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.
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).
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!
It's a new play by Young Jean Lee, and we're actually the first production besides the world premiere, which she starred in herself. I play bass in the show, which is cool because (a) it's not a stringed thing I usually play, and I've had fun diving into it more, and (b) the band is a pretty central part of the show in a way that most "pit bands" are not, even though we're not necessarily "acting" either.
I've been describing it to my friends as a "delightful funny rock n' roll cabaret about death and suffering," which is to say, it goes to some pretty dark places, but it's also fun and entertaining and insightful and moving and totally worth seeing (not just because I'm in it — although obviously, that helps).
WGBH's Arts Editor Jared Bowen agrees:
And, well, so does the audience:
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).
I'm just going to say it: Jonathan Hickman pisses me off. Everything he writes uses the exact same pseudoscience and cryptic philosophical posturing, with cipher characters defined by one Irresistibly Charming Quirk or Twist whose actions are motivated entirely by Hickman's Next Cool Plot Twist rather than, ya know, actual human desires or anything.
And yet...he does all of that REALLY well. So well, in fact, that you hardly notice unless you are specifically aiming to scrutinize (such as I am). It probably helps that he's also a tremendous art director who gets paired with talented artists and that his books demonstrate such impeccable design sense. But in the process of reading his stories, you get so wrapped up in the big ideas and crazy twists that you don't notice how soulless it is.
The Manhattan Projects is certainly no exception to this. When you break it down, you're like "WTF? This is how a sociopath imitates storytelling." But when you're reading it, you're absolutely carried away and enamored by the strange, surreal, and epic world he's created (with tremendous assistance from Nick Pitarra's creepy-weird artwork).
Damn you, Hickman.
It's hard to break new ground on the "artificial intelligence turns sentient" story. And yet, Alex + Ada somehow manages to feel fresh even while treading somewhat common tropes. It could be the crisp, clean artwork, or the simple, straightforward dialogue that still strikes a chord in your heart, or maybe the way that the technology feels more like jailbreaking an iPhone than awakening humanity within a person, but that similarity still draws some interesting connections in your mind. Either way, this was a delightful read, and I'm looking forward to the next one.
It's Witching Season once again, which means it's time to engage into the centuries-old practice of SPOOKY STORIES! WOOHOO! Here are a few personal favorites that I thought I would share...Read More
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:
Here's another surprising example of Marvel Comics' progressive politics. Back in 1976, Marvel released this special one-shot comic book PSA in conjunction with Planned Parenthood. The comic was written by Ann Johnson (who doesn't appear to have any other comic book credits, but may have been an executive at Marvel, according to some sources), and features pencil art by Ross Andru with inks by Mike Esposito, coloring by Janice Cohen, and lettering by Joe Rosen. As for the plot...well, I'll just share this summary from the Marvel Wikia:
In a plot to gain a large crop of new child laborers for his home planet, The Prodigy, an alien in human disguise, attempts to convince teenagers to have unprotected sex. Using his power of vocal persuasion, which will convince teenagers to listen to his every command, the Prodigy denounces information about the risks and consequences of teen pregnancy and venerial (sic) disease.
Spider-Man steps in before the Prodigy's teenage victims can fall for his ploy, and stops The Prodigy from speaking by shooting webbing down his throat.
Yup. So that happened. I wonder if that's still in continuity, or if it was somehow erased when Spider-Man made that halfassed retcon deal with Mephisto?
You can check out the complete comic below. I especially enjoy the issues of gender and politics that are addressed on the last page. Also the part where Spider-Man says "galloping guacamole" which I am totally adopting as my new catchphrase.Read More
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...Read More
I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of Guardians of the Galaxy last week which was, well, everything I dreamed it would be from the very first preview I read of the first issue in 2008. You can read my full review over on Tor.com (with whited-out spoilers, for those of you worried about those kinds of things).
You can also listen to this totally sweet Star-Lord jam by nerd-rapper extraordinaire Adam WarRock (although I personally would have preferred it if he had sampled from "Hooked on Feeling" or one of the other delightfully anachronistic songs from the movie soundtrack like he did for his Firefly mixtape, but that's a minor gripe).
Marvel Studios has gotten into this habit of releasing "character posters" in the lead-up to the release of a new film. Each poster highlights a specific character in the movie, to familiarize them to the general public, and to excite and titillate the fanboys like me who eat up every single bit of promotional material like our lives depend on it. However, there's been something about these last two batches of character posters that have really bothered me — specifically, the airbrush jobs on Scarlett Johannson's Black Widow for Captain America: The Winter Solder and Karen Gillan's Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy.
See, ScarJo and Karen Gillan are already both incredibly attractive individuals. They both make my list of Five Celebrities That You're Allowed To Have An Affair With And It Totally Doesn't Count As Cheating, which is a list that everyone in a relationship is encouraged to have, according to my fiancé (Emma Stone is also on my list and no I don't have a thing for redheads what are you talking about). But for all of the work that Marvel has tried to do in promoting women, diversity, and equality, these posters make the women like, well, comic book characters. And what's worse, I actually noticed the difference (and not in like a creepy way where I have their figures memorized in my mind).
Let's have a look, shall we?Read More
Let me tell, it was a tough sacrifice to make, but I was willing to make a martyr of myself for the betterment of all humanity and write about it on Tor.com, like a herald for the quippy James Gunn-ian world soon to come.
So I DID IT FOR YOU, OKAY?! You're welcome, by the way.
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.
That guy. Always finding new ways to one-up himself. But I'll tell ya what, aliens or not, this new movie looks pretty much perfect. For a Michael Bay flick, I mean.
And yes, in case you were wondering, I am equally proud of the fact that I neither made a "Coming Out" (of their shells) joke in mockery of the above clip, and that I did not simply link to "Ninja Rap," because let's face it, that song's pretty dope.
EDIT: a friend of mine shared this amazing mashup of the above video with a straight-edge hardcore band. It's probably only funny if you've familiar with the hardcore scene, so if you're not, trust me when I say that this is hilarious and also perfect.
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...
This is Alyssa Wong — or as I like to call her, Death Cupcake. Don't let her seemingly adorable exterior deceive you (or do — she'd probably prefer it if you do, as it gives her the advantage when she swoops in to devour your soul): Alyssa is a wonderful, wonderful person who writes some of the most brutal stories I've encountered. Alyssa's stories, much like their creator, are a perfect marriage of cutesy moments and grotesque, gut-wrenching horror. This seemingly incongruous combination is precisely what makes her and her stories so wonderful.
But don't let my biased voice fool you. Take it from SF Site, who just interviewed Alyssa about The Fisher Queen, her first professional fiction publication. I had the pleasure of reading the first draft of The Fisher Queen at Clarion in the summer of 2013, and it's one of the stories that has stuck with me ever since. The best way I can describe it is as a Feminist Mermaid Horror story. If that sounds weird to, well, that's part of the charm of Alyssa's work — she can write a feminist mermaid horror story and actually pull it off. I was legitimately squirming by the end of this story.
Again, don't take my word for it — you can download the entire story for free on Amazon in this exclusive sampler digest of Fantasy & Science Fiction. And yes, I would suggest you do so — if for no other reason than to appease the Death Cupcake Queen, so that she might have mercy on your soul once she rules the fiction landscape (which she will).
Back when I was like 13, and just getting invested in the CT ska scene, there was this band called Flip Ya For Real that I saw, which at the time was fronted by a guy named Travis Holyfield (or, ya know, "Flip Ya Trav" at the time, because ska nicknames). At some point I started chatting with Travis over AIM (since his AOL email address was listed on their CD liner notes for booking), and for what reason, he actually tolerated and put up with me.
Flash-forward 15-or-so years, and Travis and I still stay in touch, even though FYFR and his other (even better) band SaveFace are now defunct. But with our musical pasts behind us, Travis and I and have actually reconnected over comic books. He's had a few short pieces out in various anthologies from GrayHaven Comics (who also published my first short comic book story in The Fifth Dimension, which I pitched on Travis's recommendation), and the company recently published his first full-length one-shot, DOBER-MAN, which is now available digitally at ComiXology for the low, low price of $0.99!
Dober-Man is fun, clever homage to the old 1960s Batman show, and Travis makes absolutely no secret of that. The allusions are clear to even a casual fan (The alter egos of Dober-Man and his sidekick Beagle, for example, are Burt West and Ward Adams, after Adam West and Burt Ward), but the book is also jam-packed with little silver-age gems scattered throughout the background. The puns are punderful — I mean, a Stage Irish T-Rex named Tyrant O'Saurus? C'mon! That's amazing! And even in 24 short pages, Travis and artist Edward Whatley manage to cram some clever concepts in between the homage campiness, such as a fully legal and legitimate staffing company that hires out henchmen for supervillains (many of him are thinly-veiled but gleefully silly allegories of established Bat-villains). This wacky bit of economic world-building plays out in remarkably interesting ways, and while Travis is wise not to spend too much time exploring the inner political workings of his superhero universe, he teases enough on the surface to get your brain working just enough beyond the surface enjoyment of it all. In the end, it's a wholesome, classic superhero romp that's appropriate for all ages — and it only costs $1 right now, so what are you waiting for? Pick it up, and support independent comic book creators! NOW!
Here are a few preview pages to further whet your whistle:
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.Read More
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.