Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Movies I am Looking Forward to in 2017

I want to be Joe Sherry when I grow up. "Don't we all," most of you say. "Who is Joe Sherry?" others ask. Joe is the guy who posted 24 books he is looking forward in the coming year. Since I have been watching and reviewing more movies these days, I thought I'd share what I am excited about in 2017 (and a few I am not):

The LEGO Batman Movie (Feb 10): I mean, right? I wanted to do this whole thing by picking a couple movies from each month, but unless you are excited for xXx: Why is This Happening, January is a dud (also, I am actually writing this in January, but it's going up in February, so, whatever). So we skip to February, and holy hell, I am excited for this movie. Equal parts fan service and irreverent, self-aware hilarity and... sign me up. I assume y'all are on board, too. Also: If you want DC, Justice League and Wonder Woman are not on this list, so enjoy Batman in brick form.


A Cure for Wellness  (Feb 17): I wouldn't say I am excited about this movie, but it looks intriguing? Or maybe a low rent Shutter Island? So we'll see. I'll give Gore Verbinski a shot, though. Also, looking over the release schedule, there are some dumb looking movies in 2017: The aforementioned xXx, Fifty Shades Darker, and A Dog's Purpose, which has a trailer that is entirely narration and tells you the entire movie. I am not joking. Go watch it).

Logan (Mar 3): This movie just makes me make disgustingly excited whimpering noises. The R rating, the old man Hugh Jackman, the dark, dark, dark tone. PUT IT IN MY EYEHOLES NOW.

Kong: Skull Island (Mar 10): The King Kong remake was... ok? This looks like a solid adventure, and I am always down for that. However, nothing puts fear in my soul like the phrase "sequel to a remake". Nevertheless, put in another giant ape/dinosaur fight and I will be happy.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 (may 5): I am on the very, very, very short list of people who were not in love with the first one, but vol 2 looks to improve on it (which is great news for all of us). Can't go wrong with Rocket & Cute Groot.

Alien: Covenant (may 19): I am on the very, very long list of people who thought Prometheus was... not good. Maybe this won't be! Let's find out. Together.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (may 26): ha ha ha I'm kidding. Side note: I have wanted to use this very predictable joke for about 18 movies so far, but freakin' seriously? Why are these movies still being made? Do not go see this movie unless a family member worked on it. Maybe not even then.

OK, real quick aside on the chronological thing. Look at this:

Holy shit. That is depressing. I want Wonder Woman to be great so bad, but the whole DCU has yet to release a movie that is even watchable, so my faith is limited, and there are already rumors of it being a mess. Other than that... if you have kids, I guess? Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 (Trey Parker!). But, goddamn, that is a terrible slate of movies.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jul 7): OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG THIS MOVIE LOOKS SO GOOD. That is all.

Dunkirk (Jul 21): Real talk, gang: I do not care about anything else in 2017 until I see this movie. Why, you ask? GLAD YOU DID. In the first place, Dunkirk was a massively important battle in the Second World War, and does not get anywhere near the attention other (read: involving Americans) battles do, and this looks to be on a Saving Private Ryan- level for accuracy. In the second place, Tom Hardy. Third, Cillian Murphy. Fourth, Tom Hardy.

Dark Tower (Jul 28) Oh, July, look at you, trying to make up for June. This is really happening, and it has Idris Elba. I am going to live in a theater for all of July.

The Emoji Movie (Aug 4): what the hell. why is this happening. no.

Blade Runner 2049 (Oct 6): More on why I trust this implicitly later.

OMFG YES


Star Wars: Episode VIII (Dec 15): sure, whatever. If it's your thing.

100 Bullets (????) Tom Hardy producing one of the best graphic novels ever. If you haven't read it, go do so now. It is well worth any spoilers.

It's hard to say here in the early going of 2017 if this will be a good year for movies or not, but there are some movies (in addition to the ones I have sarcastically referenced above) that I am either extremely wary of, or just plain avoiding.
It's gonna be terrible, isn't it?

Wonder Woman/Justice League: I want to like these so much. I don't have a horse in the Marvel/DC race, but I am always up for a good superhero movie. Every single thing about the DCU has been a unmitigated disaster so far (as I have talked about before), and them jostling things around doesn't give me a lot of hope for the future. Wonder Woman I will give a shot- Gal Gadot & Chris Pine will usually get my ten bucks- because I at least will vote with my money for more women leads and superheroes. But I still have my doubts about them making a good movie. Hope I'm wrong, though.

Power Rangers: Please stop repackaging my childhood and selling it back to me at today's prices.

Transformers: About Last Night or whatever honestly I didn't even look up the title: THE HELL DID I JUST SAY. How the hell is Michael Bay still allowed to make movies? HOW? Do you know how many women or PoC directors are working in Hollywood? Cuz it's like five. But Michael Bay keeps cashing checks.

Split: Speaking of people who shouldn't be making movies anymore...
Pro tip: If you want me to see a movie, do no put that name in the trailer.

The Mummy: I know I said I am always down for a good adventure movie, but this looks like they lifted Enchantress from Suicide Squad and dropped her in. I would love a great Egyptology movie, but this does not look to be it. On a related note, I am available to write a Tomb Raider movie aaaaaaaanytime.

General Animation: Aside from Batman, this looks to be a rough year for animation- which is a bummer. Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, Rock Dog (the hell is this movie even trying to be?), Boss Baby, Nut Job 2, Smurfs... The cupboard for animation looks pretty bare for 2017. The only hope I can see is Pixar's Coco, out November 23.

The Great Wall/Ghost in the Shell: Seriously, Hollywood? Asian actors are THAT hard to find? C'mon.

Bad Dads: I know nothing about this movie, but can we stop with the Bad Moms/Dads/Bosses/whatever theme now please? Thank you.

Those are movie I am, and am not, looking forward to. How about you? Quick note before you start yelling at me: I am not a horror fan, so they are on neither list. Feel free to chime in if you are, and let me know which ones I should see from behind a pillow.

-DESR



Monday, February 20, 2017

The Roger Corman Interview

Roger Corman has been, arguably, the single most important voice in the history of independent cinema. It was an absolute honor to be able to sit down with him in his office to discuss his new film, Death Race 2050, and specifics from a career that spans seven decades.


For the uninitiated, Roger Corman began writing, directing, and producing in the mid-1950s. He launched the careers of actors like Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, and revived or reinvigorated the careers of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and others. As a producer, he gave directors like Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, and James Cameron their starts in filmmaking. He worked extensively with writers such as Twilight Zone alumni Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, who were also seminal sci-fi and horror writers in their own right. His distribution company won foreign language Oscars for the films of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.

But at the end of the day, this is a guy who just made a lot of great movies. From the 1950s beatnik satire A Bucket of Blood to the 1960s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, to the 1970s punk hallmark Rock n Roll High School and beyond, Roger Corman may have spent a career working with low- and medium-budget films, but he managed to create lasting art, documents of the times, and just goddamn fun movies, and he continues to do so.

If you haven't, check out Death Race 2050, streaming on Netflix and on DVD and VOD or watch the original, Death Race 2000, on DVD or streaming on FilmStruck. And enjoy the interview. I sure as hell did.

Posted by Vance K — co-editor and cult film reviewer for nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012, musician and songwriter, and Emmy Award-winning producer.

Friday, February 17, 2017

THE MONTHLY ROUND - A Taster's Guide to Speculative Short Fiction, 01/2017

Welcome to 2017! Yes, I know it's already February but the Monthly Round is officially entering into its fourth calendar year with a look back at the stories that made January great. So sidle up to the bar and let me pour you something to take the edge off.

This month's tasting flight ranges a little on the long side, with three novelettes and three short stories. There's just about any genre you could want. Fantasy horror? Steampunk? Sci-fantasy? Near future sci-fi? Magic realism? January is a month that often feels washed out for me, full of bitter colds, short days, and long nights. So I wanted my tasting flight to be just the opposite, stories full of colors and flavors, hungers and fires. These are stories that carry with them the heavy weight of winter, yes, with grief and imprisonment and loss, but they are stories that react to the winter by pulling together. By sharing warmth. By starting fires.

I'll add in some shots for good measure, featuring stories about witches and people with power who don't quite fit in the world around them. It's a great time to be a fan of short SFF, and if you're a skeptic then maybe these will convince you!

Tasting Flight - January 2017

Art by Geneva B.
"Chesirah" by L.D. Lewis (Fiyah)
Notes: Shadow tinged with a growing fire, underscored by a taste of oaken ashes. Pours a rich brown that glows when held up to the light, full of hope and stars.
Pairs with: Amber Bock
Review: Chesirah is a Fenox, a person who combusts and reforms and who, because of that cycle, are vulnerable. Chesirah has been controlled from a young age, owned and abused, and is finally ready to set an escape plan into action. Things don't go exactly to plan, though, and fire and death are rather hot on her heels. I love the world building of this story, the way that it blends fantasy and science fiction to create this situation and these characters, to show Chesirah trying to get away from her old life, from the systems and people who have made her into an object, something to be owned. It's not something that's taught her a lot of trust, but I also like that the story, for all its violence and darkness, is about hope. Is about the power of people coming together to help people, free of coercion or threat or manipulation. Chesirah doesn't have a lot of experience dealing with people, with her own freedom, but the story doesn't imagine that everyone would gleefully put her back into a cage (though there are some people who want exactly that). It shows the world as filled with injustice, but also with people trying to change that. And the story examines performance in many ways, with having to perform to survive as opposed to performing as resistance. These things can look the same, a stifling of one's inner fire to pass under the radar of the oppressors, but I like that this skill comes to be so vital to Chesirah's future, that it becomes a weapon she can use to help first herself and then others like her. It's a fun, uplifting story that I would probably read whole novels of.

Art by Gabriel Björk Stiernström
"A Series of Steaks" by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld)
Notes: Sly with a rich coppery color like diluted blood. Open and bright with only a slightly bitterness that quickly gives way to a sweet and warm finish that's lingers and lifts.
Pairs with: Red Ale
Review: This story features a young woman named Helena struggling to escape the mistakes and injustices of her past by working to raise money with forged beef. Not technically illegal, it's not exactly smiled upon either, but printing fake beef pays the bills. When someone finds out about what she's running from, though, and blackmails her into taking an assignment that's more than she should be able to handle, it's up to her and her assistant, Lily, to set things right and maybe even get some payback. First, I love the premise of this story, the idea of forging beef. Helena is a wry young woman just wanting to save up so she can make an honest living, but things just aren't working out that way. It's like she's living under a cloud of terrible luck, which only seems to get worse when she's forced to take on a very difficult and large order. And I just love how she gets herself out from under that cloud, how Lily, who at first seems completely clueless, has much more depth than anyone assumes, and how together they start to take control of their destinies. The prose manages an engaging voice and lasting humor throughout. It's a story about a con as weird as forging beef but it keeps the stakes very real. Because underneath the fake meat there is this lingering acknowledgement that Helena is vulnerable because she isn't rich, because she's a woman, because she doesn't have connections. And yet each of these things becomes its own kind of strength, allowing Helena to fight back and get the last laugh in glorious fashion.

Art by Aaron Nakahara
"Mag, the Habitat and We" by Lia Swope Mitchell (Apex)
Notes: Unexpected, with a brashness that borders on bitterness but leans more spicy and alive. Pours a foggy dark that reveals only strangeness and possibility.
Pairs with: India-style Black Ale
Review: So there are some…things living in Mag's house. That look vaguely like rats but that are sentient, that are aware, and that love Mag, just as they imagine she loves them. And yet there are these things that must be considered. Health inspections for one. And the We of the title know that if they don't pass inspection then there's going to be trouble. Only they would be in more trouble if Mag were to find out what's really going on in her house. And this story is just absolutely adorable and creepy and wonderful. The prose reflects the thoughts and priorities of the We, of this colony of creatures that the reader is allowed to glimpse but never too closely. Theirs is a strange and violent world and it's just sort of matter of course if some of them are crushed or killed. They are eaten by the rest of the colony and life goes on. And watching as they try their desperate best to make Mag's house ready for inspection is great, the colony moving along multiple fronts all at the same time, all working as one body, one mind. It's chilling because of what's going on but it's also rather charming because the creatures just seem so…innocent. Even as yes, I understand that they're little monsters but I want one! I want a colony of my very own even if they do have some sort of mind control. Even if they might secretly want to eat even those they love. It's just how well the story develops, that even as the horror blossoms fully into "OH FUCK NO!" there's still this little voice that won't stop saying "but maybe yes."

Art by John Picacio
"Bodies Stacked Like Firewood" by Sam J. Miller (Uncanny)
Notes: Confidence cut with a wounded bitterness, but brightly golden like the flame of a flickering candle poised over a stack of papers waiting to be consumed.
Pairs with: American-style IPA
Review: Kelvin has made the trip from New York to Albany to attend a memorial for his friend Cyd, a transman who killed himself. It's with that devastating opening that the story delves into literary theories about time travel and the nature of freedom and struggle and an impromptu plan to give Cyd one thing that he wanted—a conflagration. This is apparently the first of Miller's stories where it struck me directly that "Oh shit these are shared-setting stories" because this one makes some direct references to "The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History." Which is nicely fitting for a piece that is quite concerned with literary theory, with making connections between texts. Cyd had a theory about The Great Gatsby and the story keeps coming back to that even as Kelvin and Link, another of Cyd's friends, bond over their shared loss and shared guilt and shared anger about the situation. The story is about cycles of injustice and death, about how people can fail each other and fail themselves. How it is really through others that meaning starts to take shape, that the heat builds, that the spark is lit that starts the fire that pushes toward actual change and progress. The story is heavy with grief and with the question of what to do in the face of that grief. Curl inward and smolder away to nothing? Or reach out, find others, and make sure that the mistakes of the past aren't mirrored in the future. It's a difficult read, its magic rooted in oppression and pain and yearning, but it's also a beautiful read with a relentless hope even in the face of despair.

“Requiem for the Unchained” by Cae Hawksmoor (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Notes: Raucous and unafraid, with a laugh in the face of destruction and a bright shine to cut through any storm. There's a recklessness to the flavor and a slight confusion but also a power that cannot be denied.
Pairs with: Citrus IPA
Review: In a world where the dead have become a storm threatening everything, kept at bay only with a certain technology that borders on magic, one woman battles against the elements, the dead, her enemies, and her own grief. The pilot of a ship designed to repel the dead who might otherwise swarm ships and wreck them, the main character is in a bit of a sorry state when she gets a job offer. Unfortunately, it's from the man she blames for getting her wife killed. Work is work, though, and against her better judgment she akes the job because she can't stand the thought of losing her ship. The world the story reveals is one of a heavy darkness, where ghosts are real and like a sea that airships must sail through. The character work and voice of the main character is great, capturing the wounded and stubborn pride that's about the only thing keeping her going. That, and her personal dislike of the man offering her work. As the story moves, the main character moves from someone on the verge of giving up hope, on the verge of wanting to die, to someplace else. No less hurt and grieving for her wife but determined to make her time alive count for something. And given the shit that she sees, it's a good thing, because I for one am eager to think that someone's going to be made to pay for what happens. It's a harrowing and thrilling story that howls with the voices of the dead and kept me on the edge of my seat.

Art by Sam Wolfe Connelly
"A Human Stain" by Kelly Robson (Tor)
Notes: A deceptive sweetness draws down into a vast and hungry abyss that devours light. Seductively delicious with a surface so blackly opaque it might conceal anything in its depths.
Pairs with: Chocolate Stout
Review: Helen needs a break from Paris, mostly because she's run out of luck and lenders, but it seems like fortune isn't completely against her because a friend offers to have her tutor his young niece in a remote estate in the Alps. Helen finds the situation…odd, not least because the boy she is to tutor is distant and seems obsessed with slipping away to the basement. The boy's maid is silent, her mouth ruined from some mysterious incident in the past, and the story does a great job of setting the scene—the remote estate, the creeping darkness, the shapes floating in the water, the locked door in the basement. This is not a story for the faint of heart, and things get bloody pretty fast, the nature of the house revealing itself to Helen even as she finds she understand more and more. Now I'm a bit of a lightweight when it comes to body horror but there's something compelling about this, about the gore and the violence and consumption at work here. The hunger that is maddening and plays on the Helen's nature, her drive to eat through situations and cities and leave only the bones as she slips on to her next adventure. Unfortunately for her, the story shows that there are other hungry things lurking in the world. And it brings a strong sense of the gothic, only instead of lifting the sheet to find that there's a logical explanation for everything is embraces the fantastic in the most nightmarish manner possible. So make sure to read this one with the lights on.

Shots:

Art by Archan Nair
"The Twelve Rules of Etiquette at Miss Firebird's School for Girls" by Gwendolyn Kiste (Mithila Review)
Notes: Spicy and nearly saccharine sweet but with a shadow that underlies the experience. A mask of cherry red that conceals a power and darkness that cannot be denied.
Pairs with: Not-So-Good Witch—mix of equal parts anise liqueur and cinnamon whisky with two parts grenadine.
Review: Framed as a list of rules at a special school, this story works by subverting expectations. Hogwarts this is not, and the story focuses on the ways that people and especially girls are taught to behave and act, rejecting their power and instead being made to conform to expectations. And it's true that there's a certain safety in that, but it resembles the safety of a caged animal, controlled and always at the mercy of its captor. The story features a nice and moving darkness and the promise that these rules exist because people are successful in breaking them, because despite everything there are girls who manage to escape, to form connections, to work together. The rules are designed to isolate and intimidate but beneath that is the story of how these rules fail. How they both fail to adequately prepare girls for their futures and how they fail to break the spirits of the girls who come to this school. There is a promise of the dark and the wild freedom of magic, and I like how the story chips away at the common depictions of magic schools as places of acceptance and learning. Because real boarding schools are traditionally anything but, designed to break willful children and make them more manageable. This story shows that not only is that damaging, but a poor substitute for the magic that can be used to fight back and reshape the world.

"A Song to Charm the Beasts" by Wendy Nikel (Fantastic Stories)
Notes: A burst of sweet flavors quickly sink into the strong undercurrent of heady alcohol, though even as the sweetness fades the memory of it lingers on.
Pairs with: Pied Piper—mix of four parts vodka with two parts raspberry liqueur and one part melon liqueur.
Review: Ofira's husband is missing, and word has reached her that he's being held in a place that many believe is myth. She knows better, though, and goes in prepared for what she might find. I love how the story mixes its elements, imagining a fairly Western setting with its sand and grim determination and saloons and danger, but adding in the supernatural and the musical. The story works with some classic tropes and ideas. A fiddle contest with a creature that is definitely not on the up and up; a reprieve but only if those leaving the town never look back; a song with a great power. In some ways the story resembles a gender-flipped retelling of the Orpheus myth by way of the Wild West, but it's not even that simple. Indeed, part of why I like it so much is that it doesn't really examine human weakness in the face of uncertainty. Orpheus looked back and was damned, but this story imagines what might have happened if things had played out differently. And I like how it shifts the themes, how Ofira is shown as competent and dedicated and fearless for her love, but that there is a tragedy here as well. She is tested and in every conceivable way passes, and yet still she's not exactly allowed to win. It's a wrenching and beautiful story that reveals a setting rich in imagery and import and music and magic, that lingers like a distant song carried by the wind.

"It Happened to Me: My Doppelganger Stole My Credit Card Info, and then My Life" by Nino Cipri (Fireside)
Notes: Light and dark exist in even measure and distinct only to eye. Once consumed the flavors mix and mingle, providing a complex and eye-opening experience that might leave your eyes watering.
Pairs with: Doppelganger— layer equal parts vanilla schnapps and whiskey.
Review: Any story that integrates Billy Joel lyrics this well will probably be one that I love. The piece introduces Nina and Nono, a young child and a maybe-imaginary friend. When mischief happens, it gets blamed on Nono. But when Nina's parents say that Nono was sent away to the Other Country, they disappear in truth, and maybe it would have ended there but that Nina receives a piece of mail from her former friend, which starts a correspondence that lasts throughout their childhoods and adolescences and into adulthood. Only both start to question what they're doing, and as their lives become painful and confused they wonder if maybe the wrong child got sent to live in the Other Country. It's a story that captures that bit of childhood magic that imaginary friends can be but complicates the fuck out of it by looking at how children are treated, at what it means to be "good" or "bad." The story builds on this idea of shadows and strangers, masks and reflections. Nina and Nono are linked but have been pulled apart, and the trauma from that separation is something that never heals right. It festers, leaving both dissatisfied with the world around them, with the roles pushed on them by others. So they fight back, and they question, and they start from a place of compassion and trust in each other, without reservation or stipulation, and their path to freedom moves from there. It's a strange story that packs an incredibly amount into such a short space, and it dissects identity and assigned roles, and finds a space for Nina and Nono to perhaps figure out what works for them.

---

POSTED BY: Charles, avid reader, reviewer, and sometimes writer of speculative fiction. Contributor to Nerds of a Feather since 2014.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Morning Superhero

I am going to forego my normal intro and get right into the books!



Pick of the Week:
Ether #4 - Matt Kindt has a gift when it comes to creating intrigue and really forcing you to focus on small details throughout his books.  Ether took an unexpected turn today, when we were introduced to Hazel and learned about her journey into the Ether as a child.  With no way of telling people where she had been for five years, she had to carry this secret until she connects with Boone Dias.  Through the fantastical art of David Rubin we are reminded that the Ether can be both amazing and utterly horrifying at the same time.  I look forward to learning more about Hazel (Kindt revealed some nuggets in this issue that have me salivating) and can't recommend this series enough.

The Rest:
Dept. H #11 - Another Kindt book this week?  With double the Kindt (Sharlene is also working on this title)?  Mia is not much closer to figuring out who murdered her father, but she has uncovered some evidence and had an epiphany that should provide clarity moving forward.  She had this vision as she recounted a story her father told her when she was younger.  It was a beautiful escape from the danger that her and the crew are currently in.  It finally clicked that the art in this series reminds me of Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind and it couldn't be more appropriate.



Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #67 - The new arc of TMNT kicked off with a bang and I am quite concerned.  Slash was recaptured by government officials and they are attempting to control his rage and use him as weapon.  Meanwhile, Leonardo is struggling to get all of the turtles on the same page given the recent string of events.  Hopefully he will get things sorted out soon, because the government's first test with Slash is on the Mutanimals and it is a doozy.




The Walking Dead #164 - I am still amazed that this series is still chugging along and even more surprised by the supposed friendship between Rick and Negan.  One thing that Robert Kirkman has done is build a deep seeded hatred and mistrust in Negan.  No matter how many times he appears to have redeemed himself, you still don't trust his intentions.  Even after learning at what may have caused him to become evil incarnate, I can't feel sorry for him or trust him.  I hope I'm wrong.





Old Man Logan #18 - We reach the exciting conclusion to the arc in which Logan went to save a crew from a ship that had been overtaken by Brood.  Seemingly pulled between two different realities, he is finally able to free Jeanie and with her help subdue the beasts.  The vision of the baby he left behind in the wastelands haunts him and will steer his next course of action.  Really excited with the direction this series is headed.






Daredevil #17 - Daredevil's new arc kicked off in exciting fashion as Matt Murdock visited a confessional in a local church!  Nothing like sharing something that you feel shamed about with a total stranger!  In all seriousness, it is a fine vehicle for Daredevil to get something off of his chest.  The secret of how he put the secret back in his secret identity.  If you didn't know, his identity became known to the public and it created all sorts of problems for him.  Somehow he was able to put the rabbit back in the hat, and it will be interesting to learn how.  I'm oddly really looking forward to this arc.




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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Microreview [book]: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Pretty much exactly what you'd expect


Once, no doubt, the tales of gods and heroes were exciting, full-blooded affairs that held people on the edge of their rock, or stump, or whatever it was they were sitting on around the fire. But when I suggest that was "a long time ago," I mean that was a reeeeeaaaaaalllllly long time ago. My formal introduction to mythology was via the utterly bloodless and clinical Mythology by Edith Hamilton. I really wanted to know the stories because they are a common foothold and reference point for all of Western civilization, but man I could not read that book without falling asleep to save my life. I remember, however, flipping to the back of it at some point where the briefest of surveys of Norse Mythology could be found, reading through it, and thinking, "This sounds way better. Why didn't she write more about this stuff?"

Neil Gaiman has attempted to put some of the blood, humor, and...frankly...just good storytelling back into these ancient tales. And he has succeeded. Just as a test, I told a pair of these version of the Norse myths to my kids around the dinner table just to see what happened, to see if there was any sense of an audience hanging on the edge of their seat to see what happened next or how this was going to go wrong (or right), and they definitely landed. I had a request the next day for more of them, in fact.

I read Padraic Colum's Nordic Gods and Heroes years ago, and found it a little more engaging than Mythology, and thorough. Our intrepid Nerds of a Feather site founder The G blessed our family with a copy of D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths, which is possibly the gold standard in terms of modern books of these tales. Where Gaiman bests the D'Aulaires is in his inclusion of some of the more off-kilter details of the stories and the worlds of the gods and giants (such as bad poetry coming from the fart of an eagle), but also, Gaiman's is a brief book, and so huge swaths of the mythology familiar to me from Colum are sadly missing here. Men, even Sigurd, do not figure into Gaiman's telling.

One of the joys of Norse myths is that not only does it have a beginning, like all mythologies, but it has an end in Ragnarok. Gaiman tells these tales with a focus on Loki, who will bring about Ragnarok. Thor is well represented, as his stories are probably the most fun (those, for instance, are the ones I told my kids), but I felt Odin got a bit of short shrift, or at least we spent too little time with him. Any god who conceives of sacrificing himself to himself for wisdom and understanding is someone I want to know more about, but I felt like much of the deception in these stories, and the reneging on vows and promises, probably would have weighed quite heavily on such an individual, and I thought it was an avenue that wanted more exploring. Frankly, despite Gaiman's tremendous efforts at shaping the arc of the mythos and zeroing in on a few core characters, there is yet something in these stories themselves that keeps them at an emotional arm's length, and I'm not sure it can be overcome. When Thor simply kills all the giants in a kingdom, any modern sensibility would abhor such a thing, so too the ways in which Freya is continually being offered up to marry monsters to satisfy a debt, but these things are simply baked into a group of tales that were first told over a thousand years ago.

Nevertheless, Gaiman is a wonderful storyteller, and these stories are wonderfully told. The book is tremendous fun, the way you'd expect Neil Gaiman's tellings of Norse Mythology would be. If this is your first spin through Asgard, or if you haven't been there in a while outside of Marvel movies, I recommend the book.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for carefully shaping what are inherently non-chronological stories into something like an arc leading up to Ragnarok

Penalties: -1 for the dissonance between a fresh, modern telling of tales that include so much that is alien to modernity. One thing about those dry, scholarly re-tellings is it makes it easier to locate baked-in attitudes about gender, the value of human life, and similar things firmly in antiquity.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10, well worth your time and attention. More about our scoring system here.

Reference: Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology [W.W. Norton & Company, 2017]

Posted by Vance K — co-editor and cult film reviewer for nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012, musician, and Emmy-winning producer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Microreview [book]: The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott

Like Watching Paint Dry, But Better


Here's the truth about military service: it's boring. You do the same things over and over for preparedness. It's incestuous. All the same people run in the same circles and when you're ready to get out, there's no shortage of defense contractors ready to pay you more to do the same thing you used to do. And it's extremely political. Not in the red versus blue way, in the make friends and do favors to get things done way, regardless of how things should work. All of this amplified by at least a factor of five when you're deployed. The Fortress at the End of Time gets all of this right.

Ronaldo Aldo attends a war college to be an astronavigator to improve his lot in life. However, his duty assignment is an outpost at the farthest reaches of humanity called Citadel. And he doesn't have go, but his clone does. His body will be scanned and transmitted, and reconstructed at Citadel, all memories intact and no way to escape. You see the only way out of this dead end assignment is to do so well he can transcend and get another clone sent somewhere better, get himself discharged to the colony below, or die. The story's told from the past tense, and from the perspective of Aldo confessing to a terrible sin, so you can tell it's going only one of two ways.

I can't find any indication that McDermott has served, but he clearly gets what military service is like. It grinds people down, just as it does Aldo and the other service members aboard Citadel station. They're all on a career-long deployment to the most boring and poorly supported space station in the galaxy. Having spent some time myself in places that felt like the edge of the world, McDermott accurately portrays the life of people who are going slowly insane of boredom. They're constantly polishing floors, trying not to kill themselves, having the same arguments, and picking each other apart at any opportunity. It's awful in real life, and it's doesn't make for a particularly exciting read, but isn't that the point? It's all building to answer the question of what Aldo did to warrant this extended time with a confessor.

This boredom cuts two ways though. I spent most of the time wondering where in the world this story was going. And the end is unlikely to blow anyone away. However, if you make it to the end, it comes together in a way that's unexpected. It's the kind of novel that I like more the farther away I get from it. It not only does the military stuff well, but it asks some difficult questions about the fairness of being a clone of somebody with memories of a world you'll never see, and no hope of improving your situation personally. It reads like a running train of thought, but it goes some places.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 painfully accurate portrayal of the most boring parts of military life

Penalties: -1 You've got to stick through it and it's going to try your patience to get anything resembling a payoff.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 (an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws)

***

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

Reference: McDermott, Joe M. The Fortress at the End of Time [Tor, 2017] 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Microreview [TV]: The Expanse

The rare adaption that outshines its source.


SyFy’s The Expanse is arguably the best show on television right now. It’s at least the best science fiction show in quite some time. It is an action packed and nuanced space opera with phenomenal acting and character profiles that has viewers glued to the TV every week. Best of all, it does all of this despite the source material. That is not to say that the book series isn’t good, it is a fun read but is at times rather problematic. The G nicely points out the main problems with the first book in the series in his Leviathan Wakes review, so I won’t reiterate. But the show overcomes many of these issues leading to one of the best on-screen adaptations to date.

Here are some of the areas where SyFy’s The Expanse succeeds as a great on-screen adaption of a series:

1) The Characters: I can’t agree with The G more that one of the major weaknesses of Leviathan Wakes is the characters. This is not entirely surprising to me as I’ve had issues with Abraham's characters before and stopped reading Dagger & Coin because of it. However, the characters are, to me, what makes the show so great. Where author James S.A. Corey gave us meek but supposedly intelligent (I say supposedly because we never really see evidence of it) Naomi, SyFy gave us bad ass, commanding, OPA-involved Nagata. Amos, who is my all time favorite character in the show, comes off as a bloated meat head stereotype in the book, but SyFy and actor Wes Chatham transform him into a multidimensional figure who is fierce and loyal and whose background is seeping out little by little each episode.


Book Holden is almost frustratingly naïve and a horrible captain, but not in that ‘I’m supposed to be a horrible captain because its part of my character arc’ sort of way – he just plain sucks as a captain. In Leviathan Wakes he is constantly buzfeeding raw information across the universe because he thinks that people should know everything that’s going on before even he has a chance to process it. TV Holden still releases sensitive information (once) and does so as a failsafe before he is captured by the Martians. SyFy gave him a believable reason to do this. Thank you SyFy. Even Alex, the swashbuckling pilot who exists solely to fly the ship in the book becomes layered and sympathetic in the show.

Finally, there is Miller. The G states that Miller is just your standard run-of-the-mill grizzled veteran cop, which is true. This is not lost in the show. In fact, Miller was my least favorite show character the first time I watched it, precisely for this reason. I felt that being so one-dimensional he didn’t at all fit with the rest of the cast of characters. The funny thing is though, that Miller turned out to be my favorite character in the book, because in bookverse, the other characters are less dimensional than even he. Oh, and lets not forget Jared Harris as Andersen Dawes. Dawes is a character that gets fleeting mention in Leviathan Wakes, but nearly outshines everyone in the show.

2) The plot: Like any good adaption, The Expanse inserts or ups the drama at times, but somehow (/s) figures out a way to do it without boobs or rape. For example, in the book the survivors of the Canterbury route their shuttle to a Martian ship, a journey that takes many days – whereas in the show they are captured by this ship, prompting Holden to release a statement that Mars may have been behind the attack on the Cant and if Mars kills them then there is your proof - in a sense securing the safety of him and his crew. There was also the decision to overlap Avasarala and Earth politics from Book 2 with the goings on from Book 1, which enables the viewer to better understand what is happening throughout the universe at the time.

3) Pacing. Last but not least, a major nod has to be given to whoever decided on the structure and pacing of the first season. I watched the show first and it blew me away when I read the book to discover that the first season only covers half of the first book. Almost always in adaptions (in fact, I can’t think of an occasion when not), each season corresponds to a book. Often times this results in details or arcs being left out or modified, and usually not for the better (coughgameofthronescough). The brilliant soul who thought ‘you know what, I see a clear beginning, middle, and end here with Eros’ deserves an Emmy. Because not only do you get to keep the integrity of the source material, you don’t have to make shit up (coughgameofthronescough) to keep the story line going through multiple seasons. Bravo.

Overall, The Expanse is an exercise in how to properly adapt a book to screen. It is by far my favorite show on air and I’m excited to see if they can keep it up (looking good so far). Despite how it may sound, I do actually like the books. Perhaps this is because I can infuse the better TV characters over poorer book ones when warranted, but as I continue along reading, the books seem promising.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for Nagata, +1 for pacing and structure, +1 for Avasalara's wardrobe

Negatives: -1 for the slow start

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 - very high quality/standout in its category