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I’m a big fan of the magical school trope. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was one of those life-defining books from high school through the end of college, and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians books came right in after as I was starting my career as a college administrator and writer. Sarah Gailey’s debut novel Magic for Liars is like a third part of that transition, and I blew through the book in just about a day. 

The story introduces us to Ivy Gamble, a woman who works as a private investigator, and who has a bit of a secret: her estranged twin sister is a brilliant magician. She’s hired by the headmaster of the Osthorne Academy of Young Mages in California, where her sister works. The two haven’t spoken in years, and when a teacher at the school is found dead in the library, they’re unexpectedly reunited. 

Gailey is the author of the American Hippo novellas, and while I loved the concept, I felt that they were a bit weak, character-wise (one of the downsides to Tor.com’s novella line: sometimes, a story is too slimmed down, and could have been a bit longer.) That isn’t a problem here. Gailey brilliantly sets up these two sisters, and Ivy is a phenomenal, bitter character who is pretty much burned out on everything, stemming back to some deep-seated family history that drove her and her sister apart. 

This book succeeds in two ways. First, it’s a fantastic mystery, and Gamble, an outsider to this magical community, is the perfect person to solve it, because she can approach it from that unknowledgeable angle, but who knows how perfectly messed up people are, and what sorts of bad decisions they can make. Secondly, it’s a great magical school entry. Hogwarts is delightfully twee, Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is realistically cynical, and the Osthorne Academy of Young Mages is… a typical high school. There’s plenty of details that show off that kids — even magical kids, will be immature, do stupid things, are egotistical, and crave attention. 

What really makes this book stand out is that it revolves around a couple of things that fantasy (and science fiction, for that matter), typically ignores: wOmEnS IsSuEs. I won’t spoil how this plays out, but it’s a mystery that comes down to teenage and family drama in ways that feels utterly realistic, and I’m guessing entirely relevant and relatable to any woman who picks up this book. Gailey also keeps the mystery entirely fresh throughout the entire read, throwing me off in a couple of places, and nailing the book with a fantastic (and frustratingly ambiguous) ending. She tells me that she’s not planning on a followup, which is also refreshing? There needs to be more standalone novels, although I would dearly love to see more of this particular world.  

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I finally finished Elizabeth Bear’s book Ancestral Night a while back, and it’s a really superb work of space opera, one that did a lot of interesting things. It’s set in a distant future where humanity is part of a larger, galactic civilization, and where everyone pretty much gets along. There’s no real big war that’s driving humanity against a plethora of alien civilizations: they’re coexisting as best they can. The novel follows a team of space salvage operators, Halmey Dz, her partner Connla Kurucz, and their AI, Singer. They’ve had a rough go of it in recent years, and they search space for lost wreckage, hoping to score it big. They end up finding a massive alien ship, and a terrible secret onboard, which puts them into the path of a band of space pirates, and galactic authorities. 

There’s a real retro feel to this book, but one with a nicely modernized set of sensibilities. Bear includes everything from commentary about the value of communities, includes plenty of LGBTQ characters, and muses on the nature of intelligence and nature vs. nurture, especially when it comes to augmentation and free will. Halmey comes from a particular cult that focuses on consensus decision-making, and was involved in a terrorist plot earlier in her life, and has been trying to pick up the pieces ever since. She’s constantly trying to find her place in the universe, and a good part of the book is how she’s re-learning who she is after a pretty traumatic past. She’s an excellent character, as are her two companions — especially Singer. 

While I loved all of the component parts of the book, there was one big flaw: there’s a lot going on and it feels really unfocused at points. Bear throws a lot of good stuff in there, and I’m not sure it always meshed. At one point, Hamley gets stuck on an alien ship with a pirate, and they spend a lot of time talking and going over her past. It’s interesting stuff, but it slowed the book down, and felt a little out of place — almost like it could have been the focus of another novel set in the same world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it isn’t poorly executed; it just feels as though the book could have been slimmed down just a tad. It took me a little longer than I would have expected, given the subject matter and story. Folks who liked Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series or James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series will love this one. 

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At the end of June and the beginning of July, I’ll be appearing with Cadwell Turnbull at a pair of bookstore events! Cadwell is releasing his debut novel, SELCNG Hiking shoes, Walking, Anti-Splashing, Anti-Skid, wear-Resistant Outdoor Sports Walking shoes-Style3-44, and he’s asked me to be the Q part of the Q&A for each event.

I recruited Cadwell for The Verge’s Better Worlds anthology, and his story, “Naot Glacier Scandinavian Men Clogs and Mules shoes” is a really fantastic read and listen, about a community-focused AI, and how people are working to cope with the upcoming hurricane season.

The Lesson is also set in the Caribbean, and is about what happens after an alien ship parks itself over the US Virgin Islands, and their violent responses when they’re personally messed with. I’m reading it now, and it’s a really interesting read. And I do have questions!

So, I’ll be asking him questions at the following events:

If you’re in the area, please come and say hello!

Also, for Vermonters: he’ll be appearing at Hunter Women's Refined Back Adjustable Studs Tall in Black on September 12th.

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While I’m writing a book about cosplay, I figured it was a good time to take a look at my own list of costume projects that have been in the works for a while. I’ve got a bunch of things that are in the works, above and beyond the costumes I already regularly use (Stormtrooper, First Order Stormtrooper, AOTC Clonetrooper, Shoretrooper). I’ve been meaning to take stock, to figure out what I need to do to clear off the to-do list.

Here’s what I’ve got, ranked in order of most complete to just shy of pipe dream.

First Order heavy trooper, The Force Awakens

This costume is actually done, wearable, and 501st approved, but there’s some additional things that I’m working on to flesh it out. I’m getting a friend to print me up an F-11D blaster for my First Order trooper, and I need to get a pistol for the thigh as well. I’ve got a couple of parts for a set of quadnocs that they carry around to use for troops where I can’t carry a blaster, and need to get the rest printed up. I also need to get the backpack painted — there’s some small details that I need to finish up on it, before I figure out how to get it attached to the costume itself. I saw someone at Celebration who had attached it to their equipment vest, and I might try and do something similar, rather than bolt it to the back of the suit, something I’ve been wanting to avoid.

212th Airborne Clone Trooper, Revenge of the Sith

I love this set of armor. It looks fantastic, and I really dig the orange-and-white color scheme, as well as all the gear that’s on it. I do like the 501st Legion clones from The Clone Wars, but the Nike Women's Wild Trail Running shoes is by far my favorite.

A couple of years ago, I picked up the armor for this trooper, in trade for another clone that I’d made for Megan that she wasn’t wearing. This is the costume that I’ve got that’s closest to being completed: it really only needs some minor adjustments to get it to sit right. I tried it on recently, and really just need a spare set of hands to help me figure a couple of things out.

Some of the minor things: I need to put some screw on micro-grenades on the left shoulder bell (they’re held on with glue, and have a tendency to pop off. The shoulder strap needs some Velcro, I need to trim out a bit of the knee pads so that the foam isn’t visible, and I need to do something with the Kama.

The biggest issue so far has been the shins, which I haven’t been able to wear at all until now, because of how the 501st Legion handles approvals. I’ve made a small fix to allow me to get them on, and I think that that’ll work eventually with some fiddling. It’s definitely a costume that’s going to require a dedicated wrangler to get dressed.

Shoretrooper Grunt or Captain, Rogue One

So, I liked the Shoretrooper well enough that I went out and bought another one when it was on sale, with the intention of building it for my wife. This one’s fully trimmed out, but it’s sort of been languishing for months, because she’s pregnant and won’t fit into it for at least this year. So, maybe I finish it? Maybe I sell it? Who knows?

Sam Bell, Moon

This was a fun costume to throw together, and it’s another comfortable, casual con one. This one has all the patches on it — I just need a bigger logo decal for the back of the jumpsuit (I think that’s an iron-on thing), and it’ll be 100% finished. I’ve ordered one of the yellow shirts (Wake Me Up When It’s Quitting Time!) to wear under it. I’ve been searching for the red had that he wears, but it’s not required. I should find a pair of cheap aviators to hold in a pocket or something. Maybe I can find a coffee mug with the logo on it as well.

Jack Cooper, Titanfall 2

This is sort of a casual thing that I haven’t gotten around to doing yet, but I have the main component already: Cooper’s helmet. I loved Titanfall 2, and particularly the look and feel of the pilots who drive the giant mechs around.

Helmets are usually the most distinctive part of a costume, and this one is one of those rare pieces of merch that’s out there. I picked it up on sale a couple of years ago, and it’s a really nice piece. I’ve also ordered a pair of gloves that should work for this.

After that, I need the rest, and need to do a lot of research. At the very least, I need a red jumpsuit, and a bunch of accessories. I think I can get away with regular combat boots, but I need a pad for the shoulder (which I can get printed), knee pads (which I can probably modify from existing ones), body armor (not sure how to make that yet), knee coverings (probably something to sew together and strap on), combat knife, ammo magazines, the jetpack (not sure how to do that just yet), and a gun or two (which can be printed up). So, a lot to do, but a lot of the parts are out there, provided I get some time with a 3D printer.

ODST, Halo ODST

I have a random ODST helmet that a friend made years ago, with the idea of putting together an ODST costume at some point. I honestly thought I’d gotten rid of it, but I’m starting to think that I might just go and do it. There are a ton of printing or foam options when it comes to armor, and it could be a fun one to do. First step will be to finish up the helmet and get that cleaned up — it has some soft details in place, but i think that’ll be okay once it gets painted up. Not a huge priority, but it might look cool on a mannequin.

Belter, The Expanse

I don’t have anything for this one yet, but it’s a pretty easy thing to put together: blue jumpsuit, a bunch of patches, boots, fake tattoos. Should be pretty easy to put together, and like the Sam Bell costume, it would make for a good one for walking around a convention. There’s a growing group of people doing these costumes as well, which is cool. I’ve also got a helmet that was the base for a belter spacesuit helmet, and I need to do a bit of printing to get all the parts for that together.

Update: ordered coveralls and patches. Should be easy to throw together once they arrive.

Martian Marine Armor, The Expanse

Okay, this is the most ambitious project I have on my plate, and it’s a particularly fun challenge, because i haven’t worked a whole lot with foam yet. I’ve really wanted to put together Bobbie’s armor from The Expanse, because it looks awesome, and because Bobbie is one of my favorite characters from the series.

I have a bunch of foam mats that can be used for it, and looking at the armor itself, the shapes aren’t all that complicated. I need to do up a body drawing to get the basic shapes of each piece of armor sketched out, then do some trial-and-error. There’s a lot there — shoulders, upper arms, forearms, chest, abs, back, thighs, knees, shins. It’s on par with a stormtrooper with piece count, and it’s a bit more complicated, although some bits look like they should be pretty easy, like the thighs, shoulders, upper arms, and knees.

Someone in one of the Expanse costuming groups has been modeling the helmet, which would make things a whole lot easier. People have already begun sourcing the undersuit, which is cool, and another big component to check off the list.

Other Stuff

I have a handful of other things that I’ve been working on. I’m working on a ChemRail rifle from the movie Elysium, which just got its first coat of black paint. That’ll need another coat, some detail work, like coloring in the lettering, and painting the magazine, and a couple of other things here and there. This one doesn’t go with a costume, but it’ll make a nice display piece when it’s finished. I’ve also got some pieces of a Han Solo blaster that I’ve started printing out, but my printed is out of commission right now, and also a little too small for what I need. Might need to outsource that, but it’s not exactly a huge priority.

I’ve also got a couple of round satellite dishes that I acquired years ago from a friend, with the thought of turning one into a Captain America shield. After watching Avengers: Endgame, I’m thinking that I might start that project up again (if I still have them), with the intention of putting together something to mount on a wall.

Somewhere in there, I need to make a costume for my son for Halloween. Spider-man is a favorite right now, but that could obviously change at some point.

Finally, after Celebration, I ran into a couple of people who were suited up as Blue Squadron pilots from Rogue One. Imperial Boots Frye Womens Amy Side Ghillie Boot (minus the helmet), and while it’s a bit pricey, it looks fantastic. I’m very tempted. Maybe I’ll sell off the unfinished Shoretrooper to fund this.

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I’m constantly on the hunt for new music to listen to, and in the past week, I’ve added a couple of new songs to what I call my “.Best New” playlist. It’s a playlist (the . at the beginning ensures that it’s at the top of my playlist column in iTunes) that I basically dump any new song I come across that I’ve been enjoying, and keep it around until I’ve heard it enough.

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First up is a new song from Josh Ritter, “Old Black Magic”. He just announced a new album called Fever Breaks, which is due out in April of this year. Ritter is one of those artists that will pretty much get me to drop anything and preorder. I’ve been a fan of his for over a decade now, and I’ve seen him a bunch of times in concert — he always puts on a great show.

This song is a good one of his, and it really highlights some of the progression I’ve seen him go through as an artist — he has a great Americana sound, going from melodic to folksy, to rock. This one’s definitely more on the rock end of the spectrum, and I really love the beat and drive that this one has. It really has me eagerly anticipating Fever Breaks.

The Mountain Goats are another band that I’ve been a fan of over the years, although I haven’t listened to them as closely as I have with Josh Ritter. I’ve always appreciated the nerdiness of The Mountain Goats, who have released songs about H.P. Lovecraft (“Lovecraft in Brooklyn”), vampires (“Liberty Men's Leather Handmade Tassel Loafer Slip On Dress shoes Black”) and some others. I interviewed their lead singer, John Darnielle, and we had a good conversation about American gothic literature. Sadly, the audio didn’t work out, and I’ve never published it.

Their next album looks like it’s going to be their nerdiest one yet: it’s a collaboration with Dungeons & Dragons called In League with Dragons. Darnielle described the album as “Dragon noir,” which sounds utterly perfect. Also instantly preordered.

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The final song is one from an album I’ve already preordered: Extra-Ordinary by Lost Leaders, who I discovered last fall while traveling to Toronto. This is the song that they teased on their campaign video for their upcoming album, Promises Promises, which is due out next month. I really love their sound, and this one really popped for me — the chorus is really great, and I’ve been listening to it non-stop for a week or so now.

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