Sunday, December 31, 2017

Books I Read in 2017

This year represents a step back for me on several fronts. I read less this year than last, my fare was less diverse, my reading more concentrated on the present decade than ever before, and I still can't seem to reach gender parity. All in all, I read 123 books this year, down from 135 last year. 150 remains an elusive dream.

You'll also note that several of the books I read this year were novella or even novelette length. I included them on the list, after some debate, rationalizing that some of the larger books I read this year could count as three or four regular-length novels, so hopefully it all evens out.

I started a new job this year, and I'm talking half-hour lunches instead of the one hour I indulged at ATCO. That's cut back on my reading time quite a bit, as did our road trip in August and some stress issues I don't want to write about here. Excuses, excuses, yes.

On to the books themselves. There's a lot of Fred Saberhagen on this list, as I had intended to read all of the Berserker books this year; I didn't make it.

There's also a bunch of Lois McMaster Bujold, because I think her stuff is great. I must say, though, that the Penric and Desdemona series isn't quite grabbing me; I don't feel like there's much jeopardy to be had. I realize that things tend to turn out fine in the end in most of her work, but even so, the stakes seem pretty low here.

I read and enjoyed two books by people I know this year: Kevin Taft's latest political book, Oil's Deep State, and my colleague Nerys Parry's novel Man & other Natural Disasters. Kevin's book is thoroughly researched, well-argued, and important reading for anyone who cares about the corruptive influence on natural resource economies on democracy; Nerys' novel is haunting, evocative, bizarre (in a good way), and has a climax I really did not see coming.

I started reading Dashiell Hammett this year, and while I enjoyed Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon really blew me away, and not just because of nostalgia for the film(s). Sam Spade is a once-in-a-century character, and he's embroiled in one of the truly great detective stories in this one. A real treat.

Jo Walton's trilogy of novels about Greek gods who decide to try and create Plato's ideal community is ambitious, tragic and funny, but didn't move me as much as her earlier, standalone works.

Film and television tie-in novels often aren't worth commentary, but I thoroughly appreciated Mark Frost's two Twin Peaks novels this year, particularly the latter, which provides frustrated viewers of season three with, if not closure, at least some interesting material to chew on. Most of the Star Trek tie-ins I read this year were, as usual, mundane, but David Mack's Section 31: Control, a Julian Bashir story that ties up a long-running subplot from the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, was suspenseful and satisfying. And the comedic DS9 novellas from Paula Block and Terry Erdmann are good-natured and fun.

Connie Willis is always amazing, and I loved her latest, Crosstalk, a novel of romantic telepathy and overbearing relatives.

Here's each month's tally of books I read in 2017, followed by a genre, gender, and decade breakdown:

January: 9
Hag-Seed (Margaret Atwood, 2016)
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Sacraments of Fire (David R. George III, 2015)
A Man Lies Dreaming (Lavie Tidhar, 2014)
Under the Moons of Mars (John Joseph Adams, 2012)
The Long Tomorrow (Leigh Brackett, 1955)
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Ascendance (David R. George III, 2016)
The Evolution of the Iron Giant (Unknown, 2016)
Last Year (Robert Charles Wilson, 2016)
Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett, 1929)

February: 10
The Feast of St. Dionysus (Robert Silverberg, 1975)
The Dain Curse (Dashiell Hammett, 1929)
The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett, 1930)
The Twilight Zone Companion, Second Edition (Marc Scott Zicree, 1989)
My Brother’s Keeper (Charles Sheffield, 1982)
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Force and Motion (Jeffrey Lang, 2016)
Art of Atari (Tim Lapetino, 2016)
Star Trek Titan: Sight Unseen (James Swallow, 2015)
No Truce with Kings (Poul Anderson, 1963)
Ship of Shadows (Fritz Leiber, 1969)

March: 13
There Will be Time (Poul Anderson, 1972)
Anywhere but Here (Jerry Oltion, 2005)
Ideas of the Year: A Celebration (Unknown, 2016)
The Embarrassments of Science Fiction (Thomas M. Disch, 1975)
Big Ideas and Dead-End Thrills: The Further Embarrassments of Science Fiction (Thomas M. Disch, 1992)
The Art of Bombshells (Marguerite Bennett, 2016)
Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (Laurie Lamson, editor, 2014)
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire (Karen Elizabeth Gordon, 1993)
The New Well-Tempered Sentence (Karen Elizabeth Gordon, 1993)
International Financial Reporting Standards (Unknown, 2011)
MD&A: Guidance on Preparation (Unknown, 2009)
Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Prose (Constance Hale, 2013)
The Secret History of Twin Peaks (Mark Frost, 2016)

April: 18
Crosstalk (Connie Willis, 2017)
Out of the Loud Hound of Darkness (Karen Elizabeth Gordon, 1998)
Torn Wings and Faux Pas (Karen Elizabeth Gordon, 1997)
Star Trek Prey Book 1: Hell’s Heart (John Jackson Miller, 2016)
The Lady Astronaut of Mars (Mary Robinette Kowal, 2013)
Nine Lives (Ursula K. LeGuin, 1969)
The New Atlantis (Ursula K. LeGuin, 1975)
Bloodchild (Octavia E. Butler, 1985)
The Faery Handbag (Kelly Link, 2005)
Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea (Sarah Pinkser, 2016)
The Orangery (Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, 2016)
You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay (Alyssa Wong, 2016)
The Art of Space Travel (Nina Allan, 2016)
Touring with the Alien (Carolyn Ives Gilman, 2016)
Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars (Unknown, 1979)
The Disheveled Dictionary (Karen Elizabeth Gordon, 1997)
The Collapsing Empire (John Scalzi, 2017)
Star Trek Prey Book 2: The Jackal’s Trick (John Jackson Miller, 2016)

May: 11
Blood Grains Speak Through Memories (Jason Sanford, 2016)
Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation (Jamie Lendino, 2017)
Gwendy’s Button Box (Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, 2017)
Old Mars (George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, 2013)
The Last Man (Mary Shelley, 1826)
Crooked (Austin Grossman, 2015)
The Tomato Thief (Ursula Vernon, 2016)
In Sea-Salt Tears (Seanan McGuire, 2013)
It Takes Two (Nicola Griffith, 2009)
Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast (Eugie Foster, 2009)
Eros, Philia, Agape (Rachel Swirsky, 2009)

June: 10
The Monster (Stephen Crane, 1898)
The Skylark of Space (E.E. “Doc” Smith, 1928)
Skylark Three (E.E. “Doc” Smith, 1930)
Subspace Explorers (E.E. “Doc” Smith, 1965)
Berserker (Fred Saberhagen, 1967)
Brother Assassin (Fred Saberhagen, 1969)
Berserker’s Planet (Fred Saberhagen, 1975)
Flower Fables (Louisa May Alcott, 1855)
Hospital Sketches (Louisa May Alcott, 1863)
Berserker Man (Fred Saberhagen, 1979)

July: 10
Star Trek Prey Book 3: Hall of Heroes (John Jackson Miller, 2016)
The Ultimate Enemy (Fred Saberhagen, 1979)
The Berserker Wars (Fred Saberhagen, 1981)
The Sagan Diaries (John Scalzi, 2006)
Judge Sn Goes Golfing (John Scalzi, 2009)
How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story (John Scalzi, 2007)
Star Trek Section 31: Control (David Mack, 2017)
Star Trek The Next Generation: Headlong Flight (Dayton Ward, 2017)
Man & other Natural Disasters (Nerys Parry, 2011)
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Long Mirage (David R. George III, 2017)

August: 8
The Berserker Throne (Fred Saberhagen, 1985)
Berserker: Blue Death (Fred Saberhagen, 1985)
Mash Up (Gardner Dozois, editor, 2016)
Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown (Christopher L. Bennett, 2017)
We Who Are About To… (Joanna Russ, 1976)
The Berserker Attack (Fred Saberhagen, 1987)
Berserker Lies (Fred Saberhagen, 1990)
Hidden Universe Travel Guide: Klingon (Dayton Ward, 2017)

September: 10
This Shared Dream (Kathleen Ann Goonan, 2011)
Metropolis (Thea von Harbou, 1925)
Clash of the Geeks (John Scalzi, editor, 2010)
Berserkers: The Beginning (Fred Saberhagen, 1998)
Hearts in Suspension (Stephen King, 2016)
Mighty Protectors (Jeff Dee, 2017)
The Female Man (Joanna Russ, 1975)
The Just City (Jo Walton 2014)
The Falling Woman (Pat Murphy, 1986)
Children of the Dust (Catherine Asaro, 2017)

October: 6
The Philosopher Kings (Jo Walton, 2015)
Oil’s Deep State (Kevin Taft, 2017)
Necessity (Jo Walton, 2016)
Star Trek The Next Generation: Hearts and Minds (Dayton Ward, 2017)
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales (Una McCormack, 2017)
Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier (Mark Frost, 2017)

November: 3
The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok (Richard Matheson, 1996)
Career of Evil (J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, 2015)
Shield of the Gods (Christopher L. Bennett, 2017)

December: 15
The Diviners (Margaret Laurence, 1974)
Sleeping Beauties (Stephen King and Owen King, 2017)
Proto Zoa (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2011)
Penric’s Demon (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2015)
Penric and the Shaman (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2016)
Penric’s Fox (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2017)
Penric’s Mission (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2017)
Mira’s Last Dance (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2017)
The Prisoner of Limnos (Lois McMater Bujold, 2017)
Rules of Accusation (Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann, 2016)
Lust’s Latinum Lost (and Found) (Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann, 2014)
I, the Constable (Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann, 2017)
Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide (J.K. Rowling, 2016)
Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies (J.K. Rowling, 2016)
Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists (J.K. Rowling, 2016)

Nonfiction: 20
Fiction: 103

Genre
Fantasy: 23
Mainstream: 14
Science Fiction: 48
Star Trek: 18

Top Authors
Fred Saberhagen: 11

Lois McMaster Bujold: 7

Karen Elizabeth Gordon: 5
John Scalzi: 5
Unknown: 5

J.K. Rowling: 4

Paula M. Block: 3
Terry J. Erdmann: 3
David R. George III: 3
Dashiell Hammett: 3
Stephen King: 3
John Jackson Miller: 3
E.E. “Doc” Smith: 3
Dayton Ward: 3
Jo Walton: 3

Louisa May Alcott: 2
Poul Anderson: 2
Christopher L. Bennett: 2
Thomas M. Disch: 2
Gardner Dozois: 2
Mark Frost: 2
Ursula K. LeGuin: 2
Joanna Russ: 2

Books by Women: 59
Books by Men: 64

Books by Decade
1820s: 1
1850s: 1
1860s: 1
1890s: 1
1920s: 4
1930s: 2
1950s: 1
1960s: 6
1970s: 11
1980s: 8
1990s: 9
2000s: 9
2010s: 69

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

E-Waterloo

A couple of weeks ago, I finally gave in an ordered an e-reader, which arrived on the Friday before Christmas. I resisted for many reasons, some of which still bother me:


  • You don't own e-books, you licence them, which means you can't resell, loan, or give them away without breaking the terms of your licence
  • They don't smell right (or at all)
  • You can't fill shelves with them
  • The reading experience is sterile
  • How much electronic waste are millions of generations of e-readers going to generate over the next couple of decades? 
I finally gave in because something I feared eventually happened: some of my favourite authors are no longer publishing traditional books in the physical world. Unless I resort to piracy, I can't read their stuff. 

It was Lois McMaster Bujold who broke me. She's written several new books set in the same fantasy universe as The Curse of Chalion, The Hallowed Hunt, etc., and you can't buy print copies because they don't exist. 

Hence my surrender. To ease the pain, Sylvia bought me a very generous Amazon gift card, which I've used to fill my new Kindle with electronic books. 

I knew it would happen eventually; I just didn't expect it to be this soon. E-books, how does it feel now you've won the war? 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Friday, December 08, 2017

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Neon Streams

I shot this sometime in the fall of 1986. I think it might be a long exposure of the McDonald's on the outskirts of Leduc. Very ungood!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Open and Shut Cases

Here's a pair of painted treasure chests in both their open and shut configurations. These aren't board game pieces; they're intended as set decoration for tabletop roleplaying. I'll probably wind up offering them up as set dressing for the Villains and Vigilantes game I'm participating in. 

As you can see, I'm still having a hard time colouring between the lines at this scale. On the other hand, I had to experiment with different colours to get the gold doubloons to turn out, and I think they did! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Into the Mid-Season Hiatus We Go

SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: DISCOVERY'S  
"INTO THE FOREST I GO"

With this week's follow-up to last week's less-than-stellar outing of Star Trek: Discovery, we move from the show's weakest episode to its strongest yet, ending the first half of the season on a high note. 

"Into the Forest I Go" picks up where "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" left off, with the Discovery in orbit around the peaceful planet Pahva awaiting the arrival of the Klingon Ship of the Dead. Captain Lorca seems genuinely concerned about the Pahvans, and takes pains to stay and protect them even as Starfleet orders him to retreat. What follows is a remarkably, even cinematic, sequence of derring-do that depicts the Discovery's crew coming up with a means of breaking through the Klingon invisibility screen: to wit, Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler sneak onto the Klingon vessel to plant a couple of sensors that will provide enough data for a computer algorithm to penetrate the cloak. This sequence is easily the highlight of the season, with exciting pacing, sharp editing, great moments of suspense and peril, and a victory that feels well-earned. This episode shows how important it is to get the small details right to add verisimilitude and strike the right emotional chords: the jump cuts illustrating the many spore drive jumps needed to accomplish the sequence's key tactic, for example, and the great sound design that illustrates the use of the universal translator. 

Beyond this deft action sequence, we get to see Lorca's character fleshed out a little more. There's a great moment where he puts in his eyedrops to protect his damaged eyes so that he can look right into the explosion that marks the death-knell of the Klingon sarcophagus ship, a nice callback to the origin of Lorca's disability and a window into his warrior's soul. He's also clearly relieved by the rescue and ultimate recovery of Admiral Cornwell, even though her wellbeing presents a risk to his career. 

Speaking of Cornwell, she gets a great moment onboard the Klingon sarcophagus ship, putting her medical training to use to help Ash Tyler, who's on the ship assisting Michael Burnam during the aforementioned action sequence, get through an episode of post-traumatic stress disorder. I'm not a medical professional, but this scene had the ring of truth to it. A follow-up conversation between Tyler and Burnham about the episode is sensitively handled, too. 

However, this episode pretty much confirms the very badly-hidden rumour that Ash Tyler is actually the Klingon Voq, who, you may recall, hasn't been seen since Tyler's appearance. It appears that Tyler is actually Voq, surgically altered to appear human, and that his memories of being abused by L'Rell are actually memories of the painful surgery (and brainwashing, presumably) he endured to become "Tyler." Or perhaps this is all a red herring, and Tyler is indeed a human being. We won't know until after the hiatus. 

And then there's poor brave Stamets, who navigates the spore drive through the dozens of jumps necessary to calibrate the sensors Tyler and Burnham have planted. He comes through the sequence okay, if a little dazed, but in the episode's coda, he agrees to make one last jump back into safe Federation territory...and that's when you know things are going to go wrong. While the scene went by pretty quickly it appears as though Captain Lorca sabotaged the spore jump sequence from his command chair; in any event, the ship jumps to an unknown location and Stamets goes white-eyed, flopping to the deck and babbling about "...so many permutations." Best guess is that the Discovery has jumped, either accidentally or through Lorca's betrayal, to a parallel universe. Given Jonathan Frakes revealed earlier this year that he's directed a Mirror Universe episode, three guesses where the Discovery crew has wound up...and the first two don't count. 

I really cannot praise the direction and editing of "Into the Forest I Go" too highly; the creatives involved delivered a very satisfying hour of television, and I look forward to seeing what the second half of the season brings. 


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

That's One Way to End a Five-Year Mission


Well - not bad! Especially for a fan/semiprofessional production. The end of the Enterprise's five-year mission has been covered in the comics, novels and fan fiction, but "To Boldly Go" feels like a fitting end, dovetailing with "Where No Man Has Gone Before," bringing the show full circle. On the other hand, it could be argued that a show like Star Trek should have ended with the voyages continuing...as indeed, one could argue, they have.

I remain amazed by the talent of these volunteers, who do a very credible job of replicating 1960s-era Star Trek, sometimes even bettering the production value. Even the acting has improved over time, and somehow the producers manage to convince actual SF authors to produce teleplays. What a time to be alive. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Gaggle of Germans

By painting this assortment of WWII German troops, I have finished painting all of the pieces for Fortune and Glory, in plenty of time for the next Gaming and Guinness. As you can see, I experimented with different uniform colours. I Googled "German infantry World War 2" and got a whole bunch of different results. So I made some tan, black, grey (that turned out more like silver), and one green plastic Nazi. The tan ones are sort of cool, the black nice and sinister, but the grey/silver ones show off the most detail. The green one just doesn't feel right at all. All in all, though, I think these turned out pretty well. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Vanquished by a Vending Machine

A couple of weeks ago, I bought this Snickers bar purely because I had to know what "Pleurnichard" meant. Did that translate to "Snickers?", I wondered?
It did not. Who am I when I realize I've fallen victim to clever marketing? Agacé

Friday, November 10, 2017

If You Seek Star Trek, Prepare for Discovery

SPOILERS for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY's 
"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum"

In "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" ("If you seek peace, prepare for war"), Michael Burnham, Saru, and Ash Tyler visit a truly gorgeous alien planet, Pahvo, that may hold the key to rendering Klingon invisibility screens useless, thereby turning the tide of the Federation-Klingon war. Meanwhile on Discovery...well, not a lot really happens on the Discovery this episode, except for one very well-executed space battle that does a good job of displaying Captain Lorca's humanity and giving a couple of minor characters brief moments to shine. There's also a weird scene with Stamets and Tilly that seems to have nothing to do with the main plot of this episode, but provides some hints on where Stamets' character arc might be going. 

Kudos to the production team for making Pahvo feel like a really alien world, and for introducing a pretty need alien species, mist-like folks who build gigantic crystal towers stretching toward the stars. The Pahvans are extremely dedicated to peace, so much so that poor Saru, who for the first time finding himself in a place where he doesn't feel fear, winds up turning on Burnham and Tyler and insists that the landing party should abandon their mission and live on Pahva in peace. At first I was a bit put off by this development, since it seemed at first to hew a little too closely to the plot of "This Side of Paradise," but it turns out that Saru wasn't overly influenced by the aliens; he just made some bad choices. We learn that Saru is actually pretty badass, running at ludicrous speeds and horse-kicking humans so hard they fly several meters. Ouch! 

This episode ends on a cliffhanger, as the Pahvans, instead of helping the Federation win their war, invite the Klingons over for peace talks. I'm sure that will turn out fine in the next installment! 

While this wasn't a bad episode, per se, I found its pacing strange, and in some spots the editing was so abrupt I felt like I was missing pieces of the story. It felt like this story was a little rushed in post-production, or perhaps could have used one more editing pass. 

All in all, this feels like the weakest episode of the season thus far, supplanting "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad." It's not bad, just a little rough around the edges. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Ragnarockin' It

SPOILERS FOR THOR: RAGNAROK

As my brother Sean puts it, Thor: Ragnarok is "the Flash Gordon-iest movie since Flash Gordon." And that's a good thing; this film knows exactly what it is, a lighthearted adventure story with just a touch of drama and pathos so as to give the stakes some heft without diminishing any of the fun.

Stuff I loved:

  • The performances, particularly Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Blanchett, and Ruffalo
  • The kickass score
  • The opening sequence - Thor vs. Surtur
  • The Thor/Hulk bromance
  • The well-executed Dr. Strange cameo
  • Korrg and his insect knife-buddy
  • The clever banter and wit
  • The escape scene
  • Hela is one of the better Marvel villains, with a solid motivation and a sense of genuine menace
  • The notion that Asgard is a people, not a place
  • Valkyrie was cool
  • Jeff Goldblum!
  • Jeff Goldblum's no-nonsense helper
  • Great colour palette on the garbage planet
  • Great spaceship designs
Stuff I thought didn't go over quite as well as it should have:
  • Loki's gimmick is starting to wear thin; in particular, the major twist of The Dark World is given an anticlimactic finish here
  • Despite the epic scale of the climax and the major change to the status quo, I was expecting something...weighter to lead into Infinity War
  • Both post-credit sequences were rather underwhelming
  • No Howard the Duck cameo! For shame
All in all, though, this was a whimsical, tongue-in-cheek ride--a refreshing change of pace from the more portentous Marvel films. 

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Trio of Terror

Here are three more painted playing pieces for Fortune and Glory: a cult leader, a Nazi, and a mobster. Quite a collection of evildoers, ready to be vanquished by the players - one hopes. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Gold Diggers

Here are some more freshly-painted Fortune and Glory playing pieces, along with a treasure chest (not from the game). I was trying to give the mad scientist a mustache, and wound up bearding him instead. After taking this photo, I added some more detail to the treasure, painting the iron supports black. I'll share images later. 

Monday, November 06, 2017

Take 5:24


I've enjoyed this instrumental for many years, but only today did I realize "Take Five" runs about five minutes and 24 seconds. This just seems wrong to me, but then I'm no musician. 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sunrise at the Edmonton Flying Club

Early this morning, Dad collected a birthday present we'd arranged back in January: a short ride in a small airplane at the Edmonton Flying Club. Dad has his pilot's licence and flew planes very much like this one years ago.
The instrument panels are a bit more advanced these days.
Sylvia went up with Dad while Mom waited in the lobby and Sean and I broadcast the takeoff and landing live via Facebook. What a world we live in!
Here's Sean broadcasting.
The plane, the plane!
The operators at the Edmonton Flying Club were extremely friendly and accommodating, allowing Sean and I to enter the hanger to shoot photos and videos. Dad and Sylvia had a good time, so it was worth braving the cold and an early wakeup call.