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PACIFIC RIM PACIFIC RIM PACIFIC RIM

July 14, 2013

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Do you see this poster? Do you see a ridiculously awesome, go-big-or-go-home premise involving giant monsters and giant robots? Good. Now go see the movie.

Yes, Pacific Rim is a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters To Save Mankind. It’s an epic, unapologetic B movie. You know this. I know this. It knows this, and it tries to be–and succeeds at being–the best B movie it can be, without ever taking itself too seriously. Pass the popcorn.

No one’s saying it’s perfect. For example: Charlie Hunnam’s Blondie McJaegerson (sorry, Raleigh Becket) doesn’t have enough charisma to fill a teacup, for one thing. Fortunately, the task of carrying the film doesn’t fall to him, and is more than deftly handled by a rockstar supporting cast featuring the likes of the magnificent Idris Elba and Torchwood’s Burn Gorman. The movie also–despite Rinko Kikuchi’s sublime female lead performance as pilot Mako Mori–fails the Bechdel test so hard it can’t have been trying.

But in an age of endless Hollywood remakes, reboots, rehashes, and reimaginings, Pacific Rim is a refreshingly original product that does a lot of things right, and I for one am pleased to have spoken for it with my money at the box office. For once, when we’re told that mankind is united in the face of an overwhelming obstacle, we actually see evidence that the world has stepped up to fight: Pacific Rim is a joyful cacophony of accents and languages, and the ensemble of Jaeger pilots and techs hail from not only America but also China, Russia, Japan, and Australia. For once, the relationship between the male and female leads is not overtly sexual, and Kikuchi’s badass, vengeance-seeking Mori is not sidelined as a damsel in distress for our “hero” to save.  And for once, you’re looking at a summer action movie that might be pretty dumb, but (a) doesn’t exhibit any gaping plot holes, and (b) is all in good, explosive, robot-on-monster fun.

And it is fun–so much fun. Go support it.

The Angel in the Details: 4 Great Bits of Gaming Minutia

June 24, 2013

I could be playing Mass Effect right now, as part of the epic whole-trilogy playthrough I recommend all fans of the games undertake at least once, ending in mind.

But having finished Mass Effect 2 over the weekend, I was inspired to highlight a few small, fantastic, and incredibly mundane details I’ve loved in games I’ve played/re-played/re-re-played lately. I’ve done the same thing for Skyrim in the past–but then, big epic fantasy sandboxes are built on hordes of tiny details.

Love ’em or hate ’em–and when it comes to the minutia of a 40-hour game, the relationship is often a bit of both–details can help a game go from “enjoyable” to “instant classic.” Let’s see what my recent exploits have in store.

1. Asking a Shopkeeper WTF Their Job Actually Is in Mass Effect 2

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Shopkeepers in Mass Effect 2 don’t actually sell you things. All purchases are made through automated kiosks right next to them at the counter, and they’ll tell you as much when you ask–which you can. You can also ask why the hell they’re there, then, if they don’t do any work.

From a gameplay standpoint, their presence makes sense: they’re there for you to charm or bully into giving you a discount. From the viewpoint of someone who’s worked in retail, I appreciate this moment for an entirely different reason. You know they get asked this question a dozen times a day by irate customers, especially if, heaven forbid, there’s a problem with the kiosk. You just know.

2. Marrying off Princesses and Princes in Civilization V

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In the latest entry in the mega-time-sink series of Civilization games, one of the perks of playing as Austria is the ability to annex city-states by marrying off royal cousins. Since we’re in the 21st century, and since Civ V games carry your chosen country from prehistory through the space age, I love that your eligible royal cousins include both princesses and princes.

3. Permadeath in Every Fire Emblem Game, Ever

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Speaking of details I love to hate: in the turn-based strategy Fire Emblem games, you command an army of colorful fantasy soldiers that range from pegasus knights to mages to myrmidons. Each is his or her own complete character, with subplots, dialogue, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. The problem? When one of them falls in battle, they’re dead forever. Even plot-essential characters, barring your hero/ine, will receive serious injuries that leave them strictly noncombat personnel for the rest of the game.

Never has a reset button been more loved and loathed at the same time.

4. Planets and Clouds in Mass Effect 2

 

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Can you tell I’ve just finished playing Mass Effect 2? One of the most tedious, detail-oriented tasks in all ME2 is the arduous process of scanning planets for mineral resources. Trust me: I was not sorry to see this mechanic go in ME3. One thing I do love, though–and didn’t even notice until playthrough #2–is that the clouds on applicable worlds will move around above the planet’s surface while you’re scanning. It’s little touches like these that make games fun to re-play… even when you’re a ridiculously adamant completionist like me.

Have your own favorite gaming details? Do tell. I’ll need something to play after this whole Mass Effect binge is over.

Hi, I’m Celeste, and I’m a GIF

May 16, 2013

The impromptu blog hiatus that turned out to last all of April is over! I’m back with a moment of zen from my work life.

One of the best parts of my job–marketing books to readers–is that I get to spend a lot of time convincing people that our books are awesome. On the best days, this feels just like being a fan. I think we’ve all had the experience of being an evangelist for a certain series or author, to the extent that we’re willing to go beyond “I loved [Awesome Book/TV show/movie]!” and explain ourselves to the unconverted. We pitch series to our friends in much the same way my publicist colleagues might pitch books to media: “It’s like Awesome Property You’ve Heard Of meets Other Bestselling Series, only better/more awesome/more original.” Once we’ve done this for the twelfth time to the twelfth friend or relative, we’ve got it condensed to a few favorite sound bites that we know are effective.

That sort of thinking is essential in the business of selling books in a crowded marketplace. But sometimes, fandom invades work in an entirely different way–a way that’s simply about creating something cool to share your love with other fans.

That’s how my team at HarperTeen ended up filming a comedic tribute to one of our bestselling series, Kiera Cass’s The Selection… with Barbies. And how I ended up playing the voice of drama queen Celeste, whose introduction of “Hi, I’m Celeste. I’m a bitch,” seems to have become a hit–and whose lines have now been turned into sets of GIFs by the ever creative (and fast-working!) fans on Tumblr:

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Yep; I got to participate in a Barbie slap montage. It was transcendent.

If you also happen to be a fan of the Selection series (which is a lightly dystopian YA romance full of fun and heart and waffling between cute boys and a wee bit of angst, if you’re into that sort of thing), check out the full video and the accompanying fan contest on our Epic Reads blog. You won’t regret it.

On Frommer’s, Google, and Print Travel Guides

March 27, 2013

At this point, it’s safe to say that I’ve been converted to the way of the ebook (though it remains an alternate method of reading for me: viable, not preferred). Ebooks are great.

But let me qualify that. Ebooks are great–for fiction, memoir, and other types of books you want to read straight through. E-textbooks? Not as popular, and deservedly so, I think. There’s something about flipping desultorily through a book’s various sections, hoping a familiar header will jog your memory, that e-readers haven’t quite captured. Certainly not my second-gen e-Ink Kindle with its clumsy hardware keyboard.

Which is only one of the reasons I was unhappy to hear about Google’s Frommer’s announcement last week. Effective immediately, Frommer’s travel guides will no longer be appearing in print.

The erstwhile cover of Frommer’s New York City with Kids, the first title to get the print axe (source).

This seems exceptionally counterintuitive for a line of travel guides, which are probably the very last kind of book I’d ever want in e-form. You might say ebooks are great for travel, if by “travel” you mean having a library of books with you on the airplane without having to lug them around in print form.

But when it comes to a travel guide, I’d rather lug around a marked-up print book than an e-reader, for the same reason travelers are told to be extra careful with the rest of their electronics.

I could see an argument for digital travel guides that behave more like full-featured apps than typical ebooks. Something that could include GPS, interactive itineraries, reviews, and recommendations tailored for your current location in London, Tokyo, Cairo. An app that did all of these things, and well, would be a great iPad-based trip utility.

But add any Internet-dependent features, and you run into the problem of data access. I’m not going to pay steep fees for international data roaming on my smartphone or tablet, but I don’t want to spend my time in Vacation Destination X hunting for wi-fi, either. And believe it or not, Google, there are places in the world–in the US, even–where wi-fi and 3G data service just don’t exist.

So what does a digital-only travel guide add, exactly? Maybe a few cubic inches of luggage space.

I’m disappointed to see Google move in this direction with Frommer’s. Thankfully for me–sadly for Frommer’s–there are plenty of other, decidedly more papery places to go.

Cover Cage Match: The Age of Miracles

February 12, 2013

Welcome back to Cover Cage Match! Today’s contender: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

This is going to be a tough one, since I loved the original hardcover jacket–a whimsical, light-spec-fic approach to the hand-lettered, typographic covers we saw throughout 2012. So, spoiler alert: if they changed anything, chances were I was not going to be the paperback jacket’s biggest fan.

Did it ever change.

Read more…

Link o’ Last Week: The What Hobbit, Now?

January 29, 2013

Holiday and post-holiday hiatus complete! Welcome back to our irregularly scheduled programming with a Link o’ Last Week.

In foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus.File under: things I forgot to mention in my roundup of Hobbit-related greatness last month, general Internet awesomenessery, and hilarious things I learn at work. Guess what? HarperCollins publishes an edition of The Hobbit translated into Latin.

In foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus. . . .

I love this for many reasons, none of which (shockingly) are that I am fluent in Latin. For one thing, how fantastic is it that a man who created the bones of not one but several languages for his fictional world (hint: I’m talking about Tolkien) now has a book translated into an effectively dead, but real language? How fantastic is it that, according to Hobbitus Ille‘s jacket copy, there is a “great tradition of publishing famous children′s books in Latin”–one that, as a cursory sweep of the Internet will tell you, includes A.A. Milne’s Winnie Ille Pu?

This fantastic:

Doctor Who: delivering quotable moments since 1963.

Now, does anyone know of an edition of The Lord of the Rings in Quenya? (Not that I’d be able to read that, either…)

Tricksy Hobbitses: My Top 5 Hobbit-Related Internet Stuffs

December 18, 2012

Hobbit-Movie-Poster-570x842So this happened over the weekend (or on Thursday night, if you were that committed–or even earlier, if you’re one of the strangely high number of people I know who was invited to an advance screening [yes, I’m still jealous]). It had its flaws but was generally pretty awesome.

But Stephanie, you say, you could apply that statement to about half the major movie releases every year.

Half? You’re so cute when you’re optimistic.

I won’t write a full review of the movie; basically, if you loved/liked/hated Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, you can expect to love/like/hate his version of The Hobbit. It’s really not a movie version of The Hobbit, which would have been radically different in tone and scope to The Lord of the Rings.

Some quick answers: no, the first movie doesn’t make the case for the Hobbit trilogy, at all. Yes, Martin Freeman is so ridiculously adorable all the time as Bilbo that you’ll want to carry him around in your pocket forever. And no, you won’t be able to tell all the dwarves apart–though the film does better on that score than I expected.

Enough analysis! On to the fun part: my top 5 Hobbit movie-related moments of awesome from across the Intertubes.

Read more…

I Heart Digital Novellas

November 28, 2012

HarperTeen (a.k.a. where I work) announced a new digital short-fiction imprint today, an event that inspired me to sit down and write a post I’ve been mulling over for a while. It’s about–you guessed it–digital short fiction. I have some Thoughts.

The first thought is, I love this trend. I’ve said facetiously that I love seeing the word “novella” back in the limelight, which is true; but I also love seeing the form itself become more mainstream. It can be tough to sell readers (and publishers, for that matter) on short fiction. Novellas, let alone short stories, are too short to print on their own; but anthologies are tricky too, and literary magazines have never enjoyed the circulation they should. So although I’ll still choose to read in print over digital any day of the week, I’m genuinely excited to see short fiction carve out a niche in the ebook market.

I say “this trend” above, but really, what we’re looking at is a few different trends. Probably my favorite, though it’s a close contest, is the emergence of original short fiction from established authors. I’m not talking about exclusively self-published authors here; that’s an entirely different ball game. But I love the fact that someone like Brandon Sanderson, who is best known for what we could not under any circumstances call “short” fiction, can now easily publish something like Legion, an 88-page novella completely unconnected to his other works.

Legion isn’t strictly digital-first or digital-only–it has also been issued as a limited-edition hardcover from Subterranean Press–but it’s different from what I expect to see from Sanderson via his usual publisher, Tor. (Did I mention it’s short?) It is essentially self-published as an ebook (Dragonsteel Entertainment, the named publisher, is Sanderson’s company), and it isn’t quite as polished as some of his longer work has been. But it had a fascinating premise and was fun to read, so if he of a million epic projects didn’t have the time or inclination to write it as a novel, I’m happier to have it as an e-novella than not to have it at all.

A prequel novella from one of my favorite series, Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy.

Moving on with our established authors, digital shorts provide an interesting forum for series. More and more often, we’re seeing digital prequels, interstitials, and pieces exploring alternate viewpoints or characters’ backstories. A lot of this is marketing; some pieces are offered free or free for a limited time, and in any case, short interstitials help keep up momentum during the year(s)-long wait for the series’ next book.

Speaking just as a reader, I don’t really care why I’m getting more content from my favorite authors and characters–just that I am. Having grown up in the age of fan remixes and fanfiction, I’m familiar with works that fit into the cracks of a series, exploring what happened before, after, and most importantly, between moments in the series canon. As a fan, I’m happy to see that mentality taking root with the content creators themselves.

Last but not least, I’d love to see more solo digital reissues of short stories previously available only in print anthologies. Two of the launch titles in the aforementioned HarperTeen Impulse program fall into this category, and I’m glad to see them. For one thing, anthologies have the nasty habit of going out of print. For another, in the vast informational headache that is book metadata, short stories are tough to search for if–heaven forbid–you forget the title or editor of the anthology in question. And keeping one eye on the business of books as a business, which it is, I know I’m not the only reader who’ll sooner plunk down $2 to read a short ebook by an author I know and love than $18 or $25 on an anthology with one story by my favorite and a dozen by authors I’ve never heard of.

That last is unfortunate–the art and craft of building anthologies is a wondrous thing, and I know I’m also not the only reader who will forever be grateful to people like Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, or the only reader who’s discovered a beloved new author through an anthology. But across the entertainment industries, digital distribution is adapting to consumers who want more choices in how their content is delivered, be it without DRM or without an anthology. I’m just glad to see more people reading short fiction, in whatever format they ultimately choose.

Free Game Rec: Battle for Wesnoth

November 14, 2012

Are you a Fire Emblem fan? Stop reading this and download this game right now.

Everyone else should probably do the same.

“This game” is The Battle for Wesnoth, a fun, fantasy-themed, and astonishingly free PC game that might not pack a lot of graphical firepower, but does pack the elements of a strong turn-based strategy game into one neat and did-I-mention-free bundle. Here’s the trailer:

 

For a free game, Wesnoth is very well done. Your troops have strengths and weaknesses based on their race, the terrain, the type of unit, and even the time of day. They level up into more specialized and more badass versions of themselves. When you recruit them, they often come with hilarious polysyllabic medieval-ish or Elvish-ish names (I definitely had a peasant named Aethaennyc once. Pretty sure he died, but that’s the name of the game when you’re a peasant).

They’re also pretty easy to kill. If you’re the kind of person who plays the aforementioned Fire Emblem games with one hand hovering over the reset button, ready to sacrifice 20 minutes of progress to save your favorite cavalier (guilty!), you’re going to need to get over that. But I like it. Units aren’t that cheap to replace, and new recruits start at level 1, making resource management something you actually have to pay attention to.

Granted, you only have two “resources”–personnel, and gold–so it’s not the most complex system in the world. But the game has plenty of ways to make trouble for you. Your money comes from capturing–and defending–villages on each map, experience gains are slow, and healing is very limited.

 

 

On the narrative front, most of your units don’t have much personality beyond their names, and the writing isn’t going to bowl you over. But there are plenty of campaign storylines included with the game, and more available to download, along with community-created addons. There’s even a multiplayer mode for when you really think you know what you’re doing. (I don’t.)

Long story short: get yourself a copy. I’m guessing you won’t regret it, since–did I mention?–it’s free.

Link o’ THIS Week: Your Excuse Sucks

November 6, 2012

PSA for readers who live in the US: go vote today. (Unless, you know, you’re planning to vote for the other guy. Then you can stay home.)

Not convinced? Don’t want to wait in line? Heard they’re not handing out those nifty “I Voted” stickers and can’t be bothered now? Your excuse sucks.

It sucks so much that the funny, smart, and slightly profane folks at yourexcusesucks.com have devoted an entire website to explaining the error of your ways.

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So whether you’re the one who needs a talkin’ to or your friends do, pass this along.

(Unless you are planning to vote for that other guy. You don’t want to go out and vote. It’s cold out there, and it’ll take a while, and they really aren’t handing out those nifty “I Voted” stickers in a lot of places…)

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