Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Microreview [book]: Time Salvager by Wesley Chu

The year is 2511, and James Griffin-Mars is a chronman, one of the elite few who are charged with traveling into the world’s past to recon resources. You see, during the late 21st century, humans on Earth were at their prime, a technological golden age if you will. But it didn’t last long, and a series of wars and global disaster led humans to seek refuge elsewhere in the solar system. Now, 500 years in the future, much of those technological advancements are lost, having died with the last of the Technology Isolationists. Sure, there are still advanced space stations, ships, and weaponry, but these 26th century humans no longer know how to produce the energy needed to fuel them, and so must send operatives back through the chronostream to harvest resources. These resources from the past are essential, as they help prolong the impeding human extinction. But travelling the chronstream is not a task for the weak-hearted, and the job is starting to take it’s toll on James, a seasoned veteran. He’s tired of watching people die over and over again, powerless to help them because of the time laws. Creating ripples in the chronostream is a dire offense, but bringing someone back to the future (ha) is strictly forbidden.

The story is great. The world is fascinating, the imagery is sound, and the ideas Chu has come up with here are entertaining to say the least. I particularly like the personal protection system the chronmen wear, being a series of bands on their arms that they can telepathically communicate with and that do everything from act as a Babel Fish to paint disguises to create an exosphere to shoot laser beams. It’s no wonder that Paramount jumped on this one and set Michael Bay at the helm a month before the book's release.

I was totally wide eyed and engrossed in this book until about a third of the way through when the character Elise is introduced. Wow, she is obnoxious. I think her purpose is to be cute and smart and independent, but instead she comes across as childish, naïve, selfish, careless, and unappreciative. Kind of like this, but worse because she’s supposed to be a brilliant scientist:

Frankly, Elise’s chapters are insufferable. The time spent with the Elfreth (a wasteland tribe) is flat boring and the fact that most of it is told from Elise’s POV makes it even worse. And despite the fact that Elise refuses to acknowledge the reality of the danger that she is in and continually puts herself in more, yells “take it off, take it off” when she realized the “ugly” bands can be used as weaponry, and needs to be constantly babysat but has children following her around all the time because, ya know, she’s a woman, the most insufferable part of it all is the first interaction between her and a 90-year old woman James brings to the camp. The women, upon site, visibly hate each other, with Elise pretty much crossing her arms and stomping her feet and the elderly woman clinging to James just to antagonize her. THIS is SICKENING. I just….can’t. And there’s so much more too. These people are starving and Elise has to walk up 70 flights of stairs to get to her makeshift lab and she thinks to herself "well, at least it's good exercise." Yeah, because thats what women who are sustaining off of slug paste are concerned about, getting their exercise. Barf.

But not all the characters are as bad as Elise. Grace Priestly is fantastic (mostly) and James Griffin-Mars constantly challenges the stereotype he's designed to fit. In fact, it is his rejection of the expectation of machismo and absence of emotion that fuels the major plotline of the story. First, he has already failed at protecting his family and is constantly haunted by it. Sure, he seems overly concerned with protecting Elise, but that is because he is substituting her for his prior failures in an almost desperate attempt to right the wrong. Second, chronmen (most of whom are men) must interact with the past, usually entering at points of time immediately preceding a major disaster, but they are expected to not feel emotion or compassion for any of the people they interact with, and are especially not allowed to alter their destiny. This takes its toll on the chronmen, and most poke the giant in the eye (a.k.a. commit suicide) long before their contract is up. But James, on his last job before his contract is bought out, caves and breaks the greatest time law ever (I think this is spoilery but it’s in the publisher description) by saving someone’s life and bringing them back to the future (still funny).

I know I'm using some strong words to describe my feelings on Elise, but that's because it made me really mad. And not just because of the negative stereotype rigmarole, but mostly because this book was awesome up until her and she pretty much ruined it for me. Now, if this Elise stuff won’t infuriate you, or if you can just accept it for what it is, Time Salvager will be very entertaining. The imagery is fantastic and the world is imaginative. I especially love James' beat-up ship 'Collie', which reminds of the Bebop only smaller. 

The Bebop
I think this book will translate well into a movie, and I’m actually kind of excited to see all the technology and time travel come to life. And I'm sure Michael Bay can’t wait to cast a supermodel to play Elise and then put her in a tight fitting Prada lab coat. Hopefully though no one will be carrying around a laminated print out of the statutory rape law this film.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for naming the Elfreth after the oldest community in the US which happens to be in my backyard, +1 for visual imagery especially during time travel 

Penalties: -2 for everything about Elise

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10 ‘still enjoyable, but the flaws* are hard to ignore

*and by flaws I mean Elise. This book would be very good if she wasn't in it.

POSTED BY: Tia,  who is becoming increasingly weary of writing about the misrepresentation of women in SF/F and other media and wonders why this is still and issue but realizes that America is only just beginning to recognize that there is a problem with flying the Confederate flag over government buildings 150 years after the Civil War ended and knows that equal rights does not mean equal representation and so will not stop writing about it and will call it out when she sees it because "you're only as loud as the noises you make."   

Reference: Chu, Wesley. Time Salvager [Tor Books, 2015]

Monday, June 29, 2015

Microreview [book]: Tide of Shadows and Other Stories by Aidan Moher

Sometimes the journey is more important than the stories. 

Short story collections are interesting to me, because unlike novels and even unlike most short fiction publications, the organization of the stories tends to be equally important as the stories themselves. Having read many different single author collections, I'm not sure that there is a "right way" of doing it. For some, the best way to present their stories is without comment or clarification, as just the texts without further adornment. Others choose to link their stories into a sort of continuous narrative by adding additional text or structure. Some separate stories by theme, or by genre. Tide of Shadows and Other Stories decides to organize based on time, on when they were written, to create an overarching narrative not centered on the stories themselves, but on the author's growth as a writer from story to story.

It is certainly a brave tactic. Because it does go ahead and show stories that are rough, that are ambitious but that I feel don't quite succeed. "A Night of Spirits and Snowflakes" and "The Girl with Wings of Iron and Down" are both interesting stories, with some neat hooks and plots, but they didn't quite come together in a way that I found satisfying. The endings are a bit soft, a bit muddy, and though they both sound nice, have some good moments in them, they come off as somewhat disappointing. At least, without the commentary. And here is where I'd make the argument that they fit quite well into the narrative that the commentary establishes. That here is a writer starting out. Influences are a bit obvious and the writing in general feels like it wants something without quite knowing how to achieve that. But it is earnest and it is trying and it has moments of clarity that make the stories interesting to read, especially in the context that the author gives at the end of each.

And I think it was a good move to frame the stories in this fashion, as a sort of personal growth for the author in his writing, for the story of him discovering more his voice and his focus. The third story, "Of Parnassus and Princes, Damsels and Dragons," is a much more confident piece. It's a bit more trying to do its own thing, trying to be funny and yet make a point. It shows the same ambition of the earlier work but a little bit more willingness to branch out. Of course, I also think that it's still not quite there when it comes to saying what it means to. I can see in it a desire to tell a story that subverts the fantasy fairy tale trope, that presents a happily ever after that would never make it at Disney. The characters are unlikable and unapologetic, and that can be refreshing. They are also not straight, which is also something to cheer, except that they're queerness and their awfulness seemed linked in a way that made me a bit uncomfortable about the story overall. Again, it's easy to see the author trying, taking chances, and while the result can be a bit rough, I still found things to pull out of the stories.

And even that roughness becomes part of the writing process, another instance of learning and moving forward. Which, I will admit, made me enjoy the collection as a whole even as I wasn't particularly thrilled by most of the stories. Though the last two, "The Colour of the Sky on the Day the World Ended" and the titular "Tide of Shadows" did show a marked improvement over the earliest stories. Both show more of the confidence that marked the twisted fairy tale but with a bit more subtlety and complication. The stories all show a good eye for ideas, but with the later ones there is more of a payoff, more satisfaction in reading, even on those that end right where another story begins. They bring the characters to a more solid footing, exploring them much more than the stories at the beginning of the collection.

In the end I think the project is successful at framing a narrative of the author's growth through the combination of the stories and the commentary provided after each entry. The fiction is interesting but rough, even the final entry showing that while the author has developed much more his own voice and style, that there is more journey yet to come. It is a fascinating read, though, because I can't think of too many projects like it. It keeps things short, not bogging the experience down over a great many stories, and it brought me as a reader on a journey, stopping to admire some neat worlds but mostly showing how it is a writer develops, the kind of work that goes into becoming a better writer. This collection makes me curious to see what a collection from the author will look like in ten years. Or twenty. Until then, it's an interesting project.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for an ambitious organization and effective structure

Negatives: -1 for a kind of mixed bag of actual fiction

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10 "still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore"
(check out our scoring system to see why a 6/10 is still pretty good)

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

Reference: Moher, Aidan. Tide of Shadows and Other Stories [2015]

Friday, June 26, 2015

Microreview [book]: Echopraxia by Peter Watts

The Predator and the Prey

Echopraxia sounds like it's the start of a bad sci-fi TV series. What happens when you put hibernating monotheistic monks, an acolyte, a pilot, a military officer, a biologist, a vampire, and a small army of zombies on a space ship heading for the sun? Not wacky hijinks, as TV would tell us, but something much, much better.

Echopraxia follows Daniel Brüks, a so-called baseline human for being non-augmented in a time where everyone is augmented, in the role of the main character and the biologist in this crew. Daniel gets swept up in an attack on a Bicameral Order monastery and winds up on the Crown of Thorns, a Bicam ship headed for a platform close to the sun. How he ended up on the ship, what his role is, and what their mission was to begin with is all revealed in a more or less break-neck pace.

The story moves rather fast but not at the expense of approaching some topics of excellent discussion. The Bicameral Order practice science with faith. They're posthumans trying to find God. Heaven is also a place, and you can talk to people there. Brüks is a skeptic, and his discussions with the acolyte Lianna touch on the importance of faith and the role of God in a posthuman world. The pilot seemingly hates him, and the colonel takes him under his wing, but both of them are on the ship with their own motives.

And then there's Valerie. Valerie, the vampire. You see, science resurrected vampires, and they're even more lethal than most stories portray. They're so dangerous that they're normally kept contained and separate from each other because of the threat they pose to everyone else. She's got the classic vulnerability to crosses, but she's leaner, smarter, faster, and stronger than anyone else on the ship. She's rivaled only by her zombie bodyguards. They're not the shambling type, but the mindless, strong, hard to kill type. She's obviously the wild card of the crew and she's the most intriguing character among them.

The mystery of how the crew was assembled and what their mission is is the central conceit, and it's fantastic. Everyone has their own motives for being there, except Brüks, but even he has a purpose. The way Watts pulls the crew together and then jams wedges between them is excellent. There is a constant feeling of building tension as the crew learn more about each other, and it's extremely satisfying when everything pops.

If I have one complaint, and it's incredibly minor if you're a fan of hard sci-fi, it is that it is sprinkled with technical jargon. However, even if you don't grasp it all (I'm no biologist, so I didn't), it conveys enough to get the gist. It doesn't necessarily detract from the story, but it will give cause to slow down a it.

Slowing down, though, is hard. Echopraxia moves swiftly and doesn't let up once it gets started. It's very hard to put down because of the intricate relationships of the crew. Though it's the second part of a series, it doesn't suffer from "middle of a story" problems, but it did make me want to go back the first part. It's the kind of story that asks a lot of questions, answers most of them, but left me thinking about it long after I finished it. It's excellent.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 great use of unknown motives to build tension

Penalties: -1 might be jargon heavy for some readers

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 (very high quality/standout in its category)


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

Reference: Watts, Peter. Echopraxia [Tor Books, 2014] 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Morning Superhero: SDCC Off-Site Events

My hands are shaking a bit as I type this because San Diego Comic Con is only two weeks away!  In two, short weeks I am going to be attending panels, battling the masses for swag, and attempting to soak in as much as I can in the Gas Lamp in the name of science.  While the action inside the convention center is the main event, the off-site offerings have dramatically improved each year.    Today I will give you my top four off-site events of 2015.

1. Conan at Comic Con - Conan O'Brien has announced that for the first time ever, he is going to tape four shows during Comic Con.  He is going to occupy the Spreckles Theater in downtown San Diego and tape shows on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  The demand for tickets far exceeded the supply and like many others, I am waitlisted and hopeful I still might be able to attend.  The guest list is sure to impress and I can only imagine what types of hijinks Conan and Andy will get into in San Diego.  While it looks unlikely I will be in attendance, I am excited to watch all of his shows from Comic Con.

2. Funko Fun Days 2015 - Last year's surprise hit for me was attending Funko Fun Days.  I had no idea what to expect, and after three hours of madness, I walked away with a huge smile on my face and had turned my brother into a Funko Pop! collector.  This year Funko moved into a bigger location and still managed to sellout within a matter of hours.   I am very much looking forward to a fun night with fellow collectors that includes good food, good drinks, and some fun giveaways. 

3. Hop Con 3.0 - My brother and I have made The w00tStout Festival an annual tradition and I can't wait to begin my SDCC experience enjoying some gourmet food paired with exclusive brews.  Wil Wheaton has packed even more star power into the event this year, which includes Greg Koch, Drew Curtis, Aisha Tyler, Kevin Eastman, Dave Johnson, Mitch Steele, Kris Ketcham, Richard Rossi, and Alexis Light.  SDCC can be a very overwhelming experience, and events like this are the perfect calm before the storm.  There will be over 35 beers on hand, including seven that can only be had at this event.   I am getting thirsty just thinking about it!

4. The Nerd HQ - The Nerd HQ, presented by Zachary Levi and The Nerd Machine, is back again and is moving into a new venue.  The Nerd HQ will be moving into the New Children's Museum in downtown San Diego in its largest venue to date.  While the larger venue made me wonder if it would remain as intimate as it has in years past, the Conversations for a Cause are limited to only 200 tickets each.  In the chaos that is Comic Con, I have found the Conversations for a Cause to provide a great relief to the madness and give the fans a truly unique and personal experience.  The Nerd HQ is also partnering with IGN and AMD and will feature an entire floor dedicated to gaming.  Raising funds for Operation Smile, I am happy to see that this labor of love is returning once again.

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Assessing the Hugo Reform Proposals

There are currently three proposals for Hugo reform that will be discussed at the Sasquan business meeting. None are in the ballpark of the comprehensive reforms I've suggested, but are at least attempts to rationalize and/or streamline areas of the Hugo process that are either inefficient, inexplicable or path dependent to older models of the SF/F field. Here I assess their merits.

1. The "4 and 6" Proposal

Summary: This rule change would alter the way nominations work. Under the current system, voters can nominate up to 5 selections per category. Usually 5 selections/category are shortlisted, though there are scenarios in which it can be more or less. (For a full explanation, read this.) If 4/6 is adopted, however, voters will only be able to pick 4 selections/category, while the eventual shortlist will include 6 selections/category.

Analysis: 4/6 is being touted in some corners as a solution to slate voting. It isn't, as two highly correlated slates could easily account for 5 if not all 6 selections. Yet while the system would remain gameable, 4/6 would at least reduce the prospects for domination by any given slate. Just as importantly, 4/6 would potentially open the door for some riskier selections to make the shortlists.

Verdict: I support this proposal as is.

2. Proposal to Eliminate the 5% Threshold for Shortlisting

Summary: As it stands, a nominee must appear on at least 5% of all nominating ballots in its category in order to be shortlisted. Thus if only 4 short stories appear on 5+% of nominating ballots in that category, only 4 short stories will appear on the shortlist. This proposal would do away with that requirement.

Analysis: The 5% rule has never made sense to me. Sure, it can impose a semblance of order in parliamentary systems where there are 80 political parties, but this is not that. I fail to see any advantage to the 5% rule. Plus it's necessary to remove this in order for 4/6 to function correctly.

Verdict: I support this proposal as is.

3. Proposal to Replace Best Novelette with Best Saga

Summary: A Best Saga category is proposed in order to award series rather than individual volumes; it is further proposed that the Best Novelette category be removed in order to "make room." Under the new scheme, a short story would be anything with a 0-10k word count, and a novella would be anything with a 10k-40k word count. It is proposed that qualifying sagas have at least a 400k word count over multiple volumes. A given saga is also eligible in every year that a new volume is published. 

Analysis: I applaud the bold effort at reform, and to bring the awards in line with the structure of the field as it stands today. As I've argued before, novelette is a relic from the time when most SF/F filtered through short fiction magazines, while the growing emphasis on multivolume series (especially but not exclusively in fantasy) suggests that popular awards like the Hugos might want to get with the times if they want to retain their cultural relevance. But I don't think this proposal presents the solution.

To begin, the Hugo voters have often been perfectly content to award the same things over and over again. Recall that, during a 30-year period, David Langford won Best Fan Writer a whopping 21 times. Or, more recently, when Best Related Work was essentially "Best Episode of Dr. Who." If we are going to have an award for Best Saga, it would make sense if a series were deemed ineligible after winning. That would insure against "Best David Langford Syndrome."

Then there's the issue of whether it's necessary to "make room" for Best Saga by cutting Best Novelette. I did indeed propose getting rid of Best Novelette in my reform proposal, but to be replaced by Best Original Anthology or Collection--which is, in essence, a short fiction award. That said, I do not oppose, in principle, altering the ratio of short to long-form fiction categories from the current 3:1 to 2:2--it isn't the 1970s anymore, after all. Nevertheless, I do believe that there has to be a better payoff than this specific proposal promises, and wonder--as some others have--whether there might not be other categories that could be eliminated first. Like Best Editor (Long Form)--an award that seems awfully remote from the world of non-professionals. (And the Hugos are fan awards, first and foremost.)

Don't take that as a ringing endorsement of Best Novelette--I still think it should go, but in the context of more comprehensive Hugo reforms that would: (a) eliminate all awards for individuals (rather than works or collections of works; (b) create categories that scale with consistency; and (c) rationalize/modernize the categories themselves. But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I don't want to cut down an apple tree if I can't be sure that this other seed will ever produce oranges.

Verdict: I do not support this proposal in its present form. However, I urge everyone to keep an open mind and not just circle the wagons. I look forward to a vigorous debate both on Best Saga's and Best Novelette's merits, and may support an amended form of the proposal (depending on how it evolves). In making such assessments, I will be looking for compelling arguments that are divorced from self-interest, which aim to make the Hugo Awards most reflective of the field as it stands, and which are backed by data--whether quantitative or anecdotal. To date I have seen little that fit these criteria. However, I am sure some will emerge.


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


Microreview : Humans [TV]

The singularity draws near in a new sci-fi tale, adapted from the Swedish original. A familiar near-future of robotic servants is explored with all the moral and ethical conundrums involved, whilst making sure it all looks nice and pretty like a car advert.

My childhood and indeed most of my adulthood has been forever scarred by the trauma of having to wait for American films and TV to come out over here in Britain. I remember the long months before E.T. decided to grace us with his presence and then not even make it clear what gender s/he was. Confusing little flirt. Then it was three months before Steel Magnolias came out here. Trauma. Nevermind Kickboxer 3 and Mystic Pizza. I moved to America in 1994 mainly so I didn't have to wait for ER and to find out who this Letterman guy was. And don't even start me on The Walking Dead - we give you essentially 90% of the cast and then we have to pay for it online? ONLINE??! Have you people ever been online? It's horrible. Just horrible. Full of ranting geeks with a keyboard and too much time going on about their childhoods in a vain attempt for attent... Anyway, the important thing is television drama's recent renaissance in the U.S. is slowly spilling over here, as British broadcasters see the merits of selling a series globally and onwards to streaming services. So to  Humans, a coproduction from Channel 4 in the UK and AMC over yonder, which is something of a composite of all that is right and much that is wrong with the current state of play with this situation. Regardless for a show with the production values only an American co-pro could afford (see also Strange and Norrell) to come out at the same time both sides of the pond is a real joy.

Real joy isn't much of a factor in the largely downbeat two episodes so far, however, apart from some comic touches. I don't mean it is joyless to watch, just that the atmosphere is solemn, anxious and cold. Being an adaptation of the Swedish series Real Humans, perhaps that is no surprise, although that acclaimed programme was never shown here, so I am leaning on a prejudice born of being an enormous Scandi-Noir fan, and regardless of origin the story itself merits a sober and concerned landscape. The story commences with a brief and effective display of a near-future where lifelike robot servants, 'Synths', are the domestic norm, at least in wealthy suburban London, U.K. As debates continue on the news and amongst the public over the ethics and implications of such technology (a false note - I would argue that surely earlier, less incredibly-realistic androids would have been on the market for a decade or so, and improved over time, and such questioning would have died down in the meantime), one family, struggling with the old work-life balance, gets a model whilst Mum is away. Her negative reaction then forms the heart of the drama. My negative reaction began with the idea that you could just walk into a shop on a whim, and walk out with tech that must cost a small fortune, with little awareness of how to use one and zero choice on what sort you have. Sure you could walk into a Porsche dealer and drive off with something expensive, but you tend to know how to drive first and have at least decided on a colour. 'Oh, nice, an attractive woman who is cast to be aesthetically unlike my wife in a very obvious dull way and fulfils some sort of plot device that alien tech should be sort of Asian-y to emphasis the notion of otherness', smiles Dad. Wouldn't we all know we want, say, a white iPhone with 32gb on a certain network and not just stand there and go 'ooh nice, ok thanks' over something so controversial and complex and costly and other things beginning with 'c'? Small failures of realism like this meant the series so far has failed to lift itself beyond a Black Mirror-esque issue-driven exercise in allegory.

Bit odd we can invent these things but not crease-free shirts...
But if it means never having to iron again, bring on the rise of the machines!

Two other plots intertwine with this family's journey. One follows a desperate, hunted group of synths led by a human (?) who seems to have serious dubbing/sync issues with his voice, on the run and searching for the same synth now doing the dishes for the above family. The other showcases a gentle and warm performance by William Hurt who was probably flown in to bump up the draw for U.S. audiences for a nice fee and some time on the London stage but earns his presence magnificently. His character (spoiler !) is soon revealed to be one of the original synth inventors and touchingly is attached to his outmoded model who can remember his family history when Hurt cannot. No further spoilers because despite my gripes this is an absorbing and fun watch.

"Where? ...England?... how much? ok, fine. But no goddamned warm beer"
Now of course this universe coincides very neatly with our ongoing season on Cyberpunk and hits many notes struck in the past. I'll return to it when it is over and look into how it compares with other latter dives into the sub-genre, and whether it contributes anything more than 'oh wow they are so like us, where is the boundary, what is a soul, what's it all about maaaan'. Thus far, it succeeds as a superior, slowly-paced yet fairly tense modern drama. The characters are all relatively well-portrayed by a good cast, given the necessity of some brief scenes of expository dialogue ("Do you know what the Singularity is?" ; "I don't trust them, I don't want it touching the children") they have to bash through. Some of the synths in particular are clearly a treat for the actors to play and do so brilliantly. The music is a little obvious, ranging from cautionary strings to , oh, genius, 80s synths (on loan perhaps from AMC's Halt and Catch Fire's superb score), the sound is excellent if occasionally over-dubbed and it is as I say, shot beautifully, but like a car advert, and some more down-to-earth imagery might have better played the 'this could happen tomorrow' feel. Time will tell if the robots rise or humanity crushes their emerging emotional intelligence, and if the plot rises to meet the great premise and cast, or crushes my hopes like the foot of a T-800.

Scores to follow at series end; for now, a provisional 6/10

written by English Scribbler, who has been undercover as a normal human in the London suburbs for years but still can't listen to David Guetta without short-circuiting

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Reading List - English Scribbler

Summertiiii-ime, and the reading is easy. 6 months into the year and some of the year's must-reads become clear, and the days stretch out like one long balmy, hazy, sunny afternoon in the meadow... Oh wait, English Scribbler lives in London - so that'll be a unpredictable lurch between weirdly cold drizzle anytime they go to the park and uncomfortably humid sunshine whenever on the Underground. Oh well, best stay indoors and read. He wasn't planning to leave the flat much anyway. Except when the moon is full and the voices tell him he must hunt again...

1 : A Few Words For The Dead by Guy Adams
I was a huge fan of Adam's Western horror series, and said as much in these very pages, but still haven't got round to his alternative M16 spy series, which began with The Clown Service and continued with The Rain-Soaked Bride. The third part has had some excellent reviews already in Starburst and elsewhere, and delivers a less-humorous yet more darkly enjoyable twist on the series so far, so it's high time to launch into this Bond/Who/Le Carre melange of a series properly, sat in a deck chair, with some cold Pimms and the distant sound of cricket.... (the sport, not the insect)

Quite frankly between those three books, having a 1 year old, and all that Pimms, I'll be amazed if I get to any other novels this summer, but these are all clawing at the garden fence -

2 : Find Me by Laura van den Berg

I love post-apocalyptic. I love road novels. I love the horror idea of a world gone mad (well, madder). Luckily, acclaimed shorts writer van den Berg's debut novel offers all that as her heroine is first stuck in isolation hospital and then wanders a landscape haunted by an Alzheimer's-esque virus outbreak. With many a glowing review, its apparently powerful look at memory and loss should make for a chilling and quiet read - perfect tonic for commuter heat on the Piccadilly line as Sweaty Armpit Man lurches towards my face...

3 : Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

Another writer who, like Adams, I have only recently discovered is Daryl Gregory, whose We Are Completely Fine simply blew me away last year . Now he explores that novella's central character's past in Harrison Squared, which looks at Harrison Harrison's (sic- hence the title) childhood in a Lovecraftian town of sea monsters and missing mothers. It looks superb, and if it is any fraction of an element as good as Fine, I'll be a happy camper. Not that I'll go camping. Cos it will rain.

4: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Yes, that Margaret Atwood ! The venerable Canadian's latest follows a couple in a collapsing society who seek refuge in a community that offers shelter and a life in return for spending half the year in their prison. Unsurprisingly, negative complications ensue. A bit like a society that reelects a patently anti-civil rights, anti-working class, anti-welfare, pro-banking, pro-nuclear arms, pro-wealthy party because they believe the shite peddled to them via the rich elite press who are in comfortable cahoots with said party... Oh wait, no, that's speculative fiction gone crazy. No way that would happen. No way. As we sit trying to read in a the grey half-light of a 55degrees Fahrenheit June day and the children without school places no longer play in the streets for fear of knife crime because there are no nurses to patch them up anymore...

5: The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock 

Yes, that Michael Moorcock! The venerable Brit's first novel in a decade is an autobiographical look at post-WW2 London. "Mixing elements of his real life with his adventures in a parallel London peopled with highwaywomen, musketeers and magicians", according to the blurb, so it could be a bewitching and surreal mixture, like a Pimms, or an old man's confused mess, like a Pimms made after seven have already been drunk, and you've run out of cucumber...

6 : Two Year, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Yes, THAT  Salman Rushdie! Shame is one of my favourite novels, and anything by him is of interest, but here Rushdie doubles the temptation with a refreshing direction and delves into a near-future New York City where a storm unleashes strange powers of the ancient Jinn upon a group of characters. Now, I love a bit of ancient Jinn as much as the next person, but doesn't New York really need better housing, a nicer police force, proper bike lanes and some decent cheap restaurants like London... oh, wait...

As for the easier-to-guzzle-through world of television and film, I'll be cautiously ignoring Jurassic World like the loud unwelcome bully of a film it is, finally getting round to Ex Machina, revelling in the new A.I. series Humans, and creating a software hack for Netflix to delete the astonishingly-weak Sense 8 from both the site and hopefully my memory banks too. And watching Glastonbury Festival on BBC, sobbing over my lost youth. Unless it rains on them all. Then I shall laugh and pour another warm Pimms.

Written by English Scribbler, who doesn't actually like Pimms very much and would much rather have an Oreo shake with a Woodford Reserve chaser, but has trapped himself in a cliched self-caricature of Englishness, and clearly is just looking for famous names on netgalley now and not bothering with all those topless dude YA books anymore... 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mortal Kombat X - Mobile Edition

[Moral Kombat X (mobile), NetherRealm Studios, Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2015]

The Violentest Game Ever Comes to Your Apple and Android Device

That's right, the title that brought us the E for everyone, E10+, T for teen, and M for mature game rating system has finally come to your mobile device of choice, and not in a throwback nod to the original 1992 version, but in the form of a massive 1.1 Gigabyte, state-of-the-art addition to the wildly popular console title of the same name. Although it requires a hefty bit of free memory to download, it's worth every penny. By that I don't mean to insult the game. That was my witty way of saying, "It's FREE!" That's right, for once a game that isn't made for 6-year-olds that involves colored, avian balls or talking cats. This one is for the Mature gaming audience, down to the inclusion of the ever-controversial Fatalities. If you haven't had the pleasure of witnessing the brutal, match-ending murders that take place in this title, let me be the first to tell you that they maybe the most violent thing I've ever seen in a video game to date including the multitude of Calls of Duty, Auto Theft of the Grandest Kind, and their ultra-violent cousins in the gaming universe. 

First, a Little History

Not only is Mortal Kombat singly responsible for the ratings system we now have on all games, but it was the proud owner of the highest opening weekend sales for a short time following the release of Mortal Kombat II. Not only that, but it signalled a shift in financial paradigms. The debut weekend sales of $50 million marked the first time that a video game surpassed Hollywood movies in opening weekend sales. In the summer of 1994, it topped every last Hollywood blockbuster from that year including Mask, True Lies, Forrest Gump, and Lion King. Considering the acceptably arguable statement that this list includes both Jim Carrie's and Arnold Schwarzenegger's best films as well as the best thing Disney has done in decades, then top it off with a six-time Academy Award winning film that garnered Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director awards, among others. 

MKII didn't just beat a bunch of humps. That list makes up one of the best ever in combined quality of summer blockbusters. Go ahead, tell me you'd rather see Avengers 2, Furious 7, Jurassic World, and the remake of Poltergeist for the first time instead of getting a second chance at reliving your first viewing of that list from 1994, but be prepared to be called a stinking liar. Fair warning. 

MKII didn't just create a new set of laws about what kids could and couldn't play with it's murderous violence, it was THE pioneer in a change in the way investors look at our top two forms of entertainment. What had been seen as the purvey of sad loners and prepubescents busted onto the scene with blood-dripping savagery, proving that this was an art form that would not be ignored. Yes, I believe games, especially the really good ones, to be a form of art on par with film, television, literature, comics, photography, painting, and any other traditional and/or non-traditional undertakings that require great creativity to produce. The trend that was started in 1994 by the most violent video game created up to that time has continued and the gap in revenues between games and movies has only grown since that time. 

Pop culture they may be, but I challenge you to play Valiant Hearts and not cry at the touching emotion found within, or Contrast and not spend the next several days contemplating the possibilities of the multiverse and all the variations to existence that title implies. My old man might argue with me, but he doesn't believe that Hip Hip is an art form, either. My immediate retort is, if rhyme isn't an artform, then what was Shakespeare doing penning those 34 plays and 154 sonnets that are nearly all about sex, violence, war, and murder? His answer is always Gangsta Rap. My answer is Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and pretty much the entire Ninja Tune catalog. He doesn't know I'm speaking English. The saddest part about that is that we're all inevitably going to turn into our parents. Argh. Oh well, enough losing the plot, let's get back to the game!


I Used to Know Every Fatality in the Game

I even knew the Babalities and other alternative endings. However, that was in 1994-96 or so. Along with the free mobile versions of Mortal Kombat X, I also purchased the Xbox One version, but I've spent twice as much time playing the iPad version as I have on the console one. One of the big reasons for that, I suspect, is that I have forgotten the vast majority of special moves and Fatalities. Luckily, that doesn't matter in the mobile version. Anybody can pick up this game and be decent at it. You don't have to spend hours memorizing controller combinations then practicing them in two-player mode against nobody. The control scheme for the mobile title is exactly what all successful mobile title control schemes are: simple. You tap the screen with one finger to attack and hold down two fingers to block. That's pretty much it. There are occasional prompts to swipe the screen for extra moves as seen above 
and successful attacks build your special attack meter, which appears on the bottom left as seen below. 

So It's Easy to Play, What's the Game About?

What is any fighting game about? Kicking arse and leaving the dead in your wake! Like all previous Mortal Kombat Games, they attempt to put some unintelligible plotline together about Elder Gods, invading demons, some evil God, and some sort of tournament for the future of "Earth Realm." It falls as flat on my 2015 ears as it did on my 1994 pair, but it doesn't really matter. If you're playing Mortal Kombat for the plotline, then I'm afraid it's you who have lost the plot, seriously and to an unrecoverable point. 

Force + Form

The gameplay itself takes on a singular form with several small variations. Basically, you pick a team of three fighters and they face off against three others. The fighting character can one of the two remaining ones if they have sustained too much damage or you just want to switch it up. There are three tiers of character: bronze, silver, and gold. Their attack, health, and recovery levels increase significantly with each jump in the corresponding metal's worth. You can also purchase increases in these statistical categories for individual characters using "Koins" (See what they did there? :-) or by earning equipment through battle. The equipment can be moved from character to character, but the statistical category increases can not so choose wisely, unlike this poor Nazi sympathizer. 

There are usually two main types of gameplay with a special offering going on now for a limited time. The first is Battle Mode. Here you move from tower to tower taking on (usually) six groups of opponents that contain three fighters each. There are 33 such towers and you must beat every group in each of them to beat the game. The second is Faction Wars. This takes you online to fight against other real players' teams. While it's not a true online multiplayer in the same sense as Call of Duty or Elder Scrolls Online where you are facing off against other players live in real time, it brings an interesting aspect to the gameplay in that you never really know who you're going to face. Sometimes you get three bronze level characters who belong to a level 4 player. Other times it's two golds and a silver that have been carefully crafted by a level 35 opponent. Although I would prefer live face-offs against real opponents, I'm not sure that mobile platforms are up to that challenge yet, at least with a game of this size and graphic superiority. I'm afraid it would cause lag of unbearable proportions that would make the game mode unplayable.

Whatever the developers' reasoning, they have mostly made up for the lack of true online battles with the addition of factions. You join a particular faction at the beginning of every week. Depending on how many points you get for your faction and how well the team does throughout the week, you will get a certain set of rewards. If your team comes in last, guess what? Sucky rewards. First place, though, and it's rare equipment and statistical increases out the wazoo, not to mention the money. 

Finally, there are the limited time Character Challenge Towers. This week completion of the challenge will land you Raiden, my personal favorite character in the MK series. You have to complete five increasingly difficult towers in order to earn the elusive character types, and keep your eye on that clock, because if you haven't completed every last one before it runs out then you're S.O.L. 

Summ Fun, Huh?

I had initially planned to review the console version of Mortal Kombat X, but while in the Play Store looking for a companion app, I discovered this free game and decided to give it a try, especially considering I haven't discussed a mobile game for some time now and there are considerably more readers with smartphones out there than next-gen consoles. I was afraid I would quickly lose interest and long for the console game, but that hasn't happened. If anything, it's a relief to not be forced into re-learning special moves and Fatalities combinations that I used to know by heart but have long since forgotten. Don't get me wrong, the console version is far and away the best fighting game I've played in years. That said, NetherRealm Studios did a fantastic job in creating this game and not trying to push the control scheme past the abilities of the platform to handle. There's nothing I hate more than trying to play a game on my phone or tablet where the controller is drawn onto the screen. My thumbs continually slip off their appointed areas and it's nearly impossible to control them with any semblance of dexterity. So, if you're looking for a mobile app that is high on action, graphics, and gameplay options, give Mortal Kombat X a try (unless you're too young). Even if you haven't played an MK title since high school, you should be able to pick it up quickly and easily, and you'll have a lot more fun than flinging around a flock of angry pigeons in the process. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for vastly exceeding my expectations and making a really solid mobile version that could very easily have turned out to be nothing more than a piss-poor carbon copy of the actual game.

Penalties: -1 I almost feel bad for taking a point away for this, but if you're going to call it "Fight Online" then you should supply an online opponent, not a team of Avatars that someone else created. That said, I don't know the logistics of online match play on mobile platforms, especially for a game of this size and memory requirements. I'd like to give them a pass, but I've got to take off for something. 

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

See here for our scoring system. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Reading List: Tia

Below is my (overambitious) summer reading (wish) list. I must admit, it makes me look like a really bad fantasy reader, but thats because my fantasy reading mission in life is to absorb as many of the must-reads as possible, but not ignore the lesser known but equally as amazing stand-alones and series. So this list is composed of books I want to read this summer that I haven't gotten to yet, while still leaving room for those wonderful stories I don’t know about that will eventually find their way to my bookshelf.

1. The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton [Tor, 2015]

This is officially the first thing on my list, since I recently reviewed and really liked The Just City, the first in the proposed trilogy. I love stories that incorporate Greek Mythology, especially ones that throw gods into the modern (or at least not Ancient Greek) world. If that’s your thing too, make sure you check out The Just City by Jo Walton, and if you haven’t already, go read Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips. I hear that’s a movie as well. Add one to my summer watching list…

2. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson [Tor, 1999]

From the second I picked this book up, I couldn’t wait to finish the series so that I could start it over. I am a big fan of rereads in general and believe that the first time you read a book you find out what happens, and the second time you read it you find out why. I knew right away the Malazan Book of the Fallen would be in my top three rereads ever (up there with ASoIaf and Harry Potter), not because the world is so complex (which it is of course), but because Erikson so brilliantly drops you right into the thick of things and lets you figure it out on your own. I’m excited because this time around I’ll know what’s going on and what things like warrens are, and most importantly, if I’m not sure about something it will be relatively safe to wiki it.

3. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke [Bloomsburry, 2004]

With so many books and so little time, it’s hard to decide which books on your TBR list to actually read. Sometimes the hype of publicity can be the catalyst for choice. Such is the case with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. With the TV adaption bringing it back into the spotlight and causing so many folks to (re)sing its praises, I cannot allow myself to go another summer without reading this one.

4. The Magicians by Lev Grossman [Viking Press, 2009]

This is another series I’ve been itching to give a try, something I’m repeatedly reminded of whenever a TV rumor surfaces. I’m a total sucker for magical schooling (Potter, Kingkiller) but haven’t read this one yet because (a) time and (b) mixed reviews. But the premise is too much up my alley for me to ignore it any longer, and The Magicians is officially on my reading list this summer.

5. Mistborn, The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson [Tor, 2006]

I actually started reading a sample of this book and really liked it, but it got lost somewhere in life and I never downloaded the full copy. Every now and then something pops up on Twitter about Mistborn to remind me I need to read it, and especially so now that Rebel Leader, Steve Kamb has been singing its praises. I don’t even really know what the overall plot of this series is (which makes me a bad fantasy reader but is good for reading fantasy) but I do remember that I liked the sample and I do know that this is one I have to read.

6. Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan [Tor, 2015]

The premise of this book is just too intriguing to ignore. Basically it’s your typical medieval-type war and kingdom fantasy world but with dinosaurs. It would be higher on my summer reading list but honestly, I’m sort of suffering from gritty medieval war-type fantasy fatigue right now, and I don’t know if the inclusion of dinosaurs can sway that. Besides, I have a feeling it might be scary and I’m not really into the whole horror adrenaline rush thing. But I keep coming back to Dinosaur Lords again and again because deep down inside, I really, really, want to read it. I mean, just look at that cover!

So lets recap. This summer I intend to read a 10 book series, 2 trilogies, and 3 others; while still reading all the review copies that come my way, only one of which is included in this list. Needless to say, my Summer Reading List is really an Overambitious Summer Reading Wish List. But, just in case I have some time left before the leaves start to change and the baseball season ends, I think it's best to name an honorable mention:

Posted by Tia  -- bad fantasy reader and even worse sci-fi reader, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2014

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thursday Morning Superhero: SDCC Shoe Edition

If my friend Jeff has taught me anything, the shoe game at San Diego Comic Con is a strong one.  Last year's highlights including Marty McFly cosplayers wearing the rare Nike Mags, and Shoebaccas giant shoe car parading around the Gaslamp.  With vendors like Shoebacca and Bait, it is only a matter of time until we see fans lined up early in an attempt to land some exclusive kicks on the floor of the San Diego Convention Center.  While other blogs may stress the importance of function over form, I stress that you can do both.  Here are my five top choices for SDCC shoes.

Image courtesy of Baitme.com

1. Bait X G.I. Joe X New Balance 574 Cobra Commander - Borrowing the colors from the G.I. Joe villain, the New Balance 574s will provide the comfort and stability needed to traverse from the Convention Center to the Gaslamp and beyond.  It features a snakeskin pattern and includes a Cobra logo debossed on the heel.  This shoe is clean, subtle, and represents a strong shoe game.  I plan on wearing these at least one of the days on my SDCC journey.

Image courtesy of Vans

2. Vans X Star Wars - If subtle isn't your thing, you can represent your Star Wars pride with a strong shoe game as you camp out in the hopes of attending the panel in Hall H on Friday.  What is nice about the Star Wars Vans, is that there is such variety that there is a pair for everyone.  If I am brave enough, I will wear my Vault by Vans X Star Wars OG Classic Slip-On LX pair I was lucky enough to land last year on May 4th.

Image courtesy of Adidas

3. Adidas X Marvel Avengers - This collaboration that includes classic Adidas basketball shoes and Marvel's Avengers will launch July 4th for $125 a pair.  While I prefer the Captain America Crazy 97s, it is hard to go wrong wearing any of the shoes in this collection.  Had I not copped the Cobra Commanders, this would have been the new addition to my arsenal this year.  I expect to see a good number of fans wearing these attempting to get swag from the Marvel booth.
Image courtesy of Converse

4. Converse X DC Comics - If you are more of a DC fanboy or fangirl you can show your pride with a pair of Converse at SDCC.  Converse has a wide selection of DC shoes that are sure to impress as you wait in line for the Convergence panel to get the latest scoop on DC's most recent event.  The DC Converse won't break the bank and are an American classic.
Image Courtesy of Vans
5. Disney X Vans - The latest collaboration from Vans pairs the skate shoe company with Mickey Mouse and company.  Like the Star Wars line, there is sure to be a pair that appeals to any Disney fan looking to improve his or her shoe game. I am partial to the Disney SK8-Hi Slim, but there are shoes featuring Mickey, Minnie, Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck, and more. 

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Microreview [film]: Jupiter Ascending, written and directed by the Wachowskis

It Sucks Less than Speed Racer!

Jupiter Ascending. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. Warner Bros.: 2015.

On the other hand, Speed Racer really sucked hard. I'll just apologize in advance to its seven fans worldwide, but it must be said: instead of being a movie that had to be made (due to social relevance or whatever) it was a movie that cried out not to be made. And the blame is squarely with the Wachowskis, since as co-directors they're responsible for signing off on the visual look and feel of the film, and the cartoonish colors, etc., while interesting as a technical experiment, were pretty yucky on the eyes. Plus, Speed Racer? Really? Cause that's what the world wants to watch these days, a bunch of meatheads with magnificent hair dashing to and fro in cars? Speed Racer was super-lame when it first came out (that's right, I said it!), and it hasn't improved with age.

Circling back to Jupiter Ascending: I know everybody kind of hates it, apparently, and it's not like it's hard to find things to hate. The normally energetic Mila Kunis's leaden, all-too-damsel-y performance; the fact that Channing Tatum's character Caine (real clever, Wachowskis—I see what you did there with the part-wolf thing, but why not just call him Loopy?) has to swoop in despite tremendous danger and rescue her from Certain Death at least five hundred times; and plenty more. It's easy to hate, if you want to focus on the crappy parts. But why do that, when there's some interesting stuff there too? Unless we're going in a utilitarian direction, and you get more hedons from blasting a movie than from enjoying it, I suppose...

For my part, I actually thought Jupiter Ascending was quite fun to watch (that's right, haters—I said that too!). This is despite it having a weak plot, singularly unconvincing romance betwixt (I get bonus points for using betwixt!) Kunis and Tatum, way too long running length, and a cartoonishly sinister, ridiculously histrionic performance by the Main Bad Guy (I can't remember the name of either the character or the actor, and who cares, really? It's the guy who played Marius in the most recent movie version of Les Miserables, unless said guy donated his lips in the first-ever successful lip transplant!). With its many flaws, what on earth did I like about it, you might ask?

Well, for starters, kudos to the Wachowskis for coming up with something new, especially considering we're now living in a world of 90% sequels (I'm looking at you, every action movie this year!). It's hard to launch an entirely new mythology, and sooo seductive just to sink back into the sweet stupor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or whatever. They created something new, and even though it's a bit crappy, it's an intriguing idea, involving some creepy genetic harvesting reminiscent (unsurprisingly!) of the "...turn human beings into one of these" idea from the Matrix. Plus, Channing Tatum and Sean Bean deliver some good stuff, and Mila Kunis in the first quarter or so, that make it entertaining to watch.

Secondly—and perhaps more tellingly—I watched it on a plane, and I'm always in a super-suggestive, overly emotional state on planes (I cry at just about every movie anyway, but on planes it gets so ridiculous I have to grab huge handfuls of kleenex just so I can soak up the heart-soaring emotions of cinematic gems like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, etc. etc. Day!). Though come to think of it, I didn't actually cry at Jupiter Ascending, mostly because every time emotions threatened to spiral out of control, the Wachowskis killed the mood with another visually impressive but dull/repetitive Rescue the Damsel action sequence. Snore. What can I saw? Regularly spaced action sequences are an emotional boner killer.

The only question remaining to you, dear reader, is this: is Jupiter Ascending "worth" watching? The answer is a qualified "Not quite, unless you're on a plane, in which case, totally." And you can take that to the bank!

The Math:

Objective assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for creating something new, +1 for Sean Bean (and even Channing Tatum! Who knew?) being awesome

Penalties: -1 for the Plane Effect, -1 for choking the life out of Mila Kunis's performance, -1 for periodically jabbing the viewer with improbable rescue sequences every fifteen minutes or so

Nerd coefficient: 4/10 "Not very good"*

*Note that if on a plane, the score will rise to 5/10, "Equal Parts Good and Bad!"

[Think I'm being mean to the poor widdle Wachowskis? Not at all; a 4/10 is a perfectly respectable score, as you can see here.]

Zhaoyun has been crying at movies on planes since forever, and writing about it and other stuff here at Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Microreview [book]: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

Rises above this reviewer's ambivalence about the movie it chronicles

There is, apparently, a cottage industry of people affiliated with godawful-terrible movies telling the story of their experience making them. Michael Stephenson got in on the game a few years ago with his documentary Best Worst Movie about his involvement with Troll 2, and now Greg Sestero has gotten the story of his involvement in The Room out there. Sestero's story is set to form the basis of a film adaptation starring James Franco. Thankfully, I don't believe anybody is planning a tell-all about Birdemic yet. Despite the claims of people selling the stories of their own particular worst movies, Birdemic, for my money, remains the worst movie. But I've already harvested those fields.

I am deeply ambivalent about The Room, and to be honest, I'm pretty ambivalent about most of Sestero's account of his involvement with it. It has been a real struggle for me to separate my feelings about this particular work from my feelings about this field in general. See, I myself have been involved with some terrible, incompetent productions. I have been through the grind of acting workshops and castings and hunting for an agent and the stop-start pull of trying to get traction for a career in movies. Fully one-third of The Disaster Artist chronicles these activities in the young Greg Sestero's life, as he takes acting workshops in his Bay Area hometown, contemplates a move to LA, finally does move, gets an agent, takes more classes, auditions, questions himself, wonders if his mom's nay-saying was right, and struggles with the reality of having to get a day job that still accommodates increasingly infrequent auditions. To me, this was laborious stuff to get through, because I lived it. There are a million and a half people living it right now within a thirty-mile zone around where I type this, and there have been a million and a half people doing it here every day since Clara Bow put stars in the eyes of would-be it-girls and it-boys all around the country. It is a story that is profoundly unexceptional.

What makes Sestero's story different, though, is a peripheral character who evolves into a central one — the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an accent that is Tommy Wiseau. Greg meets Tommy in an acting class in San Francisco, as Tommy murders a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Tommy's performance is so bizarre and incoherent that Greg asks Tommy to be his scene partner just to try to figure out what makes this odd man tick. It's unclear if Greg has yet, to this day, figured it out, but he's come closer than anybody else. If you don't already know, here's the mystery of The Room: In 2003, Hollywood witnessed the independent theatrical release of an evident ego-service project written, produced, directed, and starring an unknown, unkempt, and vaguely foreign cat named Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau's odd, heavy-lidded face stood twenty feet high, looming over motorists on scenic, heavily trafficked Highland Blvd from a billboard. That billboard stayed there for years and years. So too, the film played at midnight at the Laemmle Sunset 5 theater (across from LA's best deli, Greenblatt's. This point is not open for debate.) for years, and began to attract crowds drawn by word-of-mouth about how awful and bizarre this movie was, and the question of who was this ego-manaical oddball at the center of the whole thing?

Here, then, is the mystery of Tommy Wiseau: How did a man of totally indeterminate age and origin amass a fortune that allowed him to spend millions of dollars making and promoting a totally incomprehensible vanity project with characters, stories, and diseases that magically come and go, never to reappear again? Why did he make the baffling decisions on display in the film? Just, why? Wiseau has always been publicly circumspect regarding the answers to these questions, so The Disaster Artist is as close as we're likely to get to any answers. Where the book excels is in conveying the utter lunacy of the actual production, and the revolving door of cast and crew members trying to get this thing in the can. It also, in spite of everything, makes you feel sympathy for the inscrutable Wiseau.

As the RiffTrax for The Room points out (co-written by past NoaF interviewee Sean Thomason), the water in a fountain featured prominently in one shot is full of the tears of talented filmmakers whose films will never see the light of day as we all ironically watch The Room. In the end, the success of The Room, which is only reinforced by the narrative of The Disaster Artist, is both a testament to and an indictment of the way America awards success to individuals.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 5/10

Bounses: +1 for the book's alternating narrative structure, which I credit to co-writer Tom Bissell; +1 for Sestero's narration in the audiobook, chiefly his impersonation of Wiseau; +1 for Tommy Wiseau as a character, even if key mysteries remain unanswered

Penalties: -1 for the Sunset Blvd and The Talented Mr. Ripley quotes that kick off each chapter — we get it, we get it, ok?;

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 (audiobook) (a mostly enjoyable experience); 6/10 (in print) (still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore)

Posted by Vance K — nerds of a feather co-editor and cult film (and attendant baggage) reviewer, and LA-denizen since before the billboard for The Room disappeared from Highland Boulevard.

Reference: Bissell, Tom and Greg Sestero. The Disaster Artist [Simon & Schuster, 2013].