Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

As I hack away at my keyboard searching for a fitting opening to this week's post, I find myself very distracted by the thoughts of C2E2.  I will be making the drive north late Friday night and plan on enjoying 2 days of convention glory.  Once again this convention boasts an impressive lineup and I look forward to picking up my Artful Daggers trade and some other fun things.  It is starting to feel a lot like convention season!

Pick of the Week:
The Walking Dead #126 - The end of "All out War" is upon us.  Robert Kirkman and crew wrap up this series in a surprising fashion and I am never surprised by the sheer physical sense and insanity of Negan.  This has been a memorable run that had a truly fitting ending. Maybe I am being optimistic thinking that issue #127 and future comics will be printed in color.  Maybe I think too highly of the human race.  Despite our differences I like to think that the vast majority of us are good people.  Whether I am wrong or right, one thing is clear.  I have a feeling we aren't in Kansas anymore.

The Rest:
Mind MGMT #21 - Matt Kindt brought the thunder on the latest issue of his supernatural thriller and I was not disappointed.  It was dubbed by Dark Horse as a "silent issue" as the characters did not speak, but we were treated to their inner monologue as the fight broke out.  Caught in the Magician's traps, the agents have their abilities clouded as they attempt to solely survive this frightening ordeal.  A departure from your traditional Mind MGMT issue, but not in a bad way by any means.  One of my favorites.

Skull Kickers #26 - While it may not offer the depth of other comic series, Skull Kickers has a warm place in my heart as it is a title that is simply fun.  This tongue-in-cheek book delivers a lot of high quality, and some low brow, laughs and serves as a type of palette cleanser when it appears in my pull list.  This issue pokes fun at traditional dwarven lore and is chalk full of puns.  Fun stuff.

Batman Eternal #3 - As I said last week, I am glad that this series is coming out each week.  Things aren't looking up for Gotham (are they really ever?) as Falcone wastes no time usurping power and establishing his order.  Corruption seems to breed in Gotham and this tale is no different.  Once again the police force is targeting Batman while he is trying to prevent a civil war amongst the villains at large.  Throw in a new origin story for the New 52 and we have quite the exciting book.

Original Sin #0 - Marvel's new event is off to a great start with Mr. Mark Waid at the helm.  Nova seeks answers from The Watcher and gets more than he bargained for.  A rare insight into the origin of The Watcher makes for an interesting debut.  I am hoping that it goes beyond a traditional Marvel event, but it has my attention for now.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Best Sci-Fi TV of All Time Tournament Bracket (Final Round)

Guys, I have to admit I'm a little stunned. I did not see Picard and Riker unseating Kirk and Spock in the Classic side of the bracket and heading into the Finals. Sure, The Next Generation ran for much longer than Star Trek The Original Series, and sure the third and final season of Star Trek is a hot mess, but I figured if this was a popularity contest, the "logical" choice would be...well, no matter. You've spoken with your votes, and if I'm being honest, you probably made the right call about the better show. For the record, The Next Generation went gangbusters out of the gate, but Star Trek made a valiant comeback toward the end and ultimately, only 18 votes out of hundreds cast separated the two shows.

Firefly didn't surprise me this week, but I sure didn't have it getting past Doctor Who last week. Do I prefer Firefly? I do. But I'm only one man. One man with whom, in this case, thousands of people happily agree.

So here we are. The Finals. Will the scion of a long-established dynasty walk away with the crown? Or will the 14-episodes-and-a-movie upstart put another feather in the cap of Mr. Neil Young's line that it's better to burn out than to fade away? We'll soon see. Off you go!

To see the results of previous rounds, please click here.

Microreview [book]: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

McClellan, Brian. The Crimson Campaign [Orbit, 2014].

The Meat

To be completely honest, I'm torn by this book. After my not-so-positive review of McClellan's first installment, Promise of Blood (see my review here), which did not come close to meeting my expectations considering the buzz the book had generated,  I had not planned on continuing on with this series. That might have colored my expectations to begin with. As expected, The Crimson Campaign continues the same problematic trends from the first volume of the series. And I have the same litany of complaints about anything from the world's weak treatment of women to unbelievable character attitudes and to darkness for no other purpose than to let the reader know how dark the world is (the severed fingers still bother me). But, on the other hand, I found The Crimson Campaign to be a quick and enjoyable read. At times, a real page-turner. So I am at a loss at how to grade this second installment of Brian McClellan's new flintlock fantasy trilogy.

The Crimson Campaign picks up right where Promise of Blood left off. Field Marshal Tamas is in the process of spearheading the Adran invasion of Kez, but soon finds himself (and his powder cabal) deep behind enemy lines, drastically outnumbered and pursued by superior forces, with little chance of escape. So dire are his circumstances that Tamas is widely believed dead. Meanwhile, after weeks in the Gurlish mala dens attempting to smoke himself into oblivion, Taniel Two-Shot emerges as the last line of defense against the advancing Kez army. And to his surprise, he soon learns that this army is perhaps guided by Kresimir, the very god Taniel thought he had killed. On the home front, Inspector Adamat continues his quest to rescue his wife and children from the enigmatic and undoubtedly evil Lord Vetas. In the process, he runs into the weak and indecisive maid/laundress Nila, a woman who may turn just out to be more than she appears to be. 

The Crimson Campaign still features a well-paced, action-packed ride through the wilderness of Kez, the mountains of Deliv, and the Adran capital of Adopest. Although the prose does not reach the heights of such newcomers to the genre like Peter Higgins, each storyline has enough twists and turns to keep the reader's attention. Pacing is by no means an issue with this series. The Tamas storyline in particular reads like Paul Kearney's fantastic tale, The Ten Thousand. Moreover, The Crimson Campaign also gave McClellan the chance to develop some of the side characters in fascinating ways. I appreciate how the Privileged Bo has developed throughout the novel, and the Nila storyline has finally become interesting. 

The series, however, still suffers from the very same problems I noted with the first volume. First, at times there is needless gore that serves no other purpose than to be gory, needless grit that only serves for the sake of being gritty. This is something that we at Nerds of a Feather have complained about again and again (see here for The G's rant on the topic). More strikingly, an annoyingly weak treatment of women abounds throughout the novel. Even the most powerful of women suffer from some affliction. Ka-poel is a sorcerous being with the power that could rival gods, but she is a deaf-mute, and is interpreted only through her relations with her protector, Taniel. And that relationship is mind numbingly colonial, with Taniel needing to come to terms with the fact that she is a person to be loved and respected, not merely a savage. But although she may have ideas and power, she has no voice of her own (yes, she's our very own subaltern). And need I mention that she becomes the object of male lust in a not-too-savory way? 

Moreover, I found Tamas to be the least compelling main character I have read in quite some time. Tamas loses perspective far too often for someone touted to be the most feared Field Marshal throughout all the realm. For instance, he is said to be a widely respected leader, but Tamas takes way too long to come to terms with the fact that Vlora cheated on his son and ruined their engagement.  He even takes his anger at Vlora out on the men under his command! Making matters worse, the substandard backstory introduced midway through the novel (the very reason Tamas launched his revolution against the throne) only works to make Tamas seem petty. And it is for his pettiness that the world now has descended into chaos. I am hopeful that McClellan plans to surprise us and take this in a new and exciting direction, but I don't plan on holding my breath. 

In the end, I think this series will find its audience. And yet again, I find myself convinced that I am not it. Although an enjoyable read and a real page turner at times, The Crimson Campaign still leaves much to be desired...   

The Math 

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +2 for always keeping my attention.

Penalties: -1 for the continuing misogyny; -1 for Tamas and his backstory.

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10 "still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore"

Read about our scoring system here. And remember, we categorically reject grade inflation!

POSTED BY: Jemmy, a SF/F fanatic, a failed wall gazer, and a Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Execution--A Post in 3 Acts

Act 1

I tend to binge read fantasy. Until age 16 I couldn’t get enough of the stuff—from the gateway grub of David Eddings and Dragonlance to higher-grade fare from LeGuin, Kurtz, Leiber and Zimmer Bradley. I read countless Tolkein clones, until Tad Williams’ excellent Memory, Sorrow and Thorn had the last word in that conversation. I even read six or seven Wheel of Time books, ultimately concluding that it should have been a trilogy.

Then I discovered literary fiction.

I credit/blame a forward-thinking high school English program for my conversion from fantasy. We read Raymond Carver and William Faulker, Toni Morrison and Tim O’Brien. We even read Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson—the one about heroin addicts. These books were beautiful, powerful and unflinching, the kind of books that grab you by the shirt and say: “look around you, this is the world you live in.” Fantasy seemed childish, trite and unsophisticated in comparison.  

My genre consumption shifted towards science fiction, which seemed (as it often does) the more serious half of SFF. I dove into the mind-altering depths of the New Wave, devouring the work of J. G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, Samuel Delany and Philip K. Dick. Ursula LeGuin was a carryover, of course, though by now I'd graduated from Earthsea to Hainish. I returned to the classic science fiction I'd first discoverded as a child, finding that some (e.g. The Stars My Destination) stood up to the test of time while others (e.g. Foundation) did not. I continued to avoid fantasy like the plague.

Enter Jemmy, now a fellow Nerd of a Feather but at the time a friend and co-worker. At lunch we’d head off to one of the many bookstores in walking distance from our office, gravitating to the science fiction and fantasy aisles. Inevitably our conversation would turn to the tragic fact that I’d never read anything by Octavia Butler or George R. R. Martin, and how this needed to be corrected as soon as humanly possible. I bought copies of Parable of the Talent/Sower and Lilith’s Brood, and loved them all.  But I couldn’t bring myself to do the same for A Game of Thrones--it was fantasy, after all.

Then one day, Jemmy up and bought me a copy, casually informing me that I no longer had any excuse for not reading it. Still I hemmed; I hawed; I resisted. Until one night I just sort of picked the damned thing up—and never looked back.

Complete with cheesy 90s-style cover
A Game of Thrones wasn’t a perfect book, but it was a gripping political thriller high on intrigue and low on magic. I blasted through the even better sequels, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, eventually moving on to the not-good fourth and fifth volumes. Again I concluded that an overlong fantasy series should have been a trilogy, though it didn’t bother me much this time. The bleak perspective resonated with many of the things I saw going in our world—a feeling punctuated by the early 2000s zeitgeist of ethnic cleansing, terrorism and “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

From there I moved on to the other luminaries of gritty fantasy: Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, KJ Parker, Gene Wolfe. I ate the stuff up, and reveled in the visceral thrills of fantasy that walked in the shadows and probed the darkest recesses of the human soul.

Only, after a while, the gritty stuff started to get repetitive too. Formulaic, even.

My frustrations with fantasy resurfaced. I’d already had it with pig farmers fulfilling prophesies, “noble savage” elves and all the other clich├ęs and tropes of the neo-Tolkein canon. I make an exception for Andrzej Sapkowski, because he, well, subverts everything. But exceptions—or more accurately, the fact that they are exceptions—can prove the rule, so to speak.

But now even gritty fantasy, once a refuge from the neo-Tolkeinic morass, proved equally capable of being cheap, generic and derivative. Worse, there appeared to be an arms race of sorts in the works. I still wanted my fantasy to explore the darker recesses of the human experiences, but I wanted it to mean something. I certainly didn’t want or need anyone to amp up the grit-tay just to out-do the last guy. And I'd had it with offhand rapeyness and tortureporn serving no purpose other than to announce the grimmmmmm darrrrrkess of a fantasy world.

I began to think about the things I wanted to see more of in fantasy. First on the list was more fantasy that, like recent work by Elizabeth Bear, NK Jemisin, Saladin Ahmed, Scott Lynch, Doug Hulick and Django Wexler, leaves the crowded shores of pseudo-medieval Europe (or more accurately, pseudo-medieval Britain and Ireland) for different spatial, cultural and temporal planes. The world was a big place and history is full of rich veins of inspiration. I didn't want anyone to be lame and appropriative, but I did want more fantasy authors to discover the rest of the world, and to explore time periods on either side of the Middle Ages. 

I wanted novel geographies, topographies and physical environments. I wanted more experimentation with (or at least problematizing of) social relations. And I wanted authors to spend more time exploring consequences, intended and unintended, of human action arising from relatable, understandable motivations. The best fantasy already does at least some of these things, but there’s still so much ground to cover.

I began to wish authors would go back to the actual medieval and Renaissance periods in order to develop more sophisticated models of religion. Religion in fantasy, after all, tends to come in two flavors: literal and cynical. Gods are either actually walking the land and doing things (mostly bad) or are totems every intelligent character understands to be superstition and little else. But religion is often experienced as a lived reality: no gods walking the earth, but life lived as if they might as well be. This idea was very interesting to me—and another under-tapped vein that could be utilized to great effect.

I grew certain that new and better ideas could save fantasy.

Act 2

I really wanted to love Glenda Larke’s new book, The Lascar’s Dagger, because it hits on so many of these things. It draws inspiration from the mercantilist period, when the Dutch and British East India Companies competed for spices and slowly committed resources to colonial ventures they couldn’t afford (which enticed the Dutch and British governments to intervene and outright conquer much of Asia, the beginning of a much more expansive and destructive phase of international colonialism).

It features a novel, polar geography, where the overland route to the Va-Cherished lands (i.e. alt-Christendom) pass through the North Pole. Trade is dominated by the Pashali, who have mastodons, but the enterprising merchants of Lowmeer would like very much to cut out the middle man. Discovery of the sea-route to the Spicerie (i.e. the alt-Malay Archipelago) also uncovers magical riches to be exploited. Larke thus invites us to consider the history of colonialism as it might have played out if magic had been involved—a fascinating idea that she makes good use of throughout the book.

On a personal level, I absolutely love that Larke develops characters based on the Malay world (an area near and dear to my heart) and does so in a generally classy and respectful way. Oh, and did I mention that religion is embedded into the very fabric of everyday life—even for the educated elites? Yes, The Lascar’s Dagger is certainly full of good ideas.

Yet as sophisticated as the book can be on an ideals level, it is let down by the kind of cardboard characterization outsiders, with some justification, associate with the fantasy genre. There is never any doubt who is good and who is “evil.” There is never any internal conflict, really, even when we are told there is. Everyone simply does the right thing, or the wrong thing, because they are the type of person who does the right thing or the wrong thing.

And for a novel written by a woman whose characters explicitly question the patriarchy of their social environments, the female characters are surprisingly unlikable—from the narcissistic and shallow Princess Mathilda to the always-grumpy Sorrel Redwing and annoyingly coy Pontifect. This struck me as odd.

Act 3

Reading The Lascar’s Dagger reminded me of a conversation script that most science fiction fans have witnessed or been a part of at some point in their lives. You know the one:

Science fiction aficionado gets into conversation with nose-thumbing type. Nose-thumbing type thumbs nose at science fiction, at which point science fiction aficionado convinces nose-thumbing type to read a cherished classic. Nose-thumbing type comes back to science fiction aficionado and says: “I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t get past the stilted dialogue, poor characterization and so forth.” Science fiction aficionado then pleads with nose-thumbing type—“yes, but it’s the ideas that make this book special.”

This is a common approach to genre—that bad writing is tolerable as long as the concepts are good. And most people just accept it--not only fans and readers, but authors and critics as well. Too often, when we discuss, debate and argue a book's merits, we fixate on the conceptual matter. Did it say something meaningful? Did it try something new? Did it meet or fail to meet a bar of acceptability as far as philosophy and social vision go?

These are important questions--important to me as well as to others. But fixating on ideas can overshadow equally important questions on fundamentals. Ideas, simply put, are just not enough—no matter how thought provoking they are. And by defining SF/F as "ideas fiction," we conspire to keep it in its literary ghetto. Really good SF/F, and by "good" I mean something of cultural impact and lasting value, is not born of vision alone, but through the execution of that vision.

In the end, this is what makes The Lascar’s Dagger so frustrating to me. I wanted to love this book—I still want to love this book, and in some respects I do love this book. After all, the ideas really are really, really good. Unfortunately, the fundamentals aren't.

Look, not all authors are Pynchon and not every book needs to be Gravity's Rainbow. But as much as we, the consumers, could have asked for more, someone on the production side could have recognized the seed of a great novel in this passable one, and nurtured it so it could flower into the thing it clearly wants to be. Justin Landon has recently called attention to this as a general problem facing genre publishing—and the experience of The Lascar’s Dagger really put that into perspective. There are a lot of writers out there with one half of the equation down pat, but who need more and better guidance to unlock their full potential. This is what traditional publishing is supposed to bring to the table.

Why isn't this happening? Like most problems in a capitalist economy, it boils down to issues of supply and demand. The business model of traditional publishing, you could say,  is like diamond mining: you extract as much carbon as you can and hope you get enough diamonds in the process to make the venture worthwhile. Cash-strapped publishers just aren't going to invest the time and money raising the diamonds to carbon ratio unless they feel it's either: a) necessary to their survival; or b) a conduit to greater revenue and profitability. Because the crisis in publishing is long-term, incentives to boost revenue by bringing more quantity to market faster wins out over incentives to raise quality--a slower process with less-certain results.

Now, you may ask yourself why I'm being so negative. Here's why: I have dedicated a lot of time and emotional commitment to fantasy, science fiction and traditional publishing. I believe in fantasy and science fiction, just as I believe in traditional publishing. It is my firmly-held opinion that traditional publishing is, and will remain, the most consistent and efficient route to quality product. I've come to know good, hardworking people at Orbit, Tor/Forge, Solaris, Jo Fletcher and the rest of the specialty imprints. I think they are awesome and do awesome things. And I've read a lot of really high-quality books they've brought to market.

But this isn't the '90s anymore, and even if the crisis is long-term, it's very real. If traditional genre publishers are going to hold position and even grow in this era of crowdfunding, self-publishing and the return of the small press, they will need to assert their role as developers of talent--mentors and coaches who can consistently turn promising into good, and good into great. They will need to take potentially diamondiferous material like The Lascar's Dagger and turn them into brilliant gemstones. This is how traditional genre publishing will survive, and even prosper, in the new literary economy. That's good for everyone. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Microreview [book]: Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres

De Pierres, Marianne. Peacemaker [2014, Angry Robot]

I do keep wandering down the dusty road to future-westerns... Something about our past regurgitating itself into what may come is perhaps a comfort, perhaps a subversion of the fear of the ever-arriving unknown, the unconquerable tide of change.

Or perhaps I just like robot gunslingers. 

Either way, my tracks lead me back here into this Westworld world, this saddle-sore story pit. Luckily this time around, a gem awaits in the desert dirt. De Pierres is an Australian author of 'speculative fiction' (as her site puts it) and here she speculates on the bleak yet entertaining notion that the last scrap of land untouched in Australia is actually an artificial park, shaped from the red dust of the island continent, yet flavoured heavily from the mythology of the Old West. 

Our hero is a 'ranger' of this huge tourist magnet, tasked with keeping a watchful eye on this incredible chunk of land, surrounded by mirroring walls that shut out the sight and sound of the dirty and heaving city around it. The rather outstandingly named 'Virgin Jackson' (which sounds like some awful airline tie-in if the King of Pop were still around) is happier out in the 'wilds' than amongst humans, but a killing on site and an attempted one of her off both force her to confront not just the mystery but her relationship with colleagues, friends and a new arrival. 

This newcomer is from the States and goes by the name of Marshall Nate Sixkiller (I know, I know...) and carries the attitude and Stetson such a moniker suggests. Together they overcome their differences and encounter animal spirit guides, weird tattoos and bombs in alleys, all in the attempt to find out how is killing who. 

As the story progressed it felt like Pierres got more and more confident, more and more free. And the book benefited, for whilst my reaction was fairly negative due to some clunky dialogue and cliched characterisation, something happened as the city was gradually revealed, and I realised I was reading an excellent sci-fi .. sorry, spec-fi.

As the investigation continues some of the awkward notes remained but the story propels itself so quickly, and often surprisingly, and so I strongly recommend this refreshing read. Virgin is a complex and absorbing heroine, and the Australian dystopia she lives in is one I'll happily revisit when Pierred continues what is promised to be a series.

The Math

Bonuses: +1 for having what is sadly still fairly unusual - a female character undefined and unobjectified, and a fully-fledged yet flawed person 

Negatives: -1 for a frustrating ending that leaves you hanging for the continuation in the series but not in an especially excitingly manner

Nerd Coefficient : 7/10 " an enjoyable experience but not without its flaws"

By English Scribbler, gunslinger, two-bit word-whore and contributor to the 2-years-young Nerds of A Feather since 2013.

Thursday Morning Superhero

As I type away on my post this week I am both saddened that I have not seen Captain America 2 yet and happy that C2E2 is a little over one week away!  If all goes according to plan I will be in attendance at this fine event on both Saturday and Sunday.  It has been some time since my last Con appearance and I am looking forward to returning to the chaos.

Pick of the Week:
The Auteur #2 - Wow.  This is quickly becoming one of my favorite books, but it is very difficult to recommend to just anyone.  This book is absolutely bonkers and I love it.  If you find buckets of gore and crass jokes offensive, this is not the book you are looking for.  Beneath the blood and guts, The Auteur is a smart and refreshing comic unlike any I have read.  Issue #2 demonstrates to what lengths Nathan T. Rex will go to ensure his next film is a success.  Not satisfied with your run of the mill horror, Rex plans on using Darwin, a notorious serial killer, as the murder expert on his film.  Packed with genuinely funny humor and a shockingly original plot line, The Auteur may be for you.  The VHS playing scene in the court room was one of the funniest gags I have ever read in a comic book.  Well played Rick Spears and Oni.  Can't wait for issue #3.

The Rest:
Stray Bullets: Killers #2 - The Stray Bullets comics have a way of sucking you in and connecting you with seemingly normal characters at a rapid pace.  Each issue stands on its own, but the depth of the world that David Lapham creates is better appreciated if you soak it all in.  Stray Bullets reminds us all that we are not perfect and that everyone has skeletons in the closet, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Deep down, despite our flaws, there are good people who make poor choices.  Beautiful book that should make its way to your pull list.

Sinestro #1 - I will admit that I am not well versed in all that is Green Latern, but with Cullen Bunn penning the new Sinestro title I had to pick it up.  Sinestro is pulled from his self-inflicted isolation by Lyssa Drak who urges him to take control over the Sinestro Corps once again.  With my lack of knowledge in the lore, I would guess that there were many references that were over my head. I still found the story compelling and will return for issue #2.  I am guessing it might be wise to see if my library has some collected volumes of Geoff Johns.

Batman #30 - The final act of "Zero Year" begins with issue and it looks to be a doozy.  I never considered The Riddler to be much of a formidable foe for Batman, but with what Scott Snyder has come up with I have a new found respect for Mr. Nygma.  The Riddler has transformed Gotham into a apocalyptic hellscape with seemingly no escape.  Through sheer terror, he has broken the will of the residents and it is going to take some fancy gadgets and planning to save Gotham.  Something tells me Batman will be up for the task.

Batman Eternal #2 - It is a good thing this title is coming out weekly, because things are moving at a rapid pace in Gotham.  With an all-star crew behind this title, I hope it maintains this momentum moving forward.  The villain reveal at the end of this issue was glorious and I am very excited where this book seems to be headed.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Best Sci-Fi TV of All Time Tournament Bracket (Round of 4)


The Round of 8 was, without a doubt, the round with the most gnashing of teeth, and probably even tears, of any so far. For this was the round where Doctor Who faced off against Firefly.

Thousands of votes were cast (thank you, everybody), and ultimately, by only a half a percentage point, it was decided that Serenity would keep flying. (Insert wild celebration/screams of rage as you will).

Now in this Round of 4, you must face another impossible choice: Kirk & Spock vs. Picard & Riker. Is Star Trek: The Next Generation a better show than the one that begat all others, Star Trek? It's your call. But it is certain that an entry from the Star Trek franchise will face off against either Firefly or the Battlestar Galactica reboot in the Finals.

Some housekeeping: to see the results of previous rounds, click here. To review the utterly unscientific criteria used to delineate the Classic from Modern regions, check out the Round of 32 post. Many Reddit users pointed out that I had the order of the matches in the first round out-of-order, which I have consistently acknowledged, and apologize for once again. And for those of you who vitriolically demanded a larger image of the bracket, your wish has been granted.

Now, have fun, and on with the voting!



Check back next week for the Final Round!