Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday Morning Superhero

It is time for the final 2015 installment of Thursday Morning Superhero.  Since I was on holiday last week and found this week's books to be a bit slow, I am going to combine my pull list from the past two weeks in this post.  I hope you all had a great 2015 and have an even better 2016!  Cheers!

Pick of the Week:
Saga #32 - It does the heart good to see Marko and Alana back together, but I won't rest easy until they are reunited with Hazel.  In the latest chapter, we see the couple fighting the powers that be in order to find the location of Hazel and Alana's mother.  This brings them closer together as a couple and the two are able to move on from the events on Gardenia.  Brian K. Vaughan continues to push the boundaries with his character creation and the artwork of Fiona Staples is without question Eisner winning material.   The cherry on the cake in this issue is how big Prince Robot's son has grown.  I look forward to what shenanigans he gets into.

The Rest:
Captain America: White #5 - This stellar series from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale reached a fitting conclusion and might even leave a tear in your eye.  As I mentioned in other reviews, it really felt like an homage to classic Cap and was even dedicated to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.  Not to play spoiler, but Red Skull was stopped and Paris was saved thanks to Cap and his crew.  This series made me appreciate the connection that Cap and Bucky had and got emotional as Cap confronts the fact that there was one time he couldn't save his friend.  Captain America said, "the war went on for four more years.  This was only one of our adventures."  Is it too much to hope that we will have more of these from Loeb and Sale in the near future?  I sure hope so.

Darth Vader #14 - The "Vader Down" event continued as his plan to catch Luke doesn't seem to be  going as it should.  I don't plan on breaking down the story too much, which you should totally read, but will instead talk about what this series does right.  It introduces the reader to new and interesting characters, and provides a new angle in which to study existing characters.  There is something very appealing about a flawed Vader, Chewbacca being overpowered by a stronger Wookiee, and seeing a powerful Sith in Commander Karbin, a cross between General Grievious and Admiral Akbar.  Marvel and its creative team have really done a great job expanding on the Star Wars Universe and breaking the mold in its portrayal of classic characters.

Chew #53 - The race to the finish line continues as Tony Chu and Savoy travel to prehistoric times in an attempt to understand the root of the avian flu. In classic John Layman style, the journey into the past is psychedelic, insane, and not at all what I expected.  While I am sad for this series to end, it looks like Layman has an exciting finish in store for us fans.  As Savoy said to Chu, "there is usually one ending for people such as you and I,  For Cibopaths.  One will die.  And the other will dine on the flesh of his enemy."

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Microreview [video game]: Volume by Mike Bithell Games

Turn It Up

Thomas Was Alone is the previous Mike Bithell game, and it was a cute, minimalist platformer that I enjoyed but would probably never play again. It was fun and all, but it's really a once-and-done kind of experience. Unless you forget the storyline (which forms the bulk of the appeal of the game), there aren't a lot of reasons to keep playing. Volume isn't like Thomas Was Alone much at all. It's better.

Volume is a top-down-ish stealth game. The plot is an anti-authority tale that is irrelevant, because it's not the game's strong suit and it's almost incomprehensible. It's an awful lot like Metal Gear Solid, in that you sneak around and avoid the enemies' vision cones as you make your way through 100 core levels. Each level takes no longer than 5 minutes to play from start to finish, but that's assuming you never fail. You will fail, but the game is extremely generous with checkpoints. The punishment for failure is a matter of seconds lost, not minutes. Each level has a par time. It's almost encouraging speedruns. It took me about 6 hours, 20 minutes from game start to game finish.

The stealth feels rock solid. If you're not in a vision cone or making noise, you are absolutely invisible. Unrealistic in a way, but completely unambiguous. The game has a crisp, clean design with an abstract, minimalist style. Everything is sharp polygons, which is appropriate as the game takes place inside a simulation. There are a half dozen enemies with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each level is almost a puzzle to be solved with your sneakiness and tools. The tools are doled out most of the game, so even late game is introducing new mechanics.

The whole 100 level core game could be considered an extended tutorial as the game comes with tools to build levels yourself right in the game's interface. No need to download sketchy mods or juggle programs; you can browse user-made levels from within the game as well as create your own. The user-made levels also feature a rating system, and there are "staff picks" if you don't trust the judgment of other Volume players.

Where Volume stumbles is in its story and controls. As mentioned earlier, the story is a muddled mess. It's obviously of the "people rising up against The Man" variety, but it's dribbled out across level descriptions, in-game notes, and three cutscenes. It's not great. And the controls, when played with a standard Xbox 360 type controller, are a little weird. The game fully supported the controller, but all of the button prompts were for keyboard + mouse controls, so I had to fumble a little to find the right buttons. Even with the correct buttons located, the controls seemed to eschew the face buttons in favor of the triggers and bumpers. It's a very minor quibble, but still a little jarring in an otherwise extremely well-made game.

I had a hard time putting Volume down. I spent most of the holiday weekend playing it, and it very much invoked a "one more level" feeling in me. It's not a particularly difficult game, but in the more challenging sections, I truly appreciated knowing that it wasn't an unfair game. It's just that I hadn't figured out how to "solve" the particular challenge yet. It's not going to set the world on fire, and it has a couple of minor flaws, but it made me happy for being such a straightforward and enjoyable game. It's well worth your time for a weekend.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 well designed and consistent gameplay

Penalties: -1 weak plot

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 (well worth your time and attention)


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: Mike Bithell Games. Volume [Mike Bithell Games, 2015] 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Like most teenagers, I would rip pictures out of magazines and tape them to the inside of my high school locker. Through the vagaries of youth, those pictures would frequently change. With one exception: I would always have a picture of Tori Amos placed prominently.  Usually this one:

Photo Credit: John Stoddart, People Magazine (May 6, 1996)
Her music had an atmosphere which permeated those years and into college. Her songs were a major part of the soundtrack of my youth. In a very real sense, Tori's music is the music of outcasts and the ill-fitting. I suspect there is a much longer research paper that could be written about that idea. It may not even be entirely true, either, but it feels true. It feels right because even when it isn't, Tori's music is about acceptance.

Professional Wrestler Mick Foley wrote about the impact of Tori's music on his wrestling career in an article on Slate back in 2010 and had this to say about the song "Winter" and the refrain "When you gonna make up your mind? When you gonna love you as much as I do?"

Most listeners would interpret "Winter" as a song about a father's love for a child. But the question in the refrain always appealed to the scared part of me, the part that believed I wasn't strong enough, or big enough, or good enough. It never made me think of doing wild and dangerous deeds inside a wrestling ring. It helped me believe that I was strong enough to do the things I already knew needed to be done. 

In Mick's mind, "Winter" became a song of self-acceptance, as it likely is for just as many people who hear the song about a father and his child. I think it can be both.

I'm avoiding the elephant in the room.

When we think about Tori Amos and "Nerd Music", the first thing that will likely pop into the head of any avowed nerd is Neil Gaiman. Tori has been dropping Neil references as far back as 1991's Little Earthquakes album with her song "Tear In Your Hand:

"If you need me, me and Neil'll be hanging out with the Dream King. Neil says 'hi', by the way."

When I first heard "Tear In Your Hand" I had no idea who Neil or The Dream King were. Nor did I when I heard "Space Dog" on Tori's 1994 album Under the Pink. In that song Tori sings, "seems I keep getting this story twisted - where's Neil when you need him?" Again with a Neil reference and again I had no idea, though I picked up on it as an odd line connecting her albums.

Any reader of Nerds of a Feather has almost certainly heard of Neil Gaiman, whether as a novelist (Neverwhere, American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane), a children's book author, or as the author of the famed comic book series Sandman. Neil likewise quotes some of Tori's lyrics from "Tear In Your Hand" in his Sandman book Brief Lives. Tori's fansite HereInMyHead notes that this is the book in which the character of Delirium most resembles Tori, though it is important to note that Delirium was created before Neil had met Tori and became friends.

Admittedly, I'm not much of a fan of Sandman, which probably makes me a geek heretic of some sort. But that's okay, because like we talked about early - this is about nerd acceptance, right?

Of course, Tori's fans are nerds themselves - like, did you know that before she was TORI AMOS, Tori fronted an 80's synthpop band called Y Kant Tori Read, which featured Matt Sorum on drums? Sorum would later drum for Guns and Roses on both Use Your Illusion albums as well as with Velvet Revolver? Pretty awesome, huh?

In other news, Tori Amos wrote the music and lyrics to the 2013 musical The Light Princess, based on a George McDonald fairytale.


Buy Links
Little Earthquakes (Amazon, iTunes)
Under the Pink (Amazon, iTunes)
The Light Princess (Amazon, iTunes)

Stream Links
Little Earthquakes (Spotify)
Under the Pink (Spotify)
The Light Princess (Spotify)

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Lapsed Toriphile since 1994, Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004, Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015. Minnesotan.

Monday, December 28, 2015

NERD MUSIC: Marian Call

I love folk music. Like, a lot. For all the punk and metal I listen to, there isn't much that compares to good folk (related: Did you know Vance and Co. have a new album coming out?). So it stands to reason that nerdy folk is even better.

Marian Call is exactly that. Nerdy, fun folk music. The best place to start is Got to Fly, literally containing an ode to the ships we all love. It gets better from there. Just kidding, it actually can't get better than a love song about spaceships, but it does stay that good. There is commentary on geek culture, and general geek love (if you like Firefly, this album is an absolute must-own).

If you get the chance, absolutely see her live. She is impossibly fun and engaging, to say nothing of having a gorgeous voice and great music. Her music is evocative of classic folk, yet innovative and clever (she incorporates a typewriter, so, yeah. Top that).

Oh, and she has a song about Shark Week, in case you weren't sold already.

So, head over to bandcamp, give her a listen and throw a few bucks her way, and definitely catch her live.


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories (which should be on YOUR summer reading list). You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. When not holed up in his office
tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

NERD MUSIC: Makeup and Vanity Set

When I started (re)reading a lot of cyberpunk last year, I begin seeking out music that evoked or reflected the style, mood and themes of the literature. A lot of the stuff I found was pretty superficial--"retro for retro's sake" and all that. A few artists stood out, though, and none more so than Makeup and Vanity Set.


Makeup and Vanity Set is the brainchild of Nashville-based electronic producer Matthew Pusti, with situational collaboration from Christian Williams, filmmaker Joey Cicclione and singer-songwriter Jasmin Kaset. Pusti has been putting out records under the Makeup and Vanity Set moniker for almost a decade.

The group's early work is a relatively dark variation on synthwave (also known as outrun or retrosynth), which is to say, retrofuturistic electronic music designed to evoke synth-driven '80s soundtrack and video game music--think anything from the Testarrosa-and-neon of Miami Vice to the dark, analog futurism of Blade Runner. Makeup and Vanity Set have also dabbled in chiptunes, most notably on an 8-bit remix album of songs by The Protomen, a rock band best known for their Mega Man-inspired concept albums.


In 2012, though, Makeup and Vanity Set released 88:88--an album that signaled a new artistic direction. If you listen closely, you will still recognize the musical tropes of synthwave--sub-120bpm rhythms paired with chorus-laden, 8th note basslines, and set below lush pads and energetic polysynth arpeggios. But nearly everything gets an upgrade, from sound design and production values to songwriting and concept. The result is something that feels immeasurably grander.

Interestingly, 88:88 begun life as the soundtrack to Cicclione's impressionistic film of the same name. 88:88 the album, however, isn't a soundtrack; rather it's a fully-fledged science fiction concept album inspired by the film. Those who have the seen the film will, of course, recognize the opener, "A Glowing Light, a Promise," as what plays over the end credits. In the film, the track's bright, slow-churn rhythms relay a sense of explorative purpose--as if to signal that the bulk of the story remains untold. It's placement here suggests that the album will tell that story.

Next comes "The Cross," a magnificent piece of instrumental music driven by interlocking synth arpeggios that soar to crescendo. On an emotive level, "The Cross" manages to capture the sense of wonder and thrill of discovery that drew me to science fiction literature--yet, at a level of abstraction that marks the experience of listening as fundamentally different from that of reading.

For the final selection, I've chosen "Homecoming," one of Pusti's collaborations with singer-songwriter Jasmin Kaset. At heart it's a pop song, but awash in the ambient vastness of space and casting tiny shadows cast through the neon rain.


In 2015, Makeup and Vanity set released Wilderness--an ambitious double album with a strongly dystopian cyberpunk vibe. Cyberpunk is, of course, a common source of inspiration for synthwave artists, but mostly on an aesthetic level. Indeed, most synthwave albums seem to interface with derivative media (games, film, etc.) more than the genuine article literature. Wilderness, by contrast, feels like the long-lost soundtrack to Neuromancer. There is even a track called "Turning/Sequence."

Most of the things that made 88:88 work so well are back. Pusti takes synthwave's nostalgic source material, whether musical (Vangelis, Jarre, Carpenter, etc.) or aesthetic (cyberpunk, 1990s anime and video games, etc.), and reformulates it into something that transcends the retrofuturism of the genre. The music is, by turns, contemplative ("Last Embrace") and menacing ("Turning/Sequence.").

The best moment comes from another collaboration with Kaset--on the exquisite "Hand in Hand." The track is, in a sense, a tetris sequence of synthwave musical tropes--down to the go-ahead 8th note bass line. But like the best of Pusti's work, it manages to both be synthwave and transcend the expectations that render so much of the genre generic and interchangeable. It's a beautiful song--a pop song at heart, and the one that most evokes the sense of wonder that attracts so many of us to science fiction literature.

Good as it is, though, Wildnerness does not quite live up to 88:88. It's less cohesive, and, to me, lacks its predecessor's exuberance. But these are small complaints, because 88:88 is fucking brilliant. Wilderness is still a very good album. Can't wait for the next one, which I hear is going to be a full-length collaboration with Kaset.


Buy Links

88:88 (Amazon , iTunes)
Wilderness (Amazon , iTunes)

Stream Links

88:88 (Spotify)
Wilderness (Spotify)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Microreview [book]: Mistborn - The Final Empire

The heroic fantasy of this generation.

This generation of fantasy can be characterized in one word: grit. We can argue over the definition of that word and ones like it, but to me it involves less than beautiful worlds, unconventional heroes that walk the moral line, and humanized villains – when heroes and villains are even distinguishable. Some books distinctive to this generation of fantasy include Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and Stephen Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. But what we don’t have in this list is a good old fashioned hero’s tale. Enter Mistborn.

Mistborn is the story of a young street urchin named Vin, one of the lowborn Skaa oppressed by the Lord Ruler. She is recruited by an elite band of ‘thieves’ for her unique but undeveloped powers. Led by the legendary Survivor of Hathsin, this group of mistings (wielders of magical power) are planning more than a typical heist… they’re planning a revolution. Vin learns to hone her powers under the tutelage of Kelsier (the aforementioned Survivor of Hathsin) and also finds herself in the process. This is very much a coming of age story. Tor is currently re-branding it as YA, which it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not appealing to an older audience as well - as evidenced by its success marketed to such thus far.

So why is Mistborn the heroic fantasy of the generation? Well, we have all the classic necessary tropes for a hero’s tale: young, lowborn protagonist with undeveloped powers; mentor; love interest; bad guy to fight. What makes it different, or rather, indicative of the current grit movement? The world is dark and literally covered in ash. Our heroes are a band of thieves, scheming and killing remorselessly to get ahead (Vin included). Kelsier, Vin’s mentor and leader of the revolution, is tortured and has his own agenda. Vin hides in the shadows. Our villain is made human and relatable through the discovery of a log book (or diary) believed to have belonged to him. 

But at its heart, Mistborn is a heroic fantasy and the characters are not morally ambiguous. It is obvious who the good guys are, even if their means to the end are not always reputable. And Vin is far from an anti-hero; she is kind, courageous, and good-hearted. She starts out this story as a troubled little girl and grows into a brave and powerful young woman. And most importantly (albeit somewhat unrealistically), Vin has the support of those around her. No one is jealous of her powers or plots against her. Surprisingly, when she falls in love, no one tries to make her out to be weak or a fool for it.

I take notes as I read a book that I am going to review, recording my thoughts and impressions in the moment. For Mistborn, I wrote: maps are hard to read. That's it. I said before that you know a good book when you can just read it and enjoy it, without feeling the need to break it down critically. This was my Mistborn reading experience. I just sat and read it, ceaselessly, and thoroughly enjoyed every second.

I do have one complaint though. (A legitimate one, not about the maps.) There is a scene at the end where Vin is sitting on a roof looking down through a skylight. She has to make the choice to jump down into the room or walk away. I wish she would have chose differently.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for giving us a good female hero, +1 for not having the guys make Vin feel foolish for falling in love

Negatives: -1 for Vin's choice at the end

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 "very high quality/standout in its category"
POSTED BY: Tia   Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2014

REFERENCE: Sanderson, Brandon. Mistborn [Tor, 2006]

Monday, December 21, 2015

Microreview [novel]: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

A cinematic tour through worlds that are and never were...

The Meat:

Formally innovative and stylistically daring, Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente takes a lot of risks in its pursuit of slowly revealing a mystery among the stars, or at least among the planets of our solar system. Imagined here with the wonder and improbability of early film where the moon was a short drive away and where every planet was home to different delights, the novel mixes texts, compiles sources surrounding the disappearance of an entire settlement and the disappearance of one woman, Severin Unck, a woman whose entire life has revolved around making movies. From the earliest age she was captured on film by her father, a director of ridiculous (though awesome-sounding) gothic horrors. The form the novel takes makes for a book that I found a little difficult to pierce, at first. This is not a traditional structure, but it quickly establishes its game and by the end I was enthralled by the mosaic it created.

Severin becomes both the star of the story and it's greatest absence. She's a young woman striving to throw off the past, to make something for herself free of the fame that has followed her because of her father. She's someone who wants to be an artist and wants to do something meaningful and wants so many things, perhaps most of all to figure herself out. Her past is revealed in home movies, through her own exploits as a director, through the accounts of her friends, family, and lovers. What truly happened to her…well, the book does an amazing job of building that mystery, of showing the people left behind trying to make sense of it. Perhaps most telling and shocking is the project of her father to make a movie about her life and about her disappearance. To make sense of it.

The book is full of magic. Movie magic, I suppose, but magic all the same, and a nostalgic gleam over the solar system. These are the worlds as people imagined them, hanging up in the sky like foreign countries, no further away than China is to Europe. The planets are hilariously drawn up along national lines, Mars belonging to Russia and China, Pluto to America, Venus open to all because it is home to the callowhales, creatures whose "milk" is what allows humans to travel between worlds, providing all the nutrients they could ever need. And this early SF vision of the solar system cast as an alternate past is striking and quite charming. I fell in love with the romantic vision of it colliding with the dirty, often violent and chaotic reality.

And I think the book does a great job of exploring that space where the movie magic meets reality. Where even the magic of this alternate universe cannot cover the oppression and the exploitation going on. The riots and the extremes of the planets are only touched upon, after all, and yet those small caresses are enough to show that beneath the Hollywood glamour there is something dark and deadly. The secret of the callowhales is not one unique to the fictive world of the book, after all. That exploration often walks hand in hand with enslavement, with not only a lack of empathy or understanding but a conscious rejection of it in favor of something that seems so easy, so right. The mindset of the imperialist insisting his actions just because some sort of God does not put a stop to them.

And here we see an extension of that. Of course in the visions of early SF the planets are either virgin land waiting for us or else populated by monsters the brave Earthmen must subdue. This is captured brilliantly in the art seen within the novel, and the glimpses at the film plots and the radio serials are great, funny and depressing at the same time, because they promote a vision of the solar system that is much simpler than it is. Easy for advertisers to spin callowhales as the cows of space, but it becomes increasingly clear that's not the case, in the growing desperation of Severin's father, Percival, to explain what happened to her. It's telling of the craft of the novel that it can build so tightly to its climax using only found texts, bits and pieces of movies and scripts and recorded conversations. There is an air of authenticity this lends the novel, in good Gothic tradition, but it also plays with the idea of texts and truth, asking what is most true out of all of them, the texts that profess to be true or those sold as fiction.

In the end the novel captures the feeling of a time when space was full of new countries to explore. The setting is beautifully rendered even as it creates a dark and muddy place where the only things black and white are the movies. Life is not so simple, filled with shades and colors and luminance. It's a dense novel, challenging but rewarding and very, very good.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 8/10 

Bonuses: +1 for a pseudo-nostalgic science fiction that builds an amazing mystery, +1 for a risky structure and form that pays off big time

Negatives: -1 for a somewhat steep learning curve

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 "like looking into a callowhale's eye" see our full rating system here.


POSTED BY: Charles, avid reader, reviewer, and sometimes writer of speculative fiction. Contributor to Nerds of a Feather since 2014.

REFERENCE: Valente, Catherynne M. Radiance [Tor, 2015]

Friday, December 18, 2015


English Scribbler
For the future mad scientist teenager in your life
Cubelets, from Modrobotics

While your zombie nerd dog waits forlornly until the new year for their Daryl Dixon Squirrels On a Rope Chew Toy (no, seriously, look : ), spare a thought for that staple of the holiday family-get-together - the sullen young teen seething with dormant rage at being marooned in a warm house full of free food and people who care about them. The poor bastard. What better way to cheer them than with a toy that connects them to you and makes them think, ‘hey, maybe when I run away and leave these shitheads behind, and become the next Steve Jobs only with a base on the moon, maybe I'll send Ol’ Aunt/Uncle Debbie/Hanesh/Shania/Nikolai (delete as appropriate) an email or two of me doing all the amazing shit this world is currently denying me, maaaan’.

Or something.

I have no idea how teenagers talk or feel these days so there may be disappointment around the tree in my family this year… However, these things cost a small fortune so at least the ungrateful buggers can sell them on eBay to buy Taylor tickets or skateboards or drugs or something instead. But they should not, for these things are simply brilliant, and make me feel like I'm living in the future even more than the kid down the road with a hoverboard does. Connect the cubes - which all have different functions - to create responsive and mobile robotic structures. And harness them to take over the world!!!

Via Amazon

For the Destiny fan in your life ...

Sparrow 3D Wood Model

Listen. I know Brad jumped straight off of the Destiny boat at House of Wolves, and I was right there with him. To a point, it was not a fun game for adults. But then Bungie updated the game to 2.0 with The Taken King, and it got way better. They recently introduced Sparrow Racing League, where you can race sparrows! It’s lots of fun and the sparrow is kind of an iconic shape in the Destiny world, so get this great little wood model for your Destiny fan. It’s classy enough to put on your office desk, or anywhere. Give coworkers and friends a reason to ask “what’s your light at?”

Via Bungie.


For the twisted individuals in your life who like body horror, dressing up and who can't be trusted with real animals...

Hmm… I just can’t decide which horribly bizarre toy to recommend this year! (Needless to say, the two toys discussed below are a) not for the faint of heart, and b) probably not for kids, unless the kid is him/herself a little creepster.)

Any Attack on Titan fans? Then you’ll love toy #1, affordably priced at just 400 yen (about $3 right now): wowsers! For the less... extreme titan-lovers, you can also pick up a cosplay cloak courtesy of Amazon, and given all the opportunities to pretend to be part of the Scout Legion it’ll afford you, it’s a gift that’ll keep on giving the whole year (to quote Randy Quaid’s “Eddie” in Christmas Vacation!). Where can you find one of these, you ask? Unfortunately, they appear to be only sold (officially, at least) in Japan; they’re sold here and there in those little capsule machines called ‘gacha gacha’ (rattle rattle), like gumball machines but for toys.
Option #2: for robot/cat lovers. Why? Because it’s a robotic cat. I’m afraid one look at this genuine product--which ships internationally--plunged me deep into the uncanny cat valley. Plus, I’m allergic to cats (and possibly to robots too, though that’s something I have yet to test). But for the right person, this could be quite the winner this holiday season! The bad news--these things are practically hopping off the shelves. They appear to be sold out right now!

For the doesn't have to be a nerd but doesn't take the world too seriously type of person in your life…

Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

THIS has got to be SO MUCH fun to play with. The set comes with 10 paper dolls including Hillary, Bill, Oprah, the Notorious RBG, and other political friends and adversaries (Trump comes in a free downloadable expansion set from publisher Quirk Books). You get 4 different rooms to play in to act out your aggression, frustration, or sheer sense of utter ridiculousness at the current American presidential race. You can bop your Hillary figure up and down and have her say “I want to take your guns” and then have bathrobe Bill rock side to side with his coffee mug and Arkansas accent and say “I’ll got a gun you can take” after which Bono (yes, there's Bono) breaks out into an a cappella rendition of “Sunday, bloody Sunday…” and all the while Trump is off in the corner muttering nonsense to the wall.

I mean, you could use it as a teaching toy and have our favorite political figures act out appropriate responses to the cutting edge issues of the day...but where's the fun in that?

This pop-up book is sturdy, has a front pocket to keep your dolls and accessories (alternate faces and outfits, Bill's lawnmower and sax) in, and has an elastic strap to keep the book closed and all the fun inside. Plus, it's incredibly inexpensive at around $8 right now, so it makes a great gift for the Hillary lover, hater, or general wtf’er in your life.

Via Amazon.
The G

For the worryingly-Lecteresque child in your life...

Avenging Narwhal Playset

Sometimes, you just can’t beat the marketing copy:
“Too much "cute" in your world? Here's the solution. The narwhal is an arctic-dwelling whale that's been called "the unicorn of the sea" due to its long, pointed tusk. While there's much debate about the true purpose of this appendage, the truth is finally revealed! The narwhal uses its mighty tusk to skewer the cute smaller animals of the world… specifically baby seals, baby penguins, and koalas. This 5 1/2-inch long, hard-vinyl narwhal comes with 1 detachable tusk to impale the adorable 1 1/2-inch, soft-vinyl penguin included. Don't let cute overrun the world. Fight back with your own Avenging Narwhal! Ages 12 and up.”

Via the only place that seems to still have it in stock.

For the Minecraft and/or animation nerd in your life...

Minecraft Stop-Motion Movie Creator Studio

I’m not sure what’s behind the current stop-motion craze in toys. There are these little Stikbot things everywhere, but I can barely get the suction cups on those things to work. There’s a Crayola stop-motion studio that uses some type of runes to create mo-cap performances in your iPad, which looks cool but also a little limiting/frightening. Lego is also in on the game, of course. But I have hands-on experience with the Minecraft Stop-Motion Movie Creator and a child, and I’m not too proud to admit that after a few minutes I kind of wanted to tell the child to go away so I could make my own movies. There are quite a lot of pieces, which allows for a tremendous amount of variety, and the widely available Minecraft mini-figures are compatible, so you can easily and cheaply expand beyond the included characters. The free app is really something to take note of, too. While the iconography is somewhat bizarre, it doesn’t take long to figure out what the mystery squiggles control, and with a tremendous range in frame rates, transparency for previous frames, and built-in soundtracks, you can make as complex a stop-motion creation as you care to. As a lifelong animation fan, it’s been tremendously fun to introduce the kids to a hands-on way of experiencing stop motion that gives them enough variety to keep them interested.

Via Amazon


Curated (which is posh talk for sorting out fonts and spelling mistakes) by English Scribbler. Wishing you all a fantastic holidays and thanks for supporting another great year at Nerds of A Feather, Flock Together !

Thursday, December 17, 2015


We know why you're here. Because you were standing in the aisles of your [corporate big box store], or whatever, thinking I need to get [Star Wars obsessed relative] a toy because [the new movie is coming out/secular holiday]. But there are so many toys! So you decide I need to stock up on mac n cheese. The mac n cheese has Star Wars on it! So you remember you need to grab some makeup because [Holiday or winter themed event]. The makeup has Star Wars on it! Creamer has Star Wars on it, and before long, you're in the fetal position in the cosmetics section, seeing visions of Star Wars opening crawl until people in white coats take you away.

And that is the story of how [Star Wars obsessed relative] ended up with hazelnut creamer with a picture of Kylo Ren on it.

But never fear! We, flock of nerds which we be, are here to help! Here, for you, gentle reader, is the absolute, definitive guide to Star Wars gift-giving, perfect for all occasions*.

*By 'perfect for all occasions', we mean 'buy it for us'.


For the "Get off my lawn" Star Wars fan in your life...

I recently re-watched the original trilogy, and tried to do it with new eyes -- to put aside the hype and the ubiquity and just watch the movies for what transfixed me as a kid and made me want to live on the Millennium Falcon. Doing this, though, brutally underscores the Special Edition changes. It was the texture, the grit, and the lived-in quality of the worlds of these movies that grabbed me and made them feel real. So every shot with a shiny, not-bounded-by-gravity-or-nature's-laws CG snuffleupagus in it just slapped me in the face more than usual. We probably all know by now there's no way to see the original versions...expect as a special feature on the limited edition 2006  DVDs. They're not the best transfers, and they're not full-screen anamorphic transfers, so they have letterbox bars top and bottom, but they're the closest thing we have to the original, theatrical releases. They're a little pricey, and I think for obvious reasons, but you can get the set for less than $200 at the time of this writing.

Star Wars: A New Hope
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi


Star Wars: Republic Commando by LucasArts

For our Star Wars themed gift guide, I wanted to recommend the best, most-recent Star Wars video game. Unfortunately, I had to reach back 10 years, to the prequel era, to find that sweet spot between recent and good enough to recommend. The good news is that my choice, Star Wars: Republic Commando, is one of my personal top 3 Star Wars games ever and easily the best thing to come out of the movie prequels. Take command of a squad of clone troopers as you fight through the Clone Wars. It does what no other Star Wars game could do: it gives clones personality. An intrepid modder has even released a fix for it recently to lets the game run a little smoother on modern PCs. Star Wars: Republic Commando is a can’t-miss for any Star Wars fan, as long as you’re willing to admit that the prequels happened.

English Scribbler


Not a lot worth saying about this one, really, given that I know you are all know off buying one and not even reading this as your toast-obsessed Jedi mind does cartwheels of joy. However, I’m supposed to review stuff so here we go. In a world where you can now spend your entire day catered to by SW merch ( ), this is your intergalatic go-to for the morning. It’s a Darth Vader helmet toaster that puts the logo on each and every delicious slice. Sure, that makes the bread a little well-done where the letters are but who doesn’t like to go a little dark side every now and then?
You still here?!


Smuggler’s Bounty Subscription - Funko

Oh Captain
know this is hard to believe, but a lot of Star Wars fans enjoy collecting toys and bragging about exclusive or hard to find collectibles.  This gift will provide the Star Wars fan in your life a box full of exclusive content every other month. It literally is a gift that keeps on giving and can also double as your retirement plan (products are not guaranteed to go up in value).  The debut box included two exclusive Funko Pop!s and a Force Awakens t-shirt and fans rejoiced.  Each box contains exclusive Funko magic, is guaranteed to be better than the prequels, and is a must for any fan who enjoys collecting toys.


Is there literally any sentence you have ever said that would not have been cooler had you said it in the metallic, gravely tones of James Earl Jones? Then why wait? Give yourself, or anyone else, the gift of Ultimate Power: the power of a commanding voice, and a pretty sweet-looking mask too! Think of all the scenarios in which this mask/voice changer could be used: a) on the phone whenever there’s an unsolicited call; b) to scare your kids or your friends’ kids into doing what you say; c) on Skype conversations with friends or family, just for that extra little pizzazz; d) any other situation. For those with reservations about option d) above, think again: Darth Vader would make everything your feelings. You know this to be true!

The G

Boba Fett Stein

...because who doesn’t want a drink a frothy beverage out of a bounter hunter’s skull? Note: I actually own this.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift Guide: BOARD GAMES

It isn't the holiday season unless you play some board games with family and friends.  We have rounded up a collection of games to either put under the tree or cram into a stocking.  The list includes a great gateway title, a light family title, and some intense selections.  Something for any gamer that may appear on your list.  


The Game - IDW Games

If you are looking for a great stocking stuffer than look no further than The Game.  The Game is a quick cooperative game, in which the goal is to collectively play every card in the game.  Each turn is simple.  You play two cards in either a descending or ascending pile.  The goal is to play all of the cards in the deck, numbered 2-98.  While it sounds simple, limited communication, and the frustration of watching someone skip your number make this game extremely tense.  This is my new go-to gateway game and everyone I have played it with had an absolute blast.

Buy it at your FLGS or via Amazon


Pandemic Legacy: Season One - Z-Man Games

So you’ve all played Pandemic, right? You’re an expert at saving the world from various plagues and terrible diseases? Do you want to take your Pandemic to the next level? Pandemic Legacy is your opportunity for a fairly unique gaming experience. Pandemic and Pandemic Legacy are cooperative games where you, along with your fellow game players, work together to prevent the world from being overrun with diseases. Where Pandemic differs from Legacy is that when the original Pandemic is over, you just reset your board, reshuffle, and play again.

Pandemic Legacy instead offers you you something different. The game takes place over 12 in-game “months” that can be played up to 2 times each if you fail to win the month. As you play the game, you physically alter the board and physically destroy cards when instructed to by the game. When you finish January, you don’t reset the board. The board (and thus world) conditions continue on to the next time - so it is highly recommended that you play with the same group to get the best overall experience. With 12 to 24 total plays, each game will will be unique to your experience. Interested yet?
Buy it via Z-Man Games or Amazon


Tammany Hall - IDW Games

I can’t say I played many games but the one that stands out the most to me is Tammany Hall. It’s a political game of backstabbing and deception in which you try to rule New York through your control of immigrant populations. Every four turns, you will elect a mayor. The mayor gets to choose their own fate by assigning positions to the other players, such as chief of police or council president. If you’re playing the game right, you will exploit your position, lie to your friends, and climb over the backs of your constituents to gain more power, just like in real life! 

Buy Tammany Hall via Amazon


Monopoly Deal - Hasbro

I am unapologetic in my love for Monopoly, even though I know this is an unpopular position among people who are “serious” gamers. 99% Invisible just did a great episode about it (, in fact. I certainly admit that it's not the easiest game to play, though. I've got a bunch of kids running around, and the idea of leaving out a board game for 3-4 days for the tiniest among them to utterly destroy makes me rue the idea of actually playing Monopoly right now. Enter the wonderful stocking-stuffer that is Monopoly Deal. My first thought was that a Monopoly card game was a patent absurdity, but once I started playing, I was really impressed by how they were able to translate the traditional board game into a new, and much speedier, format. It's been a lot of fun to play, you can complete a game in 15-20 minutes, and the set we got game with a tiny robot Monopoly piece. What's not to love?

Buy it via Amazon

English Scribbler

221 B Baker Street
I know, another London cliche from me; apologies. But this game truly saved many a family xmas, growing up. It’s simple, relatively quick (Monopoly and Risk always led to desertion by half the family before I’d even got to Kamchatka, or nabbed Mayfair/ Nob Hill etc) and is the sort of game anyone can win, so you never get the frustration of more skill or knowledge intensive playing experiences. Roll the dice, move your Sherlock piece around the London streets, collect clues, solve crime! Easy to play with a glass in your other hand whilst drunkenly humming carols, and also a great tribute to Doyle’s world.

Scoop your copy via Amazon