Monday, April 30, 2018

Microreview [TV}: Ash vs. Evil Deal (Series Finale)

"I'm Ashy Slashy's Daughter. Come Get Some!"

Three years ago, I wrote on this site of my worry that Ash vs. Evil Dead would be an ill-conceived resurrection (no pun intended, but...I'll...I'll allow it) of what was, for me, a transformative series of movies. After watching the first three episodes for my review back then, I found my fears to be unfounded. Season 1 of Ash vs. Evil Dead was a welcome, funny, and accomplished return to a world that I loved. It introduced new characters that seemed like they could be pretty cool, and it teased the possibility of an actual character arc in Ash Williams, who was almost by design a character that defied an arc.

Last week, Starz announced that Season 3, Episode 10, would be not only the Season 3 finale of the show, but the series finale, due to abysmal ratings. So, in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I find myself reviewing the entire series-that-was, rather than the specifics of the final episode. Part of me wonders at the ratings — the show is so damn good, why aren't people watching it?? — and part of me finds that par for the course. Evil Dead and its two sequels didn't take the world by storm on first release. It took years. Eventually, the cult following was so strong that I found myself attending roadshow screenings in small theaters with Bruce Campbell in attendance, where the audience was shouting every word of Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness at the screen, and you couldn't hear the movie at all. Then, a few years after that, there were enough legs on this cult project for Bruce Campbell to write a book (the fabulously entertaining If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor).

Now we find ourselves a few years past even that. Bruce Campbell has written two more books. There was an Evil Dead remake. And there was Ash vs. Evil Dead. For years, fans asked Campbell and Sam Raimi for Evil Dead 4. Well, we got it, and it was really, really long. Three seasons of TV long. And it was glorious.

So, to recap...everything: after the events of Army of Darkness, Ash lived in relative harmony as a loudmouthed, deadbeat, big box store retail lifer with a pretty sweet trailer outside of town. But then he accidentally woke evil up by drunkenly reading from the Necronomicon to impress a lady-friend. Two of his co-workers, Pablo and Kelly, got swept up in the wake, and became Ash's partners in trying to quash the return of the Deadites. Meanwhile, Ruby (Lucy Lawless), an ancient demon herself, tracked the three of them to try to recover the book. There was a lot of fighting, and gallons...nay, hogsheads...of blood. So, so much blood. Then, in Season 2, they all kind of joined up, because there was an even bigger threat that faced them all, and Ruby became kind of an ally. Kind of. But that all ended at the end of Season 2, in an apocalyptic return to the Cabin that started it all, and Ash's return to his hometown, which never believed his crazy "demons from beyond" story, and thought Ash was a murderer (who they nicknamed Ashy Slashy). Season 3 introduced Brandy, the daughter Ash never knew he had, and saw the arrival of the Dark Ones, the ultimate baddies from the Necronomicon, and a return to Ruby being a malevolent thorn in Ash, et al's side.

That's right: Ash Williams gets a daughter (and a tank, see photos), and learns how to be a father. Can you imagine? And it's awesome. I felt like Kelly really got to shine in Season 2, and Season 3 wound up being more Pablo's story, but Pablo, Kelly, and Brandy are all amazing additions to this universe, and provided the key emotional anchor that an ongoing TV series requires, but the movies never had to worry about, thanks to their absurdity, over-the-top comedy-horror, and brief running times. Brandy was a very smart addition to Season 3. Kelly and Pablo had both more than proved their mettle, and had become accustomed to the daily, non-stop horror of battling Deadites. Seeing this madness anew through a new addition to the cast really helped re-contextualize the absolute absurdity of the violence of this show, and tied together the progression of "Ash learns to have friends / Ash has to confront his father / Ash has an actual family."

And now we've arrived at what is probably the actual end-of-the-road for Ash Williams and the Evil Dead universe, in its original form. Season 2 had maybe my favorite moments in the show — the episode "Morgue" is probably the single most fucked-up thing I have ever seen on TV, and the episode "Ashy Slashy," where Ash has to confront reality inside an asylum with a murderous puppet on his hand (yep) is both legitimately unnerving and wrenching (seriously). But Season 3 as a whole leaves little to be desired. It meshes with everything that has come before, it is of the same cloth as the films I came of age with and continue to revere, and pushes them into a satisfying, emotional context that just didn't seem possible coming out of Army of Darkness.

There is, in the last episode, however, the strong sense that the writers knew the score, and the series ends where they wanted it to land.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10 (if you're not a fan of Evil Dead and its universe, not much for you here, probably)

Bonuses: +3 for Kelly, Pablo, and Brandy; +1 for a solid reference to the Director's Cut ending of Army of Darkness

Penalties: -1 for the weird Knights of Sumeria, which seemed like episode filler and didn't pay off to a truly satisfying degree; -1 for a less-than-ideal resolution with the non-Ash characters

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. It's better than we could've hoped for, and remained true to the spirit of the franchise throughout.

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather since 2012, and one of the armies of people who have met Bruce Campbell on numerous occasions, and who he wouldn't remember from Adam.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Microreview [TV series]: Lost in Space (2018)

Even the gorgeous visuals can't save this turd.

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Lost in Space (TV series). Netflix, April 2018.

I remember watching Apollo 13 as a child. I wasn’t impressed with the aesthetics, but recall thinking that while the cascade of near-fatal problems seemed a bit forced (at the time I had no idea it was based more or less closely on actual events!), the cast managed to pull it off and save the movie from the dustbin of (audiovisual) history. Sadly, Lost in Space suffers from the exact opposite issue. Watching it in Netflix’s vaunted 4K resolution—with HDR enabled, no less—the visuals are absolutely stunning. But what stunned me even more is how incredibly insipid the narrative was. In honor of this atrocious series, welcome to the first episode of “Can you come up with a better story than a seventh-grader?” (It goes without saying that the writers for this show would spectacularly fail that test!)
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Except the problem in Lost in Space is "bad writing" and there's no escaping it!

First of all, the series suffers greatly due to its pointless “problem of the week” feel in each episode. I will spoil nothing when I say that each episode confronts the Robinsons with a crisis even more gratuitous or improbable than the last one. I think the main failing of the writing is simply that they were (too) obviously starting from the desired end-point (usually some sort of emotional realization, etc.) and then just throwing darts at the wall until they hit upon some convenient problem that forces precisely that end result. I have dubbed this the “crisis ex machina” effect: the perfect problem at just the right time which forces the character(s) to feel their feelings, and attempts (unsuccessfully for this viewer, needless to say !) to push the audience into melodramatic identification with the doggone unfairness of it all—poor Robinsons!

Just one example, sort of spoiler-free or at least spoiler-lite, will suffice to make this point. Once the robot (who despite the show’s gorgeous visuals looks quite ridiculous, as it is all too obviously a guy in a suit for 90% of the shots—shame on you, producers, for cutting corners on such a key visual design!) bonds with Will, the villain must engineer a scenario in which the boy not only initially tries to hide the robot but, after it alternates—in response to his express commands!—between saving and injuring the other humans, forces it to take a long walk off a short pier (all of this, of course, is done in full view of the only nominally hidden villain). Yeah, the robot, an incredibly advanced alien life form, is forced off a cliff by a 12-year old's whim, cause that makes sense. This is so the villain can attempt a reset and thereby get a chance to be the robot’s protectee. Since the writers obviously wanted to milk the melodrama of the shocking tables-have-turned moment when the villain comes out on top, they simply whipped up a bunch of crises, each more absurd than the last, which produce exactly that result. And I thought John Connor was annoying!
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By series' end, you'll want to slap Will Robinson a lot more than John Connor/Eddie Furlong, I can assure you!
The writers also made a halfhearted attempt to circumvent some of the obvious objections their hopelessly contrived story-line might provoke in the minds of viewers. Why don’t their various spacecraft just take off and go back to the mother ship? Apparently the writers had been watching Princess Bride and decided to manufacture a convenient methane-eating critter, seemingly stranding everyone on the planet for good. 
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I.e., "convenient plot device to push us into the next lame crisis"
An alternate source of fuel is found? Don’t worry, the writers find a way to ruin that too, basically by manufacturing a stupid sense of looming crisis via the source’s precarious location plus seismic activity, and then forcing a character to make a one-versus-many decision in the midst of—because why not?—a brand-new threat, steam geysers! Yet another alternative fuel source is located in a later episode? Well, that won’t fill up 45 minutes, so better get some lame-looking bat thingies in there!

The cast is a bit uneven, too. While John and Maureen are well cast and as believable as anything/one else in this amateurish nonsense of a story, others left much to be desired. The villain, partly as a result of casting, was far from intimidating, but more than made up for that shortcoming by being absolutely no fun at all to watch. At times, this villain seemed to start poisonous rumors/hit people in the head just “to watch the world burn”, to quote Alfred, but lacked even the slightest glimmer of the Joker’s manic psychopathy.

But the worst casting choice/performance was definitely Will. In fact, at first, I thought the worst problem with the show was simply the mediocre actor they’d found to play him, because the kid’s performance managed to turn ostensibly the most innocent, likeable character into an infuriating nincompoop with an irritating habit of turning up his chin to look scared, turning up his chin to look brave, turning up his chin and scrunching up his eyes a little to look sad, and so on ad infinitum.
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Look, the kid can also turn his chin up to look surprised/scared!

When the villain gets captured, not only does Will the rapscallion see fit to listen to the villain’s absolutely ridiculous let-me-out ploy, he obligingly frees said villain despite the ploy not even making sense. It can be paraphrased thus: “I know someone who could do that dangerous thing instead of your father, and you really don’t want him to leave you again, do you? Let me out right now (even though your father has literally already left!) and I totally won’t tie you up or anything!” Never have I so thoroughly rooted against the ‘good guy’ in a story before, and I initially blamed it all on the actor. But halfway through, I was forced to reevaluate. It’s the writers who should shoulder the responsibility for this hot mess. Sure, the actor may be unimpressive, but oh, the contrived nonsense they keep writing for him to stumble into—it’s enough to make one scream!

Near the end of the series, Will is in grievous danger with seemingly no hope left, and I suppose the audience was meant to stare helplessly at the screen, desperately wishing for the impossible to happen and for him to be rescued. I hope you, dear reader, won’t think less of me if I admit that I was entirely on the other side, praying fervently that the writers would finally have the courage to kill him off! I trust you won’t consider the series spoiled if I reveal that, to my everlasting sorrow, the annoying Robinson family will be stinking up our TVs with a second season if the cliffhanger ending is any indication. Would that they all hurled themselves off a cliff instead! 
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I was certainly ready to jump by the end...

TL, DR: this series suuuuuuucks. Give it a miss, and go back to the source: Swiss Family Robinson! (The title of the show should never have been Lost in Space, anyway—it should have been Space Family Robinson!)

The Math:

Objective assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +2 for truly breathtaking visual aesthetics in crisp 4K+HDR

Penalties: too many to count, but I’ll try: -1 for Will being such an idiot, -1 for the crisis ex machina nonsense, -1 for absolutely terrible end-focused narrative writing, -1 for reducing Smith (the villain) to a mere poison-tongued rumor starter, etc., etc.

Nerd coefficient: 3/10 “Danger, potential viewer!”

[This score, while abysmal, isn’t quite as low as it might sound, since our scoring method is less bombastic than that of most reviewers; see here for details.]

This message was sent out into the furthest reaches of space by Zhaoyun, reviewer at Nerds of a Feather since 2013 and normally an easy grader for these sorts of projects but a stalwart enemy of sloppy writing any twelve-year-old could easily surpass! Seriously, are any of the writers actually 12?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

This Saturday marks the return of International TableTop Day! I cannot wait for another excuse to play board games all day on Saturday and encourage you all to find out what events are in your area by checking out the official website.  I am looking forward to playing Azul, a clever tile drafting and placing game that has some stunning components. I've only played it a few times and it is quickly becoming one of my go to games. 

Pick of the Week:
Babyteeth #10 - I have enjoyed Babyteeth since the first issue and it is one of my favorite books on my pull-list, but Donny Cates and Garry Brown outdid themselves with this issue. Following the chaotic events of the Coyote's assault on the compound where Sadie and her family were, this issue presented a softer side and reminded me that Sadie is a child herself and cannot fathom how to deal with her child possibly being the Antichrist. In this issue we learn why Sadie is hiding in Palestine and why she is currently without her child. Clark apparently can open up a portal to the red dimension and is currently in that evil place with Sadie's sister. We have officially come full circle and are current with Sadie recording the message for Clark in the first issue. The humorous interlude of the flying demon cat was definitely a highlight in an otherwise extremely emotional issue. I won't spoil the additional details we learn in Palestine, but I can confirm that this series is taking a turn I did not expect and I couldn't be more excited about.

The Rest:
Saga #51 - Another gut wrenching issue that was otherwise filled with some moments of peace and beauty. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' have created an amazing universe filled with some of the most spectacular beings that have graced a comic book page. Saga serves as a reminder that there is good in even the most trying times. We have Prince Robot trying to make right with his family, Marko and Alana trying to provide as normal of a life as possible for their daughter, and even The Will seeking redemption for his mercenary past.  Despite the punch in the gut in this issue, the reader is left hopeful that some of this will be behind us in the near future.

Redneck #12 - Holy hell this issue is full of blood. Being a comic book about vampires it isn't the most shocking revelation, but holy hell that was a lot if blood.  I mean a freaking lot of blood. I am going to have to go back and read this to make some sense of the carnage that I just witnessed. Phil plays one hell of a trump card to force the vampires out of his house the the battle between the FBI and fleeing vampires was a site to behold. Donny Cates sprinkled in a nice surprise and is setting the stage nicely for the next arc. If you haven't read this series yet it would be a great time to pick up the first trade and catch up on the rest of the story.

Darth Vader #15 - Vader really is much more impressive in comic book form. I don't think it would have fit the Star Wars saga to have him mind control a giant squid in order to avoid drowning, yet it feels oddly appropriate given the extent of his power that has been on display in this series. The Mon Cala are putting up one hell of a fight and are taking advantage of their planet's natural defenses, but the Empire is escalating its attack and Vader and the Sixth Brother are en route to the Jedi hidden on the planet's surface. Something tells me there are going to be a lot of dead Mon Cala in the next issue.

A Look Back:
East of West #1 - I do enjoy Jonathan Hickman as a creator, but I need to be in the right state of mind to venture into his creations. Over the weekend I had a friend recommend East of West as it recently was picked up in a television deal. After reading the first couple of issues I understand its appeal. I enjoy a good sci-fi/western and this series centers around the birth of the three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The fourth didn't survive the ritual and it seems to me that entails him remaining in human form for his siblings to track down. The opening plot focuses on an assassination attempt on the president's life. There is a lot to soak in and I am looking forward to learning more about what Hickman has in store for the readers. Fortunately I picked up the trade and look forward to finishing the first arc.

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Microreview [film]: Annihilation by Alex Garland (director)

Questions You Don't Want Answers To

Something happened to Lena's husband. He returned home after a year long mission, but he can't recall how he got home or where he was. After he suffers from a medical ailment and is taken away in an ambulance, the couple are intercepted and taken to a mysterious facility. There Lena learns that her husband was on an expedition to explore Area X, a place where something unnatural is occurring. Lena, a biologist, can't save her husband, but another expedition to Area X is gathering and Lena joins them to find what could be killing him. 

Annihilation starts at the ending. Lena's debriefing a group of people in biohazard suits, alone, and trying to explain what happened to her expedition. From here, the bulk of the film follows her and four other women through Area X with some jumps back to examine her relationship with her husband, and forward to the debriefing. But knowing that Lena makes it to the end is no comfort. 

Annihilation is fascinating from beginning to end. It starts with a handful of mysteries like what happened to Lena's husband, what happened in Area X, who are the people on Lena's expedition and what happened to them. It deftly unravels these mysteries over the course of the film. What happens in Area X is absolutely worth learning on your own, so I won't explain it here, but it's at times beautiful, strange, and extremely unsettling. It's filled with moments where I had dawning realizations that something bad was going to happen and there was nothing I could do but watch. 

But it's not all horrors as it keeps Lena and her relationship with her husband running parallel to the exploration of Area X. While we see where that expedition goes, we also see where Lena's troubled relationship went before her husband left. It nicely pairs with the relationships between the five women on the expedition as they're pushed to their breaking points. 

After the film ended, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It doesn't answer every question, and it shouldn't, but it answers enough to satisfy. Annihilation is a dark, beautiful, twisted walk through the woods, with every twist given a human connection.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 from minute to minute, you'll never know what is coming next. If you do, you don't want it to happen.

Penalties: -1 at one point the title of the film is screamed and it's the only cheesy part of the entire film
Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 (very high quality/standout in its category)

BONUS Novel -> Film Mini-review: As soon as I got home from seeing Annihilation, I immediately bought the novel it was based on (reviewed by The G here). I read it over the course of two sittings because I found it surprisingly short compared to how rich the film is. The novel is very different from the film, and it's a rare instance where the film improves on the source material in significant ways. It's still weird but the film handles the unraveling of relationships and of Area X itself much better. It's so different that one could almost call the film less of a direct translation and more of something inspired by the novel. Perhaps the two other novels in the series make up for it, but I finished the novel less satisfied than I did watching the film.


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

Reference: Garland, Alex (director). Annihilation [Paramount Pictures, 2018]  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SIDE QUESTS: Non-Fiction & History

Here at Ye Olde Fansite(e), the vast majority of what we review and talk about is fiction (sadly, lightsabers still fall into that category). I have a longstanding love non-fiction, particularly history in general. For me, this mostly takes the form of books, because for some reason, I can rarely get into documentaries.

As a confirmed sci-fi geek, I love how history informs our view of the future and what is possible. The patterns which emerge, how powers rise and fall, where conflicts come from, how people behave in various societies — these are fascinating all on their own, but I think it makes our imaginings that much more interesting. It certainly informs my own writing as much as anything.

'History' is obviously a really broad brush to paint with, since, ya know, it describes literally everything which has ever happened. So here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Flags of Our Fathers & Flyboys, by James Bradley: The thing I enjoy most in learning about history are all the little details, the things which get lost. Both of these books are completely fascinating, Flags of our Fathers for doing a deep dive into the people in the most famous photo in history, and Flyboys, well, just read it. Be warned: it's traumatizing.

Isaac Newton, by James Gleick: A deep look at who Newton was as a person, and his motivations. You'll come away from reading this feeling like you really know the man. His other work on chaos (which is a whole other post) and Feynman are equally brilliant.

Rocket Boys aka October Sky, by Homer Hickem: I think the book is also named October Sky now, thanks to the meh movie made out of it. The book, as per usual, is much better and more interesting. Small town group of kids exploring their curiosity and learning everything they can, American 1950's coal town education notwithstanding.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: More people overcoming odds with science (yeahsciencedotgif) There is a theme here, isn't there? The movie is fantastic, but as above, there is so, so much more in the book.

Those are just a few. But if you haven't picked up a non-fiction or history book since school, I highly recommend picking a subject that you love and finding some books or documentaries on it - like baseball? The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Netlix is amazing. Movie buff? There are endless books on movies themselves, directors, actors, etc. Or if you want to learn about making them (or criticizing them!), there are some great YouTube channels out there.

And if you stumble across something fun, please share!

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.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tip of the Hat: Pokemon Go

Occasionally, there's something that comes along that simply reminds you of the joy of fandom. The execution may not be perfect, but it's nevertheless touching, or thought-provoking, or simply fun. "Tip of the Hat" is our occasional series to shine a light on those things when we find them.

I am 38 years old and I am proud to say that I play Pokemon Go on a daily basis. While the initial popularity this game enjoyed early on may have waned, the game has grown and evolved in meaningful ways and has provided my family with a fun activity that we all participate in together. Plus it gets us out of the house and into the beautiful parks that our city has to offer.

Early Days:
When Pokemon Go launched it captured the imagination of millions of Pokemon fans and those who wanted to see what the hype was about. There were issues with servers, distracted walking accidents, and it was nearly impossible to avoid. I didn't plan on downloading the game, but a buddy of mine convinced me to give it a whirl so I created an account for my family and we sided with Team Valor. I didn't fully comprehend how big this game was until a friend invited me to go Pokefarming at a noted Charmander hot spot. We started around 10pm and there were drones of people wandering around in the dark staring at their smart phones. I felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone and a local punk band set up a pop-up show at one of the Pokestops. 

Hitting a Wall:
After playing for a month or so I started to wonder what the point of catching virtual Pokemon was and did it really matter if I won a gym battle. There were rumors of events and legendary Pokemon, but they were only rumors. My interest started to dwindle, but I didn't delete my account or stop playing altogether. It was clear that Niantic needed to deliver on some of its initial promises.

Introducing Raid Bosses:
The first time Pokemon Go really mixed things up, in my opinion, was the addition of raid bosses. Bosses ranged from a measly Magikarp and went all the way up to legendary counters that would typically require at least four trainers. At first I would tackle the occasional solo raid, but I really wanted to try something bigger. When I lucked into finding a good raid, there weren't any players around. I learned that the Pokemon Go community utilized Facebook Groups and Discord channels to organize around the bigger raids. One weekend I gave it a whirl with my son and we were able to take down a couple of legendary Pokemon and had a really enjoyable experience. I finally saw the ability an app like this had to bring a group of people together. 

The Power of Community:
A few months ago Pokemon Go introduced Community Day, a monthly event that features a special Pokemon that will spawn more frequently for a few hours and give players a chance to catch a rare shiny version. For the Bulbasaur Community Day my son and I went to a local wildflower center. We saw some folks from our raiding group, chatted with about 20 other people who were after shiny Pokemon, and enjoyed looking at some flowers. It hit me that a good number of players at the wildflower center probably purchased memberships to take advantage of the gyms and Pokestops housed there. Check out the gallery from the last Pokemon Go Community Day here.  There are dozens of us! 

Research and the Appearance of Mew:
The newest feature brought the addition of research and really changed the way that my family plays the game. Trainers can engage in Field Research, a set of tasks you unlock by spinning Pokestops, or Special Research. You can earn one stamp per day on Field Research and unlock a special prize for completing seven stamps. The first round of Special Research has you helping Professor Willow track down the elusive Mew. You assist him with a series of tasks that become increasingly more difficult and are rewarded with the chance to catch Mew if you make it to the finish line. The story driven element was a lot of fun and my kids are thrilled with our new digital monster. 

I look forward to additional updates that might include the ability to battle other trainers, introduce Pokemon Centers, and whatever else Niantic can come up with. If you gave up on Pokemon Go a while back, you should consider hopping back on the bandwagon. What started as mindless drones wondering around staring at their phones has turned into an actively engaged community who walks around staring at their phones.

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Microreview [book]: Runebinder by Alex R. Kahler

Runebinder offers a dystopia quest story fueled by love, magic, and zombies.

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CW: A vaguely Christian cult uses gay slurs.

One reason I love young adult literature is for the avenues of creativity. Genres are less clearly defined than on the speculative literature shelves, where it seems new genres regularly try to pin down genre-bending books. Runebinder creates a delightful mash-up: zombie horror, young romance, elemental magic, almost Divergent-esque dystopia, Anne Rice style of sexy incubus, with a dash of Harry Potter. If that checks all your boxes, this high-octane book will give you a great weekend read.

Runbinder opens with Tenn learning his elemental water magic is no longer under his control, but instead, is starting to control him. He botches a food-gathering mission when his team is attacked by Howls (essentially zombies created by magic), and though he is prepared to die, his water magic saves him and kills everything instantaneously—unheard of in his world.

Everyone senses this outburst of power—evil and good alike. A special squad of highly trained magic users shows up at his base to stop an impending attack from necromancers coming for Tenn but it’s not just zombies attacking. Two of the Kin show up, the most powerful Howls that look human and have more specialized powers than the lowly zombies. The Dark Lady, an evil goddess that created the dystopia and the first Howl, has sensed Tenn and wants him.

The base is overrun, but he is rescued by Jarrett and the twins Dreya and Devon, the best magic users Chicago has to offer. As Tenn’s power continues to act on its own, he runs off with Jarrett and the twins to find the Witches, a group of pacifist magic users who might be able to train him. Their gods have sensed Tenn as well. While he might not believe or want to be the chosen one, he will have to choose where he ends up, which side he will train and fight with—even though he only wants to stay at Jarrett’s side.

Runebinder moves fast. The pacing pushes characters among different locations and through multiple fight scenes. While the pacing gives the novel a sense of thrilling speed, it does not aid in the complex worldbuilding. Kahler has created a mash-up with some of speculative fiction’s favorite tropes, from zombies to witches, but it’s hard to keep track of all the details. Kahler makes two moves that aid in tracking the story—there’s a clear evil and Tenn’s emotional arc.

Now, I love a good villain, and Kahler provides two creeps in Matthias (a necromancer) and Tomás (a sexy incubus). Both follow Tenn as he flees across the Midwest, and by the end of the book, I was rooting for a final showdown. Overall, Kahler uses the creepiness of magic zombies and desolated landscape to build an effective eeriness and a landscape to enhance the villains.

Another of Kahler’s strengths shows in the character of Tenn. One of the ways that Tenn’s elemental magic acts up is by dragging him into memory. These flashbacks become meshed into the story, allowing for Tenn’s backstory and the world before the first Howl to be fleshed out. Overall, Tenn’s emotional desires become central as his physical need is simple—survival. His emotional life becomes more complex as he relives memories, falls in love with Jarrett, and struggles with the magical sexual attraction created by Tomás the sexy incubus.

While Kahler’s world is complex if not fleshed out enough, Tenn is the true center of the novel and his emotional plane drives the magic and power of Runebinder. At its center, it’s a magic-packed page turner, but with a refreshingly emotional heartbeat. Since this is only book one, there’s plenty of time to explore the world more fully in The Runebinder Chronicles.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for Tenn’s emotional complexity, + 1 for love-to-hate villains

Penalties: -1 too little worldbuilding for so much mash-up

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10, “Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore.” Read more about our scoring system here.

Posted by Phoebe Wagner

Kahler, Alex R. Runebinder [Harlequin Teen, 2017]

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

Here is hoping that everyone attending SDCC was successful in their hotel endeavors. My attempt to help out a friend was a failure, but when you have far more people trying to book rooms than are available it is to be expected. Fortunately I have family that I stay with on my annual trip to San Diego.

Pick of the Week:
Kick-Ass #3 - This is the first issue that feels like the Kick-Ass of old. We are introduced to our first super villain in Violencia, a creep who enjoys going to prison when he feels he has become soft. Once he feels he is himself again he breaks out and rejoins his group. Patience follows up a tip on raiding a money laundering ring, only to find herself face-to-face with Violencia. This is happening as her children as sleeping at home and it doesn't look promising that she will return. Throw in the twist that her brother-in-law is involved with Violencia and things are not looking good. This issue featured some of the over the top violence that came to define it.  I am currently very afraid for Patience and will remain on the edge of my seat until issue #4.

The Rest:
Daredevil #601 - The city is under seige from a group of ninjas being controlled by a demon known as The Beast. Fortunately for Daredevil, a pair of ninjas attempt to kill him when he is locked in the paddy wagon and end up setting him free. Due to the fact that Kingpin is undergoing life saving surgery, Matt Murdock is acting Mayor.  His first act as mayor is to free the superheros who were just jailed and next issue we will enjoy the team of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-man, Iron Fist, Moon Knight, Jessical Jones and Misty Knight. The next issue is going to be a lot of fun.

Star Wars Adventures #9 - While it would have been nice to start a bigger story in this issue, we get two cute stories featuring R2D2 and C3PO and a nice look at IG-88 rounding up some bounties. Of course this is all handled in a family friendly way and remains a book I highly recommend to Star Wars fans of all ages. This series shines in the stories that go beyond one issue, but still manages to provide bite size nuggets that will hold the attention span of your youngest fan.

Infinity Countdown #2 - The quest for the infinity stones pick up some steam as Drax and the pregnant Eve Bakian get some assistance from the Guardians of the Galaxy. To complicate matters, Galactus pays a visit and Bakian does give birth to a healthy baby girl during the battle. While that was an interesting development, the arrival of Adam Warlock to the story and what follows is what will drive the conversation between this issue and the next. I won't spoil the end of this issue, but it actually has me feeling excited about this Marvel event. I should note that I often fall for the gimmicks in these events to ultimately be disappointed at its conclusion. Hopefully with Gerry Duggan writing the main story it will deliver.

A look back:
The Sixth Gun #1 - When I reflect on the impact that this series has had on bringing me back into the world of comic books I can't help but feel nostalgic. Cullen Bunn does a phenomenal job introducing the reader to the mystical world he created with Brian Hurt in the opening few pages. We learn about a mysterious group called the Pinkerton Detective Agency, witness the horrifying Gallows Tree, and learn about a powerful weapon known as the Sixth Gun. Taking place following the Civil War, this Western is an absolute delight that only got better as the series progressed. It had me on edge throughout and is well worth reading through all 50 issues.

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

New Contributors Wanted: 2018

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is looking for 1-2 awesome individuals to join our team of regular contributors! 

Duties: posting approximately once every other week, though the exact number will fluctuate. We would like one contributor to focus on reviewing new science fiction and fantasy novels and the other to focus on short SF/F. Both contributors are also free to write about cult films, TV, comics, video games or related commentary on geek culture. Candidates must be willing to engage with our readers on twitter and other social media platforms. 

Benefits: free books and the potential for other free stuff, as well as joining a dynamic team of enthusiastic nerd bloggers at this here little Hugo-nominated fanzine.

Who we’re looking for: we are looking for people who (a) write well and don't need extensive copyediting, (b) appreciate our brand of humor, (c) understand and are ready to abide by our established format and scoring system and (d) are otherwise good fits with our voice and style. We are not, however, looking for automatons who agree with the rest of us on anything and everything.

We would also like to note that one of our goals is to feature a diverse range of voices on the topics that matter to us. As such, we encourage writers of all backgrounds to apply.  

Caveat: we know lots of you have awesome projects you want everyone to know about, but since these are regular contributor positions, we would like to emphasize that this would not be an appropriate forum to use for promoting that awesomeness (aside from your blogging awesomeness, of course).  

Process: send an email to nerdsfeather dot the g at gmail dot com telling us what you are interested in doing and why you'd like to join our team. Please also send a writing sample, which can be either embedded into the body of the email or links to published work. We will try to respond to everyone as quickly as possible. 

We look forward to hearing from you!


NoaF Team