Video Game Archaeology: Dinosaurs for Hire

It’s time for more Video Game Archaeology! This entry’s game is Tom Mason’s Dinosaurs for Hire for the Sega Genesis. Dinosaurs for Hire was developed by Malibu, probably, and published Sega in 1993. I found it, sans case, at Game Zone, a video game store in Joplin, MO. While the cover comes off as more derivative than genuinely interesting, I thought an unknown Ninja Turtles knock-off to be intriguing enough to warrant a 3.99 purchase.
Extreme enough for you?

Continue reading

King of the Impossible!

I sit here typing this review in stunned amazement. At 25 years old, I would say my tastes are pretty well developed at this point. Sure, I’m up for trying something new, but I know what I like and I know how to where to get it. Which is why I am so amazed to find something like Flash Gordon. I stumbled unawares upon Flash Gordon, no foreknowledge, no familiarity at all. That should not be possible. I am a greedy devourer of 70’s and 80’s science fiction and fantasy movies. I love old comics. I love cheesy, goofy, campy films from any era. If you know of a movie with a cult following, I am likely a member of that cult. Flash Gordon is not only all of those things; it is the epitome of them. Somehow, I had no awareness its existence despite it practically being the nexus around which my tastes revolve. I love science fiction and fantasy movies from the 70’s and 80’s. No matter how much work was put into making it look real, they all look cheesy. No matter how they are dressed up, all of these old fantasies (which even the science fiction movies are) still look like childish imaginings. Flash Gordon, though, never attempts to seem real, it fully embraces the unreality of its world and is all the better for it. A haphazard mix of fantasy and science fiction, an origin in the pulps and comic strips, a gleeful disregard for anything even resembling sanity, Flash Gordon has nearly everything I could want in a movie. Continue reading

Not the Brightest Day

Green Lantern Review

Green Lantern is about 5 years too late to the superhero movie party. Back when viewers were suffering through Daredevil, Catwoman, Fantastic 4, and Ang Lee’s Hulk (seriously, just because you like his movie about gay cowboys doesn’t make Hulk not a turd) Green Lantern would have seemed pretty good. It treats its subject with great, even undue, respect and is reasonably well acted. Unfortunately, in this post-Nolan Batman, post Iron Man landscape Green Lantern just isn’t up to par. Continue reading

What I Read: May

Dark Angels, Karleen Koen

Dark Angels is a historical romance novel set in the court of Charles II of England, who ruled during the late 17th Century. It stars a young woman, Alice Verney, who must navigate the treacherous, lecherous court in her attempts to foil a possible assassination plot and secure a marriage with a high-ranking nobleman.

The historical setting is what drew me to the book and I was not disappointed. I have a great weakness for the combination of romances and true-ish historical settings. The court of Charles II is a fertile place for intrigues and plots, and this book doesn’t disappoint. It does feel less dangerous than it could; I never had much fear for the survival of the protagonist (and as this is a prequel to a novel where she was old this is probably intentional) but neither did I doubt the survival of a historical figure who did not die by murder. I can’t say with certainty that Dark Angels is an accurate portrayal of life during these times, but it was an entertaining one.

Unfortunately, Alice is not a likeable protagonist. She is a selfish bully, full of herself and often thoughtless when dealing with her friends. She is smart and beautiful and knows it, lording it over her friends who are somewhat lacking in one or both of those traits. Alice’s annoying arrogance surely intentional, but it does grate some. She is a young person, who thinks she knows much more than she does, but the world, and the novel, still has surprises for her. This is about her growing out of her childish selfishness. But that does not make her any more likeable for the first two thirds or so. Also, several threads are left unresolved at the end of the novel. Maybe these are references to the first volume in this tale, but for just this book, they leave some unsatisfying conclusions.

Dark Angels is a decent read. Come for the history, tolerate the tepid romance. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but neither am I rushing out to pick up the author’s other work

Robert E. Lee on Leadership,  H. W. Crocker III

I was gifted this brief biography a few years ago but did not get around reading it until now. While not objectionable bad, it does have some problems. The biggest of which is that it is framed as business leadership advice, giving it a very narrow audience. Lee’s leadership techniques are worth remembering, but it is all put as a way to get ahead at work.

Robert E. Lee is a figure worth remembering. He did lead an outnumbered, outgunned force to numerous victories over their larger, better-equipped foes. However, he did fight for the wrong side and there is no escaping that. The argument that the Civil War wasn’t just about slavery has merit, but the Civil War was absolutely about slavery. There were other factors of some importance, but the one thing that changed the struggle from Congressional arguing to all out war was slavery. Lee, though, was not necessarily for slavery. He was for Virginia. The Stated rights argument is one that rose to prominence after the war was won, but for Lee his decision not to lead the Union armies, a position he was offered, but to join the Confederacy was based on the position of Virginia and the fact that he thought of himself as a Virginian and not an American. He is a complex figure worthy of study and without out doubt a great man.

I guess my biggest problem with this book is that it is not the biography of Lee I want to read. Fortunately, it is short enough that I did not waste much time on it.

An Autumn War, Daniel Abraham

The third volume in the Long Price Quartet really ramps up the scope. The first two books were very small for fantasy. This was a strength of theirs. A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter were about specific people, specific places at a specific time. Most fantasy involves events of world changing importance, of grand scope and unparalleled consequences. It is both satisfying and somewhat sad to see this series transition to something more like that.

Through the first half of An Autumn War there is the there is feeling of certain calamity. The word war is right there in the title, the reader knows that the potential war will happen. So the protagonists‘, Otah and Maati, struggles to both prevent the war for occurring and prepare for it if it comes are heartbreakingly futile. And while what he is doing is horrible, one can’t help but sympathize with Balasar Gice’s desire to see the andat, the harnessed magical spirits controlled by the poets of the Khaiem that give them the power to prevent wars, destroyed. The first two books have made it very clear that the society of the Khaiem is corrupt, possibly past the point of saving. It requires brother to kill brother to succeed their fathers; it molds it poets through cruelty. The Khaiem is clearly not a nice place and the world might be better off if it fell. However, it is hard to approve of Gice’s ruthless tactics. Maati, who is content to live in the system in place, is trying to find a way to use that to save them, while Otah is relying on more practical, if not more effective, means.

As it did in the first book, it all comes down to Maati, and he is unable to rise to meet the challenge. Maati is a good man; a decent, faithful and kind man. The times require a great man, but all the world has is Maati. There is a certain inevitability to his failure; he has failed at everything else in his life. Despite his failures, Maati is still the most relatable character in the series. He does not want to be a great man. He does not want importance. But he always seems to find himself in places that need a great man, situations that require a hero. And like always, he tries and fails to meet the needs of his world.

An Autumn War is a great piece of fantasy. Even with it’s more epic scope it is still more personal than most of the genre. This is definitely a series to check out.

They Don’t Make’em Like This Any More.

Super 8 was certainly a pleasant surprise. Going in I had no expectations; before the release I’d barely heard of it. I had heard the name J.J. Abrams and before this I was wholly indifferent to his work. I liked Star Trek but not Cloverfield and I absolutely hated Lost. Then I read reviews of Super 8 that compared it favorable to Spielberg’s output from the 70’s and 80’s and I knew I had to go see it. Jaws, E.T, The Goonies(which I know doesn’t quite count, but close enough), those were the movies I grew up with, wearing out the VHS tapes with repeated viewings; if Super 8 could manage to evoke similar feelings then it was a must see. Super 8 did not disappoint. Though it is comparable to those movies it is more than a nostalgic throwback, it takes the themes and style from movies like E.T and Jaws, but is definitely its own story. For better or worse, Super 8 is a modern take on the themes from those classics, and while not perfect, it is eminently entertaining. Super 8 is likely the best movie of the summer. Continue reading

Very Classy: X-Men First Class Review

Much like the previous X-Men movies, X-Men: First Class seizes an overlarge portion of the X-Men mythos and struggles valiantly to weave it into a coherent story. This is no easy task; much of the X-Men’s history is poorly conceived, discordant and just plain contradictory. First Class, though, manages better than the previous entries did to create a coherent film. Still, it tries to do much more than it has the time or the material to. Continue reading

What I Read in April

This is not what I read last month but the month before because I kind of got distracted and didn’t finish in time. Then I went on vacation and still didn’t get it posted. Books for May will come later in the week. I read five books in April, 3 of them were really good. I’m mostly satisfies with my reading pace this year; I should manage to read more than fifty books this year, which was my goal. Getting on with it:

Emma, Jane Austen

Jane Austen was the master of the novel of manners, and Emma may be her masterpiece. Personally, I’m slightly more fond of Pride and Prejudice, but it is a near thing.

Unlike Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, the protagonist of Emma, Emma Woodhouse, is often the target of the comedy. We are not reading just her reactions to the hypocritical, pompous or foolish actions of those around her but also seeing her act the same as those around her. She constantly makes mistakes or misreads situations, but still the reader sympathizes with her. None of her mistakes are out of any sort of malice; she merely overestimates her social abilities. Elizabeth Bennet mostly stands apart from the stupidities of those around her, like her mother or Mr. Collins. They may affect her, but she does not partake in their foolishness. Emma, though, is just as capable of foolishness as anyone in her story is. She is a highly entertaining character.

What puts Pride and Prejudice over Emma, for me, is the near complete lack of plot in Emma. Things happen, to be sure, but there isn’t much of a central plot to tie everything together. Also, Emma is half again as long. I have no complaint with long books, but combined with Emma’s lack of plot it is a slight problem. Emma is a classic for a reason and a classic that is still worth a read today simply for the enjoyment of it.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
In not exactly anticipation, more like serendipitous recognition, I read Water for Elephants just before the movie came out. I did not see the movie, and have no plans to, though I wouldn’t avoid the opportunity if is arose, but the book was all right.

The parts that are about the circus are genuinely enjoyable. Gruen does a great job of making the setting real. While circuses are no something I’ve ever really cared for, I can see why running away to join the circus was a thought of young boys for a long time in this book. And I can see even more clearly how dangerous and treacherous circuses were. The setting in this book is an astounding combination of wonder and ruthlessness. The setting alone is a good enough reason to read this book.

That is a good thing, because the love story that makes up the central plot is mostly lifeless and dull. Once the players are on stage anyone who had ever read a love story can tell how it will play out. There are no surprises or twists, just a tale of falling in love centered on the two least interesting characters in the novel. Still, I would give Water for Elephants a tenuous recommendation.

The Devil’s Eye, Jack McDevitt

I am not familiar with the writer of this book at all; I found it on the clearance rack at Books-a-Million and thought it looked interesting. The Devil’s Eye was a surprisingly good read.

The book starts as a Sci-Fi Detective novel, which is great. Chase Colpath and Alex Benedict try to solve a mystery involving the disappearance of a horror writer by following her trail at the last place she was seen. It has a great mix of Sci-Fi action, with alien monsters and space travel, and regular mystery solving. It is obviously not the first story starring the intrepid investigators, but The Devil’s Eye doesn’t skimp on letting the reader get to know these characters. For as long as the mystery was being solved I thought this was going to become a new favorite of mine.

The problem arises when, about two-thirds the way through, they solve the mystery and then must deal with the aftermath. It could be an interesting way to go about ending this book. The protagonists never really consider the implications of rooting out the mystery and whether or not it was right to (it absolutely was) until after it is too late. However, the aftermath part ends up lending an importance to the main characters that rings false. When they are investigating a disappearance and discrepancies about it, they role makes sense. Later they seem to have world changing power. It is as though a police detective started hanging out with the President. It just makes no sense.

All that said The Devil’s Eye is still a fine read. I’ll be looking into McDevitt’s other works, but my enjoyment of this one did take a big it as it floundered to it end.

Pemberley Shades,  DA Bonavia-Hunt

A couple of months ago I had the bright idea to read what was basically published Jane Austen fan fiction. I purchased three books (I have to note that I got them for pennies) and the two I read went over about as well as one should expect. I had that third one just sitting there, so I decided to go ahead and read it so I could get rid of it and be done with this disaster of an idea

I wish I had read this one first, because it is actually not bad. For three quarters, it is almost good. Pemberley Shades is another sequel to Pride and Prejudice, though fortunately it reads more like the continuing life of the characters from the book and not new people who happen to share their names. The new characters fit right in to Austen’s milieu as well.

Unfortunately, as the book concludes you begin to realize that while the characters are mostly right, the author did not actually have a story to tell. Things that felt like they were building fizzle unsatisfactorily, motivations change for no reason and then it just sort of ends. I would not recommend this. I am not sure why I read it.

The Bellmaker, Brian Jacques.

This is where my re-read of the Redwall series ends for now. Not because I’m not liking the books, far from it, but because they are all so similar to each other that reading them in rapid succession makes them all run together in my mind.

The Bellmaker is, as far as I can tell, one of the few Redwall books to be a sequel that features the same cast as an earlier book. This one is again about Mariel and her cohorts. Though it is titled The Bellmaker, Joseph the Bellmaker has little to do with it. It has all the hallmarks of the other Redwall book; swashbuckling action, dangerous but cowardly villains and larger than life heroes. It also focused more on seafaring than most of the previous books. It is present in most of them to one degree or another, but it is more prevalent here than in any others. The Bellmaker is not the best book in the series, but neither is it out of line with the general quality.

All Roads lead to Helldorado

I have a treat for readers today! Since the late 80’s DC Comics have labeled many of their intentionally out of continuity stories as “Elseworlds.” While great deals of these stories, like all comics, are crap, there have been some standouts. Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come is a true classic, and Batman Year 100, Gotham by Gaslight and The Golden Age are all good. (Some are probably clamoring for Superman: Red Son, but I’m not a huge fan of that one.) However, the best Elseworlds that DC ever published has to be Justice Riders.

Written by Chuck Dixon with art by J.H. Williams III, Justice Riders re-imagines the Justice League as cowboys. While the high-concept is good, it would have been easy to just crank out a passable but forgettable story with little effort. Nevertheless, Dixon wrote a western that if stripped of its Superhero trappings would still be compelling, if overly supernatural, tale.

It may come as a disappointment to some that the Justice League in Justice Riders does not feature Superman or Batman. There is a simple reason for this: in the 90’s they were most often not part of the Justice League. The exception being Grant Morrison’s spectacular run on the title that started the same year that this comic was released. No, the League used for Riders is most of the rest of DC’s big 7¾besides Superman and Batman, the big 7 includes Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter¾plus some favorites from the very popular, and also spectacular, Justice League International. The star of this book is Wonder Woman, re-imagined here as Sheriff Diana Prince.

After leaving her town, Paradise, to catch some horse thieves, she returns to find it destroyed. With the dying words of her faithful deputy, Oberon Sheriff Prince vows revenge on the people who destroyed her town. So she goes recruiting. The first gunslinger to joiner is Kid Flash, the fastest gun in the west.

Young Wally West, who still has his super speed, quickly agrees to join Diana, though he does question her recruiting a man with his reputation. She also turns down Booster Gold, a gambler who looks exactly like Bret Maverick, preferring to decide for herself who joins her posse.

Her next target is Katar Johnson, a Native American who joins no questions asked. All he needs is his gear, which includes hawk wings, a loincloth and a shotgun. Honestly, Native American Hawkman may be the best Hawkman.

Meanwhile, still wanting to help, Booster enlists the eccentric Beetle to give him an edge over the speedy Flash. The possibly insane Beetle has just what he’s looking for.

We also get our first look at the villains, of this tale, the murderous railroad kingpin Maxwell Lord, the otherworldly Faust and their army of killer robots.

So perhaps I oversold how true of a western this is. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Justice Riders is a comic where the Cowboy Justice League fights an army of killer robots. All beautifully drawn by the great J.H. Williams III. It is terrific. I simply can’t emphasize enough how great the art is, as the included pictures should attest.

There aren’t many true surprises in this book, and there doesn’t need to be. Aside from the plethora of supernatural and science fiction elements, Justice Riders is a straightforward revenge western. Sheriff Prince and her group, who eventually number 7, chase Max Lord across the Southwest before the final showdown in Helldorado. There are several sumptuously drawn gunfights, and some inspired appropriations of Superhero concepts into the western framework.

There is one more wrench thrown in, one that is what puts it over the top. Kid Flash is wanted for murder in Texas and there in only one man who can track him down. The incomparable Kid Baltimore, the bowler wearing Pinkerton Detective Guy Gardner. As is always true, Guy Gardner is awesome. And his appearance in this book is just a glorious cherry on this delicious, western sundae.

It shouldn’t be hard to track a copy of Justice Riders down; I highly recommend you do so. You can get it for about $10 on Amazon. I found it for less than 5 at a local comic shop. It is bound like a paperback, so it will sit perfectly on a bookshelf. Really, go get it.