Monday, February 29, 2016

NERD MUSIC GIVEAWAY: Dust Among the Stars (autographed CD) by Sci-Fi Romance

As you may know, many of us nerds of a feather are creative types. What you may not have known is that my co-editor Vance is the singer, songwriter and guitarist for a pretty awesome alt-folk band, Sci-Fi Romance. Even better, their lyrics and music draw heavily from science fiction and horror! So we're really excited to have two signed copies of Sci-Fi Romance's new album, Dust Among the Stars, to give to two lucky readers!


Okay here's how it works....

The video for "Goodbye at the End of the World" is a love letter to classic science fiction and horror. In addition to trying to evoke the feel of a classic 1950s science fiction movie, with flying saucers and an unlikely couple as the only ones who can stop some terrible catastrophe, there are explicit references to books, movies, people and other things hidden throughout the video. Lots, and lots of references.



Since this is the kind of thing that is right up the alley of a lot of 'nerds of a feather, flock together' readers, the band decided to give away two autographed copies of Dust Among the Stars to our most eagle-eyed readers. Watch the video, try to spot all the references, and write them in the form below, along with your email address. In the event that more than two people spot all the references, two winners will be chosen at random from that group to receive the CDs.

Reviewers are calling Dust Among the Stars a lot of very nice things, and you can hear the album here or purchase from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and all major digital retailers.



Note: email addresses will only be used to contact you in case you win this contest. You won't be signed up for any mailing lists.

Best Cinematic Comic Adaptation Tournament (Play-In Round)

It's March Madness time again!

In previous years, through the votes of our readers we have crowned The Greatest Sci-Fi TV Show of All Time and The Greatest Sci-Fi Movie of All Time. This year, the tournament is for the Best Cinematic Comic Adaptation, and we've changed the way we do things to make this even more democratic.
Click to expand

First, the selection process: We invited all 13 of our writers to nominate their favorite big-screen comics adaptations in the Marvel, DC, Indie or Imprint, and International Regions. For the International Region, our requirement was that the source material originate outside of the U.S., even if the adaptation did not. From there, based on a point system built on the number of mentions for each movie and literally hundreds of emails between the team, we narrowed down the field. I can't say there was blood, but there were arguments. In the end, we got the field set and seeded based on everybody's input.

But that wasn't enough! Oh no. This year, we've added a play-in round for the #8 seed in each Region. So readers get to vote on what the last movie included in each Region will be (and that way you guys can settle some of the toughest fights we had). The play-in fields are different sizes, and that reflects the various levels of competition and differing opinions in each of those Regions.

The play-in round is brief, so get to voting! It will be open for 48 hours, and then the final field will be set and voting on Round 1 will begin. Off we go!

Marvel Region



Indie/Imprint Region



DC Region



International Region


Friday, February 26, 2016

Star Wars: Battlefront

[Star Wars: Battlefront, DICE, Electronic Arts, 2015]

Your Timing is Impeccable!

It's no coincidence that this game came out a month and a day before The Force Awakens. Disney didn't get to be the all-powerful evil corporation that they are today by being stupid. That said, the initial release of this game has little-to-nothing to do with Episode VII and everything to do with Episodes IV-VI. There is no mention or reference to Episodes I-III, thank God! Despite average reviews (it got a 75 on Metacritic for the XBox One edition and a 72 for the PS4), the game has done well, selling over 12 million copies. Then again, I could probably sell at least 6 million units of a xerox copy of my backside if I could just get Disney to let me use the Star Wars name and logo in my marketing campaign. 


This game has impressive graphics, as you can plainly see from the photo above. It's not one of those titles that teases you with impressive cut scenes only to find out that the actual gameplay looks more like Atari than Assassin's Creed. The control scheme took a little getting used to, but after a few hours with the game I had mastered the straightforward yet ample mechanics. My one major knock on this title is that there is no story mode. As a lover of reading with two English degrees, I feel ripped off when a game's campaign mode is only six hours long as has been the case with most Call of Duty sequels. For them to not provide so much as a small campaign mode is unforgiveable, in my opinion, despite the fact that we're all familiar with the story and most of us can quote Episodes IV-VI line-by-line. "Why you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerfherder!"



"Who's scruffy-looking?!" Not the greatest actor of all time, Indiana "Solo" Ryan! If Carrie Fisher just had a glimpse into her future, I'm convinced she would have refused to say that line. Anyway, even if they had stuck to the plot of A New Hope, Empire, and Jedi, I would have taken to this game with much more fervor than I did. As it is, there are two main game modes: Solo/Co-op and Multiplayer. Don't get me wrong, they're pretty successful at doing what they intended and the game is fun to play, but I never felt the emotional attachment to the characters that I do in a game with an average-to-great campaign. 

Solo/Co-Op Modes



There are three modes in the Solo/Co-op half of the game. The first is just a training mode where you learn how to fly an X-Wing and ride a Speeder Bike. The second is essentially the same as the multiplayer modes, but you can play with a friend or against him or her, either over XBox Live or on a split screen. You are fighting against a bunch of AI Storm Troopers or Rebel "Scum," depending on which side you choose. The point here, as it is in the multiplayer maps, is to kill more of the opposing team than they can kill of yours before you reach 100 kills/deaths or time runs out. Finally, the third mode is called Survival. It is reminiscent of Gears of War's Horde Mode. You do your best to fight off ever larger and more difficult waves of enemies until you are inevitably overrun. Since Training isn't really a game mode, I'll just say that these two modes are fun enough to keep you occupied for several hours, but they don't fill the void like a good plotline would have. They also don't seem to add to your character level, an oversight that would have been nice to know early on because leveling is vital to your survival in the multiplayer maps. 


The Clone Wars



Where this game really shines is on the multiplayer side of things. There are nine widely varied games that have everything from small 8-person games up to massive 40-player slaughterfests where you'll need both hokey religion and a good blaster at your side if you want to keep from getting embarrassed. The traditional team deathmatch is called Blast and it has 20 Storm Troopers facing off against 20 Rebel Forces to see who can wipe out more of the opposing side. Unlike the movies, however, the Imperials win their fair share of battles. There is Fighter Squadron where you fly everything from Tie Fighters and X-Wings to the Millennium Falcon. Cargo is your run-of-the-mill capture the flag game, but instead of flags you are collecting crates of enemy supplies. Supremacy is a 40-person version of Destiny's Control, but with five points to hold instead of three. 


The two most original games in Battlefront's cadre are Heroes vs. Villains and Hero Hunt. The former has you teamed up with the films' most memorable characters, the point being to keep them alive and take out the other team's leading men (or women). The latter pits one lucky player (or rather, the previous game's winner) against seven other players. The catch is that the single player is a formidable challenge like Luke Skywalker or Boba Fett while the team of seven are merely blaster fodder. This game is a blast if you're lucky enough to come out on top and play as a character who wasn't listed in the credits as "Rebel Fighter #4," but those opportunities come few and far between. I managed it twice in dozens of rounds. I feel it would have been better had they just chosen a player at random in the opening of each match, but if you are a die-hard multiplayer nut, then a game like this would certainly reward those months of your life spent playing Call of Duty and Halo. 

Now Let's Blow This Thing and Go Home!




First, let me give you a caveat. I'm a Star Wars baby, quite literally. I was born two weeks to the day before Episode IV - A New Hope came out in the theaters. I'm also a huge fan. I'm not one of those extreme types who dresses up as Darth to go see the movies on opening night at midnight, but I am at the midnight showings, nonetheless. That said, this game wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Although I do enjoy the occasional multiplayer bout, I'm more of a solo gamer who enjoys well-written plots and character development in a campaign of decent length. If you are a gamer who picks up every version of Call of Duty and skips the campaign, going right to the multiplayer, then this is right up your alley. As a standalone multiplayer, it's a very high quality title. If they had just added a decent original campaign to it, or even just let you replay the story of Episodes IV, V, and VI from a first-person perspective, this would have been one of my favorite games of the year. As it stands, I enjoy playing it, but sadly it feels incomplete. A game needs a story, no matter how brief or shallow. This simply has none. It just relies on the gamer's knowledge of the movies and lets you play in recognizable environments. That's simply not enough for me, but it may be for some. So if you're a multiplayer nut, give this game a go. I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

The Math

Objective Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for re-creating the Star Wars universe with such impeccable detail.

Penalties: -1 for failing to include a story with this otherwise polished title. It's a shame because they obviously spent so much time on the CGI that it sparkles, but there was zero effort put into a single player mode.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 A mostly enjoyable experience.




NERD MUSIC: Weezer

I don't know if it's fair to call Weezer the Grandpappy of Nerd Music, but they were certainly the first band I came across that foregrounded the kind of nerdy experience I was having, and for me, they were certainly the most impactful.

I was at what was basically a summer camp for geeks in 1994, and somebody had a copy of the DGC Rarities, Vol. 1 CD with Weezer's "Jaime" on it. I fell in love with their sound, and somebody else down at the end of the hall had Weezer, and a small group of us all kind of discovered the band together.


For a bunch of 13- and 14-year-olds (boys and girls) who were all kind of terrified of romantic relationships, hearing a band (on the same label as Nirvana!!) sing about being awkward around the opposite sex, holing up in your room listening to records (like we were doing right at that moment as we listened to them!), reading comics and playing D&D, it felt like the kind of band we would have been in if we'd been able to write or play music at all.



And then they blew up with songs like "Undone" and "Buddy Holly." Their success reinforced the idea that we were weird, but we were not alone.



And Weezer was also surprisingly heavy. So where Nirvana was my gateway band into metal (and I got WAY into metal by 1996), when Pinkerton came out and it was distorted and full of feedback and legit heavy but still with the catchy songwriting of Weezer, I happily still listened to Weezer alongside your Sepultura and your At the Gates and your Acid Bath.

More important than how Pinkerton sounded, though, was what it was about. More than anything, it validated Rivers Cuomo as "one of us." He was now this internationally famous rock star, but the first song on the record is called "Tired of Sex," and it wasn't about how great being a rock star was, it was about how even when you're surrounded by women and fame and money, inside you're still the same awkward kid that feels better/safer in your room. I guess on some level maybe that's a bummer, but for me, and a lot of my friends at the time, it wasn't. It felt like the opposite.



About a year later, I had a roommate who played guitar, and I started trying to teach myself to play. I'd been playing drums in metal bands for a few years by that point, but no guitar. So I downloaded a bunch of tabs from this new Internet thing, and I taught myself about half of Pinkerton. This one was fun to play sitting on the West Mall at the University of Texas:



And then Weezer went away. When they came back, Rivers Cuomo disavowed my beloved Pinkerton in interviews, and they were never the same. But that's ok. It was pretty great while it lasted.

And finally, as an aside, Pinkerton is also the source of my favorite-ever misunderstood lyric. For a long time, one of my friends thought the line "Why bother? It's gonna hurt me / It's gonna kill when you desert me" was "My father is gonna hurt me / He's gonna kill when you desert me." Sure, the song is actually called "Why Bother?" and why somebody's father would kill them if their girlfriend left was a mystery. but it made the song way, way darker.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Microreview [book]: Son of the Black Sword, by Larry Correia

Somewhat disappointing throwback epic fantasy with Correia's trademark action




After tackling urban fantasies set in the present and in the 1930's, as well as a modern day military thriller, Larry Correia takes a whack at epic fantasy with Son of the Black Sword, the first volume in the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior.

What Correia appears to be doing with Son of the Black Sword is not quite as apparent in the early going, and while he is laying the groundwork for the back half of the novel, readers who are looking for something more than ass kicking fight scenes and buckets of blood may check out before the payoff and the character development.

Ashok Vadal is the epitome of a Protector, an elite warrior tasked with enforcing The Law. The capitalization here is important because in this world, at this time, The Law is everything. It has moved beyond simple legal strictures to become the absolute foundation of this land and Ashok is so perfectly a Protector and so perfectly an enforcer of the law that he might as well be a robot. To Ashok, an individual is either in compliance with the law or he is not. There are no in betweens. There are no grey areas. So, when Ashok learns that, unknowingly, his entire life has been in violation of The Law, he turns himself in for execution.

Somewhere I hear Sean Connery yelling "The Law will judge you!"

Of course, The Law (or the law) is not some perfect thing and throughout the novel various characters point out to Ashok atrocities done in the name of The Law. At the same time, we also see individuals in the ruling caste actively working to subvert The Law to their own ends. We might guess where this could possibly end.

Looking to shake the foundations of the characters as well as the world, Correia is not interested in maintaining the status quo for anyone or anything. As wooden as some of the early characterization comes across and as so over the top the moral code of The Law is, Correia lays the groundwork for the culture he is (almost certainly) going to overturn in future volumes of this series. The only problem is that we have to get through the first quarter of the novel to actually see this begin to take shape.

The Son of the Black Sword is a Larry Correia novel, and anyone who is at all passingly familiar with Correia's fiction will know to expect action sequences as lovingly choreographed as a ballet of violence. Correia delivers this in what feels like geysers of blood and missing limbs.

I am not the intended audience for this book.

The audience that loves balls to the wall action mixed with sorcery, a magic sword, and the occasional twist and turn to the plot while not really caring that the prose is just good enough to get the job done but not good enough to shine will love this.

My problem is that Son of the Black Sword, despite a November 2015 publication date, feels like a throwback to the epic fantasies of the 1980's or early 1990's where there is a greater sense of black and white and obviousness to both the writing as well as the storytelling.

To that point, Son of the Black Sword is reminiscent of James Barclay's Chronicles of the Raven, a series I've described as being a bridge between the fantasies of the 1980's and those of the 2000's, except almost everything that Correia does here, Barclay does so much better.  The reason I mention Barclay is because had Son of the Black Sword been published even twenty years ago, I might view Correia's novel as one of those "Bridge" novels straddling the line between two eras of fantasy fiction. It's just that (despite my love of awards) even though fiction is not a competition, I've somehow linked Son of the Black Sword with Barclay's Raven novels in my head and, at least for me, Correia's novel doesn't measure up.

With that said, I do think that fans of Correia's fiction would and absolutely love Barclay's Dawnthief and should give it a shot.

Also - about that magic sword. With the title "Son of the Black Sword", one imagines that Correia is partly giving a nod to Michael Moorcock's Song of the Black Sword with Elric and his ever thirsty for blood black sword Stormbringer.  In Son of the Black Sword we have Ashok and his magical semi-sentient sword Angruvadal, a sword which will kill the wielder if it deems that the person holding it is not worthy.

Larry Correia has done a remarkable thing with Son of the Black Sword. Despite my really not being the audience for the novel, and despite the issues I had with it, after persevering through the opening chapters and having a pretty solid idea of exactly where the novel was going I still wanted to continue on that journey. I wanted to know how this was going to end up even though I pretty much knew.  Despite not at all being enthusiastic about Son of the Black Sword, I still want to know what happens in the next book. I'm not sure I care what happens to Ashok, but I'd like to know exactly how The Law is taken down in future volumes and how the demon hordes that have ruled the waters and threatened the land for millenia might be truly combated. I didn't love this book and I wouldn't recommend it, but I still want to know what happens next.



The Math

Baseline Assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for the fight sequences. Correia writes the hell out of armed conflict, +1 for Rada the librarian, a character I'd love to see have her own novel, +1 for somehow making me curious to read the next book just to find out how certain things resolve.

Penalties: -1 for being a 2015 novel that would have been better served being published thirty years ago, -1 for awfully wooden characterization, -1 for clunky writing.

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10 "Equal parts good and bad." See more about our scoring system here.


***

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

Reference: Correia, Larry. Son of the Black Sword. [Baen, 2015]

Thursday Morning Superhero



Happy Thursday!  Before we hop into this week's books, I thought I would share another kickstarter project that is too cool not to share.  A group of smart people huddled together, and figured out how to put an escape room in a box.  Escape rooms are quite popular, but can be expensive, difficult to coordinate, and require some serious scheduling.  To avoid this hassle, this convenient option was invented and darn does it look cool.  They have unlocked some awesome stretch goals and I am looking forward to adding this to my ever growing game collection.  Check it out here and let me know what you think!



Pick of the Week:
Chew #55 - John Layman made his twitter followers promise not to spoil anything and I am a good and loyal subject.  I will say that Mr. Layman has made me feel sympathetic towards a character who I had previously loathed.  Multiple characters in this issue demonstrated that they were far more complex than I ever had realized, and it makes me want to go back and reread this insane adventure from the start.  When I first learned about Tony Chu and his cibopath powers, I never guessed that his adventure would have brought us to where we are today.  There were a few moments in the middle where I doubted where his tale was going, but it appears that the conclusion is going to be worth the journey.  If you are not already a Chew fan DO NOT read this book.  Go pick up a few trades, maybe even an omnivore edition, and catch up.  What are you waiting for?!?!

The Rest:
Daredevil #4 - Charles Soule drops a bomb, literally, in his early run with the man with no fear.  I have enjoyed the direction Soule has taken Mr. Murdock thus far, and the added twist in this one was a great touch. After Tenfingers confronted Murdock, he turns to a powerless Steve Rogers for guidance.  In a chilling moment, Daredevil realizes he has stumbled onto a bomb.  Rogers asks Daredevil how much time is left until it explodes to which Daredevil responds, "I don't know."  Something as simple as not being able to sense how much time is left is a chilling and sobering moment in this great book.  Daredevil realizes that Cap doesn't know he is blind as he directs him to the green and yellow wires.  There is something about seeing how vulnerable some superheroes really are and Soule's early take on Daredevil is not to be missed.

Saga #34 - I love how sweet and trusting toddler Hazel is.  It is staggering to think of how much she has grown throughout this series, and how I hope this book shifts with more of a focus on her.  She has always been our narrator, but it is something to see her come into her own and really start to drive some of the narrative.  A lot has to be resolved before we can head in that direction, but I feel that is where we are headed and I couldn't be more excited.  It was also amazing to see that The Will, even fat The Will, is still a freaking force to be reckoned with.  We are reaching the point where our fragmented stories will all merge into one and it is going to be a glorious train wreck!



Plutona #4 - Things really pick up when Mie learns about how Tugger and her brother have been trying to gain Plutona's power by trying to absorb her blood.  It isn't apparent how well it is working as Tugger has been sick, but there are changes happening and I fear for Mie and her "friends" and what might happen after the effect of the blood kicks in.  Jeff Lemire remains adept at connecting his readers to his characters on an emotional level with ease.  I am truly afraid for the next issue and the conclusion of this dark tale.





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

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Microreview [book]: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Compression Sickness


Did you read my Ancillary Justice review? No? Go back and read that, and Ancillary Justice. This is part 2 in a series and this review won't be mindful of spoilers from that novel. Scratch that, here's your spoiler-free review: Ancillary Sword has a smaller scope and loses some of what made Justice good with a slow, predictable plot. You'll be lost (but not hopelessly lost) without some of the context given by reading Ancillary Justice first. It's a 6/10, and probably 5/10 if you're not already invested.

Still with me? Okay. Now that I've spoiled the score, let's talk about this novel. Breq is appointed the Mianaai family name, whether she likes it or not, given her own ship with a small crew, and sent to protect a remote space station from the Other Anaander. This key location is essentially a tea plantation, complete with alien slaves, and manipulative elites. While she's there, Breq tries to make good with the sister of Lieutenant Awn. 

Leckie continues to build on the world she created in Justice, and that stuff is largely good. We get a better look at how the common citizen lives, how aliens are treated in the Radch, and the extent to which the Radch has lost and is losing power in the galaxy. The twists and contortions made to determine who is taking orders from which Anaander Mianaai also keep the story on its toes. How do you determine which one is the "right" one? It's a problem Breq can't solve, because there is no clear answer. The fragmentation of the Radch is entertaining to read, particularly after spending most of Ancillary Justice reading about how monolithic and powerful it is.

Unfortunately, Sword suffers from compression sickness. The planet hopping, timeline switching, constantly moving plot of Justice is gone and replaced with a much more linear story told on a much smaller scale. It all takes place on the space station and the planet below, with few excursions elsewhere. This dense plot is also fairly plodding and predictable. From beginning to end, it doesn't feel like the needle moved much, especially when compared to the previous novel. Further, if you thought Breq was on a high horse in Justice, the horse is now a giraffe on stilts. She's not just a stiff separated AI anymore, but now a stiff separated AI who's always right about everything. It wore on me, and surprisingly did not wear on the other characters in a realistic way. 

Though I couldn't put down Ancillary Sword, it didn't really impress me like Ancillary Justice did. There was a point in Ancillary Justice that really grabbed me, and I never got that feeling from Ancillary Sword. It squeezes everything I liked about Justice down in ways that don't really improve the novel. I'll certainly see the trilogy to its completion, but I'm going back into it less excited than I was after finishing Ancillary JusticeAncillary Sword was a bit of a letdown. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 watching the shattered pieces of the Radch in motion

Penalties: -1 plodding story that doesn't match the scale of its predecessor

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: Leckie, Ann. Ancillary Sword [Orbit, 2014] 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Microreview [film]: Turbo Kid

Back to the future



Turbo Kid is another entry in the semiserious/semi-ironic '80s retro movement linking artists working across multiple media. This one, specifically, is a cinematic homage to the cheap Mad Max ripoffs that only ever seemed to play at the one surviving drive-in left in town, but took up significant real estate at your local video store. I remember, at a young age, holding the fat laminated boxes--marveling at the disfigured faces of post-apocalyptic mutants and foam spike armor of the inevitable raiders, wondering what thrills I might receive if my parents would just let me rent something with that much gore. But when that glorious day arrived, I would inevitably realize, as Peter Sobczynski notes, that these were films whose boxes "always promised more than they ever came close to delivering."

This is the story of the Kid (Munro Chambers), a teenager who rides his bike across the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1997, scavenging junk to trade for water. While out in the field, he meets Apple (Laurence Lebouef), a very manic pixie dream girl who follows the Kid to his hideout and, through her irrepressible joie de vivre (this is a French-Canadian production, after all), wins over the initially suspect Kid.


Then shit starts to go south. Local badman Zeus (Michael Ironsides) first kidnaps the area protector, Kiwi cowboy and arm-wrestling champion Frederick (Aaron Jeffery), then Apple. All seems lost when, in the midst of trying to escape Apple's kidnappers, the Kid discovers an underground military vessel left over from humanity's catastrophic war with the robots (i.e. the apocalyptic event). Inside there is a jump suit complete with a Nintendo Power Glove, which--if fully charged--can instantly disintegrate a human being. He goes to save Apple (who it turns out can take care of herself quite ably), and in the process sets up a confrontation with Zeus and his gang of foam spike clad marauders.

Standard '80s B-movie fare, right? On the surface, yes--and Turbo Kid does a good job of reinterpreting its source material with a good balance of satire and appreciation for what makes grindhouse film fun to watch--not least of which the hilariously over-the-top gore, which gets more and more absurd as the film goes on. Oh, and it sports a phenomenal soundtrack by synthwave artist Le Matos.

What makes Turbo Kid really stand out, though, is its emotional core--propelled by its central relationships, and especially the friendship between the Kid and Apple, which is surprisingly heartfelt and affecting. In the end, Turbo Kid isn't really about action or '80s nostalgia--it's about lonely people finding friendship, and here it doesn't play for laughs, winks or nudges. Sure, Apple starts off as your standard manic pixie dream girl (albeit extra manic), while the Kid doesn't even merit a name; still, by the end of the film I realized how deeply invested I'd become in what happens to them--in a way I rarely am with pop culture films made after 1990.

I guess that's the thing about '80s culture that people in 2016 find so attractive, whether we're talking action schlock, John Hughes romances or the digital keyboard sounds used by Billy Ocean--there's a sincerity about all of it, even when being sincere makes you look cheesy as hell. And Turbo Kid does a fantastic job capturing that. It's funny and silly, but also distinctly bittersweet, and deeply romantic. Just as importantly, Turbo Kid is the kind of film you can't wait to watch again.


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for the highly resonant emotional core of the film, which is what separates it from other attempts to pull of this kind of thing; +1 for the fantastic Le Matos soundtrack, which really accentuates everything the director is going for.

Penalties: -1 for the first 10-15 minutes of the film, which are a bit awkward relative to the rest. '

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. "Very high quality/standout in its category."

***

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


Reference: Turbo Kid, directed by Simard, Whissell and Whissell [Epic Pictures, 2015]


Microreview [book]: The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again by AC Wise

As fabulous as promised




AC Wise’s The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again opens its very first story with the line “Mars needs men!” However, what the stories in the book go on to show is that what everyone needs, instead, are the fabulous heroines of the title.

Over the course of nine interconnected stories, with intermittent breaks for cocktail recipes from Sapphire’s Little Black Book of Cocktails, Wise introduces the reader to a wide variety of women—from cis women to female-identified man to transitioning characters—with an equally wide variety of sexualities represented. If for this fact alone, the book feels like a wonderful breath of fresh air. That it also goes beyond this to be filled with humor, emotional depth, and engaging plots makes for a dynamic reading experience.

The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again best fits into the category of character-driven story cycle: the stories essentially fitting together by telling us about each of our heroines and how they ended up in a space where they were ready to find one another. The stories are filled with deeply speculative elements: from spaceships to the devil. Yet, they feel more about the interconnectedness of people, how families can be created among a disparate group of people, and what finding a sense of place/family/ community can really do for a person.

If there is a flaw, it is that sometimes Wise’s writing feels slightly too flat in some of the more action-filled moments. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it feels pragmatic, as it moves the action along quickly, but I would have liked a few more pauses in these moments. As they are, I often wanted to skip through the action scenes as they didn’t seem to tell me much or connect me to the other more resonant story parts.

However, finding flaws seems to be in the wrong spirit, as I truly enjoyed entering this world and spending time with these ultra-fabulous heroines. This book is 100% fun but it’s also emotionally resonant. This is not a small feat.


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for the inclusion of cocktail recipes between stories (that actually do solid world building and character development in the process)

Penalties: -1 for sometimes feeling bogged down in the action scenes

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 “well worth your time and attention.”


***

POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016.

Reference: Wise, A.C. The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again [Lethe Press, 2015].

Monday, February 22, 2016

2016 Nerds of a Feather Resolutions

Now that a new year has begun, we should begin to look at what resolutions we might want to make for 2016. It is a time of rebirth and renewal, is it not? Out with the old, in with the new. That's what they say, right?  So, as we begin our first steps into this untested year, we here at Nerds of a Feather have deci.....

Wait. What?

We're almost through February already?

Wasn't there supposed to be an announcement somewhen around the end of December that a new year is about to emerge?

I suppose this explains why nobody came to my New Year's Eve party last night.

Fine.

On to the resolutions. 

Image Credit: Bill Watterson - Dec 31,1989


Brian:
1. 52 consecutive Taco Tuesdays
2. Learn more about amateur video production to add some gameplay footage to reviews.
3. Read one more book than I did in 2015. (According to Goodreads, I read 12 books in 2015. My 2016 goal is 13.)
4. Stop jamming blog post material into a series of tweets. Just write the blog post and tweet that link.
5. Run a tabletop RPG that isn't Pathfinder or D&D for at least one session.

Charles Payseur:
My book resolutions don't change much from year to year, but this year I am adding one. Namely, 2016 is my K. Tempest Bradford Reading Challenge year (for novels and graphic novels at least). Otherwise, my resolution is (as always) to review everything I read. I'm actually almost all caught up on my reviews for 2015 (just have to finish up two more on Goodreads), and I'm hoping to do keep it going for 2016. I am a review machine. Just keep me fueled with beer and nachos and carry on.

Chloe:
My reading resolution was to read more books off of my to-read list and stop adding new books to it until I did....I've already broken this resolution, though.

Dean:
Mine is basically to read more - I want to post at least one review of something SFF per month. I had a lot of DNFs and disappointing books last year, so I am hoping to find some stuff I enjoy more. And though it doesn't fit under the Nerds of a Feather banner as much, I want to get back to reading more history and non-fiction.

English Sribbler:
My resolution is to read more and watch less, to stave off the relentless slide towards mental oblivion that reading websites and watching endless full series of dramas then reading reviews of said dramas on my phone is surely causing. So my new year's resolution is to ditch last year's reading list and start afresh, and to read darker and more disturbing novels than ever before. 2016 will be the year of darkness, both in story and on my phone!

The G:
I've grown disenchanted with "trope-forward science fiction" lately, by which I mean literature that's classifiable as science fiction primarily by the existence of well-worn, recognizable conventions. Note: I am not judging anyone for liking that kind of thing, nor claiming that I won't enjoy it again myself in the future. But I feel like science fiction, as a sort of collective entity, is increasingly content with churning out stuff that "looks" and "feels" like authentic item, but isn't' terribly concerned with mapping out plausible futures or exploring what kinds of human stories can be told under such circumstances (and that includes the supposed "scientific rigor" of hard SF, which nowadays is often just "physicsporn"). And I'm tired of all that right now. So my resolution is to seek out novels are rigorously speculative, but equally focused on human stories and human conditions (psychological,sociological, political, etc.). 

Joe:
If we don't consider "read all the books" to be an actual resolution, let's go with this: I want to read more short fiction this year, both in anthologies and magazines. I want to finish my Melanie Rawn and Katherine Kurtz re-reads. I want to do some serious damage to the pile of books on my shelves that I've never read and that my wife taunts me about. I want to read more Kate Elliott, Lois McMaster Bujold, Rosemary Kirstein, C.J. Cherryh, Nicola Griffith, Kristine Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Katharine Kerr. I want to read at least two to four more Pulitzer Prize winning books. I want to read Joanna Russ, Elisabeth Vonarburg, and Julie Czerneda for the first time. I want to read all the books.

Tia:
I want to try to stop being such a snob about speculative fiction TV shows and start watching more. I read plenty, but always turn my nose up at TV shows and blow them off as lame and cheesy with bad acting unless they get some high critical acclaim. A little cheese never hurt anyone. I've already binged Mr. Robot and The Expanse, both of which are freaking awesome. On my to watch list so far  is the Shannara chronicles (MTV), The Magicians (SyFy), The X-Files (Fox)... and of course my favorite cheese factory, The Librarians (TNT) which has been renewed for a third season (YESSSS).

Vance:
I've been working too hard for the last two years, and one of the most significant casualties to that has been reading books. I still do audiobooks constantly, but I miss reading books desperately. So my resolution this year is to fill in some gaps with my favorite authors. I've read all of Raymond Chandler's novels except, inexplicably, THE LONG GOODBYE, which is now at the top of my pile. I'm a huge Shirley Jackson fan, and found a pair of her novels I hadn't read at a used bookstore, so those are next. Nor have I ever read the (no longer canonical) Thrawn Trilogy, which I have in lovely graphic novel form. So I'll be striving to put some spackle in my broken reading life this year, and those seem like good places to start.

Zhaoyun:
My reading resolution for 2016 is that I want to stop being such a sniveling coward when choosing what to read. When I was a kid I was way more open to reading things based solely on their covers, but now I demand detailed information in the form of synopses, general background info on the authors, etc. This timidity, this cowering behind lofty standards simply has to stop. It's time to return to the age-old 'judge a book by its cover' standard!



Resolutions: They're funnier in February.



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

Friday, February 19, 2016

Microreview [book]: The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson

The ultimate chimera, this book is a surpassquel: a sequel that surpasses the original!






[Buy it here, or elsewhere, but whatever you do, be sure to read it!]

I’d thought it was just a myth, a story told to children before life beat all the creativity and optimism out of them. There’s no such thing as a surpassquel! How could there be? If the original sets out the narrative boundaries of the story, all subsequent iterations of the story must almost inevitably exist only within the confines of those boundaries. To put it mathematically, sequels are asymptotic—they can approach, but never hope to surpass, the greatness of the original. Plus, on the practical side, authors, for obvious reasons, tend to lead with their best foot forward, so to speak, and as a consequence, it’s exceedingly unlikely that an author would intentionally save his or her best idea for installment six—if the first effort doesn’t catch on, there won’t be any more, after all.

To bring the conversation back (or forward?) to Brandon "Branderson" Sanderson’s Mistborn series, I had even less reason to hope, since after the original Mistborn trilogy, centered around the peerless Vin, books four and five, while interesting and plenty entertaining, didn’t have quite the sparkle of the Vin era. Why hold out any hope that Branderson would find authorial magic on his third attempt at the Wax + Wayne (or wax and wane? Yin and yang?) formula?

Yet somehow…Branderson managed it. And I think I’ve figured out how.

I can’t say much without potentially spoiling the surprise, and in fact that’s part of the reason this sixth book in the Mistverse is so scintillatingly good: it’s basically a detective novel, full of twists and turns galore. But that’s not the main reason. You see, I had always thought the Wax&Wayne stories were especially unlikely to reach surpassquel status, because even within the diegesis, the mythology of Vin et al continues to overshadow the present. Kelsier has become the center of a vaguely Christian religion, while other characters we came to love in the first trilogy are similarly venerated, their real motivations poorly understood under the terrible weight of mythology.

It was an interesting decision for Branderson to let the original series loom so definitively over later stories set in the same world, but it was also, I reasoned, a brave/foolhardy one, since how can we admire this new cast of characters/situations if we—and they themselves!—know they are in every way inferior to the original band of heroes? Why, it would be almost as though someone made a fantastic trilogy of movies about a story of considerable pathos and gravitas, then decided to follow it with another trilogy set in the same world, but with waaaay less at stake, and try to pass it off as equally awe-inspiring (yes, I’m talking about you, Peter Jackson!).  

But in The Bands of Mourning, Branderson has delivered a masterstroke (of the metaphorical pen) showing why this mythological feedback loop can work: 1) he’s found a way to connect the latter-day heroes with the legendary figures of the past, and 2) he’s also exploring, far more dramatically than ever before in the Mistverse, the potential that Allomancy itself might soon be superseded by technological progress…yet also showing how nope, Allomancers will continue to thrive with each new innovation. This sort of myth + technology mash-up felt less successful in the first two Wax and Wayne volumes, but here, it strikes just the right tone.

All in all, it is my considered opinion that The Bands of Mourning is Branderson’s finest work in the Mistborn series—and in fact, his finest work, period!


The Math

Objective Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for finding a way to bring the past into the present—and keep both past and present relevant despite the encroaching future; +1 for crafting an excellent mystery

Penalties: none!

Nerd coefficient: 9/10 “Very high quality—a standout in the series, and the genre itself.”

[“What? Only a 9/10, and after such a glowing review?” –some reader
“Ah, but a 9/10 is as rare as a chimera here at Nerds of a Feather…see for yourself!" –me]

***

POSTED BY: Zhaoyun, long on a heretofore quixotic quest to find a surpassquel and regular contributor at Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

REFERENCE: Sanderson, Brandon. The Bands of Mourning. Tor: (January) 2016.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday Morning Superhero

I hope you are preparing yourself for this weekend's general San Diego Comic Con sale.  If you haven't created your official Comic Con ID, I think you are already out of the game.  In an event that is sure to fill your social media feed with complaints and tales of victory, I wish my fellow nerds the best of luck as they try for the coveted golden ticket.  Good luck all!


Pick of the Week:
Huck #4 - Holy twist, Mark Millar!  Huck is the only superhero that is even more of a goody-goody than Superman and Captain America combined and his story has been one of the most endearing I have read in recent memory.  Thanks to his powers going public, Huck has reconnected with his brother and has learned that his mom escaped from the Russians during the Cold War.  Using his special abilities, Huck is on the trail of his mother, but being the good Samaritan he is, he is delayed in his efforts to help others along the way.  This title needs to be developed into a television series or movie so that this story can reach the masses.   This is the issue that cements it as a must read.

The Rest:
Birthright #14 - The tension between Mikey and Brennan reaches a boiling point in an emotional issue that is setting up an epic ending to the current arc.  Brennan finally has had enough and stands up for himself in a series of panels that I can relate to as a younger brother.  It is amazing to think about how composed he has been considering what his family has been through.  This was the issue that humanized Brennan and Mikey's relationship and Joshua Williamson should be applauded for doing so in such a realistic fashion.  Add in the drama that breaks at the end of the issue with their parents and we are fully set up for a truly special ending of this arc in the next issue.


Star Wars #16 - Dr. Aphra has just been secured in a secret rebel prison that exists on a star.  Leia is ensured that this is a secure location, but Aphra reminds the prison that she is a friend of Vader and that she won't remain long on this star.  Meanwhile, Han Solo is gambling with funds that were intended for supplies and may be a bit rusty on his act.  The Marvel take on Star Wars continues to shine as it sheds light on events that took place between the movies.  I am curious to see where Solo's failed gambling brings him and Luke as they attempt to strengthen their tie to the rebellion.  It is easy to think they were always a key part, but both of them fell into their roles and their struggle to fit in is an enjoyable read.



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


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Microreview [video game]: Firewatch by Campo Santo

Controlled Burn


I was going to buy Firewatch no matter what it turned out to be. I've been a listener of the Idle Thumbs podcast since shortly after it started, following Chris Remo from when he was an editor at Shacknews. I love the insightful discussions the Idle Thumbs crew has every week. When the bulk of them joined together to form Campo Santo, I was instantly onboard for whatever game they would make together. "What is Firewatch?" was never a relevant question to me. I'm glad to report that, now that I know what Firewatch is, it's rather good, if a little pedestrian.

You play Firewatch as Henry, a volunteer fire lookout in Wyoming in 1988. You're in Shoshone National Park to look out for fires (obviously), and get away from your life for an indeterminate amount of time. Your boss, Delilah, is in the next tower over, and you communicate with her through your walkie-talkie over the course of the game.

Let's get this out of the way first: Firewatch is a first-person, narrative-driven adventure game. A "walking simulator", if you must, comparable to Gone Home, but set outdoors with more walking to do, but not necessarily more to see. The game is to listen to and talk to Delilah, "solve" a mystery, and get lost in the woods. You have a map, so getting lost is on you, and the mystery is revealed in whole by the time you get far enough in the game, so the bulk of the game rests on Henry and Delilah.

What it does best is that interaction between Henry and Delilah. Over the course of the game, you learn a lot about each other and it's wonderfully voice acted and well written. As Henry, you have a little bit of control over your voice. Many of your responses to Delilah are multiple choice, some with wildly different tones. There's a multiple choice prologue that sort of acts as a mad libs for your own Henry, but your choices don't necessarily change the story in radical ways. Some dialog might be a little snark-heavy, but that's also a choice of the player. Delilah and Henry are great, and Firewatch is non-existent without them

Though it's a short game (3.5 hours by my count), it's difficult to put down once you start. I didn't intend on playing through it all on release day, but as soon as I stopped, I would think about getting right back in to see what the next day brings. The game parts are a little anemic, and the ending abrupt, but the storytelling, character building, and the environments are all fantastic. It's a game that will give you something to think about for at least as long as it takes to play.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 Henry and Delilah's complex relationship

Penalties: -1 don't expect a lot of puzzle solving or action

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

***

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

Reference: Campo Santo. Firewatch [Panic Inc, 2016] 

Microreview [book]: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Can a sequel really surpass its predecessor?


Yes. And no.

Quentin and the crew have grown up a bit since the last book. Sure, they still lounge around and eat good food and drink their fill, but they’re far less whiney about it now. Everyone still has their quirks, but they seem to have come into their own. Everyone except Julia that is. And that is where The Magician King excels, but also where it fails. I am going to try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but some inferences about the plot can be made from what I say, so tread lightly.

This second installment really shines in Julia’s story. Where in the first book we had melodrama, now we have neuroticism, as Julia comes to terms with her rejection from Brakebills and her inability to let magic go. She goes down the rabbit hole (figuratively, not literally which is possible in this book) and is caught in a whirlwind of depression and obsession. She’s constantly teetering on the edge but refuses to give up. This story of Julia's recent past is juxtaposed with Julia of the present, who is mysterious and distant but still tortured. She travels with Quentin on a quest to fulfill Q’s existential crisis du jour, which turns into a quest to save the world, which is all very interesting, and the juxtaposition of worlds keeps the story fresh.

Reading this, I kept trying to think of what my negatives would be. What could I take off points for? I mean, there was a little bit too much of Julia using her sexuality to get what she wanted from people, considering bathroom hand jobs her secret weapon so to speak. That didn’t really sit right with me but I wanted to forgive it because I was really enjoying the book otherwise, and it really didn’t come up that much. And she was neurotic and desperate and obsessed in a way that border-lined on addiction so maybe it was ok.

And then, in the penultimate chapter, it happened. One of our female characters is raped. [insert eye roll]. Not metaphorically, literally. And also literally, this rape brings her power in the form of, ahem, what he leaves inside her. And when’s he done, he pulls her humanity out stuck to his, ya know. Here's the worst of it:
The only other noises were made by [name removed for spoiler] grunting softly and hoarsely behind her. At one point a couple of rebel nerve endings attempted to send pleasure signals to her brain…. 
….[blank] barked loudly when he [removed for crudeness]. She felt it. The terrible, unspeakable thing, which she would never tell anybody, not even herself, was that it felt wonderful. Not in a sexual way…. But it filled her up with power.

I'll let you chew on that for a minute.


...


I think this scene in here to draw a parallel with mythology since ancient gods often raped women. What I can't figure out is if it's in here to mock the trope of women gaining power from rape, since much of what Grossman has done in these books is mock tropes (mostly YA tropes, though), or if Grossman has fallen into the trope himself. Also, at the very end, Quentin takes the blame for the rape and everything else that this female character went through, literally suffering the consequences in her place. By doing this it removes all of her agency, suggesting that her journey and transformation were all just the result of Quentin's and the rapist's actions. Sigh.

I keep writing and deleting paragraphs on all of this, and on using rape as a plot device in general, and I've gone from disgusted to angry to exhausted to numb. These are things we all know, yet it continues to happen. In fact, one quarter of every review-type post I wrote in 2015 was about a story that involved rape, and half involved the misrepresentation of women in general. But rather than go on about it at length which I've done ad nauseam, from now on when I review a story that does these things, I'm going to put it in the corner to think about what it's done, where it will hopefully find some remorse (or shame):





But, just when I think I'm out...

So, can one scene in one chapter ruin a whole book? Sure, but not this one. The final chapter of The Magician King is beautifully gut wrenching. Grossman really knows how to write a series, never overstaying his welcome anywhere and constantly leaving you wanting more of where you were but excited for what is to come. His writing is (almost) always fresh, never stale, and I look forward to reading the final installment in this wonderful, albeit slightly flawed, series.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for the brilliant juxtaposition between the Brakebillians Fillory story and Julia's story

Penalties: -1 for well, you know, and -1 for Quentin taking the blame for it an everything else in her arc

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 “an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws”


PS. I sincerely hope SyFy does not air the rape scene.





-----
POSTED BY: Tia ... female defender since forever, and Nerds of a Feather Contributor since 2014


REFERENCE: Grossman, Lev. The Magician King [Viking/Penguin Books, 2011]


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Microreview [book]: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

An incredibly fun giant middle finger to cultural appropriation.


I think that YA science fiction and fantasy occupies a strange place within the larger SFF landscape. At the same time that it is often ignored by "purists" and readers of "adult" SFF, it doesn't exactly need or ask for those readers to approve or validate it. Markets being what they are, YA typically outsells more "mature" books, which I'm sure irks the fuck out of certain people and leads to very asinine and damaging discussions of what is "really" SFF and what, well, isn't. Now I have my own opinions on genre in general, but I can't deny that there is something that makes a book more solidly YA. Kind of. At least, I believe that there are elements that make a book more solidly YA regardless of how they are marketed (Because really, The Wheel of Time isn't YA? Because the books are a thousand pages long or something? Really? Really?).

And Shadowshaper is the embodiment of what YA science fiction and fantasy can be, a novel that explores family and culture and art and generational change. What makes the story YA? I'd argue that it's the focus and the celebration of the power of young people to redress wrongs, to bring justice out of injustice, and to create a better world. There is such a feel of possibility in the story, that the young people are not children waiting for guidance from adults, are not idiots or pawns or chosen ones. They are people first, not as old or experienced as they will be but there is also power there, that they have new ways of thinking, new ways of conceptualizing a future where they can have agency and where they can escape the cycles of oppression that seek to maintain the status quo.

But I suppose I should speak a bit about the plot? Is that how book reviews work? Hmm. Well, the story does an amazing job with its cast of characters, focusing on Sierra, a young woman who, unbeknownst to her, is from a family in the middle of a supernatural struggle that's been simmering for generations. The Shadowshapers are individuals capable of channeling spirits through their art. Spoken word, music, or, in Sierra's case, visual art. Of course, her heritage has been hidden from her and there's quite the tangled web surrounding why, family dramas and expectations and prejudices. The novel does an excellent job of showing the ways that parents damage their children, the ways that children rebel and, in some instances, only succeed in passing on new traumas. But Sierra is sharp and indomitable, with a keen eye for justice and a great group of friends. There's some light romance, as well, which is pulled off well, never eclipsing Sierra's character while allowing to explore her attractions and giving her someone her own age to explore her powers with.

What makes Shadowshaper so compelling to me, though, is how it gives Sierra and her friends the choice and the power of where to go next. They are fighting not only against an incursion from a white dude trying to steal the power of their culture to further himself (a nice commentary on the line between anthropology and appropriation), but also against the problems within that culture, the misogyny and roles that stifle, that prevent people from being happy and empowered. And Sierra is very effective at cutting through the bullshit and making some very difficult decisions. She's faced not only with protecting herself and her family and her culture, but also looking at all of it with a critical eye. What results is the great triumph of the novel as YA, which is that it allows the characters to figure it out on their own.

Which I think is what I like most about the novel, that even faced with beings ancient and powerful, Sierra doesn't give up her agency. She refuses to accept the old prophecies and the old systems and instead sets about making a new one with her friends, one where everyone is welcome and where everyone has a chance to thrive. And it's that hope and that strength that is free of jaded resentment of "kids these days" that makes this book important not just for kids (though this is exactly the kind of story I'd recommend for young readers) but for adults as well (because it gives some much needed perspective and hope). The novel is rich and empowering and uplifting and fun, and it's also complex and expertly constructed. It's YA, both in its accessibility and its message, but that doesn't mean that adults couldn't learn a thing or two from it as well.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 8/10 

Bonuses: +1 for holy crap is that final battle intense and ALL THE YES!!!

Negatives: nope. nothing here. move along.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 "why can't this get fourteen books?" 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: Older, Daniel José. Shadowshaper [Arthur A. Levine, 2015]




Monday, February 15, 2016

NERD MUSIC: Interview with Makeup & Vanity Set's Matthew Pusti

Today NERD MUSIC is thrilled to present an interview with synthwave artist extraordinaire Matthew Pusti, aka Makeup & Vanity Set! If you missed my profile of Makeup &Vanity Set, trust me--this is some of the most exciting electronic music out there. Please join Matthew and I as we talk music, gear, film and science fiction. -G


Thanks for “sitting down” with me! I’d like to start by asking about the history of Makeup & Vanity Set. What’s your “origin story,” so to speak?

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I started making music with computers in 1996. I started working with synthesizers in 97. I used to get down with lots of mod tracker freeware. Now it's a mixture of lots of things. The ski mask and the name and all of that happened in 2004.

Your sound seemed to undergo a major evolution between the Charles Park III and 88:88, both sonically and conceptually. What was going on at that time?

Charles Park I + II are more thematic records rather than true concepts. I didn't really conceptually tackle an album until I made Never Let Go. Charles Park III and 88:88 ended up feeling like a natural arc to me. They came from different places conceptually, but I felt like I was working to support some thing that I felt like I needed to say with the album as a whole. Every record I make, even with things I'm doing now, it always feels like I'm sort of feeling in the dark when I start producing. I don't have a set way to do things. I just feel it out. If something feels different sonically, it's probably more happenstance to progressing over time instead of some new, learned behavior.

Your latest album, Wilderness, is a conceptually ambitious double album that, to me at least, strongly evokes cyberpunk and other dystopian currents in science fiction. How would you characterize the influence of science fiction on your work?

I feel like I grew up in a weird era where the world was finally starting to realize 'the future.' Like the future that people were dreaming up in the 80s was grittier because the times were grittier. I remember the first time we logged into the internet from home; the idea that the sounds coming out of our modem represented data and information. All of those sounds meant something. As a kid I was obsessed with that. And all of my music is an extension of that. Wilderness certainly was part of that. I don't know if everyone really understood it when it came out. It's sort of like that modem. Mortality has a strange way of distorting reality. I kept thinking about how technology is woven into everything now; wherever you go, everyone is logged into something. We're to that degree where people literally struggle to survive without it. That's interesting to me.

"Turning/Sequence" strongly evokes William Gibson's classic 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer for me. That could just be me projecting, but have you read it? There's a lot of common ground--both thematic and aesthetic--between Neuromancer and Wilderness.

Joey Ciccoline told me to read Neuromancer after I laid out the concept for Wilderness to him for the first time. The first half of the original concept became the basis for his short film, Eidolon. The book certainly had an impact on me as far as the music was concerned. By the time I read it, I had already written out the narrative of the record, so it was less of a direct influence there. Neuromancer is one of those weird things that has influenced so many things, that by proxy it had likely already crept into my work long before I had actually read it. The bigger influence was probably Andrei Tarkovsky, specifically his films Solaris and Stalker. I think that films are probably the biggest influence on my work, more than anything else; even when the work is tied into my actual life experiences, as Charles Park III or Wilderness were, it is always filtered through a the lenses of films that deeply affected me.


Speaking of film, I know that 88:88 also began as the soundtrack to Ciccoline’s short film of the same name. How collaborative was that experience? Did he tell you what he wanted, or did he just give you a video file and say “do whatever you think works?”

A little of both. Joey's really smart. He knows what he wants but he also trusts me enough to let me work. 88:88 was more about us figuring that relationship out more than anything else. In the beginning, he was pretty diplomatic about things but he was definitely willing to let me know what didn't work, and that shaped how dark the score became. The album was directly influenced by the path the film was on.

I’ve got a crazy fan theory, by the way. I noticed that the opener to the album 88:88 (“A Glowing Light, A Promise”) plays over the film’s end credits, and the ending is quite ambiguous—you know it’s just the beginning of a big, untold story. At the same time, the album has a distinctly cosmic feel to it. So I’m thinking that the album is actually telling that story—the story of what comes after the credits roll. Am I crazy?

The album was what I envisioned happening to Val after the film ends, yeah.



So I'm not crazy! Okay--now, Makeup & Vanity Set is often categorized as synthwave, but 88:88 and Wilderness feel pretty different from what other artists in that scene are doing. How would you characterize your relationship to synthwave?

I'm not really sure where I land in all of that. I make music everyday. It's all over the map. In the end, I try to make dark music that means something to me. And hopefully someone else can find something meaningful in it too. Most of the time I feel like I'm the outsider.

What other groups or artists are you into these days?

Dallas Campbell. His last record, City I, was so great. I'm patiently waiting for the new Lazerhawk record. I loved the Tek album from last year--Phaserland is incredible. The Troxum record, Gaia Lesson, that was amazing. I feel like his stuff is pushing boundaries that need to be pushed. The last Gost album was really heavy. I feel like I always gravitate towards the stuff that is

How about your upcoming projects—I’ve listened to some of your works in progress on soundcloud, and have also heard that you are working on a full-length collaboration with singer Jasmin Kaset, who features on two of my favorite Makeup & Vanity set tunes. What can you tell us about this or any other upcoming projects?

I have a 12" coming out on Data Airlines soon. They reached out to me while I was working on Wilderness. It's interesting. It's really digital and harsh. It's a lot more in your face than Wilderness was. It's got a really hard edge to it. Jasmin and I are working on a full-length album together. We've to 6-8 songs for it. They're really great. I wrote a bunch of music for an ARG tied to the video game Soma--and I'm scoring a film that ties into that. And of course the ever-expanding Brigador, a game from Stellar Jockeys. That should be out in April. At this point, there's something like two hours of music in that.


Finally, I need to nerd out here….88:88 and Wilderness have this really distinct, massive sound. What kind of gear/software do you use?

Typically everything is written in Ableton Live and mixed there or in Logic. I tend to sequence albums with Logic. I think my most used software plugins are probably Native Instruments Reaktor and the Arturia V Collection- I don't really lean too hard on the common ones though. I think their ARP 2600 sounds really good. Same for the Oberheim and the Moog Modular. I like stuff that's more complex. All of my musical training was in synthesis, so I probably spend too much time engineering things as opposed to writing and arranging things- that's probably why Wilderness took as long as it did.

Hardware-wise, I use a Moog LP2 almost all of the time. I just bought a Mother-32, which has been really eye opening. I don't have any eurorack modular stuff, so the flexibility involved in that has been really nice. They compliment each other well. I use a Yamaha DX7 quite a bit, as well as a Roland HS-60, which is a consumer-model Juno 60. Mine is a bit beaten up, but it sounds great. I have a DSI Mopho, which gets used in really weird ways but is always super refreshing and really opens up tracks. I started using Elektron gear- the Octatrack and the Analog Rytm- about a year ago and they continue to blow my mind. I bought them thinking they'd be useful live, but they are like little pandora's boxes. There's so much going on inside. The Octatrack especially. I was an MPC guy for years but I don't see how I could go back after using the OT. I have some effects stuff, delays and reverbs. Reverb is a big part of what I do. I've been using a new reverb by Meris Audio called the Mercury7, which almost feels like it was built for my brain. Every synth I put through it just melts into the ether. It's pretty haunting.

Thank you! 


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Purchase Links

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

Stream Links

88:88 (Spotify)
Wilderness (Spotify)