Friday, September 30, 2016

Microreview [video game]: Batman - The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham by Telltale Games

Wheels in Motion

Reviewer's note: Welcome to the second part in our five-part series reviewing Batman - The Telltale Series, an episodic adventure game. Part one can be found here. This is the second episode, and if you've made it this far, you're probably in for the long haul. This review will contains spoilers for episode 1!

Let's kick this off the right way with technical difficulties! When I fired up Batman to play this new episode, I discovered that the game had lost/misplaced/overwritten my save game. It was just gone, as if I'd hadn't even started episode 1. Doing some quick googling revealed that the problem may be related to Telltale Games cloud save system. I disabled it and replayed episode 1 and didn't have any problems, but reader beware! I'm playing on a PC through Steam. If you're doing likewise, you may want to disable cloud saves if you haven't already encountered this problem.

Replaying episode 1 gave me a chance to do things different, but I mostly stuck to my original choices. The big one that I changed was that I did not shake Falcone's hand at Dent's fundraiser. The game rubbed my face in that one on my first run. However, it still placed the blame on me for Falcone being at the fundraiser to begin with. So it goes.

Episode 1 was an introduction. Episode 2 is where the plot starts to really take shape. It continues to put the player in uncomfortable or unwinnable situations, which is something Telltale is good at doing. Episode 2 starts to peel back the skin of Gotham, revealing how deep the rot is. It also continues to challenge what the player knows about Batman by making subtle changes to established characters. Again, if you thought you knew Batman, you can discard all of that except the very bones of the characters. The names may be familiar but the characters are not the same.

No particular complaints about the structure of this episode, but the technical problems linger. The afore mentioned save game problem is a real hassle for some who don't want to spend another two hours running through episode 1. It also hiccups in frame rate in some odd places. They're noticeable but not deal breakers. It's still a good looking game without serious graphical problems, but the frame rate hitches are fairly annoying.

By the end of the episode, some serious stuff has gone down in Gotham and I can't wait to get back into it. However, I don't expect the technical problems to be smoothed out by then. It's just something we'll have to deal with to enjoy the rest of this otherwise good adventure game.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 continues to challenge established Batman lore

Penalties: -1 some weird frame rate hiccups (still), -1 lost my save game

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


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

Reference: Telltale Games. Batman - The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham [Telltale Games, 2016]

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thursday Morning Superhero

This past weekend I officially earned a new geek badge as I started my first Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  I will have a full recap in the near future as well as some other game related posts, but it felt good to finally embark on a magical journey with my friends.  It was light hearted and fun, and I look forward to seeing where our adventures take us on our next attempt.  While I still have a long way to go until I earn all of my badges, I felt that after nearly 40 years I was overdue for rolling a D20 (with very mixed results).

Pick of the Week:
Saga #38 - Curse you Brian K. Vaughan.  You lulled me to sleep with a whimsical tale of 6 months of peace for Marko, Alana, Hazel, and crew.  A pit stop on a planet led to a nice alliance with some sweet and cuddly aliens who quickly became friends of Hazel and therefor her parents.  It was easy to forget that this series is set in a galactic war and that everyone of their crew has real enemies and individual agendas.  The beauty of their spaceship, which is a magical tree, providing much needed food for victims of the war was vanquished in an unexpected way that still has me trembling.  When the only condolences our creators can offer in the letter pages is a cute dog photo you know some serious stuff just went down.  If you will excuse me, I have something in my eye.

The Rest:
Star Wars #23 - If it weren't for another stunning issue of Saga, this would have easily been pick of the week.  It was the last issue that featured a daring heist of an Imperial Star Destroyer, and this issue featured the next chapter for the Rebels.  The crew featuring Luke, Leia, Han, and others attempt to repair the Star Destroyer to the best of their ability so that they can use it to get past a blockade and deliver much needed supplies to an ally planet.  Thing about stealing something as big as a Star Destroyer, people tend to notice you.  Another problem with stealing such a large ship that is in need of repair, there are many holes in its defense.  Things are not as rosy as they seem and the upcoming threat that this crew will have to deal with has me shaking with excitement.  This series has captured the excitement that this series had when it first launched and will hold over even the grumpiest fan until Rogue One.

Tales from the Darkside #4 - This mysterious title from Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, of Locke and Key fame, has really come into its own in this issue.  I was on the fence with the title, but fully grasp what the Darkside truly is and what the threat is that people are up against.  There is something terrifying about evil children that Hill understands.  It was effective in Locke and Key, and it was effective as a babysitter in this issue had her hands filled with a pair of tablet wielding kids.  The use of tablets made for a nice modernization of a window to another universe.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Microreview [book]: War Factory by Neal Asher

Rebuilding Weapons

Reviewer's Note: This is part 2 of the Transformation series, preceded by Dark Intelligence. This review will not be mindful of spoilers from that book. The spoiler-free review is that this novel is a good read as a big, ambitious space opera but might leave you scratching your head even if you did read the previous book. 8/10. 

Picking up shortly after the events of Dark Intelligence, Penny Royal's pawns find themselves spread across the galaxy. Spear and Riss are back on the hunt for the rogue AI. Blite and his crew find themselves in the hands of a Polity forensic AI with a vicious streak and an obsession with Penny Royal. Meanwhile, Sverl emerges from the depths of Rock Pool to confront both Penny Royal and his nemesis, Cvorn. Penny Royal itself is putting pieces in motion, and all of the players in this game seem to move on its command.

Like Dark Intelligence, War Factory is a fairly wild and complex space opera. With so many characters, Asher excellently balances the focus between them to the point that I never got tired of hearing from any one perspective, but he also keeps the constantly changing perspective from feeling jarring. The bulk of the novel is concerned with Sverl and the Prador, with Spear taking a backseat as far as the narrative goes, but no particular character is forgotten for long. What it does best is convey that there is a lot going on in this big universe, and where the focus is is on the important stuff. It also convincingly portrays Penny Royal as intelligence and capability beyond the world it inhabits, with inscrutable plans that sometimes feel like not even Asher knows where it's going.  The third book in this series will tell whether or not we've been moving toward a satisfying conclusion, but I'm absolutely on board for more.

However, this comprises my biggest gripe with War Factory. As the middle chapter, I'm not sure I'm seeing the arch of the trilogy plot beyond "Penny Royal is changing this universe, maybe for the better, maybe not". Penny Royal's motives are still largely unknown to me, even if this novel points to its origin and the actions its made may tell me more than I know. The plot of this novel is sufficient to read alone, but, like Dark Intelligence, it's difficult to tell if I'm not picking up on some of the overarching plot elements because they're not there, or I'm not picking up on them because this is the 14th book in this universe, and I've only read the most recent two. 

Regardless, War Factory is full of weird science and space, lots of complex characters, and healthy amounts of body horror. Don't expect to get every question answered but enjoy the ride and we'll see where we end up with the concluding chapter. War Factory is an exercise in trusting the author, and I'm sufficiently impressed enough to continue to do so.
The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 manages to make an inscrutable AI with believably unknowable plans.

Penalties: -1 maybe those plans are unknowable because it has no plans and it's hard to tell if this is going somewhere that will make the whole better than the sum of the already good parts.

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


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

Reference: Asher, Neal. War Factory [Night Shade Books, 2016] 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

ESSENTIALS: 24 SF/F Books That Have Shaped Me

I feel quite strange writing an "essential" list of sci fi and fantasy books. Because I will never feel like I will have read enough to be an expert on anything. But I try to read a lot. And I try to read deeply. And I have opinions. Which I guess makes me as expert as most who claim at the title. So I will attempt to do my best.

This list will probably change in a year. Hell, it will probably shift and flow from year to year as long as I'm alive and reading. Why? Because I truly believe that right now is seeing some of the most amazing books come out that have ever been written in SFF. Which, you'll notice that a lot of these books are somewhat recent. I'd still consider them essential. They have been, at least, essential to defining my own relationship with SFF. They have been essential in showing me where I fit in and what I love. Reading some of these books has provided me with rather transformational moments in my life. To me, that is the definition of essential, because these books have been vital in helping me to try and better figure myself out.

You might also notice that I have the "Book" part of this list to mean more than just "novel." There are graphic novels and there are short story collections and there are anthologies of various sorts and even a book of poetry. I did not want to make a list that narrowed itself to the point of not being meaningful to me. This is my list of essential SFF books, and so there is YA alongside erotica alongside comics alongside romance alongside more classic interpretations of sci fi and fantasy. I consider these all to be SFF, and for those who want to see the true width and depth of what SFF can be, moving outside the largely single-dimension of traditional SFF publications is, again, essential.

So here we go, on a voyage of discovery and wonder. Hold onto something…

Johnson, Alaya Dawn. The Summer Prince [Arthur A. Levine, 2013]

"A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that's sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June's best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist." (Goodreads)

There are novels on this list that inspire me and novels that break me, and this falls solidly into both categories. It's marked YA to many but it doesn't stop it from being one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I've read, with statements on art and sexuality and love and age. It's a stunning book and definitely a must-read. (my review)

Smut Peddler: 2012 Edition [Iron Circus Comics, 2012]

"Indie comics' most sex-positive, lady-friendly, dirty little mini is back as a FULL-SIZED ANTHOLOGY!" (Goodreads)

The first of the graphic novels on this list is, well, quite graphic. But it is also a celebration of genre and sex and art. It is amazing and amazingly sexy, with stories that are overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) SFF, from sex in space to contemporary fantasy to stranger settings still, it blends erotic art with stories that challenge dominant sexual fantasies and affirm those who find themselves on the outside looking in. (my review)

LeGuin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed [Avon, 1975]

"Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. he will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change." (Goodreads)

This is definitely my favorite of LeGuin's novels, a book that takes aim at capitalism and the myths surrounding cooperation and socialism. There is so much going on in this novel, and despite being one of the older works on this list it's still a great piece for thinking about social structure and optimism and progress. (my review)

Bowes, Richard. Minions of the Moon [Tor, 1998]

"Kevin Grierson has a Shadow with a mind of its own. It likes thrills, it likes power, it likes the rush of drugs and danger. From the suburbs of Boston to the streets of New York, from the false glamour of advertising to the dark glamour of hustling and drug-dealing. Grierson's Shadow keeps him walking the edge of destruction and madness. Then a simple robbery goes horribly wrong. With the help of a flawed saint named Leo Dunn, Grierson struggles to banish his Shadow, and succeeds. Temporarily. Years later, sober and settled, at peace with his world, Kevin Grierson meets his Shadow again. And this time it won't go away. This new edition of the Lambda Literary Award-winning novel includes a brand-new Grierson story." (Goodreads)

One of my most recent reads and a novel that absolutely wrecked me. A moving and beautiful story about a man dealing with inheritance and shadows and a world that is actively trying to do him harm. There are moments of this book where I had to set it down and just breathe, and there are moments when I couldn't help but cheer. It was a difficult experience for me, to be sure, but also an amazing, amazing read. (my review)

Arnason, Eleanor. To the Resurrection Station [Avon, 1986]

"It began like any other day....

Until Belinda Smith was abruptly snatched from the comforting surroundings of university life by her mysterious guardian and imprisoned in the solitary confines of Gorwing Keep. Suddenly, she was the reluctant heiress to her planets' largest fortune---and the unwilling bride-to-be of an alien prince.

But fate had still more surprises in store for the young woman. And soon Belinda, her unwanted fiancee, and a battered old robot would find themselves fleeing across the galaxy in search of a new life. Their destination: a real-life fountain of youth, found in only one spot in the entire universe... The fabled planet Earth... and its legendary resurrection station." (Goodreads)

This is another example of classic SF done so incredibly right. It moves between planets, between genres, with a queer main character and an incredible ensemble. There's a strong touch of humor, too, and a great metaphor for the viral nature of change and progress. This novel truly surprised me, because by the cover art I was expecting something wholly different. This is a gem and worth digging back to uncover. (my review)

Older, Daniel José. Shadowshaper [Arthur A. Levine, 2015]

"Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra's near-comatose abuelo begins to say "No importa" over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep.... Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order's secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick's supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family's past, present, and future." (Goodreads)

This is a book I wish existed when I was younger, because I feel that it would have set me on a completely different trajectory as a young reader. Instead of being buoyed into the Tor dude-fantasy stable I think I might have veered more closely to the SFF waters I call home today. This is a great book for any age reader and for me one of the best and most fun books I've read in the last few years. (my review)

We See A Different Frontier: A Postcolonial Speculative Fiction Anthology [The Future Fire, 2013]

"This anthology of speculative fiction stories on the themes of colonialism and cultural imperialism focuses on the viewpoints of the colonized. Sixteen authors share their experiences of being the silent voices in history and on the wrong side of the final frontier; their fantasies of a reality in which straight, cis, able-bodied, rich, anglophone, white males don’t get to tell us how they won every war; their revenge against the alien oppressor settling their “new world”." (Goodreads)

This was actually my first review at Nerds of a Feather and my only perfect score to date. If you're looking to get inspired by short fiction, this anthology has a bit of everything and definitely looks at post-colonial and international SFF in a way that is sharp and inspiring. (my review)

Fantastic Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2008-2012 [Circlet, 2012]

"To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Circlet Press, Fantastic Erotica presents the very best erotic science fiction and fantasy short stories published by Circlet in the past five years. Chosen by popular vote by the readership from among all the stories published by Circlet from 2008 to the present, these favorites are the cream of the crop.

A winner and two runners-up were chosen. N.K. Jemisin's "The Dancer's War" shows us the sensuous magic not of a stock fantasy medieval Europe, but of an Africa that never was. Bernie Mojzes "Ink" combines H.P. Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler into a surprisingly soulful story of sexual transformation. And our winner, "Ota Discovers Fire," by Vinnie Tesla pokes gentle fun at all the traipsing into exotic lands depicted in fantasy quests. Sometimes the traveler you meet on the road is nothing like what you expect." (Goodreads)

You want to read the very best of what speculative erotica has to offer? Read this book. It's full of amazing stories from a great many different genres and styles, all exploring the sexier side of SFF. These stories are at turns fun and poignant, sexy and heartbreaking. And the names involved are pretty much the same that you'd find in any other collection of SFF. Please, anyone go out and read this collection and then try to tell me that erotica can't "count" as SFF. (my review)

Bear, Elizabeth. Karen Memory [Tor, 2015]

"Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable's high-quality bordello. Through Karen's eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone's mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen's own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science." (Goodreads)

Alt-history, sex-positive, steam-Western mystery adventure? Yes, please! This book manages to take a lot of different things and mash them together into an exuberant celebration of genre and identity. There is a huge cast of characters and yet the novel doesn't feel crowded, which is a feat, and it's a fast and fabulous experience from beginning to end. (my review)

Valente, Catherynne M. Radiance [Tor, 2015]

"Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return." (Goodreads)

Taking a somewhat nostalgic look at solar system science fiction, this novel mixes classic film at the dawn of color and voice and creates an absence at the heart of an ominous and mysterious event. It is told entirely in texts, part documentary and part pulp and part examination of life in front of a camera. Turning an eye at the borders between art and entertainment, truth and fiction, it is a traveler's guide to places that might have been if only the galaxy had lived up to our imaginations. (my review)

Jemisin, N.K. The Killing Moon [Orbit, 2012]

"In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe - and kill those judged corrupt." (Goodreads)

This book brings all the cool (psychic ninja dream assassins) and stays for the gripping emotional work and political intrigue. The world building is amazing and epic and the character work is intense and personal. I absolutely fell in love with this book and the tragedy and the hope of it, the way that it made me look at what was possible in fantasy in a whole new way. This novel was part of the wake-up call that got me interesting in most of the books on this list, and so for me was a bit of a turning point in my life as a SFF reader and writer. (my review)

Scott, Melissa. Trouble and Her Friends [Tor, 1994]

"Less than a hundred years from now, the forces of law and order crack down on the world of the computer nets. The hip, noir adventurers who get by on wit, bravado, and drugs, and haunt the virtual worlds of the Shadows of cyberspace, are up against the encroachments of civilization. It's time to adapt or die.

India Carless, alias Trouble, got out ahead of the feds and settled down to run a small network for an artist's co-op.

Now someone has taken her name and begun to use it for criminal hacking. So Trouble returns. Once the fastest gun on the electronic frontier, she had tried to retire-but has been called out for one last fight. And it's a killer." (Goodreads)

This novel isn't new any longer but the struggle it chronicles is still incredibly timely. About a group of queer hackers going up against not just the system but also the toxic elements within the hacker community itself, the novel is about the strength of fighting when your very existence is political. It's a book that is filled with action and conflict and characters circling each other, unsure of who to trust, only freed when they decide to trust each other and try to build something they can all believe in. (my review)

Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology [Beyond Comics, 2015]

"Beyond is an anthology of queer sci-fi and fantasy comics. Featuring 18 stories by 26 contributors, Beyond is a 250+ page, black and white, queer comic anthology, full of swashbuckling space pirates, dragon slayers, death-defying astronauts, and monster royalty. Each story celebrates and showcases unquestionably queer characters as they explore the galaxy, mix magic, have renegade adventures, and save the day!

The Beyond Anthology was born from a desire to see stories inspired by people like us (queer people with diverse genders and sexualities) slaying dragons, piloting spaceships, getting into trouble, and saving the day—without having to read for their queerness from between the lines. We wanted to see beautiful, heartwarming, and adventurous stories that reflect and celebrate the many facets of gender and sexuality, without having to worry that their queerness would cast them as a villain, a pariah, or turn them into a cautionary tale." (Goodreads)

As far as SFF comic anthologies go, this stands as a turning point for me as well. To see so many writers and artists coming together to tell the stories they want to tell, the stories that don't get picked up from the major publishers. The pieces are short (it is an anthology, after all) but the impact is huge, with story after story exploring different worlds where queer characters are present and accounted for, not relegated to the C-list or killed off to promote some new (straight) hero. This anthology exposed the old lie that "there just aren't people making it" by showing how many extremely talented people showed up to contribute. (my review)

Borges, Jorge Luis. Collected Fictions [Penguin, 1998]

"Jorge Luis Borges has been called the greatest Spanish-language writer of our century. Now for the first time in English, all of Borges' dazzling fictions are gathered into a single volume, brilliantly translated by Andrew Hurley. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, these enigmatic, elaborate, imaginative inventions display Borges' talent for turning fiction on its head by playing with form and genre and toying with language. Together these incomparable works comprise the perfect one-volume compendium for all those who have long loved Borges, and a superb introduction to the master's work for those who have yet to discover this singular genius." (Goodreads)

For the short fiction reader you can't go wrong with this incredibly weighty but incredibly good collection of collections, showcasing Borges' fiction throughout his life, from the earliest to the latest. And it's great to read Borges in conversation, not just with his influences and his peers but with himself, often literally breaking the fourth wall to speak to himself as character and author, as artifact and cipher. Not all of these stories are SFF, but a good number all, and for anyone wanting an education in short fiction, look no further. (my review)

Cherryh, C.J. Kutath [DAW, 1979]

"Kutath was an ancient world and a dying one. In ages past, its best sons and daughters had gone to the stars to serve as mercenaries in the wars of aliens. Now the survivors of its star-flung people, the mri, had come back-in the form of a single woman, the last priestess-queen Melein, and a single man, the last warrior Nuin. And one other-the human Sten Duncan who had deserted Earth-s military forces to swear service to the foes of his own species-" (Goodreads)

Yes, this this the third book in a trilogy. And yes, I recommend the entirety of the Faded Sun books. But this final book in there series is the one that got me, the one that brought everything together and made literally cry with happy tears at the ending. It is powerful and brings the characters on a long, strange journey that changes them. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. It's about the warring elements of the human spirit and it's about hope and trust and Is. Just. So. Good. Seriously, read this series and pay extra attention to this book. (my review)

Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. Signal to Noise [Solaris, 2015]

"Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends -- Sebastian and Daniela -- and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love...

Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?" (Goodreads)

Some books seem made to satisfy the critic or the SFF geek or the sappy romantic in me, and this novel manages to satisfy all of those. A love story about music and magic and growing up, about families and circumstance and missed chances, this novel delivers a dense and layered experience that had me wanting to take notes and reread while also making me break down a few times from the emotions it evoked. Meticulously crafted, it delivered in about two hundred pages what some series couldn't accomplish across tens of thousands. (my review)

Samatar, Sofia. A Stranger in Olondria [Small Beer, 2012]

"Jevick, the pepper merchant's son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick's life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria's Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.

In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire's two most powerful cults. Yet even as the country shimmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of becoming free by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that seductive necromancy, reading." (Goodreads)

Most fantasy novels transport you to other worlds, but few do so with such expression and depth as this novel, which is something of a travelogue, something of a lost history, and a moving look at voice and erasure and power. Examining trade and language and ghosts, it follows a young man far from home as he learns of the great world outside, and the great world all around him that he never really knew how to see. It's a fantasy novel in some ways about how to read fantasy novels (or outsider narratives of any sort), and doesn't let the reader look away from the difficult subjects that come with cultural imperialism. (my review)

Miéville, China. Un Lun Dun [Del Rey, 2007]

"What is Un Lun Dun?

It is London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights where all the lost and broken things of London end up . . . and some of its lost and broken people, too–including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas; Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is an enormous pin-cushion, and an empty milk carton called Curdle. Un Lun Dun is a place where words are alive, a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets, and a dark cloud dreams of burning the world. It is a city awaiting its hero, whose coming was prophesied long ago, set down for all time in the pages of a talking book.

When twelve-year-old Zanna and her friend Deeba find a secret entrance leading out of London and into this strange city, it seems that the ancient prophecy is coming true at last. But then things begin to go shockingly wrong." (Goodreads)

There's something to be said for upsetting the natural order of things. For taking the tropes and flipping them upside down. And here is a book that does just that, that looks at a portal world where things aren't exactly backwards but are backwards enough, where what's needed isn't a Chosen One so much as an UnChosen One, and I love how the novel managed to subvert and complicate the hero's journey. It's a novel, to me, about the danger of the expected narrative, the cliché and the tired tropes, and how sometimes what you need is a heavy dose of the unexpected. (my review)

Carroll, Emily. Through the Woods [Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014]

"Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there..." (Goodreads)

Want to never sleep again? Or at least want to check to make sure the windows are locked and there's nothing under the bed every night? This collection of horror comics is truly frightening, making excellent use of the page and breaking the comfortable barriers between reader and text. There's a sense that there's something in the book, lurking, and that each time you pick it up you're taking a risk, tempting fate that something inside is going to reach out and— (my review)

Maguire, Gregory. Mirror Mirror [Reagan Books, 2003]

"The world was called Montefiore, as far as she knew, and from her aerie on every side all the world descended.

The year is 1502, and seven-year-old Bianca de Nevada lives perched high above the rolling hills and valleys of Tuscany and Umbria at Montefiore, the farm of her beloved father, Don Vicente. There she spends her days cosseted by Primavera Vecchia, the earthy cook, and Fra Ludovico, a priest who tends to their souls between bites of ham and sips of wine.

But one day a noble entourage makes its way up the winding slopes to the farm - and the world comes to Montefiore. In the presence of Cesare Borgia and his sister, the lovely and vain Lucrezia - decadent children of a wicked pope - no one can claim innocence for very long. When Borgia sends Don Vicente on a years-long quest to reclaim a relic of the original Tree of Knowledge, he leaves Bianca under the care - so to speak - of Lucrezia. She plots a dire fate for the young girl in the woods below the farm, but in the dark forest there can be found salvation as well ...

The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say." (Goodreads)

I love Maguire's Oz books but my favorite project of his has been this novel about magic and betrayal and family secrets. About pain and about hope and about love. It's not really like any other telling of Snow White I've seen, reimagining it as a sort of Italian Opera full of murder and darkness. (my review)

Schwartz, Susan. Silk Roads and Shadows [Tor, 1988]

"Alexandra, sister of the dying Emperor of Byzantium, undertakes a mission to smuggle live silkworms from the mysterious Empire of Ch'in. Hounded by ferocious sorcery and an array of magical helpers, she must walk the length of the known world to save an empire threatened by her very existence." (Goodreads)

This book was a surprise to me. I didn't expect a book about trade and historical politics to really effect me that much, but then I got into this world, into the magic and the characters, the love and the reaching hope. I got to see a sort of narrative that's not really popular any more, that of the Western person traveling along the Silk Road and finding…wonders. There's so much here, from treacherous mountain tops to thrilling chariot races to the secrets of silk itself, and it's a novel that defied all my expectations and made me fall in love with the people and places it revealed. (my review)

Kay, Guy Gavriel. Tigana [Roc, 1990]

"This is that rare, spellbinding novel in which myth comes alive and magic reaches out to touch us. Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered country struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant king Brandlin that even the very name of their once beautiful home cannot be spoken or remembered. But years after their homeland's devastation, a handful of men and women set in motion a dangerous crusade---to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the world the lost brightness of an obliterated name: Tigana. Against the magnificently realized background of a world both sensuous and brutal, this masterful epic of a passionate people pursuing their dream is breathtaking in its vision, and changes forever the boundaries of fantasy fiction." (Goodreads)

Okay, this is the one novel on here that I read when I was young that's still one of my favorites. Not only does it not shy away from sexuality (queer and otherwise), but it builds so beautifully, bringing together a great cast of characters in a world with a powerful magic. It's about the weight of revenge and intent and action, about the price of tyranny and rule. I was blown away at the time with the richness of the world and the complexity of the motivations that drive the characters, and I still am. It's a novel that has stood up quite well for me, and that continues to inspire my imagination. (my review)

Moraine, Sunny. Line and Orbit [Samhain, 2013]

"Adam Yuga, a rising young star in the imperialist Terran Protectorate, is on the verge of a massive promotion…until a routine physical exam reveals something less than perfection. Genetic flaws are taboo, and Adam soon discovers there’s a thin line between rising star and starving outcast.

Stripped of wealth and position, stricken with a mysterious, worsening illness, Adam resorts to stealing credits to survive. Moments from capture by the Protectorate, help arrives in the form of Lochlan, a brash, cocksure Bideshi fighter.

Now the Bideshi, a people long shunned by the Protectorate, are the only ones who will offer him shelter. As Adam learns the truth about the mysterious, nomadic people he was taught to fear, Lochlan offers him not just shelter—but a temptation Adam can only resist for so long.

Struggling to adapt to his new life, Adam discovers his illness hides a terrible secret, one that the Protectorate will stop at nothing to conceal. Time is growing short, and he must find the strength to close a centuries-old rift, accept a new identity—and hold on to a love that could cost him everything." (Goodreads)

This is another novel that wears a lot of hats. Intense, action filled science fiction? Check. Adorable and affirming queer romance? Check. Exploration of immigration, family, and fractured relationships sets against a galaxy where science and magic don't look all that different? Check! I love the humanity in this book, the way that it imagines two very different ways that humanity might have drifted, and the consequences when one of those paths looks like it might be a dead end. It's fun and wrenching and a blast to read! (my review)

Lemberg, Rose. Marginalia to Stone Bird [Aqueduct, 2016]

"In this powerful debut collection, Rannu Award-winning poet Rose Lemberg explores the deep-rooted fluidity of gender, tradition, language, and desire in landscapes as familiar as high fantasy and as foreign as San Francisco. Written in the voices of immigrants, shape-changers, sentient ships in a distant future and heroes of a mythic past, her poems inhabit a fragile, vital space of complex identity and story as a conscious act, stubbornly urging the reader's attention toward the marginal, the liminal, and the unheard--a firebird cautioned to burn less brightly, a ghost-child ignored by the gods, a lover laying a road of words for a beloved to follow. By turns devastating and deeply hopeful, Marginalia to Stone Bird writes a fearless commentary on our history and others." (Goodreads)

Yes, poetry. And poetry that made me realize what SFF poetry could be. Poetry that tells a story and inspires, that moves and reaches out across borders and across worlds and across galaxies. It's incredibly constructed and includes some of my absolute favorite SFF poems, so it definitely earns a spot on this list. Like with so many works I've included, it got me to better understand myself as a person, a reader, and a writer. So the list wouldn't be complete without it. (my review

And there you have it. As I said before, I'm sure that if I checked back in six months this list would be slightly different. Six years? It's possible most of my choices will have changed. But I wish I had started my reading of SFF with these books. I'd undoubtedly be a different person, but I think I would have figured myself out a lot faster and maybe saved myself some grief. At the very least these are books that embody to me the idea of "essential." Because, to me, they have been essential. To understanding myself and the world.

So tell me what you think and maybe suggest some of your own essentials in the comments. One thing's for sure—with books like these out there, and with so many more to find, I'm not stopping reading any time soon.


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

Monday, September 26, 2016

6 Books with L.E. Modesitt, Jr

L.E. Modesitt, Jr is the author of more than seventy science fiction and fantasy novels with series including The Corean Chronicles, The Imager Portfolio, Timegod's War, the Spellsong Cycle, The Ecolitan Institute, and most famously, the long running and best selling Saga of Recluce. 

Today he shares his six books with us....

1. What book are you currently reading?
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?
It’s not an “upcoming” book, but the next book I’m excited to read is Prospero’s Children by Jan Siegel. I’m always behind in thinking about new releases.

3. Is there a book you are currently itching to re-read?
My favorite re-read is The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. I don’t generally have an itch to re-read fiction.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about - either positively or negatively?
The first SF book I read was Slan by A.E. van Vogt, and I thought it was wonderful at age 12. I no longer do, for a number of reasons, but primarily because I can’t swallow a single individual creating and building a miniature fusion powerplant.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?
Collected Poems, 1909-1962, by T.S. Eliot. If we’re talking SF, probably Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, which I prefer to the revised version, The City and the Stars.

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book and why is it awesome?
My latest book that’s been released is Solar Express, a hard SF novel set in 2114, which deals with the events surrounding an object detected by a post-doc astrophysicist station-keeping a complete observatory on the far side of the moon. The object appears to be a long-period comet, but turns out to be the remnant of a far larger alien space-craft. The book is very hard SF, and is one of only two, so far, approved by NASA to bear the imprint of “NASA inspired” for both the subject matter and the accuracy of the science in the book, ranging from space-travel to cutting edge solar discoveries.

As for upcoming books, I have four coming in the next year and a half – Treachery’s Tools (an Imager book) this October, Recluce Tales (a collection of almost entirely new short stories all set in the world of Recluce) next January, Assassin’s Price (another Imager book) in July of next year, and The Mongrel Mage (a Recluce novel) in November 2017.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Morning Superhero

This weekend I will take my first delve into the world of Dungeons and Dragons.  I don't know how I avoided this game throughout my nerdy life, but I look forward to finally going on my first adventure.  The reading I have been doing has made me wonder what comics would make for a good role playing game.  I didn't back the Sixth Gun rpg kickstarter, but may have to look into it.  Locke and Key would be amazing, as would this week's pick of the week Chew.  I just wonder if there would be enough demand for it.

Pick of the Week:
Chew #58 - What just happened?  Just when I think John Layman is going to zig, he zags and keeps me in total suspense.  I was convinced this was going to be a tragic issue in which Tony Chu was forced to eat his wife to save the world.  As I type this I feel like Layman has been playing me like a fiddle all along.  That is too simple for someone like him and I have no idea how the end of the world will be prevented.  Curse you Layman!!!  I think what I will miss most of all when this series reaches its end are the absurd food related abilities that Layman creates.  This issue features three brothers who are vireholitoriams (derived from the Latin words for manly, vegetables, and human), individuals who get enhanced strength from specific vegetables.  That may sound random, but Tony Chu has a strong connection to beets and enjoys the bite he takes out of the youngest brother who is powered by beets.  Small touches like this make it one of the most bizarre and enjoyable books and one that will be missed.

The Rest:
Dept. H #6 - It feels like we are nearing the end of this mystery, as Mia appears to have her list of suspects narrowed down.  Matt and Sharlene Kindt do a masterful job weaving in flash backs to really develop their characters in a condensed time frame.  Through the lens of Mia as a child, we learn so much about her upbringing and her eclectic dad (whose murder she is 6 miles beneath the surface trying to solve).  The design of the underwater gear remind me of the robots from Laputa, in Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky.  In a stellar follow-up to Mind MGMT, the Kindt family is a force to be reckoned with.

Batman #7 - The new arc, Night of the Monster Men, kicked off to a gruesome and appropriately titled debut.  In what felt like a cross between Attack of Titan and what happens to Tetsuo in Akira, Gotham is plagued by a giant baby courtesy of Hugo Strange.  Enlisting the help of Clayface, who is helping out the good guys, Batman, Batwoman, and Night Wing have their hands full.  On top of this surprise attack, a hurricane is hitting Gotham and many of its residents need to be evacuated from the flooding.  This arc looks to be high in intensity and will hopefully be a lot of fun.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #62 - It feels to finally be current with this series and a lot has gone down.  For a quick update, Splinter has taken out Shredder and is now the leader of the Foot Clan.  The Foot are supposedly loyal and doing good, but Michelangelo has had his doubts.  In this issue Raph was finally able to convince him to set aside his differences and rejoin his family.   It was a feel-good moment that was quickly dashed as Splinter and the Foot have an all out attack planned for a rival gang.  I don't like the look of the new Splinter and worry that he is being corrupted.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Microreview [movie]: Blair Witch

Lost in the woods

I saw The Blair Witch Project on the first showing of opening day and I loved it. It was original and it was scary. I'm even into Book of Shadows, which was a deeply flawed movie. I was pretty surprised to find out that, in the year 2016, I would get a proper sequel to The Blair Witch Project. How well does Blair Witch compare? Not great.

Blair Witch is a found footage style horror movie, following James as he tries to find out what happened to his sister Heather when she disappeared in the Black Hills forest during the events of The Blair Witch Project. After seeing some online footage someone found that he believes shows his sister is still alive, he gathers up three friends, the two locals who found the footage, and they all head into the Black Hills forest to look for the ruined house Heather disappeared in. 

Blair Witch suffers from not buying entirely into its own premise. It purports to be compiled from footage found in the Black Hills as recorded by the members of this doomed expedition but the completeness of this footage means they must've found all of the recording devices. Given the fates of some of the members, this is difficult to believe and it gets harder to believe as the movie goes on. Contributing to this, every single person of has a camera, minus the two locals who only have one camera. Obviously, if you're filming a movie, all these cameras give you a great degree of flexibility when it comes to how to portray a scene, but it totally wrecks the illusion of reality that a found footage movie should create. There were several points in time when I questioned who was wearing the camera that captured some of the scenes in the movie. 

For a found footage movie, these are serious offenses, and it's weakened by the fact that the actors are actually acting. What made The Blair Witch Project special was the feeling that those people were not acting, because they weren't. They were amateurs who were lost in the woods and it's a visceral feeling. Nothing in Blair Witch comes close. 

What it does do right is the ending, and I don't mean that in a snarky way. Blair Witch does effectively build to a screeching crescendo and it's extremely satisfying, even if some of the events of the last 10 minutes aren't perfectly clear. To me, that's kind of a good thing. The movie could have done with more unexplained stuff. Despite my complaints about how it's made, it's not terrible. It just doesn't achieve what it sets out to do.

Top to bottom, this isn't a great movie. It's essentially just a worse version of The Blair Witch Project with a cast twice as large and too much Hollywood influence. Blair Witch Project haters will be justified. Fans will find nothing new in this movie. If you haven't seen any movie in the franchise, this is not the place to start. I'm not the type of person to say it's impossible to make a movie in the style of The Blair Witch Project effectively, but this is not the way it's done.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 appropriately climatic ending

Penalties: -1 too many cameras with too much acting in front of them for a found footage, -1 not going to change the minds of any detractors while giving nothing new to fans

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10 (not very good)


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

Reference: Wingard, Adam (dir). Blair Witch [Lionsgate, 2016] 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

SFF Essentials: Books you should totally be reading out loud to your kids

Lists like this are always a disaster: the books on them are either so obvious it hardly bears mentioning (The Hobbit, for instance) or "completely inappropriate for my sensitive/flighty/etc. kids". I'm sure many readers will disagree/object strenuously to some of these selections. And it's true, I've only read a few of them to my own kids so far (we're currently halfway through Taran Wanderer). But I remain convinced that, despite the sometimes archaic language and confusing situations in some of these books, they're doing my kids good. Do I have any evidence for that? Not a bit. But then, when has that ever stopped me before?

The below list is in ascending order of seriousness/target age (from 3 or so up to about 10, assuming my kids are still speaking to me then!)

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak     

I don't really remember much about this book, to be honest, except the strange certainty that it was my favorite book as a preliterate kid. I loved having it read to me--like candy for my ears. The more serious question is, should we be showing the movie adaptation to our young kids? My answer is "probably not", because the only other thing I remember about the book was that it was a bit frightening, and the movie is bound to up the fright ante...

The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander

   The Book of Three
   The Black Cauldron  
         The Princess of Llyr
         Taran Wanderer (we’re halfway through right now!)
         The High King

I loved these tales as a child, enough to attempt reading them to my own little ones. They seem moderately taken with it, especially the almost-six year old, but I find myself changing the story a bit as a I read it, so needlessly archaic is the language at times. We'll see if their interest survives to the end of book five. The older kid has also seen the movie "adaptation", the Black Cauldron, which is thoroughly mediocre and even a bit scary at times, but seemed to think it was okay.

Hey, I never got a poster map! That would've been great...

 The Ice Dragon, by George R.R. Martin

I was pleasantly surprised by this for-kids book by GRRM, who after all is not known for his kid-friendly themes. I immediately began reading this to my kids, with mixed results: they loved it (because of the illustrations), and thus were spoiled for non-illustrated books for all time :(

The Earthsea Trilogy, by Ursula K. LeGuin 
A Wizard of Earthsea
The Tombs of Atuan
The Farthest Shore

This one's a no-brainer. Despite being rather sexist (a surprise considering LeGuin's later career!) all three of these books, especially the first, are excellent, if a bit dark (and thus their place in the ascending order of seriousness/target age is a bit higher). Tehanu I disliked as a child, but like now as an adult; the same goes for the fifth book. But should you show the movie adaptations (Earthsea, a live action adaptation, or Tales from Earthsea, the animated adaptation)? A firm "no" to the first, a "meh" to the second.

The Dark Is Rising Series, by Susan Cooper             
Over Sea, Under Stone
The Dark is Rising
The Grey King
Silver on the Tree
I haven't started reading these to my kids yet, and thus haven't re-read them myself for decades, but I have high hopes that my rosy memory of this series is not a mere illusion: I loved them! The film version, on the other hand, is all kinds of awful, in my opinion. What's with the gratuitous blowing up of stuff scene?

 The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

"And not for the last time!" The periodic intonation of this line (or something like it) made a powerful impression on me, for some reason, and I loved having this read to me. So much so, my parents (unwisely?) just gave me the Lord of the Rings books and said "do your best." There's nothing objectionable in the content, really, aside from some rather comical violence. But then there's the schizophrenic movies, which can't decide whether to be for kids or some sort of weird LOTR 2.0 wannabes. Should you show your kids (any of) the movies? No.

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley

As a child (and as an adult, come to think of it) I adored books about intrepid heroines (not that it was easy to find them!), and this was one of my favorites. I can't remember anything particularly problematic about it, so it should be fair game for reading to my kids once we get through all the material above!

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

Of course you should be reading your kids this book: it'll teach them the word 'tesseract'! True, I still don't understand what that is, but I sure liked reading about it as a kid! And unusually for this list, I actually have re-read this book as a quasi-adult (~20), and found it "still good", just like the Dead Sea Tupperware from Aladdin!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll          

If you want to blow your kids' minds, a) read them this, but b) wait until they're a bit older (that's why this book is in the middle of this list, rather than at the light-and-fluffy top). Glowing eyes in the shadows, queens who chop off nigh everybody's heads--it's not for the faint of heart! Nor are the many movie adaptations, in general: screen them with care, if at all. Nightmares may logically result.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (but not the rest), by C.S. Lewis 

Note that I haven't included any of the six sequels in this list, and yes, that's intentional. I vividly remember many details from this book, and virtually nothing from the other six. I guess you could read them to your kids if you're desperately in search of something to fill up hundreds of hours of reading-time, but otherwise, I'd leave it at book one and tell them to read the rest themselves if they want. Not coincidentally, the same advice holds for the movies, which started rather mediocrely with LWW and then nosedived quickly. 

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman             

Holy crap, I think I've just found a book that's better than its movie adaptation! Can such a thing truly exist? But in all seriousness, the book is a lot better, mostly because of the awesome, sassy Princess Buttercup (as opposed to the Robin Wright push-over damsel-in-distress oxygen waster in the movie). Don't believe me? Go back and re-watch this film, then re-read the book, and you'll see what I mean. Yikes! How did I love this movie so much, when it's such a pale (not to mention sexist) echo of the book? On the plus side, content-wise both are totally okay for kids (in fact, they should probably be higher on this list, as below we get into some dark-ish stuff).

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

This is one of the only books on this list that I never read as a child (I got around to it as an adult). I sure wish someone had loved me enough to read it to me, though. What a great story! The Ghibli adaptation is quite good also, though it takes the story in a decidedly darker, war-torn direction, and it's partly for this reason that the book appears so far down the list (indicating the seriousness of its topic). It's unfair to judge a book by its movie adaptation, you say? No, it's just practicality: your kids will totally wear you down into showing you the movie, and there's some rather haunting stuff in this film that might make it unsuitable for very young children.

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende                 

And this book is in fact the only one on this list that I still haven't ever read. The movie made a deep (in fact, a terrifying) impression on me, and I guess I never dared read the source material for fear of deepening the scars. This is by way of saying that some might believe this book is less serious and should therefore be higher on the list, but my traumatic experience watching the movie at a very young age has convinced me that concepts like The Nothing are too much for a __-year old to handle...yet also quite memorable and fascinating stuff if the child is ready to hear it!

Image result for harry potter and the philosopher's stoneHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling                 

"Why isn't this higher on the list? It's for kids!" Yes, the first three or so books are light-hearted enough, but good luck getting your kids to stop at book one. If you dare read this one to them, be prepared to suffer the consequences (not least, having a few solid years of reading material that grows increasingly more upsetting). Same goes for the movies, only more so. Actually, the first two movies are kind of crappy from a technical point of view (sloppy, Chris Columbus-esque sequential reaction shots of all the kids, poorly paced editing, etc.), but they're the only two that you can show your (young) kids without rocking the foundations of their world, and once you start reading book one, you're committing to having them hear/read/see the rest, in short order no less.

Image result for harry potter and the chamber of secretsHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets            

Hah! If you're reading this, it means you ignored my advice and started reading Harry Potter to your kids when they were like six. Now they're catatonic on the floor at age 6.5, having watched all the movies already and suffering permanent damage in the process. You'll curse yourself for not having cast expelliarmus on your own hand when it was reaching for the Prisoner of Azkaban, so let me reiterate: read HP books to your kids at your own peril, and try mightily to 'pause' here, after book two (which, unlike #1, didn't have a patronizing dumbed-down title for the "Yanks"), to give your kids time to beef up their psychological defenses before the onslaught of the rest!

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (manga), by Miyazaki Hayao

The movie is awesome, and while shockingly violent in some ways, is still okay to show kids of a certain baseline age (maybe 10+?). But did you know that Miyazaki actually wrote the manga himself--and wrote it first, before his seminal film? Manga are actually a great choice for bedtime reading material, since they come with pictures, but most manga are way too sexualized/violent/adult-themed for pleasant dreams; Nausicaa is something of a (potential) exception. I can't promise the God Warriors won't cause a nightmare or two, of course!

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

In some ways this is a natural choice for a list like this, but in others its subtly though deeply disturbing subject matter might perhaps disqualify it altogether as bedtime reading material. Who wants to read their kids a story of inter-species genocide, after all? But on the other hand, it's one of the most intriguing novels of the last several decades (unlike its sequels, which I found underwhelming as a child), and as long as your kid(s) is(are) old enough to handle the content, might as well show them the solid movie adaptation while you're at it!

Magician, by Raymond Feist 
(but probably not the rest of them, as they get 'heavy' quickly)

This is a book that could easily be higher on the list, but I remember it as being rather long and more of an adolescent coming-of-age tale than a 'for kids' sort of story. Still, I used to ride my bike down to the local library in a tizzy over the chance to re-read it when I was like nine, so it can't have been all bad, right? (Judging from Feist's recent "novels", I'm inclined to think Magician might secretly be really bad, and I was just too young/dumb to notice it at the time, however.)

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman      

What a cool, creepy story! And the movie even more so, if anything! That's the good news. The bad news: do not, under any circumstances, show your five-year-olds or under any part of this terrifying movie, and for good measure, best steer clear of the book too until they're old enough to weather the emotional turmoil of imagining their Other Mommy as a spidery monster...but what an awesome bedtime story, if they can handle it!

Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Two Towers
The Return of the King

I've saved the best (?) but also the longest, most archaic, and downright most boring for last. Gasp--boring? Yeah, the whole Tom Bombadill digression in Fellowship of the Ring is uber-boring! I hate to trample on the bible of you Tolkien worshipers out there, but the series doesn't really get good until the very end of the FOTR, and more properly the beginning of TTT. That's why they're here at the end of the list: not because they're too scary (though there are certainly scary parts), but because they're too boring for younger kids to suffer through and not start to hate. And you can't raise a new generation of Nerds of a Feather if you ruin Tolkien for them by exposing them to it too early, now can you?

And thus, we have 24 books (actually over 30) that are indispensable reading materials when bedtime rolls around in your house. Your kids will probably love all these books, but take care about when to introduce them to this precious material, or your earnest efforts to proselytize your kids might backfire!

This list was constructed by Zhaoyun, Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2013, SFF lover since the snot-nosed age of five and fervent believer in a cautious approach to starting kids on a course of bedtime SFF.