Monday, December 30, 2013

Microreview (book) : Once Upon A Time In Hell (Heaven's Gate 2) by GuyAdams

Buy from:
Independent Bookstores 
Download for Kindle

The Left-Over Xmas Turkey Meat

So, back in the Spring I posted a review of the first part of Guy Adams's 'Heaven's Gate' trilogy and ended with this comment : "Bring on part two next year, as this is darn good, rootin'-tootin', gun-slinging fun". 

I'd like to apologise for that. Sure, I've been to a cowboy boot store in Kansas, I've drunk whisky in Santa Fe and I've successfully panned for gold (in Legoland in Denmark, but it still counts), but I have no right to write such cod Wild West nonsense. I'm sat in a Victorian flat in London wearing a cardigan and sipping ginger tea. The only Westerny things in my eyeline are the 'Dude' in the 'Dude, Where's My Car?' credits on the telly, and the cat's Lee Van Cleef stare. Ok, at the time I wrote the review I was actually sat by the side of the Mekong river so had at least a little Martin Sheen voiceover in my head but that's no excuse. Especially concerning a book written by a Brit with a superb and uncorny usage of Old West lingo.

At least, however, the emotion behind such misguided word-smithery was genuine. I really liked The Good, The Bad and The Infernal. Its mix of old and new ingredients was refreshing, and the story wild, silly and moving in equal measure. The first part concluded with the various characters, after hellish journeys, all meeting at the mythical town of Wormwood, as it appeared out of thin air in the desert. Whether this town was truly a gateway to the afterlife was a debate running through the story, and this second novel swiftly follows to provide an answer.

Without spoiling too much, the answer is affirmative, but it's what form this afterlife takes, and what levels of it emerge, that occupy these pages. As the key players from part one gradually enter into the world beyond, Adams lets rip with wonderful imaginative leaps. Whereas before the fantasy elements were brief and jarring, here they are at the centre of the tale. As one character gambles aboard a paddleboat full of freaks across a lake of corpses, another has a chat with Heaven's administrator in a glass cube floating above all time and space. 

The narrative is very much in the same vein as the first volume - episodic and flitting between places and people - but is freer of the need to introduce so many characters at once, and so builds a better atmosphere and visual landscape than The Good... . It also has one of the best final lines in any fantasy novels I've ever read. No spoilers of course but it's a bit like Philip Pullman directed by Sam Peckinpah. 

As the middle section of a trilogy the story is a bit Two Towers; lots of momentum and incident, but no finality. And the quick recap of someone's tale as we first see them is annoying; it's necessary perhaps to jog our memory but would be done better in speech between people than simply telling the reader, which lurches them out of viewing things from a character's perspective. Only one other minor quibble would be that I didn't find 'hell' hellish enough - it sounds a bit like a psychedelic Rockies with blood lakes, and generally laid-back eccentrics more than violent demons. Freshingly-different, perhaps, and in line with Adams's apparent desire to show a largely non-religious and unconventional view of the afterlife, but not very scary.

Yet this book apes the trick of its predecessor : characters I cared about, imaginative action I enjoyed, and a lasting desire to read the next in the series. So, bring on part three, as this is darn good, rootin... Sorry.

The Math

Objective Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for an original and weird take on the afterlife; +1 for new and amusing characters like a succubus and a talking tree.

Penalties: -1 not horrific enough to be horrifying

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Lee Van Cleef :

Microreview [book]: Dead Harvest

Dead Harvest
Chris F. Holm
Angry Robot Books

The Meat

I really don't know how to categorize Chris F. Holm's Dead Harvest. I want to call it horror. It deals with the supernatural, particular demons. So, horror. But the publishers, Angry Robot, insist that the novel combines "urban fantasy and noir-dark crime." I don't know what urban fantasy is, or I didn't until I googled it just now. And I'm not sure Dead Harvest is that. So, I'll call this a horror novel. I am also hesitant to call this a crime novel. The story centers on a possible war between Heaven and Hell, not rival gangs. Holm certainly draws (wisely) from the style and motifs of noir and hardboiled fiction. And the title is a play on an underrated classic in the genre, so I'll let the crime/noir part stand.

The story: Sam Thornton, once a regular Joe, is a Collector. His job is to ferry the damned to Hell.  When Sam is tasked with collecting the soul of Kate, a 17-year old girl who had murdered her family, he discovers that she's been set-up by demonic or angelic forces. Sam's collecting of her soul could lead to a war between Heaven and Hell. So he does what anyone would do: he grabs the girl and goes on the lam.

Dead Harvest was by and large a good read, though it did take me a couple starts to actually get further than forty pages. This was perhaps more my fault than that of the author. I have heard this story -- the war between Heaven and Hell -- before, in The Prophecy and in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillons run on Hellblazer, and later Preacher. I wasn't keen on reading another one. Of course, a good book does not have to be original. Crime fiction and comic books, my preferred forms of entertainment, are by no means highly original or consistently imaginative in their products. So, with this in mind, I began Dead Harvest afresh and ended up enjoying it.

Holm made wise decisions in applying some of the stylistic devises and gimmicks of classic crime fiction -- and in what he choose not to use. Holm avoids cliches (P.I., femme fateles, two-time losers), opting instead to draw on the narrative structure of classic noir. The author's attention to the urban landscape, sparse rather than over-detailed, evokes the moodiness of film noir. Sam and his charge Kate flee through an urban environment that is often hostile, often resistant, chased by angels and demons and New York's finest. Make it mobsters and crooked cops, and this is classic noir. Richard Widmark would have been great in it.

The book's strength is Sam Thornton, as both a narrator and a sympathetic character. Sam struggles to retain his humanity, a Sisyphean task since being a Collector is an eternal gig. In order to stay human, Sam holds onto his guilt, his regret and shame -- which Holm's illustrates through the infrequent use of flashbacks. Dead Harvest being the first in a series (followed by The Wrong Goodbye and The Big Reap), a sympathetic lead is ideal.

The ending was too quick and clean. I have to penalize.

Lastly, the book as a physical object is nice. Designed to look like an old paperback, it's two-tone comicy imagery and faux wear is delightful. I did not intend to buy the physical copies, but my e-reader took a shit a few months back and I have returned to actual book reading. Getting the Collector series in the mail was itself a nice little event.

The Math

Objective Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for book design; +1 for not trying to be Mickey Spillane

Penalties: -1 for too quick an ending

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Nerd Gift Guide - Adam

Bad Religion's 'Christmas Songs'
Epitaph Records (available to buy)

I really don't need to discuss anything about this except to ask you to conjure up in your minds the idea of Bad Religion doing 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman' and 'Little Drummer Boy' without changing their sound one jot.

Done it?

Now you're buying it. 

Aren't you? 

Ye-ssssss, good puppets....

Xmas gold dust.

I'll be lopping this bad boy all week whilst stuffing my face with chocolate. That's good Yorkshire chocolate. Like Terry's Chocolate Orange, which has to be smashed open. How Jesusy is THAT? And their ad slogan is "It's not Terry's. It's mine". Only the great Creator could have come up with that. Praise be.
If any room left I'll maybe scoff a little Green and Blacks. And Lindt. But none of that nasty, doesn't melt properly Herseys rubbish. But maybe some Oreos. Though that's not really chocolate in the strict sense. Plus, they don't have Santa-shaped Oreos. Or Snowman Oreos. 

Wait, do they? 

If they do - on the list.

So it's basically a thrash ska punk shouty carols album and mythical Oreos from me. And maybe an xbox one please. Thanks.

Have happy, nerdy holidays my fellow geeks and freaks!

The true spirit of Christmas...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 Nerd Gift Guide: Philippe

I am on the verge of becoming legit. Paycheck legit. Not sure when: maybe a year, maybe two. But soon, I'll be able to buy worthless crap again. A return to collecting! But in the meantime, I must satisfy my collecting urges vicariously. So until I can spend way too much money on old comics and skateboard decks, these will have to do.

For the nerd who wants original EC horror/sci-fi comics: There's no reason to dash this nerd's fond memories of reading the Gladstone reprints of Vault of Horror and Weird Science. Let your friend cherish those memories: Don't buy him or her a collection of actual EC Comics (because in retrospect they're not that good). What is good, and what we really remember, and what turns us on when we think about these books is the art. EC's stable of artists was beyond anything out there at the time -- and the work still holds up today. Plus, you don't have the money to shell out on the originals, whether as gifts or for yourself. For you, for us, there's a solution: artbooks. And you don't have to buy them all because only a handful of EC's artists were any good. IDW's Best of EC: Artist Editions are quite nice, as are the individual volumes dedicated to the art of Jack Davis and, my personal favorite, Wally Wood. (No Johnny Craig? Graham Ingels?) IDW's books are beautiful, but a touch pricey. A bit less high end are the offerings from Fantagraphic's EC Comics Library. But there are two problems with this collection: it's in black and white and it collects full stories. Remember, these comics aren't great reads. You're not 13 anymore. (Nor are you 23, but that's a different post.) Plus, if you're going to read these, wouldn't color be better? IDW's books are focused on the art, so there's a bit more of a justification for their use of black and white. Then again, there's the matter of price. You just can't win. [Buy a copy.]

For the nerd who wants first edition copies of classic noir: A friend of mine is now, in his thirties, after a life of neglect, getting into novels. Pretty much any kind of novel. He's a criminologist, but he's thus far avoided the world of crime fiction. He asked me for some recommendations. I told him to start with the classics: Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Thompson. This naturally got me in the mood to reading these old timers once more. (A yearly event.) But I no longer have copies of the classics, and the ones that I have owned have either been worn secondhand paperbacks of the Black Lizard reissues. Then I got to thinking: I should own a collection of first editions of my favorites. Which got me thinking: You're too poor to even fantasize about first editions, what about some nice hardbound copies? I have always liked omnibuses -- not only do they look good on a shelf, but they're convenient if a bit daunting in terms of counting pages until finished. The Library has a few collections that are perfect for those looking to get into the classic world of noir and hardboiled fiction. For the novice, the two-volume American Noir, a set of 11 classic novels by the more important of the old school authors: Thompson, Himes, Cain, Highsmith, Woolrich, Willerford, etc. Or you can get more specific and buy the Library's editions of the work of Chandler and Hammett. The Library of America editions have that generic look we all know well, the Stratocaster of reprinted classics. But like the Strat's, it's an elegant, simple design. Perfect for the novice, but I'll gladly take my own copies. [You absolutely must purchase this.]

For the nerd who has no business getting back on a skateboard: I spent most of my formative years in Bakersfield on a skateboard. A few months back, my buddies decided to surprise me with my very own custom deck. After a few drunken spills and a sober collision with a car, I decided there has got to be a less painful way to relive those halcyon days of youth. There isn't. But you can still admire the wonderful (and woefully disposable) artwork of the golden age of skating. Depending on when you date the Golden Age. Sean Cliver's Disposable Skateboard Bible remains the best and most comprehensive of the growing selection of old school skate books. Another worthwhile collection is The Art of Mark McKree, known for his World Industry decks. Honorable mention, The Skateboard Art of Jim Phillips. [Buy all of these now.]

Monday, December 23, 2013

Zhaoyun's Fantabulous Nerd Gift Guide

This year, to spice up the holiday season with some unusual presents, I looked in some pretty unconventional places, including clothing megacorporation Uniqlo, Amazon Japan, and a toy company I'd never even heard of. I was able to find and purchase two out of the three gifts highlighted below, but it kills me to admit that my favorite of all, the toy, I couldn't get my hands on, try as I might. It'll have to wait until next year, I suppose!

One clarification: you will probably notice that all of the items on my list this year are from Japan, and naturally, this being Nerds of a Feather, they're all pretty weird. However, hard as this may be to believe, I'm not presenting these three items as a way of mocking Japanese culture for producing weird stuff--quite the reverse, actually. I actually bought two out of the three, and find all three awesome ideas! And herein lies the true nature of the Nerd, perhaps.

Without further ado, the Best Edible Treat, Best Toy, and Best Clothing gift ideas from yours truly:

Best Edible Treat: The Mokolet 

(This is a portmanteau of the Japanese word for the onomatopoeic sensation of sudsy bubbly fluffiness, mokomoko, and 'toilet', in effect a "bubblet".)

   Yes, you're seeing this correctly--it's a small cup shaped like a toilet, into which you pour some dried powder and shake it up into a frothy beverage, and then you drink the concoction directly from the toilet bowl.

   Whether the thought of drinking a frothy sudsy drink out of a miniature toilet makes you jump for joy or squirm in horror, one thing is certain: this is one gift that's certain to get you lots of attention. Sure, the range of people for whom this gift would be anything but grossly inappropriate is minuscule, but if you happen to find someone who'd actually appreciate this (and whose parents wouldn't try to strangle you afterwards for giving such a weird gift), you will be the coolest 'wacky uncle/aunt' ever!

Also, believe it or not, according to evidence on Youtube (I haven't tried it yet because I bought it, on Amazon Japan, as a gift for someone else), the drink is supposed to be pretty good, and comes in a few different flavors too!

Best Clothing: The Fist of the North Star Sound Effects T-shirt

Remember Fist of the North Star? Ken punches someone with a satisfying, meaty 'thwack!' and then drawls contemptuously, "don't you know? You're already dead!" whereupon the punchee's head swells and then bursts like an overripe melon. Sometimes Ken would freak out and go into Bruce Lee mode, punching everybody for miles around all in like five seconds. The show, and the movie, were all about improbable violence, so for fans of Fist of the North Star, this would surely be the ultimate gift. It's quite simply a shirt with all the punching and kicking sound effects written out (in Japanese), so stuff the equivalent of "bam!" and "pow!" but with a lot more variation. I bought this a few months ago at Uniqlo, so it shouldn't be too hard for you to find. This Christmas, get your boyfriend/husband/brother (because who are we kidding? Girls are too sensible to like something this juvenile and gratuitously violent!) the gift that keeps on punching!

Best Toy: The Obama Action Figure

First, a question! What do you get when you combine this:

With the current President of the United States?

Answer: this!

Actually, a couple of different companies make Obama figurines, but none quite like this. It pains me to no end to admit I wasn't able to locate and buy one (or more!) of these, because honestly, who wouldn't want an eight inch tall Obama with a full panoply of microphone, necktie, handgun (!), Uzi (!!), or katana (!!!!?!). The best stocking stuffer ever! So if anyone has one of these Samurai Obama dolls, or knows where they can be found or purchased, please let me know!

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a toilet bowl full of bubbly goodness!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thursday Morning Superhero

With the conclusion of Locke and Key today, I feel that a special edition of Thursday Morning Superhero is in order.  Instead of the usual round up of the books I am reading this week and how I feel about them, I wanted to write a letter to some folks who brought a tremendous amount joy to me and some of my friends.

Dear Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and the good people of IDW Publishing:

I want to thank you for creating, drawing, and taking a chance on a story about a family that is dealing with tragedy in a magical world.  This series opened my mind to what is possible in comics, and made me appreciate the value in having a story with a set beginning, middle, and end.  While I would have loved this series to go on in perpetuity, it was clearly in the best interest of the Locke family to bring their story to an end (I am not sure they could handle more).

At times this series made me laugh, at times I cried, and at times I felt genuine fear.  From the first issue I was drawn in by the fine art of Rodriguez, and instantly felt compassion for those involved in the story.  Sure it was easy to hate Sam Lesser, but the way Hill made you feel sorry for him was simply stunning.  Luke Caravaggio was similar, in that it was easy to be repulsed by the vile things he did, but the writing of Hill really painted him as a sympathetic being.

The last chapter harkened back to the first chapter in a way that brought back a flood of emotions I felt for Tyler early on in this series.  I almost felt proud to see how much he grew and became the man of the family he needed to be in such a short amount of time (I also enjoyed the beard!).  The final issue of Locke and Key was a triumphant end to one of the best comic series I have ever had the pleasure to read.  It is rare to get such closure from something you care about so much.  Many shows and books have brought me in, only to leave me wanting more at the end (talking about you, Battlestar Galactica!).  This was not the case with Locke and Key.  The ending was wholly satisfying and I look forward to returning to Keyhouse and seeing the adventures of other members of the Locke family (you said this was possible at SDCC).

I fear that Hill and Rodriguez set the bar too high for other individuals in the comic industry.  This is a series that I always use to welcome new individuals into the world of comics.  It speaks to what a powerful medium this is and I wish more creators took advantage of it.

All of this reminiscing has made me a little misty.  Something tells me if you used the head key to open up my melon you would see the Locke Family going on adventures.  I feel like I am saying goodbye to a friend, but  at least it is on his or her own terms.  I will look back with fondness on our friendship, and wish you nothing but the best in the future.

Cheers and thank you so much for sharing this with us,


P.S. - Where can I get one of those rugs?  I love it!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 Nerd Gift Guide - Vance

Last year I went kind of broad with Star Trek, Back to the Future, and Cthulhu (but seriously, you have to check out the Cuddlethulhu), so this year I've decided to focus on the micro. I've picked three gifts that are almost mind-bogglingly specific, so it's possible no one but me will be interested in them. But believe me, they're all excellent and will be worthy gifts for that special nerd in your life.

For Writers/Word Nerds: Shady Characters [Buy the book or download for Kindle .]

We are huge advocates here at Nerds of a Feather for independent authors and literary voices that fall outside of the mainstream. But we also understand that many (so, so many) independent works are bedeviled by spelling and punctuation errors. That got me thinking about Keith Houston's surprisingly engaging Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. As a type and design nerd, the idea of learning the history of these marks I use every day was quite alluring. I mean, what the hell is up with that paragraph symbol, anyway? If you watched and enjoyed Helvetica, you can't go wrong with this.

For the Film/Animation Nerd: Cartoon Modern [Buy it today.]

This had been on my wish list for a long time, and I'm thrilled I finally got my hands on it. I grew up watching a lot of animation, I still do, and have even done a little myself. While I'm impressed as hell with the work that big shops like Disney have always done, I've been far more inspired by folks that undertook this hugely labor-intensive artform with very few resources, an idiosyncratic vision, or a hunger for experimentation. All of those things flourished in the 1950s, as artists began to break away from the "centerline" school of animation at the same time that TV networks and advertising outfits embraced animation for mass audiences. Cartoon Modern does a very thorough job of profiling all of the animation companies that were active at the time, including tons of amazing production and pre-production images, and puts everything into a larger cultural context. Also, many of the films are available on YouTube if you look, so you can enjoy a DIY multimedia extravaganza!

For the Beer Nerd/Snob: Beer-of-the-Month Club (Sign up here)
No doubt, this is not the cheapest way to buy beer, but if you know a beer nerd who enjoys supporting microbreweries and trying as many different styles and variations as he or she can find, then this is a great way to go. It was the first time, for instance, that I had heard of and was able to try a Milk Stout, of all things. Also, the newsletter they include is interesting, with a little background on each style and brewery. Needless to say, this is only for nerds of legal drinking age.

And on that note, all this typing is some thirsty business. I think I'll see what I've got in the fridge...

2013 Nerd Gift Guide - The G

Some of us nerds of a feather have distinct specialties, but I'm the jack of all trades. So it should come as no surprise that I've cobbled together an eclectic array of gift ideas for that special nerdy someone or someones in your life. Follow the links to purchase...

For Music Lovers: Black Metal by Dayal Patterson [Buy the book or download for Kindle.]

If you like black metal as much as I do, and chances are you do not, then you won't want to miss this. I mean, where else can you read the true stories of everyone from Necrobutcher to Necrocock? This ain't no tabloidy bullshit like Lords of Chaos--this is a real history of the "most evil" form of music ever made, in all its absurd glory. Though full of unintentional comedy, Black Metal is written by someone with both an appreciation for both the music's value and full understanding of how ridiculous it can be. This is easily the best music book I've read since England's Dreaming.

For Fantasy/Gaming Enthusiasts: Lords of Waterdeep, a D&D themed board game [Buy the game and the expansion.]

Do you know someone who waxes nostalgic about his/her days as a Dungeon Master, but doesn't have the time or inclination to plan/execute a dungeon drawl? How about that friend who loves both Settlers of Catan and Game of Thrones? Well, you're in luck, because Lords of Waterdeep promises the nerdy goodness of AD&D wrapped in the streamlined package of a European-style board game!

For "Your Kids": Collectible Darth Vader Taking Plus Toy Figure [Buy this awesomenes.]

Sure your kid asked for Rescue Bots/Sophia the First/a pony, but you know what's best for them, right? And this isn't just a gift--it's a hyperspace ticket to a lifetime of awesomeness! And who cares if it ends up in your room instead of theirs? You're just keeping it in good condition for them! They'll definitely appreciate that when they're older. No question. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 Nerd Gift Guide: Mike

Our series of nerdy gift guides debuts with some ideas to get the comic book fan in your life.  You could always get them a trade paperback of a series they like or a variant cover, but that would be boring.  Here are some fun ideas that should be appealing to most comic book fans.

For the Age of Ultron fan: Battroborg 3-in-1 Battle Arena [Buy It Now]  
If you have ever wanted to take control of a robot ala Real Steel (great movie by the way), then you are in luck.  With the Battroborg, when you punch, your robot punches.  A light on the back of your robot lets you know his health and once the battle is over, simply press on the face and you are ready to fight again.  You can play with it in the arena, or if you are like me, you can set up a bunch of superhero action figures and go Ultron on them!  Never has punching inanimate things with my kids been so much fun!  The robots are easy to control and are fun for both the parent and the kids (I have been having a hard time sharing them).  The controls are easy, the battles are fun, and there is simply something extremely satisfying about punching robots.  Pure fun in a box!

For the Walking Dead fan: Zombicide and expansions [Buy Zombicide and Toxic City Mall Expansion]
Assume the role of Rick and crew as you team up to survive wave after wave of the undead.  Of all of the Zombie board games I have played, this is by far my favorite.  I picked up the Mall expansion that introduces the player to both toxic zombies and allows deceased players to remain in the game as zombivors.  Make sure you pick up the base set first, but if someone you are shopping for has the base set, I highly recommend the Mall City or Prison expansion.  One of the most frustratingly difficult, but absolutely entertaining games I have ever played.  Be prepared to die a lot, but have fun in the process.

For the comic fan who likes everything: Loot Crate subscription [Buy it Now]
Sometimes nerds can be very difficult to shop for.  You buy something for them, but it is the wrong version, color, etc.  For the tricky nerd on your list give them the gift that literally keeps on giving.  It will feel like the holidays all year long as he or she will be treated to new crate each month.  There is a new theme with each crate and the kind folk at Loot Crate pack a lot of value, and love, into each shipment.  For under $20 shipped the special nerd in your life will be delighted each month.

Monday, December 16, 2013

AiIP: The Anti-Amazon Experiment, fin

It's not the end, of course, but it's the last full post I'll dedicate to it for the next while. It's certainly too early to call it a success, failure or anything else for that matter, so I will avoid any pronunciations along those lines.

3024AD- Second Edition Cover
The fact of the matter is that publishing at large is in such a massive state of flux, it's hard to know what the right answer is- and the right answer this moment may not be such the next. I've talked about the new-fangled 'hybrid publishers', which you could (in many cases) file under 'indie', but that, as I've also detailed in a few places, can be a crapshoot. Or you can do it yourself, as myself and many others have, but that market is so saturated with absolute garbage, to say your chances of being the next Hugh Howey are slim is optimistic.

And while the ebook market is growing rapidly, readers are still driven largely by print, and neither of the above options are likely to get you into brick-and-mortar stores, and few in the even you sell to them. Finally, to bring this full-circle, even digital distribution is far from perfect- as I've spent the last few posts in the series talking about.

All of this nutshelling, if you've been following this particular corner of the internet, is not news. Since y'all have been, essentially, following my adventure with this experience, here's what's next (some of which I've talked about before, although not in detail):

  • First up is a second edition of 3024AD: Short Stories Series One. This will come via a Kickstarter campaign which will launch on January 2nd. It will serve a three-fold purpose, namely (1) clean up the few remaining editing errors (2) update my family of websites (my own blog and the 3024AD site, which will allow people to purchase the books directly, Bandcamp-style, paying what they want) and (3) to fund printing of physical copies to distribute to brick-and-mortars (there is also a new cover, pictured)
  • After that, on to Short Stories: Series Two. Most of the 'B' stories are written (if you've read the first collection, there is an 'A' storyline throughout, with 'B' stories that tie into it), and I am chipping away at that. 
  • Throughout, I'd like to expand beyond the current model of self/indie publishing- not only selling in brick-and-mortars, but also places people who read this manner of literature hang out- game and comic book shops, for example. If you have one locally you like, send them my way. I want to move beyond the old model as well as the new, and that calls for doing things differently. The plan is to raise enough to do a decent sized print run, and distribute it to places it will sell. If you know of any, let me know- deanfortythree [at] gmail
 After that, well, we shall see how this all goes. In any case, thanks for being part of my anti-Amazon Experiment, and hopefully you're as excited as I am to see how publishing evolves from here.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Ryse: Son of Rome

my first full xbox one title review!

First of all, let me say that this isn't the best game on the Xbox One so far, but it is easily the best looking. The vistas are incomparable to anything I've ever seen. The only thing that comes close is Assassin's Creed with its 360 degree shots used to open up new points in the map. The facial expressions are the best I've ever witnessed, including LA Noire and Mass Effect. I don't know if they used real actors as models or not, but it certainly appears so. If not, those programmers deserve a round of applause. If so, well, they still do. It's that impressive. 

Marius Titus

I won't go into details lest I incur the wrath of all the spoiler-haters out there, but let's just say this story's writing falls somewhere between HBO's Rome and Showtime's Spartacus. It also has some similarities to a certain film in that the protagonist, Marius, is "Father to a murdered daughter [sic], husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my revenge in this life or the next." As the main playable character, there are many enjoyable moments where you really get into the role and feel like a hard-edged legionnaire. Marius isn't very sympathetic, but it's difficult to be hardcore and likable at the same time. Give the guy a break!


Now, this is where the game REALLY shines. When playing Mass Effect 3, it felt like I was in control of an action figure. That's not a put-down, but rather a compliment on the level of realism they were able to achieve. It didn't appear that I was in control of a computer generated character, but rather a real piece of plastic that was running around the universe conversing with jellyfish-shaped aliens and the like. 

Ryse takes it a step further. Although the faces, as good as they are, still appear to be CGI, albeit the best CGI I've ever seen, when the game reverts to the third-person view enjoyed during the majority of the campaign, Marius might as well be flesh-and-blood. His armor appears to be forged of steel. His shield could easily be made of oak or cherry wood. Even the feathers in his helmet appear to have been picked from a real, live peacock. In short, you feel as though you're in control of a human, not some gaming avatar. 

where it shines

One piece of the game that was of particular notice to a fan of history like myself was the use of actual Roman tactics in battle. During certain points, when you're not busy wiping out barbarians on your own, you take command of a legion of troops and form into shielded lines. On your command, the shields go up and block incoming arrows and other projectiles. Once the volley has passed, your regimen returns to lockstep and continues to move forward. As a History Channel buff and a fan of all things Roman, this small addition made me smile. Although it took me a few deaths to figure out that I could order the legion to raise its shields, once I did, it was ever-so-pleasing! 

now, the flaws

Ryse is far from perfect, as evidenced by its 60 on The fighting mechanic is about as simple as it gets. It becomes fairly obvious by the third (of eight) chapters that this game was created to showcase the abilities of the system and not necessarily titillate the hardcore gamer. Arkham City it ain't. If you're looking for something that challenges your fast-twitch muscles and ability to maneuver your way around a ten-button controller, then keep on looking. That said, the campaign is short enough (you can finish it in a few days without too much effort) that the lack of a deep and challenging controller layout didn't really bother me that much, especially with all the action, sex, and gore going on around me. 

Ryse is most definitely NOT a game for children (if you couldn't tell). It has all the sex and violence of an episode of Rome, which I suppose is historically accurate. I'm desensitized enough that it didn't bother me, but if you're the sensitive type and slow motion death bothers you, I'd keep looking. There's more blood and gore here than in an Eli Roth movie. I enjoyed the executions, even though they weren't exactly rocket science, but man they're violent! Arm and leg removal. Decapitation. Spinal impalement. It's all here in Blu Ray quality video! I'll just say that if the above picture makes you cringe, you might try Forza or Peggle 2 (review coming next week, btw). 

summarization across the nation

As a general rule, I like to stick with games that get an 80 or above on 90% of the time it ensures a quality gaming experience and I don't feel like I've blown sixty bucks. However, in this case I made an exception for several reasons. First, there just aren't that many titles out there for the Xbox One, yet. Second, I've heard from several friends that it's not as bad as the reviews might indicate. Sure, the gameplay is simplistic, but with a 10-hour campaign that's not necessarily a bad thing. Who wants to spend the entire game learning how to play, only to finish just as you've mastered the controller layout? 

 That said, it could have been a little more challenging. I felt like I'd come to the end of the learning curve by the end of the third hour of play. While the story is pretty good, it's no Shakespeare. Even so, I can easily and in good conscience recommend this game to anyone in search of a beautiful, yet action-packed title to showcase the capabilities of their new Xbox One to their friends. It's more than just a pretty face. There's some fun to be had here, as well. 

the math

Objective Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for exceeding my expectations in both story and visual impressiveness. I started with low expectations, given, but I truly enjoyed playing through Ryse and look forward to a second playthrough on a tougher level. 

Penalties: -1 for mediocre gameplay mechanics. They could have done so much more with what they have available, but this one could've been pulled off on a Sega Genesis controller if need be. 

Nerd  Coefficient: 7/10. An enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Morning Superhero

After some relatively slow weeks, a great week of comics has landed upon us right in time for the holiday season!  This week features six, count 'em, six comics!  All out war continues for The Walking Dead, a new arc of The Sixth Gun is here, and Andy Diggle concludes Captain America: Living Legend.   2014 looks to have some fun for us as well as Dark Horse announced an official 20th Anniversary celebration for Hell Boy.  Mark your calendars for March 22 and plan for some fun events at your LCS.

Pick of the Week:
The Sixth Gun #36 - It appears that it may be the beginning of the end for the Sixth Gun.  Cullen Bunn delivers one of the most exciting comics I have read in recent memory.  It is bittersweet that it looks like the series will be wrapping soon, but I trust in Bunn's decision in how Drake (I hope) will remake the world once they are in possession of all six guns.  Drake and Becky are in possession of five of the six and are hellbent on claiming the final one from Missy Hume.  They return to Brimstone, where the series began, to learn as much as they can about Hume.  Meanwhile, Griselda has killed the widow Hume and is raising an army of the undead to take down Drake, Becky, and everyone else.  On top of that, Griselda enters Asher Cobb's vision and is attempting to turn him against Drake.  Also, I still don't like Kirby Hale one bit.  I don't trust that pretty boy.  This new arc started with a bang and has reinvigorated my interest in this series.  I look forward to revisiting this story from the beginning over the weekend.  I also want to give props to Brian Hurt for delivering on some chilling panels in this issue. Bunn and Hurt remind me of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.  Their work compliments each other so well it wouldn't feel right if they weren't working together.

The Rest:
The Wraith #2 - I've never met Joe Hill, but I have seen him on some panels at SDCC and he seems like a normal and nice man.  However, reading this comic makes me fearful of his little bearded self.  I am enjoying this title, but Charles Manx is an awful human being and Hill pulls no punches in establishing just how evil he is.  Not for the faint of heart, but if you are reading Hill's work then you have an idea of what you will be getting.  If you read NOS4A2 (you really should) then I would highly recommend this title.  I look forward to my first trip to Christmasland in issue #3.

The Walking Dead #118 - The war on the outposts wages on for Rick and his crew.  This issue, despite being chalk full of walkers and shoot-outs, felt much slower and less brutal.  I would guess this was intentional as Robert Kirkman delivered a more emotional issue that showed the sobering side of war.  One of my favorite moments was actually on the letters page.  It is clear that the folk at Skybound and Image have a good sense of humor and are on the pulse of their fans.  This was a good calm before the storm.

Star Wars #12 - While I am still conflicted about the information from Brian Wood's past that came to light recently, I must say I enjoy his writing a great deal.  One of my favorite things about this Star Wars series is the additional depth and context that is provided for many of the smaller characters.  Mon Mothma has been shining as of late as the Rebellion landed a fleet of TIE Interceptors.  Leia has located a planet, Arrochar, that sounds like it will be friendly to the Rebellion.  We will have to wait until issue #15 to see if her decision was a good one as the next few issues will focus on Vadar.

Captain America: Living Legend #4 - Andy Diggle wrapped up his mini-series quite nicely this week. The highlight was Captain America looking like Cthulhu as he was taken over by the dark energy that possessed Volkov.  I quite enjoyed learning why Volkov has it in for Cap (I won't spoil) and appreciate a short, to the point, story that is entertaining.  Not the deepest comic I have read this year by a long shot, but a great story that is worth your time.

Batman #26 - Zero Year continues and we gain more insight into the past life of Bruce Wayne when he was first Batman.  While I have enjoyed Zero Year, there is something off putting about a young Bruce Wayne that causes it to lose its Batman feel.  I can't explain why, but this current arc is enjoyable, but not memorable.  At least this one is the origin story of Commissioner Gordon's trench coat.  If you are a Batman fan you will enjoy it, but it lacks the punch of the previous arcs.