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Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. He enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey), and he firmly believes that Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" is the single greatest atrocity committed against mankind. He is a graduate of Clarion Writer's Workshop at UCSD ('13) & Emerson College ('08).

♫ Everybody cut loose ♫ Bluetooth ♫ wait what no that's not —

Also on Wirecutter, I did a big ol’ rewrite on our guide to Bluetooth car stereo adaptors. If you — like me — have a car from the early ‘00s and don’t want to bother with installing a whole new fancy stereo system, you can still broadcast your phone to your speakers over Bluetooth transmitted through aux-in or FM radio waves. I’ve also got a pick for dedicated Bluetooth speakerphones, which are fantastic if you’re one of those weirdos who actually uses their smartphone to make phone calls, and does so in the car on a semi-regular basis.

Lawncare Masterworks, Part 2:

Continuing on my strange new journey into lawncare products, I just finished a comprehensive Wirecutter guide to hose-end sprinklers. While this certainly not something that I ever thought I’d find an expertise in, I’m quite proud of the work I did along with my editor, Harry Sawyers. We dove pretty deep into something that a lot of people don’t give much consideration to, and spoke with experts from various manufacturers to figure out the “who,” “what,” and “why” of sprinkler-seekers. So if you’re in the need to water your lawn — I gotcha covered!

REVIEW: King Dork by "Doctor" Frank Portman

I gave this 4 stars on GoodReads but it's really a 3.5. I'm generously rounding up because it reminded me of my excitement when I got to open up for Dr. Frank's band, the Mr T Experience, in high school.

Overall, I really enjoyed King Dork. Tom was a funny narrator in his anti-Holden-Caulfield-but-still-so-Holden-Caulfield way, and as a former aspiring punk rock star myself, I definitely saw a lot of me and my high school friends in the story. That being said, I was disappointed with the exposition-y ending. As a writer myself, I was somewhat bothered the whole time through with how much of the story was told in summary exposition, but I was willing to give it a pass because it makes sense diagetically with the narrator that this is how he would convey this story (similar to Holden Caulfield in that way). But Tom's main two journeys -- Fiona, and the relationship with his dead father -- were literally summed up and resolved without any effort on his part (even his hospitalization, though it certainly made sense that he wouldn't have a good memory of the specific events leading up to it, was so blasé: "and then I was hospitalized for a month because I got beat up NBD.").

All that being said: it's probably a good book to help get adolescents into classic books and help with their vocabularies (and the glossary was *hilarious*).

Also, the women in the book left...much to be desired. In some ways (again, diagetically, that is, within the world of the story), I got it, because it was absolutely how a 14 year old King Dork would probably talk about and depict women. It certainly sounded like some of my friends at 14, anyway. But as an adult feminist male, it was a little, well, exactly the kind of subtle misogyny that people are finally and rightfully paying attention to, and I wish had been approached with a more deft hand.

Anyway, here's the MTX song "King Dork," which actually has very little to do with the book (which I assume was named more for brand recognition than anything else, as this is generally seen as one of Dr. Frank's "hits," if you will).

Holy Recaps, Batman!

Some of you may have caught the first episode of Gotham last night, the police-procedural-cum-superhero-origin-show about the early days of Gotham City before Bruce Wayne became Batman. As an avid fan of both noir and comic books, I've been looking forward to this show for a while, and I'm excited to announce that I will be handling the weekly Gotham recaps / reviews for Tor.

My overview of the pilot episode is already up (though admittedly, it's rather long and overly-detailed — not unlike the tepid episode itself), so please stop by and add your comments, then join us in the weeks to come!

In the meantime, to tide you over to next week's episode, here's a supercut of every instance of Bruce Wayne's parents being murdered on television and film:

The Forgotten 1980 Chinese STAR WARS Comic Book Adaptation That You Always Wanted But Never Had

Asian entertainment bootlegs and knock-offs are nothing new, but this Star Wars adaptation from 1980 is pretty amazing nonetheless. Maggie Greene, an assistant history professor at Montana State University, recently unearthed this gem at a market in Wen Miao. The adaptation takes the form of a lainhuanhua, which is the name given to small palm-sized collections of sequential drawings which typically featured stories and legends from Chinese history. Less manga than picture book, this still doesn't explain how or why someone came to create an unauthorized re-telling of Star Wars in this format, but it's nonetheless awesome.

The storyline is essentially accurate; if you want to read it for yourself, you can check out Nick Stember's English translation of the entire 142-page book on his blog. Now, while the plot might remain consistent with the film that we all know and love, there are some, erm, aesthetic freedoms that have been taken. Namely with everything except for Vader, Treepio, and Artoo (I particularly enjoy the weird Cold War fashion take and the...well, you'll see). Here, have a look for yourself...

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Review: TRANSHUMAN by Jonathan Hickman

In Transhuman, writer Jonathan Hickman uses JM Ringuet's gorgeous artwork to tell an original story about the rise of Transhumanism as a corporate pissing match, and it embodies everything that is wrong with Hickman as a writer.

Don't get me wrong, Hickman is incredibly creative and kind of a mad genius — he's just a terrible storyteller. I've come to accept this fact. Transhuman is told as a "documentary" about the rise of the 3 largest Transhumanist corporations, which I guess is a clever conceit, except (1) why make a fictional documentary as a graphic novel? Why not, ya know, write a screenplay? and (2) the nature of those 60 Minutes-style factual reporting documentary is, by nature, a summary, and therefore not a story. The story is told through interviews with a narrator and the people involved in the story, but they are literally just TELLING the reader what happened. It's almost remarkable that a graphic novel — a medium which is visual by nature — could rely so much on telling and not showing, and therefore breaks one of the cardinal rules of fiction writing.

Sure, there are some interesting characters, and probably some cool dramatic, personal moments between them — namely, the divorced couple who end up working together on the Transhumanist project despite their mutual hatred for one another, who ultimately backstab each other again — but frankly, it's not very interesting to just see someone tell you that. It doesn't matter how witty or clever the commentary and writing is, I want to see it happen, I want to witness their interpersonal relations. If this were a real-life documentary from 50 years from now, and it aired on 60 Minutes or whatever, it would probably be great, because investigative journalism can get away with digging deep and just reciting facts (although I'd argue that most award-winning works of investigative journalism still manage to find a compelling human angle, something for the audience to emotionally engage with that makes them follow the story through to the end). In Transhuman, we just get a bunch of talking heads telling us what already happened, and a narrator / director to steer us away from any unreliable sources. There is literally nothing compelling or human to pull you through the story. There's a clever (albeit overwhelmingly cynical) twist at the end, which I guess is fun. But you can't build a story off a twist.

When Hickman first broke out onto the comics scene, I thought he was fantastic, but the truth is, he's good at creating the ILLUSION of good story telling. Everything he writes is done in summary, with a few cool moments in between to make it feel human. A friend of mine summed it up well as citing the difference between The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion — one is a story about characters that we care about, the other is a play-by-play history book, and Hickman writes the latter. I think Hickman would be better off as an idea man, leaving other people to actually execute these epic stories of his. Because the worlds he creates are always unique and fascinating, full of complex politics and otherworldly visions. But saying "HERE'S THIS CRAZY WORLD I CREATED AND THERE ARE THESE GUYS AND THEN THESE TWO FOUGHT AND THEN THIS GUY BETRAYED THIS GIRL AND THEN THIS PERSON WON, THE END" is really not a fun story to read.

 I mean, okay, this was a fun moment. But not worth the wait.

I mean, okay, this was a fun moment. But not worth the wait.

"The Girl With All The Gifts": A YA Zombie Book That Will Actually Make You Cry

I read the first 30 pages of The Girl With All The Gifts on the train ride into work one rainy morning, and I'm pretty sure I got choked at least three times in that opening section of the book. Who the hell gets emotional over precocious 10-year-old zombies?

The Girl With All the Gifts is a new novel by M.R. "Totally Not Mike Carey" Carey. I've been a fan of M.R.'s alter ego for a while now, ever since his run on X-Men: Legacy and, more recently, his crazy Harry Potter metafiction series The Unwritten, so even if The Girl With All The Gifts wasn't one of the most-hyped genre books of the year, I would have still been pretty excited about it. However, it was heavily hyped, which made me that much more anxious to get my hands on an ARC — and I can happily say that it was worth every bit of the buzz.

The simplest way to describe The Girl With All The Gifts is as a young adult zombie novel, but even given my personal penchant for clunky noun-y elevator pitches, that description doesn't do the book justice. The story focuses on an eerily precocious young girl named Melanie, who lives in a cellblock with twenty other children like her, where they go to school and learn and then get forced back into their cells by soldiers. Once a week, the children are given a chemical shower and a meal of grubs. The kids seem a little weird, sure, but they're all remarkably articulate, if a little bit naïve and — oh yeah, they sometimes crave human flesh, like the other mindless "hungries" that have obliterated the British landscape.

Here's a trailer for the book:

The majority of the book focuses on the relationship between Melanie and her favorite teacher, Ms. Justineau, on whom she has one of those weird psuedo-crushes that plenty of ten-year-olds have but especially those who are already emotionally stunted by, erm, crazy fungal parasites. That's another thing — this psuedoscience surrounding the zombie outbreak in this book is some of the most well-researched and believable science I've ever read in a zombie story (not to mention, viscerally grotesque in way too many ways). If you want some spoilers, it's a very slight extrapolation from this very real bit of scientific horror.

The real strengths of the book lie in its characters, as well as M.R. Carey's delicate prose. Sure, there are a few places where I would have liked a bit more vivid descriptions than "bland army cellblock" and "post-apocalyptic countryside," but Carey is able to capture so much emotion in his stark and simple sentences. The relationships are complex, but they're rendered in such a way that they are easy to understand and empathize with. And honestly, the young-adult-as-intelligent-zombie metaphor is a particularly powerful one — the adults simultaneously underestimate her and also think she's dangerous, while she has trouble grasping the true complexities of the world around her. Young adult stories are often about coming into one's own and discovering one's true identity, and in the case of Melanie, that couldn't be more literal. She thinks, therefore she is, but she continues to struggle with understanding what that means for the other people around her — both human and hungry alike. The rest of the cast stray into two-dimensional territory — the gruff soldier, the alcoholic Irish rookie (oof), the viciously determined scientist, and the mothering, emotional researcher — but in the end, you can't help but feel for them and root for their journeys, as well as Melanie's (and, like all good drama, those journeys don't always work in harmony together...).

If you like zombie stories, or young adult stories, or post-apocalyptic stories, or teacher-student relationship stories, I absolutely cannot recommend this book more highly. So check it out — I swear, it doesn't bite...

You Had Me at "Slutty Teenage Vampire Hobo Junkies"

Or, I suppose more accurately, I was had at "four hour bus ride to New York City what should I read to pass the time ooh this looks interesting and I bet I can devour it in one sitting." And that's how I came to read The Orange Eats Creeps, the debut novel by Grave Krilanovich, which is less Twilight and more Requiem for a Dream; less sparkly vampires, more meth addiction.

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Oh, Marvel Cinematic Universe, WHY WON'T YOU LET ME LOVE YOU?!

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show has had a rocky first season, but this past week's tie-in episode to Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier was totally also. And also emblematic of everything that's wrong with the show in the first place. Because I'm incapable of turning off my critical writer mind and simply enjoying a lighthearted situation secret agent series, I have articulated my frustrations with Agents Of Stupid Hydra Infiltration, Everything Lame and Dumb (see what I did there?) in a new article for Tor.com. So check out, and share your thoughts in the comments, 'natch.


(but seriously this show would be so much better if it had more Hasslehoff)