Tag Archives: Books

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.

Harry Potter and the Parallel Themes, An Analysis

The Harry Potter series is one of the best, most intertwined series I have ever read.  Items briefly seen and characters mentioned could play a key role in a later in the series.  We see Hagrid mention of Sirius in book 1, Voldemort’s horcruxes in book 5, and the Polyjuice Potion in book 2.  However, there’s something else that makes J. K. Rowling’s wonderful series all the more intertwined.  Something that I would like to refer as *cough* Harry Potter and the Parallel Themes!

Okay, imagine the seven books in the series.  Smack dab in the middle is book 4.  Ah yes, the Goblet of Fire, a very important addition in the series.  It stands at a doorway between children goodiness and young adult realism.  Books 1-3 were not as dark or as foreboding as books 5-7 and had more uplifting endings.  Indeed, you can feel this transformation come forth as you read GoF; terror at the World Cup, former Deatheaters make their appearance, the first emotional death, and the rebirth of Voldemort.  It’s no wonder many people, including my sister, like this book the most.

Now imagine this.

Imagine that book 4 is the focal point of the series.  As you step farther and farther away from this mirror, certain themes, plot points, and characters that you were once introduced to now become reintroduced with a stronger focus.

Take for example, books 3 and 5.  These two books share many things in common with each other.  The prominent role of Sirius Black, the return of the Dementors and Lupin, prisoners escaping Azkaban, and Harry’s dad’s past.  Harry’s dad seems especially important in these two books as Harry now learns so much more about him and subsequently realized that he wasn’t that great of a guy.   Harry’s relationship with Cho also plays a role.  He was introduced to her in book 3 and their tumultuous relationship ended in book 5.

Now, let’s take a step further, book 2 and 6.  This is where I began to notice the parallel events in the series.  Indeed, it’s pretty noticeable, most prominently of which were horcruxes.  In book 2, we saw our first horcrux, the diary.  And though its origins were hinted at, we were finally revealed in book 6 what it truly was, a part of Voldemort’s soul.  This was a part of a more important concept mainly Tom Riddle’s past, something that book 2 grazed over.  Of course, there are other smaller things.  Ginny’s infatuation with Harry in book 2 finally blossomed into an actual relationship in book 6 and Aragog’s old age finally bested him at the same time.  I was actually hoping throughout most of the book that we would see the Ford Anglia, but alas, that wasn’t the case.  Finally, Fawkes the phoenix was introduced in book 2 and we last saw him in book 6.

Aragog's_funeral_2

Also, this was one of the best scenes in the book AND the movie, no doubt

But what about book 1 and 7?  Going into it, I thought we would surely see the Mirror of Erised which played a strong and melancholic role in the first book.  It would only be fitting that we would see this magical device again.

Alas, again, this was unfortunately not true and I was sad because of it.  But we got something that I didn’t expect.  Dumbledore’s past.  Indeed, our only window into Dumbledore’s past was through the Chocolate Frog Cards which gave a light description of Dumbledore and his battle with Grindelwald.  Now, in book 7, we see the dark, sad, and lonely past of Albus.  It was almost too much to bear.  Gringotts made its return as well along with Griphook the goblin.  The Gringotts’ boast of being the most secure place in the Wizarding World (second only to Hogwarts) in book 1 was finally tested in book 7 and was subsequently foiled by three teenagers and a blind dragon.  This was very fascinating to me as when we first saw Gringotts, it was a magically mysterious place that seemed more strange than dangerous.  But in book 7, we see its true colors of paranoia, greed, and hate.

But most important out of all of this are the Deathly Hallows (the magical items, not the book).  True, many themes from all the other books come back to book 7 but the Deathly Hallows have their special roots in book 1.   The Invisibility Cloak’s, which was given to Harry during his first year from Dumbledore, origins were finally revealed (and why Harry’s dad had it).  The Resurrection Stone, though first seen in book 6, was hidden in Harry’s very first golden snitch.  Of which, its puzzling lock frustrated Harry through most of book 7 as he tried desperately to open it. It is a relief when he finally figures out how to open it.

I’m still impacted by that passage “I open at the close.”

Deathly Hallows

And finally, rounding it off, the Elder Wand, passed along from powerful wizard to powerful wizard, finally ending with Dumbledore.   And it’s not just the Elder Wand, the connection between a wizard and his wand was never elaborated on, save briefly in book 4, until book 7.  It is because of this importance that we see why the climatic events at Malfoy Manor in book 7 were so important.  Harry had sealed his fate, and Voldemort’s as well, when he disarmed Draco Malfoy and became the rightful ruler of the Elder Wand.

These parallel events really go to show how great of a writer J.K.R. is.  Even before she knew she had a big hit on her hands, she had been dropping themes, ideas, and characters long before their importance was established.  What’s more, she took it a step forward and made a clever series of parallel events that really helps tie the book series together.  It’s very likely that I’m not the first person to notice this, as such, what other parallel events and such have you noticed in the series?

Finally, I just wished that I could have seen the Ford Angila one more time!