Friday, March 31, 2017

6 Books with Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace is the author of The Next Fix, The Failed Cities, the novella series Slingers, a lucha-libre buddy-cop novella called Rencor: Life in Grudge City, and the absurdly good Sin du Jour novella series from Publishing. 

Today he shares his 6 books with us...

1. What book are you currently reading?

I'm in the middle of The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, which I already think is her best work to-date. It's exciting as hell watching an author fully become themselves in a novel, and that's what Legion is to me. I adore Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha series and her Worldbreaker Saga, and she did a lot of striking and original stuff with both, but they're still anchored in the familiar waters of their genres. Legion reads like the next level of all of that, Hurley writing exactly who and how and what she wants to write without any concern for what's come before in the field. It feels free and new and horrifying and I fucking love it.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about? just announced Brooke Bolander's first book, The Only Harmless Great Thing. I'm super stoked for that. I think Brooke is one of the freshest and most unique voices out there right now, but she produces at a very slow pace (a lot of great writers did and do). Every story is a straight-up iconoclastic gem, but you're immediately like, "MORE!" So a whole book of hers, even if it's a short one, is like discovering gold. I can't wait. I'm also eager to read River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, who is another author coming at SFF like a coked-up spider monkey from angles you've never seen before. The next novella in Cassandra Khaw's Persons Non Grata series, A Song for Quiet. The first novella, Hammers on Bone, was one of my favorites last year. Null States, the sequel to Malka Older's Infomocracy, which I thought was one of the best and smartest novels of 2016. There's just so much amazing shit out there right now in SFF. We should all be making so much more money than we do.

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?

I kind of want to reread Our Town, which is obviously a play, but who the hell has time to go to an actual physical theater. But I've been thinking a lot lately about being present. Time just seems to evaporate. My fiancée and I are both so busy with our careers and what free time we have is spent thinking about and planning for the future that we really have to work to be in the moment and enjoy and experience what's happening right now. And being present is obviously one of the big themes in Our Town. I've also always found something wonderfully sinister about the Stage Manager. I end up writing a lot of weird fanfic about him in my head.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about - either positively or negatively?

When I was a young punk dreaming of becoming a screenwriter I read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade books religiously. I thought he was the guy that had it all figured out and the screenwriter I wanted to be (after all, he's responsible for one of the definitive statements about the movie business, "Nobody knows nothin'."). When I got older, started actually working in the entertainment industry, and became a little more aware, I reread Goldman's books and realized that while he is clearly a very nice, extremely talented guy, he's also, professionally, an incredibly timid, even cowardly star-fucker and not at all who I want to be. I'm much more a Devil's Guide to Hollywood by Joe Eszterhas screenwriter now. It's also still one of my favorite all-time novels, but Dune has not aged well. Both its style and a lot of its tropes have become bracingly difficult for me. But it's still an epic novel in which the political, economical, ecological, and spiritual fate of the entire known Universe is decided in a knife fight. I mean, c'mon.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

I read Lost Souls by Billy Martin (writing then as Poppy Z. Brite) when I was 13 or 14 and it completely changed my perception of prose writing. I wanted to create sights, sounds, and smells that practically dripped off the page the way he did. I wanted to describe my worlds with the same kind of vivid language. And the characters and their relationships just broke my fucking heart. I think I grew up a lot, as a person and as a writer, when I read that book.

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome?

My latest is Idle Ingredients. It's the fourth book in my Sin du Jour novella series about a catering company in Long Island City that plans and executes events for the world of the supernatural co-existing with our own. It's funny, foodie, and fucked up, full of chefs and mercenaries and magic and monsters. Each book is named for and shot through with the theme of a deadly sin, and each story centers around an event the crew is hired to cater. The first book, Envy of Angels, had them tasked with preparing an angel for a demon banquet and having to scramble to avoid killing and serving said angel. The second book saw them planning a royal Goblin wedding that goes horribly awry. There's also a big overarching plot that unfolds throughout the series in true serial fashion that changes all of their lives and the company forever. I'm really proud of the series and I'm really lovin' writing it. We've got three more books coming after Idle Ingredients (seven deadly sins, seven books). The next one, Greedy Pigs, which is probably the most timely and topical of the series, drops May 16th.

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday Morning Superhero

After some pretty packed weeks, my pull list only had two books this week.  I decided that I would give the second issue of Man-Thing a whirl as I have enjoyed reading other R.L. Stine titles with my son.  Enjoy this rare all-Marvel edition of Thursday Morning Superhero.

Pick of the Week:
Old Man Logan #20 - This series has really shown off the versatility of Jeff Lemire as a writer.  The series opened with familiar dark tones that were a central part of the original Old Man Logan, and then shifted to show us the more caring and fatherly side of Wolverine.  With Logan desperate to return home, Lemire has brought in the lighter side of this superhero.  This issue featured Wolverine lifting a valuable artifact from Dr. Strange by requesting to use the restroom and a storage unit in New Jersey.  All to persuade Asmodeus, a powerful sorcerer, to beam Wolverine back to his own timeline.  Logan should no better than to strike a deal with someone like Asmodeus and I am super excited about the next arc that this story will take us.  I had my doubts about this being an ongoing series, and I was dead wrong.

The Rest:
Man-Thing #2 - I am not sure if it is the fact that I don't know enough about Man-Thing or I don't enjoy comics that feel like they were written in the silver age, but it is safe to say that this series isn't for me.  It definitely has an old timey feel to it and reminds me of reading old silver age comics.  The art is stunning in this series and I enjoyed the short story from Stine's "Chamber of Chills" at the end of the book.  If you are looking to read something nostalgic or are a big fan of Man-Thing then this title is likely up your alley, but this is one that will not be on any of my future pull lists.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

DYSTOPIAN VISIONS Get Out/Speak Out: Dystopia, Violence, and Writing as Action

Image result for get out

When thinking about dystopia on a wider scale—how it works as a genre and as a piece of popular culture—I was interested in exploring the how/why behind these depictions. So I did what all good writers should do and I went to someone who had a better grasp on understanding the rhetoric behind ideas and depictions. In this case, my friend Philippe Meister who is a graduate student studying rhetoric and professional communication at Iowa State University. Our discussion became quite long and layered (it took place over the course of more than a month), so what follows are excerpts that particularly emphasize the previously mentioned ideas. A quick heads up: later in the discussion, we talk about the film Get Out and do discuss aspects from the end of the film. If you haven’t seen it, and plan to, avoid this post and come back later.

PHILIPPE MEISTER: Hi Chloe. I can talk about everyday language acts in creating healthy or hurtful local cultures, but I'm curious to hear about the act of writing an extended work. If we examine the act of creating and distributing a dystopic or utopic world, what are some effects that ripple outward from that act? An author produces a dystopic world and communicates it with written, oral, or visual language to others. Others access the language and reproduce the world in their head. Now, I’m wondering—for the creative writing community—what is the effect of an author and others producing and reproducing this world with language? And, what are the techniques with which they take this world from the book and apply it to a shared lived experience?

CHLOE CLARK:  Okay, so in a sense you're implying that all creative work creates a kind of simulacrum, because it produces a recreated product inside the head of the reader?  In relation to the creation of dystopic visions, they often easily enter common knowledge--even by people who haven't read the works. Think of the way that Big Brother is a common phrase now (sort of genericided away from its Orwellian roots). Also, many dystopic visions come down to language, which is actually an interesting side topic. Do people apply it to a shared lived experience? Besides in a language sense? I would like to think that dystopic visions create a sense of warning for us--like fairy tales for the contemporary world--don't go down this path, don't treat people like this, beware. But, I don't know if they influence our shared experiences beyond that, because they aren't necessarily accessed by everyone.

PM: Yes, I see many people using the term Big Brother when they post on Facebook and Twitter. Oddly, they sometimes post about Big Brother while using the Facebook facial recognition tools, geotagging tools, or live video tools—all of which log data on their characteristics, location, and activities into the Facebook databases. For me, there is a big difference between reading a dystopia novel and understanding the modern technologies with which dystopic situations could arise. It’s actions like these—the everyday actions of logging into social media, submitting information to an algorithm that tracks our facial features, or streaming our lives into the cloud—that make me think that “creative” works struggle to provide readers with strategies for action. I put “creative in quotations because many people argue that all writing is creative. The one who writes a legal document is creating because they are composing language that becomes the reference point from which law officials—lawyers, judges, police officers, citizens—decide how they can act in a society. I, personally, believe that composing practical documents is a creative act because composing documents like the constitution, the declaration of independence, state legislation, city ordinances, and etc. creates documents that are the reference point from which people decide how they can act in a society. The author of a legal document is composing a document that enables or limits certain types of legal action. In this situation, the language and legal action bound with one another. Let’s bring it back to storytellers. If we are facing a world where our “sense of warning” may become an actionable platform to resist a government, does creative dystopic writing step up to the plate and hit a home run? Or, what needs to happen for creative dystopic writing to equip people with the linguistic and conceptual resources to fight an unwanted future?

CC: . I think the Big Brother problem you bring up is one that directly points to the problem of dystopic literature. Because the knowledge gets recreated and re-represented outside of its original bounds, it loses some of its meaning, right? Like people don’t connect the ideas of algorithms and tracking because they're using the term in a more literal sense. Like if we think of dystopias as being literal representations and that’s how we apply them to a world that’s not yet dystopic then it doesn’t work. We need to create a way for people to take the base lessons and apply them to a world that is real. So we might not be living in the world of the Hunger Games, but we should still be able to think about the underlying message about the power of rebellion. And I think on some levels, people do this already: we become more empathetic, we think about heroism in a different light. But when a world is becoming dystopic, its not these grand actions that are the ones you need to keep your eye on, it’s the slow weakening of human rights or the way smaller laws get passed and open the door to bigger ones. I think dystopia has taught to look at the big horror, but it’s the small horrors that we need to notice so that we’re not suddenly facing a big horror. (I don’t know if this is making sense, but it does in my head). So maybe we need smaller dystopias---but then people may not read them because the stakes won’t seem to be there?

PM: It seems to me that the most popular dystopic stories and the most enduring sci-fi stories are the ones that contain more technically accurate representations. For example, the stories that work with an accurate internet infrastructure are more technically accurate and therefore more true and more powerful. The stories that work without an accurate technical infrastructure are less technically accurate, and therefore less true and less powerful. Maybe what I’m doing is agreeing that more realistic dystopias let people can take the story and apply it to their own life. (maybe this isn’t the job of creative fiction).

Now that we’ve set some groundwork for our discussion and the issues, we were thinking about, I’m jumping ahead to when we applied these ideas to something more concrete. The film Get Out (which I reviewed here is one that the director Jordan Peele labels as “social thriller.” We looked at it from this lens as well as a depiction of dystopia. Shortly before where I’ll pick up, we were discussing the rhetoric of violence and its depictions in dystopia (and popular culture mediums, as a whole). We talked about institutionalized violence and racism and its depiction in the film.

CC: I guess my overriding question here is whether dystopia requires acts of physical violence (on screen or on the page)? And how that fits in to what we've been discussing about the responsibility of dystopic creators? Could Peele have made a successful depiction of a racial dystopia without ever having shown or even implying physical violence?

PM: Somebody might be able to convince some cerebrally-oriented people that violence can be non-physical, or that a depiction of violence can be non-physical, but I’m not sure how violence that has no physical manifestations would be experienced by a person. It seems that most experiences have physical manifestations, whether they are neurons firing or skin tearing. Isn't it funny that violence in movies hits us so hard even though we know it is fake and that nobody is in danger? It’s all a production of neurons in our brain that gives us bodily sensations of nervousness, disgust, or anger, and can have lasting effects on us so that we experience future situations radically differently. Now, I think a dystopia might be able to be created without physical violence, but non-physical violence will manifest on the body in some way through expressions, vocalizations, or actions.

So, in the sense that depictions of violence do influence the viewer subconsciously or consciously, I think the representation of violence is political, and I think what "counts" as violence is an interesting topic. There are many institutions that have are or have become violent that some people talk about as violence but some don't see as violent. Is an insult violence? Are the psychological effects of systematic policing violence? If we recognize something as violent, then we can name the act, and maybe correct the act. 

I think that there could have been a story told about a black man going to a white family's party and having awkward conversations. I don't think that many viewers would understand it as a horror, and I think that is a matter of definition and depiction. And, I think that these types of stories are told all the time, like when a movie made for one audience falls flat on another audience. The other audience doesn’t have the experience to recognize and produce the meaning that the target audience can readily produce. What do you think?

CC: I think that’s also something that people have a hard time understanding, because it’s so ingrained in us that violence=physical pain. Maybe, dystopias need to show physical representations of pain/violence, because that’s the way to connect most empathetically with the widest amount of audience. One of the elements that most fascinated me about Get Out was how it fit into the spectrum of horror. I think it can be argued that its Gothic horror in a way--young innocent goes to secluded mansion with an alluring/seductive figure, every sensation is heightened to create a tone of the uncanny, and then shit goes down in the last act. Peele uses the uncanny extremely well in the film--the feeling of everything just being off or heightened slightly (from situations that people do go through every day—these subtle—and not so subtle— manifestations of racism). So I think the film needed to have a violent/horror climax to fit into these genre molds. I do think that the first two-thirds play as horror, but maybe only because we know that eventually things will get even more horrific.

Moving from violence and its depiction in the film (as well as the film’s genre of horror), we then turned to the film as an example of dystopia. In this case not science-fiction of fantastic dystopic, but dystopia through the lens of horror and social commentary.

CC: I think it’s really amazing how well this film is playing across the spectrum of movie-fans--like I’ve talked to a few students who don’t like horror at all-at all and they really liked this one. I was just listening to a podcast interview with Peele in which he discusses some alternate endings he had for the film, which included all bleaker endings (including that cop car not being Chris’s friend and Chris being immediately shot by cops--an echoing of Night of the Living Dead). This quote particular stuck out to me about why he changed the ending: "It was very clear that the ending needed to transform into something that gives us a hero, that gives us an escape, gives us a positive feeling when we end this movie […] there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the audience go crazy when Rod shows up.” If we're thinking about this film as racial dystopia, does this ending fit into that or does it change the nature of how we perceive the dystopia?

PM: I think the ending gives some good guidance as to how people can act in the future. In my mind, it's sort of a 'think global act local' type ending. The cops who wouldn't listen to Rob were not white, right? So the movie isn't telling the audience to align themselves with a color, the movie is telling the audience to look out for the people they know. I think this does change the dystopia in how we sense the source of the dystopia. That there might not be an evil genius or a malicious plot, but it could be that a culture of people who have generated practices around a brutal activity and whose practices live in in more subtle forms are creating dystopia conditions. The enactors of the dystopia are ourselves. What do you think?

CC: I agree and I think that’s a more valuable (or maybe I mean realistic) way of looking at dystopia, actually. Not that there's some evil people who just happen to gain the power and cause dystopia, but rather that there are these systems in place that are supported (often even unconsciously by people) and which create these manifestations of dystopia. I think in some ways dystopia is a hopeful form of science-fiction, because it's saying: look at this path you're taking, but there's still time to change. And I think that's even more important to think about when, as you noted, we are the agents of this dystopia. Do you think filmic depictions of racial dystopia can change people's minds? Do you think that the rhetoric behind these depictions has to be done in a certain way in order to do so?

PM: Of course. This type of influence is where I get my initial dissatisfaction for dystopias. I feel that they too often lead people to blame something other as the problem or creator of the dystopia and don't encourage people to see themselves as agents in contributing to or working against the cultural conditions. I think the rhetoric of Get Out is very useful. I think, as I claimed before, that the sources of dystopic conditions should be represented accurately. The rhetoric should work to engender in the audience a better understanding of the causes, support a community who understands these causes, create ways of communicating about the causes for the community, and then provide ways toward revision or provoke people in the community to explore ways to revise themselves. This is taking for granted that the media creator wants to do these things. A media creator might just want to scare people or they may even want to spread their own biases or fears throughout the culture. To use trendy terms, I might be proposing the functions of a 'socially conscious' dystopia creation. What do you think? 

We then discussed different films that have tried similar ways of capturing dystopia in more of a cultural way. Finally, we thought about what we had overall considered in terms of this conversation and how we think about dystopia.

CC: I think for me the take-aways are thinking more deeply about the construction of dystopia in popular media--whether it can or should be used as medium for social consciousness. I think also importantly the discussion of violence and how it’s depicted has made me think a lot. What about for you?

PM: For me, I think the biggest take away is that there is real value in doing analysis of how the page or screen encourages communities of people to enact their lives. Media influences how people re-create or re-vise cultural practice. Writers who want to engage in these depictions might think more about creative writing to communicate cultural practice, which means engaging in a writing, distribution, and feedback process that is designed to show the audience how they can act For me, it is about activity, and identifying the textual and social actions that create culture. 


I’m curious to open this discussion more to readers of NOAF who are also engaged in thinking about dystopia, Get Out, and the way that dystopias are represented. Please feel free to comment here or to discuss via Twitter (@PintsNCupcakes and @nerds_feather). A big thank you to Philippe for humoring me and engaging so deeply with the topic at hand.

Philippe is a graduate student in the Rhetoric and Professional Communication program at Iowa State University who has interests in humans, technologies, and human-technology cultures. He receives written communication at

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Microreview [book]: From Ice to Ashes by Rhett C. Bruno

Where Cold and Dark Works

Space is making a comeback. Movies like The Martian, Interstellar, and Gravity have been big hits. Have you seen The Expanse? That's a pretty good TV show, better than the source material in my opinion. From Ice to Ashes tells a class struggle story and it succeeds in a lot of ways.

Kale Drayton is a Ringer; a descendant of colonists who escaped Earth on the Saturnian moon Titan. Ringers have physically adapted to the environment of Titan, making them physically weaker and lankier than their Earth counterparts but more adapted to the cold of their new home. Earthers, however, had to evacuate their mother planet due to planet-wide disaster, and now the two are rubbing against each other on Titan. However, the Earthers brought back Earth's many diseases, and Kale's mother languishes in a quarantine zone. Desperate to provide for her on meager wages, Kale takes a gas hauling rotation, with a secondary mission to simply plug in hand terminal (think future smartphone) into a computer onboard the hauler. This simple act puts a long lived plot in motion that eventually changes the entire Sol balance of power.

Let's be honest; From Ice to Ashes cribs a lot from the class conflict aspects of The Expanse books. Ringers are an oppressed people; the Earthers couldn't live without them, but they brought disease back to the ring that Ringers have no medications for. Ringers are the working class Belters, and Earthers are still Earthers. The Earthers in this novel are one-dimensional and there's not a single good one among them. The novel suffers for this because they're the primary antagonist and their every action can be spelled out from the start.

But this isn't really a story about Earthers, it's a story about Ringers and the complex interactions between the Ringer characters is what makes it work. In the Ringers, Bruno crafts more complex characters as Drayton struggles to do anything to make his mother suffer less while contending with a love interest, other Ringers trying to make due, and a people who've been unjustly treated by the Earther guests they descended from. The story takes some time to get moving, but it's hard to put down once it does.

From Ice to Ashes is the second book in this universe, and I intend on going back to read the first. It's a solid class conflict tale told among the rings of Saturn. Though it could stand for a less cartoonish antagonist (or antagonists), but the Ringer characters Bruno develops over the course of the tale more than make up for it.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 good character work in the Ringers

Penalties: -1 flat antagonists

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 (an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws)


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

Reference: Bruno, Rhett C. From Ice to Ashes [Hydra, 2017] 

Monday, March 27, 2017


Dossier: 12 Monkeys.

Filetype: Film.

File Under: Stateless dystopia.
Executive Summary: After a flu wipes out nearly all of the world, a man named Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to try to stop the catastrophe.

In the past (1990 & 1996), Cole meets Dr. Katherine Railly (Madeleine Stowe), who he eventually convinces to trust him. Together they try to stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys from unleashing the virus.

Dystopian Visions: in 12 Monkeys, the future vision is dystopic: survivors are forced to live underground, there are scant resources, and the fate of the world is being placed on a faulty time travel machine. 

However, the vision of the past (at the time of the movie's release: the present) is also dystopic: environmental degradation is turning the world amok, violence permeates all areas, and through director Terry Gilliam's gaze everything seems slightly skewed with a tainted color palette.

Utopian Undercurrents: Not much (depending on how you view the ending--so maybe quite a bit?). Arguably, there's the love story but it's not exactly a cheerful one.

Level of Hell: Eighth for the post-apocalyptic world, where everything is gone beyond repair (though there's still a fool's sliver of hope). Fifth for the pre-apocalyptic world: there's not a lot redeeming humanity here. Though there is still a different kind of hope.

Legacy: It's critically extremely well regarded (and rightly thought of as one of the best time-travel movies). It also has spawned the well-regarded television adaptation of the same title.

In Retrospect: It's one of my favorite films of all time and I've watched it probably two dozen times at least. So obviously I think it deserves its spot of critical acclaim. It's one of Gilliam's finest and the performances are all perfect. It's also an apocalyptic vision that can be reviewed at different points to understand different levels. Watching it in 1995 was a completely different experience than viewing it now--when the havoc humans have wreaked on the environment is truly showing itself.


For its time: 5/5
Read today: 5/5.
Oppressometer Readout: 5/10.

DYSTOPIAN VISIONS: Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler

Dossier: Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. [Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993]

Filetype: Book

File Under: Stateless Dystopia

Executive Summary: Los Angeles 2032, most Americans with any sort of privilege live in walled communities for protection. Lauren Olamina's community is overrun and she flees north with other survivors. Lauren has a vision of a new religion and as the refugees cling separately to survival, a community forms around Lauren and her religion of Earthseed.

Dystopian Visions: With a collapsed government that is all but powerless to protect its citizens
, the America of Parable of the Sower is pure dystopia. I frequently want to call this post-apocalyptic, but the only apocalypse is the breakdown of society and government services and I usually look for something extra for the apocalypse, though to the characters in the novel there is likely no real difference.

Utopian Undercurrents: God is change and humanity has the ability to reshape themselves and reshape god, and by doing so, to rebuild a better life out among the stars. So much of Parable of the Sower is a blended post apocalyptic dystopia, but Earthseed is the utopian undercurrent running through the novel - it's the little bit of hope and possibility of what humanity could be again.

Level of Hell: Seventh, because apparently there is still sort of a functioning nation tucked into the enclaves and wherever the power of the Army can reach, but this is a violent and nasty America.

Legacy: Nominated for a Nebula Award in 1994, Parable of the Sower is one of the standout novels in the superb and too short career of Octavia E. Butler. It remains a powerful and important novel.

In Retrospect: Parable of the Sower seems eerily prescient right now. Set not that far into our future the novel begins to take on some frightening possibilities as something not as distant as it might have as when it was originally published in 1993. More - Butler envisions a demagogue candidate for President calling out to his followers to "Make America Great Again" and encourages violence against anyone not a white American in such a way that he can never be truly blamed for the actions of his followers - but it's clear that he supports and approves of it. Naturally, this is the man elected to office. This is a frightening plausible future America that I can only hope is an alternate timeline that we're not going to go down. As good and important a novel it was when first published, Parable of the Sower is a vital and essential novel today.


For its time: 5/5
Read today: 5/5.
Oppressometer Readout: 10/10.

Note: this dossier has been adapted from an earlier review.

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Nanoreviews: River of Teeth, Feedback, The Autumn Republic

Gailey, Sarah. River of Teeth [ Publishing, 2017]

Um, did you know there was a serious plan to bring hippopotamuses to America to alleviate a meat shortage? I didn't either, but Sarah Gailey did. I'm so happy that she knew this because it grew into this insanity of a novella that delivers a fantastic story that feels like the wild west as seen from hippoback. River of Teeth is glorious, but it is more than just the wonderful idea of using hippos as beasts of burden and transit (and oh, this idea is so well excuted) - it is also filled with striking characters like Winslow Remington Houndstooth and Regina Archambault, but the whole cast, really. It's great. You should read it.
Score: 8/10

Grant, Mira. Feedback [Orbit, 2016]

Mira Grant returns to her broken zombie infested near future world of the excellent Newsflesh trilogy by stepping back and telling a side story that runs through the timeline of much of that trilogy, but focusing on a different set of blogging heroes. Despite the title, this isn't just Feed Redux and the team of Aislinn, Ben, Audrey, and Mat are not the Masons, though they likewise are pulled into covering a political campaign and it likewise goes poorly for them the more they do their jobs. That's just the nature of this world. Mira Grant has a strong and comfortable authorial voice and reading Feedback is like visiting old friends that you just hadn't met yet.
Score 8/10

McClellan, Brian. The Autumn Republic [Orbit,  2015]

There's just something about compelling characters fighting gods that just gets me. The Autumn Republic is the concluding volume of McClellan's epic flintlock fantasy trilogy and he absolutely sticks the landing.  The Powder Mage novels are a blast to read and I absolutely recommend them.
Score: 8/10

Note: Everyone gets an 8/10 today. This must be what Oprah felt like during her giveaway shows. You get an 8! You get an 8! Everyone gets an 8! Also, all three of these books were a delight to read in three very different ways so these 8's were very much earned.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday Morning Superhero

In non-comic related news, there is amazing Kickstarter in its final days that is worth your time and attention.  Pandasaurus Games is running a campaign for Dinosaur Island, a game that has you creating your own Dinosaur theme park.  Featuring a color scheme and graphics straight out of the 90's, this is a game that pulls on all sorts of nostalgic heart strings.  Check out the campaign here.  In addition to being excited about building my own dino theme park, this week's books were phenomenal!

Pick of the Week:
Darth Maul #2 - When you combine Darth Maul and Cullen Bunn you know you are going to get a series that is going to be a lot of fun.  This issue brings that together, and mixes in a little but of Cad Bane for good measure.  As Maul attempts to find an appropriate outlet for his rage, Darth Sidious seeks to take him farther down the path of the dark side.  Maul is instructed to lay low, but the desire to seek revenge on the Jedi is too great.  While I really enjoyed watching Maul fight without overtly demonstrating his use of the Force and his light saber, this book really shines in the scenes where Sidious is manipulating Maul in order to fuel his hatred.  One thing that the comics have done an amazing job with is making the Sith a true force to be reckoned with.  Hearing Maul talk about his fear of Sidious and what would happen if his secret plans are discovered casts Sidious into an all new light.  In the movies he appears more fragile, yet in the comic book the fear is palpable.  There is a reason why Sidious was able to work under the noses of the Jedi and manipulate formidable Sith Lords like Vader.   I hope Bunn continues to explore the relationship between Sidious and Maul in future issues.

The Rest:
Dept H. #12 - The plot gets thicker as we learn that the crew has been exposed to a new strain of the H-virus and are quarantined on the base, which is currently hanging on by a thread.  While Jerome may have found the cure for the original H-virus, it appears that the research process may have exposed everyone to something else.  This underwater whodunit gets more and more complex with each issue, and the potential motives for the various crew members seem to grow with each issue.  I a not sure who I suspect, but I do know that Mia and her father may be the only decent humans that have set foot on the base.  I don't want to spoil what happens at the end of this issue, but it left me absolutely speechless and really shifted my thoughts on who may have killed Mia's father and what their motive might be.  This is a truly mesmerizing series and the art from Matt Kindt and the colors from Sharlene Kindt provide a surreal setting that is appropriate for a mystery of this magnitude.

Birthright #23 - We learn a little bit more about why Lore was allowed to attach the Nevermind to Mikey.  It seems that Lore has struck a deal with Mikey and may have more in mind then simply destroying the mages who are on earth.  In addition, his daughter seeks him out and it isn't clear whether she opposes him or wants to join him.  All this time Rya, who is pregnant with Mikey's child, is dealing with the struggle of stopping Lore and saving Mikey.  I am not sure how many issues this series is slated for, but it feels like we are racing towards some sort of finish line and I am on pins and needles wondering how this is all going to work out.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #68 - When we last left the turtles it looked like Slash, under government control, captured the mutanimals and possibly killed Seymour and Mutagen Man.  Old Hob managed to escape to warn the turtles, but it might be too late as it looks like the captured mutanimals may be the next victims of governmental brainwashing. In addition to the peril that the mutanimals find themselves, the government soldiers have tracked down the turtles' new lair and are preparing an all-out assault.  I sure hope that Splinter and the foot clan, who he is currently leading, can intervene and provide some much needed support.  Between the tension that the turtles have with Splinter and the mutanimals, and the fact that they will need to unite in order to take down the government operatives, this series is getting quite intense.

Valiant High #2 - Valiant's ComiXology exclusive high school take on its universe continued this week and this series is an absolute blast.  I have dipped my toe in some Valiant books and have enjoyed them, but feel motivated to take a closer look after reading this book.  There seems to be a mysterious dynamic between Principle Haruda and Gilad, who has been a sophomore as long as anyone can recall.  This book opened up with a no holds barred version of dodge ball, featured a mysterious janitor, and included references to both Buffy and Veronica Mars.  This is a nice light and entertaining series that everyone should give a chance.

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

DYSTOPIAN VISIONS Guest Post: Ian Sales, "The Road to Dystopia"

Today we welcome Ian Sales with a guest essay for Dystopian Visions! Sales is the author of the award-winning Apollo Quartet (see our glowing reviews of this must-read series: hereherehere and here), and founder of the SF Mistressworks blog. He can be found online at and tweets as @ian_sales

The Road to Dystopia

There is a famous road paved with good intentions, but it is a very different sort of path which leads the way a dystopian future. We know the signs, we’ve seen them before--if we’re not old enough to remember them, then we’ve studied them in the classroom. Yet people these days seem all too happy to treat those warning signs lightly. And I have to wonder:

How much of that is science fiction’s fault?

True, there are several well-known cautionary tales - Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is the obvious ur-text, but there’s also Zamyatin’s We, Karp’s One (though its concept of dystopia seems clearly aimed at a subset of US readers), Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange... none of which, of course, were published as science fiction, although they have been claimed by the genre. But there are also plentiful dystopian novels that were published as SF--Fahrenheit 451, The Space Merchants, Stand on Zanzibar, High-Rise… and, more recently and much more widely-known, The Hunger Games trilogy, which was published as YA but is widely recognised as science fiction.

No, I don’t think science fiction’s exploration of dystopian presents and futures has been instrumental in bringing on twenty-first century dystopia, but the genre as a whole does bear some small responsibility for our comfort with what we should be deeply uncomfortable with…

Three science fiction novels spring to mind as examples, published in 2011, 2013 and 2014. One was by a highly-regarded genre writer, who has spent the last twenty years writing fiction not actually published as science fiction. Another was written by a successful British author of space operas. The earliest of the three is also a space opera, the first in a series of, to date, six novels, which was adapted for television in 2014.

In each novel, there is one small, almost throwaway, element - a piece of background, a minor plot point, something which is either not needed or could have been achieved by other means – relevant to this piece.

In the first novel, the one published in 2014, a means of communicating with the relatively recent past has been discovered early in the twenty-second century. However, the act of communication, as in Schrödinger’s thought experiment, creates a new timeline which cannot lead to the communicator’s future. And so a “hobby” has grown up around this, with people of the twenty-second century using their more advanced knowledge and technology to interfere in the iterations of the early twenty-first century they generate. In a throwaway line in the novel, a character mentions one person who creates alternate twenty-first centuries with the sole intention of testing weapons technology, forcing the world of each past into a global war, so that he might harvest the fruits of its desperate technological struggle for survival. What the novel fails to point out, however, is that this “hobby” is playing with the lives of six billion plus people in every single one of the alternate worlds, often to fatal ends.

The plot of the earliest of the three novels revolves around an alien virus discovered on a moon of one of the gas giants. An executive of a powerful corporation is keen to learn the actual effects of this virus, and has decided that laboratory tests can tell him only so much. So he hires a group of mercenaries, seizes control of an asteroid community with a population of 1.5 million people, introduces the virus and seals the asteroid. In other words, the executive consigns 1.5 million people to death, a particularly horrible and gruesome death, in an effort to find something which might prove profitable.

In the third sf novel, published between the two mentioned above, a young woman’s peculiar origin is important in a billionaire’s plan to regain his former political position. But he can’t simply ask the young woman to help, as she has an important public role to play in her culture. He must kidnap her. And in order to hide her disappearance his agents crash a spaceship into the ocean, causing a tsunami which kills tens of millions of people.

The three books are: The Peripheral by William Gibson, published in 2014, Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey, published in 2011, and Marauder by Gary Gibson, published in 2013.

Since its beginnings, science fiction has exhibited a blithe disregard for the characters who people its stories, outside those of the central cast of heroes, anti-heroes, villains, love interests, etc. Frank Herbert’s Dune from 1965, for instance, describes how Paul Muad’Dib launches a jihad across the galaxy which kills billions. EE ‘Doc’ Smith’s Second Stage Lensman, originally serialised in 1941, opens with a space battle between a fleet of over one million giant warships and an equal number of “mobile planets”…

Manipulating scale to evoke sense of wonder is one thing, but the lack of affect with which science fiction stories and novels massacre vast numbers of people, for whatever narrative reason, is more astonishing. There is no commentary on the morality of such actions. And very rarely any discussion of the effect on the victims and survivors. Such consequence-free deployment of mega-violence not only desensitises the reader to large numbers of deaths, but it also normalises the thinking which results in those atrocities.

Because these are atrocities. Some might be acts of war, dialled up to unrealistic levels in order to tickle the reader’s sense of the dramatic, but many of them are not. The authorial lack of empathy for those millions and billions is breathtaking. True, they are fictional people, they never existed, they are not real. Indeed, they’re likely not even named characters, just part of the background, like buildings or the landscape…

There are even fictional worlds which can only exist because atrocities such as the above were committed before the story began: dystopias. Dystopias do not happen overnight. War, a fascist or theocratic regime, epidemic, climate crash… something at some point slaughtered or enslaved huge swathes of the population, and this is considered simply “world-building”. Science fiction is more concerned with the costs of dystopia on those living within it - and the genre can play an important role in that respect, although waiting for the right special snowflake to come along and save the the day is not it - than it is the events which led to it. And if the latter are discussed, it’s with a sense of inevitability - who can stop the Bomb from falling, after all - that the narrative fails to address. In most dystopian novels, the dystopia is presented as a fait accompli. It is not worth commenting on how it could have been prevented because the lesson of the narrative is either accommodation or overthrow. And the latter, while much more dramatic, is almost certainly going to lead yet more mega-violence. Often to no good effect.

No discussion of dystopian fiction would be complete without mention of a work which discusses the costs incurred on the road to dystopia. Unhappily, I can’t think of a single science-fictional example. Science fiction is not interested in “works in progress”, or protean futures, only in applecarts which can be upset or re-righted. But then a setting is little more than a backdrop against which the protagonist can be shown under the brightest of lights. Who would want to read a book in which the hero’s impact was not immediate but might take decades or centuries to manifest?

In the name of world-building, in the name of drama, science fiction has created stories where millions or billions are slaughtered on the flimsiest of pretexts (to be honest, I can’t actually think of a single acceptable pretext), or where villains have a single setting: psychopath. The more such stories readers see, the more readers become inured to these sorts of actions. But that’s not what fiction is for, and certainly not what science fiction is for.

Someone once said dystopian fiction plays an important role because it shows the privileged what the lives of the unprivileged are like. And yet so little published dystopian fiction actually meets that description. Science fiction has spent over a century reinforcing the prejudices of its readers, and all the while it has claimed to be “challenging their horizons”. It is an astonishing sleight of hand.

Not, of course, that science fiction is unique in popular culture in doing so.

However, science fiction at least has the advantage of an active community of creators and consumers. So instead of telling stories of genocide and mega-violence and psychopathic villains, throw a little empathy into the mix. When writing war stories, show the cost on all involved, not just the hero. Don’t escalate the violence while blithely ignoring the morality.

Let’s all be responsible about what we read and write, because it does matter.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

NoaF Nominates: One Fan's Ballot

Things have been quiet around here regarding the Hugo Awards. We ran our second annual four part collective Hugo Award Longlist (1, 2, 3, 4) and then pretty much went radio silent. We want to be a resource and part of the conversation, but we don't want to be THE conversation and make it about any sort of Hugo agenda. To be fair, with fifteen of us, I'm not sure we would be able to put together any sort of unified agenda anyway, but that isn't really the point.

Now that the nominating deadline has passed, it is appropriate for the various writers here to share their nominating ballots - though this post should also not be viewed as the first of a Ballot Series. I just love talking about the Hugo Awards too much and part of that conversation is sharing my nominating ballot.

With two exceptions, I am going to let the ballot stand as is without comment.

The Obelisk Gate; N.K. Jemisin; Orbit (my review)
Flesh and Wires; Jackie Hatton; Aqueduct Press (my review)
City of Blades; Robert Jackson Bennett; Broadway
Infomocracy; Malka Older; Publishing (Charles' review)
All the Birds in the Sky; Charlie Jane Anders; Tor (my review)

Every Heart a Doorway; Seanan McGuire; Publishing (my review)
Lustlocked; Matt Wallace; Publishing (my review)
Pride's Spell; Matt Wallace; Publishing (my review)
The Drowning Eyes; Emily Foster; Publishing (my review)
Everything Belongs to the Future; Laurie Penny; Publishing

"Small Wars"; Matt Wallace;

Short Story
"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies"; Brooke Bolander; Uncanny, Issue 13
"This City Born Great"; N.K. Jemisin;
"Listen"; Karin Tidbeck;

Related Work
The Geek Feminist Revolution; Kameron Hurley; Tor
Fireside Fiction Special Report; Brian J White;

Graphic Story
Paper Girls: Vol 1; Brian K. Vaughan
Monstress: Awakening; Marjorie Liu
Saga: Vol 6; Brian K. Vaughan
White Sand: Vol 1; Brandon Sanderson
Paper Girls: Vol 2; Brian K. Vaughan

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
The Expanse: Season 1
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Hidden Figures

Dramatic Presentation,  Short Form
"The Door"; Game of Thrones
"Battle of the Bastards"; Game of Thrones
"Leviathan Wakes"; The Expanse

Editor, Long Form
Patrick Nielsen Hayden (All the Birds in the Sky)
Carl Engle-Laird (Infomocracy)
Devi Pillai (The Obelisk Gate)
Julian Pavia (City of Blades)
L. Timmel Duchamp (Flesh and Wires)

Editor, Short Form
Jonathan Strahan
Ann VanderMeer
John Joseph Adams

Professional Artist
Christopher Park; People of Color Destroy Science Fiction
Cynthia Shepard; The Drowning Eyes
Richard Anderson; The Burning Light
Todd Lockwood; The Summer Dragon
Victo Ngai; Everfair 

Uncanny Magazine 

Nerds of a Feather (The G, Vance Kotrla, Joe Sherry)
SF Bluestocking (Bridget McKinney)
Quick Sip Reviews (Charles Payseur)
SF in Translation (Rachel Cordasco)
Lady Business (Renay, Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Susan)

Here's one of the two comments I want to make about my ballot. I nominated the blog I co-edit and write for. I do acknowledge that can be viewed as somewhat self serving and shallow, but I also think that the collective flock here at Nerds of a Feather do really fantastic work. The collective is stronger than any individual writer we have here (and we have some pretty darn good writers). Also, I think we very strongly reflect the modern fanzine as group blog. I think we're pretty darn awesome, but I love all my kids.

Cabbages and Kings
Rocket Talk
Midnight in Karachi
Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men

Fan Writer
Joe Sherry; Nerds of a Feather
Bridget McKinney; SF Bluestocking
Abigail Nussbaum; Asking the Wrong Questions
Charles Payseur; Quick Sip Reviews, Nerds of a Feather
Brandon Kempner; Chaos Horizon

So, uh, this is the other comment I wanted to make. It's one thing to nominate yourself for a Hugo, it's another thing to talk about that in public. This is why we didn't specifically recommend ourselves on the Longlist. To quote Charles M. Schulz, "How gauche". But, after a number of years of lagging motivation, I was asked to join the flock here at Nerds of a Feather and I think I've since turned in some of my strongest work in a long time. I don't know that anyone else will have nominated me as there are a number of much higher profile writers who are doing really strong work, but I'd also really hate to miss the final ballot by one vote. 

The Expanse; James S.A. Corey; Babylon's Ashes; Orbit
Tao; Wesley Chu; The Rise of Io; Angry Robot
Wild Cards; George R. R. Martin; High Stakes; Tor
Court of Fives; Kate Elliott; Poisoned Blade; Little Brown
Mistborn; Brandon Sanderson; The Bands of Mourning; Tor

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Jackie Hatton; Flesh and Wires
Malka Older; Infomocracy
KB Wagers; Behind the Throne
CA Higgins; Lightless
Kelly Robson; Waters of Versailles

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

DYSTOPIAN VISIONS: City of Lost Children

Dossier: City of Lost Children

Filetype: Film

File Under: Stateless Dystopia

Executive Summary: One, a circus strongman in a surrealistic nightmare world that is equal parts Salvador Dali, Tom Waits spoken-word pieces, and Charles Dickens, via Fritz Lang's Metropolis, sees his little brother Donree abducted from a crowd and begins a single-minded hunt for him. One is aware, certainly, of the criminal element that runs through this society like capillaries, and of the roving bands of cyborg cultists that seem to be part police force and part kidnapping ring, but One is completely unaware of something far stranger at play...the scientist Krank.

Located on a secret, aquatic fortress, Krank and his brothers and sister are all created beings, the products of The Original. But they are all somehow broken. Martha is a dwarf; Uncle Irvin is a brain without a body, and plagued by migraines; the clone henchmen all have narcolepsy; and Krank cannot dream. Krank has been supplying the cultists with the cybernetic apparatuses they drive into their eyes and ears to better comprehend the true nature of reality. In exchange, the cultists have been stealing children for Krank's experiments. He believes that by inducing dreams in these stolen children, he will unlock the secret and gain the ability to dream for himself.

One meets a young girl named Miette, an orphan who has been forced into a life of crime by The Octopus, conjoined twins who control the lives of a large group of orphans and force them to commit both petty and elaborate robberies. After One helps Miette and her peers steal a safe, the two become unlikely partners and continue the search for Donree, braving the cyborg cult, The Octopus, tics trained to deliver murderous poison at the bidding of an organ grinder, and more as they move closer to a confrontation with Krank.

Dystopian Visions: Equal parts surrealism and dystopia, City of Lost Children draws upon the horrors of a Dickensian world of an invisible underclass with no hope for ever moving out of their station beneath this society (but is there even an upperclass in this world?), and fuses that with elements of both technological and fundamentalist dystopia. The lives of Miette and her fellow orphans are rarely presented as in strictly mortal peril, but their existence is bleak, and the idea of "childhood" is completely alien. The cyborgs, known as The Cyclops, are seen in their cultish meetings in a scene that is evocative of those in Metropolis where the robot Maria whips the underground workers into a rebellious frenzy with fire-and-brimstone religious fervor. 

This world is essentially one of lawlessness, where reason is not to be relied on, and destructive forces of many different stripes imperil everyone, forcing them into terrible choices that ultimately prove impossible to live with. We see converts give up their eye and ear in terror as they join The Cyclops. We see lackeys and con men forced into crimes they would never otherwise entertain. We see Krank's family suffer with their own monstrous actions, never certain if the scales can be balanced between their own pain they are trying to mitigate, and the pain in so many others they cause.

Utopian Undercurrents: In the legend of The Original, we see the glimmer of a utopian ideal in a man who attempted to use science to create beauty, intelligence, and a gateway to deeper understanding. But whether through that one man's personal limitations, or the hubris of any man attempting to create such things, the end result wound up being a horrible distortion that actually brought more pain and confusion into the world.

Level of Hell: Third. The world here is grim, for certain, but throughout it, we see that the human capacity for love and connection remains strong. It has not been eradicated, nor has it been actively subverted, as we see in many statist dystopias. One has deep connections with Donree and Miette, there are strong connections between many of the orphans, and even Martha is fiercely protective of Krank and the other creations. Love does not conquer all, but love always puts up a fight.

Legacy: If you enjoy Amelie, you can thank this earlier Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. The subsequent films Dark City and The Matrix also drew heavily from the same palette this film established.

In Retrospect: This movie is so good. The cleverness, the humor, the performances, including the otherworldly, old-soul performance of Judith Vittet as Miette and Ron Perlman speaking in French as One are astounding. As a work of visual imagination, this film has few peers. It is a masterpiece.


For its time: 5/5
Watched today: 5/5.
Oppressometer Readout: 10/10.