Friday, August 17, 2018

Microrreview [book]: Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Empire of Silence starts a new space opera series, chronciling the rise to power of a protagonist who is destined to do great and terrible things to alien species and humanity alike.

Hadrian Marlowe is a criminal, on the edge of his survival, captured and scheduled to be executed for his crimes. We are told he is guilty of genocide of an alien species, and mass murder, including that of the Emperor himself, destroying a sun and killing billions of human beings in the process. He is a terrible, mythic figure in the far future he inhabits. And now he is stands ready to tell his story to readers.

Empire of Silence starts his life story, starting with his upbringing as the son of an Archon, the presumptive heir to a rich and powerful noble who is himself one of the most powerful vassals to his liege lady (the mother of his wife). In other words, it is a position of privilege and wealth and power undreamed in a far future feudal future. Hadrian does not want particularly to be Heir, he would rather be a scholar. However. his father has plans of his own for his son, and they revolve around the powerful religious arm of the Empire, the Chantry. The collision of those desires land Hadrian on a distant planet, with nothing save a chance to rise to his terrible destiny.

There are some interesting things the book does well. There are touches of the worldbuilding that really sung to me as a reader. The main character is very interested in languages, has multiple languages under his belt, and so the text spends lots of time with other languages, their nature and structure  The book  makes use of those other languages as a tool for description as well as worldbuilding and character development. In the moment, in the head for these details, the novel shows it's richness and strength, best.

There is a rich and varied universe in here, too, beyond language. There are extensive appendices at the back with names, planets, and concepts and these concepts are also well introduced into the book. The author spares nothing in filling his world with these concepts. The appendices explain that the book is a translation into classical English, with approximations, which is why the book is full of classical references and names, especially for military terms. This does reinforce the feudal future nature of the world, but gives it a Greco-Roman cast to that feudal future more than a Medieval one.

For all the novel tries to do well, there is, for me as a reader, a gigantic and unmistakable flaw in it’s worldbuilding and that is the ill conceived sense of scale and expanse of the Empire and other polities around it.  We are told and shown very early that the Empire is very big, huge, sprawling across arms of the galaxy in size. It’s been around for millenia. And yet, the faster than light travel that the Empire and other worlds have is painfully slow and the distances are just too vast for believability that this entity could last. Hadrian wants, early on, to be a emotion-free scholar like his beloved tutor Gibson, a scholiast. He is told that as he gets on board the vessel, that it will take a total of 13 years and that he has to be a cryogenic freezer for the trip. And this seems to be the norm, since there are passengers who have already been on the ship in the freezers for 21 years, on a voyage to yet somewhere else. These time frames just don’t work in the real world. How can the Empire maintain itself and keep from fracturing again and again when it takes years for the Empire to actually do anything. There is a FTL communications system, which does help, but if it takes years for an Imperial fleet to get to a rebellious system, that system has plenty of time to lay in enough surprises for any incomers.

Trade and commerce are even worse. What merchant on a spaceship is going to take a ten year journey in a freezer with only automatic controls to guide oneself? Especially since there are no guarantees that bad things won’t happen on the far end because of failed technology? Or, oops, in the four years it took you to get there from the next system over, the planet has a plague and you can’t even refuel, sorry. Also there is a mention at one point that the alien indigenous members of a planet had been taken off world to others, as use as slaves. How? How did they manage to freeze them successfully in the first place, given how little they actually know about the alien’s biology?  The book also makes uranium of all things, an extremely valuable resource, enough that it’s made the fortune of the Marlowe family. That’s really this galaxy-spanning civilization can do? Uranium? Even with the theoretical technological restrictions?

The problem of Hadrian, though, is inescapable even when the novel was head-down on a planet and the worldbuilding of the galaxy could be ignored. We remain entirely in Hadrian’s point of view, without deviation, and frankly, if you are going to serve up a main character who has a grand destiny to stride the stars, parallax is precisely what you need. Even Irulan-style epigrams would have been welcome to give us some perspective outside of the man’s own head. Instead, I felt trapped with a character I wanted perspective on more than a deep dive into his discursive thoughts.

In addition, Empire of Silence, in my opinion,  is trying too hard to be Dune. Although as noted above, there is plenty of invention, a fair amount of it is in straight up aping of Herbert’s novels. The parallels get repetitive in the worldbuilding over, and over. Religious order with lots of power and independent of the Emperor. Check. Strong theoretical bias against certain kinds of technology. Check (although that prohibition and regulation seems to often be more lip service than anything we see inside the story). Personal shields that stop missile and beam weapons but not hand to hand combat? Check. People trained to work with statistics and logic, instead of forbidden computers. Check. Past History that hints at a revolt and reaction against Artificial Intelligences. Check. Atomic weapons possessed by Houses, but not allowed to be used. Check. Intrigue between Houses, including the importance of bloodlines. Check. Hints at a cosmic, grand destiny for the main character right from the start. Check. It became a game for me to try and spot these sorts of things as the novel progressed. The main character starts on a lush edenic world where he has power, journeys to another world, loses his power and status, and has to build it up again. Instead of a desert world, he is on a ocean dominated world. And so forth.

By the end, with Hadrian’s life story only partly begun, I felt something I should not feel at the end of reading a book: relief. I am, sadly, not inclined to read more in the universe. Starting off with this being a Confessions style narrative tells me that I know where Hadrian Marlowe is going to end up...and frankly, there is a lack of interest in the character for me as a reader to want me to fill in the gap between the ending of this book, and his imprisonment. Certainly, parts of the world are rich and interesting, even if as an aggregate it makes no sense, but the desire to see more of the universe when I am not invested in Hadrian enough to want to do so? No.


Baseline Assessment 6/10

Bonuses : +1 for strong and interesting individual ideas on worlds and cultures
+1 for immersive description

Penalties : -1 for the inescapable problems of the basic space opera conceit.
-1 for a lack of perspective on a main character badly in need of one.
-1 for trying too much to ape a classic SF novel without being it’s own thing

Nerd Coefficient :5/10: problematic, but has redeeming qualities

Reference:  Ruocchio, Christopher: Empire of Silence[DAW, 2018]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Ruocchio, Christopher [2018]

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Gen Con From Afar

It has been two years since I have made it to Gen Con and I found myself glued to my social media feed lamenting with the other GenCan't participants. Despite not actually attending the convention, I am happy to report on some of the big developments that I enjoyed.

Games Generating Buzz:
Nyctophobia by Pandasaurus Games - Nyctophobia is the fear of the dark and is from first time game designer Catherine Stippell.  Catherine wanted a game she could play with her uncle, who is blind, and developed this semi-cooperative game that features up to four players who wear black out sunglasses and have to rely on verbal communication and by feeling near them on the board. In Nyctophobia, one player assumes the role of a villain right out of a horror film that is pursuing the other players in the woods. The players have to navigate a maze of trees to accomplish their objective and make it to their escape vehicle. As I mentioned earlier, the survivors can only feel their immediate surroundings and need to communicate effectively to one another if they hope to survive. This is one I have had the good fortune of playing and it is unlike any other tabletop experience I have had.

Forbidden Sky by Gamewright - We finally have a new cooperative Forbidden game from designer Matt Leacock.  Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert are staples in my house and I am very excited to take to the sky! Players are in the center of a storm and have to connect a series of wires to power their escape rocket. Gamewright only sold 100 copies of this game per day so I will have to wait until September until I can play this one with my family.

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr by Hub Games -If you have ever wanted to play a board game in which you are part of a nursing staff who provides care for the terminally ill you are in luck! In this game you are tasked with trying to save Billy Kerr who just had a massive heart attack.  You do this by delving into his troubled past and piecing together his memories. The goal is to get him to confront his regrets so he can die in peace. This is a game I definitely want to try, but I'm not sure how often I could play a game with this heavy of a theme.

Big Announcements:
Machi Koro Legacy - Pandasaurus Games surprised everyone when they announced that Machi Koro is getting the legacy treatment! The godfather of legacy games himself, Rob Daviau, teamed up with JR Honeycutt to figure out a way to allow players to experience a 10 game narrative set in the Machi Koro Universe. At the end of your 10 game journey, players have a unique edition of Machi Koro that they can play with their friends. Definitely going to pick this one up to play with the family.

Return to Dark Tower - Restoration Games was somehow able to figure out the murkey copyright issues with Dark Tower and announced a sequel to the game that came out in 1981. In the game players must work together to gather resources, fight off bad guys, and ultimately take on the tower itself. Restoration Games has produced some amazing titles thus far (I can't wait to get Fireball Island!) and they don't seem to be slowing down.

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

Thursday Morning Superhero

Pick of the Week:
Babyteeth #12 - This series has evolved effectively and we are treated to a quieter issue that lulls the reader into a false sense of security only to have the rug swept out from under them. Sadie is desperate to return to the Red Realm to save her son.  The only person who is capable of opening it from this side is Simon, a child who recently returned from the Red Realm and his mother doesn't want him to endure any more pain. As a parent this issue really resonated with me and I think it is a big reason why I have enjoyed this series as much as I have. The dialogue between Sadie, her father, and Simon's mother is very moving, when they aren't shouting at each other. The tease at the end of the issue has me salivating for issue #13.

The Rest:
Ether: The Copper Golems #4 - Boone and his crew manage to shut down one of the portals being powered by a copper golem, but don't quite understand who is opening these portals between the Ether and Earth and their motivation. Their journey brings them to the Enchanted Primeval Forest where they are greeted by a master storyteller who enchants most of the group in a series of tales tapped to their inner most psyche. This allows us to experience a series of mini-comics within this story that are an absolute delight. Not sure how Matt Kindt and David Rubin will be able to wrap things up with the next issue, but I will  be there for it.

Gideon Falls #6 - The first chapter in this series reached a stunning conclusion in a very trippy issue. Father Fred is attempting to save Clara and has an unexpected trip in and out of the mysterious Black Barn that is a central force in this series. I don't pretend to understand what the Black Barn is, but Clara's brother is involved and there are dark forces at play. Meanwhile, Noton and his therapist have found the door to the Black Barn and hatch a plan to assemble it. Very curious to see what happens as Norton begins to assemble the pieces of the Black Barn he has been collecting throughout the city of Gideon Falls and I'm worried that we will meet Clara's brother in the near future and it doesn't bode well.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My First Gen Con

96 Hours at the Biggest Gaming Convention

For the last few years, Gen Con has been something both too close and too far away. I've been either too cheap or too broke to attend, even though Indianapolis is (relatively) close to home. I decided to make the trip this year and I had a great time!

The Games

As my first Gen Con, I attended as a fan. I came to play games I don't get to play in my area. Pre-con, I signed up for six games across the four day con, one of The Strange, one of Numenera, and four of The Dark Eye. I knew these would be beginner/introduction type games, but I've owned all of them for a stretch of time and I just wanted a guided experience in playing them.

The Dark Eye - The Dark Eye (TDE) is Germany's version of D&D. It's their most popular RPG and has had one continuous setting that's evolved over its 30+ years. As it was described to me at least twice, it's more Brothers Grimm than Tolkien. Each region of its setting is some form of ancient Europe, from a raiding viking nation, to warring dark age states, to Arabian Nights-esque deserts. In some ways, TDE is more complex than D&D.

The first aspect that stuck out the most to me was contested attack rolls. In D&D, and most RPGs, attacks are reduced to a single roll: your die roll modified by a skill bonus/penalty against a target/to-hit number that belongs to your enemy. The defender, more or less, stands there while the attacker takes a swing at them. TDE makes this a little more interactive. The attacker rolls against their own skill. When the attacker fails, it's because they missed. If they succeed, the defender doesn't just stand there. The defender gets to roll a dodge or parry against their own respective skill, which gets more difficult the more you have to do it in a single round. This back and forth can slow combat down even more than in other games, but it feels like it's giving more agency to both players, which high skill attackers having the ability to miss less often by rolling against their own numbers, and defenders get a chance to user their own skill to avoid the attacks. These are important because the penalties for damage are harsh in TDE, with successive life loss increasingly making it more difficult to act. In three game sessions, I don't think we killed anything, but we definitely damaged enemies to the point of retreating. I love this because it sets up a game where enemies can have names and grudges and reappear or redeem themselves, while D&D is largely a monster mash. Not that there's anything wrong with a monster mash.

The other interesting aspect is skill rolls, which require three dice rolls against three of your character's ability scores. That may sound like it's inviting three opportunities for failure, but your skill rating allows you to negate failures. This balancing effect means that you can more often succeed at skill checks in things that you're good at, and your level of success can be quantified because your remaining skill points improve the quality of your success. This also gives built-in narrative reasons reasons for failure. If you succeed on strength and agility during a climbing roll, but fail in courage, you've basically described for yourself how you failed; you're physically capable of climbing that thing, but in that moment you didn't have the heart.

I signed up for four games, but only attended the first three. In those three games, I bullied a serf as a good-looking viking-for-hire at a wedding between rival nations, I lost my temper and charged as fast as my dwarven warrior's legs would carry me at handful of orc slavers, and I deftly picked locks as a high-skill but extremely squishy thief. After three games, I'd seen enough to be thoroughly impressed.

Numenera and The Strange - (some light disclosure: I backed a kickstarter for an updated version of Numenera) I'm combining these because they're the same game system (the Cypher System) for two wildly different settings. Numenera takes place a billion years in the future, where we've lost knowledge of how technology and magic work so they're indistinguishable and wildly dangerous, and The Strange is like The Laundry Files meets Sliders. The Cypher System reduces ability scores to just Might, Speed, and Intellect, abstracts skills, and gives everyone disposable powerful magic items. It's kind of the opposite of TDE, where the GM rolls nothing but sets difficulty of the action, so every roll is unopposed. To affect these rolls, you can spend points out of your ability score pools. The catch is that these same pools count as your life counters, so physical damage drains your might, then your speed, then your intellect, and then you're dead. Since this wasn't an on-going campaign, everyone was pretty loose about using their ability pools, and no one died, but I could see how an on-going game would prompt more conservative play and result in more failed rolls. The settings were both interesting, but I think I enjoyed the octo-post-apocalyptic medieval world of Numenera more than the The Strange's bioengineered sci-fi dimension of Ruk.

Battletech - Hey, wait a minute. I didn't sign up for this! But I did skip on that last TDE session. I tried to get into a game of Dungeon Crawl Classics, but it was full, so I hopped over to the Battletech tables for a refresher on that system. It's still high on the number crunching and wargaming end of the spectrum. But my Jenner outmaneuvered my opponent's Panther and I got up in his face and lit him up like a Christmas tree. His PPC would've hurt if he landed a hit, but he couldn't make it happen. We ran out of time, but I scored it as a victory.

The books I brought from home that went completely unused.
The Exhibitor Hall

Whoa. This was my FLGS except packed full of people. Just games on games on utilikilts on dice on games. It was just an unholy amount of people and stuff in one place. I'm not much of a browser though, so my experience here was checking the map for a vendor I wanted to visit, squeezing through the hordes of people slow walking or browsing until I found them, checking out what they had, and then moving to the next vendor. So I saw a ton of stuff, but I'm allergic to pitches so I didn't stop to play much. I did walk out with my Numenera kickstarter rewards (two massive 400 page tomes), Scum and Villainy (Blades in the Dark in Space), The Sprawl (cyberpunk PbtA), and Vampire: The Masquerade V5.

Cyberpunk and space!
Stray Thoughts

There was a ton of cosplay, but I learned that for every picture in a Best Cosplay album, there's at least 50 okay cosplays that didn't make the cut. Good efforts but sometimes the seams were showing or I could tell what they were going for, sort of.

Here's a real shocker: no one really stank. I squoze through a ton of people in that exhibitor hall, and I wasn't constantly gagging on someone's body odor. Dumb stereotypes of stinky gamers were deeply challenged!

Another shocker: I didn't come home with con crud. Again, extremely close to a lot of people at times but didn't get sick at all!

I stayed at a hotel near the airport and that was a mistake. I'm cheap and those rooms were cheaper than downtown, but they're very isolated from everything (seriously, nearest gas station was a mile away), so everywhere I went was a 15 minute Lyft. I could've saved on Lyfts and spent that money on the hotel room. Lesson learned there.

I'm not going to bother taking any books next time I go. I took a small selection, but I got way more mileage out of my Kindle Fire with Dropbox and my game book PDFs. I made the mistake of picking up my Numenera kickstarter books before I was done for the day and had to carry them around everywhere to the detriment of my back.

There was essentially no D&D. Wizards of the Coast wasn't there. Some other people were running D&D games, but it was very surprising to me that the biggest RPG in America wasn't at the biggest gaming convention in the world.

"Includes PDF" is a decisive feature!
Next Time?

Will I go back? Almost definitely. Maybe not yearly, but I had a lot of fun and I'd love to go again. Next time, I'd like to explore more panels and opportunities to learn, but I'm definitely still going to play some games, new and familiar. And maybe take some pictures next time.


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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Microreview [Book]: Latchkey by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Latchkey takes the genre-bending mythology of Archivist Wasp and grounds it in a bigger, busier world, creating a different but worthy reading experience.

First, a confession: I was never on the Archivist Wasp bandwagon when it first came out. While it was on my radar, it never quite bubbled up to the top of the list, and by last year it was just another title to sigh over when browsing the Small Beer Press catalogue. Maybe someday, I thought, once I've read all the other books, I can read that one... Anyway, it turns out the fastest way to push a book up your to-be-read pile is to win an ARC of its sequel, and thanks to the generosity of Mythic Delirium, Latchkey's publisher, I ended up doing just that. While I'll focus the rest of this review on talking about the book whose title is at the top of the page, let me just quickly note two things. First, my response to Archivist Wasp is that it's an objectively very accomplished and unusual book that was enjoyable but didn't quite hit me in the way it seems to have done for others. (It also needs noting that this is a rare female-led YA without any romance plot). Second, it's going to be hard for me to review Latchkey without comparing it to its predecessor, which means there will be mild spoilers for Archivist Wasp itself. If you haven't had the pleasure of the first volume yet, I recommend you do so before reading on.

Latchkey opens several years after the events of Archivist Wasp, in a post-apocalyptic world where the ghosts of the dead are a constant presence. Isabel, formerly known as Wasp, used to be the Archivist - a young woman chosen through ritual combat to be the ghost hunter for a religious sect dedicated to an entity named Catchkeep. Following her adventures in the Underworld with a nameless ghost, learning about a pre-apocalyptic child soldier project called "Latchkey", Isabel has overthrown the abusive systems governing her own life and that of the girls around her (who, side note, were all being trained up to murder her in ritual combat themselves), and built a tentative relationship with the neighbouring town of Sweetwater. But her upbringing and experiences in the underworld have left Isabel with serious trauma, and its hard for her to connect with communities of people who had previously seen her as a rival or a weapon. In Latchkey, an existential threat to the village collides with the (literal) return of ghosts from Isabel's past, as it becomes clear that the route to saving her people's future, and to helping undo some of the harm inflicted on the ghosts of the Latchkey Project, are inextricably linked and in Isabel's hands.

Despite being a continuation of the story told in Archivist Wasp, with many of the same characters and a similar tone, Latchkey ends up hitting quite different notes to its predecessor. Where the first book was a slim, focused narrative with strong notes of a mythological journey - Wasp is literally travelling through the underworld, after all - Latchkey feels in some ways like a more straightforward blend of mystery and action. That's not intended to be a criticism, as the space the book opens up is put to great use showing us how Isabel's world has changed and expanded since her journey with the ghost, bringing a strong sense of wider community and more in-depth worldbuilding to the series. One basic but obvious thing is the different use of names: in Archivist Wasp, almost nobody has a name except for Catherine Foster, the ghost Wasp and her companion are tracking down; Wasp herself only reveals her true name under serious pressure, as part of a pivotal scene for her character. In contrast, Latchkey has a "normal" level of background names for all the people in Isabel's orbit, which immediately throws the questions of identity in Archivist Wasp into much sharper focus by contrast. As Isabel uncovers information about more of the Latchkey children, their names obviously become an integral part of the process of reclaiming their identities, and it makes the lack of name for "the ghost" (i.e. the original spirit who took Isabel to the underworld, who is himself a product of the Latchkey project) even more poignant.

The stronger plot thread for Isabel's "present" also means that Latchkey is a much busier book than Archivist Wasp. Most of the time, this is handled well, although I felt some of the balls got dropped on occasion. For example, a lot is made about evacuation of Sweetwater's non-fighting population into the subterranean tunnels, which ultimately only seems to serve as a vehicle for getting Our Heroes underground for an adventure despite lots of signalling about the kids not having enough supplies or responsible adults which ultimately comes to nothing. Also, the last 15% of the book feels like it's transparently heading for a cliffhanger ending, which is frustrating: if these scenes are setting up your next book, dear author, is it possible to put them in that book so I will actually have the right, fresh emotional reaction to them by the time that books comes out? I can see the logic behind subverting expectations and ending Latchkey with some quieter scenes completing the arc about reclaiming identity, rather than the more traditionally climactic battle, but because there's so obviously too much to do to wrap it up in the remaining pages, the execution didn't work for me.

In the end, I'm left personally very happy with where Latchkey took the story, but with some questions about execution and a sense that for some, the tonal direction this sequel takes might undermine the unique, detached feeling of the first volume. Archivist Wasp was so self-contained that this doesn't feel like a necessary continuation, but it's certainly one that makes the most of its foundations and delivers a strong, intriguing new facet to Isabel's world. I'm still not sure this is a series I'm ever going to love, but it's one that continues to interest me, and Kornher-Stace is doing a lot of very thoughtful, interesting things with Isabel's story that are sure to appeal to those who enjoy well-crafted genre-bending YA.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 Caused me to write a review where "gosh, most of the characters have names" seems like an insightful comment.

Penalties: -1 Could fall flat for long-time fans depending on what you liked about the original.

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

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. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

References: Kornher-Stace, Nicole. Archivist Wasp [Big Mouth Press, 2015]
                    Kornher-Stace, Nicole. Latchkey [Mythic Delirium, 2018]

Monday, August 13, 2018

Nanoreviews: Rock Manning Goes for Broke, Impostor Syndrome, Half-Off Ragnarok

Anders, Charlie Jane. Rock Manning Goes for Broke [Subterranean Press]

The opening chapters of Rock Manning Goes for Broke seemed awfully familiar and it wasn't until a bit later that I realized Anders was expanding her stories from the John Joseph Adams / Hugh Howey apocalyptic anthologies The End is Nigh / Now / Has Come. That is only to say that parts of this short novel may well feel familiar to other readers as well.

Rock Manning Goes for Broke is a gonzo over the top novel of guerilla film making that mixes up with some deadly serious militia and propaganda. Anders is one heck of a storyteller and as different as this is from All the Birds in the Sky, it's just about as good. It's short but packs a real punch.
Score: 7/10

Baker, Mishell. Impostor Syndrome [Saga]

Baker closes off her Arcadia Project trilogy with Impostor Syndrome and she swings for the fences. We get the internecine war within the Project itself, the seelie and unseelie fae are edging closer and closer to their own war if Millie Roper and her peers at the Los Angeles branch of the Project can’t get their own house in order, and Millie’s partner is wanted by the police for a murder he probably didn’t commit. Oh, and Millie’s borderline personality disorder seems to be deteriorating to the point that she’s barely holding on (compared to my memory of the first and second books – it was always there, but the stressors in Millie’s life are escalating – like the war).

I’m not sure Impostor Syndrome fully lived up to the promise and expectations set in Borderline and Phantom Pains. I want to say that she doesn’t quite stick the landing, but the landing is fine. It’s the wobbly part when all the balls in the air that somewhat exceed her grasp. This metaphor doesn’t exactly work. Something about Impostor Syndrome just didn’t work for me as much as the previous two books. It could be the pervasive and occasionally overwhelming destructive pain Millie is persevering through. It could be that Baker attempted to do just a little bit too much with this final book, but if that’s the case – it’s more impressive that she reached and strove to do more than to settle into something that might have been stronger but not as challenging to pull off. If you’ve come this far and read the first two, The Arcadia Project is worth finishing up. It’s just perhaps not as strong of a third novel as one might have hoped for.
Score: 6/10

McGuire, Seanan. Half-Off Ragnarok [DAW]

When I realized early on that Half-Off Ragnarok would not feature Verity Price, the protagonist of the first two Incryptid novels, I was skeptical. Alex was a new viewpoint character and I was very comfortable with Verity. I needn't have worried. It took a few chapters for Alex (or for me) to find the groove, but once the truth about a secondary character was revealed - the story took off in high gear and never looked back. In spite of my initial skepticism, Half-Off Ragnarok is now my favorite of the first three Incryptid novels.
Score: 7/10

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

6 Books with Sam Hawke

Sam Hawke has wanted to write books since realising as a child that they didn’t just breed between themselves in libraries. Having contemplated careers as varied as engineer, tax accountant and zookeeper Sam eventually settled on the law. After marrying her jujitsu training partner and travelling to as many countries as possible, Sam now resides in Canberra, Australia raising two small ninjas and two idiot dogs. City of Lies is her debut novel.

Today she shares her 6 books with us...

Echoes of Understorey
1. What book are you currently reading?

Technically I’m on a fun hiatus because I’m behind on submitting my MS so I’m not allowed to read til I’m done writing – which means that I haven’t read any books for a few months (terribly depressing, I know). I just have a teetering pile of books I want to read. I’ll give you my couple from the top of the pile:
- Echoes of Understorey, by Thoraiya Dyer, which I hear is even better than the first Titan’s Forest book. Her worldbuilding and prose are always top notch!
- We Ride the Storm, by Devin Mason, which I picked up after I met and was utterly charmed by its excellent author at Continuum this year (the opening line is pretty spectacular, also!)
- Witchsign by Den Patrick, the Traitor God by Cameron Johnston, and From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris are all getting great reviews and are by cool people, so would like to get on top of those, too.

 2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

Probably Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett is the one I’m looking forward to the most. He wrote one of my favourite fantasy trilogies of recent years (the Divine Cities) and Foundryside has the thieves and heists in city state, Locke Lamora kind of vibe that I dig. Special mention to The Monster Baru Cormorant (because the Traitor was amaaaaazing) though I am scared of how much it is going to hurt me.

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

I don’t know when I could possibly justify re-reading with my TBR pile but I have a very strong temptation to go back and do the entirety of the Realm of the Elderlings now that it’s complete. Robin Hobb did such an incredible job of bringing together threads from all the previous novels into the final book that I am really looking forward to rereading to pick up on all the subtleties I inevitably missed.

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

                                   There are books that definitely don’t hold up to an adult re-read and some I                                           suspect don’t but am too enamoured of my memories to try. I won’t name                                             names! :)

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

Oh, that’s a tough one, isn’t it? We’re such sponges at that age, learning so much from writing without necessarily recognising what we’re learning. I do remember reading Catch 22 as a teenager and that being one of the first times I’d seen a scrambled narrative and such an effective combination of desolation and absurdist humour. It blew my mind.

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

My debut, City of Lies just came out. It’s about a brother and sister whose family is responsible for protecting the ruling Chancellor, chiefly by poison testing, and who are forced to take on their roles earlier than expected when their uncle and the Chancellor are murdered with an unknown poison. The city is besieged and the siblings have to work together with their odd skillsets to find the traitor targeting the new Chancellor – their best childhood friend – and stop the city falling to aggrieved rebels. You might think it’s awesome if you like mystery/thriller/escalating tension in your fantasy, complicated family relationships, mysterious lore, non-patriarchal societies, and decent people trying to do the right thing in trying circumstances.


POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

It was rough watching Gen Con from afar, but from what I gathered on social media there were a lot of amazing games to be had, big announcements, and some sweet exclusive promos. I am hoping to write up another Gen Con from afar post and will attempt to return next year. At least I still have my comics!

Pick of the Week:
The Sandman Universe #1 - This week we are welcomed back into the world of The Dreaming with a debut issue brought to us from Neil Gaiman, not written by Gaiman. I was introduced to this series after picking up the first trade paperback many years ago prior to my first trip to SDCC. In the current world, Morpheus is dead and his successor, Matthew, is missing. This does not bode well as there are changes in The Dreaming that need to be addressed. A raven is able to escape The Dreaming and learns that Matthew embarked on a quest of his own and may not be able to respond to the call for help. I love the way this series juxtaposes real life horror with the main arc in The Dreaming. It provides a human element that makes this series all the more horrifying. While it would have been great to have Gaiman penning this series, his impact is felt and the first issue reminds me why this series drew me in so many years ago.

The Rest:
Darth Vader #19 - The start to a new arc called Fortress Vader is off to a shocking and satisfying start. Vader and his Inquisitors are attempting to wipe out the Jedi. This book opens with an attack on an old Jedi and his family. This Jedi has left the order and his wife literally just gave birth to a baby boy. Enter Vader and the Inquisitors and we have the most amazing child abduction that I have ever seen in a comic, television show, or movie.  I won't spoil it, but it was chilling and horrifying and sets the scene for what is likely an extremely dark chapter in the Vader playbook. I have chills just thinking about it. 

Daredevil #606 - To bring everyone up to speed, Matt Murdock just left his job as deputy Mayor in order to prove that Fisk rigged the election to become the current Mayor of New York City. He is enlisting the help of other heroes, but it is no easy task to prove a case of corruption of this magnitude. It is an oddly familiar tale. Meanwhile he still has a city to protect and has to deal with a bad guy of the week. This week it was the classic Hammerhead in a relatively generic bank heist/social media stunt. The twist at the end of the issue has me scratching my head and I'm curious where Charles Soule is taking us with this reveal. I won't spoil it, but I don't trust it.

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Hugo Awards 2018: My Final Ballot

Now that the deadline has passed and I have done all the Hugo reading and consuming that I am going to do this year, the final ballot I submitted is below.  The full list of nominees can be found here. I have provided links to my articles covering each category where available.

For reasons which should be fairly obvious, I declined to write about the finalists for Fanzine. Speaking specifically for myself, I am very happy that Nerds of a Feather was able to share a ballot with some really excellent and awesome fanzines who are showing off the breadth of what a fanzine can be and are doing so at a remarkably high level of quality. We continue to be over the moon about being a finalist for the Hugo Award for the second time. It's been a dream of ours for a long time and I'd like to refer everyone back to the initial Thank You note we shared when all of the finalists were announced. 

Novel (my thoughts)
1. The Stone Sky
2. Raven Strategem
3. Six Wakes
4. New York 2140
5. The Collapsing Empire
6. Provenance

Novella (my thoughts)
1. The Black Tides of Heaven
2. Down Among the Sticks and Bones
3. “And Then There Were (N-One)
4. All Systems Red
5. Binti: Home
6. River of Teeth

Novelette (my thoughts)
1. "Wind Will Rove"
2. "Extracurricular Activities"
3. "A Series of Steaks"
4. "The Secret Life of Bots"
5. "Children of Thorns, Children of Water"
6. "Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time"

Short Story (my thoughts)
1. "The Marian Obelisk"
2. "Sun, Moon, Dust"
3. "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience"
4. "Fandom for Robots"
5. "Carnival Nine"
6. "Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand"

Series (my thoughts)
1. The Divine Cities
2. World of the Five Gods
3. The Memoirs of Lady Trent
4. The Stormlight Archive
5. Incryptid
6. The Books of the Raksura

Related Work (my thoughts)
1. Iain M. Banks (Modern Masters of Science Fiction)
2. Crash Override
3. Sleeps with Monsters
4. No Time to Spare
5. A Lit Fuse
6. Luminescent Threads

Graphic Story (my thoughts)
1. Bitch Planet
2. Saga
3. Paper Girls
4. Black Bolt
5. Monstress
6. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (my thoughts)
1. Wonder Woman
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
3. Thor: Ragnarok
4. The Shape of Water

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
1 "The Deep"

Editor, Short Form
1. Lee Harris
2. Neil Clarke
3. Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
4. Jonathan Strahan
5. John Joseph Adams
6. Sheila Williams

Editor, Long Form
1. Joe Monti
2. Miriam Weinberg
3. Navah Wolfe
4. Diana M. Pho
5. Devi Pillai
6. Sheila E. Gilbert

Best Professional Artist (my thoughts)
1. Galen Dara
2. Victo Ngai
3. John Picacio
4. Bastien Lecouffe Deharme
5. Sana Takeda
6. Kathleen Jennings

-No Vote

1. Nerds of a Feather
2. SF Bluestocking
3. File 770
4. Galactic Journey
5. Journey Planet
6. No Award

Fancast (my thoughts)
1. The Coode Street Podcast
2. Sword and Laser
3. Ditch Diggers
4. Fangirl Happy Hour
5. Verity
6. Galactic Suburbia

Fan Writer (my thoughts)
1. Charles Payseur
2. Foz Meadows
3. Sarah Gailey
4. Camestros Felapton
5. Bogi Takacs
6. No Award
7. Mike Glyer

Fan Artist (my thoughts)
1. Geneva Benton
2. Likhain
3. Maya Hahto
4. Grace P. Fong
5. Spring Schoenhuth
6. No Award

Award for Best Young Adult Book
1. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (my thoughts)
1. Rivers Solomon
2. Sarah Kuhn
3. Katherine Arden
4. Vina Jie-Min Prasad
5. Rebecca Roanhorse
6. Jeannette Ng

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Reading the Hugos: Graphic Story

Welcome to the final edition of Reading the Hugos: 2018 Edition! Today we'll be looking at the six finalists for Graphic Story.  By the time this goes live we'll be a full week past the close of voting and while I've thoroughly enjoyed covering as many categories as I have, I'm ready for the reading and voting stage to be done. It's a lot, even when it's something I love to do.

Two works on my nominating ballot are here on the final ballot (Bitch Planet and Paper Girls), but the category as a whole is soli and filled with interesting and strong works. Like the novella category, though, Graphic Story is fairly dominated by one publisher: Image Comics. With four of the six slots, Image has a fair lock on the category. As great as Image is and how fantastic the comics, the category will be stronger if a wider variety of publishers are represented in future years (though, three of the works on my nomination ballot were also from Image - so there's that)

On to the finalists.

Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)
Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Christian Ward, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Marvel)
Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)
Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image Comics)
Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

My Favorite Thing is Monsters: I almost read this earlier in the year when it was on the longlist for The Tournament of Books and had it made the short list, I would have read this in February and I would have unfortunately discovered that it really isn't for me. I'm uncertain how to talk about the book or even how I responded to it. For the first half or so of the book I was trying to piece together what story Ferris was telling. It's ambitious and multi-layered. I mostly understand why it has left a mark - but the combination of the storytelling and art style is just opaque enough that I struggled to engage with My Favorite Thing is Monsters as a story.

Monstress: Sana Takeda's art remains top notch, but something about this book has me somewhat less interested this time around than after the first book. I rated this one 4 stars on Goodreads, but the farther away I get from reading it the less of an impact that it has for me.

Black Bolt: Being a reasonable comic book nerd, I was moderately familiar with the Black Bolt character, but he was always at most a side character in someone else's story. Not being a reader of any of the books he was semi-featured in, I didn't have much of interest in picking up this one until it made the Hugo shortlist. This was a perfect way to step into Black Bolt's story. It pulls back his powers, gives him a voice (for a moment) and gets him away from the rest of the Marvel Universe. Saladin Ahmed's writing is spot on, it hooked me from the start. There is smart writing and smart storytelling all over Marvel comics, and Saladin Ahmed's is among the best.

Saga: Hazel is back with her parents and, surprise, nothing goes as planned. To be fair, I'm not sure any of the characters here have a plan beyond survival, rescue, and escape. Saga is a lovely story, filled with horrifying weirdness, humor, violence, affection, and terror. We're seven volumes in, but I'm not sure there is an endgame in sight. There are, however, ends in this collection involving one of my favorite characters. This isn't the best of the Saga collections, but saying that is only a faint damn because less Saga is still quite good.

Paper Girls: In the least original take I can offer, Paper Girls is hitting so many of my nostalgic buttons in the same way that Stranger Things is doing so - and like Stranger Things, it's doing so with strong storytelling and originality (while tied with that nostalgia). I loved the time travel back in time to a much more prehistoric era, the interactions with the people from that time. I've loved the interplay between the four friends the entire series so far and it's just as strong here in the third volume. Paper Girls is a charming delight to read, though this may also speak a bit to what I find charming.

Bitch Planet: One of the most vital, immediate, and (dare I say) important comic books that I've read in recent years is Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro's Bitch Planet. It's a dystopia where "non compliant" women are sent to a prison planet and are also set to fight each other to the death. There is a bit of over the top absurdity with Bitch Planet, but it is also biting commentary on American society. Bitch Planet is all of that, and it is also a fucking excellent book with exceptional storytelling and characterization and the only criticism I am willing to level at it is that I don't already have volume 3 in my hand right now.

My Vote:
1. Bitch Planet
2. Paper Girls
3. Saga
4. Black Bolt
5. Monstress
6. My Favorite Thing is Monsters

Our Previous Coverage
Short Story
Related Work
Professional Artist
Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Fan Artist
Fan Writer
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

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

Monday, August 6, 2018

6 Books with Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel is The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, published by in 2017 and 2018. She was also the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering's Dominaria expansion in 2018. She has won a Nebula Award, an ALA/YALSA Alex Award, a Locus Award, and her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eleven languages.

Today she shares her 6 books with us...

1. What book are you currently reading?

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee - I hadn’t read his work before Ninefox Gambit, and I was immediately drawn in. I’ve always like space opera, and I love the originality of this world, where everything is mutable except mathematics, and I love how relatable all the characters are against that kaleidoscope background.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

I was excited about The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera, which comes out this fall, and I just got to read an ARC of it. The first book, The Tiger’s Daughter, was probably my favorite epic fantasy of last year. It’s an original, rich, fully realized fantasy world, with an epic story told from an unusual angle. The second book goes more into the threat looming over this world, and what the characters are actually fighting. I can’t wait for the next book.

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

There’s a new Rivers of London book, Lies Sleeping, by Ben Aaronovitch, coming out this fall, and I usually try to re-read the previous few books in the series before the new one comes out. It’s series that rewards re-reading. I’ve always loved British mysteries and for me these books combine the feel of shows like Shetland, Lewis, and Luther with a great take on contemporary fantasy and the supernatural. Plus I love the sense of humor and the descriptions of London.

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

I can’t think of one in particular, but I read a lot as a kid, especially books that were over my head, and I’m sure there are a lot of books I remember liking that I wouldn’t want to read now.

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

There was an anthology called Amazons, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, that came out in 1979 where I was around 15. It hit me at a time when I needed to see women characters who were the protagonists of their own stories, who weren’t the load or the babysitter or the love interest. It had stories by authors like Tanith Lee, Elizabeth A. Lynn, C.J. Cherryh, and Charles R. Saunders, with his first story about Dossouye. It was my first exposure to a lot of those authors, and they wrote themselves onto my writing DNA.

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

My latest book is Artificial Condition, the second novella in The Murderbot Diaries series which came out in May, and my next one will be Rogue Protocol, the third book in the series which will be out in the first week of August. I think it’s awesome because you get to see more of Murderbot’s world, and how it navigates it as a rogue SecUnit/legal non-person, and what it does with its new freedom.

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

Microreview [book]: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies starts a new city-state focused epic fantasy with a pair of sibling protagonists wrestling with not only the coming of age of their abilities and responsibilities, but a threat to their world and conception thereof.

Jovan and Kalina are young siblings in the city-state of Silasta. Both siblings are far more than they appear. Kalina suffers from a physical disability that causes everyone to underestimate and discount her, despite her determined, willful side. Jovan is non-descript, forgettable, and since the age of seven, been in training to detect and employ poisons on behalf of the family of the Chancellor.When an assassination of the Chancellor coincides with a sudden and surprising siege of their home city, Jovan and Kalina are going to have to grow up if they, and their home, are going to survive.

Welcome to the world of debut author Sam Hawke’s City of Lies.

The rich world of Silastra, its environs, history, and culture are a strongly envisioned and conveyed world to the reader. This starts with the format of the text. Interspesed between the chapters are descriptions of various imaginary poisons, where they come from, what they do, how a proofer like Jovan might detect and stop them. This conceit really helps with the illusion that the author has thought of every single detail in her imaginary world, and the entries were a highlight of my reading. When a new chapter started, I was always eager for another morsel of the world conveyed thereby.

Too, the world of Silastra. The city-state, sitting on trade routes and rich and powerful, made me think of Italianate city-states, with its class stratification, scheming nobles, and it’s relations with often much larger neighbors. Rather than being a maritime power like the Renaissance Italianate city states, Silastra is landlocked, but given it is astride the shortest and best trade routes across the landscape, it has a power and reach that allows it to punch above its weight. This makes for all the more contrast when a besieging army shows up at the walls, Silastra’s army inconveniently (for them) away from the scene. Showing a potent power humbled, and suddenly scrambling when the chips are down and finding out what they are made of gives us a good idea of what the city really is like when the chips are down.

So, too, the protagonists. Putting her protagonists under pressure is a way for the author show the true quality of Jovan and Kalina, both imperfect, flawed and striving young people who are trying to transcend their limitations. The sibilings play well against and with each other and seeing how the siblings see each other and how they individually see the world. The novel’s format is of alternating chapters, each alternating the point of view from one sibling to another, in an intimate first person point of view that gives us lots of internal thought and feeling that makes us sympathize and really get to know them. Jovan’s inexperience and the pressure of suddenly being a proofer for the new Chancellor, his best friend, is an immense responsibility for someone whose training is not complete. Kalina, by contrast, whose disability has long since washed her out of becoming a proofer, has an even more fraught path, and one without a clear future that she must try and find and forge for herself, in the middle of the chaos surrounding the city.

In the offing, we learn lots about Jovan and Kalina, and also enfold in even more worldbuilding in the doing. If you want to read a novel where we go deep into the lives of young minor nobility in a fantasy city state under threat, City of Lies is the novel for you.

The novel has room and space to explore some interesting themes, even as we have our protagonists dealing with their home under siege, a slowly constricting situation that gets ratcheted worse and worse as the novel progresses. There are strong themes of responsibility, sacrifice, duty and stepping up to a challenge, true. I was expecting those, and those themes are well explored. But there is an even richer backstory of history, of subjugation, of lost culture, of appropriation, of colonialism and a lot of fraught subjects that get exploration as well. Silastra, as it turns out, as a surprise to our protagonists, is not the shining city that it first appears.The title of the novel as premise and promise is fulfilled.

My major issues with the book really come off at the end matter of the book. Throughout the book, we’ve slowly gotten to learn more about the setup, what is really going on (even as the main characters themselves do).The ending chapters though, don’t quite live up to the first 3/4 of the book. Kalina’s POVs chapters at one point turns almost perfunctory and not quite as sharp as Jovan’s. There are plot-related reasons that explain some of it, but I felt that the novel really wanted to tell much more of Jovan’s story than Kalina’s, and so a “two hander” of a point of view gets unbalanced. There is also a distinct sense that the author pulls some of her punches in the denouement.

Also, the book, with such a grounded and localized sense of setting, and the layout of the city under siege being rather crucial to the plot, the book really could use a map of the city-state.

I do hope that there will be subsequent books set in this world. The questions that the book answers by the end really are just the beginning of the questions I have about the world. In addition, Jovan only really comes into his own by the end of the book, and I am looking forward to seeing where his character development can go in subsequent books.

The Math

Baseline Assessment 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for a compelling set of protagonists, +1 for an interesting thorny problem unearthed in the revelation of the excellent worldbuilding

Penalties : -1 some first novel roughness, especially in that the ending feels like a punch is distinctly and unconvincingly pulled

Nerd Coefficient :8/10 Well worth your time and attention”

Hawke, Sam. City of Lies [Tor, 2018]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

After a brief hiatus due to SDCC, our regularly scheduled Thursday Morning Superhero has returned. I am admittedly behind on my pull-list, but will work diligently to catch up. This week also marks the return of Gen Con so I am distracted by learning about what games I am currently missing out on. Keep your eyes peeled for a Gen Con post in the near future.

Pick of the Week:
Leviathan #1 - I am probably going to regret this, but John Layman's latest creation is well worth the price of admission. If you aren't on board for college aged students summoning a Kaiju that starts wrecking the place, the scene of Trump (my eyes are still hurting) being informed of the impending threat are worth the admission alone.  This book had me hooked with Layman penning a modern Kaiju tale, but knowing his take on the current administration and the additional humor that will come with that has me over the top on this book. This is not for the light of heart, but is going to be a book that is sure to entertain.

The Rest:
Paper Girls #23 - This remains one of my favorite series, but I think I have reached the point where I need to switch to reading the trades as to reading it issue by issue. Brian K. Vaughan has really woven an impressive tapestry, but due to the time I take off between issues I am not 100% on board with what is happening. I know the girls are trying to escape from the future in which they are currently in, but have lost a bit along the way. This week's issue was exciting and is setting up potential romantic futures and the return to the 80's, but I need to backtrack to remain properly current. I love the twists and turns that have been thrown to us readers along the way, but the time travel and competing factions has left me a bit confused.

Star Wars #52 - Marvel continues to do an amazing job with the Star Wars franchise and gifted us with an issue that pits Vader and Han Solo in a piloting duel! It features abandoned plans, C-3P0 being forced out in an escape pod, and a desperate message of hope. Scenes like this make me wonder what it might have been like had television and streaming had been as prominent in the early 80's. I feel all of these captivating side stories would have had a home on the small screen and would have been great filler between the films. Lacking that option, I am glad that these stories have found a home in comics and happy that both Dark Horse and Marvel have done a good job with this franchise.

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

New Books Spotlight

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

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

Bennett, Robert Jackson. Foundryside [Random House / Crown]
Publisher's Description
In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.
Why We Want It: Robert Jackson Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy is my pick for the Hugo Award for Best Series. It's some of the best damn fantasy you're likely to read in this or any year. Knowing this is the new novel in a new series from Bennett, that's enough. But a novel with an attempt to re-write reality, thieves, and mystic artifacts from Robert Jackson Bennett? C'mon now. I'm already there.

Drayden, Nicky. Temper [Harper Voyager]
Publisher's Description
In a land similar to South Africa, twin brothers are beset by powerful forces beyond their understanding or control in this thrilling blend of science fiction, horror, magic, and dark humor—evocative of the works of Lauren Beukes, Ian McDonald, and Nnedi Okorafor—from the author of The Prey of Gods.

Two brothers.
Seven vices.
One demonic possession.
Can this relationship survive?

Auben Mutze has more vices than he can deal with—six to be exact—each branded down his arm for all the world to see. They mark him as a lesser twin in society, as inferior, but there’s no way he’ll let that define him. Intelligent and outgoing, Auben’s spirited antics make him popular among the other students at his underprivileged high school. So what if he’s envious of his twin Kasim, whose single vice brand is a ticket to a better life, one that likely won’t involve Auben.

The twins’ strained relationship threatens to snap when Auben starts hearing voices that speak to his dangerous side—encouraging him to perform evil deeds that go beyond innocent mischief. Lechery, deceit, and vanity run rampant. And then there are the inexplicable blood cravings. . . .

On the southern tip of an African continent that could have been, demons get up to no good during the time of year when temperatures dip and temptations rise. Auben needs to rid himself of these maddening voices before they cause him to lose track of time. To lose his mind. And to lose his . . .

Why We Want It: Prey of Gods was an excellent debut novel that had me excited to see what Drayden was going to do next. To be honest, I haven't paid a whole lot of attention as to what this book was about. What I needed to know was that this was the second book from Nicky Drayden.

Duchamp, L Timmel. Chercher La Femme [Aqueduct]
Publisher's Description
"Everything about the humanoids inhabiting the planet La Femme is beautiful and desirable. Even their names are a pleasure to the tongue, a pleasure that can be experienced only in meat space." —Paul 22423

They named the planet "La Femme" and called it a paradise and refused to leave it. Now Julia 9561 is heading up the mission to retrieve the errant crew and establish meaningful Contact with the inhabitants. Are the inhabitants really all female, as the first crew claimed? Why don't the men want to return to Earth? What happened to the women on the crew? And why did Paul 22423 warn the First Council to send only male crew members?
Why We Want It: I've been a fan of Duchamp's fiction since I first read Alanya to Alanya and the subsequent novels in her Marq'ssan Cycle. Chercher La Femme is not part of that sequence, but looks to be another imaginative and important work of feminist science fiction.

Eames, Nicholas. Bloody Rose [Orbit]
Publisher's Description
A band of fabled mercenaries, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, tour a wild fantasy landscape, battling monsters in arenas in front of thousands of adoring fans, but a secret and dangerous gig ushers them to the frozen north, and the band is never one to waste a shot at glory . . . even if it means almost certain death. 

Live fast, die young. 

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.
Why We Want It: I missed out of Kings of the Wyld when it was first published. It didn't seem like my thing at all, but I've reconsidered based on the recommendation from some friends and reviewers whose opinions I trust. I still need to step back and read that one, but that interest has me keeping my eye on the second book from Nicholas Eames: Bloody Rose.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Fated Sky [Tor]
Publisher's Description
Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. 
Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been. 
Why We Want It: I've only just began to read The Calculating Stars at the time I'm working on this spotlight, so if you're reading this, I loved it. I've been a fan of Kowal's novel length fiction and short fiction for many years now, and I loved "The Lady Astronaut of Mars", the story that both this and The Calculating Stars was spun off from. I have high expectations for both this and The Calculating Stars.

Otis, Abbey Mei. Alien Virus Love Disaster [Small Beer]
Publisher's Description
Abbey Mei Otis’s short stories are contemporary fiction at its strongest: taking apart the supposed equality that is clearly just not there, putting humans under an alien microscope, putting humans under government control, putting kids from the moon into a small beach town and then the putting the rest of the town under the microscope as they react in ways we hope they would, and then, of course, in ways we’d hope they don’t.
Otis has long been fascinated in using strange situations to explore dynamics of power, oppression, and grief, and the twelve stories collected here are at once a striking indictment of the present and a powerful warning about the future.
Why We Want It: If I'm being completely honest, the title itself is a bit of a selling point. I'm not familiar with the work of Abbey Mei Otis, but between the title and the description of the stories, I want to know more. I want to read this collection.

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