Sunday, March 30, 2014

Best Sci-Fi TV of All Time Tournament Bracket (Round of 32)


For the second year, KPCC in Pasadena, California, has made a public radio bracket for NPR shows. Some of my favorite podcasts, like 99% Invisible and Radiolab are in it (and Radiolab might be cruising to victory), and that gave me an idea. What about a bracket for Sci-Fi TV Shows? When we put it to a vote, what would the fans decide is/was the greatest Sci-Fi TV Show of All Time?

What say we find out?

I've taken 32 shows, and grouped them into four regions, Classic North, Classic South, Modern North, and Modern South, with the four No. 1 seeds The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and The X-Files, respectively. The "modern" line was drawn somewhere around 1995, encompassing the last 20 years. It's all entirely unscientific, but hopefully fun. Participate by voting in the polls below, and every few days we'll tally the votes and the winners will advance to the next round. There's also a printable bracket so you can play along at home. Vote as often as you'd like. Painting the show's colors on your body is optional.

Let's go!





Happy bracketing! And if you start any office pools or anything, let us know. We'd love to hear about it.

Posted by Vance K - Cult film aficionado, unapologetic lover of terrible movies, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

I must admit that I am at a bit of a loss in how to open this week's entry.  One frustration I have had of late, is that I don't have the time or the money to read all of the great books that are coming out each week.  From this week I am bummed that I wasn't able to read the new issue of The Hacktivist, Tomb Raider, Skull Kickers, and others. I know I will read them soon, but the amount of good books on the market is simply ridiculous.  Good, but challenging times for us comic book fans.  Mix in the amazing sales that ComiXology has and the unreal volume of old books available on Marvel Unlimited and it seems I will be reading for some time.

Pick of the Week:
Mind MGMT #20 - I can't say enough for the world that Matt Kindt has created.  This is, not only one of the most gorgeous books on the market, but one of the best spy stories I have ever read.  While the "big picture" story is enough to keep you hooked, Kindt does the little things to really draw his reader in.  The stories in the sidebars, the watercolor art, and the subtle bits of storytelling that really connect you to his characters.  The story of the former dog agent had me in tears before this book even started.  I also love the notion of individuals who have undergone large amounts of experimentation end up finding cover in the circus sideshow.  I urge you not to be moved by the story of these former experiments trying to make sense of their world in a traveling circus spreading murder and propaganda. This is all in one issue!  Go join the Mind MGMT revolution today!

The Rest:
Silver Surfer #1 - I admit that I was excited to take a ride with this cosmic entity as he seeks out planets fit for consumption from Galactus, but was a little surprised to hear they weren't getting along any more.  I haven't read much Silver Surfer, but found this tale enjoyable despite some artistic issues that I had with the Impericon (a world created with technology to shield it from the Heralds.  It was decent with a good hook, but I am not sure I will be hanging ten with the Silver Surfer again on issue #2.

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #3 - I know it is always dangerous to admit that I am not the biggest Firefly fan (I do enjoy it, but it is not my favorite), but this comic has been quite good.  What intrigued me the most in this issue was the visions that River had.  I felt that the tv show was at its best when it revolved around her.  What she saw and the direction she would like Mal to take may keep me on board.  Fans of the show will no doubt enjoy this title, but those that are casual fans or new to the world will most likely enjoy it as well.

The Walking Dead #124 - The mystery of if Rick was shot with a contaminated arrow is not resolved, but the drama it should bring in the next issue will be very interesting.  Rick and crew just learned that Negan's weapons were poisoned.  Despite getting the better of Negan in this attack, it is going to be an uphill climb.  I have really enjoyed this arc, but hope it ends soon.  While Negan is a vile and disgusting villain (one of, if not my favorite in this series), I am ready to move past him and see where this series is heading.

Captain America: Homecoming #1 - When I was reading this new Captain America, I had very mixed feelings.  It lacked the depth of character that I grew to love reading Ed Brubaker's run, but it had a nice nostalgic feel to it.  Simple, but good classic comic book action.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that this issue contained a bonus classic issue of Captain America (Issue #117).  I have no idea where this series is heading, but this was a nice trip down memory lane.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Microreview [book]: Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

Theroux, Marcel. Strange Bodies [Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014]
File Under: fiction, literary. 

I try to read at least one experimental novel per year, something that stretches my understanding of what fiction can do. I've picked well in recent years--for every dud like 1Q84, there have been multiple successes, from Roberto Bolaños magisterial 2666 to Ariel Winter's metafictional The Twenty Year Death. Strange Bodies seemed a calculated risk--after all, I loved the high-brow post-apocalyptica of Far North and almost preferred the low-key "papers in the attic" mystery of The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes. Strange Bodies, a literary thriller wrapped in a Frankenstein story, thus seemed a perfect fit. I was not disappointed.

The story begins with a visit by a hulking man calling himself Nicholas Slopen, a slight-bodied English professor who, we are told, died in a car crash little more than a year prior. Yet Slopen knows things only the real Slopen could know, and so it is that we are led to believe that something truly astounding has happened--rebirth of a soul into a new, strange body.

Slopen tells us that several years prior, he had been contacted by a well-known American record producer to see if he could authenticate several letters attributed to Samuel Johnson. Slopen is one of the world's foremost Johnson experts and, furthermore, could use the money, so it appears an ideal match. And at first glance, the letters do appear to reflect Johnson's idiosyncratic language and prose style. The problem: the letters themselves are fakes.

From this conceit, we are led down a path towards a bizarre plot to take living human bodies, reduce them to husks and reanimate them with the souls of the dead and dying. Strange Bodies is, in turns, speculative horror and a literary thriller peppered with a heavy dose of literary fiction's bread-and-butter (divorce, mid-life crisis, etc.) and a splash of the spy novel. Yet somehow these incongruities mesh together in a remarkably cohesive narrative, marking Strange Bodies as that odd beast: the genre novel with literary fiction chops. Or, conversely, literary fiction with genre pace. And that's a good thing.

Yet while I thoroughly enjoyed Strange Bodies, it isn't perfect. Hunter Gould, the aforementioned record-producer, is underused--we are never quite sure why it matters that he is a record-producer, though I imagined all kinds of ways this could have been deployed to great effect. And the actual conversion process (referred to as "the Procedure") remains opaque and not terribly believable, even within the confines of the novel's internal logic.

On balance, however, Strange Bodies is a major success. Theroux's writing is better than ever and the book is smartly plotted, full of interesting characters and nearly impossible to put down. Better still, it manages to feel original even as it mashes up well-known literary tropes. And I felt like Theroux really got into the pathos of the academic, the peculiar mixture of condescension and self-loathing that Slopen embodies--see, for example, Slopen's relentless dismissal of a sympathetic psychiatrist as "anti-Stratfordian" based on an offhand comment about Shakespeare.

A very smart and assured novel from one of the more interesting authors around.

The Meat

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for pace + poetics = awesome; +1 for modernizing Frankenstein via...Samuel Johnson!?

Penalties: -1 for problems with the speculative mechansism; -1 for Hunter Gould utilization deficit.

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

Why an 8/10 means a lot to us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beer and Sci-Fi Pairings

A while back, we did a Grimdark/Black Metal Pairings post that was a lot of fun, so I figured I'd try my hand at something similar, but using my Netflix account and the empty bottles on my back porch waiting to go to recycling.

So with that, I give you the Nerds of a Feather Streaming Sci-Fi and (Mostly) Craft Beer Pairings!

1. The X-Files / Guinness Stout
X-Files Mulder ScullyGuinness

For a lot of people of a certain age, The X-Files marked the beginning of their love affair with sci-fi. As a show on a major network that became extremely popular, it made the pop culture radar in a big way. Maybe not since Star Wars had a sci-fi property gone so mainstream. Suddenly it was cool to be into aliens, and conspiracies, and Luke Wilson fighting vampires and stuff. In the same way, if you're used to drinking fizzy yellow pee-water that giant megacorporations laughingly refer to as "beer," Guinness can act as your gateway into a wonderful world beyond. It's ubiquitous and easy to order instead of said pee-water, and can expand your palate, opening your eyes to all you've been missing.

2. Sherlock / Fuller's ESB

Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch Martin FreemanFuller's ESB

All thinking people can agree that this incarnation of the Arthur Conan Doyle detective and his physician assistant has gotten the Holmes/Watson dynamic right. This British export lives up to all the hype, and makes 100+ year-old stories feel fresh and original. Another British export, Fuller's claims to have invented the ESB, and that this is the original. But despite the name, Fuller's ESB (Extra Special Bitter) isn't really all that bitter...much like Sherlock himself, once you get past his off-putting demeanor.

3. Firefly / Stone Cali-Belgique IPA

Stone Cali-Belgique IPAFirefly cast
Firefly, Joss Whedon's sci-fi Western, needed to be paired with another fine mash-up. Stone's Cali-Belgique IPA dresses up Stone's regular, super-hoppy IPA with some Belgian yeast for a blending of Old and New World flavors. I actually drank one of these while watching Firefly the other night, and I can tell you it really brings out the smoky flavors in the show.

4. Fringe / Unibroue La Fin du Monde Belgian Trippel

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
There are two ways to look at the end of the world. One is the sort of traditional armageddony view of the world temporally and/or spatially ceasing to exist. But the other is to consider the end, or barrier, of one world and where it abuts another. Fringe's focus on parallel dimensions and the unknown brought to mind the depiction of the "end" of the world on Unibroue's signature Belgian ale as the barrier between land and sea. This is a stunning beer, and at 9% ABV, it can be just as much of a head-trip as the show.

5. The Clone Wars / Firestone Walker Wookey Jack American Black Ale

Firestone Walker Wookey JackThe Clone Wars Yoda Cartoon Network
Now it goes without saying that we only endorse adults of legal drinking age partaking in any of the brews mentioned here, and the inclusion of an animated show should in no way imply otherwise. But if you're an adult who is into The Clone Wars – and you should be, since it actually lived up to the promise of the epic-sounding Clone Wars mentioned in the original Star Wars trilogy and since it made Annakin Skywalker finally seem like something other than a semi-literate dope that Natalie Portman could never, never love – then a beer called "Wookey Jack" is a natural complement.

6. Twin Peaks / New Belgium 1554 Black Lager

New Belgium 1554Twin Peaks Black Lodge
My first inclination was to try to find something really weird and left-of-center to pair with such a unique and wonderful show. Or maybe something brewed in the Pacific Northwest, where poor Laura Palmer met her fate. But I quickly came to my senses and realized that any beer pairing must pay tribute to The Black Lodge. Hence, New Belgium's 1554 Black Lager. This beer is derived from a recipe found in a monk's notebook dated 1554, hence the name, and it is probably my favorite brew from an across-the-board solid brewery.

Bonus: Twilight Zone / Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue Label)

Simply, the best for the best. Maybe you've got the luck or money or phone savvy or Belgian friends you need to get your hands on some Westvleteren, but that's not me. So for my money those who say Chimay Grande Reserve is the best beer on the planet will not get an argument from me. In the same way, I can make the case that The Twilight Zone is not only the best show on this list, but the best show of all time. What else could keep it company, but a peer?

Posted by Vance K – Cult film aficionado, unapologetic lover of terrible movies and good beer, either consecutively or concurrently, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Monday, March 24, 2014


[Titanfall, Respawn Entertainment, Electronic Arts, 2014]

Can it save the Xbox One?

Microsoft is banking on Titanfall, big time. This is the first truly fresh release on their new flagship console with expectations that couldn't be higher. Forza 5, Call of Duty, and Assassin's Creed are all either ports from the 360 versions and/or extensions of existing series. The next Halo won't be out until Christmas and Gears of War is at least two years out. The Xbox One has been lagging in sales compared to the PS4 of late and the kids at Bill Gates' house are REALLY hoping this game turns things around. It may not be the complete game-changer that Microsoft is looking for, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. 

What it gets right, it gets very right!

This game is REALLY fun. Don't get me wrong. I've been completely addicted to it despite some drawbacks. The gameplay is totally new, and that's tough to do in today's world of a plethora of developers and distribution companies. Everybody is looking for the next big thing...and Microsoft found it. The standard FPS portion is a bit like Call of Duty mixed with Halo and given a healthy dose of steroids. Your character's ability to wall-walk combined with his or her mini-jetpack help create entirely ways to move around the map. Add to that the Titans and this is clearly different from anything that has come before it. 

For the uninitiated, Titanfall is a first-person shooter that takes place in the future. The IMC is the government entity being challenged by rebels called the Militia. First, you play through the campaign from the side of the IMC. There are nine maps. Once you've finished those, you switch and play the same nine maps from the Militia side. The only real difference between the "campaign" and "classic" multiplayer game types are voiceovers that precede each mission and some short cutscenes. As an IMC pilot, you are fighting for Vice Admiral Graves. He's your standard military man looking to put down the rebellion whose control is taken over early on in the game by former IMC mutineer James MacAllen. He and Graves used to fight side-by-side before he went rogue. There really wasn't much to the story, to be honest. That's pretty much it. They had little bylines for each map, like taking down a fuel depot or destroying a spaceship while it was in dock, but the gist of the plot line can be summed up in a few sentences.


The best part of Titanfall is easy to's the gameplay. Movement is like a combination of parkour with jetpacks. You can run on walls, jump off, land and run on opposing walls, then fly through the air using your booster pack to get 30-40 feet up in the air. It's an entirely new type of mechanic unlike anything I've ever played before. Then there are the Titans... 

There are three types: the Atlas being a middle-of-the-road mech, the Stryder that is more nimble but can take less damage, and the Ogre that serves as a tank with massive protection. Every three minutes you are blessed from above with one of these giant killing machines, literally. The are deployed from space and come falling down from the sky, thus the game's name. You can climb into the huge robot and take personal control or choose "follow" or "guard" mode where AI takes over for the Titan and it will either follow and protect you or engage the enemy on its own, garnering you substantial XP as long as it survives. Personally, I've played about half the game each way. Sometimes I'm on a hot streak with my pilot and I just let my Titan wander off on its own to kill at will. Other times I prefer to climb in and put my personal touch on the giant's attacks. 

There are some missing components

My main complaint with Titanfall is the lack of a single player campaign. I guess I'm stuck expecting the standard format like Call of Duty and Mass Effect 3 where there are both single player campaign and multiplayer choices for the gamer. Here, there's not much difference between the two except for the voiceovers before you start a mission. The voiceovers could have used a little help from Bioware because they leave a lot to be desired. They aren't terrible, but they aren't as good as they should be, especially considering the relatively small number required for the so-called "campaign" mode. 

Not only that, but your success or failure in a mission has no bearing on the outcome of the game. Win or lose the match, the game continues on with the missions as if you were successful. I guess that taking into account the fact that the whole campaign is just a modified multiplayer game this makes sense because it could take a while to finish the campaign if you were dependent upon your teammates' abilities to clear a level, but it draws away from the sense of accomplishment you get when normally finishing a level.

Break it on down!

Despite my complaints, this really is a treat to play. I tend to lean toward story-driven games so the bare bones campaign left me feeling somewhat empty, but the fantastic mechanics and graphics more than make up for it. I hope that this, like many series before it, grow into a full-fledged, multiple-game epic in the same vein as Halo or Metal Gear. I absolutely love playing it. I was just looking for a bit more, to be honest. Maybe all of the hype and buildup led me to believe this would be the next Gears (or God) of War. It certainly has the potential to become everything those games are and more, but it needs a bigger, better backstory. One of the reasons Halo has been so successful is the completeness of the universe. I hope that Titanfall 2 builds on the skeleton of a plot that this game provides. It already has the gameplay down perfectly. Now it just needs a universe to inhabit. 

The Math

Objective Score: 8/10. It would've been a 9 if it just had even the most slightly serviceable story. 

Bonuses: +1 for the biggest improvement in unique and fluid gameplay mechanics I've seen since Nintendo went from a two-button layout to the six-button SNES controller.

Penalties: -1 for a nearly complete lack of plot. I almost would have preferred they simply leave out the Graves/MacAllen story and just include a few more multiplayer modes. 

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Microreview [Book]: Odds On

Crichton, Michael (writing as John Lange), Odds On [Hard Case Crime]

The Meat 

I hate writing bad reviews.

I have no illusions about what I’m doing here. I’m the crime (sometimes comics) guy on a nerd blog. My reviews aren’t going to do much damage. And this is the internet, a media designed for hating. So, drop in the bucket. But it’s not my place to bash the novels I read for this site. Many of these books are small press debuts, penned by someone who’s slaving away as a teacher or adjunct, as a spouse and parent, squeezing in a few pages of edits on a Saturday or outlining chapters on a bus. I’ve never written a novel, so even if I hated their work, they’ve bested me.

But Michael Crichton, I can hate. Even the young, medical school student/aspiring novelist writing under the name John Lange, I can hate. I can hate him for writing Odds On.

Odds On is the story of master thief Stephen Jencks who plans a heist using computers. In 1966! So he hires two other pros and the three set out to rob the guests at the Reina, an uber-posh coastal resort in Franco’s sunny Spain. The heist: the thieves are going to rifle through the guests’ rooms. Yes. This, along with a couple explosions and a diversionary fire, is the heist. The computer program Jencks used merely determined the most efficient sequencing of individual tasks in the robbery—which may be close to what 1966 computers could do. But it’s still boring.

An underwhelming heist does not necessarily doom a novel. Three hundred pages of not much happening does. Two thirds of Odds On takes place prior to the actual, thoroughly boring heist. So there’s a lot of lounging around, a lot of idle banter on car trips, over cocktails, and after way-to-easy sex. For two hundred pages. Rich people taking it easy. The main characters aren’t interesting, neither are the secondary characters. Even the weed-slinging old English Lady and her French gigolo are boring. For three hundred pages.

As for the heist, there’s not much of it, neither in design nor in execution. It’s rifling through people’s shit, after all. There’s a twist in the last quarter of the book that keeps things interesting for fifteen or so pages. But then it’s resolved disappointingly.

I expected more from Odds End. Not because I’m a Crichton fan. In fact, I’ve read two of his books, his John Lange books. Scratch One and Binary. And I really enjoyed them, and was surprised that I did. They were rapidly paced, fun action novels, perfect for a Sunday afternoon. Odds On suits no afternoon. It reads like what it is: the early effort of a master hack. We all know he found his stride. But just not yet.

On the other hand, when he wrote Odds On, Crichton was a medical student. At Harvard. Writing novels. On the side.

The Math

Objective score: 4/10

Bonuses: +1 for modest approach to computers

Penalties: -1 for way too casual sex (that’s going in my neo-noir manifesto); -1 for being over 250 page (also in the manifesto)

Nerd coefficient: 3/10

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

It may seem as if it is a long way out, but SDCC and the Nerd HQ are rapidly approaching.  The Nerd HQ is reaching out to its nerd army to provide funding of what is an increasingly impressive event.  You can give as I have at and make SDCC more inclusive.  You don't need a badge, a Comic Con ID, or jump through any hoops to attend the Nerd HQ.  On top of that, all of the proceeds go to charity!  Every dollar helps and no donation is too small.  I shall step down from my soap box and move on to this week's books!

Pick of the Week:
American Vampire: Second Cycle #1 - What a joy it is to revisit the world that Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque have created.  I was a fan of the original series, but ended up being sidetracked by other books and shiny things and never was able to rejoin this franchise.  Thankfully, the duo took a break from the series and have created a new leaping on point.  What is a little frustrating is that now I want to go back and read everything that has happened to Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones.  Snyder and Albuquerque deliver an action packed issue that updates fans, or introduces fans, to what Skinner and Pearl are currently up to.  I am most intrigued by the halfway house that Pearl has set up for lost vampires, but also worried about the new terror that is known as the "Gray Trader".  Not sure if that is who Skinner is dealing with, but he seems like a formidable opponent.  So happy to be back in this universe.

The Rest:
The Sixth Gun #39 - The battle of Brimstone reaches its epic conclusion in the latest issue of Cullen Bunn's epic horror/western.  One thing I loved with this week's issue is that I am reminded how powerful the fifth gun is and why the widow Hume was such a powerful foe.  Drake and company still seek out what may be the most difficult gun to obtain.  This series is leading up to an amazing conclusion and I am happy that I have been along for the ride.  It is somewhat embarrassing to admit that my older brother is the one who introduced me to this amazing series.

Ghosted #8 - Jackson and his rag tag group of ghost thieves continue their quest to rescue Nina. Anderson continues to haunt Jackson and he continues to seek his release from this endless life and attain peace at last. We learn in this bungling attempt to rescue Nina, that, in addition to running a brothel full of possessed women, this group is using the possessed to write books akin to the Necronomicon.  I don't want to divulge too much, but Joshua Williamson sure delivers a fun ride.  This series is a sleeper that you should jump on early so you can claim you were a fan before it was cool.  Hipster respect to Ghosted.

Daredevil #1 - Mark Waid has moved Daredevil from Hell's Kitchen in New York all the way across the USA to San Francisco.  Part of Marvel Now!, Daredevil #1 is a logical jumping on point that I highly recommend.  Waid does a nice job introducing some of the new situations that Daredevil encounters in a city that is vastly different than New York.  This issue was a lot of fun and serves as a nice palette cleanser for this week's stack.

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Microreview [book] : Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon [Hooder and Stoughton, 2014]
Available to buy from April 10th, 2014 : amazon both formats   or UK publisher
The Meat:

The Nigerian city of Lagos is named after the Portuguese word for 'lagoon', and this absorbing novel takes its aquatic title and its strong heart from this turbulent city. Full of incident, emotion and action, 'Lagoon' is one of the more unique and inventive science-fiction books I've read for some time and I look forward to reading more from Chicago resident Nnedi Okorafor.

As Peter Higgins said so well on this site just last week, however, genre tags can be both limiting and inaccurate. Really the only sci-fi element to this tale is that aliens land and, assuming human form, start to make contact. Okay, that's pretty damn sci-fi, admittedly. Yet most of the atmosphere and incidents are human in origin and focus. There is no Independence Day nonsense here. It is this, for me, that gives Okorafor's writing such impact. Otherworldly and incredible things occur, but the reactions and consequences are very relatable, earthly and affecting.

The central cast of the yarn are an unlikely trio, albeit with a hidden link revealed late-on. Adaora the marine scientist, Anthony Dey Craze the Ghanian rap star and Agu the righteous soldier all meet on Lagos's beach as the extraterrestrials land in the ocean, and they are literally and metaphorically swept up by this new force. Once back on dry land they are accompanied and manipulated by the alien ambassador, who they name Ayodele, and are tasked with helping her both make contact with the president and adjust to human behaviour.

As they head back to Adaora's home and are beset by various opponents (including her violent and born-again husband and his corrupt priest, and a gang of young thugs), they find their strange link to Ayodele, and the disgusting actions of a populace stressed by poverty and panicked by an alien invasion, force them to take sides in a struggle for control of the city.

These moments of interaction and confusion between the powerful new arrival and her companions, and their clashes with largely-hostile local groups, form the central chunk of the narrative and I found them convincing and entertaining. The moment where horrific erupting violence causes the alien to angrily yet flatly declare "I hate humans" is moving and saddening. Okorafor effectively weaves wry and often condemning comment on Lagos society and humanity at large within her fantastical adventure.

Aside from this core plot of the three humans and the alien, myriad smaller stories interrupt to give greater scope to the tale. Some of these stories connect with the central narrative, whilst others show the impact of the invasion and the human response in various unconnected ways. A fair share of some of wildest flights of imagination were in these moments (a giant killer swordfish, ancient spirits jumping into computers, and a mythical spider living under Lagos are three highlights) yet I felt in them the main weakness of 'Lagoon'. Though any section would be good enough as a short story in their own right - especially a surreal road episode that made me think of The Walking Dead and other post-apocalyptic horror - they distracted from the flow of the central plot. Despite adding range and colour, they reduced tension ultimately, and the variance in narration perspective from first to third added to this reductive disconnection.

However, this may really be a case of praising with faint damning. The author's chief characters are so compelling, original and sympathetic that to be away from them in the company of relative stereotypes was a pity. Also, I'm not sure how the epic scale of the events could have been shown through just their eyes, nor would I have wanted to dilute their story by having it become a novel told by a more evenly-weighted yet less-complex crowd of witnesses.

Overall, this is a book that did what my favourite ones do - took me to another world. There is much in it I liked purely because of its - to me - original location and culture. Whilst some of the local dialect dialogue was sometimes confusing (there is a glossary at the back but my ebook version didn't signpost this), the shifts in language were fascinating, and the sense of refreshment at reading about a place I know little of was an additional satisfaction. It is slightly hard, therefore, for me to separate entirely the quality from the context, just as I used to wonder, 'Do I find Japanese horror more spooky because its an alien culture and language or are they just better?'. Still, I'm just a dumb white English person, and I wouldn't stop to think this if the vivid descriptions, keen dialogue and surprising plotting weren't already very good and had already made me greedily gobble through the pages in four days (that's quick for me, and there were no pictures neither...). Despite minor flaws, I loved 'Lagoon'.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for managing to combine Lagos social commentary, Nigerian folklore and sci-fi action and still entertain; +1 for something stranger, more intelligent and beguiling than the usual UFO attack.

Negatives: -1 for the above issue of weaving the various stories together and losing some pace and tension, and for the out-of-place line 'How would you have felt?', addressed straight to the reader. I'm not your dear reader and you're not Austen. Stop it.

Nerd Coefficient : 9/10 "very high quality / stand-out in its category"

(See our scoring system for why 9/10 is something special)

Posted By: English Scribbler, Galala dancehall champion and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2013.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

AiIP: Steps Into Larger Worlds

Or, at least, we'll be going soon, since Kickstarter hasn't actually given me the green light just yet. I'll update this as soon as it's up. It's live now! Please back it!

In any case, as I've written about before, one of my main goals has been to find a way to get physical copies out there into brick and mortar stores- and do so in a way that is beneficial to indie bookstores as well. A couple of weeks ago, Village Books and I decided to partner up and see what we could make happen.

I am ridiculously excited about this, because it is a mutually beneficial partnership, rather than a bookstore grudgingly carrying a local author's books, for them to just sit and collect dust. Rather, it gets the same shake a book that comes from a traditional publishing house would get, indie bookstores get to make money and I get to get my book out there in credible fashion.

From that humble beginning, I'll then work with other bookstores on the same model- they sell the book, in store and on the site, with a free ebook download with each purchase. While that won't eliminate people coming in and then downloading the book without buying it, it will hopefully cut down on it.

The first step is getting books actually printed, which is where the Kickstarter comes in. Basically, you can get the book early (with its spiffy* new cover!), and support both quality indie publishing and brick and mortar bookstores. How awesome is that?


*'Spiffy' is a terrible word, and I am sorry for using it.

Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog.
  He is also an aficionado of good drinks (extra dry martini; onions, not olives), good food and fine dress. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.
  He also has an unhealthy obsession with old movies and goes through phases where he plays video games before kind of forgetting they exist.
  Dean lives in the Pacific Northwest and likes the rain, thank you very much.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Microreview [book]: Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

Bear, Elizabeth. Steles of the Sky [Tor, 2014]
Buy: Print, Kindle
File under: fantasy, epic

I feel profoundly strange. Eternal Sky is, after all, the first series I have covered in its entirety for Nerds of a Feather. It is also, without any doubt, one of the most ambitious, creative and well-realized fantasy series I have ever read. So to think that my journey with Temur, Samarkar and Edene has come to its end leaves me with the ambiguous feelings of a fan who knows all things must come to an end (and appreciates that they should do so in timely fashion), yet wishes nonetheless that they might go on a little longer.

Steles of the Sky is, like its predecessors Range of Ghosts and Shattered Pillars, exquisitely well-written. It is also marked by the same kind of careful world-building and characterization that have made George R. R. Martin a household name and genuine fantasy phenomenon. But despite a likeness in quality, Bear's series contrasts with Martin's in significant ways: it is more hopeful and less gritty (though it can be quite gritty in places); and it eschews medieval Europe in order to draw inspiration from Mongol, Arab, Tibetan and Chinese mythic and historical traditions. Like Paul Weimer, I see this as a very good thing. The world is much bigger and richer than epic fantasy's relentless focus on Western Europe would have us believe, and Bear's non-Western fantasy is about as sensitive and respectful as one would hope.

In its best moments, Steles of the Sky (and Eternal Sky more broadly) is about cooperation, about adapting to new cultural environments and learning how to speak and work with those whose cultural reference points differ from our own. It's not that everyone in this world believes in a political concept of multiculturalism, but rather that they either find a way to work together or sink. This approach breathes life into what otherwise might appear a fairly cliched tale of "ragtag band of do-gooders fight evil god."

All that said, Steles of the Sky may be the weakest of the three volumes in the series. It isn't bad by any stretch--actually it's quiet good, and when I say "weakest" I really mean "moderately less awesome than its predecessors." But there are a few nagging issues that, for me, keep the book from fulfilling the promise of Range of Ghosts.

To begin, I've noticed throughout the series that its forward momentum comes when its characters are on the move, and particularly when they struggle to acclimate to new social environments. Leave them in a given place for too long, though, and the narrative loses steam. One of the best scenes in Steles of the Sky has Temur's grandfather Ato Tesefahun (alongside the deposed Uthman Caliph), seeking mercenaries in the walled city of Kyiv. It is rich, vivid and thoroughly captivating. Unfortunately, such scenes are fewer and farther between in Steles of the Sky than in earlier installments, while there are rather more where everyone stands around being polite to each other.

I also noticed some unevenness in the character narratives. Samarkar's and Edene's are good, as usual, as are those of the "relatable villain" Saadet (al-Sepehr's daughter). And the shorter perspective chapters for Tesefahun and Brother Hsiung are also quality. Temur's, however, are only sparsely populated across the text, as if Bear is trying a bit too hard to decenter the narrative from its protagonist. I didn't particularly like that.

Making matters worse, some of the space that might have gone to Temur instead goes to characters like the Dowager Empress Yangchen, who as far as I can tell doesn't actually add anything significant to the story. This is the same problem Martin encounters in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons--especially with the rather pointless Quentyn Martell narrative in the latter book. The problem is less pronounced in Steles of the Sky, to be sure, but similar nonetheless.

Finally, you may recall how, in the review of Shattered Pillars, I expressed some discomfort with the portrayal of the Muslim-based culture, but expressed the hope that this would be addressed in the final book. My concerns were, at best, partially dealt with--in Saadet and the slave-poetess Ümmühan, Bear has given us two very interesting and three-dimensional characters from the Falzeen and Rahazeen sects--a number that can be expanded to four if you count Temur's alt-Ethiopian grandfather Tesefahun and mother Ashra. But notice that three of the four are women.

With the exception of Tesefahun, the Falzeen and Rahazeen men are all arrogant, authoritarian and more than a little misogynistic. I guess you could argue that Uthman Caliph has some character growth as the book goes along, but it's marginal at best. Al-Sepehr, Kara Mehmed, Saadet's ghost twin Shahruz and Mehmed's lieutenant, meanwhile, are downright vile--and there aren't really any positive depictions to counter-balance these. This stands in stark contrast to Bear's portrayal of men from the other cultures, at least some of whom are sympathetic. I can't imagine Bear did this intentionally, and I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt here--but I can't help wishing the result had been a bit different.

Though I've harped on a few issues in this review, let me categorically state that Steles of the Sky is, on balance, a satisfying conclusion to an excellent series. Through its exemplary prose and astonishing world-building, Eternal Sky raises the bar for fantasy writers, and redefines what can be attempted and accomplished within the genre.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for richness.

Penalties: -1 for narrative unevenness; -1 for (likely unintentional) othering of Falzeen/Rahazeen.

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

Our scoring system explained.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Microreview [film]: Cinema Six

The Meat

Cinema Six is the kind of movie you hope for when you take a chance on a movie starring nobody you've ever heard of. I love independent movies – good ones, flawed ones, and really, really bad ones – but the really good ones have a special kind of magic that are totally unique. At festivals over the years, I've seen a small handful of indies that legitimately moved me and stuck with me, and as recently as only five or so years ago, sadly if those movies didn't come out of the festival circuit with a distributor, that was it and they'd missed their window. It was like an awful, winner-take-all pilot season for the film world, except all of the money was being poured in by poor artists with big dreams, not studios who could absorb the production costs and then afford to shelve the final product. Thankfully, through the rise of video-on-demand, gems like Cinema Six have the potential to reach a much, much larger audience. So three cheers to an Internet technology that the NSA hasn't yet turned into a way to spy on us!

There's a lot to love about this little movie, so I'll try to hit the high points quickly and adhere to the spirit of the "microreview." The plot is easily summed up by saying a group of employees at a small-town movie theater, all at different stages of their lives, each wrestle with maturity. One of the wonderful choices co-writers/directors Mark Potts and Cole Selix made in the script was to have each of the three central characters – Mason, Dennis, and Gabe – at different stages of their lives, which enables the film to deal with each of them facing their own, idiosyncratically frightening next steps. I vastly prefer this approach to what I'd consider the Apatow-standard, where all the characters are pretty much in the same zone, and the central character is the one individual allowed to rise up out of his own muck. Which brings me to point number two, which is that while this is (verbally, certainly) within the "raunchy comedy" genre, and much of the dialogue is VERY funny, it's never at the expense of character, which I am on record as saying was something I responded to in the Amazon series Betas as well. Third, the actors are all uniformly strong, with John Merriman and Brand Rackley displaying enough charisma to easily build an entire film around, an area where I find a lot of indie films wind up falling short. I liked Brand Rackley so much, that after watching this I tracked him down and cast him in a project I was working on, too. Finally, it was just really cool as a film nerd to see so many scenes set in the projection rooms, storage closets, and other out-of-the-way corners of a working movie theater that for all the time we've spent in cinemas, we've never really been invited into.

Watch Cinema Six at Amazon here. Warning: Trailer contains NSFW language

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for Kerri Lendo's filthy and stunningly deadpan performance in a walk-on scene; +1 for a high-profile cameo I think the filmmakers would rather I not mention

Penalties: None

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

Posted by Vance K - Resident cult film aficionado, unapologetic lover of bad movies, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I have worked in the past with this film's editor, Don Swaynos. Here is a hypnotic and wonderful short film he made while cutting
Cinema Six.:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

This week saw the return of the classic noir Stray Bullets and a truly epic issue of Batman.  Throw in one of the most shocking moments in The Walking Dead history (and that is saying something) and you should understand why comics may be the best artistic outlet on the market today.  We are truly living in a golden age of comics that features some of the best creative talent in the world.

Pick of the Week:
Batman #29 - The most recent issue of Batman from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is simply stunning.  Snyder delivers the goods on a captivating and horrifying tale, but Capullo steals the spotlight with some of his best work to date.  From the raw emotion in Bruce to the amazing character design of Helfern, this is one of the best looking books I have laid eyes on.  Snyder does a wonderful job linking the past to the present and shows what the Riddler is truly capable of.  This series is reaching another peak under the helm of this dynamic duo and I am on board as long as they are steering the Batman ship.

The Rest:
The Walking Dead #123 - This is a tough issue to review without spoilers.  Rick and crew have made their way to Hilltop and Negan wastes no time launching an attack with his "dirty weapons".  Now that Lucille and the arrows have been tainted with zombie blood, the implications for Rick and his crew have increased exponentially.  A pulse pounding issue that lives up to the "All Out War" arc.   The Negan storyline has been phenomenal and really brought me back into this series.  I really want to elaborate at what went down at the end, but you will be shocked and I don't think it means what they want you to think it means.  I think.

Stray Bullets: Killers #1 - I will admit that I was late to the David Lapham game.  When I hear about the reboot of Stray Bullets, I asked myself what was Stray Bullets?  After some research it sounded good and I downloaded a lot of titles from ComiXology.  I am happy I did and pleased to report that Lapham has not missed a beat since his critically acclaimed series began in 1995.  In what feels like a Quentin Tarantino movie, Stray Bullets weaves a circular crime narrative that is very satisfying.  If you are a fan of crime fiction than you should be reading this title.

The Returning #1 - In what was mostly a cliche debut, this comic is not without merit.  While it feels that it is searching for an untapped niche in the whole zombie genre, this title focuses on humans who recover from near death experiences.  The protagonist is a 16 year old girl who was declared dead for five minutes and now has all of her peers terrified.  Not a bad premise, but not one that has me hankering for more.  I am on the fence on whether to pick up issue #2.

Captain Marvel #1 - As a father of a really cool little lady, I was pleased to see Captain Marvel's interaction with Kit, her friend's daughter.  While part of me really wanted to like this title, I was left wanting more.  I understand that it is difficult to establish too much in one issue for an ongoing series, but nothing delivered the hook.  She seems like a fine superhero, but I just don't know.  What should a father do.

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tomb Raider - Definitive Edition

[Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix 2013-14]

It's an origin story

There, now that I got that huge spoiler out of the way I can talk about the game. I was impressed by Tomb Raider in the same way I was impressed by Ryse. I went into it with mediocre expectations and had them summarily deconstructed by quality titles. I'll admit up front I'm not a huge fanboy of the series. I played a little bit of Tomb Raider on the PS2 but that's really the full extent of my experience with Lara Croft.

I guess that means I picked a good place to start, albeit due to the sad fact that there's a dearth of good Xbox One games available. Let's all hope Titanfall is everything it's cracked up to be. Anyway, back on track, this game tells of the beginnings of Lara Croft and how she came to be the Tomb Raider in her more well-known roles. It turns out Lara's father was one helluvan explorer, too. She has a father figure in the game who has replaced her father since his untimely death named Roth. 

Roth is both Lara's caretaker and her coach, challenging her to push her limits rather than resting on her father's laurels. At the same time, his favorite saying seems to be, "You're a Croft," which was what lent such weight to her father's legend. The two adventurers are on a hunt for an island called Yamatai, the mythical home of ancient Japanese goddess, Himiko. These two and a small team of others set out to make a reality television show about the discovery of the legend of Himiko. Unfortunately for them, they find her. 

the island

The island of Yamatai, found in the aptly named Devil's Triangle off Japan, turns out to have more than its share of natives. These half-insane worshipers of Himiko are led by Father Mathias. Although mostly crazy, Mathias has figured out that they must appease Himiko in order to leave the island. On this one fact he and Lara agree. However, he means to do it by human sacrifice while she simply wants to release Himiko's spirit, thereby lifting the curse keeping them all there and allowing both the stranded adventurers and the natives to leave the cursed island. 

There is also an ancient race of samurai-type warriors that protect Himiko and the island. These gruesome warriors that should be long-dead are a huge threat and not to be trifled with. It's best to avoid them altogether if possible. I won't spoil the game by telling you what happens. Just suffice it to say that Lara learns her actions can have deadly consequences, a lesson she is forced to take in repeatedly. This maybe the reason that she is such a lone wolf in the earlier (later) games. 


I've been playing some Assassin's Creed so that's probably why this game reminds me of it more than most others. You must think in three dimensions when figuring out how to get around. You can climb rock faces as seen above using your pick axe. You can fire arrows into specialized areas to create zip-lines and climbing ropes. You also have to solve a good deal of puzzles to progress through the game. Due to these facts, it is very much like the historical series in its mechanics, if not its historical accuracy. 

There are two ways to level up in the game, one for Lara and one for her gear. She has skills that include her ability to traverse the landscape, battle, and hunting. Her gear includes a bow and arrow, shotgun, pistol, and rifle. All of these can be improved by leveling. The skill points are gained by leveling Lara through task completion. Gear is leveled by salvaging parts from both the surroundings and by hunting and skinning animals in the environment. The leveling system isn't overly difficult or deep, but serviceable enough to keep the game interesting. 

the breakdown

This introduction into the world of Lara Croft is a highly successful one. The plot contains enough twists and turns to keep it interesting and the character depth helps you understand her motivation, if it doesn't exactly make you fall in love with Lara's companions. The gameplay mechanics are well-crafted and keep you on your toes, constantly requiring you to learn then use new mechanics in order to progress through the game. Although there were a few puzzles that required me to go hunting youtube for a walkthrough, most were difficult enough to warrant some stress without resorting to "cheating" in order to complete. The graphics are very nice for a port from 2013's Tomb Raider with noticeable upgrades in both the characters and environment for the next-generation consoles. I was unable to tell a difference between the Xbox One and PS4 editions, although I read that the PS4 had the slight edge in most comparisons. Overall, I can recommend this game as a fun installment for both seasoned tomb raiders and newbies like myself just looking for a way to pass the time until some more exciting titles are released. 

the math

Objective Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for creation of a believable introduction to the world of Lara Croft.

Penalties: -1 for not really adding much to warrant a "Definitive Edition." While the graphics upgrade is nice, this is hardly Oblivion with its Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles add-ons. 

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

Brad Epperley--Gaming Guru, Ommmmm...gonna spam you from my camping spot in the shed. Haha! Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.