Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Morning Superhero: My SDCC Schedule

After another amazing Hop Con at the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Station, it is time to get down to business for another exciting four days at San Diego Comic Con.  Here is my tentative schedule that is subject to massive amounts of change due to long lines and unforeseen circumstances.  Without further ado!

Thursday, July 20:
10:30am- 24ABC – Crash Bandicoot Then and Now
My family has been enjoying the new Crash Bandicoot collection on the PS4 and any insider information I can get I will happily take. Panelists include employees from Vicarious Visions, Naughty Dog, and Dark Horse.  Should be a fun way to kick-off my trip. 

11:15am- 6A – Unikitty! New Episode Premiere and Q&A
When I heard that Unikitty was getting her own television show on Cartoon Network I was very excited as was my family.  It is interesting as I approach 40 my trips to conventions focus on what I can provide for my family.  In this case it is LEGOs!!!

1pm – 7AB – Mondo Mania
As an Austin resident, I would be remiss if I didn't catch what I think is Mondo's first SDCC panel. I will admit that I am most excited to hear from artist Tom Whalen, as some of his prints are hanging in my house. Mondo gets bigger and bigger every year and I am excited to learn about what is in store for the future.

2:30pm – Ballroom 20 – SYFY: Battlestar Galactica Reunion
This is going to be one of the harder panels to make it into, but it features a good collection of the show's creators and actors.  If I make it to this panel I promise not to ask about the ending of the series and will instead focus on how amazing this series was up to that point.

3:15pm – Hall H – Netflix Films: Bright and Death Note
I will admit that I am not familiar with Bright, but am instead primarily interested in seeing what is in store for the new Death Note movie.  I really enjoyed the manga, but have yet to find an adaptation of the series that does it justice.  Not that the anime or live action movies were that bad, but it is hard to capture the nuance of the graphic novel.  That and L and Ryuk don't transfer well to the screen.

Friday, July 21:
12:00pm – 7AB – Lucasflim Publishing: New Star Wars Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away...
There have been some truly amazing novel adaptations set in the Star Wars Universe, and learning that I can get some insight on Cullen Bunn's Darth Maul tale is more than enough to get me to park my rear end in Room 7AB with some fellow nerds.

1:00pm – 23ABC – Drawing the Sword: Gabriel Rodriguez
This is my first must see panel of SDCC.  While I really want to check out many of the others I have listed, the opportunity to hear from Gabriel Rodriguez is an experience I can't recommend enough.  I had the good fortune to hear him and Joe Hill talk Locke and Key in the past, and hope to learn about Gabe's new endeavor.

3pm - Conan
My offsite adventures begin with a taping of Conan (assuming all works well with tickets, etc.) and I am very excited to attend what will be my third Conan show.  While I am truly in it for Andy Richter, Conan's SDCC shows are tailor made for the type of people who would brave crowds to watch trailers early and hear comic book creators speak.

6:45pm - Funko Fundays
The night is going to get pretty crazy as I attend my fourth consecutive Fundays.  It is a night of food, drink, toys, and entertainment in the name of small plastic bobbleheads.  I absolutely love this event and look forward to it every year.

Saturday, July 22:
The bulk of Saturday's programming will depend on my ability to secure a wristband to Hall H. I have many back-ups (and will mention one!) for what is the day that will likely change the most.

11:30am – Hall H – Warner Bros. Pictures Presentation:
While this panel will feature clips from Justice League, Aquaman, and Bladerunner 2049, I am most intrigued at the prospect of seeing Steven Spielberg and a sneak peak of Ready Player One.  I loved the book and am very hopeful for its big screen translation.

3:00pm – Hall H – Netlix's Stranger Things:
I just finished watching this series again with my wife and am even more excited about the possibility of gaining any sort of insight on the upcoming season.

4:30pm – Horton – From Acclaimed Graphic Novel to Daring New Film: My Friend Dahmer:
I am extremely pumped about one of my favorite graphic novels getting adapted to the big screen.  I would not have ever imagined that this story about Jeffrey Dahmer would have ever seen the light beyond the comic book page, but Derf Backder's account of growing up with Dahmer is one of my all-time favorite books.  So happy to hear this story could gain a wider audience.

5:30pm – Hall H - Marvel Studios:
This is pretty self explanatory.  With the Infinity Wars and what not.

7:00pm - The Loyal Subjects Second Annual Fan Jam:
One of my favorite manufactured of vinyl nostalgia, TLS is celebrating with its fans in a friendly dinner filled with delicious food, cold drinks, and action vinyls!!! Was my surprise highlight of 2016.

Sunday, July 23:
10:30am – 6BCF – World Premiere of LEGO Scooby-Doo! Blowout Beach Bash:
This is the start of a very obvious theme involving interlocking bricks that you may notice.  My family and I might have a small bit of an obsession.  I am oddly enough excited that Matthew Lillard will be in attendance and lending his vocal talents to Shaggy.  I always thought he was one of the bright spots in the live action movies.

12:15pm – 6BCF – World Premiere of LEGO DC Super Hero Girls: Brain Drain;
Not sure I can handle back-to-back world premieres, but I will give it a whirl in order to impress my kids.  So happy to see that the DC Super Hero Girls are getting the LEGO treatment as I have quite enjoyed their adventures to this point.

2:00pm – Room 4 – Introducing Nickelodeon Splat Attack from IDW Games:
You had me at Nickelodeon and board games. 

3:00pm - 23ABC - Comic Con Talk Back:
There is nothing better than closing out a successful SDCC than hearing people voice their concerns about the event.  The moderators of this panel deserve awards for how gracious they are dealing with the feedback they are provided.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Summer Reading List 2017: brian

Harry Potter 1 - 7 by J.K. Rowling

This is the Summer of Harry Potter for me. I never read the books when they were new (I felt like I was a bit old for them at the time), and now I'm going back to see what I've missed. I'm reading each book consecutively, with the movies inserted as I finish each book. Definitely reading each of the canonical seven books, maybe adding on other Potterverse novels or media when I'm done. I'm excited about the Summer of Harry Potter because that world has been a big blank spot for me, and these novels mean a lot to people I know.

Well, that's it for my summer reading. Seven plus novels, that's about all I can handle if I even finish them before the end of the season. But it doesn't really fill out this post, so let's shift gears.

Summer Video Gaming List 2017

Tyranny by Obsidian Entertainment (developer)

This one is something I've kept an eye on for a while, but was recently encouraged to play sooner rather than later by a recommendation from our very own The G. I've played an awful lot of enormous CRPGs, and I don't think I've finished a single one, but Tyranny interests me for its developer, Obsidian, and its premise. It's a game world where the bad guys won. It's reportedly shorter than most CRPGs, which appeals to me because many of those other CRPGs I've never finished are because I lost interest before reaching the conclusion.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands by Ubisoft (developer)

I liked Tom Clancy's The Division, and Wildlands is kind of like The Division combined with Just Cause. It makes for a sort of uneven tone, because it's about the serious topic of taking down a drug cartel, but so far the cutscenes have been very Hollywood action movie. My initial assessment of the structure makes the game look enormous, so here's hoping it has enough variety in action to keep me playing.

Tacoma by Fullbright (developer)

As a long time Idle Thumbs fan, I simply cannot pass up a game that's a product of that group of people. I loved Gone Home and Firewatch, and I don't care what Tacoma ends up being. I'm going to play it. And I'm in luck because Tacoma combines a few things that I like a lot; strong narrative, environmental storytelling, and space!


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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hugo Awards 2017: My Final Ballot

Now that the deadline has passed and I have done all the Hugo reading and consuming that I am going to do this year, the final ballot I submitted is below.  The full list of nominees can be found here. I have provided links to my articles covering each category where available.

For reasons which should be fairly obvious, I declined to write about the finalists for Fanzine. Speaking specifically for myself, I am very happy that Nerds of a Feather was able to share a ballot with some really excellent and awesome fanzines who are showing off the breadth of what a fanzine can be and are doing so at a remarkably high level of quality. We continue to be over the moon about being a finalist for the Hugo Award. It's been a dream of ours for a long time and I'd like to refer everyone back to the initial Thank You note we shared when all of the finalists were announced.

Novel (my thoughts)
1. The Obelisk Gate
2. Ninefox Gambit
3. All the Birds in the Sky
4. A Closed and Common Orbit
5. Death's End
6. No Award

Novella (my thoughts)
1. Every Heart a Doorway
2. Penric and the Shaman
3. A Taste of Honey
4. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
5. The Ballad of Black Tom
6. This Census-Taker

Novelette (my thoughts)
1. "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay"
2. "The Art of Space Travel"
3. "The Tomato Thief"
4. "Touring with the Alien"
5. The Jewel and Her Lapidary
6. No Award

Short Story (my thoughts)
1. "That Game We Played During the War"
2. "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies"
3. "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers"
4. "Seasons of Glass and Iron"
5. "The City Born Great"
6. No Award

Related Work
1. The Geek Feminist Revolution
2. The Women of Harry Potter posts
3. Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016
4. The View From the Cheap Seats
5. The Princess Diarist

Graphic Story (my thoughts)
1. Paper Girls, Volume 1
2. Saga, Volume 6
3. Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous
4. Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet
5. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
6. The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (my thoughts)
1. Arrival
2. Stranger Things, Season One
3. Hidden Figures
4. Deadpool
5. Rogue One

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (my thoughts)
1. Game of Thrones: "The Door"
2. The Expanse: "Leviathan Wakes"
3. Splendor & Misery [album]
4. Game of Thrones: "Battle of the Bastards"

Editor, Short Form
-No Vote

Editor,  Long Form
1. Devi Pillai
2. Navah Wolfe
3. Miriam Weinberg
4. Liz Gorinsky
5. Sheila E. Gilbert
6. No Award

Professional Artist (my thoughts)
1. Victo Ngai
2. Galen Dara
3. John Picacio
4. Sana Takeda
5. Chris McGrath
6. Julie Dillon

-No Vote

1. nerds of a feather, flock together
2. SF Bluestocking
3. Lady Business
4. Rocket Stack Rank
5. Journey Planet
6. Castalia House Blog

Fancast (my thoughts)
1. Ditch Diggers
2. The Coode Street Podcast
3. Fangirl Happy Hour
4. Galactic Suburbia
5. Tea and Jeopardy
6. The Rageaholic

Fan Writer
1. Abigail Nussbaum
2. Foz Meadows
3. No Award

Fan Artist (my thoughts)
1. Likhain
2. Vesa Lehtimaki
3. Elizabeth Leggett
4. Spring Schoenhuth
5. No Award

1. The Expanse
2. The Vorkosigan Saga
3. The Craft Sequence
4. The Temeraire series
5. The October Daye Books
6. The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series

John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer
1. Malka Older
2. Laurie Penny
3. Sarah Gailey
4. Kelly Robson
5. Ada Palmer

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

Guest Post: Erin Horáková on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Please join us in welcoming Erin Horáková, who is here today to discuss the book/film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Erin is a southern American writer who lives in London. She's working towards her literature PhD, which focuses on how charm evolves over time. She blogs at Charmed Life. -G 

I stared at the Facebook message in horror. Had a uni friend truly linked me to the trailer for the (inevitable) film of the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on the assumption that I would be pumped about this? Had she, in her sweet innocence, failed to notice that I am a hideous snob put on this earth to roll my eyes at the ‘classic novel and SFnal creature’ book trend? WAS MY BRAND INVISIBLE? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the last film on earth I would ever be willing to watch.

But as Austen teaches us, no plan survives contact with one’s sisters. Meghan was born ten years after me because god thought that up until then I’d had it too easy. Twenty years later she sat sulking through our low-key Halloween celebrations, and I felt guilty for dragging her prematurely into my fogeyish idea of a hot night (I had a roast dinner and a full-length black mourning veil to lunge out at trick-or-treating children in—what more could be wanting?). She suggested we watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and apparently I am slightly more prone to guilt even than to pretentiousness, because I agreed to let that happen in my home.

It was better than I expected it would be, at least in some ways. The serious threat the zombies represent in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has given the Bennet sisters a bit more of a common cause, and the altered way they interact in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is winning. Matt Smith’s Mr Collins (the Bennet sisters’ obnoxious cousin and the heir to their family’s money) is a delight. The fact that Moffat Who pretty entirely spoiled Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor is honestly one of Moffat’s greatest blunders (and there are so many entries in contention for the title). As an actor, Smith (who has Jon Pertwee’s sense of comedic timing, and his somehow not at all conflicting capacity for gravitas) deserved so much better.

I’m quite charmed by the well-executed decision to make Lady Catherine (Darcy’s obnoxious aunt, who wishes she were in control of the whole of their family’s money, and could thus make people fall in line with her plans with greater alacrity) more friend than foe. In P&P&Z, she’s an epic swordswoman who’s lost an eye facing zombie hordes. It’s a Dickensian gesture: if Shakespeare is Dickens’ authorial dad, then Austen is his mom,* and he inherited her habit of paying attention to how economics play out in social dynamics and her enjoyment of absurd people. But he loves his grotesques, and half the time he can’t help himself from coming back around and bailing them out, dusting them off and offering them back up to the audience as reformed Goodies, to delight in as he does. The impulse to Save Lady Catherine because she is preposterous and thus fun is somewhat back-read from later audiences’ period-drama familiarity with him. I think Lady Catherine rehabilitations owe something to Copperfield’s Aunt Betsey, directly or in-.

[*Despite the irritating time (circa Nickleby, to Forster (because of course)) he claimed to have not yet read her. Austen’s Victorian popularity only jumped sharply in 1870, the year Dickens died, due to her nephew publishing a very popular biography of her.]

Austen herself could only really be said to evince this recuperative impulse in the case of the protagonist of Northanger Abbey, or possibly with the eponymous protagonist of her early novella, Lady Susan. But neither treatment works in quite the same Dickensian ‘spare your darlings’ way as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’s reformation. Nor is a desire to harness the formidable Lady C for the forces of good unique to this Pride and Prejudice adaptation. The loose but amazing 1940 Pride and Prejudice script by Aldous Huxley (yes, this actually happened, and no, no one can explain why—all the dry, factual ‘needed the money’ reasons in the world cannot amount to the Reason This Happened) similarly saves her, making her a cantankerous but wily, complicit matchmaker. Precedented or no, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ ‘you’ve heard of Lady Catherine?’ flash-away to the woman herself atop a pile of corpses is gold. Yeah we have, fam.

After an introductory scene in which Darcy attends a party and does his zombie-hunting job (but not quite well enough), and then everyone at said party dies in a zombie attack right after he leaves (more on this later), we come to a belated but well-done expository opener. Oh snap, it’s backstory conveyed via a toy theatre! Nineteenth-century toy theatres are amazing, and it’s great to see this period piece brought back as a staging mechanism! The illustrations are a bit pre-Punch and thus feel spot on, though I think of the device itself as more quintessentially mid- to late-Victorian, so it was slightly jarring for me in this context. But listen, almost nothing in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies makes a lick of period sense, so this is small beer.

Perhaps more importantly, this opener sets the zombie invasion in the context of empire. Britain’s growing imperial power is here phrased as ‘trade’, and the zombie plague is presented as something brought back via those exchanges. That renders this zombie epidemic almost a reboot of the 14th century Black Plague. There are, however, a couple of problems with this: we don’t get so much as a mention of what’s happening in Asia (if this plague even has the same initial vector—there are in-story reasons to suspect it doesn’t), or on the continent, etc. This is incredibly irritating, because this movie is global enough in scope that the absence of this information nags at me. These questions are relevant to the plot’s stakes and mechanics.

Second, it’s late in the game to describe the interactions by which this plague arrived with an ‘egalitarian trade’ model. By this point in history Britain was starting to go full East India Company, which was less ‘multicultural trading post’ and more ‘site of atrocities and hellish vision of the coming power of industrial capitalism’. The zombies are thus, implicitly, an ‘Empire Writes Back’ affair. Which would be fascinating, if we got into it, but we don’t really. Instead we get an odd Orientalism en passant: accomplished society women train to fight zombies in monasteries in Japan or China. They then, for Reasons Unknown, come home from these possibly safer (?) lands to this cursed plot, this upturned earth, this zombie-ridden realm, this England. Pretty clearly, regency ladies just know kung fu now because bitchin’.

‘Isn’t it cool though, for women in the past to just be kick ass in retellings?’ I don’t know, isn’t that kind of a shallow, awkwardly appropriative, unthreateningly lean-in White Feminism that doesn’t accidentally ignore wider social implications so much as have to ignore them because it’s a relentlessly anti-systematic, obfuscating placebo for real change?

There’s no real mention of what the men do in this regard, or why local fighting schools haven’t been established, or how this monastic training affects gender norms (or the women’s Anglicanism). You may think that’s a ridiculous ask, but we’re sitting here in an adaptation of a novel that is all about the psychology of social structures, which retains and relies on a lot of that novel’s tensions. Yet none of these new elements have been thought through and integrated into the network of questions from which the romantic energies of this adaptation’s plot are still derived.

The timeline and geography of this invasion are major plot points, and yet they make no sense. So the aristocrats holed up in London, built a big wall around the city, then trickled back out? The logistics of this elude me—they built it while under attack? From what direction, Portsmouth? But never mind. More importantly, a major metropolitan area was comparatively safe from a plague for the first time in history? What happened to the peasants outside this Attack on Titan wall? If the peasants died, who the hell made and is making food, and what the hell use is aristocratic money if grain production got wiped out? Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century called, it has some medieval realness to serve you about labour, class and rising wages after a ton of agricultural workers suddenly die.

I am baffled as to why the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ writer (I apologise if he was better here, but I doubt it: I’m not reading this book myself to find out for sure, y’all die on your swords if you feel like it) and/or the film team didn’t want to do the work to figure this stuff out. Isn’t that—the most interesting part? Of this process? Yes, it’s a one-joke gag book (that spawned a trend, made an obscene amount of money and generated a film adaptation, so whatever it started as: here we are!), but who could help themselves from sitting down and working out the alternate history consequences of Georgian England with Zombies? You could even retain the original plot pretty tightly—like, go do something else for an hour, come back, and I’ll have a plot outline for this. It’s not just not hard, it’s irresistible as a cursed gong in Charn, and yet this film does not ring that gong and I literally cannot understand why.

Georgette Heyer would have written a much more fun version of this book, I am just saying.

The world-building never quite works, and thus the ways it increasingly derails the plot of the original novel get weirder and worse as the film ramps up to its shaky, unsatisfying finale. Wickham was a zombie all along, because. He wanted to become Zombie King, which is a Thing, because. He still abducts Lydia, here unromantically, because. Some pretexts are given, but I will not insult you by relaying these. Everything with Dastardly Wickham and the Intelligent Zombies is poorly done (good band name, though).

The end sequence involves Darcy quasi-murdering a few hundred sentient zombies by reducing them to an animalistic state. These zombies were abstaining from consuming human brains in order to keep hold of their personalities and to prevent their full transformation. Darcy snuck some of the real deal into their communion wine (they’re clinging hard to religion in order to maintain their sense of humanity) to test their degree of control. They failed his test en masse.

There’s not much reason for Darcy’s doing this, and that’s—totally not moral, as well as being actively and pointlessly dangerous for himself and others? I mean, perhaps he was trying to get rid of these zombies’ sentience so that they couldn’t control other zombies, as they have some power to do, and harness the unintelligent zombie hordes as a killing force. But we don’t get much evidence that this whole community (including half-zombified children) had any intention of doing that. It’s not even a threat the protagonists lay out as a motivation. It seems like the story’s Evil Plan might just have been Zombie Wickham’s gig. In which case, even in this pacey action film, murdering a parish should have given Darcy some pause, even if it was for the greater good. His transition from landowner to military man has made him, if anything, less conscious of his responsibilities towards others: a dangerous way of thinking about power and violence. And responsibility towards others was always Darcy’s lynchpin as a character—the thing he had from the beginning that constituted his inner core of decency, the thing he failed to demonstrate among strangers, and the thing he reaffirms his commitment to and enlarges his definition of in order to emerge from the novel as a more mature person and ‘win’ his plot objectives/become a man Elizabeth can love.

While the new plot doesn’t cohere, the adaptation also puts a great strain on the original romance. Underlyingly, Darcy and Elizabeth are no longer mistaken about certain aspects of how to view the world and in need of learning and growth, both in themselves and towards one another. P&P&Z is like a version of North and South where Thornton just moves to the City and starts stock trading, and Margaret’s down for it. The fundamentals of Pride and Prejudice-ness are out of joint. Given the gravity of the external threats, the misunderstandings in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies don’t quite have the space to blossom into a vast Sleeping Beauty thorn-barrier of awkwardness that the characters nonetheless manage to overcome, as per the original. The adaptation’s plot doesn’t take advantage of its new structure to build in good replacements for these lost components. You know what’s a really good model for adapting Pride and Prejudice to a structure with additional external conflicts, especially if you’re already drawing on the mid-century work of Dickens and Friends? Especially given the over-abundant critical comparisons between zombies and the poor? It’s Elizabeth Gaskell’s regional novel/industrial action thinkpiece/romance, North and South. To be shallower, in part Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' romance also plops wetly on the ground like the flesh a zombie tears through and discards in its relentless quest for brains because this Darcy is so shite and charmless, and has two, three facial expressions tops. A static picture of Colin Firth in the 1997 adaptation, with some new dialogue read over it like a visual novel, would have been more emotive.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' well-paced and not insultingly bad, exactly, but the romantic structure’s collapse is indicative of how, in general, the adaptation is pretty insipid. Take our opening voiceover. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Never was this truth more plain than in the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which an entire household was slaughtered by a horde of the living dead during a whist party.” That’s gone from a cute observation to just—a statement, and the follow up line just makes me angry, because it is so bad. How is this so bad? It’s because the writer never actually understood the prose of Austen’s novel and what it was doing, at a basic, functional level. This is some tin-ear, ‘never read a period novel in my life’ bad steampunk business. Why do people do this?

Oh they’re literally fighting during Darcy’s first bungled proposal. Because they’ve got like, animosity. They’re fighting, now. With kung fu. Like Kung Fu Hustle, but with a very limited sense of humour. I get it. The lighting is that Twilight ‘blue tights over the lens’ affair that makes things look Serious and Grim and Like There’s About To Be A Tornado in The Total Absence Of Appropriate Weather Conditions For That.

This Mr Bennet is super concerned with risks to his daughters’ lives, which, fair, but I’m not sure why he’s suddenly so woke to this given that Mr Bennet’s being too philosophical and go-with-the-flow is the whole problem of his character. It’s his entire personality in the original novel, and the driving engine behind his attitude towards the family’s problematic inheritance situation and his inattentiveness regarding Lydia, which endangers all his daughters and sees Lydia (whether she immediately understands it or not) screwed forever. Mrs Bennet was in some ways right: it really is fucking imperative to get all these daughters married off, and the plot absolutely rescues this family in Lydia’s deliverance and in Jane and Elizabeth’s unlikely good marriages. So why, even in the adversity of a zombie attack, given that the family always had serious problems their patriarch refused to deal with, would Mr Bennet be characterised by vigilance—more so than many of his contemporaries? He’s not an idiot (though most of the people in this film seem to be, playing fast and loose with established zombie protocol despite recurring evidence of the threat (curiously no one we see is grieving or traumatised in the wake of these events, which helps the plot zip along but neutralises audience investment in the threat)), but that’s so not him.

The feebleness of the adaptation is my whole issue with this book trend. This? Is a garden variety fanfic idea. Everyone has written a Pride and Prejudice fusion. I’m not even implicating myself as an eater of sour grapes to say that I have, because your nan’s written one at this point. And a lot of them are better than this. It’s a matter of preserving plot energies, or replacing them with something with at least equal weight—shifting the structure to accommodate your changes. And this? Is but a meh execution, a fumbled telling of a tale as old as time. I could have more fun perusing Derbyshire Writer’s Guild than paying to see this film. I have done, many a time. Only this fic’s by a boy, and done for profit. You can even win a Nobel for mediocre fanfic, provided you’re ‘giving under-served minorities voices in the canon’ as a white male, working in a female-developed medium, recycling its strategies (I am never over how much I hate the reception of Coetzee’s Foe—I know the Nobel is really more of a collective lifetime achievement award than For A Given Book, but Coetzee’s Foe-based acceptance speech strongly associates Foe with this recognition). If you’re Updike, Gertrude and Claudius sells decently. If you’re Shakespeare’s Sister, as it were, you’re off on an lj com, probably this_england or shakespearekink. (Yes, still—Tumblr hasn’t necessarily been great for Shakespeare or many other non-mega fandoms.)

It’s just such a common and depressing occurrence. Very little about these assignments of recognition and reward are about differences in how good the people involved are. I don’t begrudge the P&P&Z guy his money, exactly, but I do want it understood that the confidence to approach a press agent with this, that agent’s acceptance of the idea, the marketing and its success are all gendered as hell, and that this book and film are a weak joke, feebly delivered.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Amateur Hour, if you read it as fanfic. It doesn’t work as horror. I was never scared, either in the moment (and I am easy for a jump scare) or more conceptually and substantively. It’s mediocre, considered as action. It doesn’t work as romance. It’s a bit more fun as science fiction, though the premise is ludicrously under-explored and the plot, as it comes to us, is jumpy as a jackrabbit. The zombie comedy vein (which includes titles such as Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, etc.) has been mined more professionally. Same for parody, really. It is, to the best examples of the zombie story in all its guises, as solitary Old Man Jenkins the gold-panner with his farmed out claim is to industrial mining operations. Occasionally Old Man Jenkins turns up a nugget, but by and large he spends his days chafed by howling winds that seem to embody his regret for all the mistakes he’s made in his life, all the choices that led him here, to this. He will die alone, and no one in five years’ time will ever turn to anyone else and say, ‘hey, want to watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?’

Monday, July 17, 2017

Remembering George A. Romero and Martin Landau

Yesterday hit us with a double whammy: we lost both Martin Landau and George Romero. Fun fact: Martin Landau played "Leonard," the henchman to James Mason's "Vandamm" in North by Northwest, and a young George Romero worked as as a gofer or production assistant on that film. I don't know that their professional lives ever crossed again, but I wanted to take a minute to say thank you and celebrate these two artists, both of whom had a profound effect on me, personally, and on countless others.

I heard about George Romero's passing first, so let's talk zombies. It's hard to imagine a time in pop culture without zombies, but it wasn't that long ago. Richard Matheson, whose excellent novel I Am Legend has been made into movies several times, none of which particularly pleased him, felt that the best adaptation of his book was an unofficial one — Night of the Living Dead. I think Matheson's claims were a little overblown, but one thing both writer and filmmaker had in common were the focus on and exploration of humans making destructive decisions in the face of constant assault by the murderous victims of the...plage, or cosmic rays, or whatever. The great innovations of Night of the Living Dead that make it totally distinct from I Am Legend are the mindlessness of the zombies — they are unthinking, unfeeling forces of malevolence that cannot be reasoned with, spoken to, dissuaded, or deterred — and the realization that you may bar the door, but when you look around at the people in the house with you, you've just locked yourself in with monsters, too.

As an independent filmmaker and low-budget director, I certainly have my heroes like Roger Corman, but it's mostly individual movies that stand out to me as brilliant, innovative, creative battles fought against a paucity of resources and in which the filmmakers managed to make something enduring. Night of the Living Dead is one of those movies. I have raved to many people about the scene where Ben nails boards over the doors and windows. It's a loooong scene, and all you see is a guy hammering nails into boards. It's visually boring. It breaks the "show, don't tell" rule that every film professor and directing book ever has held up as a mantra. But when you have zero dollars, sometimes you don't have the luxury of "showing." What Romero did is not only brilliant and inexpensive, but it is far, far more effective than the alternative you've seen a million times since, where you watch ranks of shambling zombies closing in. He plays the radio in the background. That's it. The unfolding news reports ratchet the dread up, and up, and up. Night of the Living Dead is masterful filmmaking. Romero was also on record as saying he drew inspiration from Carnival of Souls one of my favorite films, so he'd have a warm, fuzzy place in my heart just for that.

An editor friend of mine also pointed out that Romero not only created the template for zombies that has now arguably reached its zenith, but he also created a template for independent filmmakers. Romero worked making commercials and even Mister Rogers segments to make his own films on his own time. This is how we all roll these days, but it was new stuff in 1968.

Most of the remembrances and obits I've seen or heard on Martin Landau say "best known for the 1960s TV series Mission: Impossible," and that may well be, though I've never seen it. As a young actor, Martin Landau was absolutely chilling. Watch him in the Twilight Zone episode "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." I've already mentioned his role in North by Northwest, which prompted one of my favorite Hitchcock stories. As Landau told it, he was nervous working on the movie — it was his first film, for God's sake! — and particularly nervous because he had decided to play Leonard as a gay man. So there he is on set, playing his scenes having made this huge (especially in 1958) choice, and Hitchcock isn't even talking to him...just not acknowledging him in any way. So finally Landau approaches Hitchcock and asks if there's anything he needs to change, or any notes, and Hitchcock says (please read in your best, however terrible, Alfred Hitchcock voice), "Martin, when you're doing something I don't like, I'll tell you."

But the thing that puts Martin Landau on my own personal Mount Rushmore is his protrayal of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. It would probably be hard to overstate the impact that movie had on me. I'd been interested in old horror movies from a very young age. I remember the local TV station (there was only one...ABC, NBC, CBS, and local Channel 20) showing tinted prints of Frankenstein and Dracula, as they were sometimes shown on their initial theatrical releases when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, and I was transfixed. But until I got into high school and was able to hit video stores on my own, there wasn't a ton of access to old horror or sci-fi movies. The Million Dollar Movie was often a spaghetti western or action movie, and we didn't have anything like Vampira or Elvira's late-night shows featuring those old public domain movies. It just so happened that Ed Wood came out my first year in high school, and White Zombie's La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 came to national prominence within the same few months. The profundity of Martin Landau's performance as Bela Lugosi, introducing me to a performer's previously unknown second act hit me at the same time as an album full of samples taken from Night of the Living Dead, Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, and the Boris Karloff The Mummy. Those two things helped cement in me a fascination with B-movies, independent film, outsider cinema, name it. Ed Wood remains the greatest movie about movies ever made. Don't even talk to me about The Player. I don't give a damn about your Wellesian long-take at the beginning of your movie if you don't have Martin Landau-as-Bela Lugosi in a puddle of water flopping around the arms of a rubber octopus as he pretends its killing him.

It would probably be wrong to not mention Landau in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which the avuncular, mild-mannered personality we had sort of come to expect from Martin Landau masked the awful, vengeful aspect that he also had inside as a performer, on display back in those early Twilight Zone episodes. But his Bela Lugosi is everything. I have been directing films and videos for almost twenty years now. I guarantee that on more of those shoots than not, either I or somebody else in the cast or crew has said either, "Let's shoot this fucker!" or, "Bullshit! I'm ready now!" Many are the times during our annual October horror-a-thons my wife or I have looked at each other and said, "Karloff? Sidekick? FUCK YOU!!!"

One of those October viewing parties gave rise to the EP I released a few years ago called October, where I wrote a song inspired by Ed Wood. No other song on the album was inspired by any film more recent than 1963. As good as Johnny Depp is as Edward D. Wood, Jr., it is Landau who has always spoken the most clearly to me in that film. And on the EP, I sequenced it (of course) right after "Dracula, 1931."

Both of these men had long lives, and left tremendous bodies of work behind. I feel their loss, but mainly, I celebrate all that they gave as artists. It's one thing to be able to enjoy stuff like The Walking Dead that owes so much to Romero, or to be able to enjoy the many, excellent performances Martin Landau gave over his long, long career in front of the camera. But these two guys had a material impact on the course of my life, and I'm just so, so grateful that they were willing to stand up on the side of outsiders and weirdos and iconoclasts and help show a way forward for more of them.

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

6 Books With David Williams

Photo Credit: Joseph LeBlanc

David Williams is currently a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He serves a little church in a little town just outside of Washington, DC. David has driven forklifts, vanloads of Salvation Army bellringers, and taxis. He’s taught games of skill and chance in Colonial Williamsburg, and managed a research grantmaking program at the Aspen Institute. 

While juggling work, marriage, post-graduate education, and being the shuttle-driver-dad for his children, David still managed to publish articles and stories in outlets as wildly disparate as OMNI, The Christian Century, and Wired. He likes his motorcycles dirty, his coffee strong, and his beers hoppy. David blogs at and lives in Annandale, Virginia, with his wife and sons. When the English Fall is his debut novel. 

Today he shares his 6 books with us....

1. What book are you currently reading?

Right now? I'm reading the wonderfully titled OLD FILTH, by Jane Gardam. I read books at semi-random, wildly and wantonly and across genres. I find them either wandering the shelves of my local library until something catches my eye is the case with this one, checking the "librarian recommended" shelf. Human recommendations are so much better and mind-expanding than our current pestilent reliance on algorithms. I'm almost finished, and it's been generally engaging, an elegantly written story of an aging British lawyer with a...complex...history.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

Hmmm. I'm so busy catching up on stuff that I barely have time to consider what's around the bend. I really enjoyed N.K. Jemisen's brilliant and justly lauded THE FIFTH SEASON, and will love reading her soon-to-be-released THE STONE SKY...but I haven't gotten around to THE OBELISK GATE yet. So many books, so little time. I'm also looking forward to Dan Rather's WHAT UNITES US, because as fun as it is escaping reality into realms of our own creation, sometimes you've got to bear down and deal with the mess we've got ourselves into.

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

I'm a Presbyterian pastor, and am teaching a class on THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS at my tiny little small-town church this fall. Man, am I eager to re-re-read that book. It's just such a delicious and perfectly executed conceit, and gets right to the heart of what matters in my faith. Faintly subversive, more than a little mischievous, and subtle. I might also listen to the audiobook with John Cleese as Screwtape, because, well, John Cleese.

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

How about both? I tried, a few years back, to get back into Asimov's Foundation Saga, which I loved as a tween. Lord, but those didn't work for me anymore. I'd long since moved on to a diet of harder and speculative sci fi (Ian M. Banks/ Vernor Vinge/ Neal Stephenson) and Asimov just felt stilted. Old, even. That, and the gender dynamics were stale. It was so disappointing. On the positive side, I'd never been interested in the Little House books as a kid. Maybe it was that 1970s Michael Landon series, which always bored the heck out of me, or perhaps it was that I was a boy who foolishly thought they were "girl books." I read them aloud to my sons and my wife for storytime when the guys were little, and man. Those are amazing, amazing books. Raw and graceful, real and powerful.

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

The first novel I ever read by myself was THE LION, THE WITCH, and the WARDROBE. I was five, and had been taught to read by my mom, who Georgetown-trained linguist. We lived in Kenya in the early 1970s, so there was no TV to speak of, nothing to do but read. Which I did. I don't so much remember reading about Narnia as being *in* Narnia. I can still kind of remember it, the crunch of snow underfoot, the taste of Turkish Delight on my lips. It taught me that words are deep magic, one that can cast a reality around us. That, as a level eight cleric, is something I most definitely aspire to.

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

Latest? Heh. My "latest book" is my debut novel, WHEN THE ENGLISH FALL. I'd originally self-pubbed it back in 2013, and seriously lucked into getting a great publisher to pick it up.

It's "postapocalyptic Amish fiction," which is a...cough...relatively small genre. The premise is that there's been this massive coronal mass ejection, an immense solar storm, which blows out the majority of our electronics. We "English," as the Amish call us, are mortally crippled, but they? They aren't impacted. Not at first, not until desperate, starving, armed people from failing urban areas start encroaching on their communities.

Told through the journals of an Amishman in Lancaster county, it's a meditation on nonviolence, personal and collective integrity, and the artificial boundaries human beings create between one another. I'm hoping others enjoy it, and that it stirs thoughtful conversations.

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

Watching the Hugos: Dramatic Presentation, Long and Short Form

Welcome back to our ongoing series of Watching the Hugos: 2017 Edition! This is the last post we will be running before the voting deadline and unless I am very wrong about how to convert Helsinki time to that of Minnesota, this post will be going live just a couple of hours before voting closes. Also, unless we run a post on the Related Work finalists on Monday afternoon, this may also be the last post in the series before I share my full ballot.

A brief word about the finalists: I was not able to watch Ghostbusters in time to consider it for my ballot. I'm sure it is a delightful movie and I very much look forward to watching it as soon as I can, but my movie watching time has been extremely limited. Likewise, I missed out on the "San Junipero" episode of Black Mirror and if I had one more week I would have gotten to it. Much of my television time was spent pushing through Stranger Things with my wife. I also did not have (or take) the opportunity to search for Doctor Who's "The Return of of Doctor Mysterio" and my cable package does not have BBC America.

Let's take a brief look at who the finalists are and then we'll get to talking about them.

Finalists for Long Form
Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve
Deadpool, screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Mille
Ghostbusters, screenplay by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig, directed by Paul Feig
Hidden Figures, screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi
Rogue One, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards
Stranger Things, Season One, created by the Duffer Brothers

Finalists for Short Form
Black Mirror: “San Junipero”, written by Charlie Brooker, directed by Owen Harris
Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Ed Bazalgette
The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough
Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”, written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, directed by Miguel Sapochnik
Game of Thrones: “The Door”, written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, directed by Jack Bende
Splendor & Misery [album], by Clipping

Rogue One: It feels very weird ranking a Star Wars movie this far down a ballot, and it is no fault of Rogue One. This is just a very strong ballot and as much as I loved Rogue One for being a well told mostly ground level story of rebellion set just before A New Hope, the other movies (and show) are just subjectively better. I loved the use of Darth Vader in this movie. It got across just how menacing he was, especially in the film's penultimate scene. As important as The Force Awakens was for refreshing the idea that a new Star Wars movie could be good as the original trilogy and to revitalize the film franchise, Rogue One was equally as important to tell a different kind of Star Wars story - the kind that was only being told in the novel but never on screen.

Deadpool: The merc with the mouth. Deadpool. This is a send up of super heroes movies while also being completely faithful to the tone and spirit of the comic and character. Deadpool is a fourth wall breaking, foul mouthed mercenary out for a spot of revenge. As a Marvel movie, Deadpool is completely refreshing and completely delightful. Ryan Reynolds is spot on in this role.

Hidden Figures: I initially struggled with where to place Hidden Figures on my ballot. It was a very good movie, but I saw it long enough ago while I recognized that it was good, I didn't remember just how much. Then, I watched it again and oh, yeah, it's absolutely fantastic. This story of the women we don't see, don't talk about, and so often don't put on the screen, is a straight up excellent movie. Hidden Figures is focused primarily on three women: Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan. Each were trailblazers at NASA, though the movie has to condense the timelines to allow those particular stories to intersect quite in the ways they did. But the overall truth of the movie, of the truly historical figures we've allowed to be hidden for far too long, that truth rings true and it rings strong and it coalesces in a standout movie.

Stranger Things, Season One: Stranger Things reminds me a little bit of Super 8, in that had this show come out when I was somewhere between the ages of twelve to fifteen, it would have been my Goonies. Kids exploring a great supernatural mystery is absolutely one of the great things about film and television and it would have hooked me even harder on genre than I already was. Stranger Things is scarier than Super 8 (for which the Goonies comparison is quite a bit stronger), but now as a 38 year old I was still able to love and appreciate Stranger Things for what it is - a damn fantastic show. I also hope my son has Dungeons and Dragons playing friends like the boys of Stranger Things.

Arrival: There has never been a question for me where Arrival would rank on my Hugo ballot. It was my favorite movie of 2016 and nothing else comes close. Amy Adams is perfect the perfect lead for this story of first contact and attempted communication with an alien race. Arrival is smart science fiction and smart movie making. 

My Ballot for Long Form
1. Arrival
2. Stranger Things
3. Hidden Figures
4. Deadpool
5. Rogue One

Short Form has been a bit of a fight for me. I missed out on watching two of the finalists, and it has been very difficult to get a handle on Clipping's album Splendor & Misery. Splendor & Misery is like nothing I've heard before. It's a hip hop space opera, and in the Pitchfork review of the album the reviewer mentions the band describes the album as following "the sole survivor of a slave uprising on an interstellar cargo ship, and the onboard computer that falls in love with him,", which is one hell of a story to process. I've listened to it several times now and it's an impressive work, but I just don't know how I feel about it, especially in comparison to scripted television, which is what every other finalist in this category is.

"The Door", from Season 6 of Game of Thrones, is most notable for telling the origin story of Hodor and, in turn, the heartbreaking conclusion of Hodor. "Battle of the Bastards", on the other hand, is notable for having the battle of Winterfell and the horrific end of Ramsay Bolton (which was well earned by the evil cruelty he perpetuated on anyone who crossed him). Compared to "The Door", "Battle of the Bastards" doesn't quite live up to the same sort of emotional resonance, but perhaps that is the difference between the pain of losing a semi-beloved character and the uncomfortable catharsis of the death of a horrible person.

This puts The Expanse in an interesting position because the strength of the show is on how it coalesces into a whole that it is greater than any individual episode. "Leviathan Wakes" may be one of the best episodes of the first season, but in many ways it is standing in for the season as a whole. In the end, this is what I came up with for ranking the ballot. I suspect that watching the Black Mirror episode might have significantly changed the ballot, but alas.

My Ballot for Short Form
1. Game of Thrones: The Door
2. The Expanse: Leviathan Wakes
3. Splendor & Misery
4. Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards

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