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’

A New Comic That Is Out of This World!

Image: Alex Kane, used with permission
Image: Alex Kane and Gale Galligan, used with permission

Kickstarter campaigns can attract a lot of attention, and often it can be hard to tell which ones are truly something special. But when one is featured on the Onion’s AV Club, and is publicly backed and tweeted about by Neil Gaiman, and becomes a Kickstarter staff pick, it becomes pretty clear that something spectacular is going on. I took a few minutes to catch up with the writer of Asphodel: A Mythic Space Opera, Alex Kane!

GeekMom Mel: Welcome, Alex! Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Alex Kane: Thank you for having me! I guess I’m mostly a short-story writer whose work falls under the broader category of science fiction, with a bit of fantasy and horror thrown in when the mood strikes. I’m also the managing editor of The Critical Press, where I copyedit and typeset books of film criticism and cultural commentary, as well as a submissions editor for Uncanny Magazine and an executive producer on the Star Wars documentary The Prequels Strike Back.

GMM: How did you get into writing? What has your path looked like so far?

AK: In college, I discovered there was a whole world of science fiction beyond movies, games, and media tie-ins—Star Wars novels were an early gateway drug for me—and also started collecting comics, like the Dark Horse Knights of the Old Republic series by John Jackson Miller. A few years later, working full-time as a retail banker, comics would become my salvation. But it was the discovery of voices like Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Tobias Buckell, and books like King’s On Writing, that led me to try my hand at getting some short fiction published.

I’d written a really awful novel at thirteen, and had generally thought of myself as a writer for years, churning out attempts at a sequel and a number of embarrassing short stories, but by the time I was nineteen it had grown into an obsession. I made my first professional sale to Digital Science Fiction in 2011, while I was still in college, and soon thereafter earned a finalist status in the Writers of the Future contest, attended the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, and made a handful of additional pro fiction sales, all the while putting pressure on myself to get better.

GMM: You have a new comic, Asphodel, up for funding on Kickstarter. What made you decide to make Asphodel a comic rather than a regular story?

AK: After Clarion West, the world started to look a lot different. I saw that a career in publishing meant making sacrifices, leaping at the first sign of an opportunity, and having the courage to really give it your absolute best shot—something that just isn’t possible when you’re working a job you hate, getting bullied by micromanaging coworkers over the phone, and having to smile through the abuse of yet another rightfully angry customer whom you can’t possibly satisfy.

That year of soul-scarring limbo saw the loss of both my paternal grandparents, a few months apart from one another, and almost zero fiction writing, despite all I’d learned at Clarion West the prior summer. But for one miserable year, I glimpsed the power of the comics medium with maximum clarity: Every day at work, even when management informed us that we were understaffed and not allowed to leave the building during lunch breaks, comic books allowed me ten to twenty minutes of blissful, absolute escape—physically, I was stuck in the break room, phones ringing all around me, but mentally? I was in the world of Eric Powell’s The Goon, or Gotham City, or some galaxy far, far away, immune to the horrors of the inevitable adulthood that lay ahead of me.

The day I put in my two weeks’ notice, I felt like Andy Dufresne crawling out the other side and getting baptized in the rain of renewed possibility. Comics had saved my life, far as I could tell, and I figured I owed it to myself, creatively, to try my hand at writing in the medium myself.

Image: Alex Kane, used with permission
Image: Alex Kane and Gale Galligan, used with permission

GMM: Did you know New Horizons would be reaching Pluto right during your Kickstarter? How does it feel to have a new vision of a place that you have written about?

AK: I had no idea. The story that became issue one of Asphodel began life at Clarion West in summer 2013, as a sketch I turned in for critique by Samuel R. Delany and my seventeen brilliant classmates, and I spent a year revising it in prose form, trying to get it to work—but ultimately it’s a story too big for just a short story. A novel series, or creator-owned comic, is really the best way to do justice to all the big ideas and worldbuilding.

Since it’s sort of the “crowd favorite” among the manuscripts I wrote at the workshop, I’ve made up my mind that it’s a story that deserves to be finished and done proper justice. The New Horizons images, and the incredible timing of that mission with our Kickstarter campaign, feels like only one more reason to get excited about this story I’ve spent more than a year turning into a comic book. It’ll be really useful for researching later issues, if and when the time comes.

GMM: Can you give us a quick overview of Asphodel?

AK: Asphodel is an underworld myth for space opera fans. Whenever you see a “god” of some sort in the realm of science fiction, it’s often in the form of a technologically advanced alien race, or an A.I., and I wanted to play with the concepts in Michio Kaku’s books, giving humanity a shot at godhood for once. But the characters are the real focus, and I think that really comes across well in Gale’s art style, which more closely resembles the work of cartoonists like Bryan O’Malley and Genndy Tartakovsky than mainstream comics artists. The result feels quiet and intimate, despite the galactic scope of the worldbuilding and the postwar aftermath that Vic and Sedna are caught up in.

GMM: What was it like to work with an artist? How well did she capture your vision?

AK: Gale Galligan contacted me after I posted a call for artists on a Facebook group for comics creators, and it was clear right away that she stood out for both the distinctive, professional artwork in her portfolio and her enthusiasm for the project. She really understands the kind of story I’ve wanted to tell for two years, and she’s a fantastic collaborator. It’s been amazing.

GMM: Neil Freaking Gaiman backed your Kickstarter, and then tweeted about it. That must have felt awesome.

AK: Neil’s so cool! He was my teacher during the second week of Clarion West two years ago, and he’s been an incredible source of inspiration and support. He was, by the way, not the easiest teacher to please—he really tore apart my writing piece by piece, and stitching it back together has proved to be one of the most crucial stages of my development as an artist. He really, really knows his stuff, and while I wouldn’t recommend being Neil Gaiman’s “teaching moment” to anyone looking to have their ego massaged, I will say that my writing’s benefited enormously from it. Having Neil on board with the Kickstarter and helping get the word out has really given me a nice boost in visibility, and I just love the guy. No one understands stories like he does.

Image: Twitter (public Twitter quote from @neilhimself)
Image: Twitter (public Twitter quote from @neilhimself)

GMM: What are some of your other interests? Tell us about your geek cred ;).

AK: I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, in case there was any doubt, and I play a lot of videogames. I’ve literally logged about a thousand hours in Bungie’s shared-world FPS, Destiny, and I tend to watch just about every Marvel, DC, and sci-fi movie that comes to theaters. I’m that guy who’s destroying pop culture—though I also voice my criticisms about science fiction and film pretty frequently, which I think makes up for it a little. At the end of the day, I always feel like there are too many comics in my stack, too many books on my shelf, too many movies I haven’t see and games I haven’t played yet. There’s no right or wrong way to be a geek—said the guy who’s never seen an episode of Doctor Who or Firefly—but there’s really a lot of great art being made, despite what jaded cynics on the Internet would have us all believe. Feel free to dismiss all my opinions on this if you must, though: I am one of the guys behind The Prequels Strike Back.

GMM: What were some of your inspirations growing up? Do you see ways these are reflected in your work now?

AK: The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Knights of the Old Republic. Halo 2! Really, I think most of my work reflects my love for all these flawed but richly drawn universes. I grew up watching space opera and playing videogames with spaceships and robots in them, so my most fruitful creative periods are usually spent developing worlds that feel a little like George Lucas’s, though mine tend to be a lot darker—more Blade Runner-meets-Alien in tone and feel. I’ll never forget the first time I read 2001: A Space Odyssey, or playing Halo 2 on day one.

Every time I move away from the genre, it’s not long before a book like Leviathan Wakes or Dark Orbit, or a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, comes along to remind me how much life’s really left in it. Space opera has begun to grow up a little, thanks to some of the great SF writers of today. John Scalzi in particular has done a great service in making it more accessible.

GMM: So what’s up next for you? Any big plans in the works?

AK: I’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable with short fiction, and I think I’m at risk of repeating myself if I don’t take a bit of a break from it, so the next thing is either a novel or continuing the story of Asphodel with a limited series. Certainly the world of Asphodel is my focus for the foreseeable future. I have a horror novel I’m also working on, but you can never tell what’s going to happen with a particular project. If sales don’t lead to further issues of the comic book, the most likely course of action will be to write a novel set in that universe. I’ve pitched a nonfiction book on my favorite videogame, as well, and I’m still waiting to hear back from the publisher. It’s been a busy year, but I hope next year will be a whole lot busier.

GMM: Anything else you’d like to add?

AK: I’d love for anyone reading this to take a look at the Kickstarter and leave comments with any questions or feedback they might have about the comic. Asphodel represents two years’ worth of work, and it’s a real passion project for me. It has been so heartwarming and inspiring to see the reception the Kickstarter has gotten, but it’d be great if more people could share the project, and this interview, and help to get the word out—we’ve still got a long ways to go to reach our minimum funding goal, and the comic simply won’t happen if we don’t hit it.

GMM: Thanks so much for spending time with us, Alex, and best of luck with your Kickstarter!

Alex Kane is the managing editor of The Critical Press, a publisher of books on film and culture, as well as an executive producer of the Star Wars documentary The Prequels Strike Back. He also serves as a first reader for Uncanny Magazine and works full-time as a freelance copyeditor. A graduate of the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his fiction has appeared in more than a dozen venues, including the Exigencies anthology from Curbside Splendor’s Dark House imprint, edited by Richard Thomas, and he is the writer of the creator-owned comic Asphodel. His reviews and criticism have been published in Foundation, The New York Review of Science Fiction, SF Signal, and Omni, among other places. He lives in west-central Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.

Knit One, Geek Two: Joan of Dark’s ‘Geek Knits’

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Cover image courtesy of St. Martins Press. Available for order now!

Featuring “over 30 projects for fantasy fanatics, science fiction fiends, and knitting nerds,” along with gorgeous photos by Kyle Cassidy, Geek Knits (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015) will help you to knit one, geek two to complete your next great geek project.

But wait, there’s more: The models for each project include geek favorites Neil Gaiman, René Auberjonois of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Whitney Avalon, George R. R. Martin (with a knit Dire Wolf), and several familiar faces from Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Author Joan of Dark (Toni Carr) says: “There are patterns in here for all levels of knitters. People who just know how to knit and purl can make the Baker Street Scarf and the really advanced can tackle the Muggle Artifact sweater!”

When GeekMom asked Joan about her geek roots, she shared:

As for my “geekeries,” I’m all over the place! I grew up going to sci-fi cons with my parents (family cosplay in next generation uniforms and all!) and I read everything I can get my hands on. I love Harry Potter, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, and Game of Thrones. I think the only thing I’m not into are video games. I get too mad at the controller!

Check out the gorgeous images from the book below, kindly shared by photographer Kyle Cassidy.  Then grab your own copy of Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds and… hey, maybe share your projects with GeekMom on Pinterest!

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Passion and History in ‘She Makes Comics’

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Image by Respect! Films

Being a geek is becoming more and more mainstream. Yet there are still stereotypes of what makes a geek a “geek.” Being a comic book fan is a quintessential sign, and often linked to the old-school idea of socially-inept, single guys. For women who proclaim their love of comics (like me), it’s just…strange.

But that is changing. I was just invited to a Fan Girls Night Out at my local comic store by another mom who is also into comics. There are more of us than you realize. And although it may seem new to the mainstream world, it is far from abnormal. The history of women in comics as both fans and within the industry stretches back to the beginning.

The new documentary She Makes Comics is an eye-opening and heartfelt look at women within the history of comics, and I highly recommend watching it. The film is directed by Marisa Stotter and produced by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect!Films. It is executive produced by Sequart’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips and by Columbia University comics librarian Karen Green. It is a series of interwoven interviews of passionate people with different roles and points of view. My teenage son and I watched it together, finding it informative and entertaining.

Did you know that women and men made up equal numbers of comic book readership before the 1950s? American comics were about many topics, had various settings, and reflected every possible interest. By the ’70s, women readers started to drop off dramatically, partly due to the focus on male superheroes as the best-seller comic book theme, as well as the feminist movement awakening a generation of women who were tired of the same “wedding bliss” ending. An underground women’s comic movement began, and it was fascinating listening to the creators talk about it on camera: both the excitement and the fears.

Several women really changed the comic book world, from Wendy Pini, the original chain-mail bikini awesome cosplayer who then created ElfQuest, to Janette Kahn, former publisher of DC who broke the glass ceiling, to Gail Simone, notable comic writer, and author of Women in Refrigerators, an unapologetic look at how female characters are unfairly treated in comic stories, to Kelly Sue DeConnick, the creator of the hugely popular female Captain Marvel, and many more.

How do women get into comics in the first place? Better comics. The consensus of the interviewees was: Give us a variety of women featured, complex characters, and in-depth storytelling. As an X-Men fan, it was cool to know how many other women in this film cited that series as their turn-on to the whole genre. The fact that the male creator of the series had two female editors makes sense. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was another “gateway” comic, again, with a female editor. In fact, that editor, Karen Berger, is credited with developing the talents of some of the biggest names in comics for the past several decades.

I personally got into comics in the 1990s, and was quite alone. I took my two young children to the comic book store and was the only female there, let alone a mother. I found it interesting to hear about that time period. The film talked about how more women were getting into the creative side of comics then, but still not equally represented by a long-shot. The industry was not welcome to women or women-centered stories, but also, women are not as confidant in promoting themselves.

Comics used to be sold in supermarkets and bookstores, but then only in specific comic stores that were (and mostly still are) very much a bachelor den of boob posters and all-male staff who assume a girl is only there because she is dating a comic book fan. In 1994, a support organization for women in comics was created called Friends of Lulu which put out a book helping comic book stores understand how to attract more females to their stores—why shut out the biggest consumers in the country? The internet ushered in a huge change. This has given women a place to connect, collaborate, and share their love of comics. The film also mentions the influence of the manga craze during that time as well, with comics targeted to girls.

There is so much to this film, but what stood out to me most was the passion of the people interviewed, and the range of ages. I loved hearing from the elder pioneers in the industry, as well as the younger talents of today. Inspiring the next generation of comic creators came up a lot, and is something I support wholeheartedly. Everyone should be able to express themselves in whatever medium suits them best, boys and girls. Check out the film!

She Makes Comics is now available to order on DVD and as a digital download at SheMakesComics.com.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

BBC Radio 4 Brings Good Omens to Life

GoodOmens
Peter Serafinowicz and Mark Heap bring a voice to the unlikely friendship between a demon and an angel for BBC Radio 4’s series Good Omens. Image: BBC Radio 4.

Since Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett first released their comic novel, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, I’ve read it twice, passed it on the friends and family, and waited patiently for a movie adaptation.

good-omens
More than 20 years since the 1990 comic fantasy collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett hit bookshelves, it gets its first dramatization via radio theater. Image: Amazon.

This “switched-at-birth” tale is of a botched apocalypse, thanks to an evil-yet-inept order of nuns grabbing the wrong child they were supposed to raise to be the Antichrist. Instead, they are training a “normal” little boy and the Antichrist is living a happy, normal life with another family. While the rest of the world gears up for the war of End Times, angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley, both of whom are happy with their situation on Earth, team up to thwart the plan.

Well, no movie is in sight yet, but BBC’s Radio 4 has created a six-part radio adaptation of the novel, with Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead) and Mark Heap (The Indian Doctor, Spy) as the book’s fan-favorite characters, Crowley and Aziraphale, respectively.

Other notable cast includes Colin Morgan (Merlin), Louise Brealey (Sherlock), and Paterson Joseph (The Leftovers).

The presentation follows up last year’s successful radio theater production of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, also directed by Maggs and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Natalie Dormer, and James McAvoy.

Gaiman himself said in an interview with BBC’s online news magazine, a radio series of Good Omens became inevitable, especially after the success of Neverwhere, as a Good Omens film “never quite happened.” Director and Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Time Bandits) worked hard to make it happen, though. Gaiman added, “Johnny Depp would have made a fine Crowley.”

Good Omens runs live on BBC Radio 4 from December 22-27, 2014, but listeners worldwide can catch up with it through the month of January via the BBC iPlayer.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Equality In Our Role Models

Daytona Beach
Here’s a little summer for your 4th of July: Daytona Beach. Image by Corrina Lawson.

Welcome to this week’s adventures of climbing the cliffs of insanity. In the spirit of the holiday, the bulk of the column is about how to spread the idea of equality around to everyone.

But first, some excellent news this week:

Going to GeekGirlCon!

For the first time, GeekMom will have a table at GeekGirlCon,which is taking place October 11-12 in Seattle. Several of us will take part in the panel, “From GeekGirl to GeekMom,” about making the transition to life with minions. My own panel, “Sex Scenes From the Female Gaze,” was also accepted. It includes a group of fellow romance writers and there might be some, um, examples of said female gaze scenes.

SuperTeam Pairing

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a script-to-scene commitmen from the Starz Network. Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Heroes and The River) are the writer-producers developing the novel for television. This is good news for those who thought the project was dead after HBO passed on it.

From the cover of Gotham Academy. Image copyright: DC Comics.

Gotham for….GIRLS?

In unexpected but welcome news, DC announced this week a new monthly series, Gotham Academywritten by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and drawn by Karl Kerschl. Look! It seems like this story is focused on girls who look like teenage girls. It will begin in October.

Sold!

And while girls and women are the target market for this book, I hope it appeals to everyone. Why?

Equality For All, Especially in Role Models

The Question, LGBT heroes
Renee Montoya as The Question. You don’t have to be just like her to be inspired by her stories. Image copyright: DC Comics.

Last week on the GeekDad writers’ loop, we had a short discussion about covering Ms. Marvel. GeekMom has already reviewed this wonderful series several times and the question came up about whether a more, well, male-oriented site like GeekDad should provide similar coverage.

The answer was a resounding “Yes.”

Why?

Because role models shouldn’t be limited by race, gender, or orientation.

This point is implicit in calls for inclusion, but often not stated outright. Yes, we absolutely need to provide young girls with role models like them so they can see it’s possible. We want girls to see women being superheroes and scientists and coders and gamers and, well, everything.

But we also need boys to see women as role models too.

Women often have male role models. A famous fictional example would be Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, who fights crime not because of Batman, but because of her stalwart father, Commissioner James Gordon. J.R.R. Tolkien and Walter Farley were as influential to me as writer Anne McCaffrey.

It was never a question that boys could be whatever they wanted to be. But we also want boys to grow up knowing that women can be whoever they want to be as well.

We want them to be inspired by women as much as men.

All of society is far better if anyone is seen as a possible role model/inspiration for everyone.

Geeky Oxford—26 Characters and The Story Museum

Geeky Oxford: 26 Characters and the Story Museum
View from a courtyard window over Oxford, the story loom, and Neill Cameron’s comic strip. All photographs © Helen Barker.

There’s no denying it: I love stories. One of the things I love the most about stories is their ability to transport you into a completely different time and place, and to allow you to see the world through someone else’s eyes. My first forays out into the world were taken using someone else’s shoes, living their adventures. This is why I’m so passionate about reading and sharing stories.

In Pembroke Street, a fairly quiet back road in the middle of Oxford, there is a red telephone box. This seemed like any normal telephone box, until all manner of interesting things started to appear inside it, such as an Owl and the Pussycat-themed display.

The telephone box belongs to the building alongside, which has been developed over the past five years into The Story Museum. Although The Story Museum has been active over that time, particularly by running workshops in local schools, the buildings themselves have been mainly under renovation. It was therefore with much fanfare and celebration that the buildings were opened last month, along with a new exhibition called 26 Characters.

I had heard of the 26 Characters exhibition last August, when I was lucky enough to be in the audience for an absolutely fantastic talk between two of my favorite authors, Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman. Gaiman mentioned that he’d been dressed up as a badger that day, which led into lots of discussion about The Wind in the Willows. Pullman also talked about his photo session for the same exhibition, although he was a little more shy about revealing his character. It was explained that each of the authors had dressed up as a favorite character from their childhood, and that an exhibition would be based around these photographs. I realized then that this was something really special, and that I would definitely be visiting once the exhibition opened.

Imagine the days falling from the calendar, and we fast forward through eight months. Finally, The Story Museum opened its doors and the 26 Characters exhibition began. My daughter and I were lucky enough to spend the whole day at The Story Museum, firstly taking part in an author experience with Mini Grey in the morning, followed by the 26 Characters exhibition in the afternoon.

We started by exploring the Throne Room, which encourages children to concoct new characters. You build up a character by choosing appropriate cards that slot into a holder, such as “The Noisy Duck of the Moon.” Once you’ve created your character, you can use the huge array of dress-up clothes (in child and adult sizes!) to come up with an appropriate costume. A helper even found my daughter an enormous egg for her duck costume, which she loved. Once you are suitably attired, you walk down the red carpet towards a huge throne, where you are announced to everyone present as you sit. It’s silly and funny and incredibly enjoyable. We only stopped making up new characters when it was time to head downstairs for the author experience with Mini Grey.

Dragon on talking throne. Pic Duncan Saunders
A dragon on the talking throne. Photograph by Duncan Saunders.

We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Grey and finding out about her brilliant new book, Hermelin: The Detective Mouse (which I recommended in our Between the Bookends feature). I liked seeing how Grey worked on her ideas for the book and took inspiration from all sorts of objects, from childhood toys to cheese boxes. My daughter loved hearing Grey read the story, as well as making her own little white mouse. We also made our own “Lost” posters featuring an array of cats and other, slightly more exotic, missing pets. After a fun filled hour and a half, we headed off for lunch, filled with excitement about Hermelin’s adventures.

Mini Grey's characters
My daughter poses with her Hermelin and some of Mini Grey’s other characters. Photograph © Helen Barker.

After a sandwich and a rest, we headed back to tackle the 26 Characters exhibition. I had expected perhaps a few photographs and maybe some explanation about the books, but what we found there absolutely blew me away. The exhibition is built around Cambridge Jones’ wonderful portraits, but these work alongside an immersive experience which brings each story to life by using a range of multimedia techniques. They’ve used the slightly dilapidated buildings wonderfully, using small rooms and kitchens, and in one funny instance, the toilets, to build world after world. You peer through pots and pans to spy The Borrowers’ home, search for The Scarlet Pimpernel, push through fur coats to enter Narnia, clap to hear Tinker Bell, and swab the deck of a pirate ship. It’s quite simply breathtaking.

Peering into the Borrowers' living room. Photograph by Alex Coke.
Peering into The Borrowers‘ living room. Photograph by Alex Coke.

Although my daughter is a little young to have read most of the books, she knew quite a few (such as Where the Wild Things Are and Peter Pan from Peter and Wendy), and I was able to explain about the characters and stories that she wasn’t familiar with. She found Malorie Blackman’s Wicked Witch of the West quite scary and had to be carried through Narnia, but then again, I also found the White Witch terrifying as a child! Her favorite section was based around The Owl and the Pussycat, featuring author Julia Donaldson. I, of course, was thrilled to visit Badger’s burrow, which certainly lived up to Kenneth Grahame’s description:

“The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.”

The aim is to take your time in this exhibition, as there are lots of places to sit and revel in the stories, whether meeting new characters or settling down with familiar ones. The dual nature of the exhibition means that it not only tells you about the character and the story, but also gives you an insight into the authors, both through their photograph and the character that they have chosen to portray. The different activities in the rooms include treats such as listening to the author telling a story; for example, Jamila Gavin telling the tale of Hanuman the Monkey God. Or you can read the story yourself, all while sitting in a sleigh or on Max’s bed. Other story extracts are read by wonderful actors, such as Olivia Colman or GeekMom favorite Christopher Eccleston.

26 Characters Merlin. Pic Alex Coke
Kevin Crossley-Holland as Merlin. Photograph by Alex Coke.

The range of such high-profile authors who have been involved, including Michael Morpurgo, Terry Pratchett, Anthony Horowitz, Charlie Higson, Shirley Hughes, and Terry Jones, shows just how important this exhibition and the museum that houses it are. The whole exhibition is a love song to stories, a celebration of everything that makes stories great, and quite honestly, one of my favorite museum experiences ever.

The Story Museum will develop over the next few years, as they continue to renovate the buildings and expand their exhibition spaces. They are already offering a huge range of events, including author and illustrator events, wonder walks, and printing workshops on the Bodleian’s antique printing presses. Details of all of these events and more can be found on their website. This promises to become a very special museum indeed, and I am delighted and excited to see what happens next in their very own story.

11 Young Reader Picks for National Reading Month

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Some of our Young Reader Picks. Images courtesy of their respective publishers.

As children grow and become more confident readers, the choice of books can become bewildering. Children’s publishing is luckily in a vibrant and exciting place at the moment with plenty of fantastic new books being released each month, but it can be difficult to find the right book to inspire and engage young readers as the choice is so vast. In my day job as a teacher of 8-9 year olds, I know the importance of helping children to find the right book, and I scour thrift stores and jumble sales looking for good books for our class library. Local libraries are great for book advice too, as well as good bookshops.

To help point you in the right direction when choosing books for your young readers, the GeekMoms have come up with these books as being great for independent readers, up to around grade 5 (or year 6 in the UK). They would also be wonderful read aloud at bedtime to younger children, who can’t yet manage to read them on their own.

Tales don’t come much taller than Fortunately, The Milk by the wonderful Neil Gaiman. I’m slightly biased having heard him read an extract from this last August, but it’s a very funny story of what happens to Dad when he takes a long time to come back from the shops with the milk needed for his children’s cereal. Time travel, ancient gods, aliens, pirates, and dinosaurs are just some of the things that the harried father has do deal with while trying to provide his children with their breakfast. Older children will be able to read this adventure independently, but it also made a fantastic bedtime story for our 4-year-old. I haven’t seen the US edition, which is illustrated by Skottie Young, but the UK edition has lovely illustrations by Chris Riddell. — Helen Barker

Older children with a sense of adventure will love Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver. This is the first of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series about Torak, a boy who lives in a hunter-gatherer society 6,000 years ago. When tragedy strikes in the opening pages, Torak has to find out where he fits in the clan society while bonding with a wolf cub. The author researched wolf behavior and New Stone Age culture and technology, and this research is clearly seen in the attention to detail in the story. The real strength however is in the exciting storytelling and rich language. As well as buying the book, you can also listen to an audio book version for free, read by the great Sir Ian McKellen, no less. — Helen Barker

seawigs
Oliver’s parents spy the Wandering Isles. Illustration by Sarah McIntyre. © OUP

More adventure awaits in Oliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve and illustrator Sarah McIntyre. For younger readers than Reeve’s Predator Cities/Mortal Engines series, it describes the adventure of Oliver as he tries to rescue his explorer parents from wandering isles, despotic teenagers, and sea monkeys. Yes, sea monkeys. The story is jaunty and the characters endearing, and the whole thing is set off beautifully by the lovely nautical illustrations. I bought this for my daughter for Christmas and she made us read it to her at bedtime three times in a row! — Helen Barker

A girl called September is our heroine in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. It’s a fantastical tale of library wyverns, fairies, and other magical creatures experienced by September, who is thrilled to have been pulled from her boring home life into the magical world. However, as expected, things are not what they seem, and soon it is time for September to make difficult decisions. — Helen Barker

My class of 8-year-olds loved Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away From the Circus (and joined the library) by poet A.F. Harrold. Fizzlebert longs for normalcy away from the circus, and when the opportunity arises to join the library, he takes it. Unfortunately this starts a chain of events that leave him in a dangerous position, with possibly no way to return to the circus. Children will enjoy this madcap adventure, with a cast of circus characters and some rather creepy pensioners. — Helen Barker

birdman
A page from My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond, showing Polly Dunbar’s lovely illustrations.
© Candlewick

David Almond has a book to suit almost every reader. For older children, the tale of Skellig is full of mystery and wonder. Younger children will enjoy The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas or My Dad’s a Birdman, both of which are fun, but don’t pull their emotional punches. Almond’s work walks a fine line between fantasy and truth, and there are so many layers that older children will be able to read between the lines and get even more out of the stories. — Helen Barker

An unusual mother/daughter writing team known as Zizou Corder came up with the trilogy of books that start with Lionboy. Set in the near future, when Charlie’s parents are kidnapped he must use all of his skills, including the ability to talk to cats, to track them down. Charlie embarks on a great adventure, bonding with a group of circus lions and attempting to find his parents. — Helen Barker

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd is a great book for older independent readers. It centers around Ted, a boy with Asperger Syndrome, who has a mystery to solve when his cousin disappears while riding on the London Eye. Ted is such a great character, and his Asperger Syndrome is handled in the narrative in a sensitive way. — Helen Barker

Got a Phineas and Ferb fan in the house? I know what they’re doing today! The Book of Doof, with comics written by Scott Peterson, features the hapless villain in a variety of hilarious stories, comics, and tips for finding an arch-nemesis. Kids who are fans of the strangely lovable Heinz Doofenschmirtz will find a lot to love in this fun book. — Kelly Knox

If this has whetted your appetite for brilliant books, you can find more recommendations in our 2013 Caldecott BooksSeven Books British Kids Love10 Picture Books to Inspire Imagination, and 17 Picture Book Picks for National Reading Month posts.

 GeekMom received some of the books on this list for review purposes.

17 Picture Book Picks for National Reading Month

Some of our picture book picks. Images courtesy of their respective publishers.

At the beginning of March, Read Across America Day kicked off National Reading Month, which is celebrated by schools and book sellers across the nation to encourage literacy and readers of all ages.

Here at GeekMom, we’re all avid readers ourselves, and we’re excited to share our love of reading and celebrate National Reading Month by sharing some of our top book picks for the whole family. These picture book selections cover the gamut of books that are new, old, well-known, and never heard of, but all are loved by the families that read them.

Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos, both no strangers to the world of superheroes, turn to real-life heroes for their “Ordinary People Change the World” picture book series. I am Amelia Earhart focuses on the amazing pilot in terms young kids can understand. The whimsical art brings the lovable antics of Calvin and Hobbes to mind, and the story of Amelia is inspiring for readers of all ages. Upcoming heroes to be featured in the series include Rosa Parks and Albert Einstein. — Kelly Knox

Parents reading No Slurping, No Burping! aloud, from Kara LeReau and the Walt Disney Animation Studios Artist Showcase, can’t help but be reminded of old educational cartoons from Walt Disney; you can almost hear Jiminy Cricket popping up to introduce the book. The silly story takes a twist on teaching table manners by having the kids teach their father about the proper way to politely pig out. — Kelly Knox

Any and all of Bob Shea’s hilarious books should be on this list. His newest picture book, Don’t Play With Your Food!, follows grumpy monster Buddy as he hunts for his next meal. Instead, he finds something completely unexpected along the way: new friends. — Kelly Knox

Don’t Play With Your Food! image: © Disney-Hyperion.

In Livingstone Mouse by Pamela Duncan Edwards, Livingstone is a mouse looking for China, but his adventure leads to a surprise ending! This is an adorable book for little explorers. — Ariane Coffin

I love books that rhyme, and “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” by Patricia Thomas is a prime example. It is so fun to read aloud! I often find myself reciting parts of it from memory every time I sneeze. — Ariane Coffin

The vibrant images in Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis are a big draw for me with this book, but I love the text just as much. Nothing Like a Puffin does an excellent job showing how two completely different things can have something in common. I feel like there’s a free life lesson to be learned here! — Ariane Coffin

There’s a natural cadence to the text in Bedtime at the Swamp by Kristyn Crow. You can’t read it aloud without falling into a sing-songy rhythm. The story follows kids who are afraid of a monster in the swamp, but in the end, the monster isn’t all that scary. — Ariane Coffin

Raising Dragons by Jerdine Nolen may be my personal favorite. It’s got it all: an African-American female protagonist, a hint of a Southern drawl, an interesting vocabulary, dragons, and the meaning of finding your calling in life. It’s definitively one of my top picks for birthday party gifts. — Ariane Coffin

I fell in love with Cat on the Hill by Michael Foreman, partly because the story is set in the small town where we went on vacation when I was a child. It is the story of an old ship’s cat, who now lives alone at the top of a hill overlooking the town and what happens to him in winter when the tourists stop visiting and the nights get cold. — Sophie Brown

Another stand out classic from the author of The GruffaloRoom on the Broom by Julia Donaldson is a story about a friendly witch who just cannot say no to an animal. She invites a dog, a frog, and a bird to join her and her cat aboard their broom, until it simply cannot take any more. Check out the wonderful TV adaptation starring Simon Pegg and Gillian Anderson, too! — Sophie Brown

In Penguin by Polly Dunbar, when Ben receives a penguin for his birthday, he is thrilled. That is, until he realizes that this penguin doesn’t really do much. Honestly, it doesn’t do anything. Ben becomes frustrated and goes to increasingly insane lengths to force the penguin to respond, until an incident with a passing lion changes everything. — Sophie Brown

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney is the simple story of a father and son trying to tell one another how much they mean to the other. It is incredibly sweet and the illustrations are stunning; this was a regular choice for me when I was reading to my son as a baby. There are now an additional four books in the series, one for each season, which continue in the same style. — Sophie Brown

Crazy Hair image: © HarperCollins.

Is there any audience Neil Gaiman can’t write for? If there is, young audiences certainly aren’t on that list. His books Blueberry Girl, Crazy Hair, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, and The Wolves in The Wall are all fun and fanciful tales to read aloud, but my own daughter’s personal pick is Crazy Hair.

Crazy Hair is the tale of a young Bonnie, who confronts the book’s narrator on his out-of-control locks. He then begins to share with her the adventures and marvelous creatures (hunting expeditions, dancers, tree sloths, and more) who reside in his “crazy hair.” Colorful and fun, with just a hint of Gaiman’s playful dark side, this book will both provoke giggles during the reading and quotes afterwards. Because of this book, we no longer get tangles in our hair, but instead harbor “pirate ships” and “dancing bears.” Any book that keeps the imagination going all day long is worth the read. — Lisa Tate

Poet John Hegley and illustrator Neal Layton have combined to create a truly wonderful picture book, Stanley’s Stick, which captures the playful nature of children. With its alliteration and puns, the prose is satisfying to read aloud and combined with Neal Layton’s lovely drawings, it makes a truly special book. — Helen Barker

Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox is a simple rhyming tale of a missing green sheep, and delights with its variety of ovine characters. The repetitive pattern of the text is soothing and perfect as part of the bedtime routine. — Helen Barker

Dinosaurs struggle with their table manners in the delightful book How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen. Children love seeing the dinosaurs being picky, making a mess, and generally acting up around the dinner table before discovering their manners. “Try every new thing, at least one small bite” has become our tea time mantra. — Helen Barker

Illustrator Sarah McIntyre has created a bright and funny picture book, There’s a Shark in the Bath, about a little girl discovering a family of sharks in her bath and the chaos which ensues. The text is delightfully amusing, but it’s the exciting pictures which really make this book special. You can also download activities and drawings from Sarah’s website. — Helen Barker

Is your voracious reader still on the hunt for more picture books to read? Check out the 2013 Caldecott Books, Seven Books British Kids Love, and 10 Picture Books to Inspire Imagination.

GeekMom received some of the books on this list for review purposes.

10 Questions With Award-Winning Science Fiction Editor Sheila Williams

ASF-March-2014
Copyright 2014 by Penny Publications LLC/Dell Magazines.

Sheila Williams is the multiple Hugo-award winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. She is also the editor or co-editor of twenty-six anthologies. The most recent of these are Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: 30th Anniversary Anthology (Tachyon Publications) and Enter A Future: Fantastic Tales from Asimov’s Science Fiction (Dell Magazines). Sheila is the co-founder of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, which is given out each year in Orlando, Florida, by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts.

GeekMom recently asked Sheila questions about growing up in science fiction and fantasy, the ins and outs of the editorial process, and the amazing Dell Magazine Award. Sheila’s daughters joined in, too, contributing their own perspectives and favorite reads. Check it out:

Geek Mom: You came on staff at Asimov’s in the 1980s, and became editor of Asimov’s in 2004. What shifts have been particularly apparent in science fiction over the past three decades?

Sheila Williams: I had the good fortune to work with Shawna McCarthy and Gardner Dozois—two editors who published groundbreaking fiction. They looked for quality writing along with thoughtful extrapolation. The stories I get have continued this tradition. The backgrounds of some of the writers are more diverse now, though, so I am seeing material that explores the future from refreshingly varied perspectives.

Photo by Ché Ryback, courtesy of Sheila Williams.
Photo by Ché Ryback, courtesy of Sheila Williams.

GM: Would you talk a bit about your editorial approach to Asimov’s Magazine

SW: I read for enjoyment. I buy stories that I like to read. Sometimes a story works for me immediately. More often, I have to put it on the back burner for a while. Days later, if I’m still thinking about a story, still amused, haunted, or moved in other ways, I’m probably going to take it. There are my line edits, of course, but some stories need to be revised by the author. Some tales are perfect the first time around. Writers are almost always extremely easy to work with. I can’t promise to buy the revised story, but I usually do, because I only ask for revisions when I’m very serious about a story.

Every issue has to strike a balance. I try not to have more than one time travel or alternate history story in an issue. Try to go easy on parallel universes (though authors are overly fond of this theme). Most stories will qualify as some sort of science fiction, but I might put one fantasy and/or one hard to quantify tale in each issue. Many stories will be serious, but I always shoot for some levity somewhere. Not all stories can be far future, or about teenagers, or Mars, or whatever. Also, there has to be a mix of story lengths.

GM: What challenges and opportunities do you see for women interested in writing for and editing anthologies and magazines with a science fiction focus? 

SW: From the editing side, it was never easy for anyone to break into publishing, but it’s certainly gotten harder to find a full-time salaried position with benefits. On the other hand, with Webzines and Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sources, there are a lot more opportunities to engage in the field as a serious sideline editing ones own magazine or anthology. As for writing, I don’t think it’s any more challenging for women to break into SF magazines than it is for men. Breaking in is hard in general. There are a lot more people writing SF then there are story slots, but if the story is good, editors will jump on it. Keep in mind that less than 30 percent of story submissions to Asimov’s are by women. The gender breakdown among the published stories in the magazine is usually about 30 to 33 percent, so women are definitely holding their own. Still, as I say elsewhere, I’d love to see more women reading, writing, and submitting SF.

GM:  Tell us about the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing.

SW: Rick Wilber and I founded the award in 1993. The award is co-sponsored by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts and Dell Magazines. The winner gets an expense paid trip to Florida for the award ceremony at the Conference on the Fantastic. They also get to read their story, usually with two established authors. The winner receives $500 and the story is featured on Asimov’s website. Every finalist gets a private consultation with me. The authors go out of their way to spend time talking with the students and the students usually become fast friends. They form writers groups and generally support each other. We see this as a way of encouraging young writers. Many published authors have been award winners or finalists. I love spending my time with these young writers. They are all smart and interesting. Their interests and career trajectories are wide ranging.

It’s great to have this chance to meet and encourage young authors. During our consultation, I ask a lot of personal questions because I need information for my award presentation (an edited version of which will also become a magazine editorial). This has given me a chance to develop a rapport with dozens of aspiring authors. It’s been highly rewarding work.

GM: Your two daughters are both big readers. What kinds of stories do you wish for them in the future?

SW: When I was in sixth grade, my school reader was crammed full of short stories. All but one story featured a young male protagonist. Although she was a gifted pianist, the plot of the one story with a female protagonist was about how she pined with unrequited love for a boy. I was frustrated and asked my parents to find me books about girls who did things and solved their own problems. On a trip to Bermuda, my parents found a British anthology called Adventure Stories for Girls. I must have read that anthology a dozen times.  Like most younger readers, my girls have no problem finding lots of terrific fantasy novels. They both love Gail Carson Levine, Diana Wynne Jones (they chose our dog’s name, “Waif,” from one of her books), J.K. Rowling, and many others. My older daughter is 20 and she’s also discovered some SF writers—Connie Willis, Paolo Bacigalupi, Scott Westerfeld, to name a few—but it was harder to find good modern SF for the YA crowd when she was a preteen. I was delighted to see how much Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series took off. I like to see my girls reading stories about strong young women who can handle adversity, opt for challenging careers that include the sciences and high tech options, have adventures, and draw on their inner reserves to resolve issues. Other types of stories are fine, too. Life is not all happy endings and a way out doesn’t always exist, but I want them to have the sense that all avenues are open. I’m frustrated by the gender imbalance among science fiction readers.

Girls need to know from an early age that science and technology are cool. Much of our future will be shaped by advances in both, and they should be encouraged to be fifty percent of these industries. Good science fiction with strong and exciting female protagonists can give teens a framework for their dreams and aspirations.

GM: Question for either Juliet or Irene [Sheila’s daughters], or both: What are your favorite books and authors right now?

J: Tuesdays in the Castle and Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George, the Gregor series by Susan Collins, the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling, and Fairy Lies and Fairy Wings by E.D. Baker.

I: My favorite books are Howl’s Moving Castle, Pump Six, On the Road,  Sorcery and Cecilia, and Fire and Hemlock. Diana Wynne Jones is probably my favorite author but I also love Margo Lanagan, Kij Johnson, and Megan Arkenberg.

Asimov's Science Fiction. Copyright 2014 by Penny Publications LLC/Dell Magazines.
Copyright 2014 by Penny Publications LLC/Dell Magazines.

GM: Question for all three of you: What is it like going to conventions together now that Juliet is old enough to attend panels? I know she sat on a panel at the Austin Worldcon, ‘Should the next Doctor Who be a woman?’ What are your favorite conventions? 

I’ve always taken my kids with me when I go to Worldcon, but since I’m working, they usually spent most of their time being tourists with their dad. As they’ve gotten older and developed their own interests in science fiction and fantasy, I’ve been able to incorporate them into my schedule at conventions. Irene is old enough to take in the convention on her own, and Juliet is on the brink. Last year, Irene and a friend attended ICFA with me because of their interest in Neil Gaiman. Juliet delighted in everything Doctor Who at the 2013 World Con. I’m going to bring her with me to Luna Con in March, without her father as back up. I’m curious to see how this works out but not too worried. I brought Irene to a Philcon when she was only a couple of years older than her sister is now. At Philcon, Irene had no problem making friends and doing crafts, etc. I’m pretty sure Juliet will have a similar experience.

I: My favorite convention is Worldcon because there are so many different things to see and people to meet. The one in Glasgow was really cool.

J: It was fun when I got to answer questions and be the center of attention. And being able to bring up points like Kim and Ron from Kim Possible [being] a lot like Amy and Rory from Dr. Who. My favorite convention was the convention in Montréal.

GW: For all of you – Geek or Nerd? 

SW: To paraphrase the bard, my interests are vast. I can contain both.

J: Geek.

I: Nerd.

GM: A question for Irene and Juliet: Your mom is amazing. Her editing advice has improved so many stories. What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given her?

J: Don’t follow strangers in to a car if they offer you candy. Stop talking!

I: Oh that’s hard. I think the best piece of advice she ever gave me was not to date two guys at the same time. She also tells me to not overthink things, which can be very useful. I don’t know if I’ve ever given her good advice.

GM: If you could ask your mom one question about her work, what would it be?

I: Why do you love your job so much?

SW: I’ve loved science fiction and science fiction short stories all my life. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of someday working on a science fiction magazine. At that time I imagined myself filing and running errands. It never occurred to my 14-year-old self that I could actually be the editor. To say that my job is a dream come true is to make an understatement. I love reading the stories, working with authors, and doing the physical work of pulling each issue together.

Asimov’s Science Fiction is available in hardcopy from Dell Magazines. It is also available from multiple purveyors of e-magazines, including: Barnes & Noble | Amazon (kindle) |iPad | Kobo | Magzter | Google play.

GeekMom: Comic Book Corner — November 6th, 2013

Wonder Woman Hiketeia \ Image: DC Comics
Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia © DC Comics

Happy Comic Release Day! Welcome to another installment of GeekMom Comic Book Corner, where we recap our adventures in comics for the week. We have a wide variety of reviews this week including Wonder Woman: The HiketeiaBandette, Takio, Black Orchid, Django Unchained: The Graphic Novel and several DC Comics coming out today, including Forever Evil #3, Earth-2 #17, and Batman/Detective Comics #25.

Dakster Sullivan — Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia by, Greg Rucka (author) and J.G Jones (artist)

When it comes to comic books, I’m guilty of judging a book by its cover and this cover had me at Batman. I don’t know what it is about Diana and Bruce, but I love seeing them face off against each other.

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia starts off a bit confusing and made me worry I missed something in a previous volume. It didn’t take long before that feeling faded and I realized I was smack in the beginning of a great story.

The story begins with Diana explaining the ancient ritual of the Hiketeia: a ritual of protection in exchange for being a personal slave.

Enter Danielle Wellys: a young woman in Gotham who is on the run for crimes worthy of Batman’s attention. We all know how this ends, except, it actually doesn’t. Danielle gets away and ends up on Diana’s doorstep, performing the Hiketeia ritual. Unaware of Danielle’s crimes, Diana accepts and takes her under her protection–a decision that will lead to a conflict with Batman later on.

The conflict between Batman and Wonder Woman is interesting to read, because they’re on different sides of the coin with this one. I felt for Batman’s role as the one to bring Danielle in for justice, while also feeling for Diana’s role as her protector. It was hard not to feel for Danielle as well, who as it turns out, is guilty of her crimes, but after reading her story, I can’t say that the victims were all that innocent, either.

Word of warning: Since Batman plays a nice sized role in this story, you can bet there will be some darkness. Chances of this ending happily are slim to none. Keep that in mind if you have a hard time with sex, violence, or otherwise unhappy endings.

Curious to know what I’m pulling this week? Check out my pull list on Comixology.

Lisa Tate — Takio by Brian Michael Bendis (Author), Michael Avon Oeming (Illustrator)

Takio Issue #4
Takio Issue #4

As many incredible writers as there are in the comic book world, Brian Michael Bendis is always at the top of my list. His knack for creating pure conversational dialogue is amazing and his storytelling prowess is incredible…unfortunately most of it isn’t exactly something I want to share with my daughters (Powers, anyone?).

This is why his all ages comic Takio (Icon Comics) with illustrations by frequent collaborator Michael Avon Oeming, is a favorite title in our home.

Now its fourth issue, Takio is the story of two sisters who gain superpowers when their friend’s father sets of an accident in his lab has everything I want my daughter to appreciate from Bendis — humor, action, storytelling and completely unique characters — without those elements of his I would rather her not yet see.

There certainly won’t be any f-bombs, heads or bodices exploding in this series, but both 11-year-olds and 40-year-olds will cheer on these pair of young heroines snickering all the way.

The fact that the main characters are girls whose age difference is similar to my own daughters is a bonus. The first four issues of this book complete a story arc, so now is a good time to catch up on some back issues.

Helen Barker– Black Orchid Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Black Orchid \ Image: NeilGaiman.comI have to admit that I am not a reader of comics, and I don’t really do superhero stories either. However, many of my fellow GeekMoms are really interested in this genre, so when I saw a copy of Black Orchid by my favorite author Neil Gaiman in the library, I had to take a peek.

Would this be the gateway to a new comic and graphic novel addiction?

Black Orchid’s story is one of mystery and self discovery. She sets out to find out more about her origins and to understand why she shares the memories of Susan Linden. Ultimately she needs to find the place where she belongs and find a path through the violence which surrounds her.

The first thing that struck me about the book was McKean’s rich cinematic illustrations. They’re almost like the storyboard for a film, and while I was reading I could imagine what would be happening in a live action version of the story. Although I am familiar with McKean’s later collaborations with Gaiman, including the book and film MirrorMask , I wasn’t expecting the artwork to grab me quite so strongly. The colours are generally muted and quiet, highlighted by deep splashes of blood or dappled sunlight. Black Orchid herself is a purple blossom, standing out amongst the darkness.

Gaiman’s story slowly unravels the mysteries of Black Orchid’s past, giving us glimpses of Susan’s life too. Some of the dialogue has become somewhat dated, but the tension of the story still remains, particularly when Black Orchid is being hunted in the rainforest.

The deluxe edition also includes early drafts of the story and artwork, including letters and Gaiman’s handwritten notes. I always enjoy seeing how authors and illustrators develop their ideas, and this is especially interesting as they were working with an established character.

This was a really positive introduction to the genre for me as I hadn’t expected to enjoy the book as much as I did. I’ll be checking out the graphic novel section of the library more carefully in the future!

Kay Moore–Bandette – Vol. 1 by Paul Tobin (writer) and Colleen Cover (artist)

bandetteEvery time I saw the cover art for an issue of Bandette, the carefree style and bright colors caught my attention and eventually I could no longer resist. While I attempted to exercise free will, the series was nominated for four Eisner awards, winning Best Digital Comic. So don’t depend on my opinion–the luminaries of the industry recommend Bandette to you as well. And this is one of those satisfying comics where the cover truly reflects the contents: both style and imagery match what is inside the issues (or chapters, for this hardcover edition collecting issues 1-5).

Bandette is a young woman who both adventures as a cat burglar and protects a tribe of street urchins, beatniks, and free spirits. Bandette and her band show each other absolute trust; it’s enjoyable in these early issues and in keeping with the carefree mood of this story, but I wonder if such a fluffy air can be maintained over a long run. It appears that Bandette’s strikes are against those who deserve to lost their treasures; perhaps some complications in this area will develop later in the series. At this early stage, all of her “victims” are bad guys, simplifying the moral situation.

I enjoyed the artful cadence of Bandette’s speech–non-colloquial just enough to carry a definite French imprint without any obnoxious accent. She tangles with several “opponents” throughout these issues, but her method of engaging with them is, once again, charming. Bandette is brash, charming, smart, brave, and analytical, and she always has a bon mot. Like a crooked smile, the escapades always end with an upward turn. I found Bandette’s excursions into the Parisian shadows and treasuries a refreshing change of pace from darker comic perspectives. I agree with the recommendation for readers aged eight and above.

This volume also includes extras, including a series of short stories written by Paul Tobin with guest illustrators, a script excerpt and an art tutorial. Bandette is published by Dark Horse, $14.99.

Corrina–Django Unchained: The Graphic Novel by Reginald Hudlin (adapting the film) and R.M. Guera, Jason LaTour, Denys Cowan, DaniJel Zezelj, and John Floyd (artists).

DC Comics this week: Batman/Detective Comics #25 (Zero Year) by John Layman (writer) and Jason Fabok (artist); Forever Evil #3 by Geoff Johns (writer) and David Finch and Richard Friend (artists); Earth-2 #17 by Tom Taylor (writer) and Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott (artists).

My eldest son, Joseph, (18) is a big Quentin Tarantino fan, so I handed the Django Uchained graphic adaptation over to him for review.

Joseph: Whenever Quentin Tarantino makes a movie, he never ceases to surprise me with his insanity but I also always recognize his recurring themes. Django Unchained is one of his greatest works, telling a gloriously visceral and satisfying story about a former slave teaming up with a friendly bounty hunter to rescue his still-enslaved wife. The move had me  recoiling with horror and roaring with laughter at different times.

That’s the movie, though. The graphic novel adaptation is pretty much the same, minus the moving pictures and Sam Jackson stealing every scene he’s in. There are obviously some differences though, the biggest being this was his first draft of the movie, as Tarantino points out in the forward. That means there are a few changes in the story, which I found fascinating.

Some scenes and dialogue are moved around and or downright absent from the movie. The majority of these changes made sense and there were a couple exchanges I wish had remained, so I was glad to experience them in some form.  However, I can understand why most of the scenes were cut or changed. None of these scenes felt out of place but some of them were harder to seamlessly integrate into a film, such as Broomhilda’s back story. This is fun to read in the graphic novel but it would be a long diversion for a movie.

The movie also has scenes not in the book, so between additions and deletions, this  adaptation is about as long as the movie itself. (Or shorter, depending on how fast you read.)

I can’t omit mentioning the art, which is top-notch, per Vertigo’s usual standards. The artists capture the characters well, and blending the environments to match the spaghetti western style of the tale. There is excellent use of the shadows, without ever being distracting from the story or dialogue.

Overall, if you loved the movie, you’ll definitely enjoy the book, and if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll love either if you’re into spaghetti westerns or Quentin Tarantino at his finest.

I think even Willard and his wife can agree that it was executed pretty well.

Detective-Comics-25-Cover_dsBack to Corrina:

The first book I picked up in the review issues DC sent me was Detective #25 because, well, I love Jim Gordon, and the issue promised to be a whole story of Jim Gordon being awesome. Which it was, which made me very happy. It’s ostensibly a tale of how Gordon developed the Bat-signal during the first year Batman was active, but that’s a small part of Gordon taking on police corruption, and by that it seems like every other cop on the force, save one. Batman does make an appearance, and I love how he’s intergrated. Fabok’s art is as moody and atmospheric as one could hope for Gotham, in particular during a scene in which Gordon falls from a bridge.

I read Forever Evil #3 and Earth-2 #17 back-to-back and that was a mistake because I started confusing their plotlines. Both feature an evil version of Superman and both feature a ragtag group of heroes (and some villains) trying to regroup after a devastating defeat. They both even have nearly-dead humans being reborn as half-machine.

When I interviewed Nicola Scott at New York Comic Con, she said Earth-2 is far more messed up than the current DC Earth, but after reading Forever Evil, they seem about equally dark to me. The alternate Earth at least seems to have heroes as its guardians, where the regular DC Earth is down to villains for its defense against the Crime Syndicate, alternate universe evil versions of the Justice League. (But not from the Earth-2 universe.)

That said, Earth-2 was a far better story to read because events seemed to unfold quickly. Possessed Superman attacks, heroes scatter, a Batman (we don’t know who he is yet, though Bruce Wayne is dead on this world) sneaks into a secret government holding tank for supers to set them free and Lois Lane is back. Er, sort of. Did I mention the whole half-machine thing?  This is Taylor’s first issue and it’s solid.

Forever Evil has Black Adam fighting Ultraman, and Luthor giving orders to Bizarro and Batman (Bruce Wayne this time) finally realizing the Syndicate is holding Dick Grayson hostage. Oh, and Victor Stone (Cyborg) is being reborn. Captain Cold literally loses his shirt too. Nothing feels very significant. The miniseries has four more issues to go and it’s moving at a slow pace.

Looking for something else, readers? Check out this week’s listed books:

DC-Comics-Old.jpg marvel-logo1.jpg

Action Comics #25
All-Star Western Vol. 3 The Black Diamond Probability TP
Batman Black And White #3 (Of 6)
Batman Night Of The Owls TP GM
Batman Superman #5 GM
Batwing #25
DC Comics Essentials Justice League #1
Detective Comics #25
Django Unchained HC
Earth 2 #17
Forever Evil #3 (Of 7) GM
Fraction TP (New Edition)
Green Arrow #25
Green Lantern #25 GM
Hinterkind #2
Judas Coin TP
Justice League Of America Vol. 1 World’s Most Dangerous HC
MAD Magazine #524
Movement #6
Sandman Omnibus Vol. 2 HC
Scooby-Doo Where Are You #39 KF10
Stormwatch #25
Superman Unchained #4
Swamp Thing #25
Trillium #4 (Of 8)
Trinity Of Sin The Phantom Stranger #13 GM
Amazing X-Men #1
Avengers West Coast Avengers Omnibus Vol. 2 HC
Captain America #13
Captain Marvel #17 GM
Cataclysm The Ultimates’ Last Stand #1 (Of 5)
Daredevil Dark Nights #6 (Of 8)
Emerald City Of Oz #4 (Of 5)
Fantomex MAX #2 (Of 4)
Hawkeye Vol. 1 HC GM
Iron Man #18
Longshot Saves The Marvel Universe #1 (Of 4)
Marvel Firsts The 1980s Vol. 1 TP
Marvel Knights Spider-Man #2 (Of 5)
Marvel Universe Hulk Agents Of S.M.A.S.H. #2 (Of 4)
Marvel’s Captain America The First Avenger Adaptation #1 (Of 2)
Marvel’s Thor The Dark World The Art Of The Movie Slipcase HC
Mighty Avengers #3
Oz Road To Oz TP GM
Painkiller Jane The Price Of Freedom #1 (Of 4)
S.H.I.E.L.D. Origins TP
Thanos Redemption TP
Uncanny X-Men Vol. 2 Broken HC (was ‘Lost In Limbo’)
X-Men Legacy #19
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Comics About Cartoonists HC
Crow Midnight Legends Vol. 5 Resurrection TP
Danger Girl G.I. JOE HC (Red Label Edition)
Doctor Who Prisoners Of Time #10 (Of 12)
Doctor Who Series 3 Vol. 3 Sky Jacks TP
G.I. JOE The Cobra Files #8
G.I. JOE The Complete Collection Vol. 1 HC
Ghostbusters #9
Jeff Smith’s Bone The Great Cow Race Artist’s Edition HC
Judge Dredd Classics #5
My Little Pony Portfolio GM
My Little Pony The Return Of Queen Chrysalis HC GM
Star Trek Vol. 1 Where No Man Has Gone Before HC
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #21
Transformers Dark Cybertron #1
Transformers More Than Meets The Eye #1 (Hundred Penny Press Edition)
Baltimore The Infernal Train #3 (Of 3)
Catalyst Comix #5 (Of 9)
Domo And Friends In Bobsled Ornament
Domo Astronaut Ornament
Domo Snowboarding Ornament
Grindhouse Doors Open At Midnight #2 (Of 8)
Marvel Classic Character X-Men #2 Angel
Michael Avon Oeming’s The Victories #6
Occultist #2 (Of 5)
Plants Vs Zombies Lawnmageddon HC
Star Wars #3 (Of 8)(Lucas Draft) GM

Acronym Key: VC = Variant Cover / HC = Hard Cover / TP = Trade Paperback / GM = GeekMom Recommended Reading / KF10 = Kid-Friendly for 10-years old and younger

GeekMom: Comic Book Corner — October 30th, 2013

© DC Comics
© DC Comics

Happy Comic Release Day! Welcome to another installment of GeekMom Comic Book Corner, where we recap our adventures in comics for the week. This week, Dakster takes us into the spooky and horrific world of Zenescope’s Grimm fairy-tale world, while Kelly takes a look at DC Comics villains in Super Villains of DC Comics. Corrina ventures into the DC Comics world with The Sandman Overture, Forever Evil: Argus, and Damian: Son of Batman. Kay finishes off our spooky theme with a look at Buffy Season 9 Volume 4.

Kelly Knox–Necessary Evil: Supervillains of DC Comics (Documentary)

Last week DC Comics released a new full-length documentary, Necessary Evil: Supervillains of DC Comics, to examine the wealth of baddies in the DC universe.

The highlight of the documentary, which comes in a little long at 90 minutes, is seeing some of comics’ luminaries in person as they chat about their favorite bad guys. Marv Wolfman, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Snyder, Brian Azzarello, Dan DiDio, and more speak at length about what makes a good villain. (Johns evens gives a play-by-play of a showdown he wrote between Sinestro and Green Lantern.)

It is a treat to see Dr. Andrea Letamendi, a psychologist and comic book fan who has appeared in the pages of Batgirl as herself, also make an appearance in the documentary. However, I couldn’t help but notice the omission of Gail Simone, who writes fantastically villainous villains (like Batgirl’s Ventriloquist), and her point of view is sorely missed.

Necessary Evil: Supervillains of DC Comics feels like a comic convention panel with a somewhat aimless discussion of “our favorite DC Comics villains and why we love them.” The narration by the legendary Christopher Lee is a bonus, but overall the documentary doesn’t make much of a lasting impression.

Sandman Overture
J.H. Williams III cover copyright Vertigo/DC Comics

Corrina:

The Sandman Oveture #1 written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by J.H. Williams III ($4.99)

Damian, son of Batman #1 of 4, written and drawn by Andy Kubert ($3.99)

Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. #1 written by Sterling Gates and penciled by Philip Tan, Neil Edwards and Javier Pina. ($2.99)

Neil Gaiman returns this week to his classic Sandman character, Dream, in The Sandman Overture and his universe has never looked better than when drawn by Williams, formerly of Batwoman. There’s an incredible four-page (FOUR PAGES!!) spread in the middle of this oversized first issue that I could stare at for a long time and never get bored. I’d describe what it details but that would be serious spoiler territory. Suffice to say, Gaiman is venturing even further into the world of dreams, with the Dream we all know as our guide into something more vast than we’ve yet encountered.

If you loved the Sandman series, this is a must, but if you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend going back and finishing the series before starting this.

Damian, Son of Batman, stars the late (?) and lamented Damian Wayne, the genetically engineered son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul. Damian, trained to be a killer by his mother, instead becomes the newest Robin to fight crime at the side of Dick Grayson’s Batman, and later, with his father when Bruce returned to the role after being temporarily dead. (Complicated.) Damian died in Grant Morrison’s series, Batman Incorporated but by that time, he’d already become a fan favorite.

Is he back from the dead? He is in this series, which seems to be an alternate universe to judge by events in the first few pages, in which Batman is killed by a hidden bomb. Damian vows to avenge his partner and goes back to his training as an assassin to do it. He kills several members of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery and then, well, the last page makes us rethink exactly what happened earlier. I had no idea what to expect from the book but it’s an interesting read and Kubert’s art, with the exception of a few facial expressions, is very, very good. I’ll read more.

I’m not so inclined to read more of Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. as it’s part of the big DC crossover event and it shows, with some of the book taken up by relating what’s happening from the point of view of A.R.G.U.S., a special government organization set up to monitor superheroes. The attraction in this book, however, is the retelling of the first meeting of Steve Trevor and Princess Diana/Wonder Woman, and a short glimpse of the pair as a couple. The splash page with Diana pulling open the cockpit of Steve’s crashed plane should be a poster, it’s that pretty.

Dakster Sullivan–Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales Omnibus, by Joe Brusha (Creator), Ralph Tedesco  (Creator)

Grimm Omnibus \ Image: Zenescope
Grimm Omnibus \ Image: Zenescope

With 50 horror and romance-filled issues, Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales Omnibus is eight-pounds of awesome fairy tale adventure.  Word of warning, however: due to the graphic nature of both the art and the story-telling this is not a book for the faint of heart (or anyone under 17-years-old, for that matter.)

The main character in this omnibus is Sela, a strong, intelligent professor who helps her students learn valuable lessons through fairy-tales. Don’t be fooled though: there’s a reason the Grimm Brothers are invoked in this title…these are not the same, saccharine Disney fairy tales parents might know. In this collection, no story (or character) is safe.

Something you will notice from the get-go is Zenescope’s art style is very sexually-oriented and I beg you not to let it stop you from reading the stories. In my opinion, Zenescope has some of the most action-filled stories and the strongest, most adventurous females in the comics industry. That alone keeps me reading but don’t get me wrong: I don’t agree 100% with how the characters are drawn. But if I’d ever let that stop me, I’d never have picked up Robyn Hood (and she is amazing)!

One of the things I really like about the Grimm fairy tale world is the shared responsibility men and women have within the Grimm universe. Both genders get their time as the hero and the villain, so you don’t have to worry about reading 50-issues of male driven story-lines. Of course, that also means you need to be comfortable seeing both men and women in the role of the villain.

Sleeping Beauty is a good example where gender roles are swapped with the result that we see the story in a different, yet very interesting light. The violence towards the hero felt a bit mean at the end, but since the character himself was only “dreaming,” and he was actually safe the whole time, I’m okay with that.

With over 1,600 pages of good vs. evil adventure, the Grimm Fairy Tales Omnibus is a great book to pick up for anyone ages 17-years old and up. Ask your local comic book store for availability or check it out on Amazon for $45.00.

Want more of Sela? You can catch her in the new mini-series Realm Knights, along with other famous faces like Robyn Hood, Red Riding Hood, and Hook.

Curious to know what I’m pulling this week? Check out my pull list on Comixology.

Kay Moore–Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 9, Vol. 4 by, Andrew Chambliss (writer) and Georges Jeanty (artist)

Buffy Season 9, Volume 4 \ Image: Dark Horse
Buffy Season 9, Volume 4 \ Image: Dark Horse

This collected edition, Season 9, Volume 4, has Buffy and the Scooby gang living in a world without magic following their earlier clash with Twilight and the destruction of the Seed.

While out slaying, Buffy is hijacked by a mystical person from her past who requires her to assist them in their quest, forcing Buffy into uncomfortable alliances and keeping her away from her family and Scoobies at a time when it is most critical for her to be present.

Although I am reading this collected edition after missing some issues leading up to it, I was still able to follow the action. Actions and attitudes are true to the Buffy-verse. I recognized the agonizing choices several characters had to make about aligning with a larger cause or concentrating their efforts in a more personal arena.

A couple characters really hit true notes for me; familiar voices, choices that raise my sympathy in the present and my fear for the future. Back in season eight, some zany things happened, threatening a breakdown in the suspension of disbelief system, but if you’ve gotten past that, this story expands well from that and it was a fun read, a good visit with the characters. It certainly set up anxious situations. Where’s my next issue?

Looking for something else, readers? Check out this week’s listed books:

DC-Comics-Old.jpg marvel-logo1.jpg

Action Comics Annual #2
Aquaman Annual #1 GM
Batgirl Vol. 2 Knightfall Descends TP GM
Batman Vol. 3 Death Of The Family HC
Damian Son Of Batman #1 (Of 4) GM
DC Comics One Million Omnibus HC
Deadshot Beginnings TP
Forever Evil A.R.G.U.S. #1 (Of 6)
Green Lantern Annual #2 GM
JSA The Liberty Files The Whistling Skull TP
Nightwing Annual #1
Sandman Overture #1 (Of 6)
Smallville Season 11 Special #3 GM
Superman Adventures The Man Of Steel TP KF10
Superman The Man Of Steel Believe TP KF10
Swamp Thing Annual #2
Teen Titans Annual #2 GM
Vertigo Essentials V For Vendetta #1
Avengers #22
Avengers A.I. #5
Cable And X-Force Vol. 2 Dead Or Alive TP
Captain America Living Legend #2 (Of 4)
Cataclysm #0.1
Deadpool Kills Deadpool #4 (Of 4)
Guardians Of The Galaxy #8 GM
Infinity #5 (Of 6)
Inhumans By Right Of Birth TP
Kick-Ass 3 #4 (Of 8)
Marvel Universe Thor Digest TP
Punisher The Trial Of The Punisher #2 (Of 2)
Scarlet Spider #23
Scarlet Spider Vol. 3 The Big Leagues TP
Superior Spider-Man #20
Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special #1
Thor The Crown Of Fools #1
Thor Vs Thanos TP
Ultimate Comics The Ultimates Disassembled TP
Ultimate Comics X-Men #33
Uncanny X-Force #13
Wolverine And The X-Men By Jason Aaron Vol. 7 TP GM
X-Men Battle Of The Atom #2 (Of 2)
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Danger Girl The Chase #2 (Of 4)
Dinosaurs Attack #4 (Of 5)
G.I. JOE #9
Godzilla Rulers Of Earth #5
Joe Kubert’s Tor Artist’s Edition HC
KISS Kids #3 (Of 4)
My Little Pony 2013 Annual #1 KF10
My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic #12 KF10
Powerpuff Girls #2 (Of 6) KF10
Samurai Jack Classics Vol. 1 TP
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #27
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Villain Micro-Series #7 (Bebop & Rocksteady)
Transformers Prime Beast Hunters #6 (Of 8) KF10
Transformers Robots In Disguise #22
Wild Blue Yonder #3 (Of 5)
Zombies Vs Robots This Means War MMPB
Astounding Villain House (OS)
Avatar The Last Airbender Vol. 6 The Search Part 3 TP
Bad Houses TP
Blood Brothers #3 (Of 3)
Bride Of The Water God Vol. 14 TP
Captain Midnight #4
Chronicles Of Conan Vol. 25 Exodus And Other Stories TP
Criminal Macabre The Eyes Of Frankenstein #2 (Of 4)
EC Archives Tales From The Crypt Vol. 4 HC
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven And The Red Death OS
Gantz Vol. 29 TP
Itty Bitty Hellboy #3 (Of 5)
King Conan The Hour Of The Dragon #6 (Of 6)
Last Of Us American Dreams TP
Star Wars Dark Times A Spark Remains #4 (Of 5)
True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys #5 (Of 6) GM

Acronym Key: VC = Variant Cover / HC = Hard Cover / TP = Trade Paperback / GM = GeekMom Recommended Reading / KF10 = Kid-Friendly for 10-years old and younger

Nine Badass Quotes That Motivate

Rockstar guitar. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg, Flickr CC 2.0
Rockstar guitar. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg, Flickr CC 2.0

Need an extra boost of confidence to face your nemesis? Need to get in the mood for a kid-free weekend trip? Here are some of my favorite ego-boosting, up-to-no-good, rebel-without-a-cause quotes to motivate you!

“I aim to misbehave.”

Mal in Serenity.

“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum… and I’m all outta gum.”

Duke Nukem, references to They Live.

“Are you always a smartass?” 

“Nope. Sometimes I’m asleep.”

Jim Butcher, Blood Rites

“Not unlike the toaster, I control darkness.”

Christopher Moore, You Suck

“There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.”

Robert A. Heinlein, Have Space Suit—Will Travel

“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

“I’d call you a genius, except I’m in the room.”

The Doctor in “The Age of Steel”, Doctor Who

“Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo—which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn’t a stupendous badass was dead.”

Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

“Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why. Then do it.”

Robert A. Heinlein

Do you have some favorite quotes that inspire your rebellious streak? I’d love to see them in the comments!

Best Audio Books for Family Road Trips

Film still from National Lampoon’s Vacation © Warner Brothers

School’s finally out here in the Northeast, while other parts of the U.S. have already been enjoying their summer vacations for weeks. That means road trip season is here, which can bring up vivid childhood memories of endless hours of boredom, begging for bathroom breaks, and—if you were in my family—taking your life in your hands on the interstate to stop at every single state sign for photo ops. (North Carolina, I sincerely apologize on behalf of my older brother for knocking over your sign July 4th weekend in 1987; we did try to put it back.)

In my day (hey kids, get off my lawn!) we didn’t have iPods, DVD players, or 3DS’s. My brother and I didn’t even have Walkmans until the 90s were in sight. We had a travel version of Connect 4, I Spy, and conversation—that was it. (My mom even banned Punch Buggy.) It wasn’t always enough to keep us from whining, and I definitely get the appeal of DVD players, headphones, and video games these days, but we talked. As bored as we were, I have great memories of those trips.

But I really wish we’d discovered audio books years before the summer we did my college visits. By then we were old enough to entertain ourselves, but when my mom suggested checking some audio books out from the library it gave us something to talk about. And it turned my brother and me into avid audio book listeners. My Audible subscription is one of my best-ever investments, and now I listen to books on my commute, on car trips, even when I’m working on crafty projects in my studio. So I asked the other GeekMoms to help me compile a list of great audio books for family road trips. They had amazing suggestions, including anything by storyteller Odds Bodkin and the children’s audio program Boomerang (GeekMoms Laura and Kris are big fans of both). Here are our other favorites. Whether you buy them, download them, or find them at your local library, there are plenty here to start some conversations.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book One) by Lemony Snicket, read by Tim Curry
Lemony Snicket’s series of books about the forever unlucky Baudelaire children is deliciously narrated by Tim Curry, who does the readings for all 13 of the books in this series. The misadventures for the children start in this book when their parents die, and throughout the first novel “the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.” A great elementary school listen.

Bill Bryson At Home and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, read by the author
My husband is a huge Bill Bryson fan, and he’s been begging me to read his books for years. Maybe I should start this summer on our own road trip, since GeekMom Laura raves about them. Bill Bryson was born in Iowa, spent two decades in England as a reporter, and now lives in New Hampshire. Here he covers a history of how we spend our private lives and a brief look at everything he’s learned from esteemed minds throughout the years. Good stuff for engaged teens.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, read by Allan Corduner
A Holocaust story narrated by the Grim Reaper is not exactly light summer fare, but this incredible book about a little girl named Liesel Meminger, the titular book thief, is so haunting and moving that it will spark some deep conversations with thoughtful teens. There is some PG-13 swearing in this one.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, read by multiple narrators
There’s a lot of debate about the reading order of C.S. Lewis’s series of books, but whatever order you choose will be great with the collection of audio book narrators. There are different readers for each book, including Kenneth Branagh, Lynn Redgrave, and Patrick Stewart. So farI’ve only listened to Michael York’s reading of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I loved it.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, read by Bill Homewood
There have been multiple editions of this audio book with various readers over the years, though most of them are out of print as audio CDs. But the unabridged Bill Homewood version (considered to be the best reading, and clocking in at a whopping 53 hours in length) is available from Audible. GeekMom Kay says her kids were crazy for this book during a road trip when they were in their mid-teens. They didn’t want bathroom breaks, chatting, or map checks. They just wanted to listen.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg, read by Jill Clayburgh
Ms. Konigsburg passed away in April at age 83, but her classic children’s novel is still beloved after 46 years in print. When almost-twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid decides to run away from the suburbs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, she enlists her younger brother Jamie to help fund the trip. The two of them have some great adventures in the famous museum, and the late Jill Clayburgh’s spot-on reading is just so much fun.

George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy and Stephen Hawking, read by Hugh Dancy
This book is geek parent nirvana. The first book in a series of (so far) three, the books are written by Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy (with Stephen writing the science notes at the end). All of the books are narrated fabulously by Hugh Dancy (love him!). The first book introduces us to George, a shy and polite British schoolboy whose parents are environmental activists. They don’t eat anything they haven’t grown themselves, and they like to take George on family outings to global warming protests. But all George wants in the universe is a computer. When his new scientist neighbor moves in and shows George his incredible supercomputer, Cosmos, George’s world is opened wide. He is inspired to enter the school science fair (to win a computer), but he will have to deal with an evil mad scientist first. Excellent stuff.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, read by the author with a full cast recording
The entire His Dark Materials trilogy is a really cool audio book production. Young orphan Lyra Belacqua lives in an alternate version of our reality, where humans all have personal daemons–their souls manifested as animals. Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon spend their days causing trouble at Oxford University until they overhear something they shouldn’t, and a chain of events is set in motion.  This is one of those children’s series that really works for adults, and The Golden Compass is still my favorite of the three.

The Graveyard Book written and read by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is one of few authors who can narrate their own books really well. Nobody “Bod” Owens is an orphaned boy being raised by ghosts in a cemetery. The man Jack, who murdered his family, continues to search for Bod as he grows up and learns how to navigate life with and without the dead. Creepy and marvelous for older elementary and middle school students, and the 2009 Newbery Medal winner.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and the rest of the Harry Potter series) by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale
Maybe this is the summer you’re finally ready to introduce your kids to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Maybe they’re not quite ready to read the books, but they could definitely listen. Jim Dale is kind of legendary as an audio book narrator, and his interpretations of all seven Harry Potter books are the most glorious listens I’ve ever experienced.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, read by Stephen Fry
No explanation is needed here for Douglas Adams’s classic about the hapless Arthur Dent, and the original BBC radio series is also really wonderful. But Stephen Fry’s reading is charming because, well…it’s Stephen Fry. If you choose to listen to any version on your trip, make sure your kids pack a towel.

How to Train Your Dragon (and the rest of the series) by Cressida Cowell, read by David Tennant
David Tennant reads all of the books in this uproariously funny series, and he is just perfect. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III has gone down in history as a great Viking warrior, but as a kid he didn’t quite live up to the reputation of his father, Stoick the Vast (chief of the Hairy Hooligans). If you need a tenth Doctor fix, and your kids think dragons and Vikings (and the movie adaptation) are awesome, this is for you.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & the Olympians #1) by Rick Riordan, read by Jesse Bernstein
Man, do I love the Percy Jackson series. The Lightning Thief will always be my absolute favorite, but Rick Riordan did something great here with the whole series. He got kids excited about mythology and ancient history through a wise-cracking, dyslexic kid from New York City (who also happens to be the son of Poseidon). This is real epic adventure, and Jesse Bernstein narrates the whole series.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, BBC Radio plays
Kay says for years doing a routine ten-to-twelve hour drive to see relatives, her family listened to these classic BBC radio dramatizations of Tolkien’s novels. They tried other traditional audio book readings of these books but always came back to the radio plays.

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (The Guardians, Book One) by William Joyce and Laura Geringer, read by Gerard Doyle
This is the story of Santa before he was Santa; when he was just a swashbuckling hero named North (Nicholas St. North). When an evil king threatens the village of Santoff Clausen, North comes to the rescue. GeekMom Cathé and her kids loved this one, the first in the Guardians of Childhood series.

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles Book One) by Rick Riordan, read by Kevin R. Free and Katherine Kellgren
GeekMom Rebecca swears that this book saved her family on a long road trip a few years ago. Rick Riordan followed up his Percy Jackson series with the Kane Chronicles (there are three books so far), this time bringing ancient Egyptian mythology to the present. Fourteen-year-old Carter Kane has spent the years since his mother’s death traveling the world with his Egyptologist father, while his twelve-year-old sister Sadie moved to London with their grandparents. The family is reunited on Christmas Eve, when their father unleashes something at the British Museum that sets the siblings off on a dangerous adventure.

The Roald Dahl Audio Collection, read by the author
I fully support reading and listening to any Roald Dahl book, but this is a great collection of some of his classics, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Enormous Crocodile, and The Magic Finger. Roald Dahl is a great narrator for his own stories, and this collection has some of my absolute favorites. It’s great for elementary school kids (and precocious younger ones), but if you’re not already familiar with his stories be warned that they don’t always have warm and fuzzy language.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, read by Mark Hamill
When the Grace kids move with their mom into the crumbling Spiderwick Estate, they discover a world of fairies, goblins, elves, and dragons. Obviously, adventure ensues. The complete set of five original Spiderwick Chronicles novels (there was a follow-up series) is narrated by Mark Hamill, who does a great job with the story of thirteen-year-old Mallory Grace and her nine-year-old twin brothers Jared and Simon. Great for elementary school kids.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, multiple readers
Unpopular Dwight shows up to school one day with an origami Yoda puppet on his finger. When he begins talking in a Yoda voice and giving out great advice to his classmates, they decide to launch an investigation to discover if the Yoda puppet is real, or if there is a side to Dwight they’ve never noticed before. This is such a wonderful book for elementary- and middle-school kids. Cathé listened to it with her kids and loved it. There are also two more so far in the series.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, read by Graeme Malcolm
This is just one of my favorite children’s books, period. I used to read it to my second grade classes in the library every year, and Graeme Malcolm’s reading of the audio book is one of my all-time favorites. Despereaux the mouse is an outsider in his world, and one day he falls in love with a human princess and promises to always honor her. When an evil rat threatens the castle, tiny Despereaux steps up to save the day. If you’ve seen the movie but haven’t read the book, there is so much rich language and deep emotion in the writing that did not translate to the screen. This is a dramatic story with a really poignant moral about accepting differences and embracing who you are. Just fabulous.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, read by Alfred Molina
Classics like Treasure Island have had endless book reprints and recordings with different narrators. I blogged about the one read by Alfred Molina a few years ago because it is just so superb. He is exactly the Long John Silver I imagined in my head, and he will make your kids of all ages love this classic.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, read by Hope Davis
An absolute classic children’s novel, and Hope Davis does a great job narrating. Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin learn all about tesseracts, time travel, and the mysterious disappearance of their father when a strange visitor appears at their door. So. Great.

Rebecca Angel, Kris Bordessa, Kay Moore, Cathé Post, and Laura Grace Weldon contributed to this audio book list. Jackie Reeve is an Amazon and Audible Affiliate.

Fund This: Video Games and Neil Gaiman Ought to Be in Pictures

Welcome to another edition of Fund This, GeekMom’s bi-weekly section that focuses on places to invest some of your hard-earned cash. We are looking to highlight some of the most interesting projects on crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and much more. Ready to make someone’s dream a reality?

This week, I had a really hard time choosing one project to feature. There are so many good ones out there. However, backing the movie business seems to be all the rage right now. After all, doesn’t even the tiniest part of you want to be in pictures? The cult hit Veronica Mars and actor/director Zach Braff both had killer Kickstarter campaigns, reaching their respective goals in a matter of hours. Some films need a little extra love — and cash!

Continue reading Fund This: Video Games and Neil Gaiman Ought to Be in Pictures

The Cliffs of Insanity: Kansas City & How to Write Comics

RT Booklovers Convention, Kansas City
The aliens at the Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention get into the spirit of things. photo by Corrina Lawson

This week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity are centered on my trip to the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Kansas City where I dived into workshops on the invention of romance and how to write comics, topics that are not so dissimilar.  Both deal with how to translate myth into storytelling.

So far, the most surprising thing (not the aliens, as give romance writers a little alcohol and props and they’ll have some fun) has been the blizzard that rose up yesterday. Even a New Englander like myself is a little disconcerted at snow in May. The Australian contingent at the conference had to go outside to experience the snow as apparently it’s rare where they come from. (Though the Southern Californians were appalled.) Continue reading The Cliffs of Insanity: Kansas City & How to Write Comics

Scents Inspired by Neil Gaiman by Our Sponsor Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

newmainOn the off chance that you haven’t figured it out by now, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab makes some eccentric and unusual stuff. Perfumes inspired by comics and roleplaying games are just the start, though. To prove that they understand their audience and know we require the very best, most magical and delightful, they have a series of lines inspired by the work of none other than Neil Gaiman.

Which flavor of Gaiman do you prefer? There’s the American Gods collection, which beautifully evokes the curious gods and goddesses of the novel, while telling a story at the same time. For the younger set (but no less mysterious) there’s the Coraline series, which has our heroine described in “dry grass, clean skin, and a little bit of mossy berry.”

Neverwhere art by Enrique Alcatena
Neverwhere art by Enrique Alcatena

If you’re looking for something with a bit more whimsy, there’s the Stardust series, which features Tristran, Victoria, Lady Una, and others like The East (“the scent of the winds beyond the wall: bluebonnet, passion flower, freesia, jasmine tea, mint, thyme, and redcurrant”) or Fairy Wine (“an ethereal vintage, steeped with dandelion, honey, and red currants”).

Want mystery? Look no further than the Neverwhere collection. There’s a whole cast of colorful characters to turn to, including the Marquis the Carabas (“A splash of bay rum, leather, dusty black wool, massoia bark, and opium residue”), Door (“Golden honey, nicotiana, blue chamomile, and cistus”) and Hunter (“Leonine amber, tanned hides, clove, and clary sage”).

For all the Gaiman fans out there, truly these are scents you can’t miss. For the full line of Neil Gaiman inspired fragrances, visit Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s page, and stay tuned for more!

9 Fictional Beverages You Can't Have (And Recipes for Them)

Image credit: Ruth Suehle

In part one of this post, I covered fourteen fictional foods and their recipes. Now it’s time to turn to the potent (and not so potent) potables of our favorite far-off places.

Mudder’s Milk

On Higgins’ Moon in Firefly, there’s a lil’ ol’ city called Canton where the biggest export is mud, and to keep the mudders moving, this drink, far from “mother’s milk,” provides “all the protein, vitamins and carbs of your grandma’s best turkey dinner, plus 15% alcohol.” Our beloved knitted-hat-wearing big damn hero likes it too. Here’s one Mudder’s Milk recipe for you to try.

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster

It takes a two-headed guy to invent a drink that has an effect “like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick,” and that’s just what Zaphod Beeblebrox did for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy universe. Not only are you likely to have trouble finding the real ingredients (Ol’ Janx Spirit, water from the seas of Santraginus V, Fallian marsh gas, and other delights, plus the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger to finish it off), Douglas Adams said in an interview that “there are a number of environmental and weapons treaties and laws of physics which prevent one being mixed on Earth.” That means you’ll have to choose one of the many Earth-bound imitations.

Slurm

At one time you could buy Fry’s favorite beverage in Futurama, as Slurm was sold as an energy drink, but if you still want it, you’ll have to turn to eBay. It probably wasn’t squirted out of a real Slurm Queen anyway. This imitation recipe calls for rum, sour apple schnapps, pineapple juice, and 7-Up. Good luck with that. You might end up wishing for the Slurm Queen.

Continue reading 9 Fictional Beverages You Can't Have (And Recipes for Them)

GeekMom Supports All Hallow’s Read!

Official All Hallow's Read 2011 book sticker

All Hallow’s Read is an initiative we at GeekMom have to support (and not only because we love Neil Gaiman who launched the original idea and explains the concept in a zombie-full video.)

We also love it because it’s simple (and we moms crave easy-to-do celebrations), because it’s a new Halloween tradition (and we enjoy Halloween, of course), and because it encourages reading.
The concept is simple : “in the week of Halloween, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book.”

Of course, you can elaborate if you wish and, as they say, “fancy it up as much as you like”. They recommend adding a bit of frightening mystery to the giving itself:  “Looking the child in the eye and saying, “Take it. Read it. Trust me… around here… a book can be… safer than candy.” Then chuckling to yourself, as if remembering something unfortunate that happened to some of the local children only last year.” They also offer useful helps, such as cards and book stickers and of course, some wonderful lists of scary books for every age.

I endorse choices such as Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or The Graveyard Book, Ray Bradbury’s The October Country (among other titles) and of course Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

And what about Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost?  I’m not sure it’s scary. But it’s delicious, it (obviously) involves a ghost, which seems to be enough to offer it to your loved ones for Halloween. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander, suggested by Tracy V. Wilson on How Stuff Works, is a very good choice, too.

For adults, I’d probably stick to classics such as Dracula, Frankenstein or Interview with a Vampire.

And if you know some Comic Book fans, you could definitely give them House of Mystery by Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham and Luca Rossi, as suggested by Gaming Angels.

My fellow GeekMoms had more original ideas:

If you’d like to be more involved, many book drops were organized for All Hallow’s Read. You can follow the conversation on Twitter. If you’re an artist, you may also enter a contest to design the official All Hallow’s Read poster for 2012.

If not… offer a book. Drop one. Read one aloud. Spend some time on storytelling, on this very special night. Halloween should definitely be a time for tales. Dark ones, for sure, and scary, but with bits of light as well.

For “Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.” (G. K. Chesterton) or, as Neil Gaiman himself quoted it in Coraline : “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

How I Did A Deal With The Nightmare

Johann Heinrich Füssli, The Nightmare

I’m a geek and a writer. Therefore I’m able to talk with mythical and literary beings, which is usually disturbing but may be proved useful, in very rare occasions.

I always had a special bond with dreams. Far before I read The Sandman and fell in love with Dream himself (who hadn’t?).
I am blessed enough to often remember my dreams, and to enjoy a wide range of dreaming experiences, flashes and words, journeys and stories, bizarre ones, nonsensical ones, delightful ones. I’m able to visit my favourite places in dreams, from Rivendell to the Dreaming’s library where I sometimes converse with Lucien.
Yes, I’m a lucky girl.

I also have a deal with nightmares. They don’t really frighten me. Not even the Corinthian.
They used to scare me, though, when I was a toddler. My mother told me so.
Then something happened. I don’t remember what. But from that time, many years ago, I became able to wake up, consciously, when feeling a nightmare was about to end too badly.

Now, my baby is almost ten months old and begins to experience his own first nightmares.
I always intended to boldly deal with my son’s nightmares, following the wonderful example of Susan in the delicious Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather: to firmly pull them from under the child’s bed, beat them up, kick them out and threaten them of the most horrible punishments if they dared to come back.
Except that my son’s still a bit young to fully appreciate this method.

So I decided to pass a deal for him with the Nightmare herself.
Perhaps I should have begun with that name. I love that name. The Mare of the Night. So suggestive. So picturesque. So beautiful.
I use the English name for her, for French’s word cauchemar doesn’t carry the same images. Cauchemar roughly means “squeezing ghost”, which is interesting, but less classy.

The night-mare and her nine-fold…

How many stories I dreamt about them! The younglings always come first, they’re bolder, more brutal, less subtle, than her. They’re the nightmares we usually meet. But she’s something more. Something closer to the night itself, to the darkness itself. A very old being, bringing important news.
Could you wish to never experience nightmare? Could you wish that for your kid? Would he be human, then? Would he grow up, grow stronger, and wiser?
Probably not.
I only asked for the same blessing than mine. To be able to wake up if he felt the nightmare was becoming too dangerous, too scary.

I’ll have to write her story, someday. That’s the least I can do.

In a few years, I’ll use Susan’s method anyway. That will be such a fun. Has any of you given it a try?

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife – A Recap

The Doctor's Wife
Courtesy BBC

**** Warning this post contains spoilers about The Doctor’s Wife and may refer to previous episodes of Doctor Who. If you haven’t watched the episode or don’t want to be surprised do not read further.  ****

 

Everyone seems to have a story that they would like to see the Doctor live out on screen, well this is Neil Gaiman’s and it is brilliant. This episode made me realize if I wasn’t already a Neil Gaiman fan, I would be now. This episode is sure to be a classic for years to come.

The story opens with two older people leading a younger woman to a spot where they explain that her soul will be sucked from her body by an Ood and replaced. They are very clear that it is scary and will hurt. They say excitedly that a Time Lord is coming and then the process begins.

A knock on the TARDIS door in the middle of deep space comes as an unexpected surprise for the Doctor, Rory and Amy. When the Doctor investigates he finds that he has received something akin to mail. This is not just any mail but a Time Lord emergency message! The box is marked with a snake symbol that the Doctor recognizes as the mark of The Corsair, a Time Lord the the Doctor describes as “one of the good ones”. Apparently these little boxes are what Time Lords fill with psychic energy when they are in peril and send to seek out other Time Lords to come to the rescue. This one found the Doctor who sets out to save the Corsair, apparently outside the universe.

When the Doctor arrives at this tiny planet outside the universe the TARDIS shuts down, all of the power is drained, and the soul of the TARDIS vanishes. At the same time we see the young lady from the beginning of the episode writhing on the ground, mouth agape, making the sound of the TARDIS. She glances at her hands and they are glowing with energy. She looks happy and excited.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory leave the TARDIS to try to figure out where they are. The Doctor describes this place as being outside of the universe, “like when a smaller soap bubble attaches to a much larger one.” The planet seems to be covered in mounds of junk and rubble that the Doctor explains is just trash that has fallen through the rift.

The young woman comes running up to the Doctor speaking gibberish, making very little sense. The two people from the beginning of the episode introduce themselves as Auntie and Uncle, warning the Doctor that the woman, whom they call Idris, is dangerous. After some more rambling by Idris, and a few nonsensical prophecies, including (to the Doctor)”The little boxes will make you mad” and (to Rory)”it means the smell of dust after it rains”, she passes out. Auntie and Uncle have the Ood, named Nephew, take Idris somewhere that she wont be able to hurt anyone. The Doctor recognizes that the Ood’s communicator is broken and is easily fixed. Immediately, the air around them is filled with voices pleading for help, calling to anyone that might be out there, begging. The Ood shuts of his communicator and the voices vanish. Remember that the Ood communicate through psychic waves. This is something we have learned throughout all of the previous Ood episodes. The Doctor looks anxious because he recognizes the voices as other Time Lords. It sounds like there are many Time Lords nearby looking to be rescued. The Doctor asks Auntie and Uncle who is on the planet, they tell him there is only the two of them, Idris, and Nephew… Oh and House.

House is a sentient asteroid that communicates and manipulates Auntie, Uncle and Nephew. House introduces himself and tells the Doctor, Amy and Rory to make themselves at home. The Doctor sends Amy and Rory back to the TARDIS to retrieve his sonic screwdriver. A wild goose chase as he actually has the sonic in his pocket. While they are away the Doctor finds a cabinet full of small cubes from other Time Lords, all calling out for help. Auntie and Uncle arrive and explain that they were all there because of House. House takes care of them and repairs them when they break. The Doctor is furious because he was given hope that there were other Time Lords alive but in reality the hope was just a cabinet of echos from long dead Time Lords. House lures Time Lords and their TARDIS’s to the asteroid to feast on the TARDIS soul, leaving the Time Lord stranded. He the used the Time Lord as replacement body parts for his minions. The Doctor notices that Auntie’s forearm bears the same tattoo as the Corsair; she admits that House gave her the Corsair’s arm while Uncle got his spine and kidney’s. The Doctor tells them they need to run if they want to live.

On his way back to the TARDIS the Doctor runs into the cell containing Idris. Idris explains that she is the Doctor’s TARDIS trapped in that body. She proves that she is the TARDIS by remembering how the Doctor stole her, or how she stole the Doctor, from the museum on Gallifrey long ago. She explains that she left the door unlocked so that she could steal a Time Lord and go exploring. She talks all out of order since the TARDIS exists in all of time and space simultaneously. The Doctor and TARDIS flirt and fight. It is obvious that of all of the great romances and relationships during the Doctor’s life the one true love of his life is, and has always been, the TARDIS. Now he can talk directly to her. Auntie and Uncle stumble in and explain that they aren’t needed anymore and fall over dead. Idris is also dying but still has a little time before she is completely gone.

While Amy and Rory are in the TARDIS the doors mysteriously lock behind them and everything begins to glow green. As it turns out, since the Doctor mentioned that he is the last Time Lord in existence, House has decided to take over the empty TARDIS. House plans to use the TARDIS to head to the real universe with Rory and Amy in tow. To amuse himself House has Amy and Rory run through the corridors of the TARDIS and plays games with their minds. He easily manipulates corridors in realtime and separates Amy and Rory a number of times. House plays on Amy’s fears that Rory will hate him if she ever leaves him again and keeps showing her visions of an aging Rory who waits eternally for her, becoming more and more bitter with every passing moment. Amy becomes hysterical when she finds a Rory’s corpse in one of the corridors.

The Doctor seems to be stuck on the little planet without a TARDIS to chase after Rory and Amy. Except he is surrounded by the remains of TARDIS after TARDIS. A TARDIS graveyard. He works with Idris to build a new TARDIS console out of spare parts. It seems to work perfectly after Idris breathes a little life into the system. They leave in search of the Doctor’s physical TARDIS. Idris, using her psychic abilities, leads Rory to an archived control room within the TARDIS that House doesn’t know about. She tells him the passcode, “Crimson. Eleven. Delight. Petrachor.” Unsure what those words mean or how to use them to enter the control room, Amy figures out they must be entered psychically, but didn’t recognize the word petrachor. Suddenly she remembers that Idris had already told them what petrachor meant in her initial prophetic ramblings, “the smell of dust after it rains”, Amy thinks carefully about each of the passcode items, and the control room opens.

Amy and Rory make it into the archived 9th/10th Doctor era control room and moments later the Doctor and Idris appear in the same room right on top of Nephew, vaporizing him. House is tricked into deleting the old control room in order to get rid of the Doctor and his companions. All of them appear in the newer control room where the Doctor explains they are still alive because when a room in the TARDIS is deleted, any organic matter is deposited into the main control room. The dying Idris tells Rory that they will need to know “The only water in the forest is the river” and then releases all of her TARDIS energy into the control room, purging House from the TARDIS. Before she leaves (well returns to the heart of the TARDIS) she talks one last time to the Doctor. She just wants to say “Hello, for the first time” and you can tell that she is really telling him that she loves him.

We end with a scene of the Doctor trying to fix the TARDIS. Rory asks if the Doctor can make the TARDIS talk again and the short-answer is no. Since House destroyed all of the unneeded rooms in the TARDIS, the Doctor builds Amy and Rory their choice of a new room (this time, apparently, without a bunk-bed). Rory asks the Doctor if he has a room of his own and it turns, without being spoken, that the control room is his home.

This episode was originally written for the Tennant era Doctor, hence the focus on the Ood and the intense interest in finding other possible Time Lords. That aside, this episode is beautiful because it humanizes the TARDIS, and gives a face to the machine that we already know and love. We learn that the TARDIS loves the Doctor easily as much as the Doctor loves her. The raw and honest emotion in this episode easily makes it one of my favorite episodes of all time.

Thank you Neil Gaiman for telling us the story of your Doctor.

Neil Gaiman, Suranne Jones(Idris), Matt Smith(The Doctor)

 

 

 

Diana Wynne Jones: The Very Best

I was going to write how much I love Diana Wynne Jones.

How I discovered her quite late, and regret it. Had I been British, I’d probably have read her since my childhood. What a joy and glory it would have been !

How I love her characters, strong, clever and funny, both male and female ones — which is rarer than you’d think.

How she was herself strong, clever and funny, for example when she’s explaining to children how to write (“Most teachers will tell you that you need to make a careful plan of your story before you start. This is because most teachers do not write stories.” I’m a teacher myself, you see, so I’m allowed to laugh.)

How she was comforting for all of us fantasy geeks when answering “the question [she] always gets asked most irritably: Why did you choose to write Fantasy? Why magic?“.

And I was struggling trying to pick my favorite book by her, which is, of course, impossible, because of her ” multiple glories.”

But such is the magic of the Web, sometimes.

I found a tweet by Neil Gaiman, who is a great admirer and friend of Diana Wynne Jones.

Not the one he wrote when he heard the news, and everyone’s retweeting now. (“Rest in Peace, Diana Wynne Jones. You shone like a star. The funniest, wisest writer & the finest friend. I miss you.”)

This one sounds right, of course. All the superlatives are deserved and, oh, yes, we miss her.

Nor the extensive post on his journal.

But I found an older one. 8 May 2009. “Diana Wynne Jones is the best. The very best. Honest. Finally an article that says so too.” (He’s referring to the Guardian article I linked to above).

Of course, he says “is.” Not “was.” That’s perhaps even better.

And for one I feel the magic of Twitter.

Short as a haiku. You don’t need more. The best. The very best. Honest.

Ephemeral as a tweet, as life, yet strangely permanent. Still there, ready to be found, two years later, when you really need it. As good stories are. And she wrote the best ones.

The Fantasy Geek Valentine: Heroes I Fell in Love With

shot of Aragorn as a Ranger, holding his blade
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn: unlike most characters on this list, his movie alias wasn't a disappointment for me © New Line Productions

French author Daniel Pennac listed 10 Rights of the Reader :

  • The right not to read
  • The right to skip
  • The right not to finish a book
  • The right to read it again
  • The right to read anything
  • The right to mistake a book for real life
  • The right to read anywhere
  • The right to dip in
  • The right to read out loud
  • The right to be quiet

They’re wonderful rights I hope all of you know, teach and enjoy. But that’s not my point today. My point is Pennac forgot a right. The right every Geek Girl knows for sure: to fall in love with a character.

Even if we’re Geek Moms now, we still have that damn right. Even if some of us have the chance to live with the geek love of our life and father of our geeklings… well, we’re not cheating on him, are we? They’re fictional, after all.

So there are my own loves escaped from geek books’ pages. I won’t give them ranks. You don’t rate love.

Sirius Black from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

Every HP fan girl has her dreamboy in the series. Having a crush on Sirius Black is such a stereotype, isn’t it? I mean, he’s so dark, and scarred by life in an oh-so-handsome way. He’s a mysterious figure in the night, the innocent convict on-the-run, the daring fighter enclosed in the hated walls of his own past. He even gets a motorbike!

I’m aware of all that, as I was aware that he was meant to die as soon as I finished Book 3. I love him anyway. And he has such a wonderful name. I care for names, and the ones of the Black family are worthy of a Sky Chart.

Obi-Wan wearing his Jedi outfit and holding his lightsaber
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan in The Revenge of the Sith © Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

So I used to visit him in the blackest of night, trying to comfort him against Azkaban’s nightmares, as I used to dance with his ghost.

Valentines for him could be tagged on his cell’s walls. Or, more poetically, written in the stars.

Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars

I cannot really understand why. He’s neither sexy like Han Solo, nor young and heroic like Luke, nor dark and tormented like Anakin. However it’s Obi-Wan I’m in love with.

Perhaps I’ve got a thing for ghosts?

Or is that because of the way he combines juvenile and mature sides?

Or because of his delicious British features, as he was portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor?

You could write your valentine in haiku (that’s what I did, actually) and whisper it through the Force (or through a telescope).

Armand from Anne Rice’s Chronicles of the Vampires

That’s where you see I am a Geek Mom and not a Geek Girl anymore, since I read Anne Rice instead of Stephenie Meyer.

Anyway, most of you probably had a crush on Lestat or Louis rather than Armand. Louis is a bit too whiny for my tastes, but I admit Lestat is wonderful. So strong and sunny and bigger-than-world. But I fell for Armand. The slender, beautiful, mysterious one. Subtle and elegant. With the face of an Angel from some Italian Renaissance painting. Fascinated and terrified by death. And more than a bit gay, actually. But, well, they’re imaginary valentines, aren’t they? So who cares if they’re straight or gay?

Valentines written in blood would be really vulgar. Prefer a painted one, or something played on a scene like a medieval mystery.

(You notice I haven’t even mentioned the Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise issue. That’s not my point, anyway.)

Morpheus from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman
One you simply have to love.

Dark-featured and dark-mooded, hopelessly lonely and longing for company, sometimes so fragile you’d want to hug him very tightly (or shake him very strongly, especially if you’re His sister), sometimes distant and cruel and other-worldly, reminding you he’s among the Endless.

The Lord Dream: the most faithful of all your lovers, Geek Girls. You might be certain you’ll come to him every night, and every night His realm will wait for you.

You won’t have any problem delivering your valentines. If ever, you might leave one in His wonderful library, Lucien will take care of it.

Corwin of Amber from Roger Zelazny’s Amber series

Corwin as the King of Wands on a Tarot card, standing in front of the Pattern, wearing his black and silver colours
Corwin of Amber portrayed by French artist Florence Magnin in her Tarot of Amber

This one is very, very, special to me, probably because I actually played his loving step-daughter in the Amber RPG.

Handsome, black-haired and green-eyed, stronger than any mortal man, quite handy with a sword, quite sarcastic with words, desperate with women and, above all, resilient. Gone through every fire, through amnesia and exile, through blindness and prison, through the end of his own dreams. What a hero. One that modeled most of them, according to the Amber’s cosmogony. And indeed he has something of redeemed Oedipus, of tragic Celtic and Norse heroes with crows on their shoulders, of King Arthur, and perhaps even to the other Heroes of that list.

I’m not sure I will allow you girls to write him any valentine.

But if you do, as he’s also a musician and composer, you should opt for a Ballad.

Aragorn from… oh, seriously, is there anyone here who doesn’t know where he comes from?

You probably met him at a very young age, as I did. He first appeared through the deep smokes of an inn, some mysterious fellow you were not sure to trust.

But then he became this man you have to love: a lonely Ranger, his dark features softened by a gaze too old for his face, and the sweet Elvish accent of his words. Heir of Ancient Kings, crowned with Seven Stars, born to reforge a Sword, revive a Silver Tree, refound a Kingdom.

And promised to another, one with whom you cannot compete.

You can still send him a valentine. He’s a gentleman, and will treat you gently, as he did with Eowyn.

Write it in Tengwar, that’s the least you can do.

Of course, there are many others enclosed in my girly heart. As I’m sure you have, too. So, Geek Moms who used to be Geek Girls, and still are, for that one special day… close your eyes and remember them.

Storm And Paul Is Their Cover Band Name

4624220211_b178266775-475x316
Photo Cathe Post

They are the opening band. I have yet to throw my panties on the stage – but when I do, they will be unique and geeky. My husband introduced me to the The Captain’s Wife’s Lament and Nun Fight a couple of years ago. When I heard these songs, by two guys who have obvious musical talent, I was an instant minion.

I am of course talking about Paul and Storm. The comedy music duo has performed with Jonathan Coulton, and most recently, their own project with Wil Wheaton and Adam SavageW00tStock.

Recently, I had the opportunity to have an e-mail dialog with the musical duo. We discussed their musical roots and how they balance a hectic tour schedule with family life:

GeekMom: Were you band nerds and/or choir geeks before Da Vinci’s Notebook?

Storm: DEFINITELY. Throughout high school and college I was in show choirs, chorales, madrigal groups, plays and musicals, and above all else a cappella. I never seriously played an instrument, though, until we started up as Paul and Storm.

Paul:  Same here, though I was more a band geek than choir geek (but I did both). Always enjoyed singing harmony, and tried unsuccessfully to start a barbershop quartet in junior high school.

GM: Did you ever think you would become the geek icons you are now? Is this where you thought you would be? Do you even consider yourselves to be geeks?

S: Not even in my most spice-induced dreams did I imagine there’d ever be something called a “geek icon”, so I’d have to say “no”. But I always did have a vague sense that I’d be doing something fun and creative like we are right now, and since I’m most certainly a geek (60% geek, 30% nerd, 5% dork, 5% other), our current situation feels right.

GM: You are married? Are your spouses geeks as well?

S: Yep, happily married. My wife is a geek of the bookworm variety, but mostly she’s just really, really smart.

P: My wife, while very smart (way smarter than I, certainly), is no geek. My older daughter is, though, and proudly so. She’s plowing her way through all the seasons of Futurama as we speak.

GM: How do you balance home life with your touring and W00tstock schedules?

S: We try not to be on the road for long stretches, which helps, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Mostly we go out for extended weekends, and we also make sure to block out “sacred time” in the schedule for important family occasions.

P: It helps that, when we’re home, we’re home 24/7, especially in my case, what with two kids in school and such. It’s an odd schedule sometimes, but our families are quite used to it now.

GM: Would you ever consider writing a children’s album?

S: It would be a lot of fun, and I think about it a lot. Kids have always been attracted to our music–lots of harmony and melody, etc.–but it can put you in a tough spot when you’re an act that does a fair amount of “blue” material. Even as it is we have people bring their kids to our “adult” shows, which can be awkward. TMBG handles it really well. When they come to town they’ll often have both a kid’s show and an adult show, and they’re careful about making clear which is which.

GM: What would your Paul and Storm cover band name be?

S: Storm and Paul. Doy!

GM: You have become icons of the geek music scene. Who are your icons?

S: A lot of them are musical, like the Beatles, Weird Al Yankovic, and TMBG. But I also carry around in my head folks like Monty Python, the Muppets, Fonzie, and Douglas Adams.

P: Not to mention authors (Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, to name two); and not to get maudlin, but I count Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage as well: two guys who have been very successful being exactly who they are and doing exactly what they love.

I have high hopes of there someday being a children’s album. If there is, I will be the first to buy it for my kids. Until then, I will leave you with my most recent Paul and Storm favorite (in hopes that it will be on the Rock Band network soon): Frogger! The Frogger Musical…