Thursday, November 16, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: The Legends of Luke Skywalker Review

During The Force Awaken, Han Solo informs the newest generation of heroes that “The Force. The Jedi....All of it...It's all true.” And while that may make for a solid quote he probably should have clarified what they'd already heard about historical events as heroes tend to inspire a great deal of tall tales. That's the concept behind the most recent Star Wars novel, The Legends of Luke Skywalker, an anthology of potentially false or misinformed stories about the farm boy turned space wizard. Given the nature of this storytelling format, this review is going to be slightly different than usual. More importantly, could this be the first Luke focused book of the new continuity to not completely suck? Time to find out.

The Wraparound Story

Aboard a cargo ship bound for Canto Bight, cremates swap tales of the legendary hero, Luke Skywalker. One of them is helping a stowaway who once had her own encounter with the last Jedi. Unless any of these characters manage to pop up in the new movie, this story isn't bound to prove all that important to the greater universe. That's not really the point so much as to showcase how the very idea of a mystical hero can unit and inspire people. On that point, this wraparound works out just fine, just don't go in expecting some deep emotional pathos or grand hints about the future of the franchise.

The Myth Buster

The first segment gives off some of that classic Arabian Nights vibe of stories within stories. The deepest layer of this narrative chip dip is a conspiracy theory about how Luke was just the key player in a massive con job. Honestly it's a pretty nifty write-up of how the original trilogy could have been a public relations trick meant to sucker the common man into supporting the rebel alliance. Who spearheaded this rouse you ask? Why that would be Benny O'Kenoby, a wise intergalactic grafter. Even the existence of the Death Star is waved off with alternative explanations for how Alderaan was destroyed. Essentially this is a truther version of events though the commentary of other characters along helps to keep it fun, along with an appairent cameo from the main man himself.

The Starship Graveyard

Next we have a tale from an Imperial perspective, told by a soldier who is left near death after the battle of Jakku. A mysterious figure arrives and cares for the solider as the pair braves the dangers of the desert planet and smoldering starship rubble.
Easily one of the better tales in the book, it hinges on the notion that this mystery man may not even be Luke. In fact, it seems quite likely this is just another soldier merely playing the role in order to survive a bad situation.
Another interesting aspect to this story is how Imperials thought of Luke after his duel with the Emperor. In their mind he's something close to a demon. A magical bogeyman fueled entirely by lightning and rage. The same grunt who fears this enemy is able to see another viewpoint when he meets a group of individuals who need a hero to follow.

Fishing in the Deluge

Another solid bit of storytelling arrives with this yarn about a quiet, tropical planet whose populace lives off the bounty of the sea, rides giant birds, and follows the flow of the tide, their version of the force.
Unlike the previous two tales, this seems like a legitimate record of Luke's activities as he visits this place to learn more about how it's inhabitants use the tide. He is met with resistance yet given an opportunity to learn if he can complete a set of challenges with select children as his guides.
While there's nothing massively informative here, this is a breezy and entertaining story that showcase how other people view the energy of the universe.

I, Droid

Things begin to slow down with a narrative told entirely by an enslaved droid. No, the perspective isn't the problem so much as the story they tell is an odd combination of slow and over the top. The droid in question wasn't enslaved by just anyone you see, it were taken to an inhospitable world which houses a secret cabal of rich layabouts who use droid labor to continue their elegant lifestyle.
After being altered to become an enforcement droid to keep others in line, our narrator offers details on a particularly willful specimen called R2-D2 and later a very strange droid that is revealed to be Luke in disguise. The Jedi liberates the robotic lifeforms and brings down the sheltered society of scum who enslaved them, meanwhile earning respect from the droids for his own inorganic components.
The point here is essentially how Luke is a hero to all walks of life, even those who aren't technically alive. Beyond that is a welcome look into one of the lesser elements of this franchise, the bizarre and enduring cruel treatment of artificial life. However, the dull progression mixed with the odd setting make this one a bit laborious to get through.

The Tale of Lugborious Mote

Here's the one that's quickly gotten some flack from the fanbase either because they're taking it too seriously, simply weren't prepared for such an outlandish story, or just couldn't abide it's goofy tone. The plot concerns that of a highly intelligent flea who lives on Salacious Crumb (Jabba the Hut's weird monkey pet). This flea claims credit for Luke's victory over the rancor and Jabba's barge as he tricks Skywalker by pretending to be the force.
Obviously this one is meant to be a laugh as well as a tale of fame by proximity. The person relating this tale claims that the flea in question has an act where it plays out the entire saga of Jabba's palace/barge on a miniature replica. Maybe that's true. Perhaps the truth is some higher evolved insect was witness to those events and simply twisted the narrative for personal gain. In essence, the very sight of Luke doing his heroics could open up an entire career for someone.
The problem when it comes to such a patently silly concept as this one is that it requires a light, humorous touch that simply doesn't come through as strongly as it should. Which means this farce is closer to a chore.

Big Inside

Finally we return to somewhat more traditional narrative about Luke and a biologist finding themselves trapped within a giant space slug and searching for an escape before they are digested. Personal issue; I've never liked the whole trapped inside a big monster trope. Even for someone who loves gore this setting is just too icky and weird for my liking.
Taste aside we are offered yet another take on the force via beings called Mist Weavers and the story flows fairly smoothly. It's just such an odd tale to wrap up with. More so when you try to figure out how the teller would have even heard of these events to begin with. I'd like to chalk this one up to being pure fantasy though it's written with enough of a straight face to seem legit.

In the end, The Legends of Luke Skywalker fares better than other novels based on the character by focusing on what he means to other people rather than another unnecessary tale of his force education. At the same time, this is much more of a playful love letter to the character than a hint of his journey after the original films. Anyone looking for grand tales of his work building a new Jedi academy or teaching his nephew will be sorely disappointed.
Author, Ken Liu keeps the book going mainly by staying light and breezy. Characters are largely stock personality types, events are kept at the right level of interesting while potentially false. Essentially it's the novelized form of a kid playing Jedi in the backyard. That style makes for an inherently comfortable read, just not one that's all that deep or important, making this one tough to place on the rankings.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu
12. Catalyst by James Luceno
13. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
14. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
15. Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
16.Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
17.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

That's all for today, folks. I've got a mountain of stuff to work on though I plan to bring another update before Thanksgiving. Remember; this Friday is The Feast of Maximum Occupancy so be sure to treat yourself. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ninninger vs ToQger The Movie: Ninjas in Wonderland

Halloween is over, a statement I find hard to believe not because I'm hanging on to the past but because I'm still elbow deep in the clean-up. When not sorting fake tombstones, working one of the jobs, or entertaining visiting relatives, I've been catching up on sleep. Of course that makes it pretty easy to let this place fall by the wayside but that ends now. What better segway could there be from pumpkins to Christmas trees than a series with space monsters and brightly colored superheroes? Seeing as I detest Kyuranger and we're still months away from its' replacement I figured we'd work our way through films based on the two Sentai series we've reviewed in full. Armed with the knowledge that we've already gone through the Ninninger summer movie we find ourselves catching up with two teams in Ninninger vs. ToQger The Movie: Ninjas in Wonderland.

Going in there was some worry about the ToQger portion of the film as life lead to me breaking off from the show less than a third of the way through its' run. It's not as if I disliked the show. I found it a nice little slice of upbeat entertainment in an otherwise sour year. Still; I never made it to any of the big revelations or even the introduction of the sixth ranger for that matter. Any worry that this would cause confusion during this film was unnecessary as this is very much a Ninninger affair, warts and all.
Fully expect this pic to increase site traffic tenfold.

The movie kicks off with the Ninninger crew riding a train towards a ninja themed amusement park during which they are each slowly sucked into strange fantasy scenarios such as being a crew of gun-toting international spies. These opportunities to let the characters play around with new situations are quickly wasted as the fantasies account for less than ten of the opening minutes. The reason these delusions don't go on further is thanks to the intervention of the ToQger who plan to rescue the ninjas from being captured and turned evil by a villain named Dr. Mavro.

Of course one of them happens to fall into the evil doctors clutches, that being Takaharu whose abilities are combined with the spirits of evil ninja clones to make an evil ranger that will spread darkness via a big cloud. This causes Taka to be ripped from his body and face slowly fading into nothingness. Sadly this is about as complex as the plot gets.
That lacking sense of scale may be the biggest issue here. Most Sentai films I've seen, even particularly lousy ones, make sure to up the threat level or take place in a new environment that makes proper use of the higher budget and run time. Other than some more active camerawork during fight scenes this may as well be another episode of the show, and not a very good one at that.
I don't want it to sound like this is an absolute shitbrick of a film here. Most of the basics of Sentai are on display without many major drawbacks. However, as usual for Ninninger it fails to chose what it wants to be. The opening delusions suggest it will be a wild trip that allows these characters to branch out, only to ditch the concept completely and become an incredibly basic team-up. Even the vs portion of the title makes zero sense as the teams don't even have a customary conflict stemming from some misunderstanding. And while it seems like there may be a slight mixing of team member as ToQger wants to rescue Takaharu without risking further ninja abductions, the notion is tossed aside within minutes in a long dramatic moment that boils down to “you should stay here and be safe.....nevermind, let's go together!”

Then there's the way ToQger is treated within the film. The team has practically zero reason to be involved and beyond that they're vastly underwritten and missing some key elements. First off Conductor, Wagen, and Ticket only make blink and you'll miss it cameos in flashbacks. Sixth Ranger, Akira doesn't appear until the halfway point only to see probably less than three minutes of total screen time, most of which is just the stuntman. Even the team's core gimmick of color swapping is totally ignored which is a massive missed opportunity as they could have confounded their new friends or possibly shared the ability to make color-swapped Ninningers.

Meanwhile the Ninninger front is just weird. Continuity wise this seems to take place after grampa dies in the show, yet nobody seems very torn up. Takaharu as always gets the most screen time but feels watered down compared to his usual antics. And you remember aht I said about, Akira? Well that pretty much applies to Kinji as well. Seriously, this movie has something against sixth rangers.

In the end we're given a straight hour of mostly lazy Sentai. There's nothing notability thrilling or funny here other than perhaps the forced cameo by Zyuohger who display far more personality than everything else going on while defeating one of the villains which our main heroes never question the fate of. Do they think the guy just disappeared? I'd recommend the movie more than an episode of Kyuranger but that's not really saying much, is it?

So my big return to Sentai coverage wasn't so hot but we've still got a handful of flicks to talk about while we wait for the next series. On top of that there are plenty of Star Wars novels, holiday foods, and oddities to discuss in the near future. I'll make an honest attempt to get around to everything as penance for missing my last Halloween article. On that matter, I gotta get back to packing up decorations but before I go, if anybody has a request for some sidelined Sentai coverage, drop a comment and we'll see what we can do.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Halloween Adventures 2017 with Awaken Haunted Attraction

Any great holiday deserves a little adventure, an event that helps us bust out of our standard routines. Appropriately all of the late year celebrations offer plenty of opportunities for such outings be they intentional or not and wouldn't ya know that yours truly was lucky enough to bookend an otherwise standard work weekend with two such trips. So if you're in the mood for tales of back roads scenery, spooky attractions, and celebrity tombstones then please read on.

Waking up on Friday I had no major plans other than a quick trip to Lansing in order to hunt down a few items and fix a mistaken charge from Barnes and Noble. The initial portion of the trip worked out largely fine with even the disappointments (Target being out of heavy resin tombstones) being made up for in other departments (Target's Stranger Things box set). After a few stops we took in delicious Turkish food at a placed called, Chupli where lamb kofta and bulgur wheat renewed my energy.
It was the next choice that changed the course of the night as my brother wanted to visit Whole Foods, a store that not only makes me shudder but exits on the other side of MSU which unbeknownst to us was kickstarting homecoming that night making for a deliriously complicated trip. Whole Foods was as usual a thorn in my side made up for slightly by the presence of Boo-Dah Gouda Halloween cheese. While hardly a slam dunk of a find and overpriced at that, I'll take victories where I can find them. Leaving the realm of man-buns behind we ventured forth to the Okemos Kroger and Target which I found to both be significantly lamer than their West Lansing counterparts.
Having endured enough traffic for the time being we set for home via the back roads. It was a beautiful evening with gloaming light granting a spooky atmosphere for country homes and farm land. Eventually our route was disrupted by a downed bridge, forcing us to improves and become briefly lost among farmers working night harvests, the lights of their combines adding another interesting touch to our travels.
As we lurched home I couldn't help but realize the good number of country dwellers who really go all out decorating. Some of these people could put me to shame and I'm working for a fanbase of eager trick-or-treaters, these folks barely have neighbors which means they're doing it largely for themselves. I salute you fine scary folk.
Arriving back in town in need of hydration for the upcoming workdays we came across a blockade for a fatal accident, forcing us back down more back roads to finally reach the comforts of home where we found most everyone to be in remarkably high spirits. To go from such a serious scene to a jovial one was odd but no one could be blamed as it was a gorgeous night.

After a couple mornings of dull work with a creamy middle of horror flicks and Halloween specials, it was time for a trek to a haunted attraction. Last year had provided quite the find in Awaken located in the small town of Leslie, Michigan. Eager to return and see their improvements this year my brother-in-law and I set forth down another set of byways.
Knowing in advance that we'd be returning I made sure to encourage an extra stop that we'd failed to make last year. Within the city limits lies Woodlawn cemetery, a peaceful rest spot with a tiny car dealership across the street. This hallowed ground plays host to a small celebrity named Frank L. White. While that name may not jump out at you most likely know his face.

The quick story is that Frank was born in Barbados, immigrated to the states, and became a moderately famous chef who once modeled for a breakfast item called Cream of Wheat. That's right, we took a few minutes to visit the Cream of Wheat guy. While not a fan of the product baring his likeness, I am intrigued how a mans life took him from the islands to cooking in Chicago before finishing out his life in a tiny town south of Lansing.
If you're ever in the area and wish to pay respects, Frank's not very hard to find. There are two main entrances into Woodlawn, one paved, the other dirt. Take the dirt path, head right at the first fork and there he is. Currently he's the first stone on the right with a planter making his marker more visible.
We looked around the cemetery a little longer, reading the historical marker for the towns first settler who was both an atheist and spiritualist, and I even took the time to climb to the top of the nearest crypt. No disrespect intended, fairly sure it was empty. Just felt like the thing to do.

Our graveside visitation complete we worked our way through the town which has once again allowed people to decorate the light posts for a Halloween competition. Some were simple and whimsical while others such as a giant pumpkin faced scarecrow or a Ghostbuster themed display were positively outstanding. Leslie really is a very small town but they endeavor to do something more and have their own little charm thanks to locations like Spanky Clean Coin Laundry.

At last we arrived at Awaken just a few minutes past opening. A good move as people soon filed in behind us. The word seems to have gotten out and brought in far more business than what they had in their first year. I'd like to think this is all thanks to the CosmicSparky bump though my lacking ego knows that to be a lie. Once again it was a mere twenty bucks to get in (cheap for a haunted house) and from what I knew, they'd expanded this year.

Right from the start I was reminded of one of the most unique features of this particular spot, the lighting. Most haunted attractions I've visited are crazy dark affairs to the extent that walking can be a little dangerous. There's been such an effort to create scenes and atmosphere here that everything is dim but still light enough for visitors to take in the craftsmanship without losing the spooky feeling. There was a proper mixture of quiet and loud moments combined with misdirection and a good combo of both props and actors. At one point I heard a loud oncoming noise that I felt assured most be an animatronic until I turned to find an actor charging at us. I'll admit it got me good.
Even with the expansions, it's still not the longest spook house I've been to but the combo of value and quality can't be denied. However, I will say I'm not sure if it was as good as last year, mostly because the final wasn't as dramatic. Still ranks as one of my favorite haunts and I'd like to visit again, plus they gave us free hats. Have I ever mentioned I don't wear hats? Aw, hell, it's still nice to get one.
and mummies love em.

On the way home, something was missing. Any grand adventure should include a proper food stop, and so we found ourselves at New China Buffet in Eaton Rapids. Can't tell you how many times I've passed by this place without much thought but it turned out to be not so bad. Obviously it's Chinese buffet so there's enough sodium to drop a bull and no one would accuse it of being healthy. That being said it lasted longer than most buffet food, digested pretty well, and we had the lovely entertainment of the cooks yelling at each other in their native tongue.
The door to nowhere is a nice touch.

Now here we are just a week away from the big event. Currently I'm working in all manner of last minute projects and picking up discounted decorations to make sure we offer one hell of a show to the kiddies. There's also the chance of more fun at a local event as our historical courthouse is having a Halloween event lead by another holiday addict like myself who over the years has served as both an inspiration and a rival even if he doesn't know it. There's still time enough to get at least one more post up here before the month is out so look out for a a big post to send Halloween out in style.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fright Crate September to Remember Unboxing

Frequent readers may recall that our previous unboxing didn't go so well. In fact, Cryptocurium's Parcel of Terror may have marked the only time when a mystery box left me in a state of irritated disbelief to the point that I wanted to take a break from mystery boxes. That wasn't an immediate option however as I already had another box on order from another service. After a series of delays due to hurricane season I finally have my first experience with Fright Crate. Does this service have what ti takes to wash away the disappointment of Cryptocurium? Let's find out.

Let's get the details outta the way first. Fright Crate is a horror themed monthly mystery box that in a welcome change of pace is not a subscription service. No sir, they simply make a certain number of boxes and you either buy it or you don't. Excess items are also made available on their store. The box comes in two versions, a twenty dollar 3-4 item option or the full 5-6 item thirty dollar version that I opted for. Note that price does not include shipping or the potential extra cost for larger t-shirts. When all was said and done my full crate with an XXL shirt cost $39. It's a pretty hefty price tag. It may actually be the most expensive box I've tried thus far. Lucky for them they had a couple of my favorite horror topics on offer, encouraging me to go through with a purchase.

On the matter of shipping and packaging they simply add some of their stickers with quotes from famous horror personalities (John Carpenter and Clive Barker in this case) to a USPS flat-rate box. The average mail-date is near the end of the month which means there's actually a chance of getting a box within the intended release month. Imagine that! Sadly all the hurricane activity in Florida during September lead to delays and this edition wasn't complete and mailed out until Friday October 13th. Enough about logistics. Who wants to see what's in this thing?

First up we've got an exclusive shirt, my first in quite some time and an item type I've missed. Of all things this is based on the 2001 remake of Thirteen Ghosts which if I remember correctly was pretty terrible. People do vote for themes though, so this thing must have garnered some sort of following over the years. Shirt wise it's not so bad. A little odd, not based on a property I care about, but where else are you going to get a spooky shirt featuring the upper half of Tony Shalhoub's head? The material is a bit clingy at first though I imagine a little bit of wear will take care of that. Still curious if anyone will recognize these ghosts when I wear this out in public.

Next up is a resin bust of Deadite Ash from Evil Dead 2 made exclusively for the this box by Serial Resin Co. Once again I'm a bit surprised as this is a more dignified and series item than the usual Evil Dead fare. It's solid, well-built, and nicely painted. Beyond that it's a first for me as figures in these boxes are usually closer to a regular toy whereas this is my first ever bust. Currently it resides near my bed as the newest Halloween decoration.
Behind the bust is an art print for Night of Something Strange. Hadn't heard of the film before receiving this, apparently it's about an STD that turns folk into zombies. Sort of an over the top version of Shivers. From the trailer it doesn't look very good but ya never know. What makes this more than mere filler is that it's sighed by the writer/director Jonathan Straiton. I may not know his work but he joins the ranks of Derek Mears, the folks from that Third Day short I interviewed last year, and a seemingly legit James Garner in my small autograph collection.

Next we have an elusive pin of the new Pennywise from It. I have yet to see the new version, haven't seen something in the theater since early August actually. My point is that while I have no basis one way or another towards this clown, the pin is great. Good weight, nice sculpt, double clutch. Plus it inspires jealousy from both my sister and nephew which is always fun.
Now we move on to a crossover item. Cryptocurium created a wall plaque of the poster art for the original Fright Night. In all fairness they are playing to a weakness of mine since that movie is pure gold and it didn't take long before I hung it above my light switch. I love totally love this thing, got zero complaints about it. It's a reminder that for as poorly as I think of his subscription service, Jason Mckittrick makes some boss items. I only wish something like this could have come in his last parcel so I wouldn't have felt totally swindled by that 35 dollar magnet. Yes, I'm still bitter. Jason, you're capable of great work, let me know when you make a better service.

Since the horrid Florida weather delayed the box by weeks, an extra item was tossed in for fun. According to the inventory sheet some boxes simply received temporary tattoos, one in three however got some old school Nightmare on Elm Street stickers. I've seen many a retro bloggers write about these over the years as a prime example of a time when violent screen villains were readily marketed towards kids. Most of mine seem to originate from Freddy's Revenge, the black sheep second entry in the series though one I hold some affection due to it's unique approach to the format and awesome score by Christopher Young. The goofy thing about these stickers is that many of them serve as puzzle pieces meant to be put together within the matching sticker book. Without the matching pieces you end up with stickers of somebody's shirt or forehead. There's more entertainment on the back of each sticker where you'll find advertisements for posters, the board game, and the legendary Freddy's Greatest Hits tape.

Is Fright Crate an excellent offering in the overcrowded world of mystery boxes? Yes, yes it is. There was enough quality and such a wide spectrum of item types that I was was almost confused. With most boxes the format is between one and three cool things and then some junk to fill in the blanks. Here there was an honest attempt to make every item special. The only one that counted as traditional filler was an apology for late shipping, a phenomenon I've never encountered in this market before. Pretty much everything here will see usage. Even the heavier price point is alright since the value is immediately apparent. I'm satisfied, and those of you who read my unboxings know I'm not easily won over. I would buy another Fright Crate down the line. Almost bought the October edition as it is supposed to be bigger than usual. While I sort of regret skipping, this has been an expensive enough month that I'm happy to have saved the money.

That's a wrap for tonight, kids. This is gonna be an odd week for yours truly as I have more responsibilities than normal, basically have yet another job albeit temporally. At the same time I also have a couple nights completely cleared for me to vedge out with Boo Berry and horror flicks. If there's nothing more on here by the end of this week, then look forward to a report from the annual haunted house trip. Going back to Awaken in Leslie MI this year. If you're in the area I highly advise paying them a visit. If you're lucky you might hear me scream like a lady.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Sale 2017, October Fireworks, and Mystery Oreo.

Possibly more than anything else I adore how these final holiday laced months of the year allow us the opportunity to twist fairly mundane activities into something special. Watching a terrible movie in November for instance becomes a special cinematic turkey. In a similar fashion, the local library book sale can become a hunt for long forgotten horror literature which will give an additional chill to October nights. That exact book sale has been a part of my Halloween festivities for years now. Sometimes I bring home such a massive haul I can easily base a whole post on it. Other years however, it's tough to find even a few worthwhile titles. Add to that a missing in action mystery box, and I find myself at loss for good blog material this week. Still; when life gives you lemons, you hastily toss together a grab bag article and hope nobody minds.

Since the loss of our local used book store this past Summer cut off easy access to classic horror fiction, I entered this book sale with high hopes that I'd find some nice entries from Graham Masterton, Frank De Felitta, or hell, I'd even take Whitley Strieber in a pinch. Sadly despite the massive offering of books on display I hardly found anything of interest be it horror or otherwise. Suppose I shouldn't complain too much as I've still got novels from previous sales withering on the book shelf. Let's check out my slim pickings for this year.

Curfew: My first find of the night is the classic sort of oversized small town terror piece, complete with praise from Stephen King. Props should be given to whoever wrote the back jacket description as it was interesting enough to pull me in without giving offering a damn clue as to what it's about. Whole thing could be about man eating teddy bears for all I know. Looking it up online there seems to be some dribble about new-age mystics and evil spirits. Sounds good enough for me.

The Relic: Here's the one I'm most likely to read this month. I've watched the movie at least half-a-dozen times or so as I find it to be one of the more solid high-budget horror flicks of the 90's. From what I know, like most films based on books, the events on page are substantially different and potentially better. At least I know what I'm getting in to here.

Inheritance: All I've got to go on here is that it's some kind of revenge scheme thriller involving telekinetic children.

House of Menace: The description for this one is so vague that it may actually be a romance novel. It was late in the sale, and I was desperate. If nothing else the cover art makes for a good laugh. The house is so manacling it makes decent god-fearing folk gasp just by looking at it.

Scorpius: The only non-horror/thriller entry this year is one of the post Fleming, James Bind novels. I've never taken the time to read any Bond titles outside of the original series but I figured it's worth spending a quarter to find out if they're any good. I highly doubt this will provide as many eye-popping instances of misogyny and racism as the classic books so it probably won't read as much like a high class mad-lib.

While my poor luck at book hunting was a bit of a downer, there was something that capped of this week in style. As part of some initiative to inspire town pride and what not, the city decided to launch fireworks after the last home game of the season. Lucky for yours truly the football field is within my backyard skyline allowing a splendid opportunity to sit back with some hooch and watch the show without ever leaving the comfort of my pajamas. Props to the town on this show. While not a massive event, they put far more money and effort into the proceedings than I would have imagined. My vantage point added the bonuses of water reflections and terrified ducks fleeing for their lives. Fireworks aren't something regularly associated with this season but if the town decides to continue this display as a regular event, I'll gladly stock up on beer and light a fire in the backyard every autumn.

When not out looking for smelly books or viewing pyromania, I've been participating in viewing a horror flick every night. Can't recall how many years I've been doing this, though I will say there's no plan to stop anytime soon. Part of the fun of the horrorthon is balancing old standbys with new goodies and the occasional oddball title. For me that means there's a larger than normal amount of movies arriving in the mail, or simply nabbed off the cheap rack at Wal-Mart. Within the past couple of weeks I've inducted a spread of titles ranging from the newest Chucky to the lackluster virtual reality opus The Lawnmower Man. Really looking forward to showcasing the latter to my nephew so he might finally understand why I snort whenever people bring up the topic of VR.

Fueling those light night fright flicks are these new Mystery Flavor Oreo Cookies. Actually I feel fairly confident in knowing what the flavor is. I won't reveal it here so as not to color anyone's expectations. If you're on the fence I will let it be known that they're fruity, and honestly kinda awesome.
It's sort of odd that Nabisco chose October to release these cookies as there's nothing objectively spooky or festive about them in any way. They could just as easily brought them out in any other season without issue, though I'm happy to have one more treat to make this month special.

And let's call that and end to tonight's ramblings as I still have to still in for the customary viewing of a Friday the 13th flick. Let's face it, the night just wouldn't be complete without watching a guy with a misshapen head terrorize the double-mint twins.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

CosmicSparky's Horror Soundtrack Stash.

As I've spent the first week of October up to my neck in decorations and novelties, I've begun to notice a change. Ever since becoming gainfully employed on a more steady basis, my stash of spooky d├ęcor has been enhanced to the point that I'm having to kick some of the old simple stuff out. On the one hand it's nice to be able to put out just a few nice items rather than an armada of junk but it does throw things for a loop and forces me to change a lot of usual tricks and patterns for decorating. Things change, that can't be avoided I guess. One change that I've fully embraced however is the option of scoring these spooky nights with fine music. Ever since getting into vinyl collecting, I made a point of getting some good horror soundtracks in advance so as to not murder my poor bank account. Seeing as it's to gross outside to place more tombstones, and that the mystery box I wanted to kick off this month with is running a week late, let's talk about horror soundtracks.

One of my must own titles for the collection from the start was The Fog. No doubt it is one of my top horror flicks, one I watch every year for it's atmosphere and simple campfire tale storytelling. It doesn't hurt that director, John Carpenter pumped out one of his best scores for this effort.
Death Waltz Records had already made a special release of this soundtrack several years ago which has become something of a pricey collectors item. Thankfully Silva Screen Records jumped in with their own double LP version. The presentation is quite nice with one green disc and one white. Most importantly the sound is rich and clear. If you've never heard the score before, it's best as an aftermath affair. Say you were out shopping or went to an event. When it's time to go home and settle down this is the music that perfectly fits the mood.
Much as I want to scream the merits of this release there is one issue. Not unlike most Carpenter film scores, this one is very repetitive to the point that listening to both LP's in a row is simply too much of a good thing. Taking in one LP or one side at a time is great, but going through it all in one sitting is a surefire way to overdo it.

The first horror soundtrack in my collection from a label I knew practically nothing about beforehand is The Fly. Varese Saranamde brought this little beauty out in a few different color variations of which I purchased the black and green mix from Collectors Choice Vinyl. That color choice perfectly captures the off-putting and grotesque nature of the film.
As for the music composer, Howard Shore crafted something a bit more lively and almost operatic here. It's definitely not something to come down on. No, this one works best for me come chore time. It's just far enough over the top that it can turn antics like folding cloths or cleaning the kitchen into manic and spooky affairs. Best of all, Varese releases tend to be a bit more affordable than titles from Mondo or Waxwork so this can be gotten for a decent price.

Another colored release from Varese Sarabande that I initially wasn't sure about buying is their new version of Christine. For as many times as I've seen the film, the score never stood out to me as much as other John Carpenter works. In part that's because it has more variety than his usual scores which in turn makes for a refreshing listening experience.
The score itself has a mix of melancholy and synth sounds that really make for grade-A rainy day music. It may not be Carpenter's most lauded work but in all honesty it stands on its own better than most of his other scores.
The artwork and coloration of the LP are outstanding but there is one thing that bothers me about Sarabande titles so far, and that's how flimsy the packaging feels. This one even more so than The Fly just feels pathetic and wimpy. I suppose that's the trade-off for being more affordable.

Now this one has a story behind it. In early August as I was looking to get The Fog, I visited the Silva Screen website for more info when I found that they had also released The Ninth Gate. Right then and there this thing shot to the front of the line. Not many people have seen the film, and even fewer actually enjoy it, but I'll bet even haters would be hard pressed to dislike the outstanding music. Little did I know it would take two months to finally lay my mitts on the thing.
Silva Screen made two different versions of this two LP release. One was all black, and the other had a red and orange fire color. The colored version suffered from pressing issues which messed with sound quality and makes it the cheaper of the two. Since I wanted the best sound I had to get the black version. Here's the problem; when I started to shop around, finding a copy available within the U.S. Was almost impossible. I did not cherish the notion of paying extra for international shipping only to be potentially disappointed (I'd revived two broken records in the mail that same month). For me it had to be domestic and finally I found one from an ebay store. So I sucked it up and payed the pretty hefty price tag. Time passed and I didn't receive anything. Turns out the initial order failed to process correctly and then the distributor took a massive amount of time to restock the store. In that time the owner gave me a refund and promised to inform me of new stock ahead of time. With his help I was finally able to hold and listen to this release in order to usher in the month of ghouls and ghosts.
Man was the wait ever worth it. This is classic horror music complete with chanting and harpsichords. It's the stuff you turn on when it's time to get a little classy, maybe drink a bit of brandy while wearing a cape. It's excellent, but also pretty damned expensive. Keep that in mind if you're a fan because this one will take a nice bite outta your paycheck.

Last but nowhere near least is C.H.U.D. From Waxwork records. These guys deal almost exclusively in horror soundtracks and man do they ever give em some love. Right of the bat the packaging is beautiful and sturdy. The LP is gorgeous and a weighty 180 gram pressing, there's even a director interview on the record sleeve. The only problem is that same sleeve is shitty paper that leaves debris on the LP. Oh how I wish companies would get away from these cheap sleeves.
On the music front this one may actually garner my highest recommendation, not for any level of emotional depth or complex notes. On the contrary, this is simplistic and largely cheesy. What makes it great though is both the variety of tracks and their short run times, making this the closest thing I have to an awesome spooky sounds album. If you're looking for a horror soundtrack for a party setting, this is one to get.

That's all I've got for today. Believe me, I'd love to have about a dozen more to show you like Insidious or the new Hellraiser release but I have more important AKA responsible things to spend money on. So tell me folks, what are your favorite horror soundtracks? Gimmie something nice to listen too while I puzzle out how to rewire the front lawn display. With any luck, I'll have to posts for you all next week.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Creepy Classics with Vincent Price

It never ceases to amaze how each holiday season becomes it own unique entity via the small additions and subtractions that occur during its run. No Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even Easter for that matter is ever really the same. For a few days I was beginning to worry about this Halloween as the weather turned into a disgusting heatwave. It's difficult for one to focus on the delights of apple cider and jack-o-lanterns when it's ninety-two damn degrees in the shade. Thankfully the heat broke, crisp and windy nights have returned, and I found something that fully recharged my spooky outlook on life.
Thursday evening after yet another round of basement cleaning we headed out to a local thrift store to donate a few boxes worth of oddities. My attempts to not restock the house with assorted junk was immediately thwarted by a display of free VHS tapes. Tape collecting may be one of my lesser hobbies but there was no way I could resist checking out this spread. Much of what was on display failed to garner any interest though I was lucky enough to add a couple of nifty titles. Easily the pick of the litter was a little half-hour Hallmark special called Creepy Classics hosted by the master himself, Vincent Price.

In case I've never made this known before, I am a huge fan of Vincent Price. Truth be told I love pretty much all classics horror stars be it Karloff or Cushing but by far Price has always been my top choice. The dude was such a perfect storm of talent, taste, and above all class. He's been an icon of mine for as long as I can recall so picking up some random special with him was already a no-brainier, the free part was just gravy.

So what is Creepy Classics all about? Well it's basically just Vincent sitting in an empty theater, talking about the wonders of viewing classic horror movies while introducing clips and trailers from assorted flicks like The Blob, Invasions of the Body Snatchers, or even some of his own work like The Raven, and The Pit and the Pendulum. Think of it as a blend of a mixtape and vlog only decently produced. These sort of videos were very much a product of their time, back when a wide assortment of viewing options was the exception rather than the norm. An average kid couldn't simply look up old movie trailers online which means this video could have simply been a collection of old clips with nothing else to back it up. The fact that someone hired a good actor to lend it a little weight shows a level of care that's downright charming.

As for Vincent himself, he's honestly not putting in a ton of effort here. Of course he doesn't really have too. Anyone whose ever seen his old PBS intros of his movies knows he can easily proforma a good six minute speech without missing a beat. Here he only needs to deliver ten to thirty seconds of dialogue at a time, which even at his age couldn't have been a challenge. Even though he's not providing a grand performance here it's still fun to watch him at work, tossing out nostalgia and puns with equal grace,

Most of the old clips won't be a surprise for hardened horror fans. Of course many of us have seen Night of the Living Dead and the old Roger Corman flicks plenty of times. One trailer however came out of nowhere, the 1960 creature feature Dinosaurus! I honestly can't say as I've ever seen this one before which is doubly shocking as I was a kid with a massive hard on for both monsters and dinosaurs. Most likely this particular monster flick will serve as a holy grail this October.

The real beauty of this video isn't Price's hosting segments, or all the goofy clips. No, the big perk of this video was just how much of a mood setter it is. From the corny music to the frequent sounds of scream queens this is nearly the Halloween equivalent of a lava lamp. In a scant amount of time this tape got me jazzed up to transform the house into something out of a Scooby-Doo caper. And that's just what I plan to do over the next couple of days. In case I'm incapable of posting the video directly to this page, the whole thing can be easily found on youtube for any of you needing a similar boost.

And with that, I'm ready for October. There's already a plan for every article coming in the next month, and for anyone waiting on new installments of our regular recurring features, they'll be back in November. Right now I've got about twenty things on my to do list and a cat who believes he owns my bed. See you all back here soon.

Friday, September 22, 2017

CosmicSparky's Halloween Haul: September 2017

Some traditions are firmly set in stone, something to follow with little if any thought to how it began or what it means. Others sort of form out of nothing with little emotional background to them. That sort of thing has been steadily forming over the past several years as I tend find myself with a higher than normal amount of cash and a craving for new seasonal goodies. I swear I've made no choice or effort to make this happen yet here we are at I believe the third or fourth year in a row where I go out in September and come home with a rather remarkable unplanned haul. Honestly I didn't spend too much either. That said let's check out how the lingering remnants of a tax return magically became a pile of decorations.

The majority of this occurred during a rushed trip to Lansing. The main intent of the night was to usher in the nephew's birthday with a trip to Five Guys Burgers. After filling our bellies with beefy goodness there was roughly a scant two hours before everything closed. Thankfully we were fairly close to the Frandor shopping center which allowed us cover a substantial amount of stores with one stop.

Kirkland's is by no means a favorite store but they do have a track-record for nice holiday items and I was eager to check out their lighted pictures. I love this thing. It's the sort of image that evokes feelings of Devil's Night or Halloween night itself when the jack-o-lanterns are burning out, the moon is bright, and the streets quiet as people return to their homes in need of relaxation and cheap frozen pizza. It's that perfect peaceful moment that makes this season so great. There were other nice pictures available but this was the one for me and if you're interested I such things I'd suggest seeking them out as they were already 25% off plus in store coupons.

Party City was decent enough to have some cheap hanging ghouls. These are decent, inexpensive filler to hang from the trees as that extra bit of visual clutter that puts your display over the top without breaking the bank.
Michaels is pretty much a requirement for every Halloween and while this year wasn't their best offering it still had a few excellent items. The bats are nice yet another great tree hanger that some kid will inevitable collide with face first. Good thing they're soft and rubbery. Next there's the light up skeleton statue that I'd seen on the Kirkland website only to not find in stores. I ain't complaining mind you, just found that a tad odd. Lastly we have a ghost projector. Not unlike inflatables, these are far too often a crutch for lazy decorating but I've found when properly paired with a nice set-up they make an excellent final touch. Plus every graveyard needs ghosts.

Then there's Target, absolutely one of the kings of Halloween and they did not disappoint. I was overwhelmed by this years offerings, self-control prevailed however and I walked out only with the most important items. Recent years have marked an effort to escape the suckfest that is Styrofoam tombstones so I picked up this lovely grave marker complete with giant spider. Next up was a simple five dollar strobe light that serves double duty as a cheap horror soundtrack with screams and the like. Last but not least is an over sized snake skeleton. Skeletal animals have been a fad I've mostly dodged but this guy spoke to me. He just demands to spend the 31st hanging out of a tree branch, tormenting the wee children below. As payment he had to endure being awkwardly draped over one shoulder so that his face repeatedly smacked against my ass as I sauntered through the aisles.

Of course all this rank consumerism left me with a bountiful thirst and more than a few ways to quench it. World Market has a nice spread of spooky sodas including some drinks from Orca Beverage. Dr Jekyl's Pepper Elixir was a pretty solid choice though the pepper aspect was overdone. Spider Venom on the other hand was outstanding. Someone please show the way to the spider nest responsible for such goodness so I can jump straight in and let the little buggers fill me with tasty diabetes. Captain Morgan Jack-o-Blast was an item I've largely ignored in the past though I've found that it pairs wonderfully with brandy. Murphy's Stout has nothing to do with Halloween, it's simply delicious.

As if all this wasn't enough I visited the local Wal-Mart plaza only to end up with more additions like plastic tombstones and dollar store ghouls. The biggest thrill here is more Pumpkin Masters books. We have a library of these things reaching back into the mid-nineties with so many patterns that I really should create a digital database of them all. The company is largely responsible for my love of and skill at carving. Nowadays I tend to aim for at least one of two unique creations but it simply wouldn't be Halloween without a few PM patterns.

And with all that I'm pretty much ready for the month of October. No doubt I'll put together some crafts and maybe grab an extra strand of lights but for the first time in......I'd say ever, all the important stuff is out of the way. I'll be able to trick the house out and ride out the season in comfort and style. Best of all I'm able to replace some older stuff, sending it out to thrift stores where some kid can begin to grow his own stash of goodies on the cheap. And on that note I'm out for today. How about you guys? Any nice new decorations to scare kiddies with? Or are you just enjoying the usual onslaught of pumpkin spice everything? Hit up the comments and we'll be back soon.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Candlemass Bewitched Video Review.

Holidays are a time for music. For many such a concept is solely represented by the usual Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole Christmas fare, but that's not the kind of merrymaking I'm here to talk about. This isn't the time for songs of goodwill and cheer. No sir, this is the time for ballads of dark magic and blood sacrifice. If Halloween had one specific musical genre to call its own, most assuredly it'd be metal. From classic power metal like Helloween to the modern posturing of Ghost, the genre falls right in line with the style of the season. That's why today we'll be spending our time checking out the fun and bad in all the right ways video for the Candlemass classic, Bewitched.

Now I'm no musical historian, so I won't pretend to know the history behind Candlemass its musicians. I had never even heard of the group until a few years ago when some drunken Youtube browsing brought them to my attention. I was in love from the start for reasons you'll hopefully soon understand. Over time the video evolved from an occasional diversion, to family running gag, and eventually a Halloween staple. The damn thing even served as my text alert for a time, warning me of work. Now let's see if we can make it a part of your yearly celebrations as well.

The video begins with a woman running away from one of the least classy funeral processions I've ever witnessed. I mean one of the pallbearers is practically having a smoke break. I guess this could illustrate just how badass these guys are, but it's probably just a goof as the cigarette quickly disappears. I suppose it was a necessary stress reducer during multiple takes of pretending to strain under the weight of a fake coffin. Upon reaching their destination, that is conspicuously lacking a hole in which to to place the coffin, we find they are at the already desecrated headstone of one Messiah Marcolin. Who's that you ask?

That's Messiah Marcolin! A frizzy haired, melodramatic, pantomiming dark metal jester who refuses to stay dead. His sudden outburst from beyond the grave sends his funeral crew scurrying like future man before hyper-intelligent apes. Can you guess what Messiah gets up to fresh outta the pit? Bewitching people of course. Lucky for him the surrounding area is almost entirely populated by metalheads who fail to notice the caterwauling warlock in their midst.
Soon enough, Marcolin attempts his witchery on the pretty girl who was previously seen fleeing in terror from his funeral procession. Didn't she have an inkling something like this might happen? Could she have perhaps left the area? Or at least warn some of the other victims in advance? These mysteries must wait for another day as she is soon bewitched.

His hypnotized army gathered together at last, Messiah takes stock of his victims during the extended guitar solo. What evil plan could he possibly have in mind? Will the streets soon run red with blood of innocents in some dark ritual from forgotten eons? Could the thin veil of reality be torn asunder by this accursed platoon of the newly damned? In reality the armada of black sorcery commences stomping towards the warlocks coffin where he returns to his unholy rest. Sounds like a bit of a let down but watching it is always a delight.

Essentially this whole music video boils down to being a crazy cheap horror flick about a corpse so disappointed with its own funeral that it rises to enchant people into partying. It's like Nightmare on Elm Street if Freddy simply wanted kids to dance the cabbage patch. Of course there's also a good amount of fog machine enhanced live performance footage sprinkled throughout the tale. Not as entertaining as the core narrative but you won't hear me complaining about the opportunity to see 80's era metalheads party till they puke.

Seems blogger won't let me include the video itself but it's not difficult to find. I highly recommend taking the nearly seven minutes out of your day. Gotta tell you there are multiple wonderful little extras that I haven't even touched on in this article. After surviving your viewing, be fine peopleand show it to your friends, have them share it with their family, and ever outward. Let's make Bewitched the White Christmas of pumpkin craving time. I must also thank giphy for helping to add some flair to this post. They run a good ship.

That's all for today, kiddies. Come back soon for....honestly not sure. That's the fun of this season. I could be doing simple candy reviews or writing a guide on how to make decorative blood vomiting spiders. TTFN.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Cryptocurium Parcel of Terror August Unboxing

The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity for me. A couple of folks have been outta the house which usually equates to a sort of vacation, though it also means there are less people around to deal with chores and such. Combine that with work and the yearly dig to unearth my Halloween decorations, one starts to feel the need for a reward. What luck that the first in a series of mystery boxes for our Halloween coverage arrived Tuesday. I'd like to say it was just what the doctor ordered, but...well, this one's gonna require a bit more detail than the usual subscription box review.

Cryptocurium' Parcel of Terror is a horror themed subscription service focused on handmade goods. We're talking completely unique items you can't get elsewhere which is something I appreciate in a mystery box. Usually these come in the form of magnets, wall plaques, or art prints. This homemade element also lends itself to a slightly higher price to item ratio. Turns out the the Parcel of Terror works out to being more expensive than a Funko box by a few cents. Even so; I've heard enough praise of the service especially from the patron saint of unboxings and fellow man-child, Johnny Tellez that I figured it was time to give it a try.

Before we even get to the box, I want to address the matter of timing. This box is the August, Summer of Fear edition. I ordered it in July, it didn't ship until the last day of August. It got here on the 5th of September. Pumpkin Spice foodstuffs have flooded the markets, cool temperatures have become the norm rather than the exception, Labor Day has past, for all practical purposes Summer is finished. If this sort of timing continues, future costumers will be opening their Halloween box while they're taking down decorations, and the Christmas box will arrive after the ball drops. This isn't the only service to suffer from such lackluster timing but it's still an element of the subscription service experience that I find very tiresome.

In the month of waiting for my box to ship, I learned a few things about Cryptocurium. First off is that the main site is essentially just a fancy etsy page. With that comes a certain lack of upscale features and customer service. Case in point is the manner in which one cancels their subscription. I ended up having to do this far in advance of receiving the box because I need the cash free to include some other items in this years Halloween coverage. Thanks to past experience I'm used to either having an account manager feature or just writing the guy in charge to cancel. Seeing as the former wasn't an option and I saw an e-mail address in the description for cancellations, I instinctively followed that outlet. After days without a response I was about ready to get sassy, until I realized I was a jackass who misread the whole cancellation instructions. You have to go into your paypal account and block further transactions. It's a cumbersome way of doing business though I understand the psychology behind it. Guy's busy making the items, he doesn't have time to micromanage his customers. On that topic, to my knowledge you can only buy this service with Paypal. It's not an issue so much as a notable limitation.

Finally we reached the day of arrival. The first thing I noticed is this box was small. I mean really small. Unlike the average mystery box this one fit into my mailbox along with the usual amount of ads and bills. Opening up reveals a one page letter describing the items, I always skip these things to maintain the surprise. One part that wasn't a surprise was the magnet which had been previously revealed online. It's the biggest one the service has ever done. Quite fitting for Bruce, the great white shark of Jaws fame. The magnet is made of resin and handpainted and is downright impressive. You'd have to be a real dick to say much of anything nasty about this piece of work. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the rest of this box.

The next item on hand is a small art print, well not really. It's more like a big postcard than a proper print. Titled Cruel Summer It's a purposefully rough and sketchy looking spread of classic summertime villains like Cropsy or the Humanoids from the deep. It's an ok piece, certainly not anything I'd frame, but ok.
After that is a Splatterhouse sticker. Not only do I not see the seasonal connection here but it's a sticker. As a man in his early 30's, what the hell am I supposed to do with a unique crafted sticker?
Then there's a sucker. Yep, just a random bit of candy. And that's it.
Ya want to hear the truly insulting part of this experience? Now keep in mind that that this Parcel of Terror costs $35, then take into account that there is a smaller Packet of Terror for $20 that is supposed to include the month's magnet and sticker along with some candy. That means all ya get for an extra $15 is that mostly forgettable art card.
Honestly I'm floored. I can't follow a train of thought that arrives at the conclusion that it's alright to take this much money from people only to give them so little in return. I understand that this is a small operation, lacking the corporate power that fuels so many other services. Not to mention I feel sorta mean for tearing a box like this apart as it's personal work and not mass produced nonsense from faceless corporations. The fact remains however that this is, without a doubt, the worst mystery box to ever come into my home. And I'm not saying this to be mean as I think Jason, the main man behind the operation has an immense talent for making some of these items. Yet I can not recommend his service to anyone. This was a lousy purchase that makes you feel like you've been swindled. That's not a feeling I enjoy myself and definitely not something I would wish on my readers.

For as much of a disappointment as this box was, it failed to diminish my good cheer towards the onset of Fall. On the very same day the parcel showed up I had already been to various stores, picking up new candies, decorations, and pumpkin beers. I'm more excited than ever for this season though I still can't leave Cryptocurium completely behind me as they have a crossover item with our next mystery box, Fright Crate. Until that arrives we've got plenty of fun topics to cover, which means I'll be seeing you all again soon.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Catalyst Review

Within mere hours it will be September 1st, or as it's known in retail stores, Force Friday II, the Star Wars focused product onslaught meant to dupe poor nerds like yours truly out of their valuable cash with toys, books, games, and the like. Not that I'm one to fall for such empty consumerism...though there is a new starter set for the Destiny game...and a new Claudia Gray novel. Shit, they got me! With a whole new wave of Star Wars goodies on the horizon along with the start of the four best months of the year, I thought it best for us to take a look at yet another expanded universe novel.

In all fairness it's been a little longer than usual since my last review, mainly because after going through so many books and seasons of The Clone Wars, I needed a small break from the franchise. I promised myself that upon my return I'd check out one of the books I was most interested in. The novel in questions is Catalyst by James Luceno who previously gave us Tarkin. Catalyst is a prequel to Rogue One that aims to better explain the history and relationships of the elder characters from said movie along with their roles in creating the Death Star. I was so eager to plumb the greater depths of these figures, what I got is something else entirely.

There's a scene in Rogue One, where Jyn recalls a night in her childhood when Krennic was visiting her parents and she wakes up, only to be escorted back to bed by her father. In this part, her parents and the future villain seem to be having a good time, a far different vibe than when he finds them in hiding years later only to kill Jyn's mother and take her father. That disparity hinted at a deeper emotional story that sadly isn't present within these pages. We're gonna have to tackle this one piece at a time.

Having read the over three-hundred pages that make up Catalyst, I hardly know anything more about Galen Erso than what was presented to me in the film. He's an incredibly intelligent man with strong morals who loves his family. His wife, Lyra on other hand I've now learned too much about. She's such an irritating goody-two-shoes it's downright sickening. She's smart, strong, one with nature, has high morals, is a good mother, physically fit, the woman practically shits gold bricks.
On the flip side I almost feel as if I understand Orson Krennic even less. Having him be underdeveloped in the movie was something of a given, I mean it was servicing a huge cast with just over two hours of story. Any potential for added depth here is thrown out the window as he's played up as a cartoonish, power hungry, ghoul. That scene of the three adult enjoying each-others company can't happen in this book as Lyra practically pulls out her cross and stake every time Orson comes around.
As for that other elder character begging for greater development, Saw Gerrera doesn't even show up until the last quarter of the book, and doesn't meet Galen and Lyra until the last 15 pages or so. Instead we get large chunks devoted to a smuggler named Has Obitt whom Jyn names one of her dolls after.
Tarkin makes his presence felt here as well, which should be a saving grace given how nicely Luceno portrayed him in his previous novel. Like Krennic, Tarkin has also taken a significant downgrade in depth for this outing. Even some of his dialogue seems uncharacteristic which makes no sense when Luceno's last crack at the villain was nearly flawless.

You might be wondering then, if these relationships aren't properly developed, just what exactly is going on in this book? Think of this as a sloppy road map of how the empire took on the massive undertaking of developing the Death Star, from gathering a work force, to securing supplies by stripping planets of natural resources. Many of these elements serve as tangents. For instance the subplot about the alien workforce constructing the station sorta fades away. There's an entire portion in the final quarter that deals with Tarkin waging war on a defiant solar system. This is meant to serve as something of forming event for the eventual rebellion but it could have been it's own separate story rather than be forced into this one.

There are some interesting bit pertaining to kyber crystals, hints that these stones may have something of their own will or an ability to influence people. The notion that being in close proximity to kyber crystals makes it difficult for normal people to sleep is very strange as that's clearly not an issue the Jedi faced. Of course there are no concrete answers to the mysteries these stone possess, perhaps that's something being built up for another story somewhere down the line.

I really can't stress enough how much of a disappointment Catalyst turned out to be. What could have been a neat mixture of character drama and espionage ended up as a dull collection of awkward interactions and go-nowhere plot threads. The structure of the writing, grammar, all of that is solid but it's a dull read, far below the standard set by the author's previous work. Let's put this one on the leaderboards.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Catalyst by James Luceno
12. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
13. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
14. Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
15. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
16.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

And with that I now declare Summer officially over! Yes, I know there's technically still a few weeks left but you'd be hard pressed to convince me of that considering the current weather, let alone the decorative Halloween village above the cupboards. Every year I try to make both September and October on this site all about the wonders of the Halloween season, and for once I think there's actually enough content on hand to accomplish it. Look forward to some new unboxings, movie reviews, candy hauls, spooky crafts, you name it. We're finally at the last and best third of the year, it's gonna be great. Have a solid labor day, everybody.