Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I Read Books: Dinosaur Summer

Dinosaur Summer

I guess this makes it dinosaur week on the blog.

Greg Bear takes as his starting point Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World (not the Michael Crichton book of the same name) – that there is an enormous plateau in remote Venezuela with dinosaurs and other ancient forms of life. Some dinosaurs were brought down but later it was closed off.

We find ourselves in 1946 and the last dinosaur circus is closing. In a surprise move, they’ve arranged to take the dinosaurs back. Of course the political situation in Venezuela is precarious. The army don’t want the local Indian tribes going on the plateau (a rite of passage for chiefs, mystics and warleaders).

Inevitably things go wrong and our heroes find ourselves trapped on the plateau. Almost a hundred years on from Conan Doyle we have a different understanding of dinosaurs, and also the native peoples of Venezuela, which Bear brings to, um, bear on the novel.

There’s an alternate history of monster films as well, what with real live dinosaurs existing; Ray Harryhausen and other Hollywood folks are involved with the expedition.

Read This: Dinosaurs! Also a mixture of real and fictional explorations of Venezuela.
Don’t Read This: Half the book is just dealing with dinosaurs and getting to the plateau.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I Watch Films: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World, abandoned after the events of Jurassic World, is threatened by volcanic destruction. One of John Hammond’s partners hires people to save some of the dinosaurs, the crew including the stars of the last film, two new characters (fearful tech-nerd, sassy dino-vet) and a bunch of dodgy mercenaries/ big game hunters.

Obviously things go wrong, also people have their own agendas, there’s a new and deadlier dinosaur which is ill-designed for the stated purpose* and it turns out that this cloning technology isn’t just for dinosaurs though that particular plotline doesn’t go anywhere much.

Anyway, much dinosaur rampage. No one in Jurassic Park/World has learned how to keep dinosaurs in cages, and, of course, no one ever will. Good on them. It’s a film series based on dinosaurs escaping, and that’s what we want, and in the end the only way to stop a bad guy with a dinosaur is for the good guys to also have dinosaurs.

Watch This: For a marginally new direction for the dinosaur escape rampage series
Don’t Watch This: If you want any actual discussion of genetics or dinosaurs

* It’s supposed to be for military use. Killing people in the open isn’t a problem for modern militaries. They’re quite good at that. [SPOILERS] The hard parts that a genetically-modified killer dinosaur might help with are 1. Finding a target and 2. Getting into a building or other defensible structure. The Endoraptor (sigh) is probably okay for finding people, though it’s laser targeted and sound activated, and missiles or even artillery can be aimed that way. It’s slightly too big for house clearance (see several scenes where people get away because it can’t get at them quickly) while not being so big that a medium machine gun or a couple of grenades can’t bring it down. The Velociraptor program from the previous film makes more sense (not a lot of sense).

Monday, June 24, 2019

I Read Stories: Losing Heart Among The Tall

Losing Heart Among The Tall by A M Dellamonica

This is apparently a prequel story to a series I haven’t read. Thankfully it’s fairly self-contained; there are a couple of moments when you have to scramble to keep up, and early on I’m not really sure why someone trying to retire is quite so important (to set up a partnership in the main stories I think).

Anyway the ship Nightjar finds a merman who gasps out a word before expiring. Inevitably this leads to a plot with the reluctant former-pirates trying to gain control of the heart of the invincible ship Temperance.

There’s quite a bit of magic as well, weird stuff that changes things into legends and rumours and sea-stories.

Read This: For a brisk fantasy sea-tale
Don’t Read This: If you want a nice neat story with everything self-contained

Friday, June 21, 2019

Liner Notes for South Sea Pirates

The liner notes for my story South Sea Pirates, part of my Age of Sail fantasy series.

****

Ever further from home, one of our protagonists has reached the Thousand Islands, this world’s equivalent of Micronesia, Oceania and Polynesia. And rather than hang about and enjoy coconuts and fresh food, John Toris is sent after the Starling, the ship that mutinied back in A Voyage Out East.

Hang about and enjoy coconuts is very unfair. Even in harbour a wooden sailing ship needs constant maintenance as ropes and spars wear out, salt and water insinuate themselves the fabric of the vessel and weed and other living things attach themselves to it. How much more work is required after an eight month voyage across seas, fighting gales in the temperate north and south as well as dealing with tropical storms. Captain Carstairs is somewhat eager to get him on his way; he would be within his rights to protest at being sent to sea quite so precipitously.

The local beer is... probably not beer.

His meditation on how to hunt another ship reflects the real difficulty that sailing ships had in finding one another. If an admiral had sufficient vessels then he could put a line of sloops and frigates in the open ocean ten miles from one another, close enough to signal. Yet a hundred miles is not so large a distance out in the Atlantic and a ship, or even a fleet, might take advantage of poor weather or night to slip by.

Toris’s task, to hunt down one ship with only one of his own, is even more difficult; employing local knowledge is the only possible solution.

A sloop of war, a warship with less than 20 guns, is small for a navy, too small to stand in the line of battle, or even be rated, and so be commanded by a post-captain, like a frigate would. Nevertheless it will be more than a match for most merchants, pirates or privateers. For the poorly charted waters of the Thousand Islands Bridgeford with a shallow draft, will be less likely to run aground on shoals or reefs, being much more suitable than the 74-gun Dulcimer. Indeed that line-of-battle ship seems curiously mis-assigned; there must have been a surprise sighting of a large foreign warship in these waters to have had the Admiralty spring loose such a large vessel for the far side of the world in time of peace.

The islands contain many surprises. Mr Smoke casts doubt on the sea-stories and legends of these waters, but almost immediately they find the island of the trolls and of course the Starling is incapacitated not by gunfire or boarding, but by a curse. Toris is no stranger to such things.

The princess has found herself the ruler of her people, which also makes her priestess and magician, responsible for their spiritual welfare as well as their physical. Perhaps choosing to ally herself with John Toris and His Majesty’s Navy is not her wisest move (history suggests that it would be an ambiguous strategy, conceivably preserving her people, but more likely seeing them subsumed into empire). Yet what are her options? To marry some lout with a few hundred followers, and then see the islands torn apart by civil war anyway? Better to marry a stranger who will depend on her.

John Toris is not free to join her however; his ambitions are to rule the quarterdeck of one of His Majesty’s ships, not a tropical island kingdom.

****

The map. Oh dear. The Thousand Islands seems like a cool name, and a cool place. So many islands, each a possible source of adventure (I had thought to get out here earlier in the series but got distracted along the way). Then, a rough map would be a fine bonus for the stories, illustrating where the characters go.

Unfortunately this is where we reach the limitations of my cartographical skills. It’s okay for showing the relationship between places in the story, but it doesn’t give the flavour of an endless archipelago. Well, perhaps I’ll do better next month.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Baking

Had a party back in March to celebrate my new book being available. Here's some photos of the cakes I baked. Recipies available on request, or you could track down a copy of the 70 year old Art of Home Cooking from Stork Margarine Cookery Service
Cupcakes
The recipe book

Ingredients for a Victoria sponge

Into the machine
And into the oven

I didn't take pictures of everything

Set of cakes complete

And here they are on the table

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

I Read Books: The Belisarius Series

Belisarius

A six-book* series from the team of Drake and Flint, last seen on this blog writing some alternate-Roman-Republic-disrupted-by-gunpowder stuff. Here we have a 6th century Byzantine Empire disrupted by gunpowder which is very different. Honestly.

Some bad guys have sent a cyborg (named LINK**) back in time to create a genetic purity hell-state in India. The good guys send a crystal entity (Aide) back in time to stop them and it ends up with the (historical) General Belisarius. There ensues much plotting and backstabbing (as might be expected as the name of the Byzantine Empire became a word meaning labyrinthine plotting) and a lot of fighting.

As the series progresses the types of weapons, and therefore troops, tactics and eventually strategy are all in flux. Belisarius starts with a historically accurate Byzantine army, then as more gunpowder weapons start to be produced rapidly advances a thousand years to pike and musket units, though with plenty of horse archery and traditional skirmishing going on. There are a number of points being made about generalship, particularly about that of Belisarius; the title of the first book An Oblique Approach perhaps summing up a good number of them. Rather than defeating an enemy by hitting them head-on he prefers to threaten or attack from an unexpected angle.

It’s logistics and engineering and strategic-offence-tactical-defence and finding and exploiting divisions in your enemy (that may not have been visible before they were put under pressure). There’s the somewhat overdone ruthlessness-in-defence-of-the-good, but here interestingly paired with mercy as a weapon as sharp as any lance.

This is, in the end, a fairly straight-forward tale of good versus evil, with a fascination in military tactics and weapons. But most of all it is interested in character, and later books will often return to some of the broader, stereotypical characters that make up the cast and put them into new and interesting situations to deepen our understanding and give a little nuance to them.

Read This: For superior gunpowder warfare science fiction
Don’t Read This: If fighting and plotting bores you

* Sexology, sadly my inner 12-year-old can’t let this pass without a snigger
** Glancing at this before posting I spent slightly too long trying to figure out what hyperlink I intended to put here

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

I Watch Films: Ocean's 8

Ocean’s 8
 
This is a heist film and a good one. It uses the fact that there are a whole bunch of beautiful women on the cast to good effect by having them rob a big gala dinner filled with beautiful people. It is very into fashion and jewellery, but not so much as to be off-putting for people who aren’t into it; no more than, say, someone isn’t into casinos being turned off by a casino heist.

The poor parts are the first twist which is spoiled by the name of the film and the second twist which comes out of nowhere, or more specifically comes directly out of Ocean’s 11, 12 and/or 13, changing the nature of the conversation this film is having with those previous ones.

The revenge is good, James Corden’s insurance investigator is also good though as he does not appear until the last section and has to be introduced, work through what happened, have a sassy conversation and wrap things up the film has this sudden turn to being very interested in him. Oh hey, a funny British guy has turned up, let’s see what he’s up to? All those cool women? Just getting on with things I guess.

Not as slick or cleverly and completely put together as the previous films, though as they are all first-rate heist films that’s not as harsh a complaint as it sounds. The (slightly) smaller cast lets them all breath a little and have a bit of character moment and relationship. And this is as good as the prior films failed, and so the characters are more interesting than some of the (extremely) sketched in dudes.

Watch This: Because there are lots of murder films and many fewer robbery ones
Don’t Watch This: If sassy, good-looking wise-cracking women stealing millions of dollars of gems does nothing for you