Book Recommendation: Mermaid Anthology


Forget about Disney’s little mermaid (or even Hans Christian Andersen’s). Don’t let the cover fool you; while the occasional fish-tailed beauty makes an appearance, the mermaids and other sea creatures in Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, edited by Paula Guran, are just as likely to be genetically engineered navy officers or full-on monsters. And the writers take full advantage of the range of folkloric subjects available. Ships’ figureheads, male mermaids, selkies, and more appear among this anthology’s pages.

These deep-sea myths come to life both prey on humans and fall victim to them. This brilliant anthology makes use of the mermaid and associated myths to tell rich, socially aware stories that question both the power and mystery of the mythical other AND the monstrosity that can live within the human heart. Furthermore, the ocean itself is also often as much a feature of the stories as those who dwell within it. This anthology’s is as much as a love story for or ode to the sea as it is an investigation into the mermaid myth.

If that isn’t enough to make you dip your toes, this fresh, nuanced collection also boasts some big names in the speculative fiction scene, including Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Bear.

The range and depths of these stories coupled with the impressive talent assembled to tell them make Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep one of my most enthusiastic anthology recommendations.

4 fishtails out of 5


Neko Atsume: English Edition


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When I heard that a popular Japanese game about cats was being released in English, I immediately downloaded it. A game about collecting kitties is basically an embodiment of my childhood fantasies (especially having grown up with a mother allergic to cats).

As for the game itself? It has good points and less exciting points. The goal of the game is simple: buy and arrange food, toys, and furniture to attract cats. Collect them in a cat album. Be rewarded with fish that you can then use to buy more food, toys, and furniture . . . and attract MORE cats.

The Pros

The graphics are cute and colourful, and the mementos that the cats give you are endearing and weird (from small mittens to cicada skin). There’s decent variety in terms of the food types, toys, and furniture you can buy, and working your way up to the point where you can buy a room expansion can be addictive. The cats also sometimes show up in funny costumes or odd positions, which can be entertaining.

The Cons

I feel like I want more features like the mementos to feel like I’m getting something out of my relationship with the cats, adorable pixels that they are. It would be nice if, when you clicked on a cat, you could do more than just see its stats—like maybe pet it or have it react in some way.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 fish

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Overall, the game is a fun and somewhat engaging time waster, but to maintain my attention the way I’d like it to, it would need something to make it more interactive and personal. I’ve been playing for a few months, but ever since I got the room expansion and the main items I wanted, the appeal has waned somewhat, and I usually only feed the cats every couple of days when I’m bored waiting for the subway. That said, maybe that’s all the game needs to be there for.

Fan Expo, Crafting, Doctor Who, and Wedding Geekery

Last weekend, we dropped by Fan Expo for the opportunity to get costumed up and the requisite visit to the Doctor Who Society booth. I wore a Silence costume that I put together last-minute in an obsessive frenzy over the week before the con and Devin wore his awesome 11th Doctor costume from our wedding (oh yeah, that happened). See below for Doctor Who geekery galore.

First, here are some Fan Expo shots.

Aaand the making of the mask.

And finally, here’s some geeky wedding porn (and yes, I made a medieval dalek as a photo prop/stand-in for an absent bridesmaid). Wedding photos are all by the awesome, geeky, talented Alexei Malokhov of Open Eye Studio.

And now to await Halloween with eager anticipation!


Book Review: The Time Traveller’s Almanac (anthology)

wpid-2015-02-09-10.45.27.jpg.jpegWhile suffering from Doctor Who withdrawal, I came across this time travel tome in the science fiction section of Indigo. The authors advertised on the cover (Douglas Adams! Isaac Asimov! Ursula K. Le Guin! George R. R. Martin! H.G. Wells!) would have been enough to pique my interest on their own. The beautiful matte cover (which I have since destroyed by dropping my copy in the tub) impressed the graphic designer in me, while the intimidated size of The Time Traveler’s Almanac promised hours (days) of reading. The tiny font of this 948-page volume is necessary to keep a book containing 72 stories a manageable size.

A quick Google search for reviews of the book revealed overwhelming positivity from the GoodReads community, and the price-to-page-count ratio was more than fair ($29.99 CAN before tax), so I purchased the book and carried it lovingly home, filled with the thrill of a new geeky find.

And it was worth it. While some stories in this anthology are a bit stuffy or long-winded for me, there are others that are clever, poignant, eloquently written. While not every story will suit all tastes, there’s something here for everyone: strange worlds, the mundane-turned-strange, paradoxes, cross-temporal corporations and agencies, the far future, the distant past, lived lived and re-lived, silly adventures, cerebral contemplations, hardcore science fiction, and wistful romance. I found I liked the first half to two thirds of the book best, but it’s possible that I just lost steam near the end after a month-or-so-long marathon of nightly reading. That, or the creativity (sometimes heartwarming, sometimes silly, sometimes tragic) of some of the pieces contained within The Time Traveler’s Almanac (such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Another Story or a Fisherman of the Inland Sea”, Connie Willis’s “Fire Watch”, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, and Tamsyn Muir’s “The House that Made the Sixteen Loops of Time”) left me far pickier by the end of the book than I was at the start. The book contains an impressive eclecticism not only in terms of the content of each story but in terms of the era the stories are from. In a way, some stories contain double the time travel, embodying the values of the time they were written (some were written as early as the 1800s) as well as providing the author’s tale of the future or past. Some stories feel dated, while far more speak to the power of the written word to transcend the eras between reader and writer. I recommend giving each story at least a page before moving on, as some will surprise you.

The book’s boast that it is “the largest and most definitive collection of time travel stories ever assembled” feels entirely justified. In addition to the 72 stories, the book also includes short essays on time travel between sections, ranging from tongue-in-cheek instructions to explorations of scientific theories around time travel. This anthology increased my appreciation for and knowledge of time travel literature and, more broadly, the science fiction genre overall dramatically (and I say this as someone who was exposed to Star Trek in utero). And in addition to being enriching (to borrow the diction of some 19th century authors), it is a fun, wild read, one that I will probably return to many times, doubling back on my own literary timeline.

If you like Doctor Who, science fiction, short stories, time travel, or any of the authors whose work is bound between these sprawling pages, I’d advise that you find yourself a copy of The Time Traveler’s Almanac.

4 pocket watches out of 5.

Geek Collateral at the Toronto Mini Maker Faire

Geek Collateral braved the cold on Saturday for the Toronto Mini Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library. It was super crowded, but we managed to grab a few shots of the event:

Some highlights were the beautifully handcrafted slingshots you can buy from Metro Grade Goods, the quirky socio-robotics project hitchBOT, the creative use of cornstarch by Action Potential Lab (the pink stuff burbling away in the photos above, courtesy of Toronto’s first science and art lab for kids and adults), the R2 bots (which were pretty much impossible to photograph due to the swarms of children–sorry!), and the lovely lanterns by The Playful Geometer, who creates “a line of arts and crafts centred around the wonders of Sacred Geometry”.

For more info on the projects depicted in the photos and videos for this post, check out this gallery of business cards (hover your mouse over a card for the company website link):


Introducing Steph Chaves, Plus a Review of Five Nights at Freddy’s (Just in Time for Halloween!)

Hello, Geeks.

On this spookiest of days, it is my pleasure to introduce you to our newest writer, Steph Chaves. She’s a lit geek who loves anime and a host of other nerdy things, and she’s starting her position at Geek Collateral off with a post about Five Nights at Freddy’s, a creepy Steam game perfect for Halloween. Take it away, Steph:

Five Nights at Freddy’s
review by Steph Chaves

Five nights at Freddys screenshot 3

Alone in the dark.

You know that feeling you get when you’re watching a horror movie and that eerie violin music starts playing? Have you ever wished a video game could make you feel that horrible anxiety the entire play-through? Well, then you might just want to try Five Nights at Freddy’s, a point-and-click survival game that retails for $5.49 on Steam ( ). There are also cell phone adaptations available for both Android and iPhones, though I have yet to play the game on either platform.

The concept of the game is fairly simple: you are the overnight security guard at a Chuck E. Cheese-esque family restaurant called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, but there’s a catch: the animatronics have a tendency to walk around at night. Worse still, if the animatronics see a human, they think of them as a robot not in costume and therefore “forcefully shove” them into a spare outfit, killing the non-robotic human in the process. So the player has to monitor the security cameras, the lights beside each entrance of the security room, and the door to ensure none of the murderous mascots get inside. Unfortunately, you only have a limited amount of battery life.

Five nights at Freddys screenshot 1

And suddenly, you aren’t alone.

Five nights at Freddys screenshot 2 The best part of the game is the high tension when you’re looking around your small room waiting for, and hoping to prevent, impending doom. As the title of the game dictates, there are five nights, or levels, that you have to survive, with each successive night increasing in difficulty. There is also a sixth night that is unlocked after (if) you survive the original five. Once the sixth night has been accomplished, “Custom Night” is unlocked, where the player can adjust the difficulty levels of the AI. Each night has the same excruciating anxiety. The mood is set by the grainy camera, how the animatronics glitch on camera, the odd laughter that can be heard outside the halls, and the surprise of finding an animatronic standing right outside your door when you check the lights. All of this adds up to a great horror game that uses jump scares more effectively than most horror movies. Each of the animatronics (there are four, plus one spooky extra) is incredibly unnerving to look at, even when they aren’t hunting for human exoskeletons. For bonus creep factor, you can google theories surrounding the plot for Five Night at Freddy’s (let’s just say there’s a likely reason for the foul-smelling odour emanating from the animatronic suits).

If you end up really enjoying the game, you should know that a sequel has been greenlit for the Steam community and a trailer is already out:

Five murderous animatronics out of five


Who You Gonna Call?

Hey, Geeks.

It’s the spookiest month of the year, so it feels like the perfect time to be hearing about this.


There’s a new Ghostbusters movie in the works (and this time it looks like it will really be happening). With a new, female cast and a new director, there will be a lot of changes–changes Bill Murray is apparently all for (and really, what better endorsement is there for such a film?). Paul Feig is taking the helm this time, though Ivan Reitman will be a producer for the film. This new direction came about partly because of Harold Ramis’s death—Reitman didn’t feel right continuing without him. The new cast is yet to be announced, but Feig is reportedly planning to cast funny women. His response to the criticism of women-as-gimmick warms my feminist-geek heart: “Why is a movie starring women considered a gimmick and a movie starring men is just a normal movie?” Why indeed.

Filming is set to start in 2015.

Enjoy the long weekend—we sure will! I anticipate a lot of Netflix and possibly rounds of Thanksgiving M:TG between cousins.


The First Year as a Freelance Writer

Hello, Geeks.

A lot of somewhat geeky professions—web design, illustration, graphic design, writing—have a high concentration of freelancers. And being a freelancer, especially in an economy that still hasn’t fully recovered post-2008 and that is plagued by unpaid internships, can be rough. The first year can be more than rough—it can be crazy. Between demented tirades from potential clients to curious tests of your basic integrity, hopping down the freelance rabbit hole can require some patience with industry-approved madness.

My first year out of university, I needed work and possessed a shiny new English and creative writing degree. I spent a lot of time on Craigslist (still do, but with a more discerning eye). I saw a lot of jobs posted—don’t let anyone tell you there are no positions out there for English majors—and about as many scams. When working in a creative field, telling the difference can be difficult.

One of the first positions I landed was not a writing position but an editing one, for a self-described self-publishing company.
There were some manuscripts that were better than their presence in the vanity press’s catalogue would suggest. My favourites were a surprisingly entertaining teen fantasy novel about twins and a short story collection about Chinese women having affairs. Most, however, were filled with run-on sentences, hysterical rants about men’s propensity to cheat, zealous tirades about the evils of secular society, and mistranslations that put “purple monkey dishwasher” to shame (I still don’t know what “angry ocean clothes” was a Google-translate garble of). I discovered partway through one manuscript that entire sections of the text were in the wrong part of the narrative, and that some events had been written about twice and placed haphazardly within the document (alas, this was not a story about time travel). I was given two weeks on average to fix each manuscript and paid what would ostensibly amount to “roughly” $10-$25 an hour. I never made $25 an hour; there were assignments for which the $10 estimate would have been generous (which would be below minimum wage here in Canada anyway), and my pay was usually late despite the contractually stated 30-day delay (which should have been long enough for them to come up with the money) and often arrived only after I refused to work on a new assignment until I was paid. I found myself staying up until between 3:00 and 7:00 a.m., staring at the computer screen, sustained by strong black tea, panic, and the company of my partner napping on the couch nearby in solidarity.

Two events prompted my departure from the sordid world of vanity publishing. The first was my discovery that the company I was working for was being sued on multiple counts of fraud. It turned out that the founder of the company was using at least 11 aliases—many of which bore female monikers, despite the founder being male and by no account transgender—and the scheme operated under dozens of company names, all of which were in the business of ripping off writers. I couldn’t afford to quit immediately, but I began to plan my exit. What finally ended my association with the company was a poetry manuscript with no sentences. The punctuation-phobic author had not indicated anywhere in her nonsensical collection which ideas were attached to each other—I certainly couldn’t guess based on context—and this confusion was clearly not an experimental poetic strategy. Gibberish-induced stress led me to the embarrassing scene of crying in the Yorkdale Mall while helping my partner shop for winter boots, and I emailed the company that night saying I couldn’t finish the edit, particularly not for under a dollar a page. They paid me for what I had done (an unexpected courtesy) and never contacted me again.

I can cheerfully report that the company lost the lawsuits against it and is required by law to compensate its writers for its crimes against their literary dreams. I’d like to take a moment to point out that a publisher should never ask for money to publish your manuscript. With self-publishing companies like Lulu and Smashwords, you are paying for printing and online distribution, but the publisher is ultimately you (and even with companies that let you control the publishing process, you still want to be careful that you aren’t paying for things that benefit them more than you). Know your rights before agreeing to a contract with a publisher—you deserve better than the writers who filed those lawsuits got.

Another Craigslist misadventure (this one for a writing position—finally!) tested my ethics as a writer through the founder’s gleeful disregard for copyright. Alongside writing an original 2000-word article, I was also instructed to find an existing article and reformat it according to their style guide. I assumed this was a test of my editing abilities, but it became clear that they wanted me to steal from other writers on a regular basis. The idea was that I would take an article from a website (without alerting the author), reformat it, remove any external links, and send the article to be included in the company’s weekly inbox emagazine. The original author’s name would remain attached to the article, but the writer would never be consulted about the changes made or be compensated for their work. When I protested, the founder laughed—yes, laughed—and “explained” that some people have an old-fashioned belief that they own the words they write. After some soul-searching, I emailed them to let them know that I wasn’t comfortable with their business practices and would not be able to accept the position, which paid a paltry $75/week. My contacts at the company immediately started to backtrack and deny their endorsement of plagiarism. They paid me for the original article I had written and published it. I can only hope they didn’t make use of the rest of my test assignment. To my surprise, the company’s founder has since unsuccessfully attempted to add me on LinkedIn.

While not every interaction with potential clients has gone so poorly or so strangely, these early experiences do not exist in isolation. With strength in numbers on our minds, a writer/editor friend of mine and I started a copywriting and copyediting business as a side project; in response to our advertisements, one student contacted us on a Saturday expecting us to compose two short papers and a 10-page dissertation for him by Tuesday morning. Unfortunately for him, we didn’t end up completing his degree for him. An equally memorable email arrived from an irate man we’d offered to meet in a coffee shop to discuss his project. In it, he accused us of “walking the streets”, a thinly veiled comparison to prostitution inspired by our lack of a permanent office space. The rest of the email, lineated like a very angry poem, was equally rude.

Though this may seem like a condemnation of Craigslist, I have found some good positions through the site. I tried my hand at ghostwriting restaurant reviews, and the only real downside at the time was not being able to claim the bragging rights. Ghostwriting can give you some quick cash, but it doesn’t help much with your portfolio. It was worth it at the time, however, as it made eating out on a recent graduate’s earnings feasible. I also got the hang of a new form of writing: the review.

Of course, Craigslist is not the only job site I use, and I’ve seen the same problems across the board. I’ve seen many job postings on pay-to-post sites that require high levels of skill and time commitment that end with “unpaid internship”. I’ve also found that regardless of where they advertise, too many companies expect writers to compose blog posts and articles for exposure (a laughable concept when anyone can create a blog for free) or pennies. When asked about job sites, I often say that I’ve found much of my best work and all of my worst work on Craigslist. Now that I’m more practiced at finding gigs, I tend to use sites like, which filters out a lot of the worst-paying positions for Canadian writers, and I scan suspiciously for words and phrases like “internship”, “exposure”, “build your portfolio” (not always a bad thing, but often a warning sign), and “volunteer” (a term misused by many for-profit companies) before investing in a cover letter. Regardless of where I’m looking, my first year as a freelancer taught me how important it is to recognise the value of your own work and not accept the lack of respect that has become the status quo. While I’ve definitely worked for less money than is reasonable just to pay my bills (and had to lean on familial support at times due to the fickle nature of the business), I’ve also learned a lot about the industry I’m in and found some great clients who pay me well above minimum wage. My first year as a freelance writer taught me how to write better, faster, and on topics as diverse as restaurants, provincial parks, cat-themed computer and board games, immigration, sausages (I’m vegetarian), and video marketing.

Despite the cynicism with which I sometimes discuss my job—or more accurately, my jobs—I stand by my choice to freelance, at least for now. While some gigs have been downright awful, I’ve also had the chance to mock bad ads for money and write about my addiction to the Waffles the Cat version of 2048. As for the less enjoyable parts—well, they do make for good stories.

Geek Collateral at Fan Expo

Hello, Geeks.

A couple of us from Geek Collateral dropped by Fan Expo in Toronto on the weekend (on Sunday, to be precise), decked out in costumes scrounged from thrift and dollar stores. Devin’s Doctor Krieger met up with Archer, Pam, and Charlene, while my weeping angel was surrounded by Doctor Who fans.

Here are a few shots from our day:

As you can see, the Whovian contingent was impressive. We heard there were two other Kriegers there on Sunday, but sadly Devin was deprived of the opportunity to clone bone. The adorable Supercat outside the Fan Expo venue was a nice end to our day and a testament to the fun spirit of the event.

Did you go to Fan Expo this year? We’d love to hear about costumes you spotted or who/what you dressed up as in the comments.

Don’t blink,

6 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books You May Not Have Read but Should

Hello, Geeks.

I must admit that I am becoming a bit of a geek-lit hipster: I love Tolkien, Asimov, and Martin, but I also like reading things that are a little outside science fiction and fantasy’s standard fare. I’m not going to claim that these books are truly obscure; after all, they’re all good enough to deserve to be on this list, so they’ve all received some positive attention from critics and readers. Many of these authors have won awards, but I still find that I know too many people who haven’t read their work. For that reason, I decided to share some of my lesser-known favourites with you.

6 science fiction and fantasy books you might not have read but should

1. Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia C. McKillip

McKillip’s full-length novels have their charms, but I find that her writing style really shines in the short story format. Harrowing the Dragon is filled with odd characters, curious tales, and beautiful language. Some stories are set in traditional fantasy environments and others are more modern, but all evoke a sense of wonder. McKillip is also one of those quotable authors, the ones who create not only good stories but extraordinarily well-crafted sentences to tell them with. She can get a little sidetracked by her own elegance in her novels, but her short stories are taut and enchanting.

2. Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright

This is a sexy book, both in terms of its story, which is kind of wild, and its erotic undertones. It begins in a boarding school with only five students, all of whom discover that they have some sort of supernatural power, all of which draw from different paradigms (there’s some wacky scifi-fantasy philosophy thrown in for good measure). The students are essentially prisoners until they hatch a daring escape plan, kept from venturing beyond the grounds by school staff who are clearly more than they seem. This premise would be interesting enough on its own, but the story also has a dark and blatantly kinky element. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of sexual energy involved whenever anyone gets tied up, and at least one love triangle. The book is also the first in a trilogy, so there’s more where all of that came from.

3. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

This is not a light read in any sense, but it is a great one. Perdido Street Station is both physically heavy (my copy is 710 pages long) and thematically complex. Set in an economically and socially dystopian world, this steampunk masterpiece actually had me crying a few times. This was due to both the painful realities of said dystopian world and the magnificent characterisation that makes said painful realities more moving. The world of Perdido Street Station includes both magic (“thaumaturgy”) and steampunk technology, and it is described so well that you believe it’s all possible. The story has a number of key players, but events are set in motion by Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a somewhat rogue scientist, and his experiments on a grub that only eats a drug called “dreamshit”. His experiments spawn catastrophe in a city where the social order is already wrecking havoc on people’s ability to function. This is a dark, intense novel that manages to combine wickedly cool scifi and fantasy elements with a story that tackles issues of class and race so poignantly that you find yourself itching to single-handedly destroy corporate greed.

4. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

The title of this book is misleading, as the cunning and disturbed kitchen-boy-turned-villain Steerpike is the true protagonist. This Gothic monstrosity is the beginning of a series (one which I will admit I have not finished–Peake unfortunately started to show signs of dementia around the time he was working on the third novel–but the first two books work well enough on their own and deserve to be read), most of which is set in Gormenghast. Gormenghast is a labyrinthine castle weighed down and held together by ritual and filled with mad, tragic characters. The daydreaming, Ophelia-esque Fuschia, the increasingly demented Lord Sepulchrave, and the rest of this truly bizarre cast are entrancing. The book feels longer than it is, but this is in part because of the luxurious language. Peake is poetic in his horror (perhaps at times too poetic), and anyone who loves Edgar Allan Poe or William Gibson’s writing style should give this book a try, if only to enjoy sentences like “This was the attic of her make-believe, where she would watch her mind’s companions advancing or retreating across the dusty floor.” The first two books were also made into a miniseries by the BBC starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. This casting choice makes viewers far too sympathetic to Steerpike’s cause and far too enamoured with a character who is supposed to be something of a grotesque both physically and psychologically, so it’s best to read the books first to get a true sense of the character.

5. The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self

Self’s book is a series of thought experiments made into clever, twisted stories. For example, the title story is based on the idea of there being only a certain amount of sanity to go around. Another story posits that the afterlife is set in a London suburb. It’s a weird, quirky little volume of short stories that, while driven by philosophical and psychological queries, is far from stuffy.

6. The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson Dargatz

You won’t find this one in the fantasy section–it’s generally considered “magic realism” and shelved with the capital-L Literature–but it has fantasical elements that are central to the events in the book. Most of these elements are connected with the Native trickster god, Coyote, and werewolves (if you need more than that to qualify something as fantasy, you’re too hardcore for me). The book has also been described as “Pacific Northwest Gothic” by the Boston Globe, and that fits the tone and plot well. It’s a dark story about a girl living with her impoverished and broken family in Shuswap Country, British Columbia. She is simultaneously discovering her sexuality; dealing with classism, sexism, ableism, and racism; enduring her abusive father; trying to untangle the truth behind local myths; and sneaking peaks at her mother’s recipe book, which sounds like a witch’s grimoire at times. The story is harsh, lyrical, and magical. Whatever types of books you usually read, you should give this one a chance.

These are some of my favourites–what about yours? Let us know which science fiction and fantasy books you love are being overlooked.