Friday, September 30, 2011

[AG:] Books books books... and geeky future plans.

Greetings, programs!

So, here's the thing about us Lady Nerds.... we love to read. We both really really REALLY love to read. The only difference is that I read a little bit faster than AM does. I'm not bragging, it's just true. Well, I tend to read faster than most people. I tend to stockpile a bunch of books and basically wait for the right moment to just devour them all in one sitting. Well, several sittings. One sitting per book. Anyway. Some leftover books from my last frenzy are standouts that require some blog-time. So I'd like to take a few minutes to blurb about some fabulous reads I've hit on in recent months.


1. "Kraken" by China Miéville.  I picked this up several months back because the cover is sexy. There are two things that will get me to read your book: a great title, and a great cover. A great cover can make up for a so-so title or vice versa, but not always. "Kraken" has a fine title and a sexy cover. And the author is British. Like, hayyyyy. So I nabbed it and devoured it over a few days. It reads like a lovechild between Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" and what I can only assume is H.P. Lovecraft. The London that Miéville presents is gritty and lush with the mysterious and arcane living among the mundane, who barely notice anything around them. The protagonist is a museum curator whose museum's prize specimen -- a huge dead squid -- gets stolen. That's right: stolen. Impossible you say? NOT IN LONDON, Y'ALL. Billy, the hero, gets sucked into a mysterious underworld of London full of cults which worship the squids as deities (cephalogods if you will) and finds out that there is much more surrounding his specimen than just scientific discoveries. Talkin' about ancient prophecies and shit. And all sorts of magic like all over the place, okay? A phenomenal cast of characters and an addictive narrative, "Kraken" is an excellent specimen of the weird and deliciously wild.

2. "Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel" by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
Somehow -- and I really don't recall how -- I noticed one day a while back that somebody named Tee Morris was following me on Twitter, so I followed him back. I noticed him mentioning someone named Pip a lot, so I followed her too, just for good measure. Figured out pretty quick that they were writers, which I thought, obviously, was cool, since I also write and their chosen genre (steampunk) is also of high interest to me. Luckily, the novel they co-wrote was released in May and I picked it up to see how good it would be. BOY. DID I EVER GET A SHOCK. This book is so brilliantly written (by two people no less! do you know how hard it is to write something with someone else on the same wavelength!?) and so full of humor and cleverness that I could scarcely sit still the whole time I was reading it. I squirmed with delight, I laughed aloud, I smirked, I gasped, I bit my lip in terror or in tension. The protagonists are Agent Eliza D. Braun (New Zealander by birth, explosives enthusiast by habit) and Wellington Thornhill Books, Esq. (archivist, homebody, and actually rather a good chap all around), two individuals in the employ of Her Majesty Queen Victoria's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, which documents the strange and mysterious throughout the Empire. Braun is paired with Books as punishment for breaking a few rules, and the two of them end up leaving the Archives to track down some unsolved mysteries from Braun's past, much to the chagrin of the Ministry. The cases they crack, however, crack open something even larger -- much larger than either of them bargained for. Did I mention there will be a sequel? It's going to be delicious. Tee and Pip are two of the LOVELIEST people you could ever hope to meet by accident on the internet, and their work with "Phoenix Rising" is awe-inspiring and riotously good fun. (Also, if you check out the Ministry's website, you might notice their ongoing project Tales from the Archives podcasts... and you might notice that yours truly is listed as a Ministry agent and has a little role in one of the podcasts... ahem...)

3. "Geist" and its followup, "Spectyr" by Phillipa Ballantine. So, obviously, after reading and falling in love with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, I had to check out Pip's other work. It's a series called "Books of the Order" and the first is called "Geist," the second being "Spectyr," and the other two books not yet released. Have I mentioned how much I hate/love being involved with a series while it's still in first production? I am so impatient when it comes to finding out what happens next. But anyway. So. "Geist" to me is more reminiscent of when I played the XBox game "Fable II": it's high(er) fantasy than your regular stuff, but it has a very complex and detailed world of its own, that doesn't quite fall into the usual notions of dragons and knights and all that. The heroine, Sorcha Faris, is a Deacon of the Order, a religious(ish) construct of men and women who pledge themselves to certain arts of magic that are meant to protect the realms from the geists, shades, spectyrs, spirits, and demonic forces that slip into this world from the Otherside, which is basically a land of the dead. There are Active Deacons, like Sorcha, who are all about brute force and combat, using their gauntlets and powerful runes to trap and fight geists, and there are Sensitives like her partner, Merrick Chambers, who in "Geist" replaces Sorcha's husband Kolya when he is injured in a skirmish. Sorcha is used to losing partners due to injury or weakness, but since her marriage has kind of crumbled, she's glad to have an excuse to leave town for a while with her new partner to kick some geist butt; she'd rather fight something than talk about feelings. Throw into the mix one Raed Rossin (Pretender to the throne, pirate captain, and bearer of a curse which transforms him into a giant, terrifying lion-like geistlord) and instead of a vacation, Sorcha's got a serious detour to crazytown. The detail in these books is phenomenal, and just when you think you've got a handle on something, something goes terribly wrong and you're shocked into reading another nine chapters before doing something productive with your life. They're absolutely fantastic reads!

4. "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. LOOK I KNOW I ALREADY WROTE ABOUT THIS BUT I HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT IT AGAIN BECAUSE I'VE READ IT THREE TIMES NOW AND IT'S STILL FREAKING AMAZING. If you haven't read it, you need to get on dat shit because it's beautiful. Totally and utterly beautiful. I'm totally one of those people where if there's too much hype I'll shy away from it for a while (coughTheHungerGamestrilogycoughcough) but this is one case where I believe the hype was deserved. So deserved. This book is a fine, delicately crafted, spun-sugar dessert of a dream of a story, and I'm totally in love with it. So just deal with it.

5. "Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti" by Genevieve Valentine. So, I read this back in June, way before "The Night Circus" had even started promotional stuff, which makes me wonder if there's a subconscious circus-thing-happening. In any case, "Mechanique" is such a fascinating ride. At first glance, it's a jumble of vignettes about a circus that's made of half-people, half-machines and travels about the outskirts of society, barely making a living. The mysterious goings-on within the circus are beautiful and terrifying, and just when you think the truth of the whole plot will be revealed, a second plot comes into play and throws the balance of the circus completely out of sync -- and lives may be the cost. Disorienting, fascinating, and lovely all at once, "Mechanique" is a chilling, memorable story which breaks boundaries of genre and expectation alike.

So there's five(ish) books for you to check out from yer local library (or Amazon or B&N, etc.) at your leisure. I'm currently reading a few more, which I'll blurb about here by and by. I wanted to also give a heads up that AM and I will be attending the Official Star Trek Convention tomorrow (happy 45th anniversary, Trekkies!) and even though celebrity sightings at cons are old hat to Miss Alex, I'm personally hoping for a chance to throw myself at John De Lancie (squee!).

Other upcoming brouhahas include the fifth annual Whoniverse Photoshoot somewhere in Chicago in October... we were flattered to be invited along for the fun. Current plans include to revive our Nine (AM) and Ten (moi) costumes from Halloween '10, and possibly some other fun... I may or may not have an itchin' to dress up like Idris from Neil Gaiman's episode "The Doctor's Wife" and I know for a fact AM wants to be Donna Noble/Catherine Tate when she grows up.... In November, we have our Big Event of the Year, that is, TeslaCon II in Madison, WI.... we are VERY VERY VERY excited for this and costumes are already being cobbled together. We're also trying to make plans to attend ChicagoTARDIS which is also in November, and which I also *JUST* discovered that ALEX KINGSTON (River Song) is going to frickin' be there..... SO OBVIOUSLY WE ARE GOING.

Anyway. That's all I've got for the moment. See y'all on Twitter!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

[AM:] Nerds....& BOOBS

Why hello there dear blog reader.

This is Alex, the other half of SC&N signing in for my first solo blog post. Clearly, as already demonstrated, I am not as literary as Miss Aly, but what I lack in narrative flow I make up for with humor and boobs.

Yes that’s right boobs. And not just any boobs my friend, oh no, but the ever coveted Nerdy Boobs. As mentioned in my bio I’m a burlesque dancer (Stella Cheeks) with a company here in Chicago known as Geek Girl Burlesque. Started a year ago by Ms. Pixy & Gorilla Tango Theatre our little company as exploded with geek themed burlesque shows. Our repertoire includes Boobs & Goombas: A Mario Burlesque, Fellowship of the Boobs: A D&D, LOTR, WOW Burlesque, A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque, the newly premiered Boobs of Khan: A Star Trek Burlesque. And keep an eye out for Indiana Jones & The Temple of Boobs directed by yours truly coming this fall.

Now this may read as a shill to entice you into buying tickets (and it sort of is..., but it is more about this amazing phenomenon happening all over the world: Nerds are becoming sexy. Of course some of you will scoff, “Nerds have always been sexy.” And while many of us have known this to be true it was not really a well known or accepted fact until recently. And I LOVE it.

I know many people, myself included, have been known to clamor and complain about our beloved geekdom being co-opted and often distorted by the mainstream and it’s hard not to snap the thick framed glasses off of the hipster wearing an “I heart Nerds” shirt ironically walking down the street, but for all the bros who attend the Iron Man midnight showing we the nerds are benefiting more and more.

As a girl who always teetered on the brink of popularity and geekiness it was always a battle trying to balance the two and I was often left denying my true self while trying to fit in. But now I wear my Doctor Who shirts with pride and show my Star Trek tattoo off every chance I get.

This is why I love our Geek Girl Burlesque. Not only are we attracting nerds who grew up watching Star Wars and playing D&D, but we are mixing them in with girls who just love burlesque and people who may have seen Star Wars only once, but “Hey, it could be fun.” We make sure to put in jokes about gelatinous cubes and power converters only the die hard fans will enjoy and the iconic buns (no pun intended) and red shirt deaths every person will be familiar with. Not to mention the ladies. The wonderfully funny, powerful and sexy ladies!

The wonderful thing about burlesque is it is a body positive, queer accepting, gender fuck loving, artful world in which creativity and humor are praised more than six packs and the perfect tan. We have real women, big & small, white and black, Pagan and Christian, and everything in between gracing our stage. Some are die hard nerds, some just like to get naked and some (ah hem) like showing off their Star Trek tattoo while wearing Starfleet emblems on her nipples.

So that’s my tangent. Nerds are sexy, I love boobs, Nerdy boobs are the best, I like acceptance and you should come see my show ;)

Resistance is futile.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

[AG] Book Review - "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern (available 9/15/11)

A circus in black and white. Mysterious in its arrival and departure, impossible in its design, incredible in its performances, the circus travels the world in the late 1800’s creating wonder and even obsession in its wake. From the moment the gates open at sundown on the first evening and the ceremonial bonfire at the heart of the tents is lit for the very first time in shocking rainbow flames, anyone who enters to visit the magic is smitten. Once you have seen the circus, it is said, you can never forget it, and you will always long to go back. For some, this longing is not so secret, and it is these dauntless fans which dress themselves to look like the circus: black and white, though each circus-lover adds a dash of bright crimson to the mix, the better to identify one another in a crowd. These fans are called “rêveurs,” which means dreamers, for the circus is called Le Cirque des Rêves: the circus of dreams.

I am proud to inform you that I am a rêveur.

Let me go back to the start of the Circus’ hold on me. Last spring, myself and my associate here at Something Cute and Nerdy (Alexis) went to the Chicago Public Library downtown to hear Neil Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger sort of talk about writing but sort of talk about Gaiman’s book Neverwhere, which was selected for the One Book, One Chicago project at the time. During a Q&A portion of the evening, an audience member asked what books Neil had read recently that he liked and would suggest to his own readers. Neil mentioned several books that were older but that he considered favorites, and then he said simply that there was a book coming out in the fall called “The Night Circus” by a woman named Erin Morgenstern, and that it was one of the finest books he’d read in a very long time. He wouldn’t go into detail but he insisted that anyone and everyone would love it. Since that was a pretty strong recommendation from anyone, the fact that Neil Gaiman was the one giving the order made it doubly – possibly triply – so. I jotted down the book and author and tucked it away for later.

In July, I was coming in for a shift at my part time job at a chain bookstore on the north side of Chicago and on the table where we leave advanced copies of things not yet available for puchase I noticed a large, black paperback. Huge, really. Its cover was hidden by the letter from the publisher or agent or whomever, the letter which cheerfully requests that someone read the book and give it a review or talk it up to customers, etc. I put my things down to pick it up, curious what could be that big. The letter fell to reveal the cover of Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” and I actually cried out in excitement and surprise.

It was like someone knew I wanted to read it and made sure I’d have a copy.

I took it home that night and within 48 hours had read the entirety of the novel, and within 72 hours had re-read parts that were particularly delicious and fascinating. I knew then that Neil Gaiman was right (as perhaps he tends to be) and that this book will be an incredible revelation once released. It is captivating beyond measure and the sensory details woven into every page are simply stunning.

“The Night Circus” tells the stories of many different people, but at the center of the novel are Celia Bowen, daughter of the great magician Prospero, and the orphan Marco, raised by a mysterious man in a gray suit, also a magician. Celia and Marco are raised with the knowledge that they are part of some kind of test or challenge, pitted against another individual, but it takes a long time before they meet one another, and even then, Celia does not yet know that Marco is her enemy. Along the way, people they are both acquainted with begin the construction of a fantastic circus which will travel the globe performing wonders like no circus ever before, and will live in the hearts and memories of its audiences for decades to come. The thing that many do not realize until much later, of course, is that Le Cirque des Rêves is built on real magic, and that Celia (their mysterious illusionist) and Marco (the circus manager’s assistant) are proficient in the unknown language of real magic and manipulation of the world around them. Their challenge is still unknown, and now the circus houses both of them, but no one can say where or how it will all end…

Exactly as the rêveurs follow the Cirque des Rêves across the world, I felt immediately as a reader that I would gladly read “The Night Circus” over and over again without ever tiring of it. It is impossibly chock-full of feelings, sights, and smells that are described with masterful detail and linger long after you’ve turned the page. The stories of each of the people involved in the inception of the Cirque des Rêves are as fascinating and mysterious as the circus itself, but truly the tales of Celia and Marco are the most incredible.

This is Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, and by all means I confidently say that she is a genius of the heart, and a true magician like her characters: the kind that simply reveals real magic where it is found and lets the reader decide if it’s an illusion or not. I am wholly in love with “The Night Circus” and know without hesitation that once it hits bookshelves on September 15 it will draw the rest of the world in until we are all wearing red scarves, red gloves, or red flowers on our lapel.

We are all rêveurs, and Erin Morgenstern has finally given us a place to call home with this incredible dreamscape of beauty and mystery.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is available September 15th, 2011. Pre-order it HERE!