Friday, August 28, 2015

Microreview [book]: The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (Rogues #3)

Third installment in the Rogues anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois



The Inn of the Seven Blessings tells the tale of Raffalon, our rogue, who comes across the belongings of a traveler who has landed himself in an unfortunate circumstance (a.k.a., is about to get eaten as dinner). Labeled a thief, Raffalon quickly rummages through these belongings and takes anything he believes to be of value to him. One mysterious item turns out to be more than it seems, and laden with magical properties it sends Raffalon on a bit of a quest.

What I like most about this story is that it is full of classic fantasy tropes, but does not feel contrived or forced. There are good characters and there are bad characters, but there are also in-between characters. Raffalon goes on a rescue mission and then a redemption mission, and in the end must beat the bad guy and receive an award. Sure, I love when books successfully push the boundaries of the genre, challenge pre-conceived notions, and subvert tropes, but it is also refreshing to see that the foundations of the genre can still be done well and are still entertaining.

That’s not to say that The Inn of the Seven Blessings is strictly a conventional fantasy tale, though. While it has many classic elements (quest, girl, bad guys, deities, magic), I wouldn’t necessarily call Raffalon a hero, or Erminia a damsel in distress (there may have be a face slap and knee to the groin). It’s nice to see stories like this that successfully mix the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ in a novel way (yes, pun intended). Plus, the world building is quite fantastic given the limited number of pages available (30-ish) and makes me want to read more about this universe. This is the first I’ve read of Matthew Hughes, and I will definitely add him to my list of authors I want to read more of.

The Math

Objective Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 incorporating certain fantasy tropes while simultaneously challenging others

Penalties: none

Nerd coefficient: 8/10 "Well worth your time and attention"

I must say, I am really enjoying my read through Rogues. When the stories are wonderful they leave me in awe of the authors' ability to create something so large in such a small place. And when the stories are awful, they are just short enough that it doesn't ruin my day. I'm still reeling over gibberish I've wasted 400 pages of my life on.


Next up: Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale
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POSTED BY: Tia, who is currently reveling the joy of the short story anthology

Reference: Hughes, Matthew. The Inn of the Seven Blessings. From: Rogues, Eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois [Bantam Spectra, 2014]

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday Morning Superhero


I sit in awe as I type my weekly open to our comics book round-up.  Mind MGMT came to a glorious end today and there is something to be said about a comic book series that has a clear beginning and end.  While I would have loved to have had more adventures with Henry, Meru, and the other agents, it wouldn't have been as satisfying.  When I think about recent comic book series that I have truly loved of recent, Mind MGMT, Locke and Key, The Sixth Gun, and Chew come to mind.  There are others that I am forgetting, but one thing all of these series have in common is that while it is sad to see them come to an end, it is natural and prevents series from going on and on and on and on and on.  I will pour one out for Mind MGMT tonight, but sleep easy knowing the Matt Kidnt will continue to produce stunning work.


 
Pick of the Week:
New MGMT #1 - The epilogue for Matt Kindt's phenomenal 3 year run at Mind MGMT came to a stunning conclusion this week.  The way he was able to bring everything full circle, wrap up so many loose ends, and provide the perfect ending is nothing short of spectacular.  From the notes in the margins, to the beautiful reflection Mr. Kindt provides about the journey that produced 1,028 pages of penciled, inked, painted, and lettered pages of an instant classic.  Throughout this run, Matt has raised the bar to what is possible through this medium and I am honored to have had a chance to share this experience with him.  The direction that Meru leads the New MGMT in is inspirational and something that will hopefully inspire people to use their gifts to create positive change in their community.

The Rest:
Over the Garden Wall #1 - Kaboom! has brought the beloved Cartoon Network miniseries to print form and the first issue an an absolute delight.  It retains all of the charm and surrealism that made the miniseries a success.  In this issue, Wirt attempts to correct a wrong he has committed by doing some chores.  Due to simple misunderstandings, he merely causes more harm and he must flee with his brother.  If you are looking for a new all-ages book then look no further than Over the Garden Wall.




Last Days of Ant-Man #1 - I decided to revisit Secret Wars and was quite entertained by the  exploits of Ant-Man and his quest to retrieve an artifact for a crotchety client.  Unaware of the impending colliding of worlds, Scott Lang is hired by a client to steal a valuable item that was taken from her.  Hijinks ensue and Lang learns that his client is the former Miss Patriot.  Upon learning she is a clairvoyant and how the world is ending, Lang attempts to say goodbye to his daughter.  This was a fun issue, but I am still not feeling the Secret Wars vibe.  Not sure if I will pick up the next issue or not.




Old Man Logan #4 - My favorite series in the latest Marvel event, Logan finds himself in the Deadlands left to die.  The deadlands are filled with zombies and sybiotes and a disgruntled She-Hulk.  She-Hulk confirms that there is no escaping the Deadlands as she has been trying to escape for an unknown amount of time.  Still trying to wrap his head around what is happening, Logan will need the help of She-Hulk if he ever wants to escape.  A dark issue in which the breathtaking art of Andrea Sorrentino does most of the talking.  While my reading of the latest event has been quite narrow, I feel this is one of the few must-read titles of Secret Wars.





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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

6 Books with Fantasy Author Tom Doyle


Tom Doyle is a writer of fantasy fiction, as well as nonfiction. His latest, The Left Hand Way, is a sequel to the highly regarded military fantasy novel American Craftsmen. Today he shares his "6 Books" with us...

1. What book are you currently reading?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. I’m reading this because I’ll be touring France soon, but I got far more than I bargained for. The compressed “beauty and the beast” story that dominates the retellings in other media captures very little of Hugo’s panoramic view of late medieval Paris. Also, I’ve been surprised how much more engaging it is than Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.




2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick. Technically this isn’t upcoming, because it just came out, but it’s still upcoming for me, because I’ve been too busy to devour it immediately, as I would very much like to do. The Post-Utopian conmen Darger and Surplus are two of my favorite characters in SF/F. I’ve heard Swanwick’s reading of the opening, so I know it’s going to be a good one.




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

The Complete Works of Shakespeare by William Shakespeare. I’m not generally a re-reader, particularly as I listen to many audiobooks, so it’s difficult just to skim some favorite portion again. But I think I’d like the leisure to re-read (or in a few instances, read for the first time) all of Shakespeare. When I was in The Taming of the Shrew in high school, memorizing my lines gave me such a good sense of rhythm that I was able to crank out a dozen sonnets in a sitting, and I’d like to regain some of that sense.



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

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. I love this book, but on rereading years later, I realized that many of the characters who are nominally mature adults are in fact teenagers in their behavior, and therefore designed to appeal to younger readers. I felt a little robbed--these characters who had seemed so cool could no longer be models for me. But the book’s mash-up of religion and science fiction still blows me away.



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

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Okay, this is cheating--I was a full adult when I first read it. But I read it right before I started writing seriously (so in that sense, I was a young writer), and its mix of alt history, intrigue, magic, and sex was a revelation of the possibilities in the genre.





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

The Left-Hand Way by Tom Doyle. The magician-soldiers and psychic spies from American Craftsmen are back! Witness as they battle an undying evil out of Poe in a globe-spanning thriller! Discover the secret interracial history of British literature! You won’t want to miss it! (Did I use enough exclamation points?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

6 Books with Science Fiction and Fantasy Author Aliette de Bodard


Aliette de Bodard is an engineer, a science fiction and fantasy writer and a keen amateur cook. Her stories have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld or Interzone, and her novel The House of Shattered Wings, a murder mystery set in a post-apocalyptic Paris ruled by Fallen angels, is currently available from Gollancz and ROC Books. She blogs (and cooks) at http://www.aliettedebodard.com.


1. What book are you currently reading?

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett, which I'm reading as part of my months-long reread of Terry Pratchett. Opera, witches and Greebo the psychopathic cat in human form--what can possibly go wrong? Really like this one because it's got the second appearance of Agnes/Perdita, whom I have a weakness for, and is her first appearance as a fully fledged character; and I've always thought Phantom of the Opera could do with a less Gothic, more level-headed update. Plus, of course, Pratchett's humor and biting social commentary.



2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin, the sequel to his very strong Three-Body Problem, which I loved (crazy science and Chinese history make for awesomeness in my book). I've also heard that is has mind-glowingly great set pieces, which I'm very curious about!






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

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb. I recently read Robin Hobb's "The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince", and really loved the character's voice as well as the depiction of life within a castle. It's made me really curious to reread the Farseer trilogy--I got those books about fifteen years ago while living in the UK, and haven't touched them since. I still vividly remember the carving of the dragon and the trip into the mountains, and I'm curious if they're still as impressively good as I remember.



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

A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xuequin and Gao E. I really didn't appreciate this book when I read it the first time--it moved too slowly, was awfully confusing and the translation was peppered with tons of notes that made for very hard reading. When I came back to it the second time (ok, to be fair, with another less scholarly translation), I was pleasantly surprised by the depth it had: the characters are very smartly and sharply depicted, the plot is complex and sprawling and feels messily true to real life, and it has layers and layers of sharp observations on the daily life of this household in decline.

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

Year of the Unicorn by Andre Norton. I really wanted to be main character Gillan when I was younger--she's a strong woman who doesn't fit in with the world she's born in because she's different, and longs for something more--but when she's offered that something more in the shape of an wedding with a Were Rider, she doesn't take anything at face value, and fights tooth and claw for what she loves. And I also loved the creepy otherworld the action moved to towards the end--a lot of that creepiness has made it into my writing.


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

The House of Shattered Wings is a dark fantasy set in a Paris devastated by a magical war. It features Fallen angels, witches, alchemists, magicians, and a Vietnamese ex-Immortal with a grudge. Oh, and a lot of dead bodies, creepy shadows that suck the life out of you, and the ghost of Lucifer Morningstar brooding in the ruins of Notre Dame. If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will :)




-Aliette de Bodard

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Personal Thank You to 29 Awesome People (and some blogs)

So the Hugo voting statistics are available, and it looks like 'nerds of a feather, flock together' received the 12th most nominating votes. That's still a far cry from the 68 garnered by nominee #5 (and eventual winner) Journey Planet, but it's also the first time we've made the longlist.

More importantly, it means that 29 individuals believe enough in what we've built and what we're doing here to cast a vote for this site, and that makes me happier than anything else. I am humbled by  and grateful to each and every one of you for your support. I hope that we continue to earn your time and attention in years to come.

Finally, I want to recognize a few other sites on the longlist who I think are really deserving:

#4 Black Gate

I'd kind of forgotten about Black Gate, to be honest, but I was hugely impressed with how they, and writer Matthew David Surridge, comported themselves after receiving puppy nominations. I've since fallen back in love with the venerable site--and especially with, you know, the stuff about books. Top notch content, though could use a site redesign.

#7 Lady Business

One of my shortlist nominees, and just an outstanding site.

#8 File770

Another one I'd sort of written off in past years, but now it has to be considered the frontrunner for 2016, due to Mike Glyer's decision to chronicle the whole sordid affair. Somewhere right now I suspect a sociologist is silently thanking you.

#9 A Dribble of Ink

The 2014 winner, and the site that convinced me to start this one. Beautifully designed and a showcase for Aidan Moher's elegant writing on fantasy.

#11 SF Signal

I mean, come on--these guys are just too awesome for words.

#13 SF Mistressworks

One of the few SF/F blogs I'd classify as important.

You are all winners in my book.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Microreview [video game]: Dragon Age: Inquisition

 Sweet Redemption
 

Quite a while ago, I wrote about what I thought of the Dragon Age series as it was prior to the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I won't say that I was wrong, because I still stand by those opinions, but Dragon Age: Inquisition has absolutely redeemed the series for me.

DA:I takes place several years after the events of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 and it starts with a bang. The conclave, a gathering of templars, rebel mages, and Chantry religious figures, explodes, and a huge green rift is ripped open in its place. The player escapes the rift with no memory of how they got there in the first place, and a glowing green mark on their hand. Implicated in the deaths of everyone at the conclave, Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast invokes a backup plan put in place by the now-dead Divine Justinia, and enlists the player and others to close the rifts and stop whatever caused the explosion at the conclave.

Inquisition takes a lot of the best parts of Dragon Age: Origins and combines it with the best parts of Dragon Age 2. It is absolutely enormous. The game takes place in many locations spread across Orlais (a French-inspired state) and Ferelden (typical medieval state). The environments are as varied as they are large, with almost every common biome represented. It's a huge improvement over the complete lack of variety in Dragon Age 2. It's even an improvement on the large world of Origins.

Many improvements were made to the core gameplay of Inquisition over the previous games. The flashier, more action-focused attacks in Dragon Age 2 are refined in Inquisition. It's almost an action RPG, except that it also includes a "tactics" mode, where the game is paused and the player can micromanage their party members to their heart's content. Complaints against the lack of tactical options in Dragon Age 2 have been largely addressed. What you see is what you're fighting. No more bad guys teleporting in during a fight, except when it's to close a rift and then you're still seeing where they come from. My only complaint about the action is physiological. The attack button on a controller is the right trigger. I spent so much time playing DA:I that I strained a muscle in my right hand from holding down the trigger constantly. This is why I'm poorly suited for racing games. I suffer for you.

Some BioWare tropes are also minimized or adapted to better use in Inquisition. While you still gather a party of character sympathetic to your mission, and your actions still influence how they feel about you, it's not as overt and game-y as it was in previous games. There's no light side/ dark side meter. No good/bad. No saint/satan dichotomy. Conversations options are marked by tone, and not even by name. There's an icon that indicates a stern tone, and an icon for a sad tone, and an icon for a quizzical tone, among a few others. More often than not, conversation options don't have a tone at all. This makes playing the game feel a lot more natural. It's hard to say that you're going to go on a light side playthrough when your "good" options aren't marked outright. In my playthrough, I tried maintain a consistent point of view and that's my playthrough. If I were to play it again, I can't say I wouldn't make the same exact choices, with a few major, obvious exceptions.

There are no meters on your relationships with the people you attract. The choices you make will either be approved or disapproved to some degree, or cause no reaction from any particular member. For example, Seeker Pentaghast is religious and orderly. These aren't spelled out in a character profile. It's just traits I determined by her reactions. When I did things that supported the Chantry, Cassandra approved. When I made exceptions for bad people, Cassandra often disapproved. Again, these contributed to the feeling that the game world is living and that it's not super game-y about it. These characters have motivations and desires. I couldn't just buy their happiness.

The quest design is rather good, if heavy on collection and fetching. As is typical, the main quest line and the quests connected with party members are the best in the game. They're varied and expose more of the interesting characters. The party members have excellent in-game banter that seemingly never repeated itself. It lent to me mixing up my party more often than I do in most BioWare games. If there's one complaint to be made about the main story, it's that there comes a point where it feels like you've walked into a movie that's already started, and I'm not speaking as a Dragon Age newcomer. It's not overtly explained, but this feeling comes from having not played the Dragon Age 2: Legacy DLC. I can hardly be blamed for skipping it because I wasn't a fan of Dragon Age 2, but I now kind of wish I didn't. Without having played it, it feels like I might have missed out on something that probably should've been in Dragon Age 2 to begin with.

As with previous games, DA:I is heavy on lore and there is a lot to dig through, if you want to. If there's one thing DA:I could stand to steal from Destiny, it's that there's so much lore that it should really have come with a companion app/website to read it all outside of the game. It's interesting stuff, except that when I'm in the game, I want to play the game. Destiny was starved for background and motivating information. Inquisition is the opposite. I get enough out of the story that they give me. I want to be able to read the side/extra stuff when I'm not playing the game.

I went into Dragon Age: Inquisition skeptical, but left it a believer. It's an excellent Dragon Age game, and very good BioWare RPG. By improving upon video game parts that worked in the series, and making it feel less like video game in the roleplaying parts, BioWare has made something great. If you liked Origins, and you suffered through Dragon Age 2 like I did, you owe it to yourself to play Dragon Age: Inquisition to see the series shine again. If you haven't played either of them, Inquisition is still a good place to start, even with the middle-of-movie experience at some point.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 signature, excellent BioWare party members

Penalties: -1 awkward introduction of a major character that will make some players feel like they must've missed something among the many different ways to consume Dragon Age media

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: BioWare. Dragon Age: Inquisition [Electronic Arts, 2014]

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thursday Morning Superhero


While not related to comics, I am happy to announce that Cat Tower, one of the games I dubbed a sleeper hit at Gen Con, has found its way to Kickstarter!  As a proud backer of this title, I hope you check it out and see if you need a game in which you stack cats in your life.  You probably do.

This past weekend I was able to attend some of the Great Fables Wake at Austin Books.  I wish I had the opportunity to attend more, but what I saw was a first class operation and it was great to see the fans and creators come together to say goodbye to such an influential title.  Fables was key in my return to the comic book medium and I am planning a massive reread in the near future.


Pick of the Week:
Star Wars #8 - While we still don't know if Han Solo is actually married, we do know that the woman who is claiming to be his wife is tough enough to hold her own with Mr. Solo.  I love seeing the back and forth between the two of them and understanding why Princess Leia truly dislikes and distrusts Han early in the story.  Han clearly has a lot he needs redemption for and the ability of the comics to provide this context is very powerful.  On top of that, Imperial forces have been alerted to Leia's presence and are bearing down.  If that wasn't enough packed into this book, Luke foolishly breaks out his light saber in a seedy bar and draws some unwanted attention.  This series remains a must read for any Star Wars fan.  Really good stuff.

The Rest:
Birthright #10 - Another brilliant issue from Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan, and Adriano Lucas.  We get some more peeks at Mikey's downfall in the land of Terrenos and some hints as to how the Nevermind possessed him.  While it was fascinating and left me wanting more, the big moment in this issue was a showdown between Mikey and his past.  In an attempt to free him of the toxin that is infecting his blood, Mikey is forced to confront his past and witness what he has given up in his quest for power.  This is followed with a shocking ending that is going to make the wait for issue #11 quite difficult.



Rai #9 - I will admit I haven't read this series in some time, but a new arc seemed like a good time to  revisit a book that I enjoyed.  A lot has gone down since I left the series and thinks don't look good for Rai or any of the rebel factions.  Rai is needed more than ever given the current state of things, but he has been left for dead on Earth.   The rebellion is hanging on by a thread and the hope is Rai is alive and able to return to New Japan.







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