Introducing Many A True Nerd

As if life weren’t busy or exciting enough lately, I’ve just started work on a new awesome (and time-consuming!) project.

I’d been wanting to write about a whole host of geeky things for a while, but couldn’t find a home for my writing. There are many awesome geeky news sites out there, but the ones I liked & thought I had a shot writing for didn’t really focus on the subjects I wanted to cover.

Some would have TV and games, but not crafts and baking; some would have geeky things for the home but not boardgames; some would have books but nothing else, etc.

Add to that the fact that I know so many talented and nerdy writers, and an idea started to form. I’m obsessed with creating and maintaining websites, and I’m also a proud grammar pedant. In fact I’ve been editing @AlastairJRBall online serial The First 500 for some months now and I love doing that. I thought, if there isn’t a platform exactly like I want, I should just create it.

I could start a new site, dedicated to the type of geek news me and my friends are interested in. That could mean basically anything. Really silly or really in-depth things, from gifs to interviews, from reviews to let’s plays, from opinion pieces to recipes, in any and all fandom. I’ve heard too much crap about who is a ‘real nerd’ or a ‘fake geek’. I don’t think these distinctions are helpful or based in much truth. The geek world I know is varied and fascinating and that’s what I wanted to explore with this new site.

When I started telling my friends about this idea, they rose to the occasion even better than I had hoped. Jon wanted to try out new online marketing strategies and make Let’s Plays; @AlastairJRBall wanted to write about cinema, @NickMB about comics; @LorelaiSquared had just done awesome interviews of the Welcome To Sanditon cast and crew; @Jenepel wanted to help with a potential podcast.

I’m so, so excited to add another little brick to the big, bad interwebs, in the shape of our new online magazine, Many A True Nerd. Please check out the website, twitter feed and the YouTube channel and do all the like-comment-subscribe-follow thinggies if you do like it.

We are also looking for new writers, so if you are interested in writing for Many A True Nerd, email us at manyatruenerd [at] gmail [dot] com.


GEEK 2013

Last week-end, a couple of friends and I took a day trip to Margate for GEEK2013, a gaming expo with a focus on retro games.

The ‘puzzles, tournaments, consoles and pinball machines, […] retro computer games and current card and computer games’ promised on the website were available for all to try, which made for a truly interactive environment.

I’m not the most seasoned of con-attendees, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

Games everywhere!

The first hall we came into had the various vendors’ tables, as well as the panels’ area and the food court. The games were very few and we were a bit confused until we walked into the main room, which had games EVERYWHERE. It was a pretty nifty sight, with retro and vintage consoles right next to rows and rows of more recent machines, all basked in blue and purple lighting.

I’m far from an expert but even I could recognise lots of familiar games. We played Pong on a vintage Atari (I got crushed), we tried out for the Mario Kart SNES tournament (I came very, very far behind the qualifying time, but @TheJonFoulds almost made it!), I was introduced to Goldeneye (I died a lot). We also got to try out Space Invaders on tiny consoles so rare/vintage they were chained to the tables. Again, I died a lot.

giant gameboyI like video games, but I must admit I am abysmally bad at most of them, so it was a great triumph when I beat @TheJonFoulds at Tetris 64! Speaking of Tetris, there a giant Gameboy… A GIANT GAMEBOY!! I totally flailed and squeaked with joy when I saw it and after that, I had a hard time resisting the temptation of buying an actual Gameboy just to play hours upon hours of Tetris.

Only at a con!

Towards mid-afternoon, we took a pause from all the gaming when I dragged the guys to watch the Cosplay masquerade. Nothing better than settling down with some yummy cake and warm coffee to see the nerdiest possible type of nerdy thing! I am unapologetically fond of cosplay and I felt pretty good about the fact that I recognised quite a few of the characters, despite not being the most dedicated gamer. First place went to a really nifty King Dedede, with her awesome hammer!


The next speaker presented a talk ambitiously titled ‘The History of Video Games in Ten Minutes’, which did a pretty good job of that. While fun, informative and as brief as promised, the talk did mention that when video games became more accessible for families to play as a whole ‘Now fathers and sons could play together’. Everything up until then and everything afterwards felt inclusive and positive, not only during the talk but also during the con. It was just a touch of bitterness that the speaker did not think twice about adding such gendered expectations in his talk.

As a counter-balance to that unfortunate slip-up, though, we saw a kick-ass young woman smash through her competition to win the Super Mario Kart tournament we’d failed to enter earlier, and by the same token establish a new Female World Record for speed at Super Mario Kart. She was signing copies of the Guinness Book of Records when we left!

The delicious chocolates we bought in town and the amazing pies and ciders we had in the pub later only added to the awesomeness on the day, and the game we played on the train home, Chez Goth, really deserves its own review. All in all, a great day trip despite it being absolutely freezing cold.

Overall verdict: LOVED IT.

To put it bluntly, I feel like I got my money’s worth – I got to actually play with consoles I’d only ever seen on TV before, revisit some of my favourite games, discover the games my friends consider beloved classics, learn a bunch of cool things about the industry, and witness a world record being made! Of course there were also the usual food, geeky wares and games on sale, but I did not feel like the point of the whole day was to make me buy stuff, which is more than I can say for other cons I’ve been to.

Dear GEEK organisers, see you next year and GG!


Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow

I’ve had a thing for werewolves for a long time so it’s no surprise that I’m obsessed with this nifty little game. It can be difficult to gather enough people to play, but once that’s done, you’re guaranteed a new bunch of converts.

A fun party game for 9 to 18 players, Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow is a modern version of the traditional game of Mafia, with a fantasy twist.

All you really need is one person who knows the game well enough to act as narrator and a room large enough for players to sit in a circle. After the players are given a secret identity each, the game begins with a Night turn, then alternates between Days and Nights as the Werewolves attempt to eat their way through the villagers before being found out and the villagers desperately try to stay alive by enacting mob justice.

During Night turns, the Werewolves strike, the special characters spy, fall in love, brew remedies or evil potions and the honest villagers shudder in their beds, hoping not to be eaten. During the Day turns, Werewolves, magical beings and simple humans alike assemble to grieve for the slain and exact vengeance on the evil that plagues the land. The entire village debates the events of the night, spreading rumours and flinging accusations about, until the people’s righteous anger focuses on one likely culprit, whom they lynch in the hope of stopping the Werewolves for good.

Of course, special characters and Werewolves have to lie a lot and everyone has to participate (or they’ll be deemed ‘too quiet to be innocent’) but not be too vocal (or they’ll ‘sure have a lot to say, for someone who claims to be an honest villager’).

Werevolves cards

I love that this game forces players to create a story, often much more complex and interesting than the basic instructions the narrator has to give out. Players have to develop a bit of a character for themselves, take turns being narrator, imbuing the story with their unique style and ultimately providing this game with a ton of repeat value.

Last time I played, one of the narrators set the game in the Firefly ‘verse and called the Seer ‘River’. The Witch became ‘the Doctor’ and the Werewolves were basically hidden Reavers. The analogy may not work perfectly, but we all got massively into it.

So if you’ve never tried Werewolves, grab yourself a bunch of mates and a copy of the game (or make one, instructions here), dim the lights and get playing!


Writing Goals for 2013

As a great lover of lists, particularly To-Do ones, I love the New Year.

It’s time to look back over the past year (pretty good, all things considered), and set myself some goals for the coming 12 months.

I’ve started a list of Things To Do in 2013 over at, including some writing goals.

Finish the first draft of The Paradise Swarm
This is my main objective for the year. As I currently only have 8,000 words done out of a planned 90,000, it’s going to be tricky and take some serious work, but I’m going to give it a go anyway. I’m hoping to write 2,000 words a week in order to finish the draft by October and be ready to start something new for NaNoWriMo.

Write 10 pieces of flash fiction
As much as I want to plough on with The Paradise Swarm, I’ve been wanting to write more short form. Ten stories of less than a thousand words (that’s one a month until NaNoWriMo) should be easy enough to manage in terms of word count, but still a good exercise.

Complete NaNoWriMo
This will be my sixth year entering, and hopefully my fifth win. I’m slowly but steadily getting better at balancing being a Municipal Liaison for a busy city and writing a first draft in a month, so I’m sure 2013 will be a great Nano.

Maintain blog and post regularly
I don’t write very fast and tend to second guess a lot of what I put down on the page as I write it. Blogging has been a great way for me to practice writing in a more fluid manner, so I definitely want to do more of that.

Also on my long list: Read 52 books (I’ve attempted it for the past couple of years and only barely managed it in 2011) and Attend writing group regularly (I’ve already started doing that, but I’m seeing the benefits so clearly I want to make sure I keep going).


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

SPOILERS for the film & the first third of the novel will happen, but I’ll stay away from spoilers for the conclusion of the story.

First, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were a lot of things I really liked about this first instalment, most of them to do with its execution. It was filmed beautifully and as I saw it in 2D, I didn’t have to worry about the whole 3D HFR debate.

The Hobbit is basically all I loved about the Lord of the Rings – New Zealand is still magnificent, the costumes, props, sets and special effects are still top-notch, the battle scenes are still amazing, and the casting is still spot-on – only with a less doom and end-of-the-world feeling to it.

It was great to see some of my favourite scenes from the book on screen, but some of the additions and changes felt clumsy. It obviously strains under all the setup it has to do for the next two instalments, and is definitely a ‘Part One’ film.

I was mostly distracted by the differences in tone throughout. The film kept going back and forth between tough war scenes (displaying Thorin as Hollywood’s mandatory Hot Tragic Hero) and cheap fart-and-burp jokes (aimed at the younger audience). I couldn’t take the tragedy seriously on the heels of ‘Look, the Troll’s bum smells’, and I ended up rolling my eyes at moments that were meant to be moving.


My Favourite Bits

Martin Freeman’s Face
His facial expressions, his posture and acting – everything he does is just right. He’s such a perfect choice for the part and I know I’ll see the film again mostly for his superb portrayal of the Hobbit. It’s really sad when an adaptation doesn’t do justice to a much beloved character and this is the direct opposite. I loved him before, I love him even better now. Badass Martin Freeman, FTW!

Gollum! Gollum!

GollumGollum was awesome. I loved the whole sequence, from Bilbo hiding under giant mushrooms to his leaping over Gollum to escape the cave. The little tweaks they made were well chosen – I particularly liked the waistcoat buttons. I loved that they still kept a few of the riddles before ‘What do I have in my pocket?’, developing a sense of danger as the riddles get tougher. There were also great additions like Sting’s glow extinguishing when Gollum killed the goblin and the ring slowly falling onto Bilbo’s finger in a clear call-back to the same shot in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Gollum was, as ever, suitably creepy and I had no difficulty in believe Bilbo would spare his life out of pity. Although Gandalf’s advising Bilbo that ‘Courage is also in knowing when not to take a life, but when to spare one’ felt really on the nose.


The New Stuff

The Bad Guys

I was ambivalent about the White Orc Azog, who beheads Thorin’s grandfather Thror. There is good narrative value in having a villain more immediately threatening than Smaug (currently hibernating under piles of Dwarven gold Scrooge-McDuck-style), but I thought his obsession with obliterating the line of Durin didn’t really make sense. I also wondered why the Orcs had to have a spooky Orc-tongue with subtitles when the Goblin had no problems speaking English in funny accents. And why did Bilbo charge straight into Azog’s midriff? If you’re going up against a huge monster they call ‘The Defiler’ and you have an invisibility ring, use it!

The third antagonist introduced was ‘The Necromancer’, who may or may not be Sauron (it wasn’t very clear, but that might have been intentional). Now in the book, Gandalf tells Thorin fairly early on that it was this Necromancer who imprisoned, tortured and killed his father, Thrain. Understandably, Thorin is sad and upset and I could have used that emotion from him, instead of his usual cold anger. It would also have tied in the Necromancer material with the rest of the film, instead of it being a rather strange and puzzling side bit.

The Good Guys (and Saruman)

Gandalf discusses the issue at length with the White Council, who don’t want to let him investigate. I wasn’t invested in the conflict at all, as it didn’t tie in properly with the rest of the plot and we know that Gandalf will research the Necromancer whether Saruman like it or not. It’s fun to see known characters again, but that was definitely when the film felt longest to me.


Another addition was Radagast, the Brown Wizard, who is not only the Doctor, but also saves his pet hedgehog from certain death in his first (really long) scene. I was a bit distracted the streak of dried bird poo down his face, but he was good fun to watch, if a bit OTT. His scene being chased by the Warg-mounted Orcs was so comical it wasn’t scary any more.


The Nitpicking

An Info-Dumpy Prologue

We’re shown the dragon Smaug attacking the Dwarves’ mountain and forcing them into exile, with a sneak peek at the Arkenstone and Legolas’ father Thranduil (both will be important later on). It makes sense to add a battle scene or two to the less-than-action-packed first half of the film, but I’m not sure that right off the bat was the most effective place for it. Rather than showing Thorin’s past as a tragic hero, then Thorin himself, cold and arrogant, why not start by showing his less likeable traits and then revealing the source of his anger and determination? I wish I’d been allowed to see Bilbo’s reaction to Thorin’s tale.

Why the conversation between Bilbo and Frodo, and why talk about the Sacqville-Bagginses? They won’t need foreshadowing or an introduction to be funny if and when they show up later on. The name dropping made the fangirl in me squee, but the scene just felt too long. If they were trying to establish a connection between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, why not focus on Gandalf and Bilbo’s early interactions? I would have liked to see Bilbo inviting Gandalf for dinner the next day as he does in the book, rather than Gandalf leaving without a word, only to return with thirteen really quite rude house guests.

Shouldn’t I LIKE the Dwarves?

I hated what they did with the Dwarves when they first visit Bilbo. People around us in the cinema were laughing at their hijinks but I couldn’t see the funny. How am I supposed to blame Bilbo for being unhappy about strangers raiding his food stores and messing up his house? Loud and boisterous is one thing, acting like jerks is another.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyThirteen Dwarves surely eat enough that Bilbo would have been annoyed without them being so completely rude. By comparison, the scene where the Dwarves do the dishes singing and throwing plates around was lots of fun and gives me a reason to like them because they’re helping out.

Bilbo and his guests are supposed to be enjoying their dinner together, and I wish that had made it past the promo shots.

It will be interesting to see what the film-makers do with the idea that Thorin’s cousin Dain refused to join the quest, given that the character appears towards the end of the novel. Of course, I expect the Dwarves to succeed in their battles in this first half because I know who makes it to which part of the novel later. So I’m not surprised when they turn out to be massive bad-asses in battle, but their victories would be less ridiculous if Thorin hadn’t taken pains to say that the Company only has a couple of good fighters in it, the rest being only good at eating and drinking.


Wrapping Up

I really enjoyed the film, but I do think they stretched it too much. Two three-hour films or three two-hour films would have been fine, but nine hours total is just pushing it. Perhaps the better format for the story would be a mini-series, but a TV budget wouldn’t allow for such breath-taking execution. Will most definitely see again, hopefully next week with my Mum, who read me The Hobbit in the first place.