Monday, April 23, 2018

Tip of the Hat: Pokemon Go

Occasionally, there's something that comes along that simply reminds you of the joy of fandom. The execution may not be perfect, but it's nevertheless touching, or thought-provoking, or simply fun. "Tip of the Hat" is our occasional series to shine a light on those things when we find them.





I am 38 years old and I am proud to say that I play Pokemon Go on a daily basis. While the initial popularity this game enjoyed early on may have waned, the game has grown and evolved in meaningful ways and has provided my family with a fun activity that we all participate in together. Plus it gets us out of the house and into the beautiful parks that our city has to offer.




Early Days:
When Pokemon Go launched it captured the imagination of millions of Pokemon fans and those who wanted to see what the hype was about. There were issues with servers, distracted walking accidents, and it was nearly impossible to avoid. I didn't plan on downloading the game, but a buddy of mine convinced me to give it a whirl so I created an account for my family and we sided with Team Valor. I didn't fully comprehend how big this game was until a friend invited me to go Pokefarming at a noted Charmander hot spot. We started around 10pm and there were drones of people wandering around in the dark staring at their smart phones. I felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone and a local punk band set up a pop-up show at one of the Pokestops. 




Hitting a Wall:
After playing for a month or so I started to wonder what the point of catching virtual Pokemon was and did it really matter if I won a gym battle. There were rumors of events and legendary Pokemon, but they were only rumors. My interest started to dwindle, but I didn't delete my account or stop playing altogether. It was clear that Niantic needed to deliver on some of its initial promises.




Introducing Raid Bosses:
The first time Pokemon Go really mixed things up, in my opinion, was the addition of raid bosses. Bosses ranged from a measly Magikarp and went all the way up to legendary counters that would typically require at least four trainers. At first I would tackle the occasional solo raid, but I really wanted to try something bigger. When I lucked into finding a good raid, there weren't any players around. I learned that the Pokemon Go community utilized Facebook Groups and Discord channels to organize around the bigger raids. One weekend I gave it a whirl with my son and we were able to take down a couple of legendary Pokemon and had a really enjoyable experience. I finally saw the ability an app like this had to bring a group of people together. 



The Power of Community:
A few months ago Pokemon Go introduced Community Day, a monthly event that features a special Pokemon that will spawn more frequently for a few hours and give players a chance to catch a rare shiny version. For the Bulbasaur Community Day my son and I went to a local wildflower center. We saw some folks from our raiding group, chatted with about 20 other people who were after shiny Pokemon, and enjoyed looking at some flowers. It hit me that a good number of players at the wildflower center probably purchased memberships to take advantage of the gyms and Pokestops housed there. Check out the gallery from the last Pokemon Go Community Day here.  There are dozens of us! 



Research and the Appearance of Mew:
The newest feature brought the addition of research and really changed the way that my family plays the game. Trainers can engage in Field Research, a set of tasks you unlock by spinning Pokestops, or Special Research. You can earn one stamp per day on Field Research and unlock a special prize for completing seven stamps. The first round of Special Research has you helping Professor Willow track down the elusive Mew. You assist him with a series of tasks that become increasingly more difficult and are rewarded with the chance to catch Mew if you make it to the finish line. The story driven element was a lot of fun and my kids are thrilled with our new digital monster. 

I look forward to additional updates that might include the ability to battle other trainers, introduce Pokemon Centers, and whatever else Niantic can come up with. If you gave up on Pokemon Go a while back, you should consider hopping back on the bandwagon. What started as mindless drones wondering around staring at their phones has turned into an actively engaged community who walks around staring at their phones.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Microreview [book]: Runebinder by Alex R. Kahler


Runebinder offers a dystopia quest story fueled by love, magic, and zombies.

Image result for runebinder

CW: A vaguely Christian cult uses gay slurs.

One reason I love young adult literature is for the avenues of creativity. Genres are less clearly defined than on the speculative literature shelves, where it seems new genres regularly try to pin down genre-bending books. Runebinder creates a delightful mash-up: zombie horror, young romance, elemental magic, almost Divergent-esque dystopia, Anne Rice style of sexy incubus, with a dash of Harry Potter. If that checks all your boxes, this high-octane book will give you a great weekend read.

Runbinder opens with Tenn learning his elemental water magic is no longer under his control, but instead, is starting to control him. He botches a food-gathering mission when his team is attacked by Howls (essentially zombies created by magic), and though he is prepared to die, his water magic saves him and kills everything instantaneously—unheard of in his world.

Everyone senses this outburst of power—evil and good alike. A special squad of highly trained magic users shows up at his base to stop an impending attack from necromancers coming for Tenn but it’s not just zombies attacking. Two of the Kin show up, the most powerful Howls that look human and have more specialized powers than the lowly zombies. The Dark Lady, an evil goddess that created the dystopia and the first Howl, has sensed Tenn and wants him.

The base is overrun, but he is rescued by Jarrett and the twins Dreya and Devon, the best magic users Chicago has to offer. As Tenn’s power continues to act on its own, he runs off with Jarrett and the twins to find the Witches, a group of pacifist magic users who might be able to train him. Their gods have sensed Tenn as well. While he might not believe or want to be the chosen one, he will have to choose where he ends up, which side he will train and fight with—even though he only wants to stay at Jarrett’s side.

Runebinder moves fast. The pacing pushes characters among different locations and through multiple fight scenes. While the pacing gives the novel a sense of thrilling speed, it does not aid in the complex worldbuilding. Kahler has created a mash-up with some of speculative fiction’s favorite tropes, from zombies to witches, but it’s hard to keep track of all the details. Kahler makes two moves that aid in tracking the story—there’s a clear evil and Tenn’s emotional arc.

Now, I love a good villain, and Kahler provides two creeps in Matthias (a necromancer) and Tomás (a sexy incubus). Both follow Tenn as he flees across the Midwest, and by the end of the book, I was rooting for a final showdown. Overall, Kahler uses the creepiness of magic zombies and desolated landscape to build an effective eeriness and a landscape to enhance the villains.

Another of Kahler’s strengths shows in the character of Tenn. One of the ways that Tenn’s elemental magic acts up is by dragging him into memory. These flashbacks become meshed into the story, allowing for Tenn’s backstory and the world before the first Howl to be fleshed out. Overall, Tenn’s emotional desires become central as his physical need is simple—survival. His emotional life becomes more complex as he relives memories, falls in love with Jarrett, and struggles with the magical sexual attraction created by Tomás the sexy incubus.

While Kahler’s world is complex if not fleshed out enough, Tenn is the true center of the novel and his emotional plane drives the magic and power of Runebinder. At its center, it’s a magic-packed page turner, but with a refreshingly emotional heartbeat. Since this is only book one, there’s plenty of time to explore the world more fully in The Runebinder Chronicles.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for Tenn’s emotional complexity, + 1 for love-to-hate villains

Penalties: -1 too little worldbuilding for so much mash-up

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10, “Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore.” Read more about our scoring system here.

Posted by Phoebe Wagner

Kahler, Alex R. Runebinder [Harlequin Teen, 2017]

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

Here is hoping that everyone attending SDCC was successful in their hotel endeavors. My attempt to help out a friend was a failure, but when you have far more people trying to book rooms than are available it is to be expected. Fortunately I have family that I stay with on my annual trip to San Diego.



Pick of the Week:
Kick-Ass #3 - This is the first issue that feels like the Kick-Ass of old. We are introduced to our first super villain in Violencia, a creep who enjoys going to prison when he feels he has become soft. Once he feels he is himself again he breaks out and rejoins his group. Patience follows up a tip on raiding a money laundering ring, only to find herself face-to-face with Violencia. This is happening as her children as sleeping at home and it doesn't look promising that she will return. Throw in the twist that her brother-in-law is involved with Violencia and things are not looking good. This issue featured some of the over the top violence that came to define it.  I am currently very afraid for Patience and will remain on the edge of my seat until issue #4.

The Rest:
Daredevil #601 - The city is under seige from a group of ninjas being controlled by a demon known as The Beast. Fortunately for Daredevil, a pair of ninjas attempt to kill him when he is locked in the paddy wagon and end up setting him free. Due to the fact that Kingpin is undergoing life saving surgery, Matt Murdock is acting Mayor.  His first act as mayor is to free the superheros who were just jailed and next issue we will enjoy the team of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-man, Iron Fist, Moon Knight, Jessical Jones and Misty Knight. The next issue is going to be a lot of fun.



Star Wars Adventures #9 - While it would have been nice to start a bigger story in this issue, we get two cute stories featuring R2D2 and C3PO and a nice look at IG-88 rounding up some bounties. Of course this is all handled in a family friendly way and remains a book I highly recommend to Star Wars fans of all ages. This series shines in the stories that go beyond one issue, but still manages to provide bite size nuggets that will hold the attention span of your youngest fan.





Infinity Countdown #2 - The quest for the infinity stones pick up some steam as Drax and the pregnant Eve Bakian get some assistance from the Guardians of the Galaxy. To complicate matters, Galactus pays a visit and Bakian does give birth to a healthy baby girl during the battle. While that was an interesting development, the arrival of Adam Warlock to the story and what follows is what will drive the conversation between this issue and the next. I won't spoil the end of this issue, but it actually has me feeling excited about this Marvel event. I should note that I often fall for the gimmicks in these events to ultimately be disappointed at its conclusion. Hopefully with Gerry Duggan writing the main story it will deliver.


A look back:
The Sixth Gun #1 - When I reflect on the impact that this series has had on bringing me back into the world of comic books I can't help but feel nostalgic. Cullen Bunn does a phenomenal job introducing the reader to the mystical world he created with Brian Hurt in the opening few pages. We learn about a mysterious group called the Pinkerton Detective Agency, witness the horrifying Gallows Tree, and learn about a powerful weapon known as the Sixth Gun. Taking place following the Civil War, this Western is an absolute delight that only got better as the series progressed. It had me on edge throughout and is well worth reading through all 50 issues.




POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

New Contributors Wanted: 2018

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is looking for 1-2 awesome individuals to join our team of regular contributors! 

Duties: posting approximately once every other week, though the exact number will fluctuate. We would like one contributor to focus on reviewing new science fiction and fantasy novels and the other to focus on short SF/F. Both contributors are also free to write about cult films, TV, comics, video games or related commentary on geek culture. Candidates must be willing to engage with our readers on twitter and other social media platforms. 

Benefits: free books and the potential for other free stuff, as well as joining a dynamic team of enthusiastic nerd bloggers at this here little Hugo-nominated fanzine.

Who we’re looking for: we are looking for people who (1) write well and don't need extensive copyediting, (b) appreciate our brand of humor, (c) understand and are ready to abide by our established format and scoring system and (d) are otherwise good fits with our voice and style. We are not, however, looking for automatons who agree with the rest of us on anything and everything.

We would also like to note that one of our goals is to feature a diverse range of voices on the topics that matter to us. As such, we encourage writers of all backgrounds to apply.  

Caveat: we know lots of you have awesome projects you want everyone to know about, but since these are regular contributor positions, we would like to emphasize that this would not be an appropriate forum to use for promoting that awesomeness (aside from your blogging awesomeness, of course).  

Process: send an email to nerdsfeather dot the g at gmail dot com telling us what you are interested in doing and why you'd like to join our team. Please also send a writing sample, which can be either embedded into the body of the email or links to published work. We will try to respond to everyone as quickly as possible. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

Regards,

NoaF Team

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

HORROR 101: Private Vs. Global



Last time, I discussed Enclosed Versus Exposed horror and how these often are styles that define a larger category of horror—Private Versus Global. So this time, I’ll be tackling this larger category. Here’s how I described it in the previous post: “In the first category divide, we have stories that are personal terrors versus globalized ones—ie a haunted house would be a personal terror and a zombie pandemic would be a global one.” This is based on the scale of the horror being unleashed—ie personal usually affects one person, or at most, a small group of people and is usually contained to a smaller area. Whereas global, as its term would suggest, affects a larger group of people and area. These terms are mostly important to delineate between the two sides of horror so that we can consider how and why people are being affected within them and why that changes the dynamics of the horror itself.

In private horror, the horrors themselves often are symbolic of personal emotions—in The Descent, the claustrophobia and violence embodies the main character’s grief, for example. In The Sixth Sense, the ghosts might be representative of the way that children learn empathy and often carry the burdens of others in ways that are often invisible to the adults around them.

In global horror, the horrors are often symbolic of larger societal concerns—zombies might be are fear of other people or of disease, AI running rampant and overthrowing their creators is emblematic of our fear of technology. One interesting aspect of Global Horror, though, is that it often shifts into Private Horror. In the film Signs we start with worldwide terrors of alien invasion, but the story is essentially a film about family and how the familial bonds can protect us from disaster (a common theme in Global Horror). This makes sense because if we’re willing to risk everything to protect someone or to survive for someone, it makes sense when that someone is our loved ones. Ultimately, Global Horror is often telling us: you can survive even these horrors if you keep your loved ones close to you (whether literally or metaphorically).

This comes in a sharp contrast to Private Horror, in which the protagonists are often consumed by whatever personal horror the film (or book’s) horror is representing: your grief, your guilt, your crushing sense of loss, are things you can try to fight through but don’t always make it out from. Recently, in The Ritual the film seems to circle around the idea that the intertwined horrors of grief and guilt are only conquerable if you are willing to fight like hell and, likewise, to hurt like hell.

What might this be saying about how we perceive of horror? Are our personal demons always going to be stronger than our societal fears? Is the truest horror, the one you get when you look inwards rather than outwards? 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

6 Books with Emma Newman


Photo Credit: Lou Abercrombie
Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. She won the British Fantasy Society Best Short Story Award 2015 and ‘Between Two Thorns’, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer 2014 awards. Her first science-fiction novel, Planetfall, was published by Roc in 2015. Her second SF novel, After Atlas, was shortlisted for the 2017 Clarke Award. Emma is an audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated, Alfie Award winning podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk and can be found as @emapocalyptic on Twitter.

Today she shares her six books with us...


1. What book are you currently reading?

Happily, I am currently reading ‘The Deathless’ by Peter Newman, the first in his new trilogy. I’m reading it to prep for narrating the audio book, which I am very excited about, and not just because Peter is my husband! It’s an excellent fantasy novel and just the sort of thing I’d love to narrate more!






2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, because of audio book prep, but Pete has just finished reading The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang and has been very enthusiastic in his praise for it. Once I have cleared the books I need to read for work (I have two other audio book projects in quick succession so it will be a little while) I will read that next.





3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?

No; between needing to read novels to prepare for audio book narration and the books I am sent by publishers to blurb for fellow authors, I have so little time to read new books I won’t re-read ones I’ve already enjoyed.

Saying that, I do read ‘A Sound of Thunder’ by Ray Bradbury once a year, as it is my favourite short story, and every year I re-read ‘Tales From Outer Suburbia’ by Shaun Tan. It’s a collection of surreal illustrated short stories and is absolutely beautiful. Both are so short I don’t feel guilty about re-reading those!


4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively?

I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I can think of a book that I tried to read a couple of times and just couldn’t get into, and then the third time I read it obsessively and loved it more than anything else I’d read for years. That was Shogun by James Clavell. I guess I just wasn’t in the right headspace the first couple of times I tried it!


 

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

Ah, that one’s easy! Trillions, by Nicholas Fisk. I stumbled across it in a library when I was about nine years old and I still remember the absolute thrill of reading my first science-fiction novel. It was my gateway into the genre which has been my favourite ever since.



 

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome?

My latest science fiction novel is called Before Mars and it’s a psychological thriller set in a base on Mars. It is the third novel set in my Planetfall universe and like the previous two it is a standalone and they can be read in any order. (The first two books are called Planetfall and After Atlas.) The protagonist of Before Mars, Anna Kubrin, is a geologist and painter whose Martian landscapes have come to the attention of a billionaire who owns a research base on Mars. He sends her there to paint, but soon after she arrives things feel odd. The more Anna finds out about the base and the people there, the more she suspects that her assignment isn't as simple as she was led to believe. But is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind?

Why is it awesome? Heavens, that makes me squirm! Well, that’s up to the reader, so all I can say is that I work hard to make the characters in my science-fiction novels complex, interesting and well-rounded. They are front and centre, as I believe the most exciting aspect of SF is looking at the intersection between technology and our experience of being human.


POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Microreview [book]: The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp

Not Quite a Nightmare


Isabella has been summoned to the house (manor?) of a couple in need of an in-home tutor. The approach takes her through a maze filled with horrifying statues, but she soon learns that this family has more nightmarish secrets hidden within the estate.

A brief novel, The Atrocities impresses with its atmospheric setting. This is a Gothic style horror novel from beginning to end. It starts in a bad place, and only gets worse. Shipp deftly blends the real world with the nightmare to the point where it's sometimes difficult to tell when the fiction has gone into its own unreality. The central mystery doesn't exactly grab, but it does tug you along to the end.

Unfortunately, the end is where it kind of falls down as it has a sudden and simple end. Its simplicity left me feeling unfulfilled as the rest of story had been rather well woven. It's the kind of ending that could've happened in the first 10 pages and totally discounts the experience. It's not a total deal breaker, but it does badly affect how I felt about the whole novel and makes a recommendation much harder.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 100 pages of grotesquery!

Penalties: -3 wow, it ended like that?

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10 (problematic, but has redeeming qualities)

***

POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: Shipp, Jeremy C. The Atrocities [Tor, 2018]