Friday, August 30, 2013

Fable III

return to albion

So, it's come to this. The hero you spent so much time building up as a bastion of good in Albion is old and feeble. His two sons are left behind to control the realm. Unfortunately, his oldest has seized power and is about as evil as Darth Vader without the mask and breathing apparatus. As the younger son, it is your responsibility to foment a revolution and take down your townsfolk-beheading brother.

The game starts with Darth Fableous forcing you to pick between the lives of your beloved, who begs you to choose her, and the lives of some townsfolk who just wanted something to eat. Your ethical decisions carry on from there, turning your character into a paragon of virtue or an evil overlord. You must rally various towns to your cause in order to overthrow your erstwhile brother and seize the throne of Albion for yourself. I won't go into any more detail as I don't want to ruin the story, but it's a serviceable sequel to the first two Fable games. 

Does it hold up?

The game is pretty fun, but it just didn't hold that same sense of wonder that Fable 2 had. It was a bit darker and had more fetch quests than I would have liked. I'm almost positive that every single NPC had a fetch quest if you were nice enough, although I'll admit I didn't try everyone in Albion. I especially liked the level-up system where you were transported to a dream-like world to open chests that granted powers once you had achieved enough points. Rather than being an automatic level-up. you could choose between the more expensive chests that increased your melee, magic, and ranged attacks and chests that gave you new interactions with other characters. 

As Fable 2, your decisions have a direct effect on not only your character, but Albion itself. If you are a paragon, the land will turn more bright and beautiful as do your outfits and weapons. If you are a dirtbag, it shows in your surroundings and character. As with most games, I chose the path of virtue. I got married and had a child and, somehow, managed to keep my wife and baby happy throughout the game. I also managed to gain enough followers and friends to present a dangerous alternative to my less-than-honorable brother. 

where it falls short

One of the complaints I had about this game was that it didn't really feel like a sequel. While there are mentions of "The Hero" who was the protagonist in Fable 2, there is little else that ties it to the previous entities other than some gameplay aspects. I would have liked to have returned to many of the same environments and towns from the previous game, but the settings were nearly all new. While I wouldn't expect it to be a carbon-copy of the other games, it needed more ties to the previous iterations in order to bring back that sense of connection that players have with the other games.

Another mild complaint I had was that the story was rather predictable and linear. While you could pick up the aforementioned side quests by befriending the locals, the rewards they provided were barely worth the effort and provided little in the way of extra fun. You basically went from town to town, performing some quest they needed done to get them on your side, then moved on to the next one. They needed to break up the action a little more with something other than fetch quests for the downtrodden locals. Instead, you just chose between main quests intended to bring followers and fetch quests intended to make friends. There wasn't much else. 

the math

Objective Score: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for the creative way you interact with the NPCs. There wasn't a character in the game with which you couldn't chat, dance, mock, or play pat-a-cake. 

Penalties: -1 for seeming more like a separate game than a sequel. There should have been more tie-ins with the previous games. 

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10. Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore. 

On a personal note

I got my nose broken by a homeless crazy person this week. Thus the late posting today. One distracted me while another ran up behind and sucker punched me. Instead of dropping like they expected, I turned around and bowed up to the guy who took off running as fast as he could. Luckily for me, I can take a punch. Otherwise I might have lost more than just blood. Here's a nice shot of my shirt after the attack. Anyway, I hope the later post wasn't too inconvenient for everybody. Have a nice three-day weekend!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday Morning Superhero

Before we dive into this week's comics I thought I would share a comic that can be enjoyed by all ages for the low price of FREE!  Bad Apple Castle is a free webcomic from Chris Eliopoulos who has penned numerous kid-friendly titles that I have enjoyed with my kids .  Started in December of last year, Chris has graced us with over 100 comics to date and it is full of the zany humor I have enjoyed in his other titles.  Dewey Dreadful is the grumpy ruler of Bad Apple Castle and the hijinks that ensue within the walls of the castle are fun and unexpected. Give it a look and if you enjoy it you should check out his other work.  Our favorites from Chris are Okie Dokie Donuts, Monster Party, and Mr. Puzzle.  Now onto this week's titles.

Pick of the Week:
Itty Bitty Hellboy #1 - Dark Horse was graced with a kid friendly version of Hellboy from the Eisner-winning duo of Art Baltazar and Franco.  Full of good natured fun and truly funny moments, this comic ended too quickly.   Baltazar and Franco prove that they are able to create kid-friendly versions of a wide arrange of properties in a way that captures the essence of the characters and remains true to the comic.   I am always grateful for comics that I can actually enjoy reading with my kids.  I am pleased to report that Itty Bitty Hellboy delivers and it will be a long wait for issue #2.

The Rest:
Skullkickers #24: Before Skullkickers - Jim Zub is not finished with his parody on the world of comics.  Before Skullkickers includes four tales that were never intended to be written created by all-star teams.  In a review of another similar stunt, I am tempted to only comment on the great art.  That being said, this was quite enjoyable.  Kusia's story was my favorite and I particularly enjoy how she took out a giant creature with a small dagger and a poke to the hand.  Well played Mr. Zub.

Secret #3 - It has been a long wait since issue #2, but I enjoyed my return to this book from Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim.  I have learned its best to trust Hickman for the ride he takes you on and Secret began to payoff this month.  Grant is beginning to learn who is behind the death of his friend and it doesn't bode well.  I just hope that issue #4 won't take as long to come out.

Thumbprint #3 - This mini-series based on a short story from Joe Hill came to its grisly end this month.  Mal learns who is behind the mysterious thumbprints that have been tormenting her and the 2-spread page in the middle of this book is one of the most disturbing and hilarious things I have ever read.  Just be warned, I am now well versed in how to chop off someone's thumb thanks to a handy guide.

What I should have read:
Morning Glories #30 - I made the decision to switch to trades for future issues of Morning Glories and it takes all of my willpower not to pick up the latest issue at my LCS.  This issue focuses on the past of Irina and we meet her mom who isn't the nicest of ladies.  It is going to be a tough wait for the next trade.  Maybe ComiXology will have a sale. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ender's Game: To See or Not to See?

The movie adaptation of Ender's Game is shaping up to be both the most anticipated and most problematic would-be blockbuster of the year. One of the most popular sci-fi novels of the last 50 years is coming to the big screen in a cloud of controversy because of author Orson Scott Card's outspoken personal beliefs opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, suggesting Barack Obama aspires to become Hitler, and all kinds of other things that fill would-be moviegoers with righteous indignation.

Many people who are deeply offended by Card and his loud, public support for intolerance are encouraging boycotts of Ender's Game. Many of the Nerds of a Feather team are both deeply offended by Card and ravenous sci-fi fans, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take the temperature of the room and get different perspectives from our bloggers on whether or not they plan to see Ender's Game, and their reasons for their decision.

Vance - Will Likely See It
Vance says: "It's been a few years since I read it, but before I knew anything about Orson Scott Card or what he thought about anything at all, I enjoyed reading Ender's Game. I've since read some of the heated essays decrying the book as an apologia for Hitler, but I don't believe any of that, and for a number of reasons. I don't like Orson Scott Card, I wish he'd keep his advocacy for bigotry to himself, but I also live and work in Los Angeles on film projects, as do a number of my friends. Card's made his money off the adaptation, and whether it succeeds or fails won't change that. I feel like I can enjoy the film outside of the context of the guy who wrote it thirty years ago, and inside the context of the hundreds of professional storytellers and craftspeople who tried to breathe life into this film and whose careers could suffer if it tanks, so I probably will go see it. But screenwriter (not of Ender's Game) Craig Mazin made a great point this week about movies being an emotional experience, and I totally understand if people feel the negative emotional associations they have with Card will necessarily diminish any potential enjoyment they might get from the film."

The G - Won't See It/Might Stream It
The G says: "A lot of the discourse over Ender's Game centers on the supposed juxtaposition between the values of author/Card, who appears to write books with messages of peace and tolerance, and activist/Card, who gets so upset about the private lives and sexual attractions of men and women other than himself that he threatens to overthrow the government. Now, it would be one thing if activist/Card were just passively pissing into the wind, but we don't call him activist/Card for nothing! As it happens, over the past 8+ years, he has used the influence and money earned from his success as a science fiction writer to aid organizations seeking to restrict and deny rights to the LGBT community. Of course he is free to do that too, provided he does so non-violently, but others are equally free to decide, on that basis, not to give him any more money or influence. Now, he has made some comments about the issue being "over." Does that mean he will no longer use his influence/money to restrict the civil rights of others? If so, then my personal boycott of things he's involved in ends. But right now I don't see clear evidence that it is.

"Of course, this is an easy decision for me, because as much as people point out the clash of values between menacing activist/Card and beacon of light author/Card, the fact of the matter is that, well, I'm just not a fan of author/Card. Sorry, but I'm just not. I didn't love the book. I thought it a bit contrived. And written for 15 year olds. Now, that probably has something to do with the fact that I read it as an adult, rather than at age 15, when most people seem to discover ENDER'S GAME. And you know what else isn't as good as it seemed at age 15? More than half the books I loved at that age (*cough* David Eddings *cough*). Still, for those who feel otherwise about ENDER's GAME or author/Card but share the same ethical concerns about activist/Card, there's always the option to offset the ticket price with a donation to a cause you believe in, and which runs contrary to the expressed views of activist/Card. Maybe the severed spirit of author/Card -- the one that temporarily possessed the human Orson Scott Card as he wrote Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, only to be supplanted by activist/Card (who, of course, is responsible for the subsequent sequels) -- would even thank you from his perch in kumbaya heaven."

Jemmy - Plans to Play the "Newborn At Home" Card
Jemmy says: "I first read Ender's Game during high school, and loved it. To be honest, by the time I finished the book, Ender's Game had seized a village in my heart. But these days it's an increasingly small village with a declining population. Where it was once a thriving metropolis, now that village is a small Upper Podunk middle-of-nowhere incest-ridden village where the population is getting old, ornery, conservative, and intolerant (and some of the residents may or may not have two heads). The thing about the Ender Saga that made it so special was that Orson Scott Card used it to preach love and tolerance, two important values I want to instill into my own son. But now the very same author preaches (and is an activist for) intolerance and hate. I cannot abide by that. So no matter how much I love Ender's Game, I don't think I'll see the movie, at least in the theater. I'll play my "newborn at home so I can't go" card, if anyone asks...

"...Okay. I came off a little too strong there... I've had a few more seconds to think about it, and I am now wondering how principled a man I really am. There's a small (okay, increasingly big) chance that I'll break down and go see it. After all, Ender still owns a village in my heart..."

Zhaoyun - Will Totally See It
Zhaoyun says: "Let's try an experiment: pretend someone comes up to you and says 'They're making a movie of this story where a kid genius has to use his mad war games skills to save, like, the entire world from creepy insectoid aliens, and even better he does so in, shall we say, a rather morally ambiguous way.' Be honest--you would totally go see that movie, because it sounds like a great sci-fi movie premise, and one with darker undertones than a lot of the silly fare out there. But then that someone drops the bomb: 'oh yeah, it's based on a book by international public opinion pariah Orson Scott Card.' Booooooh, you say--Card's an opinionated fathead! I'm gonna team up with other politically conscious nerds and use my consumer power to punish him financially, and when he makes a few million dollars less his wacky opinions will collapse with all the rest of his shattered dreams! But what, I ask you, could such a consumer boycott possibly accomplish? Card has already wrung the last few nuggets of cash from the Ender's Game idea (Ender's Shadow? What was that crap?), and Ender's Game was his only really good novel anyway, so all a boycott -- of the tiny nerd minority of the populace, mind you, since the average movie consumer either a) doesn't have the slightest interest in the political controversy over Card, or even worse, b) is titillated by it and will actually go see the movie because of the controversy, rather like rubbernecks stopping what they're doing and pulling over just to get a better view of a horrific crash -- would accomplish is convince studio execs not to make any of this writer's other, mediocre novels into movies (I doubt they'll take much convincing!) and hurt all the other people involved in making this film, who themselves probably all hate Card for his inflammatory comments and for being generally unpleasant.

And let me tell you, Card really is a colossally arrogant jerktoid--I've met him in person, and I don't think I've ever been hit, before or since, with so powerful a tsunami of self-congratulatory adulation and just general contempt for 'untermenschen' like me and my friends--but I liked the stories he was telling back when I innocently assumed he was just a quiet, humble author, and why should I let my appreciation of good stories be poisoned by an intense loathing of the one who spawns them? I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm a hedonist to whom denying myself the pleasure of seeing an undoubtedly entertaining sci-fi extravaganza film for the dubious joys of boycott-hood sounds like crazy talk. Seeing Ender's Game=17 hedons; boycotting it because Card is an ungeheures Ungeziefer= -2 hedons for forcing me to think about Kafka!"

Mikey - Will Probably Rent It
Mikey says: "I am conflicted on how to approach this situation. On one hand the movie looks great and it is book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. On the other hand, I don't want to financially contribute to OSC or the causes he chooses to support. I was thrilled when DC caved to the pressure and took him off of Superman, however, the movie is a whole other bag. While I don't want to support OSC, I would be willing to bet that there are numerous creators behind this film that I would definitely want to support. Others have pointed out that it is highly likely that there are members of the LGBT community and supporters of it that worked very hard on this film. I think I will take the route and rent this from my local video store (in the Midwest we still have these!) and contribute the $10 I would have spent on a worthy cause."

And our most epic take from our resident nerd with the most complex ongoing relationship with the work of Orson Scott Card:

Molly -- Wouldn't Miss It
Molly says: "Listen, I've been waiting fifteen years for this movie. I'm not going to throw away my DVD of Braveheart because Mel Gibson cracked his nut, and I'm not going to skip out on something I've been looking forward to for half of my lifetime just because I found out Card is a douchebag. I also think he's a great author. Enderverse, Hatrack, Homecoming, Empire -- these places and characters have all been either pleasant or really pleasant experiences for me. The only time I've been left with a bad taste in my mouth after reading something by Card is when it wasn't fiction. I've written about how I wish I never saw the wizard behind the curtain before. At the end of the day, I still buy OSC's books but I don't read his blog.

"I do think that we as a society have a responsibility to care at least a little about where we put our money. It's one of the only voices we have to influence the world around us. I also think that Card has a right to be a bigoted rich fanatic; he just has more money to influence the world than I do, and some of that money used to be mine. It's not perfect, but this discourse is important, and in some way OSC being outed as jerk is a great thing because we're talking about it. Older kids like me who are already fans and younger kids reading Ender's Game for the first time (or only seeing the movie) are learning the harsh truth that you can't blindly follow the guy with the aliens-and-video-game-war lollipop into his van because he might use that van to run over your friends and neighbors because an ancient tome and a 17th-century con man told him to.

"I struggle with it -- how can I exhibit my social values if I'm supporting those who actively seek to undermine them? The huge overlap between conservatives and Christians (Card is a Mormon) means that this group tends to evangelize out of habit and that they believe their opinions are the right ones. This, I think, is a real challenge for progressives since we tend to take a "live and let live" perspective. Where I want to exhibit my social values, conservatives tend to inflict theirs. This is terrifying, but I also support their right to attempt it, however broken the system and however much I totally disagree with them.

"I don't eat at Chik-Fil-A anymore for two reasons -- I can get waffle fries at other places, and the anti-gay money was flowing from a company-funded charitable endeavor, not an individual. So yeah, I'll give up my six bucks for a paperback and ten bucks for a movie even though I know a portion of that may end up somewhere I wouldn't put it myself because of Card's beliefs. But OSC is entitled to voice his stupid opinion on his stupid blog and put his money wherever he wants. As long as the battle room scenes are better than the Quidditch scenes were, I'll grin and bear it.

"PS. Zhaoyun is totally wrong about Ender's Game being Card's best. EG was just leading up to Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide, which are the real meat of the Enderverse.

"PPS. Here are things I fear will be disappointing about the Ender's Game movie:
1. The big picture -- I don't want this movie to be just an action movie. It's a set-up for a much more important story about man coming to terms with what he's done and making peace wherever he can.
2. Harrison Ford. I love him, but his acting has been on a steady decline for many years now.
3. The eeriness of extremely young kids flexing their tactical skills and large vocabulary -- and beating the shit out of each other -- will be minimized by the older-than-the-characters actors.
4. Battle room CGI. /fingers crossed"

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Microreview [film]: John Dies at the End

The Meat

I can talk with Philippe if he manages to read the book, but from a quick stroll through the Wikipedia summary, it seems like the movie version of John Dies at the End diverges significantly from its source material. I get the impression that what happened was Don Coscarelli (who made the excellent Bubba Ho-Tep) did his best to take a funny, absurd, and surprising -- but deeply flawed -- novel with a really interesting idea at its core and turn it into something a little more coherent. But the result, sadly, is a funny, absurd, and surprising -- but deeply flawed -- movie.

And one that's hard to summarize, but I'll give it a shot. We begin with David and John responding to a late-night phone call from a girl they know who seems to be having problems with her dead boyfriend. It turns out her problems are more of the she's-actually-the-supernatural-one variety, and she turns into a monster who attacks them, in a scene that reminded me a lot of the underappreciated series Reaper. The girl-thing is ultimately dispatched by a phone call to TV psychic "Marconi," who will become more important later. I have no idea when in the disjointed narrative this first event is supposed to have happened, or when the two guys had time to develop weird supernatural-fighting weapons, but this is one of the problems in the movie. The present tense of the film depicts David sitting in a restaurant telling his and John's story to a reporter named Arnie. David takes us back to the beginning of the story, when John took a new drug called "soy sauce" offered to him by a strange Jamaican at a rock concert. John starts acting really, really weird. Then David gets picked up by the cops, because it seems the Jamaican and everybody who was with him were all consumed by flame shortly after the concert. Then David is accidentally poked by a syringe containing soy sauce, and he starts seeing very...strange...things... While also taking care of some girl's dog.

The idea here is that there is a drug that is essentially a supernatural virus. Once you take the drug, the doors of perception will slowly be thrown open to you, and you will begin experiencing more and stranger things that are outside of our regular understanding of the universe. It's a cool idea, but unfortunately it doesn't go to an ultimately satisfying place. I got the sense that the movie was falling into the familiar cult movie trap of trying too hard, and where Bubba Ho-Tep ultimately turned to the internal lives of its characters to ground the bizarre plot in an emotional reality, Dave and John are ciphers -- mid-20s slacker archetypes that are essentially non-entities beyond the plot points the story puts them through.

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for soy sauce and some of the creepy revelations in the drug's immediate aftermath; +1 for the creepy Jamaican

Penalties: -1 for forgettable characters; -1 for an unsatisfying ending; and on that note, -1 for a good title that grabs you, but is ultimately misleading

Cult Film Coefficient: 6/10. Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore.

For an explanation of our non-inflated review scores, point your mouse doohickey here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Microreview [book]: Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sapkowski, Andrzej. Time of Contempt [Orbit US/Gollancz, 2013]

The Meat

Sometime in the 1990s, fantasy's center of gravity shifted. Simple heroism (and anti-heroism) were out, along with magical trinkets, gallant knights, noble savages, evil gods, prophesied chosen ones, elves, dwarves, dragons and most other mainstays of both the neo-Tolkeinic and sword & sorcery questing traditions. Moral ambiguity, violence, greed, vice, corruption and, above all, politics reigned in their stead.

The gritty revolution was, and remains, a reaction to all the ridiculous tropes and cliches that once defined fantasy. Regardless of whether (and to what degree) gritty fantasy has grown captive to its own tropes, it was at one point inarguably fresh and inarguably revolutionary. The revolution did not, however, occur overnight. Glen Cook's The Black Company was published in 1984--a good dozen years before A Game of Thrones and fifteen before Gardens of the Moon. Rather, the transition occurred over the course the 1990s; as a result, most of that decade's major works straddle both worlds.

Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher cycle is one of these hybrid beasts, and perhaps the most profound and significant of them all. On the face, you have an Elric clone questing through a Tolkeinic world drenched in cliche and populated by nearly every sentient non-human creature ever touched upon in fantasy (yes, there are even centaurs, werewolves and unicorns). He is trying to save the prophesied one from the evil, vaguely Teutonic/Russian Emperor to the South/East. He is handsome! He scores with hot chicks! He has a wisecracking sidekick! He kicks ass and everyone knows it!

Only, if you peel off the bark off this cavalcade of fantasy tropes, you discover the degree to which Sapkowski picks apart these assumptions and their underlying moralities. That chosen one? Well, she isn't prophesied to save the world, but to destroy it. That evil, vaguely Teutonic/Russian Emperor to the South/East, then? At least he isn't organizing pogroms against elves and dwarves like his supposedly heroic counterparts to the north. And virile hero Geralt? Well, he is definitely handsome--it's just that he doesn't so much score with hot chicks as engage in complex and painful relationships with independent and capable women (e.g. with the asskicking Yennefer of Vengerberg). And as far as his whole monster hunting/ass-kicking thing goes, turns out he does it for money, and because it's the least political thing he can do in a world where his skills and talents make him an attractive tool for the powerful. But even this act is fraught with guilt and pain--after all, Geralt knows that, through this act, he is contributing to the ongoing disenchantment of the world.

Yennefer of Vengerberg Cosplayer
Time of Contempt is many things. It is a disturbing and deeply political novel about what life might really be like in an traditional fantasy world. It is a deconstruction of traditional fantasy tropes and it is a devastating critique of the racism, sexism and nationalism that have done so much damage to our world, and which are casually reproduced in much traditional fantasy. Yet though the book is, ultimately, gritty as hell, it's also funny and charming and intimate. It's playful with the source material, not dismissive of it. This only makes its core pessimism all the more arresting.

Sapkowski's writing is nearly as impressive, and considering how many people have complained about the English translation, I can only imagine how good it is in the original Polish. For the first half of the book, things aren't as much happening as being revealed. Every conversation is thick with backstory, often told in a circular manner reminiscent of Gene Wolf's masterpiece The Book of the New Sun--if only the prose weren't so ponderous or dense. Oddly, I found myself thinking of Shakespeare--and no, I'm not saying that Time of Contempt is on par with Hamlet. But I am saying that Sapkowski often conveys information in a distinctly dramaturgical manner, and that he does it exquisitely well. This lends a complexity to his storytelling that's rarely found in genre fiction.

Yet when things kick off, the book is impossible to put down. In fact, the more I talk about it, the more I want to go read it again. So here's the bottom line: Time of Contempt is easily one of the most sophisticated fantasy novels I've ever read, and it may even be the best fantasy novel I've ever read. More people need to check out this series.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 10/10

Bonuses: I'm not really allowed to add anything, am I...

Penalties: ...since I can't think of anything to deduct points for.

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10. "Fucking masterpiece."

Find out why these kinds of things are so rare here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Microreview [crime fiction]: H.N.I.C.

Albert "Prodigy" Johnson and Steve Savile
Akashic Books

The Meat

Full disclosure: I began Albert “Prodigy” Johnson’s book with trepidation. It’s not that I have anything against a rapper writing a novel—or novella, in this case—it’s just that I’m wary of non-authors penning books. I felt much the same way when I began The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson, guitarist for Shudder to Think. And as occurred upon reading Larson’s novel and its sequel, my wariness was thoroughly unwarranted.

HNIC delivered.

Prodigy is one half of the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep. While he’s still performing, he has taken a turn to the literary world, first with his 2011 autobiography, My Infamous Life, and now heading up the urban crime imprint Infamous Book through the always-on-point Brooklyn publishing house Akashic. HNIC is the first of Infamous’ offerings. And if you’ve got an afternoon to spend reading something that doesn’t suck, here you go.

HNIC is a pure crime tale: Pappy is a professional thief, albeit one with some non-criminal ambitions. Like countless fictional crooks before him, he’s planning one final job to finance his escape from the underworld. Of course when your best friend/partner in crime is a ruthless psychopath, any “one last job” plan is doomed to fail. And, as crime fans well know, when plans go sideways, people get killed and others need killing.

There’s really nothing terribly original about HNIC’s plot, which is by no means a bad thing. As a reader, I often enjoy such well-worn tropes. Otherwise, I wouldn't be a fan of crime fiction. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these heist-gone-wrong stories, provided they’re done well. To a considerable extent, the fact that HNIC resembles the plots of a thousand other books and films is a testament to the appeal of this story. After all, what fun would we have if the heist went off without a hitch? There’s only so many times you can watch Ocean’s Elevan. But we’ve watched the fuck out of Reservoir Dogs.

The strength of this novella, in addition to its straightforward prose and rapid pacing, rests on the universal theme at its center: loyalty. Loyalty and the bullshit our friends put us through. Granted, most of us don’t have buddies who force us to participate in a robbery and then try to put a bullet in our heads rather than split the loot squarely. But we all have buddies who get us to do things we would rather not—“Just one more drink”—and then who bail when things go badly. Like any good work of crime, HNIC is grounded in such common experiences and, like any good work of crime, it speaks to all of us, despite the fact that very few of us can bypass an alarm system through some computer trickery. 

As a sociologist a white sociologist in my real life, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the “urban” crime subgenre. We wouldn’t need such a subgenre if the world of crime fiction wasn’t so lilywhite. Perhaps by default, or perhaps because of the fact that I’ve been so thoroughly socialized into the American racial system, I read very few novels with non-white protagonists. Other than the Dewey Decibel novels, this is the only crime novel I have been sent for review featuring non-white characters. (And it’s no surprise that the Decibel novels are also published by Akashic.) So I get the need for “urban” crime fiction, and its cousin street lit. 

But as I read HNIC, I was struck by the fact that the race of the characters, heroes and villains alike, was very rarely apparent. Johnson and Savile in fact only brings it to the fore when the plot requires it. For example, Pappy mentions that white people’s apparent tendency to think all black men look alike is a bonus when conducting a robbery. Other than for a few specifics, Pappy could have been a Boston Irish or an East LA Latino. Crime fiction works when it speaks to us as humans. That’s part of our attraction to the genre: we find ourselves identifying with the characters despite the fact that our lives differ so incredibly. I may not be a backwoods hillbilly, but I get what drives Boyd Crowder. And I may not have grown up in a Brooklyn housing project, but I nevertheless sympathized with Pappy’s determination to escape his past, to rid himself of that which make him who he is. I’ve been running from Bakersfield for ten years now. And like Pappy, I can’t escape who I am—and who my friends are.

Perhaps one day we’ll finally become a society that doesn’t need racialized subgenres. But until we get there, Infamous books is a necessity. Either way, I’m reading.

The Math

Objective score: 8/10

Bonuses: 125 pages!

Penalties: 125 pages...Granted, I usually complain about the page count of crime fiction (over 250 and I'm bored), but in this case I could have kept reading for another 125 pages

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thursday Morning Superhero

There is no better way to recover from Gen Con then sitting down with some good comics.  I found this week to be a little slow, but enjoyed the books I picked up.  On a side note, I learned from meeting Cullen Bunn at Gen Con this weekend that there is a planned end to the Sixth Gun.  It made me happy and sad at the same time.  I often feel comics go on too long and that titles with planned endings are much more enjoyable, but I am not ready to say goodbye to Drake or Becky just yet.

Pick of the Week:
Sixth Gun #33 - Becky's Ghost Dance continues as she joins General Hume in a world he created.  Drake is dead in this world, Hume remains in possession of his gun, and his mother explains how this is the reality that Hume would have created had he opened the seal. Meanwhile, Gord, Kirby, and Asher attempt to rescue Becky from the real world by stopping the widow Hume and her group of skinwalkers.  In an issue that features stunning magic and a issue ending twist that I want to spoil so bad.

The Rest:
Daredevil #30 - Silver Surfer pays Daredevil a visit in a fun issue that felt like a standalone until a last panel that spoke volumes.  Kirsten McDuffie is helping out in Foggy's absence and a Ru'ach seeks Murdock's help when Silver Surfer spoils the party.  We learn that the Ru'ach are unable of telling lies and use their power of persuasion to influence others.  The simple truth that it speaks to Murdock is worth the purchase alone.  Mark Waid's run on Daredevil is simply fantastic.

Fables #132 - I am on the fence with each new issue of Fables, but am happy I picked up this issue.  Rose is assembling her own Knights of the Roundtable in preparation of an upcoming battle and Prince Brandish, whose story I missed and I assume is not the nicest of individuals, has risen from the dead due to an operation in which he keeps his heart safe somewhere else.   An intriguing character is found in the cloud kingdom and recruited to join Red and she takes a break to visit Prince Brandish. Bill Willingham has my attention again.

X-Men #4 - In a nice standalone issue, Wolverine accompanies Jubilee and her newly adopted son, Shogu, in as she revisits her youth and prepares to take on her new role of a mother.  The X-Men are facing some internal tension as the majority don't agree with Storm's decision to consider killing Karima in order to end the threat that was Sublime.  While Karima was spared, it causes the other members to question her as she tries to assume the role of leader of the X-Men.  Good drama and tension in this enjoyable series.

What I Should have Read:
Thief of Thieves #16 - Andy Diggle is at the helm of this title and somehow that slipped by me.  I have enjoyed what I read of Thief of Thieves and enjoy almost everything from Diggle.  In a book that got great reviews and sets the stage for the Venice heist.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Survived Gen Con 2013

For the first time in my life I was able to attend Gen Con in Indianapolis this past weekend and had an absolute blast.  The four day gaming mecca took over the Indianapolis Convention Center and area hotels with rooms and rooms of RPGs, tabletop gaming, mammoth games, and exclusives that had a record crowd of 49,058.  What really sold this convention to me was the fact that I spent 3 days playing board games and having an absolute blast.  Gen Con caters to gamers of all types from video gamers, role players, board gamers, and more.  Due to the fact that it had me playing board games for three straight days it may be my favorite convention.

I won my very own Space Penguin!
Winner of Gen Con:
King of Tokyo - From my perspective, which is limited to board games, King of Tokyo generated tons of positive buzz through the convention.  Iello Games was giving out King of Tokyo promotional cards at its booth which fans lined up for before the doors opened and hourly tournaments in the gaming hall for a chance to win the new character Space Penguin.  The lines for a chance to win a Space Penguin were consistent throughout the convention and when I was successful in winning mine some of my fellow competitors had been trying for days to get their hands on this exclusive.  By Saturday Iello Games had sold out of both King of Tokyo and its expansion.  Iello Games also debuted two games that caught my eye in Three Little Pigs and Zombie '15.

Best Game I Played:
Dead Panic - Fireside Games debuted Dead Panic, a follow-up to the great co-op game Castle Panic.  At first glance it looked like a rehash of a great game with a different theme.  On closer inspection, and with the help of a booth staffer, I learned that Dead Panic was drastically different than Castle Panic.  While zombies spawned in a similar fashion to the baddies in Castle Panic, the rest of the game mechanics were new and offered real depth.  Each player takes the role of survivor chased into a cabin.  Searching in the cabin gains you tools you will need to survive until you can find three radio parts, assemble them, and call for a rescue van.  The action was intense, the game was well balanced, and my only regret is they sold out of the few copies on hand quick.  I cannot wait to play this game again and it has been haunting me since I played it.

Other Good Games:
Walk the Plank was great family fun
Walk the Plank -  This family based game from Mayday Games is a hoot.  Players are in control of three pirates and are attempting to push, pull and charge other pirates off the plank to their doom.  You lay down your three action cards and resolve them one at a time.  Sometimes you actions pan out as you plan, but other times you are the cause of your own demise.  Fast, simple, and fun.

Dungeon Roll - I mentioned this in my preview and was quite impressed with its Gen Con showing.  Dungeon Roll's booth featured about 10 demos that seemed to be in constant motion.  I enjoyed a demo and enjoyed the press your luck dungeon crawl.  The greater risk, the greater the reward.

Square Shooters - Chimera Hobby Shop did its research and patented a layout that allows you to roll hands for rummy, poker blackjack and more.  The 54 sides of dice include 2 jokers and a full set of cards.  The initial set comes with a variety of games, poker chips and is quite fun.  The possibility of games you can play with a deck of cards on dice is endless.  To top things off Chimera Hobby Shop is holding a contest with a $2,000 purse and publication for a fan that can come up with a game related to the dice.  For more information check out  I played a couple of quick games with my son and they were an instant success.

Munchkin Pathfinder -  I had the pleasure of playing Munckin Pathfinder at the Steve Jackson Games booth and it was an absolute blast.  In addition to a class, player have a faction card that give them additional powers and levels up.  Munchkin Pathfinder includes a board to keep track of player leveling and is similar to other Munchkin titles.

Bears - A fast paced dice game from Fireside Games, Bears puts you at a campground in the woods that finds itself under attack from bears.  A very Stephen Colbert game.  Your actions, depending on your roll, are run away, sleep through the attack, or shoot the bears.  The action doesn't slow down and your decisions hinge on whether the camp survives the attack or is mauled by bears.  A fun family game that is quick, fun, and strategic.

Chupacabra Dice - This game coming out soon from Steve Jackson, pits your chupacabra against your opponents chickens, goats, and bulls.  Another light hearted game in which you steal your opponents dice.  The chupacabra may be fierce, but the farm animals have strength in numbers.  This game is sure to be a hit like its brethren Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice.

The Big Game:
I was part of a World Record!
Gen Con wouldn't be complete without big events and I was fortunate to partake in the biggest event of the convention.  Mayfair Games was successful in its attempt to set a world record for the most number of people playing a game of Settlers of Catan at the same time.  922 people huddled into a room in the JW Marriott Hotel and played a single game of Catan with a single victor.  While it may have taken longer than expected to get started on the attempt, it was quite enjoyable and I finished with a top 15 out of 922 in longest road.  The good people at Guinness were on hand and the record was confirmed.

Final Turn:
I sure hope my first year at Gen Con is not my last.  I found the experience of playing game for four days to be extremely enjoyable.  What I appreciated with Gen Con is how hands on it is.  You are experiencing the convention, not merely attending it.  Plus, whether you are an RPG player, a tabletop gamer, a casual gamer, or just a curious individual, there will be something that will cater to your needs.  While I thoroughly enjoy the other conventions I attend each year, there is something unique to the level of interactivity and community that will bring me back to Gen Con in 2014 and hopefully beyond.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Breaking Meme: The Breaking Bad Season 5 Meme-down

A friend of mine mentioned that when it comes to Breaking Bad, the internet moves faster than normal. So I had planned on trying to keep up after watching Sunday night's broadcast of new episode "Buried." All day Monday I scanned for new memes based on the episode, and I was going to make a handy compilation for you guys. But the web was decidedly quieter this week than it was last week after the season 5.2 premiere, "Blood Money."

But in my head I promised you guys a Breaking Bad meme-down, so a meme-down you shall have.

It should go without saying that some of these links contain spoilers if you're not up-to-date with the show. Here goes...

1. Badger's Animated Star Trek Spec Idea
The most amazing thing about this video is that it appeared on only a few hours after the episode first aired.

2. The Evolution of Color Throughout the Series
There are some wonderful books out there that discuss how filmmakers can use color intelligently to convey additional information to the audience, often subconsciously, but it turns out Breaking Bad has been putting on a master class. Thankfully, this guy at The Droid You're Looking For was paying attention.

3. Breaking Bad Middle School Musical
YouTube doesn't need my promotional help, but last week for their Geek Week they debuted a few original musicals performed by kids for things like Star Trek TOS and Breaking Bad.

4. Easter Eggs
There has been a lot of internet scuttlebutt about different Easter Eggs the creators of the show have hidden in it, and most of them aren't Easter Eggs at all, just intelligent or interesting storytelling moments, or even just totally obvious moments that nobody missed in the first place. But Buzzfeed put together a list (as they do) of interesting patterns of behavior throughout the show and what they might prophesy if they continue.

Check out our earlier infographic "Six Things Breaking Bad Has Ruined Forever."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Microreview [book]: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Lynch, Scott. The Republic of Thieves [Del Rey, 2013]

The Meat

Scott Lynch is back! Those of you who follow this blog no doubt know how happy this makes me, owing to my rather mixed experience with his Gentlemen Bastards series. The first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, is an absolutely brilliant debut and a fantastic book in its own right (deserving of perhaps the rare Nerds of a Feather score of 9/10). His sophomore book and second in the series, Red Seas Under Red Skies, however, was mediocre at best. It was set up with a cliffhanger that could have been a game-changing betrayal, but in the end it was the reader who felt betrayed for picking up the book in the first place. The plot was unmemorable, but more importantly, the gimmick with which Lynch set up the book ended up undermining the reading experience. And it did not give any sense to the outline of the broader series (see my review of Red Seas Under Red Skies here). But no longer do we have to worry about whether to pick up the next book in this series. With The Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastards #3), Scott Lynch is back in form. Oh happy day! Or as many happy days as it takes you to read!   

The Republic of Thieves interweaves two stories. First, it tells the tale of Locke Lamora's current attempt to rid himself of the poison that no physiker or alchemist he meets can cure. At the very point when all hope appears lost, along comes a feared Bondsmage, Patience, who gives Locke an offer he can't refuse: if he goes to Karthain on behalf of Patience's Bondsmage faction and does his best to rig (or win, by any means) Karthain's quinquennial political elections, then she will cure him of his poison. Locke and his trusty sidekick, Jean Tannen, suspect the Bondsmages of playing an even deeper game, but find they have no choice but to follow along. Once in Karthain, they find themselves competing with a former Gentlemen Bastard, Locke's brilliant rival and his past love interest: Sabetha.

The second tale tells the story of Locke's childhood in Camorr, a story that will be of even more interest to fans of Locke Lamora. It centers on the trials and tribulations Locke underwent before becoming a Gentleman Bastard. Readers will learn more of his shady past, including his initial meeting with Sabetha, his growing conflict with her over who would become the true leader of the thieving group, and their hilariously funny attempt to save one of their master's old friends by going to Espara and staging a play from which the book gets its title, "The Republic of Thieves.'

Together, the two stories are focused on the central relationship between Locke and Sabetha. Everything else takes backseat. But in the process, Lynch reveals many more interesting tidbits or questions on Locke's own history and the world at large. Where did Locke Lamora come from? Why has he been able to keep his true name secret for so long, even from Bondsmages? And why was he smitten with Sabetha from the first time he saw her luscious red hair? Moreover, we learn a great deal more about the Bondsmages, but since I don't want to spoil anything for you, I'll leave it at that. 

Sabetha is quite possibly the strongest female character I have read since joining Nerds of a Feather. A stone cold professional crook, Sabetha is strong yet compassionate, strategic and thoughtful, brilliant and merciless: the kind of woman men rightly swoon for. And swoon Locke does. But in Sabetha we find a flighty teenager at heart; even so, she is still much more sympathetic than other flighty leading ladies in fantasy (The Kingkiller Chronicle's Denna, anyone? -- the most annoying leading lady in recent fantasy). Whatever the case, Lynch does a great job of showing the sexual tension and teenage angst between Locke and Sabetha; even after they meet again in Karthain, a similar dynamic re-emerges, letting the reader lead his/her own imagined and awkwardly adorable relationship vicariously through them.

The strength of Locke and Sabetha's relationship is where Republic shines. Although the constant "are they gonna get together?" is trying at times and tiring toward the end, the dynamic between the two feels authentic. As do Sabetha's complicated feelings toward Locke--not only is Locke her possible love interest, but he is also the man who stole from her the leadership role in the Gentlemen Bastards.

Unfortunately, however, the two stories do not fit together as well as they could. Granted, both stories of Locke's past and present are compelling in themselves. Presumably, the story of his past was meant to show why his relationship with present-day Sabetha is tense and problematic. But it ended up showing nothing of the sort. The reader is left with the head-slappingly-difficult-to-understand conundrum of why in the seven hells are present-day Sabetha and Locke so cold and tense? In the end, the two stories were not linked together in a compelling way. Another round of editing could have fixed this, the biggest flaw I saw in the book. The only other problem was that the Karthain election storyline dragged on perhaps one chapter too long. 

But these problems are offset by the fact that The Republic of Thieves is uproariously funny. The crisply written bantering prose not only lightens the spirit, it also helps us flex our laugh muscles. In fact, it has been a long time since I have laughed this hard while reading a fantasy book. For those who need a comparison, The Republic of Thieves is as laugh-out-loudtastic as Steven Erikson at his best (I'm thinking the sections featuring Tehol Beddict and Bugg in Midnight Tides).

More importantly, the book was resolved in a way that actually kept my attention (this time), and a threat was introduced that definitely re-invigorated my interest in the series. Whereas I went into reading this book worried about where Lynch would take the story and wondering whether I should even read it, now I can't wait for the next installment (thank the heavens for advance review copies!). With The Republic of Thieves, the Gentlemen-Bastards Train is back on track, heading to who knows where? I look forward to finding out.

Three thumbs up, Scott. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for all-encompassing hilarity; +1 for Sabetha.

Penalties: -2 for not linking the two stories together in a compelling way.

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

See why an 8/10 at NoaF is like an 11/10 at other sites here.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Feed My Addictive Nature! IT MUST BE FED!!!

Peggle is one of those cute little games that sneaks up and grabs you, and only then do you realize that cute little bunny has a death grip. Pop Cap is the maker of another of my favorite puzzle games that was reviewed here a few months ago called Bejeweled Blitz. This one may actually have it beat in terms of outright addictive gameplay. I got a Smash Burger for dinner tonight, brought it home, and before I knew it I'd let the burger get cold while I played twenty more minutes of Peggle. It's that fun!

Peggle is like a mix between pinball and heroin. You try to shoot a limited number of silver balls and clear the board of all the red pegs. Green pegs trigger the super power of whichever Peggle Master's levels you happen to be playing. Blue pegs just get in the way. And how is it like heroin, you ask? Once you start, it's incredibly difficult to stop (or so I hear, I've never actually tried heroin). For example, Tula the Tulip's special power is that all of the red pegs near the green one turn into tulips. The entire game is full of creative tricks like that, which make it all the more demanding that you play through to the end to try them all. 

Once You Pop, You Can't Stop

The ball is shot out of the cannon at the top of the screen. It then proceeds to bounce around somewhat like Plinko from The Price Is Right. You can win extra balls by landing yours in the ball bucket that moves back and forth at the bottom of the screen. This is a rare feat, but when you get some of the blue pegs cleared out of the way it helps to try and time your shot so that the bucket is going under it when you fire. At least you have a better chance at a free turn that you do if you completely ignore it as I did for the first few levels. When you get that final red peg, it plays the climax of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, and I can't think of anything more fitting. It goes right along with the endorphin dump you get and vocalizes your feelings exactly. More games should use classical music. I remember a war game on the 3DO that played Ride of the Valkyries during the helicopter fighting sequence. It was perfect!

You start each level with ten silver pinballs. Match that against twenty-five red balls, many of them spinning and gyrating, and you can see how this is not just an easy kid's game. While it may appear so on the outside, the gameplay is definitely challenging enough for the hardened gamer if they can get past its' cutesy exterior. Believe me, as a fairly adept gamer myself, I got as frustrated with Peggle at times as I did getting headshot by the same camping sniper in Call of Duty three times in a row. It could be aggravating, but you just need that one lucky shot to clear a level. When you finally do, it's as pleasing as sneaking up on that same sniper and spraying him in the back. Mmm, mmm...good! 

The Peggle Masters

There are ten Peggle Masters in the game, and each brings with them a special power for their five rounds. The Masters in the order in which they appear in the game are:

  1. Bjorn Unicorn - His power is called Super Guide. It shows you which direction the ball will bounce off the peg, which can be useful information when you're down to two pegs and one ball. 
  2. Jimmy Lightning - Multiball is Jimmy's power, throwing an extra ball into the board when you strike the green peg. 
  3. Kat Tut - He attaches an ancient pyramid to the ball bucket that triples its width. This at least doubles your chances of winning an extra ball. 
  4. Splork - He uses Space Blast to explode all nearby red pegs. 
  5. Claude - This was one of my favorites. Claude is a lobster, I think. When you hit the green peg, you are awarded Claude's claws to use as pinball flippers. Although they didn't have quite the reaction speed that Zen Pinball Empire Strikes Back HD does, but that's understandable. 
  6. Renfield - The Dracula reference is classic. It's fitting that the vampire's minion produces the Spooky Ball for his special power. It makes the ball re-appear at the top of the screen once at the exact point it fell down. This effect lasts for two turns. 
  7. Tula - This beautiful tulip uses Flower Power to light up all nearby reg pegs. She tells you she hopes that hers is your favorite power. Sadly it wasn't, but it wasn't at the bottom of the list, either. 
  8. Warren - He is a magician's bunny rabbit. Hitting the green pegs on his levels brings up Lucky Spin (and again we're back to The Price Is Right). A wheel appears and a spinner chooses one of four power options. His own is Magic Hat, which attaches a hat to your ball that lights up any pegs it touches. You can also win triple score for a turn, an extra ball, or any one of the other Masters' powers. 
  9. Lord Cinderbottom -When you strike the green peg, you earn Fireball on your next turn. It turns your ball into a flaming orb of destruction that takes out all pegs in its path. There is no Plinko bouncing here, just fiery destruction!
  10. Master Hu - His Zen Ball helps improve your shot through the power of mindfulness. No matter where you shoot it, he makes your shot the best it can possibly be. It maybe the most useful power in the game. 

the math

Objective Score: 9/10. This one's a keeper!

Bonuses: +1 for the most addictive gameplay I've seen in a while. I couldn't wait to get home and play more!

Penalties: -1 for not having more characters. I wanted it to keep on going. I guess it's time to buy Peggle Nights now, huh?

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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gen Con Top 3's

I can't contain my excitement as Gen Con is happening right now!  My plans involve participating in a King of Tokyo tournament, hoping to break a world record with a game of Catan and more!  While I won't be experiencing the convention until tomorrow, I feel that it is appropriate to provide a list of gaming top 3's leading up to promised land of gaming.

Top 3 Games I am currently Playing:
King of Tokyo -  From the creator of Magic, this dice game has truly captivated my gaming spirit.  Through the well balanced combination of the roll of the dice with power-ups that maintain a fair playing field, this game has not only has me hooked as a 34 year-old gamer, but has my 6 year-old son on board.  Truly a great game for the whole family.

Zombicide - While on the expensive end of things, this game provides numerous scenarios on surviving the zombie apocalypse.  The varying goals and map tiles of each game provide almost limitless possibilities, and the fact that you can play single player to large groups add to the playability of this gem no matte what your gaming core is.

Cards Against Humanity - The card game for horrible people will let you know who your true friends are.  This game, in the vein of Apples to Apples, is extremely entertaining and takes less than 2 minutes to teach.  Fun for all, assuming they aren't offended easily, this card game is guaranteed to entertain.

Top 3 Games I play with my kids:
Lego Board Games -  I have been very impressed with the quality of the Lego board games.  I bought
the first couple as a way to try to get my Lego obsessed son into gaming.  Our library has grown to include about 8 games and they are all a blast.  There are alternate modes to play and there is something satisfying about building your own die.

Settlers of Catan Jr. -  I was very nervous to break this game out with my son as I thought it would be too complicated or would not feel like the Catan I know.  I am pleased to report that the game does an amazing job simplifying Catan and maintaining the same feel.  My favorite feature is the marketplace which can eliminate trading.  While it impacts my ability to hustle my son, it maintains a level of fairness which is great.  My wife, who doesn't enjoy overly complicated games, prefers this version to the original.

Zombie Dice - While it may not be the most kid friendly with the eating of brains, shotgunning, etc., Zombie Dice has grown into a staple in our household.  My six-year old son and my three-year old daughter both understand the rules and are always down for a quick game.

Top 3 Kickstarted Games:
Dungeon Roll - This entertaining dice based dungeon crawl is both simple and deep at the same time.  I have enjoyed this game solo and with my 6 year-old son.  It simplifies the mechanics of delving into dungeons into simple rolls of the dice that employ both strategy and luck.  Truly a fun game that is simple to learn and has some depth.

Unexploded Cow - This card based game in which you try to prevent your cows from exploding, is both easy to learn and simple to play.  A combination of humor and strategy keep this game light and fun and extremely accessible to new players.

Machine of Death - While this game hasn't shipped yet, I can't wait to play the game of creative assassin.  Players are dealt a card that determines how someone dies (the image on the kickstarter page is of banana peel).  Your job then is to ensure that you are successful killing someone by the prescribed message.

Top 3 Co-op Games:
Castle Panic -  When you have a competitive wife it is a good idea to have some cooperative games.  Castle Panic is a tower defense game in which you defeat trolls, orcs, and other baddies in an attempt to keep at least one tower wall up.  This one has proven to be a good game for the kiddos as well.

Flash Point - Things heat up quickly in this game where everyone assumes the roll of a firefighter trying to rescue people from a burning building.  It has a very Pandemic feel to it, as things get out of control quickly.  The game comes with two different building layouts and multiple levels of difficulty.  If you like a good challenge this is a good game for you.

Space Alert - In Space Alert you are a crew member of a spaceship that is stranded in an asteroid field.  Working as a team with limited resources, you must survive an alien attack while you attempt to get your engine fired up.  Set in realtime complete with a CD soundtrack, you won't know until you resolve your actions how your team faired.  Truly a unique gaming experience that all should try at least once.

Top 3 Card Games:
Munchkin - There are few gaming moments that bring me as much satisfaction as playing a wondering monster card when things look good for someone in a game of Munchkin.  In Munchkin you attempt to defeat monsters and achieve level 10.  You collect gear and teammates that help you on your quest, but your fellow competitors can either help you or throw a wrench in the gear of your plans.  While a little complicated at first, once the basics are down this is great game full of laughs.

Fluxx - No matter what your interests are there is bound to be a Fluxx version of it.  In Fluxx the rules change with every card played.  Your attempt is to achieve a goal that is ever changing.  I have played games that have lasted 2 minutes and games that last 30 minutes.  Every game is different and wildly entertaining.

Bang! - In this game you assume the role of someone in a spaghetti western.  There is the sheriff, deputy, outlaws, and the renegade.  Each individual has a clear goal, but you don't know who is who.  The only way to determine who is each person is to have a good old fashioned shoot out.

AiIP Review: Gerry and the Gin Factory and Other Short Stories

 Gerry and the Gin Factory and Other Short Stories, by Kirk Battle

The Meat

 I am never quite sure how to talk about short story collections- do I talk about each story, just one, or all of them collectively?

Collectively, there are five stories in the collection, all on the longer end of the short story spectrum (this isn't a bad thing, but certainly different than the five Planks stories). The range from the satirical titular story to the romantic, in the last story, Long Distance.

Gerry & the Gin Factory (the story) is a funny, drunken take on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, except replace 'chocolate' with 'booze'. It is well executed, particularly the perpetually drunk citizens of Drinkydoo (my favorite was the kid who wanted to try being sober, but his parents wouldn't let him). It was a little slow in parts, but all in all, I enjoyed it.

Long distance, on the other hand, is much more concise and poignant. A love story set against a backdrop of intercepting signals from an alien culture, and seeing and seeking to understand their language, culture, sex and behavior. Or, if you prefer- a story about intercepting signals from an alien culture set against the backdrop of a love story. One serves as an excellent analogy for each other, and both parts of the story are wonderfully executed.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment:  5/10. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this- a couple, like Long Distance, I read a couple times. The writing is great and flows very well. The characters are interesting, deep and engaging, and all the stories in the collection are solid, even though they are varied.

Bonuses: +1 for originality. I can't really put my finger on it, to be honest, but I really enjoyed Battle's take on things. In Long Distance, the effect of the aliens on the internet at large is woven throughout. It felt like a first contact story set in the real world, rather than the traditional vacuum they seem to traditionally seem to be set in, wrapped in cloaks of government secrecy.

+1 for doing all the crap I talk about all the time. I like the cover of Ol' Grandpa, the boozy Willy Wonka. It is well edited, and everything flows. I almost don't want to add this, or point it out, because doing so draws attention to it, but for all that I harp on about quality in self-publishing, Battle nailed it.

Penalties: None. This is a good good book. Probably not a classic, but enjoyable from beginning to end, and well worth your time.

Thursday Morning Superhero

Well.  It appears that there is an unstoppable force headed towards the earth and the Avengers are up for the call.  What does this mean?  Infinity, the next Marvel event, is here and Thanos found what he is looking for.  On top of that the Saga hiatus is over and we were blessed with a gem of an issue.  I also picked up the new Amelia Cole and the Unknown trade and can't wait to dive into it this weekend at Gen Con.

Pick of the Week:
Walking Dead #113 - We learned in issue 112 that Rick's plan to attack Negan failed and once again Rick and the survivors have painted themselves into a corner.  Negan remains one step ahead of Rick and is hell bent on making Rick suffer.  Andrea's post in the tower has been discovered, Lucille is hungry for blood, and Carl is in trouble.  I always admired Lucille, but didn't appreciate her and the love that Negan has for her until this issue.  It is going to be a difficult wait for issue #114.  If only I had a love as strong as Negan has for Lucille. 

The Rest:
Saga #13 - It has been a long wait and it is good to be reading Saga again.  Marko is still dealing with the loss of his father and Alana is determined to reach D. Oslwad Heist for some answers.  The Will is reconsidering his line of work and Prince Robot is hot on the tails of Marko and company.  Good stuff.  Fiona Staples continues to amaze with her work and it was so nice to see it again.  Alana kicking ass with baby in tow was this week's highlight.

Infinity #1 - The new Marvel event and it has a lot of similarities to other Marvel events.  Not to say that this is a bad thing, but it has a very Marvel feel to it.  I am excited to see the terror that Thanos will bring and am hopeful that this will be a good one.  Solid start to what is hopefully worth the hype.

Batman #23 - The retelling of Batman's origin continues as Scott Snyder's latest arc continues on.  I have enjoyed his retelling and thought he made the seminal moment where Batman chooses to be Batman more personal and emotional.  I don't want to spoil the moment, but I felt that, while not as visually satisfying as the bat through the window, it had an emotional charge that really worked.

What I Should Have Read:
Star Wars #8 - I don't recall why I stopped reading Brian Wood's run in Star Wars as I thoroughly enjoyed it.  My buddy Jeff informed me today that the series is still going strong and I think I will be picking up some back issues to catch up.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Microreview [book]: Parasite, by Mira Grant

The Meat (literally)

   You know how allergies in children are multiplying exponentially recently, and how some people blame overuse of antibacterial soaps and overprotective parenting and hypoallergenic pillows and whatever? Well, what if that problem reached epidemic proportions, and somebody came up with a quick-fix solution—let's call it an 'intestinal bodyguard'—an implant that could regulate your body's immune system, administer necessary medications, and pretty much do everything but make popcorn? Sounds pretty sweet to me, so I can see why, when marketed like this, most people in the near-future world of Mira Grant's Parasite jump all over themselves to get one.  But like all deals that seem too good to be true (curse you, Nigerian prince of emails!), there's a catch.  That implant we're talking about? It's this.

What do you get when you combine this
With this? Answer: nightmares.

Say wuuut?

   Since in Grant's world, practically everyone has voluntarily swallowed a genetically engineered super-tapeworm egg to take advantage of the myriad health benefits of being a gracious host, it's kind of hard to feel bad for them when their 'guests' get riled up and the inevitable disaster begins.  I won't say much about how the plot unfolds, but let's just say that with these tapeworms, many people get a) more than they bargained for, and b) the hard goodbye (Sin City style, if Sin City was infested with parasites—and come to think of it, Sin City probably is!).
   So the book's sci-fi premise is a bit implausible, since I can scarcely imagine a scenario in which even considerable health benefits could convince me to let a tapeworm play house inside me. In fact, just the thought of that is so creepy I'm getting phantom pains in my abdomen, and having flashbacks to Alien...
   But anyway, if one suspends one's disbelief, Grant rewards us with an often entertaining account of how such a world could start to fall apart. I say 'entertaining' because creepy sleepwalkers flopping around in the middle of the street or whatever is just an awesome image, right out of a sci fi movie storyboard, and 'often' because of some stylistic and pacing issues in the telling.
   The good stuff first: many of the developments in the story occur in or around the mega-corporation Symbogen, and Grant gives a masterful portrayal of the way a company responsible for such a potentially revolutionary product—to wit, the super-tapeworms—might rush both to ram it through FDA and other testing as quickly and unsafely as possible, and also to cover its tracks in the event someone discovers a 'situation' with that wonder product. Plus, however unlikely a scenario it may be, it's an intriguing one, and Grant deserves a lot of credit for exploring the ramifications, especially on the level of institutions. The way she opens each chapter, with quotes from interviews/written work
s of various key characters, is an especially nice touch.
Executive Decision--and Steven Seagal--at their best
  And now the bad: the protagonist Sal(ly) Mitchell is incredibly annoying. Or rather, Grant's ceaseless description of her anxieties (legion) and the utterly uninteresting life she's leading despite having narrowly survived a super-serious accident failed to win me over to Sally's side as a reader. I kept hoping Grant would pull an Executive Decision-like 'airlock Steven Seagal and save us from his on-screen charm' move and kill her off early on, switching focus to someone cooler, but sadly, we stay with Sal. 

   And since this is the first book in a planned series, I think we're stuck with her for the future, unless of course I'm messing with you and, like in John Dies at the End, the main character does just that. Those of you who have read/seen said gem will get what I mean!
   In Sal, Grant has crafted a character whose response to virtually everything is "I don't want to know." Nobody likes ostriches, am I right? There's an M. Night Shyamalan-esque 'twist' to Sal which from about 20% of the way in was blindingly obvious to everyone, reader and characters alike, except for Sal herself, who fought against the big reveal the way Tea Partiers fought Obamacare. This being the only book by Grant that I've read, I can't say whether this is a problem with Grant's writing in general, or with fleshing out this particular character, but when giving us a window on Sal's internal thought process, Grant falls back again and again on a two-sentence combo, some variation of the phrase "I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer. I wasn't sure I'd ever sleep again if I didn't know the answer." (This particular instance is a direct quote from about 70% of the way through, but other examples abound.)
   And if Sal has a favorite word in the recesses of her own mind, it's definitely 'uncomfortable', which is what pretty much everything makes her. You know who I like better? Oedipus. Sure, he did the nasty with his mom and totally murdered his dad, but when the time came for him to face the truth, he did it (and even went the extra mile by stabbing his own eyes out in penance!).  Sal, I'm afraid, could use a little truth-facing, eye-stabbing courage. The truth will set you free, but nobody ever promised it'd be all about bunnies and ice cream, you whiner!
   The book is also, shall we say, deliberately paced.  If you like the Fast and Furious series, consider yourself forewarned—this book is not that. It's more like a Koreeda Hirokazu movie, really, or, dare I say it, The Fellowship of the Ring. Nothing at all happens of note until 40% of the way through (in Koreeda's case, usually nothing at all happens, period! And yet some of his films are just brilliant—it's an enigma), though it does slowly build in excitement after that (hampered mightily, in this case, by head-in-the-sand Sal's reluctance to participate in the story unfolding all around her). Perhaps the book suffered from being part of a series, with Grant saving some of the good stuff for later installments?
   So all in all, Grant's Parasite is a mixed bag—an intriguing if wildly improbable what if that is handled fairly well, though despite, not because of, the main character and her infuriating reluctance to see the truth and let the story get on with itself.

The Math

Baseline assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for the concepts of Symbogen and for the Banks interviews heading each chapter, +1 for a bizarre and fascinating premise

Penalties: -1 for Sal and her mantra "I don't want to know", -1 for Koreeda pace without Koreeda magic touch

Nerd coefficient: 6/10 "Still enjoyable, but the flaws (I'm thinking of you, Sal!) are hard to ignore"

See why a 6 actually means Parasite is better than most books I've read!