Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Natural History of Dragons

A Natural History of Dragons. Marie Brennan. 2013. Tor Books. Pages: 334. [Source: bought]

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart – no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon's presence, even for the briefest of moments – even at the risk of one's life – is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten....

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

...a gust of shockingly cold air pulled at my sleeves, and ice stung my face. Wondering if we were in danger of hail, I looked up.
 I have little recollection of the next several seconds. Just a moment of frozen staring, and then – with no transition – my voice shrieking "Get down!" as I wrapped my arms around my husband and dragged him forward, off the wagon bench.


Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭

(Warning! This post contains spoilers! I couldn't help myself!)

This is another book that has been sitting on my shelf for over a year, waiting for my to get through whatever books I have been reading so I could pick it up with a clear conscience (there's nothing like guilt from having too many books on the go at once to ruin the experiance of a perfectly good book).

I really wished I hadn't waited so long to get to this! It was so good, and definitely not the kind of book I should have picked up when I was supposed to be writing a research paper on C.S. Lewis!

This novel is totally unique, and so satisfactory that when I finished it this afternoon I felt a longing to continue reading about Lady Trent's life and exploits. (I can't just go order the next instalment of the series since it chocks up to being over $30 Canadian for the hardcovers, unfortunately, and I'm collecting them in hardcovers because they're so pretty. So I'll have to wait, blah).

I have never before have read a novel that was purposefully written so that it read like a memoir. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would when I cracked it open, but I wondered how the story would fare since – well... memoir + fiction? It's volatile stuff.

But it worked so perfectly for this story, and I could hardly tear my eyes away from the pages in order to write my paper!

The story opens in Lady Trent's youth, when she was young, seven year old Miss Isabella Hendemore. She went out to play one day and found a small, dragon-shaped creature lying in the grass, dead. When she tried to take it home with her, it disintegrated in her hands – later the family cook would teach her how to properly preserve one in vinegar, and when young Isabella manages to jar an intact specimen, she names it 'Greenie', after its colour.

That was the moment her dragon fever, of a sorts, was born. It continued to drive her crazy until she was involved in an incident that forced her to conform to society – until she entered into her "season", the period of every young lady of high standing's life where they have to parade around until they met a man of high standing and they come to an agreement.

Isabella, faced with a lifetime of having her interests an intelligence stifled by the society-driven assumptions of the man she may one day call her husband, agrees to go with her brother to the king's menagerie, and it is there she meets her husband: Jacob Camherst.

It isn't long after they're married that they set off on an adventure into the mountains of Vystrana, where the rest of the story unfolds.

I fell in love with all of the characters, and the form of storytelling. I love Isabella and Jacob, and Mr. Wilker reminds me of Rodney McKay from Stargate: Atlantis (same sarcastic, high-strung kind of guy).

There are a few swear words, but nothing harsher than what I've heard my mother say when she's in a right royal mood (which is rare, and since we're Christian, it's nothing above a Parental Guidance).

At the beginning, when Isabella married Jacob, I wondered why his last name was 'Camherst' and not 'Trent', since Isabella is known as 'Lady Trent' in the future and not 'Lady Camherst'. I distinctly remember thinking, He's going to die, isn't he?

Now, if you've ignored my initial warning about spoilers, I'm afraid I've spoiled some of the story for you already. But I'm going to warn you again – stop reading if you haven't read A Natural History of Dragons yet! I'm going to be discussing the end past this point and I don't want to ruin it for you!

Anyway, now that that's out of the way...

Well, my hunch ended up turning out to be right. Jacob died, and that quite upset me. I liked Jacob! I didn't want Jacob to die! And because of where he died, he couldn't even be buried at home where Isabella could visit him regularly. It kind of reminds me of how Grandpa's grave is in BC, all alone.

The dragons in the story were quite impressive, and I was mildly reminded of How to Train Your Dragon while I read. In a good way.

I love the distinction of the world in this story. Usually, in fantasy, the society and world in the story is distinctly medieval. In this novel, the world is set at a technology level comparable to what we were at from 1812 to 1900 – there were steamboats, but according to Lady Trent there were yet to be railways and steam engines, yet there were steamboats – though I think they were comparable to the ones with the large paddle-wheels on their sides instead of ones of the Titanic's caliber.

I love the illustrations in this book – there're so lifelike! One was creepy in a few aspects, the one depicting Zhagrit Mat, sent shivers up and down my spine. I half expected Zhagrit Mat to come leaping out somewhere in the story since, well, it's a fantasy! Anything could happen in a fantasy! That amped up the tension because so much was happening. It was delightful!

The story world of A Natural History of Dragons is one I would love to daydream about, and I honestly can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Tropic of Serpents. Maybe I can get my hands on it before I come back to college...

Ah! I love it when I come across a good book!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Cinder: a book review

Cinder. Marissa Meyer. 2013. Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. Pages 387. [Source: Bought]

Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time....

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl....

Sixteen-year-old Cinder, a gifting mechanic, is a cyborg. She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past and is reviled by her stepmother. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she's suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future. Because there is something unusual about Cinder, something that others would kill for.


Rating: ✭✭✭✭✩

For years I've been hearing down the bookworm grapevine how great Cinder, and in extension, The Lunar Chronicles are. So I was highly optimistic about this book when I plucked it up from the Chapters bookstore shelf I found it on.

Now, I did end up enjoying it immensely when I read it, but there were some elements I didn't quite like.

I fell in love with Cinder, sympathized with her, felt frustration with her when her stepmother and eldest stepsister treated her like dirt. Felt sad when she felt sad, etc. I was totally immersed.

The story opens with with Cinder sitting in her shop stall in the marketplace, switching her cyborg foot for a new one since it's been on her since she was a kid. The old one was too small, and it was beginning to rust and become difficult to deal with. Her only company is her android companion, Iko, who is much more lively than the average android.

Suddenly, a boy trying to remain discreet with his hoodie and his bowed head appears in front of her stall and plunks an older android down on her worktable. It doesn't take Cinder long to realize who her newest customer is, and once she realizes it's Prince Kai of all people, well, her life just jumped off a cliff.

The worldbuilding that went into this story was splendid. The setting, New Beijing, was definitely something new for me but not wholly distracting, though it was kinda sad since the city sounded pretty crowded. I don't really know what to say about how far into the future the story takes place.

There were a few things that irked me. I'm such a stickler for the little details, little things that don't bother others, haha. But...

  • I didn't really like how Canada, sometime in the past, had been absorbed by America. Like, I get that countries get absorbed and split over time, but the fact that America tried to absorb Canada in 1812 and failed and then, in this story, Canada is nothing more than a province... UHG.
  • At least Canada's representative got a mention.
  • There was a lot of the "Cinderella Story" that had been cut out. Like I expected the author to not follow too closely to the Cinderella Story framework, but there were bits I kinda wished had happened. Like maybe a Lunar fairy godmother? (okay, okay, I can see that Dr. Erland kind of filled that role by providing a new cybernetic hand and foot, but that happened after the ball!)
The main thing that kind of bugged me and kind of ruined the world of The Lunar Chronicles was the presence of the sub-dermal ID chips. I can blame the Left Behind series for inducing the major paranoia I felt when the ID chips were mentioned, because in Left Behind, the authors had it as part of the mark of the beast with the fact that you needed to have one if you wanted to be a member of society.

The chips put me ill at ease, but I was eventually able to look past it.

The world presented in this book offered an interesting contrast to what kind of world is often offered in futuristic science-fiction stories. Instead of a pristine, peaceful, united world, the world in Cinder is grungy, sick, and shattered. The Earth is ravaged by a sickness worse than ebola, with people being carted away by medical androids never to be seen again.

In the story, I stuck close to Cinder, meaning that my mind didn't wander and dwell on the world around the events of the stories. It was just so depressing. I guess I can only handle so much gloom in a story (which is why I've never been a big fan of dystopia), haha.

Dr. Erland had to be my favourite character after Cinder in the novel. At first, I didn't like him very much since he was basically the reason why Cinder had been "sold" by her stepmother, and I fully expected that he was going to start dissecting her. But then he turned out to be the total opposite of the evil head-scientist I thought he would be. He was basically the first person to actually care about Cinder since her adopted father died. And the fact that he's a Lunar hiding out amongst the humans and that he's wants revenge on the Lunar Queen due to her authorities having taken his daughter away....

I honestly can't wait to read Scarlet, Cinder's sequel. I want to know what will happen to Cinder and Dr. Erland. Is it wrong that I want to see what happens to a secondary character more than the main character? No. I often find myself in this predicament! (Dr. Erland better not die!)

Queen Levana must be stopped, and it's a moment I await with bated breath. She is such a sick, evil woman.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

It Could Just Be Radiation

I have to admit, I do admire the Star Wars franchise. I like watching the movies and the TV shows when they're available on Netflix (hint hint, Netflix, I want to see the second season of Rebels), and the whole concept is rather fascinating. But since I'm human, there are some things I don't like.

I always found something weird about the Force. What was the Force and where did it come from? Why did the users of the Force practically worship it? Then my parents practically dropped the bomb on me when they said that they had read somewhere (yes, somewhere) that the mechanics of the Force had been based on (if I remember correctly) Buddhism or Hinduism. As a Christian, I could literally hear the record scratch as soon as that news left their mouths, and I knew from that day on I would never be able to fully enjoy the Star Wars universe again.

But since I'm a writer, my mind instantly began to whirr. Alternative possibilities to the existence of the Force whipped through my head, especially after I watched "first" three movies (The Phantom Menace [I], Attack of the Clones [II], Revenge of the Sith [III]), where they explained the microbes known as 'midichlorians' were what connected Jedi, Sith, and Force-sensitives to the Force.

I know that a lot of fans complain that the "first" trilogy kinda ruined things thanks to the whole midichlorian, young Anakin, and rise of the Empire thing – it had all been backwards, and that irked people. It didn't rise to people's expectations. But the whole midichlorian diagnosis kinda (haha...eh) supports my theory that the Force is some sort of radiation.

There is a ton of lore that I have no idea about (thanks to always being strapped for cash), but going by what the movies portray, you could easily say that the Force is nothing more than background radiation caused by the uniqueness of the galaxy (or all galaxies) and the people that live within it. Put a kind of superhero spin on it. Not everyone can tap into this radiation, because that's determined by how many midichlorians one has in their body. So, superpowers!

The radiation theory can support the saying that believers in the Force often spout whenever someone is curious about it: "it moves through every living thing". According to an article from the Hong Kong Observatory's website, the human body emits electromagnetic radiation.

Electromagnetic radiation is a kind of radiation that includes visible light, radio waves, gamma waves, and x-rays, in which electric fields and magnetic fields vary simultaneously.

Each planet, in order to support life, needs some sort of magnetic field in order to keep itself from being fried by its parent star. The magnetic field is made of electromagnetic radiation. Everything seems to emit some sort of electromagnetic radiation, so it is logical to conclude that the Force is made of electromagnetic radiation.

Electromagnetic radiation comes from every living thing.


Eheh... despite this and the fact the nature of the Force is distinctly mystical in canon, me as a person can always view it through science-coated glasses.

Star Wars is an exemplar example of a space opera (epic space opera as Wikipedia calls it), one of my favourite genres, and I love the stories. The aspects of the Force has not stopped me from loving the stories or falling in love with the characters. It hasn't stopped my Dad (who was the one who raised the fact of the background of the Force) from liking the Stormtroopers (if it's Star Wars, he gets it with Stormtroopers on it), or my Mom from loving the Ewoks.

I just wanted to point out what I think is an interesting scientific explanation for the Force. I probably just Star Trek-ified the whole thing ("it's magic for the locales, but it's science to us" kind of thing), but science is fun, right?


And, honestly, having radiation-induced superpowers sounds super cool.


Sources for electromagnetic radiation explanation:

Lee Shuk-ming, Olivia. "Radiation emitted by Human Body - Thermal Radiation." Radiation. September 2010. Accessed April 15, 2017. http://www.hko.gov.hk/education/edu02rga/radiation/radiation_02-e.htm.

"Electromagnetic radiation." Wikipedia. Accessed April 15, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_radiation.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Brief History of Timekeeping

One of the elements that occasionally crosses my mind when I am worldbuilding a new culture is how the people tell time. Usually, the cultures I create are advanced enough for normal clocks, but in the story that I'm writing for Camp NaNoWriMo April the way the tribe of the Lajar tells time is with a sundial.

Or––a moon-dial, since the Lajar are a night-dwelling society since the sunlight that beats down on the Endless Waste of the desert moon of Dekartaal is extremely harsh. I've been contemplating exactly how the moonlight could help tell time. Oh well, I'll have to figure it out :3

Anyway, I found this video on the history of timekeeping on youtube. It's an interesting, engaging video––which even explains how quartz crystals help drive clocks. I never knew that quartz conducts electricity! That can totally be used to help with worldbuilding in the future!

I'll tag this under "for future reference" and listed on a page "Worldbuilder's Library" so you can find this quickly in the future when it's no longer a recent post. Yay for interesting videos! Awfully addictive, though.

The Situation With Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii

It has been several days since Mt. Kilauea started erupting ferociously. I don't think I've ever seen it erupt as bad as it is now...