Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: The Boston Strangler

The Boston Strangler The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From 1962-1964, thirteen women were sexually assaulted and murdered, strangled to death by an unknown assailant. This book chronicles the resulting manhunt.

I'm mentioned several times that I'm not really into true crime. I prefer my murders to be fictitious. After enjoying the shit out of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, I decided to give true crime another chance.

Well, I still prefer my crimes to be the made up ones but this was a pretty engaging read. The writing was breezy and it did a good job of presenting each suspect as a believable candidate for being the Boston Strangler. One by one they were introduced and dismissed.

I found it interesting that psychics were consulted and police thought the strangler had to be more than one man. The descriptions of the murders wore on me. I can read about fictitious murders all day long but I feel a little squeamish when they're real. Maybe I'm too sensitive for true crime. It also made me a little paranoid. If I didn't have a dog, I probably would have made sure the back door was locked a couple times.

Since I spoiled the ending for myself by looking up the case on Wikipedia before opening the book, I eventually got kind of bored with it and started skimming but that was no fault of the book or the writing.

While it didn't make me a true crime convert, I did enjoy The Boston Strangler. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seinfeldia is the story of Seinfeld, the TV show that went from being watched by a handful of people to being a pop culture phenomenon.

Confession Time: There was a period of my life that Seinfeld was my favorite show. I watched it religiously in syndication and in prime time as new episodes aired. Actually, religiously probably isn't the right word since I never missed Seinfeld but ditched church at every opportunity, sometimes while reading Sein Language. To this day, I still watch episodes in syndication. When this popped up on Netgalley, I requested it immediately.

Seinfeldia chronicles Seinfeld from it's early days to it's prime to it's eventual conclusion, yadda yadda yadda. The behind the scenes stuff was really interesting. A lot of the material from the show was drawn from real life experiences of the writing staff, something suspected but was never quite sure about. I also learned that most writers only lasted a season, discarded once they'd been milked of all useful material, which kind of makes Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld seem like heartless dicks. Early tension between Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was something I'd never heard about before, as was Michael Richards' aloofness.

The show about nothing had some humble beginnings. Fear of cancellation was rampant, which was fine with Larry David, who thought he only had four or five episodes in him anyway. Good thing he was able to Curb that feeling eventually. Early landmark episodes include The Chinese Restaurant, which takes place entirely in a Chinese restaurant and doesn't feature Kramer, and The Contest, the infamous episode where the gang try to see who can go the longest without masturbating.

The book continues to chronicle the show, covering everything, including Larry David's exit to Jerry's rejection of $5 million per episode to keep the show going beyond the ninth season. After that, the lives of the cast post-Seinfeld are covered, as is the rise of Seinfeld fandom. I'd forgotten about Michael Richards' racist meltdown in 2006.

This book tickled all of the nostalgia centers in my brain, a fun trip down memory lane peppered with speed bumps like the low talker, the close talker, man-hands, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

To sum things up, I enjoyed the hell out of this. Not that there's anything wrong with that. To wrap things up, here are ten of my favorite Seinfeld episodes in the order they aired.
1 - The Chinese Restaurant
2 - The Parking Garage
3 - The Contest
4 - The Bubble Boy
5 - The Junior Mint
6 - The Non-Fat Yogurt
7 - The Marine Biologist
8 - The Calzone
9 - The Sponge
10 - The Soup Nazi




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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review: Firestarter

Firestarter Firestarter by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When some cash-poor college students volunteer for an experiment, they have no idea of the Pandora's Box they are about to unleash. Years later, one of them, Andy McGee, is on the run from The Shop, with his daughter, Charlie. Can Andy and Charlie evade The Shop before their world goes up in flames?

First off, for years now, I cannot read the title without hearing the Prodigy song of the same name. Maybe he'll follow this one up with a book called Fuel my Fire or Smack My Bitch Up one of these days to continue along the same lines.

Firestarter is one of those Stephen King books you don't hear all that much about. A lot of people only know of it because of the movie starring Drew Barrymore in the 1980s. Well, more people should know about it because it's a corking good read.

A 1960s experiment gave Andy McGee and his wife psychic powers. It also altered their DNA enough to produce Charlie, their immensely powerful psychic daughter, whose abilities include pyrokinesis, hence the title.

For a good portion of the book, the suspense comes from Andy trying to stay one step ahead of The Shop. The rest of it is the two McGees trying to escape The Shop's clutches. The Shop, and John Rainbird, make fantastic villains because they aren't nearly as far outside the realm of possibility as evil cars and spider-clowns.

Like a lot of Stephen King books, the relationships between the characters keep the story going. John Rainbird proved to be more than the scene-chewing villain I originally pegged him as. Unlike the protagonists in Doctor Sleep, I feared for Charlie and Andy almost constantly.

I'd forgotten how brutal King was sometimes in his older books. There are some parts of this one I'll remember for a long time. Maybe Stephen King will revisit a character or two from this book before he goes to the clearing at the end of the path, maybe as part of a Dark Tower story.

As I said before, this is a very underrated King book. I don't really have anything bad to say about it. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

I'm The Professor!

I'm the Professor: Creating Doctor Who Analogues in Spelljammer

Ever have an idea you just can't shake?  Since writing a review for Spelljammer yesterday, I keep coming back to how I could create a Doctor Who analogue in a Spelljammer campaign.  Keep in mind, I haven't had an active gaming group in fifteen years and haven't played an RPG at all in ten years.  Still, Doctor Who + Spelljammer has been nagging at me.  Hopefully, writing my ideas down will help me focus on more productive things.  I'll be sticking to the AD&D 2e rules for this.


  1. The Professor:  In the classic (or infamous) comedy module Castle Greyhawk, there was a halfling Doctor Who analogue called Professor Why.  Since a halfling can't run a Spelljamming helm unless he's a priest, I'm going with a gnome thief-illusionist for The Professor.  As for his version of the TARDIS, it would be easy enough to make it a contraption with a helm inside and a lot of magical devices for creating extra-dimensional spaces, making it, in fact, bigger on the inside.  Woe to anyone entering the Phlogiston in this sort of TARDIS, though.
  2. a renegade Arcane on the run: One of the gems of the Spelljammer setting is the mysterious nature of the Arcane.  An Arcane rebelling against his race's cold, mercantile nature could make an interesting NPC, especially if he stole a new product the Arcane hadn't gotten around to marketing yet, or one they deemed too dangerous to use.  Perhaps a ship that has a revolutionary type of helm in it and is bigger on the inside?
  3. A rediscovered Juna artifact, flown by the elf that found it: The Juna are responsible (or possibly responsible) for a lot of unexplained things in the Spelljammer universe.  How hard is it to think they had Spelljamming technology far in advance of what is currently being used?
  4. Miscellaneous other ideas: Another apparatus created by Kwalish? Someone slapping a Spelljamming Helm in the Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga?  There are a lot of possibilities.
Thanks for reading.  Hopefully, I can get back to more important things to ponder, like why males have nipples and things of that nature.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (AD&D 2nd Ed Fantasy Roleplaying, 2bks+4maps+cards+counters)Spelljammer: Adventures in Space by Jeff Grubb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way back in the early 1990s, I stumbled upon a used copy of Spelljammer in the local bookstore. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in space? How could I lose?

My fourteen year old brain had no idea of the Pandora's Box I was about to open in our gaming group. In addition to the usual humans, gnomes, halfings, and such, Spelljammer threw a lot of new races and concepts into the vanilla fantasy mix. Wooden ships sailing in space? Planetary systems housed in crystal spheres? The Phlogiston? Lizard men as a PC race? Hippo-like mercenaries? Giant Space Hamsters?

It was a hard sell for my players but we eventually placed a six month campaign after a few false stars. As teenagers, we had some problems with it, noteably in the vast travel times between crystal spheres and the length of time it took to play out a battle between ships. It wouldn't have been so bad if we wouldn't have Thunderdomed every battle.

The ship designs ranged from ordinary sailing ships to butterfly-like Elven vessels to the spider-themed ships of the Neogi. Also, one can't forget the Mind Flayer Nautiloid, the most iconic ship in the game. Gaze upon it's majesty!



As an adult, I see that the setting had some strikes against it right out of the gate. For most of the product line's life, it was used as a transitional setting, a way to get characters from one of TSR's campaign worlds to another and didn't have a setting of its own until the Astromundi Cluster, the final Spelljammer product, was released. It also was a little too strange for gamers used to the vanilla Tolkien-inspired fantasy of the day, what with air envelopes, insectile PC races, and the odd tone. It's hard to take a setting seriously once you discover the Giant Space Hamsters.

I think the setting had/has great untapped potential, though. I still catch myself thinking about it in odd moments. If time and location weren't obstacles, I'd love to get the old gang together for one last campaign. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Run

Run Run by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Burdon Lane works for a legal gun dealer who also dabbles in some illcit side deals. When a gun deal goes south and a political figure winds up assassinated, Burdon's friends turn on him and he goes on the run. But who can he trust?

During our third booze-soaked meeting, Kemper gave me two books: Seveneves and this one.

The book started slow. The first 35% was setup, introducing all the players and getting them into position. The remaining 65% was an orgy of violence and betrayal.

Run could have easily been a no-brain thriller but raises a lot of questions on race, identity, and gun violence. Burdon Lane struggles with who he is over the course of the novel. His feelings over the deaths and betrayals set him apart from other anti-heroes, making him more than the Parker ripoff I thought he might wind up being.

While Douglas E. Winter writes great action, the relationship between Burdon and Jinx was my favorite part of the book. Jinx could have easily been a stereotype gang member but wound up being one of the better written characters in the tale.

The never-ending betrayals and brutal violence wore on me after a while. Still, I loved the showdown at the end. The aftermath was a little soft, though.

That's about all I have to say. Run is better experienced than read about anyway. 3.5 out of 5 stars.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World is a collection of short stories by Harlan Ellison. I mostly picked it up to read A Boy and His Dog, to experience the post-apocalyptic story as it was originally intended and to see if this version was as rapey as the movie starring Don Johnson. Here are my thoughts on some of the stories contained within.

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World: I have no idea how to summarize this story. I'm not sure what it was actually about. Something something time travel, releasing insanity across the multiverse, possibly an allegory of Lucifer's fall. I'm still trying to digest this one.

Along the Scenic Route: When another motorist insults him on The Freeway, George challenges him to a duel. Which of the drivers and his tricked out vehicles will come out of the confrontation the winner?

This dystopian death race was a pretty cool story, two men and their weaponized cars battling it out.

Phoenix: Travelers cross a red desert, searching for a lost city that has risen from the sands.

This one was interesting with a Twilight Zone ending. The concepts were a little out there but it was a pretty satisfying read.

Asleep: With Still Hands: Deep beneath the Sargasso Sea, a team of men go to slay The Sleeper...

This was a bizarre tale of the dead and dreaming Sleeper and the world he protected. Ellison sure knows how to do endings, even if I thought this story wasn't that great.

Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.: Kris Kringle, greatest secret agent in the world, battles the forces of S.P.I.D.E.R. Can he stop their insidious eight-point plan in time to do his Christmas duties?

This was a cheesy, fun, spy spoof. At least it was, until a rapey moment near the end. 90% enjoyable, though.

A Boy and His Dog: Vic and his telepathic dog Blood wander a post-apocalyptic wasteland, looking to get fed and get laid.

Yeah, the novella version was just as rape-oriented as the 1970's movie.

Closing Thoughts: I have mixed feelings on The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. In a technical sense, Harlan Ellison is a very good writer. However, most of the stories within were a product of their time. Were the 1970's as rapey a time period as some of the fiction of the period leads me to believe. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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