Tag Archives: Books

Episode 9: Goosebumps-Escape from the Carnival of Horrors

In this episode, we take a break from our Teen Titans Retrospective and dive into the Goosebumps spinoff series “Give yourself Goosebumps.”  We originally planned to tackle both Escape from the Carnival of Horrors and Scream of the Evil Genie but we had so much fun reading the first book that we did a whole episode on it!  We tackled a Reptile Petting Zoo, played a Wheel of Chance with a parrot, and revived an evil dummy.

Console Wars: 2 Good 2 Be True

For over a dozen years, I’ve been looking for a good book about video games. For such an influential media, it’s surprising that there are very few books that dive into this topic that are seriously good. When I heard about Console Wars, I knew I had to check it out and I finally did this summer.

Console Wars focuses on one of the most exciting years in video game history, namely, the war between the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. And rather than being a standard nonfiction book (dry and full of references and quotes), author Blake Harris crafts a novel that’s more story than essay yet does not lose the flavor of reality. His book throws you into the early nineties and drops you into the heated moments and settings that shaped the era of videogames. The author’s love and enthusiasm for video games really comes through in this novel and as such, I had a hard time putting this book down.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Console Wars is how big it is. This book is dense but thankfully, does not overload the reader. Even though I knew a lot about video game history, mainly thanks to the internet, before reading this novel, I was surprised at just how little I actually knew, and that was great!

Some of my favorite moments in the book are those that seem like they’re straight out of a movie. I particularly liked the scene involving the recording of the infamous “SEGA!” scream used in commercials. Then there’s the part where the Sega employees were inspired to do a worldwide release of Sonic and Tails on Sonic 2sday. It’s moments like these that really help the book come together nicely.

Now truthfully, this doesn’t mean Console Wars is perfect. There are some problems I have which fortunately didn’t dampen my love for this book. One of which was the many characters. Although the photo section was helpful, I wish there was a simple group shot of the Sega team as I kept losing track of who was who. The biggest problem I had however was one of the big conflicts in the book; the Sega of America vs. Sega of Japan conflict was mainly from the Sega of America point of view. This, unfortunately, paints Sega of Japan as mean, subversive, and unpredictable. I wish we got more scenes from their point of view to understand exactly why there was so conflict between the two. Same thing can be applied to Nintendo as well. Nintendo in this book was like the antagonist in an action movie; we would get scenes of them every now and then and peek into their diabolical plans for their plucky foe. I wish we could see more of them to really help us understand what they were thinking.

But the thing is, that’s not really the point of the book, the point of the book is how Sega, through Tom Kalinske, president and CEO of Sega of America, was able to bring Nintendo to its knees and really shape the video game market. As such, “Console Wars” as a title is a bit off and perhaps a better title would be “the Rise and Fall of Sega” (but then it wouldn’t be catchy).

On another note, I’m pretty sure Blake Harris is a fan of the Angry Video Game Nerd. There are several spots in this book that seem a lot like what AVGN has said before. The casual reference to the porno Atari game, Custer’s Revenge, was too on the nose as nobody knew about this game until after AVGN did an episode on it. Even more obvious was the reference to LJN’s bad video games, I mean, that’s one of AVGN’s gimmicks! He hates LJN games! But I love it and I find it funny to think that Blake is a fan of the Nerd.

I was sad when the novel eventually finished as I would have liked to see the battle between the N64, Playstation, and eventually the Sega Saturn. However, part of me is glad that Blake did not talk about that. This is the story of Tom Kalinske and how he turned Sega from a joke to a star. That era of video games was not under his jurisdiction. As such, Blake Harris should seriously consider writing another novel on video games (whether it be nonfiction or fiction) as his love for the material is fantastic. Perhaps a book about Nintendo’s comeback via the Wii? Or on the Atari era and why it eventually collapsed? Or even why the Playstation 2 was such a huge success? All of these are great topics.

And yet, nothing can ever hold a candle to the Console Wars of the early 90s. So much was happening at that time that it almost seems unreal. New video game franchises were born, records were broken, the media boundaries were pushed, and deep rivalries formed.  I doubt there will ever be a time just like the early 90s for video games.

As for me, I’m glad I was finally able to read a book about video games. Thank you Blake, you kept me up late many times.

The Problem with Timeline-191

So I’ve already talked about two Harry Turtledove series before, Darkness and WorldWar, so now it’s time to talk about Turtledove’s other famous book series.  The unofficially named “Timeline-191” (and sometimes Southern Victory) comprises of eleven books detailing the history of the two American countries after the South won the American Civil War.  Told from multiple viewpoints from both countries (and one or two thrown in from Canada), we experience the tragic history of these two countries as they are drawn into conflict again and again up until 1945.  Now, upfront, I honestly think this may be Turtledove’s weakest major series but before I divulge why, let’s dive into the series and see what makes it so special and one of the most famous alternate history stories of our modern day and age.

So the first Timeline-191 book is called How Few Remain.  In this book we understand why the South won the American Civil War and what happened to the two countries shortly after.  After a brief prologue dedicated to the defeat of the Union, the book picks up twenty years later where the two American countries pick up arms again and fight each other but this time it’s for the C.S.A. acquisition of two Mexican provinces.  Fearing that the C.S.A. would become too strong, the U.S.A. declares war on the C.S.A. but is abysmally defeated thanks to the C.S.A.’s reliable generals and its alliance with France and Britain.

How Few Remain is probably the most interesting book in the series as it can stand by itself very easily.  The book retains all of the Second Mexican War and its immediate consequences as well and as such, many of our stories have a clear beginning and a satisfying ending.  What’s more, unlike the rest of the series, all of our viewpoint characters follow historical characters like Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  The book also offers very reasonable ideas of what the world may be like in 1881 such as the C.S.A’s continual involvement with France and Britain and the dominance of Democrats in the U.S.A. up until the 1880s.  Now, Turtledove could have just left How Few Remain as it is but he decided to take this story he created and make a mega book series out of it.  What follows is the next logical step in our timeline, and a 30 year jump with it, the Great War.

This is my favorite part of the series and it’s awesome.  Because the C.S.A. allied itself with France and Britain, the U.S.A., in return, allied itself with Germany and the Austria-Hungary Empire to acquire its own strong allies.  Of course, everything went to Hell in a handbasket, thanks to a certain Archduke, and now, not only do you have the mess of Europe fighting each other, but now you got the U.S.A. fighting Canada and the C.S.A!  It’s a literal world war at this point.

So the first reason why the Great War trilogy is my favorite part in Timeline-191 is how it’s not immediately clear who will win this war.  It could honestly go either way.  In How Few Remain, right from the start, the U.S.A. is kind of done for so there’s not as much incentive to read the book.  But for the Great War, it’s so close and even that any small event can help push the war one way or another.

I also like how Turtledove just didn’t pull any punches with the harshness of trench warfare and the dire outlook for many of the soldier’s lives.  The settings and characters are highly realistic and don’t offer that sweet storytelling guidelines many of us are familiar with.  It’s very similar to the Song of Ice and Fire series, actually.  I also like how diverse our viewpoint characters are ranging from regular soldiers, to spies, farmers, commanders, and politicians.  We definitely get a full spectrum of viewpoints that cue us in what’s happening in this crazy world.  Turtledove excels at this and has done this before in the Darkness and Worldwar series.  This is a guilty pleasure but honestly one of my favorite POV characters is Gordon McSweeney who is a stupid, badass bigot.  The things this guy says and does in this series is great.

Now, there is a third reason but let me get back to that in a moment…

Gordon McSweeney at his craziest. Image from http://jakarnilson.deviantart.com/art/Sgt-McSweeney-s-MoH-47587475

So, spoilers, the U.S.A. along with the other Central Powers, won the Great War.  The series doesn’t end there though as we are treated to our next trilogy in the series, American Empire.  This trilogy is kind of weak as there are jumps of time within the books.  The three books cover about twenty years altogether meaning there’s a lot of plot development crammed into characters whom we already don’t spend much time with.

However, the second, and primary reason, why the Timeline-191 series falters at this point is Turtledove’s over reliance in incorporating plot developments that mirror our real world.  I’m serious.  Turtledove oversaturates his story with parallel events that almost defeats the purpose of an alternate history genre.  Long story short, the C.S.A. becomes Nazi Germany and fights the U.S.A. again in the 1940s.  And guess what?  The C.S.A. loses!  Go figure!

Now, the next four books in the series, called Settling Accounts, is entertaining to read but by this point, all sense of disbelief is kind of thrown to the curb and we aren’t as engaged with the story as we kind of know what will happen in the end.  I even stopped reading the series by this point due to the aforementioned reasons and it was getting depressing fast.  You see, throwing in a little nod here or there in reference to our timeline is fun or all but this is just overkill.

This is why I liked the Great War part of the storyline the best.  True, there are historical references in this trilogy but it doesn’t control the story as much as it does later on.  The trilogy is fun, original, and not bogged down by its sheer alternate history glory.  I’ve actually read online that supposedly, the U.S.A. was going to lose the Great War and actually become the next fascist power in North America.  But then Turtledove decided later on that that wasn’t going to happen which explains several things.  One, Jake Featherston, who becomes the C.S.A.’s Hitler, was a pretty nice, if awkward, guy early on before he almost suddenly develops this hatred against African Americans; and two, Gordon McSweeney was probably going to be the U.S.A.’s version of Hitler until Turtledove pulled the plug on that idea and killed him off, rather inexplicably, at the end of the trilogy.  Very interesting fan theory for sure and I’m interested to see how that story could have turned out.  Regardless, because of this switch, the Great War trilogy is not as tied down compared to the rest of the series and that’s what makes it so good.  My advice is to read How Few Remain and the Great War trilogy and just stop there.

You gotta love the propaganda posters people make for the series as well. Image from http://s13.photobucket.com/user/Redem10/media/Turtledovepropaganda.jpg.html

There’s a lot more to talk about this series so I’ll just leave that for another time.  For now, I’m curious to see if you like this series and if you agree with me or not.  If not, is there another alternate history story you like better involving the American Civil War?  Let me know!

The Extensive Timeline for “Tales from Jabba’s Palace”

I can’t believe it but I finally achieved what I wanted to do for almost ten years. I finally constructed the timeline in Tales from Jabba’s Palace. As mentioned Yesterday, I love this book and all its glorious characters and I even reread the novel solely so I can reconstruct the timeline. Without further ado, here it is!

Tales from Jabba's Palace Timeline, Star Wars, Jabba the Hutt, Jabba's Palace, Tales from Jabba's Palace

If you’re at this point in the article then you probably want to hear how I constructed the timeline. It wasn’t hard but it certainly took awhile.

I decided fairly early on that I wanted two things to be represented in the timeline. The first one was when each of the Tales happened and the second one, and the one I was most interested at, was when each of the major book events happened and at what order. Many times, the protagonists would meet up at crucial plot points that affected their story. I wanted to record these events and know how they fit into the overall grand story.

The first step was to, obviously, become familiar with the events that transpired in Return of the Jedi. All of the characters, with the exception of Melvosh Bloor because his Tale takes place at a completely different time than the others, reference at least one of the movie events during their respective Tales. As such, knowing the order and the relative time these events happen is quite important. C-3PO and R2’s arrival, Oola’s death, and Luke killing the Rancor are probably the most referenced movie events.

Once I got that going, I had to establish relative dates in reference to a certain event. Star Wars fans like to use the Battle of Yavin from A New Hope as a reference point for the overall Star Wars timeline. For Tales from Jabba’s Palace though, we need something more exact. Luke’s Arrival was chosen as the zero mark because the book made a special case at the beginning how

“Jabba is always on his guard, but little does he suspect that his greatest nemesis will come in the form of a single Jedi Knight, who walks in alone from the desert…”

            Indeed, many of the protagonists in the novel plot against Jabba and all fail because of Jabba’s cunningness. However, even Jabba’s intelligence was no match for the unstoppable force that was Luke that day. Jabba planned against many things but a Jedi Knight was definitely not one.

Pictured: A Thorn in Jabba’s Fat Ass. Picture from http://piximggif.com/luke-skywalker-return-of-the-jedi-wallpaper

One thing I struggled with fairly early on was if Luke came two days or one day after Leia arrives as I was initially under the impression that Luke came two days afterwards judging from Malakili’s Tale. Halfway through the novel, I realized this was not the case and I had to adjust because of which. Many of the other movie events, however, were easily interpreted time-wise and naturally built the framework for my two goals.

The protagonist’s Tales were very easy to build on the timeline as the characters would react to a movie event early on in their story and usually react to other movie events as their Tale progressed. Some adjustments were made along the way to account the major book events or if an another protagonist clarifies when that event happened. A good example of this be when J’Quille killed the monk and took the thermal detonator (TD) he was holding. J’Quille’s story ends there but we don’t know when exactly that is. Well, we know this happens shortly before Luke kills the Rancor because Bib Fortuna mentioned how he stole the TD from J’Quille during the Luke vs. Rancor commotion.

Some protagonists’ Tales, admittedly, are unclear when they begin or end and this is represented on the timeline with a question mark. For instance, Max Rebo and co. become Jabba’s Band after Carbonite Han was delivered to Jabba but other than that we have no idea when they were hired. Dannik Jerriko is another example as his POV is very hazy and time progress either very slow or fast depending on the scenario (and in general his Tale is very dreamlike which adds an extra level of confusion to the whole thing).

The book events were definitely the most difficult part of the whole thing as I had to take constant notes who was where at what time. Phlegmin’s death is probably in the top three most important book events as so many characters are affected by his death in one form or another. Hell, soooo many protagonists were present at one time or another when his body was discovered. First Dannik killed him, than Porcellus discovered the body, then Ree-Yees, and finally Gartogg comes by and takes the body to figure out who killed him. All the while, J’Quille and Bubo watch from afar as they witness this strange scenario.

Even trickier to figure out was Leia’s TD. That weapon jumped from person to person and weaved an unclear mesh on who has what. Though it’s not 100 percent confirmed, I believe a monk steals Leia’s TD shortly after she’s unmasked and gives the weapon to J’Quille. I again believe this weapon was stolen by Bib Fortuna but I’m unsure as Bib only said he stole it off of a Whiphid guard. But considering we’re only familiar with one Whiphid, we can assume that was J’Quille.

Even more confusing is the second bomb that was planted on Jabba’s Sail Barge. Tessek gets Barada to plant a bomb on Jabba’s Palace but we’re unsure if this is the same bomb that the Weequay people find in their Tale. Their “God” Quay said it was a bomb planted by J’Quille but we know that’s not true because Bib Fortuna stole it, right? And it also can’t be the same bomb because Bib planted the bomb shortly before their attempted execution of Luke and co. and the Weequays had already found their bomb by then. I thus assume this was the same bomb planted by Barada then.

One thing I realized as I was finishing up this timeline was that a certain degree of interpretation has to be made in order to fit everything as best as it could. Unfortunately, not all of the Tales perfectly line up with each other and may even have some slight transgressions from the movie itself.  For the most part though, things lined up easily enough

In the end, I’m pretty happy with the end result as I think the timeline looks good, albeit amateurish, but it gets the message across well enough. I can finally check this off of my bucket list and now get back to my life…this took too long to make…haha

If you have any suggestions or improvements to the timeline then I will be more than willing to hear them!

My Love for Tales from Jabba’s Palace

Happy Star Wars Day everyone!

The Star Wars’ anthology novel, Tales from Jabba’s Palace (TfJP), is probably one of the most underrated stories ever to be produced in the Star Wars’ universe.  So many funny, clever, and important stories happen in this oft-forgotten book that I wonder why it’s not discussed more often.  I daresay, this is the book that help got me into Star Wars back when I was in Junior High (a time that I hardly ever read to begin with).  After reading this book, I read the other two Tales books (Tales from Mos Eisely Cantina and Tales of the Bounty Hunters) and played great Star Wars video games.  TfJP was my definitive first look behind the movie’s curtains and peer into the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Why?  Why did this book capture me and drive me towards my eventual Star Wars obsession?

Well, remember in Return of the Jedi when Luke killed the Rancor and while he was hustled away, a chubby, shirtless guy ran forward to the now dead Rancor and begin crying?  That scene, both humorous and poignant, spoke volumes about a character, about a history, that we as an audience have not been nor will ever be exposed to.

It is this character’s history, Malakili, whose tale we read first (aptly titled “A Boy and his Rancor”) in TfJP.  A strong story to start on, we are given an in-depth look at Malakili and his developing friendship with his Rancor.  The story, one of the longer ones in the book, takes its time and shows how Malakili and the Rancor eventually trusted each other as more than just a master and his pet but as actual friends, as comrades.

As a reader, we are hooked into this story and empathize with Malakili.  He is a likable character that has goals and feelings.  All of our admiration with him, and even his Rancor, culminates in the end as the Rancor’s death leaves us even sadder than if we had only see the movie.  After reading his tale, you want to learn more about the tales that this anthology has to offer.

*sniff*

Malakili and his Rancor’s tale establishes the foundation that the rest of the anthology builds off of.  Not only do we have a good reason to hate Jabba (besides all the stuff he did in the movie) but we are exposed to the variety of characters whose journey we’ll also follow (e.g., Gartogg the Gamorrean and Porcellus the chef) later on.  Through these interactions, we realize that there is so much more going on in Jabba’s Palace than we realize and that Malakili’s tale is only a part of it.

Indeed, as you read through the anthology, a feeling of unease begins to creep into you as you read each of the characters’ tales.   The protagonists might run into a dead body with an unknown murderer or find out that their plot has gone awry by an unseen force.  Many of the questions we faced during their stories are not answered until much later in the novel though hints are certainly sprinkled here and there on who (or what) are the actual puppeteers.

Generally speaking, as you progress through the novel, the protagonists’ tales usually start or end later compared to protagonists near the beginning of the book.  Hell, many of the protagonists’ stories that make up much of the latter half of the book end with Jabba’s Barge blowing up or shortly thereafter.  Even the last two stories (Boba Fett and Yarna) take place after Jabba’s death and a majority of the time spent with these two characters does not even take place in Jabba’s Palace.  As such, the editor’s deliberate action in placing all of the tales in certain sections of the anthology give a sense of an overarching story in the novel that would seemingly be lost if the stories were randomly distributed.  The result of which is quite amusing to me.

This overarching story works really well for each of the protagonists’ tales.  The best example of this I would say is Ephant Mon’s Tale.  There seems to be a shift in our overall mood towards this novel as we read his tale.  Not only do we progress further in the timeline compared to the protagonists beforehand but we get to confront Jabba through the eyes of a friend, something that no other protagonist can claim.  It’s a different side of Jabba that we rarely see and really hones in how unique all of the characters are in this book.  More importantly, Ephant Mon’s Tale hints that the Force was acting very strong in Jabba’s Palace for the past few days.  Major events, whether seen or unseen in the movie, transpired in the awful establishment and it’s hard to believe they happened purely by chance.

Speaking of chance, I want to talk about one of my favorite protagonists, Gartogg the Gamorrean.  God, this guy is great.  He means so well but he’s just so stupid, haha!  He has this uncanny ability to stumble upon a freshly murdered body with maybe even the murderer to boot.  He’s so good at this that he found the crime scene for all four murders in Jabba’s Palace!  But everyone always tricks him for the sole reason that they don’t get into trouble with Jabba and he believes them!  And he’s just so cheery about it and wants to please his boss and oh my gosh this guy is hilarious.

One of the underlying themes in TfJP is that not everything is as it seems.  Characters that the protagonists perceive as incompetent or inconsequential are actually quite formidable or intelligent.  Ree-Yees is an interesting example of this as he disguises his competence with his alcoholic tendencies and plays the fool most of the time.  Even though he’s an idiot, his plot goes unnoticed by many people, including the conspiracy-sniffing Ephant Mon.   Bubo is probably the best example though as even the reader does not give Bubo two cents until we realize he is a sentient being!

I have to talk about the B’omarr monks as they are definitely an important part in the anthology.  Though none of the protagonists are monks, quite a few of them interact with the monks to some degree such as J’Quille, Bib Fortuna, Bubo, Tessek, and Ree-Yees.  I think because we lack a monk POV we find them unsettling as we know little about them.  Even Bib Fortuna, who arguably is the most familiar with them out of anyone in the Palace, did not foresee the Monks takeover when Jabba was killed.  When we are revealed the fate of Jabba’s Palace, there is another uneasy shift in the novel as we wonder if the next protagonist will be able to survive both Jabba’s barge blowing up and unwanted removal of their brains in jars.

At least, that’s the way I feel, especially for the last Tale involving the fat dancer, Yarna, and the hunter, Doallyn. Just as we begin TfJP with a strong story starring a likable pair of protagonists, we end it once again with two protagonists only this time, the game has changed.  We fear that Yarna and Doallyn do not have much time in the Palace as they could easily be killed by Dannik Jerriko or operated on by the creepy B’omarr Monks.  What’s more, there is an actual risk for the two that we do not experience often in the previous Tales.  The previous Tales take place (mostly) during the events of Return of the Jedi.  As such, we know who may succeed and who may fail.  Yarna and Doallyn’s Tale, however, takes place afterwards, and therefore we venture into completely unknown territory with them.  Without the movie tying them down to any plot specific requirements, the author goes all out in making their tale stand out from the rest.

And what’s more, unlike Malakili and his unfortunate pet Rancor, they succeed, ending the dour novel in a heartwarming light.

Now…

Ever since I first read this novel, I was mesmerized and impressed on how every Tale matched the other Tales almost perfectly.  The protagonists meet each other constantly and as such, the exact same interaction can be found in two different chapters.  So many of these events, which go unnoticed in the movie, are of such importance to the characters that I’m willing to bet that someone made a grand, master timeline of the events and gave it to all the authors in making sure they follow it.  The fact that these interactions happen at all always surprises me.

But as far as I know, no one has recreated this timeline.  It’s quite daunting, that’s for sure, as you would have to be a big nerd to do that.  And guess what?  I did just that!  Tomorrow, I’m going to release my interpretation of the overall timeline of Tales from Jabba’s Palace!  Check it out because I’m super proud of the end result!

If you had read the novel, I would like to hear your opinion on it as I know only a few people who have.  Who are your favorite characters and Tales?  If I were to pick my favorite Tales/Characters it would Ephant Mon, Gartogg, Malakili and his Rancor, and Yarna and Doallyn.

Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar Series is Among the Best Alternate History Stories

Aliens invade Earth during World War 2.

So is the basic, and awesome, concept behind one of Harry Turtledove’s greatest novel series, the “Worldwar” series. First published in 1994, this 8-book series is one of the most famous alternate history stories written and poses one of the most delightful what-if questions ever asked. What if aliens invaded Earth during World War 2?

Now, WW2 is like a magnet when it comes to alternate histories. Soooooo many authors have written about this war posing various what-if questions but they’re usually about what if Nazi Germany won the war.   No other topic in history, not even what if the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War, comes even close to matching the popularity of this topic. As such, alternate historical WW2 stories oversaturate the genre and make it hard to find good stories from this small pool.

What Harry Turtledove does to differentiate himself from other writers is focus on the point of divergence (the point in history where something happened differently than from our own timeline). It’s not Roosevelt or Hitler that gets assassinated, it’s not Nazi Germany refraining from declaring war on the U.S.S.R., it’s not Japan refraining from bombing Pearl Harbor, it’s an alien invasion. Freaking aliens.

Now at this point, you might be saying to yourself, “but they’re aliens! Shouldn’t they be able to steamroll over us and conquer Earth no problem?” You might be right, BUT, these aliens are practical…sensible…and not farcical. These aliens have technology similar to ours right now but with an added bonus of say…50 years from now or so. They have interstellar but slower than light travel, they have large spaceships for holding armies, and they have cryonics to preserve the soldiers during the long flight. So their technology is not too-farfetched.

More importantly though, the aliens, known as “The Race,” were not expecting this degree of advancement from the humans. When the Race sent their first probes to Earth, they sent back pictures and videos of humans riding horses while wielding swords and bows. The probes painted an image of the human race as relatively backwards and not a threat to the more technology advanced the Race. As such, when the Race arrived to the war-torn world of Earth, they were expecting an easy conquering of a backward species.

This is one of the reasons why the Worldwar series is a great series of novels to read. We are presented with a believable science fiction setting that offers a conflict that is not one-sided and can be viewed from multiple protagonists. Oh yeah, the protagonists. In typical Turtledove fashion, we are presented many different protagonists to follow from various walks of life, both human and the Race. They offer us a glimpse into their world and paint us a picture on what events are affecting them and what events they are affecting in return. My favorite POV is probably Molotov though Atvar, the Fleet Overlord of the Race, is a good character as well.

The second reason why this series is so great is that it does not overly rely on parallel historical events to tell a story. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Some authors, like Harry Turtledove, like to use events in their storyline as analogous to the actual historical events. In Harry Turtledove’s other famous series, Timeline-191, where the C.S.A. won the American Civil War, we see A LOT of parallels between the C.S.A. and Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s and in the 1940s’ war between the C.S.A. and the U.S.A. In all honestly, it’s kind of annoying. I like my alternate history stories to progress like they naturally would and not just on some parallel track that was already determined by our timeline. This is why I like Timeline-191’s storyline during the Great War more so than the rest of the series because those parallel events are played down to the point of nonexistence.

Now, to be fair, the Worldwar series does have analogous events but they are portrayed as events similar to what has already happened in human history. Many of the human characters compare the Race’s colonization of Earth relative to British Imperialism in the 19th century. Topics like Social Darwinism and racism are prevalent in the Race’s attitude towards humans. The humans disgust the Race with their non-seasonal mating, long-term romantic relationships, high amount of liquid waste, and ability to handle change easily. But these events do not directly portray one or two significant events that happen during the course of history. In fact, many fans of the series more often than not compare the Race War to that of the Vietnam War. Even then, this is more of just a point of observation rather than directly comparing battles or weapons that the two wars may have.

As such, we are given two strong reasons why the Worldwar series stands out from other alternate historical novels. An original concept combined with a story that is unchained from our own history provides a delightful read that can keep the readers on edge. When I read the Timeline-191 series or other similar stories, I can get a relative idea what may happen and who might be killed at the end of the story. Worldwar pushes this to the side and keeps us guessing what may happen in each exciting new book.

And finally, in the television world where more and more companies like Netflix or Hulu are providing us with original, unhindered shows that can give us exciting and new series, I say this. The Worldwar series would be phenomenal if it was adapted into a television show. We already have shows with multiple protagonists, such as Game of Thrones, and there hasn’t been any good, strong science fiction shows in recent memory. What’s more, the tagline that I gave you at the beginning of the article is enough to entice anyone to at least check out the first episode

Aliens invade Earth during World War 2.

Someone has to make it. This series is awesome.

My only request is that you make the aliens chameleon-like cause god damnet, sooooo many book covers make them just reptilian-like. Make it happen!

Would You Like to Know More? 1.04 Harry Potter: Unanswered Questions and Outdated Theories

 

Would You Like to Know More? Podcast episode 4, this time, we’re doing something a little different.  Instead of analyzing a franchise, we’ll be taking apart the Harry Potter franchise and dive into two uncommonly talked about topics.  Part One we tackle Unanswered Questions.  Even when the last book was published more than six years ago, there are still some questions that the books or even Pottermore website haven’t answered yet.  We’ll ask and discuss such questions like whatever happened to Fluffy, how are Dementors born, and if Albus Severus was actually sorted to Slythern.  Part 2 will cover Outdated Theories.  After every book was published, many theories arose to discuss what may happen or be revealed in the following books.  Most of these theories were falsified but we’re digging them up again to see what went wrong and why people thought those theories existed.

Special guests for this episode are Michelle Gardner, Sarah Keffer, and Ben Preheim.

This episode was recorded at Six Crow Studios, you can reach them at their facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/SixCrowsStudios

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A Lookback at Give Yourself Goosebumps

The Goosebumps books are one of the most popular things 90’s kids talk about.  There are a lot of funny and great reviews on the internet analyzing and critically reviewing this horror series for kids.  But one thing I noticed is that though people may talk about the books and its rather awfully made tv-series, few consider the Choose Your Own Adventure-style series, Give Yourself Goosebumps.

I actually prefer GYG over the original series mainly because they were just so fun to read.  Reading them was almost like playing a video game as you want to achieve 100% completion even though it wasn’t necessary.

I’ve always associated GYG loosely with October.   Not just because of the scary aspect but every October, my local public library would have a used book sale.   I liked to look through the filled-to-the-brim bookshelves and smell that nice old, book scent.  The book sale was always partially outside though underneath these big tents that sheltered the books.  As such, you had to wear a jacket and try to stay warm despite the cool temperature.  It was at these books sales when I was introduced to GYG.

I’m not one to usually collect things save bowties, vests, and other dress clothes, but the GYG was an exception to this.  Every time I would go to the book sale, I would buy all the GYG books I didn’t have even if they were below my age range.  They were that entertaining.

The first book in the was what convinced me to try out the series. I mean come on, how awesome does that cover look?? Also, this book was hard as hell. Image from http://goosebumps.wikia.com/wiki/Escape_from_the_Carnival_of_Horrors

Anyone who has read a Choose Your Own Adventure book will instantly be familiar with a GYG book.  You have a series of choices to make as you progress through the story.  Some decisions will take you through different plots while others can spell doom for you.  Your decisions have a crucial impact on the story and can determine if you come out okay or not.

GYG takes that concept and plays with it.  Most of the endings can lead to your death, even if it’s not explicitly stated, or lead you trapped in some horrible situation.  There are only a few “good” endings and even then these can be not that pleasant (in true Goosebumps fashion).

The GYG books usually have two main plots that are determined fairly early on.  I find myself favoring one of these plots over another though this could be due to selective bias.  You can’t really blame me though, right?  After going through one plot and learning about your protagonists and antagonists, you have to retread old ground and relearn the characters again as they are different a second time through.  It irks me but hey, that’s a choose-your-own-adventure format for you.  I would say the books that do this the most for me are Creepy Creations of Professor Shock, Your Plant Food, and Shop Til You Drop…Dead!  Creepy Creations needs a special mention because of its weird, mirror universe storyline.  You’re basically transported to a mirror world, like Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, and you have to survive the world using backwards logic, it’s pretty great.

One thing GYG does, particularly later in the series, is incorporating items into your quest.  You had to keep track of your items along the way and know when to use them in certain situations.  Most of the time, you’ll use the wrong item but when you use it right man does that feel good.  This use of items I believe first appears in one of my favorite GYG, Shop Til You Drop…Dead!  It actually ties into why I like one plot over the other.  In one of the plots, you have to survive the different floors of the mall and find an item associated with that floor.  It’s really fun and you even had to go to certain floors first to find an item that will help you survive on a completely different floor.

The problem with the items is that the reader can cheat and pretend they have a certain item in order for them to succeed when they would otherwise fail.  It’s not like the author or book is going to call you out on it.

That was my thought until I read Trick or…Trapped! (one of the last books in the series) where it straight up calls the reader out for cheating.  I can’t remember what it was, but during the final scene of the game, you are asked to do a task and asked if you have this item or not to complete it.  The twist is that the item doesn’t actually exist!  When I read the choice I was quite confused because I hadn’t recalled coming across that item before and I was wondering how I missed it.  Curious, I turned to the item’s page number and was amused to see that the book called you out for cheating and your character died from the monster.

Truth be told, it would be a definite stretch to say that all of the books are good.  They are, at most, passable.  The books I mentioned in this article are the ones you should go for if for whatever reason you wanted to read them.

Actually, the final book I want to talk about is probably the most infamous one, Into the Jaws of Doom.  This book is thick relative to the other books.  It was the first special edition book in the series.  I have to say, when I first bought it, I immediately realized this was a special one.  Not just its size but how it boasted there was only one good ending in the entire story.  The book was straight up challenging the reader to beat it.  It even had a special warning about the nature of this book and how you need to keep track of your inventory as well as a pair of dice on hand.  And let me tell you, this book was hard.  Everything you knew about GYG and its stakes rose two levels.  The trickiest part was keeping track of your items and knowing when to use them.  Some of the items were totally useless as well.  The science museum setting was an excellent place for crazy things to happen.  Probably the worse foe in that book was the “Visible Man,” that guy was nuts.  There’s just no other book like it in the entire GYG series including the other Special Editions as well.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read all of the books in the series, particularly those in the Special Editions, but hey, the library book sale is this week, with any luck, maybe I’ll find a new book and give myself some goosebumps.

New Podcast Coming Soon!

Hello everyone!  Exciting news!  I’m developing a podcast with the help of many of my friends!  We are currently recording the episodes and will hopefully have Season 1 of the podcast ready in the nearby future.

What’s the theme of the podcast?  In general, it’s to celebrate certain topics of nerdom.  Not only that, we’ll go into detail why these nerdy franchises work and why they are so popular.  What’s more, these episodes will provide interested people an introduction to the franchise and how they can become acquainted with the said franchise.

We’re keeping Season 1 pretty low key with just five episodes but they’ll range from 40 to 80 minutes long depending on the subject.  Each of these five episodes are diverse and will focus on a different nerdy theme.  Though I won’t say what their subjects are yet, I can say that one is based off of a movie franchise, one from a comic, one from a video game, one from a series of books, and one from board games.

I’ll update you guys once we have a date set.  I’ll also reveal the podcast’s title and more!  Stay tuned!

The Disappearing Spoon and What If? Book Review

The Disappearing Spoon is perhaps one of the best science books I have ever read. Scientific, or in general nonfiction, literature can be a chore to get through if the voice is textbook-like or if the book is just too dense. But Sam Kean does an amazing job in his bestseller book as its content is great and his writing style makes it seem like he’s actually here talking to me

The Disappearing Spoon highlights the elements and their respective Periodic Table’s wacky history. It’s amazing how Sam Kean can take almost every element on the Periodic Table and highlight how they affected the history of mankind. From the lonely scientist eager to discover a new element to elemental weaponization in war after war.

The book is filled to the brim of clever and humorous short stories of elements that have deceived, maddened, helped, and even killed people throughout the world. These stories are perfect for the person who wants to read a passage or two before doing something else. In fact, that’s why it took me so long to finish the book despite its engrossing nature. I wouldn’t have to worry about plot or overall connecting themes, I can just enjoy the book for what it is.

My favorite story is the devaluation of aluminum. Aluminum was once one of the most valued elements on Earth, even more so than gold. To show off the U.S.’s economic strength, engineers capped off the recently built Washington Monument with a six-pound pyramid made of aluminum. Quite impressive indeed. But in the 1880s, scientists figured out how to separate aluminum oxide into pure aluminum. It was easy to do so in fact. So easy that the value of aluminum plummeted in the market fairly quickly leading to its widespread occurrence to this day.

Sam Kean passages also got me thinking about the wonders of chemistry. One passage was so intriguing that I could not stop wondering about it. While talking about the periodic table general, Sam Kean jokes that it represents a very oddly shaped castle. Going further with this analogy he proclaims “Overall, if each brick was made of the substance it represented, the castle of the elements would be a chimera with additions and wings from incongruent eras, or, more charitably, a Daniel Libeskind building, with seemingly incompatible materials grafted together into an elegant whole.”

Sam Kean continues on talking more about the Periodic Table in detail but he leaves us hanging with this provoking analogy.

What would a real life Periodic Table be like?

Think about it.   All the elements coming together in small cubes, directly touching each other through intimate contact. Who would react with whom? What would the end result be like?

Many seemingly reasonable answers came to my head. The noble gasses would float away and not react with anyone same with hydrogen. Fluorine will throw a hissy fit and make all the elements around it a living hell. Mercury would spread out due to its liquid form and cause all the elements sitting above it to collapse on top of it. Beyond that though, I couldn’t safely say. I’m a paleontologist with only a basic understanding of chemistry. I wanted someone with an appropriate background to answer this question. But who?

I got The Disappearing Spoon for Christmas 2012. Earlier that year, Randall Munroe, author of the famous webcomic xkcd, had started a new project outside of xkcd called What If where he answered extremely kooky what if questions. You can find the full list of these questions here http://what-if.xkcd.com/archive/. He encouraged his fanbase to send him questions for him to answer.

I loved this and wanted to send in my own but I wanted it to be a good one.

This good question came to me while reading The Disappearing Spoon via the Real Life Periodic Table.

Believing that I got myself a good question, I sent him the question.

No response.

I wasn’t surprised, he probably gets a lot of questions every day and he has to comb through his constantly growing inbox. I didn’t want to pester him so I didn’t resend the question until June 2013.

Still no response.

One of the unspoken rules of society is that if you text an acquaintance twice and they don’t respond, chances are they don’t want anything to do with you. At this point I guessed my question wasn’t good enough so I gave up. I would check every week though on his website, hoping that my question would get answered.

Then, last May, I got an email from Randall Munroe saying he wanted my question in his upcoming What If book!

I was stunned.

He asked for permission to use my name to which I said yes and immediately afterwards I preordered the book on Amazon.

I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to that book. A question that I have now been pondering for over 1.5 years would finally be answered.

That book came out last week.

what if

Before I talk about my question, I want to talk about the book first. First off, I’m not done with it and I’m glad I’m not done with it yet. You should take your time with this book, read it when you have something in the oven or 10 minutes to kill. This book should be digested slowly (note, please don’t eat the book).   That said, this book is highly enjoyable and I guarantee you you will learn random things such as if a nuclear submarine could survive in outer space. You definitely won’t regret buying this book.

And for my question?

I can’t tell you how satisfied I am with it. The biggest thing I’m surprised about is (spoilers) there were a lot more explosions in it than I thought there would be. Also how my question nearly destroys the world Muhahahahaha! But being (slightly) serious here, the thing I was most curious about was what would be going on on the right side of the periodic table. The left side I knew would burst into flames (and according to the book I was right) but the right side I knew would be the most interesting. I was correct as a lot of strange stuff happened including the reaction between gallium and aluminum (which lies directly above it). Whenever these two meet, gallium transforms aluminum to a paper-like status. Go figure. I also love how phosphorous and sulfur caused the most trouble near the upper rows and made the real life Periodic Table a death zone.

Randall Munroe said he hoped I enjoy his answer. Well, I can safely say that I do. If you haven’t bought his book yet BUY IT NOW! It’s awesome! And while you are at it buy The Disappearing Spoon.  You won’t miss out on enjoying both actual and theoretical science between these two books.