Gone Fishing . . . For Dinosaurs.

Unfortunately, this post is not a book review. It’s kind of a placeholder and a promise.

See my plan was to attend Worldcon 2021/Discon III last week (which I did), watch the Hugo 2021 awards ceremony (which I also did), and then write about the whole experience of the conference here on this bloggo (much like I did for Balticon in 2013).

Soo cool.

However, in the few days since the conference ended on Sunday, I’ve found it more or less impossible to write anything. News of a positive Covid test during the convention, some subsequent reports of cases after the convention (in my network IRL and online), some family health troubles unrelated to Covid (all seemingly resolved for now), as well as adjusting to coming back to work, and normal holiday stress have pretty much wiped me out.

(For any concerned, I’ve tested negative so far, but I’ve been reading that I won’t really know for sure until Thursday which is also stressful as I’m finding it hard to get a testing appointment that day as they’re seemingly all booked. May try an at home test if I can find one)

So . . . I’m taking a bit of a break. I was going to use the phrase ‘Gone Fishing’ as I think that’s a pretty common thing people say when they’re taking a break, and then I decided to incorporate the title of this awesome looking book I found in the dealer’s area at the convention. So yea . . . enjoy speculating what that book could be about, and I’ll get to a review of it at some point.

In the mean time, I’m not sure when my next post will be. I’m hoping this break won’t be too long, and that I can recharge quickly, but we’ll see.

Until next time . . .

Live From #WorldCon2021 (#DisconIII) it’s Saturday Night!

At the time you’re reading this, I’m at the Hugo Watch party, in the Shoreham Hotel. I’m excited to finally find out which of the many great works I’ve read will win the award and I’m a little bit anxious. Will the winners be the books I voted for? We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll do a full report next week (maybe Wednesday instead of my normal book review?)

I still have some giveaways left! If you’re interested in a novel of Ancient Egypt and Dinosaurs, please @ me at @jamesweber16 on twitter!

In the mean time, I just wanted to give a brief update on how the con has been going.

In short, it’s been awesome.

I’ve met so many interesting people and had the chance to interact with many inspiring authors (Fonda Lee and Shannon Shakraborty topping that list but with many others closely behind). A scroll through my twitter feed will more or less give you the play-by-play.

I’ve also attended a lot of great panels, talks and events. Again, I’ll do a full list later next week, but some that have already stood out to me, were the AI in Fiction panel, and Speculative Noir. I streamed several videos about how to be a better book reviewer (hopefully I can improve on that craft as well as my fiction writing). And of course, one of the highlights, the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra.

However the votes tally tonight, I’m very excited to have been a part of this event and in a lot of ways, it’s been the boost I’ve needed to continue on with my writing, and with these fan ish type events. I’m looking forward much more Sci-fi and Fantasy in the future.

Thank you DisconIII/Worldcon2021. It’s been great!

Have thoughts about how con? Let me know what they are in the comments.

Also, here’s a pretty goofy photo of me from the lobby. Enjoy!

An Enchanting Debut! The Bear and the Nightingale

In some ways, I’ve always been looking for a book like this.

A book about Russia that doesn’t just paint its people into simple lines of (evil) communist spies or . . . well mostly the spy thing. Don’t get me wrong, Cold War Russian agents facing off against British or American heroes is compelling drama, but it should not be the only story we read. Nor can the revolution against a corrupt monarchy be the only story either. As Arden proves in The Bear and the Nightingale, there is so much more to tell.

Set in medieval Russia, The Bear and the Nightingale explores a host of different themes but the two main arguments seem to take place around gender roles and religion vs folk tradition. The world Arden sets up is a kind of living fairytale in which gods and monsters are real, and can be both cruel and kind depending on their whims. It provides an absolutely enchanting backdrop in which to explore her ideas and opinions.

The amount of research she did to bring such a world to life is absolutely astounding. I’m sure that my knowledge of Russian folklore was about the same as most casual readers when I began The Bear and the Nightingale, pretty much zero. I had heard of the Baba Yaga (and her chicken footed house), and had an idea of some kind of a powerful winter spirit from my own family’s tradition of putting “Father Frost” or Ded Moroz on the top of our Christmas tree each year. Arden’s Morozko seems to come from another legend, but the two appear to have a lot in common.

But before reading this book, I had never heard of a Domovoy, or a Bannik, or any of the other spirits we meet in the households of Lesnaya Zemlya. The more I read, the more I found myself wishing I could peep into the fireplace and catch a Domovoy hiding there, waiting for bread (although I’m not sure I’d want a Bannik anywhere near my shower hahah).

Of course, once the initial wonder at the setting wore off (although I don’t think it really ever did), there is a great cast of characters who grab your attention and do not let it go. I enjoyed seeing just how deeply Pyotr Vladomirovich cared for his family, but how impossible his choices were in the face of a society that only allowed his daughters to occupy very specific roles. Of course watching Vasya grow, and uphold the folk traditions was incredible and I’m excited to see more of her in The Girl in the Tower. Lastly, I found Konstantin to be a compelling and relatable villain.

My only disappointment in the novel was that (of course) the church had to be bad, stamping out the folk traditions in a way that just felt too easy and straightforward. Interestingly, Arden seems to set up the concept and possibility of Dvoeverie, or dual-belief, in her version of medieval Russia. She says in an interview for BookPage:

“We also examined the notion that Slavic paganism never really disappeared from the Russian countryside after the arrival of Christianity; rather they coexisted, with some friction, for centuries. I was fascinated by the tensions inherent in such a system, as well as the notion of a complicated magical world interacting so subtly with the real one.”


But ultimately, while I felt she did present the ‘friction’ well, I don’t believe she really ever allowed the two to coexist in the way she claims they did. We’re very quickly aligned with Vasya as the main character, and father Konstantin, and the church, as villains. I guess I just wanted to see that dual-belief actually exist.

So . . . recommend?

Yes! Whole heartedly yes. A quick search reveals Bear and the Nightingale to have been nominated for, and won several awards back in 2017 (won Amazon’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017, and nominated for Goodreads Best Fantasy 2017, and Goodreads Best Debut 2017).

All of these awards are well deserved. I’m anxiously looking forward to starting the next book in the series, The Girl in the Tower.

Anyway, that’s all for now! Have you read this one? What where your thoughts? What’s your favorite creature from Russian mythology! Please leave your answers in the comments.

AI Generated Witch’s hut!

Still here? Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed my review of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. If you think this book is for you, or that you might like reading something similar, then you might just want to sign up for my newsletter.

I know, weird ask, but honestly, I was so inspired by this book, and others like it, as well as real Russian history, fairy tales and folk traditions, that I decided to write my own short story in a similar vein. I’ll be releasing it on January 14th to newsletter subscribers. Also, just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

A #Dune #BookTag because why not?

Two weeks ago, I reviewed Denis Villenueve’s Dune adaptation, and last Wednesday I gave my thoughts on the book, but why stop the fun there? It’s been a while since I’ve done a book tag (last one was probably the Jurassic Park Book tag I did back in June) and I thought it would be fun to do one for DUNE, but lo and behold I could not find one (if you know of one please link it in the comments).

So I thought I’d give it a shot. Since the new movie is no longer on HBO and I didn’t think to pull quotes from it while watching, I decided to base the prompts off of Irulan’s epigraphs in the book (honestly one of my fav parts of reading Dune).

Anyway, there are only a couple rules to participating which are basically the same rules as every book tag:

  • Link the original post, and whoever tagged you 
  • Pick a book that fits each quote theme.
  • Have fun!
  • Tag 3 or more people.

Here we go!

“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care . . . “
— from “Manual of Muad’dib”

What’s your favorite SFF Opening? (aka “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit“? or “It was a dark and stormy night.”)

This is actually a pretty difficult one for me. My writer brain feels like it should have an immediate answer, but nothing came to mind. I looked in some of my writing notes and I did have some examples of openings from favorite books, but neither seemed particularly interesting to me right now.

Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been watching the show, and reading about The Wheel Of Time everywhere right now, but the line that came to mind was: “. . . a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”

Now I know there are technically other lines in front of this, but I just really like how contradictory the whole passage is and yet still understandable, prescient to the book (and whole series), and poetic. Very nicely done.

“The wisdom of seeding the known universe with a prophecy pattern . . .
— from “Analysis: The Arrakeen Crisis”

What is your favorite chosen one story, whether played straight, inverted, or subverted?

Sometimes it’s really hard for me not to just pick Mistborn for every book in every tag hahah. But while I do think Sanderson did a cool thing with the “chosen one” trope in that book, I think I’m going to try and branch out a bit.

The book that jumped to mind next was actually kind of surprising to me. Surprising in that it was the next thing to come to mind (cause I’m not sure it really left a big stamp on me otherwise) and surprising in the way it used the trope.

This book would be Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey. I won’t go too much into the specifics because it would literally spoil the entire story, but I think I can say what I enjoyed about the trope’s use without giving too much away. 1) The main character isn’t The Chosen One which was kind of interesting and refreshing, and 2) The chosen one is fully cognizant of “being the chozen one” (as far as I can remember) pretty much the whole time and this effects their character motivations in ways that I totally did not expect.

Maybe I should a reread of Magic for Liars. Or maybe Gaily should write a sequel! hahah

“There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles”
— from “Collected Sayings of Muad’dib”

A book you did not enjoy reading but are glad you did.

I think for this one I’ll choose a relatively recent read for me: R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. This book was a hard pill to swallow, but I think it really pushed me to learn a lot, and (thought it’s set in a 2ndary world) dig deeper into the history of a culture and time period which took place IRL.

When you read, have some soothing herbal tea nearby though . . . or maybe whiskey.

“Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying ‘Now, it’s complete because it’s ended here.’”
— from Collected Sayings of Muad’dib”

A book that ended too abruptly. Or, one that didn’t end soon enough.

Perhaps ironically, I think I’m going to choose the book that inspired this post to answer this prompt. Frank Herbert’s DUNE. It’s insane that a 792 (for my edition) page book could feel like it ended abruptly. Consequently, there were many times while reading that I thought it would never end. Perhaps that’s what made the ending feel abrupt. We read and read and read saying “Are we there yet?” and then when he hit that last line:

“While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine — history will call us wives.”

Herbert, Frank: Dune. pg 792 1965 (please forgive that I basically just made up that citation style haha)

We’re completely surprised it’s actually over. And yea . . . that’s what it ends on. So weird. I kept turning the page thinking there was more to the story (don’t get me wrong there was more to the book . . . like 5 appendixes more), but that was the end. I’m still not parsing it. Oh well.

“Muad’Dib could indeed see the Future, but you must understand the limits of his power.”
— from “Arrakis Awakens”

A book who’s ending you saw coming. Or . . . maybe one you totally didn’t.

I have lots of love for Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, but I pretty much guessed who killed Miguel the moment the character was introduced. However, this almost didn’t matter as the book is about so much more than just who dunnit . . . Still though. I called it! hahah

Party’s over . . .

Welp. This has been fun. I’m sure I could have gone on and on — there are a lot of epigraphs in DUNE — but at the risk of my post falling victim to the Arrakeen Attitude of the Knife, I’m going to say that this post is over (and so it will be over).

I’ll tag Benedict over at The Oasis Book Blog, and . . . that’s all I got for the tagging portion. I don’t have many friends yet haha. Anyway Maassalama! I hope to see you all next time. What were your thoughts on this tag? Should I create more? How about the books? Let me know everything in the comments!

Rereading Dune After a Decade . . .

Two weeks ago, I asked if Villenueve’s adaptation was Dune’s Kwisatz Haderach? You probably didn’t need (pumpkin) spice fueled prescience to look forward to this moment and see that I would write a review of the book that movie was based on . . .

But when you recorded the near infinite amount of data and minutiae, to compute a vision of this exact moment, what did you see? An argument against this book’s virtue and excellence which was but the strike of the match which triggers the revolution? Or did you see the blind faith of a fanatic who dares not look past the veil of his belief, but rather tear down any naysayer in a universe spanning jihad?

Or did this review hide from your prescience, appearing at exactly the right moment to make you doubt that you ever knew what I might write at —

Ok, I can’t keep that nonsense up any longer. I’m going to review Frank Herbert’s Dune now. Hop on your nearest sandworm, we’re going for a ride.

Catch Me Up!

Well, if you’ve never left the sietch before in your life, there’s a dry and dusty world out there just waiting for a chance to eat maim or kill you to explore it called Arrakis. This terrifying and distinctly badass place is the setting for Frank Herbert’s debut (I think it’s his debut) novel DUNE. According to Herbert’s Wikipedia article it took him six years to research and write this massive tome, and while it was published in two parts by Analog, it took quite a while to find a publishing house, and commercial success.

Once it did take off however, it was quite popular, winning the Nebula Award in 1965 and shared a Hugo award in 1966 (maybe I’ll have to add this review to my list of Hugo related reviews). It’s continued to have a profound influence on the science fiction genre and regularly gets awarded accolades such as “Best of all Time” etc.

My personal history with the book was explained in my previous Dune post, but essentially I read it for a project in my high school science fiction class (I’m still amazed how lucky I was to have that) and loved it. But crashed and burned on the second book, Dune Messiah. I’ve watched the 1984 film with STING and even seen a ballet of Dune in a theater in Baltimore. My folks referenced Dune on and off throughout my childhood, but never as much as Starwars or anything else.

So . . . After more than decade?

After more than a decade, I’ll admit that his book did not hold itself as firmly in my esteem as it once did. In general I can still say that I enjoyed it, and am glad I read it (I have a book club discussion about it tomorrow so perhaps I’ll be a bit less hard on it after hearing about all the stuff I missed) but I often felt myself pushing through chapters, and looking to my TBR for reassurance while reading.

I’ll start with the parts I enjoyed, which was undoubtedly the worldbuilding. As a reader, Dune is an incredibly immersive experience. I’m sure there are holes in this world, but as a casual reader, you’re not going to see them, and what you do see is incredibly intricate, and just plain cool. Giant Sandworms, Ornithopters, and underground seitches? The Bene Gesserit? A hallucinogenic spice that permeates every aspect of the planet? Semuta music!

There’s just so much here to dig into that you can’t help but be in awe of the world that is Dune.

As a writer, I can also say that Herbert has more or less written the playbook for worldbuilding. He shows you how he built the world as he shows the world to you. There is a chapter in which we attend a Fremen funeral. This chapter to me specifically, was incredible because we really got to see just how far the sacrality of water/moisture really seeped (lol) into every aspect of Fremen culture. Stunning.

Where I think the book suffers, is in its ability to resolve the tensions it has built over its absurd amount of pages. And there IS plenty of tension, especially with Irulan’s words being sprinkled on top of the beginning of each chapter, always hinting, hinting, hinting. But somehow, I never really doubt that Paul and Jessica are going to pull through.

I think Paul’s prescience and Jessica’s Bene Gesserit ways actually do them a disservice in this area. While each have limits, I never felt we ever saw those limits reached, pushed, surpassed, anything. It was just like oh here’s a problem, and then Paul or Jessica solves the problem (at least IMHO).


Despite my misgivings, I still would cautiously recommend this one. If you love worldbuilding, here’s your book, go have fun. If you have trouble staying focused on things, this one is gonna be tough. At the very least though, you’ll be at least generally familiar with a significant work of Science Fiction history. I don’t normally think that is a great reason to read a book, but in this case I feel there’s enough there that it won’t be the ONLY reason you’re reading the book.

Anyway, that’s all I got. What do y’all think? Is this book the greatest thing to ever sit on a book store shelf? Just Meh? What’s your favorite part? Please let me know in the comments.

See you next time!

You Too! Should join Scribal School, aka Learn Hieroglyphs.

So I was about to start this post by saying I don’t typically write posts like this in which I just try to convince people to buy a product . . .

Then I remembered I literally review books every Wednesday on this bloggo and what is that if not schlepping books so, here’s something that’s not a book, but has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my year.

Learning hieroglyphs with Scribal School.

I can trace a general fascination with Ancient Egypt back to the 6th Grade in which we learned about many (I won’t say all because lord knows I didn’t study THAT hard) of the world’s ancient civilizations. I remember studying the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and learning about the weird triangle-ish writing of Mesopotamia. And then later I was duly impressed by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, with their stone pantheons and gladiatorial arenas.

But Ancient Egypt was the chapter I’d always wished we’d spent a little more time on. Not because we spent any less time on it than other cultures or periods of history, but just because I kept wanting to know more and more about it.

This curiosity never really faded but it certainly took the back burner for quite a while. I suppose I nurtured it subtly when opportunities arose, like playing Age of Mythology growing up, or watching The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. When I was much much older, it seems I even began kicking around the idea of setting a story in Ancient Egypt (I’m sure the timing of that article had nothing to do with reading Jurassic London’s Ancient Egyptian anthologies: The Book of the Dead, and Unearthed).

I’ve continued to learn a lot about Ancient Egypt in this casual kind of way. But I always wanted to go deeper. There seemed so much more still to uncover.

During the early days of the pandemic, I came across the Voices of Ancient Egypt YouTube Channel and the Hieroglyph-a-Day videos. It was just what I needed to get me started.

I watched a video each day while eating lunch (sometimes repeating a lesson if the crunching of cool ranch Doritos became too loud). In less than a month, I was recognizing all sorts of signs and learning all kinds of new things I’d never realized about Egypt’s ancient history.

Like apparently they LOVE Bread and Beer. Unsurprisingly, these are also some of my favorite foods (I’m still waiting to learn the glyph for bbq though).

I finished watching the Hieroglyph-a-Day videos right around the time Scribal School started. I wanted to join right away during the beta but held off, thinking it was silly or “too much”. By the time my birthday was approaching, the first “official” course was starting and I finally decided to treat myself and join in.

It’s been a wonderful time. I’m not even finished with all the modules yet, and I can already read a good chunk of this:

The top part says something like: “The offering which the king gives Osiris Lord of Djedu . . .” and then it lists the offerings as “beef, poultry, alabaster . . .”

I’ve also learned how to look up symbols I’ve forgotten (or don’t know), and use Jsesh to create my own words. As you can see my drawing isn’t very good (and I think there’s a mistake there anyway lol):

But what’s truly amazing about learning this ancient and archaic script, is how much I learn about the people who used it just from what they wrote. I can now recognize the year of a pharaoh’s reign, as well as who their families were and their titles and beliefs. Ancient Egyptian’s considered names to be representative of one’s personality and status, both in society and amongst the gods.

Now I can read those names.

Writing this is post is making me anxious to dive back into the lessons I’ve not yet completed, which is also one of the greatest parts of the course. You can go completely at your own pace. I’m well behind my classmates at this point but I can still chat with them on Facebook, and learn a great deal from them while taking the videos at my own pace which has been great considering I’m now back at work full time and still trying to write.

Anyway, I’ve probably rambled on enough about this already, so I’ll just leave you with the link to Scribal School one more time. I believe there is still 3ish days to sign up before the price goes up for 2022.

You should totally do it! I’m 100% up for having a pen-pal that sends me coded messages in hieroglyphs (once I really get good I’m gonna start doing hieroglyphic ciphers but I need to practice some more first haha)

That’s all for this week? Are you trying to learn hieroglyphs? What’s your favorite thing about Ancient Egypt? Leave me your answers in the comments!