Jen Wang's "The Prince and the Dressmaker": a genderqueer graphic novel that will move and dazzle you

I love Jen Wang's work: her debut graphic novel Koko Be Good was thought-provoking and challenging and beautiful; "In Real Life," her adaptation of my story Anda's Game took the tale to places that delighted and surprised me -- today, Firstsecond publishes The Prince and the Dressmaker, which I believe will be her breakout graphic novel.

Charles Stross's "Dark State": transdimensional, nuclear-tipped mutually assured destruction by way of a first-rate spy novel

Dark State is the sequel to Empire Games, a reboot/latter phase of Charles Stross's longrunning, excellent economic science fiction/high fantasy Merchant Princes series.

All's Faire in Middle School, a wonderful graphic novel about misfits, middle school and the middle ages

In 2016, Victoria Jamieson won the prestigious Newberry Honor Award for Roller Girl, a beautiful, moving, hilarious middle-grades graphic novel about friendship, girlhood and roller-derby; her 2017 followup All's Faire in Middle School will delight everyone who loved Roller Girl with a tale of Ren Faire, misfits, forgiveness and resilience.

Automating Inequality: using algorithms to create a modern "digital poor-house"

Weeks before the publication of Virginia Eubanks's new book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, knowledgeable friends were already urging me to read it, which was a no-brainer, having followed Eubanks's work for years.

Starlings: razor-sharp stories and poems from Jo Walton

Stephen King once wrote that "a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger" -- that is, sudden, pleasant, mysterious, dangerous and exiting, and the collected short fiction of Jo Walton, contained between covers in the newly published Starlings, is exemplary of the principle. Walton, after all, is one of science fiction's major talents, and despite her protests that she "doesn't really know how to write stories," all the evidence is to the contrary.

Soonish: exciting technologies on the horizon, with excitement-preserving nuance

Kelly and Zach Weinersmith's Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything is an exceptional science book: it concerns itself with ten(ish) coming technologies that hold enormous, potentially world-changing promise (and peril), and it delves into each of those subjects with admirable depth, including all the caveats and unknowns, and still keeps the excitement intact.

Review: Bright (2017)

The introductory sequence of Bright is enchanting: signs and street art in Los Angeles that describe a world where the races of historical high fantasy stuck around into the present day to become the mocked or honored subjects of political graffiti.

But once characters start talking, this geeky cool evaporates into a mediocre buddy-cop movie. The swirling fantasy tropes are a trash gyre on the seas of racial allegory.

Bright's contemporary LA is also anchored in the past, all sterotypical gang violence, decrepit public services and despotic crime lords. At the top of society are elves, whose fortified enclaves echo South African apartheid more than Jim Crow. At the bottom are orcs, an underclass repressed due to their former allegiance to a long-defeated Dark Lord.

In the middle is humankind, whose own internal racial consciousness and strata are supposedly absent or muted in the world of Bright—but whose humans constantly exhibit our world's racial conscioussness and strata.

When star Will Smith's character kills a verminous bat-like fairy, for example, he declares that "Fairy lives don't matter today." The "today" warps a quip into darker territory: it suggests that fairies are sentient enough for there to be a slogan opposing the moral insignificance of their lives and that he is sick of hearing about it. Smith apparently ad-libbed the line, and offers a similar one later, telling an Orc to get his "Shrek ass" out of the way.

Imagine the cultural signifiance of Shrek in the world of Bright! Read the rest

Liartown: the First Four Years, a tour-de-force of killer shooping and acerbic wit

Sean Tejaratchi's amazing Liartown, USA (previously) is a bottomless well of astoundingly good photoshops from a parallel universe of bitter, ha-ha-only-serious sight gags, minutely detailed, lovingly crafted and often NSFW; Tejaratchi's new 248-page color, 8.5"x11" anthology, LiarTown: The First Four Years 2013-2017 is a powerful dose of creepypasta in its purest form.

Lumberjanes 7: friendship, courtship, gender conformity, and kittehs!

Lumberjanes is the hilarious, sweet, exciting series of graphic novels created by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen and energized by a roster of brilliant collaborators. The latest collection, Lumberjanes Vol. 7: A Bird's-Eye View, is a delight to read, brought a tear to my eye, and features intergenerational conflict, giant mythological birds, some great genderbending, and a whole menagerie of superpowered, supernatural kittens.

I Can't Breathe: Matt Taibbi's scorching book on the murder of Eric Garner and the system that let the killers get away with it

Matt Taibbi is one of the best political writers working in the USA today, someone who can use the small, novelistic details of individuals' lives illuminate the vast, systemic problems that poison our lives and shame our honor; his 2014 book The Divide conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the impunity of corporate criminals and the kafkaesque injustices visited on the poor people they victimize; in I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, Taibbi narrows his focus to the police murder of Eric Garner, a Staten Island fixture and father, and the system that put murderers in uniform in his path.

Hamster Princess: charming, funny, subversive middle-grades illustrated fantasy about a totally ass-kicking hamster princess

When Princess Harriet Hamsterbone was born, her royal parents naturally didn't invite the evil fairy, and so of course the evil fairy cursed her to prick herself on a hamster wheel on her twelfth birthday and die; and of course the three good fairies softened the curse -- and that's where things get really funny in Ursula Vernon's 2015 middle-grades fantasy Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, the first in a wildly successful series.

Tim O'Reilly's WTF? A book that tells us how to keep the technology baby and throw out the Big Tech bathwater

Tim O'Reilly has his finger on the pulse of technology and the people who make it in a way that is unmatched by anyone in the world; the publisher of the world's best-loved computer books, the host of technology's best-loved conferences, the convenor of the most important conversations about tech and its people, O'Reilly is literally uniquely situated to understand the arc, trajectory, and possible destinations of technology and its impact on real people, which is what separates his breakout business book, WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, from rest of the field.

Review: Synology DS718+ Diskstation

Synology's DS718+ NAS DiskStation (Amazon) is $400 data storage box. For me, it replaces very two annoying things: a monthly subscription to Dropbox, and a drawerful of USB drives used to back up a houseful of computers.

But file syncing and backups are just two things a modern NAS can do.

In fact, the first thing you'll notice after setting it up is that it's really a fully-featured computer that happens to be set up with storage in mind. The web-based control panel replicates a desktop user environment, complete with windows, folders, icons and drop-down menus.

There are pros and cons to this. One one hand, you'll not only get rid of cloud subscriptions, recover your data privacy and have less gear lying around, but find yourself with a hundred other interesting applications to fool around with. Want a basic web-development box? There's one-click setups for Apache, nginx, common databases and popular platforms such as WordPress, Discourse and Node. Want to use it as a 4K media streaming box? Easy. Want a fancy-pants router? It has dual gigabit ethernet and can be set up as to provide DHCP or VPN. On the other hand, it's more complicated than the things it replaces. I just wanted to get out of the cloud and get rid of all these damned backup drives, but now I'm a sysadmin. (There are less fancy options such as WD's My Cloud devices, but they're almost as expensive (Amazon) when the cost of drives is factored in)

And I'll admit that I enjoyed experimenting with Synology's add-ons. Read the rest

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault: supers and the undead battle for the world's soul

It's been more than a decade since Canadian science fiction writer James Alan Gardner last published a novel; I've been reading and enjoying Gardner's work since I was a teenager, and my vote was one of those that counted towards his Aurora Award for the magnificent story "Muffin Explains Teleology to the World at Large." Now, after far too long, Gardner has come roaring back with a novel that mashes up hard sf, superheroes, and urban fantasy in a comedic combination that defies description (though I'm going to try to describe it): All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault.

The Wild Storm: Warren Ellis reboots DC's Wildstorm

Wildstorm started life as an independent, creator-owned comics universe of enormous verve and originality; following its acquisition by comics behemoth DC in 1998, it grew moribund, leading to its shuttering in 2010. Now it's back, in a revival helmed by Warren "Transmetropolitan" Ellis, who has reimagined the complex geopolitics of this paranoid superspy/shadow government/black ops world into a brutally fast-paced, dynamic tale that's full of real bad guys and ambiguous good guys who may or may not be trustworthy. The first six issues are collected in The Wild Storm Vol. 1, out this week.

Review: Filco Minila Air wireless mechanical keyboard

Filco's Minila Air ($130, Amazon) should be my perfect keyboard: mechanical, high-end, sturdily made, with reliable Bluetooth and a cunning compact layout. It's even smaller than tenkeyless, but still comes with a proper set of arrow keys. It does everything I want—and fits in the same bag as an iPad.

Thing is, though, I don't like it.

My big problem is that it's incredibly thick. Even with the supports flattened, the number row tops out almost two inches from the desk surface! You can always add a rest, but that obviates the keyboard's small dimensions and mobility. My hands are like aching angry spiders, rearing up on the wristbones.

Second, the unique layout has productivity in mind, not my plans to prettify it with fabulous keycaps. I just can't find a set that I like and which will fit. The supplied ones are perfectly decent, though.

Finally, most subjectively, the bulky casing also has some asymmetric greebling at the back. It's subtle, and it has its retro geometric charm, but is not my cup of injection-molded tea.

Were it not for the unexpected bulk of the case, I think I'd be satisfied with the Minila Air thanks to its obvious excellence in most other respects. Reliable wireless is especially rare among mechanical keyboards, for some reason, and models that have it tend to be either unnervingly cheap or annoyingly expensive. I'll be trying the Anne Pro ($90, Amazon) next, but I don't think I can live without my arrows.

Most of the above also applies to the wired version of the Minila ($120, Amazon) as it takes the same form. Read the rest

John Hodgman's Vacationland: a masterpiece of humor that means something

If you -- like me -- are a loyal listener to the Judge John Hodgman podcast, then you have a sense of what makes Hodgman a treasure: it's his combination of understated, low-key wit; his quick self-deprecation; and his deep compassion, which is what makes his comedic "fake internet courtoom" into more than a quick gag, turning it into reliable source of thought-provoking insight into how to be a better person. If that's your thing, then you will love his latest book, a memoir called Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, which isn't just funny... it's also sneaky as hell.

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