Friday, April 29, 2016

International TableTop Day

This Saturday is the 4th Annual International TableTop Day.  A day of celebrating all things tabletop, including board games, card games, miniatures games, RPGs, and more!  If you want to try to score some of the exclusive promos (I know I do!), check for local events near you here.   In thinking about how I wanted to write a post about ITTD, I thought I would share a list of games for new gamers, experienced gamers, and those making plans for the 5th Annual ITTD.   If you can't attend a local event, no worries, as long as you "play more games" as Wil Wheaton is always encouraging us to do, then you are a winner!

3 Games for New Gamers aka Gateway Games:

1. Mysterium- Besides being an absolutely beautiful game, Mysterium conjures nostalgic feelings of playing Clue as a child.  You are trying to identify a killer, location, and murder instrument, but your clues come in the form of cryptic images from the player who is the ghost.  One player is the ghost and gives the clues in the forms of art cards, and the remaining players are psychics trying to decipher the ghost's messages.  Definitely a game you will want to play multiple times and one that plays much different if you are the ghost or one of the psychics.

2. Greedy Greedy Goblins - This new title from AEG and designer Richard Garfield, Greedy Greedy Goblins is a press your luck game in which you try to mine as much treasure as you can without blowing up.  The catch is that some dynamite is good and multiplies your earnings, but too much will cause your mine to explode and cost you some hard earned money.  My favorite phase is the mining phase in which players simultaneously place tiles onto the mines face down.  You are able to see the tiles you place, but not the tiles other players place.  If you feel a mine is worthwhile to claim then you have to be fast!  A unique gaming experience that is easy to teach and learn.
3. The Game - I've have talked about The Game before and it continues to hit the table on a regular basis in my house.  It is one of the most frustrating and engaging games that appeals to every single person I have introduced to it.  This cooperative game has you working with others to try and play every card in the game.  The tension is real and the only hard part, besides winning, is not saying "just one more try."

3 Games for the More Experienced Gamer:

1. Stone Age - While not particularly heavy, this game was my introduction to the worker placement genre and I still love it.  Players manage a tribe of cavemen and cavewomen and who are trying to earn victory points in a variety of ways.  Do you place two of your people on the tent and make a baby?  Do  you mine for gold?  Your decisions are impacted by what spaces are available on your turn and how many workers you are willing to place.  In addition, you must feed your tribe and ensure they are fed after each round.  This game features multiple strategies, but plenty of dice rolling to keep a healthy random element as well.

2. Five Tribes -I will admit that this sadly does not hit the table as much as I would like, but when it does I find it to be an absolute joy.  You move meeples around the board, dropping one on each tile while you move like Mancala, and then execute a special action based on your destination and the type of meeple you collected.  To add another wrinkle, players accumulate Djinns, genies who grant you additional abilities and help refine your strategy.  It can get a bit cut throat and players often suffer from analysis paralysis, but it remains one of my favorite games.

3. Tammany Hall - This is my favorite area control game that has you managing the corrupt system of New York City politics in the 1850's.  Players take turn placing immigrants and ward bosses in various districts in the city.  Every four years there is an election and the winning player of that election will be the mayor for the next four years.  The mayor then assigns roles to everyone else that will give them an advantage in becoming the mayor in the next election.  There is a lot of backstabbing and alliances that will keep players heavily involved on every turn.  One of the most beautiful games in my collection.

3 Games for Next Year aka Kickstarter Spotlight Games:

1. Exposed - ( This title from Overworld Games is a deduction based game in which you try to identify fellow pickpockets.  Each player secretly controls a pickpocket at a party and are trying to pick as many pockets you can and out the other pickpockets.  Featuring really cute art and some fun mechanics, this seems to be a sure fire hit for next year.

2. Illios: The Battle of Troy - ( This abstract title from Playford Games pits players against one another as they attempt to surround and capture tiles.  It supports 2-4 players, and is described as a strategy game that has you raiding, plundering, and ultimately surrounding your opponents.  The game has a sleek look and features an element of suspense that has me very intrigued.  Illios is in the final push and needs your help to fund!

3. Twist of Fate - ( I am a sucker for a good microgame, and the good folks of Mayday are raising funds for this Oliver Twist title.  For only $9, you and your fellow players will race to see who can be the first person to help Oliver escape.  Featuring some stellar components for such a low price, players can use the twist of fate mechanic to get the opposite side of played cards.  Looks like a nice quick game that is great for events like ITTD.

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

Microreview [book]: Knight's Shadow, by Sebastien de Castell

De Castell levels up with a ‘laughdark’ surpassquel!

De Castell, Sebastien. Knight's Shadow. Jo Fletcher Books, 2015.

Buy it here.

Who’d have believed it—that’s two surpassquels in a row for this humble reviewer! I quite liked the mixture of witty banter and deathly serious plotting (and fighting) in Traitor’s Blade, and was trying to dial down my expectations for Knight’s Shadow, the second book in the Greatcoats series, figuring it was unlikely de Castell would quite manage to strike the right balance between humor and blood. Knight’s Shadow turned out to be a delightful surprise (until one too-visceral scene near the end, but then, that too was a surprise, albeit a less welcome one).

We’re back in the saddle with everyone’s favorite intrepid idealist, Falcio, and his stubborn devotion to principle in a world torn apart by Machiavellian/Game of Thrones-esque political intrigue is even more enticing a spectacle than it was in book one. A mystery disguised as a genre fantasy, it surpasses the first book—which was no slouch either!—in nearly every way, and certainly holds the reader’s attention, spurring one to wonder, with Falcio et al, what on earth could be happening, and what will result from all of it.

The only ‘falsio’ note (+5 for bad pun!) in all this is the grimmest of grim torture scenes near the end. (And in fact, it’s not a false note at all so much as a distressing if, I must reluctantly admit, logical turn.) Until this point, despite the worsening prognosis, I, like most readers presumably, remained confident there would be some sort of nick-of-time escape or clever stratagem to spare one of the protagonists such agony; but de Castell takes us right over that waterfall into pain-land. To his credit, he handles the scene with finesse, but as a reader not totally sold on the whole grimdark thing, I still felt this single scene threatened to leech the laughs out and leave us slumped over sniveling in the dark, rocking back and forth. That’s why I’ve dubbed this book a “laughdark”, as it starts out fairly light-hearted/optimistic in tone despite the enormous challenges facing our merry band of heroes, then dips down into pitch-black pessimism. I understand the reasons for this swan dive into the pit of torture-porn despair, but still suffered almost viscerally as I read it.

So the question before us is two-fold: a) does this bleak turn near the end of the book detract from the good times to be had in the rest? And b) can laughs be productively combined with grimdark? My answer to both questions, paradoxically, is yes. At least for this reader, the queasiness from reading said scene took a long time to abate, but upon reflection, I think the combination of humor and the willingness to go (grim)dark does indeed work well, overall.

This is all by way of saying that if you liked book one, you’ll surely like this book even more, the torture stuff notwithstanding; and if you haven’t read either one yet, why not? They’re great, and laughdark might just be a new mini-genre in its infancy!

 The Math:

Objective assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for creating a new mini-genre, ‘laughdark’; +1 for really working the mystery angle

Penalties: -1 for dip into dark as dark can be grimdark torture scene

Nerd coefficient: 8/10 “Totally worth your time and attention.”

[Just in case you think an 8 is too low given how much I obviously liked the book, check out our anti-grade inflation policy here.]

Zhaoyun, more of a laugher than a grimdarker, has been enjoying (yet getting a little queasy at) all manner of sci fi and fantasy books, light and dark, and reviewing them at Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we 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!

Cover Design by Jaya Miceli

DeLillo, Don. Zero K [Scribner, 2016]

Publisher's Blurb

The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

Zero K is glorious. 
Why We Want It: New DeLillo. If, somehow, that isn't enough to explain why we're excited that there is a new novel from the author or White Noise, Underworld, End Zone, and Falling Man, I'm not sure what to do.

Cover Artist: Unknown

Hill, Joe. The Fireman [William Morrow, 2016]
Publisher's Blurb
From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.

The fireman is coming. Stay cool.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke. 
Why We Want It: Joe Hill is a master at telling a gripping story that refuses to let go (hence, the gripping) and as good as everything he has published so far has been, The Fireman sounds like it could be his best novel yet. Joe Hill is not to be missed.

Cover Design In House at Saga

Howard, Kat. Roses and Rot [Saga, 2016]
Publisher's Blurb
Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love in this haunting debut novel from “a remarkable young writer” (Neil Gaiman).

What would you sacrifice for everything you ever dreamed of?

Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire
Why We Want It: Howard has dazzled with her short fiction in recent years. Roses and Rot is her first novel and I want to know more about how this post-grad school works and how it impacts Imogen's dreams and the sacrifice of family.

Cover Design by Will Staehle

Older, Malka. Infomacracy [ Publishing, 2016]
Publisher's Blurb
It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?

Infomocracy is Malka Older's debut novel.
Why We Want It: After reading Malka Older's story "Tear Tracks", we knew she was a writer to watch. Older's debut novel comes across as eerily prescient for a future where information is the true political power.

Cover Art by Victor Mosquera

Palmer, Ada. Too Like the Lightning [Tor, 2016]
Publisher's Blurb
Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer--a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world's population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life...
Why We Want It: A far future novel of bringing down a utopian society? Sign us up!

Cover Art by Dominic Harmon

Reynolds, Alastair. Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds [Subterranean Press, 2016]
Publisher's Blurb
The Guardian called Alastair Reynolds’ work “a turbulent, wildly entertaining ride” and The Times acclaimed him as “the mastersinger of space opera”. With a career stretching back more than 25 years and across fourteen novels, including the classic ‘Revelation Space’ series, the bestselling ‘Poseidon’s Children’ series, Century Rain, Pushing Ice, and most recently The Medusa Chronicles (with Stephen Baxter), Reynolds has established himself as one of the best and most beloved writers of hard science fiction and space opera working today.

A brilliant novelist, he has also been recognized as one of our best writers of short fiction. His short stories have been nominated for the Hugo, British Fantasy, British Science Fiction, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial, Locus, Italia, Seiun, and Sidewise Awards, and have won the Seiun and Sidewise Awards.

The very best of his more than sixty published short stories are gathered in Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds, a sweeping 250,000 word career retrospective which features the very best stories from the ‘Revelation Space’ universe like “Galactic North”, “Great Wall of Mars”, “Weather”, “Diamond Dogs”, and “The Last Log of the Lachrymosa” alongside thrilling hard science fiction stories like Hugo Award nominee “Troika”, “Thousandth Night”, and “The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice”. Spanning more than fifteen years, the book also collects more recent stories like environmental SF tale “The Water Thief”, powerful and moving YA “The Old Man and the Martian Sea” and the brilliant “In Babelsberg”.

Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds has something for every reader of science fiction, and easily meets the challenge of delivering stories that are the hardest of hard science fiction and great entertainment.
Why We Want It: Alastair Reynolds is one of the modern masters of science fiction and space opera, and Beyond the Aquila Rift is a massive collection of his excellent and sometimes underrated short fiction. This is a must read, especially if you only know Reynolds from his novel length fiction.

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

Thursday Morning Superhero

Today marked the end of a truly epic era.  Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo finished their epic run with Batman and will go down as one of the best duos to ever pen and draw the caped crusader.  Snyder and Capullo have defined what Batman is to a generation of fans.  The two have had a masterful run with the series since 2011 and they will be missed.  Their work is some of the best that Batman has ever seen and they deserve a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of Batman.  Thanks fellas.

Pick of the Week:
Batman #51 - We have reached the end of an era.  Snyder and Capullo said farewell to the Dark Knight in a beautiful tribute to Batman and the impact he has on Gotham.  He is often blamed for creating many of the villains in Gotham, but we need to remember the positive impact he has on its citizens.  In a somewhat subdued issue, it was a fitting way to mourn the passing of the torch and the end of an era.  While I am sad to see Snyder and Capullo give up the reigns on this series, with the reboot that isn't a reboot entitle Rebirth on the horizon, it makes sense to let someone else start anew.  I would like to take this time to thank both Snyder and Capullo on the definitive run of Batman during my time with comic books.

The Rest:
Saga #36 - Marko and Alana are reunited with Hazel!!!!!!!!!!  They are all together again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Oh happy days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Marko Alana and Hazel are a family again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This issue brought a tear to my eye and I am not embarrassed to admit that I cried when Hazel was hugging her daddy.

Old Man Logan #5 - I continue to enjoy Jeff Lemire's take on Old Man Logan.  Wolverine is once again reunited with the X-Men, but still is struggling to return back to his own timeline and hopefully save his family.  In what has been a violent series, we see are treated to an issue that shines a spotlight on why Logan is such a powerful character.  He returns to the Weapon X facility for unknown purposes, only to find a young girl named Maureen and has an instant connection.  He vows to protect her, not sure of why he is drawn to her, but he knows it what he has to do.  Something tells me that these moments of peace are going to be fleeting.

Daredevil #6 - The first issue in the new arc, Elektric Connection, is off to a smashing start and is a great jumping on point if you are thinking about reading some Daredevil.  Most of the issue is a fight between Elektra, Blindspot, and Daredevil and I am just fine with that.   I have really enjoyed the darker tone that Charles Soule has brought back to the Man with No Fear and artist Matteo Buffagni and color artist Matt Milla deliver some stunning panels.  This is a high-octane, no frills start to the new arc and one that has me very excited to see such an elite assassin brought into the mix.

Star Wars #18 - The alliance between Aphra, Leia, and Sana appears to be working well as the three attempt to break out of Sunspot Prison.  The mysterious figure who is killing the prisoners held captive at Sunspot remains a mystery, but we gain a small amount of insight on who he might be.  It seems that he once learned under Princess Leia.  A very action packed issue that was an absolute delight to read.  This series and Darth Vader are the two must read Star Wars comics currently.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Hugo Awards Happened: Some Thoughts

Do you remember when I wrote about how my favorite stories don't get nominated, but that I still love the Hugo Awards?

That's still true.

I'm going to borrow an idea from my friend Renay, which is that one of the coolest things about the Hugo Awards as a whole is that it provides a separate forum to encourage discussion and sharing of the awesome stuff we've read and just want to tell others about.

At their best, the Hugo Awards are not simply about the recognition of excellence, but rather about a group of overly excited fans coming together to talk books and stories and art and other fan work.

The finalists for the Hugo Awards were announced on Tuesday and while there are some simply outstanding finalists, it was collectively disappointing. The Rabid Puppy Slate was able to place 64 of its 81 nominees onto the final ballot, according to File 770. That's a lot. That's really a lot, given that the Rabid Puppies are more about trolling and "burning down" the Hugos than they are about individually recognizing works they feel are the best of the year.

This isn't new and this isn't news.

What is news is that this year the Rabid Puppies presented a cross section of works that are legitimately good and worthy (Daniel Polansky's The Builders is a fantastic novella and was on my ballot. So was Stephen King's "Obits") and works that are quite obviously there to represent a giant middle finger to people who care about the Hugo Awards ("If You Were an Award, My Love" and "Space Raptor Butt Invasion") and then there's a whole bunch of stuff that I'm not familiar with, so I have no idea if they are excellent, complete steaming garbage (as several nominees were last year), or somewhere in the middle.

It should be noted that "If You Were an Award, My Love" marks the first time straight up actual fan fiction has made the Hugo Award ballot.

This isn't the fan fiction site Archive Of Our Own that Renay was advocating for a nomination in Related Work, and it probably isn't the way anyone expected to see fanfiction recognized, but it is fan fiction all the same.

Also, despite everything, the inclusion of "Space Raptor Butt Invasion" is really kind of funny.

As is the follow up story Tingle wrote titled "Slammed in the Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination". It's a real thing. Click the link.

Also, note the story description below. I'm sorry, folks. This is just epic and entertaining. I'm not sure I actually want to read it, but I'm sort of glad that it exists.

When Tuck Bingle receives and email explaining that he’s been nominated for science fiction literature’s most prestigious award, he’s left utterly confused. On one hand, Tuck is a successful writer of gay, science fiction erotic, but on the other, this email is addressed to someone by the name of Chuck Tingle.

Tuck replies, but his message is not delivered because the recipient exists in another layer of The Tingleverse, a revelation that will take Tuck on a journey into the deepest realms of his butt’s heart.

Soon, Tuck is breaking fourth-walls and anal limits, pounded hard by a handsome sentient Hugo Award nomination named Kelpo and learning the true meaning of homoerotic love!

This erotic tale is 4,500 words of sizzling human on prestigious award nomination action, including anal, blowjobs, rough sex, cream pies and gay interdimensional love. 

Why am I talking about all of this ancillary stuff rather than just railing on how the nominations went down this year?

Honestly, I don't know that I have the energy or the inclination to be properly upset. Not the way that Renay and Ana did on their Fangirl Happy Hour podcast (not that they are wrong). Also, I think that anger is one of the responses the Rabid Puppies are looking for. I'm sorry, you don't get my anger. You apparently get some of my time, but that's time that I choose to use in a manner that provides me with some measure of satisfaction and enjoyment. But my anger? No. Not even much of my energy, since I was going to write about the Hugo Awards anyway. It's what I do. If you will permit me to practice one of my parenting responses for when my child is a bit older:

I'm not mad. I'm just disappointed.

Now, to loop all of this back to how I opened this essay because it gets to how I really want to respond to the Hugo Awards and how I intend to move forward both through the rest of this year and in the future: I'm going to continue to participate in the Hugo Awards by sharing awesome work, by being excited about cool stuff, by talking about cool stuff, and also by looking at and reading as much of the nominated work as I can. There's some really good stuff nominated, even if I might not like exactly how some of it made it onto the ballot. I'm not going to burn it all because I have issues with how other people acted.  You can't take the sky from me.

I still love the Hugo Awards, even on days when I don't necessarily like them all that much. That's also what I do.

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

Interview with the Editors of Sunvault: Phoebe Wagner and Bronte Wieland

Writing the future, imagining something brighter...

What is solarpunk? If you—like I had no idea, even just six months ago—have no idea than this interview may be for you. Or if you’re able to answer this question in a split-second than this interview is definitely for you. I was able to ask some questions of the two editors of a recently announced anthology of solarpunk and eco-speculation (poetry and fiction), Brontë Wieland and Phoebe Wagner. Their anthology, Sunvault, is being published by Upper Rubber Boot and will be opening for submissions in May (or as soon as their Kickstarter is fully funded). A slight bias alert: Brontë is my dear friend and Phoebe is just the loveliest person, so I may have thrown them softball questions (I know, I know, when all you wanted was the hard-hitting coverage you’re accustomed to. I’m sorry). Note: in some cases, I’ll have answers from both editors and will delineate those with their initials. However, in many cases there will just be one answer for the question.

What is Solar Punk?
Solarpunk is a movement that considers what a sustainable, environmentally-ethical society could look like. It spans from science to religion, from social problems to sustainability, with a focus on ingenuity and community. Obviously, this description is pretty far off from most societies around the globe, so that’s what makes it a true –punk movement. While solarpunk might not be chaotic, it is countercultural. When it comes to the literary genre, solarpunk is still largely undefined, and we hope Sunvault might give shape to the genre.

Why eco-spec?
BW: Eco-speculation just sounds cool. Obviously.
PW: Eco-spec or eco-speculation is a term we created to define environmental speculative fiction—with a focus on the speculative. There are terms for environmental SF, but these terms seem to simply acknowledge the problem. I wanted a term that pointed beyond the problem toward a possible solution—to speculation.

Who is this anthology, and by extension these genres, relevant to?
PW: While SF fans will probably be the primary audience, we hope that it is relevant and enjoyable to anyone who is concerned about the environment or societal problems we face today. I always have Star Trek in the back of my head when writing about this anthology. Not only was Star Trek a crossover series, but it inspired and still inspires all types of creators, from scientists to writers.
BW: Many people tend to see environmental issues as problems afforded only to the privileged, and in doing so, silence the voices and concerns of native, indigenous, poor, non-dominant populations, and more. We are fighting against that idea. Sunvault and the genres of solarpunk and eco-speculation are relevant to all populations and all people who face environmental challenges and work to find solutions.

Why not just make an environmental SF anthology?
I latched onto solarpunk rather than a straight environmental SF anthology because I didn’t want to read story after story about the disaster or apocalyptic end of SF. Solarpunk is about finding solutions, striving for change, even if that change isn’t realized. There’s great environmental SF out there, but whenever I read them, I often come out feeling discouraged that change is possible. Change feels more like an impossibility while solarpunk encourages an attempt at solutions. All that being said, there is a balance between being hopeful and realistic, but solarpunk can achieve that balance. 
What sort of stories (and poems!) will you be looking for? What will catch your eye as an editor?
PW: One big thing I am looking for is stories that don’t stop at disaster. Push past the INSERT DISASTER HERE and find out what happens next. As for poetry, I hope we get all types of poetry, from the more lyrical to the more narrative (our line limit is 200 for that reason). One thing that might be hard to nail down in a solarpunk poem is specifics, enough that reader won’t be lost. But then again, a good lyric poem might surpass that.
BW: When I’m reading stories, I always find myself asking, “where’s the magic?” Not necessarily literally, but I want stories that feel magical, fantastical, that have a sense of wonder and intrigue. This can be as simple as the way certain characters interact or it can be from the vastness of the writer’s universe. I want to be surprised by your language. Innovate, invent, inspire with your words. A good sentence can make me coo, so make sure you have plenty of them. One of the biggest things I want to see is stories from around the world. Both in terms of setting and author. I want to see the way the world envisions environmental concerns in different ways, and I want to see the thoughtful, empathetic treatment of groups that the authors aren’t a part of.

Why did you decide to do a Kickstarter? Why is it important?
PW: The Kickstarter is allowing us to pay the contributors professional rates. While a publication is always nice, it’s even better to get paid. We wanted to support our writers to the fullest extent.
BW: Kickstarter is how we are able to pay our authors. There’s nothing more important to us (we’re writers ourselves) than that writers be fairly compensated for their work and we simply don’t have the means to do that without the funds from our Kickstarter.

When will submissions open and how can we find out more about the project?
Submissions will open as soon as the Kickstarter is funded! At the latest, it would be May 4th, though we are hoping the Kickstarter will take off and we can open sooner! Regardless of when we open, we will take submissions until June 4th. You can find out more about the project at the social media platform of your choice:

Twitter: @sunvaultantho
Facebook: Sunvaultantho

Lastly, if you could have one wish for the anthology, what would it be?
PW: That it would inspire meaningful change.
BW: A long-lasting impact and many print runs, a change in the way we as a community think about our world.

This is a wonderful sounding anthology that I look forward to reading! And if it helps you understand the minds of one of the editors better (if you’re looking to submit), here is a sample of the kind of question Brontë had wanted me to ask:  Are scientists sure the moon isn't simply the back of the Sun?  You can also follow the editors: Brontë at @BeezyAl and Phoebe at @pheebs_w on Twitter!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

HUGOPOCALYPSE II: Where Do We Go From Here?

WorldCon just premiered Hugopocalypse II, and guess what--it's almost as depressing as the first one. Sure Best Novel, Novella and Semiprozine are pretty good, but the rest is bad. A few categories, like Best Related Work, Best Fanzine and Best Fan Writer, are out and out shitshows.

...which brings us to the inevitable question of where we go from here. Interested parties may suggest and debate various rules changes, which they most assuredly will. But at this point I think we all have to admit that voter mobilization works and is here to stay. It's just too easy to do.

So I'm looking at the Hugos and seeing two viable paths. First, a counter-mobillization. Second, looking for a more productive use of time and money. Right now I'm strongly considering the latter.

"But wait--wouldn't disengaging just give them what they want?"

Maybe, but I suspect what they really want to do is create a conflict situation, because that's worldview affirming. Last year's repudiation of the slate-derived nominees had moral authority precisely because it wasn't tied to an alternative, politically-inspired slate. It was fans standing up to the conflict entrepreneurs who were imposing their bullshit culture wars frame on the rest of us.

This year is kind of different, and kind of not. The Sad Puppies dropped the slate and made a recommended reading list instead. Though some people disagree, I thought their new approach was a move in the right direction--away from conflict entrepreneurship and toward something more constructive. I appreciate that.

The Rabid Puppies, on the other hand…well, it's more complicated. Yes, in some ways they also changed tack, insofar as they included titles with non-puppy appeal (including some that are written by or reflect a left-wing politics). I did a quick count in the fiction categories and concluded that 9/20 of their nominees would appeal to voters outside that clique. That's a significant difference from last year. And the rhetoric seemed toned down too. That's all good, in my book.

[Plus I have to admit that nominating Space Raptor Butt Invasion is kind o funny.]

On the other hand, unlike the SPs, the RPs still presented a slate (despite the unconvincing boilerplate statement to the contrary). So outside the popular categories, it's pretty much all RP all the time. And this is the big problem for me, because the clear message is "organize or be rendered irrelevant."

Like I said last year, I don't want the Hugos to be an annual rerun of the US presidential election. That already takes up too much oxygen as it is, and the Hugos are supposed to be about fans celebrating the best stuff they discovered over the previous year--not voting in lockstep to further someone's agenda. So I won't back any proposed counter-slates--not even one that reflected my exact political worldview (and it's very doubtful that any would). I want nothing to do with that--nothing at all.

On the other hand, what's the point of voting in a one party system?

"Fine. But where do we go from here, then?"

Every year I ask myself if I should just defect to the Locus Awards. After all, the categories much better and I really like the nominating system, which limits the possibility of slating. And in truth my issues with the Hugos run far deeper than recent events--most notably the nonsensical categories and the tribal voting patterns, which often devolve into a contest over who has the most dedicated following. (And yes, this is one area where I broadly agree with Larry Correia, who started the whole puppy thing. On the other hand, I find his analysis of how and why it happens way off base, and categorically reject his solution.)

Unfortunately, the Locus Awards don't have the fan categories, and this is where the slates have done the most damage. So those of us who see value in the fan awards need to figure out a way to salvage them, or recreate them in a way that's relatively immune to slating. I don't claim to have a solution myself, but if you do, then I'm listening.

As for the Hugos, I guess I'm not quite ready to cut my losses yet. And I'll definitely wait and see what happens with the final ballot voting. But I am going to think long and hard over whether this is a good use of money and time, and if the answer is "no," then so be it.


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


Microreview [Book]: The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

A truly magical trilogy

This review may contain general plot spoilers for the previous two books: The Magicians and The Magician King.

The Magician’s Land is the most mature installment in Grossman’s series. Quentin has grown up a lot in the 12 or so years that this trilogy spans and he is no longer whiney or shitty. Quentin has been kicked out of Fillory, but instead of brooding on the unfairness of it all like he would have in the past, Q picks up the pieces and heads to the one place that feels remotely like home…Brakebills. And here we finally get what the first book was lacking, and that is Brakebills as a character. Previously, Brakebills was always just a setting, the building the crew attended classes in. But now it has a different feel with its magical passages, danger zones, and to the pride of all, first ghost.

Though Quentin has matured a lot, he hasn’t lost his sense of adventure. His quest in this book starts out academic, but life loves to through Q curve balls and he finds himself out on the street once again. Luckily he, along with an acquaintance, was recruited into a proper adventure, which includes one of my top 5 favorite passages ever. It involves a rag-tag group of magicians flying out of a window on hastily animated found objects:
They swarmed out through the empty windows like angry bees out of a hive. Plum and Stoppard rode leather club chairs; Betsy had a small prayer rug that had been in front of the fireplace, which she handled standing up, surfboard style; Quentin got the penny-farthing bicycle.
This scene continues on and is absolutely hilarious and wonderfully self aware, and through the absurdity of it all, Grossman is somehow able to capture the tension and anxiety required of a proper chase scene. If you have been following along, you probably won’t recognize any of the characters in the excerpt above, except of course Quentin, and that’s because here in the final installment, we get a whole new cast of characters. This always makes me nervous since getting to know someone new is never easy, but again Grossman does not fail to deliver. Plum, a Brakebills senior with a secret of her own, become a fairly predominant character in this book and her POV is entertaining. One of my favorite things about Plum is that she thinks the idea of having sex with Quentin is ‘gross’ because he’s so ‘old’ and one of my favorite things about Quentin is that the idea of having sex with Plum never even crosses his mind. This is incredibly refreshing in an era where women in media are constantly and disproportionately romantically paired with older men.

So we get some new characters here, but we also get to learn a lot more about our old friends. Grossman gives us both Janet’s and Eliot’s POV and despite my reservations, both hold up well. At first I wasn’t quite sure whether either of them could hold their own as POV characters for very long, but Grossman keeps it short and doesn’t try to scrape anything out when nothing is there. It was actually kind of nice to get to know Janet a little better and the story of how she got her badass axes was terrific.

There’s still more I could go on and on about but I don’t want to give anything away. Overall, I was extremely impressed with this series. In fact, It’s the only one I’ve read where there isn’t a book I like more than another. Each installment was as good as the last, none overshadowing or failing to live up to its predecessor. My only real complaint with the entire trilogy is the distasteful rape scene. I know why it’s in there but I don’t agree with it. I think it is partially because rape is used a plot device so frequently that I can no longer forgive it. As a media culture, we need a break from that trope. But, I loved this trilogy so much that I won’t let that one scene bring it down for me. I will reread it, but when I do I’ll just have to red wedding that chapter, because some things, like the red wedding, need only be read once and never be read again.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for Quentin not sleeping with Plum; +1 for Quentin's character development throughout the series

Penalties: I really haven’t got any.

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


Reference: Grossman, LevThe Magician's Land [Viking Press, 2014]

Monday, April 25, 2016

Nanoreviews [books]: Station Eleven, Zer0es and Afterparty

Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven [Knopf, 2014]

I really wanted to write a long-form review of this book, but every attempt fell short of how I actually feel about it. Station Eleven weaves together several character studies, taking place before, during and after a postapotalyptic event. Each story is completely absorbing, and they fit together brilliantly--glued together by Mandel's elegant prose. This was my absolute favorite novel of 2014, and the best postapocalyptic novel I've ever read. Score: 10/10.

Wendig, Chuck. Zer0es [Harper Voyager, 2015]

After watching Mr. Robot: Season One, I wanted to read a novel about hackers. So I picked up this techno-thriller about a group of precocious hackers assembled by the NSA and who have to find a way to overcome their differences so they can work together, Save the Cat style. Then there's a twist and the book abruptly veers off course into quasi-science fictional horror/thriller territory. Wendig can be a very fun writer, and Zer0es can be marvelously fun at times. Ultimately, though, the book drowns in its twists, turns and desire to be very "right now." In the end, Zer0es probably would probably work better as a comic or television series. Score: 6/10.

Gregory, Daryl. Afterparty [Tor, 2015]

Afterparty is a techno-thriller/urban fantasy mashup. It tells the story of a group of individuals who were part of a pharmaceutical startup whose last drug left them all with a personal "god" (i.e. a construct of the mind in the form of a supernatural being that advises and has conversations with the person in question). Now someone else has started making the drug, causing suicides and all other kinds of mayhem. To stop them, Lyda Rose breaks out of her Canadian mental hospital and rounds up her former co-workers--before the prerequisite psycho killer kills them all, that is. Sound like your kind of thing? It could have been mine, had the text been somewhat less contemptuous of religion (and religious people), and the "mind-bending" elements actually mind-bending. Philip K. Dick this is not. Score: 4/10.


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

Friday, April 22, 2016

Microreview [book]: TFF-X: Ten Years of The Future Fire eds. Djibril al-Ayad, Cécile Matthey and Valeria Vitale

 Covering a decade of amazing fiction

Sometimes "Best Of" collections don't exactly feel earned. Like watching a clip show in the first season of a show (I'm looking at you, Star Trek TNG), there's just not a feel that there's enough to really justify doing a compilation of highlights. For TFF-X, though, that is definitely not the case. Celebrating ten years of The Future Fire magazine, this Best Of anthology is picking from a huge range of stories, the result of which is an experience that is lifting and shattering, that shows just what good work the publication has been dedicated to since its inception. Really, The Future Fire has put out some amazing fiction, poetry, and art, and this collection touches on each of those, always centering progressive and political speculative visions. I suppose it's no surprise that the same people responsible for We See a Different Frontier, which was my first ever review at Nerds of a Feather and I believe the only perfect score I've given in my time here, would once again impress with a walking tour through the publication's catalog.

It's almost surprising how thin the collection is considering just how many stories and creators are contained within. This is one of the longer table of contents that you'll see in an anthology and yet there was no moment when the collection felt bogged down or too heavy. The stories (by and large) are on the short side of things, which serves two purposes incredibly well:

First, it gives a taste of the great range of stories and poems that have been published at The Future Fire. There are similarities that link some of the pieces, thematically and tonally, but there is also an incredible diversity in voice, in setting, in form—there's always something new happening with the stories, new complications and sensations and keeping the selections short means that none dominate too heavily, that this is a collection of equals.

Second, keeping the stories short left me wanting more. It made me hungry for these stories, for this publication, and it made me want to track down further content at its source by letting the anthology act as a tasting menu to inform where I'd want to dig deeper. Of course, while I liked that aspect of the selections it also led me to my basically one and only complaint, which was that a number of the stories are sequel pieces and while I didn't have any trouble following, I felt there was a time or two when I might have lacked a proper context to what I was reading. But the stories more than made up for any confusion on my point.

And okay, yes, the stories (and poems)(and art)! With so many included I can't do justice to all of them, but the quality is phenomenal. Starting with "Nasmina's Black Box" by Jennifer Marie Brissett, a story of tech and power, understanding and empathy and a little girl finding out just how hard the world can be. The story combines a vivid setting and cast of characters with a brutality only a child can present, a world of monsters and wonders, death and life and everything in between. It's one of the longer pieces of the collection, and it's a good way to lead. The story acts as a sort of primer for the rest of the collection, all the joy and the loss and hurt and hope captured here with Nasmina's story.

"Shadow Boy and the Little Match Girl" by C.A. Hawksmoor tells a story of a person fractured and hurt, the people a single body can contain. The setting is luminous and striking, the action about longing and loss and distance. In that it's echoed later in the collection by James Bennett's "Half Light Love," which features a man revisiting his past and his conceptions of sin, the love he might have had and that he didn't understand. Both stories are beautiful historical fantasies thick with promises kept and broken. With the time it takes to heal. And I rather love them both, the way they slow things down a little, though neither is very long. The later piece is definitely the more erotic, but they are both sensual pieces, about people navigating a world they aren't sure of.

Just as there are quiet tales of longing and sorrow, though, so there are more forceful tales of justice and violence. "Mermaid Teeth, Witch-Honed" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew tells a visceral story of indoctrination and discipline. And "Art Attack!" by Mark Harding tells a story of a future where things are a bit bizarre and art has been perfected for consumption. And there's the subverted fairy tale of "Reflection" by Jessica E. Birch about beauty and passing on abuse. About how teaching people to chase after a fading dream is damaging and dangerous. These stories keep the pace of the collection moving along, injecting a bit of blood into the punch for a hint of that metallic tang.

And the story draws down with a moving grace, starting at about "Drown or Die" by Therese Arkenberg, a story about human life and human cost. About wrecking a world and reaching out to take more. About legacy and about preservation in the face of a seemingly inevitable march. It's tragic and it's sad as hell and it marked not the first time I got weepy in this collection. But it also stands as a stark warning, one that seems more and more relevant with each passing year. And the story makes "Ephemeral Love" by Melanie Rees its final piece, a story with great ties to "Drown or Die" but with a very different outcome. Where the human element has been removed and the world can heal, and one being holds the power to start things up again or let a different pattern develop. It's a great way to close out a stellar collection.

And in the end TFF-X does exactly what it sets out to do, which is celebrate the publishing history of The Future Fire. From crushing tragedy to indomitable revolution, the stories all burn with hope. Hope that a future exists where people will learn from their mistakes and do better. Hope that there is a future worth fighting for and that we are equipped to fight it. Hope that for all the harm humanity is capable of, there is equal good, if only people would stand up together and work for it.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 8/10 

Bonuses: +1 for an impressive range of progressive, political speculative fiction, +1 for not forgetting the poetry or the art!

Negatives: -1 for including a few sequels without the original stories

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 "nearly perfect!" 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: eds. ed. al-Ayad, Djibril, Matthey, Cécile, and Vitale, Valeria. TFF-X [The Future Fire, 2015]

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Microreview [video game]: Odallus: The Dark Call by Joymasher

Retro Done Right

I'm a pretty big fan of the Castlevania series. They're generally a great blend of action, platforming, great music, and tons of weird monsters. The series has had far more hits than misses, and it's disappointing to me that Konami appears to be withdrawing from the video game market. Doing so will take Castlevania away from us forever, and we'll be left replaying those excellent classics and wishing we had something new. But the indie developers at Joymasher also apparently loved Castlevania, because Odallus: The Dark Call bears its influence proudly and it's magnificent.

Odallus is a neo-retro game; it's obviously a fully original game but its done in the style of games made 30 years ago. It's got the Ninja Gaiden style cutscenes, beautiful sprite based 2D graphics, and a chiptunes soundtrack. On my hard drive, it takes up 415MB so it's far beyond the storage capacity of an NES cartridge, but the look and feel is all there. It even occasionally has NES-style graphical glitches.

This still image doesn't convey how good this cutscene looks.

As Haggis, you find that your village is burning and your child is missing, so you strike out to fight demons and monsters and all sorts of nasty stuff and get him back. Haggis is armed with a sword, which isn't a chain whip, but it's perfectly satisfying when it comes to chopping up monsters. There are also subweapons that augment your fighting capacity. It mixes up the Castlevania formula by giving you a throwing axe that flies straight, a torch that burns like holy water, and a javelin that flies in an arc, and all three are readily available once you've found them. You'll often rely on those subweapons to do real damage, at least early in the game, because your starting sword is a little weak and slow.

Here you can see one of the mostly human enemies.

Odallus also takes some influence from the Metroid series in that you can find relics that enhance your movement abilities, such as being able to breathe underwater and double-jump. The game is also full of secret areas, some of which require these relics to find. It's not a fully open map like Metroid, but it's broken down into levels that can revisited from the world map. Stuff like secret areas and multiple level exits are things that I loved about old NES games and they're done well.

Difficulty in the game is almost perfectly balanced. It's falls just on the right side of almost infuriating but still encouraging you to try again. Every time I ragequit on a boss (which happened once or twice), I'd jump back in after 10 minutes because I wanted to beat it and I knew I could. The final boss is absolutely brutal and I beat it with barely a sliver of life left, but it was so rewarding when I did.

This is the first boss, and one of the least weird. Other bosses approach R-Type levels of body horror.

I really don't have much to complain about here. The mine cart level kind of sucks a little, but it's nowhere near as frustrating as some classic counterparts. Odallus: The Dark Call is a must-play for Castlevania fans, or retro gaming enthusiasts. I've seen a lot of retro-ish games, but this is easily one of my favorites and one that gets it right.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 it's basically a new Castlevania

Penalties: -1 limited appeal if you're not into Castlevania or old NES games

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: Joymasher. Odallus: The Dark Call [Joymasher, 2015] 

Thursday Morning Superhero

I think we can definitively say that this is the best week of new comics of 2016.  This may have been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in terms of what should be the pick of the week.  I stand by my decision, but Dept. H and The Walking Dead: The Alien were both brilliant as well.  Sadly I haven't read my copy of Divinity II #1 yet, but from what I have heard that would also be a contender.  This week speaks to how innovative comics can be.  We have a 10th anniversary special that is a beautiful homage to a staple in this industry, a digital pay what you want one-shot for a series with over 150 issues, and a stunning water colored mystery that takes place six miles under the sea.  Good stuff.

Pick of the Week:
Criminal 10th Anniversary Special - It is hard to believe that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been producing their crime noir series for 10 years.  While I haven't read all of the past issues, I have enjoyed the vast majority of them and am pleased that Image is rereleasing all new editions of the entire library.  You can tell that this is a series that Brubaker and Phillips are passionate about and that it is personal to them.  The special focuses on a father who is trying to tie up some loose ends that might cause trouble for him.  To help maintain a low profile, he enlists the help of his son who has the bad fortune of spending a lot of time alone in motel rooms while his father seeks out information.  Criminal does an amazing job of humanizing violent and troubled offenders.  At no point do you feel sympathy for the father, but the characters all feel real.  As an added bonus, we are treated to a comic within the comic ala Watchmen.  Elizabeth Breitweiser does an amazing job with the colors in this book, as the feeling of switching between our story and the comic that the child is reading is extremely immersive.  Fang, the Kung Fu Werewolf is the comic in question, and it does a great job synching with the young boy's experience.  I will be surprised if this title is not nominated for an Eisner next year, as it is a beautiful edition to this amazing series.  Fans of crime novels and noir should really check this series out.

The Rest:
Dept. H #1 - Matt Kindt has teamed up with his wife, Sharlene, in a murder mystery set deep in the midnight zone of the ocean.  Mia's father was murdered when he was stationed miles below the surface at Dept. H.  Dept. H is a deep sea station managed by Underwater Science Exploration and Research (USEAR), a government organization who has been supporting Mia's father's research for over a century.  Since the crime and the murderer are self-contained at the bottom of the ocean, Mia's friends urge her not to make the trip to the bottom of the ocean, but she knows the truth will haunt her.  Featuring some of the most stunning water color work to grace the pages of a comic book, Sharlene's artistic chops really bring a sense of peace and horror to book.  The ocean seems peaceful, yet heavy, and the potential suspects stationed at Dept. H all seem flawed, and likely candidates in this whodunit that has me mesmerized.  This should fill the gap that has been missing in my pull list since the conclusion of Mind MGMT.

The Walking Dead: The Alien - What a pleasant surprise!  The Panel Syndicate, a creator owned DRM-free comics website, published a one-off Walking Dead story from the creative duo of Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.  For the first time to my knowledge, we get a glimpse on an international level of the zombie apocalypse as our story opens in Spain.  In "The Alien", which is confirmed as canon by Skybound, we meet Claudia and Jeff.  Jeff is an American who wants to get back to the states to check on his brother in the hospital, and Claudia has a plan to get out of Europe, but needs something that Jeff possesses.  After reading well over 100 issues of the Walking Dead featuring the art of Charlie Adlard, it was an interesting experience to see another artists take on this world.  Brian K. Vaughan gives us another fabulous leading lady in Claudia and I hope she makes her way into the print series in the near future.

The Haunted Mansion #2 - When we left off, Danny Crowe had ventured into the Haunted Mansion in an attempt to set the spirit of his grandfather free.  In another friendly nod to the ride, Danny makes his way into the Grand Hall.  Much like the ride, our first glimpse into the party that is taking place is from up above as we peer down on the ghosts enjoying themselves.  We learn more about the curses placed on the mansion by the Captain, the ghost in control of the building, and a bit more about the perils that Danny must overcome in order to help the residents who wish to be free.   While not my favorite book, I love the nostalgia that this fun all-ages title provides.

Huck #6 - Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque's tale about the kind lad with super powers reached a very fitting conclusion.  In what might be my shortest review, it was great to see this title come full circle and return to the warm and fuzzies it had early on.  It took a dark turn, that was enjoyable, but it is nice to see things wrap up with daisies, kittens, and buttercups.

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