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book review: machine moon (descender vol. 2)

I like space operas. They are a very comfortable kind of fiction for me. Assembled families in space ships going around and having adventures is all I really want in life and is actually one of the things I’m saddest will never be a real thing I can do. Since I’ll never get to live in a spaceship I make do with making this kind of thing my favourite kind of RPG scenario and read comics that follow the path.

Dustin Nguyen and Jeff Lemire’s Descender is one of those stories. The main character is a companion robot who is the key to robot evolution and was missed when the majority of robots were exterminated after turning on humanity.

Machine Moon is the second volume in the series and it remains pretty good. Nguyen’s watercoloury art makes it feel more serious than it might otherwise. The dialogue is good and I like the characters and the big problems they’re facing. The main problem is just one of serialization; I’d like to read the whole story in one go but can’t.

This isn’t better than Saga, but I like it.

And I haven’t ever written about Saga on here? What? We talked a bit about it in an old episode of Librarians on the Radio if you’re interested.

bc library conference recap

I spent Friday and Saturday at the BC Library Association conference at a hotel in Richmond, which was kind of a shame because the weather’s been beautiful, but worked out all right since the sessions were interesting.

On Friday I attended a session on Vancouver Public Library’s First Nations Storyteller in Residence program (which won an award on Saturday – the program not the session). This one was interesting as a case-study of how a community-led library program gets developed in collaboration with the communities it’s serving. Originally it was going to be a simple port of the Writer in Residence program but it turned out that what worked for one actually needed significant revamping through lots of question asking and changing behaviour based on the answers.

I also attended a 12 Lightning Talks on Open Access, which was pretty good. The most interesting thing I got out of it was the idea that public libraries could be doing more things with Massive Online Open Courses (like Udacity and others). Then in the afternoon I went to a panel on LGBTQ YA literature which was interesting, especially since it had a couple of authors and an Orca editor on the panel (along with Rob Bittner, organizer of UBC’s Children’s Literature Conference from a couple of weeks ago).

Then I was on the “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List” panel, which had a pile of librarians talking about indie/hard-to-find/frequently-challenged books for 90 seconds a pop. There were books about Dead White Europeans, miniature painting, combining sex & drugs, dropping out of school, butt-plug art, and roleplaying games. Guess which of those was mine.

Saturday I had less freedom in my panels because I was convening a couple of sessions. (Pro tip: if you want to go to BCLA for free, convene rather than volunteer. We got a way sweeter deal than the people working registration desk.) I went to the BCLA AGM, and then convened a session on in-class feedback tools, such as paper-response, clickers and PollEverywhere, which allows for texting in answers that get embedded live into websites. Very cool stuff.

In the afternoon the session I convened was Phil Hall’s talk on Libraries finding a Plan B once the future arrives and the current model of “Libraries are places with information resources” is ruined. He had a lot of interesting things to say about technology trends and the takeaways were that we have to be thinking about this and adapting to it, without being scared that libraries will be gone in our lifetimes.

Finally, Ingrid Parent and Michael Geist gave closing keynotes. Michael Geist talked about copyright and the internet, and how SOPA in the States was stopped and what bill C-11 was like up here in Canada. It was a really good talk.

By the end of the two days my brain was fried and I had to spend the last two days reading X-Men comics to recuperate. I had a good time though. I met some librarians I didn’t know and had a whole bunch more see me booktalk for a crowd (and got some compliments on my performance, which is always nice). Who knows if I’ll be in Vancouver next year, but if I am I’ll go again.

stranger in a strange land children’s literature conference recap

I hadn’t been on an organizing committee before last year, when I joined up to be the Website Coordinator for the Stranger in a Strange Land Children’s Literature Conference. It was kind of a funny situation, since I was in Australia when I signed up, but being the web person meant I could do all my work remotely anyway. I set up the website, found us a Creative Commons licensed graphic to use, got the web registration forms set up to work with the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable PayPal account, and generally made things accessible to the internet. It worked pretty well. I also did some techy stuff at the conference, helping to make sure people’s presentations worked okay.

On a more personal note, at the conference I presented my first paper. It’s called Unreliable Instructions and I made the slides for my presentation public. We only had fifteen minutes to present our work, so I had to bail out before I reached the “librarians have to change the world!” bits, but it went okay. I tend to have more passion than clarity when I’m presenting something to people, especially if there’s a time limit and I’m not being asked questions. I need to know what the audience gets and what they’re confused by so I don’t waste words explaining what everyone knows. Nobody asked any questions in the session, since my critical literacy stuff ended up being much less practical or theoretical than the other presenters. I was primarily talking about stories by China Mieville and Terry Pratchett and how they encourage critical literacy.

My favourite part of the conference was actually afterwards talking about YA books with one of the Creative Writing presenters. We talked about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Ship Breaker and man, reader advisory is my favourite thing in the world.

Happily, I get to use that love next week at the BCLA conference, where I’ll be on the “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List” panel. We’ll be talking about books that don’t get much attention from libraries. That’s restricted to 90 seconds per book, which suits my presentation style quite well. I’ll be presenting indie comics and games, because that’s the kind of thing I do. It should be fun and it’s cool that Shirley thought of me for it.

story-gaming in libraries full bibliography

For my class on Services for Young Adults I wrote a Topic Briefing on Story-Focused Games in libraries. I ended up not using everything I’d read, because it’s only a five page paper. Here’s the full bibliography. There are a bunch of videogame related articles I skimmed in the course of research, but they don’t show up here. Also, some of the books of essays had other essays I read, but didn’t come close to using so they aren’t in here (but the book as a whole might be). My favourite resources in the bibliography are bolded.

  • Cover, J. G. (2010). The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
  • Falk, J., & Davenport, G. (2004). Live role-playing games: Implications for pervasive gaming. International Federation for Information Processing, 127–138.
  • Farmer, L. S. J. (2011). How school libraries can provide gender equity in e-gaming. Knowledge Quest, 40(1), 16–17.
  • Fernández Vara, C. (2009). The tribulations of adventure games : integrating story into simulation through performance. Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • Fine, G. A. (1983). Shared fantasy: role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=Kx6UQgAACAAJ
  • Gallaway, B. (2009). Game on!: gaming at the library. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=0d7QAQAACAAJ
  • Grabianowski, E. (2012). why is the 5th edition of dungeons & dragons a big deal? io9.com. Retrieved from http://io9.com/5874922/why-is-the-5th-edition-of-dungeons–dragons-a-big-deal
  • Gray, J., Sandvoss, C., & Harrington, C. L. (2007). Introduction: Why Study Fans? In J. Gray, C. Sandvoss, & C. L. Harrington (Eds.), Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World (pp. 1–16). New York: New York University Press.
  • Harris, C., & Kirk, T. (2011). It’s All Fun and Games in the Library. Knowledge Quest, 40(1), 8–9.
  • Harris, M. (2012). Future of reading? “Active fiction” lets readers make the call. Canada.com. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/news/Future+reading+Active+fiction+lets+readers+make+call/6038524/story.html
  • Hoenke, J. (2011). Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game. Justin The Librarian. Retrieved from http://justinthelibrarian.wordpress.com/category/libraries/game-on-envisioning-your-own-video-game/
  • Joseph, B. (2008). Why Johnny Can’t Fly: Treating Games as a Form of Youth Media Within a Youth Development Framework. In K. Salen (Ed.), The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 253–265). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Mackay, D. (2001). The fantasy role-playing game: a new performing art. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=s8YRVbDknyUC
  • McGonigal, J. (2008). Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming. In K. Salen (Ed.), The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 199–227). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Nicholson, S. (2007). Go Back to Start: Gathering Baseline Data about Gaming in Libraries. Because Play Matters. Retrieved from http://librarygamelab.org/backtostart.pdf
  • Nicholson, S. (2008a). Finish your games so you can start your schoolwork: A look at gaming in school libraries. Library Media Connection, 26(5), 52–55.
  • Nicholson, S. (2008b). Modern board games: It’s not a Monopoly any more. Library Technology Reports, 44(3), 8–10, 38–39.
  • Nicholson, S. (2008c). Reframing Gaming – Clearing up misconceptions about this increasingly popular activity. American Libraries, (7), 50–51.
  • Nicholson, S. (2009). Library gaming census report. American Libraries, 40(1/2), 44.
  • Nicholson, S. (2012). Crossed Paths: An Improvisational Storytelling Game. Because Play Matters. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/crossedpaths
  • Salen, K. (Ed.). (2008). The ecology of games: connecting youth, games, and learning. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=OSPQ196R3kMC
  • Sullivan, A., Mateas, M., & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2010). Rules of engagement: moving beyond combat-based quests. Proceedings of the Intelligent Narrative Technologies III Workshop (p. 11). ACM. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1822320
  • Wallis, J. (2007). Making Games That Make Stories. In P. Harrigan & N. Wardrip-Fruin (Eds.), Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media (pp. 69–80). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Wardrip-Fruin, N., & Harrigan, P. (Eds.). (2007). Second person: role-playing and story in games and playable media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=P20NAQAAMAAJ
  • Wark, M. K. (2007). Gamer theory. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=peytfo3E-IIC
  • White, M. M. (2008). Level 10 Human Student: The Effects of Non-Curricular Role-Playing Game Use on Academic Achievement and Self-Efficacy. Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved from http://gradworks.umi.com/MR/69/MR69308.html
  • Williams, J P, Hendricks, S. Q., & Winkler, W. K. (Eds.). (2006). Gaming as culture: essays on reality, identity and experience in fantasy games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=i7UBWz6LBK4C
  • Williams, J Patrick, Hendricks, S. Q., & Winkler, W. K. (2006). Introduction: Fantasy Games, Gaming Cultures, and Social Life. In J P Williams, S. Q. Hendricks, & W. K. Winkler (Eds.), Gaming As Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games (pp. 1–18). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=i7UBWz6LBK4C

book review: through a glass, darkly

Dennis Detwiller’s Through a Glass, Darkly is a Delta Green novel. Delta Green is a setting for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game in which you play government agents working as part of a shadowy conspiracy to fight the monsters from beyond space and time that threaten the world. Delta Green has a very 1990s feel to it, with its government collaborations with the little grey men and all of that (though it did originally predate the X-Files).

Through a Glass, Darkly is a novel set in the beginning of 2001 and follows an operation that has huge repercussions for the organizations involved. A couple of scientists have made a technological breakthrough that causes weird shit to happen and gives one of them godlike powers. Two Delta Green agents try to figure out what’s going on. Lots of stuff gets blown up.

Now, the thing that’s weird about a book like this is how it’s part of a game setting. In the Delta Green sourcebooks there’s a lot of information on a bunch of characters and organizations. If you’re reading this novel I guess it’s assumed that you’re familiar with everything from those sourcebooks, because there’s really not a lot to help you out in the text itself. I haven’t gone through the sourcebooks very carefully in quite a few years and I couldn’t remember what I knew from them and what might have come from some of the other short stories, or John Tynes’ novel or what.

I liked the book even though I feel like I was missing some crucial information. The BLUEFLY raid was great and horrific. Eddie Edwards was an excellently drawn character. There were a lot of good scenes. But if you aren’t already a Delta Green fan, I’d really recommend finding a copy of Alien Intelligences instead. It’s definitely a better introduction to the setting.

book review: zombies of the world

Zombies of the World: A Field Guide to the Undead is Ross Payton’s “non-fiction” book about how to deal with the zombie menace facing the world. It’s an enjoyable read.

Payton is a roleplaying gamer (he wrote a couple of supplements for Monsters and Other Childish Things, an Arc Dream game I really like) and it shows. There are lots of good hooks for stories in these pages along with an evident sense of humour. There are several references to types of zombies that have a distinctive style of dress, and how strange it is that part of that zombie species’ characteristics is the ability to find such odd vestments. There are also a few references to Temporally Displaced Robots who caused the Aztec mummies to go extinct.

The book is filled with full colour illustrations in a clean comic-book style. Evidently there were a bunch of artists, but the pictures work very well together. I also really liked the advertising pamphlets from the North American Necrological Research Institute, who are out to understand the zombies of the world and communicate with them.

The writing style is clear and conversational, never dry. There might be a few too many winks to the reader (including the whole idea of the dancing zombie, which I do love) to really take it seriously as a fake reference book. You could completely use it in a contemporary roleplaying game as the work of a crank that turns out to be useful.

One of my favourite things about the book is how it describes a world in which zombies are a menace but haven’t driven humanity to an apocalypse. It’s very hopeful. There are people who are concerned about preserving them as a species (and not solely because they’re the source of almost unlimited energy, if the secret could be cracked).

It’s not quite as “practical” as something like Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide but I really enjoyed Payton’s book and would recommend it to fans of zombies in general, but especially if they’re gamers looking for a good undead-centric setting book.

Note: I received a free review copy of the book from the author.

book review: kraken

I loved the fuck out of this book. Kraken is China Mieville’s second book to come out in the last year. It’s a lot fatter than The City & The City but more straightforward. Basically there’s a giant squid preserved at the Darwin Centre in London. And then it disappears. We follow a bunch of characters (primarily the curator who discovered the missing squid) who’re trying to find out where it went and why and how. There are occult cops, and apocalyptic squid-cults, and people learning about the weirdness in London through internet forums. There’s a crime boss who is known as Tattoo because he was magically imprisoned on some guy’s back as a tattoo. This crime boss has a workshop where he does experiments on people and changes them into living radios and bipeds with fists for hands (and dicks). There are Londonmancers and djinn, and the Sea has an embassy for those in the know. Super fucking cool book.

It was slightly less “spin in a completely new direction at each turn” than Iron Council (which is my favourite Mieville) and not as much of a mindfuck as The City & The City (tied for favourite), but yes, great stuff.

If you like it, and play roleplaying games, check out Unknown Armies from Atlas Games. It’s a game that does a lot of similar things with a bit more structure to make it gamable.