Monday, December 30, 2019

Mondays on Mandalore:

Welcome to the final installment for the first season of The Mandaloiran. There are spoilers. Like, lots.

I don't even know where to start with this. The last two episodes were so, so good. Despite our ostensible goal here on ye olde blog(e), I don't really want to review The Mandaloiran. It's good, boom, there's your review. I'm more interested in discussion about what makes it good and what the themes are. Maybe that is what a review is, anyway, shut up, read the thing:

I Have Questions: Which is a good thing! Disney is in a sort of weird place with Star Wars right now - It has a trilogy of movies that, well, I love. Others don't, some for better reasons than others, but there is a massively divided fanbase right now. There have been two good animated series (and one just, horrid one), but never a live action series. There were a couple one-off movies that were... there. In addition, The Mandalorian is sort of the flagship for D+, and it has a lot to do.

I would not have faulted Disney if they just used this as another "Star Wars Story", made one season to see how it went, and wrapped it up with a nice bow at the end of season one. That way, if it sucked, everyone could just move on from it without a bunch of open in-universe questions.

So ending it the way they did was a bit of a risk. So let's leave this with what mysteries are in the offing for season two and beyond:

Why Do the Imperials Actually Want Baby Yoda? I am pretty sure they won't go with my hunch, which is that Baby Yoda is, in fact, delicious. It seems unlikely that the Imps we see were familiar with the Jedi, since it's pretty established most people never even believed they existed, even in the higher levels of the Empire. So why?

How did Gideon get the Darksaber? This question we essentially know the answer to, since Gideon was intermetal in Mandalore's downfall. I am very curious about the last days of Mandalore; the Darksaber ties both Rebels and the Clone Wars to The Mandalorian. Will we see some characters from either of them in the show? GIVE ME SABINE AND ASHOKA NOW.

Will Mandalore Rise Again? Things look not good for our armored heroes, The Way all but abandoned or wiped out. Mandalore, as a planet and as a creed, have ever been at odds with... pretty much everyone. After all those centuries of conflict, is this the end?

Do They Die? I mean... we know what happens. Rise of Skywalker is out, and that's the end of the Skywalker Saga, and Mando and Baby Yoda ain't in it. Like the characters from Rebels, this sort of puts a limit on how this story can end.

Those are my big questions - we'll see how season two answers them when it drops in fall 2020.


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

The Hugo Initiative: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2001, Best Novel)

Dossier: Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire  [Scholastic, 2000]

Filetype: Novel

Executive Summary: There are two main plotlines of the fourth Harry Potter from J.K. Rowling. The first is that of the Tri-Wizard Tournament - an occasional magical competition which brings together champions from several of the world's magical schools. Harry isn't old enough to enter or be selected, but since this is a Harry Potter novel he ends up as a fourth champion and representing Hogwarts along side of Cedric Diggory, an older Hufflepuff. Much of the novel is centered around the various challenges Harry must face - technically on his own, but really with the help of Ron and Hermione. There's mortal danger, of course, but it's also a whole lot of fun.

The second is that of the potential return of Voldemort, "He Who Shall Not Be Named", the big bad looming over the entire series as well as being the reason Harry lost his parents when he was a baby. Voldemort's former disciples, the Death Eaters, are making ready for their Dark Lord's return and the edge of fear is returning to the magical community. Harry is a target, but so is everyone who doesn't stand with Voldemort. There are hints of just how nasty things might get.

There are moments big and small: Hermione's fight for the rights of house elves, Harry's infatuation with Cho Chang, the Quidditch World Cup, Mad Eye Moody, Snape being cruel, and the revelation (to the other students) that Hermione is an actual girl and not just a friendly book who wears glasses. 

Legacy: I remember working an overnight shift at a gas station and seeing a front page feature of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and that was the first time I had heard of Harry Potter. I had no idea and then it seemed to be the biggest thing in the world. It's what brought me to Harry Potter in the first place. 

If memory serves, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is also the first novel in the series where death comes so close to home - spoilers, but the novel is nearly twenty years old and is part of an enormously popular series - though "enormously popular" seems a vast understatement of the level of popularity enjoyed by the Harry Potter series.

Rowling Hugo Award win was her second time on the ballot, having been a finalist the previous year for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The popularity and the legacy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is completely independent of the Hugo Award - Rowling may not have known she was a finalist as it has been reported that she did not send a representative to accept in the event that she won. Harry Potter is one of the most successful franchises of all time, has inspired a generation of readers, and has stoked the imagination of millions. 

In Retrospect: Rowling's Hugo Award is very likely one of the most controversial in the history of the award - while beloved, the Harry Potter novels have never quite received their due as literature. They are books for children and the series is wildly popular, a combination which is great for success and less great for earning respect (such that it truly matters). 

The main thing working against Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for its place in Hugo Award history, though, is that it won the award over A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin (as well as novels from Ken MacLeod, Robert Sawyer, and Nalo Hopkinson). A Storm of Swords is, notably, the third novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire sequence and widely considered the finest novel in not only that series but in Martin's acclaimed career. To those who care about such things, Martin is considered "core genre", writing epic fantasy and being a lifetime part of the Worldcon community. Rowling was an outsider who writes children's books. I'm sure there is a segment of the old guard Worldcon crowd who still has not gotten over Rowling's win and Martin's loss. 

It's been almost twenty years since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published. It still holds up. I went into re-reading the novel for the Hugo Initiative without first re-reading Books 1-3 in the Harry Potter series, which was an interesting way to go into the novel because it had been more than ten years since I've read any of the Harry Potter novels and I didn't know how it would stand on its own. 

To a point, it does not because The Goblet of Fire is naturally an integral middle volume of a series and not a standalone. The backstory is contained in three previous books and the conclusion is ultimately the next three books. And yet.

Rowling does a very good job in the beginning of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in recapping prior events for new readers. Readers might miss nuance, but there is more than enough there to not feel lost. Of course, I can say that as someone who is very familiar with the series as a whole. It's impossible for me to truly go in blind, but the beginning of Goblet of Fire is just so smooth and I believe very accessible for new readers. 

The novel holds up for long time fans of the series dipping back in and it's still a favorite in a series full of favorites. There's so much to love here, and one of my new appreciations is seeing Ron's father running towards danger time and time again. Mr. Weasley is generally presented as this goof who is far to obsessed about muggles and seems to be a bit of a putz - but that's also seen from the perspective of the kids and occasionally noted by the more disagreeable (and villanous) adults. When there is actual trouble, though, when the Dark Mark is in the air and people are scared - Arthur Weasely runs to help. I don't know that I picked up on that before, and I like it. The big story is obviously Harry and Voldemort and Dumbledore and the Tri-Wizard Tournament and all of that stuff the series is known for - but sometimes I'm interested in the small bits that resonate at different times in my life.

Was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the right winner in 2001? That's a different question. In retrospect, A Storm of Swords would have been the more popular pick within significant parts of the genre. Martin was a previous Hugo Award winner for "Blood of the Dragon", a novella based on the Daenerys chapters from Game of Thrones. This is a bad way to look at things, but Martin has been recognized for A Song of Ice and Fire through that novella win in 1997 but given that there was no Young Adult Not-A-Hugo for Rowling to dominate at that time nor a Best Series award available to her - the only opportunity for Worldcon to recognize Harry Potter through the Hugo Awards were the two times Rowling was on the ballot (well, that and the next three novels).

It is not truly fair to say that a series is being honored when the question at hand is "is this the best novel of the year?" rather than "is this the most popular novel of the year?" because the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. 

I'm not nearly as bothered by Rowling's Hugo win as some. In retrospect, it does still feel like a horse race between Rowling and Martin - though I would love to be writing this essay on Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber instead. That would have been a worthy and important win. 

A Storm of Swords was the more significant novel and would also have been a worthy win - both for Martin's career, he has never won for Best Novel, as well as for the novel itself. But Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a solid, if unspectacular, Hugo Award win. It might not say nearly as much about the state of the genre at that time as a win for another might, but then again - maybe it does. The ballot itself is a statement and Goblet of Fire's win is a statement about just how significant Harry Potter was at the time, just how popular and beloved it was. 

For a bit of statistics fun, here is a link to the voting breakdown and some nominating stats for the 2001 Hugo Awards. To get a look at what some of the other notable novels of 2000 were, here is a link to the Locus Recommended Reading list.


For its time: 5/5
Read today: 4/5.
Gernsback Quotient: 9/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Microreview [book]: Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of Lies continues the story of Tomas Piety from Priest of Bones, a Renaissance fantasy of crime families and gang warfare with a strong voice.

Priest of Lies, by Peter McLean, expands and builds upon Tomas Piety, central character of his debut novel Priest of Bones, and shows the consequences of a Renaissance crime lord’s success--bigger challenges and problems.  In the first nove, returned-from-the-war priest and crime lord Tomas Piety found that re-establishing his power and the power of the Pious Men was more difficult than he expected. A threat from the rival nation of Scandia was undermining his home of Ellinberg and messing with his ability to reestablish his hold in The Stink, his home turf, and to extend his power further.What looked like a simple rivalry between gangs in his city proved to be a front in a secret war.

The new book picks up not long after the end of the previous novel. Piety is now married to Ailsa, who is to outward signs the love of his life. However, known to no one else but they, she is in fact a Queen’s Man, a secret agent of the monarchy with broad and terrible authority that is a byword for scaring your children. Priest of Bones, in retrospect, can be seen as Tomas’ rise to power, but that rise being secretly shaped by greater powers still. Priest of Lies, then, has Tomas knowingly being shaped and guided by the Queen’s Men, and finding ever greater challenges. Those challenges will bring Tomas not only to greater power within his home city, but also a fateful visit to a true hive  of scum and villainy--the capital, Dannsburg, itself. It is there that Tomas will find his skills do, and sometimes do not, translate to the world of politics and political manipulations in social circles both benign and very deadly.

That rich worldbuilding seen in the first novel is extended and expanded on here. From the nature of magic, to the political structure of the capital (including the true structure of the Queen’s Men), the novel enfolds rich details of the main character’s world. Both Ellisberg and now, Dannsburg come across as distinct, real cities that you can imagine walking down the streets of (although do mind the smell of the first, and all the guards in the second).

The novel’s biggest strength is the strong and distinctive voice of the main character, Father Tomas Piety. This comes through right from the Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book, which is written in character as if Tomas himself were describing himself and his fellow characters to you, through the first person narrative point of view that he brings to the book. We stay in his viewpoint through the book, and deepen and expand on his life and his personality from Priest of Bones. Tomas’ change in status, his marriage to Ailsa the Queen’s Man, and the new challenges he has to deal with show strain and pressure upon him, and we get a real sense of how Tomas deals, or sometimes cannot deal, with the challenges of his new life. Tomas Piety is one of the most rounded, well conceived and well drawn fantasy characters of recent years, and even when he does some pretty horrible things, the reader understands him, and understands his reasons for doing them. And yet when he shows kindness, mercy, and even affection, it only completes the picture of a complex and fascinating man. The rest of the cast through his eyes, especially his brother, Jochan, his second in command, Bloody Anne, and his wife, Ailsa, also come across very well. I also really enjoyed the scary as hell Billy, the would be cunning man (sorcerer) who Tomas shows affection and a protective streak toward.

Rest assured, for readers who aren’t as interested in deep character and want the thrill of a crimelord in an early Renaissance city and his often bloody adventures, the novel has that, as well. The novel is more measured in its use of violence on the pages, more often than the first novel having it happen offscreen (particularly when Tomas is in Dannsburg). The novel recognizes that Tomas doesn’t or isn’t going to get as personal and present in all of his business as he was when he just controlled an inn and a few streets. Rest assured, however, Tomas does not get flanderized or softened by his new position. He is still a hard man from a hard place who has clawed his way to power, respect and authority, and that Tomas is as dangerous as ever when circumstances require them, and a set piece conflict toward the end of the book shows the dangers and costs of conflict in the author’s world. It’s a sometimes very deadly world, and characters both new and old are not immune from the deadly dangers of Piety’s efforts.

Priest of Lies is a completely successful sequel to Priest of Bones that builds on its predecessor and develops and enriches the world that the author is building and the characters he is creating. I look forward to a third volume of Piety’s struggles and life.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for strong characterization of its main character

+1 for strong writing voice.

Penalties: -1 for a bit of wavering focus as the gears of the novel and Piety's role shifts. Offscreen bits could have been presented a bit better.
-1 as some subject matter may not be to the taste of readers, given its Grimdark crime family focus.

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

Reference:  McLean, Peter, Priest of Lies [Ace, 2019]

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

Monday, December 23, 2019

Mondays on Mandalore: Star Wars is not the Problem

Welcome back to Mondays on Mandalore, where we usually discuss The Mandalorian. This week is a little different, since another small, live-action Star Wars production was released, called The Rise of Skywalker. You may have heard of it.


J.J. Abrams has spoken several times of the Mystery Box he got when he was a kid. Basically, a prize from an arcade or toy store or something, it was one of those blind bags where you get a random toy. Unlike most kids, though, he never opened it. Because what was actually inside could never live up to what he imagined it being.

I wonder if he wishes he had left Star Wars in the box. Because the fandom tore that box open like a kid on Christmas morning, wrapping paper everywhere, hungry to see the perfect gift waiting inside. And instead of the LEGO UCS Millennium Falcon they were really sure Santa had packed in to a much smaller box, they got a stupid PlayStation (topical analogy, I am nailing this). But if two months ago, they were just given the PlayStation, they would have been over the moon.

That's where we're at with Star Wars. The Rise of Skywalker is a rally good movie. The writing is solid, the pacing is good, especially considering they had a lot to cram in. There is none of the long, side-quest elements of The Last Jedi. There is so much action. There is amazing payoff, from things I honestly didn't expect.

And yet. This spoiled fanbase, which if you are of my age, spent your entire life waiting for these movies, not only has those, you have all this other content and it's great*. Shows. Books. Comics. Video games**. But no, because it's not the fanfic in their head, it's not good enough. Because Disney saved bought Star Wars, somehow that has sullied the brilliant vision that Lucas had and made a movie about space wizards in the future-past.


Did no one watch the prequels? Is that what you want? Two hours of exposition about trade contracts and pedigreed actors sleepwalking through their performances***? Was the Expanded Universe so great? Cuz... it super wasn't.

But people talked themselves into what it was going to and should be, and they ripped the box open, and even though what they got is objectively pretty good, it wasn't good enough.

That's not Johnson's fault, not Abrams, not Disney. I'm not saying that you have to like the sequel trilogy, but I am saying if you don't, you should probably look at why.

Also, the Mandalorian was awesome. Best episode yet. Give Deborah Chow her own trilogy. More on that next week.

*The show Resistance… tries.
**I really wish we had gotten the 1313 game we were promised.
***Except Ewan McGregor.


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

The Hugo Initiative: The Princess Bride (1988 Best Dramatic Presentation)

Dossier:The Princess Bride (1987) [Act III/20th Century Fox] Directed by Rob Reiner; Screenplay by William Goldman; based on his novel.

Filetype: Dramatic Presentation

Executive Summary: As I'm celebrating a birthday today, I thought it would be a great time to look back at something from the Hugo winners from my birth year, and The Princess Bride is the closest to a festive pick from that particular list so here we are!

The Princess Bride adapts William Goldman's novel of the same name, and shares its central conceit, in which The Princess Bride story is actually an in-universe book by S. Morgenstern, which an older man is trying to share with his [grand]child. That story, despite its opening being suspiciously close to a "kissing book", is a fairy tale, featuring  Buttercup, a beautiful farmer's daughter, and Westley the farm boy, who fall in love only for Westley to disappear at sea and Buttercup to become promised in marriage to the unpleasant Prince Humperdinck. When, years later, Buttercup is kidnapped on the eve of her wedding by a trio of bandits - two of whom turn out to be sympathetic in their own right - it falls to a mysterious masked gentleman (you'll never guess who) to try to rescue her from the range of miserable fates laid out for her, and demonstrate that true love wins over all. 

Of course, this relatively traditional framework doesn't do justice to all the asides and subplots which flesh the movie out, from Inigo Montoya, a Spanish swordsman seeking single-minded revenge on a six-fingered man who killed his father, to the unusual heredity of the Dread Pirate Roberts, to the medical marvels possible on a "mostly dead" patient. It all adds up to a satisfying and funny adventure that's not quite like anything else. 

LegacyPerhaps unsurprisingly given its weirdness, The Princess Bride wasn't a critical success on release, but Hugo voters in 1988 clearly saw the value which would cause it to become a well-known cult classic over 30 years later. The Princess Bride isn't necessarily a trope creator, but it sure is a trope codifier; take Westley, a man who is literally introduced as a "farm boy", who takes only five years to become a smart, skilled, eloquent swordsman capable of taking down royalty to get what he wants. There's also the trio of Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo highly memorable archetypes of a certain type of mid-level villain troupe: the supposedly smart mastermind, the gentle giant, and the wisecracking swordy one, with two members being hapless or generous enough to be easily redeemable within the confines of a relatively short movie (indeed, Inigo and Fezzik are never unsympathetic in the first place.)

Moreover, The Princess Bride's highly quippy nature means that its full of quotable lines, all of which are given weight by the way they underscore and enhance the character narratives. From Inigo Montoya's "My Name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die" to Westley's "As you wish", to slightly more niche wisdom like "never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line", so much of this movie is designed to stay with the viewer after watching, and for the more dedicated quote aficionado, there's pieces like Fezzik's rhyming or the entire Miracle Max sequence to enjoy. Coupled with its grasp of physical comedy (though never in a way that descends into farce), and its highly entertaining set pieces (the sword fight!) it makes for a movie that defies its age and cheesiness to be a compelling and fun movie. In some ways, the Princess Bride has become its own embodiment of the grandfather character, and I'd like to hope that there are plenty of kids out there whose initial scepticism at having to put down the video game and watch a weird old movie is overcome when they start to become invested in the story itself.
In Retrospect: Despite its cultural importance, The Princess Bride wasn't part of my own childhood (unsurprising given that it's a kids movie that came out the year before I was born), and I actually encountered William Goldman's book first. That book pushes a lot harder on the meta-narrative elements by recasting S. Morgenstern's book as a dry political text full of weird asides which Goldman finds himself adapting to appeal to his son in the same way his own father did for him. In creating a fairy tale out of the fictional Florinian equivalent of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Goldman's insert gets to muse a lot not just on his relationship with his father but with the results of what that editorialising did, and what truly makes a good story, and a good storyteller: so taking out all the chapters about royal wedding preparations is fine, but altering some of the terrible things that happen to Buttercup, Westley and co would be untrue to the story. Sorry, but those things happen. Except, maybe some don't? You decide.

Of course, the Princess Bride is far from the only narrative to have explored stories in this way, particularly when it comes to fairy tale narrative, and we live in a time where there's a particularly rich vein of this stuff coming out in SFF, from Cat Valente to Seanan McGuire and Holly Black to T. Kingfisher (not forgetting short fiction brilliance like Amal El Mohtar's "Seasons of Glass and Iron"). In a separate vein, scepticism around traditional "Disney narratives" is also a pretty fashionable standpoint at the moment, to the extent that Disney's own live action remakes often take time to "fix" "plotholes" in original animated movies like Beauty and the Beast (as Lindsay Ellis notes in her video essay on "Woke Disney", Belle is a #girlboss now and that makes everything about all that "Stockholm Syndrome" OK!). It's notable that The Princess Bride, while it pokes fun around the elements of story, never questions the elements which make up its basic fairy tale - the subversion is all around the characters and driving forces trying to usurp the concept of "true love" (and related things like "narrative catharsis for your Dad's death" and "convenient matching horses are available"). It's part of the movie's charm, but it also provides a lot to chew on when compared to stories that do question deeper levels of fairy tale tropes.

A lot of what doesn't stand up today is, unfortunately around Princess Buttercup herself. Buttercup, defined by her extraordinary beauty and her ability to do a lot of physical activity without getting her long flowing blonde hair even slightly messy or tangled, is given very little to do beyond needing rescuing on about five distinct occasions. Even her one moment of exercising agency - when she bargains to return to Humperdink if he will allow Westley to go free - is undercut by Humperdink immediately undermining her trust in him. While the narrative doesn't go so far as to blame Buttercup for her situation, it does portray her acceptance of marriage with Humperdinck as a choice borne of becoming closed off and heartless, a judgement she gets almost no chance to overturn before Westley, of all people, comes at her with a stream of misogynistically charged frustrations before she realises who he is (and he realises that she's still into him enough to fall down a hill for her). It adds up uncomfortably to a woman who is given no opportunities for agency and is then blamed for not exercising agency by men and by the narrative itself, and even her main character strength - survival - is knocked down pretty quickly once Westley comes onto the scene. Compared to the many stories we have now in which women in fairytales exercise their own agency and are respected for their choices and survival within the patriarchy, The Princess Bride's treatment of Buttercup feels by far the most dissonant element of the movie, and the one area where datedness has definitely not increased its charms.

Despite its treatment of its lead (and almost only) female character (and the lack of diversity in any other sense), what the Princess Bride does still offer is a strong antidote to the "deconstructing Disney" trend, and a world where things exist because it makes narrative sense for them to do so. Fictional European countries coexisting with references to Spainiards, Sicilians and land wars in Asia? Giant unscaleable cliffs in the middle of a super calm ocean? Machines which use water wheels and suction cups to suck life out of bodies? The Princess Bride has them all, and it doesn't need to explain them to the likes of you - it has them because it's a story, and because stories have cool things that make them work. This is a movie that's very clear that its ultimate aim is to tell a story of true love, and if you don't like the way its doing so... well, you can always take a nap and see if you feel better in the morning.


For its time: 4/5
Read today: 3.5/5.
Gernsback Quotient: 7.5/10

POSTED BY: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, 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. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Microreview [book]: The Gossamer Mage, by Julie Czernerda

The Gossamer Mage is a fantastic single volume epic fantasy that plays to the author's worldbuilding and character focused writing strengths

Julie Czenerda’s The Gossamer Mage takes place in a brand new fantasy verse for her. Although (unrelated to her first turn into fantasy, the Night’s Edge duology, this new single volume epic does keep the sense of an isolated realm, however, in telling the story of the realm of Tanane. Tananen is a realm isolated from the outside world by its Deathless Goddess, a Goddess also responsible for the unique aspect that Tananen has-- the presence of magic. The story of The Gossamer Mage is a threat not only to Tananen, not only to the Deathless Goddess, but a threat to magic itself.

The author richly brings her world to life. Reader of her Night’s Edge series, or her many science fiction novels are well aware of the deep and rich description, and evocation of environment that she brings to idyllic villages, galactic restaurants, and alien planets alike. Tananen as brought to life in the pages of The Gossamer Mage is no exception. It comes off at first to the reader as a basic epic fantasy world, but those expectations are quickly subverted with her choice of points of view and the unique facets that she brings to her created world. From the strange leftovers of mage called Gossamers, to the wonderful dancers, pushing the barges upriver, to the simply evocative and powerful way she describes a road during a snowfall, brings the reader fully into the world she has built. Readers who want an immersive experience with their fantasy will find much in the book to love.

Magic, of course, is central to the story, and the magic system that Czenerda has composed here is elegant, brilliant and the consequences and results of who can use magic, and the cost and side effects of doing so. The magic here is based on words, on the language of the Goddess, and it is a magic devoted to creation and making, rather than, say, a fireball. The steep price for magic, though, is its cost.  For, you see, the price of doing Magic is taking the life from a Mage, and when that life is nearly gone, to do any more magic is to court death itself. But magic is something that any magic, even one nearly drained of life, has an urge and desire to unleash. It provides a simmering tension that drives plot and character.

The plotting and unfolding of the plot and the nature of the problem go hand in hand with the characters. The novel has two primary points of view. Maleonarial, an old mage who has exiled himself from the community of mages and is drawn back in by a shocking incident, a use of magic that should not happen and with horrible results. The aftermath of that incident puts him on a path for answers, and a way to solve the issues raised. Thus, Maleonarial provides the reader with the informed, inside point of view on magic and we learn the rules on how it works from his eyes and his perspective.

Kaitealyon, our other point of view, works for the Deathless Goddess in a more secular capacity as a Daughter,  and her story intersects with Mal’s as the story unfolds. From her, we get the nuts and bolts of how Tananen works and lives, and the stresses she is under. Her secular perspective works well with Mal’s in helping complete the picture of Tananen. The fact that her son Lekand is showing signs of magic, of course, only adds to the rich character drama.

The author breaks from these two points of view now and again, fleshing out her world, feeding the reader more information, and slowly and surely painting a realm that, as isolated and as magic-rich as it is, is not all that it should be. Short sections called “Fundamental Lexicons”, particularly, provide necessary backstory and perspective on magic, the Goddess, and the basic way the world functions. We also find out just why Magic is only in this one realm, and the true nature of the Deathless Goddess who exacts such a pitiless cost for those who use it.

When her two main characters start traveling together, Maleonarial and Kaitealyon, the plot really starts to get moving and the threats and problems of the realm become clear. A careful reader will have seen the cracks, flaws and problems that beset the realm, even if there isn’t quite clear just what the problem is and what to do about it. Like the Veil around Tananen itself, as the mystery slowly lifts, the wide scale scope of the problem and it’s true nature reveal for the reader to see, and for her characters, so well sketched at this point, to have to come to grips with. There is a fair amount of misdirection that the author likes to use, once again this is fantasy that isn’t quite Wolfean in expecting the reader to piece out things, but certainly along that spectrum.

The Gossamer Mage is an enthralling fantasy whose depth of character, worldbuilding and plotting kept me turning page after page. The novel as an epic tells a crisp and complete story in one volume, a rich and comprehensive look at a fascinating realm, it’s unique characters and situation, and strong story building.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10.

Bonuses: +1 for excellent and inventive worldbuilding
+1 for an intriguing and varied set of main characters. 

Penalties: -1 for a bit of slowness in the start of the novel especially with the misdirection which might turn off readers.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 very high quality/standout in its category

Reference:  Czerneda, Julie  The Gossamer Mage [Daw, 2019]

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

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

Happy Thursday fellow nerds.  I wanted to open by informing you of a change in Thursday Morning Superhero starting in 2020.  As this is my last post of 2019, I am scaling things back next year and will bring you your comic book updates on a monthly schedule. I am not sure what that format looks like yet, but I look forward to some healthy changes and wanted to wish you all a happy New Year.

Pick of the Week:
Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy #1 - Pulled from the world of Black Hammer, Jeff Lemire, Tonci Zonjic, and Steve Wants have a new book the centers around the masked vigilante Skulldigger and the relationship he has with a young man.  When the book opens, William Bowers is reflecting on the night his parents got murdered.  In an almost Batman like scenario, Bowers' parents were murdered on a mugging gone wrong following dinner.  Unlike Batman, Skulldigger intervened at this point providing a ghastly end to the murder's life.  This is my introduction to Skulldigger and I am getting some Punisher vibes, but instead of an arsenal of weapons Skulldigger wields a metal skull hung from a chain.

One quality that I always enjoy in books by Lemire are the role of the adopted father figure. This jumped out at me the most in Sweet Tooth, and if there are similarities here between Skulldigger and the soon to be Skeleton Boy I am here for it.  Like Jeppard in Sweet Tooth, Skulldigger appears to be an extremely flawed man, but one with good intentions. 

Every good story needs its villain and the Ghastly Grimjim appears to fill that void here.  Currently in prison (although not for long), Grimjim looks like quite the formidable foe who is motivated into escaping his cell when a hero from the 60's unmasks himself.  This was a gripping debut that immediately had my attention and I am very much looking forward to reading this in 2020.

The Rest of my Pull List:
Not to be outdone by his own work, Lemire dropped another great issue of Family Tree this week and Cullen Bunn delivered a fun spin-off entitled Tales from Harrow County. In preparation of The Rise of Skywalker I picked up The Rise of Kylo Ren and will do my best to avoid spoilers until Monday when my family will enjoy the finale to the current saga. Wrapping things up this week was the continuation of Daredevil as he teams up with Electra and is ever so closer to fully returning.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Watchmen Wednesdays: Episode 9

Watchmen Wednesdays: Episode 9

And so it comes to an end. What started as a show I didn't hear much hype about became the most talked about and exciting show of the year. Showrunner Damon Lindelof provided a master class on storytelling in a nine episode arc that was also just super fun.

In many ways, episode eight set-up the expectations of episode nine, "See How They Fly." We already know Cal/Dr. M was teleported by the white supremacist group the Seventh Kavalry and that Lady Trieu has a plan to stop them.

First, Veidt's storyline is brought together through several flashbacks. Turns out, Lady Trieu is his daughter after her mother, a refugee working as a cleaning lady, inseminated herself with Veidt's collected cum kept hidden in his office. As one might guess, Veidt disowns her, says he'll never call her daughter, and that she has to work her way up from nothing just like he did (in typical grumpy white man style).

Of course, this isn't going to stop Lady Trieu. As we know from the rest of the season, she is successful, to the point that even Veidt must acknowledge her as his daughter in order to escape Europa and his torturous utopia. In the bodies spelled out in corpses of Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks, we now see he has written on the moon not only "save me" but "save me daughter." Thus, Veidt is rescued by Lady Trieu--and my fan theory was confirmed! In order to make the flight back, he's coated in some sort of gold goo that hardens. It is Veidt in Lady Trieu's garden, not a statue! I feel very gratified by my little moment. Lady Trieu unthaws him, and he gets to come along for the festivities.

While the Seventh Kavalry successfully captures Cal/Dr. M, Lady Trieu's plan is also successful and she kills the Seventh Kavalry leadership. That being said, Veidt is convinced that Trieu would be just as bad of a choice as the white supremacist Senator Keene to take on the powers for Dr. Manhattan. The season isn't necessarily charitable when it comes to demonstrating her ability to empathize, but we are never given the chance to know if she would have been good in blue. Veidt comes up with a plan to stop her, using frozen baby squids teleported to the center of Tulsa, OK, which destroys not only her machine but her, as well. Only on Watchmen, folks.

Even Veidt can't save Dr. M, but Angela is there when he dies. His powers are drained into Trieu's machine, and after that, we aren't sure, though Lindelof and his team have given us several clues that seem to confirm the next Dr. M.

Angela Abar in a Watchmen promo with a significant tint to the color palette. 
First, the focus on eggs. Dr. M tells Will Reeves who relays to Angela that: "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs." While eggs have been a motif throughout the season, the previous episode featured dialogue between Dr. M and Angela about if he could transfer his powers into someone else, and he uses an egg as an example--he could put his powers in the organic material, which would then activate once someone ate it. Later in episode eight, Angela breaks a carton of eggs out of anger that Dr. M won't do anything to save himself. At the end of the episode, she walks into the house and sees the broken carton. As she begins to clean it up, she remembers the conversation about transferring his powers via the egg. Of course, she cracks the egg, eats it, and tries to walk on the pool water, which Dr. M had done earlier that night. And, that's where the show ends, with her foot just about to touch the pool.

That being said, I think this promo picture makes it pretty clear who, if anyone, is the next Dr. Manhattan.

The end of the season doesn't wrap up much the loose ends--such as if Veidt will go to trial again, this time for massacring people via giant squid rather than killing the clones. There's a chance that Damon Lindelof will make another season, but I'm also okay with the show ending as a near perfect run. I've still got a lot of thoughts spinning around, so I hope to write a longer essay about the series as a whole next year, but until then, I've got some suggestions to keep up the Watchmen vibe through the holidays!

  • If you're like me and haven't read the original for various reasons, that might be a good place to start! I'm planning on reading Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons over the next few weeks.
  • If you're an old time fan and the show has reignited the fires, then check out Doomsday Clock (2017-2019) by Geoff Johns, the sequel to the original comic. 
  • If you want a deep dive into the TV show lore, then check out Peteypedia, a wiki constructed by the writers' room to give you all the good details.   

Thanks for reading along and experiencing Watchmen with me! I hope to see you in 2020 for a longer conversation about the series as a whole (and I'm sure we'll be talking about it once the Hugo nominations come out!).

Phoebe Wagner currently studies at University of Nevada: Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Microreview [book]: Come Tumbling Down, by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire delivers another standout Wayward Children novella

Over the last two years I've been working my way through as much of Seanan McGuire's work as I could pour directly into my brain and I've been thinking about how McGuire uses the idea of a hero. October Daye refers to herself as a hero, but in those novels, in faerie it appears to be more of a job title than something that an individual is called for a particular act. It's a way of life. It's part of a person's identity.
Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children was an island of misfit toys, a place to put the unfinished stories and the broken wanderers who could butcher a deer and string a bow but no longer remembered what to do with indoor plumbing. It was also, more importantly, a holding pen for heroes. Whatever they might have been when they'd been cast out of their chosen homes, they'd been heroes once, each in their own ways. And they did not forget.
As much as any of the previous four Wayward Children novellas, Come Tumbling Down is a story about identity. That's something that has been baked into the series from the opening pages of Every Heart a Doorway (my review). It's the idea that sometimes children just don't fit into the lives their parents and families and communities seem to have mapped out for them, and when there is no balance to be struck and no understanding of who those children really are - sometimes they find their way to worlds where they truly belong. The places those children find in each of their worlds is so deeply personal, but for many of those children one common thread is that they become heroes of those worlds.

That's an idea that seems to carry across McGuire's fiction - that heroes are real and that they are necessary and important. There's a wider conversation to be had about how Seanan McGuire writes heroes as a formal concept, and the Wayward Children novellas fit very neatly into the middle of that conversation, but what I want to think about here is how that idea of heroism ties into how McGuire handles identity. These children have had the opportunity to become who they truly are and whether they are in the worlds which they belong or the world which we know, they will never let go of that identity and heroism is fully intertwined with that.

Come Tumbling Down gives a fairly strong hint what the novella will be about just from the title - McGuire is revisiting Jack and Jill (last featured in Down Among the Sticks and Bones (my review)) with a return to the Moors when Jack needs help getting her body back from the vampire master. It's complicated.

In some of the previous Wayward Children volumes, Seanan McGuire has played with the idea of portal fantasy and the unexpected consequences of traveling between worlds as children and finding a true place in a world even if it isn't the one born into. Come Tumbling Down is straight up a quest fantasy with some of the other children at Eleanor West's helping Jack recover her body and stop the Master from resurrecting Jill.

Seanan McGuire is a master storyteller and infuses her fiction with so much truth and pathos that even when her stories are fully fantastical and pushing into the absurd, the stories ring true in all of the ways that actually matter.
And really, that was her true gift to them: she taught them how to keep hoping in the face of a world that told them their memories were delusions, their lived experiences were lies, and their dreams were never going to come true. Perhaps that was her secret for engendering loyalty in a student body that was otherwise disinclined to trust adults, listen to them, or answer when they called. She believed.
The fifth Wayward Children novella is not where readers should begin with this series. Even as McGuire tells distinct stories with each novella, they build off of each other. Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones are the true antecedents, but there's more character development for the adventure party in Beneath the Sugar Sky. A new reader can enjoy Come Tumbling Down as an introduction to Wayward Children, but there is so much richness and color to be had by reading the series in order.

Readers who have been following along know what to expect, which is simply a whole lot of excellence and joy in the midst of terror. New readers are in for a treat.
This is a horror movie," she said, in a dreamy thoughtful tone. "Did you know? We walked into a horror movie on purpose, and not everybody makes it out alive
The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10
Bonuses: +1 for the small character moments that mean so much
Penalties: -1 because even though this is a combination of Jack's story + the adventure quest, revisiting Jack and Jill wasn't nearly as satisfying as our first trip to this world.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Mondays on Mandalore: Life Day

Welcome to Mondays on Mandalore. Unlike Mandalorians, this will not be a quiet, stoic affair. It will, however, discuss The Mandalorian, and in doing so, assume you have seen same. So there are spoilers.

Contrary to last week, I have a lot to say about this week. Let's dig in.

There's no shortage of commentary on the Western themes of the Mandalorian, and that was obvious from the get-go, but my goodness:  Making a quasi-horror, heist episode is not what I saw coming, and I am here for it. There's a ton I love about this episode, which are things I love about the show overall, so let's get meta with it.

I adore two of the three animated shows (Resistance is hot garbage), and at several points, both Clone Wars and Rebels address big issues, and big ideas. They deal with galactic conflict, and do an amazing job of bringing those to a human level.

The Mandalorian isn't concerned with any of that; it starts with the human and works up. It deals with people trying to survive and scrape by, the people who we meet at the beginning of A New Hope and The Force Awakens, Luke and Rey, who go on to play monumental roles despite being nobodies on the galactic scale. Here, the nobodies stay nobodies. Sometimes because they lose - see the Chapter 6 - sometimes, because they just want to be left alone, like Kuiil early on.

A super early comment on Star Wars (that I am far too lazy to look up who said it) was that it was the first scifi universe that "felt lived in". So many other universes are dirtier, grittier, more violent, etc. But Star Wars isn't Game of Thrones or the like, so how does it adapt to the modern age? Even more relevant, what happens when the thing that made Star Wars, Star Wars, namely, the Skywalker Saga, wraps up?

I think The Mandalorian gives us a glimpse into what the post-Skywalker universe can and will look like - diverse, drawing from sources that inspire and elevate it to new heights, just like the influences of Lucas and company way back when it first started.

We find out next week how the Skywalker Saga wraps up - after that, who knows? There's been a lot of static about what fans do and don't like, but for this one... I like the direction things are going.


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

The Hugo Initiative: Girl Genius (2009, Best Graphic Story)

Dossier: Foglio, Kaja and Phil. Girl Genius and the Chapel of Bones (Volume 8) [Airship Entertainment, 2009]

Filetype: Graphic Story

Executive Summary: Agatha Heterodyne is the protagonist in this series and up to this point has been portrayed largely as a bit of a klutz. There is a mystery surrounding her birth and many believe she is a holy child as the Heterodyne line was thought to have died off. We open this chapter with her hiding her true identity as she is trapped inside of Castle Heterodyne with others.  

Meanwhile, on the outside of the castle, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach partners with the Jagers as his father battles injuries and the threat of The Other. Gil is clearly dealing with issues associated with his status and living in the shadow of his father.

The idea of the living mechanical castle leads to some interesting drama within the castle walls as Agatha, via a blood test, is able to demonstrate she is the proper heir and gain control over the castles expansive weapons system. She needs to repair it in order to restore all functionality and that is no easy task.

Gil returns in a triumphant moment at the end claiming he intends to aid the true Heterodyne heir after surviving a barrage of attacks from the castle's air defense system.
Girl Genius is a true independently created comic from husband and wife Kaja and Phil Foglio.  It was originally published as a free online comic and it built up enough of a fan base to win three Hugo Awards and multiple successful Kickstarters.

This series began in 2002 and was ahead of its time in its representation of women in the comic book industry. Filled with witty quips, heavy steampunk vibes, and fantasy-esque action sequences, it is not shocking that a series with this rabid of a fan base has had such a successful run.

In Retrospect: While the themes and story-telling remain relevant today, the art feels dated and I am surprised that it managed to beat both Fables: War and Pieces and Y:The Last Man, Volume 10 to claim the first graphic story Hugo award.

For its time: 4/5.
Read today: 4/5.
Gernsback Quotient: 8/10.

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

Friday, December 13, 2019

Microreview [book]: The Last Sun, by K.D. Edwards

K.D Edwards' The Last Sun is an intriguing Urban Fantasy that uses genderqueer characters and the story of Atlantis to tell an intriguing magic-infused story.

In a world very much like ours but where Atlantis existed, and existed into the modern era until the survivors of its fall emigrated to a new home in the New World, a scion of a fallen House is wrapped up in mystery and intrigue, as rivalries, schemes and long set plans collide with that scion’s destiny and coming into his true power.

Rune Sun is the last of his kind. House Sun, his tarot card named noble family, has long since fallen and he is the only survivor. A  sword fighter and a sorcerer, he lives doing odd jobs here and there, a down on his luck existence especially given the wealth and power of his peers, and of his life, long ago. It is doing one of those odd jobs, against another noble House, that Sun gets hooked into an intrigue that extends across New Atlantis. That hook, too and just might provide an opportunity for Rune to prove and show his capability and true abilities. If it doesn’t wreck his homeland or get him killed first, that is.

This is the world of K D Edwards debut novel, The Last Sun

There are lovely notes of worldbuilding throughout the novel, although sometimes they didn’t quite come in the order I’d hope for or in the time I really was looking for those answers. Almost as if Quinn, the Seer, was dishing out the worldbuilding, some questions remained frustratingly out of reach and unanswered until later in the novel. I really wanted to know how the world got the way it was, I wanted to know all about how the Atlanteans lost their island home, and got to their new place. And for the most part, the answers are a bit vague, almost a bit too much. But if you are going to have an Atlantis and sink it, I want to know all about it.

Aside from those concerns, we get a New Atlantis which has an uneasy relationship with the rest of the modern  world. The hints we are given seem to suggest the history of the rest of the world has not been drastically changed by the presence of Atlantis in history but aside from some reference here and there, the outside world doesn’t matter too much to those who dwell in New Atlantis.

Instead, the worldbuilding of the novel focuses on how the magic and major figures of New Atlantis, The Arcana, work, and the structure and strictures of Atlantean society. Atlantis is a high magic society in a world where technology from the outside world works as well. We get plenty of detail and exploration of how and why magic works, and get to see it in action. The Sigil concept as a way to hold and use spells helps ground the characters and provide a tangible hold for the reader on understanding the capacities and limitations. This magic also scales and maps well with small scale action, so that we get excellent high magic and also excellent action and adventure that jumps off of the page.

That high magic we see through the sigils give those action beats in The Last Sun a Dresden Files crossed with Shadowrun sort of feel. All of the major characters have those sigils, and are very willing to use them in the many set piece engagements in the novel. The book is full of confrontations and adventures, liberally planted throughout the narrative so as to keep the tension going. The author also likes to use the action beats to inform and develop his characters, we often best see the personalities and choices and what they stand for by what they do when their lives are on the line.

There are a slew of those intriguing characters to be found fighting those battles. Above and beyond Rune Sun, the protagonist, the best of these is his bonded companion, Brand. The two of them make a duo who clearly have been together through thick and thin, and some very dark times in the backstory of the novel as well. They have a great, snarky, back and forth relationship that is a treat to read. Other characters of various social ranks and relationships come into the double planet system of these two characters and out again. Even though the point of view of the novel stays with Rune all of the time, I truly felt that Brand was his “other half”, just as his companion bond meant to invoke. Another character I particularly liked that we only see some of is Ciaran, another scion with power over Dreams, who wanders into Rune’s story but clearly has a history and agenda and life of his own beyond the bounds of the novel.

Despite the issues I had with some elements, The Last Sun makes for an intriguing and immersive debut novel, and I look forward to more novels about New Atlantis, Rune Sun and those around him.

The Math

Baseline Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1  For a strong set of intriguing characters

Penalties: -1 A few gaps in the world and worldbuilding frustated me a bit

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

Reference:  Edwards, K.D,  The Last Sun [Pyr, 2019]

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