Thursday, March 31, 2016

New Books Spotlight

Today we're launching a new feature at Nerds of a Feather. Each month or so we will curate a selection of 6 forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

What are you looking forward to? Anything you want to argue with us about? Is there something we should consider spotlighting in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Design by Lauren Panepinto

Abercrombie, Joe. Sharp Ends. [Orbit: 2016]

Publisher's Blurb:
Sharp Ends is the ultimate collection of award winning tales and exclusive new short stories from the master of grimdark fantasy, Joe Abercrombie. Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue's gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of the First Law. 

The Union army may be full of bastards, but there's only one who thinks he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta. 

Curnden Craw and his dozen are out to recover a mysterious item from beyond the Crinna. Only one small problem: no one seems to know what the item is. 

Shevedieh, the self-styled best thief in Styria, lurches from disaster to catastrophe alongside her best friend and greatest enemy, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp. 

And after years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There's only one obstacle left - his own lunatic champion, the most feared man in the North: the Bloody-Nine . . . 

Why we want it: To simply say "because it is from Joe Abercrombie" seems trite, but Sharp Ends allows us to revisit the world of The First Law and some of our favorite characters from earlier in the series. With a bit of a pause before Abercrombie next delivers a full First Law novel, we shall have to deal with the more bite sized snacks of Sharp Ends.

Art by Galen Dara

Chu, Wesley. The Days of Tao. [Subterranean Press: 2016]

Publisher's Blurb:
Cameron Tan wouldn’t have even been in Greece if he hadn’t gotten a ‘D’ in Art History. 

Instead of spending the summer after college completing his training as a Prophus operative, he’s doing a study abroad program in Greece, enjoying a normal life – spending time with friends and getting teased about his crush on a classmate. 

Then the emergency notification comes in: a Prophus agent with vital information needs immediate extraction, and Cameron is the only agent on the ground, responsible for getting the other agent and data out of the country. The Prophus are relying on him to uncomplicate things. 


Easy, except the rival Genjix have declared all-out war against the Prophus, which means Greece is about to be a very dangerous place. And the agent isn’t the only person relying on Cameron to get them safely out of the country – his friends from the study abroad program are, too. Cameron knows a good agent would leave them to fend for themselves. He also knows a good person wouldn’t. Suddenly, things aren’t easy at all. 

The Days of Tao is the latest in the popular Tao series from award-winning author, Wesley Chu. Following after The Rebirths of Tao, this novella carries on the fast-moving and fun tone of the series. 

Why we want it: Have you read Wesley Chu's Tao series? It details the culmination of a war between two alien factions using human hosts to either find a way to co-exist (and maybe find a way home) or to completely remake the planet into a suitable habit for the aliens to live without the use of hosts. Oh, and it is loads of fun, is wickedly clever and snarky, and is chock full of kick ass action. Chock, I tell you. The Days of Tao is a novella set several years after the conclusion of that initial trilogy and whatever it is, it is surely not to be missed.

Art by Tom Kidd

Flint, Eric (editor). Ring of Fire IV [Baen: 2016]

Publisher's Blurb:
NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR. CONTAINS A STORY BY DAVID BRIN AND AN ALL-NEW STORY BY ERIC FLINT. Collection #4 of rollicking and idea-packed alternate history tales written by today’s hottest science fiction writers and edited by New York Times best-seller Eric Flint. After a cosmic accident sets the modern-day West Virginia town of Grantville down in war-torn seventeenth century Europe, these everyday, resourceful Americans must adapt – or be trod into the dust of the past. 

Let’s do the “Time Warp” again! Another anthology of rollicking, thought-provoking collection of tales by a star-studded array of top writers such as bestseller Mercedes Lackey and Eric Flint himself – all set in Eric Flint’s phenomenal Ring of Fire series. 

A cosmic accident sets the modern West Virginia town of Grantville down in war-torn seventeenth century Europe. It will take all the gumption of the resourceful, freedom-loving up-timers to find a way to flourish in a mad and bloody time. Are they up for it? You bet they are. The fourth rollicking and idea-packed collection of Grantville tales edited and introduced by Eric Flint, and inspired by his now-legendary 1632. Plus: contains an all-new story by Eric Flint. 

Stories by Eric Flint, David Brin, David Carrico, Virginia DeMarce, Charles E. Gannon and more. 

Why we want it: Eric Flint's alt-history / displaced-in-time 1632 series is a bona-fide institution by this point, with more than twenty novels and anthologies as well as the Grantville Gazette project currently in print. The Ring of Fire anthologies mark an opportunity to tell additional side stories which continue to fill in various gaps and perhaps tease things to come.

Art by Larry Rostant

Kay, Guy Gavriel. Children of Earth and Sky [Penguin: 2016]

Publisher's Blurb:
The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new book, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide. 

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy. 

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming. 

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world… 

Why we want it: Tell us "where empires and faiths collide" and we're sold. Tell us the novel is written by Guy Gavriel Kay and we might just get in line.

Design by Fort

McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway [ Publishing: 2016]

Publisher's Blurb:
Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children 
No Solicitations 
No Visitors 
No Quests 

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else. 

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. 

Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. 

But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things. 

No matter the cost. 

Why we want it: Honestly, the cover art is so appealing that without knowing anything about the book, we'd want to read it. The premise, however, has us completely sold. We've read portal fantasies where a person from our world ends up in some magical world and has an adventure, and sometimes those people come back to our world never to return. We never read about what happens next.

Art by Yukari Masuike

Wells, Martha. The Edge of Worlds. [Night Shade Books: 2016]

Publisher's Blurb:
An expedition of groundlings from the Empire of Kish have traveled through the Three Worlds to the Indigo Cloud court of the Raksura, shape-shifting creatures of flight that live in large family groups. The groundlings have found a sealed ancient city at the edge of the shallow seas, near the deeps of the impassable Ocean. They believe it to be the last home of their ancestors and ask for help getting inside. But the Raksura fear it was built by their own distant ancestors, the Forerunners, and the last sealed Forerunner city they encountered was a prison for an unstoppable evil.

Prior to the groundlings’ arrival, the Indigo Cloud court had been plagued by visions of a disaster that could destroy all the courts in the Reaches. Now, the court’s mentors believe the ancient city is connected to the foretold danger. A small group of warriors, including consort Moon, an orphan new to the colony and the Raksura’s idea of family, and sister queen Jade, agree to go with the groundling expedition to investigate. But the predatory Fell have found the city too, and in the race to keep the danger contained, the Raksura may be the ones who inadvertently release it.

The Edge of Worlds, from celebrated fantasy author Martha Wells, returns to the fascinating world of The Cloud Roads for the first book in a new series of strange lands, uncanny beings, dead cities, and ancient danger. 

Why we want it:The Raksura novels have received a good deal of acclaim in recent years and this first volume in a new series appears to be a good place to jump in.

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

Thursday Morning Superhero

I was saddened a couple of weeks ago when I learned the Penny Powers vs the Maniacal Meatloaf Monster was canceled.  It looked to be a great all-ages comic book featuring a strong female lead.  You don't find too many books like this and when I read the description I knew it would be great for my son and daughter.  I am happy to report that it has been relaunched, with a smaller funding goal, with a switch to softcover to save on costs.   It is already over 50% funded and you can order your own signed copy for only $15!  There are other great tiers as well so please check this out so my kids can read this once it prints by clicking here.  Did I mention she has a cat sidekick?

Pick of the Week:
Saga #35 - While we are left with a literal cliff-hanger, it appears that Brian K. Vaughan is about to bring together the various storylines that have been percolating for the past few issues.  The Will is getting closer to finding the location of Prince Robot and his madness appears to be growing stronger.   Meanwhile, Alana and Marko launch an ambitious plan that requires the cooperation of Prince Robot in order to rescue Hazel from where she is imprisoned.  I feel like I'm racing towards the end of a Guy Ritchie film and all of these bizarre stories will come crashing together.  Fiona Staples continues to deliver some of the best illustrations in the industry and we have an appearance of another Lying Cat.  While this title is about as far away from an all-ages comic from the Kickstarter I mentioned in the open, this is a comic that should appeal to a wide variety of fans and is an excellent book to bring your non-comic reading friends into the fold.

The Rest:
Darth Vader #18 - Vader is in quite a jam on the planet of Shu-Torun.  He set up what he thought would be a supportive regime, only to have it backfire on him.  I am sure he has a plan to finish what he started, but the most interesting development in this issue is what Dr. Aphra's droid, Triple-0, offered as a way to make the droids more effective in battle.  This issue has the first sign of Battle Droids, but the issue is they are machines and thus not sensitive to the Force.  Triple-O has designed an engine that runs on human blood, but fails to convince Vader that this is a good option.  I am sure this will happen at some point, and am curious what a Force sensitive droid will entail.

Daredevil #5 - Charles Soule knows how to create tension.  In the last issue we learned that Blindspot's mother was working as Tenfingers right hand lady.  This issue tells us just how evil Tenfingers is, as he is willing to have his entire following executed after he fails to destroy the Fist, a monster he summoned and failed to stop. While Daredevil attempts to stop the Fist, Blindspot's mother is hell-bent on fulfilling Tenfingers request while Blindspot tries to save everyone.  I don't want to spoil anything, but the ending leaves a bit of a divide between Daredevil and Blindspot.  Should set up an interesting arc that will involve Electra.  Soule had big shoes to fill after Mark Waid wrapped up his Daredevil run, and appears to be adequately prepared to carry the torch.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations #1- This one-shot comic revisits the brilliant City Fall arc, which included Shredder brainwashing Leonardo.  While Splinter and the other Turtles were able to save him, this comic asks the question what if all of the Turtles were brainwashed?  In a very emotional issue, we witness the struggle as Splinter refuses to fight against his own sons.  It is brutal at times, but a reminder to how strong of a character this rat is.  In an interesting twist, Shredder's own daughter betrays him as she doesn't agree with the sudden promotion of the Turtles amongst his ranks.  Without spoiling anything, Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, & Tom Waltz pull off a great one-shot that anyone, even if you haven't been reading this stellar series, can enjoy.

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Microreview [book]: The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

Magic realism the way it should be—read it and weep, Murakami!

You can buy it here

I’ve long been a fan of David Mitchell, even when he was perpetuating irritating stereotypes about Japan/Asia as some sort of inscrutable land of mystery and weirdness. Whenever his stories ranged beyond the Orientalist East, I found even more to like. Cloud Atlas, for example, was a wonderful book, though as The G has ardently argued, the movie adaptation didn’t quite live up to the magic of the original—to put in charitably. But I had such a powerful liking for the book that even the serious problems of the film, most notoriously the “yellow-face” problem, didn’t totally ruin it for me (and you can put that on your promotional materials, Wachowski sisters: “it didn’t totally ruin it for me” may be the most spectacular example of damning with faint praise I can imagine). But anyway, I was doubly excited to see what Mitchell, the Murakami Haruki of the U.K., would manage with a British setting.

This weirdly wonderful novel did not disappoint! It’s almost impossible to say anything of substance about the book’s plot without revealing key details, or philosophical perspectives, but suffice to say it’s a strange, and strangely satisfying mystery involving two kinds of others living side by side with humans and fighting an ideological (and occasionally physical) war through the ages. It’s (as always) well-written, and at times achieves an almost poetic level of lyrical beauty; most of the characters are quite vivid and hold the readers’ interest with ease.

Best and rarest of all, to the extent it’s about any one ‘main’ character, it follows the entire life cycle of a woman, breaking with fantasy and practically every other genre to go beyond just the maidenàmother stage. We are introduced to Holly Sykes as a teenager, and see her at all the major stages of her life thereafter. Moreover, just when it seems, from a magical point of view, she’s no longer “useful” (or, to put it in pop culture terms, she’s become a “Muggle”), Mitchell gently points out, in a manner I found actually more compelling than, say, Ursula Le Guin’s overcompensatory pivot towards an older woman in Tehanu (and continued in her more recent fiction), that a) she’s got many major roles to play still, and therefore b) people can’t become “useless” even if they seem powerless. Yes, all in all it was a most satisfying story.

On the other hand, my one major dissatisfaction with the story ironically lies precisely in this visceral reaction, of satisfaction, after digesting it. Why, I wondered, did the story satisfy me so? The answer, I believe, is in the melodramatic clash at the story’s heart. I mean “melodrama” in the more abstract sense, or in other words the restitution of injustice, the delivery of “comeuppance” to the bad guys. The reference to Rowling was intentional, since for all the care Mitchell poured into the crafting of the story and its three-dimensional characters, the bad guys, with one Snape-like exception, are about as three-dimensional as a paper banner of Slytherin. Taken en masse, they are utterly remorseless and cruel, and as such, it’s not hard to figure out who is “right” in the age-old conflict between the two sides. One side is practically saintly, living in harmony with nature (whatever that means), and the other is a bunch of vampiric predators, living in a way that is utterly unnatural, a violation of nature. When they lose (no spoilers here, since no novel would dare let such black-hearted villains triumph in the end!), the reader cannot fail to rejoice, to crow in savage triumph at the melodramatic, vengeful resolution of the injustice. And that strikes me as a bit of a cheap emotional payoff. Is there really anyone or anything in the world so utterly evil as to deserve a Voldemort-like annihilation?

In answer to the question above: yeah, maybe there is.

Luckily for both Mitchell and his readers, the story is not solely about this magical battle between the hippies and the psychopaths: it’s also about how human beings weather the ravages of time, and it’s here that the novel is most successful. Watching Holly as she grows, and rages, and loves, and grieves, and accepts what comes, is a delight, even if a bittersweet one. The same expansive treatment of time as many of Mitchell’s other novels works especially well here, in the chronicle of one person’s life in all its tremendous complexity, so fans of his other books will doubtless love this one as well. In fact, he included plenty of Easter Egg-style tie-ins to his other work, with familiar characters showing up now and then, suggesting this book is very much a part of his MLU (Mitchell Literary Universe). Nor is it merely “more of the same”; even longtime fans might, like me, find themselves in tears a few times, so poignant is the pathos, so haunting the lyrical writing. But I suspect it will appeal also to first-time visitor to the MLU—so no matter who you are, consider scheduling a visit!

The Math:

Objective Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for being beautifully enough written, and carefully enough designed, to bring me to tears several times (the terror of the parents at the sudden disappearance of their child was especially poignant), +1 for depicting the life of a person diachronically, beyond just the glamorous parts, and showing the value of a human life, the eternal grief of loss, the lasting glow of love, etc.

Penalties: -1 for giving the villains, for the most part, all the emotional complexity of Lucius Malfoy, and pounding the bejeezus out of them in the denoument

Nerd coefficient: 9/10. Standout in its category, and even a standout within Mitchell’s oeuvre


(You might be wondering, All that praise, and only a 9/10? But the truth is, for us here at NOAF, 9/10 is rare as a unicorn (and 10/10 as rare as a turtle surfacing once every gazillion years and happening to appear at precisely the point, on the surface of the ocean, a single egg yoke is floating), so in fact this is high praise indeed!)

POSTED BY: Zhaoyun, magic realism aficionado, longtime David Mitchell fan (in fact, he’s better at Murakami’s game than Murakami himself!), and contributor at Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

REFERENCE: Mitchell, David. The Bone Clocks. Random House, 2014.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Microreview [book]: The Drowning Eyes, by Emily Foster

The Drowning Eyes marks the debut of a major new talent.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a young woman with too much money and not enough sense to keep her voice down attempts to hire a ship to take her away from an arranged marriage which she wants no part of. Fortunately for her, the crew she attempts to hire is honest and looks out for her in the bar.

You haven't heard this one before because even though that's how The Drowning Eyes opens, that's not the story Emily Foster is telling. Shina, the young woman in question, is not who or what she claimed to be and though she's running, it's not from anything.

In some ways, that's where the central conflict of The Drowning Eyes lies, because Shina's desperation to get to her destination is so overpowering that it causes suspicion with the crew and with the Captain. More, when the truth is revealed as to who Shina is, it is the Captain's mixture of acceptance and rejection that builds additional tension.

The Drowning Eyes is a journey, it is life at sea, avoiding piracy, avoiding the Dragon Ships that have been raiding the coastline. It is survival, and it is about a glimmer of hope. It is also a glimmer of friendship crushed by heartbreak and loss. Oh, and there is amazing weather magic. Let's not forget the weather magic because it shapes the entire narrative, both in the quiet moments of the setting and the larger moments of extreme conflict. It shapes how the characters interact, the fear and prejudice of Captain Tazir, and aspects of the local economy.

The Drowning Eyes is a stunningly good debut from Emily Foster. It is at turns tense and intense, and Shina's story is compelling and moving at all times. Just from this story alone, Emily Foster is a writer to watch.

I can only hope that this is not the only story Emily Foster plans to tell in this setting. The Drowning Eyes is rich enough that on its own it could be expanded into a novel in order to tell more of the story, but it could also work as the first of hopefully many companion novellas telling different stories in this same world.

I would also like to take a moment to point out the stunning cover art from Cynthia Sheppard. This has no bearing on the overall quality of Foster's novella, but damn is that some nice work.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for the weather magic. +1 for the relationship between Shina and Tazir

Penalties: -1 because I have no idea what the heck the Dragon Ships were all about.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 "Well worth your time and attention." See more about our scoring system here.


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

Reference: Foster, Emily. The Drowning Eyes. [ Publishing, 2016]

Monday, March 28, 2016

Best Cinematic Comic Adaptation Tournament Final

I have a theory.

To me, there is no question that Akira is a better movie than Tim Burton's Batman. But there was a big spike in voting over the weekend — the weekend Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opened nationwide — and the DC/International poll received over twice as many total votes as the Marvel/Indie poll. I think our readers were looking back at an earlier time, and fondly. A time when nobody believed superhero movies could work. A time when no one thought the four-color, pulpy adventures of people in capes and tall boots could be taken seriously or told in a serious way. A time when somebody with a clear, outsider vision could prove to the world it was ok to like comic books and believe in heroes.

Probably more than anything else, Tim Burton's Batman paved the way for the cinematic universe we all currently inhabit. And so for that reason, maybe it does belong in the final. And look, it was probably always going to end in Marvel vs. DC, anyway. So have at it, kids.

Previous rounds here, here, here, here, and here.

Batman v. Superman: Reactions in Haiku

Many of the nerds of a feather left the nest this weekend to see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. After comparing notes, though, we felt it had already been savaged by enough critics, so how to respond to the collective shrug we all felt after nearly three hours of yawning?

With haiku, naturally.

We give you, then, our reactions to DC/Warner Bros. Avengers remake via our terrible impressions of an ancient literary artform.

You can't see it in the picture, but they're both punching the audience.
I took a stab at a more traditional review, just shorter:

Bats and Supes and Lex
Nothing in that whole movie
Made a drop of sense.

Mike chose particular moments in the film to respond to:

Bruce Wayne is sleepy
Please wake up, Bruce! Wake up, Bruce!
Your dreams really suck


You are not my friend
Your mom's name is Martha too?
Let's work together

That last particular plot point was echoed by Zhaoyun:

Benry fight a lot
What could make Subatman one?
Jesse and Martha

This prompted English Scribbler to weigh in on the nature of our haiku, with a dubious haiku of his own:

Spoiler-filled these haiku are
Is Affleck wearing a Wonderbra?

Affleck, of course, was the big question heading into the weekend, which I answered:

Sure, Affleck is fine
But can Eisenberg's face stop
Twitching all the time?

Tia took a broader view of things:

Leave it to these two
To sour the debut of
New Wonder Woman did English Scribbler...

Big crass smash
The grumpy boys clash
Studio takes all our cash

While our editor-in-chief, The G, opted out entirely.

I did not see it
And I will never see it
Better shit to do.

And Dean made a suggestion for those who made the same call:

Vote with your money
Why not go see Zootopia?
It has a real plot

And while I understand that when we decide to review movies in haiku we're all winners, in a more literal sense, Charles was the winner. Because he gave us this:

Their faces so close,
lips ache, capes touch in shadow.
Why so serious?

Posted by Vance K, co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012. Written by the team.

Friday, March 25, 2016

NERD MUSIC Weekend Mixtape: House and Techno Classics

The G's House and Techno Mix (3.25.16)

Most people think of house and techno as European music, likely because both styles are significantly more popular in Europe than the U.S. But house is actually from Chicago and techno is from Detroit, and though both are thoroughly globalized now, they were originally made by Black artists--reflecting the specific experiences of African Americans in these postindustrial U.S. cities.

I was a bit late to the party, so to speak, only really discovering house and techno in the early/mid 90s. But it blew my mind--here was a music that captured the zeitgeist perfectly: the epochal shift from mass employment to automation, the onset of urban decay, the rise of cybernetics and information networks, the increasing pervasiveness of surveillance and the breakdown of all the old music industry hierarchies and mechanisms for gatekeeping.

So enjoy this "tape" of 12 exquisite house and techno classics, mostly but not exclusively from the 1980s and early 1990s--tracks that I believe capture the pure joy and thrill of that era...

Microreview [book]: The Flesh Made Word, ed. Bernie Mojzes

 There's probably a "the pen is mightier" joke I could make here but I'm classier than that.

There are collections that I would recommend to people to highlight just how much fun speculative erotica can be. And then there are collections that I would recommend to people to highlight just how heartbreakingly beautiful speculative erotica can be. This falls into that later category. Not that some of the stories aren't fun, but the collection as a whole foregoes the more conventional happily ever afters for stories that hit, that sink like the weight of history, that rise like a phoenix to burn for a brief, glorious moment before descending into ashes again. These stories are no doubt erotic, but they are also no doubt incredibly literary and inky in their depth and focus. If you ever wanted to weep openly while reading a collection of erotic stories, well then this anthology is for you!

The subtitle of the collection, "Erotic Tales About Writing," provides a solid theme as well as a heavy dose of meta-ness. After all, these are written tales about the act of writing as erotic. Typewriters become needful ghosts, and tattooing becomes entangled with touch and resistance and betrayal. Playwrights will their characters into existence to disastrous results and prophecies bloom in aches finally eased, frustrations finally released. The stories all blend the theme in with their speculative elements in wildly imaginative ways, creating worlds of beauty and darkness, pleasure and pain. The anthology as a whole maintains a balance between happy stories and more tragic ones, but this is not a light read. The stories are almost entirely dense, challenging, and very good, but not what I'd call appropriate beach reading. As such, the stories flit between incredibly sexy and, well, not so much. "Rival Pens" by Benji Bright, for instance, maintains a rather charming voice and solid pacing in a story about two competing playwrights whose ambition and spite and arrogance destroys more than they know. It is definitely an erotic work, but for me it struck much closer to devastatingly disturbing than fun-sexy-times-go, though still very much worth the read.

And many of the stories center on loss and longing and healing or the inability to ever fully heal. In "All the Spaces In-Between" by A.C. Wise, which kicks off the collection, features a man who tries to repair typewriters, not just of their physical problems but psychically as well, finding in them the ghosts of those who used them. And by exorcising their pain, their history, their loss, he seeks to exorcise himself as well, his drive an attempt to fill with words the hole inside him, the hole a war made in people disappeared, lives destroyed. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the book, Sunny Moraine's "Capitalia" reveals a story of bodies and the power of writing your own story, your own identity. Because words can be prisons and words can be keys and words can fail and words can set free. It's a delightfully sensuous story about crossroads, about change, and it's an satisfying way to end the collection, a spice of rebellion and resistance and a lingering promise that words are tools and that we can wield them to tell the stories we want. And, to further highlight that fact, the collection leaves space after the last story for the reader to write something of their own, to add their voice and mark to the chorus, to the call. To engage in writing as an erotic act. It's a very nice touch, though I might be too much a book-purist to actually write something in my copy.

I'd say most of the stories in the collection tend toward the fantasy side of things, which I have absolutely no problem with. There's a great amount of second world settings with strange and richly-built societies and situations. "Paper Skin" by Sasha Payne, creates a world ravaged by war and sustained by resistance. Karl is a man whose skin can bear messages in tiny scars that fade quickly, and his story is one of despair and longing, hurt and betrayal. His world is overrun, brutally controlled, and so Karl lives for his small resistances, his moments of stolen pleasure. The setting is vivid and crushing, the story erotic and heartbreaking, Karl's heart as fragile as paper, as strong as iron. "The Prophet Scroll" by Delilah Bell builds no less intricate a world, ruled by ceremony and starring Zia, a woman with no real interest in court politics or magic until she discovers she's the Scroll, the intended mate for the Prophet, who is part leader and part spiritual figure and entirely a rather frustrated man because of the…restrictions of his office. What follows is a sexy and elaborately rendered story that mixes performance, prophecy, and pleasure.

All in all, the collection succeeds not only in capturing a truly impressive range of stories tackling the erotic act of writing, but also in demonstrating just how deep and meaningful speculative erotica can be. For readers who enjoy deep and lyric prose but are hoping for a bit more explicit eroticism than most short speculative fiction markets put out, this collection will not disappoint. For those looking for a fun and sexy read…well, that's not really what this collection sets out to do. The stories carry with them a pervasive darkness and grapple with despair and loss and emptiness. They look at what it means to write, what it means to have sex, and what it means to write about having sex.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 8/10 

Bonuses: +1 for a very dense collection of speculative erotica, +1 for a great range of stories and great use of the theme

Negatives: -2 for breaking my heart (numerous times!) and making me cry while reading erotica

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 "very high quality" 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: ed. Mojzes, Bernie. The Flesh Made Word [Circlet Press, 2015]

Thursday, March 24, 2016

NERD MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: Memories by Yuppie Culture (2016)

Memories is the debut album by Chicago-area synthwave producer Yuppie Culture. It's a very romantic record, mining the same thematic territory as Timecop1983 and FM Attack, among others. Musically speaking, though, Memories sounds pretty unique--it's synthwave in form, sure, but with a sonic vocabulary that borders on chillwave. The result is like a soundtrack for that quiet evening in Malibu, listening to the tides go out with drink in hand as the sun sets over the Western horizon.

Bottom line: Memories is a warm, evocative record that grows on you with every listen.

[Support the artist and buy the album, only $4 on bandcamp!]

Thursday Morning Superhero

Later this evening I will make a trip to the Alamo Drafthouse and go see Batman v. Superman.  I have avoided spoilers, but have had a hard time avoiding the trailers that leave a lot to be desired.  Wonder Woman is my only hope, as she has yet to disappoint from the footage I have seen so far.  I am going into the film with an open mind and hope it is good.  From what my buddy has been telling me the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes haven't been kind.  Wish me luck.

Pick of the Week:
Star Wars #17 - All I can say about this issue is that it was a lot of fun.  The attempted breakout on the Sunspot Prison turns out to be a serial killer's plot to eradicate the scum that are imprisoned there.  He has no plans to release anyone, only to kill them as he feels they deserve.  Leia doesn't stand for that, but stands little chance in taking control back.  If only there was someone there she could team up with to help.  Hmmmmm.  There is a certain Dr. who works for Vader that would make quite the teammate.  Cue me shaking with excitement for issue #18.  Oh yeah, Luke and Han are smuggling some sort of buffalo and run into Imperial forces.  I've said it many times before, but Marvel's new run with Star Wars is must read material for any fan.

The Rest:
Batman #50 - Bruce Wayne is officially Batman once again in this epic plus-sized issue that is the conclusion in the current arc.  We finally get the showdown between the real Batman and Bloom and it doesn't disappoint.  One of the things I have always liked about Batman is that it always seemed plausible, and while this arc went far beyond that, Bloom was a great villain and the conclusion featured Joker and Batman mechs, the power of magnets, and what appears to be a return to the classic Batman we all know and love.  Not my favorite arc, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.

Obi-Wan & Anakin #3 - Things got really interested towards the end of this issue.  Mother Pran and Kolara, two of the people who are assisting Obi-Wan and Anakin track down the source of the distress call, have taken an interest in Anakin and his ability to fix things.  This relationship is interesting and really takes the story in an interesting direction that has me finally hooked on this title.  Charles Soule also provided a nice view of the beginning of Anakin's corruption.  Palpatine pulls back the curtain on the corruption of politicians in this flash back, which seems all too appropriate with the current presidential race.  It has been fun to see the beginning of the end of Anakin, but the main story is finally taking center stage.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Microreview [book]: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn #3)

Naturally, this review contains general plot spoilers for the previous Mistborn novels, The Well of Ascension  and The Final Empire.

Luthadel has been saved, but much loss occurred, including some central (but not so pivotal it makes you really sad) members of the crew. Vin found the Well of Ascension and released the power within, an act that was a result of her choosing not to keep the power for herself and save Elend’s life, but it turned out to all be a ruse perpetuated by Ruin (the bad force) to allow himself to be set free on the world. But don’t get too excited, Elend isn’t dead. Preservation (the good force) provided him with a magic pill that transformed him into a mistborn and thus gave him superior healing powers. Sazed, as per usual, rocked socks and selflessly saved Vin's backside. Now, in the final installment of this Mistborn trilogy, Empress Vin and Emperor Elend, along with the remaining crew members and the Empire’s army, are on a search for treasure coves created by the Lord Ruler, who knew that one day Ruin would return, to help the population survive the impeding apocalypse,.

Okay, so Elend is a mistborn now, which is pretty much unnecessary. Of course (eye roll) his powers are superior to Vin’s, but he’s not as good at using them. He fights a little bit, but primarily uses his new power to cower those he is about to conquer and to control the Koloss enough to add them to his army. And as a result of the Emperor’s good fortune, we still have the Velend (Vin + Elend = annoying) though it is not quite as bad as before because now Vin spends a lot more of her time thinking about saving the world and a lot less thinking about Elend. But their interactions are still forced, unromantic, and unbelievable. There is one scene in the beginning where they are “fighting” but it’s all done very calmly. However, everyone knows that a romantic couple under tense stress (like trying saving the world) does not fight in a calm and rational manner, because passion flows on both ends of the spectrum. Part way through the book the Velend attends a ball, and all the memories from The Final Empire come rushing back and we get a hint of the old Elend and it’s pretty satisfying. I wish Sanderson would have kept that guy around.

Sazed, my favorite character from The Well of Ascension is going through an existential crisis in this book, and he spends all of his time brooding which makes him unfun to read. We do, however, get Spook, who from his first line in his first chapter easily became my new favorite character. There was always something special about Spook in previous installments and here he really shines. His story line is engaging and exciting and I found myself looking forward to his chapters most of all. Breeze and Ham are both fantastic secondary characters, as they have been through the whole series, though I miss their interaction, which is scant following the first book. And I can’t forget TenSoon, dear TenSoon, one of the greatest characters in this whole series.

The Well of Ascension furthered the magic building, but The Hero of Ages really ties it all together, leaving no questions unanswered. Which brings me to the end. Everything that annoyed me about the last two books in this series was forgiven at the end, which was beautiful and surprising and perfect in every way.

So, is this ‘must read’ series really a must read? The first book, yes. Like I said previouslyMistborn, The Final Empire is the heroic fantasy of this generation, putting a grim twist on the familiar subgenre. But the subsequent novels have a hard time living up to their predecessor, and I thank the gods for inventing the trilogy, because I don’t think I could have taken the Velend any further. I am excited though to try the other books in this Mistborn world to see if maybe it’s just Elend that brought the series down for me.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for Spook, +1 for the end, +1 for the earring

Negatives: -1 for the Velend, -1 for Sazed not getting his ish together sooner

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 pretty good, but pales in comparison to the first in the series


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Microreview [book]: Lightless, by C.A. Higgins

Excellent Character Driven Science Fiction

When asked in an interview with Paste Magazine about the reason each section of Lightless is introduced with a different law of thermodynamics, author C.A. Higgins notes that

If you interpret them more dramatically than perhaps you should—as, of course, I did—then chaos always increases and the universe is going to end. So how the characters and their situation evolved corresponded to the laws of thermodynamics. They start out in a position of equilibrium, and then things get more chaotic and reach maximum chaos. So the laws divide up the “acts” of the book.

Lightless opens with a highly secret military research ship being boarded by two intruders / space pirates / potential terrorists. Though they are quickly captured, it is this which upsets the equilibrium so carefully preserved by the crew of three. One of the intruders just as quickly escapes, though he is assumed dead and is out of the picture nearly from the start. The intruders are identified as having ties to the terrorist Mallt-y-Nos, though of course the remaining captive, Ivan, denies this quite vociferously.

This is where everything goes wrong. Ivan and Mattie (the two criminals in question) downloaded some sort of virus into the Ananke (the military ship in question). Did they somehow know what ship they were attacking? The rest of the novel is a quietly tight cat and mouse game as this ship's mechanic, Althea, attempts to undo the damage to the software and restore the ship to fully operational capacity. Meanwhile, an interrogator from the System (the autocratic galactic government) arrives to get the truth from Ivan. As we are repeatedly told, Ida Stays is never wrong and she knows that Ivan has ties to the Mallt-y-Nos.

While it is interesting to think on Lightless as an examination of how the laws of thermodynamics work, this would be a gross misrepresentation for what the novel is and how C.A. Higgins wrote it. This is a very accessible science fiction novel focused on character, and while there is a strong underpinning of science, Lightless is a taut novel that never leaves the ship and continually ramps up the tension as the damage to the Ananke seems to compound and makes the situation on board increasingly perilous. The single minded focus of Ida and how her interrogation is more important than anything else going on with the Ananke does not help matters.

Though Higgins focuses the novel so tightly on Althea, Ivan, and Ida, it is through the interrogation and side conversations the political and social landscape of our solar system is revealed. The Mallt-y-Nos begins to take on a bit of a romanticized vibe of the Irish Republican Army in fighting for the independence of humanity away from the oppressive governance of the System. I'm stretching the parallel a bit, but that's part of the feel. But, the Mallt-y-Nos (who is mostly only referenced in Lightless) is a terrorist who is directly responsible for the deaths of a whole lot of people and uses bombs to, theoretically, send a political message. On the other hand, the reality of life in the System is that of perpetual surveillance with no personal privacy and swift reprisals for breaking the law. True freedom, if that is something to be valued, is essentially non-existent.

As Higgins mentioned earlier, Lightless follows the path of increasing chaos and late in the novel when she describes a corpse, she is also describing the major structural shape of the novel and what she has been building towards the entire time.

"Of course, once decomposition set in, after the initial cooling of death, [redacted's] corpse would heat up again and grow chaotic, a thousand individual beings now existing where once there had been one will, one organism, one creature, one system. They would destroy the body hosting them, make it swell and stink, limbs bloating, flesh weakening and splitting, liquefying until the body was no longer recognizable as the organized system it once had been." pg 251

Lightless is excellent character driven science fiction and is a very strong debut from author C.A. Higgins. Though there is a forthcoming sequel, Supernova, Lightless succeeds at telling a complete story which can stand on its own while still leaving room for additional stories in this universe.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for causing me to look up what the Mallt-y-Nos actually was. +1 for the dedication of Althea and the officious obnoxiousness of Ida Stays.

Penalties: -1 because I would almost prefer this to be a single volume novel rather than the first in a series / trilogy. -1 for the somewhat flat feel of the characters Domition and Gagnon

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "A mostly enjoyable experience."  See more about our scoring system here.

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

Reference: Higgins, C.A.. Lightless. [Del Rey, 2015]

Microreview: Daredevil Season 2

This ain't your daddies review. And it's not really a microreview, either.

There's a lot to say, a lot to unpack, and it is really hard to know where to start.

So let's go back to the beginning. The real beginning. Back to when superhero movies just didn't work. Sure, there was Chris Reeve as Superman, and a halfway decent Batman, but c'mon, those aren't great movies.

Then others tried. And failed, but nobody failed harder than Ben Affleck as Daredevil. I won't talk about his upcoming turn as the caped crusader, but holy god, Daredevil stunk. For years- remember this? The MCU makes us blot out the dark ages, but I know you remember- Daredevil was pointed to as why comic book movies just didn't work.

Yeah, it IS as bad as you remember
Then there was Watchmen, and we can talk later about if that was good or not (my opinion- both), but I saw it opening night, and again the next day, because it is one of the all-time great stories, and Zach Snyder (who we can also talk about later as to if he is good or not. My opinion: meh) asked on Monday or Tuesday after it opened, for fans to go see it on subsequent weekends, to prove to studios that gritty, real, superhero movies worked.

You're so right, Comedian

For as far behind the times as Mister Snyder is these days, he was ahead of it there. The world- the medium- was not ready for costumed heroes that were not cartoons, or cartoony.

Iron Man and the MCU changed a lot of that. The Nolan Trilogy changed a lot of that. But still, no necks were snapped (We can talk later...). There were heroes, and there were villains.

So we arrive at Daredevil: S1. Holy crap, Daredevil? It'll be compared to Affleck's Daredevil,  we all said.

That was over fast, wasn't it? There was no comparison. One was a forgettable, by-the-numbers, vaguely creepy action movie, one was twelve-plus hours that grabbed you by the neck, forced you to watch and screamed your day job doesn't mean anything here, you are watching another episode.

2003? What happened in 2003?
So how do you top that? What Daredevil: S1 did was nothing short of monumental. X-Men: Days of Future Past exists to make us all forget X3 and everyone knows it. Daredevil the show doesn't give a [expletive deleted] that a movie exists with the same name - it just adds it to the pile of corpses it has created.

Season two does something else. It has no demons to purge, only itself to conquer. And conquer it does. If it was hard to know where to start, it is harder still to know where to continue. Its mildest successes are triumphs, and its triumphs are sublime.

The only word I can come up with to describe this season is poetry. Everything rhymes, everything- no, gentle reader, I mean everything- belongs together, flows and marries in rhythmic perfection. I am trying desperately to avoid spoilers for the five of you that didn't binge it over the weekend, but allow me to go back to the hero formula for a moment:

Daredevil is the hero, right? That's the formula. He is good, everyone else is bad or helps him. Except, not. The Punisher is the bad guy, right? Except you one-hundred-per-cent see where he is coming from and nod in agreement. Electra, man what is she even? But, man, she raises some good points. Foggy is the chubby comic relief, who fails at everything and our hero [cartoon eyes] braces him up in his failures. Except [no spoilers!] when Foggy is about to fall into that trope, he stands up and owns a situation. Karen Page, the heart-palpitation inducing blonde damsel in distress who is also the love interest, suddenly keeps the whole gorram thing together? She's much more than a pretty face (Although she is that- keep it together, DESR).

I am only human
The actors who portray them are spot-on as well. My love for Charlie Cox in Boardwalk Empire is well-documented, and when he was cast as Matt/Daredevil, I was a little concerned. Season one obviously allayed any concern there, his accent instead working to add some depth to his performance.

Much like the hero he portrays, he is hardly even the star. Deborah Ann Woll (Page) and Elden Henson (Nelson) elevate what would be simply supporting characters in any other show to stars in their own right, their on-screen charisma marrying perfectly with the brilliant writing mentioned above. Newcomers Jon Bernthal (Punisher) and Élodie Yung (Electra) do an amazing job of showing the true depth of there characters, from Castle's pained expressions as he justifies his actions, to Electra's insane smirks as she embarks on another 'fun' adventure. Everyone involved does a simply amazing job.

 **DIGRESSION ALERT** My previous favorite show was Peaky Blinders, also a Netflix original, and it did so many things, so well (you can drop S3 anytime, gang). But it was also the first and I wondered then, as now, when so many others- Hulu, YouTube, etc- have followed suit, is how will it all work? Because, with a standard teevee show, episodes air at a specific, there is reaction, next one airs, etc. But now, we get 14 episodes all at once, available to watch whenever we can/want, and the reason, or at least, the measure of it, is very, very different. More to the point: is it sustainable? **END OF DIGRESSION ALERT**

And this is where Daredevil makes its bones. It is far more than another show, it is a fourteen-hour[expletive deleted]-movie. Season one set the stage, stood up against all the Breaking Bad binge watching, and paved the road for Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, et al, Season two proves it is a viable medium and release strategy and that, no, we don't have to tune in Tuesdays and nine/eight central. For me anyway, this is my default- wait for the DVD/streaming option to come out, watch it all at once. Daredevil capitalizes on that. Don't believe me? Ask all your friends what they did this weekend, or check your twitter feed.

Not that taking advantage of technology or viewing trends is the end all, be all of a show being great. Daredevil is great, from top to bottom, the whole series. And that is without delving into 'New York's Finest' (episode three), which is in the pantheon of perfect cinema. From the writing, the character development that ratchets tension up through the first 40 or so minutes, than releases it for a ten-minute one-shot that will leave you breathless, to every subtle detail littered throughout the entire series- well, if Daredevil is the man without fear, than he has a show befitting that, for it shows none.

Nerd coefficient: I'm forgoing bonuses (there are lots) and penalties (there are none), to simply give it the 10 it so richly deserves. 10: mind-blowing/life-changing/

Monday, March 21, 2016

Best Cinematic Comic Adaptation Tournament (Final Four)

By virtue of what I will assume was a generational divide, Jack Nicholson's Joker dropped Heath Ledger's Joker into a vat of Smilex to make it into the Final Four, and NoaF staff-favorite Dredd got a faceful of ugly from Hellboy and has gone to the great ink and pencil cubicle in the sky. No surprise that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still riding high, nor that the atomic-powered Akira has made it to the big stadium.

Click to expand

In the tournament to establish the Best Comic Book Movie Ever, I give you your Final Four.

Previous rounds here, here, here, and here.

We Rank 'Em: Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen helped breathe new life into fantasy fiction, although it still has something of a limited readership. But the scale and scope are astounding. The world building is on a scale far beyond anything I have ever read, to the extent that one may never get tired of the world Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont built. The writing is beautiful, poignant, and philosophical, with wit and charm and humour unlike much we find in fantasy fiction. This series, in my mind, is without a doubt among the best work of fantasy fiction over the past fifty years. 

So how do we rank Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen

10. Gardens of the Moon. Don't get me wrong, Gardens of the Moon is worth your time. After all, it introduces readers to the legendary Bridgeburners, Anomander Rake, Ganoes Paran, Shadowthrone, and the Rope. And readers are immediately exposed to a world in which mere mortals serve as mere pawns and cannon fodder in the unclear games of gods and demigods. But it is still a rather difficult entry into the Malaz world. I have known a number of people who quit the series after failing to slog through this book. And I understand their pain. The writing and pacing is uneven, and it takes time to get invested in the characters. It can be wordy and confusing. But slog through we must to appreciate the true genius of this series. 

9. Dust of Dreams. This ninth book in the series (and first half of the denouement) offers a lot in terms of action and drama. The Bonehunters slog across the eastern wastelands, along with a number of characters we've come to know and love. The K'Chain Che Malle storyline in particular is fun to read. But Dust of Dreams included far too many subplots and characters that I simply did not care about. The Icarium storyline detracted from the pacing of the book. I couldn't bring myself to care about the travels and travails of the Snake. Moreover, I had loved Tool so much as a T'lan Imass, but for some reason could not connect to his new plot with the Barghast. 

8. Reaper's Gale. Another bloody and action packed book in the Malazan world. Like Dust of Dreams, this book had a few too many narrative arcs that bogged the overall storyline down. Just to give a few examples, the Refugium arc as well as that of the Shake. And we have a rather strange denouement/new arc of the Icarium storyline. But Tehol Beddict and Bugg never disappoint, always providing the few hysterical laughs to lighten up the somber and often bloody world. We finally have the pure entertainment of the Bonehunters entering Letheras. And expect more awesomeness from Karsa Orlong, in particular. If you didn't think you could love him more... you can! 

7. House of Chains. Yes. A book dedicated primarily to the wonders of Karsa Orlong. He begins his legendary journey in Genabackis which will take him across the seas, to the Holy Desert Raraku and Sha'ik's side. Karsa Orlong is the epic anti-hero we never knew we wanted and never thought we'd come to respect. The only issue  I had with the Karsa Orlong story was the fact that it got off to a slow and somewhat meandering start. Meanwhile, Adjunct Tavore mobilizes the Malazan Army to fight against the rebellion known as the Whirlwind in the Holy Desert.

6. The Bonehunters. This is another excellent (and long) instalment in the series. The Malazan Fourteenth Army has destroyed the Whirlwind and continues its mop-up operations. The siege at Y'Gatan in particular is intense and a real wonder to read. Meanwhile, Dujek Onearm's host finds itself at the Seven Cities, confronted with a deadly plague. One of the best aspects of this book is the way the Master of the Deck, Ganoes Paran, decides to deal with this nasty plague. This volume also has a number of wonderful Quick Ben and Kalam scenes. Yet despite how good a read The Bonehunters can be at times, it is still only mediocre when compared to the rest of Steven Erikson's Malaz world.

5. The Crippled God. An excellent ending to the series. As usual, Erikson answers some questions, but leaves many, many more unanswered or somewhat ambiguous. It conveys conflicting worlds of misery, heartbreak, and hope at the same time. And it completes Erikson's inverted tragic form. A worthy, worthy ending. 

4. Midnight Tides. This is perhaps the most divisive book in the series but one of my personal favorites. The storyline follows Tiste Edur noble Trull Sengar, who watches in horror as his own people [led by his younger brother] abandon Father Shadow to follow the Crippled God. But the horror of Trull Sengar's story is offset by the wondrous humour of Letherii citizen Tehol Beddict and his manservant, Bugg, as they both seek to collapse the economy of their homeland. Tehol Beddict and Bugg make this story a true joy to read.

3. Toll the HoundsThis is a shocking ranking for me. After all, during my first read through Toll the Hounds was easily my least favorite in the series (along with Dust of Dreams). But I found so much more to enjoy my second time through. This book is really, really good. Excellent, even. I really enjoyed the Darujhistan storyline, as well as the development of Nimander. We also witness the convergence of Karsa Orlong and Traveller, Hood and Anomander Rake, Kallor and Spinnock, and Iskaral Pust and Kruppe!!! Erikson weaves so many storylines and themes [such as redemption, vengeance, and the eternal presence of the past] together in a seamless and deft manner, making this one of his masterpieces.

2. Deadhouse Gates. I had rated this at #1 my first time through. But during my second read, it lost by a hair's breadth to Memories of Ice. Even at #2, however, this is a classic. Coltaine's Chain of Dogs is guaranteed to reduce even the most hardened of souls to a whimpering puppy. This tale of heroism, of defying the odds, and of betrayal is oddly even more compelling owing to the grim nature of the way it is told. Fiddler's journey with Mappo Trell and Icarium is no less poignant. And thank god for Iskaral Pust, a man who helps provide the necessary comic relief to punctuate this dark but poignant tale.   

1. Memories of IceDespite the wonders of Coltaine's Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates, it is with Memories of Ice that the true, heart-wrenching sorrow of this series starts to kick in. This book also served as a warning: none of your characters are safe--anyone can be killed off at any time, and for any reason. But that's just the beginning. Every story arc in this book is beautifully done. I became invested in each and every major character, from Gruntle and Tool to Whiskeyjack and Itkovian. And Erikson includes a few flickers of joy to offset the true grief found throughout this novel. But what a powerful novel indeed, the best in the Malaz world.   

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

Friday, March 18, 2016

THE MONTHLY ROUND - A Taster's Guide to Speculative Short Fiction, 02/2016

As I write this, spring is most certainly in the air. In Wisconsin at least that means the snow is melting quite early and people are going outside in shorts in 40 degree weather (yes, myself included). And perhaps it's the changing seasons or maybe it's that February is traditionally considered one of the more romantic of months, but the Flight this time is filled with stories of love, like, and friendship. Stories of reaching out and finding a way through isolation and loneliness.

Not all of the stories are romantic (definitely not in some cases), but by and large they all have fixed their eyes on relationships, on the power of people helping people. In many of the stories the relationships are put to some extreme tests. Mutant wasps and killer androids and a few with ambitious assholes bent on manipulating and using people for financial gain. But mostly the stories are about distance, physical or not, and overcoming it. And it's a breathe of spring in the last days of winter.


Tasting Flight: February 2016

Art by Julie Dillon
"That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Clarkesworld)

A story featuring a quiet desire for peace and solitude running up against global conflict and violence, “That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall” by Benjanun Sriduagkaew tastes like an Imperial red ale, tinged the color of blood with a bright, crisp flavor and a depth, a strength, that gives it a powerful impact. In the story, Rinthira lives alone, out of the game of war and death and artificial intelligences and killer android assassins. Or she wants to be. But the return of a former lover marks an end to her isolation, and her peace, as she faces her past and realizes what is to be alive in the world. The story balances desires, the dueling nature of Rinthira who both despises and longs for battle and conflict. And I love the way the story complicates war, looks at the trope of the unwilling hero who is drawn into conflict not for the joy of it but because only they can stop whatever “evil” force is on the move. It works on layers, at the surface being an action-packed story of a woman pulled back into conflict (android assassin! fisting! global war!), but deeper being about the inability for peace in a world where isolation is not possible. That escape and peace are only illusory where the entire planet is a battlefield and a culture of war pervades to the point of supreme paranoia and violence. That, basically, war is not something that must be agreed upon, and that sometimes the only answer is to fight and fight well, though in many ways such an action is more defeat than victory. Still, the character work is compelling and the action visceral. The world-building and tone capture both a military focus and a heavily anti-military sentiment. In short, it’s incredibly good, richly imagined and brazenly clear, and like an Imperial red ale touched with the red of blood and a punch strong enough to break bones. 

Art by Priscilla H. Kim
"The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Bereyyar" by Rose Lemberg (Uncanny)

There are some stories (and drinks) that just never fail to bring a smile to my lips, and “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Bereyyar” by Rose Lemberg is one of those, a cherry wheat, deliciously balanced with a rush of sweetness and a gentle depth that makes it perfect for brushing off the last vestiges of winter. The story is told as a series of letters between two artists separated by a great distance, each of them enchanted by the other’s work. The story is imminently appropriate for February both for its romantic elements (though obviously Valentine’s Day doesn’t really exist in the fantasy setting of the story) and for its use of letter writing (February being LetterMo for many). And it captures a budding relationship, a series of gifts and inspirations, two people from different worlds finding in each other a sort of missing piece, a kindred spirit. The pacing of the story is careful and slow, the events taking place over years of time, and yet there is a building tension to it, a desperate need that grows and lends even the characters’ rather formal correspondences a weight and urgency that must be harmonized by the end, that gives the story its triumph. And the world building is masterfully accomplished, the two characters painting very different pictures of their homes but both part of a single world that weaves them together. And the ending is unashamedly happy, a burst of life and love that, like a cherry wheat, had me smiling, the sweet tartness warming me and making the cold of winter seem like a distant dream. 

"The Scrape of Tooth and Bone" by Ada Hoffmann (GigaNotoSaurus)

A story of respect and betrayal and death and dinosaurs, “The Scrape of Tooth and Bone” by Ada Hoffman puts me in mind of a rye IPA, bold and defiant with a bite that makes for a memorable experience. Indeed, even with the other amazing stories this month, I’m not sure any can live up to the sheer number of different awesome elements crammed into this tale. Steam-powered archeology featuring a queer neurodiverse female protagonist interacting with the ghosts of dapper sentient dinosaurs while acting as a double agent and getting double crossed and navigating some heavy misogyny and it is all just so good. Lilian, the main character, must deal not just with being a woman at a time and in a field where she is largely unwelcome, but also, because of the way she is, faces people constantly trying to manipulate and gaslight her in order benefit from her talents. It’s incredibly refreshing to read Lilian, a character so genuine and expecting others to be similarly so, not trusting exactly but wanting to believe that everyone is what they seem to be. And the world that is revealed in the story is nicely complex, one diverged from our own (because I’m pretty sure we never had sentient dinosaurs) but echoing it nicely, holding a mirror by which to examine ourselves and our history. The story is about bones and about trust, and the various elements of the story fit together just right, with a mix of wonder and humor and drama and action. I suppose I would call it a historical steam fantasy if I had to assign a genre to it, but mostly I would just call it good, moving and endearing and full of wonders. Like a rye IPA there is a resolve and a defiance to it, in the way Lilian refuses to lose hope, refuses to lose her trust, and there is plenty of bite, both metaphorically and quite literally.

Art by David Demaret
"The Four Gardens of Fate" by Betsy Phillips (Apex)

Featuring a strong sense of family and a complex look at prophecy and gifts, “The Four Gardens of Fate” by Betsy Phillips is a cream stout to me, a meeting of light and dark, injustice and hope. The story follows a family of those with the Gift, the ability to predict t he future, to see possibilities. And yet for the family the Gift has often gone along with tragedy and oppression, being confronted by the fact that no amount of forward knowledge can get them ahead in a society dedicated to keeping like them subservient and invisible. That is until they think the times are changing a bit and decide to take a chance. And Kayla, the newest generation of the family, ends up facing the repercussions. I love the sense of family the story creates, the way that it goes beyond blood, and the characters are vividly portrayed, relatable and real. The magic of the story is subtle, swirls around the concept of fate as something not quite either inevitable or elective. That seeing the future doesn’t always mean avoiding the bad things, that sometimes with all the forking paths, there are convergences as well. The action of the tale is dark, often violent, and layered with the weight of race and gender and sexuality. History is like a snowball rolling downhill at times, but the story leaves room for hope, the possibility that, given time and struggle, some snowballs can be shaved down and some new ones begun. That sometimes justice arrives, if a bit late to the party. It’s a murky but deeply satisfying tale, and like a cream stout one that shows a harmony of light and dark, hope and tragedy. 

Art by Keren Katz
"Breaking Water" by Indrapramit Das (Tor)

Defying conventions by creating a “zombie story” about love and compassion and care, “Breaking Water” by Indrapramit Das tastes like a tangerine IPA to, fresh and surprising and filled with a feeling of unexpected life. The story unfolds around a man confronted by death in a shocking and ugly manner and failing to do anything about it. And really, at its core, the story is about having the audacity to confront difficult situations, uncomfortable problems. The zombies of the story are a presence but they are also something of a burden, a question mark that the government in the story doesn’t want to deal with. In some ways the story then is about individual responsibility in a place where government fails to legislate or, as the case here, actively participates in the erasure and covering up of a problem. It becomes a sort of cancer eating away at the soul, and the story shows people reacting to that. Seeing people suffering and being dehumanized and realizing how they become complicit by ignoring what’s happening, that by focusing on their own comforts or how difficult it might be to do something they allow injustice to go on. This is a zombie story in that there are zombies in it, but this is nowhere near the genre of survival horror. Instead it tackles some very complex issues like consent and end of life care and what happens to a person after their mind is altered. It’s fascinating and it’s well developed and it’s strange and like a tangerine IPA it’s something I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy until I got a taste for it and realized that it’s something I won’t soon forget. 

"Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism" by Porpentine Charity Heartscape (Terraform)

An interactive story where you play a woman dealing with drugs and anxieties and giant mutant deathwasps, “Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism” by Porpentine Charity Heartscape is a tall chalice of mead, honeyed and sweat and thickly meaningful but also intensely strange for anyone not used to it. It’s not exactly something that you can just take one sip of, either. It begs to explored and examined, which is a fortunate thing as the story is strangely compelling, the details sharp and the feeling a mix of claustrophobic and expansive. The setting of the story is certainly bizarre, everyone living hermetically sealed lives to escape the deadly wasps all around them, but there’s an uncertainty of what is real and what is not, of how much is in the main character’s head, your head, as the game progresses, as it gives you choices and choices that aren’t quite choices. There are twists and turns and outcomes can be…well, a lot happens in this story—a lot can happen. And it’s a testament to the story just how tightly it moves, how it sells each moment, even the small ones like picking the flavor of food in a vending machine. The vision of the piece is infectious and relentless and yet there’s a weight to it as well, the sense that each action has meaning, is significant. It gives the experience as a whole the feeling of walking through honeyed air, a frantic energy bound by a viscous environment and choices that are not always under the reader’s (or the main character’s) control. But it is amazingly fun and deep and begs to be experienced again and again, the first taste of weird goading the reader on like a tall tankard of mead. 


Art by Jeremy Vickery
"Talking with Honored Guests" by Alexander Monteagudo (Fantasy Scroll)

This one, about guilt and atonement and learning to trust yourself, is a Fire and Ice, a mix of cinnamon whiskey and mentholmint liqueur. In the story, Olufemi is training to be a bureaucrat, which might not seem the most glorious of professions (unless you watch a lot of Futurama), but draws him for the good that he could do there. Settling disputes and averting conflict. Like the situation he finds himself in trying to find common ground between two groups that seem bent on talking over him and pushing for aggressive resolutions to their dilemma. Olufemi has a few tricks up his sleeve, but a traumatic even when he was younger leaves him…hesitant to rely on it. The story makes great use of ability and confidence, hope and forgiveness. And the character work is solid, the setting charming and the conflict well-measured and tightly plotted. The crisis that Olufemi faces is one of forgiving himself, not of letting go of the past but learning from it and allowing himself to try again. The voices of the characters are strong and clear and there is a great humor to a piece that is also haunted by a past tragedy. And like a Fire and Ice, the power is in the blending of sweetness and heat, confidence and humility, action and restraint. 

Art by Dario Bijelac
"Love Letters on the Nightmare Sea" by Rachael K. Jones (Flash Fiction Online)

About love and the danger of distance in any relationship (and also monster jellyfish), this one is a Jellyfish, layers of white creme de cacao, amaretto, and Irish cream with a few drops of grenadine. There must be something about me that loves a good love letter, because this story is the second on the Round this month to feature that particular element. Instead of something sweet and light, though, this story manages a deep darkness and a sense of distance that is nearly overwhelming. It features two women finally having a chance to be together after a long distance relationship, suddenly separated again by an attack by jellyfish creatures straight out of a nightmare. They become stranded, one of them lost into her own head while the other must keep them alive and find a way to beat the creatures that plague them. Their love letters become their greatest strength, their weapon to use against the distance and the monsters besetting them. It is, ultimately, a bit of a sweet story, but one that walks the line of darkness, that sees the possibility for loss and failure and tries anyway. The terror is real and daunting, but for the main character something that must be risked, that must be overcome. Like a Jellyfish there is the taste of something lurking, something strange and dark, but with a bright finish and a lasting sweetness. 

Art by Linda Saboe
"Whaling With Clowns" by Chris Kuriata (Unlikely Story)

With a great mix of chaos and comedy, this one is a Neon Nightmare, a combination of one and a quarter parts coconut rum with a half part melon liqueur and a quart part blue curacao and topped with pineapple juice. It’s odd when a story featuring ravenous clowns held captive for the purposes of whaling is not the strangest entry on the Round this month, but it comes pretty close. There is a desperation to the story, a creepiness that fits with the idea of clowns and clowning, which is captured with a graceful ease. The story takes place at sea, a doomed voyage that has reached new lows as a whale is sighted and the captain makes a rather profound error in judgment. The story marries darkness and humor to excellent effect, managing to be, above everything else, incredibly fun to read. Which, I think, is the ultimate essence of a clown, terrifying and strange, otherwordly, magical, but also fun and funny. The action of the tale is beautifully rendered and I loved the imagination of it, the sleek visuals and the visceral climax. The narrator of the tale is upfront from the beginning—the voyage is a doomed one. But there are many levels of doomed, many ways a crew can experience horror and loss. How this one ultimately decides to unfold is unchained and glorious, a Neon Nightmare if I ever saw one.


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