Thursday, August 22, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

The big nerd controversy this week is the tangled web that still exists between Sony and Disney and Spider-Man. It appears that Disney has pulled Kevin Feige from the next film as Disney doesn't technically own the IP.  As nerds often do, they overreacted and will hopefully realize that there are concerns with the growth of Disney and the negative impact that can have on the television and film industry.  Don't get me wrong, I hope Spider-Man remains in the MCU as much as the next person and think he will, but I do have concerns with Disney seizing control of everything.



Pick of the Week:
Criminal #7 - Chapter three is off to a dark beginning that feels all too realistic given the current climate. This issue follows Teeg's son, Ricky, after he returns home after a stint in juvenile hall.  He is surprised to learn that his dad appears to have cleaned up his act, is with a younger woman, and moved the family to the suburbs. Juvie changed Ricky and he is currently an outcast amongst his group of friends and he no longer feels like a part of his family. I won't spoil the ending, but this series from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips has always felt incredibly real and poignant and it appears Chapter three will be no different.

The Rest:
Daredevil #10 - It has been interesting watching Matt Murdock struggle with his own identity. He can sense Hell's Kitchen falling apart all around him, but he isn't ready to return as Daredevil until he comes to terms with the fact that he killed someone. Toss in the crooked cop story and the pot starts to boil over in this issue, but in helping Detective North, he only made things worse for himself. Chip Zdarsky brings back a familiar face at the end of the issue that will definitely have a big impact moving forward.




Doctor Aphra #35 - After taking some time off from this series I decided to revisit it and there is a lot to take in.  Aphra is currently wanted by both the Rebels and The Empire because of a powerful Jedi artifact she stole. She does not want to turn it over to the Rebels as they plan on building a Death Star Jr. that would kill the Emperor, along with thousands of innocent bystanders. In turning herself over to the Empire in an effort to at least make it out alive, she is taken under the tutelage of Minister Pitina Voor, part of the propaganda and misinformation wing of the Empire. Turns out she wants to overthrow the Emperor and with Aphra being in known possession of the Empire Vader has his eyes sought on his former partner.



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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

6 books with Keren Landsman


Keren Landsman is a mother, a writer, a medical doctor who specializes in Epidemiology and Public health, and a blogger. She is one of the founders of Mida’at, an NGO dedicated to promoting public health in Israel. She works in the Levinski clinic in Tel Aviv. She has won the Geffen Award three times, most recently for the short story collection Broken Skies. Her website is http://realitybugs.me and she can be found on Twitter @smallweed.

Today she shares her six books with us.

1. What book are you currently reading?

I just finished Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, which tells the story of a family with super powers. It was funny and tearing and I got all the feels reading it. I started reading The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is science fiction but from a surprising angle. I love Kowal's writing, and since I drive 4-5 hours a day, I get to listen to her reading it and it's awesome! In Hebrew, I just finished Whereabouts by Mayan Rogel, which is a mystery set in a cult. She told me a bit abut the research she did for this book, and it was horrifying and wonderful at the same time.



2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer. I read Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders one after the other without being able to stop, and the only reason I didn't start The Will to Battle is because I didn't want to leave the world. That way I knew I would have something to wait for. I love the courage it takes to write a utopian future while considering the implications of changes in society and religion. I love what Palmer did with her characters and the way the world is described. I think there's a lot to learn from the series about writing science fiction, and I can't wait to see how the series ends.



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

So many. So so many... At the top of the list are Hyperion and its sequels by Dan Simmons, The Ring of Charon and its sequel by Roger MacBride Allen, and A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, which is the most likely to be re-read since it's the shortest of them.







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

Oh dear. I think my greatest disappointment was when my kids were young and I wanted to read Jules Verne to them. What I remembered as wonderful and interesting book full of adventure, turned out to be one filled with lots and lots of descriptions of fish. I'm afraid the young Landsmans have yet to read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea due to that unfortunate experience.





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

Just one? May I pick more than one...? I think there are two books that influenced me the most as a reader, and as a result, a writer. The first was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. It was the first fantasy book I read, and I think it was the first adult book I ever read on my own, though. I re-read it every few years. I didn't get the religious references, as a Jewish girl with no knowledge of Christianity, so for me it was always a book about an exciting adventure waiting behind a door.

The second is Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov. It was the first time I've ever read science fiction. I checked it out from my school's library since I finished every other book there, and I had no idea what was it about. The first paragraph got my rolling my eyes saying "It's one of THOSE books?" but by the end of the first page I was hooked.


6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome?The Heart of the Circle is urban fantasy with love, magic, politics, drugs, marginalized populations, and a very Jewish mother. It focuses on a group of friends who try to live their lives while extremists want to end them.

Also, I've always wanted to blow up Tel Aviv, and finally I got the chance to do it without all the mess afterwards!





POSTED BY: Adri is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Microreview [book]: Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan

Gibson would be proud



What if all the digital technology that we increasingly rely on just...shut down? What if suddenly there was no Facebook, Google or Spotify? No working cellular towers, automated processes of access to the databases that are rapidly replacing libraries of all kinds? We'd be screwed, right?

Now add twenty or so years of current trends to that tally, and imagine the level of screwed-ness we would experience if it all just went...blank.

This is the premise of Tim Maughan's debut novel, Infinite Detail, and it's as terrifying as it sounds. But not necessarily how you might think. Maughan recognizes the threat inherent to such a collapse - to states, social structures, health outcomes and so forth. And the future he imagines is bleak, populated by hardscrabble anarchist communes in the cities and forced collectivization in the hinterland - neither providing much in the way of life outcomes.

Maughan's ultimate targets, though, are the tech giants and increasingly militarized governments of today; Infinite Detail argues that our increasing dependence on them, as well as their interdependence on one another, is producing both dystopia and a "digital bubble," so to speak, which in turn primes us for a catastrophic collapse. Infinite Detail, in short, attempts to shine a light on our increasingly worrysome relationship to information technology - by extrapolating present conditions to their logical conclusion.

In doing so, it represents an important new contribution to an important tradition within science fiction, one most commonly associated with cyberpunk. But as much as Infinite Detail is a spiritual descendent and legatee of cyberpunk, it stands in rather sharp contrast to superficial aesthetic homages to Gibson, Sterling et al. that have proliferated over the past decade. The critique does feel a little too direct sometimes, but I chonestly an't think of any near-future SF that does a better job of both grasping the deeper truths of Neuromancer and moving past them.

Infinite Detail takes place on two timelines: before the crash event and afterwards. Before chapters center on Rushdie Mannan, a digital anarchist of sorts who mistrusts the tech giants and so creates an intranet within the Croft area of Bristol so its residents can use an alternative. These chapters focus on Mannan's love interest in New York and are, to me, the weak point of the book. It's not that the story is bad, but it does feel a bit tacked on. There are some other Before passages, though, that really stuck to me - like one about a homeless man in New York who can no longer collect cans for recycling  reimbursement because the city has transitioned to a fully automated smart system (which locks the homeless out of a crucial means of subsistence).

After chapters center on a few characters in and around the Croft. Mary is a teenager who has visions of those who died just after the collapse; Grids runs the black market; Tyrone, who seeks out records of dubstep and drum n' bass amid the detritus of collapsed Britain; and Anika, a militant dedicated to insurgency against the Land Army - the dominant force in the countryside, and one responsible for a rather hideous campaign of forced collectivization. I liked these a lot more - they are as absorbing as they are disquieting.

Overall, Infinite Detail is top-notch near-future SF. I'm often frustrated at how little SF really grapples with the implications of our present. This is why I've always been so drawn to cyberpunk. Infinite Detail is not cyberpunk, but to me it couples the core themes of cyberpunk with a gaze that is thoroughly and unmistakably that of 2019. Highly recommended.


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for this is really smart, forward-thinking stuff; +1 for channeling the spirit of cyberpunk rather than retro aesthetics.

Penalties: -1 for it feels a little too on-the-nose at times; -1 for the Before chapters sometimes feeling tacked on.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. "Very high quality/standout in its category."


***

POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator, since 2012. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Microreview [video game]: RAGE 2 by Avalanche Studios and id Software (developers)

No One Asked For This



I’m terribly disappointed in RAGE 2 so before I go on and on about why I think it sucks, here’s what I liked, in bullet point form:
  • Enemy heads have a huge hitbox and pop in a satisfying manner
  • The ground punch attack feels great
  • It looks good and there’s no loading once you’re in the world
  • The cars sound meaty
  • Exploring the world can be fun even if a lot of the map markers are just boring “kill everything” activities
The game starts off okay, with The Authority (the primary antagonist in RAGE) razing your fledgling community. After this tutorial (and honestly, who needs a tutorial in a FPS anymore?), you’re given a car and an open map and set to work. The work is meeting three characters that will help you overthrow The Authority. You gain their support by completing open world activities.

Minus the grinding to build support, the game is more or less just 7 story missions. It’s amazing how short the story is. There was just so little in the narrative to keep me interested. The open world activities are mostly just “kill everything”. There’s one ally whose support is gained through search and recovery missions, which I found to be not only the most interesting but the most rewarding. There are arks scattered across the world, where the game dispenses either a new weapon or a new ability. Since they’re so rewarding, they’re well worth searching out and they build your support with one ally. I finished the game with that ally’s support maxed out and all the others only half full because their missions are just slogs through enemy nests that give you resources to buy things. 

The problem with dispensing abilities and weapons through open world activities is that if you never find that ark, you miss out on something that makes the game more fun. When I finished, the map revealed the rest of the arks I hadn’t found and I finished the game without three weapons and two abilities. Considering I found use for almost every weapon and ability I did have, it’s baffling that the game was perfectly happy with letting me finish it and not give me the tools to make the game more enjoyable. I specifically sought out arks because they give gameplay-affecting tools, but I guess that was my bad because I could’ve finished it with just a pistol, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. I’m really curious what the bare minimum of this game you have to play before hitting the credits.

Beyond taking away the things that make the game fun and hiding them on an enormous open world map, the travel between points was worse than boring, it’s a waste of time. Driving from one area to another in an open world wasteland should be more dangerous, but I was rarely attacked, and everything that attacked me was easily shrugged off or ran away from. At one point I unlocked a flying motorcycle that just hovered high enough above the ground to make all ground obstacles pointless and I couldn’t be attacked, so I was making straight line flights from one point to another. I may as well have had fast travel.

So most missions are a grind, exploring isn’t necessary, and travel is a waste of time, but how’s the shooting? It’s okay. Nothing has the id Software signature feel to it. Enemies are mostly bullet sponges unless you aim for the head, which is comically easy to hit. It’s like bullets are magnetically attracted to their skulls. I found that most fights boiled down to whether I shoot them in the head at a distance with the assault rifle, or run up to shotgun them in the torso. I had a rocket launcher that was useful for big enemies, and a pistol that shot rounds that would catch on fire that I didn’t find particularly useful, but, again, I didn’t find three of the weapons in this game. Maybe they were super cool. I’ll never know!

The worst part of RAGE 2, the unforgivable part of it, is the bugs. Holy hell. One location never flagged as 100% complete because I opened a chest, died, and the chest remained opened but the counter locked it at unopened. There were a handful of times when the game just hard locked. Once the game crashed my OS. One time I beat a boss but died at the same time. It played the “you beat the boss” cutscene, but I came back dead and had to quit to restart it.

I didn’t think RAGE would ever get a sequel, and I question what this is doing for anyone. The original wasn’t a great game by any stretch but it was better than this one in almost every measure. There’s a lot more to do in RAGE 2 and the open world aspect might appeal to some people, where RAGE was more of linear game, but more to do isn’t a benefit when what you’re doing isn’t fun to begin with.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 the bullet pointed list adds up to one bonus point

Penalties: -1 baffling weapon/ability scavenger hunt, -1 grinding for rep is the bulk of the game, -1 BUGS

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10 (not very good)

***

Reference: Avalanche Studios and id Software. RAGE 2 (Bethesda Softworks, 2019)

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

6 Books with Alexandra Rowland



Alexandra Rowland is the author of A CONSPIRACY OF TRUTHS (2018) and A CHOIR OF LIES (forthcoming, September 2019) and, occasionally, a bespoke seamstress under the stern supervision of their feline quality control manager. They hold a degree in world literature, mythology, and folklore from Truman State University, and they host two podcasts, Be the Serpent and Worldbuilding for Masochists. Find them at www.alexandrarowland.net, and on Twitter and Patreon as @_alexrowland.

Todsy they share their Six Books with us...



1. What book are you currently reading? 
Oh man, so much of my TBR pile these days is taken up with homework for my podcast! Right now I'm reading one of the fanfics that we're planning on talking about on an upcoming episode (can't tell you which one, no spoilers! ;D), and I'm making my way very slowly through a book of the collected poems of Pablo Neruda, which are of course unspeakably beautiful. Next up on my list is a nonfiction book, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast and This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?
The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood, which comes out next year! It has a super fascinating female main character who starts out as the sacrificial bride of a creepy death god -- I'm only a couple chapters into it, but the descriptions are lush and vibrant, and I'm already really invested in the characters. I've heard it gets super queer :D

3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to re-read?
Good Omens. The miniseries gave me buckets and buckets of nostalgia, and the fandom has really exploded into a Renaissance. The book itself was super formative for me when I was about fifteen, and I really want to revisit it. My copy is battered and dog-eared and very very well-loved, and 15-year-old-me left a couple nearly-faded margin notes in pencil that are now totally indecipherable because I was trying to be as gentle with the book as possible, and that meant extreme brevity. (Self, why did you feel compelled to write merely "!!" beside that paragraph? What was going on in your head??? You could have said more!)

4. How about a book you’ve changed your mind about – either positively or negatively?
I first read The Lost Years of Merlin (TA Barron) when I was about fourteen and I adored it. I tried rereading it again when I was about twenty and was enormously dismayed to find out that it wasn't nearly as good as I remembered. I try not to think about the reread--I want to remember it as that great book from my childhood!

5. What’s one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?
Oooh, I don't know if I can pick just one! No matter what, the first and best influence has to be by Diana Wynne Jones. I get a lot of my sensibilities about voice and character from her -- all her secondary characters kind of have their own thing going on, their own complex inner lives, and that's something I think makes a book really rich and interesting. (And, an easter egg: the Chants in my books are named after Christopher Chant from her Chrestomanci series!)

I began reading Terry Pratchett when I was about fifteen (after Good Omens introduced me to his work, as mentioned above) and from him I got philosophy and a good hard look at The Way Humans Are, and an idea of how you can write about both those things in a really forthright way. Pratchett put the idea into my head that characters--even protagonists--can be deeply flawed humans, not always kind, not always brave, not always smart, and that none of those things matter as long as you plant your feet firmly on the side of Doing Good and refuse to budge.

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome? 
WELL. Speaking of characters, voice, philosophy, and doing good, let me tell you about my upcoming book, A Choir of Lies! :D Choir is the sequel-but-you-can-read-them-in-either-order to my debut novel from last year, A Conspiracy of Truths. Conspiracy was a fantasy novel about fake news and the destructive power of stories; Choir is about fantasy tulip mania and the constructive, healing power of stories. It's about trauma and grief and recovery, and it's extremely queer.

Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now he's all alone somewhere new, brokenhearted and grieving, but a Chant in his own right. He finds employment as a translator to Sterre de Waeyer, a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, while he struggles to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he's been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.

That is, until Ylfing's employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre's command, he begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms—a disaster that only the two of them recognize—Ylfing has to face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: A man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or... something else?

A story can be powerful enough to bring a nation to its knees, certainly. But in the right hands, a story can rebuild a broken dam, keep the floodwaters back, and save a life—or ten thousand lives.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

Kids are starting to go back to school and my first assignment is to read The Boyz.  I learned that the first four volumes are on ComiXology Unlimited and are also currently on sale on ComiXology for around a dollar an issue. Hopefully I can plow through the books and start binging the series on Amazon by Sunday.



Pick of the Week:
Gideon Falls #16 - Andrea Sorrentino produces some of the most stunning two-page spreads that really immerse you in this creepy and surreal universe that he created with Jeff Lemire. The ending of this issue sets the scene for a showdown that is likely going to leave a lot of people changed. We learn a big secret about Norton Sinclair that has me asking more questions. It turns out that his real name is Daniel and he was taken from his family to Gideon Falls when he was only nine. His dad also investigated the existence of the Black Barn and it is going to see the two of them shed some light on what happened back in the day. This book, from the colors by Dave Stewart, letters by Steve Wands, art from Sorrentino, and story from Lemire is truly a masterpiece and a book that I need to re-read with the most recent development. I always have more questions than answers, but it is a good thing that drives my interest in this series.

The Rest:
Silver Surfer: The Prodigal Sun #1 - Prah'd'gul recalls the story of what caused his exile many years ago. He is a character that reminds me a lot of Star Lord, as he is brash and has powers beyond what you would expect. We learn about an encounter he had with Silver Surfer and Galactus that didn't go as he planned. Surfer hinted that his father was someone other than himself, before besting him and sending him to a different planet to allow Galactus to feast on the world he just landed on. Vowing revenge, Prah'd'gul is saved from his exile by Surfer and is seeking revenge on his brother with the help of Surfer. I have not read a lot of Surfer books in my day, but this was one of the more entertaining I have read.

Star Wars: Target Vader #2 - Since we are in the middle of back to school season this title evokes a much different feeling in my brain.  I have thoughts of tax free weekends, rows of folders, and a savings of 5% with a Red Card.  In this series, the Hidden Hand has put out a hit on Vader and he is well within his power to put an end to it. Beliert Valance, a cyborg, is heading up the team against Vader and he is almost as insane as Vader himself and has no concerns with the collateral damage that occurs when you draw Vader out from the shadows. This has been an entertaining side story, but I am starting to feel that Marvel is watering down the watch Vader kill people who are trying to kill him.



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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Dragon Prince Re-Read

One of the most formative reading experiences I had as a teenager was my discovery and devouring of Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince. I had favorite novels before Dragon Prince and I certainly have had favorites since, but Dragon Prince has maintained a preeminent place in my imagination and in my heart and my love and appreciation for these novels have not waned. This has been so much the case that when Netflix developed a show titled The Dragon Prince, I was confused that it wasn't based on Melanie Rawn's novels but rather a new series from the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now that I've seen both seasons of the Netflix show, I'm still somewhat confused and surprised every time that this isn't a show about Rohan and Sioned and Roelstra and because of that, I wanted to revisit Melanie Rawn's novels.

This re-read is perhaps somewhat unique in other re-reads I have done in that when it is complete it will have taken place over a period of ten years. The first four essays here are adapted from previously published essays that I began writing in 2010 and chipped away at over the years. The adaptation is something that may otherwise have been invisible to readers here, but it is worthwhile to be up front about. The foundational essay for this series can be found here.

When I began re-reading Dragon Prince and writing about the series, I wondered if the novel would hold up to the esteem time and memory have given it. I wondered if I would still be inclined to read the other five novels set in this world.

The short answer is yes.


Oh, and the cover art? That cover is the reason I pay attention to cover art and who the artist is. Michael Whelan’s cover is striking and it made the younger me take notice of his work. I also remember Whelan’s work with Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II album. They are inextricably linked in my memory. This is the iconic fantasy cover of my history.

One thing to note: there is an excellent chance of spoilers in the below conversation. This is my re-read and not whatever I might consider to be a “proper” review. If you are looking to avoid being spoiled for certain events of the novel AND the series (though I’ll try to limit series spoilers on a per novel basis), please just know that I think Dragon Price is a fantastic novel and that it remains one of my favorites of the genre, and that you should probably go read it now.

So. Shall we?

Melanie Rawn is not a writer afraid to do terrible things to her characters; her heroes in particular. Let’s just get this out of the way from the start: bad things happen to the characters we care about, and sometimes they do bad things themselves. Dragon Prince opens with concepts of black and white and gradually shades greyer and greyer as the novel progresses. It isn’t so much that the concepts of “Right” and “Wrong” are in question, but that the question of whether it is sometimes necessary to do what is wrong to accomplish a greater good arises. This is made stark late in the novel when, despite all of his dreams and visions for a better future, Rohan is confronted with his capacity for barbarism while still holding to a dream of a more civilized world.

Much of Dragon Prince is a political dance as, through the first half of the novel, Rohan plays the simpleton to gain concessions from the High Prince Roelstra and cleverly builds advantage for the Desert.

Roelstra, it must be said, is one of the great villains of fantasy literature. His primary concern is power, whether it is exercising it over vassals, coercing others, or acquiring more by devious means, Roelstra is about power and he is not a benevolent ruler. This puts Roelstra in stark contrast with Rohan. Rohan wishes to build peace by law and ultimately change the political power structure of the land, but every step Rohan needs to make he knows that Roelstra will oppose.

This conflict is one of the two primary conflicts of the novel. The second is Rohan’s internal conflict of his desire to be a good man and his growing realization of what he will do to make his world a better place.

One of the more impressive aspects of the novel, besides the parts in between the front and back covers, is the magic system Melanie Rawn developed here. Now, I am not normally one to talk about magic and how it works and how it plays into the novel, but this is fairly inventive. It isn’t called “magic”, but the people with special talents are called Sunrunners. They are able to weave part of their consciousness on the sunlight, communicate over long distances, and use the light of the sun in a variety of other ways. The faradhi are specially trained emissaries to each Princedom and work and serve all over the continent. They report back to Lady Andrade at the Goddess Keep, and with a network of faradhi who can communicate by sunlight, Andrade attempts to manipulate Princes and protect her people and her family.

Dragon Prince is a very strong, powerful, and thrilling debut novel from Melanie Rawn. There is battle, but the beauty of Dragon Prince is in the political scheming at the Rialla and in the goals of Prince Rohan. Power and how it is used is a central concept to Dragon Prince and Melanie Rawn explores it well. This should be considered a must read novel for all fans of fantasy.

One final thing to note is that the trade paper edition of Dragon Prince seems to have done away with the genealogies and extra information I remember fondly from the mass market edition of my youth. I mourn the loss.


POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.