Thursday, December 29, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Celebrity deaths 2016

It seemed 2016 had more than its share of celebrity deaths, and in my most recent Nerdarchy article I take a look back at some that affected the science fiction, fantasy, and Nerd community.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: I'm a Nerd

This week over at Nerdarchy.com, my article includes some writing from my girlfriend, Rebecca, in which she and I do a little back-and-forth about me being a nerd.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 65 -- House of Sand and Fog

by Andre Dubus III

Started: Dec. 14
Finished: Dec. 26

Notes: I've had this one for a while and been meaning to get to it. I've seen the HBO (I think it was) movie based upon the novel from a dozen or so years ago, but I've forgotten nearly everything about it other than a feeling the book must be quite good.

Mini review: A woman loses her house to taxes when she didn't even owe any and then a Persian family purchases the house through a county auction. Nothing good comes of any of this. Bad decisions, stubbornness, cultural misunderstandings and plain old bureaucratic stupidity come together to form this tragedy. For the most part it is done quite well, though for my taste the emotional mental ramblings of the characters often went on too long.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: The Walking Dead

This week in my Nerdarchy article, I offer my take on what I think has gone wrong with Season 7 of The Walking Dead.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 64 -- The Woman in Black

by Susan Hill

Started: Dec. 12
Finished: Dec. 14

Notes: It is most definitely time to get back into some fiction, so I thought I'd get started with this ghost story. I've seen the movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, but I don't remember a lot of the details, so hopefully most of this will seem new to me. Besides, movies are often so far from the books they are based upon as to be nearly unrecognizable, so I don't mind giving this one a try.

Mini review: It has been many a year, perhaps a decade or longer, since I have a read a book which I had difficulty putting down, which kept me up all hours of the night, but this book did that for me. It's not generally as frightening as a true horror tale, being more akin to the works of someone like Shirley Jackson, more haunting mystery than horror, but this is one of the best English ghost stories I've had the pleasure to read.

At Nerdarchy.com: Defending the Champion

The Champion is a type of Fighter in the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons game. Occasionally there are some complaints about the Champion, but this week I defend the archetype over at Nerdarchy.com.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 63 -- Royal Armouries Ms. I.33

translated by Joey Nitti

Started: Dec. 12
Finished: Dec. 12

Notes: This is the oldest known surviving European combat manual. It has been dated to the late 13th or early 14th Centuries, and its author is unknown, though there has been some speculation a cleric might have penned it. Originally in Latin, here it has been translated into modern English. Also, I have to give big thanks to Nancy and Matt Hulan of Arte of the Booke as they made and sold me this edition, which is made of goatskin leather and goatskin rawhide, as well as linen thread with wooden buttons.

Mini review: First off, the artwork here is quite beautiful. Secondly, again I have to thank the Hulans for the quality of this gorgeous codex they have crafted. The translation itself is quite literal, word for word, and this can cause some awkward phrasing, but it works well enough and provides a late Medieval feel. The information here almost entirely concerns sword and buckler, and I definitely learned a few things as most of my experience is with the longsword. Glad I read this one, and happy to have it in my collection.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 62 -- The Pilgrim's Progress

by John Bunyan

Started: Dec. 7
Finished: Dec. 11

Notes: Decades ago in my early 20s, I started this classic of Christian allegorical literature, but I found it too dense at the time for me to wrap my head around. Now years later, older and more patient and better read, I thought it time to give it another chance.

Mini review: Most modern readers who probably find this too simplistic, likely even boring, but I thought it had a certain Christian charm to it, this 1678 tale of a pilgrim who travels through various troubles before finding himself welcome to Heaven.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Atari video game system


For me, Christmas brings up memories of the Atari 2600 home video game system, so that's what I talk about this week in my Nerdarchy column.

Books read in 2016: No. 61 -- How We Got the Bible

by Neil R. Lightfoot

Started: Dec. 2
Finished: Dec. 6

Notes: My guess is I'll be familiar with at least the basics of this information, and I'm skeptical of many Christian non-fiction books as they too often (for my taste) focus on evangelism instead of history, but one can always hope.

Mini review: I was pleasantly surprised with this one. I expected it to be more about the politics and groups that went into defining what we know today as the Holy Bible, such as the Council of Trent, etc., but all of that was only mentioned in passing. No, most of this was about archaeology and historical record, taking several looks at various manuscripts that have come down to us over the ages, the Dead Sea Scrolls being one of the most recent discoveries. Of course there was a Christian slant here, but I felt the author did a pretty good job at remaining objective when discussing the relative historical and religious worths of the different manuscripts. Also, the author did a good job at keeping the writing interesting without writing down to the audience but also without becoming too over-the-top intellectual, taking a nice middle approach.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 60 -- The Sayings of Confucius

by Confucius

translated by Leonard A. Lyall

Started: Nov. 29
Finished: Dec. 2

Notes: Still in a philosophical state of mind, I now turn to Eastern thought, a rarity for me. This 1909 book isn't a complete listing of absolutely everything Confucius was thought to have said, but it should be enough for me to get a gist of the man and his philosophy. These writings were apparently originally compiled by students of Confucius a number of years after his death.

Mini review: This is mostly common sense, being nice to people, working diligently, etc., though some of it concerns historical context not familiar to me, nor probably to most Western readers; and the footnotes are so bare as to be mostly useless. In fairness, this book is more than a century old, so a modern translation might have served me better.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: We need more Unearthed Arcana

Traditionally, Unearthed Arcana books offer new and extra rules for D&D games, yet we don't have one for Fifth Edition, though there are some online options. In my Nerdarchy article this week, I say it's time for a UA book.

Books read in 2016: No. 59 -- Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

by David Hume

Started: Nov. 25
Finished: Nov. 29

Notes: I'm in a philosophical mood, so I turn to Hume. It's been a long while since I've dipped into any serious philosophy, though I've never been a big fan of the Empiricists as writers, though I don't have any hangups concerning their actual ideas. It's not impossible I read this 1757 piece in college lo those many decades ago, but I don't recall having done so.

Mini review: The writing style here was interesting in that it was a fallback to the pattern of ancient philosophers who often used fictional conversations to get their point(s) across. Still, like with most philosophers during Hume's time, I have to find fault when far too often fifty words are used instead of one and when, in an attempt at being precise, a sometimes confusing language is used instead of a more simple one. This particular book lands upon several related topics, but the gist of it concerns whether or not man can find evidence of the existence of God. Basically, this is an argument about the notion of divine design, though it scoffs at outright atheism. The side in this argument favoring design appears to be the winner here, though Hume himself was not known to favor it. Besides my own philosophical interests here, there is some historical interest, as Hume's arguments against intelligent design are often considered the strongest ever produced with the exception of Darwin's works. As for my own personal thoughts on the matter, though I consider myself a Christian, I do not believe there is any objective evidence for the existence of God. Subjective, yes, but not objective.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 58 -- Armed and Dangerous: A Writer's Guide to Weapons

by Michael Newton

Started: Nov. 20
Finished: Nov. 25

Notes: I've read this one a couple of times over the decades since its original release in 1990, but back then it was a Writer's Digest book and now apparently the rights have reverted to the author and he has published it on his own. I don't know if he has updated or changed it in any way, but regardless, I've always enjoyed this book and feel it wouldn't hurt for a refresher.

Mini review: The information here is pretty basic, and unfortunately has not been updated. If you're writing a police procedural or mystery novel prior to the early 1990s, this book can still be helpful, but it is nearly 30 years out of date, so I can't recommend it for authors writing in a modern context. Historical writers might find some use here, especially as the Old West and the World Wars are covered fairly well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 57 -- As You Wish

by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden

Started: Nov. 16
Finished: Feb. 20

Notes: I recently watched an interview with actor Cary Elwes in which he mentioned a memoir he had written a few years ago about the making of The Princess Bride movie. I had not heard about this and thought it would be interesting as the film is one of my favorites, as it is with many people.

Mini review: This was a charming book filled with Elwes' recollections of making the movie, as well as more than a few commentaries from Director Rob Reiner, Author William Gibson, and most of the other cast members. Easy to read, this one also held more than a little nostalgia for a beloved film. Fans should check it out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 56 -- 100 Lost Treasures

by Time Inc. Books

Started: Nov. 14
Finished: Nov. 16

Notes: So I was in a line at the grocery store and got sucked into buying another of this History books. Sue me. These books, more like thick magazines, obviously are not meant to be deep, but they can provide a casual read for when one is in the mood. This one caught my eye not so much because of lost treasures from history, of which I'm guessing I'll be mostly aware, but because of more recent lost treasures.

Mini review: The title to this one was misleading. Maybe a fourth of the articles here were about actual lost items, the majority being about various bits of Americana or items related to historical events. Most of this I knew about, though there were a few interesting tidbits new to me, along with maybe a story idea or two.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 55 -- This is Not the End of the Book

by Jean-Claude Carriere and Umberto Eco

Started: Nov. 2
Finished: Nov. 13

Notes: I'm not familiar with Carriere, but I have enjoyed reading a number of Eco's works over the years, and while I cannot stomach Eco's hints of anti-Semitism and his flag waving for all things European, I do find enough genius in his material to consider him worth reading. This book is another example. On its face it is about the fate of print in the digital age, but it apparently goes into a number of related topics, the text supposedly told as a conversation between the two authors. I have high hopes for this one.

Mini review: This was a delightful book to read. Two old European bibliophiles get together to discuss books in general, the possible future of books, the past of books, threats against books ... basically all kinds of things about books. But with the exception of numerous references to rare authors and historical figures (I was lucky to recognize half of them), most of the talk here is fairly straight forward, like two old guys sitting around sipping wine in a tavern. Book lovers and those who relish an occasional dip into the scholarly should check this one out. And I have to say, in fairness, Eco seemed to backtrack some on what I had perceived as anti-Semitism, so maybe an old dog can learn new tricks.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: All in on D&D

This week my Nerdarchy article is somewhat of an opinion piece in which I point out that imagination is likely more important for this most recent edition of Dungeons & Dragons than any of the earlier versions.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Be very, very frightened

Halloween might be passed, but that doesn't mean the horror ends. This week over at Nerdarchy.com, I take a look back at one of the most memorable D&D gaming modules of all time, Tomb of Horrors.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 54 -- Let's Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should

by David Gaughran

Started: Oct. 17
Finished: Nov. 2

Notes: This e-book was a big boost to the indie writing community when it first came out about five years ago. I skipped it then, but more recently I thought I would check out its updated version. Maybe I'll learn a few things or pick up some tips, or maybe it'll simply act as a push for me to get off my butt and work more.

Mini review: As expected, there wasn't much new here for me, so for myself this was somewhat of a drag to read. That being said, I can't think of a better book or e-book for beginning indie writers to sink their teeth into. Gaughran lays everything out in simple form and provides enough links to more complex material. However, even though this is an updated version, the publishing world changes so quickly nowadays that even this might soon be somewhat out of date.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Change can be good

Over at Nerdarchy.com, this week my article suggests that RPG players shouldn't limit themselves by not allowing their characters to change. And I'm not talking about long character arcs, but from session to session.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: You c---sucker!

This week over at Nerdarchy, I create a D&D version of the infamous Al Swearengen, crime boss, runner of whores, knife fighter, throat slitter, and all around nasty guy from the HBO TV show Deadwood. If you don't know Al, then you should. He's great.

Really. No kidding. He made the show.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 53 -- Killing Jesus

by Stephen Mansfield

Started: Oct. 14
Finished: Oct. 17

Notes: This book apparently takes a look at the execution of Jesus from a political point of view, which currently interests me more than another rehash of the religious angle. So, I'll give it a try.

Mini review: For the casual Christian reader this might be of some interest, but I found this mainly to be little more than a prose version of the last few days of the life of Jesus. It's not written badly, but this is no deep scholarly work. Most of the information is based upon the Bible, which is to be expected, but I had already read the non-Biblical sources, such as Josephus, etc. Some of this information might be new to others, but it wasn't to me. So, basically, this one wasn't for me. No big deal. I did pick up a few interesting tidbits here and there, but that was about it. I've found most mainstream Christian non-fiction works to either be overly reaffirming, which is annoying and I don't feel necessary for myself, or else they present nothing new, which is more the case here. Probably I should stick to apologists or secular Christian scholars, for at least there I find intellectual challenges.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 52 -- The Sable City: Book One of The Norothian Cycle

by M. Edward McNally

Started: Sept. 28
Finished: Oct. 13

Notes: As I do from time to time, I like to try out authors unfamiliar to me, especially indie authors. So, I'm giving this one a go.

Mini review: Once every century the doors of an ancient city open to allow adventurers to enter and search for loot. It sounds like a bad Dungeons & Dragons adventure, but it actually all fits together quite well, even though it's obvious the world is based upon the D&D game to the point even many of the monsters have the same names as their gaming counterparts. The writing here is quite good, and the characters are strong and have a likability quality to them, even the ones who border on darkness. I did think the first chapter was pretty much a waste, being little more than information that was or could have been handed out piecemeal later in the story. And a few characters introduced towards the end had a flippancy I didn't think went along with the seriousness of the rest of the tale, but these are just quibbles. This was excellent epic fantasy writing, and I can highly recommend this book and author to others.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Dr. Strange

Yes, there's a Doctor Strange movie coming out next month, but did you know there was a Dr. Strange made-for-TV movie back in 1978? I discuss it over at my weekly Nerdarchy article.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 51 -- Harry Potter and The Cursed Child

by J.K Rowling and John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Started: Sept. 27
Finished: Sept. 28

Notes: To be honest, I've not heard much good about this late addition to the Harry Potter series, but maybe that's to be expected since this is actually a play and not another novel. Either way, I've read all the other Potter books, so I thought I'd give this one a go.

Mini review: I don't know what all the grumbling is about, because I thought this was a pretty good story, at least a pretty good Harry Potter story. Yes, there were a few things that seemed out of place when compared to the original series of 7 books, but (SPOILER ALERT) this was a time travel story which briefly included alternate timelines, so things can be expected to be a little different. Plus, this being a play, it's action isn't going to be reflected in the same way as a novel. All in all, this felt very Harry Potter-ish to me, so if you're a fan of the original books and movies, you should like this one.

At Nerdarchy.com: D&D animated


For those who don't know, back in the early '80s there was an animated Dungeons & Dragons TV show on Saturday mornings, back when Saturday morning cartoons still existed. Find out more at my weekly Nerdarchy article.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 50 -- Disturb

by J.A. Konrath

Started: Sept. 22
Finished: Sept. 26

Notes: Been a while since I've read any Konrath, and my recent King readings have me in the mood for some darker material, so here goes.

Mini review: An FDA agent finds himself embroiled with crooked cops, crooked FBI agents, the mob, a serial killer, and more, all sicced on him (to some extent or another) by a pharmaceutical company seeking approval for a drug that allows people to go months without sleep. I have to say, it's obvious this was one of Konrath's early efforts, for the writing is quite amateur and I don't think any of the characters, good guys or bad, made a smart decision or move throughout the whole book. Ah, well. On to other material.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Going digital

Oops! Almost forgot to post about last week's Nerdarchy article. If you're a tabletop RPGer and you're looking for a way to keep track of your characters, check out the Digital Character Sheet.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Books read ion 2016: No. 49 -- Finders Keepers

by Stephen King

Started: Sept. 16
Finished: Sept. 22

Notes: Since I recently finished Mr. Mercedes, the first book in this King series, I thought I'd go ahead and delve into the next book in this series.

Mini review: The plot is more convoluted than is usual for King, but I'll take a stab at breaking down the basics. Back in 1978, a famous author is murdered and numerous notebooks of his go missing. No suspects are ever caught. Decades later a 13-year-old boy finds the notebooks buried in a trunk. Not longer after, the author's killer is released from prison for a different crime, and he goes looking for those notebooks. There's much more to it than that, but that's the bare bones. I enjoyed this one much more than Mr. Mercedes, though there is a trend running through these novels which bothers me a little. There seem to be an awful lot of coincidences and serendipity. Usually I can brush this off when it comes to King's writings because there is an element of the supernatural involved, and my willingness to accept such is (I suppose) based upon the possibility of outside forces (both good and evil) working behind the scenes. In this series of novels, however, there is only the barest hint of anything unusual going, and for the most part the events appear to occur in something resembling the real world. That's what bothers me. Admittedly there are plenty of coincidences, good and bad and neutral, in reality, but they don't ring true in fiction when piled upon one another. Still, despite my lengthy rambling here, that's only a minor criticism of these novels. By the way, if you're wondering what the title refers to, it's the name of a sort-of private detective agency.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 48 -- Captain Blood

by Rafael Sabatini

Started: Sept. 6
Finished: Sept. 16

Notes: I've not read a lot of Sabatini, but what I have read I've enjoyed immensely, sort of like a slightly more modern Alexandre Dumas. It had been a number of years since I've read any of his work, so I thought it time I got back to him. I've also seen an old black-and-white movie version of this tale, but it was years ago and I remember little of it.

Mini review: This was simply a fantastic, fun read, one of those novels you hate to end. The tale is about a doctor who is a former soldier and how he eventually finds himself as a pirate. To say more would be to possibly lessen one's reading pleasure, so I'll just say, "Go read this one!"

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Potions!

Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons doesn't have nearly the magic items as earlier versions of the game, so to help with that, Scott Fitzgerald Gray of Insane Angels Studio has released The Emporium of Uncanny Magics -- Lost Potions. Find out more in my weekly Nerdarchy article.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 47 -- Visual Theology

by Tim Challies and Josh Byers

Started: August 28
Finished: Sept. 9

Notes: My associate pastor at church lent me this book, suggesting I read it, so I'll give it a go and find out what it's about.

Mini review: Basically, this is a solid, basic breakdown of what it means to be a protestant Christian in today's world (at least from a somewhat but not totally conservative viewpoint). The casual Christian or the secular reader will probably not find much here of interest, nor will someone looking to study deep theology or who wants to get into doctrine. However, this would be a fairly good book for someone new to Christianity, or possibly for someone who is preaching or teaching a Sunday school class for the first time. And though this is a somewhat basic book, the writing doesn't talk down to the reader but remains clear and free of a lot of theological jargon; the graphics in this book would make good pull-outs for a classroom, maybe even good posters.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Comics, comics, comics

This week over at Nerdarchy I take a look at the new YouTube channel Comic Book University. If your a comics fan, you'll want to check this one out.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 46 -- Mr. Mercedes

by Stephen King

Started: August 27
Finished: Sept. 3

Notes: Catching up on my King reading, I turn to Mr. Mercedes, which apparently is the first in a trilogy or a series, which is uncommon for King, the Dark Tower materials notwithstanding. This could prove interesting.

Mini review: More thriller than horror, in this novel a retired detective unretires himself when a killer contacts him, a killer who murdered a number of people by driving a Mercedes into a crowd. I can't say this was King at his best, but it was far from his worst. The prose was solid and the characters interesting, but most of the time I could see what was coming, which is unusual for me and King's works. As an aside note, when I was a kid I used to write and draw my own comic books, and one of the super heroes was a character named Mr. Mercedes who was funded, obviously, by the fine folks of Mercedes (in my fictional world a number of heroes were backed by corporations).

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Adventure on the high seas

Ever want to go to a comic con on a cruise ship? Well, now you've got your chance. Find out about Fan2Sea in my weekly article at Nerdarchy.com.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 45 -- The Unsuspecting Mage: Book One of the Morcyth Saga

by Brian S. Pratt

Started: August 20
Finished: August 27

Notes: After recently reading the Reader and Educator Guide to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I decided I was in the mood for some fantasy, which I've been neglecting for some while now. I decided to try this author because he's new to me and because the story idea drew me in, being about a role player who finds himself in an actual world of magic.

Mini review: This was a fun story that flowed well with characters you cared about. The downside was the writing needs to be cleaned up quite a bit, but not so much as to make it unreadable. Also, the book is mostly present tense (which doesn't appeal to me) though sometimes it lapses into past tense (which becomes annoying). Still, despite its faults, a pretty good read. I wouldn't shy from this author in the future, though I won't necessarily seek out more works by him.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Blast from the past

My Nerdarchy.com article this week takes a look back at the late 1970s and early 1980s when Mattel Electronics handheld games were popular. Go take a look down memory lane.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 44 -- Reader and Educator Guide to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Started: August 17
Finished: August 20

Notes: This Kindle freebie is sort of meant for teachers to use in introducing Tolkien's work to students. Been a long while since I've read any Tolkien, so I thought this might be worth dipping into to remind me of some past favorite reads.

Mini review: This was interesting. Basically a teaching plan for Tolkien's works, there questions to ask students, suggested readings, excerpts from Tolkien and some of his letters, as well as excerpts from a few ancient epic tales, etc. This reminded me of a lot I had forgotten while also putting a few things in a new light. Glad I read it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: It's been a year already?

Believe it or not, I've been writing for Nerdarchy for a year now, and this week's article takes a look back at some of my favorites for the Nerd crew. Enjoy!

Books read in 2016: No. 43 -- The Medieval Sword in the Modern World

by Michael Tinker Pearce

Started: July 12
Finished: July 17

Notes: I've been looking forward to this one. The author is a well known weapons smith among modern sword communities, and this book looks to entail a lot of information about swords. Originally I had thought this book was a mere collection of information about modern sword makers, but a quick flip through its pages has shown me it is much more.

Mini review: This one is a keeper. Yes, there was some basic information about various U.S. sword makers, and plenty of visual examples, but this book was so much more than that. It got into the different types of steel to be used for swords, the different tempering methods and heating treatments, and I'll add that not all of this is the same for different types of swords (here the focus was somewhat general but seemed to lean a little toward the longsword). Basically, this was a run-through on how to make your own sword, starting with a bar of iron and finishing with how to wrap the handle with wire. There's also some basic information about good practices for using a sword and how to pick a good sword from a simple hunk of metal shaped like a sword. Not all of this information will be of interest to everyone, and I might have made this book sound overly complex in nature, but this was a pretty easy read with maybe only one chapter going a little over my head concerning the technical aspects. For someone interested in making swords, this would be a good place to start.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 42 -- The Last of the Mohicans

by James Fenimore Cooper

Started: July 27
Finished: August 12

Notes: Somehow this classic of literature has eluded my reading over the years. Not even in school did I have an opportunity for a go at it. So, I thought it high time I dipped into it.

Mini review: A great story with great characters, though the writing style was no favorite of mine, often using 10 words when one would have sufficed. Beyond being a literary treasure, there is much to be found here for the history buff. Despite my disliking of Cooper's style, I might have to seek out his other works, at least the ones featuring the Hawkeye character.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Go big or go home

What am I talking about? God-god-godzilla! This week over at Nerdarchy.com, I write about my earliest experiences with the big monster with the mostest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Online gaming

Are you a tabletop role-playing gamer who has been wondering how to play Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs with people online? Wonder no more! Check out weekly article at Nerdarchy.com.

Books read in 2016: No. 41 -- The Sandman, Vol. 10: The Wake

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 26
Finished: July 26

Notes: So, we come to the end, to The Wake, which here has double meaning. Without any doubt, I can say this is by far my favorite collection of The Sandman. Here we find what happens after Lord Morpheus reaches his ultimate fate, how others deal with it, how Dream (in a manner of speaking) deals with it, how the Dreaming changes, how the world has changed and goes on. This also includes my absolute favorite single issue of The Sandman, the one in which 600-year-old Hob Gaddling goes to a Renaissance Festival. All in all, the tale here is one of grieving, but one ultimately with sparks of hope.

Mini review: This is what it's all about. Technically speaking, this collection is the denouement of The Sandman, but I believe it hits its themes harder than did the actual climax. Love, forgiveness, a few tears, it's all here. For me, this is the best writing and the best art of the entire series. I've compared Gaiman's The Sandman to Shakespeare and Milton, and I stand by that, in no small part due to this collection alone. The Wake, a title with a double meaning, both of which are appropriate here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 40 -- The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 24
Finished: July 25

Notes: Though there is another collection after this one, The Kindly Ones really brings to fruition the resolution to Dream's story, or at least the portion of his story presented to readers in The Sandman. It is in many ways heartbreaking, and because of that this is probably The Sandman story line I've read the least. It's simply too painful. However, I know what's coming, so I'm at least prepared somewhat.

Mini review: A lot comes together here, perhaps too much. For the first time, I felt there could have been some story chopping here, that there were too many resolutions for this one tale. Not that things felt forced, but that a little more of the focus should have been upon Dream than upon some of the ancillary characters. However, when the end comes, it does come rather quickly without a lot of maudlin carrying on, though by this point there has already been plenty of build up. I'm not sure what else to say here without giving away anything, which I do not want to do, but ... read this. Despite my grumbles, this is awesome work.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 39 -- The Sandman, Vol. 8: Worlds' End

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 23
Finished: July 24

Notes: A storm brings a group of characters together at an inn and they spend their time telling stories to one another. This is a collection of those stories, and they are mainly stories within stories, probably the more complex of the stand-alone issues within The Sandman. As should be obvious, Gaiman usually inserts a handful of shorter tales between each of the longer arcs within this series. There's good stuff to be found here, so I'm ready to dive in.

Mini review: As mentioned, these are stories within stories, and sometimes they are stories within stories within stories within stories. Really. And it makes sense. Some familiar characters are to be found here, as well as plenty of new ones. Again, there are a number of allusions to Dream and the other other ongoing characters and the larger, broader tale. There is even some heavy foreshadowing of events to come towards the end of Worlds' End. There is some fine, short fantasy work to be found here, and I'd recommend to anyone.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 38 -- The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 22
Finished: July 23

Notes: Here Dream goes on a quest with his sister Delirium. There's more to it than that, obviously, but the conclusion comes down to a matter of family, of sacrifice, and perhaps, of fate. This is the beginning of the end for Dream, where he seals his fate through an act of kindness. I'll say no more. Except for my mini review below, that is.

Mini review: Thus the sadness begins, and the inevitability of fate. There is almost always some sadness surrounding the Dream character, though occasionally a sense of aloofness, but here is where it kicks in strongest for the series. For better or ill, it will continue throughout much of the rest of the overall story. At least in Brief Lives Dream got to see some old friends and relatives, but his actions seem ordained at this point.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 37 -- The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables & Reflections

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 19
Finished: July 22

Notes: I've said elsewhere that the short stories, the one-issue tales, are some of my favorite parts of The Sandman series, and here we have another collection of them. These are a bit more thematically related than other similar collections, and here can be found quite a bit more about Dream's history. As always, looking forward to this.

Mini review: As is much of The Sandman, these are almost entirely historical and mythological tales. Some favorites here, such as the story of Emperor Norton, that of Shakespeare, and others, though there isn't a bad tale in the lot. And though these are stories that stand on their own, it's always interesting to see how they tie in with the broader scope of The Sandman.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Blast from the past

My Nerdarchy article this week takes a look back at the John Carpenter movie Big Trouble in Little China, starring Kurt Russell.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 36 -- The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 18
Finished: July 19

Notes: From what I remember, this was my least favorite of all the Sandman story lines. That being said, perhaps this time I will find something new or maybe I will have a different attitude towards the tale.

Mini review: It finally dawned on me after all these years why this is my least favorite of the Sandman tales. It is because Dream is not the protagonist. In fact, he barely appears except at the very beginning and then in the end. This is a common enough occurrence in the one-shot tales, but I believe A Game of You is the only longer Sandman story in which this is the case. That being said, I did find more to discover and more to enjoy this time around. Perhaps more than any other Sandman collection, this one foreshadows Dream's own fate, but it does so with several reversal twists, placing Dream himself in the role of another. I'm glad I read this again as it increased my appreciation for it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 35 -- The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 17
Finished: July 18

Notes: For me, this collection is where Sandman really comes into its own. Dream returns to Hell in order to set right a wrong he did many, many centuries ago, but when he arrives he discovers Lucifer is retiring, locking up and closing Hell and taking a permanent vacation in the Waking World on Earth. Unfortunately, as he is leaving, Lucifer gifts Dream with the key to Hell. At that point, Dream's existence doesn't become easy. But I've said enough. This has been one of my favorite sections of The Sandman, and as it's been a while since I've read it, let's see if it stands up well to time.

Mini review: Yes, the story still stands up as a favorite. Also, I found myself affected by the ending most strongly, stronger than I ever had before. I think it is because I am a widower and there are reflections of such a fate within the final pages of this tale, though I will say no more on that subject. However, I will say that here Dream is offered possibilities, ones which he refuses, though in time to come many a reader will wish he had done otherwise. It is a sad thing, but in many ways The Sandman is a sad tale, one of a refusal to change. Again, I've said enough. Perhaps more than enough.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 34 -- The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 17
Finished: July 17

Notes: This particular collection brings together a few of the short stories of The Sandman, tales which stood alone as a single issue of the original comic though they sometimes had influence or showed a reflection of sorts of the larger, overarching tale. The shorts were often some of my favorite parts of this series, so I am particularly looking forward to this.

Mini review: It's interesting to look back at these stand-alone tales and to see how the characters, plots, and/or themes had later influence upon the larger story line. Here we have an aging super heroine who seeks death, a cat telling of how she met the Cat of Dreams and what that entailed, Shakespeare and his traveling band putting on a performance for a most unusual audience, and a tale of the sufferings of Calliope, an ancient Greek muse. All in all pretty strong stories, but still not quite the Sandman's best.

Books read in 2016: No. 33 -- The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 16
Finished: July 17

Notes: Here I continue with my re-reading of the entire Sandman collection. At least of the original series. There have been a few mini series and one shots since, and some of those I've read and might get to again. Usually when I post about a comic book or graphic novel I will also list the artists, and in case you're wondering why I'm not doing so with the Sandman books it's because the artists change somewhat frequently.

Mini review: Dream has reclaimed the Dreaming and now seeks to find errant dreams. That sentence would probably make no sense except to someone who has read The Sandman. This is a good story, though I would not say it is the best of the series. The issue titled "The Collectors" is a personal favorite, as creepy as that might seem. Of all the different stories within The Sandman collection, this one more than any other feels to me as if it is building to something larger, to the story entire (which is still a good ways off to completion at this point); that is not a good thing nor a bad thing, though I suppose it could be both. A number of important characters are introduced here, the Corinthian being perhaps the most interesting. I am glad to be re-reading this series.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 32 -- The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes

by Neil Gaiman

Started: July 15
Finished: July 16

Notes: I read The Sandman run in DC's Vertigo comics back when it was originally published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and I've read the collections several times since, though it has been a while. Still, I've never sat down and read all the collections right after one another, which is what I will attempt to do now. I'm a big fan of this series, considering it not only Gaiman's best writing work but some of the best writing of the last 500 years. I really mean that, when considering the collection as a whole. There are portions of The Sandman which didn't work for me as well as other parts, but again, as a whole I believe it is some of the best writing and some of the best fiction to ever be produced by man.

Mini review: Pretty much as I remembered it. The first handful of issues are somewhat rough, but eventually the overall tale moves into a fine mixture of fantasy and horror, eventually ending with an upbeat issue. This is not The Sandman at its best, but there are definitely signs of greatness to come. The last issue in this collection is probably my favorite of this lot, though the horror issue in which Dr. Dee takes over a restaurant comes close. If you've not read these, you need to starting with this book. By the way, I'm intentionally giving away practically nothing concerning the plot on purpose.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 31 -- Planet of the Damned

by Harry Harrison

Started: July 13
Finished: July 15

Notes: I've never read much of sci-fi's Harry Harrison, so when I saw this freebie on Amazon a while back, I thought it time to give him a proper try.

Mini review: The winner of a planetary contest that involves all matters of skills and combat training goes off to try and save another planet from being destroyed by its own suicidal leaders intent upon war with a neighboring planet. The novel came out in 1962 and it reads that way, but it's still a pretty fun adventure read that keeps the tension high up to the very last moment, and even beyond. Fans of '60s sci-fi should appreciate this one.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Science fiction RPG

In 1982 the company TSR (the original publishers of D&D) released the science fiction/space opera role-playing game known as Star Frontiers. Unfortunately the game only lasted a few years, yet it was somewhat popular during its time. I discuss in my weekly article at Nerdarchy.com.

Books read in 2016: No. 30 -- For Nothing: An Upstate New York Mafia Tale

by Nicholas Denmon

Started: July 6
Finished: July 12

Notes: I was looking for some crime fiction and wanting to try a new author, so I decided upon this novel.

Mini review: At first I found the writing clunky, the action unrealistic, and the characters generic if not outright cliched. But I'm glad I stuck with it. About halfway through, everything seemed to improve. The gist of the story is a cop infiltrates the mob to hunt down an assassin who killed the cop's friend. The story gets much more complex than that, and the writing and characterizations improve, and in the end it wasn't such a bad tale. Glad it got better. The ending leaves room for a sequel, so I might have to check it out.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

At Nerdarchy.com: Making it up as you go

I'm talking about D&D and being a Dungeon Master and how one can run a game off the cuff without any planning. This and more at my weekly Nerdarchy.com article.

Books read in 2016: No. 29 -- Gastien: The Beginning

by Caddy Rowland

Started: July 2
Finished: July 5

Notes: I interviewed this author a number of years back, and ever since I've been meaning to try her historical drama set in the art world of the 19th Century. Here goes.

Mini review: This was a fun story, following Gastien through his early life while suffering the brutalities of his father at home on the farm and then eventually making it to Paris to begin his life as an artist and as something of a cad (though he wouldn't call it that).

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 28 -- Children of the Fog

by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Started: June 26
Finished: July 2

Notes: I'll let part of this novel's description tell why it drew my interest: "You have 10 seconds to make a decision: Let a kidnapper take your child, or watch your son die. Choose!"

Mini review: A son is kidnapped, possibly murdered. A marriage falls apart. The mother goes off to be away from everyone and everything. Then weird stuff starts happening. It's not a bad plot, sort of Stephen King-ish, and the writing is pretty good, enough so to keep me reading at a decent pace. However, the characters felt generic to me and the ending was a little too everything-works-out-in-the-end-ish for me. Still, I definitely think this author has talent and will be worth checking out again.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 27 -- The Books of Magic

by Neil Gaiman

Started: June 25
Finished: June 26

Notes: This graphic novel originally came out in 1990 as a four-part limited series though later it became a regular series, though Gaiman did not pen those tales. This one is a favorite, done during Gaiman's fantastic run on Sandman, and it briefly alludes to those characters. The story surrounds a young, be-speckled Timothy Hunter who is apparently supposed to be the modern age's most powerful wizard (and though there are some similarities, especially physically, this was about a decade before Harry Potter). Four modern mages (of sorts) take it upon themselves to show Timothy the worlds of magic, taking him into the past, the present, the future, and into worlds beyond our own. The hope is to guide Timothy along his path, for he has the potential for great good or great evil. This is Gaiman at some of his best writing, and I look forward to dipping into these pages once more. For those unfamiliar with magic within the DC comics universe, this is a good place to start as much is explained or at least mentioned.

Mini review: Just about as perfect as a story can be. It follows the hero's journey perfectly, almost beat per beat, but without feeling stale while keeping a freshness that still feels true more than 25 years later and after multiple reads.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 26 -- Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Hero's Handbook

by Steve Kenson and Green Ronin Publishing

Started: June 14
Finished: June 25

Notes: I've been reading both super hero comics and role-playing game books of late, so why not combine them? Here I've got the main rulebook for one of today's most popular super hero role playing games. Who knows? Maybe I'll even get a chance to play, or I could run some games myself.

Mini review: I don't think I'll be playing this one. Oh, if somebody offered, I might give it a shot, but my feeling is that this game is more complex than I want. It's not the most complicated tabletop RPG I've ever run across, but it is more complicated than where my current interests lie. Some of the complexity is simply due to this being a super hero game, which means it has to cover pretty much every genre, but still there are far more little details than I care to have to worry about at a gaming table. Also, while the overall graphics and design of this book was top quality, I did feel the general layout suffered quite a bit; there were too many rules and powers, etc., brought up before any explanation, and most times the explanations were way in the back of the book somewhere. I almost felt as if I'd started reading from the end of the book then I would have understood things more. Still, I can see how many would be drawn to this game because it is at heart a D20 game, but I think I'm past my D20 days and seek something more streamlined. I'm interested in playing a super hero RPG, but I'll have to keep looking or fall back on an old standard like the Marvel FASERIP RPG from back in the 1980s.