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.

–Sarah

 

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Sushi Cat’s Delicious Adventures

Hey, Geeks.

Do you love cats? Sushi? Computer games? Adorable animation? Chances are that you like at least one of these things; Sushi Cat and its three sequels from Armor Games will indulge your desire for all four. The game features a round, blue, sushi-loving cat who can only succeed in his quests for love and happiness by gaining weight. He does this by eating as much sushi as possible through a series of pinball games. Most of the sushi simply count toward achieving a full belly, but some pieces provide special abilities or other bonuses, such as an extra turn for the level or soy sauce bombs that allow you to collect all the sushi within the explosion’s reach.

Sushi Cat

Sushi Cat

Despite the game’s simplicity (the game requires only the ability to click your mouse strategically), I’ve played it on and off for a year now and still enjoy the experience. While I enjoy some hacking and slashing and shooting, sometimes it’s nice to let a game just make you happy. There’s plenty of opportunity for improvement in the game, as there is a certain amount of strategy involved and a lot of sushi to eat, but it’s easy enough to play if you are just looking for a relaxing way to pass the time.

Up until recently, I thought there were only three Sushi Cats: Sushi Cat, Sushi Cat 2, and Sushi Cat: The Honeymoon. Then I discovered Sushi Cat 2: The Great Purrade, which is less polished in terms of graphics and mechanics than the other games but almost makes up for it with added weirdness (the Nyan cat sushi gulp, for example). There’s no need to play the games in order, as they all function perfectly well as stand-alones, but I would recommend playing The Great Purrade after one of the others, as it doesn’t show the beloved furball at his best. The most sophisticated versions would probably be Sushi Cat 2 and Sushi Cat: The Honeymoon.

Sushi Cat's pirate costume

Sushi Cat’s pirate costume

The game isn’t perfect. Glitches related to excessive feline chubbiness can result in an endlessly-bouncing cat on some levels (in which case restarting the level is the only solution), and regardless of your pinball skills, the unpredictability of Sushi Cat’s bouncing often makes collecting ALL the sushi nigh-on impossible (a problem for the obsessive-compulsive among us, myself included). That said, the game makes up for these flaws with a delicious premise and bizarrely cute costumes for your character if you eat enough golden sushi. The game also isn’t trying to push a lot of barriers—Sushi Cat’s wife is pink, and arguments could be made about cultural appropriation (particularly with some of Sushi Cat’s costumes, cute as they are). The makers of the game seem to have only positive intentions, however, and there is something to be said for such a food-positive and plump-positive game. Fatness is Sushi Cat’s superpower.

Sushi Cat is appropriate for all ages and arguably fun for all ages as well. Those who like their games to always include blood and guts may find Sushi Cat’s mostly pastel palette and relentless cuteness boring, but others may find themselves fixated on getting that last piece of sushi in the corner behind a Japanese lantern or bicycle wheel. All four games consistently receive high ratings from players, and I still smile back at the Sushi-meter when its sad, hungry face perks up upon achieving a full belly.

Four rotund kitties out of 5.

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Back from the West Coast!

Hello all you photo and film geeks out in the world.

Just back in Toronto from the West Coast of Canada and USA. I’ve got a lot of good stuff coming your way including some more “make your photography look less bad” and a bit of an introduction to time lapse photography. I’ve been really trying to up my time lapse game as they can be really fun to make I find (once you get all the frustrating bits under control).

Here’s a screen grab from one of the Time Lapses on the Sea to Sky Highway from Kamloops to Whistler, BC. (PS we’ve got some GCM films in the works as well!)

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 8.28.39 AM

2048 meowdifications (we apologise for the pun, but not really)

Hello, Geeks.

While I’m sure some of you roll your eyes and groan by now at the thought of 2048, we know our audience well enough to know that those who truly love the game are still obsessively moving tiles. For those who can’t give it up but want something fresh, and for anyone who is more a cat person than a numbers person, I present 2048’s cat editions. My favourite is the Waffles the Cat edition, which rewards you with new, adorable images of Waffles. There are, however, also 2048: LOL Cats and 2048 Cats (there are probably others as well, given that this is the internet).

2048: LOL Cat Edition

2048: LOL Cat Edition

I personally find the .gifs in 2048: LOL Cats distracting, but the endless loop of the hapless breaded tabby is admittedly entertaining.

2048 Cats Edition

2048 Cats Edition

The numbers on the cat images in 2048: Cats may help you keep track, but they also take away from the challenge of an image-based version of the game. The .gifs are somewhat less distracting, though (and, in my opinion, cuter).

2048: Waffles the Cat Edition

2048: Waffles the Cat Edition

The Waffles edition has a coherent, almost narrative flow to its cat images, presenting (static) images of Waffles at different stages (and in different costumes). The flow and cuteness of this edition keep me coming back to play again . . . and again . . . and again, though the original 2048 game lost me after two tries.

But don’t let me tell you which version to play. Check out these cat-themed versions for yourself and let us know what you thought in the comments.

Have a meowvelous day (sorry, not sorry),
Sarah, your resident cat fanatic

The Joy of Blending Cats: Kittens in a Blender

Hello, Geeks.

Normally Kenny will be writing the board game reviews, but as I am Geek Collateral’s resident cat fanatic, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Kittens in a Blender. It’s a fairly simple, deeply twisted card game: pick a kitten colour. Save your kittens from being blended. Turn your opponents’ kitties into cat purée.

Kittens in a Blender

Kittens in a Blender

The deck includes kittens for each player, cards that enable you to move kittens, cards to blend kittens, cards to save kittens from being blended, and cards that cause each player to pass their hand along. You start with six cards in each player’s hand. Each turn, you must use two and then pick up two. You want your kittens safe in the box (or at least on the counter) and your opponents’ kitties preparing mewing piteously from the murderous kitchen appliance. Whether you play with subtle strategy or for maximum carnage is up to you.

The game is quick and violent. I played against our CEO, Devin Edwards (though you can play with up to 4 people), and he made horrible whirring sounds when kittens died. He also insisted on reading out the names of the blended kittens at the end of each round. Sadist.

Kittens in a Blender Cards

Kittens in a Blender cards

Devin contemplating the deaths of countless kittens.

Devin contemplating the deaths of countless kittens/trying to look cute like the innocent kittens he is about to murder.

I was surprised by how affected I was by the blending. Maybe if the kittens didn’t have names or such cute cartoon faces, I would find it less upsetting. I found myself apologizing to Devin’s cats while I placed them in the blender, and I decided which of my own kittens to save according to how adorable the cards were (Ninja is just too cute to let die, but I don’t have quite the same attachment to Chester). Emotional trauma aside, Kittens in a Blender is a fun, fast-paced game that’s perfect for those with limited time (or a short attention span) and a dark sense of humour.

4/5 meeples and/or severed kitten limbs
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Takes 30 minutes to play
From Closet Nerd and Redshift Games

Superfight! Review

Greetings, Geeks.

You’ve waited long enough. Remember that game we played that we wouldn’t tell you anything about? If not, check out our intro to Kenny and his Board Game House to refresh your memories. The wait is over.

Take it away, Kenny.

Superfight! Review

I feel like every game collector has some games in their collection that they avoid playing at all costs; these games aren’t bad–after all, you kept them–but there is something about them that you want to deal with only on rare occasions. The obvious Monopoly aside, for me, two such games are Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity. Now, I want to make this very clear: I love these games. But they get really stale really quickly, when the shock value and surprises of the cards start to fade away. This call-and-response-style gameplay is great when you want to play games with anyone, but for those who play too many times, you will find the same jokes being made over and over again. So then, one may ask why I funded Superfight!, yet another judge based party game off Kickstarter, and then claim that it’s brilliant? Simply put, this game has solved stale.

Superfight!

Superfight!

Superfight! is an excellent departure for the ever-growing subgenre of party game I simply call judging games. The concept is simple: each round, the players construct combatants for a gladiator-style battle to the death against the judge’s champion. The winners of each round will be decided by the judge, and any player who has a winning combatant recieves one point. The judge changes each round so everyone has a chance to play both roles. Combatant creation is simply achieved through the use of two large decks of cards, black character cards, and white attribute cards. The judge will randomly create their champion by drawing one character card and two attribute cards off the top of the deck (for example, a samurai that is made of sand and can summon anything from a department store). Each other player builds their battler by playing one character card and one attribute card from a hand of cards they received at game start (someone may have played a T-Rex with a fire hose). After that, everyone gets a chance to place a second attribute card on someone else’s warrior before the battle begins (and now the T-rex is trapped in a giant hamster ball). Once everyone has a character with two attributes, the battle–and the hilarious debate–begins! Judges are encouraged to award multiple points if they feel people have earned it, or no points if they feel no one beat their champion. Of course this requires faith that your judge isn’t a jerk, but if they are, then why play games with them?

The problem that all judging games seem to have is that the entertainment comes from the cards alone. Superfight! solves this problem by having a good portion of the fun coming from the best use of the cards, and the discussion of the epic fights. The attribute cards are a slick addition, providing most of the hilarious chaos and giving the game far more life by reducing repetition. Unless you are really bad at shuffling cards, you will not see The Orb of Fire Marshall Sharptooth in a game again for a long time. When playing this for the first time, my guests kept commenting that they didn’t even care if they won or lost, as long as the battles kept being ridiculous and hilarious, which they did. Just like other games with no clear rules on when the game actually ends, setting some guidelines at the start of the game will save your group of players from having your friendly debates turn into actual arguments, or frustrated boredom as two people banter about their battlers endlessly. But these are mostly  matters of who you are playing with, rather than a flawed design.

In the end, if you are looking for a fun game that anyone can pick up and enjoy, that will entertain you every time you open it with a whole new set of hilarious conversations, Superfight! is worth your consideration. It’s great with a few friends and possibly a drink or two to unwind during the evening. Pretty much every major flaw this game has can be addressed by not playing the game with people who are jerks. It could use slightly more specific rules, but with its active encouragement of players to tweak and find new fun ways to play, Superfight! is far more concerned with having a good time than it is about the specific way to get there. I look forward to seeing what comes next with this game.

-Kenny

Rating: 4 out of 5 Meeples
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It’s Super Effective! How to Enter the World of Competitive Pokemon

With the release of Pokémon X and Y — already six months ago — fans saw yet another surge of love from the world. People are talking about Pokémon more than ever as the games have found a refreshed look with glorious character models and eye-popping battle effects using the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D technology. Of course, the question remains: when the credits roll, what do you do with your beloved creatures? Do you attempt the daunting task of catching ’em all? With a staggering 719 Pokémon to obtain, this has become an exhausting endeavor, with rewards only for the most dedicated and hardcore of Pokémon fans. Instead, I suggest a much more fun project: to take competitive and strategic Pokémon for a spin!

As someone who has been participating in the competitive scene locally since Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver (Generation IV of the series), I highly recommend this generation of Pokémon games as an excellent stepping-off point for anyone who has ever been curious about getting involved in the scene. GameFreak has started really noticing the increasing attention this area of the Pokémon metagame has been receiving, and addressing it correctly. New mechanics have been implemented to assure less grinding is needed to create competitive-level Pokémon. TMs being multiuse allows for more optimal movesets for Pokémon without struggle. Truly a lot of control has been placed in the hands on the trainers before they even set up on the battlefield, and this is great. What may have once taken me a long time, even days, I can now complete in an hour.

Now, there are several communities online who can help you get familiar with these mechanics. Often, they will give you all of the how-tos, but they don’t really explain why. This guide strives to show you the ropes in order to create your very first cohesive Pokémon team ready for the competitive scene. We will look at the various elements of a good Pokémon team and how to achieve them, and then look at individual Pokémon to learn how to unlock their potentials. Once we have built a team, we will learn solid approaches to using the team in an actual battle!

It is important to note that there are ultimately no right or wrong answers when it comes to building Pokémon teams. Half of the fun of Pokémon battling stems from the amount of unpredictability a match can bring. You have to be ready to think on your feet and learn how to come up against many different and interesting strategies. And through that, you will find that you will be having a lot of fun. I have been in the competitive scene for four years and am still always finding new things and learning new approaches to a battle. Are you ready to be the very best?

In the next installment, we will learn the basics of team building.