Reel Awesome!

New or old, I'll let you know if it's worth watching.

I can read!

Real books to ebook to fan fiction, if it's worth reading I'll let you know.

What's worth watching?

Whether it's on your tv or streaming online, I'll share my top picks with you.

That's my jam!

The music that moves me and is worth a listen.

General Geekery

Comic books, action figures, conventions and other geeky fun.

Technical Flails!

Apps, hardware and gadgets galore.

I've Got a Something to Say!

I'm a wordy nerd with a lot to say.

Get the Goods!

I'll give you all the details on various services and various products.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

TL;DR: What's in a Slur?

The art of creating and effectively using bigotry within your fictional world.
You'd think that it would be easy to fabricate bigotry in fiction. After all, if you’ve managed to make it to being a literate adult you've likely had a passing acquaintance with prejudice in one form or another, even if it took the form of a Death Eater.

There isn’t a shortage of bigotry in fiction  - judging by the wealth of fiction, both published and derivative, I’ve slogged through containing flippant, inaccurate, or utterly incomprehensible usage of both real life and fictional slurs. However, there is a discouraging lack of slurs being used effectively.

Using bigoted language in fiction isn’t a bad thing...quite the opposite, in fact. IF it is used in a context that enhances the story and ultimately provides the reader with a solid understanding of the moral and ethical rules established in the fictional universe.

I suspect the problems with creating and effectively utilizing bigoted language is one must first have a good comprehension of the etymology and social application of slurs in real life. Everyone has a very basic awareness that certain words are “bad,” but little understanding what the words really mean or how they came to be slurs. This lack of context can easily lead to a dismissive attitude toward the use and creation of fictional versions that have no tangible context, making them useless as a thematic element within a story.

I can’t stand seeing slurs/bigoted language treated lightly in fiction, especially when the fiction is targeting young readers. In many cases, these books may very well be a reader’s first encounter with prejudice and bigoted language. If it isn’t presented accurately, it can lead to more guileless readers misunderstanding or even casually using bigoted language in real life.

Mudbloods, Muggles and Squibs. Oh my!

JK Rowling gives a great example of how to frame prejudice and how to properly use/introduce a racial slur. The first time Mudblood is used in the series (Chamber of Secrets), when Draco sneers the word at Hermione it is very clearly a negative term. Even Harry, who like the reader, has never heard it before quickly realizes it’s a bad word by the reactions of his fellow students.
"Harry knew at once that Malfoy had said something really bad because there was an instant uproar at his words."
This is a classic scenario of schoolyard bullying/name calling - something which many of the readers themselves have likely been involved in and/or witnessed firsthand. That is what makes this scene rather brilliant. On a subconscious level, the reader understands that this behavior isn’t just rude, but also hurtful and hateful. It gives them a very clear understanding of hate speech and bigotry.

Rowling continues to emphasize the power of this word each time it is used throughout the rest of the series. It is used in scenes which mirror real life, relatable situations - A humiliated Snape spitting the word at Lily in a flashback, for example. Or in moments that reflect the real-life social dynamics that foster bigotry: Tom Riddle’s misguided plan to wipe out other mixed-blood wizards as a way to strike back at his dead father. Those who use the word are framed as bullies, villains and occasionally simply misguided, angry kids. Still, the message is clear. The word is hurtful, demeaning and is linked to a philosophy that, taken to the extreme, leads to war and genocide.

The structure of the word Mudblood inspires an almost instinctive revulsion. “Dirty Blood” brings to mind a visceral image that even the youngest of readers can grasp. The etymology Rowling created allows for a greater understanding of the wizarding world’s value of family lineage and their deeply-rooted fear of the outside (Muggle world).

Rowling didn’t stop there. She incorporated a whole host of both casual and overt slurs within the vernacular of the wizarding world that reflect similar forms of classism, racism and bigotry in our world. (Squibs, Muggles, Muggle-lovers, Mudwallower, etc). No one in the wizarding world gasps at the use of the word Muggle, but its usage clearly implies something distasteful, something less. This is a common root or origin of a slur.

But the term Mudblood is a triumph of the series in the sense that it is one of the finest examples of a fictional slur that is used effectively. It casts characters who use it as villainous or unlikeable, and demonstrates (with it's structure) the simplistic and insulting nature of slurs. Mudblood, dirty blood, not only says a lot about the wizarding world, but it reflects the warped values of racial purity and xenophobia in the real world. Especially since Rowling’s wizarding world is a parable of pre-WWII xenophobia in Europe.

How to turn readers into accidental racists.

Conversely, we have the problematic use of the words “dog” and “mongrel” in the Twilight series to describe Native American characters as undomesticated animals. Someone with even the most basic knowledge of American history can see the racist implications of a wealthy, white man (vampire or not) calling a poor Native American boy a dog. While it is true that the parallel slurs (leech, bloodsucker and even Dracula) are used against the vampires taken out of the context of the story they quickly lose their meaning and power. However, the slurs for the wolves - taken out of the context of Twilight - are eerily similar to hateful language used against Indigenous people today worldwide.

Stephenie Meyer further confuses the situation by allowing heroic characters to use these slurs in casual, and even humorous situations. This lessens their impact and cheapens their meaning as racial slurs within the fictional universe. Even Bella herself, the reader’s avatar, uses them against Jacob, something that isn’t framed as wrong, but rather deserved. Had she used the vampire-specific slurs toward Edward or any of the Cullens, the implied insult would have likely been very clear. Additionally, Bella would have been viewed as being rude and/or hurtful for using them.

"I can’t wait to see what Edward does to you! I hope he snaps your neck, you pushy, obnoxious, moronic DOG!"

Consequently, these slurs have little weight, and the (unintentional, but no-less present) themes of racism, classism, and xenophobia are glossed over or altogether ignored by the author. However, they’re not erased.

No matter how much care and skill an author employs to create a new and unique fictional world, the fictional world they create can never escape the issues of reality. Nothing is read in a vacuum. Readers bring their life experiences with them when they read. More to the point, if the material is engaging enough, they take the themes, ideas and vernacular of that fictional world back to reality when they emerge from the reading experience.

It is imperative that authors approach the usage of fictional slurs carefully and responsibly, aware of the possibility that the words they create can travel beyond the pages of their story. In the case of Harry Potter and JK Rowling, the readers absorb an insightful portrayal of oppression and racism, hopefully coming away with a better understanding of bigotry. Conversely, a less-insightful reader of Twilight, applying the rules of that fictional universe to their own reality, may never realize the racist implication of calling a Native American a dog.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Geekomancy: Urban Fantasy at its finest!

Geekomancy has succeed where many urban fantasies have failed miserably. It surprised me. Not a small feat when I’ve been reading in this genre for over two decades, and was all but done with the recycled ideas. Honestly, there are only so many blood you can get out of a turnip of a genre that is based on recycling old, sometimes tired tropes from other genres. Yet Underwood came up with an original idea I had never seen before, and he won my heart with his leading lady.

Despite the title, premise and overwhelming amount of geek culture references this book never once jumps the shark into ridiculous. If anything once the layers are peeled back readers will find a very real, relatable human story. It has depth, a compelling plot and vibrant characters who defy the very conventions and tropes that inspired them.

Before I wax poetic about how this story wooed my pants off, let’s talk about how it went a long way toward redeeming the urban fantasy genre for this very jaded fan.

Let’s hear it for a female leads who are complex human beings!

In a sea of one-liner dropping, two dimensional approximations of female empowerment that too many authors in this genre have been trying to pass off as women for decades, a real, complex female lead is a rare find. Not for a lack of looking. I’ve been searching like a one-woman archaeological expedition pickaxe and shovel in hand, digging through this genre for decades trying to find one and have come up empty handed more often than not.

Ree is funny, flawed, relatable and best of all authentically geeky. It never feels forced or affect. She isn’t just a pretty girl in glasses regurgitating famous lines from Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, everything about Ree is real and natural. Underwood never has to tell us she is strong, because the story itself runs her through the ringer and she comes through with banners flying.

Geekomancy is a heroes journey with a woman (finally) front and center. Ree faces all the challenges, terror and trials befitting classic heroes, but never once did I feel the story was tailored to her gender. No dumbing down (in fact, quite the opposite for the non-geeky reader), no emphasis on her hair, clothes or makeup. In fact, I’m not even sure she wears any make up, because I was too busy falling in love with her personality.

Despite the strange world and circumstances she’s plunged into Ree handles every situations with a very believeable grain of salt. She’s rational, intelligent and sarcastic as hell. Though, her sarcasm and snarky comments never come off as flippant, but rather as a realistic coping mechanism we all might use when faced with the frightening reality that Trolls or Demons are real. Plus her jokes are actually funny. I laughed out loud more than once.

Sweet baby Jebus, Ree is the kind of heroine I’ve dreamed of reading about. One who I could show to my fourteen year old, extremely geeky, female cousins and say “Look, she’s just like you and she’s a hero, not the hero’s girlfriend.”

All right, I set down my fangirl pom poms for two seconds to actually talk about the story, because it is fantastic.

Underwood created a reality that is just slightly to the left of the one we know. A world where every tiny scrap of geek culture has real tangible power and can be used as weapons in a shadowy war happening right under our noses. There is no nerdy stone left unturned in this story. I went dizzy from listing the movies, tv shows, games, and various other geeky pursuits that were referenced in this novel. Some were even new to me.

Despite all this nerdtastic name dropping, we never get pulled out of the story. Quite the contrary actually. With each new reference the magic of this world unfurls a little more, giving it depth and heart. It’s the kind of world dreamed about as a kid. Where a Magic: The Gather card can save your life. Where you can download the skills of your favorite characters just by watching a few scenes of a movie. Where a true believer could actually become a Jedi knight, and even a nerdy barista can become a hero.

I was very surprised by how deeply this book affected me. It is after all a fun, fictional adventure and wonderful tribute to geek culture, but more than that it is a very real story of a woman coming into her own power. I think that is something that I’ve been yearning to read from the moment I first learned how to read.
Ksenia Solo of Lost Girl is my choice for Ree.

I would recommend this book to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or anything by Joss Whedon really), Doctor Who, The Dresden Files, and strong female leads.

Where to buy it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo
Michael R Underwood's official site

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fan Fiction a GoGo: A Quick Guide to Reading FanFic on Handheld Devices

Reading Fan Fiction on the go...
Many fan fiction readers, like myself, want quick and convenient access to our favorite stories, no matter the genre, fandom or the handheld device we use. You would think, with the growing availability of ereaders and smart phones, we shouldn't have to work so hard to read the fan fiction we love.

I’ve compiled a quick list of various options, old and new, available to help my fellow fan fic lovers navigate the choppy waters of reading fan fiction in this new age of handheld devices.

Old School to New School
In the days long before ereaders and cellphones (aka the age of the dinosaurs), we had to do the ol' copy and paste to transfer text into a word processing document. You can save it to read on your computer, or print to read hard copy. I had a friend who literally had an entire bookcase filled with three-ring binders filled with printed out fan fics. It was her fandom library and it was kind of awesome.

Conversion & Reader Apps
Luckily, there are a lot easier ways to download, read fan fiction. In fact, the fan fiction archive website AO3 (Archive of Our Own) allows readers to download a copy of a fan fic, in several formats directly from the site. However, if you want to read fan fiction that is not posted to AO3, you can download a copy in the format you want using a conversion website. Or download conversion software to a convert the file into a format that is compatible with you ereader.

Conversion Website
FLAG: a free web based service that email you a copy of the fan fiction in format of your choosing. All you need is the url of the fan fiction and an email address. Here’s a list of the supported fan fiction archive websites.

Conversion Programs
Calibre: free file converter software.
FanFiction Downloader: free software that works similarly to FLAG, but requires you to download it to your computer. Here’s a list of the supported fan fiction archive websites.

Reader Apps
If you have a smartphone, there are apps that will read many different file types. There are of course, the brandname reader apps (KindleNookAdobeiBook, etc), but there are also several reader apps that read multiple file types available for both iOS, and Android. Many of them can also can be used on your computer.

Multi-format Apps
I have only used Stanza, but the other apps look just as flexible and functional.
Stanza: Desktop, iOS.
Ehon: Reader for Macs

In the end, even with all these options there's still a lot of work. You have to copy, download, convert and move files onto your devices. Technology should be making it easier.

The Future?
A lot of readers and smartphones have access to the internet, which cuts out the need to transport fan fiction to your handheld device, when you can just go right to the source to read.

However, this doesn’t help when you’re offline (on an airplane, away from wifi, etc). That’s where the new generation of fan fiction apps come into play. Or at least I hope they will, once they work out the bugs and designers better understand the market.

Fan Fiction Apps
Most of these apps are directly linked to a fan fiction/story archive website. I have yet to find an app that allows for accessing the archives of various sites. Sadly, AO3 has yet to release an app, but I’m holding out hope. (iOS, Android) I like this app. The free version allows you search for fic, and even store a several “favorites” to read offline. It even remembers the exact point in the fic where you left off reading last. The full version ($0.99) allows you to access your own FFnet account, including your favorites list. However, it crashes on me one out of every five times I tried to used.

Wattpad (Also for original works) The app works nicely, but I wish there were more fan fics that I like to read on the site itself.

Movellas (also for original works) I’m not familiar with this site, but the app works nicely. The content of the site seems to be aimed at younger readers (of the One Direction, Justin Bieber kind).

As technology becomes cheaper and easier to access, and as developers of apps come to understand fan fiction and the reader's needs, I think the future of fan fiction reading will brighten.

What's your favorite fan fiction sites? How do you like to read it? Do you prefer using a reader or your phone?

Let me know in the comments.

MS MR: Secondhand Rapture

This entire album is my current ear worm* , thanks to a brilliant teaser for Game of Thrones that featured the track Bones. There sounds is somewhere between Bats for Lashes and Florence + the Machine. Perfect for writing inspiration or just blasting at full volume while you vacuum in your underwear. 

Not that I do that sort of thing. *awkward cough* 

All in all, I think my $9 was well spent and I’m glad it’s digital, because I would have worn a hole in a record by now. 

Where to buy it: Amazon, Barnes & NobleiTunes

*an ear worm is a song, and/or idea that worms it's way into your brain and takes over.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Welcome to my madness!

One blog to bore them all!

I like to kick things off with a whimper, rather than a bang.

This is the first post of my new blog about anything and everything that interests me. I doing this for fun, when I have the time. My aim is to entertain others while catalogue my thoughts and interests in the format of a blog.

The subjects will vary, though entertainment is the primary theme. I'm sure I'll stray from time to time. On the whole I hope to use this to recommend various forms of media to friends and any if I happen to amuse a curious stranger or two all the better.