The holidays have always been a great time of discovery for me in terms of books, movies, comics, games and even toys that I wasn’t previously familiar with. Due to an excellent roster of gift givers in my life, I’ve been fortunate to not simply receive items that were on some wish list (though that happened more when I was a kid), but also get goodies that opened new worlds to me.
Before they were introduced via a gift from a loved one who took a chance, I didn’t know much He-Man, the works of Isaac Asimov, or most blues music. Those loved ones who took a chance on something new, and shared something that they enjoyed, influenced me and made an impact far more than if they’d simply checked something off my list.
With that in mind, we approach our final holiday gift guide of 2015 with the intent of providing suggestions that spark imagination, inspire, and open new interests. These items are still fairly easy to acquire before Dec. 25, so they make for good crunch time choices.
From books to iTunes playlists to an audiobook, these gateway gifts might have the power to influence your giftee beyond December, and set them on a new nerdy course for years to come.
Intro to Star Trek: The Original Series
First up, let me state that I think it’s entirely cool if people just dig Star Trek movies without caring to delve into the television series. Moreover, it’s cool if they also only like the rebooted Trek universe. But if there’s a fan in your life that does want to check out some of the source material, and go deeper into Trek mythology, there are a couple starter episodes to gift them in an iTunes playlist – and this also prevents them from starting chronologically, and avoiding some weaker episodes. The first-season episode “Arena” is a perfect way to kick things off; it highlights how dangerous exploration into the final frontier can be. Kirk kicks all kinds of butt, and there’s a lot of fun action, but without sacrificing the show’s humanistic philosophy. We also have a cool alien with the Gorn. Next up, you have to go with “Space Seed,” which introduces Ricardo Montalban’s iconic Khan (or, if you prefer – and everyone does – KHAAAAAN!). The episode deals with weighty material such as eugenics, but it’s not preachy. There is also a lot of great character interaction between Kirk and Spock, not to mention that it’s an episode that has had a major impact on the franchise. “The Trouble With Tribbles” is a fantastic fourth episode to show to someone as a nice interlude. Again, there are a lot of solid character interactions (Kirk complains to Spock, McCoy and Spock banter, Scotty is classic Scotty). The fact that it is not a big, impending-danger ep works because it reveals how the show was able to have fun with itself. Wrap up your playlist and viewing experience with your new Trek fan with “The City on the Edge of Forever,” perhaps the best episode of the original series (and certainly my favorite). The time travel episode written by Harlan Ellison -- which was awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation -- places Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in 1930s Great Depression-era New York City. Kirk searches for Bones, but falls in love, and Spock makes the discovery that the existence of their timeline relies on the death of a good person. (About $12, or $2.99 per episode on iTunes) – Aaron Sagers
The Annotated Sandman, Volume 1
Ask any comics fan what the essential books are, or what a new reader should pick up first, and there's a good chance you'll hear Neil Gaiman's Sandman mentioned pretty quick. The epic fantasy series that tells the story of Dream of The Endless has been a popular gateway drug almost since it began publication, particularly for readers who've never encountered (or never been particularly interested in) super hero books. So, we agree that Sandman is a gateway to comics, but what if you'd like to go deeper, either because you know someone who's already become a Sandman fan or because you're shopping for someone who likes a bit more heft to their reading? Well, enter The Annotated Sandman, which reprints the series along with copious side-by-side notes covering everything from how Neil Gaiman crafted the series to how issues interrelate to where all the references to mythology and folklore come from. It's like reading The Sandman, only somehow even nerdier. ($33.99) - Matthew Jackson
Game of Thrones has made medieval fantasy worlds more mainstream than any time since the actual Middle Ages. But a love for Jon Snow doesn’t mean anyone will want to spend hours learning how to distribute character skill points or the intricacies of spellcasting in Dungeons & Dragons. As an introduction to pen-and-paper role playing games, Dungeon World makes for a quick and fun evening. Character creation is streamlined into a series of simple questions (does your thief have shifty eyes, or criminal eyes?), each hero begins with some straightforward special abilities called “moves,” and combat couldn’t be simpler. Start your friends on a thrilling fantasy world adventure from your imagination with digital and/or print versions. (From $10) —Denny Watkins
The Geeky Chef Cook Book: Real-Life Recipes for Your Favorite Fantasy Foods
Have a budding chef in the family who salivates over all things nerdy and nice? Cassandra Reeder's mouthwatering new book features over 60 recipes from geek books, films, television shows and video games. It's 144 fantastic pages of meal, entree, beverage and snack instructions from Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, The Legend of Zelda, and many more. From the Klingons' favorite worm casserole and Harry Potter's Butterbeer to Lord of the Rings' elven Lembas Bread, this savory cook book lets you conjure up delicious culinary creations straight from the silver screen and into your mouth! ($22) - Jeff Spry
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Audiobook
This thoughtful and detailed fictional “oral history” of a global undead apocalypse (celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2016) can sell anyone on both zombie fiction and audiobooks. For one thing, if you’ve only seen the Brad Pitt movie version of World War Z, don’t consider that a spoiler. The movie only shared a few plot and thematic points with the original Max Brooks novel, which takes the form of a series of post-war interviews with an international cast of zombie-fighting characters. The audiobook brings those characters to life with A-list celebrity voice talent, including the author himself alongside comedy greats Alan Alda, Rob Reiner, and John Turturro. Or give the full, 12-hour-long unabridged version — perfect for a holiday road trip or lazy New Year’s Day — filling out every character from the novel with the voices of Martin Scorsese, Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, and many more. ($21.27 for the abridged version, $28.00 for the complete edition) —Denny Watkins
The Walking Dead: Compendium One
For the fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead who wants to dip their toe into the comic book series that started it all, The Walking Dead: Compendium One is the perfect gateway gift to serve as an introduction to Robert Kirkman’s world set during the zombie apocalypse. This massive paperback book collects issues 1 to 48 of the comics, covering the time from the moment Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma alone in a hospital, to him and his family and group seeking a bit of respite from the walkers on Hershel’s farm, to the introduction of Woodbury and that crazy psycho villain, the Governor. With over a thousand glorious pages (1088 to be exact) of zombie goodness and human drama, this is perfect for spreading Holiday cheer. And if you feel like splashing a bit more, Compendiums Two and Three are also available ($35.99) – Nathalie Caron
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
So, let's say you're shopping for a friend who's just begun diving into the wide world of Marvel Comics, or maybe even a friend who loves the Marvel Studios films and has a curiosity about the comic book industry that gave birth to them. Or, what if you're just looking for something a nonfiction geek would dig? Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a very deep dive into the inner-working of comics' most recognizable publisher, from its humble beginnings as an offshoot of a magazine company to today. In this book, you'll learn that Spider-Man went from a throwaway feature character to a superstar; how Stan Lee tried to go Hollywood much earlier than Marvel actually did; about the tension between Lee and Jack Kirby led to Kirby's split from Marvel; why the company once nearly went bankrupt and much more. It is tremendously entertaining, packed with juicy details, and a must-read for people who want to know how it all really happened at the House of Ideas. ($10.53) - Matthew Jackson
Intro to The X-Files
The return of The X-Files in January is one of my most anticipated entertainment events of 2016 (and having seen the first episode at New York Comic Con, I can say this show is definitely back). So, there is no time like the present to assemble a playlist of X-Files episodes to show your giftee, and hopefully transform them into a viewing buddy. From mythology-driven episodes to monster-of-the-week to zany, the show covered a lot of ground in its nine seasons and 202 episodes. Of course, if you can, opt for the $300 Blu-ray Collector’s Set, which includes every adventure of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder up until now. If you can assemble only five, start with “Pilot,” which sets up everything someone would need to know about the show in a still-excellent episode. Season 2's “The Host” is a gross, scary monster installment that introduces the modern classic “Flukeman” creature. Another second season episode, “Duane Barry,” is recommended as one of the best alien invasion stories because it revolves around an abductee who has reached his breaking point and takes hostages. It stands alone while connecting to the show’s larger mythology. The first season episode “Beyond The Sea” -- about Scully connecting to her dead father through a psychic killer on death row -- is noteworthy for the supernatural element, and for placing Gillian Anderson’s character in the believer role while David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder plays the skeptic. The third season episode “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” is brilliant for deconstructing, and poking fun at, the show. Mulder and Scully encounter an eccentric sci-fi writer who investigating an alien abduction story with a lot of bizarre twists. Bonus: If five aren’t enough (and they aren’t), “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is one of the best X-Files stories. Period. “Squeeze” delivers the creepy killer Eugene Victor Tooms (a rare X-monster to return for another appearance). “Pusher” is another monster-of-the-week ep about a man who has Kilgrave-esque powers long before Jessica Jones debuted. Season Five’s “Bad Blood” is a great comedic story about vampires, but really about Mulder and Scully’s differing points of view and recollections. “X-Cops” from Season Seven is a werewolf (but not really?) story where the FBI duo wander into the reality series Cops for a real-time, found-footage mini-movie. If you think your loved one is really up for it, hook them up with the terrifying and disturbing “Home” from Season Four. ($2.99 per episode on iTunes) – Aaron Sagers
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 1
After smashing crowdfunding records last week, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is officially on its way back, which means the odds are good that a friend or two might be asking you what the deal with this cult comedy classic is anyway. Now, you could simply sit them down in front of Netflix and screen an episode or two there, or you could go the route of physical media and get them started with a collection of their very own. Since MST3K is only very loosely plotted (and often not plotted at all), I suppose you could pick up any number of the DVD sets generated by the show, but why not start with the first release? It features, among other things, one of my personal favorite episode of the show ever: The Creeping Terror. ($28.49) - Matthew Jackson
Spider-Gwen Hoodie Tank Top
WeLoveFine pushes the level of clothing catered to fanboys and fangirls higher with killer tights that are to die for with licenses from the likes of Star Wars, Adventure Time, and more. This year, they're mining the Marvel Universe for fancy threads like a Captain Marvel knit sweater ($50). But their best launch this year is the “I Am Spider-Gwen” hoodie ($45), which is incredibly cool and a great intro to nerdy lifestyle items. It is repeatedly sold out even after going back for multiple production runs. If you can’t wait for the full hoodie to be back in stock or are getting this for someone living where it’s warm all year round, then consider the “I am Spider-Gwen” hooded tank top instead ($28). It still has the electric pink web lining in the hood and sports that striking black and white pattern that artist Robbi Rodriguez designed on the outside. Someone wearing this could use to do some light cosplay, or better yet, just make a bold fashion statement. ($28-$45) – Ernie Estrella
Captain America Steve Rogers Dog Tags Necklace
If you take away the loud costume, the vibranium shield and mask, Captain America is Steve Rogers, the soldier. That’s why these replica dog tags make for a very symbolic and subtle gateway into cosplay. The newbie cosplayer in your life can be Captain America at all times, even if it’s underneath one’s clothes. For those who like to wear the full costume, whether it’s just a hoodie or full blown Halloween costume, the tags are a last detail to pull it altogether. These are an Entertainment Earth exclusive and are priced right for the frugal gift giver. ($15) – Ernie Estrella
Star Wars Limited Edition Blu-Ray Steelbooks
Sure, there’s no new content on the latest reissue of the six-movie Star Wars series on Blu-Ray, and you may have mixed feelings at best about the “Han shoots first” recuts that are still presented here. But this is still a good buy to introduce someone to these movies. And for anyone who owned a well-loved VHS copy of the original trilogy, you also remember how the cardboard sleeve used to store the tapes was eventually battered beyond recognition from repeated viewings. These handsome steel cases, in additiont to having back covers adorned with gorgeous classic poster artwork, are built tough enough to withstand your kids, and probably their kids, too. ($17.99) -Denny Watkins
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One
She eats nuts, kick butts, and is the best Marvel breakout comic of the year. Ryan North and Erica Henderson's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is witty, fun, and downright the best time you'll have in comic book form this year. Ryan North delights in making Squirrel Girl, Doreen Green, ridiculously fun by including Twitter conversations with her and Tony Stark and heart to heart talks with Galactus in order to save the world. She's one of the fan favorite comic of the year and is a great choice for both boys and girls of all ages. Can this college-aged super hero with the power of a squirrel be Marvel's best superhero? Squirrel, you know it's true. ($10.57) - Matt Dorville
20th Century Ghosts
Author Joe Hill has done some great work over the years, and his and Gabriel Rodriguez’s comic Locke & Key has been especially brilliant. Still, I have much love for this collection of short stories, first published 10 years ago. While it gets placed in the horror genre (for good reason, considering the monsters and maniacs who stalk the pages), the anthology is also romantic and touching, as well as scary. I have frequently gifted this book to those who want to take the genre out for a spin and kick the tires to see if it’s for them. The stories are incredibly approachable, and they cover a wide range of freaky flavors. ($10.99 on Kindle) - Aaron Sagers