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Orphan Black S02E01: Nature Under Constraint and Vexed [recap w/spoilers]

It’s good to be back in the Clone Club. The return of Orphan Black quite literally hits the ground running and never lets up in this action-packed, clone-filled premiere. “Nature Under Constraint And Vexed” reintroduces almost every major player from season one, readjusts the show’s antagonistic forces, and ends with a bombshell reveal. I’m not convinced it’s a pace the show can maintain for the entire season, but it’s a hell of a fun way to jump back into the world of Orphan Black.

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Get ready for Orphan Black's return tomorrow night with this season one recap

What constitutes a family? Are they the people who give you life, the people who raise you, or the people you choose as your support network? Or are they your identical clones created by a mysterious organization seeking to advance human evolution to the next level? That last one might not be a question most family dramas are interested in asking, but Orphan Black isn’t most family dramas.

Like the best sci-fi shows, BBC America’s addictive Orphan Black uses its fantastical lens to explore realities of the human condition. Where Battlestar Galactica examined politics and terrorism using a fleet of spaceships and Buffy the Vampire Slayer depicted the struggles of adolescence through demons and witches, Orphan Black uses human cloning to explore the nature of family. That unifying central theme, a slew of fantastic characters, and an absolutely stellar central performance (well, performances) from star Tatiana Maslany combine to make Orphan Black one of the best shows of 2013 and one you should absolutely check out before it returns for a second season on April 19.

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Daniel Pinkwater's brilliant, hilarious, life-changing books as $3 ebooks


Children's author, essayist and hero of literature Daniel Pinkwater has revived his classic backlist as a line of DRM-free ebooks! Each one is only $3, and there are some astoundingly good titles in there.

Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars was my first Pinkwater, and it literally changed my life. It's your basic nerd-discovers-he-has-special-powers book, except it's not: it's got saucer cults, green death chili, mystic bikers, and a sweet and inclusive message about following your weird without looking down on others. It literally changed my life.

The Education of Robert Nifkin is another take on an Alan Mendelsohn-like story, but this time, it's all about taking charge of your own education and an alternative school where the inmates run the asylum. It's probably no coincidence that I ended up at a school much like Nifkin's after reading Mendelsohn (here's my full review).

Young Adults is a hilarious, bawdy romp through the conventions of young adult literature. When got my first paperback copy, I walked around for days, annoying my roommates by reading long passages from this at them until they forgave me because they were convulsed with laughter. Dadaism was never so funny.

Wingman is such a beautiful, compassionate book about race, comics, and a love affair with literature. I read my copy until it fell apart.

What can you say about the Snarkout Boys? They sneak out at night and go to an all-night B-movie palace where they have comic, X-Files-style adventures with the paranormal and diner food. The Snarkout Boys & The Avocado of Death and The Snarkout Boys & The Baconburg Horror comprise the canon.

Fat Men from Space is the greatest paen ever penned to sloppy cooking. If you can't get enough of Shopsin's in NYC, or find yourself throwing everything in a frying pan at 2AM, you need this book.

Then there's Chicago Days and Hoboken Nights, a memoir as a series of comic essays that tell the story of Pinkwater's boyhood, his training as an artist, his late-night hot-dogs, and the forces that made him into the towering force of literature that he is today.

There's so much more!

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Zombie Dice: eat brains, avoid shotguns

Zombies aren't known for their critical thinking skills, but in Zombie Dice, a fast-paced, risk-vs-reward dice-rolling game designed by Steve Jackson, you play a zombie who must balance its desire for human brains with its fear of getting blasted to necrotic bits by a shotgun.

The game comes with 13 specially marked dice. The dice have three kinds of markings: brains, shotgun blasts, and footprints. (Green dice have more brains, red dice have more shotgun blasts, yellow dice are in-between).

The rules are simple: two or more people can play. Everyone is a zombie. The dice represent humans. When it's your turn, pull three dice from the cardboard cup (without looking) and roll them. Set any brains to one side. Set any shotgun blasts to the other side. Footprints mean the human got away - keep those in front of you. Do you want to roll again? No problem. Just re-roll the footprints dice along with enough fresh dice from the cup so that you roll three dice. You can roll as many times as you like in an effort to eats lots of brains in your turn (my record is 11 juicy brains in one turn), but if you end up accumulating three shotgun blasts, you lose all your brain points for that turn and the next player-zombie gets its turn. When one player gets 13 points, play continues until the round is finished and whoever has the most points wins.

Here's a sample turn:

77 fun ways to play fast-moving Tenzi dice game

A couple of weeks ago my friend Kent Barnes recommended a simple, fast-moving dice game called Tenzi. I bought it and my wife, 11-year-old daughter, and I had fun playing it. The rules are simple - everyone starts out with 10 dice and the goal is to roll your dice as fast as you can until all of them show the same number. Every time you roll, you are allowed to set aside any dice that match your desired number. When all ten of the dice show the same number, you shout "Tenzi!," throw your hands in the air, and gloat while the other players gnash their teeth. The game rules included a couple of variations on the basic rule set, which we also played and liked.

A few days later Kent told me about a $10 deck of cards called 77 Ways to Play Tenzi. I ordered the deck and last night my wife, 11-year-old, 16-year-old daughter (who doesn't like games and joined us reluctantly), and I tested the deck out. Ninety minutes later we decided that this deck takes Tenzi to a new level. The deck adds variety, surprise, and humor to Tenzi. It makes Tenzi so much more fun that I think the company shouldn't sell the dice without the cards. My 16-year-old daughter was surprised that she had such a good time.

77 Ways to Play Tenzi | Buy Tenzi cards and dice as a set See example cards

Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell (book review)

Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell centers on a beautiful, reprinted collection of diabolical 1860s French stereoscopic cards. On each card is an image of a detailed, intricate clay diorama depicting life in hell. Each card tells a story, but the story of the collection itself is far more interesting.

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A Canticle for Leibowitz, venerated science fiction masterpiece

I recent read Walter M. Miller Jr's. deeply loved and admired A Canticle for Leibowitz. Sci-fi reviews so often reference this published in 1959 story of post-apolcalyptic mankind's struggles, that when an old tattered copy was handed to me I had no choice but to dig in. I quickly became a fan.

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The Adjacent, by Christopher Priest [exclusive excerpt]

The eagerly anticipated new novel from “one of the master illusionists of our time.” (Wired)

Summary: Near future: Tibor Tarent, a freelance photographer, is recalled from Anatolia to Britain when his wife, an aid worker, is killed—annihilated by a terrifying weapon that reduces its target to a triangular patch of scorched earth. A century earlier: Tommy Trent, a stage magician, is sent to the Western Front on a secret mission to render British reconnaissance aircraft invisible to the enemy. Present day: A theoretical physicist develops a new method of diverting matter, a discovery with devastating consequences that will resonate through time.

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Doubleclicks celebrate the paperback of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember with a new song

The paperback edition of Annalee Newitz's excellent Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction comes out today, and to celebrate, Annalee has commissioned a song about the book from nerd rockers the Doubleclicks. It's terrific.

Here's my original review from the hardcover's publication last May:

Scatter's premise is that the human race will face extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully weathered previous extinction events, and cultures and tribes of humans that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.

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My daughter Poesy reviews Hilda and the Black Hound


Luke Pearson and London's Flying Eye Books have published the fourth Hildafolk kids' graphic novel, Hilda and the Black Hound. Like the earlier volumes (reviews: Hildafolk and Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Bird Parade), it's nothing less than magical, a Miyazaki-meets-Moomin story that is beautifully drawn and marvellously told.

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Tenzi: fast dice game with simple rules

My friend, Kent Barnes, told me about Tenzi, a simple dice game. The object of the game is to end up with all of your dice showing the same number.

Here's how to play: Each player gets 10 dice. When one of the players says "go!" everyone rolls their dice. After the first roll, you set the dice with the most matches, and roll the remaining dice to try to match the ones you've set aside. You don't take turns; you just roll as quickly as you can. It usually takes less than a minute for someone to win. It seems idiotically simple. It's more fun than it sounds.

We play a variation: the winner of the previous round gets to choose the point number (between 1 and 6), and everyone has to try to match their dice to that number.

Tenzi $14

The Disorienting and Disturbing Arthouse Science Fiction of Under the Skin [Review]

If Her was all about Scarlett Johansson's off-screen presence–the vagaries of her voice, and what meaning might be read into its inflections–Under the Skin is all about Johansson's looks. And her looking. At you. It's about skin, and bodies, and silent facades. Johansson plays her extraterrestrial invader practically as a mute.

The script for Under the Skin, which opens today in New York City and Los Angeles, and April 11 in select U.S. cities, probably contains a few thousand words of dialogue, max. What conversation there is bridges long silences. Viewers will find no traditional alien versus human action. No chases, or gun battles, or heads exploding with green goo. No little green men or tattooed Klingon wannabes hatching plans to destroy the earth, either.

Likewise, fanboys (and girls) drooling over Johansson won't be treated to some mindless sexcapade. As a nameless woman, Johansson cruises the streets of Glasgow, using her newfound wiles to seduce men for her nefarious purposes. She's an alien femme fatale, and once she's snared you in her spell, gentlemen, her sultry face clicks back to its poker-faced, robotic demeanor. Look out.

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The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, a nuanced and moving history of race, slavery and the Civil War


The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation sat in my pile for too long, and it shouldn't have. I loved The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, the previous effort by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, so I should have anticipated how good this new one would be. Having (belatedly) gotten around to it, I can finally tell you that this is an extraordinary, nuanced history of the issues of race and slavery in America, weaving together disparate threads of military, geopolitical, technological, legal, Constitutional, geographic and historical factors that came together to make the Civil War happen at the moment when it occurred, that brought it to an end, and that left African Americans with so little justice in its wake.

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Cats of Tanglewood Forest: illustrated modern folktale from Charles de Lint and Charles Vess


For the past two months, my daughter's and my main bedtime reading has been The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a modern folktale written by Charles de Lint and illustrated by Charles Vess, a power duo if ever there was one. This is a story set on an American prairie farm sometime in the 20th century, about Lillian, a kind-hearted girl who sets out saucers of milk for the wild cats, scatters grain for the songbirds, and leaves a biscuit by the oldest, most gnarled apple tree in the orchard for the Apple Tree Man. And it's because of her good heart and her wild spirit that the cats of Tanglewood Forest defy the king of cats, and work cat-magic to rescue her when she is bitten by a snake and brought near to death. Now she has been reborn as a kitten, and she must find out how she can once again become a girl.

The book is lavishly illustrated with Charlie Vess's amazing art nouveau paintings (you may recognize these from his frequent collaborations with Neil Gaiman, such as the beautiful picture book Blueberry Girl). The paintings -- which appear as full pages, but are also worked into the margins, endpapers, and jacket -- are a wonderful and gripping accompaniment to the story. Although this story is too sophisticated for my six-year-old to have read to herself, the combination of the illustrations and my reading it aloud made it absolutely accessible to her. And these paintings are so gorgeous that she was more than happy to sit and thumb through the book, enjoying them on their own.

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God is Disappointed in You

I’m not religious, and I have not read the Old Testament or the New Testament (I did read R. Crumb’s graphic novel of the Book of Genesis and enjoyed it). I’ve tried to read the King James version a few times, but I got bored and stopped very early on. Recently, Top Shelf sent me a copy of God is Disappointed in You, a new version of the Bible written in contemporary, casual language. It’s bound in textured fake leather like a regular bible, with gold edged pages and a ribbon bookmark. It has illustrations by New Yorker and Too Much Coffee Man cartoonist Shannon Wheeler, which piqued my interest. As soon as I started reading it, I was hooked. The author, Mark Russell, was able to make the stories come alive by telling them as if they happened today, using language that a smart, funny, middle-school student might use to recount the story of an epic playground fight.

I don’t know if people who take the Bible seriously will be offended by this book, but I suspect many of them will not. It is not a sarcastic put down of the Bible, but a fresh interpretation. I compared some of the stories in God is Disappointed in You with the stories in other traditional Bibles and Russell is not exaggerating or misrepresenting the content of the earlier versions. I asked my friend, a pastor and author who is a serious Bible scholar, what he thought of God is Disappointed in You, and said it was fantastic.

The Bible is an incredibly weird book, and I thank Mark Russell for rewriting it in a way that made it understandable and interesting to me.

God is Disappointed in You