Friday, May 31, 2013

2013 Must-Reads for Summer

by The Ladies of Stellar Four

Nathan Fillion: Bet he has some fun books to read this summer

It is that time again: time for us to share in the summer bounty of beach reads, little blockbusters bound in paper, and new installments of beloved series. Get ready for those lazy summer days when you have a cool drink in one hand and a book in the other.

Don't forget the 52 in 52 challenge, where we are trying to average a book a week for the year. We are almost at the halfway point. If you are behind, this is a great chance to get back on track. If you are speeding towards the finish, you over-achiever you, then that means you have time to read even more.

Read on after the break for a look at the fabulous books we're looking forward to this summer.
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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Anecdotes of a Geeky Parent

by Kathy F.

Every now and then (all right, more now than then these days) the kids do something that makes me realize I do have a couple of geeklings in the making.

Today the boychild came with me and baby to her appointment at the local children's hospital. The place is amazing and has many specialty clinics including those for kids with orthopedic issues and burn victims. I prepped him a bit before we got there, telling him he might see kids that looked different than him, that had scars or were in wheelchairs and that he could say hi to them, but not stare, point and so on.

Is there some kind of genetic memory that
passes on a parent's fear of clowns?
I neglected to mention the clowns.

Boychild (after walking past the clown greeting patients) whispers: Is that a human?

Me, whispers back: Yes.

Boychild: OK, not a robot then.

First, I get a cookie for not bursting out laughing. I also had to wipe away a tear of pride that he is totally on the lookout for robots disguised as humans. Preparing for the eventual war with Skynet and the robot hordes.

Me to girlchild: That's weird.

Girlchild: Weird interesting?

We have gotten to the point where we have different flavors of weird: weird cool, weird interesting, and weird gross-don't-do-that-again.

Finally, have you seen Star Wars Trouble? You play it just like regular Trouble except for a few things.

1) You get R2 sound effects (that you can turn off).
2) You get to start a new piece when you roll a 6 or if R2 is standing upright.
3) It came with stickers of various characters to put on the game pieces.

We played last night and had so much fun. I recommend adding it to your game collection. Whenever anyone rolled a 6 or an R2, the boychild would yell, "You can free another Rebel!"

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Netflix Rabbit Hole

Oh, hello. I didn't see you there. That's probably because I've fallen into a Netflix rabbit hole. You know, when you stumble upon a nifty new show, discover it has seventy episodes and you figure, eh, you can watch that in one weekend? Many people I know have been reeled in by Netflix's siren song. It's so easy to sit down, tell yourself you'll watch one episode, and then your entire day is gobbled up by TV shows.

The TV show Portlandia has an amazingly perfect skit about the effect TV marathons have on our lives. They lost track of time to Battlestar Galatica, I'm losing it to Eureka. Why didn't I know about this show when I was on TV? It's perfect! It's quirky and funny and smart and well acted and... and it's been three days and I'm already mid-way through season two. Thirteen hour long episodes down, fifty seven more to go! (Send help)

So while I literally have Netflix paused at this moment on the next episode (just one more before I go to bed, I swear!), when was the last time YOU got stuck in a Netflix rabbit hole and what was the cause of your new obsession?
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What's Your Perfect Book Classification System?

by Sara N.

Franklin is helping us shelve.
Organizational ninjas, I need some advice: How do you sort the books on your bookshelves?

My husband and I have been finishing our basement to turn it into the subterranean library of our dreams. We've finally gotten our massive book collection on the shelves in rough categories: fiction, non-fiction, romance, mystery, children's lit, textbooks, and sci fi/fantasy.

But I'm dissatisfied with that latter category, which makes up the bulk of our collection, because it covers so many different types of books: urban fantasy, horror, sci fi, paranormal romance, and fantasy. Is that too much diversity for one section? Do you separate your books into smaller categories when you shelve them? And if so, how do you draw the line between, say, urban fantasy with romantic elements and romance with paranormal overtones?

Or heck, maybe I'm overthinking this.
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Monday, May 27, 2013

A Memorial Day Thank You

From the Women of Stellar Four

We're so thankful for the fallen heroes who gave their lives to protect ours.
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Friday, May 24, 2013

Tips for Exploring the Best (Fictional) Cryptozoology this Summer

by Sara N.

Ever dream about bagging Bigfoot? Catching a chupacabra? Snapping a new shot of Nessie? If so, make plans to spend some of your summer free time boning up on cryptozoology.

Man in a suit? Mythical beast? My high school prom date? You decide.
For those not in the know, cryptozoology is the study of cryptids, or animals whose existence is rumored but for whom no physical evidence exists. Technically speaking, it's a pseudoscience that doesn't have the support of, you know, actual scientists with their "measurements" and "verification techniques" and "confirmed sightings of actual animals."

So you may not be able to hop around the globe this summer in pursuit of these mythical beasts, but you can still bask in cryptozoology from the safety of your couch. Here's how.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gimme More! Adding Serials to the Book Pile

by Kathy F.

This week part 1 of Indexing, a Kindle Serial by Seanan McGuire, was released. The serial is $2.99 and is from the awesome creative force that is Seanan McGuire, so it was a no-brainer. I had to have it. Indexing deals with fairytales and their potential for destruction in the real world, and the team that helps stop them. It's urban fantasy with fairytales - YES. Worlds and worlds of yes.

As I wait for the second part, this of course inevitably lead me to the question of what I think about serials as a whole.

What is a serial? It's a story brought to you in little chunks. Some are weekly, some monthly, it depends. The note on Indexing, for example, says "Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes, with future episodes delivered at no additional cost. This serial currently contains one episode out of an estimated twelve total episodes, and new episodes will be delivered every two weeks."

I wouldn't count myself a serial expert, but this isn't my first rodeo either. At first, I wasn't so sure about the idea, but read on after the break to see the story that changed my mind.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

E-novellas: the New DLC?

I'm still trying to learn the ins and outs of my Kindle, but one thing I do really dig is the plethora of e-novellas offered for some of my favorite book series. More Blud novels and more Iron Druid? Yes please! I've started to notice a troubling trend, though...

A few weeks ago, fellow S4 author Kathy pinged me on Twitter and asked if I had downloaded the latest (and free!) e-novella called Tarnished Knight by Bec McMaster. We both LOVE the foggy, dangerous steampunk world that McMaster created so I was extremely grateful for the tip, since I hadn't heard a peep about it. I happily downloaded it. I was deep into another book at the time, so I put it aside.

McMaster's latest paperback in her steampunk series, Heart of Iron, arrived a few days after the e-novella and I was eager to get into it. I considered starting it first, since e-novellas are mostly side-stories (which doesn't make them any less awesome!). I consulted Kathy again (she's so wonderful) and she told me to read the e-novella first. It was a quick read, she said. Well, who am I to argue with our Kathy? I grabbed my Kindle and began to read it.

Tarnished Knight was a wonderful story, nestled perfectly between the first book in the series and the one that had just arrived. A little TOO perfectly. I suddenly became aware why I had to read the e-novella first. The e-novella contained a file at the back that I thought was just a "sneak peek" into the next book, usually the first few chapters of the newest novel. Boy was I wrong! When I cracked open the paperback, those parts were gone. If you started to read this book without the e-novella, you'd have NO idea what was going on. It was like the paperback was starting on Chapter Five instead of Chapter One and it was just bewildering. How many fans of the book knew about the e-novella? How many saw the latest paperback in Barnes & Noble and were confused as all get out when they started to read it? Don't get me wrong, I was still head over heels for the book and how great it was, but I was surprised how the e-novella stole it's thunder.

While I deeply loved the e-novella and the latest novel from McMaster, I honestly don't think you could read Heart of Iron without reading the e-novella first.
Bioshock: Infinte season pass is an additional $20

I'm seeing more and more e-novellas contain info about the next full book in the series and it's concerning me. It reminds me a little of DLC (downloaded content) on video games. Buy a game for $60, and then shell out another $10 or $20 down the road for content that wasn't released with the game but that you need to get the whole story/experience. Bioshock: Infinite, one of my favorite games of the century, announced a DLC season pass for $20. Add that to the $60 spent on the actual game and it adds up! DLC always bugged me and I don't want to see e-books go down that same path.

So I pose the question to you, loyal readers. What do you think of e-novellas that contain important plot info? Would you be upset that you had to shell out an extra few bucks to get the WHOLE story or understand what is going on? Let me know what your feelings are, because I am really confused!
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Monday, May 20, 2013

7 Reasons To Call In Sick & Watch An Orphan Black Marathon

by Megan S.

Have you been watching BBC America's Orphan Black?  It's the best science fiction show on television in recent memory.  I'm literally sitting on the edge of my seat half the time I watch, it's that good.  It's about a grifter named Sarah who, after assuming the identity of a suicide victim who just happens to look exactly like her, stumbles into a mind blowing, international conspiracy surrounding human cloning.  The more she uncovers with the help of her family, the more she learns about her own mysterious beginnings.

Intrigued?  Good.  Here are seven more spoiler free reasons you should call in sick to work tomorrow so you can stay home and watch an Orphan Black marathon.
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wicked Awesome

Yesterday, Delilah S. Dawson stopped by and did a fabulous interview with me about everything from sex to steampunk. It was a great interview and I beseech you to go read it right now. Delilah is outrageously funny, smart and badass. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Don't make me sic the bludbunnies on you!

Delilah's latest book, Wicked As She Wants, came out recently and I'm here to tell you how completely and utterly fantastic it was. It's another adventure in Sang, the beautifully dark and dangerous world that is currently one of my favorite fantasy places to dream of living in (and dying in. I don't think I'd make it too long. But it would be worth it!). If you haven't read the first novel (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? DO YOU HATE AWESOME?), here is a quick break down: Sang is a tilted, skewed, steampunk-fied version of our world. The continents are the same, albeit with different names, and there are skewed versions of things we all know and love, like Jane Austen novels and Shakespearian plays. There are people in this world who drink blood, but they aren't traditional vampires. They're called Bludmen (and Bludwomen!) and they don't fear sunlight or garlic or crosses. In some places, like London, they are persecuted by humans (referred to as "pinkies"). In other places, they are royalty... which leads us to the events of Wicked As She Wants.

Join me under the cut for a review of Wicked As She Wants, or else a bludunicorn will spear you like a kebab.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Something Wicked This Way Comes: An Interview With Delilah S Dawson

Hello, my name is Meghan B and I would like to emigrate to Sang.

Delilah S. Dawson
What's that? You don't know where Sang is? Oh, you poor deprived soul. It's okay, Delilah S Dawson will make it all better. Delilah is the awesome writer behind my new favorite book series, the Blud books. She writes about a dark, lush steampunk world with untraditional vampires called Bludmen (and Bludwomen!). The world in the Blud books is a slightly skewed version of our own. It's bluddy brilliant! I am obsessed with the novels and the world. You are truly missing out if you haven't read them yet. The first book in the series, Wicked As They Come, is a shocking $2.99 right now. You have zero excuse not to visit the land of Sang and fall in love with it.

The latest full length novel in the Blud books, Wicked As She Wants, was just released! I will be bringing you a review tomorrow (spoiler: IT'S WONDERFUL!). It concerns Casper, the tortured pianist from the first novel, stumbling upon a drained and kidnapped princess. He agrees to help her regain her throne and sparks fly. It's a fantastic adventure, involving a floating brothel, murderous unicorns and an evil sorceress!

To mark this momentous occasion, Delilah stopped by this pokey little blog of ours to talk all about writing, social media, romance novels and how ridiculously awesome she is!

Thank you for doing an interview for us, Delilah! First of all, let me say how much I LOVED the latest Blud novel. It was beyond awesome! Bloodthirsty unicorns, attractive gents with tortured pasts, feisty princesses fighting to get home... did I mention the bloodthirsty unicorns? I really dug the bloodthirsty unicorns.

Aw, thanks so much! That makes me all blushy, and it's not just because of the wine.

It's not an exaggeration to say that I'm obsessed with the Blud novels. Seriously, I want to move to Sang. I'd be eaten alive within minutes by a bludbunny, but it would still be worth it! I know you've said before that the idea for the first Blud novel came from a dream you had. Where did the idea for this latest volume come from? It was woven together so well!

I'm sure the bunnies would nuzzle you first, at least. :)
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Best Advice To Give To A Business Grad

You guys, I really hate this time of year. You know why? Because it’s crazy, there is a star cruiser’s cargo bay load things going on this time of the year*. However there is one thing that I am looking forward to:

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Open Letter to Michael Arndt: Let the Squee Flow Through You

by Megan S.

Dear Michael,

Are you still having difficulty writing Star Wars Episode VII because I have a genius idea for a plot twist.  Forget all about Paton Oswalt's ridiculous superhero crossover nonsense and think about this.  What if, instead of falling to his death down the reactor shaft, Emperor Palpatine survived  just like Luke did on Cloud City?  He could emerge after 30 years in a hidden bacta tank to torment the Han, Leia, and Luke's children and reestablish the empire.  Pretty good so far, right?  OK, then we up the ante with the big reveal: Palpatine is no longer played by Ian McDiarmid, instead he's played by...
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Where Are All the Good SF/F Movie Soundtracks?

by Sara N.

Reviews be damned, I will be seeing The Great Gatsby this weekend.

Oh, sure, the source material is great, but what makes this version intriguing is Baz Luhrmann's colorful, kinetic, whacked-out aesthetic and music choices.

The musical element isn't surprising; two of my very favorite soundtracks are Luhrmann affairs:Moulin Rouge and William Shakespeare's Romeo + JulietThis naturally made me think about other great soundtracks that I've loved, and as I pondered my list, surprisingly few originated from genre films. First, I'll run down my favorite 10, and then maybe you can tell me why genre films don't have better soundtracks.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Having a Drink with Roen

Today Wesley Chu, author of the hugely entertaining Lives of Tao, is here.

Action, aliens, a secret war, did I mention aliens and action? Basic gist: Tao is an alien that has been on earth for millions of years. He and his other Quaslings live within hosts. From dinosaurs to early mammals, primates and finally humans, the Quaslings have secretly guided some of the most influential figures in history. Then through a series of events, Tao finds himself in the body of Tao - a man more suited to being a drone in Office Space than a James Bond operative.

I had a lot of fun reading this.

I also enjoyed reading this next bit on Roen's liquor education. Thanks, Wesley!

A drink says a lot about a person. Are you a martini drinker, or do you prefer white wine? Perhaps you’re old school and order lowballs. Maybe you’re a Pabst drinking hipster. Maybe you’re one of those that Ice House for the higher alcohol content. Nothing wrong with that, assuming you’re still in college. If not, maybe we should talk.

Roen pre-Tao was definitely a vodka drinker; a well vodka drinker to be precise. Now, when I say well, I don’t mean it as a type or brand of vodka, I mean it’s the tray that bartenders have quick access to when they pour drinks. In first person shooter terms, it’s their 1-5 keys. It’s also usually the lousiest cheap alcohol in the joint. It’s the spirits they’d be too embarrassed to put on top of the shelves and the stuff they use to mix with cranberry juice, tonic, or with Red Bull.

In other words, Roen pre-Tao drank swill because it was cheap, got him drunk, and the fruity juice or fizz masked the taste of the piss alcohol. And that’s how he liked it. Now, being beaten down and rebuilt from the ground up by a hot secret agent chick and an ancient all-wise alien will change a man. Well, that and being constantly hunted by an equally ancient ruthless enemy. One could say that after being shot at, a guy might have a little more appreciation for his tolerance level of swill drinking. Also, it’s safe to assume that an alien like Tao who had once inhabited the likes of Genghis Khan, Lafayette, and the first Ming Emperor of China would definitely not put up with his host drinking Red Bull and vodka.

It took Roen a while to switch over to what Tao considered an appropriate drink for a host of Tao’s stature. Let’s face it, for a gaseous floating blob, Tao has a very high opinion of himself. But Tao’s an old dog when it comes to breaking in new hosts. Knowing Roen’s preference to binge drink fruity hard liquor, he started Roen on scotch with training wheels…ie he made Roen drink Johnny Walker Black with diet coke mixed in a glass with a crap ton of ice. The ice to cut the taste, and diet coke because Roen’s overweight lard ass that is on a diet. Oh, and Black because drinking Red turns Roen insane, and usually is followed up by a massive headache the next morning.

After Roen acclimated to loving scotch (who doesn’t?) to the point he only drank it neat or at most with a touch of water, Tao moved him on to an easy entry level drink: The Balvenie. By the way folks, the “The” is very important with this scotch.

Then, Tao finally took the training wheel off and let Roen experiment and choose what worked with his palette. These days, Tao is the proud Quasing of a host who has discovered that there is no such thing as too much peat. His favorite drink is Lagavulin, with its punch-you-in-the-nose initial hit and lovely oily dirt smoke texture. It’s like a mouth full of fresh dirt, and it’s awesome. Or as the great Scottish actor Brian Cox says of Lagavulin, his favorite drink, “Pow! Like a depth charge.”

Damn straight, good sir. Damn straight.

Wesley Chu

Angry Robot:

Lives of Tao Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Powell's
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Evil Supplies

Ah, being evil. Nothing like some simple villainy to get the blood going. Time to herd the minions, taunt the hero and try to take over the world. All in a day's work for a top notch villain like yourself. Do you sometimes pause while you're watching your hero be torn apart by wild horses and think about how you should be rewarded for your exquisite and timeless skills in being evil?

You are in luck, bad sir or madam! The Evil Supply Co has you covered! The Evil Supply Co is the brainchild of a mysterious man named Atticus Q. Redghost. Part Southern Gentleman, part stark raving mad evil genius, he uses his tremendous skills to create products that will delight even the most picky of evil doers. Founded in 1879 (via time travel), the Evil Supply Co provides amazing stationary and items to fit the needs of everyone from the hobbyist villain to the most hardcore of practitioners.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Finding Treasures from a Century Ago

by Kathy F.

While helping a family member move, I came into the possession of two photo albums. They almost were put in Goodwill. Oh no. Sorry, thriftshop hunters, these are staying with me.

At sea on the USS Princess Matoika
They don't look like much: faded, brittle pages that are coming loose from their binding. But the photos, those are little bits of gold.

They are from an unknown serviceman during World War I, and cover time spent on the USS Princess Matoika (a troop transport ship named for Pocahontas; you can read her story here), France, Holland, a Naval hospital, Hoboken, as well as photos from home. From a boxing match onboard the ship to shots of troops in the field to civilians in the different countries, each snapshot drew me in. That and the handwritten notes. Most are short, just a little bit about the photo. Then you'll see a "I love my mother and my brother..." scrawled on the side of a page that has been ripped out or otherwise lost to time.

Boxing on the USS Princess Matoika
I have only just begun the search to find out who took the photos, or at least made the albums. I did want to share some of it with you, and the world. I'm scanning the photos and putting them on Pinterest. I'll be adding more over time.

Finding these presents from the past, almost one hundred years in the past, it made me wonder what treasures we are leaving behind. Somehow I don't see anyone getting as excited over a flash drive as I was over the albums. Before I begin maudlin wailing over how we store our mementos, I'll leave you with a few more photos. Then I'll scan some more, and maybe print out some of the thousand family pictures I have on my own computer.

On leave in Hoboken "with the chickens" (yes, that is what the caption says on another photo of the same group)

"A French dinner"

Our serviceman's family?

A plane in France.

A street in Paris.
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Monday, May 6, 2013

Aussie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Bloke

by Megan S.

Gotta case of the Mondays?  This Australian re-envisioning of Star Wars Episode IV from Stuntbear will clear that right up... or, at the very least, save you from taking out the office fax machine and beating it to death in a field somewhere.  So, take a deep breath, swing the monitor around so your boss can't see that you aren't working on that TPS report, and watch this:
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Friday, May 3, 2013

A Lenghty List of all of your Favorite Female SF/F Authors

by Sara N.

Looking for a new author to pick up? Have I got some suggestions for you.

Last week, I asked you all to list your favorite female sci fi/fantasy authors in an effort to shake off the bad ju ju from recent news stories. And boy, did you ever. All told, the commenters and my own suggestions created a list of 107 female authors, a few of whom aren't strictly speaking SF/F, but hey, we're all friends here. 

I've compiled all of the suggestions into an alphabetized list. Save it, print it, take it to the bookstore with you this weekend. (Because I couldn't handle the non-roundness of the final number, I added Divergent's Veronica Roth so we could make it to 108.)

Behold the crazy long list:
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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Summer, Kids and Comics

by Kathy F.

Summer: sunny skies, ice cream, catching the latest superhero flick at the theater, swimming, outdoor fun, and the kids are out of school. As a parent, that last one inevitably brings up the question "What am I going to do with them all summer?"

Ordinarily, I am not a huge planner. I tend to be fairly flexible with the schedule. I'm sure we'll have playdates with friends, picnics at the park, trips to the library and so on. However, I also know that with all three kids at home, I need to get some ideas in motion now or I will lose my damn mind by the end of June. Cost is important as well. I'd like to have fun this summer, but not break the bank. So I am making a change and putting my thinking cap on before I hear the inevitable strains of "But I'm booooooooored."

Thinking about summer of course brought up superheroes which then lead to comics. We are going to have (many) Make Your Own Comic days. It's something they can do on their own or with friends. The age doesn't matter; they can draw or write according to their abilities. It's also helps them practice writing and story concepts, so it's educational (just don't tell them that).

First off, give them some examples. Mine really enjoy the Avatar comics, such as Avatar: The Lost Adventures. I like this one because there are several different styles; some look like the animations seen in the series, some don't. It gives the kiddos examples of different ways to present the same characters.

Several of the Lego books, such as Star Wars or Ninjago, have a graphic novel feel too.

I needed some more kids comics recommendations of course, so I was off to Twitter where thanks to S4's resident comic expert Ash and Twitter friend Matthew I soon had a great list.
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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Checking In: The 52 Book Challenge

If you'll remember, at the beginning of the year, I gave everyone a challenge. Read one book a week all year and beat the magical fifty two number.

Now it's time to check in. Today is May 1st and we are five months into the challenge! You should have seventeen books already behind you, hopefully more!

So time to pony up your book totals! How many have you read through this year? Are you on pace to beat fifty two?

I'm on book nineteen, which makes me very excited. I am going to win this! Are you?
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