Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Gift Guide: Board Games

Joe - For the gamer with a dedicated gaming group

Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 by Z-Man Games

Probably my favorite gaming experience of 2017 has been gradually working my way through Season 1 of Pandemic Legacy. We’re perhaps ¾ through the campaign and we already know that Season 2 is a must buy that we’ll dive into right away. Pandemic Legacy is a fantastic way to level up your Pandemic gaming experience.  

Mike - For the 90's dino loving gamer

Dinosaur Island by Pandasaurus Games

Before I even talk about the game itself, how can you not want to buy this based on the exceptional box art alone?!? The goal of Dinosaur Island is to build a successful dinosaur theme park. A good park will include rides, attractions, and dinosaurs! Putting a T-Rex in your park will bring you some visitors, but you run the risk of it breaking out. Featuring clever worker placement mechanics, dino crafting via DNA collection, and a fun auction mechanic,  Dinosaur Island will definitely impress when it hits the table.

Mike - For the gamer who wants to test friendships

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 by Mondo

Mondo's first excursion into the world of games is a lot of fun and drops you arctic outpost from John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing. As you explore the outpost and battle The Thing, you also have to figure out who among the group is a human and who has been infected. Very few gaming moments are as fun as deceiving one of your friends so you can make it to the escape chopper and bring the infection to the rest of the world.

Mike - For the gamer looking for a stocking stuffer

Simon's Cat by Steve Jackson Games

At the low cost of only $6.95, Simon's Cat packs a lot of fun into a deck of 48 cards. Featuring art from the Simon's Cat YouTube cartoon (which I have never seen, but have been told about it by my kids' friends every time we play this game), Simon's Cat is a light Uno-esque card game that is a lot of fun and can be played very quickly. This is our go to game to play while we wait for food at a restaurant or want something light for a quick family game.

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Holiday Gift Guide: Video Games

Mike - For the gamer who just wants to have fun

Super Mario Odyssey by Nintendo - Nintendo Switch
It may not provide the most in-depth gaming experience, but Mario Odyssey is the most entertaining game I played in 2017. It brings back the magic that Mario 64 had an is a platforming masterpiece. Loaded with Easter Eggs, intuitive gameplay, and a wedding, Odyssey more than lives up to the hype and makes me a very happy Switch owner.
brian - For the gamer questioning the meaning of life

NieR: Automata by Square-Enix - Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows
NieR: Automata asks a lot of questions. It'll start with "can an android be alive?" and goes from there. You'll have to get over spending most of the game as a sexy anime lady, but NieR: Automata will go places that games don't go. Even if you're no good at games, you can dial down the difficulty and automate the combat. The game won't hinder or judge you. It just wants you to play and experience what it has to offer. It's a desolate, sometimes grim, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking game that has few equals.

Zhaoyun - For the gamer who wants to get a little weird

Torment: Tides of Numenera by Techland Publishing - Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Xbox One, Playstation 4

Everyone loved Planescape: Torment, and if the game-obsessed in your life don't already own this loose sequel (or at least, a similar and quite fun game with very similar rules), chances are good that they'll like it as well! Is it as good as Planescape: Torment? Probably not...but then, what is? On second thought, why not just get the gamers in your life another copy of Torment!
brian - For the gamer with great headphones

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice by Ninja Theory - Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4

Hellblade does a lot of things right, but the thing it does right the most is the sound. A great pair of a headphones goes a long way as Senua battles the Norse men and the demons that haunt her as she seeks revenge for the death of her lover. Hellblade won't break your bank account either, as it's only $30 and well worth every dollar. 

The G - For the gamer who can't get enough Stranger Things

Stranger Things: The Game by BonusXP - iOS, Android

Did you love Stranger Things? How about The Legend of Zelda? If you answers were "yes" and "hell yes," as they should be, then Stranger Things: The Game is your dreams come true. It is, after all, an 8-bit Zelda clone set in Hawkins, Indiana. You play as Hopper, Nancy, Lucas, Mike, Will, Dustin and Eleven, each with their own peculiar strengths and weaknesses. Hopper has a super punch; Lucas has his slingshot; Nancy's bat with nails on it can bash through fallen tree trunks; Mike can ride his bike to escape various baddies; and so forth. The game is reasonably difficult, but never cheap; and it's oozing with old school retro charm. Oh, did I mention it's also free? 

brian - For the gamer who wants to solve space mysteries

Tacoma by Fullbright - Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Xbox One

You could spend all of Tacoma watching a loading bar fill up. Instead, why not watch scenes from the past as the crew of Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma try to survive imminent death and learn why they abandoned the station? These scenes play out in an innovative AR interface which allows for rewinding, following particular characters, and getting more insight into the events than your typical cutscenes. It's an evolution of the "walking simulator" genre that shouldn't be missed by anyone.


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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Rampant Last Jedi Speculation

Welcome to the latest edition of Rampant Star Wars Speculation, with your hosts, Dean and Joe. Today we will be offering guesses, theories, and - you guessed it - rampant, wild, mostly unfounded speculation about what we'll see in The Last Jedi.

Spoilers ahead. Maybe.

Let's get to it.

My big question actually has to do with the poster- Luke looms large in the background, the spot where the villain typically is. Certainly the question of where he has been and what he has been up to looms over the first two entries in this new trilogy, but the question for now is: Does Luke turn to the Dark Side?

Dean: My money is on no. I think he is conflicted and uncertain. I hate to draw another line directly to Empire Strike Back, but look how he was then- uncertain how to proceed, under-trained, but knowing he must act. In fact, he never really received training after that. He faced Vader, Yoda died, and that was that. He could fight well, and use the force, but he wasn't trained too much as a Jedi. Now, his study, attempts to rebuild the Jedi, failure, and isolation have shown him the failings of the Jedi - hence the title. So I think this has more to do with him wrestling with his path (see the IMAX display featuring him on both the Dark and Light side).

Joe: I'll agree with you here. I can't see Luke doing a full turn. I can definitely see him wrestling with if he is on the right path and being unsure if he truly is following the Light Side after his academy (a New Jedi Academy?) was destroyed by Kylo Ren.

But a Dark Side turn? That doesn't seem like it would be part of Luke's journey, especially not after the son of Han and Leia turned. Kylo's frequent references to his grandfather are enough of that generational Dark Side turn that we don't need Luke to turn, too. This isn't Dark Empire. Probably.

My bigger concern, based on the trailers for The Last Jedi is that they're hinting at a Rey turn - which, let me tell you, would be a really terrible idea.

Let's speculate some more on Rey's parents!

Joe: I'm still going to roll with my far fetched idea of Rey being the daughter of Mara Jade. To quote myself from the first time we had this conversation

Do it like this: She was one of Luke’s students in his New Jedi Academy school thing that he founded after Return of the Jedi. She, with another student (or not, I don’t care), had a daughter. Ben Solo turned, killed that particular class of students, and Luke hid Rey on Jakku rather than take her with him when he ran and hid.

Dean: Gawd, I love that so much. Mara Jade is the best of the old EU. My problem with that is that I doubt they go that deep, though. The closer we get, the more I lean towards her being Han and Leia's daughter. There are a million signs that point to it, which have been covered ad nauseum at this point. It's not the most creative, to be sure, but I prefer it to her being Luke's kid.

Unless they bring in Mara Jade.

Joe: Force bless Mara Jade.

Porgs: Awesome or terrible?

Joe: Awesome. Next question.

Dean: Super awesome.

Where do you think Rey & Kylo end up at the end of this movie?

Joe: I think there's two real directions for Kylo Ren, and it really depends on whether or not they plan to do a redemption story for him at all. If yes, expect to see a couple of hints at said redemption. It wouldn't be a full blown face turn, but we will be able to see the shape of the turn. It would be Rey turning Kylo.

If no, and I would prefer that Kylo does not get a redemption given that he did straight up murder his father (Han Solo, remember?) in The Force Awakens, then expect to see a doubling down on his dark side turn. Possibly blowing up the planet Leia is on. That would also be one hell of a way to write Carrie Fisher out of the franchise. Spoilers, there is at least a 60 / 40 chance I'm going to cry at some point during The Last Jedi because of Carrie Fisher.

Rey is tougher. She's going to have a lot of questions about her heritage, why she was abandoned, and I don't think Luke is going to do her any favors. There might be a little too much of old Obi-Wan in him now. Hermiting really gets to a Jedi, you know. I think the movie will hint at a dark side turn for Rey, but I just don't see it happening. She's got too much basic decency running through her. More than most.

Dean: Much of the complaints about TFA were that is basically recycled A New Hope, which, yeah, a lot of the beats were the same (hey, if y'all want another Phantom Menace...), but this trilogy has a lot of grey to it... look at where we find Luke, previously this hero and beacon of light and hope. Snoke is not Sith, but he is dark. Kylo is conflicted the whole way, not just end like his fallen idol. So I think the end of this movie will reflect that, possibly with both of them closer to the middle, rather than extremes of light and dark. This will of course set up the reveal that Snoke is Revan in IX. (alternately, they may just go deeper into those extremes)

By Alice X. Zhang, check her stuff out seriously omg

What gets answered in The Last Jedi, and what questions will remain?

Joe: I expect we'll still be wondering who the hell Snoke is and never get a satisfactory answer.

Dean: I just said he's Revan! Or maybe not? IS IT THE 15TH YET?!!?!?

Holiday Gift Guide: Books

Welcome to our annual Holiday Gift Guide where the flock takes a break from talking about all the awesome and not so awesome things to, well, talk about some more of the awesome things that you might want to consider for your Holiday shopping this year. Today we'll talk about books and comics, but throughout the week you'll have any number of things to consider (games, apps, movies, and more). 

Joe: For the epic fantasy reader in your life

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

Okay, so this one is a little bit of a cheat because I'm listing three books instead of just one in this slot, but listen. I've been raving about Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy since The Fifth Season (my review) was published and each volume has not just been among the best of science fiction and fantasy published that year, it has been THE best speculative fiction published that year. Spoilers for my Best of 2017 list coming next month, but The Stone Sky (my review) is going to top that list, too.

The Stone Sky caps off a stunning epic fantasy trilogy, one which began with the threaded narrative of three orogenes and concludes with the story of a woman and daughter finally coming back together. The Broken Earth is a monumental achievement in fantasy fiction. The Stone Sky is the culmination of the best fantasy trilogy written today and that might be an understatement.

Brian: For the sci-fi horror fan in your life

Dark Intelligence, by Neal Asher
War Factory, by Neal Asher
Infinity Engine, by Neal Asher

2017 saw the conclusion of Neal Asher's Transformation trilogy, the latest in his line of Polity books. Following a war between AI-empowered humans and the violent crab-like Prador, members of each species find themselves as pawns in a rogue AI's strange mission of atonement. It's a romp through an established galaxy of post-humans, aliens, and technology that approaches magic, with a dash of some David Cronenberg-esque body horror.

Tia: For the Harry Potter fan in your life.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Illustrated Edition, by J.K. Rowling

Each year Bloomsbury and Scholastic release a stunning, fully illustrated (by Jim Kay) edition of the Harry Potter series. These books make the perfect gift for the current (or aspiring) Harry Potter fan on your list, and because it’s only the third year and they are reasonably priced for what you get (about 30 USD or less) it’s not too late to start a great gift giving tradition. I’ve recommended these books for the last three years and they never fail to dissapoint.

Zhaoyun: For the reader living in a dystopian reality in your life

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale--because it's sounding more and more horrifyingly prescient with every day that goes by! Plus, all that doom and gloom makes for a very entertaining story (and you can even get the recipient either the feature film and/or the new(ish) TV series, as well!).

Vance: For the Twin Peaks fan in your life

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, by Mark Frost

I'm sure there's an appropriate, Black Lodgian analogy for what Mark Frost is to David Lynch in the story of unfolding the Twin Peaks saga, but I'll just be literal: David Lynch is widely hailed as *the* creative force behind Twin Peaks, while series co-creator and co-writer Mark Frost's influence is largely unsung. It's weird. Maybe Frost doesn't like giving interviews as much, but who knows? Throughout his filmography, Lynch has been famously ambivalent about whether or not audiences "get it" in a conscious, academic sense, and more concerned if people are moved by his work on an emotional level. I went on the ride for Twin Peaks: The Return, and I thought it was great. That said, yes, it totally would've been nice to have actually known what was up with Audrey Horne. Or what happened to Becky. Or...well, lots of stuff. I mean, there are loose ends. Lots. Admittedly. Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier doesn't promise to tie them all up, but it does promise to answer questions! Some questions, definitely get answered. And that's good enough for me. This feels like a must for the Twin Peaks fan in your life.

Mike: For the horror fan in your life:

Strange Weather, by Joe Hill
Featuring four short novels, Joe Hill delivers some truly shocking stories that will be sure to delight the horror/supernatural fan in your life. My personal favorite was Snapshot, which made me nostalgic for Locke and Key due to the Polaroid-esque camera forged from whispering iron. Each story is unique, with Loaded hitting a little too close to home and by far the most disturbing of the group. 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

FIRESIDE Chat: Cecily Kane of Manic Pixie Dream Worlds

Welome to our latest Fireside Chat! This time I "sit down" with Cecily Kane, reviewer of short fiction and proprietor of the blog Manic Pixie Dream Worlds. Like me, Cecily is a refugee from the world of literary fiction--or rather, is someone who questions whether there should be a boundary between imaginative and literary fiction. You can find Cecily on twitter, where she is most active these days. 

G - Thanks for “sitting down” with me in front of this lovely virtual fireplace! I’m going to start by going big: what do you look for in science fiction or fantasy? What does a story or novel need to do in order to get and sustain your attention?

CK - Thanks for inviting me, G!

In some ways this is an easier question to answer with fantasy, though that answer might be more nebulous. My favorite genre actually isn’t SF/F -- it’s transformative literature (most but not all of which is SF/F). Principally retellings, whether of myths, fairy tales, histories, epics… but when you get down to it, I think fantasy is almost inherently transformative literature, since its suite of tools draws from the world’s existing mythologies and folklores. Regardless of whether it’s secondary world or not, I’m much more interested in fantasy that interacts as an open system with this one than fantasy that is having a conversation strictly with “genre.”

Though perhaps it’s more complex than that. A favorite story of mine, Ruthanna Emrys’ “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land,” opens up Narnia, both to religions besides Christianity and, as Jonah Sutton-Morse pointed out to me, in a dynamic sense with this world; Emrys’ Narnia changes. It’s an open system, while the original Narnia is a closed one. Though I do think portal fantasies can illustrate things about this world if by showing what you’d be escaping -- “The Dancer on the Stairs” by Sarah Tolmie comes to mind.

With science fiction, I’m increasingly drawn to stories that reimagine ways of living that don’t replicate horrors of this world, such as Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (which is also a retelling of the Biblical gospels, a fact that seems oddly omitted from most discussions of it) or Xia Jia’s “Tongtong’s Summer,” which envisions a near future in which life is much better for elderly people. Though to be honest, these days I’m really digging anything that doesn’t replicate empire. Two recent (to me) favorites are “So Much Cooking” by Naomi Kritzer and “State Change” by Ken Liu, which benefit from (and are refreshing in part because of) a sharply reduced sense of scale; they’re about how people live.

I’m also a sucker for relatively unusual literary techniques. The Three by Sarah Lotz would be a forgettable post-apocalyptic novel but for the fact that it’s not only epistolary but is so in multiple formats -- blog posts, chat logs, e-mails, self-recordings for a memoir -- almost mixed media. Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium is striking because the computer resets that change the genders and relationships of the characters start to break down and change your cognitive processes; human thinking is largely associative, so removing the link between, say, a woman’s power and a man probably takes more than representation. Her “A Song for You” works similarly, but as an illustration of how colonialism and apocalypse are two perspectives of the same story and that that fact is not one of distant worlds or times, but this one, right now.

So now that I’ve written them out, those look like pretty similar answers, huh?

G - I also tend to like experimental narrative structures, though it has to be executed well. I liked the nonlinear narrative in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandell and the front to back to front structure of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. My favorite novel format is probably the short story cycle, where each story is self-contained but reveals more pieces of an evolving meta-narrative. A few of these were really important to me when I was discovering contemporary fiction. Mainly The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie and Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. 

Come to think of it, there aren’t a ton of short story cycles in SF/F. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood are the only ones that spring to mind. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski and Four Ways to Foregiveness by Ursula LeGuin are two more, but they are more stories that fill in the blanks for novel series than proper short story cycles. The Human Division by John Scalzi might count, though it was more episodic than anything--I’m not sure the stories can be read on their own, and I was pretty lukewarm on it anyway. I’m sure there are more examples. There *should* be more, given the cohort of talented short fiction writers we have at the moment. I’d love to see Alice Sola Kim or Karen Tidbeck do a short story cycle.

Its interesting that you mention your frustration with science fiction and fantasy that’s hidebound to the horrors of the present. I have a related frustration with science fiction and fantasy that’s hidebound to the social relations and political institutions of the present. The United Space of America trope is an egregious example of this, the ridiculous idea that the political institutions and conventions of the United States will not only extrapolate far into the future, but will also be the only system that makes it. It’s unimaginative, for one, and strains credulity for another.

There are many others, like fantasy books that reconstruct modern notions of race, nation and gender in an allegedly medieval context. Or space opera that projects them into the far future. This is made more egregious when the discourse centers on the supposed “realism” of these worlds. Fantasy is never realistic; nor is space opera. I do get that imaginative fiction reflects the hopes and anxieties of the present, but it’s also called imaginative fiction for a reason. More and more, I want fantasy and far-future worlds to be weird and different, to explore radical ideas of how societies could be organized and to untether themselves from modernity or modern interpretations of pre-modernity.

Another thing I want is immersion: in the world and in character perspective. There are many ways to go about this. Parable of the Sower/Talent is a great example of doing this by keeping things tidy--one perspective on the world, where the changes from our own are subtle but profound. The Malazan novels take the opposite approach--the world and character building is downright baroque. But they are immersive, and blessedly free of infodumping. Nothing crushes my suspension of disbelief like a narrator breaking the fourth wall, or the shift out of perspective to an encyclopedia-style infodump on the political history of Narvothos, the inner workings of a warp drive or whatever.

The last thing I want, strictly with regards near future science fiction, is some kind of meaningful extrapolation from the present. What changes, how does it change and why? I realize this runs counter to what I said I want from fantasy and far-future SF. But this is a unique strength of near-future science fiction, and sometimes I fear the genre has moved away from this and toward a more trope-forward approach. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about “hard” SF where there are lengthy explanations of how warp drives work. A lot of that stuff, in my opinion, is pretty unimaginative--especially when it comes to political institutions and social relations. I’m thinking more along the lines of Pat Cadigan, William Gibson, Octavia Butler and so forth. Okay, I don’t always want this, but it’s often a plus for me.

CK -- “Social and political institutions of the present” is better wording (we’re talking about the same things, I think).

Insofar as SFnal short story cycles are concerned, the only two recent ones I can think of are from outside the systems and structures of this field. Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott is a series of short stories in Cross River, Maryland, a fictional town founded after a successful slave revolt; 17776 is set in a post-scarcity far future, superficially about football but thematically about existential anxiety. What I like about these, and perhaps you would as well, is that they are straightforward Americana, about their investment in America-specific concerns, without being this sort of The United Space of Empire, promoting or at least assuming this sort of American hegemony and dominance.

It seems there are two planes to the distinctions we’re discussing in SF’s relationship to our world. The textual: to what extent its world is reflective of or divergent from “this world”; and the meta-textual, to what extent the narrative is conscious of the associated why’s and how’s. Perhaps it’s failures in the second that lead to most failures in the first, whether by not sufficiently interrogating its perspective or not even being aware that narratives have a perspective in the first place.

So I’m not sure you’re necessarily countering yourself; perhaps “hidebound to” and “extrapolating from” is neither the same thing, nor dichotomous? Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how SF likes to both consider itself “the literature of ideas” and also “totally fake, made-up, not about this world.” I am suspicious of each but particularly so of when and why it does each; the latter, for example, likely being an excuse to posit empire as a neutral (or heaven forbid, aspirational) entity, and the former being a justification for a sort of literary/intellectual parochialism that encourages these tropes to flourish.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I hear you on being frustrated with the lack of imagination in “pseudo-medieval Europe.” Two things I think we’ve talked about before, and that I think are both distortions of capitalist ideology. The first is how godawful the worldbuilding of Game of Thrones is; I don’t want to derail into what is certainly a TL;DR mine, but the fact that it changes the entire climate system of its world and doesn’t consider how that might impact its agriculture, when social systems are inherently agricultural -- I mean, it’s feudalism! For the gods’ sake! -- well, how is that “realistic”? (I am increasingly aware of “realism” implicitly meaning “reaffirms existing power relations that I find favorable and comfortable.”) And the second, which I think is more interesting, is how much near-future and apocalyptic SF assume competition rather than cooperation. Two of the books discussed so far, Parables and Station Eleven, are hybrid approaches; I’m increasingly attracted to SF that focuses on community-building. “Police Magic” by Brent Lambert and Andrea Hairston’s “Saltwater Railroad” come to mind.

(Side note: it puzzles me that capitalist ideology frames competition over resources as the primary behavioral driver, but in post-apocalyptic fiction in which the huge majority of humans have died, it becomes more rather than less fierce. Logic does not compute.)

Perhaps my favorite near-future SF of recent years is Aliya Whitely’s The Beauty, in which competition is not over resources but rather collective identity; the group fights not over food or weapons but rather whether their story be framed as a beginning or as an ending. Speaking of extrapolation from the present day and its anxieties, isn’t the fight over our story one of the most dominant of our age, at least in the U.S.? And The Beauty brings me to the last but perhaps most significant literary aspect I look for, narrative voice and language:
I can remember this is not how they were; I knew them, I knew them! Only six years have passed and yet I mythologize them as if it is six thousand. I am not culpable. Language is changing, like the earth, like the sea. We live in lonely, fateful flux, outnumbered and outgrown.
I’m glad I discovered small presses and short fiction, because in the world of big 5 novel imprints, language like that is almost wholly absent; on the occasions it moves beyond an invisible narrative voice that carries the plot along quickly, it tends to be some sort of stilted pseudo-medieval imagined pattern rather than language that uses poetic or prosodic devices.

G - Thanks for the short story cycle recs! Both Insurrections and 17776 sound right up my alley. I also need a break from the Malazan books: I’m midway through book 5 and am flagging a bit. They are very good, though I don’t love them uncritically--there’s a decent amount of stuff I don’t like, though on balance it’s a very impressive series, both in its imaginative-ness and ideationally. That said, a 10 book series is a tall order, and my original idea to read them all in one go probably isn’t going to happen. It probably shouldn’t happen; I need a break.

What impresses me most about the books is a point of contrast to Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. You’re absolutely right to bring up weather: there are regions on Earth that largely correspond to “years of summer” or “years of winter,” but they sure as hell don’t look like temperate medieval Europe. Weather affects everything: what you eat, what you wear, how you build things and so forth. I don’t mind that Martin changed the temporality of seasons, but there’s zero attempt to design from that premise. This contrasts with his careful approach to the internal logic of cultural practices in Westeros (though not so much in Essos).

Erikson’s world, by contrast, reads like a purposeful rejection of “realism.” The world is positively dripping with magic in ways that can be weird and confusing but refreshingly different. The internal logic is less that of “modern person bases world on modern interpretation of medieval societies” and more “modern person invents mythological world that adheres to multiple mythological logics.” Does that makes sense? I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love how untethered the Malazan world is from rote expectations of medieval-ness.

This is especially striking with regards race/ethnicity and gender. The Malazan Empire is multiethnic and multiracial, ruled by a blue-skinned woman and featuring an army where half the soldiers are women. Some of the other societies portrayed are patriarchal, but others are matriarchal and others still are neither one nor the other.

I don’t love everything about the books. A couple entries get splatterpornographic, and I’m not a fan of that. But unlike a lot of other grimdark fantasy, the overarching narrative is one of redemption through loyalty, kindness and charity. That’s another point of contrast with ASOIF, where it’s more about getting to the finish alive and never trusting anyone unless they’re a blood relative (and even then not entirely trusting them).

More broadly, I like your distinction between the textual (the world) and the meta-textual (how and why the world came to be what it is), and agree that in SF, failure to think about the latter likely explains a lot of failures in the former. That ties to the notion of trope-forward SF: who cares if the setup makes no sense, because fun! Or because it’s just a metaphor.

This is something that came up in my conversation with Megan. I’m not against books or stories of films that aspire to be good entertainment and nothing more; nor am I against books or stories where the science fictional is confined to literalized metaphors. Both can be done really well. What does concern me, as an observer of genre, is a sense that--increasingly--that’s all anyone wants to do with SF. Outside the dreary hidebound world of stories where libertarians describe warp engines, that is.

That’s a bit unfair--there is a lot of good SF still. And agreed--you need to look at small presses to find a lot of it. Or, increasingly, to non-genre imprints. The big genre imprints seem to be moving farther and farther from the kind of SF I find exciting, and towards the safety zone of trope-forward SF.

But enough of me yelling at clouds. You are a prolific reviewer of short fiction, so I’d like to ask: which short fiction writers are most exciting to you right now? And who would you be most excited to read in novel or series form?

CK - Short stories and novels are such different art forms that I don’t hold longform aspirations for short fiction writers. (In fact, something I often tell people looking for where to start with shorts is not to begin with their favorite novelists; I don’t think that’s generally the best way to go about it.) But as far as series are concerned, I’d love to see series set in Malon Edwards' alt-history Chicago and Ruthanna Emrys’ Tikanu. More fairytale retellings by Veronica Schanoes are always good. Some of Wole Talabi’s stories read like short story cycles unto themselves -- “A Short History of Migration in Five Fragments of You” comes to mind. And recent debut authors whose careers I’ll be watching closely include Ian Muneshwar and Tlotlo Tsamaase.

I haven’t been able to keep up with the field this year; of what little I did read, probably the most memorable story, “Control Negro” by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, I found outside of it, in Guernica. It’s ostensibly realist and uses the tropes of literary fiction, but the tools it uses are absolutely speculative. So I hope to see more SFnal work from the author.

Thursday Morning Superhero

The holiday season is upon us and I find myself reflecting on what graphic novels I should pick up as gifts. 2017 had some amazing titles for all types of readers and there is likely an amazing comic for everyone on your list.

Pick of the Week:
Darth Vader #9 - I could not have guessed that the Jedi librarian would be such an entertaining and formidable foe to the Grand Inquisitor and Darth Vader himself. Watching her outwit Vader as he attempts to gather valuable information from the archive is an absolute delight. I fear that she may meet her end in the next issue, but thus far she has been able to impress beyond my wildest expectations. This has been an extremely entertaining arc that is a must read.

The Rest:
Captain America #696 - Steve Rogers is trying to rebuild his image and figure out how he fits in following the events of Secret Empire. In this issue he finds himself in a small town north of Atlanta is search of some solitude. Not surprisingly, he is very recognizable and comes to terms that it is going to be tough to lay low. Capped with a heartfelt letter from Joe Caramagna, this stand alone issue serves as a good reboot as we embark on another new era with Rogers wielding the shield.

Doctor Strange #382 - Donny Cates' run continues to entertain as Sorcerer Supreme Loki attempts to unlock a door that he believes contains a spell of immense power. Stephen Strange, moonlighting as a veterinarian, makes a desperate move to attempt to stop Loki after he began to get close to Zelma. I won't spoil anything, but Cates' has created some social media buzz after the return of a controversial hero. While I am not very well versed in all things Doctor Strange, the first two books from Cates have been a lot of fun.

Paper Girls #18 - All hell is about to break lose and I am terrified. The girls are reunited again, but stuck in the year 2000 with no clear plan on how to return home. Due to circumstances, the Battle of the Ages is about to really heat up. There is other drama associated with KJ and wondering if she has been replaced or not and the cops appear to be in some sort of trance, but my concern is how the war is going to escalate and impact everyone else. This title is about to get messy.

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

6 Books with Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee is the author of the gangster fantasy saga Jade City (Orbit) and the award-winning young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux) and Exo (Scholastic). Cross Fire, the sequel to Exo, releases in May 2018. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, a black belt martial artist, and an action movie aficionado. She loves a good Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Canada, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find Fonda online at and on Twitter @fondajlee.

1. What book are you currently reading? 

Right now, I’m reading Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s the follow-up to the Printz Award-winning YA novel Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities. I admire all of Bacigalupi’s work, whether it’s adult short fiction and novels, YA, or MG. Everything he writes is incisive, gritty, brutally intelligent, and all too plausible.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

I’m excited for Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien, which comes out in April 2018. It’s a comedic middle grade novel about a girl determined to be the top student at her school of Wu Liu (figure skating plus martial arts). It sounds fabulously fun. I’m already a fan of Henry Lien’s short fiction, so I know I’ll love Peasprout.

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

 I rarely re-read books; there are too many new ones I want to get to. That said, I know I will re-read The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Again.


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

I was captivated by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was a child. It wasn’t until I re-read the Narnia series later in life that I fully picked up all the heavy-headed religious allegory, and the works lost some of their shine for me.

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

Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels, starting with Caves of Steel, really made an impact on me as a teen. I was captivated by Asimov’s future world and his Three Laws of Robotics, the depiction of robots and colonized worlds, the page turning mystery plots, and the relationship between the robot Daneel Olivaw and his human partner, Elijah Bailey. The series contains the elements that I now always strive for in my work: grounded and believable worldbuilding, a compelling story, and complex, nuanced human relationships.

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

Jade City is my first epic fantasy novel for adults. It’s a gangster family saga set in a modern era Asia-inspired metropolis where rival clans vie for control of territory, business, and magical jade, which grants those who wear it superhuman martial arts powers. It’s been described as "The Godfather with magic and kung fu," and that’s a pretty accurate description. It’s available now from Orbit Books.


POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Microreview [film]: The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

In which we see that Ed Wood's story is better than...well...any of Ed Wood's stories

I'm on record as saying I think Ed Wood is probably the best movie ever made about making movies. It came out in 1994, and a year later, apparently to capitalize on the sudden name recognition generated by the Tim Burton movie, the independently-produced documentary version of the same events came out. It is very odd, but also very touching.

If you are not familiar with the events of Ed Wood, it's going to be hard for me to summarize what this documentary's about, but I'll give it a go. Edward D. Wood, Jr. was a World War II veteran who moved to Los Angeles after the war to try to get into the picture business. When the story of Christine Jorgensen — one of the first Americans to openly undergo gender-reassignment surgery — hit the news, Ed Wood managed to land the job of directing an exploitation picture called, I Changed My Sex. Ed landed the job because he was secretly a transvestite, which he revealed to the film's producer. After promising to shoot the movie in three days, Ed wrote a script about the life he was leading, keeping his transvestism secret from his girlfriend Dolores Fuller. Dolores would go on to write hit songs for Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole. The resulting movie, ultimately released as Glen or Glenda? is one of the most incomprehensible things ever set to film. And it stars Bela Lugosi. Ed and Bela met somehow, I guess there are a couple different versions of what went down, and became...probably...friends. Bela hadn't worked in a while, and needed money. Ed would keep Bela employed until Bela's death, and I kid you not, beyond. The three films they made together are widely thought of as some of the worst movies ever made. Also appearing in them are Tor Johnson, a Swedish professional wrestler, Vampira, an out-of-work late-night horror TV host who was the inspiration for Disney's Maleficent and, later, Elvira, and a group of friends, some actors, chiropractors, girlfriends, investors' kids, and whoever else would be in them for nothing. Ed's "masterpiece," which was finished after Bela died, was actually financed by a Baptist church in Beverly Hills, and Ed got the cast and crew to agree to be baptized as a condition of financing.

Phew. Ok, so all that is in Ed Wood, and familiar to anybody who's seen it. But it is remarkable to hear the people who were actually involved tell the story. The filmmakers got EVERYBODY. They got Bela's only son, they got Dolores, and the woman who stole Dolores' part in Bride of the Monster because of a misunderstanding about her investing in the production, they got Ed's ex-wife and step-son, they got surviving members of Ed's casts and crews, they got Maila Nurmi (Vampira), they even got the pastor of the Baptist church that paid for Plan 9 from Outer Space. And things you think, "Well, that probably didn't happen like that," while watching Tim Burton's movie, you find out, no, it pretty much happened like that.

Ed's story was not a happy one, though. He died a homeless alcoholic at the age of 54. While not lingering on it, the movie doesn't skip over Ed's last years, in which he was usually drunk and making pornographic films. Similarly, Ed's relationship with Lugosi has been the subject of a lot of speculation and some recrimination. Was Ed a heartless, exploitative fraud who ruined Bela Lugosi's legacy (a position held by Bela Lugosi, Jr.), or were they actually friends? Did Ed give something to Bela in the legendary but then-forgotten actor's final years that Bela cherished? To hear Ed's stepson recount visits to Lugosi's house, for instance, you might be inclined to think that, yeah, the two were odd but close friends. As the film ends, and each of the interviewees signs off on their final memories of the actual man — not the character named "The Worst Director of All Time," but the actual human being that they knew for better and worse — the movie is profoundly touching. To hear these people express their regrets for not understanding Ed's cross-dressing at the time, for not being there when they felt he may have needed them most, or for some, how much it meant to them that they were with him right to the's moving stuff.

Ed Wood was not a good filmmaker. But he was loved, and he was complicated and frustrating and misunderstood, and when he was gone, he was missed. And for all of its complexity and murkiness, I think his story is a meaningful one, and I'm glad we have it.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for getting all the interviewees they got; +1 for an unexpectedly evocative emotional experience; +1 for being quite frank about topics that were emotionally perilous for some of the people on camera; and +1 for Maila Nurmi's sorry-not-sorry admission that Orson Welles gave her an STD

Penalties: -1 for a little bit of narrative unevenness in terms of who-did-what-when; -1 for being mostly talking heads, but what are you gonna do?

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10. I feel like this is a must for fans of Wood, but also a good watch for anybody invested in independent or cult filmmaking

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather since 2012. For reviews of other documentaries about cult film figures, check out Corman's World and Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story.

Monday, December 4, 2017

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we curate a selection of 6 forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

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

Corey, James S. A. Persepolis Rising [Orbit, 2017] 
Publisher's Description

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever… 
Why We Want It: Persepolis Rising is the eighth volume of The Expanse and at this point you're either all in or you're never going to get this far. If you're in, you know what's up. The duo behind James S. A. Corey puts out winner after winner with this series and it's some delightful science fiction. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what they do with Persepolis Rising.

Grant, Mira. Into the Drowning Deep [Orbit, 2017]
Publisher's Description
New York Times bestselling author Mira Grant, author of the renowned Newsflesh series, returns with a novel that takes us to a new world of ancient mysteries and mythological dangers come to life.

The ocean is home to many myths, 

But some are deadly…

Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a tragedy.

Now a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price. 
Why We Want It: I'll be straight up with you. I've already read this and it is so very good. So very good. Grant's Newsflesh series was a delight, but Into the Drowning Deep is on another level entirely. It is deeply compelling, unsettling, and I did not want to put it down.

Martin, George R. R., ed. Wild Cards: Mississippi Roll [Tor, 2017]
Publisher's Description
Perfect for current fans and new readers alike, Mississippi Roll is an adventurous journey along Ol’ Man River, featuring beloved characters from the Wild Cards universe. 

Now on its final voyage, the historical steamboat Natchez is known for her super-powered guest entertainers. But after the suspicious death of a crewmember, retired NY police detective Leo Storgman decides to make this incident his personal case. His findings only lead to a growing number of questions. Is there some truth behind the ghostly sightings of the steamboat’s first captain Wilbur Leathers? What secret does the current captain seem to be hiding? And could the Natchez be ferrying mysterious – and possibly dangerous – cargo onboard?

 Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin, Mississippi Roll features the writing talents of Stephen Leigh, John Jos. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Carrie Vaughn (Martians Abroad), Hugo-Award winning author David D. Levine (Arabella of Mars), and Hugo and Nebula Award finalist Cherie Priest (Boneshaker). 
Why We Want It: We may be a touch behind on our Wild Cards, but a new novel is always a good thing and a reminder that it's time to jump back into the series. Though the 24th volume, Mississippi Roll looks to be a good entry point into the series for new readers as well as those who may be lapsed.

Sanderson, Brandon. Oathbringer [Tor, 2017]
Publisher's Description
The eagerly awaited sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling Words of Radiance, from epic fantasy author Brandon Sanderson at the top of his game. 

In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.

Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.

Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together—and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past—even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization. 
Why We Want It: Brandon Sanderson has proved himself to be a fantasy institution and each new novel, especially those of The Stormlight Archive are big event books, tentpoles of the fantasy reading year. Oathbringer has been one of my most anticipated fantasies since I closed the last page of Words of Radiance three years ago.

Scholes, Ken. Hymn [Tor, 2017]
Publisher's Description
Ken Scholes completes his five-book epic that began with his acclaimed first novel Lamentation. The battle for control of The Named Lands has captivated readers as they have learned, alongside the characters, the true nature of world called Lasthome.

Now the struggle between the Andro-Francine Order of the Named Lands and the Y’Zirite Empire has reached a terrible turning point. Believing that his son is dead, Rudolfo has pretended to join with the triumphant Y’zirite forces—but his plan is to destroy them all with a poison that is targeted only to the enemy.

In Y’Zir, Rudolfo’s wife Jin Li Tam is fighting a war with her own father which will bring that Empire to ruin.

And on the Moon, Neb, revealed as one of the Younger Gods, takes the power of the Last Home Temple for his own. 
Why We Want It: After a five year wait, Ken Scholes is back and has delivered the fifth and final book in his Psalms of Isaak sequence. There's a lot going on here, with plots upon plots and, astoundingly, even a trip to the moon. I'm interested to see how he wraps this one up.

Weir, Andy. Artemis [Crown, 2017]
Publisher's Description
Jasmine Bashara never signed up to be a hero. She just wanted to get rich.

Not crazy, eccentric-billionaire rich, like many of the visitors to her hometown of Artemis, humanity’s first and only lunar colony. Just rich enough to move out of her coffin-sized apartment and eat something better than flavored algae. Rich enough to pay off a debt she’s owed for a long time.

So when a chance at a huge score finally comes her way, Jazz can’t say no. Sure, it requires her to graduate from small-time smuggler to full-on criminal mastermind. And it calls for a particular combination of cunning, technical skills, and large explosions—not to mention sheer brazen swagger. But Jazz has never run into a challenge her intellect can’t handle, and she figures she’s got the ‘swagger’ part down.

The trouble is, engineering the perfect crime is just the start of Jazz’s problems. Because her little heist is about to land her in the middle of a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.

Trapped between competing forces, pursued by a killer and the law alike, even Jazz has to admit she’s in way over her head. She’ll have to hatch a truly spectacular scheme to have a chance at staying alive and saving her city.

Jazz is no hero, but she is a very good criminal.

That’ll have to do.

Propelled by its heroine’s wisecracking voice, set in a city that’s at once stunningly imagined and intimately familiar, and brimming over with clever problem-solving and heist-y fun, Artemis is another irresistible brew of science, suspense, and humor from #1 bestselling author Andy Weir. 
Why We Want It: You've read The Martian, right? Weir's story of an astronaut marooned on Mars was charming and thrilling enough that we want to see what he does next.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Microreview [TV]: Lore

Trying to serve two masters, or...?

I haven't listened to the Lore podcast, so going into the Amazon TV adaptation, I had a totally open mind and very few expectations. But it sounded like something that would be right up my alley — a look at the true stories and origins of a wide variety of horrors and beliefs, many of which were held in the shockingly recent past. I'm the kind of person who enjoys reading about the real Vlad Dracula more than I enjoy Bram Stoker's tedious novel, and the kind of person who generally enjoys The Crucible more than, say, The Witch and other tales hinting at supernatural evils in the forest. From the description provided by Amazon, I thought this was going to be a look at the real monsters (hint: it's us!) behind many of the misdeeds attributed to made-up monsters.

In form, Lore is pretty interesting. It's probably about as faithful an adaptation of a podcast as you could make for TV. In each episode, a combination of strong visual design and graphics underneath narration from the show's creator and host, Aaron Mahnke, is paired with a live action re-creation of some singular story relating to the topic. As a rule, I found the narrated portions more involving than the re-creations, even though there are some great actors involved, and — it must be said — portions that are legitimately hard to watch, even without being particularly gory. Campbell Scott, for instance, must watch his daughter be exhumed and her chest cracked so that her heart and liver can be extracted and burned. That's pretty grim. Colm Fiore plays Dr. Walter Freeman, who gives patients — including children! — ice pick lobotomies in his comfortable office. It's hard to watch, but I never found it engaging. I couldn't put my finger on why, exactly, until I got to the episode "The Beast Within," about werewolves.

At the end of the Campbell Scott episode, "They Made a Tonic," the show absurdly suggests that the death and exhumation of Mercy Brown was the inspiration for Stoker's Dracula novel. I've read that some people suggest Stoker may have loosely based the character of Lucy on Mercy, but who knows? The claim the show made felt way, way overblown, and kind of put me back on my heels. By the time I got to "The Beast Within," I had started to think that type of overreach was a feature, not a bug, of the show. In the werewolf episode, the re-enactment focuses on the story of Peter Stubbe, a 16th century German farmer publicly executed for his crimes committed as a werewolf. While it's impossible to know what really happened in the German village of Bedburg over 400 years ago, and it's possible that Peter Stubbe actually was a killer, and not simply a vessel for superstitious people and power-hungry religious leaders during a time of war and political upheaval to pour their suffering into, he certainly wasn't a werewolf. His Wikipedia page is more interesting than the re-creation presented in Lore, in which Stubbe isn't a farmer, but some type of town elder, who is apparently crazy and has been waiting a dozen years to kill the daughter of one of the townspeople and just biding his time. The result is a weak, not-scary twenty-minute period horror movie, that bears only a passing resemblance to the real-world events. And that, I thought, was the hook of the show. looking at the real-world events that have passed into, well, lore.

So it left me flat. I felt like it was somehow trying to be scholarly (or pseudo-scholarly) and also exploitative or titillating, and it wound up not doing either one particularly well.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for the graphical elements in the most podcast-y parts; +1 for trying something new

Penalties: -1 making the real life stories less interesting; -1 for dubious claims of sweeping significance; -1 for I-really-wanted-to-like-it-but-couldn't

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10, equal parts good and bad

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of Nerds of a Feather since 2012, and person who will one day, really, write that vampire and werewolf story he's been stewing over forever.