Monkeys make surprisingly terrible random-number generators

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Back in 2002, artists at England's Plymouth University teamed up with Paignton Zoo to see if monkeys could write Shakespeare. Read the rest

The Only Child – Searching for a companion while lost in fantasy

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See sample pages of The Only Child at Wink.

The Only Child portrays a lonely tot who becomes lost in a winter landscape. While her parents scour the city and surrounding countryside, the child scampers in snow, clouds, and seas with a mystical buck. This only child left the safety of home to visit Grandma; thankfully, the deer protects the child while guiding their journey. The discoveries made by the pair show how important companions are in life.

The book is illustrated in soft charcoal and chalk pastels, some images filling small boxes, others covering a full page. By using charcoal and pastel, images feel gentle and dreamlike, especially in the fantasy scenes. In contrast, artist Guojing’s urban settings have sharper lines and a gritty texture. In each image, the reader feels the child’s loneliness through the absence of color, the blank snow surrounding the child’s adventure, and the utterly silent text. I felt truly lonely reading the book, scanning the tot’s face and accompanying landscape. I saw that the new companions – the buck, a polar bear cub, and a blue whale – must be temporary, for they do not exist in the ordinary world of adults. I heard the longings for friends and family, as each page tugged me toward the next in hopes of being embraced by Grandma and Mom and Dad.

The Only Child whispers of loneliness, dreams, friendship, family, and adventure. The book reverberates with the timeless yearnings we all have, drawing the reader into the story with its familiar emotions and contrasting world of fantasy. Read the rest

Abusing the Internet of Things: Blackouts, Freakouts, and Stakeouts

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Nitesh Dhanjani's 2015 O'Reilly book Abusing the Internet of Things: Blackouts, Freakouts, and Stakeouts is a very practical existence-proof of the inadequacy and urgency of Internet of Things security.

Seminar on Jo Walton's Philosopher Kings novels

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Jo Walton (previously) is one of science fiction's great talents, a writer who blends beautiful insight about human beings and their frailties and failings without ever losing sight of their nobility and aspirations. Read the rest

Home, a dystopian adventure by Tom Abrahams

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Tom Abrahams' Home introduces us to a prepper nightmare. His vision of life in a post-plague America is worse than I'd imagined.

Former military expert and super prepper Battle has spent the last few years doing nothing but readying his 50 acres, wife and son for the impending doom of society. He has years of supplies, all the guns and ammo you could want, a special mineral rights deal with someone to supply never ending power to his fortress, he thought of every contingency! Sadly, his wife lets a plague ridden neighbor in for some tea.

Battle has to cope with this odd failure, while pretty much kicking the shit out of everything that gets even remotely intrudes on his home. While completely out of his control, Battle is fueled by this failure and sets out to save a stranger's son from an unknown fate. A lot of bullets fly, people get killed.

The action, motivations and organization of post-plague, Cartel run America felt right to me. Bad guys are not so cut and dry bad, unless they are at the very top, and the evolution of post-collapse society painted a scarily realistic picture. I'm looking forward to seeing where Abrahams takes this story next, and if the fallible prepper, Mr. Battle grows.

Home: A Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian Adventure (The Traveler Book 1) via Amazon Read the rest

Released today! Beverly – Six intertwined stories that show the underside of suburban life

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See sample pages at Wink.

Nick Drnaso’s Beverly, released today, is a brilliant set of six intertwined stories that show the underside of suburban life. Each story starts off with a smile, while pretty pastel colors and manicured lawns are plentiful. The art is crisp, geometric, simple and orderly. But scratch just a bit underneath the astroturf and horrific, heart-breaking details emerge. Broken-down parents cut their family vacation short after walking in on their sexually-repressed son in the middle of a cringe-inducing act. A teen girl who disappears from the diner she works at isn’t as innocent as her xenophobic town first thinks. A lonely housewife has stars in her eyes when she takes part in a sitcom focus group, only to find out she’s been duped.

With a structure like Richard Linklater’s Slacker and the temperament of Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World, each story of bored, angst-filled teens and desperate adults features at least one character from one of the other stories, and yet each is its own separate tale. I was completely taken in, thinking at times that I was right there sharing the same stifled air as these folks, and now they exist in my mind as memories, rather than pieces of a graphic narrative.

Beverly by Nick Drnaso Drawn & Quarterly 2016, 136 pages, 7.5 x 9.5 x 0.4 inches (softcover) $17 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

Charlie Jane Anders's All the Birds in the Sky: smartass, soulful novel

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All the Birds in the Sky is everything you could ask for in a debut novel -- a fresh look at science fiction's most cherished memes, ruthlessly shredded and lovingly reassembled.

Negative Publicity: a book of paraphernalia from state kidnappings

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Crofton Black is a British counterterrorism investigator who has spent years tracking down the detritus of extraordinary rendition -- a polite euphemism for the government practice of snatching people, flying them to a distant country, and torturing them. Read the rest

Starve: the best, meanest new graphic novel debut since Transmetropolitan

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The launch of Starve, the new comic from Brian Wood, creator of the landmark DMZ and artists Danijel Žeželj and Dave Stewart, was widely celebrated as a major new comic that started as strong as Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan.

Hell's Super, a novel by Mark Cain

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In Hell's Super, Steve is hell's superintendent. Working with his assistant, the damned Orson Welles, there is an unending list of problems to be solved, but nothing can ever be fixed! It is Hell, after all!

Existence is pretty humdrum until Flo comes to the underworld. Flo is a force of good, who comes to hell to help ease the suffering. Something is certainly kindling between them, can there be love in Hell?

Can Steve use duct tape to hold everything together, including his love life?

Hell's Super (Circles In Hell Book 1) by Mark Cain via Amazon (free via Kindle Unlimited) Read the rest

She of the Mountains: a Canadian youth’s search for social and sexual identity

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The body is a tangle of sensations. It’s both a source of pleasure and a confusing amalgamation of parts that don’t quite seem to function in concert. Teeming with desires and repulsions, the physical self forms the centerpiece of She of the Mountains. The protagonist is unnamed in this slender, poetry-drenched novella by award-winning author Vivek Shraya. He’s keenly aware of his brown body in the sometimes hostile, sometimes indifferent world of Edmonton, Alberta, as he tries to discover what it means to be gay, then falls in love with a woman, and finally begins to establish a life for himself that feels honest.

A Canadian youth’s search for social and sexual identity would be fascinating enough in Shraya’s thoughtful hands, but by braiding his tale with a personalized vision of Hindu mythology, he casts it into timeless territory. The goddess Parvati describes herself as “the mother of the universe. … I am life itself, the spark that makes a heart pump, that keeps a tree alive for centuries, green and reaching.” But she isn’t immune to sorrow; a terrible error causes her beloved consort Shiv — Destruction himself — to decapitate her newly born son Ganesh in a fit of rage. Only the substitution of an elephant’s head for Ganesh’s own lets him escape death. In her own lyrical, searching words, Parvati describes her evolving love for Ganesh and Shiv, the wisdom that comes to her through incarnation in a mortal body, and even her newfound empathy for Kali’s destructive powers. Read the rest

Best older kid's literature from 1966

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a true-blue fan of intermediate-reader adventures published during the Sixties (1964–73). Attribute this, if you will, to the fact that these books were popular when I was an impressionable adolescent in the late 1970s. The fact remains, the Sixties were a cornucopia producing a flood of extraordinary titles: Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles series, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Sure, I dig older kids’ lit from other eras, too. But nothing compares.

In anticipation of their 50th anniversaries, this year, here’s my list of the Best Older Kid’s Lit of 1966. Please let me know which favorite titles of yours I’ve overlooked!

OLDER KIDS’ LIT on HILOBROW: Best of 1963 | Best of 1964 | Best of 1965 | Best of 1966 | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince (serialized) | YA Sci-Fi | ALSO SEE: Best 1966 Adventures (for Grownups).

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In no particular order…

René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s bande dessinée Asterix adventure Asterix the Legionary. The tenth Asterix story is a particular favorite of mine — because it is a sardonic inversion of one of my favorite sub-genres of adventure: the all-for-one, one-for-all argonautica. In order to rescue a Gaul who has been conscripted into the Roman army and shipped to North Africa, where Julius Caesar was battling Metellus Scipio, Asterix and Obelix enlist in the army themselves. Read the rest

Drawn in Stereo captures the art of noise

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

In my other life as a board member of The Rock Poster Society, the phrase “rock art” just about always equals “rock posters.” For Michael Gillette, though, whose beautiful Drawn in Stereo was published last fall by AMMO Books, rock art encompasses a whole lot more than concert advertisements. Oh sure, Gillette has designed his share of rock posters for bands like Saint Etienne, Colorama, and MGMT, but he’s also created animations for the Beastie Boys and My Morning Jacket, as well as portraits of musicians as diverse as Paul McCartney, Madonna, Jay-Z, and Pink for music magazines and websites like Spin, Mojo, and The Fader. Beyond the music world, his work has even appeared in the hallowed pages of The New Yorker and Esquire (every illustrator’s dream), and he’s been hired by such marquee clients as Levi’s, Nokia, and Sony, for whom he created the cover art for the vinyl version of the “American Hustle” soundtrack.

Drawn in Stereo delivers all of this prodigious output in a straightforward, unhurried manner, not unlike the artist’s work. Or so I thought until I read an anecdote in the book’s interview with Elastica’s former lead singer, Justine Frischmann. In that casual conversation between two friends, Gillette admits to having started and finished some of his deadline-driven assignments in only a day, a trick that requires finishing a wet acrylic-on-paper illustration with a hair dryer before delivering it to “a courier at the door.”

That interview, as well as the organization of the images in the book, loosely tracks Gillette’s journey from England to California, where he now lives with his wife and their two daughters, but the lack of linearity is a plus. Read the rest

Transreal Cyberpunk! Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling's book of annotated, seminal cyberpunk fiction

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Rudy Rucker writes, "Rudy Rucker & Bruce Sterling's collection of nine jointly written stories is out in ebook and paperback: Transreal Cyberpunk!" Read the rest

The Explorers Guild graphic novel - "Rudyard Kipling meets Indiana Jones"

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The Explorers Guild: Volume One: A Passage to Shambhala is a throwback to the golden age of adventure stories. It’s one part pulp novel and one part graphic novel, brought to cinematic life by Hollywood director Kevin Costner. I first heard about The Explorers Guild on an episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast. Costner described it as a book that could stand the test of time. "I like the idea of taking something off the shelf that has the heft of this [book] and actually having to blow the dust off it”.

I was immediately hooked.

The story is set during World War I and revolves around the Guild’s quest to find the mythological holy Buddhist city of Shambhala, a search that will take them from one side of the globe to the other, and unveil an incredible secret. The story is Rudyard Kipling meets Indiana Jones. It’s good fun.

The old timey language took me a while to get used to, but after a few chapters the style and voice really enriched the story and made it feel even more like an adventure from another time. The plot meanders a bit, like an old black-and-white Saturday matinee movie, always begging you to turn the page to find out just one more secret, but I found that perfect for this kind of story. If you enjoy plunging into mysterious, sprawling worlds you will probably like it too. I enjoyed returning to it again and again each night as I read. Read the rest

The Singing Bones delves into the strange, dark and downright creepy world of fairy tales

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Perth-born Shaun Tan is well known in Australia as an artist and storyteller. His unique world view is shared with readers through surreal and challenging images that he creates to tell provocative stories. The Singing Bones is Tan’s most recent publication, delving into the strange, dark and sometimes downright creepy world of fairy tales - a perfect match for his talents!

With a forward by Philip Pullman and a fascinating introduction by fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, this is no children’s book. Rather than sharing a technicolor world of Disney-fied princesses and castles, Tan has created simple clay sculptures, photos of which accompany brief excerpts of seventy-five of the Grimm brothers’ tales. The sculptures reflect an uncanny weirdness that complements the subject matter. At one point, as my eyes followed the text while reading, my peripheral vision was tricked into seeing fleeting movement, as the overhead light reflected off the page. I was not surprised at all, fully expecting to see the figures in a different position to that which they originally were. Such is the fiendish reading experience of this book – perhaps one saved for daylight hours!

Many of Grimms’ fairy tales are not well known – characters such as Gambling Hans, Hans my Hedgehog and Mother Holle rub shoulders with more famous heroes and heroines such as Cinderella, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel. Whether renowned or not, the sculptures Tan has formed include enough detail to capture the spirit of each story, but are featureless enough to allow the imagination to fill every gruesome detail. Read the rest

Help your kids learn to code with "The Official ScratchJr Book"

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ScratchJr is a simple, free, tablet based programming language kids can use to make simple games and animations. The Official ScratchJr Book has been a great guide for my daughter and I.

I first heard about Scratch, when one of our attendees gave a brief show-and-tell on it at Boing Boing's Weekend of Wonder. It sounded pretty accessible. It came to mind again when recently, in an attempt to get my daughter to use the iPad for more than watching Bratayley, I decided to try and interest her in creating something. She loves art, but Minecraft was far too confusing for her and I was looking for another kid-friendly programming option. ScratchJr is a tablet based, even simpler version of Scratch, installing was as easy as any other app.

The Official ScratchJr Book does a great job, with friendly illustrations, of walking us through the basics. My daughter prefers the painting and drawing of characters, and backgrounds, to the organization of blocks, but the book did a great job of walking us through it all. Having gone through the book together, once, she can now refer to it one her own, if she runs into a problem. Generally, her problem is me grabbing the tablet and adding things.

I am not going to tell you we've made high art, but I think I could throw together a decent 1980's King's Quest parody.

The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code via Amazon Read the rest

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