DetourLes week-ends se déroulent rarement comme prévu. Je planifiais de faire de menus travaux, de la comptabilité, de lire et commenter des mangas (surtout Isabella Bird et Moriarty) et je me retrouve finalement à lire (relire?) des vieilles BDs de Moebius, à regarder des animés sur Netflix (Gundam Unicorn !) et à rechercher une nouvelle adaptation animée d’un vieux manga shōjo des années ’70 par nulle autre que Waki Yamato (Haikara-san ga tōru) et dont je parlerai sans doute amplement dans un futur proche…

Encore un coup de nostalgie. Cela faisait un bout de temps que j’avais pas regardé d’animés… C’est bon. Ça fait du bien. Et sur Netflix, qui plus est (quoiqu’on y retrouve rien de bien nouveau puisque Gundam Unicorn date déjà de 2010). Et ce n’est pas fini puisque Netflix a annoncé plusieurs titres d’animés à venir (dont Evangelion en juin, Saint Seiya plus tard dans l’été et Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex en 2020 !!!). Ce n’est vraiment plus de la culture populaire (geeky stuff) mais cela commence à faire partie de la culture courante (mainstream)…

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Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers_InfinityWarThis is a very depressing movie mostly about sacrifice and loss. The sophisticated and over-the-top special effects are not enough to make you really appreciate this over compartmented story which is a literal who’s who of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they pit almost EVERY Marvel superheroes against Thanos in order to try saving the universe. It is just too much (too much non-stop action, too many character killed). And it is also “To be continued” ! ;(

Of course, it was greatly appreciate by the Marvel Universe fans (score of 8.5 on IMDb and critic/viewer ratings of 85% / 91% on Rotten Tomatoes), but for me it wasn’t enough to prevent me from feeling bored (beside the occasional “what? Those characters are part of the same universe” or “oh no, they didn’t dare going there” or “you means, he’s dead, dead?”)—although I almost sympathized with the supervilains who has a very gordian way of solving the universe’s problem (who knew? Earth is not the only place with an overpopulation of idiots!). It might have helped to have watched some of the one shot movies (like Spider-Man: Homecoming,  Ant-Man or Doctor Strange) as well as some of the TV series. Now, they will really need new characters (oh, yeah, that’s probably why they dug out Ant-Man, Black Panther and Captain Marvel !). However, I am curious to see how the heroes will manage to find their way out of this dire situation… Which we will know, of course, with Avengers: Endgame coming out next month !

It is an entertaining movie, the kind you watch with friends, beer and chips, or that you distractingly watch while fiddling with your phone. stars-2-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

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“Natural History” quest – a sequel


My mystery book

My quest to identify a mystery book simply titled “Natural History” continues…

Today I went to the National Library (BAnQ) to renew my membership and request an Inter-Library Loan (PEB)  for Bernard BARR’s book about William Milner. Hopefully this time it will work and the fee won’t be too expensive. While I was there I had a look at their impressive manga collection and borrowed a volume of The Walking Dead comics (I am a book geek in various spectrum!)…

I have decided not to request an Inter-Library Loan (PEB) for Richard COPE’s book (the most likely candidate for the identity of the mystery book) but to directly go the University of Montreal library to check the copy they have and compare it to my book. After all, I am already downtown, so why not take the time now to resolve this question. It can be found at the media division (médiathèque) of the Library of Letters and Humanities (Bibliothèque des Lettres et sciences humaines – BLSH). Actually, they don’t have a copy of the book itself but a copy on microfiches.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the online catalog indicated an “on shelf” status, the entire Landmark Microfiche collection had been boxed as the media section is about to be moved. I was a little pissed but convinced the clerk to at least open a few boxes to see if he couldn’t find the microform set that I needed. He was clearly unwilling to help and said “You know, we’re closing in an hour and half!”. But I just needed ten minutes… It would be easy if they had been boxed alphabetically: since the author is “COPE” it would be in the first boxes. He reluctantly opened the first five boxes and indeed it was there (in box four)! I sat at one of the microform reader and had a look. Unfortunately, this machine was not equipped to make copies, so I simply took pictures with my iPhone (which I had to put together later at home, converting them from negative to positive). I took my time, but after fifteen minutes I was done. However, I could finally confirm the identity of my book!

First, I’ve been able to see the pages that were missing from my book (although nothing in the binding let us suspect that something is missing—or maybe the binding was changed at some point in the past?), mostly the title page, the introductory remarks (indicating that the original publishing date is 1840) and the index of subjects:

For me the most important aspect was to be able to see the title page:




Author of the Pulpit Synopsis, Religious Anecdotes, Domestic Altar, &c., &c., &c.

“Creation teems with life,
From the gay flies that people the sunbeam,
To the huge whale whose home is in the deep,
And the wise elephant that shades him in the forest.”



If we compare a few pages, we can see that it is the same book (my copy (a) on the left and the Université de Montréal microfiche copy (b) on the right):

After comparison it is evident that the layout and the type are exactly the same. Beside the missing pages, the only differences are (possibly) the cover (my cover is a simple cloth on board, with raised bands and the title hot-stamped in gold on the spine while the microfiche copy is illustrated—although it is not clear if this is really a cover illustration or an inside cover page) and (definitely) the line of text at the very bottom of the last page of my book (“WILLIAM MILNER, PRINTER, CHEAPSIDE, HALIFAX.”) is completely missing for the microfiche copy. My conclusion is that it is indeed the same book, although a different edition (either a cheaper one or a different year of publication — but, save for the last page, it is clearly the same printing plates). 

Now that I have identified for sure the book as Natural History by Richard COPE, I only have to wait for the Bernard BARR’s book to see if I can learn more details about the publisher,  William Milner, and maybe also about the various editions of COPE’s Natural History. So, it is still to be continued…

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A Gentleman’s Murder

522362267When the newest member of Eric Peterkin’s London club is found stabbed to death, Eric throws himself into a quest for the truth: missing nurses, morphine addiction, shell shock. The Great War is over, but the memories remain…” (From the publisher’s website)

The year is 1924. The cobblestoned streets of St. James ring with jazz as Britain races forward into an age of peace and prosperity. London’s back alleys, however, are filled with broken soldiers and still enshadowed by the lingering horrors of the Great War. 

Only a few years removed from the trenches of Flanders himself, Lieutenant Eric Peterkin has just been granted membership in the most prestigious soldiers-only club in London: The Britannia. But when a gentleman’s wager ends with a member stabbed to death, the victim’s last words echo in the Lieutenant’s head: that he would “soon right a great wrong from the past.” 

Eric is certain that one of his fellow members is the murderer: but who? Captain Mortimer Wolfe, the soldier’s soldier thrice escaped from German custody? Second Lieutenant Oliver Saxon, the brilliant codebreaker? Or Captain Edward Aldershott, the steely club president whose Savile Row suits hide a frightening collision of mustard gas scars? 

Eric’s investigation will draw him far from the marbled halls of the Britannia, to the shadowy remains of a dilapidated war hospital and the heroin dens of Limehouse. And as the facade of gentlemenhood cracks, Eric faces a Matryoshka doll of murder, vice, and secrets pointing not only to the officers of his own club but the very investigator assigned by Scotland Yard.” (From the book flap)

In the roaring twenties, in the heart of the British Empire, a member of the Britannia Club is murdered. Eric Peterkin, a young half-Chinese man who usually spend his time reading submissions for a London publisher, cannot resist the urge to solve this mystery (with the occasional help of his sister Penny and his friend Avery). However, in order to discover who killed Benson—a man he barely knew—he will have to solve a cold case as well as a third murder. Amongst the prominent members of the club, who has done it? Aldershott, the club president? Bradshaw, the club secretary? Norris? Parker? Saxon? Wolfe? They all had possible motive and opportunity. Everything seems rooted in Flanders and in the manor turned into a makeshift hospital where some of them recovered or worked during the war…

A Gentleman’s Murder is  murder mystery novel inspired by the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. It follows all the rules of the genre (the Knox’s “Decalogue”) save for rule no. 5 (“no Chinaman must figure in the story”). It is set in the world of the military and retired officers’ club. The story particularly address the question of PTSD (or, as it was called then, “shell shock”) and, to a lesser extend, “the soldier’s disease” (aka morphine addiction).  As the author says in the book (p. 322) “Some scars weren’t visible. And some deaths weren’t physical.” The novel also talks about racial bias, as the character, who is half-English and half-Chinese, often struggle to be taken seriously because he doesn’t look like a gentleman. The author has probably drawn from his personal experience as he made his military service in Singapore (a city-state with the dual British and Chinese heritage) and is himself of Chinese origin.

The author seems to favour the post-WWI era because it is a beautiful era and doesn’t involved the complex methodology that investigators have to deal with in modern times (like DNA)—the mystery must remains in the reach of the amateur sleuth. As the author write in his postface, the 20s was a delicious time to write about because it was an exciting age of transition: you still have in place all the Victorian manners and mores but also all the innovation brought by the modern world (like telephone, radio, cars, electricity, etc.).

The story, which includes several unforeseeable twists, is very well written. The characters are detailed and quite believable. It seems that lots of efforts were put in describing all the setting with rigour (although most of the locations are fictional). Crime novel (particularly if set in the 20s) is a prolific genre and it’s hard to have such story not feel a little cliché. The only other caveat I can see is that the story offers so many characters and the protagonist takes so much time to imagine each possible permutation of culpability and action for EACH of those numerous suspects that, after a while, it gets a little tiring and confusing. It is almost impossible for the reader to guess who the murderer is — but, in this case, it is probably better that the dénouement come with a surprise.

A Gentleman’s Murder is a good novel. It is agreeable to read and, like all good murder mystery, you go through each new chapter with anticipation, reading faster and faster as the climax approaches. I recommend it warmly particularly because it is written by a local author. Christopher Huang, although born in Singapore, now lives in Montreal.

The publisher, Inkshares, is also of interest. It is a reader-driven publisher, which means that their books and authors are selected not by editors but by readers—through contests, pre-orders (as a form of crowdfunding you need 750 pre-orders to get published) and how much interest an online draft of the story is getting (i.e. follows, shares, and reads). Authors will receive 35% of net receipts (gross revenue minus the cost of production and distribution) in exchange of a full publishing service (editing, design, printing, marketing, as well as both direct and wholesale distribution). That seems a fair deal. It is an improvement on the self-publishing type publisher, where a publisher will “assist” an author in publishing his/her book. A good example of this type of publisher is the indie ebooks distributor Smashwords (one of my friends is using this service). Would-be writers have more and more options to publish their work.

A Gentleman’s Murder, by Christopher Huang. Oakland: Inkshares, July 2018. 348 pages. US$ 15.99 / C$ 19.99. ISBN 978-1-94264-595-5. For young adult readership (16+). stars-3-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonBiblioGoodreadsGoogleInksharesWorldCat ]

© 2018 Christopher Huang

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A Natural History Investigation Update

Here’s a quick follow up on my research to identify one of my old books…

My first attempt to get Bernard BARR’s book about William Milner failed because the Montreal libraries have a policy not to get an Inter-Library Loan (PEB) if it will incur a fee for the borrower. Actually, I wouldn’t have minded but I’ll check if the National Library (BAnQ) has a similar policy. The last resort would be to travel to NYC where the NYPL has a copy… Or I could get a copy through Google books or Amazon… Although, it doesn’t seem available… We’ll see…

In the meantime, I dug deeper into WorldCat and found possible candidates for my book.

The first candidate could be: Georges Louis Leclerc BUFFON, comte de. Natural History (containing a full and accurate description of the animated beings in nature : illustrated with upwards of three hundred engravings of birds, beasts, fishes, reptiles, insects, etc.). Milner & Co., [188-?], 224 pages. Interesting description of the binding (red cloth over boards stamped with black ink, gilt title on top board, gilt spine ornaments) but it’s too recent and there’s not enough pages to be my book…

The second candidate looks more interesting: Richard COPE & Thomas BEWICK, Natural History (or a description of the earth and of animated nature, compiled from the works of Buffon, Goldsmith, Cuvier, Shaw, Vaillant, Humboldt, Audubon, &c.). Milner & Co., [1860]. It was first published in 1840 and has 730 pages, its size is 23 cm and includes 425 engravings [by or after T. Bewick]. I could compare my book with it since the Université de Montreal has a copy (but is it available to the public? And it doesn’t say which specific library…). There’s another edition of 1846 (but the size is 27 cm) again with a copy at the UdeM. Among the numerous editions (many seems to be microform copies) of the same book, the oldest seems to date from 1842. One specifically says “by William Milner, Cheapside, 1846” (with also a copy at the UdeM!). Too bad there are no pictures. 

The Cheapside 1846 edition seems the best option, so I’ll first see if I can get it through Inter-Library Loan (despite the age of the book). If not, I’ll go to the UdeM to investigate further… 

To be continued

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Doodling girls

DoodlingGirls-covGhislain Barbe is best known for designing the visual aspects of several science fiction franchises such as Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicles and Tribe 8. He also created the visuals for the characters of PBS’s cartoon TV series Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat and worked as Art Director in the videogame industry. Doodling Girls 2017 is a collection of girls illustrations taken from his 2016 and 2017 Sketchbooks. (From the publisher’s website)

All these doodles were made for the fun of it (i.e. no commercial purposes) between January 1st of 2016 and December 31st of 2017. Some might have been inspired by pictures seen here and there, other are pure products of the need to fill a piece of paper. (Book’s introduction)

The reason I find difficult to read books written by people I know is that I am always afraid that I might not like them and have to make negative comments… I really want to talk about this book, but unfortunately I found it quite disappointing. So, I guess it will be a case of “Qui bene amat bene castigat”…

Above all, I must say that Ghislain Barbe is without contest one of the best artist I have ever known. He is incredibly fast and extremely creative. His art is usually quite great. I particularly like his character designs (although he can do great mechanical designs too). I still remember this young man, both shy and quite volubile, from Quebec City knocking on our office door with his portfolio under the arm. We were impressed right away by his work and I have always had great respect for him. After doing cover and illustration works for Ianus Publication/Protoculture and, later, Dream Pod 9 (Alternate Reality Cyberpunk, Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicles, Tribe 8), he worked at CinéGroupe as character designer (on animation like Sagwa the Chinese Siamese Cat, Lion of Oz, Pig City), and then as concept artist as well as art director for Behaviour Interactive (on videogames like Carmen Sandiego and the Secret of the Stolen Drums, Disney’s Planes or Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade MMO). He also illustrated Annie Bacon’s series “Le gardien des soirs de bridge published by Les Éditions Druide. His talent is well recognized.

DoodlingGirls-3The Doodling Girls’ illustrations themselves are quite good even if they are simple sketches. Barbe made those morning doodles every day to keep is drawing hand and his creativity sharp (and probably also to keep his sanity through the vicissitudes and trials of life — a widower rising three teenage girls might certainly have its challenges). I understand that perfectly since that’s what I am trying to do with this blog, trying to write a few hundreds words each day to keep my mind sharp and my sanity. Here, this book gathers some of those doodles that all share one thematic: girls — in all styles or situations, from the silly to the macabre. It is an interesting concept to make use of those doodles, and gather them in an impromptu portfolio. He probably got tired of working on other’s people books and wanted to do one just for himself (and his girls) — for the fun of it ! So, he self-published it (under the name Clay Book Press) using Lulu.com. Hopefully more books will follow, like Doodling Girls 2018-19, Doodling Creatures (as he draws more than girls), or simply Morning Doodles, or even Meeting Doodles (as I know he was also doodling in production meetings!)…

DoodlingGirls-5If the artist is great and the concept is interesting and the drawings themselves are good, then what’s the problem? The disappointment lies in the annoyingly sloppy execution of the concept — although none of this is really the fault of the artist. First, the book offers very little introduction (less than fifty words!) and there are no page numbers, titles, descriptions, production dates or commentaries for the illustrations. This book definitely lacks text. Second, I am sorry to report that my copy has a defect in the printing of the cover (the cover is badly cut: the spine titles are actually on the cover itself and there’s a white bands on the left side of the back cover where we can see crop marks!). Very bad quality control! That printer should be hanged: defective copies should never make it to distribution!! Please choose your printer wisely! Third, the book was printed in the USA, purchased via Amazon.ca and shipped by Book Depository in the U.K. ! That’s the worse example of a wasteful distribution chain I’ve ever seen. Please choose your mean of distribution even more wisely! Finally, that kind of book would usually sell for $15 to $30… $53.76 [although it depends on the seller: from US$ 31.72 on AbeBooks and US$33.22 on Barnes & Noble to C$ 44.17 on Amazon.ca] is a little too much (particularly for artwork that are already available for free on the internet: Behance, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.)! That’s what happens when there are too many intermediaries, each taking their share (Lulu.com, the printer, the seller, the distributor, the shipping cost, etc.). All inclusive “publishers” like Lulu.com are not always the perfect solution, unfortunately (but, I’ll admit, they are convenient). In a way, I don’t really mind because I wanted to encourage the artist in his endeavour no matter the price. Otherwise, it’s really too expensive! Sorry, Ghis! I am sure you could have done better!

All in all, despite its shortcomings, it IS a nice book. It is an artbook, so it’s not something you will really “read”, but it makes for a pleasing coffee table or bedside book. So, don’t hesitate to purchase this book to encourage the artist. However, if you want to see his best works, it’s probably better to buy one of his other books (like a Heavy Gear Rulebook for example)! 


Doodling Girls, by Ghislain Barbe. Montreal: Clay Book Press (Lulu.com), December 2018. 160 pages, 15 x 23 x 1.7 cm, US$ 33.22 / C$ 44.17, ISBN 978-0-359-20459-5. For readership of all age. (See back cover). stars-3-0

For more information you can check the following websites:

[ AmazonGoodreadsGoogleIMDbWikipediaWorldCat ]

© 2018 by Ghislain Barbe.

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