Procedural content, permadeath, and extremely punishing difficulty has become more and more of a thing in game design. So, that fact, combined by my affinity for the history of technology from a social, technological, and scientific perspective, lead me to this book about the history of roguelikes. It makes for a good portrait of the development of four games, and getting briefly into some of the ways roguelikes have spread into wider gaming culture, though what could be a good look at the larger gaming picture is sadly limited. Continue reading → Book Review: Dungeon Hacks
More than Darkwalker on Moonshae – which I need to get around reviewing at some point – The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore is very much the introductory jumping on point for fiction within the Forgotten Realms campaign setting – and the introduction of possibly the most infamous character in fantasy fiction – Drizzt Do’Urden. Continue reading → Book Review: The Crystal Shard
When I last left the Log Horizon series, they’d gone into a political and economic thriller, as Shirou started forming the Akiba Round table with members of all the major guilds, before driving a bunch of the bad actors out of Akihabara through the unified powers of cash and good food. However, the series had also set up a new concept – that the People of the Land – the former NPCs are now fully sentient. Books 3 and 4, with the collective subtitle of “Game’s End,” get into the ramifications of that, along with what’s been going on while Akiba was getting its act together. Continue reading → Book Review: Log Horizon – Books 3 & 4
At long last, the first Record of Lodoss War novel has received an officially licensed US release. I’ve read it, and here are my thoughts, and some notes on the differences between the two releases.
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This week I’m taking a look at what is widely regarded as one of the worst books in the Star Wars EU. Continue reading → Book Review: The Crystal Star
It’s the battle we’ve all been waiting for.
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We wrap up Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy. Continue reading → Legends of the Force: Episode XVIII – Jedi Academy Trilogy Part III – Champions of the Force
A few years ago I did a video review of the original OVA for Record of Lodoss War. At that time, the OVA was out of print, as was (and still is, sadly) the manga adaptation of the novels. Since then, Funimation (not the company I expected to do it) license rescued all of the anime, and now Seven Seas has done something I never expected to happen – they licensed the first novel, and gave it a fantastic edition in 2017. I got it for myself for Christmas, and finally was able to read it in February. Continue reading → Book Review: Record of Lodoss War – The Grey Witch
It’s time to wrap up the Jedi Academy Trilogy and all its myriad plot threads. Continue reading → Book Review: Jedi Academy Trilogy – Book 3 – Champions of the Force
We return to the Jedi Academy trilogy to see how Luke starts to train his students. Spoilers: Not everything goes well.
Opening Credits: Star Wars Theme from Super Star Wars on the SNES.
Closing Credits: Chiptune Cantina Band from Chiptune Inc. – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvJtiGFudFlvYMfjiU1NKJg
In the ’70s, and ’80s, there was a massive boom in horror cinema in various stripes, from the US and Italy, combined with the general boom in Exploitation films. This boom wasn’t just limited to film. This period also saw a dramatic increase in the amount of horror novels published in the US – with highly successful novels like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Amityville Horror, and Jaws (all of which were later adapted to the screen), leading to an accompanying rise in horror novels.
Paperbacks from Hell goes into this boom and basically breaks down the slew of horror novels into manageable chunks. Not by year, but by sub-genre, getting into what gave each subgenre its appeal. White Flight from the cities and the success of The Amityville Horror helped boost the popularity of haunted house stories, and so on.
The tone of the work is somewhat irreverent – recognizing that when you have so many hundreds upon hundreds of horror novels in myriad sub-genres can lead to a very high level of crap, and a lot of formulaic writing. It makes for a book that I’d almost describe as what you’d get if Brad Jones wrote a guide to Exploitation film.
The book also pulls no punches when it comes to criticism. Author Grady Hendrix makes it clear that some of these genres in particular, especially those who put the horror in an urban setting, are basically written to play on conservative fears. Hendrix does a good job of calling attention to a great deal of the misogyny that with those books, along to other bits of bigotry (especially when it comes to the writing of people of color and gay characters). In turn, the horror books based around rural are also based about more progressive observations – the coal town making a deal with the devil to reopen the mine and bring the jobs back (but in turn opening a portal to hell).
While some of the big names, like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, and Poppy Z. Brite are certainly mentioned – their work helped keep the boom going, and their fiction has been able to endure long after the paperback boom has ended – he puts a lot of focus on other, lesser known horror authors. By no means are they all good, but they are all certainly interesting, either in terms of the particular fears they called on to fuel their work, or their own personal careers.
The book is also interspersed with a wide variety of color images of the covers of these various books, which on its own makes for engrossing viewing. As the books in these various genres go more and more over the top in an attempt to one-up both the last installment, and their competitors , so the covers get more and more hilariously macabre, going from creepy, to gross, to bizarrely absurd.
If nothing else, as I read this book, I found myself wishing there was a Youtube show, like The Cinema Snob, which approached these genre with the same degree of irreverent humor as he does in that show. I’ve already got a bunch on my plate already, otherwise I’d be willing to take up that torch myself. Still, there is definitely a space in internet horror fandom for someone to take it up instead.
Paperbacks from Hell is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions. There’s also an audiobook forthcoming. However, due to just how absolutely important the art is to this book, in terms of showing how these books were presented to the public, I cannot recommend the audiobook when it comes out, and I’m hesitant to recommend the Kindle edition as well. The Paperback edition is the best way to go, with the covers of the various books presented clearly in vivid color.
If Hendrix was to edit a coffee table book compiling their favorites of the covers from this period, I would also give that a clear recommendation, as the covers for these books are intense, over the top, and truly have to be seen to be believed.
I like Shakespeare. While certainly presentation can mean a lot when it comes to a play, a good cast and some good staging can take some of the Bards more “meh” plays and make them enjoyable (such as with Henry VI), and his work can be adapted to a variety of other settings.
So, when I found out about the adaptations of the Star Wars Original Trilogy (and, later, the Prequel Trilogy), to something similar to the work of the Bard, my interest was piqued. However, plays are best when they are performed instead of simply being read off of the page – as anyone who has had to silently read Shakespeare for High School English class will tell you. That is, in part, why most English teachers worth their salt will have the class read the play aloud.
Consequently, when I found said trilogy was also available as audiobooks from Audible, I was now much more interested in picking them up. The audiobooks imagine them as a (mostly) full cast play, with a few of the readers playing multiple parts. For example, the reader who voices Leia also reads the Stage Directions, and I think that the reader who does Obi-Wan also voices the Chorus.
As with the Bard’s plays that featured dialog in other languages (like French in Henry V), dialog in the various constructed languages – like Huttese, Shyriiwook, or R2-D2’s beeps – are not translated, though it’s still rendered in iambic pentameter. R2-D2 does have asides in regular English, which gives him some more explicit character depth. This makes sense as while he had some character depth in the films, it was more implicit, drawn from the sound design by Ben Burtt and the operation by Kenny Baker.
The text of the play has a mix of modifications of the dialog of the films, and some original dialog. Well, original-ish. The play on multiple occasions cribs heavily from Shakespeare’s other work. Luke is possibly the worst offender in this regard, though C-3P0 has a bit that weirdly cribs from Richard III at the start of the play. It’s something that causes a problem with the flow of the story – things are moving along at a nice clip, and your mind’s eye has you both in the midst of the film, and with how the imagined play is performed, before you run into something cribbed from another work of Skakespeare’s canon, and you’re bounced right out of your groove.
Some work better than others though – after getting out of the Stormtrooper armor when they’ve escaped from the Trash Compactor, Luke gives a variant of the “Alas, poor Yorick” speech, while examining the Stormtrooper’s helmet. This works a little better than some of the other speeches, because while Luke has seen death prior to this part of the story – the troopers who boarded the Falcon would make for the first time he’s actually killed anyone, and everyone else he’d shot after that point had clearly been in self defense instead of in cold blood, so it makes sense for him to get reflective.
I really enjoyed listening to the play, and given the choice between either just reading it or listening to the audiobook, I prefer the audiobook – though reading along while listening to it wouldn’t hurt as well. The publisher also put together teaching resources to go with the book, and I could see this being really useful for teaching a High School English class about Iambic pentameter and how Shakespeare’s plays were structured, through presenting a story that the class is already intimately familiar with in addition to Shakespeare’s plays.
I’ve already picked up the rest of the original Trilogy, and will review the rest of those as I come to them. Sadly, the Prequel Trilogy version have not gotten an audio book adaptations, so I’ll have to go with the written versions once I get to those.
Shakespeare’s Star Wars is available from Amazon.com, and purchasing the book through that link will get me a commission based on your purchase.
The thing with collections of short stories is that, in theory, they should serve as your narrative buffet. You take the stories you like, and if there’s one you don’t like, you can move past it and go on to the next. However, much as some buffets have nothing to like, occasionally some short story collections have nothing enjoyable to them. Thus is the case with The Hastur Cycle and me.
As someone who has enjoyed some of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, and playing the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, I had thought this collection would be right up my alley. I was wrong. As a collection of stories, it has a profoundly unpleasant tone to it that seems to permeate every work in the story. There’s recurring motifs of cruelty to animals in general and cats in particular that particularly turned me off. One story has the “lead” (I wouldn’t call him a protagonist) attempting to murder a cat with their cane, and then another draws a connection between a bus driving off a road into a flood with a sack of kittens being downed.
The latter example felt particularly unnecessary, and bounced me hard out of the story in two different directions. The first was in the context of the image being particularly gross. The second was because I had to ask myself – how and when was this particular act – drowning kittens – widespread enough that it was something that an author would feel is familiar enough to draw reference to – and finding myself really not wanting to know the answer, as learning it would be bad for my sanity.
This isn’t helped by the stories not being in any real chronological order by publication. Some of the earlier stories fit, but the rest don’t have any information in terms of when they were published, and consequently it makes it hard to figure out what stories and conceits came from HPL, and which were contributed by those particular authors. Looking at the list of stories and diversity of authors in this book, I was hoping was an aspect of the Cthulhu Mythos where Lovecraft was influenced as much as he was influential. Unfortunately, this book does not contain the answers to those questions.
That said, the central focus of the stories – Hastur, Carcosa, and the King in Yellow – are concepts of the Cthulhu mythos that I hadn’t run into that much, and I was interested in reading more about, so this made the fact that the book bounced me out all the more disappointing. It does make me wonder if this particular issue is particularly intrinsic to stories related to Hastur, or if there are short stories and novels where this isn’t an issue.
I can’t recommend this book, though I admit the issues that caused me to bounce out of this book might not be issues for other readers.
If you do want to pick up the book, it is available from Amazon.com. I receive a commission from purchases picked up through that link, so if you want to help support the site in a manner other than my Patreon, consider making any purchases through that link.
When I first read Dragons of Autumn Twilight, back in Middle School, I hadn’t read much fantasy fiction, and I definitely hadn’t watched much anime. This year, I decided to revisit the Dragonlance trilogy, with what I know now about Fantasy fiction, with a more mature perspective as a reader, and having watched (according to MyAnimeList) 66.5 days worth of anime between when I discovered Anime in Middle School and now.
The first book, in a way, starts of in a cliched fashion, but in a very self-aware cliched fashion – Group of adventurers meet in a bar and are kicked out the door on the road to adventure. In this case, the adventurers are a band of heroes who have mostly known each other for years who left to travel the world because they suspected that there was some Weird Shit going on, and returned with the answer “I dunno, but there’s some Weird Shit going on.”
The heroes are Flint Fireforge (Dwarfy Dwarf), Tanis Half-Elven (Ranger With Dice Lice), Sturm Brightblade (Kinda Lawful Stupid Cavalier/Paladin), Tasslehoff Burrfoot (Kender Thief whose player wants to play the comic relief), Caramon Majere (Fighter with good Con, Str, and Cha but not great Int and Wis), and his brother Raistlin (Mage who rolled 18s for Int and Wis, and 8s for everything else).
They are kicked out the door with the arrival of two barbarians – Riverwind and Goldmoon. The two have obtained evidence that after the Gods had left the word of Krynn centuries before in a great Cataclysm, they are returning to the world. The existing theocratic governments consider this a threat to their power, and the forces of the Goddess of Evil want to cover this up because they don’t want people to know that the Goddess of Evil is quite back yet (or at least that there’s an alternative).
Re-reading the book, I found in my mental pictures of the characters that they easily fit into more anime-inspired portrayals. Much of the humor in the book comes from either characters doing something dumb and being “corrected” for doing it, or through characters getting into silly situations and reacting to them in a comedic manner. At several points through the book I found myself coming up with “omake” strips for the story, or thinking about how it would work as a sort of “Dragonlance Abridged” webcomic.
As an aside, if that doesn’t exist, then it totally should.
The writing is generally okay. It gets a little male-gazey at parts. Admittedly, this happens when the POV character is male, but on the other hand, you can have a male character describe a female character who they’re attracted to without getting into describing their boobs and thighs. On the other hand, Weis and Hickman have the best Dragon descriptions and internal narratives in the business. Each of the dragons we encounter in this story are absolutely terrifying, killing their victims that, to continue the anime comparison, would fit in nicely with a late 80s, early 90s OVA or film.
The characters are two dimensional, but not in a bad way. These don’t have the character depth as the characters from Game of Thrones, but they fit well into archetypes, and archetypes can sometimes work to help the reader know their way around a work. That said, it’s where the writers go with those archetypes in the second installment that really decides how the series goes. To use the Star Wars comparison, by the end of A New Hope, everyone is still fairly stock archetypes. It’s Empire Strikes Back where they go into new and interesting directions.
I definitely enjoyed reading the book – though I recognize that this is the literary equivalent of a popcorn movie – it’s not going to challenge your sensibilities, but you’ll have a fun time while you read it.
A while back I watched the film adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s novel The Keep, and that lead me to go on to read that book and move on to his Repairman Jack series. However, I had never gotten around to the first book in the Jack series, which was also part of the same series as The Keep – The Tomb – until recently.
It’s very interesting reading this book in the context of having read later Jack books before it, in addition to having read The Keep. The Keep is an work of supernatural horror that is played very straight, which lays the seeds of a larger supernatural conflict going on in the shadows. This book ties into that conflict, but not as directly. Glaeken, the first book’s protagonist, is not appearing in this story, nor is the antagonist of the first book. Instead, the supernatural horror of the first story is hinted at, through a setup that indirectly pays reference to The Keep, with a similar setup.
Additionally, the book has a very different from of protagonist. In The Keep, much of the cast was effectively powerless against the supernatural force that had been released from the titular Keep, until the arrival of Glaeken, the one person who knows what’s going on and how best to fight against it – a combination of Van Helsing and the more action based characters in Dracula. By comparison, Jack is closer to the protagonists of various airplane potboiler thriller novels like Jack Reacher, and he approaches problems in a similar fashion.
To put it another way – Glaeken in the film version of The Keep was played by Scott Glenn, who does a great job at playing a character who not only has a great physical presence, but also comes across that he knows more than what he’s telling at all times, and that he knows some crap – that he knows something about the nature of the universe that other people don’t know, and that he won’t tell people if he thinks they can’t handle it (and he thinks they can’t handle it). If The Tomb had gotten a film adaptation that was semi-contemporaneous with the book’s initial publication, the ideal casting for Repairman Jack would likely be someone like Kurt Russell or Bruce Willis – grounded tough guy actors who are good at playing characters who have seen some shit, and who are also good at selling the stuff that the stuff they’re facing is scary.
You’ll notice that I haven’t talked much about the story. That’s because there isn’t exactly a lot there. The premise is basic – Jack is hired by two different people for two jobs. One is from the stepmother of the woman Jack is in love with (Gia). Gia’s step-aunt is missing, and Jack has been asked to look for her, as the police haven’t had much success. The second is from an Indian diplomat, whose grandmother has been attacked, and her necklace stolen. Those two cases end up becoming intertwined, through a monstrous horror lurking in a ship docked in New York Harbor.
If, after that description, your response is “that sounds like an airport novel that would probably get turned into a movie” – that’s a fair assessment. It’s a suspense thriller with a few moments of dread, but no real sense of terror. The main monsters of the story spend much of the time off camera, and most of the times when they attack or kill people also happens off camera. It makes it hard to truly buy them as a threat when you don’t see them succeed.
That said, Jack is an interesting character, and the fact that I checked out this book from the library instead of having bought a paperback new when it first came out helps some. This is absolutely the quintessential airplane horror-thriller novel. It’s something that will get you through a long flight, but if you accidentally left the book on the plane, you wouldn’t feel bad about it.
This week the Legend of the Galactic Heroes series prepares to shift into high gear (but hasn’t quite shifted into gear yet).
Buy the book at Amazon.com.
A while back I reviewed the Silmarillion – this time I’m reviewing and discussing Tolkein’s first novel: The Hobbit. Continue reading → Book Review – The Hobbit
When I reviewed the first Log Horizon book, I mentioned that were a few plot concepts that were set up in the next book in the series – a general malaise filling Akiba, along with the state of food in the world – and in turn a new discovery by Nyanta related to that. With the second installment of the series, the book dives further into that, and shifts genres somewhat. Continue reading → Book Review: Log Horizon Book 2 – The Knights of Camelot
I don’t know if you know this, but I like tabletop RPGs. I really like tabletop RPGs. So, when I learned of the massive amount of scholarship going around RPGs and the history thereof, I got really excited. Though not the first book on the topic that I picked up (that being Of Dice And Men, which I reviewed in the fourth issue of my fanzine) this is one of the first, and one that warrants some discussion. Continue reading → Book Review: Empire of the Imagination
We’re returning to the Star Wars expanded universe with the beginning of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, with Jedi Search. Continue reading → Book Review: Jedi Search
Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series kicked off something of a new renaissance of Urban Fantasy. The genre had existed before – authors such as Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey had written works in the genre, but what made Harry Dresden distinctive is how well it combined the Urban Fantasy genre with the hard-boiled detective novel. I had previously read Storm Front, and several of the later books, but hadn’t read any further books in a while. So, I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit the series beginning. Continue reading → Book Review: Storm Front
Disclosure: I received this book for free from the author for purposes of review.
When I received Aetna Adrift from the author, Erik Wecks, at OryCon last year, I saw that the book was a prequel to another series of books that he’d put out – his Pax Imperium series. Before I accepted the book, I asked if he considered the book to be a decent jumping point to this series. He said it was. I was a little unsure, but I accepted the book anyway. The good news is that the book is. It starts on a rough foot, but once it really gets going, it makes for an enjoyable read. Continue reading → Book Review: Aetna Adrift
This time I’m taking a look at (chronologically) the first book in the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series – Swords & Deviltry. Continue reading → Book Review: Swords & Deviltry