miserably when I tried to make these out of pleather and cardboard, but I cannot wait to try these out again with Worbla or Wonderflex.
  • The Chakram – I’m also very excited about the chakram too! It’s such a recognisable weapon, and it looks like it wouldn’t be too difficult to make. I’m also looking forward to the painting job on it.

Sally Skellington

This costume is comfy to wear and already finished, so it’s definitely coming with me to both Cons. I also like that it can worn as a more or less ‘going all out’ cosplay depending on the style of makeup used. It still needs some more work though, I’ve been thinking of a few things I could do to improve it:

  • Finishing touches – Add visible stitching all the way to the back; go over hand-drawn designs (polka dots, pinstripes, etc…) with screen printing fabric ink and heat set to prevent designs running out in the wash; possibly take in for size, though I don’t know if that will be necessary.
  • Make new arms and legs – These are constructed out of white tights, meaning that they tear and smudge easily and the previous arms/legs are now pretty ugly, after having been worn only three times. The plan is to saw on the stitches design instead of drawing it on.
  • Construct a ‘sew thyself up’ mechanism – in the film, Sally fixes herself up when her limbs get taken off. My big addition to the costume this year will be fake ‘wound’ with stuffing fibres coming out of it, allowing me to pretend re-sew my arm with a big fake needle.  I have an idea that liquid latex will be involved.
  • Make a prop – some kind of container I can keep my stuff in, maybe an upcycled basket, or a fancy jar of some description.  I always think it’s a shame when I’ve spent time on a costume and the effect is ruined by a mundane handbag.

Happy Anniversary, London!

Last Sunday marked the five-year anniversary of my arrival in London.

I’ve now lived in this country longer than it took me to go through high-school, or complete my degree. I’ve now lived here almost a fifth of my life. More than a fifth of my memories are from here.

It is officially A BIG THING.

Five years ago, I stepped off the overnight coach from Paris with a big suitcase filled with stuff too heavy for the plane, and went to meet Amy, who I went on to live with for several years. The house-hunting started that day, and that night there were tears of frustration and homesickness.

Less than a week later, I met Jenn and Rach, who let us stay at their place, geeked out about Harry Potter with us and took us out for sushi and karaoke. We eventually found a place, I met my other lovely flatmates, more awesome friends, an over-enthusiastic ginger kitten made of adorableness, and life went on.

One day, everyone was getting super excited about this thing that I didn’t get, because it was early days and I couldn’t catch everything everyone was saying. When I asked what the fuss was, I got more than I’d bargained for. Had I ever wanted to write a book? Did I have a lot of essays due in November? Did I fancy writing a book with them? In a month?

I thought ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ and it didn’t even occur to me to think of the best thing that could happen. I’ve met so many amazing people in the NanoLondon community, and in London in general – I just can’t wait for the next five years, the next ten, etc.

Bring it on, London.


Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island is a 2 to 4 players cooperative tile & card game, designed by Matt Leacock, the man behind Pandemic, and published by Gamewright.

You play a party of fearless adventurers, come to the Island to unearth four ancient artefacts from its ruins. Only the island doesn’t approve of your looting ways; it’ll sink into the abyss under your feet & drown you dead if it gets the chance.

So prepare to lift some sandbags, you’ll have to keep shoring bits of the island to prevent it from being swallowed into the ocean before you can escape.

At the start of the game, each player receives a role, complete with special abilities, before part of the island gets flooded for the first time. Turns consists of an action phase (players can move, shore tiles, collect treasure…), a treasure phase (players draw cards more or less helpful cards), and a flood phase (the clue is in the name).

Seasoned gamers will be familiar with some of the mechanics used in this game; the Waters Rise concept, the good Treasure cards versus the bad Flood cards and the order of play are all very similar to the mechanics of Leacock’s most famous brainchild, Pandemic. This is not to say that Forbidden Island is derivative; it may appear so at first, but the gameplay is actually fairly unique.

Forbidden Island GameplayThe board is made
up of 24 tiles shuffled together & laid out at random at the start of the game, lending Forbidden Island extra replay value. Plus board gamers always love a chance to lay out tiles.

Particularly considering that there is a definite hierarchy between tiles. Some places are just more important than others – chief amongst those is Fool’s Landing, where you parked your chopper. It’s fine for it to get flooded, but if it sinks, your getaway ride drowns into the abyss and you’re dead.

The stakes are escalated throughout the game as waters rise, and the island sinks further and further. If you draw one too many Waters Rise card, you’ll have to start flooding more and more tiles each turn, and return all the discarded flood cards to the top of the deck, increasing the pace of the island’s sinking. When a tile sinks, it is taken out of the game, along with the corresponding flood card, meaning each tile ends up at a much higher risk of being flooded.

You need a set of four matching treasure cards to claim a treasure, so the hand limit of five is quite punitive! All treasure cards are shuffled back into play when the deck runs out, so it pays not to be shy about using helicopter lifts or sandbags. This also means that treasure cards for artefacts you’ve already claimed become a burden, and towards the end will cause you to lose many turns in the pursuit of one last, elusive card.

It is also worth noting that Forbidden Island works very well as a two-player game, unlike many games of the ‘tack a couple of shoddy extra rules that don’t really work on the end and call it two-player’ persuasion. The more players, the more difficult it is to get your hands on enough cards of the same colour to actually collect a treasure – enter the harsh hand limit, and you get a nicely balanced game.

Forbidden Island Treasures

It’ll take some imagination to top the ridiculously cool petri dishes storage boxes and associated ‘hazardous material’ stickers that came with the Pandemic: On the Brink Expansion Pack, but overall I enjoyed the artwork for this game. The treasure tokens are a good touch, especially for children (or fake-grown-ups like yours truly), who will enjoy colourful pieces to fidget with. The island tiles and territory cards are lovely, done in the kind of whimsical style favoured by games like Dixit or Once Upon A Time. The game comes in a nice tin box with embossed top, which to my mind makes it a perfect gift – to yourself or someone else.

Through a few clever tweaks of the wonderful mechanics which have made Pandemic one of my absolute favourite board games, Leacock creates a whole new gaming experience. A lovely gateway game to pass the bug onto children and non-gamers, a great way to warm-up to playing Pandemic, and an engaging two-player experience – in short Forbidden Island is a lovely game, and one that I highly recommend.

If I haven’t convinced you, maybe TableTop host & geek superstar Wil Wheaton can, as he plays Forbidden Island with Sci-Fi & Fantasy writer John Scalzi, NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, and drummer & singer Jason Finn: