Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

As we race towards summer some of my fellow Nerds of a Feather crew are going to share their summer reading lists with everyone. Unfortunately I have been too busy to write a detailed post, but here are some comics I am looking forward to reading this summer. Joe Hill is returning to his series The Cape with The Cape: Fallen. The first two series about the infamous cape are gut wrenching and I cannot wait to read a new series and see who gets killed. Other books I am planning on reading this summer include Lumberjanes, Mouse Guard, and a re-read of Bone.  After the brutality that I am preparing for in The Cape, I definitely will be in need of some lighter books.

Pick of the Week:
Saga #52 - The  cover of this issue is going to be my theme for the summer and Fiona Staples might be the best artist in this industry. Hazel really hits it out of the park when she says "my father used to say that there's no such things as 'heroes' or 'villains', that they only exist in storybooks."  The complicated and flawed characters that Brian K. Vaughan created really reward the reader as you go along the journey with them. The Will is still haunting the island and Squire has gone missing. This leads to a search as we see some of the most amazing creatures ever put to page. While I have always been a fan of Staples' art, it truly shines in this issue and steals the show from a very dramatic issue that has me salivating for the next few.

The Rest:
We are Danger #1 - Written and illustrated by Fabian Lelay, this title is all about rock and roll and gave me a very Scott Pilgrim vibe. Not from a video game reference standpoint, but from the standpoint of a focus on human relationships among competing bands. Tabitha breaks from her hit band in this first issue and starts putting together a new group with Julie and some other local talent. Featuring a cast of strong female characters and a song written in Filipino, this comic is a breath of fresh air and was a lot of fun.

Lando: Double of Nothing #1 - Like Dean, I was also pleasantly surprised with Solo and was excited to learn that there was a spin-off focused on Lando. Artist Paolo Villanelli does an amazing job capturing the facial expressions of Donald Glover's portrayal of Lando and writer Rodney Barnes captures the feel of the banter between Lando and L3 to truly immerse you in this universe. While the first issue doesn't set the stage for anything too spectacular, it was enjoyable and well executed and is a must read for anyone that enjoyed Solo.

Royal City #11 - Jeff Lemire announced that this series will end with issue #14 and it seems like he is well on pace to provide a satisfactory conclusion to this emotional series. Each issue reveals a little bit more about the mystery surrounding Tommy's death and the rift between the various family members who are tangled up in this situation. Relying on seamless flashbacks laced throughout the issue, Lemire does a great job of leading us to two separate climaxes that have more linked than first expected. It is hard to imagine this series started out with a struggling author revisiting his hometown when his father was admitted to the hospital. We have learned more about the family and the town and I am excited, and a bit worried, about what is planned for the end.

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: The Things we Carry

Welcome back to Westworld Wednesday, a series of essays/ramblings about the themes & philosophies of Westworld. NOTE: while we deal more with themes here, rather than plot, the emphasis is not on what happened this week; HOWEVER, if you are reading this and wish to avoid spoilers, you should be current on the show.
Delores remembers, and her interview takes a different turn.

If you asked someone what makes them them, or I asked you what makes you you, a fairly common response is likely to be 'memories'. From an early age, our memories shape a lot of who we are, our identities, what makes us tick.

What if those memories mean nothing?

In one (extremely nihilistic) manner, that's the case. After we're gone, so are whatever memories we have. Whatever is waiting on the other side, the stuff on this side of the great beyond ceases to be. That pill is tough enough to swallow- but what if your memories were a lie?

Westworld explores both ends of this spectrum, and a whole bunch in between. What about the emotions we attach to them? Are they real? Maeve is on a whole quest because of a memory of a daughter who has a memory of a mother who is Not Maeve. Maeve is accompanied by a outlaw who has a memory of a person he loved, but doesn't, technically, exist, so him and Maeve fall in love, which is just an emotion and makes as much sense as holding hands. Which is to say, none at all. Her Shogun-World counterpart, meanwhile, takes a page from Mary Shelly's real-life playbook, and carries her pseudo-daughter's heart around with her, delivering it to a final resting place at her home.

But those are made-up, silly things, narratives written by a simpering idiot because of his own lost love, so they're not real, right? But all our emotions are just chemical reactions, so are they really so different?

Teddy, meanwhile, has his emotional responses straight-up rewritten by Delores to better serve her purpose, and in a snap, gone is kind, compassionate Teddy, and in walks cold, calculating Teddy, who casually tosses a doomed man a pistol and single bullet, advising him to use it quickly. It seems he still has his memories, knowing full well what Delores did to him, but they mean nothing to him now - he's a changed man. Not is the way we may say it, where a traumatic event - which becomes a memory - may change us, but with the push of a button, he is literally a new person. 

But what of humanity? 'Phase Space' closes with a familiar face, one that you knew had to show up again, but what about his memories? What makes him him? Because everything that processed those memories organically was repurposed as impromptu gala decoration at the end of season one. Meanwhile, Bernard, he of the infinitely troubled memories, what with the dead son and manipulation by Ford, including the murder of his lover and imprisonment of his coworker, is recycled Arnold, along with many of those memories. But they aren't his, so whose are they?

It's a funny thing, this age we live in, where these are the questions we ask - are our memories real? What truly belongs to us? Who, in fact, are we? - perhaps they were asked before our age, but this is the first time we have to consider the implications of the answers. What's scary about Westworld, Terminator, etc, is not that they are far-fetched, but that they are close to home.

And what's closer than our memories? If what makes us isn't ours, who are we?


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. 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. 

Reading the Hugos: Novel

Welcome to the first article in our Reading the Hugos series, 2018 Edition! Hugo Awards season is one of my favorite times of the literary year, though it does ultimately run almost as long as the major league baseball season - neither of which is a complaint.

Today we are going to take a look at the six finalists for Best Novel. Only one of the novels, The Stone Sky, was on my nominating ballot. If you've at all followed the Hugo Awards over the last two years, you'll know the first two novels of N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy won the award for Best Novel (The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate). Both books were spectacular and the awards were well earned. Two in a row put Jemisin in rarified company, but a third Hugo in a row for Jemisin would cement her legacy as the most important fantasist working today. I may be spoiling this article, but she is. The Broken Earth as a whole is that good and The Stone Sky as an individual novel is that good.

Let's take a look at the finalists, shall we?

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Provenance: This is a novel which took a while to settle out from under the weight of unfair expectations that I placed on it. Once it did, I was able to engage more fully with Leckie's story of truth, lies, and cultural identity. Provenance is a strong novel in its own right, and in the end, I appreciated Leckie's light touch in how she connected it to the larger Ancillary universe.

It's just that when we look back on Leckie's career in twenty years, I suspect Provenance will be viewed as minor Leckie. It's good, please don't take this the wrong way, but the Ancillary trilogy was a major accomplishment and Provenance is "just" a very good book. I appreciated how Provenance pushed me to think about historical documents and relics, how their perception of importance could override the truth they should represent. There's great stuff to chew on here. (my review)

The Collapsing Empire: From my nanoreview: "As often happens when reading a new John Scalzi novel, I didn't want to put this down. Filled with wit, warmth, humor, fantastic characters, and Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue, The Collapsing Empire is a treat and a delight to read."

I read The Collapsing Empire just before flying out for a week's vacation that I didn't want to take a hardcover book on. I only had a couple of chapters remaining, so I asked my wife to drive to the airport so I could finish the book before we left. I didn't want to miss a thing and I absolutely didn't want to wait a week to see how Scalzi wrapped it up. Unsurprisingly for the first book in a series, The Collapsing Empire ended in a bit of a cliff hanger. It felt a touch more incomplete than the average series opener, but Scalzi's fiction is just a pure delight to read and The Collapsing Empire is no different.

New York 2140:  It's interesting to contrast New York 2140 with The Collapsing Empire. They are completely different novels without much in common at all. The Collapsing Empire is a fast paced far future science fiction space opera. New York 2140 is set in our immediate future with a world dealing with predicted and disregarded sea rise (until it was too late and every coastal city was underwater.) It's a novel tightly focused on a specific place and the realistic and perhaps prescient response to climate change and rising seas. Scalzi's novel is driving plot. Robinson's is glorious death by all of the details, where even the info dumping becomes a character (and one of the most effective and borderline DeLillo-esque). The point here isn't that one novel or technique is inherently superior to the other, but rather that the Hugo Awards pushes the reader to think about novels in relation to each other. That's where those interesting points of comparison and contrast pop up

Where Robinson also differs from other climate disaster novels (see Stephen Baxter's excellent 2008 novel, Flood, for another point of contrast) is that he is less interested in the big flashy response and solution and dials in on how people would survive and thrive in such an environment. We may often picture cities abandoned, but more than likely Robinson's vision how the new intertidal zones of a city may be reclaimed and resettled is how things would actually play out.

There is perhaps half of a plot in New York 2140. The novel is more of a slice of life, writ large and spread across a handful of disparate viewpoint characters. It's effective, but takes more of a commitment and patience to wait for Robinson to begin to pull them together. When those threads do come together, they do coalesce into something bigger and more impressive than the first chapters might have suggested. Not having read most of his work, I can't say if New York 2140 is Major KSR or Minor KSR, but it is ultimately a novel with heft and importance.

Six Wakes: A locked room murder mystery featuring clones, in space. Six Wakes offers a fresh take on all of that. The crew of a ship is murdered, all six of their clones wake up missing memories. One of them is the murderer. It's one hell of a concept for a novel and Lafferty absolutely crushes it. Shana loved Six Wakes and I share her admiration for the novel.

Raven Strategem: I've read that Raven Strategem is more accessible to readers than Ninefox Gambit and that Yoon Ha Lee doesn't engage in the same sort of info dumping that he engaged in with the his first novel. I'm not so sure, though I don't have a passage to quote to elaborate. I think that it is more that we, the readers, are more fully accustomed to the work that Yoon is doing here.

Raven Strategem is as straight up of an interstellar war novel as we are likely to get from Yoon Ha Lee, which is to say that there are plots within plots and mathematical digression and a tightly constructed narrative that thrills at all moments. Raven Strategem is smart science fiction, examining warfare itself and questioning the assumptions behind systems of government. It's damn good, people.

The Stone Sky:The Stone Sky is the culmination of the best and the greatest fantasy trilogy written today and I still think I might have been understating the case when I reviewed the novel last year. Forget, if you can, the two previous Hugo Award wins for The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate. If you can do that, you still have to deal with the weight of the raw excellence of those two novels. Jemisin has set a standard and a level of expectation that is nearly impossible to meet, let alone surpass.

And yet.

Jemisin has set an impossible standard for herself, but her control in telling one unified story shows off the skill of an author at the height of her powers. The Stone Sky more than lives up to the promise and standard of those first two Broken Earth novels. The Stone Sky caps off a stunning epic fantasy trilogy. The Broken Earth is a monumental achievement in fantasy fiction and as good as the first two books were, it is because of the stunning accomplishment and achievement of The Stone Sky as a novel. It truly is in a class alone. Forget for a moment the opportunity to make history here for N. K. Jemisin to win three consecutive Hugo Awards for Best Novel. The Stone Sky flat out deserves to win the Hugo Award on its own merits. (my review)

My Vote:
1. The Stone Sky
2. Raven Strategem
3. Six Wakes
4. New York 2140
5. The Collapsing Empire
6. Provenance

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Smugglers! Villains! Moral ambiguity! Colons!

Han Solo. Smuggler. Scoundrel. Hero. Rogue. You know him; odds are you love him. If you don't, you... probably have never watched Star Wars. Harrison Ford's portrayal of the character that is, arguably, the heartbeat of the franchise is incomparable and nearly unparalleled.

Which raises the question of why this movie exists.

I'll be honest with you: I don't know. I mean, I do know, and that is because Disney bought Star Wars for FOUR BILLION dollars, which sounds like a lot of money until you realize it is A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY, and Solo is a bankable name, so here we are.

For those reasons, among several others, my expectations for this movie were... I had a whole metaphor here, involving corpses and actions generally deemed unfit for polite society, and this is nothing if not a classy establishment, so I'm going with the "so low" pun. I expected absolutely nothing.

The good news: it doesn't suck! I mean, there's some forgettable stuff, and Han Solo isn't, like, Han Solo, but if you're willing to watch it for the sake of itself and not expect Harrison Ford, it's fine. It tries a little too hard for quips, and his against-odds/I-don't-actually-have-a-plan moments come across a little forced, but, again, we're measuring this against complete disaster, so I'll take it.

What is apropos, however, is the fact that Han is/was a supporting character, and it's the supporting characters that steal the show here. The hilarious droid that is apparently now the staple of Star Wars movies is there, Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton are predictably fantastic, but let's talk about Donald Glover. My god. He is a very recognizable actor, in a very recognizable role, and he straight up disappears. He drips with charm and oozes charisma, and may be the best casting since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. I literally don't have enough to say about how great he was.

Other things I liked: not killing the girl off, the cameo was earned if you watched Clone Wars/Rebels, although if not, it may have been lost on you. (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT) when the inevitable betrayal happens, set up by a line that was in the trailer, it pays off via other lines, and also feels earned, instead of formulaic and boring.

Overall, was it a great movie? Probably not. But it was fun, tense (in spite of the fact that you knew who was never in mortal peril), clever and entertaining. Overall, a decent addition to the Star Wars universe.

PS to griping fanboys- Did you watch the prequels? The HOLIDAY SPECIALS? For crying out loud, EVERYTHING we have now is solid gold. Get over yourselves and the fact that girls are in movies now and enjoy things for what they are, or get the hell out of my fandom.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 6/10


+1 for overachieving (should this actually be a bonus? I mean, overachieving is already just that. I'M CONFLICTED)

+1 for Donald Glover. LANDO MOVIE NOW PLS


-1 for (I forgot to mention this earlier) not picking what it wanted to be. Gangster movie? Smuggler movie? Action movie? I feel like it would have been better with a more solid heading.

Overall: 7/10: an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws - yeah, that feels right


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. 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. 

Microreview [book]: Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Despite its flaws, this is still a satisfying close to an unusual and exciting trilogy.

She’s a sharp, plucky, well-connected prodigy. He’s a hot, edgy outsider with a heart of gold. Together, they have chemistry, but their own history is keeping them apart. Will they end up together at the end of the book, and, on a related note, can they stop the constant stream of mass murdering invasions, spaceship malfunctions, alien horrors, terrible AI decisions and reality-destroying spatial anomalies which threaten the survival of everyone they know? The Illuminae Files – of which Obsidio is the third and final volume – delivers a highly satisfying response to these questions, blending teen romance with a tense, fast paced narrative that doesn’t let up until the very end.

The conceit of the Illuminae Files is the documentation of a corporate war in a remote corner of space by the mysterious “Illuminae Group”, which has collected everything from chat logs to ship specifications to images of company noticeboard in order to put together the story of BeiTech’s invasion of Kerenza Colony. Three spaceships of refugees flee Kerenza in Illuminae, heading for the Heimdall jump gate which represents their best chance of escape. A mysterious neurological plague and the increasingly unpredictable actions of the onboard AI turn that journey into a tense bloodbath, which can only be halted if Kady and Ezra get over (i.e. reverse) their recent breakup and use their teen prodigy skills to save the day. In Gemina, we discover Heimdall is having problems of its own, and its up to captain’s daughter Hanna, her drug dealer Nik, and his disabled hacker cousin Ella to save the day before Hypatia’s arrival. Death, destruction, double-crossings and formulaic but compelling heterosexual romance ensues.

(Note: minor spoilers for the first two books follow)

Obsidio introduces yet another two teen heroes: Asha Grant, a survivor of BeiTech’s invasion who now works in the colony’s clinic while secretly working for the resistance; and Rhys Lindstrom, a BeiTech electronics specialist who has been newly sent to support the ground fleet and is (of course!) Asha’s ex-boyfriend from her pre-Kerenza days. Unlike the heroes of the first two books, Asha and Rhys have to share their entire narrative with scenes from the Mao, the ship carrying the survivors from the refugee fleet and representatives from Heimdall back to their absolute last hope on Kerenza. Mao's crew are struggling with their chain of command and the technological strain of transporting thousands of people the ship wasn’t designed for, and the ship is also home to our returning heroes from the first two books, who are key players in the events that follow. 

Whether by accident or design, events on the Mao end up completely overshadowing the storyline on Kerenza, and Asha and Rhys are by far the least interesting leads; if you don’t care about their rekindling romance (which I didn’t), the Kerenza scenes serve little purpose beyond adding a deadline to Mao’s return and reinforcing BeiTech’s brutality still further. I suspect Kaufman and Kristoff could have completely redrafted this book to focus solely on the Mao with minimal impact on the overall plot, and it feels contrived to have yet another pair of heterosexual teenagers rehash a very similar dynamic to Kady and Ezra's in Illuminae. Romance is an integral part of this trilogy, but Asha and Rhys took the formula a step too far.

On the other hand, the returning heroes continue to be great fun. I would describe the Illuminae Files as YA competence porn, where realism matters less than wish fulfilment, and the characters are precocious, wisecracking archetypes. The neo-epistolary format is highly effective at conveying this: we go from characters effortlessly riffing off each other’s’ jokes in chat to reading transcribed security camera footage of them crawling through air ducts and saving the day, interspersed with frantic e-mails from adults wondering what to do about the hyper-competent, charismatic meddling kids screwing up their plans. The visuals get particularly interesting in sequences narrated by AIDAN, the aforementioned insane AI of the first book, whose text is presented in white-on-black pages with formatting that occasionally shifts into swirls and spirals representing the movement of the spaceships and characters he is describing. 

AIDAN gets a fair bit of screentime again in Obsidio, with much of it alongside my favourite character, initially introduced in Gemina: Ella Malikova, daughter of Russian gangsters, unstoppable hacker and the sharpest wit on Mao. It is unfortunate that Ella – who is disabled following a childhood illness – is the only main character to have no love interest or romantic subplot. Although I didn’t personally miss it, it sends a poor message in a series where romance is otherwise so prominent that the only disabled character is also the only character where the authors chose not to explore that aspect. Even AIDAN falls in love...

Perhaps because its scope is wider than the first two volumes, I found Obsidio less effective at building tension and selling me on some of the plot’s big twists, especially towards the end where fake-outs in a few of the sub-plots end up diffusing the tension in rather anticlimactic ways. While all three books have occasionally pulled their punches to give their heroes a fighting chance against overwhelming odds, these moments felt more frustrating in Obsidio; perhaps because the twist in Gemina was so left field and inventive that the rather more mundane deux ex machinae here feel more like cop-outs, especially when compared to the even more fatalistic tone and scale this book is trying to develop.

It's always a bit sad when a closing volume doesn't reach the heights of its predecessors. We want our finales to represent the absolute best of a series, and several aspects of Obsidio - not least its lacklustre new characters - fall short in that regard. Despite its flaws, however, this is still a satisfying close to an unusual and exciting trilogy, and it certainly doesn't prevent me from recommending the series as a whole.

The Math

Base: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 My inner teenager wishes I were this cool, +1 all AIs should speak in spirals from now on.

Penalties: -1 Uninspiring new characters who add nothing to the overall plot.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "A mostly enjoyable experience"

POSTED BY: Adri is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian style karaoke.

Reference: Kaufman, Amie and Jay Kristoff, Obsidio [Rock the Boat, 2018]


Friday, May 25, 2018

This Is Not a Review of Deadpool 2

This is not a review of Deadpool 2. Let's call it a rant.


--after reading Caspar Salmon 

This is not a review. Within the first few minutes of Deadpool 2, Vanessa played by the wonderful Morena Baccarin is killed after a happy moment where Wade and Vanessa have decided to make a baby.

My friend, also a woman, turned to me and suggest we just walk out and get a drink instead.
I should have listened to her.

This is not a review of Deadpool 2. There’s plenty to like about this film. Domino is a great addition to the Marvel universe, played by Zazie Beetz, who brought a new energy and vibe to the X-Men, and I hope will become a permanent part of the franchise. Negasonic Teenage Warhead played by Brianna Hildebrand is back with her girlfriend Yukio played by Shioli Kutsuna.

But all these characters serve Deadpool’s ultimate drive, which is about family, offspring, and his dead girlfriend. On top of that freakin’ Cable is trying to kill a kid because of his dead wife and daughter.

If you’ve seen the movie, then you are probably thinking, but it all gets fixed in the end! Time travel!
Nope, doesn’t matter. For a movie that takes some of the meta-fiction Deadpool moments to talk to the audience about lazy writing, Wade’s motivator is trite, tired, and harmful. Why do movies keep killing women as motivation for the guys?

I wasn’t going to write this little rant, and I know I’m just screaming into the void, but after what seemed like successes in the Marvel universe from Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok and Ryan Coogler's Black PantherAvengers: Infinity Wars punched down (read Brandon O’Brien’s write up here), and I just wanted Deadpool 2 to be less lazy. As Caspar Salmon writes about the violence enacted against women in film: “I don’t want to watch any more films in which all the female characters are killed. Imagine you’re looking at a blank page, which is the beginning of your screenplay, the beginning of everybody’s screenplay. You can write anything here, whatever you want. You roll your sleeves up, give a Carrie Bradshaw look into the middle distance, which is where you find all your best ideas, and begin writing. Your film, which is to be staged by a crew, voiced by actors and recorded on film for the purposes of being seen in the world: what will it be? You can write a film that requires the dead bodies of women to be arranged in comical poses, as an arch metaphor for your own tyranny — or you can write something else. You choose.”

Other people have given more nuanced arguments about fridging (let's go all the way back to Feminist Frequency). I'm just the gif of the guy holding the large clock and yelling.  

If I could slide through time like Cable, I would have slid right on out of that theater and gotten a drink with my friend instead.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

ComiXology has a big announcement planned for June 1 and it is likely related to a new original comic or comics. It has been dubbed as epic and includes some prominent artists and authors. I am very curious what this announcement entails and will tune in via Twitch as it is the platform they are utilizing. Rumor is it might be related to Fortnite, but it is only a rumor.

Pick of the Week:
Star Wars #48 - This arc has taught me more about the Mon Cala and given me a lot more respect for the great Admiral Ackbar and his people. The wild plan that Leia concocted finally fell apart. The king is dying and the impostor they sent to the senate had his identity blown when we learned that the Empire had already infiltrated a good portion of the Mon Cala. In a desperate attempt to salvage the mission Leia gets a recording of the king moments before he dies that should inspire the Mon Cala to join the rebellion, but the fight against the Empire is never easy. This arc has been a high point in the series and a reminder that there are so many good stories to tell in this universe.

The Rest:
Hit Girl #4 - Mark Millar delivers on the ultra-violence that has been oddly lacking in Kick-Ass, but the visual style is not my scene and I don't feel a connection to any of the characters yet. It isn't that this is a bad book by any means, it just doesn't appeal to me and I planned on dropping it until I learned that Hit Girl is venture to Canada. Joining her in Canada is Jeff Lemire and I can't wait to see what he has planned for this series.

Doctor Aphra #20 - This series took a very interesting turn as we learn about the life in prison Aphra is leading. I have really enjoyed the elaborate space prisons, and the facility Aphra is in is a group of broken space ships that are held together and towed through space. The ship that tows the floating prison uses the prisoners as mercenaries and if they fall too far behind their droid captains they explode. In this issue she starts to set the scene for her eventual escape, and it will be interesting to see how she manages that. It apparently pays to have droid connections.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: Gods & Monsters

Welcome back to Westworld Wednesday, a series of essays/ramblings about the themes & philosophies of Westworld. NOTE: while we deal more with themes here, rather than plot, the emphasis is not on what happened this week; HOWEVER, if you are reading this and wish to avoid spoilers, you should be current on the show.

Death's decisions are final

the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment - John 5:28, 29

Death and taxes, it is said, are the only two certainties in life. No one is a particular fan of either, so far as I have been able to determine. Taxes themselves don't come up much in Westworld; death, on the other hand, is basically a constant, and its decisions, final.

William would know that as well as anyone, having lost everyone close to him. It does raise the question of who, exactly, was close to him in the first place. His wife, perhaps at one point. Everyone else we see him interact with - everyone human, that is - is there to use him, or be used by him.

Even if they are dead. Or supposed to be, as James Delos is. While he possess all the signs of life, lives, breathes, speaks, jacks off, which I don't know why that counts as a point of clarification, but it was in the show, so here we are. William enters the dwelling of his creation, bottle in hand - and offering to cheat the devil - and a smile on his face, no thunder and lightning, no arms raised in defiance of our own erstwhile creator, yelling "give my creation LIFE".

One has to wonder is zombie-Delos knew the being he was trying to cheat was the one who brought him the bottle.

Victor Frankenstein played in the domain of God, and while he was punished in his way, he never quite learned a lesson. William bankrolled others to do the same, and their lessons are... forthcoming? Perhaps? Ford certainly paid for his sins, if sins they indeed are, as did Arnold. Both received a perverse resurrection; Arnold lives on-ish in Bernard, Ford through his young host and, presumably, in the same manner as zombie-Delos (although we have to assume he solved the problem William couldn't - fidelity).

But punishments aren't lessons, and William is a man who has learned his, and doesn't care. In his first visit to Lawrence's home, he murders everyone in sight. In his return, he saves them. He lost his own wife, and while many are quick to point to his quote/unquote good actions as a return to his original white-hatted self, I'm inclined to believe it never actually left. He played a game, a game that was above him, with rules he thought he understood, but had no clue about. He thought he did what people were supposed to do - climbed the corporate ladder, met a nice girl, settled down. 

But then the rules were explained to him, in the middle of another game that he didn't understand at all. The rules were ruthless and cutthroat and meant stomping on those that got in your way - and yourself, if that got in the way. He figured out both games simultaneously, pushing himself down and strangling the voice inside to become the visage of death in both worlds.

But death isn't a living thing, no matter how many lives he directly or indirectly takes, or how many times he brings James Delos back to the brink of life, before snuffing its imperfect form out yet again.

But there is one life he has yet to take, one that means far more to him than he is willing to admit, possibly even to himself. One that no doubt sees him for everything he is, for the pain he has caused in two worlds, and one who follows in his footsteps.

His resurrection will tax him to his limit, and perhaps, mercifully, the toll will be less than his forebears. 


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. 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. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Fireside Chat: Amanda Rose Smith of Serial Box

One of our contributors, Shana, is also the social media manager for Serial Box, a company that creates and distributes serialized audio fiction. Think audiobooks with extra bells and whistles. Shana put me in touch with Amanda Rose Smith (@LadySoundSmith on Twitter), who is the audio producer and composer for most of Serial Box's output, including the new fantasy series Born to the Blade. This series has an impressive pedigree, and boasts a writing team of Michael R. Underwood, Marie Brennan, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw. Amanda is an audio pro with literally hundreds of audiobook credits under her belt, and production and composition credits for a number of other projects across many different media. We spoke through the interwebs to discuss some of the ways this type of audio production overlaps and differs from other kinds of production work. — Vance K

VK: Could you give a quick overview of your involvement with Serial Box? I know you composed the Born to the Blade theme, but does it go beyond that?

ARS: Yes, I'm actually the audio producer for just about all the series. So that means I cast (with their final approval) and coordinate the recording and post production. I do all the sound design and themes as well. There are a couple series I didn't do, such as The Witch Who Came in From the Cold and Belgravia, but that's it.

VK: Gotcha. I listened to Born to the Blade Episode 1, and it wasn't exactly what I expected. I don't know why, but the notion of "serialized audio fiction" made me think of old radio shows, with full casts, etc. This was more like an audiobook with sound effects. Is that an accurate description? And for context, I loooove audiobooks.

ARS: Sort of! In the audio world, those old audio dramas are kind of antiquated and I didn't really want to harken back to an older form as much as work towards a newer one. Serial Box calls itself the HBO of reading, and I was thinking of it more as a hybrid between a television series and a book. So my [audio] effects are meant less to give sound to every little thing that might make sound, and more to just subtly make the listening experience a bit more immersive than it would be in a straight audiobook.

VK: Do some of the series feature a full-cast production, or are they exclusively a single narrator?

ARS: Some of them are multicast! Tremontaine has 3 narrators. It's still not like a radio play though, because they tend to narrate different sections from the point of view of different characters, less than speaking directly to each other.

VK: I want to circle back to the "audiobook with sound effects" thing later, but since you mentioned multiple narrators, that leads me to something else. When you're dealing with something that's hours long, are your narrators there with you in-studio, or do they all record separately and then send in the audio? The last time I did a lot of voice over recording, I insisted on bringing them in because — I know many performers have home studios — but I was too nervous as a producer to cede control of the read to someone I hadn't worked with before. What's your approach?

ARS: I do both in different situations. Sometimes I also direct via Skype. If someone is going to record at home, I often do that for the first episode, but we also do comprehensive listen downs and rounds of corrections. So if someone does record at home, self-directed, we make changes as needed if something feels off.

VK: What is that "listen down" like? How many people are involved?

ARS: It varies. Sometimes its just me. Oftentimes, the series producers listen before a piece airs as well. And, depending on the project, I sometimes enlist proofers to listen and note any mistakes. Every episode gets listened to at least twice before airing, which is really important for quality, I think.

VK: How meticulous can you afford to be in line readings and nuances of performance? My work with narration and voice over has extended only to projects that are less than an hour in length, but I'll drill down on almost any single line that isn't as good as I feel it can be. But when you expand out to novel/series-length work, I assume there have to be "we can live with it" moments.

ARS: It does happen sometimes. And certain things are also subjective. It's not always a matter of it being wrong, but of different interpretations. When it comes to straight errors, I'm pretty serious about that, but all the actors we work with are truly fantastic and sometimes their interpretation is something I might not have thought of, but it's still great.

VK: Yeah, that happens a lot. This isn't any kind of revelation, but I feel like the longer the project, the more crucial that trust in the person you've cast becomes. If I'm doing something very brief, I feel like I've got a bag of tricks that can get almost anybody through to a workable final product. But that only holds for so long. What is your casting process, then? Do performers read small samples, do you work off of recommendations, etc?

ARS: I've been working in the audiobook world for about 10 years, so I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of actor contacts. So I draw on them a lot. Generally I get a lot of auditions, pare it down to a few people I think are all great, and then make the final decision from those people with the producers of the series. But trust is SO key. Like, for me, following audition instructions is really important. If you don't do that, how can I trust you to take care of the project?

VK: Right. Circling back, I'm curious what the decision-making process is for how to structure your approach to sound design on a project like Born to the Blade. The canvas seems so vast, you could do an entire start-to-finish sound mix, but instead you pick your spots. What helps govern your approach when the options seem endless?

ARS: Well, obviously time is a factor, as much as I wish it weren't. But it's also an aesthetic choice — for me, it's about supporting the actor's performance, enhancing it, but not competing with it. It's not like a visual medium, where you can design around the dialogue. The whole thing is dialogue. So you have to consider that with the effects, to make sure you aren't covering the performance up. All the information about the story is coming primarily from their words.

VK: Do you have any insight into what's driving the push into serialized fiction at the moment? A couple of years ago John Scalzi started releasing The Human Division as a serial, which harkens back to old...I mean, Dickensian...publishing models, but now the trend seems to have caught on. Is it the influence of podcasting? Something else?

ARS: I think podcasting has a lot to do with it...people are doing a lot of multi-tasking, and I think that these episodes are great for commuting, or doing things around the house. It can be nice to have a bite-sized story rather than a full novel, and also following along with something as its being released, weekly, or monthly, or what have you.

VK: Before moving on, I have to ask — there are people who physically make books who can't stand to read them, there are grips who make movies who can't stand to watch them, etc. — do you get to enjoy podcasts and audiobooks yourself, or does being in the trenches make you want to keep them at arms' length, as a consumer?

ARS: It can be hard. I'm not sure if it's that I want to keep them at arm's length in general, or just that since I spend so much time listening to them that it can be nice to get away. I have about 1000 books under my belt in general, including Serial Box and my other work, I probably end up working on around 75-100 books a year so I don't always want to hear more in my free time, especially since it can be hard not to listen with a work-critical ear. BUT that said, I also really, really enjoy listening to the ones I work on, and sometimes have to re-listen to passages because I was into the story and not paying close-enough attention to the accuracy or what have you. So I really do enjoy listening to them, and I think if for some reason I weren't working on so many I would listen a lot.

VK: That's always a nice feeling. Getting lost in something you helped bring into being.

ARS: Totally!!! I had the Born to the Blade theme stuck in my head for two days, and was really proud of that.

VK: Can we talk about your music? Music started my journey into the arts, and into my career. I started off in a band, we decided to make a music video, made album art, etc., and that got me hired to do graphics, and then video work, etc...So I'm always interested in other artists' journeys. How did your creative/music endeavors intersect with a career in audio production?

ARS: Well, I started off as a classical composition major, specifically interested in film music, and I started engineering originally to record my own music. And then found that I loved that, too. Interestingly enough, my work study was with the office of disability services recording textbooks onto tape for blind and dyslexic students with one of those old little dictation recorders. I'd get their weekly assignments and then read them aloud.

VK: The tools have changed a little bit.

ARS: Heh. For sure. When I was graduating, I realized that as a composer and musician, making a career was...challenging. I come from a poor background and there wasn't anyone able to subsidize a beginning composition career. So given that, I liked recording, I decided to continue school in that vein, and ended up getting a masters in music technology from NYU. Over the years, all the different backgrounds and skills have just kind of...merged interestingly. Recording, composing, and also the out-loud expression of stories. Working for Serial Box has been a particularly cool way to mix all those skill sets.

VK: Between the Born to the Blade theme and the work you have on your website, I'd certainly describe your music as "cinematic." B2tB is as epic and sweeping as you'd expect in a fantasy TV show or movie. Do you bring a sense of genre (of the overall project) to bear when you start composing, or is it rooted in character, story scope, etc?

ARS: Definitely both. Part of what I love about this kind of composition is the opportunity to step into so many different worlds and genres. Just in the themes...Born to the Blade, Remade, Royally Yours, False Idols...they're all totally different styles. I've always been a giant nerd, and most of the other projects I work on are smaller scope, so I was particularly psyched about B2B. I so rarely get to use choirs in my pieces!

VK: When you're digging into pieces that are very different in terms of genre, do you find yourself relying on your training, or do you seek out a lot of examples in that style that you look to for inspiration?

ARS: Both. I always ask the series producer for a few links, even something on YouTube, that they like and that they feel is in the vein of what they want. And if possible, I try to wait until I've finished recording and creating the first episode until I finalize the theme, so I know that it fits with the genre but also the characters and mood and plot trajectory. Music is such an emotional thing, it's hard to explain what something should be in words. Just saying something like "fantasy, epic" means so many different things to so many people.

VK: This is something I struggle with: if you're trying to do a piece that's "like" something a fantasy theme, or like a mystery you try to nail that thing — the best Amanda Rose Smith version of a mystery theme, for instance — or do you also try to subvert expectations in some ways?

ARS: I don't try to subvert anything unless I think that's part of the process. An old professor of mine once said that in a film, the score is like an invisible actor, or the psyche of a character. It doesn't add something that isn't there, but it does illuminate something that someone might not know is there. So that could subvert expectations in some instances, but that's not my goal. So, for Born to the Blade, it's epic, but its also emotional. There's a lot of political stuff there, and stories about cultures that have been subverted by other ones. So I didn't want to only go big and bombastic, but also to inject some emotion into it.

VK: I think you did. If I remember right, you did some academic work on whether regular folks can tell the difference between acoustic and sampled instruments.

ARS: Yes! That's what my master's thesis was on. Of course that was a decade ago now, but still.

VK: How does that inform your approach to recording? I assume you're mixing live and sampled instruments in a lot of your work?

ARS: Well, mostly due to time constraints, these themes have been largely computer only. But when the opportunity arises, I do like to mix the two, even if listeners can't tell the difference. That doesn't mean it's not worthwhile, for the same reason that an actor's interpretation might be worthwhile even if it's not the same as mine would be. Real live musicians bring their own soul to the work. I've heard other people play things that I've written and thought, "Wow! I didn't even know it could sound like that"

VK: Another lovely feeling.

ARS: I wrote my first orchestral piece when I was 17, and though it was pretty terrible in retrospect, I remember that feeling well.

VK: But for all of that, people can't generally tell the difference, is what you're saying?

ARS: Generally not. Even when I did my experiment in 2008, people only guessed right about half the time. Tut there are certain instruments and genres that are harder to do all with computer.

VK: For sure. But regardless of the method of production, I feel like the goal is always to land emotionally with the listener, or viewer. So if you can accomplish that, what does it matter if the strings are synths or not?

ARS: Agreed!

VK: It seems like in a lot of ways your Serial Box gig is kind of a perfect one for you — you get to bring a lot of strengths to bear. Is this sort of a dream project, or is something dangling out there that you think, "One day I'd really love to...?"

ARS: I think that to some degree, just because of my personality type, I'll always have those dangling ideas. But to be honest, it really IS a fantastic gig for that reason. I get to merge a lot of different skill sets, but also the projects are all super high-quality, and the producers I work with really respect me and the skills and ideas I bring to the table. I feel that I'm really allowed to do a lot creatively. In a perfect world, every project would also have unlimited time for completion too! But alas I can't keep the listeners waiting forever.

Check out Born to the Blade here. And take a look at our (very positive) review of the first two episodes here

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather since 2012, folk musician, and Emmy-winning producer.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Born to the Blade: Episodes 1 & 2

I really should have gotten on this serialized fiction bandwagon earlier**. Sure, Charles Dickens was doing it back in the 1800's (pay by the word and leave readers waiting for the newspaper delivery for the next installment? Will Little Dorritt live?) and I can only imagine how much earlier the concept had truly originated, but similar to what Publishing is doing with their novella line - Serial Box isn't so much innovating the form as re-popularizing serialization within the science fiction and fantasy genre (this is something that has long been done in audio / podcast format).

And so it is that, despite having the eleventy thousand page first season of Bookburners (also from Serial Box) on my night stand, I embark on a new serialized adventure: Born to the Blade.


Born to the Blade was created by Michael R. Underwood. You may be familiar with his Genrenauts series of novellas (also serialized. I'm sensing a theme here) originally published by and finished on his own. It is an epic fantasy centering, at least initially, tightly in a neutral city where conflicts are resolved by formal duels by representatives of their respective nations. If that city is functioning in some ways as the United Nations of that world, the domineering Mertikan Empire appears to map to the United States in many ways.

Perhaps I'm reading a touch too much into this, and it may be that "Mertikan" echoes just a bit too close to "American" that I'm reaching for parallels that aren't intended. Certainly, Born to the Blade is not presenting as commentary on America today, but it is also something that won't go away in the back of my mind. We don't read in a vacuum, after all.

The first two episodes of Born to the Blade are written by Michael R. Underwood ("Arrivals") and Marie Brennan ("Fault Lines") and they both serve as introduction as well as hook. There's just enough cliffhanger at the end of each episode that I finish eager and ready for the next.

Thus far into Born to the Blade we are introduced to the politics of the island / city. At this point, Underwood and Brennan have only revealed the outlines of how things fit together. We know there was a rebellion, a captured "Golden Lord", and the Mertikans want him recovered and killed. We see how Kris, a young bladecrafter, is seeking a spot on the Warder's Circle - the first for his home country. We see Michiko work as a junior warder, learning the city, but also clinging to a fragile alliance. "Arrivals" and "Fault Lines" are apt titles for the first two episodes because Underwood and Brennan give us exactly that. They both serve as introduction and they are a fitting start to the serial. The fault lines are clear, the burgeoning conflict beginning to take shape. Our reading appetites are whet.

Given there was already one very significant surprise in the first episode, I have no idea where the writers of Born to the Blade are going to take this story. The one thing I do know is that I'm on board and along for this ride.

**I should also note the existence of Shadow Unit, which was also a serialized bit of fiction that was exceptionally well done, written and published in episodic format as if it were a television show, and featuring some of the finest damn writers this side of anything. That is almost beside the point, except that I want to take any opportunity I have to mention Shadow Unit, even if I am talking about something else. It was the best. I miss it daily. Shadow Unit forever.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.  

Nanoreviews: Discount Armageddon, The Mongrel Mage, The Red Threads of Fortune

McGuire, Seanan. Discount Armageddon [DAW, 2012]

Discount Armageddon is the first novel of the Incryptids series, which this year is a Hugo Award finalist for Best Series. This is another series I have avoided for no good reason and now that I've read Discount Armageddon, I am reminded that I am frequently a damn fool because McGuire is consistently excellent. Discount Armageddon features "monsters", monster hunters, a strip club, intensely religious talking mice, and a protagonist who is trying to decide if she'd rather be a professional ballroom dancer or keep with her family's tradition and trade of protecting those monsters from others who would do them harm. In short, it is delightful.

Score: 7/10

Modesitt Jr, L.E. The Mongrel Mage [Tor, 2017]

This seems to come up nearly every time I talk about Modesitt's fiction, but reading a Recluce novel is an act of comfort reading. I know exactly what I'm going to get and it's a hearty stew and brew of the detailed day to day life of Beltur, a white mage on the run from the more powerful white mages of Gallos. We see Beltur escape, learn a new trade, and follow the slow burn of daily life while an outside threat grows and grows. Modesitt leans a touch hard on the concept of "mongrel" in the novel, making some aspects a bit too on the nose. For a series known for slow development, The Mongrel Mage is especially so in the early goings.

As much as I love the Recluce novels, I would only recommend The Mongrel Mage to fans of the series. There are references to the few earlier set novels, but knowledge of those books are not necessary. It stands well enough on its own, but I suspect the appeal of The Mongrel Mage lies primarily with those readers who have read all of the Recluce novels and still want more. There are stronger entry points to the series.
Score: 7/10

Yang, JY. The Red Threads of Fortune [ Publishing, 2017]

When The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune were announced, that announcement came with the description that these were twin novellas which could be read in any order and be equally satisfying. While there is no way to go back and read The Red Threads of Fortune without having already read The Black Tides of Heaven, I'm reasonably confident in my opinion that Red Threads is a far richer story coming after Black Tides than it would coming first. Red Threads is set some four years after Black Tides and the necessary early character beats are far more compelling and emotional because of the journey of Black Tides.

If I said The Red Threads of Fortune was simply an excellent novella, I would be doing it a necessary disservice because when I wrote about The Black Tides of Heaven I rated it an exceedingly rare 10/10 and when held to that standard, Red Threads falls just a smidge short. Held to a more reasonable standard (like, against everything else being published), Red Threads is outstanding. This is Mokoya's story, dealing with her grief from the events of Black Tides and she's now a monster hunter - though the events of Black Tides permeates everything. The naga hunt is fantastic, but it is the development and resolution of those character beats that began in Black Tides and changed hard in Red Threads that is why this novella works so well.
Score: 8/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Microreview [movie]: Dirty Computer (e)Motion Picture

"I am not the American Nightmare/ I am the American dream"

If you’re like me, when the video for Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” dropped earlier this year, you immediately watched it ten (or who knows, maybe many more than ten) times. If you didn’t, are you even alive? Not only was the song astonishingly good—catchy, gorgeous, reminiscent of Prince in the best of ways—but the video was also a perfect gem of storytelling, visuals, and acting. It caused me to pre-order Dirty Computer so fast that I almost ordered it twice because I couldn’t remember doing it the first time. As I awaited each new video from the album, I noticed recurring themes, images, and faces (Tessa Thompson particularly). So it made sense when I found out that Monae was going to release an entire (e)motion picture to accompany the album. Clearly there was going to be a larger narrative at work here.

The (e)motion picture follows Jane (Janelle Monae) in a future that, while more vibrantly colored, with way better outfits, and occasionally more futuristic than ours, still actively works to harm any person who is in any way “other.” In this case, that means kidnapping and then forcefully reprogramming them to be cogs within the greater machine of society. We start with Jane having been captured, and labelled a “dirty computer,” and about to begin the process of Nevermind which will remove her memories and reprogram her into fitting back into society. There she is greeted by her already reprogrammed lost love, played by Tessa Thompson (as amazing as always). Incorporated throughout the telling of Jane’s reprogramming are her memories, which are being viewed by the technicians who are erasing them from her mind. Each music video that had been previously released and some new ones serve as these memories (which also are sometimes something other than memories, as one of the baffled technicians points out).

While the storyline is somewhat typical dystopic sci-fi, it’s the way that Monae has conceived of her world that makes this film so effective. It’s beautifully filmed and drips with color, light, and joy (at least within the memories). It’s also so wonderfully open and alive in its depiction of sexuality and queerness, that each memory feels like a call to arms to embrace your true self. Plus, like, the music is just freaking fantastic. I’ve been a fan of Monae’s for a long time, and this new album is already my most listened to of hers. I’ve had it on repeat, basically non-stop, since it came out. Each song moves between genres dynamically and the lyrics are excellent throughout. This is a truly multimodal work—it should be listened to, read, and watched.

If there are issues in the film, they mostly come down to needing slightly more space to breathe (it clocks in under an hour in length) and a standard plot progression. But, honestly, those are small gripes—this may not be perfect in a critical sense, but it is perfect in the sense of the emotions felt during it and the way it confronts hatred and othering in such a dynamic, and always refreshingly beautiful way. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 10/10

Penalties: -1 for some standard plotting, -1 for it should've been two hours

Bonuses: +1 for Janelle's outfits, +1 for being one of the most vibrantly queer narratives I've seen

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10 

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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

It might just be me, but it feels like 2018 is really flying by and I am getting closer and closer to sharing San Diego Comic Con with my son.  My son, who will be nearly 11, will join me this year and we are starting to plan our trip and I can't wait to experience and cover this event with him in tow. We have started discussing creators he would like to meet (Jeff Smith) and figuring out what type of panel works for someone his age. Should be an interesting and educational experience.

Pick of the Week:
Gideon Falls #3 - The mystery of the Black Barn is starting to come together, but a lot of questions remain. Thanks to DNA evidence, Father Fred is now cleared of the murder charges he faced, but has to reconcile the fact that it looks like the priest he is replacing is the guilty party. Meanwhile, Norton becomes more paranoid as it appears as if someone has stolen evidence from his apartment. Dr. Xu, recovering from her experience with the Black Barn, confides in Norton and isn't sure what to do moving forward. There are clearly supernatural elements at plan and the connection between Father Fred and what Norton and Dr. Xu are experiencing at the end of this issue leads me to believe that there is a whole lot more to Gideon Falls than meets the eye. Jeff Lemire paints a supernatural picture wrapped in mystery that has been an absolute delight to pour through.

The Rest:
Ether: The Copper Golems #1 - Boone Dias is returning to the Ether in an exciting development from Matt Kindt. Dias is sprung from prison with a mission of stopping the Copper Golems who is punching holes into Earth's dimensions. In a stunning twist, the agent briefing him is his daughter who he long abandoned in his first ventures into the Ether. It will be interesting to see the role Dias' family plays in this series, which starts with a jail break and some pretty cool magic. Artist David Ruben really knocks it out of the park with his illustrations in the Ether in this trippy book that has me delighted to return to this world.

Kick-Ass #4 - I did not expect Patience to figure out a way to escape from the trap she was in, but explosive balloons is something I never have experienced. The violence in this issue takes it up and the readers are treated to an action scene straight out of a John Woo film. I was impressed with the cover Patience came up with, but her actions impacted family members in a way that really drives home the heart of this series.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: Splendor, Natural or Otherwise

Welcome back to Westworld Wednesday, a series of essays/ramblings about the themes & philosophies of Westworld. NOTE: while we deal more with themes here, rather than plot, the emphasis is not on what happened this week; HOWEVER, if you are reading this and wish to avoid spoilers, you should be current on the show.

In both seasons so far in Westworld, a word has popped up in two episodes, repeated in different phrases:

0101: Peter Abernathy: "You headed out to set down some of this natural splendor?"

0202: Delores Abernathy: "Have you seen anything so full of splendor?"

Possibly an innocent detail, possibly something more - most likely, somewhere in the middle. In the first instance, Delores is yet innocent, going out to paint; the latter, gazing over the modern human world. I'm not here to tell you its the key to unlocking all the mysteries of Westworld, or what the next park is, because that's not the purpose of this series.  I'm not trying to puzzle out the ending, so we're not asking trigonometry questions in philosophy class.

But it did nudge something that I keep coming back to, and touched on a little last week, and the most recent episodes are bringing it to the fore. Perception is a funny thing, just as Delores saw splendor in her surroundings at first, or was awed by the human world upon first seeing it, and grew to want to conquer it.

History is a bit that way - Perception changes so much, and the Parks depend upon that. For example, what pops into your head when you hear the phrase "Wild West"? Likely, something very akin to Westworld: Cowboys, whiskey, brothels, homesteads and the like. In reality, those things existed, to be sure, but we tend to gloss over the, shall we say, less savory details.

Put another way, we tend to see the splendor in things.

Those unsavory details are, however, omnipresent in the show, albeit in a very different fashion, in the form of how the hosts are treated, and how the guests act without restraint. The question has been asked of the show how will they handle the racist overtones inherent to, say, Samurai World, where people use cultural stereotypes for their own entertainment? Which, really, is the whole dang point. Westworld (the park) already does this, using the shared revisionist historical notion of the Wild West being some manner of noble/free place, rather than the literal rape, murder and torture of indigenous people and the land upon which they had lived for centuries.

That part doesn't get talked about as much - and when it does, it's in the form of numerous monuments to those who committed those atrocities scattered across the American west. Westworld is consistently referred to as "Fantasy", and that's exactly what it is- Like the other two parks we have had a glimpse of, The Raj and Samurai World. The Raj plays to the exotic notion of the British Empire, where to the citizens of which, it was perfectly natural that those they conquered should serve their 'civilized' ways, and the animals were there to be hunted merely for sport. Those were living, breathing people and animals - why should the hosts be treated any better?

So much ugliness, covered over in the name of entertainment, profit, and the easing of our conscience.

But by glossing over it in-show, by putting forward parks ran by... less-than-savory individuals, people whose conscience is, at best, fungible, but more likely non-existent, the show itself puts a spotlight on how we treat those parts of history, and the humanization of the hosts makes us question how we view and treat others.

Delores path towards awakening involves seeing the ugliness beneath the splendor. It comes at the cost of her innocence, but she perceives a world where one cannot afford to be innocent, and takes action to change it. The violent delights visited upon her and her kinds indeed become violent ends. Maybe one days the ugliness of the real world can end, and we can all enjoy real splendor for a change.


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. 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.