Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thank You

The finalists for the 2018 Hugo Awards were announced earlier today and, for the second time, we are among the shortlisted fanzines. To be a finalist once was incredible and a dream come true. To be a finalist twice? We are honored and we are humbled to recognize that we are part of the history of the Hugo Award. We are doubly honored and proud to be in such good company with the other finalists for Best Fanzine.

If you could have seen the ear to ear smiles on our faces when we first received the news, you can rest assured that we do not take this nomination for granted. Our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude today.

As such, we'd like to take this opportunity to thank the people who have made this possible and who are ultimately responsible for us to even have a chance to even be considered. First, our wonderful group of in-house writers, who manage to create outstanding work amid busy and complex lives, and do so purely for love of these genres and media. We also want to thank our regular (and irregular) guest writers, all the authors who have participated in our blogtables and 6 books series, those who have sat both physically and electronically for interviews. Finally, we would like to give a special thanks to our readers and supporters within the community. Without you guys, we never make it here - not once, and certainly not twice.

Thank you. Thank you for nominating nerds of a feather, flock together. It means more than we can possibly express.

-The G, Vance, & Joe

Friday, March 30, 2018

SIDE QUESTS: The Theremin!

SIDE QUESTS is an occasional essay series where we explore some of the other stuff we geek out about. A nerd cannot live on but sci-fi and fantasy alone...though it's certainly fun to try.

What Are We Talking About?

Today, we're talking about the theremin — an electronic instrument invented in the 1920s, that became the sound of science fiction in the 1950s, and which a performer plays without actually touching. It is way hard to play (believe me, I try), and when successfully done, it appears to be accomplished by magic. The theremin is a wonderful, inexplicable oddity, and if someone ever described me in similar terms, I could die happy. This may be part of my attraction to the instrument.

The Basics

You've heard a theremin, or at least something that is intended to fool you into thinking it's a theremin (but is likely some kind of synth that is actually comprehensible to mortals without perfect pitch). Basically, the theremin is a box with an antenna sticking up out of one side, and a second, looped antenna sticking out of the opposite side. The one sticking up controls the pitch, the loop controls the volume, and you literally wave your hands in the air to make it work.

Leon Theremin patented the instrument in 1928, and in 1950, Bernard Herrmann used it to score the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. It had been used in other prominent films before then, including Hitchcock's Spellbound, but after The Day the Earth Stood Still, the instrument and its ethereal sound seemed to become a hallmark of the sci-fi genre. Forbidden Planet, for instance, doesn't use a theremin in the score, but it sure sounds like one. The sound became so iconic and so identified with genre movies that in 1994, it was the focal point of Howard Shore's score for Ed Wood, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. The performer on that score was Lydia Kavina, who learned the instrument from Theremin himself. How cool is that??

The Rabbit Hole

I've been fascinated with the theremin since I saw one played in a music store while I was in college. It's only been in the last couple of years that I considered trying to obtain one, and I finally did so at the end of 2017. How to learn to play this crazy thing except via YouTube? And what better for plunging down fathomless rabbit holes than...well, YouTube?

My "teacher" has been Carolina Eyck, who, as it happens, learned the instrument from Lydia Kavina, who learned it from Leon Theremin. I mean, I'm to the point where I can play "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" right about half the time. Maybe almost half. These women can play Rachmaninoff. It is mesmerizing to watch. So I watched a lot of theremin videos.

But then.

But then I discovered that "playing Ennio Morricone on theremin" is a thing. Spaghetti Western music played on a magic sci-fi box? Friends, I was lost. My nerd heart was enraptured. Enjoy!

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012, multi-instrumentalist, Emmy-winning producer, and all-around rabbit hole dweller.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

From what I read online Wondercon was a massive hit per usual and PAX East is shaping up to be a lot of fun. I am currently in my convention drought and won't be joining my fellow nerds until this summer at San Diego Comic Con. Speaking of which, best of luck on securing a hotel on April 4th!  Always a stressful time for the nerds.

Pick of the Week:
Redneck #11 - This has been one of my favorite series of recent memories and this issue is a solid reminder of why you all should be reading it. Redneck is about rival families of vampires set in Texas not too far from where I live. Perry has always been an intriguing character. She always seemed like more than just a vampire, and it was odd how everyone seemed afraid of her given her young age. After what unfolds in this issue I completely understand why the other vampires fear her and her abilities. I won't spoil anything, but we learn a very interesting tidbit about how she was turned and a familiar face that I wasn't expecting to see made a late appearance. I fear for what is about to transpire and am now officially Team Perry.

The Rest:
Saga #50 - Has it really been 50 issues so far? This series is an absolute delight and this issue opens with a reminder that Brian K Vaughan has no plans for this story reaching the big screen or the small screen. I recall an interview hyping Saga and him stating that he wanted a series that would not be optioned for television or for a film.  He has managed to include scenes that are too much for the televised world yet seem very appropriate to the story he is telling. They aren't offensive in the context of the incredibly lovely art from Fiona Staples, but I fear that it would be dramatically lost in translation.  This issue is jam packed with some big revelations, of which the power of King Robot being the most intriguing aspect from my end.  In addition to learning more about his empire, Fiona grows in strength and The Will once again tries to save a Lying Cat.

Star Wars Adventures #8 - Last issue's Rebels story reaches a fitting conclusion as Ezra and the rest of the crew are able to free the endangered species that were in possession of the Emperor. Any Rebels story that features Hondo is sure to be a lot of fun and this story would have made a fine episode of the show and demonstrates how the Force binds all species. The "Tales from Wild Space" story about Gonk this week is my favorite in this series. We learn that the Gonk droid that famously broke down thus ensuring that R2D2 made his way to Luke has more of a back story than we originally knew. It is a love story involving a Jawa and is darn cute. This is a must read for the younger Star Wars fans out there.

Doctor Aphra #18 - In an attempt to find the lost memories of the psychotic droid Triple-Zero, Dr. Aphra used the Jedi Hera as bait in order to board a base that is filled with some of the worst in the galaxy in a temporary frozen state. We are talking some of Jabba's worst thugs, a Wookiee with a rail gun and more. Using the help of her new special lady friend, Aphra wakes up the creatures on the base and it doesn't exactly go according to plan. This series has taken an interesting turn and there are a lot of elements I really like, but I am finding the overarching story a bit of a letdown and a bit discombobulated. I will continue to pick it up for the time being though, as I am hopeful it will pick up shortly.

Daredevil #600 - We knew that Charles Soule would have big plans for Matt Murdock in issue number 600, but I was not expecting this turn of events.  Daredevil is hoping to catch Fisk red handed in a meeting with a collection of crime lords. Not surprisingly, this meeting is a set-up by Fisk and it leads to the arrest of multiple superheros. Not wanting to spoil the rest of the issue, we have a final confrontation between Blindpot and Muse that was shocking and a reappearance of the hand which dips its hands into the political arena that will have repercussions for the future.

A look back (working title)
Daredevil #1 - In honor of issue number 600 for the Man without Fear I thought I would revisit Charles Soule's debut. It was a dark new direction Daredevil, who teamed up with a familiar character that would play a huge role in his run. Daredevil teamed up with Blindspot and they were protecting a witness from the crime lord Ten Fingers.  This marked a series reboot with Daredevil returning to Hell's Kitchen and regaining his secret identity. It is always odd when the torch is passed, but this debut set up what Soule had planned for Daredevil quite effectively. 

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

SIDE QUESTS: RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars Season 3 - The Season That Broke the Competition

What Are We Talking About?

I'm a huge fan of reality competition TV shows, particularly RuPaul's Drag Race. It's a creative, funny competition between some wild personalities that never fails to entertain. But the All Stars seasons, particularly the most recent, have broken the competition in ways that turn the results from the best of the best to the winner of a game, and there's a big distinction between the two.

The Basics

If you're unfamiliar with the show, here it is. A dozen-ish drag queens start. Through a series of challenges playing to the strengths of a well-rounded drag queen, they're eliminated one by one until three (sometimes four) remain. Each episode, after a challenge, a panel of judges helps Ru select the top queen (who gets a prize) and the bottom two, with the rest being safe from elimination. The bottom two perform a lip sync and Ru picks who stays and who goes home. In each stage of the competition, the panel of judges and RuPaul select the winners and the losers. This is standard RuPaul's Drag Race.

All Stars has been messed with from the start. As an All Stars season, they start with queens from previous seasons of the main show that did not win the crown. The first season put every queen into a pair with a competitor. They both had to perform well to win challenges and it wasn't until late in the game when competitors were judged on their performance alone. All Stars season two course corrected by starting everyone out on their own, but it still changed the competition. Instead of Ru picking the winner and loser each week, Ru picked the top two and the bottom three (sometimes two). The top two would lip sync for the right to choose who went home. The bottoms pleaded their cases for staying in the competition to the top two. Ru still picked the top all stars all the way, and ultimately the finale winner, but it was from a selection whittled down by the competitors and not the judges.

Throughout season 2, Roxxxy Andrews was consistently, repeatedly in the bottom. She was almost always up for elimination. She was consistently saved by her friends in the top. None of them would send Roxxxy home. They, arguably, sent home more talented drag queens, because of their personal biases. When Alaska won All Stars season 2, it could be said that she won it with an asterisk because she didn't have to compete against the best in the end; she just had to make sure none of the competitors sent her home.

But factors in season 3 of All Stars broke the competition in ways that fundamentally changed it from a competition to a game; no more a matter of being the best but playing better than the others. What follows will contain spoilers for All Stars season 3, which very recently ended! Do not keep reading if you are avoiding spoilers!

The Rabbit Hole 

All Stars season 3 followed the same formula as season 2; winners pick who goes home. But it broke in three different ways. The first is that Ru offered an eliminated queen a way back into the competition. Every show does this, but it's a bigger mess when they were eliminated by someone else possibly still in the competition. There was a big segment where all of the (currently) eliminated queens met with the competitors still in it and they argued about who eliminated whom and why. It was very dramatic and exposed the tension inflicted upon them by this competition. In the end, Ru brought back Morgan McMichaels, the first eliminated queen.

This is a problem. Morgan didn't compete for most of the show. She had to sit out because she was eliminated. Being brought back when most of her competitors were already gone meant she stood a greater chance of convincing the rest to keep her. Also, Morgan said from the start that she was going to eliminate her biggest competitors. Not the worst of the bottom queens, the best. She's not alone in this, as everyone is free to choose who they want to eliminate for any reason, but it puts a huge spotlight on the problem with letting competitors eliminate each other. Sometimes the best go home in a moment of vulnerability because they're the best.

The second way in which the competition broke was that BenDelaCreme was allowed to eliminate herself. She was the obvious front runner, she won a lip sync late in the competition, and she sent herself home. Her reasons are inconsequential, but the result is that she was shaping the competition by having a strong presence at the start, and then she cut herself out, leaving everyone else to know that their victories are only viable in her absence. Ru consistently put Dela in the top two because she's the best. When she dropped out, it let everyone know, including Ru, that she had no competition. Anyone who wins season 3 All Stars has to know that if Dela hadn't quit, they probably wouldn't have won.

Finally, and the worst way in which the competition broke, is that the final two queens were chosen by the eliminated queens. Bebe, Kennedy, Shangela, and Trixie all had claims to victory, but the decision on which of those two would lip sync for the finale was put in the hands of the people they eliminated. Shockingly, they chose Kennedy and Trixie. This is shocking because, while a strong competitor and a great drag queen, Kennedy won the least number of challenges of all of the top four. Shangela, who won the most, was eliminated by the queens who were no longer a part of the competition. For whatever reason, they chose Kennedy. The finale was between someone who was top 2 twice but won no lip syncs (Trixie), against someone who was top 2 once, won that lip sync, but spent most of the competition in the bottom (Kennedy). Trixie won the final lip sync.

Trixie Mattel is an all star. She deserves to be recognized as such. But her win was cheapened by the changes to the competition that turned it from a best-of-the-best to a best player of the game finale. In the end, this was not the Olympics of drag. It was the Catan of drag. It was a game that could be lost by the best player for simply not having the personal connections to assure victory. While Trixie was crowned, no one achieved a victory because the best player could've been in the competition but they were recognized too soon and eliminated by those who could see it, and the front runner walked out. While I expect twists and surprises in these kinds of shows, I hope that the next season of All Stars sets out the rules fairly from the start and reduces the amount of input by the eliminated queens so that they have less influence in the finale. It's just not fair to anyone to call someone an all star if they're not competing on an even playing field.


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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Microreview [book]: Taste of Wrath, by Matt Wallace

Taste of Wrath is a story of wrenching emotion handled with tact and grace.

"It lasts until he has no more tears left, but no one seems to mind waiting. Everyone in this subbasement chamber has learned that's what life is largely, waiting for the tears to pass so you can move on to the next."
I often find that when I write about Matt Wallace's Sin du Jour novellas, I spend much of my time writing about how gloriously absurd they are. It's true. Throughout the seven novellas of the now completed series, Wallace has introduced some seriously jacked up stuff - whether it chicken nuggets made from actual angel meat, the truth behind hollywood's elite (goblins, they're goblins), or the meat puppets that are politicians, or...well, I could go on for quite a while if I were to attempt to detail out absolutely every bit of beautiful gonzo absurdity in these books.

Focusing on that stuff makes sense, because that's the hook. That's the stuff that has me stop what I'm reading, turn to whomever is sitting next to me (usually my wife) and say "listen to this" before I read aloud whatever bit of awesomeness I just encountered.

It's to Matt Wallace's credit that you don't know what he's doing until it's too late. He gets you with the hook, with the gonzo madcap writing. Then he punches you right in the soul and right in the heart. It was only when I was several books into the series that I came to realize that Wallace was building to something bigger and far more special than just an awesome catering event of the week story, as good as those event of the week stories were.

With each passing volume I became more and more invested in the characters as individuals, but more, as the Sin du Jour crew as a unit and a family. So, where there was meaning in the individual stories of Lena and Darren and Bronko and Moon and Cindy and Little Dove and everyone else, there was greater meaning to the story of all of them together and how they relate and how the growing threat of Allensworth would impact their collective family.

Taste of Wrath is the culmination of that journey. It is the story of a last stand, of backs against the wall with all the odds stacked against. It is a story with moments of extreme horror, including one moment that is both comedic and absolutely horrifying, to the point that I can only refer to a horde of gremlin driven POTUS meat suits and leave it at that because any further description is honestly not good for my blood pressure to contemplate. Perhaps it is my singular horror, perhaps not.

Taste of Wrath is a story of wrenching emotion handled with tact and grace. If you've been on this journey, there are moments that will make you close your eyes and exhale in sorrow. There are moments that will cause you to gasp in delight and moments to cause you as much pain as sorrow.
"Yes, I know. You no doubt had visions of sacrificing yourself to save another or the world or a busload of children. You all harbor those fantasies. There is no one big redemptive act, Chef Luck."
"No. It's never about giving your life. It's about living your life."
The awesome gonzo absurdity of Matt Wallace masks the deep honesty and integrity of his writing, but it is also that absurdity that helps to earn these moments of quiet grace.

All of this is to say that Wallace has earned the ending of Taste of Wrath. He's put in the work and built something exceptional with his Sin du Jour series of novellas. If the series has to end (and it does, there are only seven deadly sins, after all), somehow Taste of Wrath is the only way it could have ended. The climactic battle is there, the character deaths and redemptions are there, and it all comes together. It all fits. I don't know what perfect looks like, but I know what satisfying looks like and it looks like Taste of Wrath.

Honestly, I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to read these books.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 because "How do you not tell me the baddest musical virtuoso of my lifetime is, one, alive, and two, some kind of unmatched goblin general ten-thousand-year warrior legend-type motherfucker?"

Penalties: -1 because I wish Wallace had spent more time on some of the ancillary subplots (the witches, for one)

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 "Very High Quality / Standout in its Category". 
See more about our scoring system here.

Reference: Wallace, Matt. Taste of Wrath. [ Publishing, 2018]

Previous Reviews
Envy of Angels
Pride's Spell
Idle Ingredients 
Greedy Pigs
Gluttony Bay

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. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Nanoreviews: Memory's Blade, La Belle Sauvage, Gods Monsters and the Lucky Peach

Ellsworth, Spencer. Memory's Blade [ Publishing]

I wish I could figure out if my problem with the Starfire books is that my expectation wasn't inline with what Spencer Ellsworth was doing, or if the books themselves just aren't working after such a strong series start with A Red Peace. Either way, Ellsworth does a solid job in wrapping up the series - it's nowhere near a direction readers would have expected from the first volume, but it makes sense in context of the series as a whole. Ellsworth answers questions and gives his readers an entertaining dose of what-the-fuckery. Overall, though, while Memory's Blade is stronger than Shadow Sun Seven, it never quite amounts to the level of excellence and excitement I had expected after A Red Peace.
Score: 6/10

Pullman, Philip. La Belle Sauvage [Random House]

When I finished reading The Amber Spyglass some seventeen years ago I remember hearing about some sort of follow up to His Dark Materials called "The Book of Dust". I couldn't wait. Time passed. Pullman published a couple of slim "companion volumes". After that, nothing. Then, when I had more than given up - La Belle Sauvage was announced, the first volume of The Book of Dust. I almost didn't want to read it because there was no way it could live up to my hopes and expectations. I had it in my head that Pullman couldn't do it.

Readers, La Belle Sauvage is so much better than I could have hoped. It's not His Dark Materials (and I'm firmly against nominating His Dark Materials for a Best Series Hugo because of that), but it's set in the world and it connects in obvious ways (the baby is Lyra) and likely in ways that I didn't notice because it's been almost two decades since I last read The Amber Spyglass. La Belle Sauvage works regardless of how familiar readers are with His Dark Materials. It's a splendid start to a new and familiar series.
Score: 9/10

Robson, Kelly. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach [ Publishing]

This story is cool as hell. It's set in an ecologically wrecked future where humanity is only just beginning to emerge and re-terraform our planet back into something hospitable. That by itself would be enough to get me interested, but add in some time travel and fantastic characters and ooh, damn, Kelly Robson tells one hell of a story. It's a novella that feels far bigger than it is and even then, I wished for at least one hundred more pages despite the story ending perfectly. I wanted to spend more time in the past. Time travel could be used for amazing things, but is often used for tourism rather than research (though, the travel in this novella is a research trip). The historical detail is fantastic, the interpersonal and interhistorical drama is on point, and I wanted more of every bit of this story.
Score: 8/10

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, March 23, 2018

Microreview [book]: The Warrior Within by Angus McIntyre

A Quick Trip Down the Road

Three men cross the wastelands to a strip town along the Road. They've come to kill a woman. The only person seemingly in their way is unofficial mayor Karsman. Officially Not in Charge, but Karsman's brain houses multiple personalities that could mean the difference between life and death for the hunted.

While not going to thrill many, The Warrior Within is a competent novel. It's short, but rarely strays from its compact plot, while still developing a world and characters in it. Karsman gets the most focus and is distinctly a reluctant hero. While shaping Karsman's voice, his other personalities, named by function like Warrior, Diplomat, and Strategist, likewise have their own aims and tone. Karsman and his personalities easily double the cast of characters, with the rest functional but a little flat. In particular, the villains of the story don't really have much going on beyond menacing.

There's no indication that this novel is setting up a series, but it could. It takes place on a backwaters world in a larger universe, and hints at what could be beyond this small town, its benevolent autocracy, and the people scraping by. If anything, The Warrior Within did a better job of setting up future works than telling this story, but it's by no means bad.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 doesn't waste much time

Penalties: -1 ... except for an overly long wall climbing chapter

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


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

Reference: McIntyre, Angus. The Warrior Within [Tor, 2018]  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

Quick break from comics to direct you to an amazing Kickstarter that you need to back immediately! Dinosaur Island is getting a water expansion and a new two player game named Duelosaur Island!!! If you missed backing the original deluxe edition of this game (which is the version you are going to want) then you have opportunity to get all of the amazing pink dino meeples to fill your theme park to the brim!! 

Pick of the Week:
Dept. H #24 - Matt and Sharlene's underwater mystery reached its conclusion yesterday and it was both beautiful and fitting. The work that Sharlene contributed in terms of painting each page really set the tone for this series and I love that the mystery actually unfolded in the background. It was the premise of the book, but the story was all about the development of Mia and her understanding her role in the bigger picture. It was both moving and emotional and I cannot wait to see what book Matt and Sharlene collaborate on next.

The Rest:
Babyteeth #9 - Holy WHAAAM-WHAAAM this issue is jam packed with a lot of action and a lot of the same sound effect detailing the chaos that ensues. The alarms are sounding and the underground compound where Sadie and her child are being held captive by her mother. We learn a bit about Sadie's mom and her motivation for not killing everyone, but she sadly doesn't feel this way about her daughter Heather. Trapped underground in a facility that is under attack, it isn't looking good for her unless she had access to an ungodly weapon. Man this series is a lot of fun.

Kick-Ass #2 - Our new Kick-Ass, Patience, figures out that she can make more money by robbing criminals than she can waiting tables. The change from Kick-Ass being a high-school student to a single mom who is paying her way through college really breathes new life into this series and the second issue was a delight. I fear for her family's safety with the tangled web that she is weaving, but I assume this is by design.

Star Wars #45 - It is hard to believe that this series is already 45 issues old! I remember being concerned when Dark Horse lost the Star Wars license and have been really pleased with the vast majority of the Marvel titles. After failing to convince the Mon Calamari to join the Rebellion, Leia hatches a plan that seems a bit careless. She wants to free a prisoner who will lead a mini-rebellion and become the new leader for the Mon Calamari. In order to accomplish this she needs to "borrow" someone with security clearance and not alert anyone that this individual has been kidnapped. In order to pull this off she first needs to break a shape-shifter out of a different prison.  What could go wrong?

A look back (working title)
Mind MGMT #1 - Reading the first issue of this stunning series was truly a trip down memory lane. The series started with Meru and her attempt to finish her book on the mysterious amnesia flight in which every passenger lost their memories on board with the exception of a 7 year old child and one man named Henry Lyme who seemed to have vanished. From the watercolors he painted in each issue to the hidden clues, this was an ambitious effort that Matt Kindt pulled off and is easily one of my favorite series of all time.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Microreview [film]: Mute, directed by Duncan Jones

A Gorgeous Onion!

Jones, Duncan. Mute. 2018
'Tis available worldwide (only?) on Netflix, as of 2018.

The name 'Duncan Jones' will immediately evoke, in the minds of the small but powerful(ly voiced) group of cine-nerds, the masterful 2009 film Moon, and/or the respectable cerebral (get it?!) thriller Source Code of 2011. Garden-variety meathead non-nerds, on the other hand, might recall him as the director of the 2016 video game-to-film adaptation of Warcraft—you know, the movie that absolutely no one was eagerly awaiting. No matter your nerd credentials, then, you probably associate Duncan Jones with a certain cinematographic pizzazz, and like me, your expectations were probably quite high for his latest brainchild, the only-on-Netflix 2018 futuristic neo-noir Mute. The question is, were those expectations met?

Nah. But before we get to the bad news, I’ll give the good news. The film is breathtakingly beautiful, leaving no rock of the delectably dirty futuristic Berlin unturned, and what’s more, it is full of quirky little visual predictions of what the world will be like in twenty years (you know, mini-drones delivering food through the drone-only doggy door on windows, etc.). Plus, Paul Rudd was, in my opinion, an excellent casting choice, as his snarky-but-harmless star persona helps mask the darkness lurking deep within his character here.

Image result for mute film
With a face/attitude like that, you just know (/hope) that Rudd's character will come to a sticky end...
But fans expecting or hoping for the same level of storytelling as was present in Moon, or even Source Code, will likely leave the theater their living rooms somewhat disappointed. The story is fairly predictable from the get-go, and certain things are never adequately explained (like how a bartender, even an unusually tall and lanky one, can use a bedpost to beat down entire rooms full of heavily armed professional thugs, but for the visual flair Jones brings, I’m still willing to watch even rather nonsensical scenes!).

It turns out that Mute is an onion: each layer of the story is delicious, but peel them all away to get to the core and you find…nothing. Side note: I’ve never really understood the high value placed on the onion as a metaphoric device. Lots of things have layers, but shouldn’t the metaphoric object get progressively better/more profound as one works one’s way further in? It seems clear to me that, in the realm of vegetal metaphors, the artichoke is king, because while the outer layers might be palatable, the heart is the greatest prize. This is all to say that Mute feels like an artichoke without a heart (i.e., an onion), or a story with nothing especially profound to say (the title’s making more sense, eh?).

artichoke infographic
Life is like a box of artichokes--kind of a pain, but on balance worth the effort!
Bottom line: you should totally watch this film, but Moon fans should temper their expectations, because this is no artichoke; it’s a beautiful, shallow onion. But it’s a really good onion, like maybe a Vidalia onion, which means there is only one question:

Shrek Sexy Face | DO YOU LIKE ONIONS | image tagged in shrek sexy face | made w/ Imgflip meme maker
Well said, Shrek!

The Math:

Objective assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for peppering the film with thought-provoking suggestions of the near-future, +1 for Jones’ flair for the cinematographically dramatic

Penalties: -1 for being such a let-down compared to Moon (and, in a sense, even Source Code)

Nerd coefficient: 6/10 “Worth watching, but the flaws are hard to ignore”

[Score seem harsh? Not at all: see here for why this is better than average!]

This message brought to you by Zhaoyun, demigod of nerdery, who is currently halfway through a series on high-profile Netflix projects of potential appeal to nerds of the world (unite!), and has been a reviewer for Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Microreview [video game]: Dark Souls 3 by From Software (developer)

Hard But No Diamond

A short while ago, I'd committed to ignoring games described as inspired by Dark Souls. I'd played some Dark Souls and didn't enjoy it much, played some Dark Souls inspired games like Lords of the Fallen and Bound by Flame and I didn't like any of them. But this isn't a consistent dislike. I really really enjoyed Salt & Sanctuary, but the qualities of Dark Souls that inhabited Hollow Knight turned me right off. And almost immediately after I'd decided that Dark Souls-like games were not for me, Humble Monthly gave me a copy of Dark Souls 3. I beat Dark Souls 3. I enjoyed Dark Souls 3.

I am ill equipped to describe what makes Dark Souls 3 so different from Dark Souls, and even less equipped to compare it to Dark Souls 2, but Dark Souls 3 hooked me fairly quick. I know how these games work and they're very unforgiving, particularly of my overly-aggressive playstyle. With the help of a build guide to direct my efforts on creating a character I would enjoy playing with, a simple melee sword-and-board fighter, I sliced and chopped my way through hordes of monsters. The variety in combat encounters and enemies ensured that even my simple character build was never boring. Maybe Salt & Sanctuary made me a more patient player, but I rarely felt like the fights were unfair, even when I was dying to bosses over and over. I'd eventually learn their patterns and weaknesses, and chop them to pieces with my sword. Where as I found Dark Souls to be a largely frustrating affair, Dark Souls 3 never felt frustrating; it was rewarding.

What isn't rewarding in the game is the storyline, or lack thereof. It starts with a cutscene explaining that the lords of cinder have left their graves and need to be returned to their thrones to rekindle the dying world. From there, there's more or less nothing much to offer until you reach the end, and you get a short cutscene for your efforts. Sure, you'll find other non-hostile people with some "quests" of their own, but there's no journal. No quest log. Often, I struggled to even remember their names. Most items have a sentence or two of flavor text but that's about it for worldbuilding. You could go end-to-end through this game and never learn a single thing about the lords of cinder that you're mercilessly hunting down and killing.

This is a bit of a shame because the world they've built, without the exposition, is really interesting in that it's not standard fantasy or grimdark. If anything, it's sorrowful. This is a dying world, roamed by undead things, desperate for purpose and meaning. I find myself wanting to go back to Dark Souls again for another try to see if I can fill in the blanks because I want to learn more. Even if I can't, if I can find in Dark Souls what I found in Dark Souls 3, that'll be enough. Dark Souls 3 is a challenging game that rewards persistence and learning without feeling cheap.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 a huge variety of enemies and worlds that never gets boring

Penalties: -1 non-existent storytelling does the world no justice

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


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

Reference: From Software. Dark Souls 3 [Namco Bandai, 2016]

Monday, March 19, 2018

Microreview [book]: Dark State, by Charles Stross

Return to the multiverse.

My experience of reading Charles Stross is a persistent struggle between the quality of his ideas and my perception of the quality of his writing, which is to say that I seldom find that the writing lives up to the promise of the ideas. 

When I wrote about Empire Games (my review), I noted "the level of Stross's writing is actually beginning to rise to the level of his ideas" and that once Stross got the story rolling, nothing distracted from the cool ideas of the world walking between the worlds we've already known and the opening up of new worlds and the drama of the how the United States interacts with the world walkers from a parallel universe.

Dark State picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Empire Games, and despite the increasingly breakneck pace of the second half of that novel, Dark State suffers from some of the same issues that Empire Games did. Stross spends at least a third of Dark State resetting the playing field and planting the seeds for where the rest of the novel and trilogy will go. That's fine, as far as narrative conventions go, but Stross is not at his best as a writer when working with a more deliberate pace.

The A and B stories of Dark State are probably first that of Rita, the daughter of Miriam Beckstein (from the original Merchant Princes series) who was given up for adoption as an infant, but who has an unlocked world walking trait and who was recruited by the United States government to both infiltrate and liaise with the alternate timeline which has the former Clan in a position of power; and second, that of Elizabeth Hanover, a princess of from that alternate timeline looking to escape a life with an arranged marriage and defect to the Clan led government in New London. I'm grossly simplifying the story lines, of course, and Stross develops each of them far beyond what I've given, but we know from Empire Games (and the Merchant Princes) that the United States will go farther and go darker in their plans to "protect the Homeland". That definitely is a factor here and it permeates almost everything in Dark State.

As with Empire Games, when Charles Stross decides he wants to move the story, the interesting stuff happens. I’m engaged as a reader, he’s not giving the reader much time to take a breath and he’s making stuff happen. It’s when he is in set up mode, we see the clunk. Dark State is not as acronym heavy as past Stross novels, though there are references to BLACK RAIN and such, but there are moments early in the novel which feel overly didactic. Those moments come across less as storytelling and more as just telling.

In ways that are completely typical for reading a Charles Stross novel, I can only say that I was less annoyed as the novel progressed – to the point that I only noticed very late in the novel that I was finally engrossed in the story being told. I don’t know that it was good, in whatever nebulous way I describe a good novel, but it was better than how Dark State began. This is nearly always the case with Charles Stross. Whether it is reengaging with his particular brand of flow or if it is just waiting for that moment he decides to stop revving the novel’s engine and punch the gas, I like the ride when he’s moving.

Dark State has left me far more conflicted about the new trilogy than Empire Games did. I’m not sure if it was the excitement of stepping back into Merchant Princes or if it was that Stross seemed to have leveled up a bit since he last stepped into this world, but Dark State does not quite live up to the promise of the previous novel. Readers are still left with plenty of interest in how Stross will wrap things up and interest in what new cool stuff he will introduce and tweak. The ideas in Dark State remain as fascinating and involving as ever. It’s just what he does with his ideas that do not measure up.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 the stuff in timeline four with the destroyed Earth through the portal adds an extra bit of intrigue to what might be going on with the other unexplored timelines.

Penalties: -1 clunk clunk clunk. 

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10, "still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore" See more about our scoring system here.

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, March 15, 2018

NERD MUSIC: Science Fiction/Synthwave Pairings

Way back in 2013, in the midst of a serious heavy metal binge, I posted this piece. The idea was to match metal albums to grimdark fantasy novels, the way you'd match wine or beer with food. So now, in the midst of an even more serious synthwave binge, I figured it was high time for a sequel. And why not? Synthwave is futuristic, or rather, retrofuturistic--and a large subset is explicitly SF-themed.

Selection Criteria

I've selected 6 science fiction novels--not necessarily the best, or even my favorites. But 6 novels that people who read science fiction generally know, or at least know of. Next, I paired these with synthwave albums that best capture what these books mean to me. So without further ado, I present to you six science fiction/synthwave pairings. Oh, and if you like what you see/hear, click on the book title link or on the musician's Bandcamp embed to purchase.

Don't forget to swish and spit after you taste...

The Pairings

1. Neuromancer by William Gibson/Wilderness by Makeup and Vanity Set

To start things off, I'm pairing the greatest cyberpunk novel with the greatest cyberpunk-inspired synthwave album. Neuromancer is a complex, multilayered and challenging novel--it is remembered for being mesmerizingly original and conceptually breathtaking, though it is Neuromancer's strong emotional core that convinces me to re-read it every few years. Wilderness is much the same, but in musical form. Featuring compositional complexity, high concept and deep emotional resonance, it is probably my favorite electronic album of any kind ever made.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin/Return to Alvograth by Futurecop!

LeGuin's Hainish cycle radically transformed our understanding of what science fiction could do. It is, at base, a work of speculative anthropology. With its focus on culture and ritual, The Left Hand of Darkness is a warmer and more earthy (for lack of a better term) book than most of its colder and more clinical contemporaries. This is not a common aesthetic in synthwave, but is well represented by Futurecop's brilliant 2017 album, which integrates New Age and mystical elements into their dreamy, pop-inflected synthwave. A lovely book paired with a lovely album.

3. Warchild by Karin Lowachee/Bionic Chrysalis by DEADLIFE

DEADLIFE is one of the best new darksynth artists around, and his music is basically hard-charging action music that draws heavily on science fiction themes. That reminds me of Karin Lowachee's Warchild, a riveting, action-packed but thoughtful military SF novel whose protagonist can only survive by becoming a living weapon. In other words, by undergoing a bionic chrysalis.

4. Saturn's Children by Charles Stross/Galactic Melt by Com Truise

Science fiction isn't the most romantic or sexiest of genres, but every once in a while there's a novel that explores romance and sexuality in more than a cursory way. Saturn's Children is one of those books, and is full of sex and romance. It centers on a femmebot courtesan, designed to serve human desires, and her adventures long after humanity has gone extinct. Galactic Melt by Com Truise is similarly one of the few synthwave albums that is not only science fictional, but also explores sex and romance thematically.

5. The Apollo Quartet by Ian Sales/The Space Tapes by Syntax

When I listen to Syntax's music, it makes me feel like a kid again--looking up at the stars and imagining what's out there. Similarly, Sales' Apollo Quartet captures everything about classic science fiction that attracted me as a kid, but with a modern sensibility and direct engagement with all the stuff that makes classic science fiction feel dated and regressive in 2018 (e.g. the sexism, militarism, uncritical positivism, etc.). Both, moreover, evoke that "sensawunda" we all remember from childhood but can rarely recapture as adults.

6. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson/Cosmopolis by The G

Apologies for the shameless self-promo here, but I made Cosmopolis with books like Red Mars in mind. The album is about the journey to a domed city off-world, and explores both the romance of space travel and anxiety that life under a hermetically sealed dome would engender. Red Mars is, I think, the best novel written about building these kinds of settlements. So while the two aren't an exact fit (Cosmopolis is retro '80s, whereas Red Mars is distinctly progressive), it's books like Red Mars that give me inspiration for my music.


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

Thursday Morning Superhero

Only two comics on my pull-list this week means that it is the perfect time to attempt my addition of reviewing one older comic per week. For the debut of this feature I am going to review the classic Chew #1. When I first started reading this series I was blown away at the food universe that John Layman created and was not prepared to where that journey led.

Pick of the Week:
Darth Vader #13 - An interesting development is afoot as the Empire is vying for control of Mon Cala, home of Mr. Ackbar. It is pretty interesting to see Admiral Ackbar pre-admiral title working on his home planet. Apparently there are some valuable resources on this underwater planet and Palpatine isn't taking too kindly to a rumor that the Jedi are present. In addition to positioning a fleet in the planet's orbit under the control of Tarkin, Vader and the inquisitors are attempting some "diplomacy". They have the attention of who I believe is Obi-Wan and I am anticipating an action packed follow-up to this issue. One of the best Vader issues in a while and I am definitely curious where this arc is heading.

The Rest:
DuckTales #7 - I think we can make a good case for Joe Caramagna to join the Disney XD crew at the writers' table for season 2. He has done an amazing job filling in the gap between seasons with his mini-stories that are an absolute delight. My favorite this week involved a ghost town and was very reminiscent of classic Scooby Doo. If you or your kids enjoy DuckTales then this is a title that should be on your pull-list and one well worth your time and money.

A look back (working title):
Chew #1 - The opening page of this comic provides a hint at what to expect in this off-the-walls series. It opens with someone chopping some vegetables for a soup and accidentally cutting themselves. Most people would proceed to then deal with the wound, but this person uses their bloody hand to add in the final ingredients. Chew focuses on detective Tony Chu, who works for the FDA. It is a time where chicken is outlawed and his skill as a cibopath is extremely valuable. What is a cibopath exactly? It is someone who gets visions of the life of the food he eats, with the exception of canned beets. If he eats a hamburger, he will get a flash of what the cow ate and how the cow was slaughtered. This particular set of skills comes in extremely handy when dealing with food related crimes. This debut issue featured some of the over the top characters and gore that fans would come to experience throughout this amazing series. We meet D-Bear and witness Chu's partner take a hatchet to the face.  This series is illustrated by the amazing Rob Guillory who shines in bringing this bizarre series to life. I can't imagine a different artist on this series. Good times.

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Microreview [TV series]: The Frankenstein Chronicles

They’ve squared the circle! Sean Bean's character shuffles off his mortal coal…yet is alive again for Season Two?!?

Image result for frankenstein chronicles
Doesn't Sean Bean look vaguely surprised to be still alive? Him and me both!
Both seasons currently available on Netflix!

It’s one of the longest-running gags in show business: cast Sean Bean in your TV series and there is an extremely high chance his character will perish by the end of season one. If in a movie, he’ll probably die heroically, indeed motivationally, spurring the surviving heroes on to greater successes; in TV series, his specter looms over the remainder of the show, meaning everything that happens from then on occurs in the shadow of his sacrifice (since he is usually innocent of any wrongdoing but is executed/killed anyway). So when I finally watched The Frankenstein Chronicles, I knew to expect a gruesome end for Bean’s “John Marlott” at the end of season one. I don’t even feel the need to issue a spoiler alert so far, because Sean Bean’s near-inevitable death early in projects is a truth universally acknowledged.

But now I must give you fair warning for the major (if extremely easily predictable) spoiler ahead: not only was I not disappointed (he is hanged), the makers of The Frankenstein Chronicles managed to jolt me out of complacency. They altered the Sean Bean death formula in a unique way, providing a (sort of) plausible pretext to have their cake and kill him too! To speak plainly, Marlott truly does die, in public, after being framed, but he is pseudo-scientifically restored to life at the very end of season one. How marvelous that the makers managed to murder Marlott but maintain him as main character (and astonishing alliteration!). This feat is surely the great triumph of this TV series.
Image result for one does not simply survive
You said it, Sean Bean!

Sad to say, there aren’t many other triumphs in this ho-hum costume drama. Bean brings his customary gravitas and Sheffield brogue to the role of Marlott, and the makers did a reasonably good job in constructing the mise en scene, recreating a broadly believable atmosphere of early 19th century Britain, but the story itself is a bit slow, and the Forrest Gump-like obsession with having Marlott bump into all the luminaries of the day is tiresome. 
Image result for forrest gump meeting Nixon
It was dumb when Forrest Gump did it, and no better today...
I hear A&E, which handled the US broadcast of this British show, dubbed it “thrilling and terrifying” and yet overall, it was neither. Here’s a more accurate epithet: “more or less watchable despite the slow pace.” Yet despite this lukewarm endorsement, I must admit I’m hooked and will finish watching season two; any show which manages to retain Sean Bean into a second season is spellbinding!

The Math:

Objective assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +2 for finding a (barely) plausible pretext for having Bean’s character survive execution (it’s like a Ned Stark do-over!)

Penalties: -1 for the plodding pace, -1 for the thoroughly irritating Forrest Gump effect

Nerd coefficient: 6/10 “still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore” for regular viewers, 8/10 for major Sean Bean fans

[For more info on our scoring system, see here.]

This snide review brought to you by Zhaoyun, ardent fan of Sean Bean’s on-screen death scenes as far back as Patriot Games and reviewer at Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Emerald City Comic Con

It is undisputed scientific fact that Seattle is the greatest city in the world, and home to the greatest Comic Con in the world, and least in my very scientific study of only having attended ECCC. OK, so perhaps there is some dispute. Nevertheless! Attend ECCC I did, and I wanted to give you my highlights.

On Thursday, I actually went up to the Funko store in Everett to grab some exclusive for our very own Mister Newhouse-Bailey, my brother in silly toy collecting, as well as for my friend who runs Collect it Here, a collectibles shop which I will blatantly plug now. This was really exciting, because I hadn't actually been to the Funko shop yet.

This is not where I got in the line
But seriously, the shop is an event unto itself.

A photographer I am not. there is a reason I write.
Saturday and Sunday I spent at the con, and I'm just going to sort of-apologize for not taking many pictures. As you can see up above, it's not my greatest skill in life, it was crowded as hell, and there are lots of outlets with very expensive cameras and professional photographers that took loads of pictures, if you want visuals.

Saturday was my day to mostly wander around (even once I got inside the con, since I ended up parking, I am pretty sure, further away from the convention center than I actually live). The cosplay was - as per usual - amazing (my own cosplay consisted of "doing my hair slightly different and wearing my jacket that everyone says looks like Wolverine anyway". No, you don't get a picture.). There are some great roundups of the cosplay on io9 and SyFy wire. The highlight of the cosplay, for me, was a spot-on Last Jedi Leia, which, how do you even put that on without sobbing? My goodness.

Also receiving votes: pink-bonnetted Mal, tiny Rey & Kylo,and anyone who wore a costume that didn't cover a lot, because it was really cold.

Sunday was more geared towards art, games and shopping. Artist Alley featured its usual assortment of people far, far more talented that I, so that was annoying.

If you like impossibly adorable stuff, check out Little Brigade. I mean, seriously. 

I'm only human. Take my money.

On the less cute side of things, Mike Manomivibul caught my eye with some really clever, almost-surreal work.
Outstanding in my eyes was Geoff Pascual's watercolors. There is just something about this style I adore. - and the images online (like most art) really don't do them justice. 

(not appearing at the con, but you should also check out Megan Levens)

If anyone wants to buy me a set of Norse Foundry dice, I will love you forever. PROMISE.

Which actually segues nicely into the part I've been avoiding, which is that I spent most of the day Sunday just playing board games. Which was super fun, but not exactly riveting to read a description of me trying to remember how to play Arkham Horror since I haven't played it in years. On a related note, Arkham Horror game night, my place. Who's in?

In all seriousness, we've moved so far beyond Comic Cons being about comics. If that's your thing, there are a million booths with (what I presume are) awesome comics. I'm not super into comics, and I could have spent a week playing games with random people and spending far too much money on toys and art, and there still would be more to do. 

ECCC has done a great job of running an organized, clean and (hopefully) safe and inclusive con (I'm a white guy, so I can only speak to this so much).


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories (which should be on YOUR summer reading list). You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.