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Stack Overflow: Winter Wrap-Up

Books Columns Comic Books Entertainment Reviews Stack Overflow Videogames

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After more than a few false starts, it finally seems as if spring has at last sprung here in the Deep South. Hell, judging purely from the amount of pollen on my car and cat hair on my sofa, it’s been mostly spring-like for the last several weeks, but the weather itself finally seems to have noticed and begun acting in kind.

It was a long, cold winter–by our admittedly subjective standards–with ample time spent indoors. The silver lining, of course, is that it afforded my family ample time to indulge our love of reading.

So what books helped us through that season of ice and snow and a 5 o’clock dusk? I’m glad you asked.

Minecraft Blockopedia by Alex Wiltshire

My kids, like most, are crazy for Minecraft, and this delightfully hexagonal coffee table tome from Scholastic stands out as a wonderfully useful and gorgeously produced resource. Across its 300+ pages, the Blockopedia breaks down the world of Minecraft into its base components–all 112 blocks of it. From where to find them and their material properties to crafting advice and trivia, it provides everything a seasoned player needs to know and more. Like any proper piece of arcane reference material, it comes with its own ribbon-style bookmark, and a more standard-shaped rectangular outer box ensures it fits properly in your bookcase.

Marvel: The Avengers Vault by Peter A. David

I’m a sucker for massive comic book history guides and property retrospectives, and a look at The Avengers Vault explains why. Presented in gorgeous color and positively packed with pullout posters and art reproductions, this book provides great context for understanding the often confusing histories of big-name Avengers like Captain American, Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Sadly, it glosses over practically everyone else, with Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Wolverine and literally every female member ever–even movie series standout Black Widow–getting mere cursory mentions. Still, despite its shortcomings, it’s a nice addition to any comic-lover’s library.

Bone #1: Out from Boneville (Tribute Edition) by Jeff Smith

Speaking of comic-lovers, I include Scholastic’s latest printing of the iconic Out from Boneville not because GeekDad hasn’t already shown it love–our own Jamie Greene broke down its finer points back in February–but because it’s that rare book that managed to perfectly capture the attention of me and both my kids. This diminutive hardback includes full color reprints of the first six chapters of the Bone saga as well as lush map illustrations, amazing pinup and tribute galleries, and a brand new illustrated poem by Jeff Smith himself. With 138 pages of classic Bone goodness and an additional 48 pages of extras, it’s a perfect place to start for new readers and a wonderful walk down memory lane for returning fans.

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Scare Scape by Sam Fisher

My son is 10, the perfect age for a young lad’s fancy to turn to literary horror. His introduction to the genre was the usual–the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps series–but lately he’s been getting his monster fix from a brand new source. Sam Fisher’s Scare Scape is an ingenious mix of mystery, adventure, magic, monsters, and humor. The series takes its name from the favorite horror comic of protagonist Morton Clay, a (seemingly) fearless youth whose family has just moved into a spooky old house. This leads to a creepy discovery, and, of course, only Morton and his siblings are equipped to deal with the monstrous consequences. Well-paced without being insubstantial and suspenseful without coming across as overly so, Scare Scape is a series off to a great start, and this trend continues in the recently released Scare Scape: The Midnight Door. Both novels include a “Monster Deck” section that gives readers the skinny on their most important supernatural foes alongside some great bonus illustrations, and The Midnight Door even boasts a proper Scare Scape comic. At around 300 pages each, they’re sizable tales perfect for the creepy kid inside us all.

Shadowrun: Run Faster

Okay, an RPG sourcebook isn’t exactly the kind of thing you routinely find featured in a Stack Overflow post, but, when I look back on all the books I read in the first quarter of this year, it easily rises to the top. Ostensibly, Run Faster is a game supplement that expands on both the character and storytelling elements of the existing Shadowrun roleplaying game’s core rulebooks. You’ll find tons of ideas to flesh out player characters with things like positive/negative qualities and fully realized backstories (before they began running the shadows); new metahuman subtypes like Oni (Orks), multi-armed Nartaki (Humans), and Night Elves and even brand new metas like Centaurs and Changelings; there are even expansive details to help shape the kinds of individuals who up to this point have typically served as merely plot devices or set dressings–this means everything from proper vampire player characters to the illusive Mr. Johnson, the enigmatic man (or woman) who routinely hires your band of ‘runners. Still, beyond all this, past the perfectly evocative illustrations and page after page of story hooks, equipment breakdowns, and mega-corp insider info is a living, breathing fiction that can’t help but pull you in. The team at Catalyst continues to do an outstanding job of painting the world of Shadowrun in vibrant, nuanced colors, and books like Run Faster encourage you to take up the brush and add your own unique elements.

Review materials provided by: Scholastic Inc., Thunder Bay Press, and Catalyst Game Labs

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