Book Recommendation: Mermaid Anthology

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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

-Sarah

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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!

-Sarah

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.
-Sarah

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):

-Sarah

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

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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 (http://store.steampowered.com/app/319510/ ). 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.

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVPONdZBh6s&list=FLqXmwAB5nOAPNu2YzLE6oNw

Five murderous animatronics out of five

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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.

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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.

-Sarah