Pixel Scroll 3/13/18 “Use The Porgs, Luke!”

(1) DON’T PAY TO PLAY. Jason Sanford has a twitter thread about another dodgy publisher – start here:

(2) TERMS AND CONDITIONS. Amanda S. Green has a very sensible take about the disappearing Amazon review kerfuffle: “On Reviews” at Mad Genius Club.

But, before you start all this take a step back and then take a deep breath and ask yourself if you or the reader who left the review might have fallen afoul of the rules. I know how easy it is to tell your other writer friends that you’ll review their work if they review yours. You might not even do it in so many words. The problem is, in this day and age of technology, Amazon’s computers will start seeing patterns and will pull reviews that fit those patterns. Is it fair? Waggles hands. It is, however, in the rules and we agree to those rules when we open our Amazon accounts and when we then open our KDP accounts. This is why you need to be sure you read those ToS agreements before completing your account setup.

Reviews are the best advertising we have for our books. They are a way of telling potential readers we’ve put something out that is worth not only their time but their money as well. Amazon recognizes that. It also recognizes the fact the system is easily gamed and that is what these rules are designed to prevent. The rules aren’t perfect but they are the best we have right now. None of us want to return to the days of rampant sock puppet reviews — or at least we shouldn’t. After all, most readers will look askance at a book by an indie author with hundreds of reviews and not a one under 4-star. You need those lower level reviews to give legitimacy to your work.

So, if you are one of those authors who found reviews suddenly missing, contact Amazon and ask what happened. Review the ToS about reviews and move forward. Yes, it’s hard losing reviews but you’ll do yourself more good writing your next book than spending hours on the internet whinging about how evil Amazon is.

(3) DEMISE OF STEAMPUNK WORLD’S FAIR. Airship Ambassador reports “Steampunk World’s Fair – Cancelled”.  The former management was deposed after sexual abuse allegations, but the group trying to pull off  rescue has decided the task is impossible

After several weeks of discussions, and publicized business changes, following posts in late January revealing sexual abuse allegations,

Sexual abuse allegations crawling out of steampunk community (TW)

Time to Name Drop and Protect Newbies

the Silver Phoenix Society announced On February 20,2018, it was taking over the production of Steampunk World’s Fair.

…However, it was announced tonight, March 13, 2018, on the Steampunk World’s Fair Facebook page that Silver Phoenix Society’s involvement in the event was ending, effectively cancelling the May 2018 festival.

Screencaps of relevant Facebook posts and links to background articles can be found at Airship Ambassador.

(4) THOR FX. A BBC video about “The visual effects behind Thor 3” relates the fun of having to be able to redo everything at the last minute, and the skinny on mixes of CGI and live action — sometimes keeping just the face so the body could interact with (e.g.) lightning.

Al Moloney talks to Alexis Wajsbrot, the visual effects supervisor for Thor: Ragnarok. He explains how characters like the Hulk and Korg were brought to life.

(5) HAWKING OBIT. Dr. Stephen Hawking died March 14. The New York Times reports: “Stephen Hawking, Who Examined the Universe and Explained Black Holes, Dies at 76”.

…“Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world,” Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, said in an interview.

Dr. Hawking did that largely through his book “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” published in 1988. It has sold more than 10 million copies and inspired a documentary film by Errol Morris. The 2014 film about his life, “The Theory of Everything,” was nominated for several Academy Awards and Eddie Redmayne, who played Dr. Hawking, won the best-actor Oscar.

Scientifically, Dr. Hawking will be best remembered for a discovery so strange that it might be expressed in the form of a Zen koan: When is a black hole not black? When it explodes.

What is equally amazing is that he had a career at all. As a graduate student in 1963, he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular wasting disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was given only a few years to live.

The disease reduced his bodily control to the flexing of a finger and voluntary eye movements but left his mental faculties untouched.

(6) DOWN TO THE WIRE. With the Hugo nominating deadline upon us, Doctor Science shares a longlist: “Brainstorming my Hugo nominations: Best Novel and Best Series”.

Hugo nominations have to be in by Friday, so I’m going to put up my longlist and hope the process of writing helps me make up my mind. I’m resurrecting my goodreads account to better keep track of what I’ve read (and what I started but did not finish, and why).

I thought I had already written and posted reviews of most of these, but apparently I wrote many only in my head….

(7) ISHER AND TRANTOR. Meanwhile, Edmonton’s Hugo Award Book Club tackles “Retro Hugos 1943 — Short Stories” and tries to put the contenders in the context of the time.

If there had never been another story published in the Foundation universe, The Encyclopedists would

have stood on its own – it encapsulates essentially all of the big ideas of the series: the mathematics of history, the decline and fall of an empire, and the ennobling positivist view of the ability of humanity to alter its destiny. While later stories built on this foundational story, everything that makes the Foundation series great was right there in this initial blueprint.

In this story, Asimov offers us the series’ most unforgettable – and quotable – protagonist Salvor Hardin, the mayor of Trantor. In the context of when this story was published, just five months after Pearl Harbor, his famous quote “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” might be seen as an surprising anti-war exhortation.

(8) WHEN NO MAN PURSUETH. Just to make sure there’d be some drama, before he went to FOGcon, Jon Del Arroz ran this twitter poll:

Broadcasting what, you might ask? You weren’t the only one. Jon gives his version in: “Someone Tried To Get Me Kicked Out Of A Sci-Fi Convention… And You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!” [Internet Archive]

…The man proceeded to grill me, rattling off questions in a challenging manner. “What are you doing here? Why? Are you intending on broadcasting here? Are you going to be bothering anyone?” They came in rapid succession, challenging…. I finally told him “this tone is getting pretty hostile,” as I wasn’t sure what he was getting at at all.

This is where things changed. His eyes widened a little and he said, “Oh!” The man dropped to his knees and smiled. “I’m 6’8? I guess that can be a little intimidating. Is this better?” His tone changed to something a little more humorous. Almost expertly, this man diffused the situation and the tension that had been escalating evaporated.

We started talking at length, and I learned this man was from the convention security, and that someone had complained about my presence there…

JDA was allowed to stay, and even buy a membership the next day after being vetted by the chair:

I showed up the next morning, migrated down stairs and asked to buy a ticket for the day. …I was just about to wrap up paying, when convention chairman Steven Schwartz asked me to step aside and chat with him.

It was frightening again. What was going to happen? Was this the “you need to vacate the premises” I was afraid of?

Just like the security fellow from the night before, Schwartz asked a couple of questions, his tone was pleasant, he had genuine concern — not only for the safety of others, but what blew me away was he was concerned for my safety as well. He asked some questions based on the absurd rumors propagated by Worldcon that I was some boogeyman, I let him know I never intended anything of the sort at any con nor even implied it — for FOGCon or Worldcon, and Schwartz took me as a man of my word (which I am), and told me if anyone tried to attack or harm me, he would defend me as surely as anyone else.


(10) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Bug Gaits for Animators” on Vimeo, Stephen Cunnane provides tips animators need to make sure bugs crawl properly.

[Thanks to JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, Martin Morse Wooster, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

65 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/13/18 “Use The Porgs, Luke!”

  1. Meredith moment:

    Comixology is having a 0.99c/0.69p sale on Marvel collections at the moment. A mix of recent releases and stuff from the back catalogue.

    I’m not a massive Marvel fan but at that price I’ve picked up:

    Black Bolt v1
    Inhumans: Once and Future Kings
    Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff
    America v1
    Thor by Walter Simonson vols 1 & 2

  2. 5) Stephen Hawking was straight-arming the Grim Reaper for as long as I’ve been alive… while rewriting the book on physics and cosmology with his spare hand. I don’t think I’ve got words to describe just how much that man accomplished in his life. Awesome. Just… awesome.

  3. Camestros Felapton: (10) that’s really useful

    Oh, FFS, cue Camestros’ next bizarre animation: creepy orange satsuma spider god with an octopedal gait, chasing a purple cat with an alternating tripod gait, both being chased by Hugo freakout guy with a many-legged metachronal wave gait. 🙄

    sets timer

  4. rob_matic says Comixology is having a 0.99c/0.69p sale on Marvel collections at the moment. A mix of recent releases and stuff from the back catalogue.

    I’m doing a review shortly here for OGH of the two major streaming services, Comixology and Marvel Unlimited. I found the selection on the former frustratingly incomplete where the latter is very good on both depth of catalog and how the comics are presented. If you want a Netflix approach to Marvel, it’s quite good for ten bucks a month.

  5. Cat Eldridge on March 14, 2018 at 5:58 am said:

    I’m doing a review shortly here for OGH of the two major streaming services, Comixology and Marvel Unlimited. I found the selection on the former frustratingly incomplete where the latter is very good on both depth of catalog and how the comics are presented. If you want a Netflix approach to Marvel, it’s quite good for ten bucks a month.

    For Comixology purposes I’m UK resident so can’t use their Unlimited service. However, I’m not sure I would anyway as from what I can see they mostly just offer the first issue or story arc of a series.

  6. (5) It hurts to lose a superhero.

    (8) “Migrated down stairs”? What wordsmithing. Lightning, meet lightning bug.

  7. (8) JDA: He asked some questions based on the absurd rumors propagated by Worldcon that I was some boogeyman, I let him know I never intended anything of the sort at any con nor even implied it

    I’m going to guess that this obfuscated reference means that Schwartz, like the big security guy, asked JDA if he intended to broadcast from the Con without permission.

    Probably because he said he was going to in that tweet.

  8. @rob_matic
    Comixology Unlimited is not the same thing as Marvel Unlimited. And while the latter is prices in U$D only, I understand it to be accessible to the UK.

  9. Arroz is, to use the term Mike and I know from our Much Younger days in fandom, a Fugghead. This has been replaced by the modern “Troll.” But I think F*cking Asshole works just as well.

  10. @Niall McAuley

    JDA seems really confused by cons taking him at his word, doesn’t he?

  11. And while the latter is prices in U$D only, I understand it to be accessible to the UK.

    Yes, I’ve been a member in the past — it had an excellent stock then, and as far as I’m aware it’s improved since. While it doesn’t provide comics from the last few months, it has a huge historical collection that’s on its way to being completely comprehensive.

    (As for why I’m not a member now, I mean to get back to it at some point, once I’ve read and watched this, that and the other thing.)

  12. @rob_matic: Obviously I meant 99c/69p. Aha! The dread decimal point kerfuffle! I used to grumble about the US Parachuting Association claiming that second place in the spot-landing contest went to somebody whose cumulative error was “.01 cents”….

  13. @Mark

    JDA seems really confused by cons taking him at his word, doesn’t he?

    It’s a funny thing too, considering how in his after action report JDA made sure to insist he was man of his word, too.

  14. 5
    Made me pull out a “This Month in History” from the Sep 2004 Locus:

    Sept 12, 2024
    Hawking retires.
    In his televised farewell speech the famed physicist reveals that he has actually been dead for six years but wasn’t done with his research projects.

    Off by…not a lot, actually.

  15. (2) It looks like there might be two related but separate things going on with the reviews. First either Amazon tweaked their algorithms or some long suffering review reviewer finally got to the self published sci-fi and found something that looked incestuous if not quid pro quo so they kicked a lot of reviews. Then it seems if you have enough reviews kicked you are listed as a bad actor and have all your reviews pulled. So a number of the authors caught in the first group seems to have had enough reviews kicked to fall in the second group.

  16. (1) DON’T PAY TO PLAY.

    Just the other week, I discovered that all the major Israeli publishers charge a fee ($30-$40) to read manuscripts to novels. I’m… dismayed.

    OTOH 1: I don’t know if we even have agents. Israel’s small.
    OTOH 2: I also learned that paid lectors are A Thing, which I hadn’t known; they get about $80-$100 to be first readers per manuscript. Interestingly, they generally read every manuscript all the way through — I’m kind of shocked.
    OTOH 3: Israeli publishing is kind of a desperate hellhole. Teeny tiny market (the whole country is 8.5 million people); retailers have a stranglehold over the market; in genre, lots of people (your humble servant included) just read in English; etc. etc. It’s not a healthy field.

  17. (8): Has anyone ever used “broadcast” to mean “tweet/post a selfie” (or “video selfie”)?

    Given his “body-cam” post, it’s completely understandable that people would think he meant “broadcast video of people at the con”, but is there even a fig leaf of the term being used with a more restricted meaning?

  18. @ STandback:

    I am actually a bit surprised,. Now, I have only managed to fact-check one Swedish publisher (Brombergs), but they do not charge any fee and state 2-3 months for a “yes” or “no” (and only accept electronic submissions, in either Word or PDF). Swedish is about the same size of potential market (~ 9 million) in-country.

    And eyeballing the members list on the “Swedish book-publishers’ association” web page, it seems there’s (at least) 68 active publishers in Sweden (if “listed as a member on that page” means they’re still actively publishing books).

    Darn, now I may have to click through many many pages and see if anyone of them charge for submissions.

  19. @ myself:

    OK, about ten publishers from that list (picked more-or-less at random, among those who explicitly said they publish fiction) checked, none mentioning any payments, and only one requiring paper submission (I think most of the rest were electronic-only).

    One of the publishers were happy to do one of “submit, you get a yes or no” or “we provide the following services, for pay…”.

  20. About five years ago, both Robin Williams and Stephen Hawking were making appearances in Portland within a week of each other, and we could only afford to go to one.

    We chose Hawking, figuring it would probably be the last chance we’d have to see him, and that there would be other chances to see Robin Williams. Little did we know…

  21. Rip Hawkins. You will be missed.

    (1) In Boardgames its also not customs to pay a fee. With the exception of the biggest German publisher, who got a lot of flack for that policy. (I have to say that I am lucky enough to know publishers by now, which makes things so much easier… i suspect writing is the same)

    A brief history of pixels

  22. (8) Oh dear, I hope no one is actually convinced that FOGCon is a haven for annoying right-wing agitators. And props to the person who assigned himself the thankless task of keeping an eye on JdA at the bar Saturday evening. (I was there about 10 feet away. There was no miasma of hate being directed at him unless one counts being ignored as a miasma of hate.)

  23. 8) I just read Jon’s latest, a typical delusional martyr-complex reaction to Mike’s post. I have just three letters for Jon — LOL.

    Oh, and one question for Jon: hey, Jon, when are you finally going to file that lawsuit against Worldcon? You’ve raised more than enough money for the filing fee — in fact, you passed that goal more than a week ago. You’re supposed to be a “man of your word”, right, Jon? So when can we expect that filing?

  24. There was no miasma of hate being directed at him unless one counts being ignored as a miasma of hate.

    [Doors] People are strange when you’re a stranger
    Faces look ugly when you’re alone [/Doors]

    I just read Jon’s latest, a typical delusional martyr-complex reaction to Mike’s post.

    He seems to be claiming now that “broadcast” meant “Periscope broadcast”. At FOGCon itself? After the con?

    Also, he writes: “They don’t have readers, some proof by today’s referrer views on my site, which he linked to” — I don’t think he’s a careful or thoughtful reader, or he would realize the File770 link does not actually go to his site.

  25. Heather Rose Jones: oh, dear. Well, this reminds me somehow of Lee Hays of The Weavers, who said “If it wasn’t for the honor, I’d just as soon not have been … blacklisted.” (My inner pedant really wanted to change wasn’t to weren’t, but I’m pretty sure he said wasn’t.)

  26. Okay, now I feel a bit ill. I’ve been over having a look on Twitter, where a whole lot of people have been making Hugo Award eligibility tweets for several weeks now. And that’s fine. But there is one party who keeps making eligibility posts using photos of their disabled child, in an apparent attempt to drum up sympathy nominations, and it’s just… dreadful. 😠

  27. Does anyone here use (or watch or whatever) Periscope? The only people I’ve seen using it are the Red Elephants (a white supremacist troll group) and JDA (a troll supremacist force of one). Is it purely a troll thing?

  28. kathodus: Is [Periscope] purely a troll thing?

    I think that both it and Gab are pretty exclusively an alt-right thing; the only people I’ve seen using them are alt-righters, white nationalists, and trolls of that persuasion.

  29. I see Periscope used on Twitter from time to time, and I’m not following any alt-right types. Not so much alt-right, as activists generally?

    Note that not only have I not done good research on this; I haven’t done any research at all. It’s just my impression.

  30. Thanks, Lis and JJ. I don’t watch any blog-style video stuff for fun – I mostly read – so the activists I watch tend to be Nazis. I like to keep track of their lies. I have no context for periscope other than that.

  31. @1: The CAW tweet presented here is not responsive. (I’m not seeing a thread from any of the links — not sure whether that’s because I don’t have an account or I’m just missing something.) If they charge for reading, they’re violating Yog’s Law.

  32. Contrarius: Oh, and one question for Jon: hey, Jon, when are you finally going to file that lawsuit against Worldcon? You’ve raised more than enough money for the filing fee — in fact, you passed that goal more than a week ago.

    There’s nothing to be gained by prodding JDA about this. The Worldcon committee is busy enough organizing the con. If JDA doesn’t get around to filing, let the people who gave him money consider it a tax on trolling.

  33. I’ve seen Periscope used elsewhere. Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe used it when they were traveling around the UK last year doing All the Stations. (I’m one of the people who contributed to their Kickstarter to fund the trip. If you like trains and like travel in the UK, you will probably enjoy the series.) They’d do Periscope while they were out and about, so it was a way to see stuff that didn’t make the 4x/week videos of their journey to travel to every railway station in Great Britain.

  34. 2017 Novel Reading Part 4 (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

    Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers
    [The Indranan War #3]

    Synopsis: Hail Bristol was dragged back from the life she loved as an illicit gunrunner, to reluctantly serve as empress after her parents and siblings were all brutally murdered. And not only is the succession under threat by unknown, treasonous aspirants to the throne, the empire itself is under attack by the military forces of a neighboring system bent on conquest. Facing threats from all sides with the support of a gradually-diminishing cadre of loyal friends and bodyguards, she is drawn into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with an enemy whose agenda is disturbingly, viciously personal.

    What I thought: I love the SciFiNow blurb for the first book: “Like an intergalactic The West Wing, but with more assassination attempts”, which is a pretty accurate description. One of the things I think the author has really successfully accomplished is to make the unraveling of a hugely complex web of political machinations such an integral part of the series — but in such a way that it’s still interestingly, even nail-biting-suspensefully, done. There is still plenty of action as well. While each book stands on its own, as a trilogy the story really excels and engrosses. I loved these books, and they’re on my Hugo nomination ballot for Best Series.

    Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
    [The Bannerless Saga #1]
    Synopsis: Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which resources are scarce and measured out, birth control is mandatory, and people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them financially. Independent investigators are trained from early adulthood to mediate disputes and examine transgressions among the household communities. A young investigator, who hasn’t yet handled a serious case, is called to look into the suspicious death of an outcast in a rural community.

    What I thought: This book is set in the same world as, but is not the same story as, the novelette of the same name (also the same world as Hugo-nominated short story “Amaryllis”). The loose system of government which has evolved seems plausible based on the post-crash worldbuilding. The story reminded me a bit of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric novellas, because it has the same sort of quiet conflict and thoughtful resolution as those stories; I think that fans of Penric may enjoy this. I see that a sequel, The Wild Dead, will be released this year, and I will definitely be picking it up.

    The End of the Day by Claire North
    Synopsis: At the end of the day, Death visits everyone. Charlie, his assistant, precedes him, to prepare the dying person. This is Charlie’s story.

    What I thought: I really loved The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and I really liked Touch and The Sudden Appearance of Hope, but I thought that the premise for this novel was really weak, and after reading about 25% of it, I gave up and went on to something else.

    Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
    Synopsis: A secretary and single mom, who is stuck in a modern-day rut, meets a man in a bar on a rare night out, and sparks fly. When she arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss: the man from the bar. The very married man from the bar… who says their kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off her. And then she bumps into a woman who’s new to town and in need of a friend — but who also just happens to be married to the boss. At first they appear to be the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then the husband seems to be extremely controlling, and the wife very scared of him. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong.

    What I thought: I picked up this book because a bunch of online readers were posting angry reviews about the ending being supernatural, rather than the expected banal soap opera (okay, I’m paraphrasing there), and I was curious. It’s written in a chatty style which I don’t necessarily appreciate, but was readable enough that I kept with it. I personally really enjoyed the ending; I was expecting a certain twist, and the novel did that twist one better. Recommended if you like popular fiction, mystery, and creeping psychological horror.

    The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
    Synopsis: Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ship organisms known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say there are her family. She is told she is their salvation, the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship, and she finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly inside of the world.

    What I thought: This is really a strange one. The world-building is really inventive, and the plot very unusual. While I think that the book is perhaps not completely successful, it is incredibly ambitious and innovative. (For those for whom it might be a problem, the profanity is pervasive, and there is a significant amount of body-horror.)

    The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts
    Synopsis: In a near-future England which is desperately trying to tempt people away from the delights of the immersive virtual-reality successor to the internet, most people are happy to spend their lives plugged in, and the country is decaying. A private detective who does not engage in VR is called to investigate the mystery of how a dead body appeared in the boot of a freshly-made car in a fully-automated factory. In the process of the investigation, she finds herself caught up in a political coup, and she knows that getting in too deep may leave her unable to get home without fail every 4 hours, to provide life-saving medicine to her partner — a task that only she can do. If she misses the 5-minute treatment window, her lover will die.

    What I thought: This is totally a Hitchcock homage — in a good way, in my opinion. As in North By Northwest, the protagonist is a decent person, just trying to live their life, when they inadvertently get dragged into something huge, with mysterious, powerful people pulling strings, and a bizarre murder mystery which is somehow connected to it all — and while being a pawn which is pulled this way and that into misadventures by the various factions, the lead character must get back to their home every 4 hours to prevent their partner from dying. But that last bit is the part that really, really didn’t work for me. In order to add the suspense of the time-frantic element to the plot, the author relies on a MacGuffin created solely for that purpose. Right up to the very end, I kept hoping that he would actually make the MacGuffin make sense in the larger world of the book — but that didn’t happen. It’s just a clunky plot device to add a sense of dire urgency to the story. The story does have some interesting subcommentary about chronic disability, government surveillance, and internet addiction and may be worth reading if you like SFFnal mysteries.

    Archangel by Margaret Fortune
    [The Spectre War #2]
    Synopsis: In this loose sequel to Nova, a soldier of the Celestial Expanse is recruited into Division 7, a Research & Development facility with the ultimate mission: to create a large-scale weapon that can kill the unseen alien enemy Spectres en masse. His team of military elite have the daring and dangerous task of taking new weapons prototypes out into the field for testing on enemy troops. Yet the closer they come to developing a working weapon against the aliens, the more it becomes clear: There’s a saboteur in R&D, one of their own who has been taken over by an alien. With all signs pointing to a massive Spectre attack brewing on the horizon, the saboteur must be identified before it can destroy the humans’ one chance to prevail.

    What I thought: I really enjoyed the first book in this series, and this one was a good follow-up. Although the main character is 18, I really wouldn’t consider this YA: it’s just a solid Military SF mystery with sinister aliens.

    And the Rest is History by Jodi Taylor
    [The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #8]

    Synopsis: Behind the seemingly innocuous facade of St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a different kind of academic work is taking place. Just don’t call it “time travel” — these historians “investigate major historical events in contemporary time.” And they aren’t your harmless eccentrics either; a more accurate description, as they ricochet around history, might be unintentional disaster-magnets. Max is trapped in the same deadly sandstorm that buried the fifty thousand-strong army of the Pharaoh Cambyses II, and she’s sharing the only available shelter for miles around with the murdering psychopath who recently kidnapped her and left her adrift in time. But she’s no safer back at St. Mary’s. Tragedy strikes — not once, but several times — her personal life slowly begins to unravel, and she must race through time to save the ones she loves.

    What I thought: This is another solid entry in the series, which is snarkier and darker than Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel series. People with strong history backgrounds have expressed issues with the accuracy of some of the volumes, but the books work for me. An entertaining and engrossing read, but probably not a good starting point for those new to the series.

    The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein
    Synopsis: In the year 2147, advancements in nanotechnology have enabled humans to control aging, genetically-engineered mosquitoes feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution, and teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation — offered exclusively by the world’s most powerful corporation, in a world controlled by corporations. A trainer of artificial intelligence systems, an everyday twenty-second century guy with everyday problems, is accidentally duplicated while teleporting, and now he must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect which is out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him and wants to kill him.

    What I thought: This is a pretty good debut novel, and I enjoyed it. The plotting and action are perhaps a bit formulaic, but the details are interesting enough that was happy to read the whole thing. Recommended for those who enjoy technothrillers.

    Empire Games and Dark State (2018) by Charles Stross
    [Merchant Princes: Empire Games #1 and #2]
    Synopsis: It’s 2020. Two nuclear superpowers across timelines, one in the midst of a technological revolution and the other a hyper-police state, are set on a collision course. Each timeline’s increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies are fumbling around in the dark, trying to find a solution to the first-contact problem that doesn’t result in a nuclear holocaust. And two paratime travellers — a mother and her long-lost, adopted daughter — are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.

    What I thought: I really expected to enjoy these, based on the synopses. Theoretically, they should be way more up my alley than the Laundry Files novels (which I actually do really enjoy). But I thought they were just meh. The plots consist mainly of lots and lots and lots of political maneuvering. I really never got emotionally invested in any of the characters. I’d hoped that reading the second book right after the first might get me more into it, but it didn’t, and I honestly don’t think that I’ll continue with this series.

    A Red Peace and Shadow Sun Seven by Spencer Ellsworth
    [Starfire #1 and #2]
    Synopsis: A half-human, half-constructed-human spaceship navigator, working the edges of human-settled space on contract to whoever will hire her, stumbles into possession of an artifact that the leader of the Rebellion wants desperately enough to send his personal guard after. An interstellar empire and the fate of the remnant of humanity hang in the balance. This adventure features space battles between giant bugs, sun-sized spiders, planets of cyborgs, and a heroine with enough grit to bring down the galaxy’s newest warlord.

    What I thought: I really enjoyed these fast-and-enjoyable novels; the technology is really inventive, and the characters appealing. The third book, Memory’s Blade, just came out, and I’ll be digging into it right after the Hugo nomination deadline.

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