Not going to lie, when I first read the description for Refill Your Hearts: Fandom Librarians Recommend Stories to Get You Through the Bad Times, I was a little skeptical. The panel was meant to be a group of fannish librarians providing personalized reading and viewing recommendations for the audience. According to the description, they would focus on uplifting fanfiction, online and self-published fiction, webcomics, tv shows, movies, and other media created by and centered on women; queer, trans-, and nonbinary people; people of color; neurodiverse people; and other marginalized groups. As someone who has read fanfiction for over sixteen years, I was specifically doubtful that the panelists would have read enough fanfiction in enough fandoms to make useful recommendations to the audience. I did love the idea that they might have a couple story suggestions that would fit my preferences, though, and I wanted to see how the panel would play out, so I gave it a try.
Grab a latte, slip on some comfy socks, light a pumpkin scented candle, and prepare to settle in for this spooky tale about a girl who sells her heart. Her literal heart. Demons in this world, are willing to grant you your greatest desires as long as you’re willing to part with an arm, a leg, and occasionally your heart. I wondered what would prompt a person to decide to trust a demon and lose a body part in the process. I went to church-I watch Supernatural. I know that you do not trust freakin’ demons no matter what. However, the book answers that question very quickly: very desperate people.
The Hearts We Sold was not what I was expecting from the description. The author slowly ushers us into this world that is much deeper, darker, and even creepier story than as first presented. Peeling back layer after layer and feeling a little more horrified each time was both skin-crawling and highly entertaining. There were more Grimm fairytale qualities than I initially expected. The small elements of fantastic creepiness really put it over the top in the best ways.
Our main character, Dee is surrounded by fully formed characters with express purposes outside of simply helping or pushing her narrative. Because of these characters, even though the world is a fantastical one, it feels eerily realistic. Everyone has a motive, a backstory, that makes their actions, even cruel, abusive ones, realistic. It does make every action excusable, but it does make those actions understandable. Human. The romance develops naturally and sweetly and does not overpower the story. If you’ve read Vassa in The Night, which I recommend if you like dark fairytales this book would be right up your alley.
Representation-wise, this book does a fairly good job of portraying people of color, and LGBT+ characters. Dee is half Hispanic. Her race is mentioned at most two times. It does not affect her story, so if you’re searching for a character with a heavy latinx identity, this is not the book you’re looking for. This world is not exactly a diverse utopia, as some of the characters do face discrimination. However, it’s something that is alluded to in passing and does not come from any of the characters we know and love. There is a gay supporting character, as well as a trans character. Their sexuality and identity does not affect who they are as people and is only mentioned briefly.
I appreciate the way in which abuse is portrayed in this story. Abuse storylines can often be a bit obvious. They run the way that most people think all abuse happens: physical. But in The Hearts We Sold, the abuse while not exactly subtle, forces you to think about how you would survive in this situation when your options of escape are slim to none. The results of which forces Dee to make extremely difficult decisions, that I’m not sure everyone will be agree with, but I personally think it was an important one that should be illustrated as an option to matter your age or situation.
There were some aspects of the “weird” and “spooky” that seemed too readily accepted by the main character. She describes herself as being afraid all the time, yet when faced with truly terrifying situations, she’s calmer than most people would be. Only later does she seem to react appropriately to them, so it made her a little inconsistent to me. I would have liked to see her struggle with her fear more. It does get off to a bit of a shaky start, but it finds its legs early. Before you know it, it’s five hours later, you’ve forgotten to feed your cats, and you’re getting dual death glares. Can’t relate.
The Hearts We Sold is perfect to get you in the mood for Halloween season, and a great filler until we all binge watch Stranger Things come October.
Marissa is a grad school student, writer, and feminist who’s surviving Arkansas in our current political climate. She gets through it with her two fluffy cats and her Hufflepuff tendencies.
For August’s Hey, Staffer! we interviewed Jill Lennartz. This is Jill’s first year with GeekGirlCon, but she has plenty of experience doing good for social justice. Check out our interview below!
Who are you and what do you do at GeekGirlCon?
I’m Jill, and I’m the Cosplay Contest Coordinator with GeekGirlCon. I make sure the contest happens! I do everything from finding talented cosplayers to be our judges and host, organize how the contest will be run, to running it.
What do you do for your day job/when you’re not being awesome as a GGC staffer?
I work for a tech company called CA Technologies, which is pretty sweet as a techie myself! I’m not a programmer though; I went to school for chemistry and climate science. So what am I doing at a tech company and not some research lab? The *awesome* answer is that big companies are becoming seriously responsible. I work in a department called Corporate Social Responsibility – we make sure that the company is being socially and environmentally responsible and work really hard to improving in these areas every day. Some people on my team work with organizations to bring STEM education to women and underserved populations, and others focus more on improving our environmental impacts.
For probably obvious reasons, the turn YouTube culture has taken over the past few years has left me feeling rather disenchanted with the whole platform. I still watch some channels regularly, but that habit is often more a practice in nostalgia than anything else. Sometimes I even sense that I’m more forgiving than most when it comes to sticking with creators who tend to let their audiences down over and over again.
There does exist, however, one YouTube creator whose content has only brought more awareness, more understanding, and more pure joy to my life and that is Dr. Lindsey Doe of Sexplanations. My love for Sexplanations has remained steady since the channel’s inception four years ago, but recently it’s reached a new peak in light of recent developments within the community of sex-positive YouTubers. While I have strong feelings about the state of this type of content in general, my main concern at this moment revolves, I’m sure predictably, around Laci Green’s recent confusion of oppressive behavior with free speech. My favorite video that has cropped up in response to Laci’s is this unscripted piece from Marina Wantanabe. There’s also this livestream recording from Kat Blaque that is pure gold.
In the wake of its season 13 finale, I can’t help but feel as enamored with Grey’s Anatomy as I did when I first committed myself to the Shonda Rhimes way of life a mere five years ago during my sophomore year of high school. My relationship with the show has been steady and enduring—nothing at all like those I’ve had with practically every other TV show I’ve ever loved and, at times, hated. Grey’s represents everything I’ve come to love about storytelling and, more specifically, storytelling by and for women.
This is a great era to be a Black geek. Communities like Black Nerd Problems and Black Girl Nerds are catering to a population that has always been present but traditionally ignored within geek circles. Recent films like Dope and TV shows Atlanta are also celebrating the Black nerd (or “blerd”) and giving us a new type of hero for the 21st century: young African-Americans with high IQs, awkwardness, and a penchant for sticky situations. Sleight continues with this movement. The protagonist, Bo, is every geek’s superhero, endowed with little more than intelligence, a good dose of desperation, and, of course, STEM!
“Hey Staffer, Whatcha Geekin’ About?” is a new monthly column highlighting the interests and hobbies of GeekGirlCon staffers and Board of Directors. Find out about what makes us tick, what excites us, and what we’re really like when we’re not trying to run a convention.
‘Tis the season of socially relevant cinema, from Moonlight to Hidden Figures to Thirteen to I Am Not Your Negro. But, as always, it is the speculative fiction genre that distinguishes itself in its ability to package the sociopolitical ills of our present day into fantastic scenarios that entertain, spook, titillate, inspire, and fuel. While Get Out is much more overt, The Girl With All The Gifts is an artistically subtle tale of power, fear and exploitation.
Zombie fiction tends to have a common theme – the destruction of civilization sparked or exacerbated by the frailty of humanity. Centuries before George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) attempted to portray the relationship between race and fear through a zombie apocalypse, zombie mythos among western hemisphere Africans was a metaphor for racial oppression. While race may be deemphasized in recent zombie franchises (e.g. The Walking Dead, Resident Evil), zombie fiction continues to be a backdrop for dialogue on social power hierarchies.
Ah the podcast. This simple style of media has its roots in the old-school art form of radio and is a cheap, easy, and delightfully portable way to receive news, entertainment, and education.
If you’re like me, then you probably have a list of your favorite podcasts ready at the tap of a touch screen, but you’re probably also are always on the lookout for new shows to tickle your ears and fill up your mind with new ideas.
That’s why today I’m pleased to share four podcasts that I officially recommend for geeky ears.
2016 was a pretty interesting year for games: with the rise of VR and announcements about new generation consoles, there’s a lot more going on for gaming than in previous years. I didn’t get to play everything that I wanted to (of course), and although I played a lot of AAA games as well, I’m trying to spend more time looking at indie offerings. Here (in no particular order) is a quick list of some of the indie games that I played last year and would recommend:
Inside is a side-scrolling puzzle/platform game from indie studio Playdead, where you control a boy who, from the first scene, is being chased by soldiers, dogs and scientists. Although the narrative doesn’t do much to explain what’s happening, you do get to wear mind control helmets to move zombies around to solve puzzles, and there’s an underlying commentary about autonomy and ownership. The art is minimal, with the setting being mostly black and gray, except for your character and interactable objects. Likewise, there’s very little soundtrack, with only audio cues, and the sound of your character’s footsteps, which really adds to how eerie the setting is.
This one came out in 2014 but I only got around to playing it in 2016. There are lots of games about war, but This War of Mine is unique in that you play as non-combatant residents of a war-torn city–all the fighting you do is for your day-to-day survival. I think this one hit home particularly hard because I started playing as the Siege of Aleppo was intensifying at the end of the year, and there are some incredibly heartbreaking choices you have to make. It’s not a game I would say I enjoyed per se, but I think it is definitely one that is worth playing for the lessons in empathy, understanding and acceptance it can teach. (And if that’s not emotionally wrenching enough for you, there’s now an expansion called This War of Mine: The Little Ones where you experience the besieged city through the eyes of a child.)
Overcooked is a great little cooking game where couch cooperation is key to success–it’s not enough to just be good at the game as an individual; where it gets fun (and tricky and frustrating) is playing with a group of up to three other players, where you have to navigate a kitchen without bumping into each other to source, prepare, cook and serve food. With some clever mechanics that focus on teamwork and cooperation, hilarity (and a little bit of rage) ensues.
I absolutely love Unravel. It’s probably the most visually stunning game on this list, and it’s a little game with a lot of heart. You play as Yarny, an anthromorphic ball of yarn who—as the name suggests—unravels as he traverses across levels, using his yarn to solve puzzles and move objects around. The mechanics in the game are pretty straightforward, but what ties Unravel together (if you forgive the pun) is how lovely it is. The story is poignant and bittersweet, but it is incredibly clear that the developers really put their love into making it the game that they wanted. Also, you’d never imagine that a ball of red yarn could have so much emotion and personality.
I’m a huge fan of adventure games, but the majority of them that I’ve played are of the point-and-click variety. Firewatch is almost like a grownup version of that, with a mystery that drives the story and a first-person perspective that works surprisingly well for the narrative and the puzzles. You play as Henry, a volunteer lookout for Shoshone National Park, and your only means of connection to the outside world is via a walkie-talkie. As you patrol your part of the park, you discover a whole host of different storylines that interweave. I really enjoyed the way Firewatch set up dialog trees so that your responses in your conversations would drive how your experience in the game evolved.
Salt and Sanctuary
If you like the grindiness of games like Dark Souls, but set in a 2D platformer, where you can play cooperatively with your friends (and not just people who invade your game), Salt and Sanctuary might be worth checking out. It’s a hard game, but there are lots of player customizations, and playing with your friends helps soften the blow of the many, many, times that you’ll die in the game.
The Flame in the Flood is a roguelike survival game, where you play as Scout, a survivor in a flooded, post-apocalyptic America where the land has been transformed into a series of islands that she has to traverse on a makeshift raft. As she and her dog Aesop travel down the river, Scout has to contend with wild animal attacks, snakebites, hunger, and staying warm and dry, all the while as she uncovers the mystery of where everyone went during the rapture. What keeps the game together is the river, which varies between calm streams to rushing rapids that you have to maneuver through to get to the next destination. Will it take you where you want to go? Or will you be dashed upon rocks? I also highly recommend the soundtrack for The Flame in the Flood; I didn’t stop listening to it for weeks after I finished the campaign.
What did you play in 2016 that you enjoyed? Are there any other indie games that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below! Happy gaming for 2017!