Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

My pull list was quite short this week and happened to only include stories from a galaxy far, far away. I admit that I was concerned when Marvel took over the Star Wars comics many moons ago, but I remain impressed with how they have handled the franchise and am even more impressed with the new all-ages books from IDW. If you are a Star Wars fan with some young readers in your life you would earn some cool points if you gifted them the magic of Star Wars comics!

Pick of the Week:
Star Wars Forces of Destiny: Hera - I was super pumped to read the Hera issue in this series. She is my favorite character in Rebels and it was a delight to see her help and empower a small farming community that had recently come under Empire rule. I won't get into specifics, but her advice was similar to the advice that my older brother gave me growing up when I was tasked with something to do by my parents that I had no interest in doing. Particularly a task that was likely to be a regular occurrence. I hope that we are given a trade collecting these stories at the end because I desperately want this book on my kids' bookshelf.

Star Wars #42 - One of the elements of the comics that I enjoy is the creative side missions that the writers come up with and how they tie in the various movies. In this issue there was a moment where Luke reflected on what happened during Rogue One and wondered if he would have been comfortable turning off his targeting system during his famous shot that took down the Death Star. Kieron Gillen continues to do a good job capturing the feel of the various characters and the current mission, that of taking down an orbital drill is pretty standard fare and quite a fun read.

Star Wars Adventures #6 - In our final Star Wars book of the week, this all-ages line of short stories remains fun, but this issue was not quite as much fun as the previous titles. The first short story, featuring Rose (who my friend calls the Jar Jar of Last Jedi) and her love of instruction manuals. The other short story is straight out of Phantom Menace and is a cute story with Anakin back when he worked for Watto. It honestly felt like an issue of B-list stars, but was still enjoyable and one that I enjoy reading with my kids.

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Microreview [film]: Fantastic Planet

A Visually Unique Sci-Fi Allegory

On a planet inhabited by a giant, blue, humanoid race known as Draags, they have a rodent problem. And the rodents are us.

Sometimes, a kind-hearted Draag child will claim a human — known as Oms — as a pet, like we would hamster. Not like a dog, a companion, but like a tiny, living toy whose novelty can't really last that long. But by and large, Oms are treated as a nuisance and are regularly purged from the fields outside the city to keep the population of wild Oms down. The main Draag that Fantastic Planet follows is a child named Tiwa, and her pet Om is Terr. As Draags age, they begin their instruction, which is telepathic in nature, and all Draag knowledge is conveyed using a special headset. Terr ages much more rapidly than Tiwa, and eventually finds a way to steal her headset, escape, and bring knowledge to a group of wild Oms living outside of town in desperate need of something that will allow them to survive the coming purges.

So you wouldn't say that Fantastic Planet is particularly light fare, despite the large-eyed, actually-kind-of-cute character design of the Draags that adorns much of the promotional material for this 1973 animated film. In fact, the opening of the film is quite emotional, as we watch Draag children flick a human mother back and forth in play, until she finally stops moving. Like human children might thoughtlessly do to a bug. It's hard to know exactly what to write about this movie, because even forty-five years after its release, it remains essentially a totally unique experience. I had seen moments of it, and as a big fan of animation, I came to it specifically to see the animation. The story could have been nonsense, or just a psychedelic mish-mash of imagery, and it really wouldn't have mattered to me. Visually, this looked like it would be a stunning work, and it definitely delivered.

But the depth and effectiveness of the narrative surprised me, and in fact continued to surprise me as the film unfolded. I was drawn to the stunning visuals, and would kind of get lost in them, but then find myself getting yanked back into the story afresh, and thinking, "Wow, this really is good!"

Over the years, there have been debates about the allegorical meaning of the film — whether we are to understand it as a plea for better relations among peoples, or perhaps a message about the importance of animal rights and welfare. I'm not sure it matters very much. What I took away from Fantastic Planet was an invitation to greater awareness, of both the self and of others, and to the importance of compassion. If we can obtain it, we may exercise that compassion on behalf of others, or on behalf of animals, or on behalf of the planet, I suppose, but the important thing is that we do exercise it.

I think such a universal message helps this film to stand somewhat outside of time. While the music is waaaaay 1970s, and the years-long French-Czech co-production took place against the backdrop of Soviet tanks rolling into Prague, the film's message is timeless and the animation singular (visually not dissimilar to Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work, but deployed in a completely different manner), so I don't think you have to be a big animation nerd like me to find something touching and thought-provoking in this one-of-a-kind sci-fi film.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for the engrossing animation; +1 for telling a compelling story for adults at a time when that's not really how animation was thought of

Penalties: -1 for feeling a little slight at only 71 minutes

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10, well worth your time and attention. (About microreview scores)

Posted by Vance K — co-editor and cult film reviewer at nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012, sometime animator.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

HORROR 101: Surrounded by Others--Anatomy of a Pod Person

As a child, two of my earliest film-related memories are watching the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and watching the John Carpenter version of The Thing. In both, what stuck with child me was the depiction of a monster who not only could be anyone, but also could be someone that you think you know so well: your crewmate, your friend, your lover. This early exposure to these two films led to a longtime obsession with pod people (which the Thing is not technically, but I’m extending my definition here to any monster who can appear in the exact visage of someone you know and trust). As a child, there was a visceral terror to the idea, because the world was one I trusted. As an adult, while I don’t think pod people are likely, they still strike a certain fear because the concept at the heart of pod people’s terror-making is very much real. In this edition of Horror 101, I’ll be diving into the anatomy of a monster (a thing I’ll do occasionally in this series).

The most famous example of Pod People in their truest definition comes from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a novel by Jack Finney from 1954—which was made into a film in 1956. In the book, alien spores (essentially) fall on a Californian town. Once there, the spores make pods where duplicates of the townspeople form inside. The pod people retain the characteristics, mannerisms, and even memories of the people they are copying. However, they lack human emotion and empathy. The epidemic is at first misdiagnosed as a kind of Capgras Syndrome (a real disorder in which a person believes their loved ones have been replaced by imposters). Ultimately, the film becomes an examination of paranoia and distrust, as the characters who realize the truth try to warn people who refuse to listen. The film, despite being outdated, retains a frenetic energy to its paranoia. However, the story reaches higher peaks of excellence in two remakes.

1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Philip Kaufman, stars Donald Sutherland, and heightens both the paranoia and the distinct unsettling terror of the original. One early scene that stuck with me so vividly as a child that I still sometimes flash on it (and which shares a few parallels with what I still consider Ray Bradbury’s most terrifying story, “The Crowd), wherein a crowd of onlookers stares at a body without showing any kind of emotion. The way to try to survive against the pod people involves stripping the emotion from one’s self, so that you won’t be detected—a disturbing uniformity through loss of empathy. The final scene of this film still remains one of the most effectively chilling of any film. One through line that both films retain is their loss of hope—how do we fight against that which surrounds us?

This question continues in 1993’s Body Snatchers, directed by Abel Ferrara. The action of the plot is moved to a military base but retains the underlying premise of the book and two previous films. This, along with the 1978 version, is one of my favorite sci-fi (or horror) films and features a distinctly chilling performance by Meg Tilly. This version shifts its heroes primarily to teens and children—who are consistently disbelieved. An interesting twist that capitalizes on the way youth is often used as an excuse to not trust the word of children in the face of the horrific (a device horror uses often). The film answers the previous question I raised by asking another, voiced by one of the pod people: “Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere... 'cause there's no one like you left.” This points to one of the most effective aspects of pod people as monsters.

If monsters are often the way we depict “others,” what then happens when the protagonists become the other? When pod people become the majority and they look just like your friends and family, who is the other in this situation and what does that even mean anymore? Pod people, in terms of monster theory, are fascinating because of the way they shift the dialogue from obvious monstrosity to a subtler depiction of both othering and what constitutes a monster. In a world where consistently loss of empathy towards others creates policies that enact violences (see my last Horror 101for a deeper look into violence as a loss of agency), isn’t a person who looks just like your neighbor but without a guiding emotional core or empathy, the ultimate kind of horror? Or, maybe a better question is, shouldn’t it be?

POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Joe's Books of 2017: Part Two (July - December)

Good morning, and welcome to the second half of a feature I began in July.  This is my opportunity to catalog all the books I read in a year and get it all in one place. Well, in two places, because one post for all twelve months of reading might be a little overwhelming.

I have been fortunate to read some truly standout novels all year long. Nobody who follows this blog will at all be surprised to know that The Stone Sky (my review) was my favorite novel published in 2017. It is the culmination of the best fantasy trilogy written today, and there are no qualifiers for that statement. Mira Grant delivered a new novel that was stunning in its execution. In her 6 Books Interview with us, she said Into the Drowning Deep (my review) "does for mermaids what Jurassic Park did for velociraptors." Folks, she's not wrong. Forget everything you think you know about mermaids based on popular culture and throw it all away. These mermaids are terrifying creatures of nightmare. Mira Grant has written a killer novel that I just couldn't put down. Six Wakes (Shana's review) from Mur Lafferty is an excellent locked room murder mystery set in space with clones. Don't sleep on that one.

Though I haven't delved far beyond Publishing when it comes to reading novellas, they have published some amazingly good books. I've read 15 books from this cycle (and another 22 in the first six months of the year), so they are very well represented in my reading. Perhaps a little too much, but as has been pointed out to me from Bridget McKinney from SF Bluestocking, they've made the novella affordable and accessible and that makes a huge difference.

Tade Thompson's The Murders of Molly Southborne has one of my favorite horrifying conceits of the year: every time Molly bleeds, an identical homicidal Molly is born and will try to kill her. I'm not sure I can say enough about Matt Wallace's Sin du Jour novellas, but Gluttony Bay (my review) is the best one yet. It's the penultimate volume and I heartily recommend you go out and read all the damn books, okay. I'd like to talk about Beneath the Sugar Sky because it's amazing, but it is also a 2018 publication that I happened to read in mid October, so I'm going to let that one pass by and just link you to my review from earlier this month. Instead, I will mention Gwendy's Button Box from Stephen King. It's a creepy little volume published Cemetery Dance that hit me just right this year.

So far I've only focused on books published in 2017, but The Player of Games (Iain M. Banks), Revenger (Alastair Reynolds), Borders of Infinity (Lois McMaster Bujold) are all notable books published in previous years.

Fortunately for me, there have been very few reading disappointments this cycle. The main one that comes to mind is a novel that I've seen lauded on many end of the year Best Of lists and it's also a book that I had been anticipating for twenty years. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the new novel from Arundhati Roy. I loved The God of Small Things so much when I discovered it in college and in the intervening years have only raised it in my esteem to the point that I'm almost afraid to re-read the book. It perhaps gave me unreasonable expectations for what The Ministry of Utmost Happiness could be, and I did temper my expectations with the understanding that both writer and reader have changed during that time...and still I didn't want to finish the book.

And, lest anyone think that all I do is read science fiction and fantasy, I'd like to highlight a few non-genre books. This is the part where I would have written more about Al Franken's Giant of the Senate, but I am so angry with and disappointed in the man right now that I just can't. He was one of my two senators. So, instead, let me talk about one of my novels published in 2017, Never Coming Back, by Alison McGhee. I've long been a fan of Alison McGhee's fiction and her newest novel does not disappoint. Never Coming Back revisits Clara Winter from her novel Shadow Baby, but years later. Her mother is suffering from early onset Alzheimer's and Clara has come back home to just be closer to her mother. At best, they had a complicated relationship, but aging and ill parents have a very specific gravity of their own.

Killers of the Flower Moon was a powerhouse look at the murders of the Osage Indians of Oklahoma in the 1920's following an oil boom on reservation land. It is a shocking, if disappointingly unsurprising, account of racism, riches, and the lengths white men will go to enrich themselves at the expense of native peoples. The book is an infurirating masterwork of reporting.

Another favorite read, which I fully expected to have made the Tournament of Books Longlist and was shocked when it did not was Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Highly recommended, even if it won't be in the tournament.

Finally, I'd like to take a look at my full year statistics of gender and reading. You can look at my article looking at the first six months of the year to see what all I read from January through June, but at that time 42.5 out of the 88 books I had read were written by women. That's 48.29% and was better than I expected since it felt like the year was slipping away from me a bit.

Since then I've chipped my number up a touch and have ended with 85.5 of the 166 books I read this year were written by women, which is just about as even a split as I am likely to ever achieve. 51.5%. The end result of my ongoing effort to read more of a balance between men and women is that I've discovered so many damn great authors that are now favorites and I might have missed them had I not taken a good hard look at my reading habits and then made some small adjustments.

Here are my stats from the last three years for a point of comparison.
2016: 56.21%
2015: 58.59%
2014: 45.92%

Now, on with the lists!

89. The Murders of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson
90. Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty
91. Taste of Marrow, by Sarah Gailey
92. Grunt, by Mary Roach
93. Words Are My Matter: Ursula K. Le Guin
94. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy
95. Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King
96. NXT: The Future is Now, by Jon Robinson
97. The Wanderers, by Meg Howdy
98. Rapture, by Kameron Hurley
99. Florence: The Paintings and Frescoes 1250-1743, by Ross King
100. Provenance, by Ann Leckie
101. Coyote Rising, by Allen Steele
102. A Long Day in Lychford, by Paul Cornell
103. Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken
104. The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks
105. The Black Elfstone, by Terry Brooks
106. Mightier than the Sword, by K.J. Parker

107. The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi
108. The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden
109. American Fire, by Monica Hesse
110. When the English Fall, by David Williams
111. The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin
112. The Last Good Man, by Linda Nagata
113. The Days of Tao, by Wesley Chu
114. The Space Between the Stars, by Anne Corlett
115. The Sisters of the Crescent Empress, by Leena Likitalo
116. Switchback, by Melissa F. Olson
117. The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Zigler
118. Weaver’s Lament, by Emma Newman

119. Buried Heart, by Kate Elliott
120. Borders of Infinity, by Lois McMaster Bujold
121. The Twilight Pariah, by Jeffrey Ford
122. Gluttony Bay, by Matt Wallace
123. White Trash Zombie Unchained, by Diana Rowland
124. The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander
125. Martians Abroad, by Carrie Vaughn
126. Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds
127. Rocannon’s World, by Ursula K. Le Guin
128. Rencor: Life in Grudge City, by Matt Wallace
129. The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole
130. Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor
131. The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner
132. White Tears, by Hari Kunzru
133. Planet of Exile, by Ursula K Le Guin

134. The House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard
135. City of Illusions, by Ursula K. Le Guin
136. The Cupid Reconciliation, by Michael R. Underwood
137. Last First Snow, by Max Gladstone
138. Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire
139. Sourdough, by Robin Sloan
140. Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips
141. Vallista, by Steven Brust
142. Penric’s Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold
143. The End of the Day, by Claire North
144. Infinity Wars, by Jonathan Strahan
145. Garbage Pail Kids, by Art Spiegelman

146. Beyond the Empire, by K.B. Wagers
147. Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant
148. Mandelbrot the Magificent, by Liz Ziemska
149. Extinction Horizon, by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
150. Enemy of the State, by Kyle Mills
151. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
152. Amatka, by Karin Tidbeck
153. Treachery's Tools, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr
154. The Wrong Stars, by Tim Pratt

155. Never Coming Back, by Alison McGhee
156. Sing, Unburied Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
157. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
158. Phantom Pains, by Mishell Baker
159. The Power, by Naomi Aldermann
160. Shadow Sun Seven, by Spencer Ellsworth
161. Celine, by Peter Heller
162. Faller, by Will McIntosh
163. Six Months, Three Days, and Five Others, by Charlie Jane Anders
164. Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin
165. An Unkindness of Magicians, by Kat Howard
166. Stone Mad, by Elizabeth Bear

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, January 12, 2018

THE MONTHLY ROUND - A Taster's Guide to Speculative Short Fiction, 12/2017

Last call. If you haven’t heard before, this marks the final Monthly Round. Starting with coverage of October 2014, this is the 39th installment of the series, and I’m afraid it’s the last, at least with me at the helm.

December is a time of endings, though, so perhaps it’s fitting that I’m closing the series with the last SFF stories of 2017. They are an amazing bunch of speculative fiction. And, I guess even more on-the-nose, they are largely concerned with endings and beginnings. With rebirth. With change. With moving on. Each one features a situation loaded with potential, where people stand poised to enter into a new stage of their lives. Or a new stage of humanity entirely. From apocalypses brought on by climate change or epidemic or alien invasion, to much more personal catastrophes of loss, fear, history, and hatred, the stories all recognize that things ending is a part of life, and it doesn’t have to mean the end of all things.

Life goes on. Winter gives birth to new years, new springs, and new possibilities. So, for one last time, pull up a stool, leave the cold outside, and warm yourself with a drink, and a story, and good company.

Tasting Flight - December 2017

Art by Sandeep Karunakaran
“When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act Play” by Nin Harris (The Dark)
Notes: As dark as soil and aged centuries, allowing the flavor to mature, for the sins to marinade into ghosts, the pour is a moonless night and a tug in the veins, a lean toward hunger...or healing.
Pairs with: Barrel Aged Baltic Porter
Review: Kasmawati is an artist who finds herself drawn to a tower that seems to appear only for her. A piece of drama, the story is told with dialogue and stage direction, the action constrained to a stage, which the reader creates in their mind as they read, conjuring up a Gothic setting ripe with ghosts, sweeping landscapes, and the need for justice. The piece, for me, becomes very much about old wounds, where this tower represents a piece of history, the touch of empire and colonization that has left its mark, and that Kasmawati finds herself revisiting in the form of the ghost of one of the old colonial governors, the architect of not just the tower she finds herself in but a series of atrocities and abuses on the native people of the island, including a woman who he took as his, who he renamed and eventually buried. In excellent Gothic tradition, though, what’s been buried pushes its way to the surface, and that power of naming that this man possessed is reclaimed by Kasmawati. Monsters of all sorts are unearthed and either put to rest or let free, and the story does an amazing job of showing how these historical wounds can fester if they’re not cleansed and allowed to heal clean. And I just love that the story unfolds as a play, as something that almost demands to be performed. The voice and mood of the piece are stunning, taking the Gothic roots and showing how they can flourish far away from where they first flowered.

Art by Sandro Castelli
“The Weight of Sentience” by Naru Dames Sundar (Shimmer)
Notes: Blood and sand dominate the color of the pour, leading the taster into an experience rich in heat and hope, heavy with the weight of violence lurking, delicate with the fragility of life, and strong with the resilience of love.
Pairs with: Imperial Red Ale
Review: Following Trisa, an android whose sentience was not voluntary but still carries with it a death sentence, the story reveals a world of prejudice, violence, and hate. Trisa, newly aware and desperate to escape, witnesses first hand the treatment that she can expect, the death waiting for her, and yet she survives, survives at first because she holds onto the dream of others, a dream for a better place. As she moves, though, and the immediate threat diminishes and escape seems possible, something changes. When she meets someone. The story then moves into a touching and wrenching portrayal of budding love and knowledge and understanding, while looking at respect and at faith. Trisa’s new reality is one where she can be seen as a person first, hiding her true nature, and then learning that for some people she doesn’t need to. This story made me want a happy ending so bad, wanted something to finally go right for the characters who had to deal with so much. What the story provides instead is a reminder that happy endings can’t really happen in places where hate is allowed to triumph over love, where people are treated as lesser, as inhuman. The piece explores Trisa’s reaction to feeling what’s possible and then being told that it’s not available to her, and how that shakes her faith. It’s a difficult, heartbreaking read, even as it’s a beautiful story that sings with the power of its emotional core. It’s a brutal world it tours, where tenderness and compassion seem impossible, and yet for all the seeming fragility of love, for all it cannot do, the story ends on a message of hope, on resilience and survival.

“The Birding: A Fairy Tale” by Natalia Theodoridou (Strange Horizons)
Notes: Complex and rising like a bird taking flight, the pour is of a sun-kissed sky, the flavor a mix of bitterness and crisp resolve, the feeling that of loss giving way to something else, of feathers and futures and the unrelenting dawn.
Pairs with: Imperial IPA
Review: Maria is a pregnant woman moving through Greece, which is being ravaged by a disease that turns people into birds. It’s a disease that her father, who had been traveling with her and who has made his life work about birds, has contracted, and as she moves she has to come to terms not just with the changing world and her own desperate need to find her husband, but the changing relationship between herself and her father, and what this disease means for them. There’s a beautiful kind of mythology about the story, a sense that for Maria, the disease is personal—the fairy tale from the title seems to me to be in how these large events revolve around Maria and her particular situation, where she is a character at heart of what is happening, the child stolen from the Queen of Birds, so that now the world must pay. It’s a way that she can think about what’s happening without being destroyed by it, to make it into a story out of a book instead of the very real, very immediate danger she is in. The piece builds smoothly, the pacing almost languid for all that the world is being transformed so quickly, so completely, humanity sprouting wings and flying away. And I love that mix of magic and science, disease and fantasy—it gives weight to the hope that Maria carries, that if this is her fairy tale, then maybe there is a happily ever after waiting at the end for her. Of course, that’s not exactly the case, but I like how the piece shows Maria move through the world, meeting another survivor, and continuing her journey to find her husband. it’s not an easy read, and there’s a definite turning point where I felt my stomach sink, where the story twisted the knife a bit. Through it all, though, I felt the story was complicating transformations, the magic at the heart of so many fairy tales. It asks if what happens here is a tragedy or something different, something beautiful and rare and freeing. It’s a powerful and disquieting question, and a wonderful story.

Art by Christopher Park
“The House at the End of the Lane is Dreaming” by A. Merc Rustad (Lightspeed)
Notes: Pouring a ruddy gold, the first sip is bright and sweet, but belies a complex flavor of fruit and wood, of fire on the horizon and the burn of limbs running from, or toward, an impossible and inevitable destruction.
Pairs with: Cherry Wheat
Review: Framed from inside a video game as it’s being created, this story stars Alex, a young woman who is faced with a town in crisis, with a situation where her pain, her loss, and her fear are all on display for the entertainment of people she will never see, who will control her and share a journey with her, but who will ultimately move on with their lives, leaving Alex with a life that has been completely upended. I love the feel the story builds, the weirdness that can only be explained by the growing certainty that things have been designed to force Alex down a single path, the “right” path that will lead her to the end of the game, to the victory that for her doesn’t feel like a victory, because the stakes have been manipulated to give Alex no way to save everyone she cares about. She, and through her the player, must decide who to value, and who dies, and Alex nopes the fuck out of that in the best way possible. What follows is a piece that breaks the rules, and in doing so breaks the barrier between worlds, turning the tables on those who hoped to profit from Alex’s pain. Along the way she digs deeper into the world around her, helping the characters who were never intended to be more than NPCs to become full realized people. To remember who they are beyond what they need to be for the game. It’s a triumphant and wonderful story that carries with it a heavy weight but that finds a way to a happy ending that wasn’t supposed to be possible.

“An Incomplete Timeline of What We Tried” by Debbie Urbanski (Terraform)
Notes: The tar-like pour reveals a nose of paved roads burning under a merciless sun, a path down which lies only ruin and extinction, the taste brash, bracing, a wake-up call to take action before we’re past the point of no return.
Pairs with: Black IPA
Review: There’s a lot of ways a story can go when its starting point is the extinction of the human species. But what I appreciate so much about this story is that it looks at so many different ways that people react to the idea of extinction. How unreal it feels. How slow people can be to take action, and how even when action is taken, it can so easily be mired in obstruction, delay, and defeat. The story is told backwards, drawing back from the end of humanity, and by telling the story in reverse the focus is put both on how large the stakes are and how much all of things on this list fail. Not perhaps because they weren’t good things to try, but because by the time that things really started getting serious, things were already pretty much decided. It’s a story that recognizes that when it comes to climate change, when it comes to the damage that humanity is doing to the planet, the time to act is not when we’re feeling the worst of the symptoms. Indeed, the story warns about putting off drastic action any longer than we already have. It’s not exactly a subtle piece, but then it doesn’t have to be, and it does a wonderful job of revealing humanity and our history of toxicity, exploitation, and destruction. There really aren’t characters in the story per se, but it’s something that draws the reader into the piece, that makes all of us part of that “we” of the title. All responsible for the failure that might result in our eradication. All responsible for making sure that we don’t get locked into this pattern, working our way backwards from an extinction we refuse to avoid. It’s a punchy bit of science fiction, a kick in the butt in prose form.

Art by Dario Bijelac
“The First Stop Is Always the Last” by John Wiswell (Flash Fiction Online)
Notes: A first sip of autumn and endings, nervous laughter and the fear of misstepping, opens into a brilliant sweetness, balanced and subtle without becoming saccharine, joyous and warm and satisfying.
Pairs with: Hard Cider
Review: A woman gets on a bus and has a conversation. A woman gets on a bus and has a slightly different conversation. A woman gets on a—well, maybe you get the idea. When one of the characters in the story is the inheritor of the power over time itself, perhaps it’s not too strange that the story is framed as a series of scenes united by the fact that they’re basically all the same scene, just tweaked slightly, each time this character trying to do a bit better, a bit better. And really the story revolves around the idea of the safety that having infinite do-overs affords. How it takes a lot of the risk out of life, because it allows the person trying over the ability to wipe away any perceived mistakes. And I love how the story complicates that idea, how it twists that idea into showing that by never taking that risk, by always going back, that going forward becomes nearly impossible. More over, it creates an imbalance, where the one person aware of the difference has an advantage, and in that imbalanced state it’s rather impossible to meet others as equals, as peers. Authentic connections cannot really be formed, because any interaction is touched by the many times the one person might tweak them, might adjust them to fit a bit better. And then for me the story becomes about having the confidence to move forward, to take chances. To get over the fear that everything will go wrong and realize that there are other ways to try and be safe. Namely, there’s a feeling for me that the story is saying that forming relationships, that making sure of consent and trust, allows us to create our own safety without having to have the advantage of temporal manipulation. it’s a fun and very sweet story, with romance and magic and a wonderful joy to it.


I just want to thank everyone who has made the last 3+ years of The Monthly Round such a success. For me, it’s been something of an exorcism, of rediscovering my love of reviewing and trying to find my voice and place within SFF fandom. It’s been a slow kind of thing, lots of work punctuated by hoping that maybe these posts bring others as much joy as the stories I feature have brought me.

To everyone at Nerds of a Feather, thank you so much for welcoming me into the flock. To everyone out there who has enjoyed the Round, thank you for treating my weird stories-as-drink-pairings project as more than just a silly whim. You are awesome.

It’s time to play the song that means it’s time to go, though. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. Cheers!


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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

This weekend I will be making a short drive down I-35 in order to attend PAX South. This will mark my second trip to this convention, and I am curious to see how the tabletop side of things has grown. With Penny Arcade launching its own tabletop convention, PAX Unplugged, in 2017, I am hopeful that my weekend will be full of playing games.

Pick of the Week:
Royal City #9 - Royal City is an absolutely mesmerizing series and I love how Jeff Lemire jumps around various timelines in the story to give us a good view of Pat and his family. In this issue, we get a sneak peak into the time when Pat decided that he wanted to escape the trap that ensnared most residents of Royal City. Pat desired to leave the town one day and avoid a lifetime of operating drill presses in the local factory. Lemire's books shine when he focuses on interpersonal relationships and Royal City is no exception. You are immediately drawn into the lives of this family and feel immediate concern for each member. I cannot recommend this title enough and want to learn more about them and what ultimately happened to Tommy.

The Rest:
Sword of Ages #2 - The second issue in this series from Gabriel Rodriguez's adaptation of the legend of King Arther hits the ground running and doesn't let up. There are multiple story lines emerging and I am very curious to see where everything is headed. The two main plot lines focus on Avalon and her quest for the sword and the rise of Lord Morgan. Not surprisingly, Rodriguez's art shines and I absolutely love the religious skepticism that Avalon has despite her work with the monks. It really paints her as someone I can relate to in this sci-fi/fantasy story that has me hooked.

Star Wars: Forces of Destiny - Rey - I haven't been shy in expressing how much I have been enjoying the all-ages Star Wars books from IDW, but this one felt a little flat. It was a fine story about Rey and BB-8 that filled in the small gap between when she saved the little fellow to when they were forced to flee with Finn. I appreciated her compassion to the creatures on Jakuu, but it lacked the spirit of the Leia story. I will definitely read the other books in this series, just wanted more as Rey is one of my favorite characters.

Daredevil #597 - Matt Murdock agreed to be the deputy Mayor to none other than Wilson Fisk. It is a curious move, but both parties agree as they think it will help them keep an eye on their opposition. While it isn't the most exciting opening to a comic book, even if you love political posturing, things pick up when we learn that Muse has broken out of jail and is targeting Daredevil. It appears he might even know that Daredevil is working in the Mayor's office. Very curious to see how this will play out as we work our way towards issue #600.  I imagine there are some plans for that one.

Darth Vader #10 - Very interesting conclusion to the Vader/Nu showdown. I never thought I would enjoy a battle between a Sith Lord and a Librarian, but the duel between these two is one for the ages. Vader is intent on retrieving a piece of intel from Nu, which turns out to be a list of children who are force sensitive. There is a fear that he wants it to create a Sith empire, and Nu is willing to die to protect that information. Really enjoyable and surprising conclusion to this arc that the readers are sure to enjoy.

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Microreview [book]: All the Crooked Saints, by Maggie Stiefvater

All the Crooked Saints breaks from European folklore for a unique desert fabulism. 

A note: Some readers might classify this novel as magical realism. When it comes to North American writers, prefer to use the term fabulism, even if it may not fully encompass the text.  

Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints breaks from her usual fairytale folklore style as seen in her bestselling werewolf series Shiver and her acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle about ghosts, magic, ley lines, and more. When I picked up All the Crooked Saints with the excellent cover featuring roses and owls, I expected more of the same.

Instead, this novel opens on Colorado in 1962, describing the conflation of miracles and radio waves. Immediately, this novel felt separate from Stiefvater’s teen folklore oeuvre. Set in the high deserts of Colorado, the novel opens on a family of miracle workers, the Sorias. Three of the youngest are trying to establish a radio station out of a broken-down truck, but while they might be a family of miracle workers, the miracles are reserved for the pilgrims that visit the Sorias, not the Sorias themselves. 

The Sorias are used to pilgrims seeking them out for miracles and their home has become something of a compound to house the pilgrims until the miracles are completed. Pete is not looking for a miracle but by destiny or happenstance, Pete hitches a ride to the Sorias with Tony, a radio host who is desperately in want of a miracle. Pete is distantly related to the Sorias and has agreed to work on the compound in exchange for the box truck. But he’s entered a world of strange miracles, so nothing can be so simple. 

As Stiefvater often does in her books, she redefines what magic is. In the world of All the Crooked Saints, a miracle is as much about darkness as it is about light. Take Padre Jiminez (one of my favorite miracles-in-progress): “He was as benevolent and friendly and holy as you’d hope for a priest to be, so long as your skirt didn’t blow up in the wind. The first miracle had left him with the head of a coyote but the hands of a man…. He did try to vanquish the darkness, but he could not stop his coyote’s ears from pricking when a pretty girl came to Bicho Raro.” In Stiefvater’s take on miracles, they come in two parts. First, the pilgrim’s darkness is made manifest, such as a padre with the head of a coyote, and then it is up to the pilgrim to vanquish that manifestation, which completes the miracle, leaving the seeker lighthearted.  

The opening third of the book sets up the world-building around these miracles and kept me turning pages because it felt true. One reason I’m drawn to speculative fiction is due to the moment when something difficult to comprehend in reality is expressed so perfectly through a moment of magic. Each reader will bring something different to this expression of the miraculous, and Stiefvater explores the possibilities of the manifestations through various pilgrims living among the Sorias, so that the darkness becomes multi-faceted, not just depression or secrets or hurt.

After the fashion of fabulism, Stiefvater’s prose takes on a richness that separates Crooked Saints from her other work. While she has always been high on my list of YA authors due to the excellence of her writing, this novel offers delightful prose in every sentence. I found myself reading slowly in order to enjoy the voice, the surprising twisting of phrases, the turns of imagery. This YA novel is not a page turner, but the strength of the prose and the uniqueness of the story holds up to the slow pacing. Unfortunately, that’s where the novel also seemed weakest. Sometimes, the prose seemed more important than story or characters. Similarly, so many interesting and unique characters are introduced that it’s hard to track all of them as the novel progresses.  

To that end, at times, All the Crooked Saints doesn’t feel like a YA novel. As the genre of young adult literature continues to grow, I like to imagine the lines will continue to blur. Stiefvater’s novel hovers in that in-between area—is it a young adult novel or a novel with young adult characters? And honestly, we know that mostly comes down to shelving, where the novel will sell, but when writing about genre books, I can’t help but ponder how it all fits together. One positive to Stiefvater’s blurring of genre is that it allows more easily for her omniscient narrator and the examination of the adult characters. Adult character front and center in YA is a trend I hope to see more of and missed when I was a teenager scanning the shelves. How can a novel aimed at young adults be complete without featuring to some extent the people who shape every teenager’s life? Stiefvater deepens the adults by giving them their own struggles, such as the failing marriage of Beatriz’s mother Antonia, and her father Francisco. Through omniscient narration, the reader learns that Antonia wants to suck honey off the finger of a man while Francisco wants to breed black roses. The humanization of the adult secondary characters, including a flashback chapter that describes their love, added a deeper level to this fabulist novel.  

At heart, All the Crooked Saints is a novel about light and darkness, hope and despair, the future and the past. Maggie Stiefvater weaves a tale that leaves behind European folklore many know her for and explores a fabulism that feels new for Stiefvater and cracks open the YA genre from one of the community leaders.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for lines like “You can hear a miracle a long way after dark”, +1 for young adults and adults sharing page time and character development.

Penalties: -1 for artistry sometimes taking over the story. 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 “Well worth your time and attention.” Read more about our scoring system here.

Posted by Phoebe Wagner

Stiefvater, Maggie. All the Crooked Saints [Scholastic Press, 2017]

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

HORROR 101: Violence in Horror, Part One

A lot of times when I mention being a horror fan or horror writer, people say something about the violence in horror: “I can’t watch that stuff, it’s too gory” or “why would you want to write something violent.” Rarely do I want to go into pedantic scholar mode (except for my poor long-suffering students), so I usually just shrug. However, here in Horror 101, is exactly the place for me to get onto my horror scholar pedestal and say: good horror isn’t about the gory, or shocking acts of physical violence being depicted. Instead, it’s often about the true nature of violence which is the loss of agency.  So in this column, I’ll be talking about violence and agency in horror. Violence is a subject I plan to tackle from a few angles in terms of horror—while this is looking specifically at violence as loss of agency, later columns will address violence and women’s bodies in horror and other issues about the use of violence in the genre.

When we think of horror, we might think of the visceral moments that have stayed with us: the opening murder in Scream, for example, or the shark in Jaws taking off someone’s leg. Those moments stick with us because acts of physical violence cause such visceral emotional reactions: disgust, terror, an empathetic surge at the pain. However, beneath these physical moments of violence are the ones of the more subtle but insidious acts of violence.

Violence as a loss of agency is the idea that any act that removes agency is a violent one. These can be individual acts, like if a woman is stalked and then needs to change her patterns of behavior in order to feel safe, or they can be systemic ones like the judicial system putting policies in place that adversely affect a specific group of people. This is not to say that this style of violence doesn’t lead to physical violence, because it does. Get Out (WHICH SHOULD HAVE ALL THE AWARDS, JUST SAYING GOLDEN GLOBES, JUST SAYING) is a film that finds much of its horror and tension through exactly this type of horror and violence. I talked more in depth about Get Outand the rhetoric of violence and using genre as social action here, so I won’tgo into that as much now.

One facet that particularly interests me is how by often using female protagonists, horror allows us to view this type of violence in an amplified way (which is often what good horror should be doing—showing us some horror of everyday life and elevating to an extreme so that everyone can feel it). When Sidney in Scream has to follow arbitrary rules in order to stay safe, we see a loss of agency that all women have probably felt at some time in their lives (don’t walk alone at night, don’t tell someone where you live, don’t smile at the wrong person). So when she takes back control, it becomes a cathartic release not only in the sense of the film but to any woman who has felt like they had no control over the things being done to them.

By using violence as loss of agency in horror, the audience can contemplate larger societal issues around them. Horror is about fear and how we try to survive in the face of it. But, it can also be asking how we confront the things that make us afraid and how we can try to overcome them. I hope to see more socially conscious horror films, following the success of Get Out (here also is my review), as I think it’s a genre that can be more effective than most in making us feel those issues.

What do you think? Is this kind of violence important to discuss? What are your feelings about depictions of violence in horror? Tell us in the comments or tweet me @PintsNCupcakes.

Monday, January 8, 2018

24 Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2018

I'd like to take a moment to talk a little bit about some books I'm looking forward to maybe reading in 2018. "Now, Joe", you ask, "haven't you and Shana been running the New Books Spotlight each and every month talking about just this very thing?" Well, yes. Yes, I have. The reason this is different is because it allows an opportunity to take a much higher level look at what awesome books the forthcoming year has to offer us.

As with any list, this is incomplete. Any number of stellar novels and collections have not been announced yet and will slot into place at some point this year. Some books on this list scheduled for later in the year may be pushed back into 2019 for any number of reasons. Some books are left off this list because they are the third or fourth book in a series I've never read. Some books are left off because they are not to my taste and thus, I'm not actually looking forward to them. Some books are left off this list because I haven't heard of them yet, even though they've been announced. Some books are left off this list because, sadly, I completely forgot about it even though I've tried to do as much research as possible. Finally, some books are left off this list because I had to draw the line somewhere and 24 seemed like it might be enough for one man's survey.

After all, we do still have the New Books Spotlight to look forward to each month. I'm sure in many cases there will be some overlap, but discussing and arguing is half the fun, isn't it?

1. Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (Jan, Publishing): I'm cheating a little here because I've already read and reviewed this, but McGuire's Wayward Children novellas are exceptional and special and I highly recommend each of them. Beneath the Sugar Sky stands alone, but gains extra resonance if you've read Every Heart a Doorway (my review).

2. Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor (Jan, Publishing): I'm still cheating because I've also read this one, too, but damn, The Night Masquerade might be my favorite Binti novella.

3. Imposter Syndrome, by Mishell Baker (Mar, Saga): I finished reading Phantom Pains as I was putting the finishing touches on this article and I can tell you that Mishell Baker has raised her game and leveled up from the already excellent Borderline. Phantom Pains is even better and my expectations for Imposter Syndrome have been raised.

4. Stone Mad, by Elizabeth Bear (Mar, Publishing): This is a follow up novella to Bear's excellent novel Karen Memory (Charles' review). New stuff from Elizabeth Bear is a cause for celebration around these parts, and we're pretty excited for this one.


5. Wrath of Empire, by Brian McClellan (Mar, Orbit): I haven't had the chance to finish reading Sins of Empire yet, but McClellan's original Powder Mage trilogy is so good that I'm in for anything he writes.

6. Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Apr, Saga): Eurovision. In space.

7. Taste of Wrath, by Matt Wallace (Apr, Publishing): Everyone knows that I'm down with Matt Wallace, right? Taste of Wrath is the final book in the seven volume Sin du Jour cycle an I'm afraid Wallace is fixing to rip my heart out and serve it up with some fava beans and a nice chianti. I friggin love these books and I'm not quite prepared for the series to end, but I know Matt Wallace is going to stick the landing and close this out right.

8. Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Apr, Balzer + Bray): That cover. Oh, that cover. We're sold, people. But beyond just the cover, this story of zombies rising during the American Civil War and how that changes everything is a must read for 2018.

9. Armistice, by Lara Elena Donnelly (May, Tor): The follow up to Donnelly's excellent debut Amberlough. Amberlough was comfortably one of my top novels of 2017 and I'm excited to see where she goes next.

10. So Lucky, by Nicola Griffith (May, FSG): While we wait for a sequel to Hild, we'll take anything we can get from Nicola Griffith. Unsurprisingly, So Lucky is fiercely political, personal, and full of monsters. I'll read anything Nicola Griffith writes.

11. The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (May, Tor): Kowal's "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" was a charmingly excellent novelette which won a Hugo Award in 2014 and while there were clearly more stories to tell, I had no reason to expect we would get more. But now comes The Calculating Stars and, a few months later, The Fated Sky. I can't wait!

12. Afterwar, by Lilith Saintcrow (May, Orbit): A novel about the fallout from America's second Civil War. I'm always in for one of these novels.

13. By Fire Above, by Robyn Bennis (May, Tor): We loved The Guns Above (Shana's review) and the return of Captain Josette Dupre is welcome and none too soon because the world could use a dose of her raw excellence and sass.

14. Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Jun, Solaris): I'm a book behind, but Ninefox Gambit was excellent and I've read that Raven Strategem is even better. So, I have that to look forward to and hope to be caught up by June when Revenant Gun closes out the series.

15. Apocalypse Nyx, by Kameron Hurley (Jul, Tachyon): Nyx is back! Six years after her last novel length appearance in Rapture, Kameron Hurley has brought Nyx back in this story collection featuring stories originally available only behind Hurley's Patreon paywall.

16. Deep Roots, by Ruthanna Emrys (Jul, Tor): I adored Winter Tide and I wasn't sure at the time if there were more books planned but I knew I wanted more stories of Aphra. Now there is another.

17. Infinity's End, by Jonathan Strahan (Jul, Solaris): I assume Infinity's End is the final anthology in Strahan's Infinity Project and if so, it's been a great run. I've thoroughly enjoyed each of the Infinity anthologies and I'm excited to see how Strahan just how Strahan is going to close this out. Stories about the end of time / existence, I assume. And if this isn't the final anthology, I'm still excited for Infinity's End.

18. Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear (Jul, Saga): Space opera from Elizabeth Bear? Anything from Elizabeth Bear! Honestly, Bear is one of the best writers working today and her return to space opera is to be celebrated.

19. Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Jul, Harper Voyager): We loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit. We're all in for Becky Chambers and her Wayfarers series.

20. Temper, by Nicky Drayden (Aug, Harper Voyager): Drayden impressed with Prey of Gods and so I'm very interested to see what she does next with Temper. It appears to be a standalone novel, which is always refreshing in a genre filled with series.

21. Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Aug, Del Rey): Expanding on her short story of the same title, Naomi Novik updates the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Novik has previous published Uprooted (my review), a not to be missed standalone fairy tale which felt both fresh and familiar.

22. Port of Shadows, by Glen Cook (Sep, Tor): New Black Company! Though I was hoping this would follow after the series closer of Water Sleeps, I'll take anything Black Company from Glen Cook. Port of Shadows falls between the first two books (Black Company and Shadows Linger).

23. A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, by Kat Howard (Sep, Saga): A story collection from the sublime Kat Howard. I love her novel length fiction as well as the handful of her short stories I've encountered.

24. The Monster Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson, Tor (Fall): The Traitor Baru Cormorant was excellent. I know nothing else about this novel except that it exists and I must read it.

So that's it, 24 books I'm looking forward to in 2018. Except, of course, I'm really looking forward to all of the books. There are seven more I'd like to mention that I didn't list above. Is this the year George R. R. Martin finishes The Winds of Winter? We'll see. It looks like both Kate Elliott's The Dead Empire and Kameron Hurley's The Broken Heavens will push back into 2019, so those are almost definitely off the list. I think Ancestral Night from Elizabeth Bear is scheduled for Summer 2018, but until I see something more definitive I can't commit to it. Likewise with Helene Wecker's The Iron Season, the follow up to her excellent debut The Golem and the Jinni. I'm looking forward to The Thorn of Emberlain, the fourth volume in Scott Lynch's excellent Gentleman Bastards sequence. And, finally (but never finally), we may see the debut epic fantasy novel from Marlon James (winner of the Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings) if he finishes Black Leopard, Red Wolf in time. That will be a huge release when it is published. So many books. So little time.

This should be another awesome year for science fiction and fantasy. What are you looking forward to?

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.