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?
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.
Vikings are garsh darn cute. Cute vikings? Impossible, you say! Check out this new picture book by Adam Auerbach and you will agree that Vikings can indeed be quite adorable.
Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School is about trying something new, even if you’re nervous. Finding friends means venturing out into unfamiliar territory, doing things you may not be good at, and putting your true self out there. In the end, it’s being who you are that attracts real friendship.
Edda is the youngest Valkyrie in the magical world of Asgard (home of the gods). She can do whatever she wants there, but has no one her age to play with. Her Papa takes her to Earth school to meet friends. She is worried, but he assures her that Valkyries are very brave. Her first day of school isn’t very welcoming, with the kids mostly ignoring her, and she has to sit at a desk, and write when she’d rather draw.
She is determined to make it work, though, so she starts writing about her adventures in Asgard, and shares them with the class. What makes her different makes her special, and she finds a friend.
Adam Auerbach shares this message in a sweet and funny story. (As a homeschooler, I feel for the poor Valkyrie having to sit at a desk all day just to meet a friend!) But it’s the illustrations that make this book stand out. Each page is wide and welcoming to your eyes, and the character’s faces are simple yet expressive.
The ending is the best part, but I won’t spoil it for you. Young kids will really enjoy this book, and want to find out more about Norse mythology afterwards!
Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School is available in June. GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.
Toys that push, toys that inspire art, toys that look like famous geeky characters, and more! Toys aren’t just for kids, and this bunch promises fun for geek kids and geek parents alike.
ArtSee Studio Wowwee’s drawing kit for iPads has some fantastic features to really make your child’s screen time interactive. Stamps, customizable activities, and even animation and sound tools, make this a big-deal toy for 2013. The ArtSee app is free to download and can be used with or without the Studio kit. Recommended age is 3+, but younger children can still go to town drawing and coloring; the Studio tools will grow with them and provide years of activities. $39.99
Battroborg Tomy’s Battroborg is like a cool update of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. The robots are R/C motion-controlled, and you can buy new robots separately (but they are pricey). There’s a bit of a learning curve to get the robots moving the way you want, but with some practice it’s pretty satisfying. Recommended for kids ages 6+, or you can get a set for the grownup robot fan in your life. It’s a pretty great office toy. $79.99
Doc McStuffins Checkup Center Just Play’s Doc McStuffins playset has made pretty much every single top toy list for 2013, including the coveted Most Wanted List from TimetoPlayMag.com. We are just as wild about it here at GeekMom and so excited to see something other than a play kitchen out there. It’s ages 3+, but at least one GeekMom has it stashed away for her almost-two-year-old to enjoy this December. $79.99
Flying Heroes Bridge Direct’s Flying Hero is the kind of stocking-stuffer/small toy that could outshine all the expensive stuff this holiday season. The quick-pull launcher is so satisfying, and your favorite superheroes will soar nice and high. You can choose Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman, but we believe that when given a choice you should always be Batman. Ages 4+. $14.99
Hape Wonder Walker Sturdy wooden push cart helps babies walk and also fosters creative toddler play. Onboard activities include knobs and gears. Rubber trimmed wheels protect floors. Ages 12 months to 3 years. $75.97
HexBug Aquabot Bath time is about to get way more interesting, because Hexbugs have learned how to swim! $13
Max Steel Interactive Sword The Max Steel Interactive Sword is the kind of thing that will draw huge gasps when it comes out of the box, and knock down the Christmas tree a minute later! It talks, it makes noises similar to a lightsaber, and it goes perfectly in the dress up box for a superhero, ninja, pirate, or fairy princess. No sharp edges on this fake sword, and it holds up well to extensive play time. $22-30
Melissa and Doug Shopping CartDurable child-sized shopping cart looks just like those in real stores. Sturdy metal construction includes pivoting front wheels and a folding doll seat. Ages 36 months to 7 years. $49.95
Metal Earth Models You know how teens are hard to shop for? How they’re too old, really, for toys, but would still like to unwrap something fun? Meant for kids age 14 and up, Metal Earth models come in a flat package—perfect for slipping into a holiday card. Punch out the sturdy metal pieces to build model airplanes, a Ferris wheel, trains, ships, the Eiffel Tower, and more. These are the perfect gift to bridge that wide gap between child and adult. $5-10
Minecraft Fan Bundle from ThinkGeek For the ultimate MineCraft fan, pick up the Minecraft Fan Bundle from ThinkGeek. The bundle includes a foam sword and pickax, torch, and light-up redstone ore. $80
Monster Factory Mini Monsters Why get a teddy bear when you could have a monster? Canadian collectible toy company Monster Factory is moving their business into the States and into stores with a collection of twelve mini dolls. Showcased at this year’s New York Comic Con, each doll has a distinct and hilarious personality. The dolls are so well made and just adorable. $12.95
Nerf Rebelle Series The Nerf Rebelle series, designed for ages 8-years-old and up, is full of awesome for boys and girls, with two different styles to choose from including a cross bow style. If your child is not a pink kid, pick up some spray paint and give it a personalized paint job to make it their own. Word of advice, make sure your child wears long sleeves while playing to protect their arms from the string snapping back. $29.95
Nerf Zombie Strike Foam Dart Blaster SeriesThe Sledgefire and Hammershot are fun Nerf blasters that are painted in a zombie apocalypse motif and can take special fluorescent green darts. Of the 10+ Nerf blasters we own, the smaller Hammershot is the farthest-firing one I’ve ever seen. These Zombie Strike series blasters are a Target exclusive this holiday season and will hit the market nationwide in 2014. $14.99 & $27.99
Pygmy Puffs Plush Pygmy Puffs ala the Harry Potter series. I love that you can order directly from the theme park to get something not offered elsewhere. Comes in pink and purple and both my little Potter-heads should love these stocking stuffers. (Got myself one, too.) $14.95
Rollors Lawn Game Combining the outdoor fun of bocce, bowling, and horseshoes, Rollors is a unique game invented by a deployed Air Force officer who enjoyed classic lawn games and discovered a way to combine all his favorites. The game includes all the playing pieces you need, instructions, and a nylon carrying case. It makes a great gift for kids ages 4 and up. $39.99
Sky Viper QuadCoptor Any R/C fan in your family will love this substantial quadcoptor from Skyrocket Toys. It has different fittings for indoor and outdoor use, and you can amp up the level of difficulty with three different modes. The Sky Viper can do flips and barrels, and it’s refreshingly sturdy. And so much fun. Ages 12+. $79.99
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Action Figures If your kids love to play with action figures and love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the latest batch of figures will appeal to them. High quality construction and a lot of included accessories means that their play time will feel as realistic as possible. Great for any TMNT fan on your shopping list. $8-10
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ninja Control Shellraiser RC Vehicle Have some kick butt fun with the newest TMNT mobile arsenal, the RC Shellraiser Vehicle. Even though the remote control is a little awkward, the handling is great and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of its movements. Pets on the floor should beware of the remote firing sewer cover canon that shoots 10 disks continuously with the push of a button. An added bonus is the ability for the standard size TMNT action figures to ride along on the inside of the Shellraiser or they can hang off the sides! $59.99
Thomas the Train: All Around Sodor The All Around Sodor set is just fantastic. Now the youngest Thomas fans (18 months and up) can have their own train set with features like a talking Thomas and location buttons that will make him go straight to that spot on track. He even works off the track, because you know toddlers are all about doing things outside the lines. We have seen young children mesmerized by this set. $39.99
Thomas the Train Up and Down Coaster Ride On The Step2 Company has made a very cool addition to Thomas the Train merchandise. An actual indoor/outdoor train with more than nine feet up sloping track for kids to ride. We saw this at a holiday preview a while back, and kids could not get enough of it. Ages 2+, maximum weight 50 lbs. $169.99
Tom Kidd Dunne Estates Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle Beautifully detailed steampunk art on laser-cut 423 piece wooden puzzle, made in the USA. Get back to family time spend making puzzles together with this pass-down-to-next-generation item. Ages 7 and up. $100
Tool Belt with Accessories For Small Hands offers hard-to-find, child-size tools so they build confidence and independence. Yard, kitchen, sewing, kitchen, and other useful implements. This is a great resource. We particularly like their tool belt with hammer and safety glasses for kids 3 to 8. $30.95
Toolbox Jewelry One of the best Klutz kits we’ve seen, Toolbox Jewelry not only gives you everything you need to make some beautiful jewelry, but it teaches you skills that you can apply to any hardware you find around the house. Great for girls who have the Maker spirit. $21.99
Transformers Rescue Bots Though they are not a new product this year, Rescue Bots are a very popular toy in the Post house. These toys use one fluid motion to transform from robot to vehicle. This well designed sturdy toy series are a great addition to any house that longs for the toys from their youth for their kids, without the frustration of complicated instructions and pieces falling off. $9 and up
For the first time since joining GeekMom 10 months ago, I actually took some initiative and contacted Disney Interactive for a review copy of their newest video game, Disney Universe. Not to toot my own horn, but till now I’ve either been invited to review something, or else I rode on the coattails of another GeekMom’s invitation. My sons saw the game advertised in magazines and were already asking for it for Christmas. But I told the boys they could play it sooner IF they’d help me write this article!
“More video game time? Sure Mom!”
We received our copy of the game during the first week of November, and for the next two weekends my sons and I enjoyed exploring the assorted “worlds” and the challenges they brought.
I can definitely tell that Disney Interactive was attempting to cash in on the successes of TT Games’ Lego video game collections. If you or your kids have played games such as Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, or (most recently) Lego Harry Potter, the concept is VERY similar. Work your way through assorted levels of already-known stories, collecting coins and special treasures that can be cashed in for additional capabilities. Solve assorted problems and take out bad guys to proceed. My sons are well-versed in the Lego games, and their transition into Disney Universe was very simple for them.
That is not to say they breezed through the game with ease. There are enough differences in the game to make it fun and challenging, and there are several elements to this game that makes it more appropriate for younger players than the Lego franchise.
When you first start the game, you’re presented with a menu screen where players can choose costumes, settings or enter the assorted “worlds”. Each “world” is based on a popular Disney movie (it’s an eccentric assortment; since we’re a Disney Geek family, we had seen all of the movies offered): Monsters, Inc., Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean (On Stranger Tides), Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, WALL-E, and The Lion King. Players will only be able to access the Pirates world first, and as they complete the levels, they need to collect enough golden Mickey-ear coins to unlock the next world. It’s probably possible to unlock several levels at once, if you collect enough coins early on.
The levels within each world are based on scenes from the movies. This is similar to the Lego video games. There are three levels in each world. In each world, there is a “good” guide (a blue talking cube) that will provide players with “boosts” to help you out. The good guide is apparently the one helping you meet the objectives.
But then there’s also a “bad” guide. He is black and red in color, and he has a team of black-and-red-clad minions that are trying to wreak mischief throughout the worlds. The “bad” guide will provide gags and booby traps throughout the level, and you want to avoid those. The booby traps actually remind me quite a bit of the Mario Kart gags that the players can play on each other. The bad guide will also send teams of minions into the level and the players will have to fight them. This is uncharacteristically dark for it being a Disney game, but it isn’t excessively scary.
The players will choose a costume to play with. Costumes are based on assorted Disney characters, not necessarily restricted to the six worlds in the game. My sons unlocked Nemo and Mickey Mouse, for example. The costumed characters look pretty freaky, by the way. Each character’s costume will start out in basic form, and upgrades will become available for each costume. Players will also unlock additional characters’ costumes during game play within the worlds. If you work your way up to the highest costume capabilities and then decide to change to a recently-unlocked costume, you will return to square one with capability.
Enter the world and you’re presented with an objective. This is where Disney Universe is better for younger players than the Lego games. The objectives are clearly stated throughout the level, and arrows will point the players to the items needed to complete the tasks to meet the objectives. Several tasks are very hard to do alone, and the game seems to really encourage teamwork. In fact, there are challenges throughout the levels, where the primary game play fades back and a competition arena will appear. The tasks vary from collecting coins, to shooting each other, to catching characters. We really like the arrows that point towards key items — I remember that being a capability that could only be unlocked with a “red brick” and several hundred thousand studs in the Lego games!
As you complete the objectives, the ends of the levels will have a giant version of a Disney villian to conquer. I’m reminded of Mario Brothers’ type endings, having to conquer giant villains by hitting them a requisite number of times. So far we have seen Scar, Blackbeard and (I think it was) Randall Boggs.
There is some “crude humor” — as the ESRB rating will state — in some of the levels. We really got a kick out of being able to bounce on the overweight residents of the starliner Axiom. This is a level that’s on the spaceship from WALL-E. Again, uncharacteristic for Disney, but not too inappropriate for children.
As of this writing, we have not finished all the levels of the game. We just unlocked the 5th of the six worlds (Alice) and we still have Aladdin to complete last. Just because you’ve completed all the levels doesn’t mean the game is finished. Similar to the Lego games, there are numerous tasks that you can only accomplish with an “upgraded” character. This means you will have to unlock everything once through, proceed numerous times through the levels to upgrade the costumes, and then attempt the tasks in an upgraded status.
In summary, Disney Interactive’s Disney Universe is a fun game in the spirit of Mario Brothers or Lego Star Wars. Despite it being a Disney Interactive game, there are some surprisingly dark moments to the game, so it’s probably not appropriate for preschool-aged children without adult supervision. It’s rated by the ESRB for Everyone 10+, with a content descriptor for “Crude Humor” (such as bouncing on the overweight humans in the WALL-E world) and “Cartoon Violence” (such as fighting Scar in the fiery end of The Lion King world).