Phoebe and her unicorn are back in Razzle Dazzle Unicorn!

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Since 2015, our family has been in love with Dana Simpson's Phoebe and Her Unicorn books, a kind of modern take on Calvin and Hobbes, only Calvin is an awesome little girl, Hobbes is a unicorn, and the parental figures can see and interact with the unicorn, but are not freaked out because she generates a SHIELD OF BORINGNESS. Now, the insanely prolific Simpson has released the fourth collection in the series: Razzle Dazzle Unicorn: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure.

Making Conversation: 59 lively and delightful essays from Teresa Nielsen Hayden

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It's been more than 20 years since the publication of Making Book, Teresa Nielsen Hayden's collection of essays, mostly drawn from the pre-online days of fanzines and letters columns; this year, in honor of Teresa's stint as Fan Guest of Honor at Midamericon II, the 74th World Science Fiction Convention, NESFA Press has published a second volume: Making Conversation, a collection of essays drawn from the online world on subjects as varied as moderation and trolling, cooking, hamster-rearing, fanfic, narcolepsy, the engineering marvels of the IBM Selectric, and more.

High bias found in Amazon reviews of low-cost or free samples

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Review Meta has published an in-depth analysis of 7 million Amazon reviews and found that "incentivized reviews," those with a disclaimer that the reviewer got the product free or discounted, skew substantially higher than non-incentivized reviews. Read the rest

Mighty Jack: a new series from Ben "Zita the Spacegirl" Hatke

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Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl trilogy was one of the best kids' comics of the new century (and it's headed to TV!), and he's been very productive in the years since, but his new series, Mighty Jack feels like the true successor to Zita: a meaty volume one that promises and delivers all the buckle you can shake a swash at, with more to come.

Mysteries Revealed and The Curios Exposed

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The Mysterious Package Company’s (previously) audience is bifurcated into two groups which seem to overlap only slightly. The first group buys one or more of the six (soon to be seven) “experiences” and sends it either to themselves, or more likely to an unsuspecting victim … and then waits for the fun or horror to start. The second group subscribes to a quarterly newspaper called Curios & Conundrums (more about that in a moment). If an experience is sent to yourself, it’s a collectible rather than a mystery; but if sent to someone who has no clue what it is or what’s coming next, then it becomes the unexpected and thus unsettling occurrence the folks at the Mysterious Package Company have in mind. Here is their video for “The Century B*e*a*s*t,” their first Kickstarter project sold last summer.

In the end, "The Century B*e*a*s*t" seemed too scattered and drawn out, with 10 mailings sent out over almost a year. The older experiences are more compact with fewer mailings, a lower price, and have more impact. If you’ve never done anything like this before, and wish more immediate satisfaction, I would become a member of the Mysterious Package Company and send either “R*i*s*e*n” or “The K*i*n*g in Yellow” to yourself or a friend—they will begin shipping with 30 days of your order and are both creepy.

Costing only $99 is the least expensive experience which consists of a single mailing, “The W*e*e*p*i*n*g Book,” which is genuinely dark stuff and prompted at least one terrified recipient to call the police. Read the rest

More Mysterious, In Which We Slide into a Dark Place and See Yellow

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SPOILERS BELOW: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. (previously) Read the rest

Starve #2: Brian Wood lands the tale in a screaming dive and a perfect touchdown

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Brian Wood's Starve, Volume One (collecting issues 1-5) was the best, meanest new graphic novel debut since Transmetropolitan; now, with Starve, Volume Two (issues 6-10), Wood brings the story in for a conclusion that is triumphant and wicked and eminently satisfying, without being pat.

The 13 Clocks: Grimm's Fairytales meet The Phantom Tollbooth

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I discovered The 13 Clocks by reading Neil Gaiman's introduction to the 2008 New York Review of Books edition (which I found in The View from the Cheap Seats, a massive collection of Gaiman's nonfiction), where he calls it "Probably the best book in the world" -- how could I resist?

Neil Gaiman's nonfiction: what makes everything so great

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The View from the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman's mammoth collection of nonfiction essays, introductions, and speeches, is a remarkable explanatory volume in which Gaiman explains not just why he loves the things he loves, but also what makes them great.

Review: Dasani Sparkling Bread Mold water

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As a longtime fan of sparkling, zero-carb flavored water beverages, I thought I'd check out the new offerings from Dasani, whose own unsweetened slim-can drinks come in a range of popular flavors—and a lighter price tag than Perrier and La Croix.

I decided to try Dasani's Sparkling Bread Mold flavor first, and I must say that I'm delighted with the results.

Floral, moldy and yet delicately balanced, it only hints at a full taste of unseen mycobiomes, with crisp fungal notes hitting the nose moreso than the tongue. These mildew whispers gather to a full-throated sporal experience as the flavor settles in.

If at first it seems a slow way to acquire a taste for gulping clumps of algae in polluted lakes, or standing rainwater from brownfield reclamation sites, remember that the key to these fashionable sparkling waters is subtlety, a careful naturalism that's hard to crack without the crutches of sugar or lead-acid battery slime.

Complex notes of penicillin and petrichor are augmented by tertiary aromas of flower petals and basement dust, leading to a satisfying, sustained mildew finish.

All in all, I can't recommend Dasani Sparkling Bread Mold water enough, especially to fans of organic matter that has putrefied then dried out to leave only a vaguely acrid scent of death.

Garnish with an old crouton and enjoy over ice on an oppressively humid day, in a swamp-cooled shed with wet carpet.

Note: Oddly, the cans I tested were subject to a misprint whereby each was stamped "Raspberry Lemonade" instead of "Bread Mold." This had no effect on the flavor whatsoever. Read the rest

Nightwork: the extraordinary, exuberant history of rulebreaking at MIT

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MIT has a complicated relationship with disobedience. On the one hand, the university has spent more than a century cultivating and celebrating a "hacker culture" that involves huge, ambitious, thoughtful and delightful pranks undertaken with the tacit approval of the university. On the other hand -- well, on the other hand: Star Simpson, Bunnie Huang, and Aaron Swartz. In Nightwork, first published in 2003 and updated in 2011, MIT Historian T. F. Peterson explores this contradictory relationship and celebrates the very best, while suggesting a path for getting rid of the very worst.

The new Lumberjanes book is sweet and badass, with a hell of a monster

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Books one and two of Lumberjanes introduced us to the characters and setting of the awesome, women-run, girl-positive comics: the girls of Roanoke cabin at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types are Lumberjanes, being trained in the badass arts. Book three -- collecting comics from a kind of victory lap of the title after its amazing success -- turned the series' reins over to some of the best writers and illustrators in comics-dom for a series of vignettes. Now, with Out of Time, the fourth book, the original creative team are back at the helm, telling a long-form story that illuminates the Lumberjane backstory and introduces one of the best, scariest monsters of cryptozoologica.

Sex Criminals Volume Three: in which a dirty caper story becomes something much, much more

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The first two volumes of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals were a dirty romp: a pair of lovers who discover that they can stop time at the moment of orgasm start robbing banks to save a local library from demolition, and run into a posse of other time-stopping fuckers who are set against them. But in volume three, Three the Hard Way, the story transcends the sex and the jokes to take a hard, wet look at what humans do when we do sex.

Review: Keto chocolate chip cookies

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I lost about 40 pounds on a keto diet, that being the near-total abnegation of carbs. It worked, for me, but the strict mandate means my foodlife is mostly salads, nuts and meat. Tough going! The popularity of the diet, and others similar to it (paleo, Atkins, etc), has created a market for carbless snacks that nonetheless resemble carbtastic snacks. Such as "keto cookies," a new product from ketokookies.com that they're kickstarting. Read the rest

Jughead: Zdarsky's reboot is funny, fannish, and freaky

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For the past couple years, the "new, hipster" Archie has been pushing the envelope on what can be done within the confines of an old, beloved (and outdated) media brand: there was Kevin Keller, a gay character; Jughead coming out as asexual; a seriously scary zombie story; Sharknado spinoffs; a breast cancer storyline; even a guest appearance by Jaime "Love and Rockets" Hernandez: but Chip "Sex Criminals" Zdarsky's run on Jughead, illustrated by Erica Henderson and just collected in a trade paperback shows just how much fun the new normal of Archie can be!

William Gibson's Archangel: intricate military sf, mercilessly optimized for comics

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Archangel is a five-part science fiction comic written by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith and illustrated by Butch Guice; Issue #1 came out last month and sold out immediately, and IDW has only just got its second printing into stores this week, just ahead of the ship-date for #2, which is due next Wednesday. Read the rest

Shrill: Lindy West's amazing, laugh-aloud memoir about fatness, abortion, trolls and rape-jokes

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Lindy West is one of those web-writers who's done consistently great work over the years, whether it's talking about boobs or talking about trolls, and so I expected to like her memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, but I didn't expect to find myself laughing aloud over and over, nor did I expect to end up crying -- and having done both in great measure, now I can't get that most excellent book out of my head.

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