Get Ready WriMos – National Novel Writing Month Approaches

Every November, thousands of people embark on a month of literary abandon. National Novel Writing Month is the brainchild of Chris Baty, having started as a fun challenge between friends in 1999 which eventually evolved into the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. The challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days may seem wildly impractical and foolhardy to some, as one who has won five of the past seven years, I can tell you it is more than feasible with some determination and a few tricks up your sleeve.

If there is one thing that you will be told again and again as you voyage through the uncharted waters of novel writing, it is to let your muse take the helm. Your imagination is more than capable of this challenge, but you need to get your ego and inner critic out of the way.

Your novel will suck and that is okay. First drafts are always awful, so let go of the thought you need to write a masterpiece during the month. The idea is to write; write without filters or fear. Jump head first into the unknown and see what happens. Continue reading Get Ready WriMos – National Novel Writing Month Approaches

Why Are We So Hard On Our Heroines?

This is a question that’s been rolling around in my brain for some time. It started when I watched the first episode of Marvel’s Agent Carter and Peggy blew away all my expectations, and it twigged again when I encountered the heroines written by my fellow authors in the Five Past Midnight supernatural thriller box set.

All of the heroines in this set are independent-minded and unapologetic about it. One is an assassin and loves the adrenaline rush. Another smokes. Another is a bartender who loves sex.

It’s not the usual treatment of women even in romance novels, which is why those characters struck me as unusual.

The overall question of who our heroines are and what we want from them goes hand-in-hand with Jennifer Lawrence’s recent statement that she’s done with trying to be likable, or the debate over Black Widow‘s role in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

We, as a society, have a certain idea of what fictional women should be, what they should feel, and why they should feel.

Why?

Five main reasons and they’re all related.

We’re Not In Charge of Our Own Destiny

Men are the ones usually writing female characters in pop culture. Sure, that’s beginning to change, but not as fast as it should. For example, the percentage of female directors has hardly budged in the last 20 years. (Still 16 percent.) The Star Wars and Star Trek films are all written and directed by men. Only one woman, Nicole Perlman, has a screenwriting credit on the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, for Guardians of the Galaxy. Some men can write women well, of course, but for the most part, these men are mainly interested in male stories. See my Ant-Man rant. Women are seen in so many cases as adjuncts supporting a lead male character’s story, not as part of their own story.

There Can Be Only One

This leads to the second problem. Because there are so few women, she has to stand in for all the things. She has to be beautiful, she has to be intelligent, she has to kick-ass, but she has to be warm and supportive to everyone too. This is nowhere more clear than in Age of Ultron. Tony is the impulsive, smart one, Steve is the stalwart leader, Clint is the family man, Bruce is the loner, but Natasha is also the loner, the smart one, the leader when needed, the women grieving for losing the idea of family, and the sexy one. If she were non-white, she’d be the representative for that ethnic group as well.

Whew. That’s a lot of things to be all at once. Continue reading Why Are We So Hard On Our Heroines?

My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: October 2015

This month our favorite library finds cover everything from evolution to cuteness, picture books to graphic novels!

Older than the Stars. Image credit: Charlesbridge Publishing
Older than the Stars. Image credit: Charlesbridge Publishing

Older Than the Stars, written by Karen C. Fox and illustrated by Nancy Davis, presents the idea that we are all as old as the universe. With abstract background images, the cumulative story starts with the last line and works its way backward. For example, the first two pages are: “This is the bang when the world began” and “These are the bits that were born in the bang when the world began.” Eventually, we work our way through to how the big bang relates to the sun, our planet, our environment, all the way down to “you.” It’s really fun to read, much in the style of “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” and each page features a little side note with more details. Continue reading My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: October 2015

An Acrostic Poem In Honor of Ada Lovelace

I have to admit that when I first heard the name of Ada Lovelace, I had to look her up. When girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams, studied mathematics and became the world’s first computer programmer.

It’s awesome to see so many women who’ve made vast contributions to the world finally coming to light. And it’s even more awesome that my friend, Laurie Wallmark, got to tell her story in Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

In honor of the book’s release, Laure composed an acrostic poem to Ada:

A proper Victorian gentlewoman,
Determined to become
A professional mathematician.

Lady Ada Lovelace,
Of noble birth, a
Visionary,
Excited by the marvels of the Industrial Age.
Lord Byron’s daughter,
Appreciator of technology, the world’s first
Computer programmer and an
Exceptional mathematician.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Of course I had to plague Laurie to pen an acrostic poem to describe her debut picture book.

Laurie  is one of my oldest friends in NJSCBWI (the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Our resident technical wizard, Laurie maintains the chapter website and builds the online forms that make registering for events and workshops so easy for our membership.

You can find out more about the book and Laurie at her website, or on Facebook and Twitter.

3 Picture Books Starring Girls Who Love Science

I’m always on the lookout for picture books with characters my daughter can really identify with. As she’s someone who has a big interest in science, I was on the hunt to find books featuring girls who also love science and experiments.

Here are three great picture book finds with science superstars who know how to have fun while learning about the scientific method and participating in the science fair. (Didn’t think that was possible, did you?) Continue reading 3 Picture Books Starring Girls Who Love Science

Between the Bookends: Nightvale, Miss Peregrine & Black Widow

This month the GeekMoms have been enjoying spooky tales of peculiar children, talented alchemists, mysterious desert towns, and deep, dark, fears.

These include the latest in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children‘s novels, a novelization of the Welcome to NightVale podcast world, the latest from Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, and the definitive origin of Black Widow.

Continue reading Between the Bookends: Nightvale, Miss Peregrine & Black Widow

‘Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding’ – Learning Through Fiction

This post was sponsored by Macmillan, publisher of the Hello Ruby children’s book.

Growing up, I had a number of wonderful teachers. Mrs. Snyder showed me how to write in cursive, and Mrs. Walls taught me all about Indiana history and the various legends behind the word “Hoosier.” Not all of my teachers held class in the local elementary school, though. My Marine Biology instructor, Mr. Land, taught me that a squid has three hearts. From Mr. Queequeg in World Civilizations, I learned what a cannibal was and how people in other cultures lived. My favorite two teachers, though, were Mr. Crusoe, my Shop and Home Economics teacher, from whom I learned how to bake, farm, build, and sew, and Mr. Dorough, who laid the foundation of Math, Science, and American History that the rest of my education would be built upon.

Hello-Ruby-Friends

I only spent a few days at a time with these teachers, although I would go back for a visit from time to time, but they made the biggest impact on my life. Why is it I can remember Miss Havisham’s clocks were stopped at 8:40 in Great Expectations, but not what year the Revolutionary War began? Why can I recall the name Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla, but have to look up the name of the guy who rode with Paul Revere?

As it turns out, that’s just the way humans are hardwired. We’ve been passing down information from one generation to the next via storytelling for thousands of years precisely because it is the most effective way to engage our brains. Scientists have determined that when we listen to someone explain a concept using simple definitions and bullet points, it triggers the area of our brain that is responsible for processing language and little else. However, when that same concept is explained in story form, suddenly our brains begin to light up in other regions. The mere description of sights, sounds, and smells trigger the same areas of the brain that experiencing those sensations in real life would trigger. Continue reading ‘Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding’ – Learning Through Fiction

Geeking Out On Starship Design

This week on Geek Speaks…Fiction! we welcome science fiction author Patrick S. Tomlinson! Not only is Patrick the author of the brand new book The Ark from Angry Robot Books, he’s also a stand-up comedian and a blogger. Please welcome him to GeekMom!

Hello GeekMom readers! My name is Patrick S. Tomlinson. I’m a sci-fi author and stand-up comedian living in Milwaukee. My debut novel, The Ark, is hitting the shelves November 3rd from Angry Robot Books. I’ve been asked to share what about writing it made me geek out the most.

The Ark was the first novel I’ve written where the plot emerged fully formed. In the span of just a few hours, the outline of all the major plot points and characters filled up my head in a burst of creativity. Over dinner that night, I positively gushed everything I’d come up with to my girlfriend, just to get it out.

As a result, it was also the fastest book I’ve written to date, taking only six months to reach the end, (I’m still not the fastest writer, although I’m getting a lot better). The whole idea behind the book is Earth was destroyed centuries ago, but humanity had just enough time to do something about it. So they built a stupendous generation ship, filled it with fifty-thousand of the planet’s best and brightest, then shot them off for the stars.

Because of this, the world-building for the story was limited to the ship and its occupants, but that didn’t make the task any less daunting. Creating a self-sustaining world in miniature that is believable, compelling, and still scientifically-grounded was a big deal. Just look at the infamous Biodome II experiment to know what I mean. Continue reading Geeking Out On Starship Design

‘Black Widow: Forever Red’ Is the “Definitive” Story of Natasha Romanoff

It’s usually difficult to find the elusive Natasha Romanoff, but not today: You can now find Black Widow starring her own young adult title, Forever Red, in bookstores everywhere.

Black Widow: Forever Red not only gives us a much-needed insight into the history of Natasha Romanoff, but also introduces a new teenaged character, Ava Orlova, who made her debut in September in the Mockingbird comic book one-shot. How do their paths intersect?

“Being able to tell a canon story—the definitive story of Natasha Romanoff’s past—that was both the carrot and the stick,” says author Margaret Stohl. “But the book is both an origin story and a legacy story—with our Black Widow and our Red Widow—so in many ways it becomes a very powerful female narrative about friendship and really sisterhood between two pretty amazing women.”

Continue reading ‘Black Widow: Forever Red’ Is the “Definitive” Story of Natasha Romanoff

‘Storied Myth’ Is a Hands-On Reading Experience

My son will pretty much do anything to get his hands on my iPad. He has plenty of his own devices, but that doesn’t keep him from ogling my iPad’s big, beautiful screen and whatever apps I’m checking out. I don’t mind forking it over if he’s using it wisely. Like I said, he has plenty of other portables for comics, books, and games. However, Storied Myth is a good reason to give up my precious portable. This is an iOS exclusive that combines reading with hands-on activities.

Storied Myth is an app that weaves a series of stories in with an “adventure kit” that includes puzzles and other trinkets. After you finish reading each chapter, there’s a puzzle that will help you move on to the next installment. Continue reading ‘Storied Myth’ Is a Hands-On Reading Experience

Laura Anne Gilman Geeks Out on Muppets, X-Files & Leverage

Welcome to our weekly Geek Speaks..Fiction series where authors talk about the geekdoms that inspired them.

Our guest today, Laura Anne Gilman is the author of nearly twenty books, including the Nebula award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy.  Her next book project, SILVER ON THE ROAD, is the first in the Devil’s West series from Saga / Simon & Schuster.

I am a child of fandom. Be it the Muppets or Star Wars (my childhood favorites), or X-Files, (my first “adult” fandoms), I’ve been one of the quiet but dedicated fans, who may not wear my heart as cosplay, but was cheering those cosplayers along.

You will never hear me saying “oh, I don’t watch tv.” I think television has been one of the greatest storytelling devices of our lifetime, up there with the commercial printing press and digitally-adjustable font sizes. Is there crap out there? Absolutely. But theres also genius.

And when I look at my own work, I can see their influence, from the very earliest to the most current productions.

  1. The Muppets. There is nothing about the Muppets that I do not still geek over, from the opening number to the guest stars, to the way their scripts managed to remain true to the ‘reality’ of their lives without ever losing the madcap glee of being a muppet. It was my first real experience with an ensemble cast, seeing how disparate stories interweave and overlap, without ever getting tangled. I learned how to snark from Statler and Waldorf – the fine and surprisingly delicate art of cutting without drawing actual blood – and how to love characters that are utterly self-absorbed from Miss Piggy and Fozzie, each in their own delightful way. Farron, the east wind magician in SILVER ON THE ROAD, inherited those balances, and his interactions with Gabriel carry the same real “on the same team but not friends” vibe that the Muppet Show brought out, every single week.

Continue reading Laura Anne Gilman Geeks Out on Muppets, X-Files & Leverage

Star Wars Reads Day Awakens October 10, 2015

October not only brings Halloween fun every year, but the return of Star Wars Reads Day! As Episode VII gets closer and closer, this year’s event promises to be more exciting than ever. With a ton of new Star Wars books to choose from, events nationwide, and spoiler-free activity sheets for The Force Awakens, Star Wars Read Day 2015 will be a blast!

Continue reading Star Wars Reads Day Awakens October 10, 2015

This Is SO Good: ‘Parable of the Sower’ In Concert

I’m spending a rainy morning re-reading Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. There’s a lot to do around the house and for work, but I don’t care. My ears are filled with words and song, and I want to revisit Butler’s masterful and wrenching post-apocalyptic vision, thanks to folk musician Toshi Reagon and the team of performers who are helping bring Butler’s work to a new audience.

Photo: Hachette (trade reprint, 2000). Buy the book at Amazon.

Published in 1993, Parable of the Sower was a 1994 Nebula Award nominee. Twenty-two years on, the story doesn’t just resonate and shock. It grabs hold and shakes, yelling “Wake up!”

In Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina, a young woman with hyperempathy who is the daughter of a visionary preacher, chronicles her journey through a destroyed L.A. and out into the world.

“The first time I read Parable, it was so terrifying,” folksinger Reagon told her audience at a recent concert. “I had to put it down.” Luckily, Reagon picked the book back up again.

Reagon and her mother, Dr. Bernice Johnson (Sweet Honey in the Rock & Freedom Singers co-founder), have written a glorious rock opera and set Parable of the Sower to music. Her musical interpretation of Parable of the Sower premiered at the 2015 Under the Radar festival and is currently making limited appearances as a work-in-progress. Parable of the Sower features outstanding performances by cast members Bertilla Baker, Helga Davis, Karma Mayet Johnson, Tamar-kali, Morley Kamen, Marcelle Davies Lashley, Josette Newsam-Marchak, Carl Hancock Rux, Shayna Small, and Jason C. Walker. The musicians are Robert Burke, Fred Cash, Juliette Jones, and Adam Widoff. (Source: http://toshireagon.com/trwp/projects.)

Program for Parable of the Sower, from The Annenberg Center performance 10/02/15. Image: Fran Wilde
Program for Parable of the Sower, from the Annenberg Center performance on 10/02/15. Image: Fran Wilde

A mix of spirituals, rock, soul-searing solos, and powerful choruses and harmonies, Reagon’s Parable of the Sower is nothing short of transformative. At the Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, where I saw the concert, performers wove the intimacy of the setting and the power of connection through the audience with voice, movement, light and darkness, and eye contact. The music is exquisite. The voices linger long after the theater is quiet.

Reagon said during the performance that Parable of the Sower will be a full opera. Should it, or the work-in-progress concert come to a venue near you? Go.

Concert photo by Fran Wilde.

‘Earth+Space’: The Coffee Table Book That’s Out of This World

Earth+Space: Other than the attractive but questionable title (which sometimes wreaks havoc on precise search engine searches), I love this book. I mean, you’ve got space. You’ve got photography. And I’m pretty sure there are very few people out there who do astrophotography better than NASA. I mean, how many space telescopes do you have?

Image: Chronicle Books
Image: Chronicle Books

With a preface from Bill Nye (the Science Guy, don’tcha know), Earth+Space begins with several photos of Earth from space, including a beautiful nighttime shot. Then it quickly turns its cameras in the other direction, pointing us toward other planets and moons in the solar system, and then out to galaxies, comets, nebulae, brown dwarfs, various other space phenomena, and, one of my favorite things to say, globular clusters. As you move through the book, you get farther and farther away from Earth. Though the distance increases, the beauty does not decrease. NASA’s technology is second to none, and can get clear, detailed, intricate photos of objects far, far away. It also takes us back in time, as we see far away objects as they were many, many years ago.

Continue reading ‘Earth+Space’: The Coffee Table Book That’s Out of This World

Make Paper Folding Your Superpower With ‘DC Super Heroes Origami’

There’s something a little bit magical about turning a piece of paper into a crane, bear, or dragon through the practice of origami. But turning a piece of paper into Batman? That’s being a flat-out origami superhero. Thanks to John Montroll, origami master and author of DC Super Heroes Origami, you and your kids will be making super origami versions of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and more in no time.

Continue reading Make Paper Folding Your Superpower With ‘DC Super Heroes Origami’

My Favorite Picture Books Right Now: September 2015

My 5-year-old and I haven’t shared our favorite picture books in a while for two reasons. First, we’ve ventured into the world of chapter books with Zach Weinersmith’s Augie and the Green Knight. The second is that we’ve been working our way through DK’s lengthy History Year by Year reference book produced by the Smithsonian Institution. More on those two at the end.

Nevertheless, I’m glad to finally have a few wonderful library finds, a few Kickstarter success stories, and some not-quite-picture-book books that cover the gamut of history, science, programming, and a little bit of humor.

Continue reading My Favorite Picture Books Right Now: September 2015

Geekomancer: You’ll Totally Want This Power

Michael R. Underwood (aka: Mike) has traveled the world, knows why Tybalt cancels out Capo Ferro, and rolls a mean d20. He was raised in no small part at his local hobby game store, and he spent so much time helping out they eventually had to put him on staff.

He is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the Geek, Hexomancy), fantasy superhero novel Shield and Crocus, supernatural thriller The Younger Gods, and the forthcoming Genrenauts, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiancée and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show. Visit him at michaelrunderwood.com and on Twitter.

Last year, Fran had me on GeekMom for a special Cooking The Books/GeekMom crossover, where I talked about Attack the Geek, a novella in the Ree Reyes world. Now I’m very happy to talk about Hexomancy, which follows directly after the events of the novella.

cover courtesy Mike Underwood
cover courtesy Mike Underwood

The Ree Reyes series is about geeking out – Ree, the lead, is a Geekomancer, which means that when she geeks out, she can do extraordinary things – watching a favorite film or TV show lets her emulate the power of its heroes (watch The Matrix and do wire-fu, watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier and get Cap’s strength and speed, as well as a dose of old-timey righteousness), channeling the collective nostalgia for props to bring them to life (while emulating Captain America, she uses a prop shield and it comes to life as an actual vibranium shield), or using collectible cards like spell scrolls – tearing up a Green Lantern card to make a one-shot lantern construct to help her while chasing an enemy. Continue reading Geekomancer: You’ll Totally Want This Power

Need Fresh Reads? Try Bill Murray & ‘The Martian’

It’s back-to-school month and the GeekMoms have been working hard on their very own reading lists. From Bill Murray to origami, To Kill a Mockingbird to Shakespearean Star Wars, check out what we have been reading this month.

Continue reading Need Fresh Reads? Try Bill Murray & ‘The Martian’

4 New Books and Activities For Indoor Fun

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

It’s still relatively warm where I live, but September means the coming of cooler weather for most of the country, and sometimes even snow, but often additional rain. For those weekend afternoons when your kids come to you, yet again, saying, “Mom, I’m bored,” here are a few new suggestions to give their play some direction. Continue reading 4 New Books and Activities For Indoor Fun

Giveaway: ‘The Marvels’ by Caldecott Medal Winner Brian Selznick

Marvels, Brian Selznick
Marvels in hand! Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Today is the release day for Brian Selznick’s latest beautiful children’s book, The Marvels. This is huge news if you’re a fan of his work, since it’s been four years to the week since his last book, Wonderstruck, was published.

Selznick is one of my absolute favorite children’s authors. I read Hugo Cabret to my third grade classes every year, and I’ve recommended Wonderstruck I don’t know how many times. I’ve been so excited for The Marvels since its preview back in May, and now it’s finally here!

Here’s the synopsis:
From the Caldecott Medal–winning creator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck comes a breathtaking new voyage.

In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories—the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose—together create a beguiling narrative puzzle.

The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvelis banished from the stage.

Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.

A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect, The Marvels is a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation.

Interior page from Marvels, book copyright Scholastic Inc.

You can learn more about The Marvels here. And, check here for a list of Brian Selznick’s tour dates to promote the book.

To celebrate, we are giving away a prize package to one lucky GeekMom reader. It includes:

· A copy of The Marvels;
· A custom The Marvels jigsaw puzzle;
· and a $50 Visa gift card.

There are four ways to enter, and if you follow us on Instagram you’ll get a bonus entry.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest will close this Saturday, September 19th at 11:59pm ET. A random winner will be selected and announced following the end of the giveaway.

Happy book birthday to The Marvels!
Prizes are provided by Scholastic.

‘Star Darlings’: An Empowering New Series From Disney

Today, the Star Darlings take the spotlight on bookstore shelves in a magical new series from Disney. Chapter books, toys, and apps will tell the story of the Star Darlings, magical girls who are working hard to achieve their dreams of becoming wish granters.

“The message I hope kids take away from Star Darlings is that no matter where you were born, what you look like, or what your tastes are, you have the power within you to create the life of your dreams,” says Shana Muldoon Zappa, writer and co-creator of the series. Continue reading ‘Star Darlings’: An Empowering New Series From Disney

Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

LittleRobot300RGB
Image: First Second

Ben Hatke, of Zita the Spacegirl, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, has a new book! Yay! It’s called Little Robot, and I highly recommend it. Ben was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his new work:

GeekMom: Hi Ben! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for GeekMom about your new book, Little Robot. I really enjoyed it.

Ben Hatke: You are welcome! And I’m glad you enjoyed it.

GM: Did you always plan for this to be a (mostly) visual story? What were the challenges and most fun aspects?

Ben: The original Little Robot webcomics were newspaper comic strip format and they were also largely silent, save for a few robot noises. So, coming into the project, I already had a sort of history just using the robot’s gestures and “acting” to tell a story. I continued that going into the graphic novel and gave the robot a little co-star that operated in a similar way—gesture over dialogue.

It was challenging to decide just how little text I could get away with, but for the most part I find purely visual storytelling a lot of fun. I used one of my daughters as a reference for a couple poses.

GM: The “hand” becoming a friend was a great part in the book. How did you come up with that idea?

Ben: I think that’s one of the things that came from the part of the process where I doodle in my sketchbook. In the early parts of a project like this I tend to be working on the plot in text and the design in a sketchbook at the same time, and each of those elements informs the other.

Of course I’m definitely not the first person to use a “helping hand” type of character. I was watching a clip from The Iron Giant recently, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and was a little dismayed to find that there’s a very similar robot hand scene in that movie! Continue reading Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

Reading Gives You Superpowers Giveaway!

The main character of the Captain Underpants series keeps my son in stitches, and I get a few good laughs myself from the writer’s obvious jokes concerning his critics.

The latest book, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot by Dav Pilkey, picks up where the last one left off (and if you haven’t read it, you will be admittedly a little lost in the begining) with two Georges and two Harolds enjoying life because they each only have to attend school half the time while their other selves play video games in their tree house. Not all remains calm, however, when the stench of Mr. Meaner attempts to use mind control to turn all of his students into well-behaved children!

Wait! How is creating well-behaved children a bad thing? Mr. Meaner, call me; I’ll introduce you to Kickstarter!

My favorite lines in the book have been the jokes on the “old people with too much time on their hands” in chapter 2. I’m taking a wild guess that this is in reference to the Captain Underpants series being on the top 10 list of most frequently banned books of the 21st century.

Have no fear, fellow readers! Captain Underpants saves the day and today, he’s dropping off a Super Reader Prize Pack for one lucky reader.

From now through Tuesday, September 8, you can enter to win a super prize pack!

Super Reader Prize Pack \ Image courtesy of Big Honcho Media Used and with permission
Super Reader Prize Pack \ Image courtesy of Big Honcho Media Used and with permission

One lucky reader will receive:
· A copy of Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot
· A branded Captain Underpants T-shirt
· A $50 Visa gift card to fill out your super reader’s bookshelf!

To enter our giveaway, just log into the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address. (Use a valid email, so we can let you know if you win.) You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two additional entries! If you already like/follow us, it will still enter you in the giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget, so you can check back to see who won.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: GeekMom was given a review copy of this title.

Geek Speaks… Fiction! With Fran Wilde

geekspeaks
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

Hi! It’s so strange to be in the hot seat instead of asking the interview questions… but here I am. Your intrepid GeekMom correspondent is ready to dish on what I geeked out about most when writing my first novel, Updraft, which comes out (::checks watch::) today (!) from Tor/Macmillan.

A little bit about me: I’ve been blogging for GeekMom for almost two years. I’m a book geek, a travel geek, a tech and nautical geek, a technology consultant, and my geek co-star venn diagram merge point is somewhere on the Spike-10th Doctor-Stacker Pentecost-Lucy Liu-Mal Reynolds axis.

I’m first and foremost an author, with short fiction in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, and Nature Magazine.

Updraft is the first of three novels I’m writing for Tor. Here’s the short pitch:

A city of living bone rises high above the clouds, its past lost to legend. Danger hides in the wind. Laws have been broken. A great secret must be exposed.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Essentially, Updraft is the story of Kirit Densira, her friend Nat, her mother Ezarit, and how the consequences of a broken law change their world. There are monsters too, free of charge, and plenty of action. But there’s a deeper layer, about society and environment, economics, politics, and freedom. About being heard, and listening. And about what society values and what it throws away.

Also, there a lot of man-made wings.

So what did I geek out about when writing Updraft?

image courtesy Tor Books
Image courtesy Tor Books | Buy at Amazon
Wind: I consulted with cloud and weather experts, read everything I could about the way winds behave at high altitude, and threw myself into the research—literally. I went indoor skydiving to get a sense of how it felt to fly. I also spoke with friends who hang-glide, and pulled on my own experiences as a sailor. One friend pointed out that the taller a natural feature is, the stronger the updraft winds can be—and that was when so many things slid home.
Wings: The wings I wanted for Updraft had to be made from the supplies at hand: bone, silk, and tendon. I looked through plans for various wing designs over the centuries. I researched the history of solo flight attempts. And I grabbed several engineers to whom I’m related and made them check things over too. I also developed a small obsession with wingsuit flyers like Jeb Corliss.
Bridges: I love them, and have since long car trips as a kid. From a distance, they look like creatures rising out of the hills, or over the ocean, all metal spine and cables. I love the story of the Roebling family, who built the Brooklyn Bridge. And just about any rope bridge over a river is an irresistible force. So when it came time to talk about the city’s bridges, which are built of sinew and fiber, I wanted to make sure they really felt as if they could bear weight, as well as be obvious control paths throughout the city. I wrote about the process over at GeekDad yesterday.
Singing & Memory: Those who live in the towers above the clouds have constructed ways to avoid carrying too much with them as they rise higher. They pass on many important details, like laws and cultural history, through singing. While some members of their culture do keep bone tablets (mostly small and light) with information on them that’s too complicated to pass on in a song, most of the citizens sing what they need to know—and display that knowledge at various points in their lives during tests and rituals at Allsuns and Allmoons. Singing and memory are twined for me—when I hear something, I can remember it, almost word for word, especially if it’s set to music. I geeked out over pre-printing press cultures and singing histories, as well as the way information is passed through history.
[redacted]: There are other things I geeked out about for the book—one that left my shins bruised while I researched it—but they’re spoilers. You’ll have to read Updraft to find out.

Looking For New Young Books?

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Well, here are three to check out with dinosaurs! pirates! robots!

First up is Carter Goodrich’s We Forgot Brock! It’s a tale about all kinds of friendship. Brock is the coolest pirate/rocker/hero young Philip could imagine. But when Brock is forgotten at the fair, another child invites him home. Will Brock ever find Phillip again…does he want to? The artwork is key to the book’s charm. The “real” world is colorful, round, and soft. The “imaginary” friends are black and white and flat, but with expression and sincerity. Although I was at first disappointed in the gender-stereotypical depictions of what boys and girls would imagine, it was hard to keep a chip on my shoulder as I read the story aloud to my nieces. We really, really enjoyed it. (And they thought Princess Sparkle Dust was as cool as Brock.) Highly recommend for all ages.

Next is Mark Pett’s Lizard from the Park. If you have ever visited the NYC’s Museum of Natural History, and then walked in Central Park, it’s easy to see where Pett got his inspiration. Those dinosaur bones are so huge! And where would these giants fit in our world? That’s the problem Leonard, a young boy in the city, has when he hatches a lizard egg that may not be just your average lizard. As the mother to a young girl who was obsessed with dinosaurs, this is a sweet book I recommend for all ages.

Finally, Little Robot is Ben Hatke’s new book. This is perfect for youngsters looking for the next level up in storytelling from picture books. Without the need for many words (there is some dialogue) Hatke puts the emotion and layering of story in his artwork. The protagonist is a curly-haired, barefoot girl who finds an abandoned tool set, and box-o-robot in the local junkyard. She activates the robot and they quickly become friends. Yet, they are so very different! Can they stay friends? What is the meaning of true friendship when robot is in danger?

I have an upcoming interview with Ben Hatke about Little Robot, so stayed tuned for that. In the meantime, I recommend this book for ages 6 and up.

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: And Back to School We Go

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Image: Scholastic

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Summer is waning. Even here in North Carolina, where the hot season tends to linger a little longer than I’d like, we’ve had hints of autumn. My daughter just started preschool, and my son is back to school next week. But they had some great times this summer—we traveled, we relaxed (well, at least they did), and we immersed ourselves in some great books.

5 Word Book Reviews (or less)

Here are the books that rocked my kids’ summer.

Get in on the Instant Win Action

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Image: Energizer

Energizer® and Scholastic are partnering to create the “Power the Possibilities” campaign which gives moms the tools they need to unlock their child’s talents, fuel their ambitions, and set them up for future success. Parents can buy any specially marked pack of Energizer® brand batteries to scratch for a chance to win one of thousands of prizes that will power discovery and learning.

Prizes include a family trip to New York City, a Scholastic Study Corner Makeover, a tablet with Scholastic apps, a library of Scholastic books and more! Everyone who plays can also download free digital stories for their family.

Refrain from Brain Drain

The summer is almost over, but thankfully the Power Up and Read Summer Reading Challenge has you covered. Scholastic’s Maggie McGuire has 5 easy tips for making reading a priority for your child, like setting a weekly minutes goal, reserving special time to read together as a family, and celebrating reading accomplishments. It’s not too late to get your kids reading.

More Reading Resources

Scholastic has joined together with ENERGIZER® to power the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge and encourage families to find innovative ways to discover the power and joy of reading. It’s not too late to take part! Now through September 4th, visit Scholastic.com/Summer. Click the links below for a sampling of the fun resources you’ll find with Scholastic:

#SummerReading

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Romance Writers: A Safe Space For Women

As I sat last month in a darkened ballroom with approximately 2,000 other writers, the vast majority of them women, watching the Romance Writers of America present their two highest awards, the Rita and the Golden Heart, I marveled at the road that had brought me to that ballroom. Romance writing had been the last thing on my mind when I started a writing career. I’m a self-professed geek. I grew up as a tomboy. I read science fiction and fantasy books and comics, not romance.

So what was I doing with romance writers?

We on the internet often talk of female space spaces, organizations dedicated to helping women, and places where women can shine and be not only supported but celebrated by other women.

That’s exactly what RWA, which boasts approximately 10,000 members, is about. It’s a uniquely supportive organization among other professional writing organizations because RWA allows, no, encourages, the participation of unpublished writers. And with RWA, I’d found my tribe. I wasn’t alone. The acceptance speeches by the award winners were truly words of acceptance from women of high accomplishment even before they became writers.

For example:
A graduate of West Point, former Army officer Caro Carson won a Rita for Contemporary Romance: Short for her novella, A Texas Rescue Christmas. (See her acceptance speech at 11:00 in the video.)

Anna Richland, also a military veteran, won a Rita for a military story, His Road Home, the story of a severely wounded Special Forces medic, and dedicated the book to a mother she’d met at a veteran’s event, a mother whose son didn’t come home. Her speech had everyone in the audience in sympathy for the mother who lost her Marine. I only hope that somehow, that mother knows her son’s story is not forgotten. (That’s 1:19:10 in the video and you will need tissues.)

Tessa Dare, the winner for a historical romance that included a cast of early LARPers, told the crowd that she’d begun to doubt herself but had been buoyed by the belief of others in her writing. And, she said, if there was anyone sitting in the audience who doubted themselves and had no one to believe in them, to email her and she would be the one to believe in them. (Go to 32:15 for her full acceptance speech.)

Several of the winners of the Golden Heart Awards called out to their fellow nominees. This is unique for two reasons. First, the Golden Heart is given out for unpublished manuscripts. These are beginners in their careers. Yet the Golden Heart winners are feted as much as the Rita winners. Second, in a world that often seems so competitive, the Golden Heart nominees had banded together so they could have a collective experience, and dubbed themselves the Dragonflies. The Dragonflies received numerous shout-outs in acceptance speeches.

This banding together of nominees isn’t unique. Past groups include the Wet Noodle Posse and the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood. Those groups are still growing strong, still supporting each other.

Romance is a $1.08 billion dollar industry, larger than mystery or science fiction/fantasy. In today’s economy, romance is the surest bet for publishers. And yet the attitude of those who write romance isn’t one of competition, at least not collectively. Instead, it’s “a rising tide floats all boats” and “pay it forward,” as writers who were helped by those ahead of them turn around and help the new writers in turn.

Best author Suzanne Brockmann and Rita Nominee Farrah Rochon talk diversity in romance fiction.
Best author Suzanne Brockmann and Rita Nominee Farrah Rochon talk diversity in romance fiction. photo by Corrina Lawson

It’s not perfect.

The organization and the romance publication industry has much work to do to reflect our current society. Harlequin, which has separate lines for suspense, sweet stories, contemporaries, and historical romance subgenres, unfortunately puts all stories with black leads into one line, Kimani. This is appalling segregation and needs to end now.

RWA itself would do well to reach out to authors of color to bring more into the fold. For more, read this story of a live tweet session on a diversity panel at RWA.

There is also the revolution in digital publishing. RWA as an organization has had to sometimes be pulled, reluctantly, into this brave new world. As ebook sales exploded, largely pioneered by romance writers and readers, RWA lagged behind in recognition of authors who were leading this charge. But now the national conference is filled with successful self-published (indie) authors teaching others how to do what they do.

RWA also has had a long debate about the role of non-romance writing members. Those writers who don’t write romance are welcome to join RWA but due to new rules, they cannot vote in elections or serve on individual chapter boards. As a member, I feel this new rule lacks foresight, in that romance writers can often benefit from a more expansive point of view. Despite this, whenever anyone asks for advice about how to learn to write, I tell them “join RWA.” Writing information is available in person at many vibrant local chapters and busy online chapters. Many of those local chapters allow visitors to attend one or two meetings for free.

I’m moving back to my geeky roots in SF/F and working on an urban fantasy. But I will remain a member of RWA. I still have a great deal to learn about craft and the publishing industry, and I still need to pay it forward, to pay back the support that was given to me.

Because, like everyone else in that audience in late July, listening to the acceptance speeches, I belonged. We need more of these thriving, supporting female communities.

RWA offers a model of how to do it right.

Make Weird, Wonderful Ice Cream Without the Work

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Dear Moon Pie Ice Cream: Get in my belly! Photo: Rachel Cericola.

It’s hot, so I want ice cream. Okay—it doesn’t have to be hot for me to want ice cream. That said, I do feel a lot better about having ice cream when it’s homemade ice cream.

Homemade ice cream has a taste that’s just so fresh and delicious. And making it yourself allows you to pack cookies, candies, fruit, and whatever else you want into one bowl. Heck, you can put carrots and cardamom into it, if you want. In fact, that sort of experimentation is heavily encouraged in No Churn Ice Cream.

This book inspires readers to make some pretty weird, often wonderful flavors. Even better, you don’t need rock salt or some type of contraption that needs the deep freeze for 24 hours. Instead, No Churn Ice Cream has an easier way—as well as a whole lot of recipes.

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Photo by Teri Lynn Fisher.

Leslie Bilderback, the same author who taught us how to make mug desserts and spiralized main courses, provides several interesting options, as well as plenty of old standbys. The hook on this book is that ice cream is as easy as mixing fresh ingredients in a bowl and popping that medley into the freezer. There are plenty of complex offerings too, with interesting flavor combinations such as Orange Flower Water-Almond Ice Cream, Pineapple-Pepper Ice Cream, Beet-Pistachio Sorbet, and much more.

Even though the idea is that this process is simple, the book shows you plenty of ways to pimp your ice cream concoctions, with purees, swirls, cookies, candies, and more. The idea of crushing up circus animal cookies and layering them into ice cream had me frothing at the mouth.

To start, however, I wanted to keep things simple, so I opted for old-fashioned mint chip. Although all of these recipes can be made with a whisk and the power of your biceps, I opted to use my KitchenAid mixer, which made things easy-peasy. The key is to whip the cream and fold in remaining ingredients. Once everything is blended, just pop the mixture into the fridge for six hours. Any freezable container can become your ice cream container. I opted for a loaf pan, but you can upcycle old containers if you’re a budding Breyers.

Of course, it’s really hard to wait the full six hours, so don’t be ashamed to sample after about four. My first attempt was minty delicious, even though I sort of messed up by not chopping the chocolate. I guess I was too excited and didn’t read the directions thoroughly. Even after the mixture was frozen, it was easy to remix into a different bowl. Either way, it didn’t keep us from scarfing it down.

Next, I wanted to try something with a bit more flair—and this book has plenty of those options. I played it semi-safe though, by making Moon Pie Ice Cream. I am wondering if I will ever make (or eat) another flavor again. Oh my. This was a little slice of heaven covered in a big slice of marshmallow fluff. It was simply awesome and made me more excited about trying the rest of the recipes in the book.

However, I opted to wrap up my review process by checking out another old-fashioned flavor: vanilla. In my opinion, if you’ve got a good vanilla recipe, the world is your oyster—at least the ice cream world. With this basic flavor, you can stir in all sorts of goodies, including the aforementioned animal cookies (which I loved).

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Next on the list: Blueberry-Blue Cheese Ice Cream. Oh my! Photo by Teri Lynn Fisher.

Just know that despite being simple, some of these recipes do not have simple ingredients. For instance, the vanilla recipe calls for actual vanilla bean. In my area, the cheapest I could find vanilla beans in a pinch were two for $10. Upon seeing this price, my eyes popped like something out of an old cartoon. When I showed these magic beans to my husband and told him the price, he said I could have picked up two gallons of already-made ice cream for the same money. However, the cost was for the greater good. You could probably substitute extract, but that wouldn’t be by the book now, would it? Just don’t be afraid to experiment, or at least do a little bargain shopping. (I know that affordable vanilla beans can be found online, but I wasn’t willing to wait!) The point of the book is that ice cream can be a simple but also creative process. However, you probably don’t want to blow your budget on well… beans.

Still, it was fantastic. It was even more fantastic when I stirred those little frosting-covered animal cookies in. Or chocolate chips. Or chocolate-covered pretzels. Yum.

I definitely want to get more adventurous with my ice cream making, and this is the book to help make that happen. No Churn Ice Cream is filled with recipes that are fun—and ones that are funky (in a good way). The next flavors on my must-try list include Blueberry-Blue Cheese Ice Cream, Apple-Spice Ice Cream, Blood Orange Sherbet, and Cardamom. I will check those out after one more round of Moon Pie, of course. If you’re in the mood for ice cream (hello, everyone!), I’d recommend that you pick up this book, pull out a freezable bowl, and get to work!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

This special edition of Fund This features what very well may be the most epic geek campaign ever. A group of architects has launched Realise Minas Tirith, a crowdfunding venture to raise the equivalent of almost $3 billion to build a functional, livable Minas Tirith in the south of England.

Minas Tirith, of course, was the capital city of Gondor. It was also called “The White City” as its courtyard held The White Tree. The city was featured heavily in The Lord of the Rings trilogy film The Return of the King for the final battle against the forces of Mordor and the coronation of Aragorn.

The campaign’s leader, Jonathan Wilson, states on the campaign page:

“We are a team of Tolkien fans who are passionate about creating a beautiful, inspirational and fully-functioning replica of Peter Jackson’s depiction of Minas Tirith, as seen in his Lord of the Rings films. We all share a love of Tolkien’s work, and a desire to challenge the common perception of community and architecture. We believe that, in realising Minas Tirith, we could create not only the most remarkable tourist attraction on the planet, but also a wonderfully unique place to live and work.”

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Image courtesy of lotr.wikia.

They had me at Tolkien. Continue reading Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

Geek Speaks…Fiction! Guest Author Gail Z. Martin

Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

What Made Me Geek Out Over Iron & Blood

by Gail Z. Martin

Writing Iron & Blood was so much fun, in part because the more we dug into Pittsburgh’s past, the cooler, geekier things we discovered. Iron & Blood is set in an alternative-history Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1898.

It’s a steampunk world of huge factories, fast trains, dauntless airships, mad doctors, clockwork zombies, crazy inventors, and artificially intelligent automatons, plus growing tension between old magic and new science. But the real Pittsburgh actually was the epicenter of steam-driven technology back in the late 1800s, with bigger-than-life figures like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, George Westinghouse, and many more. That created a lot of exciting, geek-worthy possibilities.

My husband and co-author, Larry N. Martin, and I lived in Pittsburgh for ten years and we’re originally from north of the city, so we had some ideas of where to start looking for odd facts and weird history that we could use in the book and series. And Pittsburgh did not disappoint! I read through dozens of books on Pittsburgh ghosts, urban legends, and folklore, geeking out over the stories about mysterious jets crashing into the river (and government cover-ups), mad scientists trying to keep severed heads alive, famous scandals—including one considered to be the “crime of the century” at the time—and strange hauntings. Perfect fodder for the kind of book we were writing, one that combined enough history and real landmarks to be recognizable, but with enough of a twist to be somewhere different.

Image: Simon & Schuster
Image: Simon & Schuster

Then there are the “what if?” questions real history serves up. What if—George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla had continued to work together? (In Iron & Blood they do, forming the Tesla-Westinghouse company).

What if the urban legend about the Congelier house and its gruesome history of Frankenstein-like experiments, murder, and explosions was actually true—and had a Steampunk twist?

What if the group of mines that boasted the largest mine in the world also had the deepest mine in the world—and it uncovered something ancient and evil, better left buried? What if Pittsburgh’s many immigrant groups brought not only their languages and foods but also their magic with them?

What if some of the old relics in the Carnegie Museum really were supernaturally powerful? And what if the legendary “green fairy” liquor was potent enough to do Absinthe magic?

We made a trip to Pittsburgh to refresh our memories about specific sites we planned to use in the book, like the warehouses of the Strip District, the mansions of Shadyside, the Ridge Avenue area where the Congelier House was supposed to be, and Homewood Cemetery, the site of a very unorthodox battle in Iron & Blood. That was probably our geekiest moment. I arranged for a private tour of the cemetery, especially Millionaire’s Row, where the wealthiest Pittsburghers like the Heinz family and the Mellons have been laid to rest for centuries. Seriously—these are mausoleums that “sleep” 21 bodies and have real Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows! So after warning our guide, Larry and I started to block out the battle scene, deciding where people would crouch, aim, and shoot! Of course, afterwards, we had to celebrate with a Primanti Brothers’ sandwich (French fries inside the bun) and a Pittsburgh steak salad (French fries in the salad). So much fun!

About the Authors

Iron & Blood is available online and in stores! You can also find more stories set in the world of New Pittsburgh with the Storm & Fury ebook short stories on Kindle/Kobo/Nook, including Resurrection Day. Our stories about New Pittsburgh and the characters from Iron & Blood also appear in several anthologies, including Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, The Weird Wild West, and the upcoming Unbound.

Larry N. Martin is the co-author of the new Steampunk series Iron & Blood: The Jake Desmet Adventures and a series of short stories: The Sound & Fury Adventures set in the Jake Desmet universe. These short stories also appear in the anthologies Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens and Weird Wild West with more to come. Larry and Gail also have a science fiction short story in the Contact Light anthology.

In addition to co-authoring Iron & Blood and the Sound & Fury Adventures, Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy novel War of Shadows (Orbit Books) which is Book Three in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga; and Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (December 2015, Solaris Books). She is also author of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books, The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books, and Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures, and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Heroes, With Great Power, and Realms of Imagination.

Please join us on social media: @GailZMartin or @LNMartinAuthor on Twitter, The Winter Kingdoms on Facebook.com/winterkingdoms, blogs at DisquietingVisions.com, podcast at GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, and at our JakeDesmet.com home page, where you can sign up for our Chronicles newsletter which includes original flash fiction in every issue! You can also find Gail on Goodreads.com/GailZMartin and be part of frequent book discussions, giveaways, and events! Gail also features excerpts and the occasional full novella on Wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

About Iron & Blood

A Steampunk adventure novel set in the fictional city of New Pittsburgh.

New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood, and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as “hell with the lid off.”

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique “Nicki” LeClercq. Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick, and Nicki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles, and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake’s courage, every bit of Rick’s cunning, every scintilla of Nicki’s bravura, and all the steampowered innovation imaginable.