Friday, July 29, 2016

Microreview [book]: Infomocracy by Malka Older

 An election cycle full of corruption, fear-mongering, violence, and misinformation. Wait, this isn't nonfiction?

Elections. I can imagine almost no better fodder for a sort of dystopian nightmare, especially given the current state of politics in the U.S. And yet to call this book dystopian is, in my mind, to completely misunderstand it. There's a heavy vein of corruption present in the world that is revealed through the pages of the novel, yes. And there is an at-times gritty, cyberpunkish feel to the way that borders change and information (and Information) is used, controlled, and produced. There is prejudice and there is violence. But in many ways, to me, this setting is something much closer to a utopian vision, a world that believes in elections and the power of a single vote. A group of characters trying to create the best system they can, and even if they are unable to eradicate corruption, trying to contain and minimize its impact. And so given the state of politics in the U.S. and in some ways globally, this book could not have come at a better time, to provide a breath of life and hope into a situation that often feels hopeless.

The premise of the novel is instantly captivating, a world where geographical nations largely have been phased out. Where countries and even cities have been broken up into grids based on populations. Where voting is done electronically and globally, an enormous amount of political parties vying for the time and attention of the world. At stake: the Super Majority, a place of dominance and power for whichever party can achieve it. To mitigate the chaos and keep things fair and balanced: Information, a non-profit that exists solely to try and provide bias-free data and fact-checking to everyone everywhere. This is a world whose population is almost always connected to the net via implants and devices. Where Information can act as augmented reality, checking the veracity of spoken statements to billboards to net advertisements on the fly.

The novel structures itself around a few key players in the latest election cycle, only the third since the global experiment was initiated. And things aren't exactly going as planned. There are a great many political parties. There's choice. And yet the same corporate party has taken the Super Majority both elections, and looks poised to take another. The novel does an excellent job of showing the trouble with democracy, and even microdemocracy. The problems of incumbency and name recognition. Of funding and apathy. Of corruption and manipulation and outright tyranny. The characters are well chosen—a high-ranking agent of Information, a lower-level member of a policy-driven political party, and something of an anarchist. Each approach the election differently and each is drawn into the intrigue and action differently.

For all that the novel flits between a few different characters, though, it's Mishima, the Information operative, and Ken, doing groundwork for Policy1st, that become the main focus of the story. And through them I feel like the novel really examines the heart of the issue: trust. That they begin a sexual and then romantic relationship is well handled, but more powerful to me is how they do so without fully trusting each other. And how that dynamic pulls back to how people view and interact with politics and governance. Because, really, people have little reason to trust governments. Corruption has become such a part of politics as we know it that even in this imagined future where Information is prevalent and everyone votes it is not gone. And yet trust is vital to governing. Trust is vital to pretty much any non-abusive relationship. The story becomes about working through mistrust, misunderstanding, and misinformation, to come to a place where people can actually work together, can find joy and compassion and genuine optimism.

It's not an easy road. There are stabbings involved. There are plots to undermine the entire system by altering Information or bypassing it entirely. There are acts of terrorism, natural disasters, a slew of false starts and messed up Election Day shenanigans. The characters battle with spreadsheets and data as their weapons, as well as occasionally fists and guns. And it's not a single plot that needs to be foiled but rather a multitude of abuses that need to be prevented or minimized. The pacing is tight, the characters interesting and alive, and the world at stake. It is, in other words, a wild ride of a novel with a vivid imagination and an indomitable optimism in the power of people to do the right thing. I loved that Information here is a proactive force, bureaucratic and labyrinthine and yet able to do good and fight corruption, even within itself. Like Star Trek's Federation, it's not without flaws but is trying and, ultimately, able to make positive change by giving more power to everyone, trusting that the more people have a voice in governance the better it will be.

There were only a few places where I stumbled a little in reading through this novel. For all that it's fun and fast and politically minded, I did struggle a bit with Domaine, the man fighting against democracy. Not necessarily because I wasn't really sure what he really stood for, but because the novel spends much more time on Mishima and Ken. Like with politics, it does matter who gets more screen time, and Domaine's voice felt just a little lost to me in the sea of other voices. But I did enjoy how the novel worked in so many people, how it worked by showcasing that only with a diversity of voices can corrupting forces be defeated. Only by refusing the be isolated, only by reaching out, only by trying to trust, do the characters carry the day.

And really, this is a novel that sells the power and the hope of voting. In today's political landscape, it stands as a voice of hope among so many people feeling discouraged. It's a call to push for change. To stand against corruption. To fight for a better future. To be a global citizen. It crafts a driven narrative with a wonderfully complex climax and features a nicely balanced and diverse cast of characters. For those looking for a politically minded science fiction to make you believe in elections again, definitely find some time to read this one before November.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for that stiletto to the thigh (I think I laughed out loud which probably makes me a terrible person, but there we are), +1 for a nicely handled romantic subplot between Mishima and Ken

Negatives: -1 for perhaps not enough attention paid to Domaine 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 "well worth your time and consideration" see our full rating system here.

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

Reference: Older, Malka. Infomocracy [Tor, 2016]

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Microreview [book]: Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers

A pretty, empty throne

Serviceable. It's the most damning faint praise, but is it really all that bad? There are many worse things to be than "serviceable", but no one's going to celebrate it either. Behind the Throne is serviceable, but that shouldn't turn you off immediately. 

Behind the Throne follows Hail, an escaped princess. She's the heir to the Indranan empire, but she ran from her home planet to pursue her father's killer. She became a dangerous gunrunner, until she was apprehended by Trackers sent from Indrana. Her sisters have been killed, and her empress mother is ill, leaving her the most viable heiress. She quickly learns that being heir to the throne is just as dangerous as being a gunrunner, as she's beset upon by forces that want her power. 

There's nothing really wrong with Behind the Throne, but it's not particularly great either. I struggle to come up with particularly compelling reasons to recommend it, but its flaws are easy to ignore. Its characters are a little flat, and it abuses the word "gunrunner" from beginning to end, but it moves at a brisk pace and it's certainly not a bore. Hail and the Indranan empire are under lots of external and internal threats, which give the plot some life, but the political machinations never reach deep enough. I won't hesitate to say there's not a single shocking moment. 

Behind the Throne is pretty much a picture perfect summer read. It's not going to blow anyone's mind, but it'll take you for a little ride over 300 something page. It sets up a broader conflict for the inevitable sequel, but it isn't all that ambitious itself. Maybe with a wider scope and some insight into just what conflicts Hail was enabling during her time as a gunrunner, the sequel could be something special or at least more interesting. As it is, Behind the Throne is alright but you probably have something better to read in your backlog.
The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 competently builds a complex universe around Hail

Penalties: -1 doesn't do much with it

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: Wagers, K. B. Behind the Throne [Orbit, 2016] 

Thursday Morning Superhero: SDCC Top 3's

Not sure how it all started, but my annual write-up of San Diego Comic Con has taken the form of Top 3 lists in the past couple of years, so I thought I would continue that tradition.  I first of all want to thank the staff and volunteers who help make SDCC as good as it can be.  From the extra police who help direct traffic, to the volunteers who make sure that line integrity is intact, the collective work of these individuals ensures a good time for the nearly 130,000 attendees.

Top 3 Trends:
1. RFID - This year SDCC, after testing it at Wonder Con, debuted badges that were RFID enabled.  Attendees had to scan in and out of the convention center to verify that their credentials were legit.  Fans were worried that it would create delays and that there would be major issues, but I did not see one person who had an issue with the system.  I also noticed that it seemed less crowded and wonder if the new badges helped cut down on counterfeits.  I think it is safe to say the new system worked great and is here to stay.

2. Hall H Wristbands - For the first time in my SDCC career, I joined a group to obtain Hall H wristbands.  While there was minor drama during the issuing of wristbands in our area, the expectations seemed clear, the staff were all very polite and well informed, and the other attendees who camped out near us were a delight to be around.  While some people do camp out all day and overnight, one person can hold the spot for up to five individuals so many groups operated in shifts.  Once you have the prized wristband you are free to return to your hotel and are guaranteed admission the next day.

3. Lotteries - Everything came down to chance this year.  If you wanted a Hasbro exclusive or an autograph at the Warner Brothers booth, you had to line up early, proceed to the Sails Pavilion, and hope for a lucky draw.  This was an effort to prevent camping out for exclusives and to allow attendees the same odds as exhibitors and it seems like it will remain.  I was successful in an online lottery for the Funko booth and also was successful getting a Conan Pop! through this system.  Hooray for me!

Top 3 Panels:
1. Warner Brothers - I was one of the few individuals who went through the effort to get a Saturday badge and bail after one panel.  Despite not getting the most bang for my buck, this panel absolutely blew me away.  Moderated by Conan O'Brien and featuring a line-up that included Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Lego Batman, Harry Potter: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and more, fans were treated to a series of amazing trailers and brief conversations with the directors and stars.  The highlight was when Eddie Redmayne, who portrays Newt Scamander in the film, helped pass out over 6,000 wands so we could cast a Lumos Maxima spell to brighten up the usually dark Hall H.  I have chills just thinking about the site of the entire Hall H population raising their wands in the air.

2. Lego Dimensions - While I am a fan of Lego Dimensions myself, I attended this panel to get my son an exclusive Green Arrow figure and bring him the inside scoop of what the future held.  Moderated by Kinda Funny's Greg Miller, the panel was full of laughs and surprises and was a pure delight.  Miller had a great report with the creators and the tone was light and fun, just like the game.  They also brought out a pair of legendary voice actors in John DiMaggio, who I love as Bender, and Roger Craig Smith, the voice of Sonic.  Fans don't have to worry about purchasing another starter kit for at least two more years, and the next year will bring fans the new Ghostbusters, Harry Potter (both classic and Fantastic Beasts), Sonic, Adventure Time, Goonies, Gremlins, and more.  The number of licenses that they are including that will appeal to both parents and kids is absolutely amazing. 

3. South Park: 20th Anniversary - Featuring a clip reel that informed us how many times Stan has thrown up, Randy has been arrested, Kenny was killed, Cartman took a dump, and more, this panel was a pure delight from start to finish.  It was great to hear about how a viral video that was spread through VHS copies in the mail grew to one of the most dominating pop culture forces in the world.  My favorite anecdote was how they already had the perfect story for Pokemon Go, when the Chinpokemon that the boys included tacking chips so that the Japanese government knew where the American children were.  They plan on suing Niantic for stealing the idea for their game from a cartoon from 1999.  They may have been joking about that one.

Top 3 Exclusives:
1. Indiana Jones Funko Pop! - This was my grail item, pun intended, and thanks to my preview night wristband he is all mine.  I barely made the cut as he was down to single digits while the friendly Funko staff was loading up my bag.  He immediately made his way into a protector and is happily on display in my home office.  While it has been confirmed that Disney Parks will carry an Indiana Jones Pop! at its attractions, the one with Indy holding the idol was only available at SDCC.

2. Skeletor from The Loyal Subjects - I started collecting the action vinyls that TLS makes this year and had the good fortune of not only securing this, but attending a TLS dinner that was all about collectors.  It is clear that TLS cares about its collectors and is creating some of the best toys on the market.

3. Saga Action Figures - When I saw that the Skybound Booth was going to carry a two-pack of Marko and Alana I knew I wanted them.  I planned on passing on them as I felt I had spent enough on my annual journey, but as a buddy of mine and as Lying Cat pointed out, I was lying.  I picked this pair up on Saturday and am thrilled to have them in my collection.

Top 3 Off-Sites:
1. Funko Fundays - Being one of the lucky few to get pulled off the waiting list after it sold out in seconds, I was able to attend my third Fundays.  Through the kindness of another Funatic (the term for those who participate in the Funko forums) I was able to join his family and have an absolute blast.  Funko changed the format to keep fans from battling each other over the exclusive prizes, and brought out all of the stops as they entertained over 1,000 of their fans.  The highlight to me was when they passed out Funko bars to the fans, four of which contained golden tickets for a tour of the Funko headquarters.  This all occurred as Oompa Loompas danced down the stage and the Funko CEO was decked out in Willy Wonka attire.  While I didn't win, it was clearly one of the best promotions I have ever been a part of.

2. The Conan O'Brien Show - I had the good fortune to get tickets for the second year in a row for the taping of the Conan O'Brien show at SDCC.  As usual both Conan and Andy were hilarious.  The taping I went to included Nick Kroll, the stars from Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, with a musical performance from Weird Al Yankovich. This show was made to be taped at SDCC and I think it has been confirmed that it will return for a third year.  I wouldn't be surprised to see other shows follow suit as this has been wildly successful. 

3. South Park: 20th Anniversary - While basic in nature, the South Park off-site allowed fans to take pictures in iconic scenes from the 20 years of this show.  I was able to take my picture on the famous couch, with Awesome-O, in prison at Casa Bonita, and more.  It included fake costumes and props from the show, which was hilarious, and even had a brief shout out to Canada as you exited the event.  Each scene was extremely well made and the workers at the event all happily took your picture and did a great job.  I would love to see other events as simple and effective as this moving forward.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reading the Hugos: Graphic Story

We continue our Reading the Hugos series with a look at the Graphic Story category. Most Readers of a Feather are likely familiar with the work of Neil Gaiman and those who follow the Hugo Awards definitely are. If my math is correct, Gaiman is a 5 time Hugo Award winner across multiple categories, has been nominated three additional times, and has twice declined his nomination. Neil Gaiman and Sandman are the elephant in the room here, though in this case, everyone talks about him. Readers may be less familiar with the other nominees, so this is a perfect time to take a look at Gaiman's work as well as the other four finalists.

The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka
Erin Dies Alone, written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell
Full Frontal Nerdity, by Aaron Williams
Invisible Republic: Volume 1, written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman
The Sandman: Overture, written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H, Williams III

Full Frontal Nerdity: Full Frontal Nerdity stretches back to 2001, but for the Hugo we need to consider the work published in 2015, which starts here. Now, if there is a distinct story arc which also began in 2014 (or earlier) and concluded in 2015, we can also consider that work. Otherwise, we will be looking specifically at the 2015 work. Full Frontal Nerdity is a webcomic focused on geek / nerd culture, often around a role playing game table. The humor here falls flat for me, despite my otherwise self identification as a nerd and my love of a good pun (or a bad one).  After reading three months worth of strips, I was done. There's only so much of something you don't enjoy that one should read. I suspect that one of the main reasons is that I never played Dungeons and Dragons (or any other pen & paper rpg), so this isn't something I engage with. I'm not the audience.

No Award: As a general rule, I use No Award in a very surgical manner. I understand that not every work is to my personal taste and that simply because I do not like something does not mean that it is inherently bad or unworthy of a Hugo Award. I may prefer that something else would win and that a particular work was not on the ballot, but again, that does make the work bad. Unfortunately, there are also instances where my subjective view is that the work is so bad that it is also objectively bad and unworthy of receiving (or being considered for) an award. There may also be examples of a work being so bad it comes out the other side and is somehow entertaining.  In both of these instances No Award will be used. In yet other occasions there will be a work that I dislike enough that even though it isn't inherently bad, it still falls under my personal category of Not Worthy of Award.


The Sandman: Overture: This is likely to be a touch controversial because I'm aware of just how influential and respected and important Sandman is in the world of graphic novels and how loved Neil Gaiman is (see the introduction to this article). As a general rule, I am a fan of Gaiman's fiction. I think he is an excellent writer, whether he is writing short stories or novels for adults, children, and all ages in between. Some of those novels and stories don't quite hit for me in the same way they do with others, but that's okay, right? Sandman, along with Watchmen, is generally the elephant in the room when discussions of the best comic books ever are taking place. They always have to be in the conversation, but it becomes boring if they're always overwhelming the conversation. But, here's the thing: I don't really like Sandman. I finished the full run out of some sense of obligation so I would have a better idea of what it is all about, but except for the occasional mini story arc, I didn't much enjoy or appreciate the book.

This is a long introduction to talking about Sandman: Overture, which is a prequel to the Sandman series, running up to the point where he was captured by a human - which we know from the first issue of Sandman. I appreciated the six issues of Overture just about as much as I did the original run of Sandman, which is to say that I recognize that fans of Sandman will probably love it, but I am not the audience for the book. I can't say that simply because I did not appreciate the book that it is something I would place below No Award on my ballot because I don't think it is inherently bad and it might actually be good, I just know that it is inherently not for me.

The Divine: I had to do a little bit of research for this. I know what I thought of the book, but I needed a reminder or two of some of the events and context of it. Had I read the Afterword in the book, I would have known this bit of context: The Divine has its genesis in a photograph of two child soldiers who led a rebellion against the Burmese military in Myanmar. There's some loose inspiration here, though I'm not sure exactly how knowing this before hand would have impacted my reading of The Divine. Likely it would not have. The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie and with art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka is not the story of those children, but rather of a white man named Mark. Mark is a munitions tech back in the United States (he blows stuff up real good). Mark is former military, but seems to be getting by on a number of government contracts and he accepts one to help blow up a mountain in the fictional land of Quanlom. It is in Quanlom that we get the intersections of military interventions with the same sort of child soldier rebellion as occured in Myanmar.

The Divine isn't the story of Myanmar, but there are echoes now that I'm aware of the inspiration. I hadn't heard of The Divine prior the nomination, but how Lavie and the Hanukas weave the a straight forward story with the idea of "what if the kids actually had magic on their side?" really works and it's an overall strong (if somewhat unsurprising) story that is uplifted by the truly effective art that conveys the real meaning of the story. I don't know that The Divine is great, but it's definitely good.


Erin Dies Alone: The fact of the matter is that I'd rather read Erin Dies Alone than either Sandman or The Divine. Erin Dies Alone mostly takes place within the video games Erin is playing, but the center is always Erin and her depression. That's a major aspect to the comic, Erin is a young woman dealing (or not really dealing) with depression and I'm not sure how much of this comic is straight up Erin fantasizing in the sense of Joe Kelly's marvelous I Kill Giants or if what is on the page is reality. This may not truly matter at the superficial level, but it would help answer what sort of story Grey Carter and Cory Rydell are telling. Has a raccoon from one of Erin's childhood favorite video games somehow come to life and begun helping her become healthy again or is she imaging this? If she is imagining this, is it a healthy way that she is (theoretically) starting to take care of herself?

At this point, Erin Dies Alone is very incomplete, but I'd would rather read Erin Dies Alone than most of the others comics on this list. And that friggin raccoon, man. So much hope.

Invisible Republic: Volume 1: Alternating between the present day of a reporter uncovering the truth behind the rise to power of a brutal dictator and flashbacks showing those early days, Invisible Republic is by far the best of the finalists for the Graphic Story Hugo Award. Invisible Republic is a quality thriller dealing with the rise to power and it's aftermath, told through the lens of an occupied moon several hundred years in the future. It's gritty and it's smart and it's something that I just have to keep reading. This is a top notch story, even if I don't have much to say about it beyond the fact that based on the strength of this opening volume I will be following this series with great interest.

My Vote:
1. Invisible Republic: Volume 1
2. Erin Dies Alone
3. The Divine
4. The Sandman: Overture
5. No Award

Also, feel free to look at the rest of our Hugo Awards coverage:
Short Story
Dramatic Presentation: Long Form 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Interview: Lynne & Michael of Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny is a likely a familiar name to many readers, particularly of Charles' excellent Monthly Round. Now entering its third year, they are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund it. The editors, Lynne & Michael, took the time to answer a few questions about the magazine and campaign:

You're in the midst of your Year Three Kickstarter campaign - Why Kickstarter instead of subscriptions?
We do both. We have multiple revenue streams, so that we are never dependent on just one. Along with our Uncanny Magazine Year 3 Kickstarter, we sell subscriptions through Amazon Kindle and Weightless Books. We also have a Patreon, and sell advertising on the website.

We’ve discovered that we have different communities of readers with different preferences, so we try to provide whatever way they prefer to support us.

The best part of any Kickstarter campaign is the rewards- what goodies are there for backers?

Along with our fabulous eBooks of the Uncanny issues, we are offering numerous backer rewards including A Very Special Verity! Multifandom Podcast Mashup episode recorded just for our backers featuring Special Guest Appearances from members of the Radio Free Skaro and Down & Safe podcasts, autographed books, manuscript critiques, author video chats, author meals, cover art prints, and even becoming a Guest of Honor at the first UncannyCon!

Uncanny has published a lot of great stories in just two years - What can we expect from year three?

Uncanny Year 3 has an amazing group of solicited short story writers including Paul Cornell, John Chu, Maria Dahvana Headley, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Seanan McGuire, Sam J. Miller, Sarah Pinsker, Delia Sherman, Ursula Vernon, Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong (with art by Grace P. Fong), and Isabel Yap.  We will also be opening up to short story submissions again soon, so we will once again feature many newer voices from every conceivable background.

And speaking of great stories, Uncanny is nominated for more than a few awards- how does it feel to be at that level so quickly? Even with such a stellar editing staff, it's quite an accomplishment.

We are truly humbled. It is such an huge honor to have all of this award attention for works from our first year. We didn’t expect that level of appreciation so soon. We are giddy that these stellar works and creators are being read and appreciated. We are so happy for our staff, writers, and artists.

With all that you've accomplished in those first two years, how does Year Three top that?

We feel that we keep growing as editors and publishers, so hopefully each issue is better than the one before it.

If we reach certain stretch goals in the Kickstarter, we’re also planning on increasing our website content with more paid blogging.

How does my hair look? Don't answer that; I know it's terrible.

Fabulous. As a Space Unicorn should be.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Microreview [book]: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant

Won't be rising anytime soon

Mira Grant, a penname of Seanan McGuire, has written a series of popular zombie apocalypse books (titled as a whole: Newsflesh). Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection, which recently came out, is a compendium of all of the short fiction Grant has publihsed within the Newsflesh universe, as well as two never published novellas. Before jumping into this review, I should note that I have never read the Newsflesh series, though I have read work by Grant (and by McGuire, under her own name). This may have made me a harsher reviewer; however, arguably the problems I had with the collection would be ones I’d find in the series as well.

There are eight pieces in the collection, which clocks in at a hefty 644 pages, and many of them are of novella length. The stories primarily seem to concern characters that Grant wished to explore more fully, apart from the book series, and a few standalone pieces set during the zombocalypse of her series—one even takes place during Comicon. While most of the pieces are enjoyable on some level—Grant is skilled at pacing—they also all suffer from things I’ve found in her other works. The longer pieces all feel far more like fleshed out outlines rather than full works—action, action, action, with no sense of beauty in the story itself. This not only makes for flat reading, it also makes for flat characters. These are stories about people during a breakdown of the world and I desperately wanted to feel something for them—but they all felt like what they usually turned out to be: zombie fodder.

Of the pieces that work best, “Please Don’t Taunt the Octopus” was the most fun. It tells of an underground virology lab and has a decent sense of playfulness within it—particularly in how Grant pokes fun at some staples of the “mad scientist” image. However, it charts such a predictable storyline that I felt myself wanting to skim sections (something I refuse to do). Still, it does feature an octopus.

The story that was the most bothersome was one that should have been the most emotionally intense. “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell” depicts one horrific day in the life of a first grade teacher—who tries to protect her students during a school lockdown filled with zombies. However, it came across as in such poor taste that I actually felt physically angry at the book. This could have been a deeply powerful story; instead, it felt like shock cinema.

If the book has a saving note, it is in the shortest of the stories, “Everglades.” This piece shows a single character making a choice while trapped on a zombie-filled campus. The writing is more graceful than elsewhere and I genuinely felt for the narrator. It’s possible that Grant’s style simply works better in short bursts.

Overall, this collection might be a boon to fans of the series who are looking for more character back stories and more time in the series’ universe. For anyone else, I’d suggest seeking your zombie-tainment elsewhere.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 3/10

Bonuses:+1 for octopi, +1 for fans of the series

Penalties: -1 for cardboard dialogue

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10 "
problematic, but has redeeming qualities"


POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stranger Things: A New Dramatic Animal?

Within two days of Stranger Things appearing on Netflix, I had three separate friends reach out to tell me they'd binge-watched it and I had to see it. That I would love it.

So I did. And I did. But...

I want to be very clear at the outset and say this isn't a review. I'm not going to say bad things about Stranger Things, and I'm going to try to avoid spoilers. What I'm really interested in is more of a formal analysis.

One of the biggest appeals of Stranger Things is its retro-80s vibe. I mean, just look at this poster! It's amazing. 

And that font, which looked out at me from the cover of so many Stephen King paperbacks as a kid gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies. By the end of the first episode, I was hooked. But I turned to my wife and said, "If Hopper winds up in the Black Lodge at the end of this thing, I'm going to be pissed."

See, Stranger Things doesn't just have a retro poster and a retro vibe, it actually seems to be made up of Lego bricks taken from 80s and early-90s touchstones. It's really not enough to say that it's "inspired" by E.T., Twin Peaks, Akira, The X-Files, and the music of John Carpenter. It appears to actually be constructed of those things. There are moments lifted directly from E.T., dynamics transposed whole cloth from Twin Peaks, a key character and plotline from Akira, and at one point there was a scene so reminiscent of Stephen King's It that I was able to tell my wife what was going to happen before it played out onscreen. 

I love all of those movies and stories. Seeing them all in one place was pretty cool. But I felt an odd pull I've never experienced before — part of me felt that warm, familiar nerd glow of spotting references from beloved hallmarks I grew up with, but I felt a difference between spotting the posters for Evil Dead and The Thing on the walls in characters' rooms, and saying "oh, this scene is from..."

Now here, to me, is the really interesting thing: this is a Netflix show, and with the exception of Akira, every other work I've mentioned here has been available for streaming on Netflix. Netflix was very clear when it launched House of Cards, its first original, scripted show, that its programming decisions were based on user viewing patterns. So it's probably safe to assume that people are watching the hell out of E.T., The X-Files, and Twin Peaks on Netflix. And maybe Netflix's development team said, "Can we get a show that's just all of those things, but a mini-series?"

This could be a one-off thing, or it could be a harbinger of a new phenomenon that is a direct result of the time we're living in. With viewership metrics available on a level like nothing we've ever seen before,  the slow demise of the traditional network television model, and a trend toward limited series, rather than 22-episode-per-season non-serialized dramas or comedies, there is a very real possibility that Stranger Things is something like a new narrative form. The G referred to it in conversation as a bricolage, which may be correct. Or a four-dimensional version of Picasso's early experiments with collage. 

I suppose part of me is fighting the urge to be dismissive about a work that in some ways lacks originality, but the fact that I really enjoyed it is telling. I think it will be interesting to see where this goes. I argued in 2013 that Breaking Bad was the signature show of our time not just because of its content and narrative qualities, but because of the way it used streaming services and social media to expand its audience and change viewing patterns. Maybe something similar is happening right now.

Maybe we'll have a Western to look forward to where a Civil War veteran with deep hatred of the Comanche (The Searchers) gets wind of a coming confrontation, and when he can't get anyone in town to stand with him (High Noon), he must confront his racism out of desperation and recruit a team of seven Comanche braves to help him defend the town (Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven). Who knows? 

Also, I'm available for meetings, if anybody wants to talk about setting up that project...

Posted by Vance K - co-editor and cult film reviewer at nerds of a feather since 2012. Netflix subscriber since 2004.