So, I saw DOCTOR STRANGE today. Some thoughts, Storify-ed from Twitter, and then more below.
So, I saw DOCTOR STRANGE today. Some thoughts, Storify-ed from Twitter, and then more below.
Hexomancy is here, but several folks have already read it, thanks to the wonders of NetGalley. And lucky for me, they seem to be loving the book, which makes my geeky heart soar. It means a lot to me that people are still reading and reviewing the series four books in, since it’s often very hard to get reviews of books after the first in the series.
Michael Underwood scores full points for a perfect hit with Hexomancy, drawing (at least the first cycle) of the Ree Reyes series (which include Geekomancy and Celebromancy along with the novella, Attack the Geek) to a full-on fun while satisfying ending. You know those episode-ending scenes around the table of Serenity from Firefly? There is a sense of camaraderie, coming home with people and life seeming to fit (even with chaos around the corner). That’s what Hexomancy is for me.
Ree is an engaging, likeable heroine, with an interesting backstory. She is a ‘glass half full’ lass, rather than the tortured, angsty type, so the overall tone is fairly upbeat despite the various disasters and mayhem that befalls them. I enjoyed her positive energetic outlook and the buzz of the bar, Grognard’s, where she works as a waitress is effectively captured. That said, it isn’t all a bundle of laughs. Underwood handles the building threat well, and the action scenes whip through with plenty of tension – more so, because he isn’t afraid of offing significant characters. There was also a couple of pleasing story twists I didn’t see coming.
First and foremost, these books are FUN! Michael Underwood wears his geek cred on his sleeve, much like Ernest Cline who wrote Ready Player One and Armada. However, instead of just dropping geek references, he weaves our shared love of all these properties, characters and culture into the fabric of the engine which drives Ree’s powers.
There’s nothing quite like this series. The rules are well defined, the characters are interesting, and the utter truckload of geeky nostalgia plows through me like the power of the dark side. Or is that Hexomancy? Hmm.
Hexomancy was a satisfying and exciting conclusion to the first arc of Ree Reyes. There are new things that come up, when a door closes, another one opens…I’m really looking forward to reading what’s next for our adorable heroine.
In addition to squeeing over reviews, I’ve been making the promotional rounds to support Hexomancy. Here’s the first batch of fun:
If you’re planning to buy Hexomancy and haven’t done so already, please consider picking it up this week. First week sales are an important indicator to a book’s publisher, and it helps drive momentum and discovery. Also, if you’ve already read the book, please consider leaving a review on the ebook retailers (as many as you care to cross-post to), as those also drive discovery.
And if you’ve done all of the above (my heroes!) and are hungry for more, don’t fret! Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution is only 2 months and 2 days away, and is specifically designed to be fun for Ree Reyes readers while also being totally their own thing.
June was a whirlwind, and now moving into July, we’ve come through the eye of the PROMONADO and are now going through the second half, with CONvergence and ReaderCon, as well as more podcastery.
Today, I’m on Adventures of Sci-Fi Publishing, talking about SHIELD AND CROCUS, Tor.com’s new imprint, the Hachette/Amazon situation, and more. There’s also a giveaway for a SHIELD AND CROCUS bundle (paperback, audiobook, ebook).
Fangirl Nation has a review of CELEBROMANCY– “a creative look at an intricate movie culture and works as a commentary on the power of that culture. Underwood continues to write a series that is engaging, filled with pop culture references and entertaining to boot.”
Yesterday was a whirlwind. In order to catch up, I’m going to bring together links from activity over the last week so it’s easier to keep up.
The release week whirlwind continues! I’ll try to round up some of the greatest hits here for folk that haven’t been glued to their Twitter streams (you know, sane and normal people living their lives and not obsessing over their first book release, natch.)
Geekomancy now has several reviews across the eTailersphere, including this one from Publishing Iconoclast, Evil Wylie:
For any readers out there — the more reviews the book the has, the easier it is for readers to know if they’re likely to enjoy the book. So if you’ve read Geekomancy and feel like reviewing it on BN.com, Amazon, iBooks, Google, Goodreads, etc., I would be very appreciative.
I also had the chance to guest blog at the journal of Mary Robinette Kowal, talking about My Favorite Bit in Geekomancy:
The Reading Room has an exclusive on sampling the third chapter of Geekomancy. This means you can now read three chapters of Geeky Goodness to see if the book is going to be up your alley.
The novel has been hanging out in some pretty sweet positions on the sales rankings, which I hope will continue to help with exposure.
And, speaking of exposure, here’s a special ‘Mike’s Vicarious San Diego Comic-Con Awesome’ glimpse of Geekomancy at the convention. I may not be there, by my book is!:
Julia at All Things Urban Fantasy has posted the first professional review of Geekomancy (as in not from a blurbing author, family, etc.)
I met Leanna this spring at a party during BEA, and was excited to read her YA debut Darker Still: A Tale of Magic Most Foul.
Here’s the setup (from the book’s page on goodreads.com):
New York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart’s latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing…
Jonathan Denbury’s soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.
Gothic literature is not really my wheelhouse in what I prefer for my reading, but I do appreciate a well-told moody tale. Darker Still bears the gothic legacy, but is, for me, brighter and more optimistic than many gothic horror stories I’ve known. I’d classify this as YA Historical Fantasy rather than horror, though there are some solidly spooky bits.
The story moves along at a good pace, and the main character, Natalie, is well-done for me, yearning for a way to connect more effectively with the world despite her psychosomatic mutism that developed after the death of her mother years ago when Natalie was only four. The romance plot develops fairly well, with the external threat providing intensity that fuels the rapid development of their relationship.
My main complaints with the novel come from characters other than Natalie. In my reading, I found the love interest Lord Denbury too perfect by half. He’s a Magic Shiny Perfect Gorgeous Rich Boyfriend. His only faults are external and situational, rather than being character defects. He’s stuck in a portrait, and that’s a big obstacle that he and Natalie spend the book fighting, but I find it hard to connect with a character who is only ever described as wonderful and awesome. He’s generous, compassionate, progressive, and courageous. Since the book is told in epistolary form through Natalie’s POV, I get that she focuses on his positive aspects, but I was waiting for him to show something less than perfection. He slips from Total Perfection only once, and it is explained away by the narrator very quickly, rather than lingered on with any doubt.
Natalie’s main donor figure/mentor in the book, Mrs. Northe, is shown with some hubris and flaw, but she is wholly supportive of Natalie at all points — this is a recurring feature I’ve seen in many YA novels — the presence of totally and unquestioningly supportive adults who enable the teen heroes to pursue their goals. If done well, I don’t tend to mind, but I’ve seen that archetype appear enough to be notable. The story is never theirs, it’s always the teen hero’s story, so they just play through being an Awesome Donor Figure. The only time it annoys me is if the Awesome Donor Figure seems to be unrealistically supportive and/or without fault or personal agenda. Everyone has their own goals, and if the character is always uncomplicatedly useful, I think it can detract from the hero’s journey (and Hero’s Journey, since I’m talking about Donor Figures). I think Mrs. Northe stays on the rounded side of annoying for me, but she is suspiciously Always Supportive of a girl she’s just met, which makes me hope there will be some complications in future books that show her agenda as not always lining up with Natalie’s own.
Overall, I found Darker Still to be well-paced, finely written, and satisfactory even while being not my usual cup of tea in fantasy. It’s well set up for sequels, and I hope to see more roundness of character from Lord Denbury in the sequels. I’d definitely recommend it to teen readers looking for something with cool historical bits, or for fans of Wilde’s A Portrait of Dorian Gray, which provides a fair bit of the conceptual DNA of the book’s magical portrait.
One of my recent reads was Noise, by Darin Bradley. This book got lots and lots of buzz when it came out (at least online), but it wasn’t until last month I picked it up, as my original response was ‘that sounds like I’d hate it.’
Turns out that response was correct, just not in the way I’d expected.
The book is all filtered through the perspective of one disaffected youth, with his life-long BFF at his side. These guys grew up playing D&D, playing boffer swordfighting, and learning survival skills in scouts. So when the digital changeover leaves a gap of frequencies that pirate broadcasters hijack to share their apocalyptic warnings, the boys listen. They start planning, preparing, assembling their own ‘how to survive the apocalypse’ manual, a manual that assumes violence. Not just violence to survive, but lots of violence, as a primary tool of obtaining what you want.
Noise is a book about the ways that personal mythology can be used to completely transform your thinking, and how cultural narratives and groupthink can be used to justify all sorts of horrible acts.
The book is far easier to understand just by reading it. I found that as much as I deplored what was going on in the book, it was compellingly told, and I could imagine that there would be no small number of people who, in the event of a collapse as described (sketchily, I’ll add — either viewable as a bug in the book or a feature if you think that the main character doesn’t really care about the collapse, just the response), would go off the deep end like that.
It’s not an easy book to read, and it is not a clear condemnation or valorization of geeks, boy scouts, or anarchists. It is, instead, a fascinating character study of how a pair of suburban boys try to transform themselves into the kind of people who can survive and thrive in an apocalypse and post-collapse world.
I think my life has just been changed by a book again. The last book that blew my mind this much was Henry Jenkins‘ Convergence Culture. I’m not counting novels right now, because fiction and non-fiction blow my mind in such different ways. This kind of mind-blowing is the one that is potentially career-changing (I want a career as a writer, but other careers along the way might be useful to pay the bills). More organized thoughts may come later, but right now I want to share my enthusiasm and talk briefly about some exciting things.
The author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change The World is Jane McGonigal, whom you might know from her TED Talk:
Reality is Broken is a continuation of the thread of logic that McGonigal puts forward in the TED talk and in support of her biggest dream: she wants to see a game designer win the Nobel Prize for Peace by 2032.
The book is a concerted effort to take a reader through many of the corners of game design and to show off each area’s lessons, and presents a paradigm which enables every person on earth to participate in saving the planet and the human race: Games. Gamers, she says, are humanity’s secret weapon in our struggle to survive, thrive, and protect our planet.
Disclaimer: I’m a life-long gamer. Some of my earliest memories are playing computer games on my dad’s lap, as we pushed our Commodore Amiga to its limits with games like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Land of the Rising Sun, and more. I started playing D&D when I was eight, Magic: the Gathering when I was 11, and so on. I was too young to be a part of the first video-gamer generation, but I am totally a representative of the 2nd-gen gamer. From what I can tell, this book is written in no small part to people like me, lifelong gamers, as an inspiration and challenge to go out in the world and turn our gaming experience to achieve Epic Social Win. And for this gamer, the inspiration has certainly been successful.
It’s actually somewhat difficult for me to talk about this book, for several reasons. For one, it’s got a crapton of material and ideas contained within. McGonigal puts forward fourteen ‘fixes’ for reality based on various ways that gaming is superior to reality in letting us be more optimistic, more connected, more engaged and so on.
Here’s Fix#1, from p.22:
“Fix #1: Unnecessary Obstacles
Compared with games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with voluntary obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use”
The idea here is that adding an unnecessary obstacle to a chore or job lets you take it from a chore, a burden, and turn it into a game with a challenge. I have dirty dishes, and they should be cleaned. I hate washing dishes, unless I add something to the task. If I challenge myself to do the dishes while dancing to my favorite music, or to do the dishes using the least water possible, filling a bowl and cleaning everything out of that one bowl of soapy water, or something in that mode, I take control of the task again — I’m doing dishes, because they have to be done, but I’m doing more than just the dishes — I’m playing a game and the result of that game is both 1) clean dishes and 2) A happier Mike (having played a game, set myself a voluntary obstacle and met it).
McGonigal talks a lot about positive psychology/happiness psychology, looking at the ways that we think we can achieve happiness vs. the ways that current science thinks we actually achieve happiness. Unsurprisingly (since she mentions it), games, especially social games that involve touch, are great for happiness. I found this section one of the most illuminating, since it covered an area not of my expertise (My formal psychology experience begins and ends with Psych 101, a class on brain chemistry).
As a game designer, McGonigal seems to approach her world in terms of problems, and ways to make games to solve them. When she was recovering from a concussion in 2009 and unsatisfied with her rate of recovery, she designed a game called SuperBetter to help her take control of her own recovery and restore a sense of power. The game asks the recovering person to conceive of themselves as a superhero, their disease or injury as the supervillain, and to recruit allies to round out your team, identify power-ups which can help in recovery (taking a walk, doing things you love that aren’t effected by the injury/disease, etc) and making a superhero to-do list of things that will let you feel good about yourself, set goals to aspire to (gather enough energy to go out and do X).
SuperBetter let her ‘gamify’ the recovery process, taking control and empowering herself by applying an interpretive framework that cast herself as the heroine, possessed of the motive and means to get better.
There are countless games, designed for various objectives, but they teach us many lessons. These lessons, McGonigal argues, equip us to tackle the world’s largest problems — we can take big big issues like peak oil and gamify them, applying a framework that will inspire, challenge, and enable people to be creative, innovative, and collaborate to find solutions together (the peak oil example comes from the game World Without Oil).
Not just any old game will save the world. But everyday games can still do things like let us feel powerful and accomplished. They can give us a way to stay in touch with friends or family, give an icebreaker for meeting new people, and countless other things.
Games, McGonigal argues, are a central facet of humanity, and one of our greatest tools. Now we just need to take all of the time and energy we’ve put into games, evaluate and acknowledge what it’s taught us, and put those skills to use on social issues, political issues, environmental issues, and more.
If this sounds like your bag, read the book, then consider signing up with gameful.org, a social-network/collaboration tool for game designers working to make ‘gameful‘ games.
Having watched a number of the new shows that debut this fall, here are some thoughts:
My Generation: I was interested in this show in no small part due to the fact that the main characters, nine students from the class of 2000 at an Austin high school, are nearly my age-peers. I graduated in the class of 2001 (we did not play Space Odyssey, I’m sad to say), and am far away from where I thought I would be at that time.
This show takes the mocumentary style and applies it to a drama, where filmmakers followed nine students throughout their senior year, and is now checking in with them ten years later. The characters are introduced with their High School clique labels, such as “The Nerd,” “The Brains,” “The Jock,” etc. and then shown in their current lives, often very far away from where they’d expected to be. Circumstances in the characters’ lives bring many of them back to Austin, re-connecting with those who had never left or already returned.
The pilot clearly set the stakes, established the characters and their current trajectories vs. their self-professed worlds that they had imagined for themselves in 2000. It’s not fantastic, but it’s compelling so far and I’m likely to keep watching for a little while, if for no reason than the degree to which it makes me think about what has been happening in my own life vs. what I expected when I was a senior in HS.
The Event — This is the new The New LOST. The Event uses mosaic-style storytelling, jumping between characters and time frames in a fairly jarring manner, though over the episode, the rhythm became less distracting for me. The focus on Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) in the first episode brings the audience into the middle of The titular Event, balanced with POV sections from President Martinez (played by Blair Underwood — no relation) and others.
For me, much of my level of ongoing interest will depend on the truth of the Mt. Inostranka facility. Who are these people, and how are they connected to The Event? Once we know more about that, it’ll be easier to decide how much I care. There are several options that are yawn-worthy, and some others that could prove quite compelling.
Undercovers — The new sexy spy offering from Alias-creator J.J. Abrams is cute and fun. It’s not fantastic, but it does show a happily-married african-american couple as series leads, which is still noteworthy for network TV. It’s Sexy People Doing Sexy Spy Things, but it’s pretty well-done, and the leads are both gorgeous and likeable. I won’t stay home for this one, but I’ll probably catch up via Hulu every so often.
No Ordinary Family — The Pilot of this one hasn’t actually aired, but I got to watch a preview last month when they had it in limited availability. No Ordinary Family is very nearly a Live Action The Incredibles, with an origin closer to the Fantastic Four, who were an obvious inspiration for the Pixar film.
Michael Chiklis is Jim Powell, police sketch artist and under-appreciated dad. He feels fairly powerless and disconnected from his family, including his Bigwig Scientist Wife, Stephanie Powell (Julie Benz). Their children are Just-Trying-To-Fit-In Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and Undiagnosed Learning Disability Kid Brother JJ (Jimmy Bennett).
Jim convinces the family to take a vacation, which leads to their plane crashing into the Amazon — their trip is ruined, but shortly after their return, the members of the family begin manifesting super-powers. Jim gains incredible strength and toughness, Stephanie gets super-speed, Daphne becomes telepathic and JJ gets a massive intelligence boost.
The show’s formula seems like it will include Jim using his powers and police connections to fight crime while the rest of the family goes about their lives trying to deal with their powers — there are also hints of a larger super-world which will likely play a role as the show goes forward.
Of the new shows this season, I’m probably most excited about No Ordinary Family — it’s fun, doesn’t take itself to seriously, and seems to be respectful of its genre roots.
Hawaii Five-O — The joys of remakes. I didn’t really watch much of the original, as it was mostly before my time. However, the new show keeps what some say is the best part of the original show — the opening theme.
Alex O’Laughlin plays Steve McGarrett, who is brought out of the Middle East and offered a position heading a new state police unit in Hawaii, with no red tape and vast resources, tasked with bringing down TV-worthy criminals across the state.
He crosses paths with Danny “Danno” Williams, a divorced father who moved to Hawaii to be near his daughter (who primarily lives with her mother and step-dad), and also recruits Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim), a disgraced cop who worked with McGarrett’s father. Rounding out the cast is Grace Park, playing Chin Ho’s cousin Kona “Kono” Kalakaua, a hotshot rookie policewoman. McGarrett recruits her right out of the academy, as she’d have trouble getting respect in the normal force due to her familial connection to the disgraced Chin Ho.
The exotic locale, nostalgia, and charming cast are likely to be the show’s best assets, at least to begin with. I admit that if the show finds a way to highlight Grace “Boomer” Park’s gorgeousness on a regular basis, that will help by willingness to watch.