Reviewing the Pages: Wild Cards I

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The first volume of George R. R. Martin’s WILD CARDS shared-world series, back in print after a decade—and expanded with new, original material.

There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo–winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

This is my second read-through of this story collection, and I have to say, my rating will not change. There are some stories in here that are masterful in their creation, and there are some others that are really lacking in their execution. The whole world is creative, and while the characters are actually flawed in one way or another, there is a lot that this world has to offer that we just don’t get. Yes, the epilogue and appendix serve as a way of getting some explanation as to the details of the Wild Card Virus (including a well-thought out speech (lecture) on how the Wild Card Virus is primarily PSI in nature). However, don’t shy away from this read. For all of it’s flaws, it sets up a world that has survived and thrived going on four decades now. I recommend those who like tales that are both dystopian and alternative-history in nature. You never know, you just might find this to be an Ace.

Well, as stated above, I’ve read this book before.  But, it had been pretty much two years since I last read this book, so it’s been an interesting journey to dive right back into the Wild Cards universe.  And I have to say, there were some short stories that I did enjoy, and some that I downright despised.  Why? Because some of the stories were too disjointed; way too all over the place to be coherent.  Granted, I like some of the characters within those stories, but their stories just didn’t do it for me.  There are also some character that I wasn’t huge fans of, like Fortunato and Puppetman.  In Puppetman’s case, it’s because his involvement in the story was confusing (even though that he’s pulling strings like a puppet master, and the end reveal was good, it just gave me that weird feeling).  For Fortunato, it’s just his powers in general.  There are some characters in here that I’m not sure are Aces or Deuces.

There are a lot of real-world events that come across in this story, and a lot of real-world themes like discrimination (putting Jokers in the shoes of those in the minority during the Civil Rights era).  There are also a lot of very heavy themes, with violence and various themes of a sexual nature (including rape), so a fair warning to those who are ready to dive into this collection, be careful.

One of the good things that I like about this read is that, while we have several different authors writing for this book, we get a lot of interconnected characters.  Multiple characters get brought through different stories, whether it’s the Sleeper and his ever-changing faces; The Great and Powerful Turtle in his armored body; or other characters like Fortunato and Gimli.

Don’t let my review give you second thoughts about picking this one up.  It may not be that great, but it’s the first in what appears to be a very large series.  There are going to be some hiccups along the way.  Dive right into this series folks, and enjoy questioning everything you once knew.

Reviewing the Pages: In Cold Blood

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Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is both a masterpiece of journalism and a powerful crime thriller. Inspired by a 300-word article in The New York Times, Capote spent six years exploring and writing the story of Kansas farmer Herb Clutter, his family and the two young killers who brutally murdered them. In Cold Blood created a genre of novelistic non-fiction and made Capote’s name with its unflinching portrayal of a comprehensible and thoroughly human evil.

One of the pioneering novels in true crime non-fiction, In Cold Bloodfollows the murders of the Clutter family in their home, from events that took place just days before the murder, to the execution of the murderers. The book starts slow, with the task of having to set up the setting of the area as well as letting the reader get to know the Clutter family. But, roughly halfway through, the pace starts to quicken as the sense of “will they get caught” keeps getting larger and larger. While I expected there to be more about the trial than what we got, that could be attested to the sheer feeling of “open/shut”ness to the whole case.

Alright.

I felt that there was too much time in the novel spent on Perry Smith.  Yes, I know that there has to be some kind of focus here, but, I’m not sure if the focus should have been spent on only one of the killers.  Dick Hickock doesn’t get nearly enough “screen” time in the pages, which is strange because there would have been more there for Capote to get coverage for (since Dick’s family was there in Garden City while Perry had nobody).  Maybe it’s because Capote figured that Perry would make more of a figure to garner sympathy, but I didn’t feel it here.  Everyone has a tough life; some just have it worse off than others.  BUT, I don’t need to read about someone’s bedwetting problem over and over again.  Feels to me like Capote may have developed a bit of an intimate bond of some sort with Perry, and took to expressing it by trying to make Perry a sympathetic character despite the heinous crime that he had committed.  And I feel like it didn’t work out so well.  There are also some parts in this novel that I felt were completely fictionalized; as if Capote needed to come up with something to fill in the gaps to keep the story rolling along.  But, that’s just me.

But, for those of you who do like true-crime reads, you should check one of the pioneers of the genre.  Strap in folks, it’s going to be a long ride.

Reviewing the Pages: By Dawn’s Bloody Light

What if the deadliest people in a serial killer story…weren’t the serial killer?

A small Midwestern college town.  A series of murders that ape the Jack the Ripper killings.  Then Laney Miller is butchered just after dawn in front of a second-hand bookstore.  The one witness didn’t see anything…except Laney getting dragged out of her car and murdered by an invisible force.

One that carries a straight razor.

It’s a town that has attracted the weird and strange as far back as the eighteen hundreds.  Since then disappearances, murders, suicides, and kidnappings have only grown worse.  Especially targeted are a group of local girls that carry the same face…

Laney’s face.

Laney’s girlfriend Joy and her friends decide to find the seemingly-supernatural killer and take him down before he strikes again.  

In as violent and bloody a manner as possible.

By dawn’s bloody light…they will have revenge.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free through InstaFreebie in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Deanna Knippling is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors, even if I’ve only read a few pieces of her work.  By Dawn’s Bloody Light is a quick little foray into supernatural horror, and makes me want to know more about the history of the town, and some of the locals described within.  There’s one character in particular that gets so much buildup at the very beginning, and while I was immediately suspicious of them, their actions only dispel my suspicions of them by a little bit.  The brief hints of lore that get dropped about the mysterious happenings in town make me want to know more about the town and it’s deep and bloody secrets.  Who or what started all of this? Is it older than time itself?

If there’s anything I disliked about this read, is the reveal of the killer.  It got dropped on us like Dorothy’s house on the Wicked Witch, and felt a little…lacking.  I was invested in the supernatural aspect of the killings, only to be let down a little bit.  But even with the reveal, I really enjoyed this read.  I do hope that there are more stories in this unnamed Midwestern town, revealing more about the…weirdness that plagues this town.

If you like supernatural horror that give some creatures a different twist, and a read with diverse characters, than you should check this read out.  Sure, it’s short, but it does pack quite a punch.  Enjoy the scares, even if nobody wants to talk about them.

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep 0.2-A Fragmentary Passage: The Perfect Bridge

Hello everyone! The FINAL final Kingdom Hearts game review (up until III finally drops), and it’s all about…

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And before I begin,

The game is short.  My file says it took me about five and a half hours to play the game, but I did go out and hang out with a friend for about an hour and a half or so and just left the game on, so total actual play time isn’t that long.  But, what it lacks in length, it packs a tremendous punch in story and tying all the threads together so we can dive right on into III without any effort.

So, the main story follows the tale that Mickey is telling Riku and Kairi about Aqua, and how she is lost in the depths of the Dark World.  And throughout Mickey’s tale, Aqua goes to three of the worlds that have been lost to the darkness in the story that we have been to before…Cinderella’s world, Snow White’s world and Sleeping Beauty’s world.  Along the way, we meet Heartless old and new, including our first ever boss Darkseid, or multiple versions of it anyway.  We then get the help of King Mickey, and we end up on the Destiny Islands, where we get a little more detail into the ending of Kingdom Hearts I with Riku and Mickey closing the door.  Though, I don’t remember if Mickey wasn’t wearing a shirt in the ending of the original game…

Then, there’s that ending.  If that’s a nice little bow to top off a package, I don’t know what is.  Acting as what should be an introduction into III, we see Riku and Mickey get new garb and take off to the Realm of Darkness to finally retrieve Aqua.  Kairi, along with Lea/Axel, will train under Merlin to be Keyblade wielders.  Meanwhile, Sora, who has lost most of his abilities (again!), is tasked to start gaining those back, and what better way to do that than to visit an old friend…at Olympic Coliseum.  Which is where I hope the game starts us out, is at Olympic Coliseum.  That would be pretty awesome.

But, another thing I really appreciate about this game is the fact that we are getting a taste of what KHIII may have in store for us.  I love how the game plays on Unreal Engine 4, and how the world just looks in general.  Sure, we have gotten teasers of it in the previous Kingdom Hearts III trailers, but still…just being able to PLAY using UE4 and just seeing the beauty of the world makes me really anxious for KHIII now.

Well, enough from me.  You’ll just have to play the series to pick up on all of the nuances that this series provides.  I’m not able to do it justice.  But, until next time, I am the Baumeister, and I have been, obediently yours.

 

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance: Fractured in More Ways Than One

Hello everyone, and welcome back to another video game review.  This round:

Yes.  Dream Drop Distance.  The last full release game in the Kingdom Hearts universe, at least as of this writing.  It’s been a very long journey to get here, and man, do I have to say that this game does feel rather…disjointed.  Now, yes, this game was originally released on the Nintendo 3DS, and so a lot of the actual gameplay is a little disjointed when it comes to the Flowmotion and Reality Shift commands that we get in the PS4 re-release as a part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue.

Now, I do mention that this game is “fractured”, and it is.  In more way than one.  But, before I begin…

There.  This game is fractured primarily in it’s personal story by playing as both Riku and Sora trying to make it through their Mark of Mastery exams.  But, as soon as the first world, we learn that there’s something a bit…amiss here.  Sora and Riku never really interact with each other in person, only seeing each other through a portal in one world, and reaping the benefits of their actions in other worlds.  That, all comes to a head in The World That Never Was, when you finally realize that Organization XIII, yes, the “same” Organization that Sora and Riku “defeated” at the end of Kingdom Hearts II, is after Sora.  Looking to make Sora a “vessel” (I’ll explain shortly).  The story ends with Riku becoming an official Keyblade Master, while Sora looks to strengthen himself on his own personal journey.

That brings me to Organization XIII, and trying to use Sora as a vessel for a piece of Xehanort’s heart.  One of 13 pieces.  Does anyone else think that’s just a little bit…overkill? I mean.  Look at Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter.  He has seven Horcruxes, and in the end, it backfired on him because of the power of love conquering all in that case.  Here, it’s 13 dark entities, each bearing a little piece of the original.  How is this going to work out in the end? Will that little piece of heart get destroyed when the bearer gets defeated? Or will it return to Xehanort? And we only see a select handful of characters here…Young Xehanort, Ansem, Xemnas, Xigbar, Master Xehanort, etc, all in the name of resurrecting Kingdom Hearts and the [chi]-blade, uniting the seven Keyblade users of light and the thirteen seekers of darkness, with Sora seemingly being the key to it all.  And it will all come to a head in Kingdom Hearts III.

Kingdom Hearts III can’t come soon enough, and if what I’ve read about Kingdom Hearts 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage is true, we can get a taste of just what Kingdom Hearts III is going to be like.  But, I’ll tell you more about that in the next review.  Until next time, I am the Baumeister, and I have been, obediently yours.

Reviewing the Pages: Ten Minutes to Deadtime

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Terry’s alarm keeps waking him at 3.33 every morning. The problem is, he never sets it for that time. On one occasion he wakes up and something is very different. And that’s when his life begins to unthread…
 
Already struggling to balance work and home life, can he overcome the evil that has awakened?

Super short, and while certainly interesting, I felt like there wasn’t much here to tie into the Shadow Fabric Mythos. Sure, we get the Witchblade and what could only be alluded to as the Shadow Fabric, but that’s about it. Sure, the scares that we get here are good. But, in terms of the Mythos, there’s some things that are left to be desired. If you need a quick read, and are hankering for some scares (and a little bit of bewilderment), then this read is for you. And, as a bonus, you don’t need to have read The Shadow Fabric in order to understand anything in this story.

Well, here we are.  Another story in the Shadow Fabric mythos.  And my, do we…not get a lot.  At least, in terms of the Mythos.  Sure, the Witchblade makes an appearance, though for a much sinister appearance than it does in The Shadow Fabric.  But, I have many, MANY questions to ask this story, and there’s just not that many answers.  For example, why 3:33 am? Besides the whole “it’s the Witching Hour and 3:33 is that perfect witching time” (or something along those lines).  Why is the Witchblade suddenly sinister, or is it much darker forces that have the Witchblade at work here? Are the Forgotten the souls that have been stitched together into the Fabric? As I said, so many questions that don’t have much of an answer here.  And that’s ok.  There really doesn’t need to be too many questions answered.  Let’s just hope that a lot of these are connected in one way or another later on down the line, maybe in a unified short story collection, or a sequel novel?

Either way.  For those wanting a quick and easy read, then you should pick up this read.  It may leave you with a lot of questions, but trust me, this whole series is full of them.

Reviewing the Pages: Night Shift

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More than twenty-five stories of horror and nightmarish fantasy transform everyday situations into experiences of compelling terror in the worlds of the living, the dying, and the nonliving.

“Jerusalem’s Lot” Previously unpublished
“Graveyard Shift” October 1970 issue of Cavalier
“Night Surf” Spring 1969 issue of Ubris
“I Am the Doorway” March 1971 issue of Cavalier
“The Mangler” December 1972 issue of Cavalier
“The Boogeyman” March 1973 issue of Cavalier
“Gray Matter” October 1973 issue of Cavalier
“Battleground” September 1972 issue of Cavalier
“Trucks” June 1973 issue of Cavalier
“Sometimes They Come Back” March 1974 issue of Cavalier
“Strawberry Spring” Fall 1968 issue of Ubris
“The Ledge” July 1976 issue of Penthouse
“The Lawnmower Man” May 1975 issue of Cavalier
“Quitters, Inc.” Previously unpublished
“I Know What You Need” September 1976 issue of Cosmopolitan
“Children of the Corn” March 1977 issue of Penthouse
“The Last Rung on the Ladder” Previously unpublished
“The Man Who Loved Flowers” August 1977 issue of Gallery
“One for the Road” March/April 1977 issue of Maine
“The Woman in the Room” Previously unpublished

Night Shift is a collection of twenty short stories that are all designed to fill you with terror and dread. And it does a very good job of that. Whether it’s continuing on with some of the stories in his already extensive library; or creating new stories that will become a part of horror culture, in both good and bad ways. There are a lot of stories here that have become either big screen or made-for-TV movies, or either TV shows or mini-series. Each one of these short stories contain the right amount of horror for the length that the story was. Which is good. Sometimes there’s too much horror in a short piece, and not enough time within the pages to dissipate it. For those of you who like short horror, and haven’t read many from Stephen King, then this read is one worth checking out.

Well, there’s not much more that I want to elaborate on.  I will add in my thoughts on the individual short stories as I had posted them during the course of my reading through this book.

“Jerusalem’s Lot”–King dipped into Lovecraftian horror with this one, which ties in to ‘Salem’s Lot in a way.

“Graveyard Shift”–What is it with rats and horror? In this case…the rats ARE the horror.

“Night Surf”–A precursor, or prequel-in-idea story to The Stand, the horror isn’t in the horror of catching A6, it’s the human fear of dying.

“I Am the Doorway”–not even space can escape King’s touch of horror. Couldn’t imagine having that happen to me.

“The Mangler”: almost by pure chance, a demon possesses a powerful machine and causes havoc.

“The Boogeyman”–a very…unique take on talking to the monster. Lots of in-depth analysis to be had here.

“Grey Matter”–not much I can explain about this one. Man drinks a foul beer and becomes a giant grey blob that is starting to divide.

“Battleground”–I love this story! Such a fun concept.

“Trucks”–What happens when an unexplained event causes machines (in this case, tractor-trailers) gain a mind of their own? This short story gives us an idea.

“Sometimes They Come Back”–Ghosts and demons, a perfect horror mix with childhood trauma as the catalyst event for it.

“Strawberry Spring”–Interesting premise for this tale. Weather phenomenon causing one person to get…murderous? Ending leaves the story in ambiguity.

“The Ledge”–Well, what would you expect when you try to run away with the wife of a criminal syndicate boss that has known to be a little sadistic? With the crime boss’ penchant to lie, the ending is a little ambiguous.

“The Lawnmower Man”–This is what happens when you let a Greek god start a lawn service.

“Quitters Inc.”–Interesting short story. Unlikely to happen in today’s society, but still, interesting concept.

“I Know What You Need”–A little bit of black magic to gain love? Don’t you know that any sort of magic won’t get you love?

“Children of the Corn”–Religion and horror don’t mix very often, but it can certainly be scary.

“The Last Rung on the Ladder”–A story, which while the premise is more suspenseful than terrifying; it’s the underlying terror of drifting apart and the guilt of not contacting loved ones before they leave our plane of existence. A theme that hits to close to home this week.

“The Man Who Loved Flowers”–This story almost didn’t seem like it was going to have a tinge of darkness in it, until the very end.

“One for the Road”–So, we got a prequel for ‘Salem’s Lot, and now we get a sequel…of sorts. More like a small continuation of the story that falls a few years after the ending.

“The Woman in the Room”–Horror based in reality can always be the scariest, and watching a loved one wither away can be downright terrifying.