Wednesday, July 31, 2013

And Our SWAG-AWAY Winner is...

Congratulations to Dianna!

You'll be receiving a message from us shortly.

Thanks to everyone else for entering!

Guest Microreview [book]: Hooded Man by Paul Kane

Kane, Paul. Hooded Man [Abbadon, 2013]

The Meat

So, one review on here recently touched on the positives of book reviewing and I agree with those. However, Hooded Man by Paul Kane raises in my mind most of the negatives. In reading in order to review, I dragged myself far further through this series of three novels than I ever would have as a casual reader, even one who had paid for the books. And I also kept my interest heightened by regularly looking for good aspects of the stories in fair rebellion against my gut feeling that I just didn't enjoy reading them.

The concept is pretty fun, and for a while Kane does a good job of balancing the serious and the jokey in his vision of a post-apocalyptic Robin Hood. Robert gradually becomes a leader and fighter that strongly resembles, through both coincidence and design, the medieval legend. He uses a bow and arrow. He has a girlfriend called Marian, I mean, Mary. He has a hood. He lives in Sherwood Forest. He fights an evil 'sheriff' (a Frenchman called De Falaise) based in Nottingham castle. Etc.

Some aspects are well rendered. The sorrow Robert feels over losing his family, and how grief even more than anarchy is the abiding result of the virus that killed most of humanity, are convincing and bring a depth to events. The inter-relationships between characters get space to breathe and most are given respect and emotional range. The action is often inventive and unpredictable.

The chief issue is not in the tale, which is largely entertaining - the kind of tale that people who take paintball a bit too seriously would love... 

...but in the telling. The books are just too long. Why would anyone want something giving pleasure to be shorter (Oscar Wilde never asked) ? Well, because it grates, and dilutes the power of the story. He can't avoid embellishing his meanings, adding to his details, rounding out moments, which, in my learned, never-actually-written-a-book-myself opinion, makes for a more labourious read than the kinetic, fast-flowing action deserves. He feels a constant need to reiterate points :
And a recurring dream sequence of Robert and De Falaise in a climatic confrontation, over and over, is like a bad trailer. "Who would win, who would lose? It was a question that soon would be answered..." Thanks for that. Nice way to build the tension.

And one more thing; Sherwood Forest is tiny these days. Tiny. In American terms, it's a small thicket. So why doesn't the bad guy just napalm it? When the good guys get hold of a helicopter and yet the huge evil army that has raided army bases has nothing, it just strains belief too far. It's like he thought as he wrote, 'Oh yeah they could use a helicopter, that'd be a twist', and thought nothing else. Although if he had he would have put in a paragraph slowly explaining it all.

Anyway, as you can tell, I wasn't really buying the first of the trilogy. But onwards I read, partially out of duty, partially because it was mindless easy reading to while away some long days on vacation when something more intense or complex felt like hard work. But also because I hoped the story would begin to expand and lose the trappings of the Hood legend and become its own beast.

Well, the next two tales do expand, in a way. The villains are from further afield and grander in their plans. More and more characters are added to the mix (which leaves Robert actually reduced to just another player, and I'd have preferred him to be the sole protagonist). The simple mix of post-outbreak sci-fi and myth homage is broadened to include mysticism and mild fantasy elements. There is even a American native indian bad guy who has visions. So an interesting enough world. But the writing just fails to inspire, to rise above the fan fiction way it sounds. And the violence becomes repetitive and gratuitous. When the bad guys do it, it serves to show how evil they are. When the good guys do it, it shows how brave and righteous they are. Boring and morally backward, like a Steven Seagal film.

In the end, I decided to stop reading a third of the way into the last book, as giving up on it is what I would have done if not reviewing and the best review you can have of Hooded Man is one that says don't bother. Like substandard candy, it is fun for a bit but after a while loses its flavour and just needs spitting out. Sorry.

The Math

Baseline Assessment : 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for a genuinely enjoyable idea, and a good beginning, which builds the idea up gradually.

Penalties: -1 for failing to capitalise on it, instead trotting out villain-of-the-week scenarios; -1 for annoying, frequent dream sequences; -1 for putting that Brian Adams song in my head

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10. "Problematic, but still has some redeeming qualities." 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Microreview [film]: The Adventures of Mark Twain

The Meat

If you were alive and creating memories in the United States during 1985/86, you likely remember the craze surrounding Back to the Future, and the craze surrounding Halley's Comet. Bright enough to be seen by the naked eye, Halley's Comet comes around once every 75 years, so for most people it was the only time in their life that the comet would be visible. Of course, some people live long enough at the right time and are able to cross paths with the comet twice. Mark Twain was one of these people, born as the comet appeared in 1835, and dying when it reappeared in 1910.

I remember one Saturday afternoon during or immediately after the comet-o-mania, flipping through the channels and coming across a stop-motion movie about Mark Twain chasing Halley's Comet in a giant airship. I probably saw about thirty minutes from the middle of the movie before the family had to leave and go somewhere, so I never saw the end and never knew what it was called, but I never forgot about it, either. So a few weeks ago when The Adventures of Mark Twain popped up on Netflix, I was both surprised and very, very happy to be able to finally close the loop on this moment from my childhood.

In the film, Tom Sawyer wants to become an "aeronaurt," an outer-space explorer, and when he and Huck Finn see Becky Thatcher at the gala launch of the writer Mark Twain's flying airship, Tom decides he has to get onboard. Twain is going off in pursuit of Halley's Comet, to which he feels cosmically and spiritually bound, and at first he doesn't realize he has stowaways slinking around his magical, proto-steampunk flying colossus. On the ship, the kids are exposed to some of the lesser-known writings of Mark Twain, including The Diary of Adam and Eve, Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven, and The Damned Human Race. All the while, a shadow Twain lurks just off-screen, luring the kids to danger and putting the entire voyage at risk. This shadow Twain is where much of the film's power lies, serving as a metaphor for both Twain himself, and the entire human condition -- the uneasy co-existence of light and dark inside each of us.

Produced and directed by Will Vinton, the stop-motion pioneer who would go on to create the California Raisins animations, the film seems to have almost completely disappeared for 20 years. Wikipedia reports that it was released theatrically in only 7 cities in 1985, and didn't see a video release until 2006. It's a shame. The fact that this film stuck with me for nearly thirty years is a testament to what it accomplishes. The Adventures of Mark Twain is a witty, playful, dark, and thought-provoking film that is a fitting tribute to Twain himself. Animated in clay, it retains a tactile, handmade quality that is more coarse than the stop-motion work that Tim Burton helped popularize subsequently, but also more human and inviting. Twain's was a singular genius, and this film gets him right, which is no small feat.

The Math

Objective Quality: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for the amazing, and legitimately disturbing, The Damned Human Race segment

Penalties: None

Cult Movie Coefficient: 9/10, very high quality/standout in its category

Click here to read up on our scoring system, and why a "9" is serious business.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Microreview [book]: Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

Bear, Elizabeth. Shattered Pillars [Tor, 2013]

The Meat

Middle chapters in serialized trilogies pose unique problems. After all, there's no real beginning or ending--just a whole lot of middle. For the most part, things go badly and our heroes struggle to piece together the tools with which they'll eventually confront whatever (or whoever) torments them. It is incumbent upon writers, then, to balance tension and hope for resolution. When it works, you get something like The Empire Strikes Back or A Clash of Kings. When it doesn't, you get Attack of the Clones or A Feast for Crows/A Dance with Dragons.

The good news is that Shattered Pillars isn't the latter half of that equation, and in fact it's very good--particularly for a bridging chapter. It's elegantly written, well-paced and rich enough to beg for a second read-through. But it does suffer from some nagging issues that keep it from soaring to Empire or Clash of Kings heights. That said, it's a testament to how good this series is that these things never feel like more than minor annoyances.

!WARNING: Mild Spoilers Ahead!*

Action begins with Re Temur, once-princess and wizard Samakar and their companions in the capital of the Uthman (alt-Islamic) Caliphate. They are eagerly awaiting the Caliph's audience, where they will attempt to make an ally of him against al-Sepehr, his Nameless cult of assassins and allies across the known world, who conspire to resurrect the dread Carrion-King and plunge the world into darkness. Meanwhile, Edene escapes the Rahazeen fortress Ala-Din and finds herself in a land of ghouls, while a strange plague emerges in Samarkar's homeland Rasa.

Most of Shattered Pillars comes form the perspective of its female characters--Samarkar, Edene, the Rasan wizard Tsering-la, Cho-tse warrior woman Hrahima and the Nameless assassin Saadet. Bear's treatment of the female subject stands out as among the best in fantasy--not only are there strong women characters, but different sources of their strength (something Aidan Moher has commented on extensively in his review). Edene's transformation from damsel-in-distress to Queen of the Ghouls exemplifies this. I suspect there's more going on here than meets the eye--after all, al-Sepehr wanted her to escape--but Edene is no puppet. She recognizes al-Sepehr's manipulations for what they are; the long-game conflict between them promises much for the final chapter.

Like Range of Ghosts, though, the true genius of Shattered Pillars lies with the characters and their interactions with a rich, fully-realized world. Bear's portrayal of the physical and social environment is vivid, with a keen attention to detail and to customary practices. One of the strongest elements of Range of Ghosts was, I felt, its treatment of religion. The medieval time period Eternal Sky is based on (and which nearly all epic fantasy is based on) predates secularization, and is one in which individuals made little distinction between the physical and the metaphysical. Gods, saints, demons and monsters were, for the most part, things perceived to be integral to the normal course of things. Fantasy is decidedly ambivalent on this score--sure there's a surfeit of evil gods returned to wreak havoc for the general purposes of evil-doing, but there's a distinct lack of faith in anything else. In medieval societies, on the other hand, religion could be found in nearly all facets of social life. Religion in the world of Eternal Sky is a similarly lived reality, one that literally determines the way the sky looks to you.

Little about this changes in Shattered Pillars, but Bear adds depth to the device. The most interesting example of this comes in a series of vignettes about Hrahima, the Cho-tse (tiger person) warrior who accompanies Temur and Samarkar in their quest to rescue Edene, reclaim the Khaganate and forestall the coming of the Carrion-King. In the faith of the Cho-tse, the divine resides within and can be tapped into as a source of tremendous power. Yet Hrahima has rejected the faith for what are as-of-yet unclear reasons. The question then emerges why anyone would reject faith in a divine power in a context where it is both unimpeachably real and experienced as a wellspring of physical power. The broader implication is to underscore how unlikely it is that individuals in a world like this would actually reject their faith, and to position both systematic critique and even cynicism about religion as luxuries of modernity. This abstracted and expressionistic historical "realism" is a cornerstone of Bear's world-building in Eternal Sky, and one of the reasons it stands out from the bulk of fantasy series.

Bear also generally approaches her subjects with sensitivity and a smart relativism that eschews the moral hierarchies of culture that trickled down from Tolkein. We aren't given a lot of "good" and "bad" practices, only different practices and unique subjectivities. I loved every scene from the perspective of al-Sepehr's agent Saadet, whose body is now also home to the consciousness of her dead twin brother Shahruz, and whom al-Sepehr has sent to be consort to Qersnyk warlord and would-be Khagan Qori Buqa. In order to accomplish her mission, she must make a number of compromises with her religio-cultural norms of femininity and sexuality (many of which are accepted practices among the Qersnyk). Though she knows it is "for the good of the cause," we experience both her revulsion and that of her brother, who increasingly retreats from her. In this I detected an implied critique of gendered mores on sexual behavior, one that would both ask Saadet to employ her sexuality and then shame her for it. Yet this never devolves into an othering of the cultural values of the Rahazeen, the sect of Scholar-God worshippers from which the Nameless cult derives and to which al-Sepehr claims leadership.

I did, however, take issue with other aspects of Bear's portrayal of the Rahazeen. The Nameless, of course, are based on the Shia Assassin cult. The Assassins practiced a subset of Ismailism, itself a subset of Shiism. They were thus outsiders among the Shia, who were outsiders within most Islamic states of the time. In Shattered Pillars, though, the Nameless (i.e. Assassins) are generally conflated with the Rahazeen (i.e. Shia), as if these were one and the same. Perhaps they are, in Bear's world, but this would strike me as a missed opportunity. I have enough faith in Bear as a writer to expect that we'll get more nuance in the next installment, but feel that I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that this bothered me.

A bigger problem concerns the plotting. As mentioned above, middle chapters need to strike a balance between hope and despair. And with the kind of trouble Temur and Samarka face, you'd expect that things generally go badly throughout the book. But here's the thing--they don't really. Unlike in Range of Ghosts, I rarely got the sense that Temur and Samarkar were in actual danger. There's always something that intervenes--a newly discovered form of magic or, more often, a magic horse that always seems to show up at the right time and know what to do.** The Nameless assassins pursuing them are, for the most part, hapless Cobra-style cannon fodder. For the record, Bear does a better job of building tension in the Rasan scenes where the wizards Hong-la and Tsering-la grapple with the strange and insidious plague. Hope and despair are indeed balanced nicely in these scenes, something I would have liked to see more of in the main narrative.

Keeping all of this in mind, I think it's fair to say that Shattered Pillars may not be the monumental achievement Range of Ghosts is, but it's still an excellent fantasy book that sets up the final installment neatly. This series should be on the must-read list of any serious fantasy reader.

*Sorry...couldn't figure out how to talk about the book without them!
**Even though I love Bansh, it's overkill.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for the exquisite world-building; +1 for the deep characterization.

Penalties: -1 for Bansh's transformation into deus ex machina horse; -1 for the endless legions of evil Rahazeen/Cobra assassins

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

See how our scoring system is doing its part to fight grade inflation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Microreview [crime fiction]: Frank Sinatra in a Blender

Frank Sinatra in a Blender
Matthew McBride

The Meat

Two hundred and two pages. Matthew McBride didn’t need any more than that. Keep it simple, straightforward, and violent. That is what, in my book at least, distinguishes crime fiction (or noir, hardboiled, pulp, neo or otherwise) from its more popular and needlessly wordy cousin, the mystery novel. But I never demand much from crime fiction: just a few losers and a few psychos, some money to plot and fight and kill over, and two hundred or so pages. That’s all it takes.

That and a good title. Frank Sinatra in a Blender unfortunately missed on that final count. But I’ll let that go for now, because I liked everything else about this novel.

McBride’s book is about thieves, psychopaths, and cops. Our hero, Nick Valentine fits into all three categories—at least he did right up until he drank himself off the force. What else can an alcoholic ex-cop do but become a Private Investigator? When some low-rent hoods working for one of St. Louis’s wannabe crime bosses pull off a massive bank job, increasingly violent events are set into motion as Valentine tries to help the police crack the case while plotting with a pair of middle-aged thieves to steal the loot from the original thieves. Plus there’s a pair of hired goons named English Sid and Johnny No Nuts who have a particular penchant for brutality.

This is a world of idiots, losers who can’t do anything right. Mistakes and misfortunes propels the book, as Valentine and Co. stumble about, trying to stay ahead of the psychos who are also after the money from the heist. Violence, of course, is always likely, though McBride wisely dials back on the carnage until the last forty pages of the book. Then things get very bloody, very quick.

McBride’s style is unadorned and straightforward. He doesn’t rely on trite metaphors or outdated lingo as so many “neo-pulp” authors do. His characters are defined by their brutal and stupid actions, not by their overworked cadence or peculiar quirks. The mixing of perspectives—first-person for the Valentine chapters, third for the rest—is initially a bit jarring. But it serves an ultimate purpose: to exhibit the extent to which our hero is the biggest loser in the book. Valentine puts on a tough-guy façade, which throughout the book becomes thinner, revealing the moron beneath. Who's actually not that bad a guy. 

Alright, I must nitpick a bit: NO ONE DRINKS LIKE VALENTINE. I know alcoholics, I know drunks. They will drink pretty much whatever if that’s what is available, but for the most part dedicated drunks have rigid preferences. They stick with their favorite drink, whether its whiskey or beer with a shot of whiskey. Valentine's drinking—he’ll pound a shot of Makers, a White Russian, and two Coronos in an instant—is fairly ridiculous, and reads very unrealistically. And he drinks a lot, so there's that.

But, for some reason, Valentine has given up coffee and cigarettes. 

In honor of McBride’s terse storytelling, I’m going to cut this review short and simply tell you to buy this book immediately, read it, and thank me. I didn't even mind the whole PI bit. 

The Math
Objective Score: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for 202 pages

Penalties: -1 for the drinks; -1 for the title, obviously

Nerd coefficient: 8/10

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Top 3's of Comic Con

This past week I went to my fifth San Diego Comic Con.  I am still recovering from participating in events, panels, off-site parties, and more with more than 100,000 of my closest friends.  The event has seen huge growth through the short five years I have been attending and I feel that the best way to capture my experience is through a series of lists.  Also, if you couldn't make it and want some swag you should enter our contest while there is time.  Click here to do so.

Top Trends in SDCC:
1. Off-site growth - This year there were more and bigger off-site events.  The Nerd HQ, in its third year, moved into the concourse of Petco Park, HBO took over the first floor of a building across from the Omni, Geek and Sundry moved into the original home of the Nerd HQ, and too many to actual list here.  With the sheer number of off-site events, SDCC is something you can experience without having a badge or setting foot into the San Diego Convention Center

2. Camping out - Before I ever attended SDCC I was warned about the lines.  Despite this warning I was still shocked at the length of the lines and how early you had to line up for panels.  I do recall getting into all of the panels I intended to and this is not the case anymore.  My plans for attending the WB and Dr. Who panels were halted when I saw people camping out prior to end of the panels the previous day.  If they are willing to show that type of dedication to be in a panel, may hats off to them and I will find something else fun to do.
3. Twitter - It seems that in order to truly stay in the loop and get the most out of Comic Con you need to have your twitter feed rolling with key individuals to follow.  Bloggers, comic publishers, and others will let you know what is currently happening and help you have a good time among the mobs of people.

The image that stole the show

My 3 favorite announcements at SDCC:
1. Batman/Superman Movie - It is amazing the amount of buzz and rumblings a simple graphic can produce.  The excitement was in the air upon the announcement and I am pretty sure that all of the attendees heard the eruption in Hall H.  On my flight home when I saw coverage on the CNN app I knew that this was the winning announcement of the con.
2. Gabriel Rodriguez working on Little Nemo in Slumberland - Readers of the blog will know my love of Gabriel Rodriguez and his work on Locke and Key.  I can think of no better artist to be involved on a relaunch of Little Nemo than Rodriguez.  The series is a complete relaunch with a new dreamland, new Nemo, and will be published by IDW.
3. Phineas and Ferb/Star Wars Crossover - I know this was covered earlier this week from Vance, but I got misty when I heard the announcement and saw some of the early art on this project.  It happens during the events of Episode IV, there is a "Sith-inator", and it is going to be amazing.

Top 3 Off-site Locations:
1. The Godzilla Encounter - Godzilla took over a building in the Gas Lamp district for an encounter that required an RSVP and a SDCC badge (wondering if more will go this route).  This event felt like an experience you might have at Disney World or Universal Studios.  You start by touring a Japanese town when everything goes wrong.  The actors in this experience was great, the sets were gorgeous, and the action was pretty good.  One of the more unique experiences I have had at SDCC in the short time I have been attending.

2. Fox ADHD - Taking over a parking lot in the Gas Lamp, the Fox ADHD headquarters featured mini-golf, a 50-ft. Axe Cop balloon, 3-D printed toys, and free pizza.  On top of that it screened episodes of both Axe Cop and High School USA.  Both were great and air this upcoming Saturday night on Fox!
3. Geek and Sundry - Geek and Sundry took over the second floor of a coffee shop in the Gas Lamp and featured board game tournaments (I played and lost in the Star Trek Catan one!), a board game library, game demos, free AMD processors, Wil Wheaton photo booth, and had appearances from Wheton, Felicia Day, and other nerd celebrities.  What I liked about Geek and Sundry is that it was truly low key, fun, and a nice break from the chaos that was everywhere else.

Most overhead complaints at SDCC:
1. Not enough swag - From preview night through Sunday, the most overheard complaint I heard was that the amount of swag handed out was down from previous years.  From what I saw the swag was moved off-site.  I, for one, welcome the move because I find that it helps with flow on the floor.  Additionally, most of the swag really isn't all its cracked up to be.
2. Line jumpers - The folks at CCI really cracked down on line jumpers this year.  I guess when people camp out to attend a panel they don't take too kindly to people cutting in line.  While it did occur and I witnessed several people line jump, it wasn't nearly as common as in years past.
3. Difficulty in getting into Hall H - My friend, who actually didn't complain about this, waited in line from 6am until 3pm to get into Hall H.  The achievement of making it into the great hall was so difficult that people appeared to stay in the hall from open to close.  Don't think I would enjoy hanging out in Hall H all day, but I had a nice time at the Community panel on Sunday.

Top 3 Panels:
1. Legend of Korra - I rewatched book one in preparation of what Nickelodeon was hyping up to be a stellar panel.  After planning on attending this panel I ended up playing in a Star Trek Catan tournament at Geek and Sundry.  My brother attended, got to see the first episode of Book 2 and said that it was great even though he hadn't watched season 1.  I can't wait for Book 2!

Some Whovians tagged a wall in the Hall H line with some chalk
2. Dr. Who - Even though I am a newly converted Whovian and I didn't brave the campers to attend this panel, it is likely the last featuring Matt Smith and included the debut of the trailer for the 50th Anniversary special.  My favorite thing is that people in England are upset because their taxes support the BBC which airs Dr. Who and they haven't even seen the trailer yet.
3. Community - Most of the cast was on hand and the audience gave a warm welcome to the return of Dan Harmon.  Harmon carried himself well about the drama related to the show, but the shining moment in this panel was when Dino Stamatopoulos hijacked the Q&A to promote a new project he is working on and to sell some ashcans.  Overall this panel got me interested in a show again that I had drifted away from.  I also fell for Dino's ploy and picked up his ashcan.  It was quite good.

Top 3 Off-Site Events:
1. Course of the Force - For the second straight year Chris Hardwick and the good people at Nerdist Industries hosted the Course of the Force.  It is a lightsaber relay race that runs from Skywalker Ranch to San Diego.  The event raises money for the Make a Wish Foundation and allows people to participate in the race or stop by one of the many local events at each stop in the race.

2. Hop Con - Wil Wheaton teamed up with Stone Brewery to release a special beer for Comic Con.  WootStout debuted at the Stone Brewery's new tasting room and your admission to Hop Con got you a collectible glass, eight pours of yummy beer, delicious food, and great entertainment featuring Wheaton and the musical comedy duo Paul and Storm.  I can't think of a better way to kick off Comic Con then through this event and I am extremely grateful I attended.
3. The Walking Dead Escape - The Walking Dead Escape returned to Petco Park with a bigger and better running of the zombie filled obstacle course.  This year the course was more physically challenged, featured more of the undead, and was an absolute blast.  You can win some of the giveaways from the event here.

Top 3 Disappointments:

1. No Mr. Show reunion - Almost the entire cast of Mr. Show made the trip to San Diego.  Bob Odenkirk, Paul F. Thompkins, Scott Aukerman, Dino Stamatopoulos, Brian Posehn, and Tom Kenny.  All we needed was David Cross and my mind would have been blown and I would have been camping out.
2. No Locke and Key panel - Neither Joe Hill or Gabriel Rodriguez were in attendance as this title is wrapping up in a few months.  Really would have been great to send off one of my favorite titles of all time in style.
3. No Fables panel - Bill Willingham announced that he would no longer be attending SDCC, but I was still hopeful that the rest of his creative staff would be on hand for one of the panels I look forward to every year.  Maybe next year.

Top 3 Prizes:

1. Mondo Studio Ghibli record - After a disaster trying to secure a Mattel toy for my daughter, I was wondering the floor trying to meet up with a friend when I walked right past the Mondo booth.  To my pleasant surprise they had just dropped an exclusive Studio Ghibli soundtrack on colored vinyl.  The line was about 10 deep and in a few minutes I had a great prize to take home to the wife!
2. Axe Cop toy - For a chance to win one of your own you can enter our contest here, but I am keeping the one I got.  Axe Cop inspired my first ever cosplay and there is no way I am giving mine away.  Vance is much nicer than I am.  This toy took over 12 hours to print in a 3d printer and 3 hours to be painted by hand.
3. Kid Robot Zoidberg - Through the kindness of a friend I was able to get my hands on the alternate universe Zoidberg from Kid Robot.  This baby looks even better in person and when my daughter Zelda saw is she asked me, "why do you have a Homer crab?"  A better question to ask is why do you not have a Homer crab?  They are great!

As I look over the lists above I realize what an amazing experience SDCC is each year.  I could write until my fingers were bleeding, but will rest now and reflect on the good times I have enjoyed in San Diego the past five years.  Here is to another five more!

Thursday Morning Superhero

After a brief hiatus we are back for another weekly recap in comics.  The buzz of San Diego Comic Con is still ringing loudly and there isn't a better time to be a fan of comics.  Check back later today for a list of top 3's related to the joy that is SDCC.  On to the books!

Pick of the Week:
Thumbprint #2 - Joe Hill's tale of a vet being haunted by her past continues on its dark and twisted path.  There is a lot more to Mal than meets the eye and someone knows about her checkered military past and is messing with her.  She is beginning to crack as she has know idea what skeleton from her closet has surfaced.  Hill really knows how to utilize the unknown to pique the readers interest and this tale is no different.  Really good, but disturbing book.

The Rest:
Mind MGMT #13 - One of my highlights at SDCC was saying hello to Matt Kindt, author of this fine series.  It was simply in passing and he was probably wondering who I was, but it was exciting for me to see an author who has written many great titles.  This week's Mind MGMT is a great jumping on point if aren't current.  It provides a nice recap of events and really sets the stage for Lyme vs. Eraser, but don't forget about Meru.  Man I love this series.

Hawkeye Annual #1 - Matt Fraction turns his attention to Kate Bishop for an issue and it is an absolute delight.  Bishop leaves Clint Barton and moves across the country to Los Angeles.  Madame Masque is hip to this and quickly traps Bishop in her trap.  Throw in some conflict between Bishop and her father and you have a witty, smart episode that is fun and a nice break from the Barton action.  Such a good series and this title sets up Bishop nicely to be on her own on the West Coast.

The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun #5 - Cullen Bunn wraps up this side series with the tale of how Widow Hume brought the four horsemen of her husband under her control set on the course of action that leads into the series.  What I initially thought sounded like a throwaway spin-off has really turned into a great read that provides valuable insight into characters initially thought to be one dimensional.  If you are a fan of the Sixth Gun then you need to read this series.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Microreview [film]: Warm Bodies, directed by Jonathan Levine

Ignore the stupid tag line!

The Meat

Following—or rather, shuffling awkwardly and groaning—in the wake of the recent rash of "__(insert supernatural being here)___falls in love with human girl and rediscovers humanity" movies comes Warm Bodies, a zombie-on-human love story.  As a scarred veteran of such supernatural pseudo-romances as Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, you can imagine that my expectations weren't exactly high for Warm Bodies. I even spent a little time before I watched this film envisioning all the ways this concept could be done poorly: a love triangle, for example (I was even mentally prepared to hum "It's All Been Done" by They Might Be Giants if such a situation developed). And I imagined that the whole zombie thing was a potential problem: there are a whole host of movies and TV programs "about zombies" in which the actual zombies are weirdly incidental (e.g., The Walking Dead) or simply a metaphor (Night of the Living Dead—although in this case the metaphor was brilliant and film was too!).  The real question which had me excited (Mystery Science Theater 3000 style) going into Warm Bodies was 'into which pitfall would this movie fall?'

It hasn't won everyone over: Canadian horror movie fans lash out in righteous fury!
 Sure enough, the zombies were a mere metaphor for postmodern humanity, soulless drones who have collectively lost the ability to form genuine connections with other people.  And when one phrases it like that, it probably sounds pretty lame.  But let me assure you, it's not.  In fact, to put it in the plainest language possible: Warm Bodies is awesome.  I haven't been this moved by a story of this nature since the delightful Pleasantville, to which it is really quite similar (it's not giving much away, I trust, to say that 'love conquers all').  Actually, I'd say it's superior to Pleasantville in sheer entertainment value: visually it's just as beautiful in its use of lighting and manipulation of color as Pleasantville, and it's very well paced, so despite the shuffling, snail-like pace of the zombies it never even begins to drag.
The one area where Pleasantville is superior, in the sense of being more courageous as a film, is its rather political message, which means it risked alienating some potential viewers (and to clarify, films can and should make these courageous—or even outrageous—choices, since TV sure as hell won't!). Depending on one's socio-political orientation Pleasantville could be either a beautiful, life-affirming pat on the back or a shocking denunciation of cherished traditions like male chauvinism and (loveless) marriage.  I'll let you guess which of these options it was to me.

If only we could go back to the good old days where life was colorless and dull!

 In any case, the message of Warm Bodies is 'safer' in that it's really all about romantic love, and thereby dodges potentially controversial interpretations as to the metaphoric cause of the zombie plague. For example, perhaps it was blind devotion to profit-seeking capitalism that turns people into zombies, or slavish devotion to science at the expense of spiritual concerns, or perhaps it's the debilitating effect ultra-modern technologies like smart phones have on our ability to communicate face-to-face with others, or perhaps something else—we'll never know, because this film doesn't have a social agenda. It's just a witty, very entertaining, 'let's fall in love' movie, a category which I'll admit I quite like despite finding nothing challenging or productively unsettling about such films, unlike, say, the recently reviewed Upstream Color, which was a brilliant, unrelenting onslaught of loosely strung together unsettling moments.

 The greatest strengths of Warm Bodies are undoubtedly the snappy interior monologues from, and endearing performance by, the extremely well-cast Nicholas Hoult (you might know him as the Beast, pre-transformation, in X-Men: First Class) and the clever homage to the basic story-line of Romeo and Juliet.  If you'd asked me a few days ago if the world needed another adaptation of the Romeo and Juliet story, my answer would've been an emphatic 'no'...but Warm Bodies won me over despite my initial skepticism. The courtship scenes between R and Julie (see where I'm getting the Romeo and Juliet vibe?) are nothing short of hilarious thanks to R's incessant internal comments worrying that he's coming off as creepy and his struggles to articulate his thoughts when in the presence of an attractive stranger—an experience virtually all young men and women can probably relate to all too well.

In short, Warm Bodies may not be the best film I've ever seen, but it's got lots of heart and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, so it's better than the vast majority. And in the sub-genre of "zombie remakes of Shakespeare" it's safe to say it stands unrivaled!

The Math

Baseline assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for a great script and a wonderful performance by Nicholas Hoult, +1 for selling me on the Zombie Romeo idea despite my better judgment

Penalties: -1 for leaving the cause of zombie-ism unexplained, thereby carefully avoiding any potential controversy, -1 for casting the annoying Franco brother (not James, the other one) BUT +1 for what happens to him being almost as cool as that memorable scene when Samuel L. Jackson got sharked mid-speech in the otherwise forgettable Deep Blue Sea!

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

[Note that getting an 8/10 at Nerds of a Feather is like getting an 11/10 most other places!]

The SWAG-AWAY! Comic Con 2013 Swag Giveaway

This year, two of our intrepid bloggers made the trip to San Diego for Comic Con International. They scored some neat swag, and IT CAN ALL BE YOURS!

Nerds of a Feather will be giving away one official Comic Con 2013 bag o' swag, including:
  • WB 300: Rise of an Empire Bag
  • Walking Dead Escape special edition novel (Rise of the Governor), poster, and lanyard
  • 3D-printed, hand-painted Axe Cop figurine made onsite at SDCC
  • Man of Steel Clark Kent glasses
  • Special Edition TV Guides with all four "collectible" Comic Con covers
Enter to win all of this nerdy goodness below, and good luck!


Participants have to be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change.

This giveaway is open to anyone with a US shipping address. The giveaway ends at 11:59pm PT on July 30, 2013. We will announce the winner later that day.

To enter, just follow the instructions on the rafflecopter widget below (if you don't do it via rafflecopter, we won't know that you entered the contest) and choose one of four actions:

1. Like us on facebook (1 pts.)
2. Follow us on twitter (1 pt.)
3. Tweet about the giveaway (1 pt. but can be done once per day)

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Comic Con from Afar -- Second Annual Lamentation

I'll spare you the boo-hooing. If you're trolling the various #sdcc tags on Tumblr like me, you've had it up to here with the drama of a million geek girls virtually howling to a geek moon. SDCC 2013 is so packed with hot dudes in nerdy shows and geeky reboos, the fanfiction practically writes itself. I will try to contain myself.

Sure, it'd have been totally awesome to have run into a scrawny dude in a Bart Simpson mask only to later realize I missed my chance at running away with The Doctor (or at least copping a feel), but I think I'm having more fun experiencing the San Diego Comic Con from the comfort of my own iPhone. There are no lines, the photos make it look like everyone is dressed up instead of just the hardcore geeks, and I get the pleasure of immediate gif-gratification for every priceless moment.

Without further ado, here goes my yearly SQUEE over AWESOME THINGS AT COMIC CON.

No, I will not let go of Firefly; you can pry this orange hat out of my cold, dead hands... after I relapse into a MMORPG coma when Firefly Online is released next summer. It's not much of a trailer, but it still gets my blood pumping.

If you haven't watched The Legend of Korra yet, you're seriously missing out. Not all of the episodes are available on, so do yourself the favor of torrenting Book One (the first season). Check out how sweet Book Two looks! I can hardly wait until September.

(Remember that time I went to the Mall of America to ride the Avatar rollercoaster?!)

Holy cow, and big ones too. Simpsons 25th Anniversary, X-Files 20th Anniversary, BSG 35th Anniversary... So much nerdery. Here's a good collection to get you started.

... Ready.... Fight!
I think I'm obligated to state that it's been confirmed that Batman will appear in the Man of Steel sequel, and that seems pretty cool, I guess. But the announcement that The Avengers sequel will be subtitled Age of Ultron and that Karen Gillam (Amy Pond on Doctor Who) shaved her freaking head for a role as a bad guy in Guardians of the Galaxy is even cooler. 

Here's Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock) and newly crowned King of the Geeks, Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Sherlock), doing funny things and melting hearts:

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee. That's all I can muster. Sorry.

I'm not even sure if they did anything but show up to SDCC, but this dude (Travis Fimmel) and this chick (Katheryn Winnick) are two of the hottest people on TV and I was happy to see them.


John Barrowman (Good ol' Captain Jack from Doctor Who, Torchwood) & Misha Collins (Supernatural)

Stephen FREAKING Hawking introducing the Big Bang Theory panel

Katee Sackhoff (BSG), being B.A. like usual 

Weinery Prince of Nerds Wil Wheaton (TNG) & Zachary Levi (uhhh, Chuck?)

And while we're on Next Gen, here's another fangirl aneurysm/the sandwich I want in on: James McEvoy & Patrick Stewart

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovnyyyyyyy 

And, bestill my heart, Nathan Fillion and Matt Smith, together at last

And finally this: Evan Peters (that kid from American Horror Story), Nicholas Hoult (that kid from Warm Bodies, Jack the Giant Slayer, About a Boy), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), James McAvoy & Michael Fassbender (Prometheus)

No, really, EVARRRRRR

There were a lot of great costumes! Here are some of my favorites: Link, Poison Ivy & Two Face, Classic Transformers, hot-ass Lady Loki, hot-ass Lady Loki 2, Deadpool, Mrs. Captain America and Business Clone Trooper, Gandalf, Darth Maul, hot-ass Lady Cap, OMG T'challa the Black Panther, Space Balls, Galactus, Predator, Hit Girl, TARDIS, Tenth Doctor and Captain Jack doppelgangers, etc, etc

But nobody ain't got nothing on the best cosplay ever, Tom Hiddleston as Loki IRL--

  The day Tumblr broke.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Microreview [book]: Joyland by Stephen King

King, Stephen. Joyland [Hard Case Crime, 2013]

The Meat

Usually when I like a book, it's for specific reasons--it's well-written, it has great characters or a gripping plot, or it's full of big ideas and emotional heft. Every once in a while, though, a book comes along that I really do like, but can't quite put my finger on why. Joyland is one of those books.

The prose is plain, the characters underdeveloped, the plot barely existent and I can't really point you to anything resembling a big idea or repository of emotional heft. Instead, it's a fairly ordinary boy-becomes-virile-man story set in a 1970s amusement park that features some rudimentary (and barely explored) horror elements. Not sure if that sounds interesting to you, but it sounds pretty fucking boring to me. Yet for some reason, the book is nearly impossible to put down.

Exasperated by my failure to locate the source of what compelled me to read on, I began to question my skills as a critic and began contemplating a new career as one of those old dudes who brings a metal detector to the beach. Until, that is, I learned to stop worrying and just embrace the fact that Joyland is fun. Not fun the way the average blockbuster is fun, but the way quirky independent comedies that mine the same territory, like Adventureland or Ping Pong Playa, are fun. But films are a two hour or so time commitment; not so a book. So it's a testament to King's unique talent that he can keep your attention without much in the way of a hook.

Joyland will appeal to readers who actually remember places like the eponymous fictional independent amusement park. It will also appeal to those fascinated by carnival and carny culture, as well as anyone who--in a fit of humor or madness--has invoked the famous Carny Code. King sprinkles a heavy dose of carny history, lingo and cultural values throughout the book. I have no idea if these are historically accurate or not, but they had the ring of authenticity to them (which, of course, may just be a reflection of good world-building). The effect is to lend the book a richness that it would otherwise be lacking.

The actual ghost story is, at most, ancillary to the main plot, a way to get protagonist Devin Jones working full time at Joyland and over his lovesickness for college sweetheart Wendy. I guess it works well enough in that respect, but anyone going in looking for serious horror is going to be disappointed.

In the end, Joyland is a very likable book and one that most people should enjoy reading. However, it probably won't leave much of an impression once it's done. Is that a bad thing? Maybe in wintertime, but it's summer and the beach calls for books like this. Let all the hangups go and just enjoy the ride.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for being impossible to put down, despite not having a hook; +1 for 'tis the season for books like this.

Penalties: -1 for you call this a ghost story, Mr. King?

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10. "A mostly enjoyable experience."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Comic-Con 2013: Confessions of a n00b

Until today, I had never been to Comic Con, despite living only a hundred or so miles from the Beast that Annually Devours All of Nerdery.

I arrived at Comic Con 2013 late Thursday night and had the opportunity to hit up a couple of smaller parties. But the convention was already well in the day's rearview mirror, so I wouldn't say it was my first day of Comic Con ever -- that honor was reserved for Friday morning.

Minions had a surprisingly robust presence.
I arrived Friday right as the doors to the Exhibit Hall opened, but I was inexplicably diverted away from them by event staff and made to walk literally the entire circumference of the San Diego Convention Center before being allowed to enter the Exhibit Hall. I was told later that this had something to do with people who had camped out being given first priority. That's fine, I'm not going to complain about a little exercise -- and neither should most Comic Con attendees, if you get my meaning. I then took a leisurely stroll through the sparsely attended Exhibit Hall until around lunch time, bought a lot of great stuff, and started to get into my head that all of the stories we've all heard about the unfathomably massive crowds at Comic Con might just be something of an urban legend.
Acres and acres of 12-sided-dice. This is where it all started, folks.

I attended my first panel -- for Disney Channel's excellent animated show Phineas and Ferb -- and was appropriately impressed. It was a great panel, with the show's two creators, most of its cast, and new information about upcoming P & F endeavors, most impressive of which is to be a Phineas & Ferb/Star Wars crossover special made possible by Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, and which sounds amaaaaaaazing. I was really feeling the Comic Con vibe now.

I had a break in my schedule, so I went back down to the Exhibit Hall, and I found things had changed. Dude, there were a LOT of people there now. It was hard to walk around, I got caught in a giant traffic jam at the Walking Dead booth, and my knees were starting to hurt. So I bailed out and hit a couple of off-site events, which were pretty cool, before heading over to Petco Park for my start time in the Walking Dead Escape, where I would run from zombies and leap, crawl, and climb over obstacles for a long-ass time before getting infected by the third-to-last zombie. The freaking THIRD-TO-LAST-ONE. And I'd worked so hard...

By that time the day was mostly over and I headed back to the Con proper to meet up with some friends and then a couple of off-site screenings and events. My overall impression of the day was that no human being can possibly "do" Comic Con. There's too much. You can spend three days in the Exhibit Hall and barely scratch the surface of the immense independent and entrepreneurial talent assembled in that giant room. You will also barely scratch the surface of the willingness of human beings to stand in long lines for almost literally no purpose whatsoever. Throughout my day, I got updates about a pair of friends who had lined up at 5 am for the notorious Hall H. This is the biggest room at the convention and host to the most high-profile panels. But my friends had to wait in line almost 12 hours just to get into the giant mamma-jamma. I can't fathom a world where this is worth the time invested in it. Joss Whedon answering questions for half a day wouldn't make this a fair trade, in my mind, given all of the fantastic things you'd have to give up for the privilege.
The fall will bring us a Mace Windu Angry Birds Star Wars figure, along with the game Angry Birds Star Wars II.   

There has been talk of moving the Comic Con to somewhere bigger than the San Diego Convention Center, and I have to admit I don't think this is a solution. There aren't too many places that ARE bigger, for one. And it would just fill up again, anyway. This is a sign that Geek has become the new Mainstream, really. And Comic Con has become more "Culture Con" thank anything else. At this point, think of the largest possible venue you can imagine. Now think of all the human beings who are interested in art, entertainment, culture, and/or girls in tiny costumes. No matter what your answer to the first question, the answer to the second one will always be bigger.

On the whole, this n00b was impressed with the management of the event, and the event itself. Slightly less so with some of the people there who are willing to make very poor trades of their time and opportunities. You'd think we all would've learned from getting picked on in High School...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Microreview [crime fiction]: The Nervous System

The Meat

Sometimes, I don't trust my own tastes. Take Nathan Larson's second installment in his Dewey Decibel series, The Nervous System. A while back, I reviewed Larson's debut, The Dewey Decibel System. Though in retrospect my school was probably lower than it should have been, I found the novel to be a flawed debut. But I liked a lot about the novel, particularly Larson's reimagining of noir/hardboiled tropes and the starkly realistic dystopian setting he created.

So when I received my copy of The Nervous System I was fairly excited. OK, that's not true. I received the second book before buying the first. And I received it nearly six months ago. A little thing called a dissertation got in the way.

But I finally got around to reading Larson's second installment in the Decibel series. And I liked it. Or at least I think I liked. I liked it.

Much of what I enjoyed about the first novel I enjoyed about the second. Larson sets his story in a near-future New York City, which is largely a ghost town following a series of devastating terrorist attacks, subsequent financial collapse, and a superflu epidemic. Asian and Eastern European mobs, shady construction firms, and security contractors populate the rotting city, taking advantage of misery and catastrophe as vultures tend to do. This dystopian setting isn't a precautionary allegory à la 1984, but rather a frighteningly spot-on assessment of where we'll probably end up in a few years. Granted, Larson can be criticized for drawing too much from contemporary hysteria, taking a bit of every ballyhooed threat-of-the-week to craft a really shitty future for us. But, as a news junkie and committed pessamist, I didn't mind it so much.

Quick plot summary: Senators Herman Cain and Sarah Palin got married and led the Tea Partyers to power. Or at least their future power-couple facsimiles of them did. Dewey, cleaning up the mess he made in The Dewey Decibel System, stumbles upon some nasty informationrelating to husband. Next thing he knows, our hero has to deal with Korean-Chinese mobsters and a nasty private security corporation as he generally stumbles through it all, killing and kidnapping along the way.

What I did mind is the voice of the novel's narrator. Dewey Decibel has, undoubtedly, a unique voice, mixing '90s hip hop slang and militaryspeak within an erudite, vaguely Southern cadence. For the most part, Dewey's peculiar way of speaking isn't intolerable, not entirely. Maybe too cute, maybe too unrealistic, but generally tolerable. However, numerous phrases and phrasings caused me to stop reading to take a moment to roll my eyes, sometimes cringe. Larson's style is particularly troublesome at the outset of the novel, slowing down the reading. At about page 20, I was a bit worried, worried because I wanted so dearly to love this novel. But I settled in, I got used to Dewey's voice, and I enjoyed the book.

Part of the reason I liked The Nervous System is that Larson pays due respect to the noir/hardboiled tradition without trying to recreate The Killer Inside Me or The Big Sleep. Like The Dewey Decibel System, the plot of The Nervous System is straightforward, to some extent even simple. Just like a good crime novel. I don't need a complex conspiracy unfolding over 600 tedious pages, just the barest justification for murder and mayhem in 250. In a nod to the hardboiled heroics, Dewey Decimal is a violent man with an intransigent and abiding sense of justice. Larson, quite smartly, did not write his hero as a PI. (I'm not sure that PIs still exist in the real world, but I certainly can't see how they'd find employment in Dewey's New York.) Nevertheless, his war is private. And there's a well-placed twist of sorts, as any good crime story need. (Just one, maybe two. Don't get too smart on us.)

Even Dewey's lingo -- or rather his incessant usage of lingo -- is a nod to hardboiled fiction. Again, Larson gets kudos for not simply reproducing the style of old. For whatever reason (a lack of critical insight or originality?), contemporary authors feel compelled to mimic Spillane and Thompson stark and often trite dialog, resulting in their characters sounding ridiculously out of date, if not simply ridiculous. Larson doesn't always manage to avoid ridiculousness, but at least he's trying to do something new with a well-worn form.

And thus far, he's been pretty successful. Now up the ante for number three.

The Math

Objective Score: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for dystopia; +1 for respect without mimicry; +1 for having Sarah Palin and Herman Cain marry

Penalties: -1 for Dewey's voice; -1 for a fairly flat female lead

Nerd coefficient: 7/10

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thursday Morning Superhero: Comic Con Edition

This week I will not be looking at the current release of comics, rather I will be laying out a rough plan that I have in store for San Diego Comic Con.  This will be my fifth SDCC so I am in no ways an expert, I am simply a fan who enjoys a good convention and have had a good time in San Diego.  I will now break down my plan for SDCC, which will change constantly as I navigate the chaos that is Comic Con.

To start out I will recap my Wednesday.  I began my journey by volunteering.  This marks the third straight year that I have served as a volunteer and this year I was assigned a task that was both fun and beneficial to myself.  My assignment was to provide attendees with their big bag, courtesy of Warner Brothers, after they picked up their badge.  It was entertaining to provide an object that brought many attendees moments of elation.  Early on I was the distributor of the Big Bang Theory Bag and cape that many, although not all, attendees were clamoring for.  Upon completion of my shift I was able to secure a Lego Movie bag for my son and I can't wait to give it to him.  I hope that volunteering remains a tradition with my attendance as I am able to give something back to an event that has meant so much to me.  Time for my schedule, which is always subject to change.

9:05am - This is my scheduled time to donate blood to the San Diego Blood Bank.  Not only am I able to provide a service to the local community, I am able to see individuals in full cosplay give blood and secure some fun True Blood swag to give to my friends.
11:45am - Dreamworks Panel - My son and I are both huge fans of How to Train Your Dragon so I am hopeful to attend this panel featuring some of the top animation directors to gain some insight on a franchise that has meant so much to my family.
1:00pm - Arkham Origins - The third in the Arkham series of video games, this title seeks to take the series to its point of inception and explore the origins of Arkham Asylum and Batman.  Given the level of quality on the two previous titles this one is sure to dazzle.
4:15pm - Walking Dead 10th Anniversary - Fans of this weekly post are no strangers to the fact that I am a fan of Walking Dead.  The 10th Anniversary panel should provide valuable insight into a series that remains fresh after 10 years.
6:00pm - South Park: The Stick of Truth - After having a major presence on the floor last year, Matt Parker and Trey Stone are close to bringing this game to life.  Set in the South Park world, the Stick of Truth should appeal to any fan of the series.

9:30am - I have been fortunate enough to be selected to compete in a Settlers of Catan Tournament at the Geek and Sundry Headquarters.  I will keep you posted on how I do.
1:00pm - Following my inevitable defeat at Catan, I will venture back to the convention to catch the Phineas and Ferb panel and learn all about their plans to crossover with Marvel in a special that I, along with my children, will without question enjoy.
9:00pm - A big break in my day leads me to a screening that I RSVP'd for and am debuting my first cosplay for, Axe Cop.  The good folks at ADHD Fox are screening Axe Cop for a select group and I couldn't be more excited.

 10:45am - The Warner Brothers Panel - With a six year old son who is obsessed with Legos, I would be remissed if I failed to attend a panel with The Lego Movie.  This is the one panel that will bring me to the madness that is Hall H.
The rest of Saturday I am going to fly by the seat of my pants.  With no Fables or Locke and Key panels I will attempt to attend at least one comic related panel.

12:30pm - Dr. Who: 50th Anniversary -  The wife and I have recently got into the world of Dr. Who and I owe her a duty to attend a panel of this magnitude.  Really looking forward to the insights that will be gained from the Whovians in attendance.
3:00pm - Spotlight on Neil Gaiman - It has been announced that a follow-up to the stunning Sandman comics will occur this year.  I am currently in the process of revisiting this series and it is quickly apparent why this series is considered a classic and should be read by all.  Unlike the Watchmen prequels, this next addition has the full support and input from the original creator.  I can't wait!

That is my tentative plan for now.  Thing are always fluid at SDCC so expect some changes and more coverage in the days to come.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Microreview [book]: A Kingdom Besieged, by Raymond E. Feist

Or, How the Mighty Have Fallen

The Meat

We've all had the experience—some book or movie a younger version of ourselves encountered long ago, some nerdy pleasure forever wrapped in the soft glow of our childhood, inseparable from the sense of wonder with the world we felt so strongly in those days.  For me, one such movie was Willow, a story my rational mind could recognize, even at the time, as a trite rip-off of Lord of the Rings but one with which I emotionally felt permanently bonded (Madmartigan, objectively, is way cooler than Aragorn, after all).  Among books, the series of Midkemia (and Kelewan) novels written by Raymond E. Feist holds that special place in my heart.  What a magical origin story in Magician! What exciting later adventures awaited Pug and Tomas! I treasured these books so much as a child that in a weird way they almost became part of my identity.

And that's why, when I read Feist's most recent Midkemia novel, or as I like to think of it, The Book Which Shall Not Be Named, I found myself in the midst of a full-blown, cold-sweats, can't-fall-asleep-out-of-terror, existential crisis.  How can he who created something so amazing just a couple decades ago be the very same entity who vomited up 400 pages of drivel in 2011? Have the pod people seized control of his body, forcing his listless hands and dead, lifeless eyes to keep working in a cruel parody of the craft of writing?

How Madmartigan looked after reading A Kingdom Besieged

I imagine how I felt, on reading You Know What, would be akin to the bitter disappointment an avid basketball fan, having seen Michael Jordan in his glorious prime, might feel if he saw Jordan totter onto the court as an octogenarian and wheeze out a few half-hearted layups.  It's not mere horror—it's almost a personal betrayal, since if Feist (or Jordan) is capable of such an awful performance now, the signs of his badness must have been there in his earlier efforts too, right? Which means I must have been an idiot as a child to admire his writing style and world-building skills!  But perhaps I have it the wrong way around: Feist really is—or rather, was—capable of greatness, and simply has fallen on hard times creatively, stylistically, structurally, etc.  After all, barring the alien mind control theory, the same Ridley Scott who spawned the infuriatingly incoherent Prometheus and the appalling Robin Hood also managed Alien and Blade Runner in better times. 

And just like Scott's early versus recent work, Feist's books, old and new, all have much the same elements (powerful heroes of various skill sets—Pug the magician, Jimmy the Hand or descendants as thief/spy, Condoin guys as leaders, etc., pitted against demonic multiworld/dimensional threats) which, in a clever configuration, can produce a masterpiece like Magician (or Alien)...but in a slapdash arrangement fizzle out as Talon of the Silver Hawk (or Prometheus).  The once-great author/auteur, in his befuddled mind, uses all the same pieces, but has lost the ability to put the puzzle together, and now lacks the creativity to go beyond the world he made years ago and dream new dreams.

Weep for Feist—how far he has fallen! How sloppy his writing has become, how formulaic his plots, how uninteresting his characters. My theory? Blame video games. He stopped writing full-time so he could help create several games based on the Midkemia world(s), notably Betrayal at Krondor (excellent) among many others (most of which were utterly forgettable/bad). Unsurprising, given this context, that he a) devotes far less time to the craft of writing new novels, b) creatively he's permanently stuck in Midkemia revisiting old characters and their far less interesting children and grandchildren, etc., and c) has written less a novel and more a novelization of a game concept: generic characters no reader would identify with who are exposed to a range of uninspired role playing-esque encounters.  One can almost hear the dice tumbling...and d) to make matters still worse, he's suffering from RJS (Robert Jordan Syndrome): this entire book feels like mere build-up for the next book. But I read it to the end--why, you ask? It's not unlike when you're outside taking a walk and suddenly you get hit by a meteorite: you see the edges of the ghastly wound it's left and you try to look away, but even though you know it's just going to freak you out, you have to look down at that horror, because you have to know how bad the damage is...

TL, DR: This book is horrible. Shame on you, Raymond Feist, for cashing in on Midkemia once again, and thereby cheapening what Midkemia used to be.  But most of all, shame on me, who keeps reading your books out of nostalgic loyalty to your once-great legacy.

The Math

Objective Quality: 3/10

Bonuses: I award you no bonuses...and may God have mercy on your soul

Penalties: -1 for returning yet again to Midkemia and making it suck, -1 for shattering my childhood illusions with a combination of terrible, formulaic writing, recycled plots and characters, and RJS

Nerd Coefficient: 1/10 Crime against humanity (and disillusioned former lovers of Midkemia in particular)

[This book enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of the only books, if not the only one, given such a low score by Nerds of a Feather.  For an explanation of why 1/10 is such a rare score, see here.]