Friday, August 29, 2014

Microreview [book]: Paying for It

A guy gets drunk in Edinburgh and sometimes he investigates a murder.

Black, Tony. Paying for It. New Pulp Press, 2013.

I never really know how to write a bad review. I know how to write a review badly, but I’m never sure what to do when the book I’m reviewing wasn’t great, but I have to write something because I offered to post a review and this was the book that was on deck. I could trash the book, but that’s pretty much what the internet does. Plus, there's not much to trash, per se. I could write about something else—and I’ll do a bit of that here. Or I can just limit myself to legitimate critiques and keep it at around 700 words.

Paying for It, from Scottish crime novelist Tony Black, avoided the P.I. trope. That was a thing I liked about the book.

Gus Dury is a disgraced former journalist who drinks. His local bartender asks him to look into his son’s recent death—officially a suicide, despite suspicious circumstances. Gus accepts. We soon learn that the dead kid had been involved with Russian mobsters and dabbled in human trafficking. And so on. In many respects, this is a straightforward update of classic detective fiction—there’s the blond femme fatale, one His Girl Friday, some mildly flamboyant gangsters, a case the cops won’t touch. But Gus isn’t a P.I. Instead, he’s an opinionated drunk. Which is basically a P.I. without an office. But still not a P.I.

Some of the themes and character tropes in Paying for It rubbed me wrong. First, Gus Dury is an opinionated bastard. I’m not much of a fan of British music, movies, fiction—I do like their comics—so maybe that partly explains why Gus’s opining annoyed me. I am American, after all, and thus I assume we know better, even about comics. But it’s more the way Gus reminds me of an aging hipster, bitter about no longer being cool, about not understanding what cool is anymore. (Black does nothing to derail this impression.) And he’s roughly my age. Like Gus, my cultural tastes haven’t been refreshed much in the last few years. And yes I too have lectured people younger than me about things they should love—I am one class away from assigning The Road Warrior to my students. So yes, what I didn’t like about Gus are things I don’t like about me: I’m aging, I don’t like new music, I think kids are dumb. (Though I also think we were dumber than we remember and probably just as dumb as the kids currently and objectively are.)

Paying for It also featured alcoholism, the most annoying trope in crime fiction. Actually, second most annoying. (#1: the P.I.) I complained about this in my last review and I have complained about it before, but the alcoholic protagonist needs to be retired. Or drink a bit more responsibly. At least Black is realistic in his portrayal. Gus drinks, a lot. But he gets drunk. He feels like shit. He struggles with his alcoholism. He even tries during the book to dry out, though he ditches that plan quickly. I appreciate that Gus cannot drink obscene amounts of alcohol and continue working on a case. In fact, he doesn’t do a whole lot in the novel because he’s sitting around drinking and opining. It would have been more enjoyable had he been wittier or had better opinions. But, he’s a bitter drunk. In his later-mid-thirties. And the nineties were good.

Fortunately for Gus, the plot happens to him. Conveniently. Much of the story’s development entails Gus walking down the street and running into someone he knows who tells him something he needs to know. I’ve never been to Edinburgh. (Had plans to, but with the British pound trampling the dollar and all…) I doubt that in a city of 500,000 you randomly run into that many friends. While I do run into people here in Los Angeles—more often than one would think—they never have anything interesting to say, much less clues to offer that’ll break the case wide open. But, perhaps Edinburgh is a different place. I hear it was better in the nineties.

I can’t say that I hated this book, but I didn’t relish reading it. And this ultimately is the only criteria that matters. I’ll let a lot slide if I’m entertained. But a sluggish read gives me time to critique a novel. Paying for It was a slow read at 279 pages. It wasn’t so bad that I now refuse to read anymore installments from Tony Black. But the next one will probably sit on my shelf for a minute.

The Math

Objective Score: 5/10

Bonus Points: +1 for Gus not being a P.I.

Penalties: -1 for alcoholism; -1 for making me feel old 

Nerd coefficient: 4/10 "At least it wasn't a 600 page mystery novel"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

This is both a happy and sad week for me.  Happy because of all of the great comics that came out this week, but sad because it is almost time to say goodbye to some old friends.  I sure am going to miss The Sixth Gun and Mind MGMT, but there is something to a story having a beginning and end from its inception.  Both seem poised to give fans a satisfying ending and reason to reread the series on an annual basis.

Pick of the Week:
The Sixth Gun #42 - Becky Montcrief is without question one of the strongest females in all of comics.  The growth her character has had in Cullen Bunn's masterpiece is simply astounding.  From such humble beginnings, she is now poised to end this mess.  Things look bleak, but she has a plan that is absolutely terrifying.  Part of me is sad to see a story such as this come to an end, but Bunn has really delivered what seems to be an amazing ending to this story.  Brian Hurt outdoes himself once again.   The King of Secrets is one of the best character designs I have seen in some time.  I would love to see a talented cosplayer pull something like that off at SDCC next year.   This and Locke and Key go back and forth in terms of which series I recommend to new comic book readers.  If you have not read it go buy all of the trades right now.

The Rest:
Mind MGMT #25 - Matt Kindt is in the winding down stage of his epic spy tale and this week's issue was a great refresher and had a more subdued tone.  There is something very refreshing that the first two comic books in this week's post include strong female characters who have truly grown throughout their comic book journey.  Meru is set to take down the Eraser and prevent the new formation of Mind MGMT, but she may have to accomplish this on her own.  Without spoiling anything, I am very excited about the first step in the process that is revealed at the end.  Another must read series.

Saga #22 - The amount of truly amazing comics book this week is almost too much to handle.  Brian K. Vaughan took me on quite the roller coaster on this issue.  It started with some laughs, was utterly gut wrenching, and then shifted to horror.  The journey that Vaughan takes his reader on this week is emotionally exhausting and will probably hit very close to home for some.  Fiona Staples remains one of my favorite artists of all time. From the opening page (a reminder why I love this series), King Robot, and the conclusion of this issue, Staples is as talented and versatile as anyone in this medium.

Outcast #3 - The new Robert Kirkman book continues to impress and the slower pace was a welcome change.  This may have been the most depressing read of the week, but not in a bad way.  Kirkman has a great track record of creating complex individuals, and this issue felt like it was a great hint of things to come.  Definitely a series that is worth your time.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Microreview [film]: Los Ultimos Dias, a.k.a. The Last Days, directed by the Pastor brothers

Characters Flatter than a Flan in a Cupboard + Ridiculous Premise = Mierda

2013. Just look at these two goofballs and try to tell me you care if they live or die!

I really wanted to like this movie. Or more precisely, I really wanted this movie to be worthy of my appreciation. And it did have some things going for it, notably its exotic setting in Barcelona and focus on Spanish characters, and that it was in Catalan rather than English. It's always refreshing to have an apocalyptic story not about New York City (or even the U.S.), and to make matters better, the premise is, at first blush, interesting enough. In brief, the catastrophe that sweeps the globe isn't zombies or the Superflu or whatever: it's hardcore agoraphobia. That's right, going to the Agora (or in fact just going outside)=dead. Cool, right? Yes, this was a movie I really wanted to like.

But I didn't—at all.

This is partly my fault: I'd already seen another movie directed by the Pastor hermanos, Carriers, which I thought was very good to excellent, so going into The Last Days I expected at minimum the same level of greatness. But except for the beautiful cinematography and special effects, which successfully produced plenty of eye candy, a lush vision of this apocalyptic world, no aspect of the film connected with me at all. The characters, main and otherwise, were without exception irritating and unlikeable, which meant that the various harrowing challenges they faced left me entirely unmoved; it even got to the point that I hoped they'd just die and put themselves (and me) out of their misery.

Moreover, the premise and its implications for the plot can't withstand more than five seconds of consideration. Fatal agoraphobia? Even if we give you the benefit of the doubt on that whopper, hermanos, *nobody* would still be alive three months later. Just how, exactly, are they going to get food—or water? Ask yourself, reader: if no one could ever again transport anything (cars don't protect against "the Panic", as their uber-agoraphobia is called), how long could you survive just on the food you've got at home or at the office or wherever you are when you're stricken with the Panic? Unless your answer was "ninety days" or higher, you're dead by the time the non-flashback portions of the film get going, along with pretty much everyone, everywhere. (My answer was "one week, but only if I'm allowed to eat my downstairs neighbors".) And seeds, which inevitably pop up in formulaic apocalypse survival movies like this one, are not magic—so I have a hard time believing a useless office worker and a hippie artist could throw together an indoor greenhouse in a random building and then just become master hydroponic farmers, living there for like fifteen years off the offspring of one tiny bag of seeds!

And maybe this is a bridge too far, but Catalan is distractingly silly-sounding. I heard once that some king of Barcelona had a lisp, and consequently decreed, in a shining example of Harrison Bergeron-esque lowest common denominator politics, that all his subjects must speak with a lisp. But even if that'th not the real reathon Barthelonan/Catalan thpeakers lithp everything, lithping when you don't have to ith jutht uncool, ath well ath infuriating to lithten to! Thuck it up, Barthelonanth, and just say "Barcelona" like the rest of the world!

In conclusion, if you're searching for a cool apocalyptic movie in a non-U.S. setting, don't watch this (watch La Jetee, or if you're feeling less artsy-fartsy, one of the excellent apocalyptic anime movies like Nausicaa or Akira). If you're looking for a cool Pastor brothers movie, don't watch this (watch Carriers). In short: don't watch it.

The Math

Objective assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for a beautiful vision of what a world stricken with fatal agoraphobia might look like

Penalties: -1 for what? Fatal agoraphobia, yet people are still alive months later? -1 for the unappealing characters, -1 for all the other absurdities of the story, not least Catalan itself

Nerd coefficient: 3/10 "Just bad." And how!

Normally I'd blather on about how a ?/10 is actually a pretty good score, no really, but in this case, the tag line is all too accurate: a 3/10 is indeed just bad.

Zhaoyun, purveyor of apocalyptic and general sf/f literature and NOAF stalwart since 2013, hopes when the apocalypse does come nobody nearby is thpeaking Catalan.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I've been traveling for almost a month now, with my handy iPad and a whole lot of ebooks and digital comics as my primary entertainment vehicle. So I figured: "why not start a new comics-related feature for Nerds of a Feather? Something (monthly) to complement Mike's awesome (weekly) Thursday Morning Superhero series!" Of course, since I sort of fell off the comics wagon a couple years ago, I was starting anew; and since I wouldn't be able to keep up week-to-week, I could just pick and choose interesting books from the last few years. I also decided to make a game out of it.

Scoring System and Rules

The scoring system I devised is based on a simple question: do I want to keep reading this book? Anything above a 2/5 is a "yes" and anything below is a "no." As with Nerds of a Feather scoring in general, 5s and 1s will be issued sparingly. The score sheet:

5/5: highly recommended.
4/5: strong overall but not as good as it could have been.
3/5: just good enough to read the next issue.
2/5: some limited potential.
1/5: objectively terrible. 

And here's how the game works. In true NoaF fashion, I chose 6 first issues to read. Going forward, I'll continue with each book that scores above a 3/5. Anything scoring below that threshold gets thrown out and replaced with a new book, starting from issue #1. After 6 months, we'll see who's still standing. Sound good? Good. Now on the books themselves... 

The Books: August 2014

Magneto #1 (Bunn/Hernandez Walta: Marvel, 2014)

Magneto has always been my favorite Marvel villain, in large part because he’s so relatable. You might be horrified by his methods, but you understand where he’s coming from. Part of you cheers him on; the rest of you hopes Charles Xavier can bring him to his senses. The new limited series appeals to the first part. It’s classic revenge-noir, where a force of nature wreaks horrible vengeance on those who deserve it. Cullen Bunn's writing is tight and Gabriel Hernandez Walta's art is nicely stylized. 5/5: highly recommended.

Brass Sun #1 (Edington/Culbard: 2000AD, 2014)

Brass Sun is stylish dystopian SF about a steampunkish society and a nascent rebellion against its theocratic religious order. The concept is sound and the art is quality, so I’m curious to see where things lead. Unfortunately, the first issue is weighed down from pacing issues, stilted dialogue and thin characterization. 3/5: just good enough to read the next issue.

The Wake #1 (Snyder/Murphy: Vertigo, 2013)

Scott Synder and Sean Murphy’s underwater SF adventure is one of the most talked about comics in recent memory, and issue #1 doesn’t disappoint. The writing is unusually fluid and the art has a pencil-heavy feel that suits the subject matter perfectly. I was, however, more than a bit annoyed that Snyder resorted to the “scientist adventurers gathered together by mysterious patrons” trope. I’d thought that AVP and Prometheus had killed that trope dead. 4/5: strong overall but not as good as it could have been.

East of West #1 (Hickman/Dragotta: Vertigo, 2013)

Another one I had high hopes for. Unfortunately, this steampunk-y/post-apocalyptic-y/Warren Ellis-y Western is a hot mess, weighed down tropeyness, lazy ultraviolence and one of the most egregious and annoying infodumps I’ve encountered in a long while. East of West #1 feels like a lot of other comics you’ve read, but diluted by time and repetition of the same themes over and over again. 2/5: some limited potential.

Hawkeye #1 (Fraction/Aja: Marvel, 2012)

I’ve never had much love for Hawkeye, but this book has gotten so much hype that I had to give it a shot. And I’ll give it this: Hawkeye a real departure from the Big Two way of doing things, even more than Magneto is. I mean, a fragmented narrative, no spandex action AND a story that’s pretty much about ordinary people struggling to get by? Progressive as that is (and it is), the storytelling doesn’t quite live up to the ambition—or the art, which is crazy good. Huge potential, not quite realized yet. 4/5: strong overall but could still be better.

The Last Phantom #1 (Scott Beatty/Eduardo Ferigato: Dynamite, 2010)

I grew up with the Phantom—well, with Fantomen, the Swedish version. But everyone knows that’s the best one (sorry, Lee Falk). This 2010 revamp gives the classic hero the “Vertigo grit” treatment, making it feel like a pulpier version of Scalped or Unknown Soldier. Unfortuntately, the book retains the Phantom’s central problematic: the hero is still a white man protecting an otherwise helpless African country. Why not make him black or mixed race? Seems like a missed opportunity to really update the franchise. Otherwise this is a decent enough read. 3/5: just good enough to read the next issue. 

...and there you have it! 5/6 books (Magneto, Brass Sun, The Wake, Hawkeye and The Last Phantom) will return in September, while we say happy trails to East of West. And without further ado, we crown our...

MONTHLY WINNER: Magneto #1 (Bunn/Hernandez Walta: Marvel, 2014)

Until next time! 


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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Microreview [book] : Bloodlight - The Apocalypse of Robert Goldner, by Harambee K Grey-Sun

Available to buy via Author's own site here Do try and buy indie, though. Thankyouplease.

Well, I do seem to like a challenge of late. Moving house and becoming a dad in the same fortnight? Check. Trying to read anything whilst doing the above? Check. Try to read one of the more unusual and frustrating books I've encountered in a long time and then attempt a review whist His Majesty sits next to me decided when to interrupt with either window-shattering screams or window-shattering farts? Check.

First off, though, look at that cover. No, look at it! Awesome. And it conveys so much about the story so beautifully. I thought the title a little clumsy until I realised whilst reading that this is actually a prequel to Grey-Sun's 'Eve of Light' series of books which I was unaware of. I'll be honest - whilst flicking through net galley I spotted the cover. It's sort of the way I buy wine - 'oh cool label!'. However, this policy can lead to both a nasty glass of vinegar and a dull read.

Well, Grey-Sun doesn't do dull. He doesn't avoid tediously-lengthy passages at times (more of that later), but he also rarely let up throughout this novel on passion or focus, and can pierce the mind from the page more directly than most authors I've discovered lately, particularly in sci-fi/fantasy. He might take issue with the genre tag however; he - more accurately perhaps - describes the story in his preface as Metaphysical Fantasy. This comes up within a slightly odd warning that this is NOT a Young Adult novel but a dark and complex tale involving 'the nature of Reality' and 'the Creator'. Well, I am far from a young adult (despite often acting like one) but wouldn't have found this too dark or complex; in fact, it is suited to the turbulent, obsessive and intense mind of an adolescent more than any other age.

I don't wish to knock the book by saying that. The story superbly stays within the mind of Robert throughout, its singularity of perspective suited to the self-involvement of teenage life, and,  as he is a 16 year old, its landscape matches too. I've never been an African-American high-school kid in Virginia but it felt true enough to me, although given the constant opportunity to sample U.S. T.V. or film set in a high school any day or night here in Britain perhaps it just tapped into my cliche brain bank. It does though in depicting this world dwell far too long on certain elements; for instance, endless descriptions of wrestling and getting ready for wrestling and discussing wrestling. Maybe Grey-Sun likes wrestling. Maybe in the novels this precedes Robert wrestles a lot. But it's not important to the plot to the extent that we need to be left wading through the sections about it. I mention this as it is but emblematic of a wider issue of pace. Roberts journey towards revelations about himself is mysterious and purposefully slow but more intriguing character interaction would have added weight to his experiences, and instead we get a friend who we never see, various school acquaintances of minimal importance to the lead and a distant father.

However, the heart of the story and the parts that really quickened my pulse is the fantasy element, not the real world of friends and family. Throughout the body of the book we see Robert being distracted and even harmed by weird hallucinations and physical changes, which dramatically escalate two-thirds through. I sensed a superhero/mutant in the making, grounded in a world with fascinatingly-realised social, sexual and racial issues, a gentle, subtle alternate-reality (the First Lady has killed the Pres), and some great passages of adolescent soul-searching. The author also writes eloquently about both religion and music, and much of the novel flows well and feels to building to something powerful; it just takes too long to get there, and when it does, leaves confusion and a little disappointment.

Where it goes is a minefield of spoilers, so ignore this if you want to, but I should caution that you shouldn't be too excited, as the following sentence isn't exactly clear or comprehensible. SPOILER ALERT - So, basically, he has a virus that allows him to control light but also zaps his mind into other realities and communes with devil-angels and a mad giant lynx with tentacles. Kind of. I'm not much clearer than that. The final passages of the book put me in mind of Ballard, Pullman and Burroughs, and if the series  that follows is anything similar, I'm in. But like a drug that kicks after the music stops, the power of these wild half-answers to the mystery was dampened as I had by this point lost too much enthusiasm. Alos, unlike, say, the revelatory, exciting cliff-hanger end to Northern Lights, this felt like it had to stop short just as it got interesting. Perhaps the main series delve more clearly into the other-worlds of a God gone mad and vengeful angel creatures. And maybe my opinion is too filtered through baby-fatigue. Dear Author, I'm so sorry if I should be giving a 9/10 here, but I'll have to trust my heart (and indeed, many others review online; I checked to make sure I wasn't losing it as much as Robert) and stick with a...

Objective Assessment : 6/10
Bonuses: +1 for detailing the mind of an unusually intelligent and interesting teen; +1 for depicting racial issues without cliche (to my mind); +1 for some truly joyously-bonkers moments at the end
Penalites: -1 for dull patches; -1 for mistaking delay of excitement for amping excitement

Nerd Coeffiecient: 7/10 An enjoyable experience but not without its flaws

Written by: English Scribbler, contributor since 2013 and tired new dad

Friday, August 22, 2014

Microreview [film]: Paprika

Sci-Fi Anime Meets Surrealism

I only recently heard about Paprika when it appeared at No. 75 on Time Out New York's list of the 100 Greatest Animated Movies of All Time. It's tough to walk into a movie with such high expectations, and I know that colored my enjoyment of it, and left me perhaps a little more ambivalent about it than I might otherwise have been if I had come across it a different way.

The premise of this movie is amazing: A research team has created a device that can record an individual's dreams to video. The team has started secretly using the device — the DC Mini — for psychotherapy, and one of their first projects is Police Inspector Konakawa, who is investigating a murder while haunted by a recurring dream. But, like in Ghostbusters, it turns out the door swings both ways: getting dreams out of the heads of delusional, sick, or troubled people brings those dreams out into the world. This problem ramps up quickly after one of the DC Mini prototypes is stolen. Who the culprit is, what their endgame may be, and how a mysterious girl named Paprika and Konakawa's murder investigation all fit in is a mystery.

To be honest, it all remains a little bit of a mystery. The plot gets very, very confusing as each character's pursuits are developed, and as the walls between reality and surreality start crumbling. To be honest, I got a little lost as there was talk of Konakawa having actually killed himself, which made me question whether or not he was really alive, or really a cop, and where the film was trying to go. But though the plot points may be murky, the visuals are astounding, and the Japanese can really do the creepy doll nightmare thing right. The film has a great a atmosphere, with elements of cyberpunk, noir, and Surrealism filtered through an anime lens. The visual imagination of the film and director Satoshi Kon is something to behold, and the character work in the supporting characters is unique and interesting, even though the main character remains something of a cypher.

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for the "parade of everything," the recurring dream motif, +1 for just the sheer coolness of the melding of the dream world and real world

Penalties: -1 confusing me, -1 for minimizing its great setup in favor of a less-interesting crime thriller conceit

Cult Film Coefficient: 7/10

On other sites, that score would likely be higher. Check out our non-inflated scoring system here.

Posted by — Vance K. Cult film aficionado, former Surrealist, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gen Con 2014

I survived my second Gen Con and am pleased to report that the gaming industry is thriving.  Dubbed the best four days in gaming, Gen Con set a new attendance record of over 56,000 unique visitors and weekend turnstile counts surpassing 184,000.  Last year I dubbed a winner of Gen Con, but this year did not have a feeling that one gaming company had a stronger show than another.  It really was a situation that the gamers are the real winners considering the innovation and creativity that this industry is producing.

Biggest Surprise - Munchkin Panic
I will admit that I had my reservations about the Munchkin branding of one of my family's favorite games.  Castle Panic and Dead Panic are staples on my gaming shelf that really deliver a great cooperative gaming experience that I didn't think would mesh with the Munchkin way.  I am happy to report that I was dead wrong and should learn to trust Fireside Games.  Justin De Witt took us through a demo and it was an absolute blast.  The great John Kovalic produced some stunning visuals for the game and the mechanics of treasures, castle cards, and curses created a unique experience that makes this a completely different experience than Castle Panic. I wish we got to try it with the mini-expansion that is included in the game to add even more Munckin to our game, but I appreciate that the game allows you to customize how much Munchkin you incorporate into your tower defense.

Best Event - Pandemic Survival
My friend and I had the good fortune of participating in Z-Man Games first ever Pandemic Survival event.  It brought together teams of two and had them compete in the same game of Pandemic in a valiant effort to save mankind from the four diseases that seek to wipe it out.  While we didn't fare as well as we had hoped (we were second to last), it was one of the highlights of the convention.  It was an absolute blast and I walked away feeling excited and that I was ready to play again.

Best of my Haul:
Enough about that. What about the games that I picked up?  One of the highlights is filling up the trunk of my car with the new games and hoping my wife isn't too upset with the amount of money spent.  Here are a couple of the notable games that I have already been enjoying with my family.

Machi Koro - It was great to finally play this game and bring a copy home to play with my son (he loves it!).  It is a game where the premise is simple and light in the early stages, but ramps up as you progress and unlock the ability to build new buildings and unlock special abilities.  Lots of tense moments late in the game as you attempt to roll for the card that will put you over the top.

King of New York - The sequel to King of Tokyo had a lot to live up to, and I am pleased to report that it is a worthy sequel to its predecessor.  What I love most about King of New York is that the player actually is a giant monster rampaging through the city.  You gain points and abilities for knocking down buildings, are fired upon by the military, and get to trek all over the city as you attempt to earn your 20 victory points.

Thursday Morning Superhero

The Con season is over for me and I am getting back into a groove here before the upcoming semester begins.  I am happy to report that Thursday Morning Superhero will be returning to its usual format and am looking forward to catching up on some titles as my schedule has slowed down significantly.  The highlight this week is the return of Gabe Rodriguez to comics.  It felt so good to pour over the beautiful pages he created for the fun new series Little Nemo Returns to Slumberland.

Pick of the Week:
Daredevil #7 - I have to admit that I have enjoyed Daredevil's attempt to find out why his mom left him so long ago.  I will also admit that I never thought I would read a mainstream comic that shed some light on an issue like postpartum issues that many women face.  My wife is a labor doula and I have learned more about childbirth than I ever thought possible.  1 in 7 new mothers have some sort of depression during their pregnancy and I love that Ellie Pyle, the editor, provided a list of great resources in the back of the issue and hopefully they will serve the mommas and papas that read this great book.  Readers of this blog can find more information here.

The Rest:
Little Nemo Returns to Slumberland #1 - After seeing some of the amazing preview tweets of art from Gabe Rodriguez, (@GR_Comics) I finally got to lay my hands on this stunning book.  Eric Shanower, who is no stranger to revisiting whimsical titles (Wizard of Oz for Marvel), reintroduces a generation to the world of Slumberland and the princesses playmate Nemo.   The first issue was a lot of fun that I plan on sharing with my kids.  I hope it remains an all-ages title and wonder if my daughter Zelda can relate to the new Nemo in regards to having a Dad who names children with pop culture references.  Very impressed with this debut.

The Fade Out #1 - Another impressive debut issue this week, a 40's crime noir from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  While it seems that all Brubaker and Phillips do is write noir titles that typically surround the death of a beautiful dame, each title is so well written and distinct that I will purchase them as soon as they hit the shelf.  The Fade Out sets the stage nicely for a 40's Hollywood drama in which all is not as it seems.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Friends of NoaF: Steampunk Kickstarter

Author-publisher S.C. Barrus, who contributed a guest blog post to Nerds of a Feather on isometric gaming, is also the author of the steampunk novel Discovering Aberration. You may remember this book as a top pick of our monthly Adventures in Indie Publishing correspondent D.E.S. Richard, and it appeared on my Summer Reading List (I'll finish it soon — it's long!). Discovering Aberration is the product of a successful Kickstarter project, and now Barrus is ready to release his follow-up.

Set in the same world, The Gin Thief is a serialized novel, which is just a super cool thing to be doing, and in itself pretty steampunk. Kickstarting a 19th-century publishing platform? Put some goggles on it and you're already 9/10 of the way to the Steampunk Hall of Fame. The project is already funded, and will only be online for a week, so it's simply a good opportunity to pre-order these books and get a copy of Discovering Aberration along with it.

So take a look, and become a backer if it seems interesting, tossing some support behind self-published authors who are delivering quality and outside-the-mainstream ideas.

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer, occasional book reviewer and general pontificator, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Microreview [book]: Lock In, by John Scalzi

An Entertaining Sci-fi Mystery Slightly Marred by Too Many 'What If' Departures from Today's Society

Scalzi, John. Lock In. Tor Books: 2014.

Buy it here starting Aug. 26th, 2014.

Seems like everything I read these days has some connection to locked-in syndrome. But in John Scalzi's futuristic mystery Lock In, there's a twist: technology has unlocked said individuals, in bizarre and interesting ways. Imagine a world where a pretty serious virus, Haden's, has killed many millions but left a few percent in what is essentially a permanent coma—but with fully functional minds. An even smaller minority, once ravaged by the disease, develop the ability to 'integrate' (that is, host) those locked in due to Haden's, essentially loaning their bodies to those trapped into permanent immobility. Additionally, technology has apparently advanced far enough to offer Haden's patients the chance to interface remotely with robotic bodies.

While you're still wrapping your mind around all these fundamental changes from the world we know, add in a murder mystery that a prominent Haden's FBI agent (or his robotic simulacrum, in any case) must solve before the entire fragile community of Haden's and Integrators is imperiled. Whew!

Is it exciting? You betcha, thanks to Scalzi's gift with snappy dialogue and no-nonsense narration of action sequences. Is it intriguing? Oh, yes—especially where Scalzi begins to speculate, via his characters' speeches and actions, on issues of legal and moral definitions of humanity and questions of ethics (particularly when Integrators are concerned). In Scalzi's vision of the future, for example, legally an attack on a robot body of a Haden's patient is considered attempted murder, even when the person's body is, of course, unharmed by whatever damage the robot suffers. Is that how I think such a future would develop, legally speaking? No...but it was certainly interesting.

Where the story feels less successful, to me, is in the sheer number of foundational changes from our own world of 2014. Call me a traditionalist, but I've always preferred a 'single tweak' model of science fiction, where things in the fictional world are pretty much like the present world, except for one giant 'what if' variable. Ursula Le Guin is the master of this mode of storytelling, as evidenced by her magisterial Left Hand of Darkness (cyclic changes in gender), or that excellent short story about a world with sixteen times as many women as men. A single change allows us, the readers, to focus all our attention on this aspect of our lives, and speculate how different things would be if that one aspect were different.

Scalzi, by contrast, has introduced a slew of what ifs, any one of which would have been more than interesting enough to hang a story around, but all of which together end up in a less thought-provoking jumble, to my mind at least. I can't say much more without ruining the mystery aspect of the story, but I can safely say that despite my reservations, Lock In is well worth reading, so you can decide for yourselves whether I'm being small-minded in not wanting so many huge variables.

NB: Just like I, Zombie, the last book I reviewed, this book should definitely be read while listening to Metallica's "One", if only for the liberating feeling of having 'solved' the problem of locked-in syndrome!

The Math

Objective assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for generally great dialogue, +1 for the awesomeness of unlocking those locked in

Penalties: -1 for having too many sci fi variables all a-jumble, when any one would have done

Nerd coefficient: 7/10 "An enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws"

[Let me stop you right there, objector: here at NOAF, a 7/10 is positively great!]

Zhaoyun, passionate lover of sci fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction alike, has been flocking here at Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Retro-future Double-Take

I've been on a bit of a retro-future kick recently, and wanted to point you guys at a pair of books that are feeding my dorky obsession.I've been on a bit of a retro-future kick recently, and wanted to point you guys at a pair of books that are feeding my dorky obsession. Sure, I watched and read science fiction as a kid, but I think it was my deep and abiding love for The Jetsons that instilled in me my persistent fascination with the retro-future, or the future of the past, or, less pretentiously, what old, mostly now-dead, folks thought the future would be like while they were driving their lead-fume-spitting automobiles and gleefully testing atomic weaponry upwind of desert communities throughout the southwest. How's that for a run-on sentence?

Where's My Jetpack by Daniel H. Wilson

This look at sci-fi mainstays like moon colonies, underwater hotels, robot helpers, flying cars, and the like is a brief, but very fun and surprisingly well-researched look at a wide array of futuristic technologies we were supposed to have by now, and where they're at now. Did you know Dubai is still trying to make the underwater hotel a reality? By now we all know that Google and others are close to perfecting the driverless car, but what about the countless other DARPA projects that still promise to make our world a terrifying technological wasteleand of automation that will one day become sentient and rise up to crush us?

I read this book when it was originally released five or six years ago, and just tackled it again our of a mix of nostalgia (of course) and to see how much of what seemed imminent then actually came to pass now. Driverless cars are one example. Daniel Wilson went on to greater fame as the writer of Robopocalypse, which Steven Spielberg picked up to adapt, but his early non-fiction books like this one, The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame and others are tremendously enjoyable and legitimately enlightening.

The Wonderful Future that Never Was by Gregory Binford and the Editors of Popular Mechanics

Despite an astoundingly bad proofreading job in the introduction, which had me shelve this book for a little while, it turns out to be exactly what is advertised, and a lot of fun. With a little bit of commentary woven throughout by Binford, this book is mostly paragraphs and blurbs taken from the pages of Popular Mechanics magazine since its inception about the world we may potentially live in one day. Many are hysterically wrong (like the synthetic homes stocked with furniture made of plastic, so you can clean your house simply by dousing it with the garden hose), many are eerily accurate, some manage to be both, and others are just cool (like the section on mega cities), providing innovative looks at problems that still persist, and I kinda wish we'd tried out.

One neat feature is that many stories are tagged as "True!," where the editors have pointed something out that actually came to pass, but savvy readers will catch many more that are not labelled as true, but are perhaps more obscure features of our actual daily lives. Take, for instance, the blurb from the 1950s that food may one day be made of sawdust. Laughable, right? Except that a lot of our food is actually made of sawdust now.

Posted by -- Vance K, cult film reviewer and resident Jetsons nerd at Nerds of a Feather since 2012.

Friday, August 15, 2014

AiIP: Do the Evolution

A few months ago, a service called Booktrack launched. I saw it come across the ol' Twitter feed and a few places, but I paid it little mind. If you haven't seen it, the short version is that it adds music, ambient noise and sound effects to the text, so you can read along with music and mood. I dismissed it as a gimmick of sorts, but then I received an email from one of the guys over there, he had read my stuff and asked if I was interested in doing one of my stories on there. I wasn't really interested, until he followed up (points for persistence), and I checked it out and kinda sorta fell in love. The process was way more fun than it has any right to be, and I am really pleased with the result.

This got me thinking about the overall state of publishing - ebooks aren't a revolution anymore; they are the norm, or, at least, part of it. But all the retailers are still selling ebooks like they're physical books. Not that this is any great crime, but between the issues surrounding price fixing, publisher/retailer conflict, lack of any manner of transparency, and to say nothing of the indie, self- and author-publishers that complicate that whole model, there is less room for an antiquated model.

That dude on the right should be holding a book
In short, the medium has evolved, but the method for getting it in customers hands has not. But where can it improve? It's not like it's complicated - you pay for something, you get the thing. So here's my wishlist (that's two Pearl Jam references in one blog post), which I have neither the resources nor the ability to make happen. But hopefully someone can.

1) Ebook bundles. This strikes me as painfully obvious. After all, movies have been doing it for years, but books can't follow suit. Find a way for someone who buys a physical book to be able to download an ebook. Please. Make this happen.

2) Pay what it's worth. Let's call this the New Author Pricing Paradox. That is to say, you're a new author with a good book to sell. You can charge what most publishing houses charge for an ebook, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-$10. But you're unknown, with no publishing house to back you, so no one is going to spend their hard-earned cash on you (did you know I have a book out? I would love your hard-earned $5). OR you can price it super cheap, $2.99 (why $2.99? That is the least you can charge for a book and still get 70% royalties on Amazon - under $2.99 and you get 30%), but then you're mired in with everyone else who has done the same thing, including your Aunt Mable, the guy down the street who published his 9-11 conspiracy theory as a novel, and at least one third grader (really). Good luck.

But what if it wasn't a set price? What if someone could pay what they thought it was worth? They can download the book for free and hey this is awesome, I'm gonna give this person $10. Or, this is terrible, no money for you. Wouldn't that be better?

It will never happen, but it would make a hell of a lot more sense.

3) Better Bestseller Lists. Let's run with the above idea, and suppose that app exists. Instead of simply number of copies sold, there would be two lists: most downloads, and most money paid. So maybe a ton of people love the book, but can't chip in a ton. That would be reflected on the downloads list. Or maybe a few people really love your book, and that will bring it to people's attention despite lower download numbers. In any case, I see a lot of 'Kindle Bestsellers', which means they made it to #1 in steampunk or something (this is not to take anything away from these authors; just pointing out that bestseller doesn't carry as much weight as it used to, and even those lists are far from perfect).

Those are three things I think would improve digital bookselling (along with my omnipresent wish for integrating with brick-and-mortar stores). What do you think? Please share any ideas you have in the comments. Or, if you happen to be a programmer, feel free to make these a reality.


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.

Microreview [book]: Blackbirds

The Dead Zone meets No Country For Old Men, plus some Juno thrown in to annoy me

Wendig, Chuck. Blackbirds. Angry Robot Books, 2012.

From the outset, I’ll make it clear that I am a bit ambivalent about Chuck Wendig’s supernatural noir Blackbirds.

Miriam is a psychic of sorts, but a very specific one. She can foresee a person’s death by touching their skin. That’s it. Limited as it is, her gift has allowed Miriam to eke out a meager existence on the road: a chance encounter with a dude who’ll be dead in days can mean easy money, keeping Miriam in booze and cigarettes. (Because the book is part crime fiction, the protagonist must drink and smoke.) She’s been at it for a while until she meets Louis, a goodhearted giant of a truck driving man who’ll be horribly murdered in two weeks’ time. And Miriam will be the cause of his death. If that isn’t bad enough, she becomes entangled with a drifter con man named Ashley who blackmails her into scamming Louis out of his hard earned earnings immediately upon his death. And Ashley’s got some colorful psychopaths after him because of a large metal suitcase he stole. And Miriam, knowing she’ll cause Louis death, spends 200 or so pages working with Ashley—sometimes willingly, sometimes less so—ensuring that the poor bastard will die horribly before the novel ends.

Because of fate. Or because Miriam can be kind of dumb. Because of fate.

Here’s a quick recap of my Blackbirds reading experience: I immediately liked it a few pages in. Then I immediately didn’t after a few more, but I kept on. Then I was annoyed. Then I became intrigued. Then really annoyed. Then the last 75 pages were really good. The ending was great. Then it ended differently, but I had become fully ambivalent by then so I didn’t mind much.

Wendig is clearly a skilled writer. The book is well paced with sharp narration and exposition. The plot’s ambitious are wisely humble—it’s more or less an on the road crime novel with just enough of the unexplained, Miriam’s ability, to make the book not just another on the road crime novel. But, the brisk storytelling is too often weighed down by dialog that is far too clever—Miriam’s penchant for swearing; her Junoesque references, a generation or two out-of-date; her constant need to make a sarcastic comment about everything. While it didn’t entirely ruin the novel, it did annoy me. Ganted, Miriam is not a manic pixie. But she is more or less what nerds—myself included—dreamed of in high school: cute, smart, snarky, kinda punk, with psychic powers. And she talks how nerdy boys in high school imagine cool girls talk: like them but confident.

Miriam’s negligible pixiness cannot offset her agency problem. (Sorry, I’m an academic.) Initially, we’re introduced to Miriam as a protagonist. She drinks, she swears, she gets into fights—and handles herself well. But that’s for the first 50 pages. Thereafter, she’s pretty much either being led around by men or running to them for protection. It’s not until the novel’s conclusion that she actually takes any real action.

While this may superficially appear to be a problem of gender—yet another agentless female character—Miriam’s passivity is actually a philosophical, if not cosmological problem. She has tried in the past to change the future she foresees, to keep alive those who she know will die. And every time, her attempt to prevent a person’s imminent death ends up directly causing it. In a world so unequivocally determined by fate, why not sit back and make snarky comments that never land? I picked up on this quite early—Wendig does nothing to be subtle about Miriam’s cosmic predicament—but I nevertheless wanted her to try. To do something. Anything other than spew snark, smoke cigarettes, or think about wanting to smoke cigarettes. By signaling the dilemma she faced, Wendig seems to want the reader to be frustrated by her actions. He wants us to want her to act. In this, the author is a bit of a tease.

Keep reading. She eventually becomes the protagonist.

The Math
Objective Score: 6/10

Penalties: -1 for frustrating me, the humble reader

Bonuses: +1 for what is perhaps the single funniest chapter of a book ever written; +1 for the nice cover art (a specialty of the good folks at Angry Robot)

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 That's an ambivalent 7/10

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero: Gen Con Edition

As you read this I will be either adventuring on the exhibition floor or playing in a ticketed event as I embark on my second Gen Con experience.  Last year was an absolute blast and, with one year under my belt, I feel better prepared to take advantage of all the Gen Con has for us gamers.  For my second dance I will be competing in a Munckin tournament, a Doomtown: Reloaded tournament, and am going to be one of the lucky few playing the Cones of Dunshire of Parks and Rec fame.  Throw in fighting the crowds to pick up exclusives, demo upcoming titles, and bringing home loot for the family, and it is going to be a great four days of gaming.  Today I am going to present the top five games that I am most excited about getting my grubby paws on.  Not all of them are releasing at Gen Con, but I will be able to play them and am looking forward to seeing if they are as good as I hope.  They are presented in no particular order.

1.  Machi Koro from IDW Games and Pandasaurus Games - Machi Koro sounds like it is going to be a streamlined, Catan-style game, that can be played from start to finish in 30 minutes.  In the game, players are assuming the role of a newly appointed mayor who is seeking to upgrade the town to keep the citizens happy.  This is done through the construction of building and dice rolling.  What is intriguing to me is that you are collecting only one resource, money, and that later in the game you can focus on buildings that would require you to roll two dice or only one.  It looks as if it is going to be one of those rare games that is both simple and complex at the same time.  The amazing art doesn't hurt either.

2.  King of New York from Iello - King of Tokyo is possibly my favorite game that currently resides on my gaming shelf.  It is incredibly easy to learn, difficult to master, and combines enough strategy and luck that it is fun for all involved.  When I am introducing a new friend to gaming it is one of the gateway games that I turn to.  King of New York adds new monsters, new abilities, and allows the monsters to invade one of multiple Burroughs in the Big Apple.  I am going to start my Con this year by rushing with the masses to the Iello booth to see the press event and hopefully purchase a copy of my very own.

3. The Battle at Kemble's Cascade by Z-Man Games- They actually found a way to create a tabletop version of a classic arcade shooter.  I want to say more, but the trailer has more impact than anything I can say here.

4. Sheriff of Nottingham by Arcane Wonders - The first title in its Dice Towers Essentials line, the Sheriff of Nottingham seems like it will be loads of fun.  Lately games that are more social and involve bluffing have found the way to our gaming table.  When we have enough people we always break out The Resistance and have been playing a ton of Coup.  Sheriff of Nottingham seems to up the ante on bluffing games as you attempt to smuggle in goods into Nottingham by either bluffing or bribing the Sheriff.  What I am most intrigued by is the fact that the role of the Sheriff changes as the game is played.  Sounds like a lot of fun as players lie, cheat, and bribe their way past the Sheriff.

5.  Samurai Spirit by Funforge Games - All I needed to know about this one is that it is a cooperative samurai game designed by Antoine Bauza.  Can you and your fellow samurai defend the village from the invading bandits?  The more you fight the quicker you unlock your beast abilities, but there is always a cost associated with your choices.  With a competitive 7-year old gamer at home, I am always looking for more co-op games to play with him.  Samurai that turn into beasts sounds right up his alley.

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Out There for iOS

It's Lonely Out There

Buy Out There - Mi Clos Studio from iTunes
4X games (eXplore, eXtract, eXpand, eXterminate) have a long and illustrious history on the PC. The paradigmatic examples are probably Civilization and Master of Orion—turn-based empire-building games that ask you to juggle priorities while offering multiple paths to success. Do you emphasize technological advancement, military conquest or resource-procurement? Usually you combine two or more of these things, or concentrate on one for a while before moving to another.

Several developers have managed to port the 4X experience to mobile, touch-based platforms—primarily iOS, but also Android. The platform is quite suitable, operationally speaking, but tablets don’t seem like a great cognitive fit for long and involved games with lots of menus and things to keep track of; tablets seem better suited for the new wave of 4X-inspired games like FTL: Faster than Light (Buy), which emphasize elements or aspects of 4X gaming but tailored to produce a more targeted experience, as well as shorter games that can be played to conclusion between tasks, in waiting rooms or on the go. This is what tablet gaming is made for.

Out There is rooted in the 4X experience. Like FTL, it uses Master of Orion more as inspiration than template, a setting for its taut story of survival against all odds. Both games take place in procedurally-generated galaxies, ensuring that every game played is sufficiently different from the last. And Out There can be just as unforgiving as its predecessor, yet similarly manages to parlay intense difficulty into an addicting, rather than frustrating, experience.

But whereas FTL emphasizes combat and tactical personnel management, Out There is all about resource management. You are a lone spaceman whose ship has drifted far from Earth. You must find a way back, but the galaxy is an inhospitable place. You need fuel (hydrogen and helium) to move, air (oxygen) to breathe and materials (iron) to keep your ship from breaking apart. First and foremost, you’re going to need to find planets to mine for these elements.

Here’s the problem, though: jumping from solar system to solar system and from planet to planet in order to extracting these essential elements costs fuel, oxygen and iron. And the ship you’re given in the beginning is a fairly insubstantial thing, prone to taking big hits every time you approach a fuel-rich gas giant. So you mine rocky planets for iron, which costs fuel and oxygen. Oh, and did I mention that you never really know how much iron a gas-giant will cost you, or how much fuel you’ll find in return? Now you can see the kinds of tough decisions Out There forces you to make, often boiling down to a roll of the dice, as it might in a real survival scenario.

While you can try to make it back to Earth just managing these four elements and skipping everything else, you probably won’t make it that way. And it’s much more fun if you explore. Garden planets give you the chance to fill up on oxygen and encounter the galaxy’s various alien species. Most are friendly, and if you answer their questions appropriately, they may share technology or the omega element, which can be used for fuel, air or material, or to power a number of unique technologies, like wormhole generators (used to instantaneously travel from one black hole to the next) or life seed, which terraforms rocky planets. Along the way you learn to speak their language, which makes subsequent communication easier.

The galaxy’s more exotic elements, like gold, hafnium or cobalt, can be used to produce the useful new technologies you discover along the way, like the shield generator (which lowers the damage your ship takes), solar sail (which lowers the fuel used to travel between systems) or gravitational well generator (which expands the distance you can travel). You will also find derelict ships to take over, randomly placed supply stations to use and various galactic mysteries to engage or avoid, since only some will work to your favor. There are multiple endings, depending on the path you take, and multiple strategies to get you there. Most of the time something will go wrong. But you’ll just pick yourself up and start anew—it’s that kind of game.

Out There is also strikingly beautiful, marked by an appealing comic art visual style and warm ambient electronic soundtrack that amplifies the game’s palpable sense of wonder. It’s more stylized than FTL; ultimately, though, that’s only a small part of why I think it’s the more impressive game.

A bigger part is the lack of violence. That’s not to say I have a problem with violence in video games (a few extreme cases aside). But I’ve been thinking a lot about how much popular art relies on violence; this is especially true of video games, and even more so when specifically considering science fictional video games.

Yet for someone raised on science fiction literature, this imbalance is more than a bit odd—many of the most famous SF stories don’t involve war or combat or the spilling of intestines to be compelling. (Don’t believe me? Read Childhood’s End or Ubik or The Left Hand of Darkness.) Out There presents a taut, compelling and thoroughly addictive tactical strategy game experience that doesn’t rely on violence or the threat of violence in order to be any of those things. I find that incredibly appealing, and while I do still enjoy FTL, I’ll be spending most of my time in Out There’s virtual galaxy for the foreseeable future.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for insanely addictive gameplay and appealing visual and auditory style; +1 for being that rare SF-themed game that doesn't rely on violence to be compelling.

Penalties: -1 for unlike the amplifiers in Spinal Tap, our scale doesn't go up to 11.

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10. "Mind-blowing/life-changing"

Read about our scoring system, and why 10s like this one are so damned rare. 


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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Microreview [book]: I, Zombie, by Hugh Howey

Like Warm Bodies but without the Funny

Buy it here.
Howey, Hugh. I, Zombie. Broad Reach Publishing, 2012.

Don't like exceedingly visceral descriptions of death by zombie? Then perhaps you should give this book a miss. I decided to listen to the audio version rather than read this, thinking the vignette style would be perfect for my bit-at-a-time-while-making-dinner (etc.) listening practices, and I'm still not sure whether I was right and the audio format is best suited to the story/structure, or I did the book a disservice and would've liked it (even) more if I'd just read it like a normal person.

Howey presents us with quite a gory series of encounters between zombies and their (mostly) hapless victims, but with a twist that separates this tale from the vast majority of zombie stories out there: it's a zombie-eye perspective. That's right, we see the world filtered through their hunger for braaaains (and all the viscera, as it turns out). Yet that's not all—we are also treated to the horrified observations, via internal monologue, of the people these zombies used to be, aghast at what their bodies are doing.

If I had to choose one song that best characterizes the strange situation these people-yet-zombies are in, it's definitely Metallica's "One" (the know the 'one', right? haha!). That's because they're definitely locked in, *almost* entirely unable to influence their zombie bodies' behavior and certainly powerless to resist the hunger for other humans. This is a curious coincidence for me personally, as the next book I will review here at Nerds of a Feather is Scalzi's "Lock In", about a very different and rather more optimistic version of locked-in syndrome.

Strange as it may sound to say, this might be, despite the gore, Howey's most beautifully written book (so far). Some of the descriptions of what each zombie is doing (and what each former person thinks of these actions) are exquisite, not in the florid, yanking-on-the-heartstrings melodramatic way but with the staccato beauty of Hemingway. And parts of it, where Howey suggests the new reality these people experience being locked inside zombies might not quite be as final and irrevocable as they think, have deliciously chilling implications for human nature: if you were bitten, and then felt a very powerful urge to chomp on the hapless idiot standing next to you, of course the most appealing interpretation of the messy result would be that you had no choice, that you were powerless next to that mighty hunger...but what if, instead of being truly powerless, it was simply very difficult to resist the compulsion to snack on your neighbor—and you chose not to fight it? Howey may be hinting, here, that some of us might experience a rather smoother transition to zombiehood than we might want to believe.

Despite all that recommends it, I ultimately couldn't connect with this particular story (or format) quite as well as Howey's more straightforward sci fi adventure stories like Wool or Sand (both of which we've reviewed here). Perhaps that is because of my slavish desire for a mostly sympathetic or at least tough as nails protagonist with whom I can (in my dreams!) identify, a feature that is certainly missing from this vignette-style panorama of zombiedom. Or perhaps I should've read this rather than listened to it (the endless descriptions of evisceration by teeth did get to me, I'd wager, more by listening to another human being narrating them than they would if I could just scan the page and potentially skip over the gore). Whatever the reason, for this reviewer, at least, I, Zombie, while intriguing and certainly worth reading (listening to!), can't measure up to Howey's best work.

 The Math

Objective assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for reanimating the zombie genre with an interesting if horrifying speculation on what would happen to people whose bodies are zombified; +1 for the hauntingly beautiful descriptions

Penalties: -1 for the vignette approach (though, admittedly, I can't really think of a better method to tell this sort of story, as any one zombie would have a difficult time sustaining reader/listener interest as a traditional protagonist)

Nerd coefficient: 7/10 "An enjoyable (if gory!) experience, but not without its flaws"

[We use a bell-curve scoring system in which very high or low scores are exceedingly rare, meaning a 7/10, while not earth-shattering, is quite a good score: see here for details.]

Brought to you by Zhaoyun, zompire aficionado and NoaF jedi knight (or at least Paduan apprentice, though in the interests of full disclosure, I've never even been to Padua!) since 2013.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

Now that I have finally resumed life as normal after Comic Con, my mind is reeling with next week's adventure at Gen Con.  While not specifically linked to comics, I did meet Cullen Bunn last year and am looking forward to checking out some games from IDW.  Kill Shakespeare looks to be a promising game and the Chew game will be a must purchase.  Oh yeah, they are also working with a small property that some people like called the X-Files.  In the meantime here is what I read this week and what is worth your time and hard earned money.

Pick of the Week:
Nailbiter #4 -  I was introduced to Joshua Williamson's writing with Ghosted (which you should go buy) and was immediately a fan.  When I heard he had a new horror title with Image I knew that I should check it out.  Nailbiter has been amazing since issue #1, but this issue featured the jaw-dropping moment that solidifies this as one of my favorite series. Nicholas Finch and sheriff Crane literally start to get to the bottom of the mystery as to why 16 serial killers all had roots in this small town.  This issue had me on the edge of my seat as Finch and Crane attempted to dig up the grave of the Book Burner, the serial killer that spawned the Buckaroo Butchers.  It might be premature, but I have already to put together a wish list for what should be included on a nice deluxe hardcover trade of this title.  It really deserves the royal treatment once Williamson finishes the first arc.

The Rest:
The Sixth Gun: Days of the Dead #1 - When you have a book as special as The Sixth Gun, spin-offs provide great insights into the complex characters that Cullen Bunn has created.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Sons of the Gun spin-off that shined light on the holders of the six, and with Days of the Dead providing insight into the Sword of Abraham, the Pinkertons, and the Knights of Solomon.  The only problem I have with this title is that it is over and I'm not sure how long I will have to wait for more background on these mysterious groups.  As usual, Brian Hurt delivers a gorgeous book and Bunn lets readers explore the amazing world he has created with this title.  I am so happy that there is a plan for an ending for the main series, but so many great excuses to return to the world of the six.

Legendary Star Lord #2 - Peter Quill has a past that is likely to catch up to him.  Due to his past indiscretions, Quill is actually a pretty selfless and likable guy.  He may be a little cocky and may not use the most orthodox methods, but Star Lord seems to becoming a staple in the Marvel Universe rapidly.  This series is off to a solid start and I will continue to pick it up as I am intrigued by Quill's past and why he is seeking Thanos.  If you are a fan of the movie, then you will be a fan of this title.

Imperial #1 - Mark McDonald is a guy that most comic book readers can relate too.  He corrects his girlfriend on how comics and graphic novels are different, doesn't like his action figures called dolls, and isn't afraid to wear a baggy hoodie with a monkey on it.  Things change for McDonald when Imperial, the superhero of this tale, selects him to be his successor.  While not the most original concept, Imperial has genuine moments of humor and a cast of likable characters.   Definitely worth checking out.

Big Trouble in Little China #3 - I really want to like this title.  The overall story is good and would be a fitting sequel, but the gags and jokes just fall flat.  If you enjoy fart and pee jokes, then maybe this is the title for you.  I might continue to read this as a fan of the classic John Carpenter film, but can't imagine anyone not familiar with Jack Burton and the Pork-Chop Express would show any real interest in this title.  There is enough to keep me along for another issue, but that is mainly to see the rebirth of the three storms.

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Microreview [book]: Sand, by Hugh Howey

Wool for Scuba Diving Enthusiasts!

Howey, Hugh. Sand.  Broad Reach Publishing, 2014.

Buy the e-book omnibus (when did that word stop meaning just 'bus', anyway?) edition here.

You know when you're diving, and as you sink slowly down, you feel the pressure start to build, and build, until even just 25 meters down or so, you feel a glimmer of understanding of the essential fragility of human life? Well (Hugh Howey asks), what if you could do the same thing in sand?

Meet the eponymous story. The decidedly post-apocalyptic (probably nuclear holocaust in the distant-ish past?) setting of Colorado is covered in mighty dunes, drowned in a dry ocean of sand. The pre-cataclysm world is still reachable, though, to those who have mastered the art of sand-diving, which sounds more or less like scuba diving plus some sophisticated technological telekinesis (divers 'tell' the sand to move with a thought via their special diving suits, and voila! Move it does). And (especially metal) artifacts buried under hundreds of meters of sand are beyond price (which is just a fancy way of saying they're worth a lot) in the crappy new world, which is why divers risk running out of air mid-dive and asphyxiating in the middle of a sand dune, or otherwise expiring during the tremendously dangerous course of a dive.

If this is all sounding is, let me assure you. Howey has spun together a mesmerizing tale here, one that contains many of the elements that made the Wool series so riveting. Beyond the obvious similarities like the setting in post-apocalyptic America, there is also the sense that the main characters, as in Wool, tremble on the edge of mind-blowing discoveries about the nature of their world, and might have the tools to remake that world to be more just and equitable. (Man, it's getting hard to say anything else without dropping a tornado of spoilers all over you, dear reader!)

Naturally, there are plenty of important differences to Howey's other work. First of all, this particular story is all about a family, one that has experienced especially harsh swings of fortune from giddy heights to dismal lows, and thus one that (to paraphrase Rick!) is like every other family, only more so. Each of the siblings, as well as certain other family members, seems critically important to this still inchoate quest to right the world's wrongs (though methodologically they take less a Gandhi so much as a (for those of you who know UHF!) "Gandhi 2" approach!), and I'm quite certain we'll be hearing more about each of them in the (by this reader, at least) eagerly anticipated sequels.

As sci fi goes, Sand feels more far-fetched than Wool, in the sense that I can totally believe a) someone might someday build (assuming they haven't already!) some huge silos to save people in the event of a cataclysm, and b) that said cataclysm might someday happen, whereas with Sand, it's harder to speculate what the scientific explanation could be for why the old world's covered in hundreds of meters of sand, or the pseudo-mystical mechanism of the sand-diving suits. Does this greater difficulty in suspending disbelief negatively impact one's enjoyment of the story? Not really—after all, sand-diving is such a cool idea I'm prepared to let Howey run with the concept, however wacky, and that's partly because (in this ever-more-complicated metaphor) Howey is such a good runner! Stylistically, that is, Howey only appears to be getting even better, with great dialogue, and sporadically wonderful descriptions (sometimes of a strange and lyrical beauty, like Tolkien pared down to Hemingway-level pithiness).

So, the bottom line: is Sand worth reading? Absolutely, for anyone who has the slightest interest in post-apocalyptic fiction (and quite a wide range of others, I would imagine!). Is Sand better than Wool? Not quite, but perhaps that's just the first bite is sweetest problem: if you find a great bakery (or wherever) and sink your teeth into a fantastic cake (or whatever), better than practically anything you've ever tasted in all of cake-dom, even if the next cake from that same place is just as good or even better, how can it really compete with that first endorphin rush?

The Math:

Objective assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for scintillating storytelling and an intriguing (if improbable-sounding) premise

Penalties: -1 for the improbable-soundingness of it all

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

[I know what you're thinking: "Only an 8?" But as you can see here, an 8 at Nerds of a Feather is like a 10/10 most other places; we only go to 9 for a tiny handful of mind-blowing masterpieces, and to 10 practically never (our 10 corresponds perfectly, in fact, to Spinal Tap's 11!]

The opinions elucidated herein are solely those of Zhaoyun, sf/f nerd-junkie extraordinaire and Opinionator at Nerds of a Feather since 2013, and should not be taken to reflect the views of Nerds of a Feather's megacorporation owner (everybody's got some (corporate)body, am I right?) or its fat-cat investors, or indeed anyone else in the entire world except those rare few with the same taste as yours truly.