Saturday, 10 March 2018

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a science fiction novella about a young Himba woman, the eponymous Binti, seeking to travel off-world to study at a prestigious university. First and foremost, this is a cracking story; imaginative and fascinating. The cultures presented, the Himba, Khoush and the alien Meduse, are wonderfully outlined and believably constructed (in the case of the fictional), or artfully related (in the case of the futuristic version of the Himba). I found myself drawn into this story, fascinated by the deep cultures presented throughout, the rich setting, and especially by the character of Binti.
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Being a novella, the story itself is short and easy to read, it is also wonderfully written with every word pushing the story and relating the characters and emotion. Much time is well spent on expanding the cultures represented, often by juxtaposing expectations of those cultures against the consequences of their choices; the action/inaction of the characters. It is an engrossing read, well constructed and executed, full of feeling and emotion.
The theme I loved the most, I think (‘I think’ because I am still digesting), is the role of communication in the breakdown and formation of connections between peoples. I won’t say too much more, because I don’t like revealing too much of the story, but the capacity to communicate with reason seems a fundamental theme in the story, that coupled with a willingness to listen.
Binti is strong and vulnerable, emotional and reasonable all at the same time, and makes for a wonderful character that is easy to relate to. Her strong sense of identity and culture, and the significance of having that removed, changed or even just of leaving it, are also key themes explored intelligently in only a small number of words. There is emotion packed in here, thought and feeling that far outweighs the page count.
As seems more and more the norm for me these days, I came across Nnedi Okorafor on twitter, reading through her commentary on her journey and experiences as a writer, I was inspired to get Binti and Akata Witch, and I’m very glad I did. There is just one thing I am furious about: I didn’t order the two sequels to Binti. Now I have to wait on the post before I get to read more.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Rowan of Rin, by Emily Rodda...

Rowan of Rin is a children’s fantasy novel by author Emily Rodda (Jennifer Rowe), I just finished reading this book both to my grade 5 class, and at home to my son (grade 3). Rowan of Rin is, in many ways, a simple story, it’s plot progression, series of challenges and climax all pull from fantasy tropes, from prophesy to quest completion. It is a rags to riches tale; the story of a boy broadly rejected for his weakness and cowardice, who discovers on the quest he is forced to undertake that he has bravery and strength aplenty.
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In many respects this could be described as a by-the-numbers piece of fantasy fiction: everything we expect of the genre is present. I say this not to denigrate the book, but to highlight it’s strength. Rowan of Rin is an excellent book. It is tightly plotted, cleverly evolved and well written. For those who read it carefully, or read it multiple times, the use of foreshadowing is brilliantly executed throughout. There are few books that could be described as more typically fantasy, and yet rise to achieve what Emily Rodda has managed so neatly, succinctly, and evocatively. It is a wonderful book, with no wasted verbiage, that manages to pack both adventure and emotion into a quest story heaped with character growth.
The story itself revolves around a small village, Rin, whose water source has dried up with looming consequences. A party of adventures set forth to uncover the source of the problem, guided by the poetic prophesy of the wise-woman/witch Sheba. Rowan, a boy and the least capable of the village, is compelled to join the party, and in so doing is set upon a path of self-discovery and high adventure.
Short, with uncomplicated prose cleverly woven into a tight and emotional package, Rowan of Rin is a wonderful fantasy book. My class highly enjoyed the story, and my son is now reading the second in the series. For anyone with children, Rowan of Rin makes for a fantastic introduction to the genre. For any adults looking for quality exemplars of tight and cleverly plotted stories that use an economy of words to best effect, this is also well worth a read.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


Artemis is a science fiction murder mystery by Andy Weir, author of the Martian. I found The Martian to be an exceptional story. A character I liked in a do-or-die situation, using pure intellect and willpower to bully his way through every one of the multitude of problems he faces. I loved the book, and it ranks as one of my all time favourite reads. Needless to say then, when I read that Andy Weir was working on his next book I was very excited.

The story is set in the eponymous city of Artemis, humanity's first settlement beyond the fragile shores of Earth. The setting of the story is compelling. Highly detailed and lovingly crafted, Artemis is as scientifically accurate a moon-city as can be found anywhere in literature, it is, I would go so far to say, unrivaled. Like The Martian, Andy Weir shows his understanding of science and technology, which, coupled with a keen imagination, makes for a fascinating backdrop to the story.

The story itself I found to be something of a slow-burn, The Martian I read in a flurry over about a day and a bit, it hooked me from the first scene and didn't let go. Artemis was a more gradual climb. I found the main character's internal dialog to be a little abrasive at times, and the while the plotting and action was intelligent, I didn't find the reasons behind the action in the story thoroughly compelling.

All that changes as the book progresses, which is why I describe it as a slow-burn. As Jazz gets tangled in a mess far greater than she ever imagined, and the setting itself hangs in the balance, the stakes are raised to an all-time high and I was finally pulled fully into the book.

Artemis is an excellent novel, the overarching story, the raison-d'etre for the action and plotting is hidden behind a veil, off to the side of the characters and their concerns. The chief architect of this larger plot is a secondary character, and while the events in the story are important to this larger plan, the story itself, the plot of the novel, deals with a portion. The larger question, about creating an economy for Artemis moving forward and the struggles and implications that holds, are fascinating concepts. The novel though deals with a vitally connected but independent story line, which while fascinating in its own right, really shines when connected to the implications of the bigger picture.

Artemis is an intelligently written and unbelievably well conceived novel. The characters are interesting, even if a little abrasive. The writing is solid and the plot progression is good, but it is a slow-burn, in my opinion, only fully grabbing you by the throat around half-way through. Anyone who is a fan of hard science fiction would be well rewarded by reading Artemis, while I personally didn't enjoy the book as much as I loved The Martian, it is a solid offering, and I look forward to Andy Weir's next book.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

With your shield or on it...

Time to finally squeak in my second post for the month. This one follows the last, in which I wrote about painting up some 15mm Gauls for Sword and Spear. This last week or so I managed to find some time to start the basing of two units, and I also decided to give some shield transfers a go. I read a few posts, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and purchased a set of transfers for testing from Forged in Battle, the same company that produces the miniatures I have.

8 figures to each base. I prised the miniatures from the stands I have been using to paint them on, and glued them down. Next time I may do the front or rear row, use the basing material and then do the second row and finish the basing material...

Here I've used Brown Earth paint from Vallejo. It's almost like gauche. Very thick and tacky to apply. The texture though looks brilliant. My next step with these is to dry brush lightly and use a mix of static grass and tufts to add some detail. I think they'll come up nicely. Note the painted shields...

These are the transfers. They look lovely, but do require a lot of preparation. First, the bosses need to be cut out (apart from the circles which are punched already, as you can see in the image of the reverse below). This means using a scalpel to carefully slice out the crosses, so they will neatly go over the raised bosses on the shields. It is painstaking and annoying. Especially given that several of the shields look very similar, but are actually differently sized. On the smaller ones the boss extends to the very rim, meaning you can cut the transfer into several pieces if you're not careful.

After cutting out the bosses, the shields themselves need to be cut out. This is also painful.

You might notice that the shields in this image are now white. Why? Because of the man second from the left in the back row. He was the first test, and I left his shield painted to see how the transfer would go. It barely did. It is almost invisible. So, I spent the next hour or so repainting all the shields white again.

The Brown Earth from Vallejo I used on the bases - very nice, but a bit annoying to work around a set of miniatures already based. I will rethink that for my next set. On the left are the two bottles I used to help with the transfers. I read that these are highly recommended as they are excellent in helping the transfer come off and adhere to the shape of the surface. The shield transfers from Forged in Battle are actually sticky. You peel away a tiny film of clear plastic on the front and stock them face down on the shield. Then apply water to the back. I wasn't sure how this would fly with the Micro Set and Micro Sol, but I tried it anyway and it seems to work fine. The transfers come off easily, are easy to reposition, and set snugly against the shield surface.

For all the pain, the transfers look brilliant. I still have to repaint the rims, and touch up any little gaps here and there, but I think they look very nice. Once fully complete the units should look great. Jobs left to do: repaint the shield rims and touch up. Dry-brush the bases. Apply some static grass and tufts. I'll post again once they are all done.
I also managed to glue down my Gallic camp... all the pieces here are from Baueda, and look great.
Lastly, these two books came in the mail. They'll be handy in working out colour schemes and whatnot for my troops. Both are lovely and contain excellent art.