Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero: Good, Bad, and Ugly of San Diego Comic Con

I have ventured on a 1,000 mile road trip at the conclusion of San Diego Comic Con and have not been able to read a book this week.  In lieu of my usual weekly comics round-up, I present the good, bad, and ugly of my SDCC experience.  While I would have included the beer of comic con as a good, I felt that I covered that appropriately last week.  Overall it may have been the most fun I have had at SDCC in the six years I have been attending.  The biggest change in my approach was that most of my goals involved me claiming the best swag and getting some hot scoops for my four-year old daughter and my six-year old son.

The Good:
Funko Fundays - I decided to take a plunge this year and attend the Funko Fundays event.  Attendees were promised a box of fun, dinner, and some drink tickets so you really couldn't go wrong.  I was truly blown away by this experience, despite feeling like someone who stumbled into the Funko awards ceremony for dedicated fans and employees.  The event opened with the honoring of the hard core Funko fans and employees with some amazing prizes, and then turned to sheer chaos (in a good way).  I felt like I was attending the Oprah Winfrey show when everyone gets a car.  2,000 stress balls were tossed around the ballroom with varying prizes, for certain colors, prototype toys were paraded around the room in buckets and handed to fans, and the night ended with our group raising our table above our head in attempt to be deemed the rowdiest in the row to spin the big wheel.  While another table claimed that honor, each person in our group left with four unique collectibles and an evening that was as fun as it was surprising.  It was great to see how much this company cares about its collectors and how attendees were rewarded with such an amazing night.

Joe Hill - This great author made his debut in Hall H this year as he promoted the upcoming theatrical release of Horns, based on his phenomenal novel.  Daniel Radcliffe and Alexandre Aja joined Hill on stage as fans were treated to amusing anecdotes about production and exclusive clips from the film.  It looks like a breakout performance for Radcliffe and I am very much looking forward to its release.  The next day Hill joined his partner in crime Gabriel Rodriguez to answer Locke and Key questions and discuss the future of Keyhouse.  It sounds like the movie trilogy is nearing the completion of its first script and that fans of the series will be revisiting Keyhouse to learn more about its history.  It may not happen as quick as I would prefer, but I am ready to return to Keyhouse and see what Hill and Rodriguez will cook up for us next.

Skylanders Trap Team - My son had tasked me with one charge.  Return with a Skylanders Trap Team trap and learn how to get the exclusive trap that can capture Chaos (order the Dark Edition).  In order to provide enough insight for my son, I visited three off-site events, and attended the Skylanders Trap Team panel.  The panel included some amazing insights about the early production of the game, along with a costume contest that boasted over $5,000 in prizes.  I returned home a king in my son's eyes as I delivered a life trap, a poster, the Skylander figure Kick-off Countdown, a button set, and an exclusive comic.  I left feeling very good about the fourth game in this franchise and can't wait to play it with my son.

The Bad:
Camping - While SDCC made a bold move introducing a wristband system for Hall H (which seemed to work well), the twitter induced paranoia led to masses camping out each night for Hall H, the Hasbro line, etc.  While I appreciate the dedication from the hard core fans that SDCC attracts, rumors and hearsay leave many to worry too much about getting in line early enough to show you are a true fan.

Convention Floor on Sunday - What I recall being one of the slower days on the showroom floor, Sunday seemed to be the busiest day on the floor.  As I ventured down to the floor in a quest to find discontinued Legos for my son, I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of people roaming aisle to aisle.  While I was able to score an exclusive Equestria girl for my daughter at the Hasbro booth with no line, I quickly headed elsewhere.

The Ugly:
Zombie Walk participant hit by Car - During the Zombie Walk, which has grown each year since its inception many years back, a zombie towards the end of the group was struck by a car and suffered a serious injury that included a broken arm.  While there are varying accounts of what happened, I think the city should consider shutting down traffic on more roads in the Gas Lamp around the convention center.  It is nearly impossible to drive anyway, so why not provide more space for the masses to search out the great off-site events and visit local shops downtown.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

INFOGRAPHIC: the Diversity Gap in SF/F Films

We all knew this was a problem, but the good folks at Lee & Low Books have visualized it for us. And making matters worse, of the 8/100 films with a non-white protagonist, 6 featured Will Smith.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Microreview [Comic] The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song

Young, Frank M. and David Lasky. The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song [Abrams ComicArt, 2012]

Sometimes, I think they make books for me. Frank M. Young and David Lasky, for example, decided I needed a comic book about the Carter Family. And I did.

The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song is simply a wonderful book. Part domestic drama, part historical narrative, Young and Lasky’s graphic novel is a perfect primer not only on the Carter Family—often identified among the founders of country music—but also on the early development of recording industry, in which A.P. and his wife and musical partner Sara found themselves ensnared. Their relationship is not only central to the Carter Family’s history, but their divorce was a result, in many ways, a product of the group’s success. Writer Frank M. Young weaves these two narratives together in a subtle, almost superficial manner, which I always appreciated. This is a delightfully bare story. David Lasky’s art aptly complements Young’s sparse narrative, his simple, sometimes rushed cartooning augmented considerably by full color. Full color. That’s an extra point right there.

Don’t Forget This Song moves through decades of the Carter Family’s career rather briskly, but it works. This episodic structure, which drives me crazy in biopics, was perhaps better suited to the Carter Family given the relatively undramatic nature of the group. There is never a sense that we’re missing much in the months or years that pass between chapters. Much of the book is devoted to the mundane aspects of the music industry and music-making, as well as the rural life the Carters enjoyed back home in Virginia. We really don't need that much information on A.P.'s sawmill. 

A.P. Carter, the patriarch (of sorts) of the Carter Family, is the center of Don’t Forget This Song, especially in terms of his relationship to Sara, his onetime wife and lifelong musical partner. To some extent, A.P. is typical of many musicians—head in the clouds, domestically inept, secretly mercenary. Fortunately for A.P., there was no script  for him to follow back in the thirties, not yet a Bob Dylan or even a Hank Williams, no trailblazers show him how pop stars are supposed to act. So he pretty much moped about as his marriage collapsed. A.P. was, furthermore, from another era in rural Virginia. He was a family man and a farmer. A miserable failure at both, but that was what he thought he was. Though music, or rather music collecting, was his passion, the Carter Family itself was a venture, a way to make money. Frank M. Young doesn’t necessarily treat A.P. Carter with kid gloves—he’s definitely left on the hook for the breakup of his marriage—but the reader is nevertheless left with a lot of sympathy for the old fool.

If there’s one more reason to recommend this book, it’s the actual book itself—hardbound, full color, CD included. (CD!) People judge you on the books you own. So own this, and you’ll look cultured.

I’m probably a bit biased. I like nonfiction comics. I like country music. I got Don’t Forget This Song as a gift. (And in turn bought another copy as a gift for a buddy.) All these things may have colored my reading of this, but I doubt it. Young and Lasky have simply produced a wonderful book.

The Math

Objective Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for color

Penalties: Not a one.

Nerd Co-efficient9/10 very high quality/standout in its category

Read about our scoring system here. And remember, we categorically reject grade inflation!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Microreview [film]: The Visitor

Every horror/sci-fi movie of the 70s in a convenient, 100-minute package.

Drafthouse Films is a helluva thing. I lived in Austin when the Alamo Drafthouse was just the coolest theater in town. Since then, the company has expanded to include several theaters in multiple cities, supported the minimalist movie poster explosion by fostering the work of Mondo, and now has its own distribution arm of first-run and cult films. One of those cult films is 1979's oddity The Visitor, which is available to watch on Amazon Prime.

I'm not sure I can explain The Visitor except in terms of the movies it blatantly rips off or cribs whole passages from. You know how in The Omen there's this mystery devil child? Right. The Visitor has that — an 8-year-old girl named Katy. Also, the part about how the devil kid has it in for the mom and keeps trying to innocently kill her? That's here. And in Rosemary's Baby there's a big cabal of people working to support the devil kid and its attendant mission? Yep, got that. And you know how in The Birds there are all these malicious bird attacks? Yep, also. What about the gray-haired, wise old bearded man in Star Wars who hops worlds and knows secrets of things that happened long ago he isn't telling? Check it off the list. Hey, maybe the funhouse-mirror finale from The Lady from Shanghai? That's here. And what about Sam-fuckin'-Peckinpah? Weirdly enough, yeah, he's here, too.

That's right, for some reason this Italian genre knock-off stars the legendary American directors John Huston and Sam Peckinpah, as well as long-established Hollywood heavyweights like Glenn Ford and Shelley Winters, and relative newcomers like Lance Henriksen. It's a helluva cast that never lets on that they realize they're in an epic stinkbomb. The cast and the evident budget investment in The Visitor help it stand out and add a good amount of curiosity value, but on the whole The Visitor fits somewhere square in the middle of cult film badness and horribility. It has a handful of unintentionally laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to make it a drunken laugh-riot with your friends, and the derivative plot precludes the awesome, nonsensical left turns you often see in obscure cult films. That said, the super-weird "let's decapitate mom, wait I'm being attacked by a truckload of pigeons" finale is worth the price of admission.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 4/10

Bonuses: +1 for the world-class, if decidedly odd, cast; +1 for the head-trip finale

Penalties: -1 for not being weird or awful enough to make a lasting impression

Cult film coefficient: 5/10, equal parts good and bad. Check out an explanation of our microreview scores here.

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Valiant Hearts - The Great War

Valiant Hearts - The Great War [Ubisoft Montpellier, Ubisoft, 2014]

Valiant Hearts - The Great Game

This game was a truly unique experience. At what is usually a down time for games as developers and distributors gear up for Christmas, Ubisoft dropped this wonderful gaming experience in our laps. Available on Xbox Live, the Xbox One, and the Playstation Network, it is downloadable only at a well-worth-it cost of $14.99. On its face, this is an old-school platformer with puzzle elements. However, it turned out to be much more than that when played. Set during World War I, it is a heartwarming story about four characters from different backgrounds whose paths are wholly intertwined. 

The Actors


Karl is a German living in France. He is married to Emily and they have just had a son, Victor, when the war breaks out after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. As Germany and France declare war against one another, many German citizens are deported from France, including Karl. Like so many others, he is drafted into the German army against his will. Throughout the game, his greatest wish is to return home to his wife and young child. 


Emile is Karl's father-in-law. More importantly, he's a Frenchman. Even though he is fairly old, he is also drafted into the army, but on the French side. During the war, he sharers Karl's worries about Emily and Victor. Both he and Karl are able to share their experiences with their daughter/wife through letters. It was one of the only ways to communicate during the Great War. 


Freddie is an American soldier that has enlisted in the French army. He is out to kill the infamous German military commander, Baron Von Dorf. Von Dorf led a bombing campaign that killed Freddie's wife and he is out for revenge, no matter the cost. He befriends Emile in the process as they both share the same target, since Karl has become Baron Von Dorf's zeppelin pilot. They are both joined by a dog who is used to solve many of the game's puzzles. 


From Belgium, Anna joins the war effort as a nurse in the Red Cross. Her starry-eyed optimism is soon dashed as the horrors of war take their toll on her dreams of healing and helpfulness. Even though the massive death toll is overwhelming, Anna does her best to help all the soldiers she can, one injury at a time. In her travels, she saves Karl, Emile, and Freddie at various points throughout the game. 

Historical Facts

Not only does the game have a heartwarming story, it is full of facts about World War I. For example:

The Debacle of 1914

In the early fighting the German army made swift progress. After invading Belgium, they marched on Paris in late August. French troops retreated en masse and units were outflanked and repelled, taken prisoner, or killed. The months of August to September 1914 marked the bloodiest period of the war with over 180,000 French casualties alone. The French authorities described the debacle as an organized retreat; the war to win over public opinion had begun. 

These facts were paired with real pictures from the period, giving them particular depth of meaning. The "War to End All Wars" was one of, if not the most, pointless and bloody protracted stalemates in modern times. Trench warfare paired with technology to kill more humans for less ground than at any other time in recorded human history. 


The soundtrack is by a group of composers that were unknown to me. Most of it is classical with the majority being played on a piano, although a few contained full orchestration. All of it was amazing. I've never played a game and immediately gone to iTunes to buy they soundtrack before, but I'm listening to it as I type this even now. I've never played a game before in which the music was so good as to almost be another character. Even if you don't buy the game, take a listen to the soundtrack. 

While this game isn't as long or as graphically stunning as many of the RPGs available today, it is just as touching. Experientially, it was like playing a graphic novel with the depth of feeling of Maus. I cannot recommend this game enough. You won't be disappointed. As many of our regular readers will know, I like a story-driven game more than one with mind-blowing graphics, which is probably the reason this game hit me so hard. Not only is it fun to play without being overly difficult, as some platformers can be, the plot is second-to-none. If you give this game a chance, I suspect you will be as taken in by it as I was, falling for the character development and enjoying a quality history lesson at the same time. If you're just sitting around playing another round of Titanfall, give yourself a break and try Valiant Hearts. It may not be in the same league graphically, but what it lacks in pixels per square inch, it more than makes up for in emotion.

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Penalties: -1 for being slightly repetitive in the puzzles. It never became truly annoying, but some of the puzzles were a bit overused, particularly Anna's.

Bonuses: +1 for the best story line I've played on the Xbox One, bar none.

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

POSTED BY: Brad Epperley--Video game addict who recognizes that the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem, Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero: SDCC Beer Edition

Welcome to a special edition of Thursday Morning Superhero.  With all of the chaos that is San Diego Comic Con, I wanted to post something more than a weekly round-up of comics (Trees #3 is excellent by the way) and focus on a couple of craft beer collaborations in what I hope is a growing trend at SDCC.

Sweet, sweet Locke and Brewskey

San Diego has a bustling craft beer scene that has largely remained an untapped resource for off-site events.  Last year, to my knowledge, was the first true collaboration beer when Wil Wheaton and friends teamed up with Stone Brewing Co. to give us the gift that is W00tStout.  This year, in addition to W00tStout 2.0, IDW partnered with Kraus Brewing Company for Locke and Brewskey, the best named beer ever.

W00tStout 2.0:
W00tStout 2.0 is an imperial stout brewed with wheat, rye, pecans and chocolate (the twist in this year's recipe), then partially aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. It is a rich, complex beer that packs quite a punch with its 13.5% ABV (you need to be careful with this one). 

Locke and Brewskey:
Locke and Brewskey is a single hopped, New Zealand Pale Ale that is light and refreshing.  It couldn't differ much more that W00tStout 2.0, but is equally as refreshing.  Packing a modest 5.5% ABV, this beer has notes of citrus and would be the perfect brew to turn to after exhausting yourself walking all over the Gas Lamp district.

As mentioned earlier, this is a trend that I would love to see San Diego and SDCC embrace with open arms.  What are some other comic and beer pairings that you would like to see next year?

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Microreview [book]: Touchstone, by Melanie Rawn

A rather boring bromance teetering on the edge of yaoi/BL

Rawn, Melanie. Touchstone. Tor, 2012.

Note: see that dragon on the cover? Total misdirection--it's a 'stage' dragon, not a real one. Thanks for finally driving home the lesson that some books really shouldn't be judged by their covers :(

When I was growing up I read a few books by Melanie Rawn. I'm embarrassed to admit that I remember nary a thing from them—except for their covers, which had dragons. And what little child doesn't love dragons? Fantasy literature with dragon riders and princesses and whatnot was awesome to my little mind. Even now, as an adult (ish), there's a certain romance to such tales, in the sense that I still love movies like Willow despite the fact that, objectively, Willow (or as I like to think of it, LOTR-lite!) leaves a lot to be desired.
And that brings us to Touchstone, which has exactly none of the features I used to love (and still feel nostalgia for today) about fantasy. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course, but in this case, it's not much of a good thing either. There are some intriguing aspects to the story; it's startlingly unconventional, for instance precisely by lacking dragons (though there is a princess, who seems to be kind of a horrible person), and has an interesting racio-ethnic back-story to the world Rawn has created. Everybody seems to have a bit of Elf, Wizard (since when did a profession get to be a race? In the U.S. we've got Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians, Plumbers,, on second thought, we really don't, Rawn!), Goblin and Human in them, as well as a few rarer races. However, instead of a straightforward swords and sorcery tale, we get a magical theater troupe on the road (literally, for much of the book) to success. Rawn goes into quite a bit of detail on the mechanics of this theatrical style (which uses magical glass jars called 'withies' filled with emotive magic that various magic-users release and then distribute to the audience, controlling exactly what those watching feel, and how strongly), and it does actually sound pretty awesome. I was impressed that Rawn departed so dramatically (pun intended!) from mainstream fantasy here.
But that's also a problem: to me, 'fantasy' as a genre doesn't necessarily have to have adventurous quests, or dragons, or sword-fighting, or (consummated) romance, but surely it should have at least some of those, for sheer entertainment's sake if nothing else. Touchstone is 0 for 4 action/romance-wise, but (problem two) it gets a perfect score in the BL (boy's love) sub-genre.
What is boy's love (or, as it's known in Japan, 'yaoi'), you ask? It's a story, almost always written and consumed (that's fancy-talk for 'read'!) by young—and generally heterosexual—women, about two smoking hot boy-toys whose sultry looks conceal, to rip off High Fidelity, a deep ocean of emotion just below the surface. These boys, often despite protestations of heterosexuality themselves, find themselves magnetically drawn to each other and begin in some cases a Platonic (ironic since Plato is thought to have fancied boys!), in others an x-rated love affair. There are all sorts of explanations for why women would like reading (and writing) stories about sensitive men who fall in love with each other as true equals, but whatever the reason, Rawn has definitely taken the story in a BL direction. Teenage dramaturgists Cayden and Mieka have a stormy though technically unconsummated bromance, complete with caressing, spooning, and all sorts of other physical contact, but the physical side is far less important than the emotional: each is, to the other, the single most important person, without whom life loses its savor, and the narrative is chock-a-block filled with them talking/yelling at each other, sharing their feelings, etc. In fact, that's pretty much the entire story—there are no duels, no wars other than of words, no events of any kind other than theatrical performances along their path to rising fame, and no other relationships of any real note.
It's all very touching, I suppose, but I've been spoiled by...shall we say rather more eventful fantasy, and have come to expect that stories I read contain something other than oceans of sensitivity. If anything, judging Touchstone by the generic conventions of fantasy is a mistake: it belongs firmly in the realm of (b)romance. And judged as such, for anyone who is really into the idea of reading about two boys finding in each other their Great Love and becoming emotional soul-mates, this book, the first of a series apparently, would absolutely blow your mind. But this reader was hoping for swords and mayhem and dragons and world-ending peril—more than I was hoping for an account of boys spooning, anyway!

The Math

Objective assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for shedding fantasy's genre conventions to go in an entirely new direction

Penalties: -1 for having that direction be BL, or as I've cleverly renamed it, 'boring lame'.

Nerd coefficient: 5/10 "Equal parts good and bad."

[See more about our scoring system—and thus why getting a 5/10 isn't as bad as it might sound—here.]

Zhaoyun, while not a huge fan of bromances, is a self-proclaimed aficionado in the more conventional fantasy and sci fi departments, and has been a main cast member (to continue the drama theme) of Nerds of a Feather since early 2013.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Microreviw [Comic] Seconds: by Bryan Lee O'Malley

O'Malley, Bryan Lee. Seconds [Oni Press, 2014]

This past week we have been given the gift of Seconds from Bryan Lee O'Malley.  O'Malley is the creator behind the beloved Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and has remained relatively quiet since its conclusion a couple of years back.  He was clearly hard at work at his next creative endeavor as Seconds debuted this past week.  In many ways Seconds feels like a fitting for a follow-up to the phenomenon that is Scott Pilgrim.

Seconds revolves around the life of chef Katie, who is the head chef of the successful restaurant Seconds, but is attempting to open up her own restaurant as she has already earned a reputation as a terrific chef.  Without reason, her world is brought to a sudden halt as her ex appears, her current relationship crumbles, and doubts about her new location begin to emerge.

Conflict lies at the center of this story.  The primary conflict is between Katie and the spirit of Seconds.  The spirit appears to be a girl of a similar age, and wants to protect Katie and Seconds.  When granted an opportunity to rewrite the past, via a notepad and special mushrooms, Katie attempts to fix the mistakes she made in her past relationship.

This undoubtably unleashes a string of multiple futures for Katie in which she must navigate and learn from.  As in life, Katie must understand that not all negative things should be reversed.  She grapples with relationship decisions, professional decisions, and more as she attempts to write the perfect future for herself.  She is meddling with a power that she doesn't fully grasp and when she accidentally brings in a rival spirit to Seconds, her futures begin to become more and more surreal.

O'Malley does a masterful job asking the big questions that we face on a daily basis.  What would I do if I had a second chance in this situation?  What would the ramifications be if they went the way I thought they should be?  Seconds is a beautiful read that informs us all that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes.  Nobody is perfect, but if we follow our heart and focus on what is important to us and the one's we love, despite some pain, things will work out in the end.

Seconds, in many ways, felt like a Hayao Miyazaki movie geared towards an older crowd.  Strong female character, goes through a tremendous personal growth, dueling spirits, and lots of heart.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for its casual approach to tackling deep and life altering situations.
Penalties: -1 for being a one-shot graphic novel.  I would have happily read volumes in this series.

Nerd Co-efficient9/10 very high quality/standout in its category

Read about our scoring system here. And remember, we categorically reject grade inflation!

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Microreview [book]: When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

Charming Sleaze and Cybernetics in a Middle Eastern Setting

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, so it's no surprise that my vision of what science fiction is and can do is shaped, in part, by what dominated the genre during those years--namely, hard SF and cyberpunk. But whereas hard SF remains a vital and active sub-genre, cyberpunk has atrophied. The reasons are not hard to discern. Though hard SF can be parochial and tropey, the basic template of "science-y science fiction with a strong emphasis on science and strict adherence to scientific plausibility" is flexible enough to move with the times. Cyberpunk is more of a one-note symphony: hacker-y/transhuman-y types navigate treacherous near-future world where corporations are really, really powerful. And the presence of actual hacker-y/transhuman-y/corporate-y stuff all around us means that cyberpunk gets dated much more quickly than books about terraforming Mars.

That doesn't mean cyperpunk is gone; rather, it lives on in the ever-popular dystopias of YA fiction and in literary heroes like Lisbeth Salander, who Stieg Larsson basically ripped out of a Bruce Sterling novel. And there are plenty of in-genre legatees, like Lauren Beukes, who might not write cuberpunk per se, but nevertheless owe a lot to it. But now us children of the 80s and 90s are of the age when nostalgia for that teenage "sensawunda" beckons. Sometimes the urge is simply too strong to ignore.

Usually when that happens, I turn back to William Gibson--still the best writer and singular visionary of the cyberpunk movement, in my humble opinion. This time, however, I wanted to read someone new, and the prime candidates were Pat Cadigan and George Alec Effinger. I still plan to read Cadigan sometime this year, but I already had When Gravity Fails, and the prospect of reading science fiction set in the Middle East (but which reputedly did not exoticize or Orientalize its subjects) appealed. So I chose that.

When Gravity Fails falls on the transhuman-y side of cyberpunk, and has very little to do with computers--a fact that serves its durability well. People can get cybernetic implants that can bestow skills, like being able to speak a foreign language, or personality traits--including those of figures from literature, history and popular culture. It's the first book of a trilogy starring Marid Audran, a streetwise hustler in the Budayeen--a lurid, rough-and-tumble place full of prostitutes, barkeeps, petty criminals and, well, tourists. The story itself is kind of forgettable (Marid tries to find a pair of killers with the personalities of James Bond and an infamous serial killer), but it's good enough, and has a neat, hardboiled feel throughout.

The real star, though, is the Budayeen and its colorful cast of characters. It is, in essence, a cross between pre-war Beirut and New Orleans--specifically the French Quarter, where Effinger apparently spent some time. Most characters we meet in the Budayeen live on the margins of society, and interestingly, are transgender.

It's worth lingering on this point for a bit. We are currently in the midst of a broad conversation about the normativity of binary gender in SF, for example in Alex Dally MacFarlane's column for When Gravity Fails presents a view of how gender might work in the near future that, I suspect, has been deeply influential on a number of writers. But it doesn't really present an alternative to binary modes of thinking on gender. Rather, it presents how binary conceptions of gender might work in a context where switching is relatively easy, but in which many social norms remain deeply conservative. The switching itself becomes normative, but the in-between state (as far as sexual organs are concerned) remains taboo. Throughout the book there are subtle, pejorative references to pre- or non-op transgender persons, called "debs," from both the "real" men and women (the term used in the book) and post-op transgender men and women.

So this probably wouldn't pass the "MacFarlane Test," were she ever to develop one in her column, as When Gravity Fails does not present a view of non-binary gender that extrapolates beyond 2014 norms. However, I read it as Effinger creating an internally consistent mode of thinking about gender in a near-future setting that incorporates plausible prejudices (since people always do seem to have prejudices). It is as if to say that the ready availability and apparent ease of medical procedures for switching sex doesn't necessarily imply the dissolution of binary gender norm, but may instead simply reformulate or recontextualize them--perhaps even, in some social respects, reinforcing or reproducing the binarism in the process. While that's an interesting prospect, it's unfortunate that we never get a view of all this from a "deb's" perspective, as there are no significant "deb" characters. Instead we're just presented with casual bigotry as part of the backdrop. I would have preferred if Effinger had handled this differently.

Effinger's treatment of his Arab and Muslim subjects--and of Islam--is another notable feature of the book. The crude stereotypes of the post-9/11 zeitgeist are refreshingly absent, and in their place, stress on often neglected elements of ethnic and religious custom in the Middle East: hospitality, complex modes of address, the strategic use of flattery and so forth. The close quarters coexistence of "sin" and "faith" in a Middle Eastern city may surprise readers whose view of Islam is largely informed by Western caricatures and the crude, violent extremism of groups like ISIS. Effinger's Muslim characters, by contrast, tend to have a complex, fluid relationship to their faith--not uncommon in real-world analogues to the Budayeen. Some are deeply religious, others are not, but even the ones who are work to negotiate strictures of faith with the practical realities of daily life.

Nor is religion treated with the disdain common in science fiction, where it is often framed as "superstition" or "anacrhonism." Marid, we are told, is not a religious man. But as he falls deeper into danger, he begins to reflect on his long-neglected faith. It gives him a degree of comfort and psychological protection, as it does for so many the world over. Effinger isn't endorsing a religious viewpoint or narrative, but rather portraying religion and religious people in a way that feels authentic and humanized and suitable for the near-future world he has constructed.

I also give Effinger major kudos for setting the book outside the West and not treating his subjects like objects. Though Effinger isn't an insider (and since I'm not either, I can't vouch for his attention to detail), everyone feels complex, three-dimensional and believable. And almost everyone is sympathetic in at least some regard. If you're going to write about something you didn't grow up with and don't claim as your own, then this is the kind of approach that will set you apart from the glut of exoticizing cultural appropriation--not to mention the offensive stereotype-mongering that dominate portrayals of Arabs and Muslims in Western literature and entertainment media.

The book's problems are relatively smaller, but still notable. As mentioned above, the plot isn't very well developed or well paced. That doesn't ruin the experience, but it could have been better than it was. And there are moments where the colorfulness of the Budayeen and its residents gets to be a bit too much. Incidentally, this is also a problem I identified with Daniel Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy--which, science fictional elements notwithstanding, is quite similar in tone and theme to When Gravity Fails.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for presenting an unforgettable and thought-provoking world; +1 for the generally sensitive, nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of Arabs, Muslims and religious people.

Penalties: -1 for lack of "deb" perspectives undercutting significance of gender schema; -1 for missed opportunities on plot and pacing.

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


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator (2012).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Microreview [book]: The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

Even better than The Killing Moon!

N.K. Jemisin, The Shadowed Sun [Orbit, 2012]

Readers of this blog know how much I enjoyed The Killing Moon, the first book of N.K. Jemisin's The Dreamblood Duology. It absolutely blew me away. After all, where could a story that features ninja priests go wrong? But Jemisin's first installment was about so much more. At the same time a political thriller and a coming of age novel, The Killing Moon laid bare the personal and social power of belief and skepticism, revealed the power inherent to sexuality, and featured a powerful character-driven story of conflict and forgiveness! But it ended on such a high note (and so completely) that I wondered whether the second book in the duology, The Shadowed Sun, could match up. What could Jemisin have left to say? 

A lot, as it turns out. Shockingly, The Shadowed Sun is even better than the first book in the duology. Nay, it blows The Killing Moon out of the sky. The prose is as rich and engaging as in the first novel, and Jemisin weaves a detailed tapestry that binds together such difficult issues as civilization, barbarity, sex, abuse, and even love and lust in meaningful ways. 

The Shadowed Sun centers on two interconnected stories, both which take place 10 years after the events in The Killing Moon, when Gujaareh remains occupied by the Kisuati. Both stories are driven by main characters who are out of place in their respective societies. The first story is that of Sharer-Apprentice Hanani. The first woman to become a Sharer in the Hetawa, Hanani found that success  as a woman using dream magic necessitated repressing her femininity. Every action she took would be judged harshly by her male peers, so she had to strive for perfection -- to become the perfect, sexless Sharer. This no doubt added layers of complexity to her relationship with her mentor, Mni-inh, which in many ways reflects the master-disciple relationship between Gatherers Ehiru and Nijiri in the first volume. Hanani's story begins in the dreamworld: she he fails in a ritual of healing, with her client dying in the process. Only slowly does the Hetawa realize that this might be the result of a mysterious plague afflicting Gujaareh, a plague in which victims die screaming in their sleep.

The second story focuses on Wanahomen, the son of King Eninket and heir to the Sunset Throne who fled Gujaareh at the end of book one. Taking refuge with "barbarian" Banbarra tribes, he rises in Banbarran society to become a man of importance, and hatches a plan to retake the Sunset Throne. But at the same time, in the process he becomes a man without a place, neither Gujaareen nor Banbarran, neither fish nor fowl. And to take back the throne, he will have to do the impossible: this outsider will have to unite the diverse Banbarran desert tribes to launch an attack on Gujaareh.   

The complexity at all levels of this book is astounding. The reader soon learns that the "barbaric" Banbarrans are in many ways more civilized than the "civilized" Gujaareen. The "ruthless" Kisuati overlords are not necessarily so ruthless--while issues do emerge, the Kisuati Protectorate for much of the novel is guided by Sunandi, someone who has grown to love and care for her adoptive city state. In fact, there are few issues that Jemisin shies away from tackling. She thrives when characterizing people who are out of place in their respective societies. But more strikingly, she deals with the personal and emotional consequences of death, religious belief, rape, (and shockingly) child abuse with a level of sophistication rarely seen in the genre.

What makes this book so satisfying, however, is that the characters feel real. The main and supporting characters are so well thought out that I found myself identifying with each of them--with their strengths and foibles, their motivations and feelings. 

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that The Shadowed Sun really won me over. The Shadowed Sun is a masterpiece, and a book you should definitely read. Run, don't walk, to your nearest [online?] store to buy it. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for its rich detail and complexity; +1 for dealing with rape and abuse in a sophisticated manner

Penalties: -1 for the book's resolution   

Nerd Co-efficient: 10/10 Mind-blowing/life-changing.

Read about our scoring system here. And remember, we categorically reject grade inflation!

POSTED BY: Jemmy, a SF/F fanatic, a failed wall gazer, and a Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

In less than a week I will be enjoying sunny San Diego and rubbing elbows with over 100,000 of my closest friends. As I prepare for my upcoming journey, I present to you good folk my top panel from each day.  I hope that I will be able to attend these panels, but plans are fluid.  It was hard to pick just one, but Batman, Horns, Saga, and a chance to impress my son with insider information is pretty good.

DC Comics: Batman 75: Legends of the Dark Knight
In his 75-year publishing history, Batman has grown into one of the most popular and influential icons of all time. Don't miss this historic panel with the legendary creators such as Neal Adams, Greg Capullo, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Frank Miller,Grant Morrison, Denny O'Neil, and Scott Snyder, who have shaped the Dark Knight into the hero he is today.

RADiUS-TWC Previews Horns and Everly
First-time Comic-Con attendee and star of Horns Daniel Radcliffe joins co-star Juno Temple, director Alexandre Aja, and novelist Joe Hill to debut the world premiere of the Horns movie trailer, chat about the film, and hold an audience Q&A. In addition,Salma Hayek will be introducing new footage from her kick-ass film Everly. The panel will also reveal new scenes from upcoming RADiUS titles with some special surprises.

You know Saga. You love Saga. You can't get enough of Saga. Luckily, this year, series creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are ready, rested, and eager to talk to you about Saga. What's coming up next on you-know-what? How could they do that thing to you-know-who? Whether you're coming in your finest cosplay or street clothes, you need to come to this panel..

LEGO: Ninjago
The LEGO: Ninjago team talks about the development of the TV show and toys.Tommy Andreasen (senior creative manager, LEGO), series writers Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman, and Simon Lucas (product designer manager, LEGO) discuss the behind-the-scenes development of the LEGO Ninjago product line and TV series, with Brian Bowler (brand marketing director, LEGO) moderating the panel.

Enough about me, time for this week's reviews!

Pick of the Week:
The Auteur #5 - Rick Spears managed to give this comic the ending it deserved.  Nathan T. Rex may be a deranged individual who drugs women, bails out convicted serial killers, and has an extremely loose moral compass, but I ended up caring about him by the end of this series.  Rex taking his crew to Vegas for a wrap party was as insane and trippy as you would expect from this series.  Oni Press has confirmed that there will be more Auteur moving forward which makes me one happy camper.  There is nothing else like this in comics and I have nothing bad to say about the series.  Shocking, hilarious, disturbing, and fun. 

The Rest:
Stray Bullets #5 - In an odd, but highly entertaining story, David Lapham delivers a surreal fairy tale including the cast of characters he introduced in the first four issues.  While it still has the same feel as the other issues, it was difficult to read at times because the other issues feel so real.  It felt like I was watching a B-movie from 1971.  Definitely enjoyable, but quite the departure from the other issues.

The Wicked + Divine #2 - This stellar title from Image picks up steam this week as the Gods are recovering from the framing of Lucifer for the Judge's death.  Laura offers her assistance to Lucifer as we learn more about her rebirth, Laura's back story, and are introduced to a new formidable foe.  This series is hipster gold and is one of the most unique books I have laid eyes on.

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Desert Fox by Shenandoah Games for iOS

New Wrinkles to a Winning Formula

I missed out on the 1970s/1980s heyday of board wargaming, but I was big into the 1990s video game translations--Panzer General II being my personal favorite. Sadly, these and other turn-based strategy games faded with the rise of the RTS. But though I appreciate the frenetic action of Starcraft and C&C, I never stopped loving this slower, more genteel breed of strategy game.

As with isometric RPGs and point-and-click adventure games, iOS has stimulated a resurgence of interest in the faded genres of yesterday. In 2012, specialist studio Shenandoah Games released Battle of the Bulge, a small-scale but deep wargame set on a classic board divided into pieces (though not hexagonal, as in the classic model). The game let you play out several scenarios related to the historical battle, and even choose the general you would face (the A.I. for which would then pursue a strategy in line with their historical predilections). Games were relatively short, but never seemed to play out the same way. And it came chock full of history lessons! It was, in a word, awesome.

Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein is the third installment in the Crisis in Command series, after The Battle of the Bulge and 2013's Drive on Moscow: War in the Snow--and it may be the best one yet. The game puts you in the midst of the Western Desert Campaign of 1942, in which Axis forces (under the command of the eponymous "Desert Fox," General Erwin Rommel) attempted to drive the Commonwealth forces out of Egypt to clear a path to Persia and its oil fields. Historically speaking, the campaign featured a whole bunch of German advances until the stalemate at the First Battle of El Alamein (July 1-27, 1942) slowed Rommel down. Then new British commander Lt. General Bernard Montgomery ended Hitler's oil dreams permanently at the Second Battle of El Alamein (October 23 - November 11, 1942). It was the first major victory for the Allies since the start of the war. 

Desert Fox is built on the same engine and features the same general gameplay dynamics as earlier entries in the series. You take the role of Axis or Allied commander, and either face off against a historical opponent or a friend. Each side has a limited number of days, divided into a discrete number of turns, to achieve specific goals, most of which involve either capturing a set number of vital points on the board or getting units past the enemy defenses (while maintaining supply lines). Each player moves units on one hexagon per turn--a departure from the normal way of things in a lot of wargames (where players move all available units in each turn), but which lends the battles a gratifying chess-like feeling. There are different units--infantry, armor, APC, etc.--all with different advantages and disadvantages. And there are serious terrain effects, ranging from armor bonuses gained while defending cities to roads that facilitate breakouts. The elegance of this formula is what made The Battle of the Bulge such an inviting and addictive experience.

Though the core gameplay returns in tact, Desert Fox nevertheless adds a few new wrinkles that keep things fresh. Now you have to contend with--or receive protection from--landmines and barbed wire. Even if you wipe out enemy units on a given space, you won't be able to advance until you clear the mines and wire, and only certain units (i.e. infantry or mechanized infantry) can do that.

There are also significantly altered supply dynamics. In the first two entries in the series, units were supplied as long as they sat on an unbroken chain of friendly territories. But now any unit can go out of supply after taking action (or retreating after being attacked). Each side has a limited amount of supply they can airdrop in, and unsurprisingly, the Axis has less supply to go around, while also having to contend with bombing runs on supply lines. But the Axis get a more complex array of units, allowing for tactical approaches not available to the Commonwealth. There are the standard armor and infantry, plus mechanized infantry, super fast recon and flak, which can negate Commonwealth air power and help keep units in supply.

Desert Fox gives you three different scenarios of progressive complexity: Ruweisat Ridge, a fast-paced battle where the Axis attempt to seize strategic sites (which garner victory points); Second Alamein, where the Commonwealth tries to shove the Axis back into Libya; and The Campaign, a massive, longer-term and more open-ended scenario than the others. It's advisable, after completing the tutorials, to learn each one well before progressing to the next. (Here are some additional tips if you need them.)

Finally, Shenandoah made some neat decisions with the menu system that really top off the experience nicely. Keeping track of things is super easy, and you always have access to historical information on the events portrayed in the game. Everything is nicely presented and intuitive, and the tutorials are among the best I've ever encountered in a strategy game. My only real complaint is that it would be fun to have an additional mode where each side has to deploy its units at the start.

In the end, Desert Fox presents a balanced, challenging and deep strategy experience. And it manages to present something that can appeal to both hardened wargamers and genre neophytes. While I'd still recommend the latter to check out The Battle of the Bulge first, it's not necessary to enjoy Desert Fox.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for managing to make a wargame that is simultaneously deep and accessible; +1 for the supreme elegance of the game design. 

Penalties: -1 for where's that deploy-ever-unit-myself mode?

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


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator (2012).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

AiIP: Five Indie Books to Read This Summer

Since I started writing-or, rather, publishing- I have met lots of cool people, and made some great and lasting friendships. It's also been a journey of self-discovery, and one of the things I have discovered is that I am really, really terrible at writing reviews. I can talk about a book for days, but for whatever reason, putting that to paper is always hard. I generally kind of go "I liked it, you should read it" or "I didn't; don't". So that's what I am going to do here- five books that do indie publishing right. Enjoy.

Augment: Human Services, Phil Elmore: This one was sent to me by Johnny Atomic, who did my cover. He had worked on this one as well, and it took me forever to get around to it, but I wish I hadn't waited. It's clever and different than a lot of the scifi out there. If you like grit and conspiracies, you'll love this.

Augments: They're the plague of the modern world, a deviant class of cyborg surgery addicts who've been herded into ghettos for the safety of those still legally human. As tensions in the tech ghetto rise, David Chalmers, an agent for Human Services, is sent behind the walls on a routine extraction. What he discovers is a helpless young woman maimed by unthinkable implant technology... and a murder, for which Chalmers is promptly framed.
Hunted by assassins and wanted by his own government, Chalmers must peel back the layers of a conspiracy without losing his own humanity to a back-alley surgeon's knife -- but first, alone and unarmed, he must survive the tech ghetto itself.

Rings of Anubis, E Catherine Tobler: A steampunk adventure in all the best ways. Adventure stories are always my favorite, and this one is suspenseful and fun. Plays with time travel, exploration of Egypt as well as real-world events (the Paris World Fair is described wonderfully).

Paris, 1889: A time when the world looks to a future of revolutionary science and extraordinary machines. Archaeologist Eleanor Folley looks back to Egypt’s ancient mysteries and her mother’s inexplicable, haunting disappearance. Agent Virgil Mallory, a man with ghosts and monsters his own, brings evidence of a crime that leads Eleanor into deepest Egypt again. Dangerous marauders and revelations from beyond the grave are part and parcel of adventures in the desert, but Eleanor doesn’t count on crossing paths with the guardian of the underworld—Anubis himself!

 Discovering Aberration, S.C. Barrus: Another steampunk adventure, although a bit more traditional- but that's the idea. Written to the tune of most major steampunk tropes, it doesn't take itself seriously at all and constantly pokes fun at the conventions that populate the world. All the while, it manages to tell a fun treasure-hunting story.

An ancient map stollen. A lost civilization discovered. A terrible secret unleashed.
Thaddeus Lumpen's archaeology career is near collapse, thanks to the machinations of rivals who would kill to claim a discovery for themselves. In desperation he turns to Freddy Fitzgerald, a rebellious writer who still maintains connections from his days as a street hooligan. For Lumpen to get ahead of his even less scrupulous competitors he must steal an ancient map and forge a path to an island where a lost civilization waits to be found. For Freddy, it's a chance to sell the story of a lifetime.

But nothing is as simple as it appears from halfway across the world. Old acquaintances become enemies, professional rivalries turn violent, and a notorious gang lord wants his map back. The island itself holds dangers that Freddy and Lumpen couldn't have prepared to face--and horrifying secrets that might be better left buried. Beset by wild beasts, cutthroat competitors, and dangers darker still, the two men fight not for glory, but their own survival... before the island pushes them past the brink of insanity. 

Insomnium, Zachary Bonelli: This is the first is a series of great reads, which I always struggle to describe properly. Think Sliders, maybe. But... better. As I've said, I love adventures, and this is an adventure though a series of artfully-crafted alternate universes, with great characters and great stories.

Nel Hanima lives in Seattle of 2089, a citizen of the newly organized Western Union. Life has stabilized since his childhood, when he lived with his parents in the Queen Anne community bunker. Government has been reestablished, and order restored. Famine and disease no longer run rampant, and the economy has stabilized. But still, the trees and grasses grow browner. The Sound continues to rise, swallowing up neighborhood after neighborhood of Nel's youth.

A faint tug drags at Nel day after day. The suspicion that his life is without purpose or meaning or hope grows ever stronger.

One night, he falls asleep in his apartment and awakens in the City of Nowhere, an impossible conundrum world of inhuman citizens, where time and space are an illusion and paradoxes run rampant.

As Nel explores the city, he meets Giniip Pana, Rev Merveille, and Drogl Belgaer, humans from alternate versions of his world's timeline. Together with his new friends, Nel works to unravel the mysteries of Nowhere, to learn how he came to be there, and discover not only a way to return to Seattle, but also the purpose and meaning his life has lacked. 

Isaac the Fortunate, A. Ka.: This is a fantasy series (The Winter is book one) that doesn't drag on forever or star some kid from a village in the middle of nowhere who is the chosen one, so it gets instant points in my book. Instead, it plays off much better scenarios, consequences and human emotion.

Beltran had humble ambitions—to farm his land, to grow his family, and to live fruitfully with his wife, Amaranta. The winter of 1553 had different plans. After a crippling famine, unbearable storms, and a devastating plague known as the Delirium, the winter had taken everything dear to him.
Then, through the backhanded kindness of a mysterious traveler and her time-obliterating potion, he got everything back.

His salvation is the beginning of his problems, as he discovers just how stubborn history can be. Greater forces are at work. The more Beltran learns about the circumstances, the less he understands—especially when it comes to the traveler and her inept husband, Isaac. In their quest to stop the Delirium, she and Isaac won’t let anything, or anyone, get in the way of their senseless plans.

Beltran fights for his simple life, his love, and his future... again, and again, and again, even when he finds nobody on his side, not even his dear Amaranta.

There you go- a few books for your summer TBR pile. I hope you enjoy them!

Dean is the author of 3024AD and other stories, engineer, and geek about many things. He lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. You can listen to him ramble on Twitter and muse on his blog.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Microreview [book]: Science Fair Season by Judy Dutton

An Unexpectedly Emotional Peek Behind the Posterboard

Dutton, Judy. Science Fair Season [Hyperion, 2011]

This book was on my Summer Reading List I posted a few weeks back, and I think was actually the first book I ever bought for the Kindle after hearing a story about it on NPR after the book was released in 2011. I'm glad I finally got to it, because it was simultaneously exactly what I'd hoped it would be and yet something I had not expected.

Science Fair Season is a journalistic profile of a number of kids who competed in the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), and others who were either in their orbits or who had set precedents certain of these kids built upon. Lots of the summaries and press materials for this book talk about kids building nuclear reactors in their basements and creating flame-throwing robots. Those claims got me interested in the book in the first place, but they turn out to be either hyperbolic or amalgamations of different kids, which is a true shame, since I think the actual stories inside the book are far more compelling than the splashy blurbs they were shoehorned into on the book's covers. Author Judy Dutton interviewed and profiled kids who were among the 1502 competitors at the ISEF, digging into the paths that got them there, and where not only their projects, but their more fundamental involvement with the sciences, began. She then takes us to the competition itself, going into the presentations, the judging, and the awards ceremony, which has the power to utterly transform kids' lives.

And these kids, man. I was expecting to be blown away by their outsized smarts, but instead, I was consistently floored, humbled, and heartbroken by their spirit. So many of them came from unimaginable hardship — abuse, dire poverty, medical trauma, social dysfunction, or familial upheaval — and yet each of them found a way to be uniquely true to him- or herself and accomplish feats of astounding imagination and sweat equity. One of the few failings of Science Fair Season, however, is in seemingly biting off a little more than it can chew, in terms of the number of individuals profiled. There are multiple kids who have an entire chapter dedicated to them who get no follow-up. Even with a "Conclusion" chapter that ties up a few loose ends, not getting a little more about what happened to some of the people left out of that section was frustrating.

But more frustrating, and compelling, are the questions suggested in between the lines of all these kids' stories. Dutton does an extremely elegant job of bringing up larger social implications, trends, and failures without getting bogged down in these areas. Instead, the reader has to ask the next question, and ponder the implications of what is usually an ugly answer. For example: Several of the disadvantaged kids she profiles have no hope of attending college if they don't win/place/show at ISEF. This should be an outrage. We give so much lip-service to the idea that America needs to perform better in math and the sciences, and that we need more women in the STEM fields, and yet here, every year, is assembled a collection of the 1500 brightest young minds in those areas, many of them young women, and dozens of them will never be able to even attend college. It was five years ago Judy Dutton followed these kids around, and the introduction of abysmal Common Core teaching standards, the blossoming of the student debt crisis, the widening wealth gap, and the increase in the percentage of Americans living in poverty have all made the situation worse since then. As gut-wrenching as many of these kids' stories are, even more so is the knowledge that many kids just like them are tumbling headlong through the cracks — even kids that may have stood right alongside them at the nation's premiere high school science competition.

I feel like a miser for doing this last thing, but I have to point out how poorly edited this book is. I only bring it up because this is a) a book about science, and b) the product of a Big-Five publisher. I'm not a scientist, but I am a nerd and I know enough to understand that atomic nuclei don't have electrons, you don't need formal musical training to hear the difference between one three-note piano sequence and another, and to catch several other factual slip-ups throughout the book. In addition, the word "hypothesis" is consistently used incorrectly, which either the author or editor confused with the "Ask a Question" step in the Scientific Method, and with so many kids leaving high school for college in this book, the persistent use of the grammatically incorrect (and infuriating!) "graduated high school" instead of "graduated from high school" made me want to pull my hair out.

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for the tremendous emotional impact so many of Dutton's stories make; +1 for not romanticizing the social difficulties so many of these kids have as a result of their advanced intelligence or single-minded fixation on things like electricity or radiation; +1 for simply being here to shine a light onto this world and sub-culture in an accessible way

Penalties: -1 for failure to provide closure on some kids' stories; -1 for grammatical errors, factual errors, or a muddiness on how some of the science actually works

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10. We tend to be pretty tough with our scoring here, but this one gets a bump for its subject matter being particularly near and dear to our readership's heart.

Posted by — Vance K, reader of over-his-head books about quantum physics, unapologetic lover of terrible movies, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Friday, July 11, 2014

WE RANK 'EM: The 6 Worst Baen Books Covers of All-Time

Baen Books has long been an influential player in SF/F circles. Now, of course, the imprint is best known for cornering the market on politically-conservative SF and fantasy--though perhaps too strong of an association would be unfair (they do also publish Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, after all). Regardless, the one thing everyone can agree on is that Baen is justifiable famous for its...unique art style. Here are some of the finest most insanely terrible awesomely terrible examples I could find:

6. Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson. Hokas Pokas! [Baen, 2000].

Hokas Pokas is just your average teddy bear in 19th century naval blues riding a horse-like thing on an icicle under the cosmos. I will remember to always bet on the hocus.

5. David Weber. At All Costs [Baen, 2005]

Why is the cat trying to hypnotize that baby?

4. David Drake and Janet Morris. Explorers in Hell [Baen, 1989]

I have no idea what to do with this one.

3. Poul Anderson. Sir Dominic Flandry: the Last Knight of Terra [Baen, 2010].

Another winner for Mr. Anderson. this one gets extra Baen points for Flandry's tight grip on the meter-long electroschlong protruding from his loins.

2. Sarah A. Hoyt. A Few Good Men [Baen, 2013].

This little gem of wingnuttery looks like something Sean Hannity might paint if Colmes returned to the set and dosed him with LSD.

1. Eric Flint, ed. The Best of Jim Baen's Universe [Baen, 2007].

A masterpiece of clusterfuckery that speaks for itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

It is hard to believe that San Diego Comic Con is a mere two weeks away.  New panels are announced multiple times a day and I find myself dizzy trying to keep up with the news.  My convention plans this year include a return to Gen Con so my head is spinning twice as fast!  What is interesting is the news that excites me seems to always relate to how I can impress my kids after returning home from the Con.  This week's big news is that Gravity Falls officially announced its panel for Friday. One of my favorite shows to watch with my kids, I hope to attend the panel and bring my kids the inside scoop!

Pick of the Week:
The Life After #1 - Oni Press is quite the innovative publisher and isn't afraid to push the comics envelope.  Once again the company is pushing forward with an exciting title that examines life in purgatory.  I had to read this comic a second time to truly appreciate some of the nuances in the book. The main character paces through a mundane existence until he challenges his routine.  This leads to a series of events and he ultimately learns that he is in purgatory.  It seems that his role is going to be to help a variety of people find peace and escape purgatory.  Beautiful art breathes life into this moving title and I hope people give it a try.  If you are looking for something different and beautiful, you should check this title out.

The Rest:
Ghosted #11 - Featuring the best cover of the week (although I hear this week's Avengers featured Angel on a motorcycle), Joshua Williams brings us a new Ghosted arc that shines some light on Anderson.  It was highly entertaining to learn about her existence prior to becoming a ghost.  One of the things that I have truly enjoyed about this series is a fresh take on things like heists and weapons running.  The first arc included an attempted heist of a ghost and Anderson's back story features the smuggling of occult weapons.  If you are looking for a fresh series that breaks the mold of conventional comics then I urge you to hop on with this issue.

The Walking Dead #129 - This is the issue I have been waiting for in the current arc.  While I have enjoyed the time jump and the new characters, it was lacking edge.  Sure Negan and Carl were becoming friends, but I wanted some excitement.  This week, Kirkman and company delivered.  Carl finally ships up to the Hilltop and we learn more about the community that Rick has created.  The newcomers find themselves in a similar position that Rick and his crew experienced as with other groups.  Even though the reader knows that they should trust Rick, they have reason to doubt Rick and his intentions.  It is ripe for drama and the big question is when, and it is when, will Negan be set free?  I am curious if there will be a new villain in this arc, but even if there isn't I am once again excited about this series.

Spider-man 2099 #1 - This was recommended by the manager at my LCS and I thought I would check it out.  Miguel O'Hara is the Spider-man of the future and is stuck in 2014 trying to prevent the death of some key family members.  Meanwhile, a T.O.T.E.M (temporal oversight team eliminating mistakes) has traveled back in time to kill Miguel.  This first issue is a good leaping on point to a series that I knew very little about.  It was an enjoyable read and I will have to thank Monti for the suggestion. 

Daredevil #5 - Like my buddy Jeff, I have not been enjoying Daredevil as much since his move to the West Coast.  I will most likely remain loyal to the series as long as Mark Waid is penning it and this issue was a nice one-shot that was quite fun.  We learn how Matt Murdock faked the death of his best friend and former partner, Foggy Nelson.  Waid continues to inject some heart and emotion into Murdock's and Nelson's relationship and sprinkles in some humor for good measure.

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